Jean's Take

A blog about words, women, & whimsy

Category: Me-anderings (Page 1 of 2)

Why did Jean start Writing?

Menopause! Yes, that’s right, I started writing fiction when I was teaching English in a Girl’s High School, finishing my Masters in Liberal Studies and going through Menopause—all at the same time. Another sympathetic English teacher and I agreed that if men suffered from it there would be all sorts of cures, so we decided to each come up with an idea for a humorous story. Well, by the time we discussed it again, my idea had turned into a book and characters had begun to take over my head. I was hooked.   Backstage at the White House turned out to be a far cry from Menopause and I wrote three other books before I finished it but it all started because of it.  Strange things do happen.



Things I didn’t do and did in 2016

  • I didn’t write on my Blog.  Yep, and I have  a feeling like a big heavy ball-and-chain is holding me back from writing in the new until I say farewell to the old.   So here’s some of my ‘didn’ts and dids’ for last year . . .
  • I didn’t go to Europe but I went to California where my grandson is an animator with Disney and we got a personal tour.  How many grandmothers do you know have a grandchild that works in a building with Mickey Mouse’s top hat on top?
  • I didn’t go to the opera but I did go to a few simulcasts at my local theater and experienced Tannhauser–4 hours of magnificent Wagner.  I did go to Lincoln Center last fall for a NYBT performance.  I have a daughter who loves dance, especially ballet, so it’s my treat every year for her birthday and she buys dinner.  Last year was the best–in three acts, the first was classical ballet, tutu and toe, performed to a Mozart Divertimento; the second was modern dressed in tight black and white–I liked this one best, but the third and longest act was a series of beautiful waltzes with gorgeous flowing dresses and tuxedoes.  So Elegant and full of grace.
  • I didn’t see ‘Hamilton’ but I saw ‘Cagney’ and left singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
  • I did go to the Brooklyn Museum to focus on Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party’.  It’s the seminal work of the feminist movement of the 70’s.  39 porcelain place settings quietly await their famous guests while 999 more names of great women in history are scrolled over the porcelain tiled floor.  It’s powerful and brought tears to my eyes.
  • Finally, I ended the year with all my family around me.  This was the first time we’ve all been together in several years–22 of us and growing–and wow! can they eat!!!

Irish Spring

I went to Ireland in April.  They were having a late spring, just as we did, and there weren’t ’50 shades of green’, but they had some great leafless trees.  This is one of them.

Irish Tree

The two big headlines while we were there had to do with two women–Margaret Thatcher and Savita Halappanavar.  They are both dead.

Margaret Thatcher had been old and sick and, well, no one much cared in Ireland–they hadn’t been very fond of her.  But Savita had only been 31 years old.  She had needed a therapeutic abortion but was trapped in a country that has one of the strictest laws against abortion in Europe.  Three days after she miscarried a less than human fetus, she died.  Women of Ireland marched.




TO Malcolm Lambert


I just lost an old friend–by that, I mean he was old and he had been my friend for a long time, since grammar school, in fact.  We grew up in Augusta, Arkansas, a small town on the White River, a tributary of the Mississippi that became rather infamous during the Clinton Administration.  We went through grammar and high school all in one building and  graduated together with about 40 others, and that was forty others from the whole county.

That was also about the end of my knowing Malcolm.  He went west and I went  east.  Except for a few reunions, our paths didn’t cross through the years.  I don’t know anything about his family, what he did for a living, what he liked . . . . . . . . .  I do know that he had some rough times and later, he lost both his feet to diabetes and made news and You-Tube by jumping from a plane to call attention to a little girl who had disappeared.  I thought that was very brave.

A friend sent me this picture of Malcolm.  I see a weathered old man that I do not recognize, but I know he is part of who I am.  You see, we grew up together in a small town in Arkansas on the White River.

Rest in Peace, Malcolm Lambert



“Everything is either real or fictional but only the fictional has to make sense.”  P araphased from a spy film of several years ago called, The International, it obviously refers to subrosa activities but it made me think of writers of fiction.  The idea that fiction has to make sense is something we deal with every time we write.  For example, would the OctoMom have made sense until there was an OctoMom? 

