Wednesday, July 27, 2016

mixed feelings

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As a woman, who lived thru the feminist movement, I had such mixed feeling about the very visual moment when Hillary crashed thru the glass ceiling last night at the Democratic Convention. Video here.

I've been discriminated against because I was a woman. Newly separated and needing a car, I was turned down by the bank where my family and I had banked for three generations because "divorcing women weren't stable." My soon-to-be-ex did a get a loan about the same time. I guess they thought divorcing men are stable.

I was turned down for more than one job because I was a woman.

When I was lobbying for the Equal Rights Amendment at the Massachusetts State House more than one legislator patronized me with comments about being a "a cute little girl". I was 30 but still needed an ID to prove I could buy alcohol. Other comments were equal insulting.

Other friends too faced discrimination such as the friend who had excellent credit lost her credit card when she married a man with less good credit. She earned more money than he did.

I won't list all the examples.

On the other hand when the movement progressed and women were need for employment stats, I was hired for a professional job but told it was "too bad I wasn't black, Hispanic and limped because you'd qualify for three slots."

Seeing a woman being selected as a candidate by a major party for the presidency (there have been many who were running on third, fourth of fifth parties) made me want to cry for joy. My husband thought the way it was done at the convention was not so great. I thought it was clever.

What was hard I don't want Hillary as president. She is corrupt, a war monger. She lies. She supports businesses and banks that will only damage the country more. She is running against a mad man who could damage the country in another way. I can't celebrate that.

I realize that we could end up with women heading up major nations.
  • UK Theresa May
  • FR Marine Le Pen
  • D   Angela Merkel
As the Virginia Slim ad said trying to give women lung cancer with their cigarette brand, "You've come a long way Baby."

Maybe putting women who do more harm than good just like men who do more harm than good in power positions is progress of a kind, a very sad kind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Writing about action

 Read about a variety of topics (writing, life in Europe, politics, food, etc.) by mystery writer D-L Nelson by signing up at the top right of this page. This was one of the newsletters I wrote years ago, but the advice is still valid.



When we think of description we usually think of scenery, weather, the way a place looked. However describing actions is another way of moving the plot forward. In movies the camera pans for the viewer or moves into a close up of the action they want the audience to see, but writers must put the words in print so the reader can focus on the action and then glean the meaning.

Action in this sense does not necessarily mean shoot-‘em-up cop stories or violence in any form. Some can be quite subtle, as having a character reach over and take another character’s hand to show acquiescence after a small argument or sympathy after bad news.

Like anything we write it is the choice of details that give our readers an insight into what is happening. The importance of the action is weighted about how the characters (point of view) react to it or don’t react to it.

We can choose distance or close ups just like a movie camera. A car can pass in the street as someone looks out a window and thinks that it the third time the car has gone by. Or we can be in the car with the driver. The type of car, age, speed, all can give a reader a sense of what is important. If the character draws the drape, rushes to the phone or ignores the car tells the reader what is happening.
A door slamming shows anger (or a breeze). If it is so hard that paint flakes off, the mood, is intensified have the handle fall off and still another fact is conveyed either about the condition of the door or the degree of anger of the slammer.

Very different is a subtle change of a facial expression: a lip that quivers, an eyebrow that is raised. Often this type of description shows an underlying emotion without the writer having to tell what is being felt.

Sometimes the character assigns words to the action so the reader gets the message loud and clear. Other times the actions tell the reader something that the character hasn’t caught on to. A man who hangs up the phone suddenly when his wife enters the room, but the wife doesn’t see it, lets the reader know he is up to something sneaky. The tension builds waiting for the wife to find out what that is.

Writers don’t necessarily separate descriptions of scenes actions and dialogue, but weave them in and out to help the reader live the writing.

Both are from MY SISTER’S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult. The speaker is the younger daughter, born to provide body parts for her older sister who is suffering from cancer. Mostly the girls get along, but sometimes they fall out as normal sisters will. 

1. “A minute later she (the mother) left, and returned with potholders, dishtowels and throw pillows. She placed these at odd distances, all along Kate’s side of the room. ‘Come on,’ she urged, but I did not move. So she came and sat down beside me on my bed. ‘It may be Kate’s pond,’ she said, ‘but these are my lily pads.’ Standing, she jumped on a dishtowel, and from there, onto a pillow. She glanced over her shoulder, until I climbed onto the dishtowel. From the dishtowel to a pillow to a pot holder Jesse had made in first grade, all the way across Kate’s side of the room. Following my mother’s footsteps was the surest way out.”

Note: Kate and her sister had divided their room with a line down the middle and neither sister could enter the other’s territory. The narrator had chosen the side with the toys and had played happily while her sister had no access to her playthings. However, lunchtime came, and the narrator could not cross the line to leave the room. The door was on Kate’s side. The mother comes to the rescue. 

Notice the props the mother carries: pot holders, dishtowels and pillows and the extra two details that the pot holder was made by her brother in first grade. The mother renames the props lily pads. Not only does the mother put down an acceptable escape room she demonstrates by walking on the newly named lily pads. We get the emotional story in the last sentence. 

