Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Family of choice

There's blood family.

I'm an orphan, although no one feels sorry for a 72-year old orphan.

I have myriad cousins that I have limited contact with. No problems, just geography. Facebook allows for messages and when anyone comes to Europe we try and meet up.

My brother and I have birthday-greeting contact, although his daughter, my niece, and I share on Facebook regularly. She's a nurse and just starting grad school. 

My daughter is my closest blood relative and despite an ocean between us we have regularly exchanges that could be anything from hourly to weekly, depending on the busyness of either or both of us.

I also have my family of choice.

These are people with whom I've shared things so deeply over the years, that they go beyond what the term friend implies.

These are people I would do whatever I could to help if they needed it.

These are people with whom I've laughed with, cried with, worried with.

These are people I've been silly with.

These are people I've can be alone with in the same room and it creates a feeling of peace.

These are people who accept me with all my quirks (head shaking is allowed) and I accept theirs.

This hit me rather strongly when I was talking with my former neighbour and Syrian friend that is definitely a family of choice member when she referred to Rick as her brother-in-law.

Having family of choice members is like a stone skipped  into the water creating circles that reach out beyond me creating ever-widening concentric circles.

In a world that can often be cruel, loving is priceless.

Monday, October 20, 2014

To mend or not to mend

These PJ bottoms are at least 15 years old. The waist band is separated for about an inch from the material below the elastic (fixable). The cuffs are frayed and a repaired tear in the crotch seam is barely holding. The yellow top long ago disintegrated as did the matching slippers.

To mend or not to mend, that is a question Hamlet might not ask, but I am.

I have newer and prettier PJs.

Why would I want to save them for just a little longer?

They hold a memory. They were a gift from Air France.

I was flying business class from Geneva to Toronto for my company. Because I had meetings early in  the morning immediately after landing, I was allowed the luxury of business class so I would be fresh (at least in theory) to deal with the problems I was about to encounter.

I wanted to make sure that I had an aisle seat--between my slight claustrophobia and my need to use the WC an aisle is better for everyone.

"You will be happy with your seat," the airline staffer told me.

I debated pushing for an answer that I was guaranteed the aisle, but didn't.

As soon as I entered the plane, I was happy that I hadn't pushed. They had upgraded me to first class.

Thus I dined on foie gras while sipping champagne for the apèro, enjoyed my rare lamb chops served with a crisp salad and haricot verts and a seasoned rice.

My gift bag included the normal toiletries, eye shade, ear phones, but it also included the PJs and slippers.

Every time I've worn them over the last decade and a half, I remember that sometimes it is better NOT to protest.

A letter to the Wells Fargo CE0

An employee of Wells Fargo wrote this to his CEO and sent copies to all employees. How much better the world would be if Mr, Stumpf listened.

How popular Wells Fargo would be as well in comparison to the other banks?

Think that Wal-mart might get some good publicity instead of looking greedy when they cut their employees health care while making a fortune for a few.

And to all CEOs, if you had no employees you would have no one to do the work to sell to your customers to earn money for you and the shareholders.

A business needs three parts, like a three-legged stool: capital, employees, clients. Without any of the three, the stool collapses.

