Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Do You Know What it Means...

in my head, it is always a little foggy...
It was ten years ago this week that I set out on what, in my head, was the most daring adventure I had thus far embarked upon…

You see, it was ten years ago that, despite all the red flags of meeting strangers over the internet (social media was still in its MySpace phase and wasn’t even dubbed social media at this point in time), I was offered the chance to go to New Orleans and meet up with a handful of total strangers.

Well, physically total strangers. 

Yet I knew these people intimately. Well, as intimately as fake names allowed. Most members used nom de pleums. Mine being CyanSKye, my take on Blue Sky. The name came complete with a pin-up girl on a swing and a theme song. 

Blue Skies, of course.

This was the first time my on-line writing group was to meet.

In person. 

About a year prior to this event I wrote on a website known as Writer’s Café. It was fun and exciting and most importantly, it provided feedback to thousands of would be writers. I sort of weaseled my way into one of the groups there – the Vicious Circle. Where, based on the romanticized life of Dorothy Parker and her contemporaries, the organizer of the group hoped to encourage each member to support one another through honest but non-threatening critique.

Within the year our group had grown and split from Writer’s Café to form its own website changing the name to Vicious Writers.

I would come home from late night shifts at work and anxiously log on to to see what had been said about my latest posting. And through those comments, friendships were formed, encouraged by forum topics ranging from grammar tips (run by Smoking Quills) to a story prompt round robin dubbed Sparks Diner (hostessed by MelStevens and MissVish…)

I was a little skeptical but truly wanted to meet these interesting, diverse people.

My husband was a whole lot skeptical and a very good sport, as this meeting was to take place on his FIFTIETH birthday…

But he is ever the indulgent thrill-seeker and with a little discussion over just how crazy these people were liable to be, he decided to come with my sister and me. 

He questioned this choice almost immediately when, while still on the tarmac, my sister and I raised suspicion with our nearly continuous laughter.

My sister and I reassured the flight attendant that we weren’t really mentally unstable. I am pretty sure he slipped the attendant a couple bucks and the plane took off without further issue.

There is something about New Orleans.

The heat, humidity. The history.

The proximity to the Mississippi. 

Our organizer set our ‘conference’ at the Dauphine New Orleans, in the heart of the French Quarter. (Conference is such a strong word…while we did have a businessy meeting of sorts, it was nearly immediately disrupted by Zombie finger puppets and exotic gifts of Timmy Ho’s coffee direct from Canada.)

We had our rooms there as well. Within a few minutes of check-in, we had exuberantly bumped into three other members, also staying there. There was no awkwardness.

There may have been a little awkwardness. But those Zombie finger puppets are great ice-breakers.
writers, on a balcony
And we quickly learned that our on-line personas were more extensions of our writing styles, enough of our true selves had fueled those posts that it was easy to know the person behind those words.  Quillz was a loving as her critiques, JJ as adorable as his hilarious, well thought out jokes. MissVish had an edge, albeit soft, James was as scholarly as he was mischievous. Nazarea was exotic and sweet.

And Damian, our leader, well, he felt like a brother. Generous, irritating and always hogging the bathroom.

(just a quess…)

Post ‘meeting’ we walked through the Quarter to Café Amelie for dinner.

What do you get when you take eight writers and their guests to dinner in a historic restaurant in a romantic city?

You get hours of laughs, threats of NO pictures of people EATING , and a lengthy discussion over why petit fours are called petit fours. (My favorite being that there are four, so it’s easier to share…)
discussing the finer points of semi vs full on colons...
After dinner we walked through the French Quarter and ended at Café DuMonde for coffee and readings and hat exchange. In one of those Who’s on First routines, we managed to blow through an entire order pad, trying to relay our café au lait and beignet orders to the waiter. 

I feel he was probably drunk.

Or at least wishing he was…
this poor guy...
Coffees served the table settled down and each member took a turn reading a portion of their own writing. Not at all awkward…for the other diners…or my husband….

There was a smattering of applause here and there. 
starting with basics, this is a book...
And some rather loud ducks, if I recall….