I read a silly book by the popular writer Patricia Cornwell some years ago that had lots of southern dialect.  As I struggled through it, I got to a part where the Guv’nor got a seeing-eye pony.  Takes a lot for me not to finish a book, but that did it! I slammed the book shut, marveling that anyone, even Patricia Cornwell, could get a book published with such a silly thing.

Cuddles with shoes!

Then a friend sent me a website about little ponies being trained as seeing eye ponies and, by the way, Cornwell has an interest in them.  Still, I wonder if she would have put them in one of her Kay Scarpetta novels.  Hmmmm?

In my latest novel, Backstage at the Whitehouse, I needed a peasant sounding  last name for a German housekeeper.  My first thought was a friend of my mother’s years ago named Clodfelter.  But wait a minute!  Does that sound real?  Hmmmm?



New Year’s Eve in Paris! What would you do?

When our daughter and son-in-law invited us to go to Paris for New Year’s, they said that they would get the plane reservations and the hotel but “You plan it!”  Hmmmmm?  Plan 5 days, and my daughter had never been there, her husband had only been there on business and my husband and I hadn’t been there in over 30 years–we took the sightseeing route.

  • The first day, we went to Musee d’ Orsay.
  • The second day, we hired a car and guide to take us around the city. ( Ask for his name if you go.)
  • The third day, we spent at the Louvre.
  • The fourth day, our car and guide came back and we went to Versaille.
  • The fifth day–that was New Year’s Day–we went to a concert of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons” in a very old church that was very moldy.  

But New Year’s Eve–that was the key to the holiday, and it had to be a memory of Paris that we could only get in Paris.  We decided to dine elegantly on epicurean masterpieces concocted in a quintessential French restaurant, and with the help of our hotel concierge–contacted before we left–we chose Le Crystal Room Bacarrat —it’s also a Bacarrat Crystal museum–where we  were served a 7-course meal from 9pm to almost 1am.


  1. Delight of cucumber in the mint, caviar from Aquitaine,   sweetness of Manzana
  2. Foie Gras perfumed with juniper berries, turnips in bitter sweet
  3. Sliced Scallops from Erquy with combawa
  4. Blue Lobster warmed to Champagne, artichokes with truffle
  5. Farmer Poultry suprememe rasted way “Rossini”, conchiglionis with truffle and parmesan cheese  (Did you know that truffles are the most expensive food.  A pound of white truffles costs about $2000.)
  6. Lemon Macaroon and its sorbet
  7. Variation around the chocolate                  

Bon Appetit





Top Ten Do’s and Don’ts if you go to Paris for New Year’s

Bon Jour,

I went to Paris for New Year’s!  It had been over thirty years and a lot of Frequent Flyer Miles since that visit and I was eager to re-see it. 

  1. Don’t go for New Year’s; it’s crowded with foreigners!
  2. Don’t go far from your hotel on New Year’s Eve if you don’t have set plans for getting back.  You won’t be able to get a cab and the Metro is unpredictable.  You are forewarned.
  3. Don’t dress like a tourist!  Do the ‘when in Rome thing’—dress like the French—blend instead of stand out.  I guarantee that you’ll be treated better and enjoy yourself more.
  4. Do get tickets in advance to places you definitely want to visit.  I had tickets to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in advance. There was even a line for ticket holders at The Orsay—but shorter, and at the Louvre, we went in a back door.
  5. Don’t stand in long lines long!  I know, it’s hard to leave knowing you haven’t seen the Mona Lisa, but, you’ll live.   There is so much to see in this beautiful city that you should not waste a moment on such mundane things as standing in line. Instead, go to the Rodin Museum or one of the many others—you are in the ‘city of art’; go sit by the Seine and watch the smoke from the stacks of little tug boats fold back as they go under the low bridges–Hemingway did.  AND EAT—when in Paris, you eat.

6. Do make dinner reservations for nine pm.  This is the time to eat inParis.  I know what you’re thinking, but it will be worth it.  By that time they are fully staffed and ready for you.  If it helps, be glad you are not inSpain where it is at least ten before anyone will want you. Almost any café or bistro will do but this is also where your hotel  concierge comes in handy.  Remember, FOOD is what the French do well and they take pride in it.

