Monday, February 24, 2014

Friendship through words

I can't remember how many years ago--at least a dozen when a group of women from many countries (US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, Israel, Australia) met on-line through the International Womens Writers Guild.

We started out to do a project together. We selected a site, which in this case was Camden Market in the UK. Then we each came up with characters for a short story but we had to use at least one character from another writer's story.

We edited and polished.

A funny thing happened on the way to publishing. Short stories aren't that much in demand and we all had limited time so the project languished. That is until one of our writers Kindled it.

But something really, really nice happened as well. 

We became friends. 

Some of us met over the years face-to-face but whether it was in person or computer-to-computer the friendships increased.

We shared worries, joys, illnesses, jobs lost and found, jobs we wished were lost, new arrivals naturally and by adoption, fears and hopes. When we published something we celebrated, when we were rejected we publisher... keep at it.

We lost one of our members and mourned.

Some of our emails were with the entire group, other times we broke off and had more private conversations. We shared with words and those words touched our hearts. 

Now our project is available here.

This is the woman

who created a wonderful world for writers in Geneva...her message of support not competition is a model of how helping each other advances everyone.


I spend a lot of time in cylinders being hurtled from one country to another. Sunday was back to Geneva in a cylinder. When Rick made the bed, he along with Herr Hare and Honey Bunny expressed their feelings about my departure.

A last look at Argelès from the train station.If you look smack dab in the middle peeking through the reeds Canigou in all its snowy magnificence,

There's a rule for French cylinders...if there's a tight change between trains, mine will be late and the other will leave on time. Thus I didn't want to trust the  18 min. change (of course this time it would have worked) so I caught an earlier train rather than risk missing my connection. I spent about 2 hours reading and people watching at Montpellier. They've just redone la gare and it is quite beautiful. Sadly, the cookie shop is closed on Sunday.

St. Paul's (a sandwich chain is in most train stations in France. They have a good selection, but down at one end of the station with salads and interesting drinks. I chose a bacon, lettuce and chicken sandwich on an interesting bread...and a Tyrell's hand cooked crisps with their jackets.

And soon I'll be on another cylinder for Italy and Malta... and then another and another and another.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why I love him

It isn't that he gives me welcome home flowers that have lasted two weeks, although these are well appreciated and enjoyed.

It's that he does things like in the photo.

I looked at it and thought he was being artistic. I wondered why there were two little stars on the bottom left hand corner. You have to click on the photo to make it bigger to see them.

He explained, that the blanket was shaped as like Malta as best a red blanket can be, where I'm going next week. This was the holy grail my housemate and I promised ourselves when we were both dealing with final illnesses long distances of people we loved. We promised ourselves something special when peace happened to their souls and to our hearts. There were days when we'd stomp through a room chanting "Malta, Malta, Malta" because we felt helpless, sad and frustrated.

Or "Malta, Malta, Malta," would be written on the bottom of a Skype or an email as we shared something painful or frustrating.
So the 26th of Mar. we are finally heading for Malta...

The two little stars, I asked him.

"That's you and Julia having a wonderful time."

We will. We will come up with a new special destination for a next adventure not associated with pain but because we can do it and enjoy it and share it.

We are lucky women that we have people in our lives that get so excited about things that mean so much to us even when they are not part of it.


School children in New York State will have their complete data stored in an agreement between New York and the Bill Gates Foundation and a private company.

This information will be available to companies and the officials claim it can be used by such companies as textbook publishers. Well true but only if the child's name and any other identifier is removed. As long as the name is on it children from kindergarten on have lost their right to privacy forever and ever and ever and ever.

Imagine a child 25 years now is turned down for a job because he threw an apple in second grade or had detention 3x in high school.

How about health issues that no longer affect the person such as childhood epilepsy that is no longer a problem and is turned down for a job.

How about if the government used that information to blackmail a child into joining the armed services and sent into a war zone...

The repercussions of this is horrifying.

My child as an adult is safe from this invasion of privacy, but what about your children or nieces and nephews in New York?

Other states are considering the same thing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Andorra secret mission

 Rick prepares for our secret mission to the country of Andorra.

"TA TA!"

Just as we drove out of town, Scooby II jumped out of my pocketbook. SinceAndorra is about a three hour drive from Argelès, we decided not to take him back home.

Meanwhile back in Argelès, Petite Cougar was frantic. She, Herr Hare and Honey Bunny had looked everywhere for Scoob. They started to call the police, but then they remembered, they didn't know the number and they couldn't speak French.

