1/26/15, Be Careful

Posted on January 26, 2015

Hi Everyone,

I hope all is going well. It seems weird to think that the holidays were only a few weeks ago, it feels more like months!!! I’m plunged into the New Year, and getting very busy now with meetings and writing.

I had an experience a few days ago, which seems smart to share. It’s something that happens in every city and country, and is a product of our sometimes troubled world and economy, I guess. You read about it in the newspapers, often with a very unhappy ending, and it really is smart to be careful!!!

Two men rang the intercom to my apartment in the morning a few days ago. They said they were from the gas company, but wore no uniforms or anything to identify them as from the gas company. They said they had to come in to “photograph around the apartment, to look for my gas meters, because the gas company was planning to change them”. The hour was not unusual: 10 am, but the story seemed odd to me. Not impossible, but maybe a little off. My gas meters had been changed for newer ones a year or so ago. The men did not look particularly official, had no uniform, or cap or badge to make them seem official (although some people are in full uniform and can be frauds too!!). And there was no way I was letting 2 strange men into my apartment, to wander around, taking photographs. In France, we always receive a letter from any maintenance company (gas, phone, alarms, etc.) well in advance, often weeks in advance to warn us of such a visit. I had had no letter to warn me, which was the most suspicious part of their plan. I called the gas company quickly, and miraculously, a person answered, not a machine, and they told me that it was a bogus story, they were not sending anyone out on missions like that, and had sent no one to me. I then went back to the intercom where the men were still waiting, and I told them I was not letting them in. They got nasty then, and threatened me, and they said that if I didn’t let them in immediately, they would cut my gas line then and there (which they couldn’t do, I’m sure), and I told them to do whatever they wanted, they weren’t coming in. They argued about it very aggressively for a while. Without telling them, I called the police. The men must have realized the ruse wasn’t working, and they left, before the police came. The police said it was a common ruse, and unless I had some real proof that the mission was real (an advance warning letter in the mail from the gas company), never let people like that in. It was the first time it had ever happened to me. I had only recently issued warnings about things like that to my family who stay with me, and people who work for me. But only when you are nose to nose with it, does it bring the point home. And I think that the recent violence in France has made people more cautious, but this is a scenario which has always worried me. And now I saw it in action.

I could so easily imagine some much older person, alone, faced with threats of cutting off their gas, letting people like that into their home. And then, only God knows what would happen: a robbery, a theft, a mugging, an assessment for a future robbery, or worse. It can happen to any unsuspecting person, or even in a distracted moment when you let your guard down.

Companies like Federal Express in France don’t have enough regular employees, so they often send out workers they subcontract with, with no Uniform or official indicators, to deliver packages and letters. I never let them in, because there is nothing to prove that they are what they say. But a uniform isn’t a guarantee either. Plenty of robbers or bad people show up in official uniforms, as mailmen, delivery people, and even police, and are frauds. You need to be careful even of delivery people, someone with an armload of flowers for you, you open the door, and then there’s trouble. I was lucky that these two were so transparent.

I remember a few years ago, a serial rapist in New York was wearing a full legitimate police uniform, ringing doorbells, and young women let them in, and then terrible things happened. Another was masquerading as a fireman. If you have not called for help, and are not expecting a package, delivery or serviceman, be VERY, VERY, VERY careful, and better yet, don’t open the door and let them in!!

I’m not suggesting that you become totally paranoid, hide under your bed, and keep your doors locked forever. But we all need to be wise and careful, alert, and suspicious enough to protect ourselves. Don’t just open the door to anyone, try to be as sure as you can that the person at the door is for real, and if you have any doubt at all, don’t open the door, particularly if you’re alone. You’re better off delaying or even losing a legitimate package than getting hurt, robbed, or worse. The police told me that this is a very common occurrence, and whenever you aren’t sure of the people at the door, DON’T let them in.

So please be careful!!! Take good care!!! Be Safe!!!

much love, Danielle

1/19/15, Paris in January

Posted on January 19, 2015

Hi Everyone,

I hope the New Year is rolling along nicely in its first few weeks. The world seems a little bumpier than usual right now in these first days of the year. In my blog last week, I mentioned the tragedies in Paris, and am noticing the mood in Paris in the aftermath. I think when anything shocking happens, people retreat into their shell for a while to try and figure out what happened, and why, and how they feel about it.

January is a quiet month in most places. People have gotten through the holidays and are tired, the weather tends to be dreary everywhere, gray and cold, rainy or snowy, except if you live in a tropical place somewhere. Two years ago, I stayed home in January in bitter cold weather in Paris, and discovered the TV series Downton Abbey and fell in love with it, and became addicted to it. It’s also a good month to stay home and catch up on work. Nothing much seems to happen in January. And I usually do a lot of writing this month.

And this year, January has happened with a jolt, with the events in Paris. The reaction of French people has been one of strength. Only days after the events which riveted the attention of the world and turned all eyes toward Paris, they held a ‘solidarity rally’, in which 2 million people showed up in a public square in Paris, walked about ten blocks, many of them arm in arm, and holding signs—and quite amazingly was attended by almost every Head of State and Crowned Head in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East. They came together to show their support for the people of France after the sad events and attacks that had happened. I was in New York at the time, and cried as I watched the March on CNN. It was extremely moving, old people, young people, world leaders, Presidents, little children. It represented almost half the population of Paris and the surrounding suburbs, and was an extraordinary heartwarming and peaceful event.

A week after the intense drama began, with attacks, deaths, hostage situations, and suicide missions carried out, the mood of Paris is quiet and pensive. Much like the atmosphere in New York after 9/11, which was a far bigger event, in terms of loss of life, the city and its people seem silent and somewhat withdrawn, almost like someone who has been injured and needs to be in a quiet place for a while to think about it and heal from the shock. It is an odd combination of emotions, both sadness and strength, determination not to be terrorized or victimized, respect for those who died, and although quiet, the people seem very brave and strong. There are noticeably fewer people on the streets, and in restaurants and stores, fewer cars, less traffic. People seem very serious, and wisdom dictates staying out of big public places that could be vulnerable: the subway, department stores, big stadiums, some people are avoiding places of worship, so as not to draw attention to themselves. Like any time of mourning, it is a time to turn inward, rather than reach outward, and yet the march last weekend was an extraordinary reaching out in unity and show of strength. But it is also a harsh awakening to the risks and dangers of our troubled world, with the realization that people are vulnerable in every country around the world. Just as 9/11 was a tremendous wake up call in the US, I think these recent events in France were a similar sounding of the alarm in France that they can be at risk in a grocery store, at work or at home.