Mr. Stumpf,
With the increasing focus on income inequality in the United States. Wells Fargo has an opportunity to be at the forefront of helping to reduce this by setting the bar, leading by example, and showing the other large corporations that it is very possible to maintain a profitable company that not only looks out for its consumers and shareholders, but its employees as well.
This year Wells Fargo in its second quarter alone had a net income of $5.7 billion, and total revenue of $21.1 billion. These are very impressive numbers, and is obvious evidence that Wells Fargo is one of, if not the most profitable company in the nation right now. So, why not take some of this and distribute it to the rest of the employees.
Sure, the company provides while not great, some pretty good benefits, as well as discretionary profit sharing for those who partake in our 401k program. While the benefits are nice, the profit sharing through the 401k only goes to make the company itself and its shareholders more profitable, and not really boost the income of the thousands of us here every day making this company the prestigious power house that it is.
Last year, you had pulled in over $19 million, more than most of the employees will see in our lifetimes. It is understood that your position carries a lot of weight and responsibility; however, with a base salary of $2.8 million and bonuses equating to $4 million, is alone one of the main arguments of income inequality. Where the vast majority, the undeniable profit drivers, with the exception of upper management positions barely make enough to live comfortably on their own, the distribution of income in this company is no better than that of the other big players in the corporate world.
My estimate is that Wells Fargo has roughly around 300,000 employees. My proposal is take $3 billion dollars, just a small fraction of what Wells Fargo pulls in annually, and raise every employees annual salary by $10,000 dollars. This equates to an hourly raise about $4.71 per hour. Think, as well, of the positive publicity in a time of extreme consumer skepticism towards banks. By doing this, Wells Fargo will not only help to make its people, its family, more happy, productive, and financially stable, it will also show the rest of the United States, if not the world that, yes big corporations can have a heart other than philanthropic endeavors.
P.S. – To all of my fellow team members who receive a copy of this email. Though Wells Fargo does not allow the formation of unions, this does not mean we cannot stand united. Each and every one of us plays an integral part in the success of this company. It is time that we ask, no, it is time that we demand to be rightfully compensated for the hard work that we accomplish, and for the great part we all have played in the success of this company. There are many of us out there who come to work every day and give it our all, yet, we struggle to make ends meet while our peers in upper management and company executives reap the majority of the rewards. One of our lowest scored TMCS questions is that our opinions matter. Well they do! This email has been sent to hundreds of thousands Wells Fargo employees, (as many as I could cc from the outlook global address book). And while the voice of one person in a world as large as ours may seem only like a whisper, the combined voices of each and all of us can move mountains!
With the warmest of regards,

Brand names and selling my body

It is no news to my friends that I don't do brand names. 

I would if they paid me to be an advertising billboard, but why should I sell my body to someone like Nike? After all Nike pays Federer a fortune. I wouldn't charge as much as he does, of course, because I'm not on international television regularly. 

Those who would see me with the brand would be limited to a few people in a few places. Perhaps we could work out a deal, one Euro per person I pass.

I've always thought that wearing brands says, "Hey, I'm dumb, I want to impress people that I have the latest, expensive thing. I think that makes me better than you."

Sometimes the thing that I like does have a brand name and then I either remove the brand name or hide it in some ways.

Yes, yes, I know--I'm a cranky old woman, or COW for short.

We amused ourselves in an Amsterdam restaurant with a beer coaster marked "Brand"...I did put my glass on it not sure if I was using it or hiding it.

However, it didn't matter

The chicken satay was so good we forgot about branding.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn leaves

My Dad had a philosophy about fallen leaves. "God put them there. Let God take them away."

My Grandmother, whose house we shared, had a different philosophy: "God put them there so YOU can take them away."

As a result each autumn my father raked huge piles of leaves from our side and back yards, adding to them fallen pine branches from our grove in front of the house.

He must have loved my brother and I very much to let us jump in them and throw them in the air, meaning a second raking was required before burning, because burning was still legal then. Or maybe he had some vengeance in mind because we came away from our rollick with pine pitch on our hands that my mother dabbed with nail polish remover.

I don't do big piles. I do little piles and anyone who jumped in them might not be a good investment for a life insurance policy, and a very good investment for the recipient of that policy.

Bending and my back are not friends so I use the dustpan with the long handle to transfer the leaves to the trash bin.

I know as soon as my back (bent or not) is turned the oak tree which is so lovely in the summer will malicious laugh and shed a few more leaves just as when I finished today a wind decided to play throw and catch with the ones I'd missed.

I don't claim have done much but the driveway is now acorn free.

The tree in the photo produces enough acorns to feed the entire squirrel population not just of Corsier, but also the communes of Collonge, Anniers and Hermance. Those squirrels in turn could invite friends and family from Veigy, France just over the border, and there would still be leftovers.

