Tag Archives: Writing

Friday Friends – Joyce Norman, Writer, Teacher, Friend

I am fortunate to share “friendships” with people I have never met. Through the power of technology and the internet, I have shared many wonderful moments with Joyce Norman, although we have never met. Introduced through a mutual friend on Facebook, Joyce and I have shared a love of writing, books, literature and life. I learn something new every time we speak on Skype or message through email or Facebook. My writing has been inspired through the magic of her editing and reading her stories inspires my own recollections. Her editing is renowned in our circles, a former journalist and teacher, Joyce spends hours reading and working through the manuscripts sent to her. I gladly call her friend.

Joyce has been advisor, teacher and mentor to the many students who attend her classes, join her workshops and follow her Monday Morning Writing Chain. With a brief prompt on a Monday morning, Joyce sets our imaginations free to complete a story with other writers. No other impetus is provided but a few sentences to set a scene or a picture to prompt our story. The co-creation is sometimes filled with great writing, dialogue that flows from characters created by a distant author. Sometimes we hear Joyce attempting to reel us in, as she reminds us of the details of writing, maintaining scene, character’s names and the dialogue written previously.

Joyce’s editing skills have allowed many beginning writers to be published in an anthology, It Was A Dark and Stormy Night. Encouraging her students and colleagues to produce short essays, stories and including a few Morning Chain entries, Joyce compiled the anthology and edited our entries for readers to enjoy. No entries were denied.

Joyce’s own work, Coming Together, published in 2009 with Joy Collins, is a novel filled with foreign intrigue, the love story of a mother in search of her son and a fascinating story of a film maker. Set in Brazil, a place Joyce visited repeatedly, the story uses many of Joyce’s own experiences to engage the reader in the action. Currently, Joyce is writing a fascinating story of her travels throughout the world. Looking back at her past without becoming mired in reminiscing Joyce leads us to tropical islands, a look at other cultures and how experience can be the best teacher.

I am honored and grateful as a writer to know Joyce and to benefit from her skills as a writer, teacher and journalist. Her positive attitude and encouragement has assisted many writers through the dark waters of their first publishing efforts. Her classes and workshops are always filled at the local university and online. I hope you will seek out this talented woman, a woman who seeks to lead by example, skill and experience. You will be encouraged to continue on your path.




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Monday Memories – School Days

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

Out the door, into the elevator and down the walk to the gold tipped iron gate at the street, we raced to be on time. My brother and I were to ride the bus to school, a great army green hulk of a bus, a relic of the post war years. There were no bus routes in my small American town, we walked the few blocks to and from school.  Our new home in St. Germain was miles from the American school provided by the military for dependents. The bus would wind through the narrow local streets, drive over the motorway and deposit us at the sprawling campus of Paris American High School. The sound of grinding gears preceded the bus as it rounded the corner and stopped at our gate. I hoped I’d remember the seat hierarchy outlined by my new friend, Carmen. Elementary up front, junior high behind them and the last four rows for the high school students. Bus seats were as important as the lunch table chosen in the cafeteria. New to bus rides, I found the fifth seat from the rear and grabbed the “chicken bar” as the driver roared away to the next stop. We stopped countless times, sometimes waiting for several minutes for the latecomers to race onto the bus with toast, books, and jackets flying around them.

The ride to school was 45 minutes from our gate and would be reversed at the end of the day. No late buses for sports or after school clubs, there was one bus for our area and everybody would start school at the same time. We arrived at the campus, entering through the gate with guards standing at attention and barbed wire surrounding the complex. There were so many buildings, the elementary school, the three-story high school with its junior high wing and the sports center behind. Two gated entrances were guarded by MP’s who ensured our safety in the middle of Paris. The students were “Army Brats”,  kids of NATO members, civilians with military clearance and the children of diplomats assigned to SHAPE headquarters. We all rode the same army green buses, all felt the first day jitters and all entered the typical American brick building for the start of the school year. No segregation due to rank, race or culture, we were American dependents continuing our education.

I was the new kid in class yet most there were new to the area. Military families moved often and starting at a new school was common. My school in the US was small compared to the multi level, spidering hallway building I entered. There was the challenge of finding the room, the locker, the gym and especially, the cafeteria. I was amazed to survive that first few days, amazed to find the gym locker rooms where I changed clothes from mini skirt to midi blouse and bloomer shorts, amazed to find the cafeteria with the trays and food lines and hundreds of kids. I had walked home at lunchtime throughout my early school days, but now encountered lunch lines, cafeteria food and keeping lunch money; I learned a whole new way of life. It was a full day of new experiences without opening a book.