The big event in January in Paris usually is the sales. The government demands that all stores hold sales in January and July, with terrific bargains of great goods, marked down up to 70%. Stores don’t get to just do sales randomly whenever they want, and they are expected to put their past season’s merchandise on sale during those two months. It usually creates a festive atmosphere, draws shoppers to Paris from all over France, and even from other countries. People come for bargains and pretty things, the streets and stores are crowded, and traffic gets very congested. This month though, the city is almost eerily quiet, with few people in the stores, and no sign of traffic or the usual excitement about sales. Maybe it will pick up before the month is over, as people recover from the trauma to the city and the nation, but suddenly buying a sweater on sale, or a pair of shoes, seems insignificant compared to the bigger issues. I have a feeling that the sales won’t do as well this month as they normally do.

And even farther along the spectrum, in the last days of January is fashion’s Haute Couture week, with really beautiful fashion shows held by important designers of Couture clothes: clothes that have to be ordered, take several months to make and are entirely handmade (every stitch!!). They are extremely beautiful, and works of art, and also extremely expensive given the man-hours it takes to create them. France has always made a big fuss about Couture week, and about its fashion industry, ready to wear as well. Weeks after a national tragedy, it’s hard to imagine people coming from many different countries to view the fashions on the runways. But it’s an industry as well as an art, and people are resilient. And I’m sure that in a few weeks, people will be ready to see the shows, and ready to return to life. Chanel and Dior are the two most important houses that produce the clothes, and there are a number of others. And maybe after a few weeks of silent mourning, people will be ready to face the world again, and think of fashion. For now, it is quiet in Paris, and the mood is somber and strong. And in some ways, maybe it will be a relief to think of something more frivolous, and turn back the clock to an easier, simpler time. France has survived Revolution, Occupation, and two wars. The French are strong people, and they will come through this as well…..and for now, their serious quiet mood seems appropriate. It is the right reaction for the time, and perhaps good for all of us, wherever we are, to think of what’s important to us, what freedoms are essential to us, and what national values, or even what personal values we believe in. A little serious thinking never hurts. And the outpouring of support from other countries has been amazing.

We live in challenging times. I hope that your life is peaceful and all is well with you. And I’ll be writing to you about the fashion shows in a few weeks, when I go to see one by Chanel. Take care.

love, Danielle

1/12/15, Deepest Sympathy

Posted on January 12, 2015

Hi Everyone,

It has taken me several days to catch my breath enough to write to you about the violence and tragedy in Paris last week. Everything one can say sounds trite, the words are not enough. The very idea of violence against our fellow man shocking, the results whatever the reason shocking, and in the end, despite politics and religion, it is about lives lost. Not just lives you see on TV in alarming videos, or read about in the newspaper, when violence occurs and people die, but someone’s father, mother, husband, child, someone we love or respect or care about is gone forever, and the lives they touched are forever changed.

For years we have read about civil wars, nowadays we read about terrorism, and not only committed by foreigners, but in our own country, by our own people as well. It is inexplicable and terrifying, heartbreaking, and part of our daily lives now. Whether 9/11 or the Boston Marathon, or the tragedy in Paris, or a lone gunman on a college campus, the children murdered at the school in Connecticut a year or two ago, or a number of years ago the children shot and killed in an Amish school, or in Colorado, and in the bombing in Oklahoma 20 years ago. Whatever the reason, or whoever the perpetrators, in the end, it is about the people who were lost, and the families who must live on without them. And our hearts ache immeasurably for those who died, for those who love them, and even for ourselves. We each lose a part of ourselves as well when tragedies occur, we lose our faith, our peace, our trust, our confidence that we are safe, and things will turn out well, and even that our children are safe.

Throughout the centuries, and all through time, religious causes have driven people to kill each other. It is an age old story, but one we are never inured to. It is always shocking, but it is not new. Today we see it more vividly on TV, cell phone videos, and computer screens. But the story is the same, the loss as agonizing. And each time something like this happens, no matter who does it, we are stunned into silence, we are grief stricken, and our hearts ache.

I am so deeply sorry for the families and loved ones of those who died in Paris last week. Whatever the political opinions or religions of the people involved, in the end it is about each person who was lost. We question what could or should have been done differently, why it happened, and in some cases why we didn’t suspect it could or would. It is always difficult to understand the reasons for man’s cruelty to each other at times, and the justifications. It is difficult to understand why it happens or that it does at all. How does a crazed student or young person slip through the cracks, climb over the barriers in their own head, and kill innocent children? Or in another case, kill the parents of innocent children.

We are all traumatized by this. I hear grief in the voice of everyone I speak to in my second home in France. People are subdued and shocked and sad. We all suffer a loss through something like this, and it breeds fear, anger, and cynicism.

We don’t know why it happens, why a breaking point is reached. We pray it won’t happen again. I fear there will always be tragedies of this kind; it is the nature of the human race. And for those of us in the outer circles of public events like this, we are helpless to change it, or make it better, or prevent it from happening again. I am reminded of something Mother Teresa said “We cannot do big things, only small things with an immense amount of love”. Let us do the small things, let us live our lives in love, let us make our small circle of life and the world better because we’re in it. And let us hope that those who perpetrate tragedies will find mercy in their hearts in future. Let the families and loved ones heal, and may those who have died in violence find peace.