 We made a stop and that bad puppy jumped from the car to look closer at the wine press.

Me: Scoob, get back in the car.

Scooby II: What's a beer bottle doing on this wine press?

Me: Scoob get back in the car now or we'll leave you.

He came, but reluctantly.
The scenery was incredible.

Sccooby II: I never saw snow before. Can I play in it, hun hun hun hun hun?

Me: No.

At the restaurant I forced Scoob to call his mother. I knew she'd be worried sick. Although she was relieved, she was furious with her son.

Scoob II shared both our lunches. None of us had ever seen ice cream with a maple syrup sauce served on the same plate with the main course, which was duck in an orange sauce, baked potato and asparagus--but it was all delicious.
Outside the restaurant window we could see the skiers.

While we were trying to get some things done, Scoob made friends outside where we were.

When we arrived home, the other animals were determined that Scoob needed a good paddling. They said that they don't usually believe in spanking, but leaving without telling them was inexcusable.  The sin was too great for a time out. The bunnies held him down while his mother applied the spoon. He was mumbling about calling the French Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but we told him we would testify for his mother. Next time ASK.

To see the beautiful scenery

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Great service

Although I had the laser surgery to correct my vision at the same time my cataracts were removed, my vision was still not 100%.

However, the surgery did correct my eye sight to the point that I discovered a spot on the ceiling I hadn't seen for almost ten years. I could see to drive without risking hitting a person.

I still needed bifocals and I do love wearing large glasses so I took advantage of a special deal at Visilab where the percentage of reduction was your age. (sometimes it's good to be old).

The company sent me a survey. I rated the service, the personnel, the timing perfect or almost perfect.

However, the glasses aren't quite right and since I've had bifocals before and several weeks have gone by adjustment shouldn't be the reason. I told them that.

I was so impressed when I received an email today, inviting me into the store to find a solution.

Now that's good customer service when often the attitude is that the customer is there to service the business not the reverse.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It costs how much??? Gasp

My mother wouldn't go to anyone's funeral, even her own. We followed his wishes and didn't have one.

However, she was very careful, a month, three months, six months after the death of someone to do something with or for the survivor. She said everyone is there immediately after, but then people return to their ordinary lives and forget that person who lost a loved one is still dealing with the pain.

There's a lot about my mother I would never copy, but this is something I've remembered and try and do.

Over a month ago, a lovely woman in the Valais lost her husband of over a half a century. Had I been in Switzerland I would have gone to the services. Even if I had gone, I'd have sent flowers today.

Thus I was at the Argelès florist today to place an order.

The owner brought up the choices on the internet. I saw a beautiful crown of cheerful yellow flowers, which I thought would be different. The price was 34 Euros plus a 17 for an international delivery.

He wrote up the order. I thought he wrote 34.00 but I was wrong.

The price of the flowers was 340 or US$467/CHF415.

He understood my shock. "It's big," he said holding out his arms.

I changed the order. I still found some pretty yellow flowers for a rational price.

The woman who the flowers are destined for doesn't read English nor does she know of this blog so she will never know that the flowers she will receive on Friday could have occupied an area bigger than any table she might have put them on.

Interesting that I found the exact floral arrangement on the internet to use the photo. However, the intrafloral sent me an email that I was on the site and hadn't completed an order. hmmmm a bit pushy and certainly if I wanted a two-way communication, I would have responded. I resent them coming back to me.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

As a writer

One of the first things we learn is to use said or asked or even better tie the statement to an action to identify a speaker after a piece of dialogue.

New writers are usually identified when they have people exclaiming, declaring, yelling, whispering, stating, laughing, told, accounted, recounted, etc.

I'm now reading a book where the author does the same thing with the way people move. No one walked. They skittered, strutted, scuttled, strolled, (she obviously also has an s obsession) marched, glided, ambled. It was over done and so much so that it stood out the same way overdone speech attributions do.

Sometimes a Thesaurus is NOT the answer.


I became a grandmother in my dreams last night. The only problem was my daughter gave birth to 4 kittens looking much like a younger version of Spike (seen above). I know she wants a cat but I imagine that she will get one the traditional way, from a friend, through a shelter or find a stray on the street.

