Saturday, November 30, 2019

Black Friday

I do not understand Black Friday at all. I look at the TV coverage and it reminds me of an animal feeding frenzy when I see shoppers pushing and shoving to get in a store as it opens.

One article said that many of the people who charge their purchases still haven't paid off their purchases for last Christmas.

I admit I'm not like many. Debt is anathema. If you can't pay it off the same month, you don't use your credit card.


Because no matter how great the price is, the interest charges wipe out the savings.

There may be emergency exceptions like if it's January in Boston, a blizzard is coming and your heating system breaks down. There's a Brit advert that uses a similar scenario: it is for a payday lender. At 1000 APR.

Not to sound like a COW (Crotchety Old Woman) but I believe it is better to save up for what you want. There was a point in my life that I needed to use credit to buy a car. If I want an expensive car now, I would still need to borrow. Instead I can write a check for a used car. Our last one that we bought for 2500 Euros gave us at least 50,000 miles. Our new/one is a little more expensive, but not much, and is chugging along nicely. We've decorated it with butterflies to make it special and to be able to recognize it easily from all the other gray cars on the road. No monthly payments, no interest meaning the car cost exactly what I paid for it.

Back to Black Friday. There used to be Christmas Clubs, special savings accounts offered by banks and credit unions where so much of each paycheck went into one. Thus early in December, the money was there for shopping and there was no January blues when the realization that debt levels have increased.

France is thinking of banning Black Fridays, but Europe had a more restrictive attitude towards sales and shopping in general.

In Germany stores were only open Saturday afternoons one day a month. During the week, they also closed in the early evening. Switzerland has finally agreed in some location to let stores open a couple of Sundays in December.

The over consumption of Black Friday means not just billions of increase debt, but tons of items that will end up in storage or if we are lucky being recycled. Very little will be treasured in a couple of months. Bad for the planet.

This Black Friday for me meant getting up early, not so much to fight the crowds for something I probably didn't need or as a gift for someone who probably didn't need it, I had an early dentist appointment and yes, I'd rather go to the dentist than face a Black Friday crowd. That is if I can't stay in bed with a cup of tea and a book or take Sherlock for a nice walk in the crisp November air.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ten examples of cozy

Cozy is a bouquet of flower, even more so if it is near a window where I can see the rain.

Cozy is wearing sweats or loose jeans and a sweatshirt.

Cozy is sharing a carton of ice cream with two spoons as my husband and I sit side-by-side watching  Netflix, TV or a DVD.

Cozy is having a cup of tea brought to me in bed when I don't have to rush anywhere.

Cozy is rain on the skylight.

Cozy is being at home and knowing there's no place on the planet I'd rather be.

Cozy is having my bed pre-warmed on a cold winter night.

Cozy is having good smells coming from the kitchen.

Cozy is curling up with a good book.

Cozy is Sherlock next to me.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Dog Friendly

Where's Sherlock?

We hear that a lot when Rick and I walk down the street in Argelès without him from friends, other dog owners, merchants and restaurant owners.

We didn't expect to hear it today when I was at my doctors. Last week I had had an ectoscopy. Rick had Sherlock with him when he popped his head to ask when I would be through. The receptionist said the dog could come in.

The doctor also invited Sherlock into his office as we discussed my condition, which is not serious, just annoying.

Today when I went back, the receptionist's first words weren't "Bonjour Madame Nelson" but "Ou est Sherlock?" When the doctor came out to take me into his office, before he asked how I was doing, he asked, "Where is Sherlock?"

Living in Europe I am used to places including restaurants and hotels being dog friendly. When we stayed at a hotel in Davos with Sherlock in August, the hotel had dishes, a dog bed and pillow and a packet of dog treats for Sherlock. He was greeted by staff before we were as we walked by reception.

Shopping at Ikea, the other day, we left Sherlock at home. Too bad, there were several other pups he could have made friends with.

I am prejudice about my pup, a melange of Yorkie, Jack Russell, Mini Pinscher and maybe Griffon. For a while he had a walking group, women who stopped for him when they were exploring the woods and mountains near us. Another friend on an email, closed with "Kiss Sherlock for me."

