Author Archives: Carole Howard

About Carole Howard

Most recent book is a travel memoir, TALES OF A SILVER-HAIRED VOLUNTEER: Going Far and Giving Back, which tells the stories -- amazing, inspiring funny -- of her five volunteer experiences in the developing world. Previous two books were Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery set in West Africa and About Face, contemporary fiction set in NYC and West Africa. World traveler, violinist, yogi, grandma, community organizer.

The One-Way Mirror, by Carole Howard

Violinists sometimes claim they play the most difficult instrument. After all, there are no keys to press that automatically produce “C#.” Nor are there frets, as on a guitar neck, for guidance. You need to just know where to put your finger. For every single note – and there are so many of them. (Have you guessed I’m a violinist?)

I have to admit, though, that pianists have it rough, too, with two different lines of music, one for the left hand and one for the right. As if that weren’t enough, the two lines are written in different clefs. (Non-musicians: let’s just say that black dot on one of the five lines of a musical staff can mean different things depending on which clef it’s in.)

Each group has a point. Or, as my friend’s mother used to say, “There are pros and cons on both sides, and they’re all bad.”

Having been a fiction writer who dove, somewhat naively, into memoir-writing, I see that there are pros and cons in both genres. In this case, of course, they’re not all bad. But they sure are different.

My first novel was character-driven. I could use incidents from my own life, but got to pick and choose, and had the freedom to make up whatever I wanted. Having come from the corporate-writing world, it seemed heavenly to give free rein to my imagination, my creativity. Readers didn’t know which parts were fact-based and which were fictional. When people asked if the protagonist was really me, the short answer was no.

And yet, there was that intimidating blank-canvas thing.

The second novel was a murder mystery. Only a little was drawn from my life, and the canvas wasn’t so blank because mysteries have to be constructed in a certain way so they wind up being….. mysterious. Red herrings, false clues, buried truth. So the “rules” were comforting. But they were difficult, very difficult, to follow.

Like I said, pros and cons.

My most recent book is a travel memoir about five volunteer trips, each two months long, to the developing world. It’s not a travelogue: no recommendations for hotels or restaurants. Yes, it recounts experiences I had while traveling – some funny, some inspiring, some surprising, some sad. There was the time I was twenty feet from a silverback mountain gorilla with nothing between us except trees. Or the time I coached sex workers on their presentations to colleagues about the correct use of condoms. We used wooden props – use your imagination!

But the point of telling about these moments in the memoir is not necessarily, “This is great – you should do it too.” There’s a lot more. Character. Reflections. Truth. Certainly, the tools for writing fiction were also crucial for memoir: setting the scene with physical description, creating tension, using punchy dialogue. But making it all into a story was quite a hill to climb.

The strangest thing about having written a memoir, though, is realizing there are a whole lot of people out there who know some pretty intimate stuff about me. Not only do I not know intimate details about them, I don’t even know who they are!

When I’m speaking at a book store or library, this asymmetry is particularly disorienting. And there’s irony, too: People in the audience, if they’ve read the book, know how uncomfortable I feel about public speaking, and yet here I am, speaking publicly. Through the looking glass, or should I say the one-way mirror?

I guess it’s like being naked when everyone else is clothed, aka EVERYONE’S WORST NIGHTMARE!!

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Carole Howard wrote Deadly Adagio, a mystery with a musical undertone set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.

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People and Things, by Carole Howard

My mother died in 1997 at the age of 80. She’d been losing weight and the docs neither found out why nor ended her slide, even after I insisted they admit her to a hospital and get some nutrition into her body.  Still, it had never occurred to me that she was gravely ill. So it was a shock when I got the phone call. Naivety, I guess. Or maybe denial.

My brother and I flew to Florida to pack up our mother’s things and help our dad decide where he’d live. (He couldn’t care for himself — that had been my mom’s job – because of Parkinson’s.) The packing-up process practically smacked me in the face with, “All this stuff we accumulate, in the end, it’s just….. stuff.”

But the hangers in the closet did me in.

After I took some pieces of her clothing that I wanted, I sorted the rest (which involved removal of my mother’s notes to herself, like “This blouse goes with the blue pants or the green skirt plus the paisley scarf), then donated it to the nearby synagogue. But they didn’t want the hangers. What was I to do with them? It felt wrong to just throw them out.