When my son Nick died, a suicide at 19, I caught a very bad cold that turned into pneumonia shortly after. I went to my doctor, a kind man, who gave me a ‘dreidel’, the little top that is a tradition at Chanukah in the Jewish faith. It has Hebrew letters on it which say “A great miracle happened here”. When he gave it to me, I thought he was crazy. How could a miracle possibly have happened when my son was dead? But in time, it proved to be true, we started two foundations in his name to help the mentally ill and the homeless and we have helped thousands of people since his death. I wrote a book about him, his life and his illness, which over a million people have read, and it helped many of them. I have spoken out about mental illness, which has helped dispel some of the stigma and mystery around mental illness. One boy, my son, started all of that and caused it to happen, which is a miracle in a way. So many, many lives were touched because of his death. And when there is a tragedy, there is a miracle in it too. It can spawn empathy, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, change, it can be a bridge between grieving people, bring people closer together, and change lives. My prayer is that somewhere in the ashes of this tragedy, there will be a miracle for those who have survived and for the rest of us. May a miracle we cannot even guess at now eventually emerge? And to those who have lost loved ones, my deepest sympathy. And may we all do small things to help and comfort each other, with an immense amount of love.

With all my love to you, Danielle

1/5/15, A Fresh Start…The Best is Yet to Come

Posted on January 5, 2015

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!!

I hope the new year is off to a great start and will only get better and better.

As I’ve mentioned to you before, I love quotations that I find here and there, and I frame many of them and put them on my office walls to inspire me. Sometimes just a few wise words at the right time can make a difference. So I thought I’d share some with you here, to inspire you too, and get the new year off to a happy start. I hope you like these too:

– Miracles DO happen!! (I have that one hanging right above my computer, where I see it whenever I send or read an email).

– “Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles” Mike Greenberg.

– No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.

– “There are three things in life that are important.
The first is kindness. The second is kindness. The third is kindness.” William James

– There is No Set path, just follow your heart.

– Believe in the power of believing in yourself.

– Do what you can’t do later.

– Live the present, dream for the future, learn from the past.

– “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” Teddy Roosevelt.

– It is never too late to start your life over.

– I have the power to transform my life.

– If you can dream it, you can do it.

– Let your light shine!

– “When you go through a disappointment, don’t stop on that page!” Rev. Joel Osteen

– Bounce Back

– The night is darkest before the dawn

– “Never, Never, never, never Give Up.” Winston Churchill

– “One cannot do big things, only small ones, with an immense amount of love.” Mother Teresa

– Nothing is impossible.

– he best is yet to come.

Happy New Year to you, all my love, Danielle

Filed Under Holidays | 10 Comments

12/29/14, Whew, We Made It!

Posted on December 29, 2014

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been thinking about you over the holidays, hoping that all was going well for you, and that your holidays went smoothly, and weren’t difficult, too challenging, or disappointing. I hope they were fun, even better than you hoped. And I hope that Santa was good to you!!

I had a lovely Christmas with my kids, short but very sweet. We came from as far away as 6,000 miles (me, from Paris), to be together. Three of my younger kids flew out from New York, one from Chicago, one from LA, others were already in California. With a family this size, it’s a major feat to get everyone together. And everything went according to plan. I am always particularly grateful when none of us get snowed in somewhere. Two years ago, my plane was the last flight out of Paris in a snow storm, and 2 days later, mine was the last flight out of New York in another snowstorm, before they closed the airport. But I made it home that year too. This time of year, the weather can be dicey, and with 4 of them flying in from the East Coast, I was relieved once everyone got home. And I always cut it very close, as I am with one daughter in New York every year on her birthday on December 18th, and the next day, I fly back to California for a holiday party I give. I haven’t missed it yet, but it could happen. Anyway, I made it home on time this year.

The time we actually spend ALL together has gotten very short: we were only all here for 3 days together this year, which doesn’t leave much margin for error. It doesn’t leave time to catch up if you have a bad day, miss a flight, or have a headache. But I am enormously grateful that they still all come home despite busy lives, demanding jobs, living in other cities, and significant others who are welcome to spend the holidays with us, but often need or want to be somewhere else. So I’m sure that my kids feel pulled, wanting to be home with me and their brothers and sisters, and wanting to be with their partners too. We had a lunch for Santa and little children. Another lunch for the people who work for me, which was a lot of fun. And we always have a family dinner on Christmas Eve, which is the high point of our Christmas together. We go to the same children’s mass first, in the same church where we have gone since they were born. There are lots of little children, and everyone sings Christmas carols, and then we come home for dinner. Our table used to be full with all nine kids, and my children’s father always joined us, even once we were no longer married. He was an important part of our Christmas celebrations. My three oldest married children no longer join us on Christmas Eve, and have dinner at their own homes that night, or with their in laws, so our ranks have been thinned out. Their father, and my late son Nick are no longer with us, and we feel their absence sharply that night. So that night, I have dinner with the 5 younger of my children, and their significant others when they’re around, if they have any. Santa still drops in for a visit, and everyone tells him what they want for Christmas. And at the end of dinner we play The White Elephant game (we play it at my staff Christmas luncheon too. I got a first aid kit this year and love it). It’s a funny game, everyone brings a gift, and we put them in a pile. Each person selects a gift, and you’re allowed to ‘steal’ it twice from someone else if you like it. And the gifts can get pretty outrageous. My youngest son flatly refused to give up his Chewbacca back pack last year (he swore he was going to wear it to work!!). I got a somewhat naughty Santa sweater this year at our family dinner, and managed to hang onto it, and I wore it on Christmas Day!! We had fun playing the game, played Christmas music, and enjoyed being together. And the challenge for me that night is remembering how grateful I am for my children around the table, and not thinking back to those who are no longer with us, and when our Christmas table was loud and boisterous, with many more people around it, John, Nick, and my older children. I have to force my mind to the present, and focus on now, and not remember the happy times when they were all little kids. These holidays together are precious too, and happy, even if everyone is grown up now.

On Christmas morning, we open presents and hang around together in pajamas, we have lunch around the kitchen table, eating left overs from the night before. And at 6pm, EVERYONE comes home for a Christmas night dinner, my older married kids, the younger children, and even some of their in laws, and little children. It’s a busy, loud, boisterous dinner that night, more like the old days. And I totally envied one of my daughters in law, who arrived for dinner beautifully dressed, but her feet hurt so much after countless holiday parties, so she wore her bedroom slippers: the cozy fleece lined kind—-I wanted to rip them right off her feet and put them on. She was the only woman in the room whose feet didn’t hurt, tottering in high heels, after days of celebrations!!! It was a really nice dinner, and everyone had a good time.

