Thursday, June 22, 2017

Early arrival

Getting to the train or plane early has been an obsession with me since I worked for a company that insisted every possible second be booked and if you missed a flight, you paid for the extra charges.

Too many times I have arrived at the departure gate, my high heels in hand, panting from my OJ-run thru the airport corridors.

So when I said we should leave Puteaux at 8 to get our train from Gare de Lyon, Rick didn't think anything of it.

It is our tradition to eat breakfast at the Montreux Jazz Café, which used to be Le Train Bleu brasserie. Le Train Bleu restaurant is still there.

I was still worried about making the 10:07 train, when Rick said, "But the train doesn't leave until noon. It was the train coming up that left at 10."

Now even for me, being that early is bit OTT.

"I just that it was you being you," he said to my question about why didn't he question me.

We arrived at the station by 8:30.

"Let's see if we can get an earlier train."

We could.

We had a lovely breakfast, had time to buy sandwiches for lunch and did make a 10 am train.

Next time I will check the tickets more carefully, but I still want to allow plenty of time for any mishaps.

Saturday, June 17, 2017


We are heading to the Paris airshow and visiting with family of choice members. Will be back blogging late next week.

Friday, June 16, 2017

30 years

For almost thirty years I've been saying, I should go to the Fortress de Salses which is close to Argelès-sur-mer every time I passed it, which was often. Today was the day. One word...


Built at the order or Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain and costing about 20% of their wealth, it is high tech for the 15th century. It took by 500 worker six and a half years. Contrast that with Boston's Big Dig to put an elevated bridge underground sixteen years with modern equipment and many more workers.

How was it high tech? Partially because architect Lopez worked with Arab experts to make the walls thicker and deeper than any other fortress of its time. Ventilation allowed for shooting of fire arrows without killing the archers. The ability to fire cannonballs thru out meant that the fort was protected on all sides.

There was an almost modern sewer system, about one toilet for every 15 men stationed. The waste was treated with charcoal before flushed out to sea.

Rain water was trapped by slanted walk ways. Combined with underground springs water for all needs including cleanliness was never an issue.

A dumb waiter brought food to the dining room (and storage area of food was enough to outlast a multi-week siege) and there was a sink to wash one's hand before dinner.

I marveled at the original doors of iron and wood.
The tour was mainly in English, but the guide would repeat things in German and Spanish for the couples whose English was weak.

Remind me not to wait 30 years to see other things that trip my interest.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Random thoughts

Random thoughts while reading in bed.

I really like the Show and Tell Fiction piece in the New Yorker.

I should count how many times the church bell rings at seven, but I don't think of it until it has been ringing for a while.

When I was little I thought of our front hall as the beach and the parlor (extra living room) as the Atlantic and I would wade in the imaginary water. Sometimes I would roll around on the rug and pretend the waves were coming in.

The huge hill at my kindergarten turned out to be only a slight slope when I was a teenager.

I wonder if congress will take mass shootings any more seriously now that some of them have been a victim.

I heard, but can't verify that the congressman hit voted against gun restrictions for mentally ill. I can't help think poetic justice, but feel badly I think that.

So glad my kid is still here.

Looking forward to Paris. Not sure what I should take for the awards dinner outfit.

Must remember to email my landlord about watering their flowers.

Should I wash the spread today.

If I get up now I will get some good writing time.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Love is

Love is...

I don't want to get schmaltzy or anything, but I don't think love is great proclamations or the buying of expensive jewelry.

I think it is the every day little acts of consideration and warmth...such as...

Bringing a cup of tea in the morning before your lover gets up. I use the word lover because my husband is also my lover and a best male friend. Female friends are different than male friends and viva la difference.

Making sure the towel warmer is on.
Leaving a heart on a bed you've made.

My dad could never say "I love you" although he would reply "me too" when I said I loved him. However, I knew he loved me when he gave me his green stuff from a baked stuff lobster which he adored as much as I did if not more.

I know my daughter loves me when she comes carrying blueberry muffins from Dunkin' Donuts or sends a cryptoquote book things I can't get in Switzerland or France. 

