Thursday, October 31, 2013

When a chore can be fun

When my housemate hurt her foot, it was natural for me to help her close out the chalet for the season.

Chores, shouldn't be fun.

But it was.

The drive to Les Marecottes along the lake and popping in and out of France, the mountains, are always beautiful even if the fall colours are bit dull this year.

Les Marecottes, where the chalet is located in a Heidi-like Alpine village,  is between tourist seasons.

The situation...2 hungry women with all restaurants closed.

The next bigger village down the mountain, Salvan (population 1,215 with a museum dedicated to Marconi who worked there and a plaque to the chef that died on the Titanic) had one restaurant open.

We shared a plate of the local produce before heading back to the chalet.

The next morning, a quick breakfast at the one café in the village that had re-opened and refreshed from a good night's sleep, we were able to sort out what would go to Geneva, what would be put away for next year, load the car, say goodbye to people.

We were off, but starved. If anyone thinks food is important to us, you are so, so right.

The decision to eat on route, took a nano second and we stopped at the stereotypical Swiss restaurant facing yet another pretty sight, a rock cliff. I started chatting with a man who mourned the fact that winter was coming. I have the same DNA as my mother and to anyone who is willing to talk.

We just had to take a photo of the curtains.

"It's a buffalo my housemate said."

"Beautiful colour, but I see cows."

At the next  roundabout we went back and saw nothing, turned again and pulled off to take photos. We couldn't decide if they were cows, buffalo or some of each. There was no debate how adorable the babies were. None of them bothered to get up to get a closer look at us, but I swear a couple smiled for the cameras.

I've put this photo on Facebook to see if others can decide. Love the suggestions of two people: cowfalos or buffacows.

Continuing on we had to, just had to stop and take photos of the Hotel de Ville (When I first came to France I thought that was a hotel chain with one in each town and village.).

A stop at a friend's house to pick up 3 kilos of chestnuts. Her trees produced a record crop this year. We're not sure if we'll roast them or use them for decoration or both.

The last stop at the post to pick up the mail. My housemate watched as I try to get into a gray car--only it wasn't her car. It left us giggling as we drove through the vineyards and home.

Now none of these things are big things in and of themselves, but somehow each of them made us happy with the exception of wounded foot.

Chores can be fun with the right attitude.


Today is Samhain (Pre-Christian festival) which Halloween has evolved from (Julia don’t cringe too much at the preposition at the end of the sentence.)

It marks the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter or the dark half of the year. It proceeds Nov. 1, Toussaint or All Saints Day, a legal holiday in many Catholic countries. The Catholic Church sometime in the 9th century changed All Saints’ Day to Nov. 1 while All Souls’ Day was set for Nov. 2.

Halloween (contraction of All Hallows’ Evening) in religious terms was dedicated to remembering the dead.

In Ireland, cattle were returned from summer pasture, and some slaughtered for winter provisions. It was seen as a day when spirits could enter the human sphere.

People would hollow out turnips and put candles in them to light their route as they celebrated the day with feasts.  They went door to door, begging for food (probably not many Mars bars or Hershey kisses were handed out.)

Now in some countries, it’s more a kid’s holiday and a chance for stores to sell lots of candy and costumes for trick or treating.

As a child, my over-protective mother never let me go out, but I baked Halloween cookies with my grandmother and made up packages with orange-coloured napkins with the cookies and candy and handed them out to the kids who were allowed out.

By the time my daughter was of trick or treat age, we went to homes of those we knew for already sick people were putting razors in apples. My over protective mother was about two decades ahead of her time in worry.

One year we had a Halloween party for my daughter, which was great until one little girl was pushed down the stairs and broke her foot.

Halloween was not celebrated in Switzerland when I first came here in 1990. One American couple did hold a halloween costume party. Cultural difference screamed when all the Americans showed up in homemade costumes and the Swiss rented costumes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A nice nanny

Scene: Beautiful fall day at the bus stop outside Marronier restaurant

Characters: A Nigerian nanny and her charge, Ludmilla, a little blond of no more than three.

(The little girl is peeking through the bushes at the diners in the restaurant. The nanny tries to move her away, and she puts her hands behind her back. The nanny gently leads her to the bus stop, sits down and angles the child in front of her.)

The conversation was in French, but this is a translation.

Ludmilla: I want to watch them eat.

Nanny: No.

Ludmilla: But I want to. I want to.

Nanny: (softly but firmly) It isn't you that decides, it's me that decides.

Ludmilla: But I want to.

