Thursday, December 31, 2015

Moratorium on death

Okay, death isn't a happy topic, which is why I am declaring a moratorium of friends and family on death for 2016. Enough is enough

Having a second bout of cancer, does create a sense on my mortality. Just my age at 73 could do that. But I am well on my way to complete healing.

In the shower this morning I reflected all of the people whom I've loved and lost over the years, and compared to many people, especially those in war zones, it is few, but it is still too many.

In memory of those family and friends whom I've lost and who still exist in my heart and always will I list you.

Florence Stockbridge SARGENT (DAR) my grandmother who died in her late 80s. Whatever is good and strong in me came from her.

James Francis BOUDREAU at 69. He died Dec. 30th one day after his 69th birthday. We made up for the years that I lost him as a child to forge a strong relationship. I knew him well from 20 to 48 and those years were precious. It was a lesson it is never too late to love.

Jack CROWLEY in his step mom's step father...a family of choice member who told me his doctor was stupid expecting him to lose weight the way he ate and drank. We were both born on July 24, many decades apart.

Sam and Eva SCHEINFELDT who were part of holidays and events from the time I began work with Eva in 1967 until their deaths many years later and quite a few apart. They were more than relish recipes and singing "Little Drummer Boy" as we decorated the Christmas tree and waited for Chinese food to be delivered.

Diane Perroset REYNOLDS my step sister. My parents made one major mistake calling her the beautiful daughter and calling me the intelligent. I am not ugly, she was not stupid. She died in her fifties from some bad life choices. She was also one of the sweetest people I have known.

Dorothy Sargent BOUDREAU at 71 from throat cancer. She would never stop smoking. It took me ten years after her death to let the good back in. Domineering, and destructive to me as an adult, she was when I was a child often fun, understanding and generous. Some of the good things I do with my daughter came from for the bad...I have a range of people who would kick me if I tried any of them.

Mardy WILLSON who gave me (and I hope I gave back) 53 years of friendship and support. As I was recovering from my first bout of cancer and her from a fall I complained how tired I was. She complained how she hated being forced to walk. Her last words were "I'll sleep for you, you walk for me." Sadly her sleep started the next day and was permanent.

Norma Crowley BOUDREAU who forgot to read the Ugly Stepmother's Manual...who always said to my father, that they didn't have his children or her children but "our children" and made the best chocolate Kahlua cake. We only had one cross word in all the time that I knew her and that was about an iron I put away hot. My father did really well in his second marriage and I love him even more for bringing Norma into my life.

Dr. Barbara HAGAMAN at 78 and a friend for 41 years in four different living places on two continents. A woman who lived by her own rules which were better than the ones that society imposed upon her.

So, as I said above, enough enough. We can renegotiate death in 2017. We can't stop it forever, but a year would be so nice.

Gilded Chalet

Although I love Switzerland, that is not the main reason, I adored reading The Gilded Chalet (off-piste in Literary Switzerland) by Irishman Padraig Rooney who has lived there for the last 15 years.

Although I read the most of the writers mentioned in The Gilded Chalet as required reading in university, I haven't touched any of them for years. My studies were of the works themselves not whom they were as people or the backdrops that gave rise to their work.

The book makes fascinating reading because it puts the lives of literary greats together with the country of chalets, watches and chocolate.

It did help that the first part about Jean-Jacques Rousseau covered his time in Môtiers, the 600-person, 6,000 cow village where I spent 1990-1993 having just moved from Boston. He is so accurate in his description that I could almost hear the cow bells and feel the spray from the waterfall that Rousseau loved and near where I picnicked with my Japanese chins Albert and Amadeus.

Switzerland is great for putting up plaques about who lived in what building and when. Only last month did I come across the plaque where Joseph Conrad had spent time.

What makes the book sing is Rooney's combination of descriptive and sometimes humorous writing, the facts about the writers interwoven with conditions and movements of their time, quotes both from and about the writers.

Literature lovers, history lovers and those that would like to get to know Switzerland from the comfort of their chairs in whatever country they may be living, would find this a fun read.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Cat Coke vs. Pepsi

There are those that swear by Coca-cola and others who love only Pepsi.

Clea and Babette are the same, only it involves two brands of kitty milk.

Clea tends to push her sister out of any food. Babette doesn't seem to mind all that much when Selina is in the bowl. In fact, she often will walk away from it when her sister is no where nearby and it is clear drinking.