The hanger issue tormented me. I gathered them into bundles and used twist-ties to join them at the curvy ends. They were unwieldy. I unbundled them, then put them in cardboard boxes. It took a lot of boxes to accommodate those pieces of wood, plastic, and wire. And I was still left with the question of what to do with them. In the end, I put them back in the closet, neatly arranged according to type. Closure. Logic. Neatness.

I knew my reaction was crazy but, just like the time I went up to the apartment my husband and I were moving from, to get one last thing, and unexpectedly bawled, I knew there was something else involved.

Yet when a very good friend and member of my extended family recently died, I had a completely different reaction to her possessions. “Lily” knew she was dying, since she was the one who had declined chemotherapy. The process wasn’t a mystery, just the timing. In the last month or so of her life, she had friends come over, a few at a time, so she could give away her beautiful (she was an artist) clothing and jewelry. She had a LOT. Every piece had a story. What was unsettling to me was that she took enormous pleasure – glee, practically – in telling the stories and giving the pieces away. Really, glee. I wanted to be gleeful, for her sake, but glee was too much to ask.

Now that she’s gone, I have quite a collection of things that remind me of her: scarves, sweaters, earrings, earrings, and more earrings, and one pair of shoes. So does my daughter. She wears them frequently. I have another approach: I take out one thing and wear it a few times before I take another. Each one reminds me of Lily, one at a time, widely spaced.

I’m not sure what accounts for the difference between my reaction to my mother’s things and to Lily’s, nor the difference between my daughter’s approach and mine. Nineteen years older? Mother vs friend? Cleaning everything out vs accepting some gifts to give Lily pleasure?

I just don’t know. Did anything similar ever happen to you?

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone, set in West Africa.

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The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by Carole Howard

I’ve been thinking longingly about a sailing trip we once took with friends in the Caribbean. It was a certain version of heaven. A catamaran (to minimize seasickness), with a crew (we don’t know how to sail a boat) and good company. Blue sky, gentle waves, cooling breezes, white sand. There was little to interrupt our tranquility.   And there were pina coladas to boot!

My current longing has nothing to do with the climate, the boat, the rum, or even the friends. It was, rather, that once we left the dock, putt-putted out of the harbor, cut the motor and raised the sails, we were completely out of touch with the mainland. There were no cell phones. No internet. The captain could call ashore if necessary, but that was pretty much reserved for emergencies. We had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world.   Aaaaah. Right around now that sounds pretty good.

Every time I open the computer to my home page, The New York Times, or listen to the radio in the car, or even look at Facebook to keep up with the adorable antics of my grandchildren, I’m laid low with any one, or more, of an assortment of unpleasant emotions. Fear. Dismay. Anger. A sense of powerlessness. Depression.

There’s the situation in Aleppo – not to mention the rest of Syria – and the ones in Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere. If you don’t know what’s going on in those places, I envy you, but a lot of it involves children who are dead, injured, or starving.  And massacres. It’s more than I can bear.

And then, of course, there’s the election.   (If you’ve read any of my blogs, you’re not surprised I feel this way.) Chasms where once there were “only” cracks. Our current national fracture has even wended its way to my town, a beautiful historic community with an agricultural tradition where citizens have always gotten along pretty well. Since the election, there have been two incidents that, in the context of this town, were shocking. One was the defacing of a Jewish cemetery, and the other an explosive, almost violent, public meeting about a blue line down one of our streets to demonstrate appreciation for our local police department. Things like this just don’t happen here! But now they do.

And so I’ve been thinking about the sailboat interlude and considering cutting myself off from the news, including Facebook. It feels drastic – and, frankly, I don’t know if I could actually do it – but it would just be temporary, to allow my emotional immune systems to regroup. On the boat, I had no choice, but to self-isolate is a different matter.

I’ve been more-or-less of an activist since the 1960’s, and it would feel eerie to be unmoored from the rest of the world’s events. The deep blue sea. But it feels worse to mourn for my country and the world. The devil.

I’m not advocating giving up. I’m glad others are out there fighting the good fight. This would only be a sabbatical. But I’m not sure it’s a responsible thing to do.

Advice, please?

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a musical murder mystery set in Senegal.