Christmas ended quickly this year, with all of them having pulls in their own life now. My youngest married daughter wanted to be at home with us, but her husband didn’t come, so she left at 5am on Christmas morning, to fly back to New York, and have Christmas dinner with him. She managed to keep everyone happy, him, and the family, and sacrificed herself getting up at 4am on Christmas Day and spending the day on the plane. Another daughter left at 6am the day after Christmas, to join her boyfriend and his family on a trip. So it was a beautiful holiday, but the time together was short. They used to spend a week or two at home over Christmas, and we had the luxury of time together. Now, it was all over in three days. But they were three wonderful days. I can’t complain when they make such a huge effort to get home at all, and it was wonderful to be together. As one of my friends reminds me regularly when I think or talk about the past. “That was then, this is now”. And she’s right. And now was wonderful this year, even if the time we spend together is short. They make a huge effort to be here at all.

I got lovely presents from all of them, and tried hard to find things they like. The girls love to get clothes, and with three of them working in fashion, it is REALLY hard to find things that the designers they work for didn’t design, they didn’t design themselves, or haven’t seen for 6 to 9 months before they appeared in the stores. But I think everyone was happy with what they got. I always love the sentimental stuff, a pillow with “Momma” embroidered on it, and a little gold bracelet with “Momma” on it, a wonderful carved book from one son, (a box made of typewriter keys!!), a beautiful bracelet from two daughters who teamed up, and a delicate ring that spells out the word “Mom”, and shoes are always a winner with me, and I got some great ones!! (pink suede flats, red high heels, black flats with sparkles on them, sandals with wooden soles for the summer, ‘camouflage’ flats—-I love shoes and they all know it!!!). And I got a beautiful little portrait of my little blue gray Chihuahua, “Blue”, who is Minnie’s baby sister. (I already have a lovely portrait of Minnie!!)

So we made it through, it was a lovely, warm, loving holiday. We will always remember those who are no longer here, and feel their absence. But the good times buoy our spirits and outweigh the losses…..and as my friend says, That was Then, this is Now. And it was a lovely Christmas this year, they were home for a few days, and I cherish my time with them. I hope your holidays were good too….and they are behind us now. We can look ahead to the New Year. And for the first time ever, I’ve decided not to do anything on New Year’s Eve. I don’t like going out that night, my children are all busy or away. None of the invitations I got felt right, many of my close friends are away. So I’m going spend it at my typewriter, and work right through. It feels like the perfect way to spend New Year’s Eve this year…..writing!!! Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and be careful if you’re driving or on the road. And I wish you a fantastic new year, of health, peace, prosperity and happiness. May all your wishes and dreams come true in the new year!! (and mine too!!)

I send you all my love, Danielle

12/22/14, Grateful

Posted on December 22, 2014

Hi Everyone,

I was packing up my briefcase today before I travel, and remembered a little book I used to carry in my briefcase, and put away a few years ago. It was about Gratitude, and I loved the stories in it, it was by Melody Beatie, I think. I don’t mean to sound like Goody Two Shoes with my messages to you, but I figure that we’re all in this together, and not every day is easy, in fact some days are damn hard, for any of us. And if I can encourage or inspire you to see things differently sometimes, I figure it’s a fair trade, because when I read your messages to me, you so often warm my heart and encourage and inspire me. I love the messages you write me. Thank you!!

There were several stories in the book, but there was one that particularly resonated for me, which is why I dragged it around with me until the book became dog eared, and then put it in my bookcase so it didn’t fall apart. The story I loved was about a house she had bought years before, possibly her first house, and it was the only one she could afford. It was in a bad neighborhood, the house was in bad shape, a major fixer-upper, and as she put it, it was just plain ugly and even once she bought it, she found she hated the house. She tried to do a few things to doll it up, and finally gave up on any kind of improvements, and decided that making the house beautiful was hopeless. So instead of working on it, she just sat there and cried every night, hating the house more and more. And she couldn’t afford to buy a better one, or move, or spend much money to improve it. She said she cried for months, and was totally miserable there. I don’t know what turned things around, but sometimes after you’re miserable enough, something changes or clicks in, and you decide to try and accomplish the impossible anyway. Crying every night is wearing. So she tried to do one thing to improve it. The result wasn’t fabulous, but she said it looked a little better. It was some very small improvement, like pretty clean shelf paper in the kitchen. So encouraged by that, she did one more small thing. And then another, and then she bought some paint and painted something ugly into a better color. And inspired by the minor changes, she did more, and more. She made a lot of small changes, and she didn’t turn the place into a palace, or even a gorgeous house, but she said that as she worked on these small projects every night, instead of crying, she started to love the place, even as ugly as it was. And after months of small changes, she actually loved the house. And the overall look of the place had improved—-the house hadn’t moved to a better neighbourhood, it wasn’t gorgeous, but it suddenly felt like a home, her home, and she really began to love it. And once she loved it, and had tried to make it better, something happened in her life, a series of fortuitous circumstances, and she was able to move to a better house, and she was actually sad to leave the house she had come to love. And the new house was a huge improvement in her life.

I liked the story because it reminded me that sometimes you have to embrace a circumstance you really don’t like, or even hate. The more you complain or try to run away from it, the worse it seems to get. And only when you’re willing to embrace a situation, in all its misery and ugliness does something actually change. How many times have we had jobs we really hate, with a nasty boss or co-workers, or an apartment in a building, or a home with neighbours who make your life miserable? Or a family situation you think you just can’t change. And believe me, I can complain with the best of them when I’m not happy about something. And I’m not always a good sport about it!!! But only when I stop bitching about it, and wailing, accept my fate as it is at that moment, and really accept it and try to improve it right where I am….only then does the situation actually improve, and someone mean gets nicer, or an opportunity comes along that allows me to make a change. Her point with the story was that only when she got truly grateful for the ugly house, and love it, and work on it, did a better house come along. It was a good reminder to me that sometimes we have to embrace situations we don’t like, and do our best to change them right where we are, before things actually change. And then suddenly the blessings are abundant, and things turn out much better than we hope.