7.  Do hang out in the Montmartre.  It’ll be crowded but you can still find your own space.  For example, sit on the steps of the Basilica Sacre Coeur and think about where you are, stop by Renoir’s home, and wander around the artists at work in the square and wonder if another Van Gogh, Renoir, or Degas is waiting for you to spot them.

8.  Do hang out at Le Père Lachaise.  Just about anyone who was anyone in France is buried there.  Get a map and begin your search for them. (I put an app in my I-Pad.)  Here’s a starter list:  The tragic lovers Abelard and Héloïse share a canopied tomb, Frederic Chopin is buried with a small urn of Polish soil and a red rose on top, Edith Piaf, Balzac, Bizet, Colette, Corot, Daumier, Max Ernst, Pissarro, Proust, Rossini, Seurat, Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and even Jim Morrison—a treasure trove of immortals to whom you may pay your respects.

9.  Don’t take a Dinner Cruise unless you have planned for transportation afterward.  We took one with Bateaux Parisienne.  The sights were lovely and the food was good enough but it was somewhat ruined when there was no transportation at the Quay when we disembarked and the boat people were just interested in getting home themselves.  Plan ahead.

10.  Do spend lots of time with the Eiffel Tower. It is soooo French and simply magical, especially at night when it’s lit up.  In fact, if you stand near it, close your eyes, sing a little of Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris”, and click you heels 3 times, well, who knows what it might bring.  I wish I had thought of that when I was there–let me know.

Bon Voyage.

(In my next blog, I’m going to tell you my menu for New Year’s Eve.  A French eating experience.  Look for it.)





Queen Elizabeth and Me

While everyone was watching the new Royal Couple several weeks ago, I was watching the Queen.  I have known her as long as I can remember–and I remember the Second World War.   Did you know she trained as a driver and mechanic and drove a military truck? I was in the Girl Scouts and knitted a scarf for the soldiers.  It was khaki wool with lots of holes–I never could knit.

Americans have always had a love affair with British Royalty, not that we ever wanted them, but we are fascinated by them–my grandmother was one of the worst.  We love their musty old castles and the pageantry, and  it was all rolled out for the Wedding of the Year as only the Brits can do it.  I wasn’t even going to watch but I got pulled right in.

While everyone looked for the Bride, I looked for the bride’s Grandmother-in-law.   She was hard not to see in her bright yellow.  No one else wore yellow, actually, no other woman even wore a bright color.  How do they do that?   And why did they pick that cheery color?  Was it to make sure the Bride did not upstage the Queen.  Well, they pulled it off, the Brits did.  They put on quite a show with the Bride glowing and  The Queen out-standing.  Did you know that the Queen and her husband share a great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria.

I have grown up to write about Sleeping Beauties–women who are busy being what they are supposed to be–and I have never seen a more perfect example, but I certainly can’t call her a Sleeping Beauty waiting to be awakened.  No, she defies the idea.  She’s a  Queen and gotten quite good at it.  Toward the end of the ceremony, when they played “God Save the Queen”, she didn’t fidget, as I might have.  No, she sat quietly, her head down,  allowing them to pay tribute to her as was her due.    When she came out on the balcony, she waved, in a somewhat bored fashion; after all, she’s done a lot of that.  After, whatever she considered an adequate time for the family to be seen by their subjects, she went in which signaled the end of that.

I must admit that I was fascinated with her.  What was she thinking?  Is she happy?  Does she worry about her family, their health and happiness or just that they don’t botch things up.  They’ve done a lot of that.  How does she feel when they aren’t being what they are supposed to be?  Does she love her subjects and her country,  or just need them because she’s a Queen?  I guess we’ll never know.

Did you know that one of her ‘Ladies in Waiting’ carries a sheep skin cover for the toilet seat when they travel?

Leave me a comment.  I would love to hear from you!



I know, it’s an old, tired joke, but I like it!  Besides, there’s another way to get to Carnegie Hall–buy a ticket.  (Did you know that tickets cost $1 and $2 for the opening night on May 8, 1891?} And, it was an auspicious beginning with Peter Tchaikovsky on the program conducting his “Festival Coronation March“. ( Did you know that Tchaikovsky was so superstitious that he would hold his head on when he conducted afraid it might topple off.  Honest!!!)