The weekend moved forward with multiple excursions, alone, or in various groups. We ended our weekend together in the beautiful bar at the Dauphine for a group picture, minus a couple of folks with other obligations. 
just a few, the rest are there in spirit.
We had been to New Orleans once before, as newlyweds. At that time in my life, everything was exciting and momentous. 

This trip, several years post children, job changes, and Katrina, we found a slightly different New Orleans. It felt a little more difficult to find blues and jazz playing in the Quarter, replaced by karaoke and techno dance. 

We never found our first gumbo shack, but we did find Deanie’s, and the most adorable breakfast spot – Annette’s , run by a sweet lady from Morocco who told us her story of escape at the end of WW2. She claimed to be Alex Baldwin’s favorite restaurant, complete with a photo of the two. But she really won my heart by leaving the entire coffee carafe at our table. The restaurant sized carafe…

And through a twist of fate we were on the shore of the Mississippi as the battleship USS New York made her way from the shipyard to NYC to be commissioned. She was built from steel, salvaged from the Trade Towers.

Yet, while the city felt a little different, deep down, New Orleans was the same. The city will always hold a little mystery, a little magic…

That little breakfast spot is no longer open.

Vicious Writers is no longer a group.

Creative differences, relationship changes…all the things that can befall a diverse group of creative styles.

No matter.

I will always feel connected to this group of talented people. They live all over the world, have drifted into and out of my life.

They encouraged me and gave me the confidence to call myself a Writer.

Happy Anniversary to Each and Every Vicious Writer.

Keep writing, my friends.

Blue Skies. Nothing but...

(I'm back! New Laptop! New ideas! See you again soon!)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Read 'em and Weep

I am writing this on a beautiful Easter Sunday.
So, I am trying to keep my compassion to the forefront.

It's been awhile since I have written about nursing.
While it's my chosen career, I have always hesitated to flaunt the fact. I was not 'called' to this job, but I have found that, over the years, my love of my fellow nurses has become quite fierce.

And once again, our people need defending.

Let's get the facts first:
Washington State has a bill in their senate which would mandate uninterrupted meal and rest periods for nurses.
Senator Maureen Walsh, Republican, gave an argument against this bill stating that in smaller hospitals, the nurses probably play cards for a significant part of their day.

In a way, she wasn't wrong.

From the first day of clinicals, I 'played cards' – those would be the 4x5 file cards on which Care Plans are written. For nursing students, these were a way to learn about each diagnosis, its treatment and then a devised plan of care for each individual patient. We were required to do three of these plans per patient for each clinical day. At first it was only one patient and plan but as our learning advanced it was multiple patients and multiple plans. All needing to be done in the evening before the early morning clinicals, after a day of lectures and study.

I also played 'cards' with those wonderful MedCards. These were smaller 3x5 cards on which were written EVERY medication the above patient was on, the drug's classification, action, side effects and doses.

Today, those plans and medcards are digital.
But so are poker cards so guess I can see how someone might be confused.

Senator Walsh's comment has generated a flurry of memes on social media, all in regards to the Cards nurses play.
We play with CARDizem, NiCARDipine – just two of the CARDiac drugs used to save lives.
My current fav is the black and white of Florence Nightingale dealing black jack circa 1800's...
They are pretty hilarious.
And naturally, someone began complaining asking why, if we were offended, are memes the best way to show it.

It's one of those 'If I don't laugh, I'll cry' situations.

Earlier this week I read a story about a nurse in Louisiana who was attacked by a patient during her job and a week later died, most likely of injuries incurred in that attack.

Does this sound like a person who wants to be known as working in a profession that 'plays cards' for most of the day?

Thankfully, the legal system has determined this a homicide.

I say 'thankfully' as for most of my career we were to look the other way when a patient became physical. The reasoning being, these people are not themselves. And, we are there to help.

But, our world has gotten less reasonable.
And nursing has gotten more and more difficult.
We have gone from 8 hour shifts, covering a 'team' of 8-10 patients with the help of one or two aides, to 10 or 12 hour shifts in a 'primary care' environment of 4 to 6 to 8 patients with only one or two aides on the entire unit.
These patients are sicker, the medications and instrumentation more complicated and the environment more volatile.
And the nursing population is getting older.
We need more people to enter this career.