The story applies to a lot of things, where we live, where we work, who we hang out with, family battles, or even the holiday plans we’re faced with that are not the ones we want. So I’m sharing the story with you, because I really like the story of the ugly house she came to love….and then she got a better one.

It’s a good reminder to me to embrace the situations I don’t like, and be grateful for what I do have. I have a feeling that she’s right, and things don’t change until we learn to love what we’ve got, and the situation we’re in. It’s something to think about.

And as we head into these last few days before the holidays, my wish and prayer for you is that these days are gentle and easy, as much as merry and bright!!! May all your Christmas wishes come true, and may you be surrounded by those you love, and I hope they are kind to you. And I hope you bring the light and warmth of the holidays to someone else’s heart as well.

A thousand good wishes to you, and all my love, Danielle

12/15/14, Busy Days

Posted on December 15, 2014

Hi Everyone,

It’s less than two weeks before Christmas, and I’ve definitely been busy on the holiday circuit, and with holiday activities, and it has been fun. It’s a nice time of year to spend time with people you care about and enjoy, not just the ‘have to go to’ parties or the ‘think I should’s’. I weeded those out a few years ago, so I get to spend time with people I really consider friends.

This week was a bit of a whirlwind. On Monday I gave a lunch for my women friends, we see each other pretty regularly, so there wasn’t a lot of ‘catch up’ to do, just talking about our plans for the holidays, our families, and latest news, and taking time out from the rush to enjoy each other and have a civilized lunch. There were 7 of us at lunch, since five others couldn’t make it. Almost all of us work, and several of them still have young school age kids at home, and those activities take precedence, for all of us. Or work obligations. It was really fun to have lunch, and to discover that one of the group is having a baby, her fourth, which is brave of her, since she has a big career as an attorney, and a cardiologist husband, and 3 older children, so she has a very full life, but is very excited about this baby. And we were all thrilled for her!! They don’t have baby showers in France, that’s an American tradition, but I’m going to have one for her before the baby comes.

On Tuesday, I had lunch with one of my closest friends, which we do often, to discuss whatever is happening in our lives and enjoy each other’s company. He’s a male best friend, so we also give each other the benefit of the opposite sex perspective on situations, and that can be very helpful at times!! We always have a wonderful time together! And that night, I was invited to an interesting dinner given by American friends, an ex-Ambassador and his wife. And they invited me and a friend to meet the new American Ambassador to France, who is a charming woman. The ambassadorial post in France is not given to a career diplomat, but always to a major supporter of the current president, so it brings some very interesting people to the job, which is an appointment by the President. It was a fun evening and a small dinner of about 10 people, so a good chance to talk to her.

On Wednesday, I had lunch with my co-producers of the song album I wrote the lyrics for last year. And it was nice to catch up with them, and that’s a whole different milieu, since music was very new to me, and not my usual professional world.

On Thursday (which is Saint Danielle Day in France, my saint’s day. Saint Danielle!!), I gave my Christmas party, with 30 good friends, it was what the French call a ‘dining cocktail party’, officially it’s a cocktail party, but that tells people that there will be enough food passed around, or set up on a table that you won’t starve to death if you decide to stay. And in France, all parties go longer, so people will come to a cocktail party and stay til 1 or 1:30 am, which is what happened. It was the group of my social circle in France, and we really had a nice time together, particularly because everyone knows each other well. It was fun!!

And on Friday, I had lunch with a women’s group (of 5 women) that I belong to, and we meet once a month, usually for dinner, but everyone is so busy right now that we met for lunch. And that was really fun too. We all gave each other small gifts, one of them gave me some ‘lotto’ tickets, and I won $10.00 !!!! And Friday night, I went to a Shabbat dinner at the friends who are having the baby. They have a Friday night dinner every week, where friends come for dinner, and stay for long conversations. The food is plentiful, the discussions interesting, the people varied, and their children and their children’s friends come to dinner too. It’s a warm family gathering that everyone enjoys, and I love being invited to their Friday night dinners, with the lighting of the candles, the opening prayer, the traditions, and the lively atmosphere after the formalities. It’s always a special evening to be with them and their friends.

And today, I stayed home to work, and started packing to leave. Tomorrow, my God daughter and her family are coming to dinner. She is four years old, incredibly adorable and irresistible, and we’ll all open presents under my Christmas tree. It has been a thrill to give the little girls I know my new children’s book, “Pretty Minnie in Paris!”, which has wonderful illustrations, and even glitter on the cover, and so far they have all loved it (and so have some of my grown up friends!!) It’s about a little teacup Chihuahua who lives in Paris, and loves to wear pretty clothes. And the illustrations by Kristi Valiant are fabulous!!!

So this week has been all pre-Christmas events, all of which I’ve enjoyed. And last weekend I stayed home to wrap presents—which I am terrible at, and they all look like someone was blindfolded while they did it. Wrapping presents is not my strong suit!!
And before I leave Paris, I’ll have lunch with another good friend, and on my last night here before the holidays, two friends are coming to dinner.

Next week, once I leave Paris, I’m going to spend a day with one of my daughters to celebrate her birthday and have dinner with her and her friends, on the way home. I have a business meeting too, and then back to California for all our family Christmas traditions, and a chance to see some friends too. And I give a lunch every year with Santa present for all the really little children I know. I’ve been doing that since my own children were that small.

So, as you can see, I’ve been caught up in the whirl of Christmas, still doing a lot of shopping, seeing a lot of friends, and still managing have time to work, on a new book outline, some re-writes, and editing a set of ‘galleys’, which is the last stage in “book production”, my last chance to make corrections before a book goes to the printer and is turned into an actual book.
I do love the busy-ness of Christmas, the chance to see friends I love, the excitement of finding just the right gift for someone and hoping they’ll be excited about it, and the quiet moments when you think about what it all means, and inevitably, you think of the people who were part of your Christmas and no longer are, like my late son Nick. There are always some very nostalgic bittersweet moments to the season, but on the whole, happiness prevails.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope your Christmas is off to a good start, and even if it falls short in some way, or the people you love aren’t around, it is a finite number of days, and you know it will be over soon. Before it is, I hope you have some wonderful days and evenings, and some special moments with loved ones and friends.

