Friday, March 30, 2018

Bad writing

As a writer, what goes into a book, short story or article is usually the Xth version. I rewrite and polish, strengthen a verb, cut an adverb, double check that I haven't repeated something. I will switch paragraphs to make the writing more logical.

This morning, when I woke, I wondered what it would be like to deliberately write badly. Here's what I came up with and it was fun.

1. The light shone on his white, white teeth, creating a new ray of sunlight that beamed its way straight into her heart.

2. Looking in the mirror, she couldn't help but admire her undulating hair, the color of strawberries in the green grocer's gift baskets, falling half way down her back.

3. He knew he was overweight, flab falling in rows like the Michelin tire guy but he had to escape.  So he ran for the first time in the last two decades. Each step created a tsunami of breathing problems, but he continued until he thought he would explode. And then he did explode, or at least that's what the doctor who did the autopsy said when he opened his chest with his silver knife and saw the remains of the man's heart in pink disarray.

4. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not...with each phrase her slim fingers decapitated another petal from the daisy. There were so many petals on the ground around where she was sitting, it looked as if there had been a small blizzard, except the sun was hot and the petals would not melt but decompose. Already they were withering like his love for her. She would continue plucking until one daisy would declare her man's love for her. Otherwise, she would have to kill herself.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


"My dad's in the hospital," my daughter said as we were chatting on Facebook.

Although I haven't spoken to my ex since 1993, I still wish him well.

It wasn't his fault that I married a man that existed in my mind. He probably married an equally imaginary woman.

And if the divorce was painful, when reality sunk in, I realized that my life was much better. As my daughter was growing up, we did co-parent well. He made sure he attended her concerts, declamations and other big events. Yes, he could have done more, but compared to a majority of divorced dads--and some at-home dads--he was very attentive during her childhood.

We shared her at Christmas, but only after my daughter was grown did she tell me, she would have preferred to not be bounced around but didn't think she had a choice. We blew that one, but I know both of us would have done as she wished if we'd known.

My daughter once asked why we were divorced when we got along so well. He had just been in our Boston condo, went to the fridge to get milk for his coffee. It was one of those long conversations where she sat on the bottom of my bed as I fought to stay awake, but didn't want to lose the moment of closeness by falling asleep.

I asked her to look at the differences in the way we each lived: suburbs, city, international travel, barely any travel, music a major part, music only a part, etc. Anything else, was really between her father and me, our immaturity at the time of marriage, etc.

As time has gone by I can see my first marriage (my learner-husband as one woman' called her first husband) was a good thing. I transitioned from child to adult, I learned to test myself, I fell in love with Europe and mostly--I have my daughter. Had I stayed married, I'd still have my daughter, but I would have stayed in Reading and done and seen only a fraction of what I've done in my life.

My divorce allowed me to lead the life I was meant to live.

Her father stayed overnight in the hospital for tests. He is about six months older than I am, although I still picture him like the last time I saw him. When I think that at 76, he is an old man, I have to remind myself I am not a young woman. Notice the phrasing there. I refuse to use the three letter adjective I used for the man I married 56 years ago to describe myself. I prefer the five-letter word.

I hope my ex continues in a happy, healthy life. And like I once I said to him, "Thank you for giving me our daughter and my freedom."

Monday, March 26, 2018


My first professional job was in downtown Boston. I was also a single mom.

Money was tight. My total spending money was 25 cents per day after all my other expenses. I would take my lunch and buy a Coke, which I would sip slowly to make it last. My alternative for a dessert would be to go two days without Coke then buy something like a brownie or a piece of apple pie.

I did have a boyfriend, who sometimes bought my lunch at the cafeteria on the ground floor of the Sheraton Hotel headquarters overlooking Boston Harbor. The prices were relatively low and the food was good, especially for a cafeteria.

The cashier was a retiree, Patrick, bald, working toward chubby and always smiling with an encouraging word for everyone. The cash register was modern for the early 1970s.

We began to notice if our lunches were $4.50 (for if I watched pennies, my boyfriend watched his nickles) each Patrick would ring up $8.00. At the time even $4.50 was a good price for meat, potato and a veg. When we looked at the slip and began to hand it to him, he shook his head.