Nanny: I know you do, but we need to respect people's privacy.

Ludmilla: (pouting climbs up on the bench)

Nanny: (hands her a phone to play with--pouting stops)

The bus comes and the nanny and little girl get on the bus. The child is all smiles and they chat about where they are going. I loved the firm limits, delivered in a soft voice, the recognition of what the child wanted, and the reason she couldn't have it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Folk music and me

As a child of the 60s, I've always loved folk music: Cohen, Baez, Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Utah Phillips, Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem...

In the 80s in Boston two college radio stations, Emerson and Boston University had folk music programs that I listened to on my hour's reverse commute out of the city. And more than one Friday night would find me at a coffee house, often in a Unitarian church basement.

Here's a list of some of my then favourites. Now there's a whole new crop of singers...

Nancy Griffith
Born in TX; Griffith's career has spanned a variety of musical genres predominantly country and folk.
Her song From a Distance was a hit for Bette Middler.

Lucie Blue Tremblay
Born 1958 in Montreal is a Canadian folk singer-songwriter performs music in English/French
The "Frank-Tremblay Safe College Scholarship", named for Tremblay and Barney Frank.

Ferron, born Deborah Foisy on June 1, 1952 (age 61), is one of the most famous Canadian folk singers.

Christine Lavin
Born in NYC and does funny songs.  The youtube above is Eating Cold Pizza for Breakfast

Leo Kottke
The 68 year old lived in 12 states in his youth.

Bob Franke
Franke, a liberal Christian covers and personal themes in his songwriting. His song "Alleluia, The Great Storm Is Over" was written shortly after his young daughter's orthopedic condition was diagnosed, and he has said that he composed the song while working at a chocolate factory, and that the rhythm of the song was based on the rhythm of the machines. "Love Bravely, Elizabeth" is addressed to the same daughter, and the songs on his album, The Desert Questions, were written after his divorce. Some of his writing is political: the song "Kristallnacht is Coming" on his album The Heart of the Flower draws parallels between the Holocaust  and Americans' attitudes towards immigrants during the 1990s.

Phil Ochs
Philip David Ochs (December 19, 1940 – April 9, 1976) was an American protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, earnest humanism, political activism, insightful and alliterative lyrics, and distinctive voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and released eight albums in his lifetime.

Al Grierson A friend his memorial service. He died in a flash flood in 2000.

Chris Williamson

Periodically, thanks to youtube, I'll bring up their music just because I can.

"Fall" adventure

My housemate and I try to have one adventure every season. Some have been:

1. A week in northern Germany researching the novel Murder on Insel Poel

2. Going to Ely

3. An overnight in the Jura mountains

4. Riding the trains...just getting on any train and getting off when we felt like it.

However this year with our individual travel schedules we've fallen behind.

However let's look at the word fall...

Leaving the Dylan concert last night, I walked down the stairs ahead of her. All of a sudden, she was on the floor ahead of me with a very nice man in his 20s trying to help.

"Your ankle?" I asked, knowning she'd injured it a few months before.

"Not good." She more or less crawled to the banister and pulled herself upright from her fall.

She hobbled to the car, using me as crutch and expressed gratitude that I was short...or just the right height to rest on.

Our first idea was to try a permanence, one of the walk-in clinics. However, the one that used to be 24/7 and had an X-ray machine was now only 7/15.

Plan B. Hôpital Universitare de Genève (HUG).

A five-hour wait we were told. We decided to go home and sleep and go back toward the end of the wait.

At home, the icy sleeve for a champagne bottle made a great ice pack, that reduced the swelling, we both got some sleep and were first in line for X-rays slightly after dawn cracked.

Not broken, but she's still damaged it enough that we both changed weekend plans.

When we do next fall's adventure we should try it standing up.

I'm sure within the next day or two she'll blog it at

Living down to expectations

We were warned not to expect much from the Bob Dylan concert, and we were not disappointed. He lived down to them.

At the same time I would not have missed seeing this icon for anything.

Why wasn't it wonderful like the Leonard Cohen concert this summer?

1. The stage was almost in darkness. Hard to see anyone on it much less Dylan.

2. They put a spotlight on Dylan that went directly into the audience. Like staring at a headlight on an oncoming car.

3. The music drowned out the lyrics, although my housemate and I had fun whenever we understood a line. There were probably 15 at most that were distinguishable.