The night before I dreamed I went with my housemate to our most frequented restaurant Marro. Antonio, the manager, who in real life greets us often with hugs and kisses, had lobbed off his curls for a crew cut and died his hair about the colour of Spike. Part of the restaurant had been shut off because they were closing and no one waited on us (in reality usually all the wait staff stop by our table to say hello). J read a paper, I had a book until they locked up...however, no tea which was what we wanted.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I don't care

I don't care if I've renounced my American nationality. Part of my heart will always belong to Boston with its Salt and Pepper bridge (real name Longfellow). The nickname came from the defensive structures along the structure that look like salt and pepper shakers.

I loved living in a house similar to this and loved the brick sidewalks, gas lamps and the feeling of history. I loved the sounds of my addresses' names...The Riverway and even better Wigglesworth Street, named from an old Bostonian family. He was a dermatologist at Harvard Medical which was across the street. We'd give the address as "Don't laugh, Wigglesworth St."

More than one time we rode the swanboats. One wonderful day with my daughter, an artist sketched her making a caricature with her flute. I still have it.

In Mrs. Jones Kindergarden I was read Make Way for Ducklings, a book I've given to many a child since. I love the statue on the Common.

And even if Switzerland is beautiful in autumn it is nothing like New England's colours.

I love reading about my roots. Today in Team of Rivals about Lincoln, by Doris Sterns Goodwin he is quoted as saying after he gave a speech at the Temple located at the head of the Common and is quoted, "I went with hay seed in my hair to learn deportment in the most cultivated state in the Union." With its 50+ universities, there is a buzz in the city like no other.

When I renounced I thought maybe I would never be able to walk the streets I loved again. NY Senator Chuck Schurmer's bill to forbid those who did what I did to never, ever be allowed back in the States died in committee.

To be able to bank and live in my chosen new country was the price I knew I'd have to pay for exile. Maybe I won't ever go back although there's a chance I'll be there in September.

Boston, as well as my New England Yankee upbringing,  is part of my DNA, filled with the memories which made me the person I am today. It has given me strength.

People may leave one or another place physically but they take the memories with them.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Special or non special

What is special?

Sometimes it's just the simple things that just make us smile...

For example:

At the marché a group of street musicians played reggae as their dog watched. I love their homemade instruments. The could call themselves, Music, Marché and Mutt.

Lunch was a chicken already roasted bought from one of the marché vendors. There was a moment of panic when we saw the brownie lady was missing, but her table had been moved. We chatted with a Swedish couple who live here. Hope we see them again.

Lydia, Barbara, Rosalie and I were scheduled to go to Lydia's for a girls' movie afternoon and popcorn. We had some imported popcorn from the States. Then Lydia realised that she didn't have a DVD player. In her defense she does watch DVDs on her computer, but the idea of the four of us huddled around the computer, caused a moment of panic on her part although we would have done it and laughed about it.

Rosalie to the rescue with her player and huge TV screen. The change of venue was not even a blip.

These three women are important in my life and have been friends for various time periods some for decades, some for years. It is just nice spending time with funny, intelligent women. But they can also be foul-weather as well as fair weather friends.

The movie was Last of the Blond Bombshells with Judy Dench, a made for TV movie in 2013 which won a Golden Globe. Definitely a Judy Dench week, having seen Philomena, earlier in the week. Dench, like Steep, is worth watching no matter what they do, like this you tube, where Streep reads recipes, traffic reports, and a wikipedia entry, sexy, as a woman in labour, or a teenage brat.

Back at home, a bit of work, watching The Voice (French) and then to a preheated bed.

Sometimes doing nothing special is very special in deed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dreams and nightmares

(As I write this Rick is doing a blog about his refrigerator discovery--even though I don't know exactly what he's saying this is my response to

Not to get Jungian about it, but I've always had vivid dreams complete with colour, sound, tastes and smells. My ex used to be disappointed when I didn't dream because he said they made good stories, which he enjoyed.

Thus Princess Diana and I watched multi-screen TV shows in a store than went out to watch balloons to float over a pine-treed mountain and David Bowie landed in my childhood backyard. Some were easy to trace the source as "brain dumps" but some I have no idea where they came from.

Likewise I have vivid nightmares. Snakes are the worse. Although snakes in person are far less scarey than snakes in dreams (no Freudian analysis also please).

Two that I remember:

1. It was only a couple of weeks before the birth of my daughter. I dreamed that my mother came in with a black and white coat, only the collar was a snake of the same colour and slithered off into my living room. I woke my ex and told him, went to the toilet because the baby was tap dancing on my bladder. After falling back asleep, I dreamed the same snake came over to my bed, raised himself to be level with me and said, "Bet you thought you got rid of me in your last dream."