Chatting with him daily, before we carried our trays to a free table was a treat. Weather, the Red Sox, a TV show, my daughter, my friend's five kids, his grandkids all became subjects for brief exchanges delivered with huge smiles that made even the toughest day a little brighter. We liked our jobs but we were often stressed with amount of work and deadlines.

We talked about our unofficial discounts. In one way it seemed dishonest or at least aiding and abetting dishonesty. My boyfriend at the time was divorced and supporting an ex-wife and five kids. His generosity to me was appreciated. I eased my guilt by thinking, I wasn't the one getting the reduction.

On days, when I ate alone, I bought only my Coke. Patrick charged me 25 cents.

We tried to estimate if he undercharged each person going through the line 50 cents less, how much was Sheraton losing, $50 to $100 a day? My take home pay at the time was $105 so the loss was high in my financial sense of reference. Yet 50 cents a day off, every nine days, was almost a free meal.

Patrick was such a sweet man, we didn't want to turn him in and argued the situational ethics.

Maybe he really needed the job to supplement his social security.

Maybe he had a sick wife at home.

After about 11 months, Patrick told me he was taking a vacation, going to New Hampshire to visit his daughter, his grandson.

He never came back. We learned through the grapevine we had established with Sheraton employees who rode the elevators with us that when Patrick was away, the receipts went up so much, the management did some investigating. I don't know if they ever pressed charges, wanted the money back or what happened to him.

We didn't know Patrick's last name and there was no way to trace him.

I wondered why he did it when there was no financial gain to himself, Did he have a food Robin Hood complex?

Compared to the horrendous cheating that goes on today, the bank frauds, the hedge fund capers, the poisons used by manufacturers our crimes were minimal, but they still weren't right. And as much I want to think of myself as an honest person, I can't claim 100% honesty.

It does make me more tolerant of people who step off the path for good reasons, less so than the major crooks who out of greed ruin people's lives such as phony Wells Fargo Accounts. No one is dead or physically injured because of Patrick

But being a little bit in the wrong is not comfortable even if it were not the road to ruin. Nor do I feel better knowing others do far worse things. I want the world to be better than that...better than me.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Unintended consequences

The phrase "unintended consequences" has the connotation of being a bad thing, but it doesn't have to be.

For 11 years I lived in the "international ghetto," that group of flats where many of the UN and NGO people from all over the world lived for whatever time they were assigned to Geneva.

I was not about to be isolated so, like my father used to do, whenever a new person moved in I would leave them flowers in front of the door and/or invite them for coffee.

The result has been many dear friendships that go beyond our time together on the 6th floor.

In more cases than not, communication continues even after almost two decades of separation. Easter messages from the Couple Czech are treasured, visits when possible to the Indian family happen and once there was even a meet-up in Edinburgh where the daughter is a student.

In one case my neighbor has become a family member of choice and her family an addition to mine and vice versa.

The first time I left flowers in front of her door, she was on mission (the international jargon for being on a business trip). The second time she took them in.

A Jack Russell that I was babysitting decided to check out her apartment when he saw her door open, resulting in a conversation.

One night, she needed help putting an Ikea table together. When done, we signed it. That table is now covered with embroidery thread in my daughter's Boston apartment.

Meals became shared, keys exchanged so we could leave food in the other person's refrigerator when they were coming back from a trip, TV shows watched, support given, adventures done. Her family's visit from Damascus and my daughter's visit from the U.S. deepened the bonds. My visits to Damascus and Syria makes the current situation extremely painful. Pain can be the price for loving.

She now lives in Paris with her new husband. I live in the South of France and Geneva with my new husband our brother-in-laws of choice as we call them. We don't have the same drop-in luxury as we did on the 6th floor, but the level of caring is there and when do we manage to be in the same place it is as if we had just had breakfast together that morning.