Would I still have gone had I known? Yup, yup, yup.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Clock haiku

The clocks changed today
Outside it is pouring rain
Best Sunday ever*


*well almost ever it helps to have tea, housemate, husband, books, computer, music too.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Oh to be in two places at the same time


The bus passed a poster saying that Johnny Clegg will be performing in Geneva. I'll be in France. I realise that it is impossible to take advantage of all that is happening in the world. I missed Joan Baez in France for example because I was in Geneva. And I'm also missing a performance of Carmina Burana here in Geneva when I'm in France.

I don't expect nor am I asking for any sympathy because I'm in either of these beautiful places.

For those that don't know Clegg, he is a South African that uses a combination of rock and African music. He was a powerful voice against apartheid.

I first heard of Clegg when I lived in Toulouse. I saw him in concert in Massachusetts (he opened for Tracy Chapman) and later RB2 and I saw him in Lausanne. One of the stupider questions I've asked was when I first met RB2, who grew up in South Africa, if he'd ever heard of Johnny Clegg, which is a bit like asking anyone who was an American teenager in the 50s and 60s if they'd ever heard of Elvis Presley.

There's so much energy in his concerts. I defy anyone not to tap their toes at least if not dance when they listen to him.

Anyone near any of these places you should try and see him. Meanwhile, I'll console myself that I can only be in one place at a time and those places are wonderful...

Nov 2013
07.11 Le Grand Casino, BASEL (Suisse)
08.11 Lugano Jazz Festival, LUGANO (Suisse)
09.11 Le Radiant, LYON / CALLUIRE (FR) - tickets / billets
10.11 DIJON (FR)
16.11 Le Double V, WOUSTEVILLER (FR)
19.11 Le Cadran, EVREUX (FR)
22.11 SEDAN (FR)
23.11 Jazz en Ouche, L'AIGLE (FR)

March 2014 (North American tour)
14.03 Indianapolis, IN
15.03 Akron, OH
18.03 Fort Worth, TX
19.03 Austin, TX
21.03 New Orleans, LA
22.03 Gainesville, FL
23.03 Sarasota, FL
26.03 Atlanta, GA
27.03 Augusta, GA
28.03 Wingate, NC
29.03 Washington, DC
30.03 Philadelphia, PA

April 2014
02.04 Ridgefield, CT
04.04 Somerville, MA
05.04 Troy, NY
06.04 Poughkeepsie, NY
08.04 New York, NY
09.04 New York, NY
10.04 New York, NY
11,04 Quebec, QB
12.04 Lebanon, NH
16.04 Toronto, ON
17.04 London, ON
18.04 Chicago, IL
19.04 Madison, WI
25.04 Saskatoon, SK
26.04 Sherwood Park, AB
27.04 Kelowna, BC
29.04 West Vancouver, BC
30.04 Seattle, WA

May 2014
01.05 Portland, OR
02.05 Grass Valley, CA
03.05 Saratoga, CA
04.05 Berkeley, CA
06.05 Mesa, AZ
07.05 Tucson, AZ
09.05 Solana Beach, CA
10.05 Thousand Oaks, CA

It would have made a great book but

Walking downtown I passed the marché that features art works and books. Browsing is impossible to resist.

There was this beautiful old photo album which I could imagine on the table in the entry of my imaginary farmhouse.

The first photo was of a couple on their wedding day. Later photos were of their children as they grew.

If I were still teaching creative writing, the photos would make wonderful triggers for flash fiction. Later on the bus I realised that the entire album of this family's photos could make a wonderful source of a novel.

Did I go back and buy it?

No. With two novels in the works and all the work with newsletter, the last thing I need is another project.

But I still am imagining the lives of the people in the photos.

I wish I could do all I thought of, but I would need hundreds of lifetimes...

Friday, October 25, 2013

A sharing sleepover

I met my Indian friends in 1999 when they were neighbors when I'd invited people on my floor in for a 12th night cake.

I've watched their daughter go from getting her 2nd teeth to being a medical student in Scotland with lots of brownie making, pumpkin carving and talking in between. I've been to their dance performers, they've been to my book readings.

Our floor was a big happy family including my Syrian friend. We shared meals, guests, movies. Many Sunday mornings, I padded down the hallway still in my pjs for an Indian breakfast.

I lived with them for three weeks between apartments. And when I asked to stay because I was covering a conference in a short walk from their place, they said "we thought you were a long-time resident."

Now we live on opposite sides of the city and our schedules preclude the physical closeness but not the friendship closeness.

Even though they are in a new place it is like coming home every time I visit.