2. In real life, three friends and I were walking in  Montaillou, a tiny village high in the Pyrenees. A snake crossed our path. That night I dreamed that snake had stowed away in our car, waited while we ate at a restaurant, stayed hidden in the hour long drive back to Argelès, got out with me at the moive theatre without my seeing him, followed me home (about 70 steps) and came up the four flights of stairs to trap me in my bed.

My friends are helpful in this irrationality. When I was watching a snake scene in Harry Potter, both girls at the same minute covered my eyes. It was a snake-dream free night.

Likewise I know if there's a snake in a book, such as in the Lady Detective Series, and that book is left of my pillow at night, a snake will come out and work it's way into my dreams.

The solution is to put the book in the frigo. Afterall snakes are inactive in the cold.

The other source of nightmares are Kachina dolls from the time several decades ago when I saw Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror. The Kachina doll came out of the closet with a night slashing away. The solution to that is simple. Keep the closet doors close and the Kachina doll won't disturb my sleep.

Why is Rick writing a blog about this? Last night as I was reading the latest TV Guide, there was an anaconda story. I put the guide in the frigo.

When I came home from my writing session with L, he said very calmly, "I have a question, and I'm sure there's a logical explanation." He opened the freezer.

There was the guide. The anaconda was still inside. He suggested that we tear out the page and shred it.

I agreed. The anaconda is now in tiny, tiny pieces in the trash waiting for pick up.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

ATM tales

I went to the ATM machine at my bank. Because I was in a rush decided to use the outdoor machine.

Bad move.

The sun's reflection made the screen impossible to see. I pushed the return the card button.

Beep, beep, beep...

The signal the ATM had eaten my card.

Luckily inside, there was no line. The teller was young and probably a trainee. I explained. The conversation is a translation from the French.

Teller: You can pick up your card tomorrow.

Me: However, I need the money now.

Teller: Show me your identity card and I can give you another card that you can use one time to get your money.

Me: (not wanting to make another trip) I'm sorry, but it is not convenient for me to come back tomorrow.

Voice from office: Tell her to come back this afternoon.

Teller: We can have it this afternoon.

Me: Supposing I was leaving now and wouldn't be back for a month. That is not very good service.

Teller: (looks as if he's trying to be nice to annoying woman with bad French accent)

Me: The machine has eaten my card before, I came into the bank, and I had the card like this. (I snap my fingers).

Voice from the office: Have her wait.

Teller: Can you wait two minutes?

Me: Three, four or five if I can have my card. (said with a smile to not seem too bitchy)

I wait. The voice comes from the office. Very pretty, smiley blond in mid thirties.

The Voice: We'll get your card. May I see some identity.

Me: (I pull out my Swiss identity card).

Voice: We'll be right with you. (she leaves)

Within two minutes the Teller comes over with the keys he pulled from his desk and opens the back of the machine no more than five feet from his station. Meanwhile he's handled a very ugly dispositioned man.

Teller: May I see a piece of identity.

I happily show him. He gives me the card.

Me: I'm sorry you are having a rough day.

His smile is forced. As someone who has trained customer service people I suspect his mindset is not on helping people.

Being able to see the screen makes a withdrawal easy.

Mimosa safari

I spied the first mimosa in the marché this morning. Mimosa trees especially when they are against the blue-blue sky are spectacular. 

We went on a mimosa safari, but the usual trees were still not in bloom yet but we did find one tree with a small amount of blossoms. 

It will do for the moment.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How to talk about death

I'm not talking about how to tell children.

For years I've been fascinated by the way French newspapers announce death. People don't die right out.

Arthur Miller went to join his Marilyn.

A singer sang his last song.

The lions are crying for a lion tamer.

I suppose some could right mine as "Nelson shuts down her computer forever" not that my death would be worthy of a French headline.

I always thought that anglophones lacked some flair until I read this. "Shirley Temple Black had sailed off on the Good Ship Lollipop"

Photo above is some of the  plaques that typically decorate a French. grave.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where is the coin from

It was my turn after L's and my writing session at La Noisette to pay for our moccachino and hot chocolate.

I had a plastic baggie full of change that I dumped on the counter to settle the 6.40 Euro bill. Laurent, the owner, is often short of change especially the 10, 20, 50 centimes pieces. He started pulling out coins, but rejecting some saying, "this is Swiss,  this is Swiss, this is Swiss, this is English."

After we'd settled up, he showed us a coin someone had left. "Belgie?" That's not a country.