We call him Little Boy, Muttsaball, Little Man -- We are glad he has friends. We are also thrilled that we live where dogs are so welcomed.



Monday, November 25, 2019

Maybe Marianne?

Having turned my latest novel over to my husband and not being able to do a final draft until he critiques at it, technically I have no writing project.

My characters, Anne-Marie, Brenda, Maura, Ashley and Sally all have packed their bags and left my mind. I miss them.

I am the embodiment of a person at sixes and sevens without a full writing project.

I keep trying to think of the next book.

There are some novels, I started in the past and stopped. I could go back and restart any one of them. Then there was the historical "biography" of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley's daughter that I researched almost two decades ago. It doesn't motivate me.

When I write a book, I get so involved with my characters that they become real to me. If I wake at night, they talk to me, telling me, what I should or shouldn't write about them the next day.

Last night after getting up for the potty, a woman appeared. Her name could be Marianne and she is in her fifties of sixties. She is a crusader, she said. I hope she comes back to me tonight and tells me a bit more about her life. 

Next week, Rick is at a conference. Maybe this will be time to sit down with Marianne and see what we can do together.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


Thanksgiving -- Take 1

Switzerland does not celebrate Thanksgiving. There is no reason they should. However, many American expats or repats like myself, find ways to do it.

I admit the only time I am homesick for the US is Thanksgiving. There are memories over the decades of the Reading/Stoneham High football games, great meals at my dad's and stepmom's followed by my stepmom's dad going upstairs for his penny jar and urging people to get a poker games going along with the pumpkin pie. Then there were the years at my housemate's aunt in Connecticut starting off with sweet and sour meatballs.The words "over the river and through the woods..." echoed in my head on the drives down.

One year in Switzerland, I was interviewed on the radio to explain Thanksgiving to listeners from other countries. When I confessed to one of my staff how I felt homesick, she had her mother make an Armenian version of pumpkin pie

Then there were the dinners at the used bookstore and cafe, The Bookworm or at Marro.

A few years, my housemate and I prepared the meal ourselves in Geneva or Argelès.

Another year, friends from the States came and we produced a traditional dinner for our Swiss friends. They were amazed that the meat was moist.

This Saturday night our landlords invited a number of friends, many dual citizens or married to American ex-pats. They supplied the turkey and beverages. All day, we smelled the second turkey cooking in our oven. 

The rest of the meal was a Canadian supper as pot luck is called here, but the traditional dishes and deserts were all present along with great conversation.

Thursday, the real Thanksgiving Day, we will be back at my former housemate's for Thanksgiving Take 2. The attendees will be family members, family of choice and those that have lived in this welcoming house. We are keeping it simple because the real joy of Thanksgiving is being with people that are special.

And oh yes, I need to find out if Reading or Stoneham won.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

No More Ricks

My former housemate, only half-kiddingly, suggested I allow no more Rick's or Richards in my life.

I understood.

My husbands were both named Rick. I began numbering them 1 and 2 when a college friend confessed "I like Rick 2 better than Rick 1." So do I.

Rick 1 has a son Rick, whose son is also Rick. They are my daughter's father, stepfather, stepbrother and step nephews who are in our discussions.

Then there is my nephew Rick. At least he didn't name his son Rick.

And although he is called Richard, there's my ex-boss who keeps cropping up in my life. If I say Rick, my former housemate and others may ask "which one" unless the context makes it clear.

I am an old hand at dealing with many people of the same name. A friend Susan had a secretary Susan and worked closely with a woman named Susan who had a secretary named Susan. Their boss said in stead of calling them by name, she should hiss.

We are now beginning to face a plethora (love that word plethora) of Andys with my husband's work. When he said he needed to call Andy, I had to ask, "which one."

As a student of history, there are too many kings named Henry, Louis and George in French and English history. Any doubts about the Louis the 16th? There was no 16th because that was the end of the monarchy. It is hard to remember which number was the Sun King and which launched the first crusade. Henry VIII is easy to remember because he had six wives and is known for breaking from the Catholic Church. And there was the pop song  I am Henry VIII I am.

I know there are in-names every year. 1917 when my mother was born, Dorothy was a common name. Her generation produced a lot of Evelyns and Madelines, names that are coming back.