I try and reciprocate with the towel warmer and bringing my husband a treat. I want to make sure he is comfortable with whatever we are doing.  I will send my daughter Irn bru every so often when she's been having a difficult period at work or the weather is horrible. 

Not big stuff, little stuff. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Sitting behind L'Hostalet sipping tea and munching Catherine's savory tarts, we watched the vendors and customers at the marché. They gave us much inspiration for my writing friend and I to do our ten minute exercises creating a flash fiction piece. The only drawback was we know too many people to chat with. And people come first. But we did get one piece written. Here it is unedited.

GINA spent at least 10 minutes trying to decide to buy flowers. She left the marché stand, selected cheese and tomatoes from Jean and Pierre's stalls.

The desire for flowers was too strong. She went back. Lilies were four euros, a mixed bouquet five, and a single rose three.

"Is it a gift?" the vendor asked.

"Yes." It was a gift for herself.

He put the flowers in a transparent film, took yellow and orange ribbons and made a bow near the bottom of the stems. He used a small knife to run down the ends, creating curly cues.

Gina's other errands were mundane, although the smell of fresh bread from the oven made the bakery smell heavenly. The butcher was able to sell her a cheap piece of mutton, that she knew she could stew into tenderness

Back home she put the flowers in a vase on the kitchen table, but then moved them to the living room.

As she prepared the stew, she changed her mind and returned the flowers to the kitchen table. She found herself smiling every time she saw them as she moved from table to counter to stove in preparing the lamb stew.

The kitchen door opened. Thomas stormed in. "What are those?"


"How much did you pay for them?"

She told him.

"God damn waste of money." He went into the living room slamming the doors behind him.

She looked at the flowers and a wave of sadness swept over her not at the waste of money on flowers but the waste that was her marriage.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday morning

As I head out to buy a croissant, the neighborhood cat, decides to visit.
Laurent sets up La Noisette for the day.

The church bells have rung for its 7 o'clock mass.

Mille et Une has set out its local goodies. One woman has drunk her coffee.

Elisabeth and her son Daniel among their veggies and fruits. Their cheeses are great too.
The streets are still deserted. Many stores will stay closed for Monday. 

One man is out for his fresh breakfast bread. I love the sign where the owners denying their bread is not baked by them and gives the address of their oven. It is important whether it is industrial bread or done by locals.

The street cleaner heads back to the garage.

Came home for the end of the fresh fruit salad after yesterday's picnic and the smushed Dunkin' Donuts blueberry muffin loving carried from Boston by my daughter.

Life is good, very good.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2 Conversations

Within one day I had two conversations that I found were real head shakers.

Conversation 1.

Rick and I were walking to the car to go to the bio store to pick up tahini for our picnic Sunday. As we passed the movie theatre, two little girls went shooting down the slope and into the street on bikes. They didn't look. Granted it is not a heavily trafficked street, but had a car been coming, the little blond in the lead would have been hit.

The local priest was coming our way. He is young, good looking. I said in French that maybe since he was going in the same direction as the girls he might tell them that it was dangerous to ride into a street without looking.

His reply?

He couldn't do that. He was a priest.

Conversation 2

The library is the building in the right hand corner of the photo. Tables and chairs had been set outside. In the library was a chorale group. This was the big music weekend in France and the concert was free.

As they finished singing Cohen's Hallelujah, I spied one of the mamies Mamies are the old women of the village (although some may be younger than I am.) They've spent their entire lives here and do have some kind of wisdom but are far from worldly.

I greeted her. She pointed to three Arab women in long skirts and hijabs which led to a tirade on how they should dress like other French if they want to live here. Our village has quite a few Arabs, and I try and greet them in "mahaba" to show my acceptance. If they want to continue in Arabic, we need to switch to French.

I was surprised by the mamie's vehemence.

"If you were in their country, would you dress like them?" I was hoping to plant a seed of tolerance.

She looked at me as if I were crazy.

"Of course not, I'm a good Catholic."

