Category : Personal

Travels with Camille

Revere Beach, where it all began

If scheduling works out, I’ll be in Bethesda, MD when you’re reading this. Maryland is on my short list of places I’m willing to travel to.

I’ve never been a traveler. I was nearly 40 years old when I first traveled west of the Hudson River. I’ve never wanted to go somewhere just to go there, or just to see something different. I’m one of those Yankees who believes everything anyone needs by way of art, science, and culture is on the Eastern seaboard, in the triumvirate of Boston-NYC-Washington DC. Maybe a little side trip to Philadelphia. That’s enough concentrated diversity, not to mention weather, to satisfy me.

But eventually work and other issues sent me traveling around the country.

And who doesn’t have this kind of travel story: sleeping on the linoleum at Chicago’s O’Hare in the middle of a blizzard; being stuck in the smoking section (years ago) as if there really is a difference between yes- and no- when you’re all in a cabin 30000+ feet up; inspecting a nuclear power plant in a town where “good restaurant” means a choice of vending machines in the lobby of a motel with a number in its name, the kind of establishment where you sleep with your clothes on and your purse under your pillow.

Luggage lost, luggage stolen. (Picture hand across brow here): I’ve seen it all.

I wonder why I’ve never given any of my characters a bad travel experience—except for one fender bender in New York City. Maybe because I think every reader would be able to say: I’ve been there, and I can top that.

In fact, my characters have hardly traveled at all—another one of the ways authors insert themselves into characters without being aware of it.

It took four books to get Gloria Lamerino of the Periodic Table series out of Revere, Massachusetts. It took eight books for Geraldine Porter of the Miniature Mysteries to leave fictional Lincoln Point, California. Sophie Knowles of the Professor Sophie Knowles mysteries stayed put in Massachusetts through all four books, as does Cassie Miller of the Postmistress series. (Jaunts to New Hampshire hardly count as travel.)

In theory, it would be very interesting to put a character in a different locale from their original setting. We’d get a chance to see what happens to her in a new environment, how she reacts to things she’s not used to: unfamiliar weather and culture, the idiosyncrasies of regional language.

Come to think of it, I’d love to see how the coastal Gloria would fare in Montana, how Geraldine would do in Nebraska, how Sophie would adapt to Texas, how Cassie might enjoy the US Postal Museum in Washington DC.

I’m talking myself into a whirlwind tour with my protagonists. What kind of luggage will they have, how will they dress?

It will work, as long as I don’t have to go with them.

“It’s a Puzzlement,” Yul Brynner, c. 1956

A favorite piece of costume jewelry

Yes, another puzzle blog. This time with droodles.

Here are a couple of my favorites, so you may have seen them on my other blogs.

An easy one: ORSEMAN

And a little more tricky one: GESG, GSEG, GGES

And really tricky: O ER T O

I’ve been a puzzler (some say, I’ve been “puzzling,” and that may also be true) all my life. It started with math, where every day’s homework was a puzzle. For algebra: If one train leaves a station in Chicago going 30 miles an hour, and another train . . . For geometry or trig: Given two sides of a triangle …

I loved those problems, which to me were just games and puzzles. And I wrote a series in which the protagonist creates puzzles for a magazine.

We often hear that mysteries are like jigsaw puzzles, that writers and readers enjoy putting the pieces together, ending up with a satisfying solution, much like turning 1500 jagged pieces into a reproduction of Monet’s Water Lilies.

In a way. But mysteries have to be more challenging than that. It’s too easy when all the pieces are piled up with one brisk dump from the box, and what’s required is simply to sort them and fit them together to match the picture on the cover of the box.

In a good “whodunit” mystery, there are many sets of clues that unfold: some are hidden in plain sight, some are subtly presented, some not; some are within the character profiles and arcs, the setting, or the plot. These mysteries are solved not by simply putting a given number of known pieces together, but by first sorting out the pieces that matter from the ones that don’t. Maybe there are a couple of red herrings; maybe there are no herrings of any color.

I’ve seen jigsaw puzzles where the manufacturer has deliberately included extra pieces that don’t belong in the scene. Similarly, there are the crossword puzzles that are diagramless. No black squares give us the word length; we have to figure that out ourselves.

Those puzzles are more like the great mysteries, where the clue is that the dog did not bark or the answer has been in the letter on the mantel all along.