The actions of the mother tells a lot about her attitude toward her daughter. She takes her problem seriously and finds a solution. Because of other things in the book, it is unusual for the mother to do this, so it builds in another aspect to the mother that we haven’t seen before.

2. “In our living room we have a whole shelf devoted to the visual history of our family. Everyone’s baby pictures are there, and some school head shots, and then various photos form vacations and birthdays and holiday. They make me think of notches on a belt or scratches on a prison wall – proof that time has passed that we haven’t all just been swimming in limbo. 

“There are double frames, singles 8x10s, 4x6s. They are made of blond wood and inlaid wood and one very fancy glass mosaic. I pick up one of Jesse – he’s about two, in a cowboy costume. Looking at it, you never know what’s coming down the pike.

“There’s Kate with hair and Kate all bald; one of Kate as a baby sitting on Jesse’s lap; one of my mother holding each of them on the edge of a pool. There are pictures of me, too, but not many. I go from infant to about ten years old in one fell swoop.”

Note: At first this looks like the description of an ordinary family shelf of photos. However the author adds a few details that make the section emotionally charged. Kate is bald after she has hair. We know from earlier in the book Kate has cancer, the baldness drives it home. 

The narrator’s reaction is negative. Notches on a belt or prison scratches are not happy comparisons. Swimming in limbo also adds to the negative feelings of the scene. That there are photos of the older sister and brother through out childhood, by nine years are missing from the narrator’s life also shows volumes about the narrator’s place in the family. The narrator also chooses action words in phrases like coming down the pike and one fell swoop in a stationary scene. In a way the setting up of the shelf of pictures is action that went before and gives an insight into the family’s dynamic. The first two children are important, the second is not. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016


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Perspective on Age
Times: 1968, 2016
Places: Republican National Conventions
            Reading, MA, Argelès-sur-mer, France.

Richard Nixon filled my TV screen. CNN was comparing his speech to Donald Trump's. I feel nauseous more by what they've shown about Trump. I am tired of war and race riots. Nixon looks so young, I think.

Richard Nixon fills my TV screen. Same speech as I will see decades later in France. I am nauseous more from my new pregnancy than what he says. I am in Reading, MA. I am tired of war, race riots. Nixon looks so old, I think.

Perspective on Friendship
Times: 1993-2016
Places: Internet, Geneva, Africa

"You can speak English," were the first words J spoke to me. I had telephoned about an ad for an apartment in Geneva where I'd just moved for work. Little did I know that would begin first a landlord-tenant relationship followed by decades of growing friendship that included silliness, sushi, support thru life-threatening illnesses and loss of beloved family members and much, much, much more.

Her blog triggered the memory of our first meeting at the apartment that would be my home for the next 11 years. She was with her Son. No. 1 a gangling teenager.

I think of a photo of that son taken a year ago. He is in Africa in tribal dress on a jeep surrounded by gun-toting body guards. No, he didn't become a terrorist. He is doing good things while on mission for the UN.

Friendships are built by shared experiences little by little until one day, one realizes the depth of that friendship.

Perspective on weather

Times: 2014, 2016
Places: Westport, Ireland, Argelès-sur-mer, France

Dec. 2014
"Isn't this wonderful?" I asked my husband Rick. We were walking a dog in Westport, Ireland as part of a house/pet sitting experience. Sleet was stinging my cheeks. Every atom of my body felt alive. I had the energy to conquer the world.

Raised in snow-bound much of the year, Binghamton, NY and having lived in hot, hot Dallas happily for  20 years, he looked at me. There were ice crystals in his beard. I could "hear" him thinking "I married a crazy woman."

July 2016
Rick and I are walking around the village at the end of a very hot day that has sucked my strength. It is a bit cooler (meaning I can breath but barely). He is happy, I am sure thinking of golf games yet to be played in "good" weather. Snow is a four-letter obscenity to him while heat enlivens him.

Fortunately we both like spring and autumn.

The mystical "they" say the more things change the more they stay the same.


Maybe not.

Maybe it is our perspective that changes.


If my mother, Dorothy Sargent Boudreau, were alive today, I am sure she would have been a blogger. Her last career was that of a journalist writing for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and the Boston Herald.

After she "retired" she regularly wrote two columns, Stove Stories, which were recipes with a history and Going Like 60 covering just about anything, in other words, perfect blog material.

She was a good writer.

She died in 1989 and when I cleaned out her apartment I kept many of her clips. They are now two doors down and three flights up in my Nest.

So, how did one of the clips about mothers day did one of those clips end up in my nightstand?

I discovered it a couple of days ago when I was looking for Fenistil to sooth my itchy bites.

I don't believe in contact from the other world even if the toilet on the second floor of my aunt's house flushed when no one was there when the family was gathered on the first floor after her funeral.

And just because there was a tomato plant growing on my grandfather's grave in the middle of the city cemetery after he told everyone to "Plant me in the garden. When the tomatoes come up all ripe and luscious, you can say, 'that's Walter'" doesn't mean there was any communication from the other side.