We guessed it was Belgian, and maybe the language was Flamand since the country is bi-lingual and perhaps it dated back to pre-1995 when the Euro was adopted. Of course, La Noisette wasn't in business in 1995.

"Look on the Internet," I suggested.

Laurent went to the computer and sure enough we located the coin. As for it being a collector's item?

The value is now 10 centimes.

When the Euro went into effect, it made my life easier. I was traveling often to France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and the UK from Switzerland and kept a money jar with all the different monies.

Before each trip I'd pull out the left over currency from and to my destination country. There was the transition period where I managed to get rid of all the money, but there was one bill I kept because I liked it. It was the 50 Franc bill with Le Petit Prince. Any country that puts a writer on its currency can't be all bad.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Security toilet paper

 Rick learned early on, although I will never be a domestic goddess nor even a domestic goddess in training with a long learning curve, one thing I do try to do is never run out of essentials. Thus there is always an extra package of toilet paper, bottle of shampoo, condition, laundry detergent, etc.

He teased me about my need for "security toilet paper."  Thus when I came back from my Geneva home to my Argelès home, and went into the bathroom, I found security toilet paper lined up against the wall and hanging over the toilet.

I feel secure.

Don't believe everything you hear, read, see

"Your train doesn't exist."

My husband emailed me from Argelès that he'd checked the train website and my 9:59 train which I was taking the next day to return to Argelès didn't show up on the website.

He sent me all alternatives.

One was 9:29 to Lyon. As long as I could get to Lyon I'd have many choices and could wend my way south.

My lovely housemate sacrificed her calm Sunday morning and we were at the train station at 8:15 in time for breakfast and a check with the ticket counter. The SNCF  office which sells, exchanges and cancels all French train tickets  closes on weekends.

"The 9:59 train is running," The ticket seller said, checking her website. "Do you have your ticket? Enough Euros?"

I thanked her and explained what Rick had discovered.

"The programming on that website isn't good," she said.

Breakfast finished, my housemate departed, I waited until a few minutes before the train and went up to the Quai. The train was there, people were getting on, and the controllers were standing outside the doors.

Then I heard the announcement in French. "The 9:59 from Geneva to Valence has been cancelled due to personnel problems."

I wasn't sure I understood it, nor did the French woman next to me. We asked the controller. Yes that was what the announcement said.

No, it wasn't true.

The train pulled out on the minute.

Saturday, February 08, 2014


When I write my Third Culture Mystery Series, I always try to sneak in some social issue, not much, just a little.

In Murder in Caleb's Landing, I not only wanted to show what slavery was like before the Civil War, but that it still exists today. I wrote it well before the CNN campaign to end slavery around the world.

A second theme in the book was domestic abuse which was very closely related to the murder itself.

But I wasn't content with that. Running into Americans who know nothing about world history and sometimes even less about their own country, has always frustrated me. Prime examples, two recent college graduates who didn't know anything about John Calvin, Puritanism or even pilgrims.

Why should they?

Because it is the foundation of the country that they live in.

They did know about Thanksgiving but more in terms of food and football. I could write blog after blog about the lack of historical knowledge or fill Wikipedia with the misconceptions.

We won't get into lack of geographical awareness when engineers talking to me at the company where I used to work in Geneva would ask about the weather in Stockholm.

Switzerland, Sweden, what's the difference? Hadn't they even known what city they were calling?

They both start with SW. If it happened once, that would be one thing, but variations of the total lack of basic knowledge were regular.

Thus I had my heroine be hired to do a reality version of the settling of Massachusetts from all points of view. Naturally the school board went nuts at the unpatriotic presentation. At the time I thought maybe I was being over the top, but conflict keeps readers turning pages.

I wish I'd had the award-winning book Lies my Teacher Told Me as I was writing Caleb's Landing. It explains why students often don't like history. The pap presented is boring and totally erodes any chance of critical thinking. The historian does an in-depth look at 12 leading history books.He also went into plagiarism, the necessity to not mention anything controversial to sell, the names of the authors were often for show because freelancers who may or may not know history were the real writers, and on and on and on...

But I shouldn't have been surprised. A writer friend was talking about having moved to Mexico and her son was in a Mexican school system. He came home one day and this was the gist of their conversation.

Son: You know the Mexican-American war we studied before we left the States?

Mother: Yes.

Son: We're studying it here.

Mother: That's good.

Son: But it's not the same war.

Would that all school children learn different points of view all which have some validity.