Sometimes I worry that I’m wasting time with the morning acrostic, or the Sunday NY Times crossword.

Is it enriching my life that I’ve learned a new word (predacious: predatory, plundering) or factoid (molasses is an ingredient of rum)?

I take my response from no less a puzzle figure than Erno Rubik (b. 1944), sculptor, architect, and inventor of the Rubik’s cube (patent, 1975). He has this to say: “The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles.”

Some of us get more practice than others.

All this talk about puzzles. Let’s do one more. A cryptoquote:

B SZ MYU MA CVMFU EVM CVBYW JBWU YMNUJ, CVSC VRZSYBCL EBJJ HXSE ZMXU TMMH CVSY UOBJ AXMZ YUE HBFPMOUXBUF. – ZSXBU PRXBU

Of course, there will be a drawing. Send answer to camille.minichino@gmail.com

Spring morning

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a meditation for Holy Week: a painting by Childe Hassam.

Spring Morning in the Heart of the City

Success for Women

One last post during Women’s History Month.

Here’s a paperback from my shelves — this is one of those no-need-for-a-long-comment reviews.

Note the title of this series: AMY VANDERBILT SUCCESS PROGRAM FOR WOMEN (across the top), and the title of this volume, by Florence Brobeck: SERVING FOOD ATTRACTIVELY.

Inside there’s all you need to know about giving unforgettable parties—from the importance of garnishes to sections on shrimp, horseradish, lemons and limes. And, under C, caviar and celery. Recipes abound. I was tempted to try the one on spumoni until I saw that one ingredient is instant nonfat dry milk crystals. It did take the magic out of spumoni for me, and where would I even buy those crystals?

The book was published in 1966. I would have guessed 1956. I wonder if it’s still selling with a certain demographic.

I Love STEM

Emmy Noether (1882-1935)  German mathematician known for her landmark contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics.

Bear with me. Only two more Thursdays after this one, in Women’s History Month.

Today, I’m going to resurrect an anti Women’s History blog, or at least an anti Women in STEM blog, featuring the otherwise wonderful Angelina Jolie.

The movie was a long time ago — “Salt,” 2010. I’d like to think this scene would have a different ending today. Here it is:

A great action scene: Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is on the run from the bad guys. She’s crawling along the side of a building, several stories up, holding on for dear life. In her backpack is an adorable little dog. She slips, she recovers, she enters a window and crashes into a room where a little girl is doing her homework. She asks the little girl to take care of her dog.

What a heroine! The little girl is in awe of this wonder woman. Salt has only a few moments to spare for the child, who tells Salt that she’s having trouble with her math homework. The little girl looks at Salt adoringly, waiting for a word. We know she’ll remember the next words for the rest of her life. What an  opportunity for Salt.

What message does Salt leave the little girl with? I held my own breath, waiting.

“I hate math,” Salt says.

What? Not “Let me show you. Math is fun.” or “Do your math and you’ll be like me when you grow up.” Not cool, apparently.

It’s not just Angelina. How many times have you heard the same thing — “I hate math” or “I hate physics” from the mouths of movie and TV stars?  Did every screenwriter in Hollywood flunk algebra? Is this the revenge of the C student as many physicists cried out when the Superconducting Supercollider was scrapped by Congress?

Maybe we need an I Love STEM postcard campaign.

Women in Space

While we’re focusing on women’s history—

Valentina in 2004. She was 25 at the time of her flight.

Earlier this week we celebrated the birthday (March 6, 1937) of Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman to travel into space. (What you missed it?)

Valentina was launched in Vostok 6 on June, 16, 1963. After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date. She was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. She went into space two decades before America’s first woman astronaut, Sally Ride. She earned a doctorate in engineering and continues to work for world peace.

Once you are at this faraway distance, you realize the significance of what it is that unites us. Let us work together to overcome our differences. – Valentina Tereshkova

Here’s a list of other women in space, and a tour of a space ship.


Women’s History Month

President Jimmy Carter initiated March as Women’s History Month by designating one week, the week of March 2-8, 1880 as Women’s History Week.

Here are some inspiring images from the Library of Congress:

America’s first Suffragette parade, marching up Broadway to Union Square, New York, February 1905.


Women marching with a banner “National Woman Suffrage” at the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., March 3, 1913.