I don't have an explanation. I don't think I want one.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Making a home

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I have a 400-year-old kitchen with original stone walls (although repointed) a sealed off doorway or maybe it was an oven. There is a debate on that. 

Until this week I also had an IKEA island that just didn't look right.

We went on a hunt to replace it with a French country table, not some modern reproduction but one that had really been used, where people ate, laughed, cried and made plans. I wanted wood with memories embedded.

We found it at a Depot/Vente, our favorite used furniture store and it was delivered. It did require a complete rearrangement of our pots, pans, dishes, which my well-organized husband did as I hid out in another room. This method stops any possible bickering.

Although I am now happy with rustic look and still adore the carved  fish stones, I am not about to give up my modern appliances.

I suspect when I knead bread or roll out a pie crust on the table, I won't be the first. Other women have done it before me. I wish I knew a bit about their lives.

Since my kitchen is the heart of my home complete with heart shaped stones, I look forward to making meals for those I like and love.

The two things were another step in making the flat truly Rick's and mine.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Good/bad bosses

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Sitting at lunch Rick and I were reminiscing about the many bosses we have had and tried to figure out what made them good or bad.

My first was an editor of a daily newspaper who growled and terrified me, but in retrospect was kind and always willing to teach me.

One boss threw a waste paper basket at me, and shortly after I quit, not being fond of flying objects that could hurt me. He ended up in a mental hospital.

Another was a control freak and as part of the hiring process had me talk with ex-employees about how bad a boss he was.


I was making an international move and he thought it fair. Despite the fact that he usually had one of his employees in tears weekly or more often, he was scrupulously honest. I did not miss working for him and stayed as long as I did because he held my working permit.

In my next job I once again could eat an apple at my desk my old boss was not there to be bothered by the crunch.

My last boss I really respected, liked and wasn't afraid of as most of the staff were. However, I hated having to tell him one of my direct reports had messed up big time and what we were doing to correct it. He approved of my plan.

"Just don't let it happen again," he said

"I won't. I dreaded telling you," I said.

He sat back in his chair and smiled. "I know." And that was the end of it.

Our good bosses we decided told the truth, didn't play political or emotional games, left us alone to do our jobs with clear outlines of what was expected and gave us the tools and freedom to really contribute. It should be simple, but it isn't.

The bad?

Flying wastepaper baskets and apple limitations

Thursday, July 21, 2016

To be or not to be

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In our case it will be or won't be and not our choice. We want to go to Abu Dhabi to see the landing of the Solar Impulse, the totally solar powered plane that has spent the last year flying around the world with two pilots alternating behind the controls.

They are in Cairo waiting for the right weather conditions. Had they left earlier, we would have not been able to go because of Rick's news assignments and my final proofing of Murder in Schwyz deadlines.

If they delay too long, we have obligations in Geneva the first week in August. If it is after that, than we can go.

If we hear in the next few days they've taken off, it won't take us long to book a conventional plane and make hotel reservations. Throw stuff in the suitcase and off we'll be.

If they wait too long in the month, it will be on our list of things we didn't do (sigh). However, with all the things we do do, we know that life holds other adventures for us. We can celebrate their accomplishments from afar and be happy we ALMOST made it.


Strawberry Soup

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Pretty as a picture, this is a party soup or for romantic dinners for two. Call it a glamorous soup, call it
exotic, call it elegant.The recipe is from my mother's cookbook.
  • 1 pound fresh ripe strawberries
  • 4 cups Port
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp. arrowroot
Hull and wash strawberries and put in a saucepan with 4 cups Port and one cup of water.

Bring to a boil.

Mix the arrowroot with with 1/4 cup water and stir into the hot soup.

Reheat and stir until it thickens.

Serve the soup chilled and topped with a small dollop of whipped cream and/or a sprinkle of chopped walnuts.

Serves six to 10 depending on the role it plays in your menu.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Yea Boo Part II

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 Another Yea:Boo day...

Yea: Calm morning.

Yea: The antique desk for sale at the Depot Vente I saw a week ago plus was still there. We were able to find the kitchen table and a chest to replace the Ikeaish things we had. Just what we wanted. A four hundred year old kitchen, although modernized, deserves authentic old.


Yea: The owner saw me admiring a beautiful handmade paper book. He gave it to me.

Boo: The bank said I would have to go to Perpignan to change the 50 Euro note that is ink stained.

Boo:  Over two hour wait in the doctor's office.

Yea: Clean body no sign of cancer.

Boo: Tried Cresendo for a late lunch. Strange system, pay then walk by the food. Nothing looked good. Poor was his day to cook. We came home and I made him pasta and a salad to make up for being such a pill. Over all I am not a fan of chain restaurants and maybe it was Barbara's ghost because she hated the supermarket attached to Crescendo.  

Yea: Temporarily solved editing problem for my novel Murder in Schwyz due out in October.

Yea:  Ball at La Place de La Republique. Lovely watching all ages dance around the square. Did a bit ourselves. Marco, our resident alcoholic artist showed me a portrait he'd done of me.

Yea: Life goes on. That is truly a gift.