Let’s take a break from thinking about why we need to stay inside and look at some photos from Cuba.

Does this bring back memories? These beauties are used as taxis all over Cuba–a tribute to the mechanical abilities of their drivers.

Neighbors chatting in the morning, downtown Havana.
Restaurant patio, Trinidad, Cuba
Light sculpture on the right by Yami Martinez
Tobacco grower, Viñales
This man enjoys his life, as you can see. He loved to pose.

Havana Street Dancers
Boxers sparring. She was fierce!

Next time: Cats of Cuba. Meanwhile, have a good, safe week!

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Performers from the Habana Compás Dance Company

We have been “Sheltering in Place” like most Californians since we returned from Cuba earlier this week.  The word “shelter” has a very comforting sound, and we all need as much comfort as we can get in this very weird time.  

I keep reminding myself that if we stay inside, wash our hands frequently, don’t touch our faces and sometimes wear gloves, we most likely will be fine.  Usually that is calming.  But then there are the worries:  since we are oldies, in a higher risk group, what if we need to be hospitalized and on ventilators?  And there aren’t enough ventilators?  If you had to make the choice, whose life would you save—a 70+ person who has had a long, good life or a 40-year-old with a young family and a whole life ahead?  I know what I’d do—so I keep washing my hands.

I have other concerns about the Worst Case Scenario.  How to prepare? I guess it might be a good time to read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning  (now there’s a title for you!) but my heart’s not in it.  What about all that stuff in my home office I haven’t yet sorted?  I mentioned to one of my sons that if COVID 19 bumped me off, I didn’t like to think about what my three kids might come across, cleaning up my stuff.  He offered what solace he could by reminding me of things we found when clearing out his grandfather’s drawers. All that aside, who wants to spend what might be their last days cleaning? 

There are some pluses to Sheltering in Place.  Friends and neighbors have been calling to check on each other.  My brother has been keeping us all laughing online with funny cartoons and goofy videos.  I am in contact with my “kids” every day.  And inevitably when I call to cancel an appointment or engagement, the stranger on the phone and I remind each other to “be safe.”   So we all soldier on, our country more together while apart than it has been in the past three years. 

And just for fun, I’m including a photo I took last week of wonderful Cuban singers and dancers. 


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Do your friends trust your judgment in books?  I am often asked what I have enjoyed reading lately.  The problem is, I haven’t been enjoying many prize-winning books. I feel sad saying what no one wants to hear: “I’m reading **** but I don’t think it’s very good.”

A couple examples: Little Fires Everywhere shot to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list for Fiction and was named Amazon’s Best Novel of 2017.  The Sympathizer, which I am currently plodding through, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Surely it is sufficient to trust the judgement of the boards and readers who award these prizes.

When I attended the first meeting of a newly formed book group, I alienated the other four attendees by saying that Little Fires’ characters were stereotypes, there more to serve the plot than to be believable.  No one showed any trust in my judgement and eventually I decided it might be best to find a less-easily-offended group.  To my surprise, when later I looked up reviews for Little Fires,  I found that The Guardian’s review included:

“The plot hinges on a series of coincidences that
don’t stand up to scrutiny:they are too neat and too many…
it’s too clever, too complete, to be entirely plausible.” 

While the rest of the review was positive, at least part of my evaluation wasn’t off.

Of The Sympathizer, the Washington Post reviewer has virtually nothing negative to say about it. Though I avoid reading reviews prior to reading a book, maybe I should have with this one.   Because I feel guilty (a subject for a different blog) reading fiction during the day, I save it for bedtime, not the best hour to decipher sentences like this one:

“Killing the extras was either a reenactment of what
had happened to us natives or a dress rehearsal for
the next such episode, with the Movie the local
anesthetic applied to the American mind, preparing it
for any minor irritation before or after such a deed.”  

I can barely get through that sentence in the morning after two cups of coffee.

Maybe if I overcome the guilt problem, I will be able to recommend some novels in the future.  Up next:  My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley.  I trust I will enjoy it.


Photo courtesy of Kyle Glenn via

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From the archive:


Photo of Magnolias blooming in Hartford RIGHT NOW! courtesy of my friend Heidi, who knows how much I love those trees and Springtime in the Northeast.