At day’s end, the process reversed and we swarmed the buses lined along the sidewalk. No stenciled numbers, rather the overhead sign illuminated the bus routes. I searched for familiar faces and assured myself I would find the correct bus. I sank thankfully into my appropriate seat across from the other bewildered students and watched carefully for my brother and his friends. Fortunately there was a stop at the army base before my town, I could always stop there and wait for a general transport bus if I had boarded the wrong bus. The ride home was loud with daily recaps of schedules, mistaken classrooms and late notices and the singing from the front seats. Our driver, a seemingly ancient Algerian, smoked Gauloise cigarettes and winked at the girls, he would mutter in French as we neared each stop. Later in the fall, he would make a quick pit stop before my stop and relieve himself on the rear wheel of the bus before continuing on to my gate. The afternoon ride was comedy in action with the personalities involved.

I was a Paris Pirate for 5 short months. The lessons learned were varied and basic, more learning of life than academics. Memories of French bubblegum chewed secretively in gym class, the long lockers crammed with coats, sneakers and texts, the smell of the cafeteria on spaghetti Friday and the posters for Prom at the Eiffel Tower revolve in my mind. Those memories provided confidence for every job and school change when being the “newbie” could never be quite as terrifying as that first day, that first bus ride to a sprawling school campus dropped in the middle of Paris.

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Even Young Girls Get The Blues

Shells 6

The familiar sights and sounds of my neighborhood were far away, 3637 miles to be more exact. The games of SPUD and Kick the Can played after dark in the deadend circle of my street were only memories. My new apartment building fronted a busy roadway and there was no neighborhood gang to whistle up for a game of Flashlight Tag. I began to feel the pangs of homesickness, the ailment of the ex-pat tired of being alone.

Relocation is commonplace in 21st century America. Companies transfer employees from East to West, retirees leave hometowns for warmer climes and college students settle in their chosen cities after graduation. Americans love to move.  The agents find houses, locate schools and transportation and with minimal disruption, children enter a new school, parents commute via new routes and the families settle in. Now there is the internet for Skype conversations, cell phones send pictures and messages and email zips a letter across the ocean in less time than it takes to tie a shoe.

I moved before all that. I moved from New Jersey to Paris in 1966, when a letter written on onion skin paper was sent via Airmail and still took a week to get to my friends. I was a new teenager, alone with my family 3637 miles from my friends, school, church and community. I learned about homesickness. I learned about loneliness and I learned about making a fresh start. I later learned the relocation process can be habit-forming but that’s in retrospect.

We left New Jersey after a whirlwind month of dance recitals, house renovations and bon voyage parties. Although  we were dizzy from the anticipation and excitement of leaving a small suburban town for the ancient city of Paris, France, our new life was a blank slate, a grand adventure and a flat-out mystery. “Keep a journal” one friend advised. “Write a letter home every week and tell us all about it” said another. We were determined to stay connected and never thought of the effect time and distance would have on our friendships.

There were daily letters to and from several friends during those first two months. Exciting descriptions of our new city, life in an apartment and the daily challenge of learning a new language filled page after page as I tried to describe my new life. I eagerly awaited my father’s arrival each day with the bundle of mail he brought home from the NATO base where he worked. At first, there were long detailed letters filled with details about parties and boys, summer romances and vacation plans.  I saved them all for that lifeline to my home and friends, my antidote to loneliness. My education about homesickness, loneliness and living abroad had begun.



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Young Girl in the Big City


Apartment life is vastly different from suburban living, all the rooms on one floor, an elevator outside your front door and a balcony overlooking the street. Our new home in St. Germain en Laye was a two bedroom apartment on the third floor, no built-in closets, a large bathroom with endless hot water and hand-held shower and a balcony overlooking the charming home of a tennis star. Cars were parked underneath the building and tall iron fences surrounded the property. I had left the US and discovered a new life.

I had lived in a small house in the US. Built in the early 1950’s it was a young family’s dream of three bedrooms, one bath and a small one car garage. We had the benefits of living on a dead-end street, near meadows and woods in a small group of houses. We walked the three blocks to and from school twice a day, in all kinds of weather. Lawns were mowed weekly, houses were similar in color and size and neighborhood children played outdoors with little adult supervision. It was the beginning of the “one bedroom per child” era with a formal living room and rumpus rooms in the basement. There was a front and back door, stairs to stomp up or down and plenty of room for additions. That house would soon fade from memory as I adapted to apartment dwelling, school buses and daily shopping excursions.