I am thinking of you, and send you much love, on holidays, and at any other time.

all my love, danielle

12/8/14, Courage and Accountability

Posted on December 8, 2014

Hi Everyone,

You’re probably running around as I am right now, trying to get organized for the holidays. Thanksgiving was wonderful, and I was very grateful that all my children came home, flew home, and so did I, so we could be together, only for a couple of days, but seeing them was a great gift, and always is.

I love reading your comments and responses to my blog too. It was interesting to see that one reader was very upset that several people died at the beginning of my book “Winners”, and another reader responded to her. (I wish I could respond to everyone, but it’s hard to do, but I am grateful for everything you say, and take it to heart). It was unfortunate that the unhappy reader didn’t read on through the book. The whole point of that book is that we can be faced with some incredibly tough situations, hang on, and persevere through them, and triumph in the end. It’s not easy to do, and it takes a great deal of courage. In ‘Winners”, all the main characters in the book have suffered some kind of really tough blow or loss. The central character, a young girl on the Olympic ski team suffers a spinal cord injury in an accident and becomes a paraplegic, which ends her dreams of ‘winning the gold’. The surgeon who operates on her loses her husband the night she operates on the young skier. Another character is a breast cancer survivor and her husband divorced her while she was going through treatment. And another character has lost his career, his money, and his wife (his wife leaves him when his professional life falls apart). And ALL of these people find strength in one way or another, inspired by the courage of the young skier, as she faces her challenges and wins remarkably in the end (and there are many brave people like her in real life). In many ways, it’s a very inspiring book by the end, so I’m sorry that the discontented reader didn’t persevere and get to the uplifting part, which is the whole point of the book. Sometimes the good things in life come at a high price. And I have always liked a quote that I have framed on my wall behind my desk. “Courage is not the absence of fear or despair, but the strength to conquer them”. And another quote I love “Courage is the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good”. The woman who originally said that is Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist in Germany in the 1930’s right before the war. I try very hard to ENcourage people with what I write, not DIScourage them. We get enough of that, and can all use encouragement to face the tough stuff in our lives. Sometimes you have to keep reading, keep going and keep living to get to better times!!! And as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up!!!” which is an inspiration too. I was very fortunate to know Christopher Reeves, the actor who suffered a terrible horseback riding accident, and had a severe spinal cord injury as a result. (He played Superman in the movies). He was one of the bravest, most inspiring, most extraordinary people I ever met, and an amazing example of what people can do, faced with terrible challenges. He was gracious, upbeat, and totally remarkable, and was wonderful even after his accident. And people like him, and others I know, inspired my book “Winners”. The people in the book really are winners, and each one finds a way to triumph in the end.

I was thinking about something today which is what I was going to write to you about, because it was on my mind. Accountability. Being accountable for our actions. It always amazes me how some people just aren’t. And we are half of that equation if we don’t hold people accountable, and don’t expect them to be responsible for what they do. I am always torn by a contradiction on that subject, because I’m religious, and I think forgiveness is important. Not forgiving those who hurt us, whether or not we keep them in our lives, is a heavy burden to carry. And in the Bible when someone asked “how many times must we forgive someone?” the response is 70 times 7. Yikes!!! That’s 490 times. Do I really have to forgive someone 490 times??? That’s a tall order. But I have leaned more toward forgiving people in my life than making them accountable for their actions. You don’t have to stay mad, and shouldn’t, but people really do need to be responsible for their actions. And some people appear to be oblivious to any kind of accountability for what they do to others. There is someone in my life who hurt me very badly many years ago, and I chose the route of forgiveness, and took the higher road. But quite amazingly that same person surfaces from time to time, even regularly, wanting favors from me. I debate about it, and have often decided to be generous about it, and lend a hand. And damn if that person doesn’t take advantage of me EVERY time. Maybe some people just can’t help it. I don’t make an issue of it, but I wind up mad at myself for giving that person another chance they just don’t deserve. They just surfaced again, wanting me to do something I really didn’t want to do, and FINALLY, I just said no. I explained why, nicely, but I’m not going to be taken advantage again. It really is time to set firm boundaries in that case and say no. And predictably, they were furious at me, and quite incensed. I’ve been a good sport for too long, and I think it was a shock to finally hear me say no, I wasn’t going to play that game anymore, where I wind up being and feeling used and taken advantage of. And people who do that seem to be quite shameless about it; it’s all about them and what they want. I thought about it after my firm no, and wondered if I was being unkind or uncharitable, and suddenly realized that no, I finally made that person accountable for their actions of the past. It was long, long overdue, and in the end it was a good feeling. I needed to respect and protect myself. Some people do not improve with time, and if we don’t stop them, they use us again and again and again. I was very proud of myself for making them accountable, not angrily, not meanly, but it was the appropriate response. It has taken me a long time to get there. Some of us learn that lesson slower than others. Accountability is really important in any situation and relationship. We’re all sloppy about that at times, no one is perfect, but we need to be accountable for our actions, and expect the same from others. It was actually a REALLY good feeling, not to let someone take advantage of me again!!! And all it took was a simple, firm, heartfelt No. I wish I’d learned that lesson sooner!!!