And how is this going to happen when people like Senator Walsh seems to believe all nurses do is sit around a play cards?

But, now that I think about it, maybe we should adopt her philosophy....

Come one and all, join the ranks of NURSES!
Learn how to start IV's and give medications safely!
Learn how to identify critical cardiac rhythms and treat them before your patient dies!
Learn how to simultaneously care for the guy who just killed a family of four in a drunken car accident, comfort a young woman who has terminal cancer, recover a fresh kidney transplant patient! All while basking in the luxurious spa-like atmosphere of the clean utility room where you quickly grab a granola bar half-way through your 12 hour shift because eating and drinking in patient care areas is not allowed and 'resources' are stretched so that lunch break may not happen.
Find the strength inside yourself to repeat these things daily and still see hope in this world! Because that is the only way its possible to return day after day to a profession that has lost the respect it so well deserves.

Now deal my hand.
I'm ready to place a bet...

My cap. Note the bobby pin rust stain in the center...

(For more of my nursing posts, check out the tab 'It's a Living' at the top of the page.)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Empty Pages

Well, hello again!
It's been a while, I admit.

Only two months worth of Facebook reminders that 'your friends haven't heard from The Coast of Illinois'...

And I had such big plans for writing this year...
Actually, I didn't.
Oh, I have ideas, but the motivation for putting them out into the universe has been lacking. Blame it on too many grey winter days, that pesky thing called 'work' or just plain apathy.
Can't really say.

It is such a strange feeling to stare at an empty page and have so many things swimming around in my head but no real way to get those ideas to travel the distance from grey matter along the great nerve highway to finally land via ink pen or computer at their destination, on the right....

What finally got me here?
This beautiful book.

This is a exquisite example of Yunjin brocade. This type of brocade is over 700 years old and serves as a royal tribute and is of great historical and cultural importance in China. This type of weaving is still done by hand, not with automated machinery. The information card included with the book says it best:
"The Yunjin Brocade is woven with unique ring jacquard card which adopts the silk thread and the cotton thread to record all the information of the pattern designs in the method of keeping records by tying knots in primitive times, and all these informations is passed to the hands of the thread puller on the wooden is passed down merely by the handicraftsman orally and by the heart memory..."
What a wonderful description – passing down information, through fabric and words and memories.
the inside cover. little pockets! a bookmark! a dragon! the yellow information booklet is at the top of the photo. it is written in Chinese characters with just a few paragraphs in English on the back.
I was given this journal as a thank you from two Chinese nurses who came to visit our medical facility. One of our anesthesiologist dropped the two in my hands one day, asking that I show them around so they could see how our recovery room worked. I love teaching and showing people our facility and these ladies were eager to see how our Western medicine compared to their Eastern version. Except that they spoke little English and I speak NO version of any of the multiple Chinese languages.
We did a lot of broken sentences and hand gestures. There was a lot of 'watch this', followed by discussion between the two and then the woman who spoke most English would ask for clarification.
I handed them off to one of my co-workers, who is from China, hoping at least one of the three would have a dialect in common. She faired slightly better than I did. But in the end, we managed to show them our routine, got them a tour of the ICU when we transferred a patient there, and while they learned about our work, I learned a little about theirs.
The next day they moved on to another area of the hospital but at the end of the week the ladies stopped by to thank us and gave us each one of these beautiul books.
They had no idea what the gift of a journal means to a writer. Especially such a lovely journal.

As something of a 'paper' addict, I was dying to use the journal, but didn't want to just put anything into it. I have multiple notebooks lying around the house, in purses and suitcases with random notes and ideas in each and every one.
I didn't want this particular book to become another purgatory of ideas.
So, it lay taunting me on my desk for nearly a year.

As the New Year and a random, luxurious weekend trip loomed closer, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect time to use this special book.
The bravery of these women, coming to a country so different from their own, to learn from total strangers who they could barely talk to, was not lost on me. Nor was the story of the beautiful brocade on the journal.