On the other hand when there's whiskas she will lick the bowl clean. 

Feline brand loyalty.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A tale of two Christmas stockings

Both these stockings were embroidered by my daughter.

The first was done when she was in high school in the 1980s. It originally was going to be hers and mine was going to be different.

I'd been marooned at work in Maynard where I worked. The drive back to Boston would have been far too dangerous in the snowstorm.

When I entered our apartment the next evening, I was greeted by my daughter. "YOU..." she said with the caps justified, "...are getting the other stocking."


"Albert peed on what was going to be MINE!!!!"

Albert was our Japanese chin. Whether he was unhappy that I had stayed away all night or not, we could only guess. The division of stocking has been part of our Christmas lore each year.

Fast forward many decades.

Rick has joined our small family and  has thus earned his own Christmas stocking which my daughter finished this summer for use for the first time this year.

No dog peed on his.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why oh why

I'm a minimalist...

I don't like gadgets because they equal clutter.

My husband is testing it with wanting things like pizza cutters and ice cream scoops when scissors and a spoon are just as good.

This is not an issue that will put our relationship in jeopardy.

At least he doesn't want a hamburger press (I have two hands) or something to cook hot dogs when a pan will do.

On the other hand a kitchen without a food processor makes cooking not as pleasant  because it does the work of lots of gadgets, and I love my slow pot cooker. It gets lots of use. Maybe a reader will consider this extra or clutter.

When we rented the flat in Argelès it came fully equipped and thus there are duplicates. I figure we can get rid of about 40% of what is in the kitchen.

And we finally settle on a flat in Geneva maybe some of the Argelès stuff will come in, but I want to be very careful there is nothing extra.

Maybe clutter is in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, December 18, 2015


I am a surface neat freak. Everything must be what I think is its place and preferably lined up. We won't discuss closets that could cause burial if doors are opened too quickly.

Thus if Llara or Julia walked into my bedroom and saw this pile they would think someone else was staying here.

The reason?

I'm in this middle of moving. And I need to empty closets to decide what:
  • Stays in the new place in Switzerland
  • Goes to Argelès
  • Gets given to charity
  • Hits the trash bin
It make no sense to put stuff into a closet to take it out.

However, because of the mess I can't find anything.

Rick comes in and picks it up almost as fast as Julia would be able to. She's still the find lost stuff champion. He resists saying ALMOST always "In front of your face."

I'll be glad to be settled.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Best present ever

OUR family gives simple but thoughtful presents. Some are traditional: socks for my daughter and Kleenex she can't get in the states. Something with a penguin and a book of Cryptoquotes for me.

After my dad moved to Florida, when we still lived in Boston, each year he would send a box of grapefruit-sized oranges with a note...

Merry Christmas
Jimmy and Norma

Succulent is the best word to describe them.

He died two days after Christmas, one day after his 69th birthday. To say I missed him, and still do even though I am now four years older than he was when he died, is an understatement.

Like all deaths of loved ones, the first year is the hardest.

I was sitting at my desk where I shared a cubicle with my assistant. Digital Credit Union, where I was Communication Director, was about to move into its own building, but until then as our staff expanded things were more and more crowded.

My assistant and I worked together perfectly even in the crowded space. "Please move your knees so I can open a drawer," was an oft-spoken request.

A box, from my stepmom. had been delivered to my desk.

I opened it. It was packed with oranges and the card read...

Merry Christmas
Jimmy and Norma

I must have paled, because my assistant asked what was wrong. I handed him the card. My dead father had sent me a Christmas gift.

I called my wonderful stepmom and told her.

"They must not have changed the card like I asked. I'm sorry."

"Don't be," I said. My dad in his own way still was sending me a Christmas gift, this one for the last time.

It was one of the best presents I've ever had.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tell the truth? Yes? No?

My former housemate J makes the world's best brownies from her secret recipe.

Sunday we moved over to her place from our new place to house/cat2x sit while she goes on a river cruise with old friends. The house is occupied and Clea and Babette have laps for the duration.

On my old desk were two tins, one with cookies, which are pretty amazing too and one with brownies. The note, Merry Christmas Rick and D-L, left no doubt about her intentions.

I left the two tins on the desk where Rick would be working. He was really pleased about the cookies.

