Monday, September 24, 2018

Getting Ready to Travel

My husband and I are going to Europe, Germany, France and Austria, for ten days in October for our anniversary and his college study abroad reunion. Besides the need to pack lightly and efficiently, I’ve been wondering how to get the most out of this vacation.

In the course of talking to friends I realize that we don’t all have the same approach to travel. It seems most of my friends, and one in particular, do extensive research, making restaurant reservations and booking tours months and weeks before they leave home. One friend plans each day down to the minute.  I’m awed by her thoroughness and impressed, but I’m not sure it would be the right approach for me.  

Yes, I know there will be something I miss that I’ll only discover when I get back home. It has happened. There will be the restaurant we’ll miss because I should have made a reservation a month before. I’ll also admit, when I do get the recommendations from friends about places they have gone to, I feel a strong compulsion to follow it and fret when I don’t.  But I don’t think it’s really how I want to travel.

The trip, Germany, France and Austria, unlike many business trips to Europe that I’ve gone as the accompanying person, is different.  It’s for our anniversary and where we’ve chosen to go. My husband speaks German, so that will be a plus.  I studied French in high school and need to brush up, but we will get by.  The cities and towns are small and not on the usual bestseller route so they shouldn’t be filled with tourists and we have a general idea of what we want to do.  

We’ll be in the Alsace region of France and the German wine country so I’m thinking we’ll spend one day going from vineyard to vineyard. Another day will be in Strasbourg, a small city in Alsace, that the guidebook says is ancient and charming.  I’m thinking we can follow out noses in the city and the rest of the trip will take care of itself since besides the Rhine valley and Alsace we’ll be driving through the Black Forest, Grimm’s Fairy tale country. Then it’s only four days until we meet up with my husband’s classmates for their 50threunion.  

Do I want a guided tour of the castles we pass? I don’t think so.  I’m more curious about the people we see and the encounters we have. Do I need to eat in the best restaurants?  I’m thinking not.  I live in New York City where fancy food and dining is always available Though I did just read that Jean-Georges Vongerichten is from Alsace and worked at a Michelin starred restaurant there so I may have to rethink.

I’d love to hear how others plan their trips.  As a writer, I’m a pantser.  I don’t make outlines, but follow my nose until the plot is obvious.  My friend who plans down to the minute, if a writer (she a photographer) would be a plotter.  I’d be interested to hear how other people figure out their vacations and if my friend’s method is more common.

Monday, July 23, 2018

My Favorite Movies

          These days we all have concerns about identity theft.  As a senior and regular Facebook user, I’m statistically a target. My son, who left FB ages ago but knows me well, warns me about filling out one of those on-line surveys about favorite foods, first pet or the name of the street I grew up on.  He says it will make me a target of hackers.  The survey questions are usually the same ones (along with my mother’s maiden name) that are security questions to unlock our credit card accounts.  It’s not hard to understand why some hacker would come up with such a diabolical plan. But it won’t happen to me.  I still don’t know how to cut and paste on FB and now that I know how dangerous it is to respond to such surveys, I’ll never learn and thus won’t be able to participate.  (And note to all my friends who ask me to do it, maybe you shouldn’t be participating either.)
But back to the surveys, they can be interesting.  I don’t mean the ones that ask the name of your first pet or your first grade teacher, but surveys that focus on favorite restaurants, vacation spots, beaches and movies.  Movie lists are always interesting.  My list of favorites usually is made up of romantic comedies. I guess as a romance writer, that shouldn’t come as any surprise.  In no particular order, my top movies would be Love with a Proper StrangerBarefoot in the ParkBreakfast at Tiffany’sGuess Who’s Coming for DinnerGigiLove ActuallyMy Fair Lady, and any movie written and produced by John Hughes. I’m always on the look out for good ones to watch. I know there are movies out there that I haven’t seen and don’t know about and will love as much as the aforementioned. I’ve since discovered in the age of Google, such lists are easy to find and, in the process of procrastinating and avoiding writing this blog, I found one that lists the top 50 romantic comedies of all time. 
I’ve seen a lot of them, was happy to be reminded of some, and intend to make it my goal to see the rest.  Interestingly, there are several really old movies that are still on the list and several newer ones, such as Pretty Woman, that are not.  Pretty Woman, unfortunately, along with Bull Durham and Officer and a Gentleman, was once in my top three, but time moves on. Also on the list were several that seem to be there for sentimental reasons.  I will always opt for a Cary Grant movie over most others, and he’s represented with three, all great—of course I’ve seen them—and in the top 15, but I really wonder if Charlie Chaplin’s City Lightsshould be included.  I guess I’ll have to watch it to find out.  Fortunately, with Netflix that’s not hard to do. 
I’m ready to line up my choices and settle in front of the TV to watch them.  Waitresssounds intriguing and it’s been a long time since I saw It Happened One Night.  Now all I need is a quiet night without my husband. He’d never want to watch any of these. He’s more of a History Channel guy.
But back to those surveys, are my choices of movies predictable? Probably.  And my husband’s choices probably are too.  I can’t believe I’m the only woman married to a man who would rather watch the History Channel than catch up with Grey’s Anatomy.  Just as a footnote, in our house, we watch what I call, Compromise TV, i.e. NCIS,Chicago PDand The Americans, the latter because it’s simply excellent.  Seriously, I’m curious about what everyone else watches or wants to watch—and not because I’m going to hack you. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Grammar Pet Peeves