Our future conversations will have to do with the antics of the neighborhood cats, the weather, the flowers that are blooming on the street. None of the flowers will be tolerance blossoms.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles

May 8, 2017

What I accomplished or didn't during my second week of trying to write this book on abortion before 1973 in the United States. Maybe other writers can sympathize with the distractions that can slow down one's work.

Flying back to France from Boston, our plane is late landing in Paris.

“No running,” my husband said. He had run for a tram in, last November and fell. His hand still hurts. Also he has helicopter tendencies with me that would do any helicopter mom proud. I don't mind.

We make it thru short custom and security lines He does a final sprint to the gate, points me out to the staff, as I huff and puff my way by the gates.

We make the plane—just. Our luggage stays in Paris.

We pick up the car in Toulouse and drive to our home, a village on the Mediterranean going back to the time of Charlemagne.

Jet lag hits, like it has never hit before. Working is complicated by lack of luggage, the need to buy a new stove top and installation problems. Granted our electricity doesn’t go back to the Middle Ages when the house was built, but sometimes it seems the case. The installer keeps saying “dangerous, dangerous.”

We track our luggage on the internet.

We try and work, but the feeling of being underwater continues. Sleep is at a premium.

Our village is the type where we can walk to everything, including 76 steps to the movie theatre, Stores, cafés, doctors. Everything we need is close. When I buy the fresh-baked bread at the boulangerie, a five-minute walk from the house, I can be gone all day as I run into this and that person. On this walk, I see a couple we know and are summer people, have made a quick hop over the Channel for a few days.

Despite Rick’s writing deadlines and my desire to delve into my abortion project, we put people first. A cup of coffee and catch-up is a must. A non-coffee drinker, I consumer espresso which restores a bit of coherence. It ebbs and flows.

The internet tells me that most of my ordered research books are in process of being sent. Others are on my Kindle.

I have found a book. Abortion Counseling and Social Change from Illegal Act to Medical Practice: The Story of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (Paperback) by Howard Moody, Arlene Carmen, the CCS founders. However, the book costs over $1,000. I wonder if I can track a copy.

I start to read When Abortion was a Crime: Women, Medicine and Law in the United States on my Kindle. It is slow going, not because it is difficult reading, but every few pages there are things to research. And I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough. I need to follow up on:
·       Sarah Grosvenor who had an abortion in Pomfret CT in 1745.
·       Ann Trow, Madame Restell, a woman who died wealthy from her abortion business in the 1800s.
I send emails to:
·       The Motherless documentary producers
·       PA ACLU
·       Judson Memorial Church where Moody began the CCS.
·       First Presbyterian Church

I reorganize my files. Unlike writing a novel this comes in bits and pieces and keeping track as well as keeping sources straight are more of a challenge.

A woman from New York has sent me several leads to where I might be able to find women who had abortions pre-1973.

As jet lag slowly ebbs, I prepare for work in week 3.

Friday, June 09, 2017

The purple squirrel

My daughter was complaining she was having trouble finding the purple squirrel. Neither Rick or I understood until she explained as an HR Person it was a future employee with an impossible combination of skills to find.

As I write this, she is at Dublin airport waiting for the next leg to visit us for nine days.

On Tuesday we went to Spain with Swedish friends Rolf and Eva for lunch.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we could find a purple squirrel for Llara?" Rick asked.

After lunch he and Rolf headed for a toy store on a squirrel hunt, although they did spend more time in the drone and model section. No luck.

On the drive back was stopped at woodworker's atelier, filled with hand-carved toys, baskets, furniture and more. As Eva and I puttered around, I noticed Rick and Rolf smiling and talking animatedly.

They had found a carving board with the outline of a squirrel burned into the wood.

"We can paint it purple," Rick said.

"I can give you paint if you don't have any," Eva, who is an artist, said.

We stopped at their house and went into her studio. She took dabs of blue, red and white, put them on a piece of paper, dropped the paper in a plastic bag and handed me a brush.

Once home, I painted the squirrel.

I know she will be surprised.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Writing life

I can be slow at times.