Last night we caught up on our news as I watched him make an Indian meal. He is innovative, cooking without recipes, but I can get a good lesson on use of spices.

He showed me a 20 minute Indian film. I would have enjoyed it on my own, but his explanations of the cultural twists I would have missed and gave me a greater appreciation of the story based on jealousy, generosity and forgiveness.

We missed two important events in our individual families this year. Her 50th birthday coincided with Rick's and my commitment ceremony. However, I had the wonderful book of photos made by my housemate and she had a video of her party. It let us into each other's lives yet again.

This morning, after a breakfast reminiscent of the good old days, I walked part way to work with her.

These are the good new days.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A picture is worth a 1,000 words

As a writer where words are sacred, I'm not afraid of saying I believe that a picture IS worth a 1,000 words.

As a mystery writer, I read mysteries which is what took me to Alexander McCalls Smith's 1st Lady Detective Series, which led me to his 22 Scotland Road series and his von Ingelfeld series. The last two really aren't mysteries but people with satirical characters that are just plain fun to read

But there's another facet of the last two series that I love. They have sketches in them.

What fun to turn a page and see a drawing.

The first time I saw that in a modern book was Rita Mae Brown's mystery series which she co-authored with a cat Sneaky-Pie Brown.

However, whether in words or pictures, the story is the most important thing, the telling the second most important and that's where the 1,000 words come in. They have to be good ones.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A new scam

Okay so generals skype regularly and ask me to skype them back. And of course there's the email from Nigerian prince's or other business men that need a place to stash their money. And we won't forget microsoft problem scams, or the one from my non-existent granddaughter stuck in Wales, but this is a new one.

"Enter a message to introduce yourself.I`m Mary Geroge,64yrs old from New  york, affected with cancer of the breast.My condition is really deteriorating and is quite obvious that I may not live more than 2

weeks,because the cancer stage has gotten its 4th stage. After my Doc Notice ,i have decided to divide part of my fortune,by contributing to the Charities &

Motherless. I am willing to donate the sum of £3,500,000.00 to the poor through you.Can you help me?

please you can also get back to me on my email"

Not to mention how ridiculous it is, why would a woman in New York with or without breast cancer makes a donation in pounds.

It does get tiring these scams...

I'm sorry my partner is feeling poorly

The man who shares chores with me is a wonderful writer. We both do the newsletters to email to our Canadian clients. He also does the techie stuff and patiently teaches me. I do admin stuff and grumble as I do it. I never asked him if he grumbles over the technie stuff. It all has to be done.

Today we were supposed to get together so my computer could get back in synch with his computer.

He has a cold and suggested postponement.


It's not that I don't want to see him, I do. And I do want our computers in synch.

But it's raining...the intensity is from sprinkles to let's-build-an-ark-and-round-up-the-animals quick.

I'm in sweats. I've a nice cup of tea.

Yesterday I was emailing about tea cosies with another and we shared some photos. If my mother were alive, she would love this one for her owl collection.

But even without a tea cosy on my pot of is wonderfully cosy for staying in, drinking tea, writing reading.

Saturday our computers have a date.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Looking young

People tell me I don't look my age, but no one in their right mind would tell a woman, "You look like an old woman."

I really don't think of myself as old, but sometimes I have to do a double take when I catch my reflection in a store window or a mirror.

However, I think I've found one way to look younger.


I was plagued (except when I was pregnant, and having a baby a year was not the way I wanted a beautiful complexion) with them until I discovered quite by accident that when I stopped drinking orange juice and eating citrus my complexion cleared up.

Kaki fruit which is in season only a short time has the same effect as citrus.  I've enjoyed four and now my face is broken out. The pimple on the tip of my nose is the most annoying.

Having a teenage skin problem is one way of preserving youth. Being mature is choosing the pleasure of the cause over caring. Kaki season will end. My skin will clear up.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chalet pictures


Kaki fruit is available only a few weeks a year. They are ultra sweet and I love them.
Lobster has always been my favourite food. Even when I was allergic I ate it. However often Maine lobster price in Europe would mean selling my first and only born child and she regularly refuses to be put on the market.

However, Picard, a store that is only freezers and frozen foods has cooked frozen Maine lobsters for 8.95 Euros. We bought two in France, took them to the chalet and opened a bottle of champagne. Does life get better? I don't think so.

 Through the window of the Café Centrale where we went  for brizolée

The restaurant is so typically Swiss.

And after years of missing it, La Brizolée.

We won't discuss the meals the next two days at different mountain restaurants.