It seemed that this book needed to be honored in a tradition of bravery and adventure.
After all, travel is the best way to learn that we are each, hardly different from one another in ways that matter most.

2019 is rather notable for my husband and I. We are planning a return to the British Virgin Islands in May. This trip has been in the works since we left the BVI five years ago after taking sailing lessons there. Lord knows, there will be many stories.
And God willing, there will be many more stories of travels long planned and surprise trips met with a 'why not' attitude.

The first story in this Journal is our visit to The Moorings, a luxurious property in Islamorada, Florida.
It is a nice mix of planning as well as 'why not'.
I'll be sharing it with you in the coming month.


Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year, Not a Challenge, Universe...

New Year's Eve.

What a year it has been.
I took a look back at last year's New Year's post...
It seemed that I had 'No Plan' but then decided that the word for 2018 would be 'Impromptu'...

The Universe saw this post and replied...'Challenge accepted....'

2018 went from No Plan to...
Blue has always been my color.
A paint job for the Fixer-Upper boat bottom, and indirect blue highlights...

bringing the Coast of Illinois to the Gold Coast...
A semi-impromptu trip to Chicago with our travel buddies where we went to Wrigley Field for the first time and hijacked a taxi...

Our son, doing his best Gorton's Fisherman impression.
A fantastic, albeit freezing, sailing weekend for Rob's birthday...

It rained. A lot. oh, and the storm drain failed....

yes, mud. 16 inches of flood water, about 37 inches of mud.

ugh. this took two full weekends to clean up.
And we don't live in a flood plain.
A massive flood in our basement where we learned that our friends are indeed great mud shovel-ers. And truly good friends...

And possibly the best...
I may be partial, but could they be any cuter?
An engagement and wedding in eight months. (according to our daughter, why would I want to plan this over a year or more, that is just more time to freak out...)

just a sample of the centerpieces we put together 
It should be noted that the only 'freaking out' was by me, over a late flower delivery and in the end the kids had a beautiful wedding and I now have approximately 7000 yards of ivory tulle, in case anyone is interested.....

I even managed to meet my goal of 'more hiking', by taking a hike the day after Christmas.
One hike.
Which is one more than 2017.
(There will be more on that soon....)

But 2018 is nearly over and 2019 looms large...
There are trips being planned, home upgrades in the works, books to be read and posts to be written.

I have spent a fair amount of time contemplating my plan for 2019 and it looks as though the word of the year will be
(spoken in an Errol Flynn sort of voice)

And the theme will be
Roasted Chicken!
(because healthy eating....)

Take that Universe.
Please don't bombard me with wild chickens...

From the Coast of Illinois to everyone
Have a safe and happy and wonderful New Year!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Baby, it's Something All Up in Here....

I have debated all morning, in my head, about writing this.
It will offend some people.
But, if we can't speak freely we have lost one of the most important rights on that badly bashed document in Washington DC.

I am here to defend the song Baby It's Cold Outside.
I said it.

Yes, it is a song about a guy trying to convince a gal to stay at his place.

I mean, who's to say that the woman isn't there voluntarily?
(for the sake of clarity, the woman's part is in pink and the man's in blue... and just leave that alone, it's too easy.)

I really can't stay (Baby it's cold outside)
I gotta go away (Baby it's cold outside)
This evening has been (Been hoping that you'd dropped in)
So very nice

No mention of being kidnapped and locked in a trunk and driven to an undisclosed location...

She has people who know where she is, and to whom she must answer to....
If she stays her reputation will be ruined....

My mother will start to worry
My father will be pacing the floor
So really I'd better scurry
and later:
My sister will be suspicious
My brother will be there at the door
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious
Well maybe just a cigarette more

Of course, Mom is worried. But Dad is pacing, a sure sign of aggression and her brother is waiting for....her....? Why?
And don't get me started on auntie...
What is she is being controlled, not only by the guy she is seeing but by her entire famly...
And NOW she smokes!!!

Or, maybe they just want her to be safe...

And then he starts up with the booze...

Well maybe just a half a drink more (I'll put some records on while I pour)

Now wait a minute, 'he' doesn't actually offer her a drink in the song. She's the one who brought up a drink....
And let's face it, most of us wouldn't be where we are today without alcohol.
Heck, my husband and I would never have met if it weren't for cheap beer...