When I bought those two bouquets of flowers, I never thought the unintended consequence would be a deep, deep friendship and a sister-of-choice.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Third Culture Adult

I have written a series of mysteries about a Third Culture Kid, Annie, who spent her first few years in Massachusetts and then moved with her family to Amsterdam followed by moves to Stuttgart and Geneva.

Although she quickly adapted to the language she always felt like an outsider and wanted "to go home" to the States, but when she went to the University of Massachusetts, she discovered she didn't fit in there either.

Over the course of the novels, Annie finds that her experiences and her multi-languages make her who she is and that person is okay. It isn't necessary to be part of a closed set of rules.

Although people have accused me of being Annie, I am not. I don't have her languages, she is much younger than I am and far more technical. I wouldn't mind being Annie, but I'm not.

Living in Geneva I know a lot of Third Culture Kids. On the bus I hear fathers talking in one language to their kids, the offspring answering in another and from their animation, I know they understand each other perfectly.

It has been almost 30 years since I left the States. I have taken Swiss nationality (it did nothing to improve my accent) and given up my American. I've also lived in Germany and in France.

What am I?

Let me use the French word melange, a mixture. My core will always be New England Yankee, a gift from my grandmother as much as the culture, although she transmitted the value system that is a part of me.

There are customs and attitudes that have also entered my DNA from the other places I've lived. No matter where I go, to a certain extent I am an outsider. At my age, I should be one of the mamies, the grandmothers of the village who gather on benches and chat. Yet, I have been far better educated academically and traveled the world, while they have stayed within a hundred kilometers, if they have traveled that far. It is not that I'm better. They have a wisdom, I can learn from.

We can talk and share about our daily lives, news of the village. I can't tell them about my planned trip to Nova Scotia to see my dad's birthplace or our upcoming conference in Stuttgart where I want to walk the streets where I once lived. It is enough to say we are going on a trip. We have a series of one-way references and that is okay.

Wednesday we saw a wonderful documentary about Switzerland, my adopted country. I am proud that they accepted me, proud of their democracy, which is not without flaws, but works more than it doesn't. I love the traditions from the fondue to the days where decorated cows are paraded to pasture, flowers in their horns accompanied by people in native costume. Yet even if I were to wear the costumes and walk behind a cow, I'm still the outsider.

When I go back to the States, I have no problem to walk through the foreigners line. But so much seems strange to me, stranger than walking behind a flower-bedecked cow. It is if I am in a dream with all the images being fuzzy. I am an outsider.

Depending on where I am, I will follow the table manners and the politeness of the country. I will try and understand and follow customs where I don't clash with accepted society without ever compromising my inner self.

I know who I am--a Third Culture Adult, an International--and it's okay. 

Photo at the top. My Annie Clock, made by the talented artist Pauline Stonehouse. This is the way I've always pictured Annie. Pauline brought her to life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Springing and Sprunging

Spring hasn't sprung no matter what the calendar says.

Usually at this time we are in shirt sleeves, sipping tea or coffee outdoors in a café.

Two nights ago it snowed in Perpignan, at most a two-time-in-a-decade occurrence.

The Tramantane is howling. Winds are around 77KPH according to

The temperature is hovering at 10°C but it feels much colder because of the wind.

I hesitate to complain as my daughter in Boston awaits the fourth nor'easter in a couple of weeks. The rest of the East Coast residents are battered down.

Europe also is shivering.

I love winter, wind, snow...In December, January, February. 

I am now ready for cherry trees such as the one at the ILO in Geneva and daffodils and long café sits in the sun.

Photo credit David Ryan/Boston Globe

Monday, March 19, 2018

has been

When I was pregnant it seemed like everyone was interested in my health, weight and general well- being.

Then Llara was born, and like Jack Kennedy who said he was "the man who brought Jackie Kennedy to Paris," I was the woman who brought this chubby-cheeked baby into the world.

People who never visited me, came to see the baby, including parents of my friends who also never visited before.

I could live with being a has-been among my friends and their folks, for I was in love with the baby.

Rick and I talked about getting a dog for five years or so. We wanted a rescue dog, a female, older too.

When we went to the rescue center, one of the workers put a 12-week old male mongrel (Yorkie, griffon and many other things) into my arms. It was love at first lick.