Last week I used my fourth and final ticket in an International Orchestra Series I had purchased.  This one was the St. Petersburg  Philharmonic.  They featured a marvelous pianist named Nikolai Lugansky in the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 in C Minor.   It was an encore performance.  (Did you know that in 1909 this same concerto was performed on that very stage by Rachmaninoff, himself, and the Boston Symphony?)

A sense of wonder struck me as the musicians entered.  Here I was, a girl from Augusta, Arkansas, sitting in this famed Music Hall, watching a performance by accomplished musicians from t he beautiful city of St. Petersburg. Who would have ever thought it!!

I remember a few years back when I had been struck with the same wonder.  My cousin, Martha, and I had gone to the Metropolitan Museum for a  Van Gogh show and had walked down to the Plaza Hotel for lunch–on the way we had casually passed Al Pacino walking the other way.  (I had a hard time acting  nonchalant.)  At lunch,  I said, looking under the table and seeing a plug,  “Used to, when you had a call, they’d bring the phone right over to the table and plug it in,  Now, I believe they use cordless. . . . . . . . Did you ever think we’d be sitting at a table in the Plaza having lunch.”

“No, and I don’t have the slightest idea what to do with this,” she replied, holding up a fish knife.

The Plaza has changed a lot and so has Al Pacino, but the Met and Carnegie Hall remain constant.   St. Petersburg is the ‘Venice of the North’ and the  St. Petersburg Philharmonic is a proud Russian institution.

But you don’t see many fish knives around anymore.

Leave me a comment or just say ‘Hi’.  I’d love to hear from you!


French Women Writers I Know

I have a VERY Francophile Friend, and once in awhile. when I’m in a snit, I take her on.  I’ll admit that I took a sadistic pleasure several years ago when there was so much anti-French feeling that we  were eating Liberty Fries. At the same time, however, when a woman at the deli counter loudly announced, “I don’t buy anything French!”  I, almost as loudly, ordered a pound of French Ham.

But, getting to the point, last week, I told my friend about a Blog I had just read on Colette and one of her books and she, right away, ordered the book and even a CD of it in French. At the time. I was in one of my snits so I announced, “I don’t like French women writers!” She responded, “You haven’t read any!”   She had me!

George Sand

So, I googled French Women Writers.  Can you believe how many there are?  I was amazed too!  However, before I got there, I realized that I knew three, two intimately.  The first, George Sand, I had met because of the composer Frederic  Chopin–she was his lover and she liked to walk around in fancy men’s clothes.  I’ve never read her so I don’t think she counts.

The second, Christine de Pisan, I have already written about in my work, Daughters of Eve, a Herstory Book, but Christine was actually born in Italy to Italian parents, who moved to France when her father was appointed astrologer to King Charles the Wise.  I look at her as a moot point.

Simone de Beauvoir

The third,  Simone de Beauvoir, was pure French, born in Paris and educated in French schools, including the Sorbonne.  I met her in  a graduate course in Existentialism, where  I was required to write a paper on her book/essay “The Ethics of Ambiguity“.  In it, she develops an Ethics for Existential thought which she shared with her lifetime lover and intellectual companion,  Jean Paul Sartre.  (Did you know that Sartre was not quite five feet tall?  Obviously, height has nothing to do with intellect.)

She is probably best known for her feminist writing; especially The Second Sex which is a foundation for modern feminism.  In its introduction she writes,  “woman has always been man’s dependent, if not his slave;  the two sexes have never shared the world in equality.”  That was a strong statement for 1949.

It struck me while writing this, that of the two French Women Writers I know–the pseudo-Christine and the bona-fide Simone–both were feminists.  Christine de Pisan/Pizan/Pissano) is considered the first feminist writer for her contribution to women of her day in The City of Ladies , and Simone de Beauvoir is considered the pre-cursor to major feminist writers of the last half of the 20th century.  Not bad for French women writers–and that’s only the two I know.

Oh, by the way, I got an A+ on that graduate paper–even got it published.  So I  say, . . . . Viva La France!
Leave me a comment–I’d love to hear from you!


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