I just looked out the window. More acorns-- no squirrels. On Facebook I found a photo of this
dog running and jumping in leaves. Sorry, I couldn't find URL, but any creature this happy makes my day.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chance encounters

Three people met for short periods between the houseboat and Geneva

The Taxi Driver

He appeared in a well pressed suit at 6 a.m. as requested. Originally from Morocco, he has three children. Although he's lived in Amsterdam for 25-years he would like to go back to Morocco after the children have finished university. His wife doesn't want to be that far away from them.

The Bulgarian Woman

The daughter, with her white blond hair in half corn rows, will be six next week. They were speaking in English, Swiss German and German. I couldn't understand the fourth language.

Bulgarian the mother told me. She speaks seven languages. Her daughter also understands Russian and will start learning French next year in school. 

I noticed the pink ribbon on the little girl's grey suede vest.

The woman also has had cysts and needs to be checked regularly to make sure they don't evolve into breast cancer.

We discussed medical care in different countries.

The Japanese Professor

The woman, who turned out to be my age, had her arm in a sling, and as she sat next to me on our flight from Amsterdam to Geneva, I tired not to bump her. She'd fallen and also broken her teeth. I told her about breaking my face in 2013.

She is a retired professor with study in linguistics.

My only regret that we didn't have more time to talk.

Chance encounters make my day more interesting.

The long and the short of it

The Geneva Writers Group has been my literary ballast for the past 21 years. Originally it was small with meetings held upstairs at the Café du Soleil. (photo above). From those days when we were about 20 writers, we have grown to almost two hundred, put out a bi-annual magazine and run a writing conference that draws lecturers and attendees from all over the world.

A good percentage of our members have had major successes in publishing their work.

The group has been led by Susan Tiberghien, who at 80 is still giving workshops that inspire.

We no longer fit at the Café du Soleil. Most of our meetings are at the Press Club in a beautiful old mansion (photo  below), that is, except when we are too many and then they are moved to Webster University.

Much of my craft I learned at these workshops. I suppose I'd have developed as a writer even without them, but they short-circuited the process.

I may have published nine novels with the 11th due out next April. See my website.

Someone might think I would be wasting my time, still going to workshops.

I'm not.

I never leave one without learning something that improves my writing.

Part of today's workshop on Flash Fiction (stories under 800 words) included a section on pacing which included the way to build or slow tension and emotion by the use of long and short sentences.

I'd played with this in my writing before, but never had I heard it explained so clearly.

I did get a piece out of the workshop, posted at http://flashfictionexercises.blogspot.ch/ 

That the long and short of it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The joys of flying today

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome aboard Southry-jetease2blue Flight 688.

We know that you like our low rates of $50 to your destination. Some of you were a little upset to have to pay another $50 for a suitcase checked and $75 if you had clothes in it.

You could have carried it on and the charge would be $40 for a suitcase checked and $65 if you had clothes in it.

And we thank you for paying an extra $25 to charge by credit card. We're sorry that is all the payments we accept.

There are a few more charges.

$12 to use the toilet
$17.50 to use the seat that you pre-booked for $17.50
$5.00 for the overhead light.
$7.50 for the tray
$10.00 to use the overhead compartments
$11.50 to leave things under the seat in front of you (if it sticks out in the aisle add another $5.00)
$25.00 exit fee from the plane
$14.00 use the ladder rather than jumping
$35 to use the tube where you slide to the ground.
$78 for our safety features each: oxygen mask, life jacket, slide into the water (there is no charge for any water that may be absorbed into your clothes).

And oh yes, $150 if you want air during your flight. For those that refuse there is a $160 pick up charge by the morgue at your destination.

You may pay by credit card for another $25 charge. 

If you do not wish to pay for any of these services or to use your credit card, you may descend into the baggage compartment for only $2.50 but pressurization will be $380. 

Now sit back and enjoy your flight.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Doggie day care

The door opened and five small and one large dog rushed out and hopped into the cart powered by a bike.

I asked if I could take a photo.

"You're not the first," the man said.

He runs a doggy day care facility. Four of the pouches are his, the yorkie (not visible) and the big one are his clients.

He spent time in Texas but his happy to be home in Holland (I could have said Netherlands but Holland has more alliteration).

Of they went, tails wagging.