Okay, it does take a 'dark' turn here:

Say what's in this drink?

But, he's putting on records...
Remember records?
Who has time to slip in a drug while setting up a turntable?


I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell) (Why thank you)
I ought to say no, no, no sir
At least I'm gonna say that I tried

'At least I'm gonna say that I tried'???
Trying to justify her actions...she clearly knows what she's doing here. And she hair done before coming over...

And think about the general setting of the song. The poor guy is telling her its COLD outside. He mentions the weather EIGHT times:

(Baby it's cold outside) (Look out the window at that storm)(Never such a blizzard before)   (It's up to your knees out there!)

And he's worried about her safety...

(No cabs to be had out there)

he can't send this drunk chick out to drive her drunken self home in a snow storm....

(If you caught pneumonia and died!)

and he doesn't want her to get sick...

Come on! What sort of girl goes over to a guys house in the middle of a raging snow storm without the hope of staying over....
This poor guy has a gal, of questionable sobriety, stuck in his house in the middle of a blizzard!
And maybe the guy really loves her...
And perhaps, she is just playing with him, is enjoying the attention, and from the very start had planned on staying.
Maybe they are...FLIRTING....

Remember flirting?

Now, before I get accused of defending predators, ignoring injustices and putting women's rights behind by a century, I will admit, I edited the lyrics to support my interpretation of this scenario.
And that's the key.
This is MY interpretation.
Every one is allowed to their opinion.

My daughter, at the age of 13 or 14 commented on this very scenario when I played the James Taylor version in the car one year.
I tried to argue my point with her, but how can a mom tell her teenage daughter that this flirty exchange, to have a guy sweet talk her into staying when clearly people would talk, was her mother's secret dream date...?
I couldn't do it.
She grew up in a different era. And I am so very pleased that she was such a self-aware woman even at that young age.
I want her to live in a world where people treat each other with respect and don't force their beliefs on one another, but instead, have intelligent, thoughful discussions.

But I also want her to grow up in a world without censure.
And to ban a song written SEVENTY FOUR years ago because it doesn't fit into some people's idea of 'appropriate'?
I thought we had already fought that battle with Huck Finn and Catcher in the Rye.
Must we now fight it with a fluffy song written for a movie called Neptune's Daughter starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban and Xavier Cugat!!
A movie with swimming as a main plot point!
If you actually watch the movie you will see the song sung by Esther and Ricardo in the girl/guy context but later, you will see it in a whole different light when Red sings the female portion and Betty Garrett sings the male.
Could it be, that the song is just poking fun and male female relationships?

So please, enjoy the song if you want. If you don't like it, turn it off or change the station.
But don't be so hateful with your opinion that you forget the fundamentals of free speech.
Because while it might be cold outside, we should never be so cold to one another.

Please enjoy the trailer to Neptune's Daughter.
And come back again when I tackle the scene in the movie where the swimmers are tapping their feet on cross-dressing Red Skelton's junk....

Friday, September 21, 2018

Pardon moi!


Je suis Laura.
Je suis 57 et j'apprende le francais.

I admit it. I cheated on the last half of that sentence and had to check everything with Google translate. But the feelings are solid.
I am 57 and I am learning French.

The first question I tend to get, when I admit this out loud is:

The most sensible answer is that my husband and I plan to do some pretty extensive travel in the upcoming years. We have traveled a small amount and when we have been in countries where English is not the first language we tried our best to learn at least some polite phrases: Hello, Good-by, Thank-you, Those aren't my children...
We didn't want to be those 'ugly Americans' who give the rest of us a bad name.

A more personal reason is the fact that, while I am a good one half German descent, I am a solid – one quarter, last name Jolie, drinks coffee from the saucer and loves bread, straight from Paris to the coal mines of the Midwest, French.
According to my husband, my mocking dismay of things with the typical French movie concierge 'pftttttttt' is genetically rooted.

The second question is sort of a quizzical, humoring, aren't you a little old for this, HOW?