We are spending the winter in a centuries-old French village with narrow streets, where it is almost impossible to walk without greeting neighbors and chatting.
Sherlock quickly replaced the normal questions or comments with "Il est très mignon" and other exclamations on his cuteness. I wasn't jealous. He was overdosing on his cute appreciation as was I. It never bothered me that he received about 98% of the attention and my attention, the remaining 2%, was more about how he was doing. I could report a good pee and poop report, how he sat on command etc.

However, now when I walk down the street alone when I'm heading to do some errands that would take too long with Sherlock, I don't hear, "Ca va?" "Bonjour" or any of the other French chit chat.

My neighbors spy me and the first question is "Oú est Sherlock?"

Like a few decades ago, I can live with being a has-been to an adorable five kilos of wiggles and fur.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Several times a week on Facebook I post what made me happy that day or at least the last couple of days.

Yesterday there was so much happiness that it was much too much for a post.

The day started with breakfast at Mille et Une, who added a fruit plate: apple, mango, kiwi and tangerine.

Our Swedish friends joined us and told us of the vernissage at the Salle Marianne where they had bought a sculpture before it opened and suggested we join them for the real exhibition.

 I was entranced with a sculpture by the Burkina Fasso artist, Kossi Traoré, who was exhibiting of a mother holding up a child which showed the joy of both.

Rick bought it for me. It meets two of the three criteria for me to own anything: beautiful and a memory.

We went to the Short Film Festival in a nearby town. The festival had selected 38 shorts from the 800 submitted from 78 countries. We watched 13 and scored them on the form given us. What fascinated me was, with one exception, our scoring was very different. The reasons were a pleasure to share adding another depth to the showing.

We also discovered a cultural center and exhibits that we hadn't know existed. Something else to explore.

Then home to a quiet night with Sherlock.

Each moment of the day was a tickle to the senses, an experience. But the best part was I with someone I love and someone who stimulates my imagination, makes me think, laugh.


My husband really should appreciate me. I am easy to please, although sometimes he doesn't believe when I ask for something, I'm serious.

We go back and forth a lot between Southern France and Geneva, taking anywhere from six to eight hours with stops. I travel light, one small suitcase (the kind that fits in the overhead) and my computer. In fact that was all I needed for a month in Edinburgh, but that's another story.

He loads the car full with his stuff. During the trip, we add food wrappers, empty water bottles, and all kinds of stuff.

Even on small day trips it seems the bad trash fairy fills the car.

Since we first started making the trips by car (pre-Rick I only trained it) I wanted a trash can (for the poubelle) so all the detritus was in one place.

He thought I was joking when I kept saying, we had to get a mini-trash can for our poubelle. Since he does 95% of all our shopping and the stores in Argeles didn't carry small poubelle cans, the discussion went on, not as a nag, but as sidebar so to speak.

Then this week he bought me my desired gift...see photo above.

Some women want expensive jewelry, diamonds, rubies or pearls. Some want furs. He made me ecstatic with a trash can for under 10 Euros. However he did mention my desire for a $45 million plane. A Falcon 6X might do nicely for our many trips between the south of France and Geneva as long as it has a can for the poubelle.

He has a dueling blog at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

History unfolded

Sometimes there are books that are irreplaceable. I originally bought The Complete Works of the Mayflower Pilgrim by Caleb H. Johnson to do research for my novel Murder in Caleb's Landing. It was a limited edition and back in the 90s I paid $125 for it. Similar books by Johnson are now available at Amazon.

I've kept the book, not for cozy bedtime reading, but it is fun to open to any page for an insight into another time every now and then.

"I understand from Mr. Prence, who had it from an Indian of good esteem amongst them, that the Narraganansetts (sic) prepare for war, that the Mohawks have promised to aid them with a thousand men in the spring." William Bradford

"They lay a false charge upon the churches in affirming 'that Christian vigilance is now may exercised towards such as are not in church fellowship.'" Edward Winslow

"These people are not (as some have thought) a dull of slender-witted people, but very ingenious and very subtle." Thomas Morton about Indians.