When I went to name my daughter, I wanted something unusual. Llara doesn't like her double L but she should be grateful her father rejected the name Cloud.

I am not going to tell my former housemate a writing friend, with whom we line up with sometimes,  is named Rick. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Ho, ho, ho

I stumbled across my first Christmas market as a bride in Stuttgart in the early 1960s. A few chalets were in front of Breuniger Deparment Store. At the time I couldn't have afforded even a four ($1US) Deutschmark ornament.

That year our Christmas decorations were my big plastic pink curlers arranged as a Christmas tree on a door. Safety pins hung off the "boughs" to provide sparkle.

 Stuttgart's Weinarchtsmarket in the snow.

Decades later I visited the market, which had expanded to cover much of the middle city area.

Licorice in multi colors at the Frankfort Weinachtsmarket.

I've been to a number of marchés in various cities since then. Frankfort with my cousins will always be a favorite memory as much because of time with my cousins. Then again Strasbourg or Freiburg were great fun.

Montreux's market, in my home country of Switzerland on the lake with the Alps in the background, is always  great and we don't have to travel and stay overnight (s). We don't go every year . One special year was with a friend from New York.

This year Rick hoped the Canadian booth selling poutine would be there. They were but we were full of fondue.Another chalet sold ceramic dishes and they were from South of France. German chalets featured wooden ornaments and advent calendars. No matter where you looked, there was something that intrigued us-

 This chalet had bookmarks as its main product.

Most of the chalets are stocked with handmade items: teapots, cups, jewelry, clothes, wooden decorations. There is very little of the tacky. The idea of Christmas shopping is the ability to find the unusual gift as well as supporting craftsmen and women.

There is the fun of the other decorations such as a giant reindeer on a small wooden island in the lake. He lights up at night. And PàreNoël/Father Christmas/Santa flying above the chalets then singing and playing the guitar was a highlight.

The music, smells of spices, hot wine, roasting chestnuts along with the buzz of the people walking along create the atmosphere that says, "It's Christmas. Ho, ho, ho."

Monday, November 18, 2019


Our flat flooded in the spring. It took a few months before we could get back in. As part of the cleanup our landlord had to move all our things to a dry space.

We finally got back in and started sorting our stuff. I found my two wigs from when I was going through chemo. There was a short and long one. I was always tempted to start an event with the short one and sometime during the evening change to the long. The idea hair could grow that fast appealed to me.

For years I wanted to have white hair, but my hatred of roots showing, stopped me. Thus a plus of the cancer was that my natural hair color improved.

I suppose I could wear them, but I am so happy with my white hair. In Switzerland cancer patients undergoing chemo, have their wigs paid for by insurance.

I should do some research and send the wigs to a woman who can't pay for one and isn't able to pay for one. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

As for the photo, Sherlock may think that the wigs are a potential toy.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sherlock goes to Geneva

Oh, oh. Suitcases. That means my father is leaving.

Oops. My mother just took out her suitcase with her teddy bear motif.

That means they are both going. I wonder who will come this time to take care of me. Some of my sitters in the past have been great the way they walk me and cuddle me.

Oh, oh.

They are packing my bed and toys. I hear the word Geneva. That will means HOURS and HOURS in the car.

Okay, we've been on the road a couple of hours. Time to throw up.

I was right. We are spending HOURS and HOURS in the car. Yes, we stop so we can all pee. They go in those little houses, but I get to water tall grass, trees, bushes around what they call the rest stop.

Oh, the stop at the village where we had lunch was pretty nice. Especially when my father slipped me pieces of veal from his tagine.

We got off the highway and my humans were driving down this bumpy road. They opened the door and let me out.


I see the ruin of the château where I used to play. I was over the bridge and up the hill and into the center of the ruins. There were kids there too. I am so happy to be running here again.

Ooops back in the car. I am so sick of this car.

Some 11 hours after we left this morning, we pulled into a driveway that I remember. And I remember the garden. I did a few zoomies, but why aren't they going inside????

We left again. Seems something was wrong with the remote that opens the doors and my humans had to meet someone to work it out. Anyway we finally got inside. The flat looks new. They said they like it a lot better than before the flood. I don't know what a flood is, but if they are happy, I'm happy.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Can we buy this man a jacket?