My answer to this is a little more convoluted.
The easy answer is: Duolingo. Which I will get to in a bit.

The how of how I reached that easy answer is the one which will take a moment.

I always wanted to learn another language. I am a voracious reader and even as a youngster, found it very annoying to be reading a wonderful book only to have the fantasy broken by the main character speaking a phrase, or worse, a sentence in a foreign language – usually French, as the language seems to lend itself to quoting.
N'es pas?
Everyone I knew who had been to high school learned either German or French. And while German should have been my biggest interest, growing up with all those Germanic genetics, my exposure to the language was limited to the names of Grandpa's sisters and the Lord's Prayer at the family reunion.
My grandparents rarely spoke the language unless it was related to food – schnitzbrod, springerele -and did not teach it to their children. I am sure this was a result of the desire to acclimate to a new way of life and distance those children from what had been less than desirable politics in the homeland.
And then there is the fact that French is just so romantic.
It is pretty to listen to.
German is not so melodic on the ear. It is more of the Heavy Metal Band of languages.
Especially compared to the beautiful lilting, quality of French.
(This is most likely due to the fact that the French never seem to pronounce the hard consonant sound which might end a word, favoring the flowing vowel sound running into the next word. Complementing the musical quality and adding an extra layer of frustration to 57 year old ears trying to discern 'fille' from 'filles'.)

I was extremely disappointed to get to high school and find that the only language our school offered was Spanish.
But, it was Spanish taught by a tiny little old lady who went by Senorita Skelly and was so old that we were all quite certain that the fiancé she lost had most certainly been a Spaniard and 'the war' in which he had died had been the Spanish revolution. Possibly the Spanish Inquisition...
I can't dismiss this education however.
Seniorita taught me enough in two years to give me the confidence to surprise an unsuspecting shopkeeper in Cabo and get me into trouble with a Spanish speaking patient.
I have taken to tempering my 'professional' Spanish with the opening phrase 'Yo hablo espanol un pequeño. Muy pequeño!'`

(It should be noted that at this point in proofing this post, my husband asked if I really meant to use incorrect Spanish in the above paragraph. To which I responded....pfffffffttttt.....)

My Midwestern hospital based nursing school required no foreign language so the years between high school and today lacked the obvious answer to language education.
As our children grew up, my husband suggested I take a class at the junior college but I ineveitably would make the decision mid-cycle and always miss French 101.

I gave an attempt at free on-line classes through Open Culture, a great service offering an extensive variety of independent learning options. I enjoyed the classes until we hit the alphabet lesson. A was E. I was E. In fact, nearly everything sounded like a variation of E to me.
It didn't help that I only practiced about once a week.

But, this was before I had a smart phone and learned about Duolingo.
note the varying times on each pic - you can practice anytime!
(It should be noted here that I have NO affiliation nor am I getting paid by Duolingo. I am just a huge fan.)

Duolingo is an on-line language service offering 81 language courses in 37 languages including Klingon!
It offers a free or a paid version.
Naturally, the free version requires a small amount of advertising. But the interruption of ads is minimal, save for a brief readable ad between lessons and less than 30 second video ads to earn 'gems' when you choose.
I opted to try the free version, hesitant to actually spend any money on what promised to be another failed attempt to broaden my horizen. Five months in, I am still using the free version.

My first lesson – Basics 1 – taught the very simple 'I am a woman/ Je suis une femme. You are a man/Tu es un homme.' About five phrases in, the Duolingo Owl – a darling, ever supportive green cartoon popped in to say "great job!" The positive reinforcement worked and I managed to get through that first lesson losing only three of my 'health' points but winning 59 gems!
this is my current lesson selection. and my awesome gem count!
Did I mention these lessons are set up on the game format?
You have six health points in which to learn your day's lesson with the option of earning health with practice or buying health with 'gems'.
Each point earned with practice is rewarded by a 'great job!' by the Owl and a trumpet fanfare.
Those 'gems' you earn can also be used to place a bet with yourself that you will complete 7 days' lessons is a row – thus earning more gems which can in turn be used to bet again. They can also be used to purchase bonus lessons in flirting and idioms.
(Let me warn you now. Don't buy that flirting lesson on your second day, even if you have enough gems. While the phrases are classic – 'do you want to have a drink?' 'do you come here often?' - they are extremely complicated for day two and it will drop your gem accumulation to a dangerous level when comparing with your gem hoarding husband.)
Lessons take about 10 minutes and are a combination of translating from written French to English/English to French, spoken French to English/English to French, word matching and repeating phrases aloud. Initially the lessons were so repetitive that I began to think the app was broken. But as the phrases began to stick in my head I understood that they were actually teaching me the language as a small child would learn. Hearing and repeating very simple things first before branching out to full sentences and using inference to figure out words not yet learned.