Photo of Solita Solana, leader of a parade on Beacon Street in Boston, 2015.


Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote.

The Best Team Wins–Again?

It has been said that I can turn anything into a reason to celebrate. Even Super Bowl. Even though I know only the first thing about football: you have to make touchdowns and they’re 6 points at a crack, kind of like a super home run.

Every year we invite “Mary and John Smith” to watch with my husband (The Cable Guy), shifting recliners around to accommodate the three, each with his or her own TV tray. They bring snacks; we provide dinner. While they watch the game, I hide in my office.

And every year, I join the group for the last minutes of the game, so I’ll know when to take the roast out of the oven. During those last minutes, they try to teach me what a conversion is and how a tie is broken in overtime.

This year was special, apparently—the first overtime (that’s extra innings) and a big comeback by the Patriots. Mary, John, and the Cable Guy had been rooting for Atlanta. I wondered why.

“How come you’re rooting for Atlanta?” I asked. “Do you know someone from there?”

John answered first. “Because the Patriots always win.”

The others agreed:

“This would be the fifth year in a row for the Pats.” Mary held up her hand, 5 fingers splayed, as if to show how that would be a travesty of the sport.

“Someone else needs to win for a change,” John added.

And so on.

Now, for years I’ve been hearing about how sports are so fair and apolitical. There are rules, and there’s performance. That’s all it’s about. You know, “may the best team win.”

So what’s wrong with one team winning 5 in a row? Or 20 in a row, if they’re the best? No one claims they’re cheating, not following the rules, so why shouldn’t the best be rewarded?

The same argument—they’ve won too often—was used in the past with respect to the New York Yankees. Too many pennants. They always win.

My opinion? (You knew it was coming): it’s another way to devalue excellence, experience, performance. Another example of the “Good job” syndrome, where there are no real standards, and someone gets an award simply for showing up, or because his feelings might be hurt, or because it’s his turn.

When did it become boring to reward excellence?

I’ll resist making the application to politics.

Oops, I guess I couldn’t resist.

Democracy in action

This week, it’s hard to write about anything other than my participation in one of the marches last Saturday, January 21,2017.

Friend and fellow author Ann Parker and I took ourselves to New York City to join the Women’s March. We’ll never have an exact number of marchers, but I’m going with the 400,000 suggested by Mayor Di Blasio’s office.

It’s not my first rodeo <grin> (remember the 60s?), but I’ll never forget the experience of having so many people—men, women, and children—united, smiling at strangers, proudly waving hand-made posters, pressing together in solidarity, with no reported “incidents”.

For those who might wonder “why” these marches all over the world, this video offers one of the best explanations of the NYC march.

And this is my offer of proof that I was there!

The most important part of the day, next to the sheer numbers, was visiting the “activist room” at the HQ hotel — tables of people/info on various political groups with a specific cause to learn about or join. The idea is that the incredible events on Saturday should be followed by constant and consistent action, even if it’s only an email, a petition signed, or a phone call to a local rep, on a regular basis.

Doesn’t this seem like a good idea, no matter which side you’re on?

Take one! Almost as good as being there.

As a bonus for handing out buttons for 3 hours, I got to take a bag home. Want one? Comment here and let me know if you want large (~2″ diam) or small (~3/4″ diam) or a couple of each. As long as supply lasts!

Christmas all year

The Ed Sullivan Theater on 7th in NYC and on my bathroom counter

I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet, or whose blog you’ll ever read. So, there’s no way I could wait 364 days every year for the next Christmas. Instead, I have favorite Christmas items that I keep in view all year round.

Miniature houses (of course). Why wrap them, put them away, and then unwrap them again, when Christmas will be back before you know it? This one acts as a night light in a bathroom (above).

Rockettes dance while I cook.

The Rockettes! Couldn’t do without them all year. They dance in my window box every day, behind a small Rockefeller Center tree.

Presents. Christmas shop all year. What else is that guest room dresser for?

Donations. A favorite tradition is donating a dollhouse to a holiday raffle at a local school. All year I put aside items that will end up in the house.

Ornaments. Many of my ornaments have a permanent place. Here’s a photo of a tractor ornament that hangs in my office, sent by a friend who lived in Iowa at the time.

Do you have any Christmas items that are a part of your year-round decor or do you make a clean sweep of all the red and green when December 26 dawns?