This week, many readers wrote to me with their own versions of what is Living Your Best Life.  Here is a sampling.  It comes as no surprise that no one’s best life includes owning a private jet and I love it that two of these three mentioned hummingbirds:

From Marcia:
I love the feel of the early morning sun on my face while walking around our beautiful lakes and trails. The sound of children playing outside. The sound of rain on the roof and the clean smell of the first raindrops. Playing with grandchildren. Watching the hummingbirds fight for a place on the feeder, and the squirrel working to get at the nuts and seeds from a swinging feeder. Playing golf and pickleball with friends. Volunteering at my granddaughter’s school, and with Kiwanis serving our neighborhood kiddos. And yes, sitting quietly with a good book and a cat… or two.

Janet writes:
Living the good life for me comes in two ways. Sometimes it’s a big deal and sometimes it’s a sweet moment.

Our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia was a big deal. It included riding a camel to watch the sun come up at Ayers Rock, a picnic on the rainforest floor and a view from its canopy, snorkeling in The Great Barrier Reef,  a BBQ in the outback, and day with koala bears, kangaroos and crocodiles, big beautiful cities and charming small towns—all this given the fact that when I was I child I hoped that just once before I died, I would go in an airplane to Italy. Since then, many airplanes and many trips.   Big moments!

Yesterday I was in my backyard sitting in a comfy garden chair. There were humming birds, blue jays, doves, little red-breasted finches, one fluffy white dog, and one much-loved husband.  The roses were sporting those great big first blooms of spring and the recent rains have made everything lush and leafy. Small moment. Living the best life.

Joan adds:
You manage to hit virtually every topic I’m now dealing with…! The living your best life concept….hmmm ….  Somehow my “best life” is just rolling out of bed, hitting the gym, reading the New York Times, watching my weight, a glass or 2of wine, and sitting on the couch for a Netflix video while [my boyfriend] rubs my back…. then there’s his kids and my kids….Anyway, it’s an interesting topic….makes me wonder what else I might (should) be doing…….which I’ll address someday soon….

Thanks to all…. And Have a Good Week!





















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Like Me!

I'm grateful you like me.

I’m grateful.

Some things never change.  One of them is the importance of “Likes” on my Facebook author’s page.  If you haven’t already clicked “Like,” I’d be grateful if you would do so.


Time to “Like” me again. I know, I know—it’s ridiculous, but it matters in the wonderful webbie world. Why? Because search engines keep track of these things, so the more popular a site is on the web, the easier it is to find on Google, Yahoo, Chrome and other search engines. Heather Havrilesky’s very funny essay, “How to Contact the Author” in September 8’s New Yorker takes this business of “liking” to its extreme and is definitely worth reading.

Here’s a personal example of why “Likes” are useful: I get an unsolicited weekly report from Facebook about how I’m doing by its system’s standards. Say I acquired a new “Like” last week but none this week. My score will be (in red type) “-100% Likes.” I know this information is (until now) between only the reporting program and me, but it is just as dispiriting as a “sedentary” daily report from Fitbit.

So if you haven’t already, please:
1. Subscribe to this blog and ask a friend, roommate, spouse—anyone–to sign up, too. So far I have resisted signing up my cat, but who knows? CatmanDeux may be subscribers one of these days.
2. “Like” the blog and “Like” my author’s page on Facebook.

And thank you. I’m grateful.

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From the archive:

Pinkish flower

Nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small.
We haven’t time, and to see takes time–
like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keeffe

In the past two weeks I have spent time with old friends and it has been wonderful. One was Vivien, my first best friend; we met in Kindergarten 67 years ago and continued our friendship despite starting families, changing jobs and the distance between us (she lives in Switzerland). There was a lot to catch up on and even more to laugh about. I also spent time visiting a friend who was vacationing in Arizona. Bill and I met Joy and her husband, Larry, on a trip to the Galapagos ten years ago. We all got along so well that we took many trips in different parts of the world after that, then last summer Larry was killed by a falling tree and our concept of time changed.

Many of us view time in two contradictory ways. One is that we think we have all the time in the world to do this, go there, learn that. The other is that we feel pressed for time, so much so that we don’t stop to read a book, call a friend or “see a flower.” Not long before he died, Larry told his wife, in a different context, that “we need to ratchet up our hellos and goodbyes.” Nine months later, I think of that as a reminder to treat my friendships as I do my garden–that is, take the time tend to them.

Photo by Tavin Dotson courtesy of Unsplash.

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From the Archive:

Kale in its uncooked state.

Last week I read that one of the best foods to prevent dementia is kale.  Oh my.  Kale has long been on my list of dreaded greens.  Food Fads come and go. One that has lasted way too long, in my opinion, is kale.The omnipresence of kale reminds me of a scene from Forrest Gump in which Bubba lists the many ways shrimp can be prepared:

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”

The same could be said about the many forms kale takes: braised kale, roasted kale, kale chips, kale soup, raw kale, kale frittata—and let’s not forget kale juice. Enough already!