"It pleased God to take away, by death, Mr. William Paddy, who was a precious servant of Christ." Nathaniel Morton.

There is a section of the wills with inventories.

Mary Ring left to her son "all my brass and pewter." She also left him her bed and two white blankets.

Samuell Eaton of Middleberry left:
  • 3 cows
  • 2 two-yeer (sic)old heiffer and one, one-yeer old.
  • 2 colts
  • 2 mare
  • a horse
  • undisclosed number of swine
He also elaborated on his tools, ground Indian corn. He must have been wealthy for his day. His debts were a fraction of the value of what he left behind, although by today's standards he would be poor.

Matthew Slade wrote to Sir Dudley Carleton about a missing William Brewster.

And then there is "A PARTICULAR ANSWER TO THE Manifold Slanderers and Abominable Falsehoods contained in an article called Simplicities defense against Seven-headed Policy: Wherein Samuel Gorton, desperately dangerous to his Countrymen the English in New England and notorious slanderous in what he he hath Printed of them. This is not a catchy title but probably a 1600s version of fake news concerns pre-Internet.

As a modern writer, I want to edit, edit, edit, the flowery language and standardize the spelling.

The respect I have for Johnson in bringing together all this material has no limit.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Snow day

As a kid growing up in New England, waking to snow meant staying in bed and listening to the no school announcements. Because they were read alphabetically, and I lived in Reading, it was a long wait to be able to snuggle back under the covers with a non-school required book.

Then later in the day my brother and I would build snow forts. My grandmother would heat maple syrup and pour it on the dish of snow that we'd scooped up and given to her. It hardened into a great candy.

My mother would set up jigsaw puzzles in front of the fire. We had to do the border before we could do the insides. Sometimes there was a story log, where stories were told or read while a log burned.

My daughter had a much-reduced waiting time to learn Latin would not open. We lived in B for Boston. Read after the Actons, Arlingtons, Belmonts...

Now school closings are on line.

Although Switzerland photos often include snow-covered Alps and people skiing down mountains with a background of chalets, Geneva itself does not often get heavy snow or even snow. I lived here three years before there was even a dusting and that was on Valentine's Day while I was eating in a Japanese restaurant.

A couple of years ago while I was undergoing chemo, there was enough snow and I had enough strength that with my husband we made a snow rabbit on our patio.

Thus yesterday, when our Rick parted the curtains to take Sherlock for his first walk of the day, we were delighted to see a white world compared to the green and brown one visible when we went to bed.

Our original lunch plans with an Egyptian friend had already been cancelled. He wasn't arriving in Geneva until Friday. There was everything we needed to eat in the frigo and cabinets. No need to go out except for the dog.

Thus there was extra reading, some writing and a bit more time to catch up on paperwork. We could watch the Beast from the East, as this storm blanketing much of Europe has been called from the warmth of our home.

Even without forts, maple syrup candy and puzzles, the day was a gift of calm and beauty.

My former housemate who did go out has a blog on a snow day in Geneva a different perspective.

My husband has a different point of view


The warmth of the bus was welcomed after Geneva's icy cold. I sat next to a young woman.

I adore public transportation bus and train. In Geneva with its traffic hangups it is often faster than a car. Sometimes I find the most interesting people and if I don't there's always the window to inspect the scenery city or country.

This young woman was disabled, but worked 35% as a secretary. She confessed to being afraid of tornadoes and dreamed of being a doctor. Having just finished work, she was finding time to visit her granny who had a stroke. "Most people can't understand Granny, but I can." We spoke mainly in French, with a smattering of English. 

She asked me if I were English and accepted my explanation that I was born in America, but was Swiss, and learned French starting at 48 when I moved to Neuchâtel.

We talked about following dreams and even if one never reached their goal, trying was an experience one might never have if they didn't try.

We both descended at Rive and crossed the street. At the French macaroon store, she went right, and I went left to catch the next tram.

I had a single seat the rest of the way, but felt warmer than the weather deserved for a brief friendly encounter, with a person who had dreams and the hope to take some steps toward achieving them while being aware the chances were slim.