In the Port of Amsterdam

The Port of Amsterdam of the Jacques Brel song is nothing like the reality. He portrayed it as seedy. It isn't seedy as ports go.

I first heard the song when I saw "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" which I ended up seeing nine times with different people. Never then did I think I would be seeing Amsterdam, not once but many times.

For Jacques Brel lovers the song can be watched on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2kkr0e_dTQ. with English and French translations. He carries the emotion much better than the David Bowie translation below. His version can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uPZIG5BHD4

In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who sings
Of the dreams that he brings
From the wide open sea
In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who sleeps
While the river bank weeps
To the old willow tree

In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who dies
Full of beer, full of cries
In a drunken town fight
In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who's born
On a hot muggy morn
By the dawn's early light

In the port of Amsterdam
Where the sailors all meet
There's a sailor who eats
Only fish heads and tails
And he'll show you his teeth
That have rotted too soon
That can haul up the sails
That can swallow the moon

And he yells to the cook
With his arms open wide
"Hey, bring me more fish
Throw it down by my side"
And he wants so to belch
But he's too full to try
So he stands up and laughs
And he zips up his fly

In the port of Amsterdam
You can see sailors dance
Paunches bursting their pants
Grinding women to porch
They've forgotten the tune
That their whiskey voice croaked
Splitting the night
With the roar of their jokes
And they turn and they dance
And they laugh and they lust
Till the rancid sound of the accordion bursts
And then out of the night
With their pride in their pants
And the sluts that they tow
Underneath the street lamps

In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who drinks
And he drinks and he drinks
And he drinks once again
He'll drink to the health
Of the whores of Amsterdam
Who've given their bodies
To a thousand other men
Yeah, they've bargained their virtue
Their goodness all gone
For a few dirty coins
Well he just can't go on
Throws his nose to the sky
And he aims it up above
And he pisses like I cry
On the unfaithful love

In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam

Dear NSA

Good morning from rainy Amsterdam...

I know you're able to follow everything I do from my laptop and my smart phone.

You must be bored out of your gourd with my smart phone. I hate the bloody thing and most of the time it stays in my drawer at home. I won't even give out the number because I don't want anyone to call me. They can send me an email.

I'll use my dumb phone not because of you, but because only a select few have the number. As for the other things I could use my smart phone for, I have my iPad.

Of course, I've read you have embedded tracking devices in my iPad.

What I haven't heard is if you've embedded tracking devices in my Kindle?

In case I haven't you might want to know that I've just down loaded James Risen's Pay any Price.

On Oct. 14 he was interviewed on www.democracynow.org and what he had to say about freedom of the press, whistleblowers and the war.

So in case you missed what I'm up to, I wanted to help you out.

I hope it is not raining where you are.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Security toilet paper

Our last day on the Amsterdam houseboat and we are down to one roll of toilet paper in the cute and interesting toilet paper holder.

Rick has humoured my toilet paper security psychosis. I once came home to find a six-month supply in the bathroom. It was hard to reach the toilet, but once there, I had doubt there would be toilet paper in reach.

Of course, we could ask Michele, our landlady for another roll. Or despite the pouring rain we could buy another roll.

I think I prefer to face my psychosis face-on. We do have an early flight tomorrow morning.

Going Dutch

Going Dutch usually means splitting the bill.

With us it would mean trying to find a restaurant with Dutch food. So far we've eaten Turkish and Italian in Amsterdam. Part of the reason is that we are not eating at regular meal times. 

In Geneva or Argelès we probably wouldn't be able to find a restaurant open at all during off hours.

Our first meal was at a family Turkish restaurant. They were mega proud of their professional singer daughter whose photos with the Dutch Queen and Bill Clinton were hung on the walls.

Today we found a family Italian one. Three little girls belong to three different employees were playing. The littlest was pushing a baby carriage almost as big as she was.

We were at first the only ones in the restaurant.

The family atmosphere was great as was my gnocchi and Rick's tomato soup.

Also we liked the finger of God touching the tomato. Maybe Michelangelo would have too.

We have one more day to find a typical Dutch restaurant.