 

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And to All a Happy Thanksgiving

It would seem churlish to write about anything other than Thanksgiving today.  (The other thing on my mind is the election and, believe me, that would be even more churlish.)

Problem is, everything’s already been said about Thanksgiving (including by me: see  Happy Any-Holiday, Wherever You Are).  As deeply as  I feel all those things, I don’t want to write in cliches.  So instead, I’ll post the Thanksgiving scene from DEADLY ADAGIO.  As with much fiction, this particular scene is based on a real-life experience.   It’s a different kind of Thanksgiving, but the basics are there: family, food, fellowship, gratitude.

Set-up: someone in the official American community in Dakar, Senegal, has been murdered.  In this scene, a couple of guys from Washington are in Senegal, investigating.  I’m leaving one name blank for those unfortunate souls who haven’t yet read the book and don’t know who’s been murdered.

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The two bland men with skinny ties who were seated on either side of Bruce were introduced as being “from Washington, to help with the investigation.”  Unsmiling,  but without the puffed-out chest Emily had expected, those guys somehow managed to look stern and submissive at the same time.  Maybe that was their intention.  And they didn’t realize it was 1998, or maybe they just hadn’t bought new ties since the ’80s.  These must be the guys from the FBI.

When they were seated, Bruce started off by asking her the routine questions she couldn’t believe he needed to bother with: name, age, marital status, address, profession.  She wanted to scream at him, “Come on, Bruce, this is me.  Emily!  We’re in the orchestra together.  You know Pete, too.  You know my name and my marital status and does my age really matter?”  She controlled herself, though, because she didn’t want to demean him in front of his Washington-guys.  Demeaning wasn’t nice and, besides, it wouldn’t be a good way to gain his trust so he’d divulge.

Bruce finally tiptoed into reality with questions about how long she and ______ had known each other, how well they knew each other, where they met, whether they knew each others’ families.  The Washington guys took notes on those skinny pads that she’d seen TV cops use.  Emily wondered if their note-taking was redundant, and they compared notes later, or specialized, with each one wring about one kind of thing.  She wanted to try to notice when their note-taking sped up and slowed down — maybe that would shed some light on the things they were particularly interested in.

When Bruce asked how they’d first met, she lost track of her status as interviewee and sank into the sweet nostalgia of remembering her friend.

It had been just before Thanksgiving.  Emily had gone to the Peace Corps office to offer to invite a couple of volunteers to her family’s celebration, knowing it was a particularly tough time for the young ones, especially, to be away from home.  It turned out there was a new Peace Corps Director, and when she made her offer to him, he said they’d be hosting all the volunteers.

“All the volunteers?  Do you have any idea what you’re in for?  Do you know how hungry those kids can be?”  She’d entertained volunteers in the past and knew first hand.  The brownie consumption alone was impressive.

Knowing the family would be in for a shock, Emily volunteered to help with the preparations, though not the meal itself, which she’d share with her own family.  She got in touch with ________ and the two women spent the next few days together, concerning themselves with how to approximate turkey with all the trimmings in West Africa.

“Fifty volunteers, so about 50 pounds of turkey.  How many turkeys is that, do you think?” asked _______.  “Anyway, I’m sure we can get them through the Commissary.”

“No, no, no, you’re thinking of people back home.  These kids are really hungry.  Fifty kids means at least 100 pounds of turkey, I’d say.”

“A hundred pounds of turkey?  How will we ever be able to cook all that?”

They found a bakery that would cook six big turkeys, leaving _______’s oven available for 100 or so baked potatoes — 50 sweet and 50 white.

Another logistical challenge was salad for fifty.  Here in West Africa, any locally-grown produce to be consumed raw and unpeeled had to be soaked in an iodine solution, then rinsed in (previously-boiled) water to combat the iodine taste.  The Peace Corps doctor and Embassy doctor were unanimous and adamant about this.  Many of the volunteers, young enough to consider themselves immortal, cut corners — and some paid the amoebic price — but ________ and Emily had shed their senses of immortality long before.  They gathered large buckets for lettuce-soaking and peeled the cucumbers and tomatoes so they wouldn’t require soaking.