An anthropologist and friend once described clothes as cultural clothing. She was right. How we dress sends messages to others.  

Years ago when a bank went bust, one of the news articles reported that it was no surprise that the top management wore jeans and boots rather than proper banker clothing.  Obama was criticized for wearing a brown suit. One wouldn't go to a formal dinner in a bathing suit or go swimming in a tuxedo.

Even if men's business suits are a bit boring, we expect a certain standard. For example congressional representatives (I won't call them leaders because allegedly they work for the people) wear business suits.

Now we have Ohio Representative Jim Jordan appearing regularly without a jacket. He has very nice blue and white shirts but the lack of jacket seems like affectation much like French Tennis Player and Singer Yannick Noah never wears shoes and socks on stage.

Maybe I am wrong and it is not an affectation. Maybe he is too hot in a jacket. Or maybe some materials causes him to break out in a rash.

Or worse, maybe he can't afford a jacket.

If it is the later I have thought of starting a gofundme to buy the congressman a jacket. Winter is coming and D.C. can be cold no matter what your party affiliation is.  And even if I don't agree with much of what Congressman Jordan thinks, I would hate for him to catch cold.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The cup

"Guess what I found in our coffee room?" my daughter messaged me.

A cup for a credit union shouldn't merit much attention EXCEPT DCU played a very special part in my life and not just as a member.

It was the late 70s and I was working for Polaroid Credit Union as their PR Director. We were an innovative organization often being the first to offer any new program approved by regulation.

I had always thought of myself as a marketing person who promoted credit unions, but over the years I became a credit union person. I so believed in their philosophy that all profits need to be returned to members in the form of higher sayings rates, lower loan rates and better services.

Digital Equipment Corporation approached my boss about setting up a credit union for their employees. Credit unions need defined membership be it social, geographic, company, etc. They ended up hiring him and he, in turn, hired Polaroid Credit Union's management team with a responsible time between hires so the old credit union wouldn't suffer.

What a ride it was. Ken Olson, DEC's CEO, didn't want to be the first member, but the second. The first went to a factory floor worker.

Month after month we opened new branches until we had 35 around the U.S. and Puerto Rico. We worked as fast as we could to get programs and services in place. We worked equally hard to make it a good place for our employees. Fresh ideas abounded. It quickly became a multi-million dollar financial institution, growing monthly.

I left after eight years, not because I didn't believe, but because I was moving overseas.

The credit union flourished without me and is now worth over a billion dollars. It survived the demise of Digital. I was in Washington D.C. when I saw a DCU ATM.  I'm still a member.

I later became a journalist covering international credit unions, first for Credit Union Times then for my own publication Credit Union Newswire until I retired.

However, of all my jobs, DCU will always be where I was allowed to be most creative. Each night I knew whatever I did would help people better their financial lives. I think of DCU as my baby, that grew up and got its Ph.D.

As for the cup...small world isn't it.

Monday, November 11, 2019

It's almost over

Anne-Marie and Brenda are in France. Maura is digging her way out of medical bills. Violet's medication has stopped her seizures. Sally has accepted there is no solution with her parents. Ashley is busy with her law practice and her maybe boyfriend. The birth mother of her adopted child is doing well in her residency. Medora is waiting trial.


I have lived with these women for almost two years and today I finished my third draft. Third is not an accurate count, because I go over the previous day or week's writing regularly so in some places it is the fifth, tenth or even twentieth. Third, start to finish draft is more accurate.

I've handed it to my writer/journalist husband for the next serious edit. Then I will do a final before sending it off to the publisher. There may still be more edits.

I've commissioned an artist to do art work in the book. The same artist who does all my covers will do this one.

These women have been sitting on my couch, taking walks with me, whispering in my ear for a long time telling me what they would like to do and how they would like to do it.

In my imagination, they have packed their bags and left my home or at least my laptop. There is an empty feeling, a feeling of loss.

At the moment, I have no idea what I will write next. Should I go back to The Ring? Tweak all my short stories? What words will fill this hole? It is stupid, but I ask myself, if I'm not writing, am I really a writer. Never mind I've published 15 books. When I was a reporter, my editor Fred Cole said, "You're only as good as your last story." Damn him for planting that idea in my head.