We should be able to tell something about the speaker from a conversation. A person’s choice of words can be shorthand for characterization. In My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins brags that he can tell from a person’s speech where they’re from, sometimes he can even pinpoint the exact address.

Although regional accents are fading, at least in the United States, one can still show who someone is by their words. If I had a character refer to their friend as their “bro,” you wouldn’t think the speaker was a middle-aged affluent woman.  You’d assume it was a guy, probably in his twenties.  

Similarly, if a character used the word awesome, you’d figure the speaker was either in his thirties or trying to appear younger than he is—which gives you a wholly different picture, but impression nonetheless.

Then there is usage that’s come into our language that isn’t necessarily correct or accurate but has been adopted by so many it’s become part of our language whether we like it or not.

“No problem,” is my candidate for an expression that doesn’t make sense. From the first time I heard “No problem,” said in response to a thank you, I hated it.  Even now, thirty years later, I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “who said there was a problem? I just said thank you!” 

But this is not the only one that bothers me. How about “he (or she or I or you) did good.” Am I the only one irritated by this bastardization? If I am, I imagine a time in the not too distant future where everyone will say, “he did good,” and I’ll be prim and proper old lady hanging on to an outdated concept.  Slowly but surely “he (and whoever else is to be included) did good,” has crept into our usage.

In closing, I should set the record straight before anyone thinks I’m the grammar police.  I’m so not by birth or family of origin or practice. My birth family was and is made up of avid and serious readers who pride themselves on their intellectualism but who play fast and loose with the objective case.  “Between you and I,” could have been said in my house growing up without offending anyone.  On the other hand, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy were all patron saints.

But I married into the Nolan family who, though not all readers (there are a few notable exceptions), were raised, from all accounts, by the grammar Gestapo.  Suffice to say that with my 40th wedding anniversary coming up this year, I’ve cleaned up my act.  But my husband and my critique partners will tell you, I still make plenty of mistakes.  But as it is true with religion, it is also true with grammar, “there’s no one more scrupulous than a convert.”

I assume that anyone reading this has their own grammatical and usage pet peeves and I would love to hear about them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


This week I’ll be meeting up with women from across the country as well as Canada, Europe, and South America because my husband, like the husbands of these women, is active in the Maritime Law Association. The association has a meeting in New York City every year during the first week in May.  There are also meetings all over the country in the fall usually at port cities. We’ve met in Mobile, Alabama and a resort near Long Beach, California.  Over the years we’ve also been to Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland (Oregon and Maine), Boston, Hawaii and Charleston.

The meetings never disappoint, because of the women I’ve met. The real meat and fun of the conferences for me is getting together with the other wives and significant others, talking and sharing.  We probably run the gamut of political affiliations--and these days, politics is a topic filled with landmines, but that's not what we talk about or how we relate.  Our conversations are more about our lives and how we cope with what we have to do.  Some of us are grandmothers, some have weddings coming up and some have ailing parents, but in this group, maybe because none of us are in each other's lives otherwise, we can talk honestly about the difficulties each of these stages brings and the joys and the pains. No one is in competition and no one is judging.

What happens at these meetings reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman I met on vacation last year.  She was my age, in college during the time when boyfriends and male classmates were trying to figure out what to do about Viet Nam and their military obligation because of the draft. For those who weren’t around then or were too young to feel its impact, the draft, regardless of one’s politics, defined the young adulthoods of all the males who were eligible in the mid to late sixties.  The prospect of going to Viet Nam was just about certain unless one got a deferment. 