I just realized how much of a writing life I follow.

This week I gave a writing work shop on character develop to a group of beginning writers who were so responsive. I used to give workshops regularly, but hadn't for a while. It was fun preparing the workbooks and sharing what I know. Their responses were often brilliant and always interesting.

As always I am engrossed in the book I am working on, but this time it is a real challenge because it is creative non-fiction, Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles. I wake in the middle of the night, my mind full of lists to check, research and words.

All spring I've been looking at my work that isn't published, editing it to make it stronger (it always can be better) and trying to find a new publisher.

My free writing sessions with a writing mate have fallen off because of her schedule, although a couple of time, I've done it on my own. There's nothing like sitting in a café with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, spying something, anything and writing for ten minutes without stopping. Whenever I do, my other writing is always better. I compare it to pouring water into a pump to get it flowing.
In January I was part of a panel discussion with two other writers at the American Library in Paris and did a reading in Geneva later in the winter.

Maybe it is the feeling that I'm never making the progress I want to that I doubted my writer's life.

I must remember the times I walked to work, plotting what I would write after spending the day earning a living in work that was underwhelming. So...I must celebrate the life I have now and never stop appreciating it.

Yesterday, I was talking with another writer about a project she has with a non writer and an artist to create a story set in the 1800s. It sounds exciting.

Anyone who sees me whinging has my full permission to give me a swift kick.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A loss

Helen Dunmore

I learned of Helen's death on Facebook. Her birth and death dates were posted by Lynne Reese, one of my seven "cohorts" in my Masters in Creative Writing program(me) at Glamorgan University, Pontypridd, Wales and a poet whose work I adored.

The program had four aspiring poets and four hopeful novelists who spent eight weekends at the university over a two-year period, plus a writing retreat week at the retirement home of former prime minister David Lloyd George. In between we were sent home to write and write and write. 

The poets were expected to produce a publishable collection of poetry, the fiction writers a novel. All of us needed to write an academic thesis on an author or poet.

My novel, The Card, was later published in the US and Germany. My thesis was on John Irving.

Each weekend started on Friday night with a published writer, talking about their work. The rest of the weekend was critiquing. Each one of us had a reader/mentor whom we worked worth one-on-one. They scrutinized each word we produced.

Besides our grueling sessions with our mentors, we spent the rest of the time in a group critiquing session with the other cohorts and the other mentors, except for the one in session with their own person which might run an hour or more. Examining each other's work closely taught us much about writing as the writing-rewriting process itself.

Helen was one of the mentors, although not mine. She had not yet won the Orange Prize, for A Spell of Winter, the first given. The Orange Prize was awarded only to women writers, who were too often overlooked for the Man Booker Prize. She was long listed for that in 2010 for The Betrayal. Over the years she picked up many other prizes for her work.

We bemoaned in one cafeteria session (the refractory's food was terrible) that women's subjects were not taken as seriously as men's. It is true in all the arts. Mary Cassatt's and Camille Claudel's domestic paintings and sculptures were never given the consideration that male artists of the period were. Poet Erica Jung made a similar comment: "When Random House's Modern Library imprint issued a list this past summer of the best novels in English published during the twentieth century, surely I was not alone in noticing that only nine books written by women were among the designees."

As both a poet and novelist, Helen's comments during those long critiquing session were invaluable.  She'd push her long blond hair out of her eyes, hold the manuscript in her hand, mention the page number and paragraph and give her opinion. Our eyes would follow. Heads would nod.

When I was the target of  Helen's comments, I never felt attacked. She had a way about her delivery, that made me think, "Of course, why didn't I write it that way?" If she asked about motivation or back stories, order or any other part of the work, I knew she had honed in on a weakness and that her motivation was only to make the work stronger.

Last year she was supposed to come to the Geneva Writers Group as one of the master teachers and then had to cancel. I was disappointed because I would have loved to have seen her again, but more disappointed because the other writers would not get a chance to benefit from her writing wisdom.

Her novels and poetry rest a tribute to her talent, and for readers to enjoy.