I know I will meet these women again in different edits, but it won't be the same.

Check out D-L's website

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Cold fantasy

I am living my summer fantasy as I suffered with the heat.

It is dark early. I can get in my PJs and fuzzy robe, settle down with a book or watch something, snuggle with my husband and dog, close the drapes, shut out the world.

When I go out, I have my boots, hat, gloves and puffy coat that keeps my body warm while the wind kisses my cheek. I listen to the music of the wind.

Snow on Canigou. This is taken from the beach where the wind was chilly. We are heading back to Geneva where there is snow on the Jura and in the Alps.

I love it I love it I love it I love it I lo...

Saturday, November 09, 2019

dog talk

My dog speaks woof in English and French. Okay, maybe I exaggerated about the two languages but he understands vien and come and many other things in either language. We can tell by his body language, double takes and the ear rotations that he knows what my husband and I are saying to one another in normal conversational tones.

He has a rather large vocabulary from a barely audible squeak to say "pay attention to me" to an eardrum shattering bark that says "I SAID PAY ATTENTION!" In between there's a whole series of sounds indicating desire to go out, play, eat, retrieve the toy from under the sofa, etc.

He is smarter than most of the other dogs I've had (Sorry Albert, Amadeus, Mika) evidenced by his problem-solving skills.

I thought I was anthropomorphizing him when I felt he was trying to talk to me.

Then I read this article

Christina Hunger, a speech therapist, has helped her dog, Stella, communicate with her a series of buttons. When the dog pushes certain buttons words like play, eat, out are spoken. Not only does Stella push a single button, she will push combinations for more complicated desires.

This is Stella. Now although she can use the buttons to make her wishes known, it is not possible ot have a deep political or philosophical conversation with her. Hunger says she has about 22 words they use together.

I suspect if we had similar buttons, Sherlock would quickly learn to press them. He probably would stomp on "Biscuits" many, many times until we responded. On the other hand, maybe it is better that we continue with his variety of woofs and soul-penetrating stares and body language.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Anti Rich

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, has accused Elizabeth Warren of being anti-rich.

I am with Warren...anti abusive rich.

Anyone who is successful in running a business, more power to them, if it is not done on the backs and abuse of others.

Take Jeff Bezos who just bought a house that will have 25 toilets. At the same time he cut medical insurance for part time employees.

Will he have trouble deciding which toilet to use when one of his employees dies for lack of health insurance? Will he have a rotation schedule on where to pee next so he uses them all?

There is nothing wrong with people enjoying the things that money brings but how much is enough? Too much?

Warren believes, and I agree, that people do not become magically rich unless the wealth is inherited. Even then it was accumulated by work, often the work of others. They use the commons such as roads, waters and even sewers. Their employees are often educated in public schools.

Those who've built business by lying, cheating, and hurting others should be called out.

There is a saying to who much is given, much is expected. Seems if someone has enough money to live in a house with 25 toilets, they can give a little back to the people who built the business along with them.

But then again, I was always an idealist.

Saturday, November 02, 2019


At the end of our street is Notre Dame de Prat with its three church bells.

They ring once on the quarter hour, twice on the half, three times on the three-quarter and four times on the hour followed by the bells that are the same as the time.

At 7:05 a.m. and p.m. they ring 30 times.

The bells for Mass, weddings and funerals sound different.

Living so close we hear them easily when the doors and windows are open and a little more softly when they are closed.

There is something comforting in their music, a steadiness in the routine of daily life.

In  Switzerland where we live in Collonge-Bellerive, it is harder to hear the church bells. Much depends on the wind, but when we are in the center of the village at noon, I've counted over 100 rings.

I say over 100 because I'm sure I've lost count more than once. The feeling is the same.

Although I have no religion, the bells celebrate parts of life that go beyond any religion. They call out to my fellow humans.

Bells have existed for over 3000 years having been introduced in China and have been connected with religion almost as long. A secondary use was to send information.

Bells were a way to reach the gods, or they were considered a symbol or wisdom, peace patience and/or other positive attributes.

In Ancient Egypt bells used bells in their ceremonies.