________’s maid, Yacine, enlisted four family members to help.  When Emily and _______ tried to explain the origins of the Thanksgiving meal to Yacine and her helpers, they realized how difficult it was to explain something so culturally specific to someone from another culture.  They also realized how incomplete their knowledge was.  Between pictures, words, and pantomime, though, everyone wound up understanding a little and laughing a lot.

In the end, _______ and Emily became so close from preparing for the meal that their families had Thanksgiving together, with the 50 volunteers, of course. There were no leftovers except bones.

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone.

 

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Helping Out, a Little at a Time, by Carole Howard

Travel is an important part of my life.  And in the last fifteen years or so, volunteer travel has been a game-changer.

In fact, I just did the math: Of the 39 posts I’ve contributed to this blog, 22 have involved travel, of which 10 specifically focused on volunteer trips, like Mr. Silverback and Me or The Toilet and the Classroom. (If you want to see photos of some of the more exotic trips, you’ll find them at my blog.)  It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been self-employed management consultants with great work/life flexibility.  A friend of our daughter, when she was about 14, once said to her parents, “I don’t know what Carole and Geoffrey do, but that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

The flexibility became even more important towards the end of our careers, since we could “dial down” the assignments and free up time to do other things.  But what other things?

Enter American Jewish World Service (AJWS).  They had a program called the Volunteer Corps that sent out mid-career or post-career professionals to non-profits in the developing world, groups that were long on doing good, but often short on doing it efficiently. My husband was a former Peace Corps Volunteer and I was a former public school teacher, so travel + service = perfect.

AJWS’s assignments ranged from two months to a year.  Perfect!  What was also important to us was that AJWS placed more emphasis on the S than the J, since we are what’s called secular Jews, ie we identify as Jews but don’t practice the religion and certainly wouldn’t have been able to teach anyone about it.  Our lucky linkage with AJWS — we happened to see the only ad they ran in a magazine we rarely read — resulted in five projects spread out over seven years.

Irrigated agriculture in drought-stricken Senegal, gorilla preservation in Uganda, orphan welfare in Namibia, sex education in Thailand, and AIDS prevention/treatment with a marginalized segment of the population in Ghana.  All “good” things.

The big questions: Was it enough?  Did it make a difference?

Yes and Yes.  Globally?  Probably not.  But for that one non-profit doing one good thing in one place, definitely.  And that was good enough for us.  We had an itch, we found a way to scratch it, it felt good and it did good at the same time.  And that’s not a coincidence: helping someone else feels good.

Have you ever experienced that?

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.  To date, she’s been to more than 50 countries, but only about 25 states.  So far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where Were You When…..?, by Carole Howard

Those of us who were around at the time will always remember where we were when we heard about JFK’s assassination. I was in my dorm room, blissfully unaware of what was going on, until my raucous roommate told me how the universe’s axis had just shifted.  The man who would turn out to be my husband was in a small town in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He had to figure out what the kid who spoke only Wolof was trying to tell him.  And it was the same with 9/11.  We were in Paris, in a rented apartment.  TV, yes, but no CNN.  We felt very cut off and extremely American.

I imagine most people don’t feel that way about hearing that Captain Sullenberger landed a plane in the Hudson River. But I do.

My husband and I were in an internet cafe down the block from our apartment in Accra, Ghana. If you’re visualizing a spiffy computer-filled and highly air-conditioned room, stop. There were internet cafes like that in Accra, but not the one in our neighborhood.   This one was very hot and mostly frequented by kids playing video games with very loud rap music as background. Its chief advantage was location.

We went every day after work. On that day, we “opened” the NYTimes and saw the news about Sully. We’re New Yorkers, so it was “our” Hudson River in “our” city in “our” country. OHMYOHMY. We wanted to talk to everyone in the place about it, but being the oldest ones and the only foreigners made conversation difficult. Thank goodness we had each other to share our amazement with.

I just saw the movie Sully, which I liked a lot. Plus I loved my mental trip to “our” internet cafe in Ghana. Without the rap music as background.

How about you?  Is there anything you associate with the particular place you were in when you heard about it?
Our Accra neighborhood

Our Accra neighborhood: This is our end of the street, in the morning, looking down towards “our” internet cafe.

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery set in Senegal, around the corner from Ghana.

 

 

 

 

 

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Life in Three Acts, by Carole Howard

Setting: Tanzania.  Photographic safari.