Regardless of how stressful that time was, it was an experience shared by the entire country. To this day, Viet Nam, and how one handled it, is a subject that those of us who were of age at that time slide into discussing. Talking about the divisiveness in the country now, this woman said, the problem in this country is that we don't know each other anymore.  If there was a draft, if we had to spend time with people from different backgrounds, we might get to know each other better, find common ground, and come up with solutions to our problems. Instead, we just see what divides us.

That may be what’s the best part of my experience with the women in the MLA. Although we come from a variety of religious affiliations and, in spite of our politics, we always manage to find common interests and beliefs and have genuine conversations.  If only that same experience could extend beyond groups such as mine into the national level.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


My friends, my peers and many of my relatives are beginning to retire or have already.  As a woman of a certain age, I’ve had the opportunity to have a variety of careers and have, so far, retired 3 times, if you count when I left the practice of law to have my first child. I’ve also not worked for long periods of time.

Women like me grew up in a time when we weren’t expected to have a serious career and working after having children was frowned upon.  Even when our children had grown or at least were in school all day, going back to work wasn’t a requirement.  Many of my peers stayed home indefinitely being volunteers, playing golf, tennis and bridge and joining garden clubs and the Junior League. Women my age have already figured out how to make life worth living without working.

On the other hand, my husband and just about every male I know in my generation has been working at his career since his mid to early twenties and has put his job in the center of his life. Putting work first was how we were raised and how we raised our kids.  Mothers, including me, went to the sports events, the back to school nights, the school trips and extracurricular outings.

I have come to realize that particular division of labor was not great for anyone.  I think kids suffer not having both their parents involved in their every day lives.  Being the main breadwinner also put an unfair burden on husbands who felt that their family’s livelihood was entirely on their shoulders.  And it was not good for wives and mothers who never gained the confidence that can come from having a career.

I live in Manhattan now.  We moved here fifteen years ago after raising our children in the suburbs.  Because city living is such a communal situation I get to closely observe my fellow citizens and see, either on the elevator in my building, on the crosstown bus or just walking the neighborhood streets, how the next generation deals with their kids.  My takeaway is how much more involved fathers are now. It’s as likely that a dad will be escorting a child to school on the bus or running alongside their preschooler riding his scooter on the way to nursery school. 

I also get to hear the conversations. I get teary for what my husband and my children missed, when I overhear a dad and his son or daughter talk about their day and question what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard. The conversations in such settings come about naturally and lead to important issues. I had the same kind when I ferried my children to their practices and lessons or did carpools. As anyone who’s had them knows, they’re priceless and a great basis for later years when kids aren’t so apt to be open.  Back in the day, very few dads ever had the benefit.

But on top of that loss, that special relationship with their children, many men and some woman I know now have a hard time facing retirement.  They worked all their lives, focused on their jobs instead of cultivating other interests and have no idea what to do once they don’t have that job. 

It’s true that some have more or less figured it out.  I’m thinking of the golfers who throw themselves into the game the same way they threw themselves into their careers. Golf can—at least until you’re in your mid to late 80’s—for some be something to focus on.  But not everyone is a golfer or wants to be one.  Some retirees travel and can’t wait to take cruises to Alaska and Europe and the Caribbean.  Others, like my husband, who is not retired yet, but wishes he were, garden. But it’s the rare individual who finds golf or a life of travel, or even gardening, as engaging or stimulating as the job they once had.

Of course I’m talking about the advantaged, not the retirees who are struggling financially.  But I’m not so sure it’s any different for them.  Their jobs may not have been as engaging or rewarding, but like the more affluent, the burden of supporting their families was on them and like people of means, if they’re reaching retirement age, they too have to figure out how to find meaning in their days.

Bottom line, defining ourselves by our jobs has major limitations and perhaps it’s the one area where women of a certain age have the advantage.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Creating Characters

I go to yoga classes in the city near my apartment on the upper Westside.  Although I’ve been taking classes there for about 5 years and recognize a lot of the people, I don’t really know any of them, but I still find them fascinating.

The class I go to most regularly is on Wednesdays at 10:30, Level One yoga. About half of the class is women like me, between 55 and 70, along with two or three guys also that age. The rest of the class is mostly women somewhere between 30 and 40 years old.  I observe them all.