Bell founding in Italy helped establish bells as part of Christian ceremonies. Pope Sabinian during his two year reign (604-606) used bells for blessings and in England Saint Bede rang bells as part of funeral ceremonies.
Bells and ceremonies is summarized in the Edith Piaf song "Trois Cloches": bells rung for birth, marriage and death.

And more recently in the theater production of Notre Dame de Paris, Garou as Quasimodo sings about bells's the Emily Dickinson poem

poet Emily Dickinson

Of Tolling Bell I ask the cause?
"A Soul has gone to Heaven"
I'm answered in a lonesome tone—
Is Heaven then a Prison?

That Bells should ring till all should know
A Soul had gone to Heaven
Would seem to me the more the way
A Good News should be given

A bell can be part of a sympathy,

History, music, poetry and books have bells, but for me, just waking up and hearing the bells and knowing its 7:05 is a pleasure. I can decide to go back to sleep, read, or get up and start my day.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Christmas idea

Christmas is a time of excess in many households, perhaps not quite as bad as in the photo.Studies have shown that many Christmas gifts are forgotten. An estimated 60 million Christmas presents in the UK were unwanted.

Growing up we made our Christmas lists. We knew Santa would only bring five, afterall a sleigh only holds so much.

When I was a poor university student, Dr. Patricia Goler, head of the history department, a brilliant woman and human being, ran a charity where students selected a poor Lowell family to buy presents for. We were struggling ourselves, but we still found the funds to deliver a gaily-wrapped toy and perhaps something practical like mittens or a scarf for each child on our list. It was a lesson for me, I never forgot. No matter how little I have, share what I can with someone less lucky.

In Switzerland with my boy friend, his family gave only one present per person. We each took turns opening it with everyone watching. I loved the calmness not the hysteria and the thought that went into each of those presents was extraordinary.

There is nothing like the contrast between the hysteria and mass consumption of Western Christmases to the poverty and need around the world.

I suggest that we all give one less Christmas present this year but make a charitable donation in a person's or child's name. Make that our gift to them. For kids, this can be a lesson in appreciation that they have things that others only dream about. It can also teach geography or any other number of subjects related to the gift. Or make donations in several people's names instead of giving anything material.

There are many organizations to help others. British television has tons of ads if you are in the UK.

When I lived in Boston, Globe Santa was a favorite. One year I spent a Saturday wrapping presents. It is easy to throw a can of something in a grocery collection box.

When I was a journalist I leaned toward a World Council of Credit Union's project. My donation went to a woman who was saving up for cardboard to improve her roof. After filling out the form, I went to the place in my village where we dump our trash. A man in a Mercedes was throwing away enough cardboard not only for that woman but for her entire village.

Thanks to my friend Don, I learned about Kiva which will be my charity this year.

Kiva is a 501 non-profit organization that allows people to lend money via the Internet to low-income entrepreneurs and students in over 77 countries. Kiva's mission is "to expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive." So far they've made over $1.4 billion in loans to 1.8 million borrowers. Their repayment rate is 96.8%. It reminds me of WOCCU, an organization that develops credit unions around the world. Yup, it is possible to have non-profit financial institutions that flourish.

It is not necessary with Kiva to fund an entire loan, but part with as little $25.

I just made a donation to the Gnoumay Group who still needs $750 to buy fertilizer. Here is their photo. Part of my decision is that they are in Bukina Faso where my late friend Barbara Hagaman spent years trying to help women out of poverty.

The group has eight members represented by the one who is responsible named Ardjita. She is 56-years-old, married and has two children. She raises vegetables and has been doing that for 11 years. She wants the loan to purchase agricultural fertilizers. It is her principle revenue source. Her business zone is very far from the financial institutions. After her harvest, she sells vegetables at a very reasonable price. At the completion of her sales, she will have a profit that will allow her to meet the needs of her family and to continue her business. 
There are organizations where you can check if your American donation will go the people/animals it is suppose to be helping or to overrated salaries. Here are two.

This does not mean giving up gift-gifts. All year long when I see something, I know someone will love, I will buy it. It also means my Christmas shopping is usually done even before the decorations go up in the stores although each year that is harder.

I cannot save the world. I won't pretend I can, but if I can make just a tiny, tiny portion of it better, than that to me is a great Christmas present.