The French apartment was older by American standards, built-in the early years before the second world war. Parquet floors, an ornately carved marble fireplace and long double windows were immediate differences. I discovered the separation of water closet and “le bain” with its deep claw foot tub and bidet in the corner. The endless hot water heater was a teenager’s dream, the hottest water poured from the brass tap to fill the tub to my chin. The ceramic black and white tile checkerboard floor in the kitchen, entrance and bath was cold under foot every day of the year. ut The wood parquet of the living room was inlaid with multiple colors and patterns of wood and surrounded the thick persian carpet. The apartment was furnished with a blend of elegant French and sturdy Army issue furniture. Our family heirlooms packed away in storage in the US. There were massive armoires for storage and clothes, tall and ornate, the American beds and dressers square and durable. We learned that heavy velvet window drapes and thick Persian carpets were necessary to keep the damp cold at bay.

I shared a bedroom with my brother, until he left for college, our twin beds separated by solid Army dressers and desks. We took turns closing the door for private time alone. Another brother slept on a day bed in the living room, stowing bed linens in the armoire each morning. My parents claimed the second bedroom, moving carefully around the king sized bed set in the middle of the longest wall. There were armoires for each of us, smaller than the littlest closet in the US. Although we had brought along every item of clothing possible, the armoires remained half filled. Carefully the five of us began to live in France, learning the silence of old stone buildings, learning to cook in a doll sized kitchen and learning to use the public transportation like the locals. Every day offered a new experience, a new adventure in language, culture and life. We adapted to a smaller space by leaving each day as the French often do. We explored the town, the city of Paris and later, the French countryside. We were seldom in that small apartment during the early months of our stay except for meals and sleep. Extended tourists, the French called us, never really at home but living among them.

Throughout that first summer we gladly escaped each morning armed with centimes, francs and our thick Michelin guidebook. First an Army bus drove us to Paris, depositing us in front of the American embassy. From there, Paris was ours to explore. The rubber-tired Metro trains snaked underground through blue and white tiled tunnels, the cobblestone streets with wide sidewalks wound through the hills to Sacre Cour and we tried every path. Through the alleys of Montmartre to the parks by the Seine we walked to each site in the green guide. We followed each suggested route, saw every cathedral and small little church, inspected the Louvre exhibits and attended mass at Notre Dame, ending each adventure with “jambon et fromage” or a cafe au lait in a small sidewalk cafe. We were the endless tourists absorbing the flavors and scents of a city renowned for its food and perfumes. At day’s end we reversed our steps, returning to the American sense of security, boarding a bus at the embassy bound for the environs of Paris, our own little French village of St. Germain en Laye.

I learned early that I love the culture of a place and to live among the people while touring is my favorite way to travel.   After forty years, a picture of a street market, or the smell of fresh bread instantly transports me to that first trip away from the familiar. Although I lived in France for only eight months, the memory of that apartment, the city of Paris with its Metro and sidewalk cafes remains as fresh in my mind as the palm trees in my back yard today. A young girl in a big city, I learned to go places I had seen only in dreams. Today’s dream is to return and ride the Metro all the way home.

Metro Map


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Daily Bread

Early each morning children and housewives visit the Boulangerie to purchase baguettes, the long loaves of bread, we associate with French cuisine. The loaves poke from the string bag used by all to carry purchases from the market. Perhaps other treats are purchased from the Patisserie, the pastry shop, but a necessity in every French town is its Boulangerie. My initiation to the wonders of the bakery began soon after my arrival in St. Germain en Laye.

My father sprinkled centimes in my hand, the coin of the realm before the Euro, and gave me brief directions to the shop. He instructed me to ask for one loaf. His French was limited to the pertinent phrases he needed to navigate outside the NATO base where he worked and he struggled to translate the question for me. I left the apartment (another elevator ride to the street) and walked slowly up the cobblestone street, repeating the words he had spoken as a mantra. Bicyclists passed with loaves spearing like lances from the bags hung on handlebars. Housewives returned from the market weighed down with bags of produce and meat, loaves tucked under their arm. The loaves were long and thin, crusty outside with a soft sweet center.