And as you go along in these busy weeks, getting ready for the holidays, if you celebrate them—–I hope that all is going well for you!!! I’m always aware that it’s not an easy time of year, but I hope these holidays will be gentle for you!!!

love, danielle

12/1/14, How Little We Know

Posted on December 1, 2014

Hi Everyone,

I hope Thanksgiving went well for you, and turned out as you wished.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I went to a famous church in San Francisco, Glide Memorial, which is a free form protestant/Christian experience, a church where the founder and pastor is an extraordinary man, Reverend Cecil Williams, and their extensive charitable foundations are run by his exceptionally wonderful wife, Janice Mirikatani. The music there is fabulous, and is Gospel with a large musical ensemble, the message is flawless and calls us to put our actions where our Faith is. It really spoke to me when he said that we wait for God to act on our behalf, but maybe God is waiting for us to act, to demonstrate our faith. I liked that a lot, and he urged us not to Talk Love, but to Live it. I took friends from Europe there, and I always come out of that church feeling terrific and full of energy and renewed faith. Glide is exceptional because they have countless programs for the poor and homeless, education, health and housing programs, detox, and an amazing free meal program, where they serve close to 900,000 free meals a year, lunch and dinner. Cecil and his wife Janice are truly an inspiration!! It got my Thanksgiving week off to a great start, and as he said, the emphasis should be on Giving.
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11/24/14, Countdown

Posted on November 24, 2014

Hi Everyone,

As of today, the countdown has begun. We are entering the ‘zone’ now, with Thanksgiving in a few days, and as of today Christmas is exactly a month away. And if you have people on your list you’re going to shop for, it’s time to get serious.

I’m one of those annoying people who start Christmas shopping in August. When I see something that looks like the right gift for someone on my list, from August on, I buy it. And in September, I actually start shopping. But the net result is that I now have gifts for employees, friends, people I do business with, have ordered chocolates for the nurses at my pediatrician, dentist, and vet, and even for my dry cleaner in Paris, but the MOST important people on my list, my children, have yet to tell me what they want. So I’m still going to have to go shopping. And I have to beg to find out what they want. I start shopping early so I won’t get caught in the crush in stores at Christmas, and so they don’t run out of sizes, and by October I have it pretty well nailed…..EXCEPT for my kids. So I’m still as stumped as you are, and will be dashing to some store on the 23rd of December.

And with Thanksgiving this week, the holidays have begun in earnest. I particularly like the symbolism of Thanksgiving, a day for giving thanks (and eating way too much!!!). It is a day for excess, a ton of food (I like the stuffing best, and cranberry jelly), and although whipped cream always upsets my stomach, particularly after a huge meal, but I can never resist it. So I will heap it on the pumpkin and apple pie for dessert, and will roll away from the table after!!! But beyond the food we eat on that day, there is the reminder to give thanks for our blessings and for the people at our table. Or it’s a day when we have an opportunity to give back to those less fortunate. Many of my friends work in shelters serving or preparing food that day, and when I was working on the streets on homeless outreach, we always went out to reach out to as many people as we could the night before Thanksgiving. And as we sit down at our table that day, all of us, it’s good to remember those who are alone, or lonely, or may not have a meal to eat. If we can reach out to even one person that day, it makes the holiday even more important. It’s an issue too for many people about who they spend it with, or if they have anyone at all. Gathering friends who have nowhere else to go is an important part of Thanksgiving. And sometimes it’s easier to be with friends than family on that day, depending on how well family members get along.

And once we get through Thanksgiving, the days will just fly by. A few weeks to shop, make plans, invite friends, decide where to go or who to invite, and the next thing you know, we will be nose to nose with Christmas, and our plans or lack of them then. And then there will be New Year’s to get through, and after that we can all heave a sigh of relief and relax. But for now it’s just beginning.

I hope you have a truly wonderful Thanksgiving, that it unfolds just the way you want it to and that you can be with those you love. But if not, remember those who will be so grateful for your company or a helping hand. I will think of you on Thanksgiving, and please know that you are top of the list of things and people that I am grateful for. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday.

love, Danielle

11/17/14, Alcatraz

Posted on November 17, 2014

Hi Everyone,

I had an interesting experience a few days ago, to share with you. With friends visiting from Europe, one tends to see tourist spots that you just don’t visit in a city where you live. I’ve lived in San Francisco for a very long time, but have never been to visit Alcatraz, the federal prison on an island in the bay, which has been a National Park, and highly visited tourist attraction for many years. The thought of visiting jail cells always seemed depressing, so I’d never been there, but it was on my friends’ list of must sees, and their son was anxious to see it. So we bundled up on a Saturday morning, anticipating cold, windy weather, went down to the dock where the boat leaves from, and it turned out to be a gloriously sunny day. There is a sort of ferry boat that makes the one mile trip from the city to the island, and there were several hundred tourists on it. Once arrived, a National Park Ranger directs you where to go, and a few minutes later after a short hike up the hill (there is also a sort of open jitney that will drive you up), we got kitted out with recorded audio tours, and set out to see the inside of the prison. The tour we took was of the main block of prison cells, and within a few minutes, for me anyway, it became one of those sobering tours that not only teaches your local history, but gives you an inside view of human misery.

I’m sure that the inmates of Alcatraz (which functioned as a prison from 1934 to 1963 for hardened male federal criminals), I’m sure that they weren’t a lovely group of people, but the thought of humans in tiny pens, barely bigger than the cots they slept on was disturbing. The cells were 5 x 9 feet, and 7 feet tall, with a tiny cot, a sink, an open toilet, and a tiny shelf, and that was it. I don’t think they could have walked around the bed. Twice a week they walked around the outdoor yard for two and a half hours of exercise and fresh air, and the rest of the time they were in single occupancy cells. And that was their lot if they behaved well. If not, they were sent to the “Treatment Unit”, more commonly known as the hole, where they would spend several months in a slightly larger cell, but kept in total darkness, as a form of punishment, and only got out of their cell for an hour a week. And that was it. In the normal areas, for well behaved prisoners, they could sign up for books at the library, or take correspondence courses. The tour was narrated by old guards of the prison, and some old prisoners, to give you perspective from both sides. And enticingly, from “The Rock” as they called it, the island that Alcatraz sits on, only a mile away they could see the sparkling lights of the city. Any escape from the Island was allegedly impossible, due to the strong currents in the Bay, and the sharks who inhabit it. It was an incredibly bleak place to visit. The only good news for them was that they were housed one man to a cell, so at least in their cells, they didn’t have to worry about attacks from a hostile or dangerous cell mate. And one of the things that shocked me was that among the prisoners who were sent there were several for tax evasion. Although it’s certainly not okay and illegal to avoid one’s taxes, it was nonetheless horrifying to think that cheating on your taxes could land in you a hopelessly awful place like that. Its most famous prisoner was Al Capone, and a number of others we’ve all heard of, among the famous criminals of the last 80 years. But penning men up in such tiny cells seemed an extraordinary act of cruelty, and must have been a truly devastating existence. Perhaps they deserved it, but human compassion didn’t seem to enter into the scheme of things. And in those days, with less stringent laws about abuse, one can easily imagine that faced with an overzealous guard or officer, there must have been some severe punishments meted out, with nothing to stop them.