Act I

We were in our jeep, along with a whole lot of other jeeps, watching a cheetah stalk….. something. We didn’t know what it was, but were mesmerized, waiting to see what would happen, hoping for some action.

After some slow-motion ballet-ish moving across the field, the cheetah drifted off. All the other jeeps hung around, presumably hoping the cheetah – or some other predator – would come back. But our guide, who knew a thing or two, said he thought he knew where the cheetah was going. We left the assemblage of vans, hoping we wouldn’t miss the good stuff.

We got to the selected site and only had to wait a little while before the cheetah showed up. We were the only jeep there, with our front row seat. We patiently watched, holding our respective breaths. Maybe we’d see something exciting!

We did.

Act II

The cheetah rocketed out of the tall grass and started chasing two jackals. Just before they reached the safety of their hole, however, the cheetah pounced and started to carry one of them off, wiggling and struggling, by the neck. Within a few steps, the wiggling and struggling stopped. It was over. Poor thing.

Meanwhile, the jackal’s mate emerged from their hole-home, wailing and keening nonstop. Our guide explained that jackals are one of the few species that mate for life. The crying was very anthropomorphic and very sad. And did we hear crying baby jackals too? Immediately, the idea of the cheetah killing the jackal wasn’t exciting anymore. It was tragic. We’d previously been rooting for the cheetah, but our loyalties had been 100% switched. We were now solidly behind the jackal, no longer on the cheetah’s side.

With the sound of the wailing in the background, the cheetah meandered over to a tree where, our guide explained, he would carry his trophy up a ways and make a meal of him.

Oh no.

[Another cheetah, sans jackal.]

 

Act III

The cheetah put the inert jackal down at the foot of the tree. We’ll never know why. And, like a crazy cartoon, off the jackal scampered (that’s really the perfect word). Back to his mate and their hole, into which they both disappeared. Hooray! (We explained to our guide the meaning of the expression “playing possum.”)

We’d seen exactly what we wanted: Action. Tension. Nature being nature. And the good guy winning!

Have you ever witnessed — or been part of —  a 3-act episode of “real life”?   Do tell!

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, which tells another sort of traveler’s tale.

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People, Identity….. and Mattresses, by Carole Howard

My husband and I once did volunteer work in Thailand with an organization whose mission was to promote sex education, mostly with an eye toward preventing AIDS. Their primary method was to train university students to make presentations to adolescents who would be encouraged to spread the word.

The organization had two principals, May and Jee. We worked primarily with May but saw Jee every day, interacted with her, hung out with her. She was uber-feminine in the way she dressed, spoke, and flirted. “Oh, that Jee,” we thought.

At some point during our two month stay, we figured out that Jee was transgender. Not surgically, but in every other way. “How interesting,” we thought.

What we never thought, not even for a second, was “I wonder which bathroom she goes to.” The question never occurred to us. Who cared? Jee was the same as she always was, but now with a different descriptive label. She was still a woman to us, but now a transgender woman. In other words, a woman.

It occurs to me that if you meet a person and get to know him/her with a “what you see is what you get” attitude, then a change of “label” later on doesn’t really change much at all. It’s when the label precedes the person that problems can arise – even though they shouldn’t.

For example, you meet Tom. He’s warm, funny, and smart. You get along well. Later on, you find out he’s gay. Or you find out he’s Jewish. Or you find out he’s black. Or you find out he’s a loyal member of the political party whose positions you detest.

The person hasn’t changed, though the “label” has. It’s a funny feeling for you. Cognitive dissonance. You like the picture, but maybe not the frame. Whatever your reaction, it’s surely different from what it would have been if you’d heard the label first, and then met the person. Then the person would be the label and nothing more. Then the bathroom issue might bother you. Then things could get much more complicated. “I like Tom, but…..”

If only people were the opposite of mattresses, whose labels you weren’t allowed to remove or else……

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, which is set in one of the many countries (more than 50 …… so far) to which she’s travelled.

 

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My Unbucket List, by Carole Howard

In my last post (Time Travel), I was just about to leave for a trip and said I’d write about it next time.

Here it is, next time. Thing is, though, let’s face it: Sometimes reading about someone else’s trip – even one that was wonderful, as this one was – can be boring. So I’m going to write about something else. You’re welcome.