When Random House's Modern Library imprint issued a list this past summer of the best novels in English published during the twentieth century, surely I was not alone in noticing that only nine books written by women were among the designees. The list created controversy–as lists are meant to do. - See more at:
When Random House's Modern Library imprint issued a list this past summer of the best novels in English published during the twentieth century, surely I was not alone in noticing that only nine books written by women were among the designees. The list created controversy–as lists are meant to do. - See more at:


My former housemate did a great blog on her kitchen which caused me to look at mine more closely.

I consider my kitchen the soul of my house. It is where I prepare meals for my husband and where he is has learned to cook. Food is prepared there for guests. Food is a gift to nourish bodies and to say I love you.

We have finally found an arrangement that works for dishes, pots, pans, etc. I have the tools I need to cook what I want to cook.

Then there are things like the 400-year-old beams and the original stones. I am still trying to decide if the half-moon of bricks is from an oven or a door opening years ago.

Sometimes we eat in the dining room or on the patio, but many breakfasts, find us lingering at the kitchen table talking about the day to come, our writing, social plans.

The painting, along with the woman on the other wall, is from the late wife of my former boss. I think of it as a window.

We found an old farm table at one depot vente and the tea cart at another depot vente. Not only do they hold the oven and other appliances, but it I love thinking about who used them before. The the texture of the wood is almost sensual.

As for the baskets underneath...they are for our picnics. All the contents were searched for at vide greniers and considered treasured finds. Our friend Karrie, supplied one of the baskets, which she located at a vide grenier for four Euros. It is perfect with its straps to hold down the dishes and wine glasses.

A Danish artist carved the fish into one of the stones.

I love my kitchen. For me it is perfect.

Monday, June 05, 2017


My new project has become an obsession.

For the first time, I'm delving seriously into non-fiction with a book called Coat Hangars and Knitting Needles about abortion in the US prior to 1973.

Today some of the research books I'd ordered arrived. Well they arrived a few days ago at a friend's house, who kindly accepts packages when we are away.
 It does increase chances of getting them, in a country where addresses are considered suggestions.

Every time I open a website for one thing, at least three other leads jump out

I've been thrilled with the interviews I've held and the people willing to talk to me, although many of the people I'd like to talk are gone.

I wake at night and words to put my research into readable form bounce around in my head.

The hardest thing to find is women who had illegal abortions prior to Roe v.Wade.

I'll keep looking.