"And the brownies?"


"There were two tins."

"The other was her sewing box. I put it in her room."

I went into J's bedroom and there was the tin, filled with brownies, not a needle, thread or scissors to be found.

Now I was faced with a great moral dilemma. I could eat all the brownies myself or share them with my beloved husband.

I am guilty of thinking it over.

I guess I really love that man. I showed him the brownies. We are sharing.

Monday, December 14, 2015

DST ends again

I have often said that setting the clocks back makes the day it is done my favorite. 

I think I've bee given another hour of life. I only change the clocks back in the afternoon when I say to whoever is willing to humor me, "Oh, it is only 4 o'clock, we have time to (fill in the blank).

Today, it was clock setting back again.

We've moved back into my former home for two weeks while my ex-housemate/current friend goes on a cruise to cat sit and house guard. 

I woke at eight in the morning, read for a couple of hours and then decided it was time to get up. We've been so busy, the idea of a slow Monday morning was a delight.

Rick came in, asked the time and we decided to skip breakfast because by the time we ate it would be time to go to lunch.

He then went to check his e-mail.

"It's an hour earlier than you said," he told me.

Seems the clock in my old bedroom hadn't been changed. 

I had a longer morning with an extra hour. That makes twice this year I've won extra time in a day.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

GWG Gratitude

This mansion was converted to be the home of the Geneva Press club and is one in a series of buildings that has been used over the years for Geneva Writer Group workshops led by Susan Tiberghien (and sometime others).

It was a lifeline when I discovered the group in 1993. I was one of the original 18 members. With a day job in an NGO finding other people who thought it made perfect sense to spend hours slaving over a computer producing words that might never be read much less paid for was to me, a miracle.

The group is now 250+ strong and includes a biannual international writers conference.

I have been extraordinarily lucky in my writing career having had most (but not all) of my novels published. The success was not mine alone, but aided by the GWG.

GWG and Susan have been responsible for helping me hone my craft. The monthly workshops, the critiquing sessions, the conferences and the emotional support were part of it. I learned about markets and magazines for writers. From a British writing magazine (which I later wrote for) I learned about Glamorgan University in Wales where I earned an M.A. in creative writing further improving my craft.

In the room where we hold the workshops are two opposing mirrors, each reflecting into eternity the other. I've always thought of those mirrors are a metaphor for writing, the possibilities go on forever.

It doesn't matter how much one publishes. There is always room to do it better. Yesterday the workshop was on dreams. Once again Susan made me reach into myself and discover something I didn't know was there. 

Thank you Susan.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tails and terrorists

"That woman has a tail." My husband's head swiveled before returning to the road. He was driving me to the eye doctor.

"Escalade," I said.

He understood.

Escalade is the Geneva's celebration of stopping an attack by the French in 1602. People dress in costume both modern and of the period. Is not unusal to see men in armor and on horse back.

Vin chaud and hot vegetable soup are on sale for those that watch the parades and demonstrations.

Marmites filled with marzipan veggies are on sale to commemorate Mère Royaume's throwing a pot of boiling soup on the French trying to scale the city wall giving her time to alert the soldiers.

This year, there is a slight pall over the weekend fête. Geneva is under a terrorist watch. They have already found two people, whom they think are connected to the Paris bombings. Explosives were in the car.

Geneva, with its UN organizations, could make a desirable target. It is French speaking and the French are bombing Syria in the never ending retaliation cycle.

However, the celebration has not been cancelled. We are not going, not out of fear but more because of my energy level. 

Still 500+ years after the attack by the French, that man is still trying to kill, maim and destroy is sad. Yesterday's enemy is today's friend and tomorrow's enemy again. Usually it is all a power game.

The tail that Rick saw was part of a cat costume. As long as man is so stupid to go to war, maybe it should be on a devil instead. 

Yesterday's evil, today's evil and sadly probably tomorrow's. It doesn't matter which side, it is all evil. Only now it is evil with better weapons.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

I'm happy

A French friend once said I was always happy. Almost guilty as charged. 

Of course there are times of sadness, when I lose a friend, am disappointed by something but those are far from daily events. And even in those events there is some good. I am sad when I lose someone I care about, but I had the joy of that friendship. The mourning is the price for the good.

Each down has a counterpoint of an up, a lesson to be learned, a memory to be filed.