It would be easy if I recognized them.  I used to see David Duchovny at my gym.  Actors are obvious.  They’re better looking than the rest of us and work out like their job depended on it—which of course it does.  But that’s not usually the case with my fellow yogis.  They’re not as handsome or as fit and not easily recognizable.  My speculation has been that they’re journalists, lesser known actors or artists, or teachers if it’s the summer or spring or winter breaks.

For several years there was a guy who came to yoga every Wednesday.  I think he was about 45 or so and lean and fit, but not super handsome so he probably wasn’t an actor.  He’d put his mat down in the first row and take off his shirt.  He’d also practice some of the harder poses until class started.  All of this annoyed me—he was, in my opinion, being a show off.  But besides being annoyed, I’d wondered who he was. Then he disappeared, leaving at the same time as our yoga teacher who went on maternity leave. I briefly wondered if he’d been her husband.  But that didn’t really work since he was, again in my opinion, too old for her.  But I decided he’d been coming to class because he had a crush on the instructor, explaining why he left when she did.  What he did for a living puzzled me.  Fast forward last week.  He shows up again. The woman I’ve designated our “class leader,” because she talks to everyone, asked him where he’d been.  “Travelling,” he said.  Hmm… Now I really don’t know what this guy does or who he is. Who travels for 18 months?

There are other interesting characters in the class.  The distinguished 60 plus man who’s all arms and legs,  shows up late every week, is totally inflexible, but keeps on coming. Then there’s the man with the therapy dog, sitting quietly in the back corner. I usually don’t notice them until the end of class when I’m leaving when I marvel at how well behaved his dog is.  There has to be a story there.  Finally there are the joggers, a band of 40-somethings, naturally fit and flexible, who head out to the park to run after our 90 minute class.  They just make me tired.

As fiction writers we create characters seemingly out of air, but maybe not so much.  Is it possible that my musings about my fellow yogis provide the blocks for building characters?  What they look like, what they wear, how they talk, and their regular attendance at yoga every Wednesday could all go to creating a believable character who will some day appear in a book. So much of what we do isn’t even conscious, but comes with being an artist.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Family's Holiday Tradition

As anyone who has spent any time with me knows, food and drink are an important part of who my family is.  The holidays are no different.  Although they can be a busy, stressful and expensive time of the year, exchanging gifts is a must.  My family came up with a solution years ago, which, while not eliminating the work involved in gift giving or even the stress, created a custom that works for us.

We give each other gifts of food or drink, usually homemade though being homemade is not a requirement.  I should explain that we, my brothers and their families and I, don’t live near each other.  One of us lives in San Francisco, another just outside of D.C. and I’m in New York.  That means shipping can get expensive, but we’ve been doing this kind of exchange for at least twenty years and have no plans to stop.

It’s an interesting exercise in creativity to come up with something that feels festive and generous and tastes good.  Sometimes, we’ve relied on one of the websites that specialize in food, fruit, and cheeses, and my brother in San Francisco always has California wine as a default, but only in times of desperation.  Usually we go with homemade.  My brother in San Francisco’s wife (who is the one who actually does the baking and the giving for her family) is the most creative gifting homemade sun-dried tomatoes, vanilla extract, infused vinegar or soap and candles from their own bees.

My brother in Takoma Park, the suburb just outside of D.C., has always baked though there was one year when we got a great barbeque meat rub.

I’m a good cook, but not much of a baker so this kind of gift is always a challenge.  I can’t very well send a salad or casserole. But the holidays are the only time I do bake and I like the challenge since it’s always seemed to me that a homemade present is more meaningful.  For years I baked fruit breads including one that had apple and every healthy nut and grain in creation.  It was good, but I’m not sure how festive.  Then, for several years, I was on a granola kick.  I used the recipe from 11 Madison Park, which is wonderful and guaranteed to be delicious and a hit.  But this year I’m thinking of baking again.  Maybe I’ll do shortbread or some other reliably easy cookie that will be tasty and not impossible to make look pretty since my cookies and cakes never look the way they’re supposed to.

For some who do not like to bake or cook, all this may sound like an incredible pain. But for me, it’s always been the perfect family gift. Because we’re never together for the holidays I want to reach out and show the love I feel for my brothers.  The time it takes to put together the kinds of gifts we exchange seems just right. Now that my brothers and I are at the downsizing stage in our lives, food, wine or even artisanal whiskey (which I’ll give if the shortbread doesn’t pan out) is much more appreciated.