But first, to fulfill my commitment: First a week in a house in the beautiful countryside in southern Italy with good friends. Then an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik. Then five days on a catamaran visiting various Croatian islands with people who had been strangers but are no longer. Finally, two days in historic beautiful Dubrovnik.

Now, onto something I realized on the trip, something about myself, not about Italy or Croatia.

I’m not saying anything you don’t already know when I point out that we change in a whole lot of ways as we get older. Some changes are unwelcome.  Can’t run as fast.  Higher blood pressure.  And then there’s that memory thing. But some are quite welcome, indeed: Things that used to bother us, don’t.  We don’t spend time doing things or being with people we don’t want to.

Something else that’s changed for me is the way my husband and I travel.  And I didn’t realize it until this trip.

Back in the day, we wanted to see the sights when we traveled. Made a list of those sights. Checked them off. Or we visited places where we wanted to absorb and understand the culture. Serious. Intellectual. There were a few hiking and biking trips thrown in, but even those included trails we just had to take, restaurants we had to eat at.

I don’t regret any of it. But now our traveling is less about things we just have to do than about enjoying whatever we do. And it’s no longer necessarily about going someplace new (though my vanity did enjoy adding Croatia to my longish list of the countries I’ve visited).  It definitely includes places we’re very familiar with. If anything, there’s an even stronger pull to go back to the old haunts. (“We’ll always have Paris.”)

The way I see it now is that any place I go is someplace I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten to. It’s serendipity and it’s lovely. It’s a smorgasbord and you take a little of this and a little of that.  Less urgent, more forgiving.

It might sound like we’re jaded, but I that’s not it. It’s more a realization that we’re not going to be able to visit everything, so the point is to take pleasure in whatever we wind up doing. It’s the opposite of a bucket list.  It’s acceptance.

Frankly, I can’t remember the names of the Croatian islands we visited, and certainly don’t remember which was which. And that’s just fine with me: I enjoyed them all, both in the moment and now.

For me, that’s now definitely more than enough.

What about you?  What’s your preferred travel style?

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio.

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Time Travel, by Carole Howard

Back in the day, we wrote letters. On paper. We knew that by the time our friend got the letter – even if we splurged on air mail postage – it would be outdated, but so what?

In the 1970’s, my husband and I were living in West Africa with our newborn, my parents’ first grandchild. I’d write to them faithfully, but by the time they responded to something I’d said in a letter to them (two weeks to get to them, two weeks for the reply to arrive), it took a bit of mental maneuvering to put together my statement (or question) and their reaction (or answer). For example:

I’d write: “Guess what! The baby got her first tooth.”

Then I’d get a reaction about a month later, during which time I’d written three or four more letters home: “That’s so exciting, did she cry? Did she drool a lot? Does she look different? Here’s what I used to do to soothe you when you got your teeth…..”

By the time I read the questions about crying and drooling, she’d gotten four more teeth and I honestly couldn’t remember.

I’m in something of the same position right now because I’m writing this on May 8, way ahead of time, because I leave for a trip tomorrow. You’ll read it on May 23, so all my present-tense statements will be better read in past tense. That kind of time-disconnect wasn’t particularly odd back then, it’s just the way things were. Now it’s a little odd. So let’s pretend we’re “back in the day.”

Dear Blog-Reader,

We’re leaving on a great trip tomorrow with friends of ours that you don’t know. First we’ll be staying in a house with them in Puglia, Italy – think OLIVE OIL – then we take an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik (Croatia’s a brand new country for me) and board a boat for some hiking and sailing along the coast. Back to Rome for one night, then home.

By the time we get home, it better be warm enough to plant our garden! You wouldn’t believe how weird this winter has been. Unnaturally warm, then plunging right down into freezing, and now gradually warming up again. Remember that magnolia in front of the house? The one that has bloomed for 32 years straight? This year, it produced buds, then blossoms…… and then came a killing frost. All the flowers died. Or so we thought. Now we have a regrowth, which delights me even more than the annual blossom-fireworks. I’m enclosing a photo.

I’ll write when I’m back and tell you about the trip. And I hope there will be a letter from you waiting for me!

Arrivederi and Dovidenja,

Carole

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone, set in West Africa.

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