Right now, because I'm dealing with cancer, people expect me to be unhappy.

However, my nature is happy and people look at me strangely when I say how happy I am.

The answer is simple I have so much.

1. Top notch, friendly, affordable health care. Chemo is almost fun thanks to the hospital staff.
2. A wonderful single life up until I met my husband replaced by a wonderful married life.
3. I never thought that I would be happy in a relationship. I'm not just happy I'm ecstatic.
4. I live in two incredible places, Southern France and Collonge-Bellerive, Switzerland.
5. Both places I live have an incredible beauty.
6. If I never bought another thing, I have more than I need.
7. I have wonderful friends of many nationalities and interests.
8. I have a daughter that is a friend and whom I am so proud.
9. I have a second daughter of choice, who will be moving to Geneva with her family. 
10. There are books, books, books in my life.
11. No matter which country I am, in the restaurants and choice of food is almost unlimited.
12. There is room for silliness in my life.
13. I had a wonderful education in Reading, MA, Lowell, MA and Pontypridd, Wales.
14. Some fantastic teachers opened the world to me.
15. Most of my professional life was in jobs that were interesting and where if I didn't make the  world better, I didn't make it worse.
16. I have developed a new love of taking photos of bits and pieces of life that I discover.

The list could go on and and on and on...

Each day, whether on a walk or staying in there is something good. It could be a hot cup of tea as rain pounds the window creating its own music. Or it could be the spectacular fall colors that are now giving way to the delightful ting of cold weather on my cheek.

My greatest joy and happiness? I have been given a long life, full of rich experiences. The bad ones gave me strength and the ability to see the good.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Miss Blanche's

"7x5=35, 7x6x6=42, 7X7=51," I said.

"49," my grandmother corrected me.

We were sitting at our kitchen table in Bluefield West Virginia. The month before we'd moved from Reading, MA. I was in first grade and my mother shocked by the level of education, had enrolled me in Miss Blanche's private school. I would attend from 1-3 every afternoon.

However, I would be allowed to stay after my one-month probation only if I could catch up to the others, which meant I must know my times tables thru 12, be able to do do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, spell 150 words and be able to read and understand our books. She figured I could catch up on geography that she was just beginning.

"No problem," my grandmother said. Each morning found us at the kitchen table with my Sunbeam bread toast, egg and fruit juice.

In one way I was thrilled.

Gone were the brain-dreading, boring "See Dick run, run Dick run" that I had finished the first week in Reading. The new books were about silk worms and gave real information about animals, people and places. I wanted to unlock those so I learned the words. My grandmother would make them into anagrams so it was fun to find the correct spelling.

No big letter printing. We were expected to write cursive and be neat, no ink splotches.

I loved the learning, hated Miss Blanch.

I'm not sure if I would recognize her, but my memory dimmed by decades conjures up a woman with a grey bun, chubby and house dresses. A ruler was never far from her hand to tap the outstretched fingers of any student that gave a wrong answer. I never told my mother, thinking I had no choice.

There were only five of us. I only remember Robert who usually wore shorts to school. One day Miss Blanch refused to let him go to the toilet and the mess he created oozed out of his pants. I was rapped for gagging. I wonder, if he is even still alive remembers.

At our short recess, we had swings and monkey bars. I always selected the swing, but one day she gave me no choice. Monkey bars or else.

I didn't have the strength to swing from bar to bar, but she refused to help. Instead I fell to the ground and was not allowed to play on the swing because of my failure.

By third grade we were back in Reading and I was put in third grade although tests showed I was at fifth grade level or above. I was tiny even for third grade and my mother thought that socially it would be too hard for me for the rest of my school career.

Miss Berry, a new teacher, made no allowance for my advanced learning. I was back to printing on double lines. No cursive. Reading was boring.

That year I ran thru childhood diseases: mumps, measles, chicken pox. Not wanting to return to the boring school, I rubbed poison ivy leaves on my face. (I never confessed this to my mother, was nearly permanently scared and in agony, but it was worth it).

I did pass the year went on to Mrs. Beaton's class with the wonderful pamphlet books about famous people that we could read when we finished our work, and started cursive writing, although different from the one I had learned. Flutophone was introduced, enough to make anyone hate music, but school was no longer dreaded. I started a school newspaper.

Life and learning were good again.

Me with my not-loved flutophone, third row, second from left.