Food fads can help us recall past decades. Who can forget the wine-and-cheese period of the 1970’s? Or the Cajun blackened redfish of the 80’s? (I can almost feel my hair springing into a giant perm.) In the 90’s I made several unsuccessful attempts at baking molten chocolate cake. Since 2010, we’ve seen cupcakes and macarons gain favor as desserts, and comfort food is popular now to, well, comfort us. Even that harkens back to food fads of the 1950’s: mac and cheese, dumplings, slow-cooked stews.

I have another candidate for food oblivion that will have to wait for another time: “gluten-free.” Don’t get me started. I’ll be satisfied for now if the next time I go to a restaurant, kale is not on the menu.

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I took this photo of school kids on a field trip in Hanoi.
I just love the little girl in pink on the far right, jumping for joy.

“What I Fear Most” is the homework (tarea) essay in my Spanish Conversation Group this week. I have been brooding about this for a few days and realize that I try not to think about my fears.  Focusing on fear doesn’t make it go away, though if you spend much time talking about your fears, your friends are likely to take a hike.

Franklin D. Roosevelt told a worried nation in his 1933 Inaugural Address, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  That is largely true, though fear of losing one’s job may cause a person to avoid challenging the boss, even when (s)he is clearly wrong.   The rest of Roosevelt’s sentence:  “the only thing we have to fear is….nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  (Congress, take heed.)  Dwelling on fears is not helpful but doing something to eliminate them is a different matter.

Recognizing moments of happiness is useful for staving off fears.  A few mornings ago (1) I had just finished a phone chat with my daughter and (2) settled into a Donna Leon mystery when (3) my cat curled up next to me and (4) a heavy rain began pounding against the windows. I suddenly realized how happy all those things together made me.  This month’s Proust Questionnaire (the last page of every Vanity Fair magazine issue) features Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish director of Pain and Glory and many, many other great films.  Asked, “When and where were you happiest?” he replied: “The first time I went to a samba school in Rio de Janeiro.  The whole neighborhood was rehearsing in plain clothes the numbers they’d perform during the Carnaval.”  It’s hard to top a moment of happiness like that.

Have a Happy Week!

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What was I thinking?

Well, Marie Kondo, I’ll tell you what I was thinking:  “Hey!  This could come in handy!”  Did these weird items  meet your basic criteria—that is, did they “spark joy” in me?  Yes, as a matter of fact they did!

The cat hair remover sparked joy immediately and continues to do so.  I have shown it to anyone who doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, and they seem impressed when I open the little receptacle and display all the cat hair the rollers pick up.

No one has witnessed me using the cleaning slippers because I’m too embarrassed to put them on when anyone’s here.  However, they spark a considerable amount of joy when I skate in them across the wooden floors.  It’s a private joy.  I’m not sure they work much better than bare feet but the Velcroed-on soles make a satisfying crunch at the slightest movement.

Joy wasn’t the only thing these odd items sparked, Marie.  They also sparked shame.  What was I thinking when I ordered them?  I can’t even remember what web site I used, though I was likely looking for one more way to remove cat hair wherever it gathers (everywhere).

Marie Kondo, here’s a different angle.  I ordered online because I don’t like shopping, even if I knew where I could buy Microfiber Cleaning Slippers.  One could argue that I am not adding to air pollution and traffic jams because I didn’t drive anywhere to buy them.  On the other hand, our UPS guy, Victor (yes, yes—we are on a first-name basis) drives a big delivery van that probably causes more environmental problems than my Subaru. 

And Marie, despite all my decluttering efforts, here we go again:  more clutter. As I continue to go through the boxes of belongings we “inherited” from our parents’ houses, I think about my children doing the same with our stuff.  Aside from what I know they would say (“Why would anyone buy this?”), I don’t want to burden them.  And that raises the subject of Swedish Death Cleaning.  It’s not aimed at the young, as Kondo’s method seems to be, but rather at those of us who have begun to realize we won’t live forever.  That is a subject for another time. 

Have a good week!

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Poem: A writer’s lament during the holidays — Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

Note: This hilarious “poem” is by my friend Robert Hawkins, who perfectly captures what I go through in the days before I post my weekly blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Alexis

That moment when you realize the offbeat lead to a blog post that you have been struggling with since Thanksgiving isn’t really the lead to a blog post, but an offbeat poem that celebrates the particular insanity that grips us between Halloween and Boxing Day. I say this, fully cognizant of the fact that I […]

via Poem: A writer’s lament during the holidays — Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

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