I entered and stood inside the door of the small shop. The yeasty aroma of fresh bread mingled with the scent of fresh flowers perched on the glass case. Women stood near the case vying for the cashier’s attention. The rapid staccato of French gave the scene an urgent feel as I stepped forward to place my order. Suddenly, I was tongue-tied, the mantra deserted me and I stood, a young American girl surrounded by bustling French women. “Un pain s’il vous plaît,” I stuttered. My accent immediately alerted everybody in the shop and the hushed silence caused me to jingle my coins nervously. I stepped to the register, offered my centimes and grabbed the loaf. My face turned rosy with embarrassment as I made my way out the door clutching the bread to my side. Out on the street, I turned toward home and looked at my purchase. Instead of the long, thin, crusty spear of a baguette, I held a football shaped loaf. Clearly, I had made a mistake. Rather than face the same shoppers again, I raced through the alley, down the cobblestone steps and into the elevator. I had no idea what I had ordered, only that the loaf I brought home looked nothing like those common loaves of all the others in the shop.

Fortunately for me, there was a thick Berlitz guide to the French Language available. I admitted to my father the error I had made and searched the pages for the correct term. “Un pain” was an oval loaf, smaller in size than “un baguette” the more typical long thin loaf of every French household. It was a small yet crucial distinction, one I was careful to learn for my next foray into the Boulangerie of St. Germain en Laye. I also learned the difference between the Boulangerie (the bread bakery) and the Patisserie (the pastry bakery) although it would be some days before I developed the courage to explore the sweet wonders of the Patisserie.



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Continuing to Walk

Walking near trees at Ft. Fisher, NC

My brother and I were first time flyers when we boarded the Pan Am jet at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. We were fascinated by the little bathrooms, small soaps and the fold down lap tables attached to the seats. Looking out the small porthole windows we watched the Statue of Liberty fade into the skyline as we soared north toward Nova Scotia. The flight was long, six hours aloft, with only a meal and snack to break the tedium. The attendants were kind, offering gum to chew as we climbed to our cruising altitude. My mother had wisely packed books and magazines for us to read during the flight. These were the days before in-flight movies and there was only radio available with expensive ear phones for rent.

I remember wearing a new dress made of lace, a garter belt and stockings with patent leather flats. Those were the days of elegant travel for all passengers and of course, we were en route to Paris, we had to be fashionable. The flight boredom set in and I tried to nap under the miniature blanket provided. Just as today, the meal arrived as I dozed off. Excitement warred with exhaustion as I realized it was a flight to the unknown. Here I sat on an airplane bound for Paris with every possibility before me and yet, I had no idea. My father waited for us at the airport to drive us to our new home but he was the only link to the United States. My mother and brothers were eager to begin a new life, but I had no idea what to expect at the end of that flight. I  left a small suburban community in New Jersey, all my friends from childhood and our extended family. I left the sordid and the good. It would be many years after that first flight before I realized the past is carried with you until you let go of the baggage.

Our arrival at Orly airport was a noisy confusion of baggage claims, hugs and tears. Exhaustion began to set in as we gathered belongings, suitcases, purses, briefcases and the myriad souvenirs of the flight. Everyone spoke at once when we greeted my father at the arrivals gate. Clearing customs was a blur of passport stamps, rapid French and a long line to the baggage area.  I remember a long walk with a heavy suitcase to the rental car, a crowded seat and a long ride in the twilight to our new home. No house for us, we were now apartment dwellers at Boulevard Victor Hugo.


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Alone But Not Lonely

New Year’s Day, the day of disassembling Christmas decorations, removing the detritus of late nights and winter break.

Happy New Year, friends and framily.

The new year starts with good intentions, resolutions and dreams of summer days.

Quickly the days have flown, good news and bad, birthday celebrations and holiday events all blur with the rapid turn of calendar pages.

Recount the events from 2012, month by month and be grateful for the many blessings of the year.

2012 was a good year.

Visiting friends, parties, college visits, a wedding, a house sale, travel and college acceptance letters headline, the kernel of the story. 

I wonder if the month of December is positive and bright does it affect the entire year or do I remember to be grateful for the happy events of August or May and realize the blessings of every day?

I listened to the self help gurus remind me to cherish myself, pick solid attainable goals and live in the present. Is it possible to do this when school schedules, work projects and daily living demand plans and reservations?

The present seems so optimistic and full of potential and the past drags me down with its heavy baggage.

I look to find balance of forethought and memory, a few words to offer to my daughter, words of wisdom to remind her of roots even as she flexes her wings.

The old song lyric plays.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.

I hope you find that falling star for 2013 and carry the blessing with you each day.

Bonne Annee, Gut Yul and Happy New Year. Blessings for the best life.



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