I’m not one of those bleeding hearts who believes that prisoners should be coddled and spoiled at the tax payers’ expense, and I have myself been the victim of crimes on more than one occasion, in both cases crimes that were severe enough to land the perpetrators in prison. But those agonizing small cells I saw at Alcatraz seemed bereft of humanity, any creature comfort, or compassion. Some of the men who were sent there were there for 18 or 20 years, and I would think you could go mad in a cell that size or in total darkness for many months in the Treatment Unit. It certainly wouldn’t make the inmates better suited to society, but rather less so, angrier and more dangerous, or maybe only hopeless. Visitors were very quiet, walking from one area, and one grim cell to the next, listening to the tour.

There was a period of the prison’s history that wasn’t mentioned, but I remember. The prison closed its doors as a prison forever in 1963, and I believe it remained guarded but uninhabited for several years. From 1969 to 1971 it became the object of major media attention, when a group of Native Americans took over the island and the prison, and exercised squatters rights there. I asked one of the rangers about it, and he said they are not supposed to mention it. Perhaps it was an embarrassment that they were able to take it over and remain there for two years. I don’t recall how the siege ended.

Also, during the years that the prison was functioning, The Warden, guards and their families and children lived there on the Island. So there was a sort of village of non-prisoners living on the Island, and I imagine it must have been a depressing place to grow up, in the shadow of the prison, on an island, and in San Francisco’s usually bleak, windy, chilly, foggy weather.

There was considerable mention of two escapes that were orchestrated there, which I found interesting. One was quite a large attempt that failed and left three guards and two prisoners dead, and I imagine that those who attempted the escape and organized it were severely punished. And the second attempt was close to the time when the prison closed, perhaps a few years before. Three men had apparently planned it with attention to every detail, and that time, they were successful. They managed to get out of their cells, reach the roof, and then disappeared. The three men were never found, and obviously left the island, presumably swimming, unless they had a boat to pick them up. The mystery of where those three men went was never solved. No trace of them was ever found, neither on land, or drowned in the water. It would seem that if they had drowned, they would have washed up somewhere, but they didn’t. Some believe that they died in the icy water, swept away by the currents, or eaten by sharks. Others believe that they made it to freedom, and went on to lead good lives with new identities. And I have to admit, although I believe in criminals being brought to justice and even being imprisoned, but after touring their cells for two hours, and listening to the hardships of their lives there, I hoped that they made it to freedom. If so, they earned it. And then, still thinking about them, I quietly got on the boat to go back to the city. It’s a tourist spot worth visiting, but certainly not a happy one, and a tribute to human misery, which is always sad to see. And all I could think of were the three men who had tried to swim to freedom from “The Rock”. I hope they made it.

love, danielle

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11/13/14, Whirlwind

Posted on November 13, 2014

Hi Everyone,

Whew, whirling dervish time in my life. This has been one of those ‘transitional’ weeks when I run through three cities in two countries all in a matter of four days. And sometimes the transition is gentler than others. And it requires a different mindset and attitude in every country and city, depending on the life I live there. But each city has its own characteristics and pace, some speedier or slower than others.

At the end of last week, I left my quiet, friendly relaxing life in Paris, having lunches and dinners with friends, and headed for New York. Usually I see my children there, but this time in addition, I spent most of one day in very interesting meetings with my publishers, making future plans. The meetings were serious and fun, with both my American literary agent, and the agent who handles my foreign sales, the Chairman of my publishing house, the President and CEO, the heads of marketing and publicity, the woman who handles social media, and another who deals with the distribution of the books. Ordinarily, as most writers do, I work in solitary silence, alone at home, and in cities that are each three thousand miles from New York, which is the hub of literary activity and publishing. So to be in the midst of all the excitement and activity at my publisher’s was a BIG change. And after the meetings, we all went to lunch. And then I met up with my daughters. But it was a day of intense activity and work focused on my publishing life and future books for most of the day. We shared a lot of information and some very good plans.

I had dinner with my daughters that night, and again on Saturday and also spent the day with them, and on Sunday I flew back to San Francisco, to unpack, settle in and get ready for some family time in a few weeks. And by Monday of this week, after catching up at my desk, I moved my things out of my beach house that I’ve told you about, since the house was sold. So I apologize for the delay getting my blog up this week, but you can see what I’ve been up to, and there just was no time to write once I got home.

I was startled by how hard it was to let go of my beach house, because I love it, but it’s going to people who are thrilled and love it, so it feels right, even if bittersweet for me to let it go. I had dinner with one son, and before that with three of my daughters in New York.

The week has whizzed by and the holidays are approaching. And hopefully now things will slow down a little, at least for a few days.

Have a great rest of the week,
love, danielle

11/3/14, A Grab Bag of Emotions

Posted on November 3, 2014

Hello Everyone,

I hope you’ve had a good week, and that you had fun on Halloween if you celebrated it!!! I had a dinner last weekend for my Godchildren, with Halloween decorations on the table, candy, costumes (Elsa and Anna from “Frozen” for the girls, and Spiderman for my God daughter’s 7 year old brother). We had fun and watched Sound of Music, so I got a taste of Halloween with little kids. And although I wasn’t with them, my younger kids (in their 20’s) dressed up as Justin Bieber, Cheech and Chong, and My Little Pony. We even dressed up our dogs. My two tiny teacup Chihuahuas, Minnie and Blue, were bumble bees for Halloween. My daughter’s Yorkie Gidget was a bunny (sooo cute!!) and my son’s Boston Bull was a pirate!!! So I think we paid homage to Halloween.

I was thinking about reporting to you about the week, and on the surface, I thought it was a quiet week, and then on closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t that quiet, and there were lots of ups and downs, and a roller coaster of emotions in some areas, that were not negligible after all!! » read more »