The app makes it possible to practice anywhere. Which I have done – in the car, on the train, on the deck and one weekend, on our boat! If you don't want everyone on the morning commute to critique your pronunciation you can mute the speak back option for an hour at a time. Or if you forget your headphones you can make the entire lunch room Répète après moi s'il te plaít.

Doulingo does not teach the typical phrases first – my name is; where is the bathroom; what time is it...
As I pointed out before, they teach as a child would learn. I learned some basics first, then some greeting phrases, followed by plurals of those basics before ever learning colors, foods, or types of clothing. I have yet to learn the actual alphabet or where the bathroom is. I can, however order vin. And fromage avec du pain. 
I can't count to ten. But when there is vin, who really wants to count?
thank you little green owl, or should I say, Merci petite chouette verte.

I have found that I will randomly translate a thought from English to French in my head. Which completely cracks me up and causes me to confuse everyone on Facebook with my cryptic French posts about the weather and petits chiens et chats.

This is not to say that there aren't some problems. The biggest for me is a lack of understanding of the grammatical rules. Duolingo offers no explanation of why chiens and chiennes is different. (the answer is male vs female – for us slow learners)
And as best as I can figure it, if there are multiple things then you slap an 's' on the end of EVERY SINGLE WORD in the sentence – He has red shirts becomes Il a des chemises rouges. Where not only is shirt -chemise- plural -chemises- but so is the act of being red – rouge/rouges.
Its no wonder babies cry for absolutely no reason when they have yet to master speech.
It is only through repetition and some truly painful brain usage that these patterns begin to sink in.

My other big problem is more of a personal one.
They say it is so much easier for young children to learn a language. I believe this is because youngsters have much better hearing. There are days when the subtlety is completely lost in my half century old ear canals and goes back to the one lesson I learned from Open Culture.
Most French is pronounced with an ending of the final vowel sound sliding into the next word rather than differentiating with an ending consonant sound.
Thus explaining why a single woman eating a pizza - La femme mange une pizza.- Sounds exactly like, although clearly spelled differently from, many women eating a pizza – Les femmes mangent une pizza.
The best I can tell, you take a lot of information from context and just how many chairs are filled at the table.
Le journal et le vin. Also, post-it tabs. Tres jolie!
It helps tremendously to get a notebook and keep lesson notes.
It also helps that I have an addiction to notebooks, finding a brand new one just for my French lessons, complete with multicolored sticky tabs and a new ink pen.

I have not missed a day since I started lessons, although the app feels that I blew my streak the day I did a lesson before we went to the lake. Being afraid the internet would be less than helpful I practiced early. However, the app didn't count the lesson, I think now its possible I didn't actually pass it, but anyway... I blew my streak. Which the app keeps handy count of, giving you an encouraging, daily total. Then when you blow your streak, that green owl offers you a handy way to 'buy it back' for REAL dollars.
Sorry Owl. I may spend my fake gems to bet on myself or learn pick up lines for when I find myself single in a Parisian bar but I will not give you real dollars to keep tabs on how consistently I do lessons.

Yet it is a little painful to have my husband point out that HE has not only more gems than me (he is a tightwad when it comes to fake gems) but also a longer streak. Never mind that he started two months after me or that he is learning Spanish, a language which he has taken actual college classes as well as a brief Spanish for Law enforcement course.

I retained enough from Senorita Skelly to know when he is faking it.
And then I just look over my champagne flute, eat my baguette, roll my eyes and reply 'pffffttttttt!'