Saturday, June 03, 2017


 The blog that will Become a Book
Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles 
Week of May 1, 2017
It started as an idea for a blog. With the upheaval in women’s reproductive rights and more and more legislation limiting those rights, I wanted to do a blog on the Clergy Council, a group of ministers and rabbis who arranged for women to have safe abortions before Roe v. Wade became the law in 1973.
I remember the Clergy Council because they helped a friend get an abortion in the early 70s in Massachusetts. I thought they were limited to Massachusetts.
I use Yandex usually as my search engine. It is Russian-based, so I’m sure my innocent searches are not boring the NSA when they sweep up my searches with millions of other people.
Nothing came up. Even with various words.
I went to, a Swiss site that does not report to the NSA. Voilà.
I discovered the Clergy Council was national, not just in Massachusetts. The correct name was Clergy Consultation Service (CCS). An article gave me the name of Reverend Charles Landreth who on, June 6, 1971 from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, FL launched a campaign to help women find safe abrtions. I could find nothing on the web about him except for that one article. One of his compatriots, Leo Sandon, may be a former professor at Florida University. 
It was at this point, the idea of writing a book became a full-fledged reality.
I didn't want it to be academic
Having taken a workshop years before with Leo Gutkind, the Father of Creative Non Fiction, I decided to use that format.
Creative non-fiction uses the tools of fiction such as dialogue, scenes, description about a subject that must be the truth. The writer can inject him or herself into the story.
I have a goal for the book.
I know that no matter what legislation is passed, women will continue to get abortions. I wanted to prove that point, self-publish the book and send it to every legislator who is trying to limit women's reproductive rights.
Because we were talking about 1970 I doubted that most of the people I might want to talk to are still alive.
I remembered Bill Baird, the pioneer in fighting so unmarried women could get birth control. He was often jailed for handing out birth control information. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, the law limiting this information was ruled unconstitutional and doctors were free to help women control pregnancies.
Wikipedia told me he was 84 and still alive with a website.
I e-mailed him not expecting much, but the next day there was reply. He has failing eye sight, he said but welcomed a phone call.
I am at my daughter’s outside of Boston. The only reason I am in the States, was that I testified before congress about FATCA, a banking law targeting American expats. My original plan was to fly in, testify and fly out.
My husband came with me for support. The following week he was running a helicopter conference in Florida. One set of international airline tickets are costly enough, making two trips within a week made no sense. “Stay, come with me,” he said.
I looked at him. “I don’t do Florida. The only good thing about my parents’ death after they retired to Florida, was I would never have to go there again. I hate heat, humidity, palmetto bugs, shopping centers although the Early Bird Specials served at most restaurants are nice.
“Go to Boston. Spend time with your kid,” he said.
Thus, I am here in Boston reveling in her company, enjoying hearing my accent where Rs meld into Hs, and seeing places where I've lived and loved. 
However, I don’t have access to a telephone. She doesn’t have a landline, my mobile doesn’t work in the US and the computer phone calls are unclear.
I wrote Baird saying I’d call him the following week when I returned to France. He graciously said email him the questions he would get someone to help him enter the answers. I did. The next day I had his answers.
I remembered a Tim Sebastian BBC interview with Norma McCorvey, the Roe of Roe v. Wade. Sebastian, a former host of the in-depth interview program Hardtalk, in most of his interviews went for the jugular. McCorvey appeared damaged and not able to defend herself. Sebastian was gentle with her while still conducting an in-depth interview, I wondered if BBC would have a transcript. Before writing I checked youtube.
I found it, listened and took notes.
Wikipedia did not have the names of the lawyers who represented her, misrepresented her, she said. I was able to trace them down. Sarah  Weddington is on twitter and I tweeted her asking for an interview. Although she hasn’t responded I’ve found more information on the internet. I will continue to pursue.
I found methods on the internet of herbal self-induction of  abortion.
I watched Motherless, a documentary of children my age of older who lost their mothers to botched abortions. I need to do this several more times for sources.
The introductory chapter poured out of me. I have my title Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles based on a comment by my oh-so Victorian grandmother a lifetime ago.
It is hard to sleep as I think of new areas to work on.
To do list:
·       First Presbyterian church current minister and photo
·       Leo Sandon U. Of FL
·       Sarah Weddington lawyer interview copy articles from internet
·       Motherless notes and talk to producers, doctor, get stats from it
·       Set up bibliography
·       Contact Planned Parenthood
·       Find list of famous women who signed they had abortions
·       Get a list of graduates of my high school to find women willing to talk about why they had illegal abortions. Hope some dealt with the Clergy Counsel (CCS).
·       Write friends from the era to see if they can lead me to women willing to talk about why they had illegal abortions. Hope some dealt with CCS
·       Use Twitter, Linked-In, Facebook to find women willing to talk about why they had illegal abortions. Hope some dealt with the CCS
·       Order books on history of abortion, etc.
Chapter ideas
·       Introduction
·       The writing of
·       Abortion thru history
·       Mores before Roe v. Wade
·       Statistics
·       Motherless
·       Clergy Council more than one?
·       Case studies
·       Bill Baird
         Started to find possible case histories via twitter, linked in. Asked two classmates for an email list of people who graduated .
        Ordered books for delivery to a friend. Between travel and the French postal service, which sometimes considers addresses a suggestion, she is more apt to be home to receive packages. I ordered others for my Kindle.
       I wake up in the middle of the night almost every night with new ideas.
      Over the next few days, I will post what progress I made up until I catch up to my current activities and then will post weekly. In a way, it is a manual in writing a work of creative non-fiction on an important topic.