Sunday, February 24, 2013

Breech Training Academy

As flight attendants who graduated from Breech Academy, it was a sense of achievement to have graduated from the "top" flight attendant airline school in the nation. To this day, those who graduated from Breech Academy say that no flight attendant is as well trained as those who had graduated from Trans World Airline's Breech Academy.

On a cold January day over thirty years ago, I boarded a TWA flight from Logan Airport in Boston to Kansas City for TWA flight attendant training. I was twenty one years old, and I can remember looking out the window of that plane and feeling that my life was beginning. I don't think I'd ever really been alone before. I certainly had never flown alone, or even gone anywhere that I didn't someone. In a way, my life did begin that day. My love of independence, my nomadic personality, my bravery and confidence all took root at 35000 feet.

I spent the next five weeks at the Breech Training Academy, getting rigorous training on everything from evacuating 747s to fixing broken coffeemakers to applying make up. We had to wear high heels. We had our hems measured and the dangle of our earrings. We learned how to pack a suitcase, calm a crying baby, open a wine bottle and cook chateaubriand to order. I loved every minute of that training, even though I was sometimes seized by homesickness or terrified of failing one of our many many tests. When an American Airlines DC 10 crashed on take off out of Chicago and DC 10s were grounded, TWA's fleet of Lockheed 1011s took on the extra flights and we were forced out of training a week early. My first flight was to LA. The actor who'd starred in ROOM 222 on TV was on my flight. I didn't know we could change from our heels into flats for the service and my legs ached so much I worked part of the service in my stocking feet. The crew of seasoned LAX based flight attendants paid no attention to me, and when the plane landed they all went home, leaving me to find my way to the hotel alone. It took me some time to navigate that airport and find the shuttle, but when I did, I felt about as good as I'd ever felt about anything. I remembered to tip the shuttle driver a dollar as we;d been taught, then went to bed with my sore feet pressed against the wall. The next morning, I put on my uniform and went down for breakfast before the flight, only to realize I had forgotten to adjust my watch and so was three hour early! Thus began my career...

And now I'm in Kansas City for the Winter Institute, a meeting and celebration of independent booksellers and writers. I have traveled many miles to get here. But the person who sits writing this only exists as she is because of my years with TWA. So sad to me that my beautiful airline is gone. But oh! how it reigned! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

wounded thumb

Yes, I have been a little lax in posting here because I double hurt my thumb ten days ago. During the big blizzard we had a snow party and as I grated the parmesan for my carbonara I kind of grated my knuckle. Bad. No sooner did I stop the bleeding than I sat down with my beloved blind Zuzu on my lap and as I fed her strawberries she mistook my (same) thumb for one and took a nice bite of it. Hard to say which injury has caused me more pain, since they both hurt like heck still.

But I have had some lovely days since the thumb problems, even though our oil tank sprung a leak and we ran out of heat for several very cold days while we waited for a new tank to be installed. On one of those days, I curled up under a pile of blankets on the daybed in my knitting room and let the sun spill across me as I attempted to learn how to send an email blast. Now, I am not a luddite, but I'm not exactly a pro either at figuring out computer stuff. Often my attempts give me a headache. But chimpmail was actually pretty easy and I had only minimal frustration. After almost three hours, I was able to send out an announcement telling people that THE OBITUARY WRITER would be on sale March 4, and also to list my events. I felt quite proud of myself when it actually worked. Sam called almost right away to ask why I had sent it to him five times, which almost gave me that headache because I thought I'd sent everyone five of these! It took me a few hours to figure out that if I had several email addresses for someone, or if someone was in both of my gmail accounts, then they received more than one (sorry!). Mostly it worked as I'd planned.

If you would like to receive these announcements--and I promise they will not be daily or even weekly!--please email me at and I can add you to the list!

My wounded thumb and I (and other people!) went to Ithaca to see Sam in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at Ithaca Shakespeare Company, a quick overnight with dinner at Maxie's Supper Club and breakfast at Ithaca Bakery before the long trek home. But worth every minute!

Today I am off to NYC for a meeting and a dinner and tomorrow some radio interviews. Another quick trip, but that is fine because I will be on the road a lot soon as THE OBITUARY WRITER hits the stands and I hit the road. Next week finds me in Kansas City for Winter Institute, which is a booksellers event, and then in Albany for the Writers Institute (details of that one are on my website).

I kick off my tour at my beloved Island Books in Middletown, RI on March 4, followed by a lunch event at Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT on March 5, and a party at Felicia's Coffee in East Greenwich on the night of March 5 (for tickets to that event please email Robin Kall at I will be at Stellina's in Watertown, MA on March 6, at AWP in Boston  on March 7, and then on to the Tucson Literary Festival March 8-11, followed by Politics and Prose in DC on the 12th. Details to all of these events are on my website, as are all the wonderful ones to follow! I hope to see you at one of them!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow and food. More snow. More food. Repeat.

I'm sure you have all heard about the huge blizzard that swept New England this past weekend. Happy to report that we didn't lose power (though we ran out of oil last night some time and are pretty cold now awaiting a delivery!) and so were able to cook up a storm. I made a huge pot of lentil soup that served as lunch all weekend. A Chinese family was snowed in with us, so we had a Chinese New Year feast Friday night. On Saturday we invited neighbors over and had all kinds of pastas and salads and a yummy chocolate orange cake that I baked that afternoon. By yesterday, cabin fever hit and so Cousin GJ and I, with Annabelle and her friend, went for cassoulet--the perfect winter dinner, especially when made by someone else! (that someone else was the Pot au Feu restaurant in downtown Providence, and if you are local you must go and warm up there with a nice crock of it. Or French onion soup, bouiliabaisse--how do you spell that???--or any number of country French delights) No school again today, and my talk in Newport at Salve Regina got postponed, so another day of cleaning and knitting and lazing about. Enchiladas for dinner tonight. I made a big batch of chicken with green sauce and flank steak with red. The sky is still as gray as can be with freezing rain on its way. So I made a big bowl of oatmeal while I wait for the oil man...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Oh! What a long weekend I had in beautiful Cartagena! Palm trees. Bright blue and yellow and red buildings with hot pink and orange flowers draped over wrought iron balconies. Sunset over the ocean from atop the city wall. Mango, papaya, watermelon, and fruit I don't even know the name for sold on every street corner. Mojitos! And walking, walking, walking in the tropical heat. One day spent in a hammock on an island, reading the book ADMISSION. One day spent on the rooftop of my hotel, reading BEAUTIFUL RUIN, which by the way is one of the best books I have read in a long time (please read it!!!).

I just can't say enough about this beautiful city. As you can tell!

And now I am home, staying put (sort of) until THE OBITUARY WRITER comes out officially on March 4.

Please check my EVENTS section for all the wonderful readings I'll be doing, hopefully in or near your hometown.

And on March 3, I will have an essay about my mother's Friday night poker club in Parade. Also coming is an essay about my failed attempts at learning to sew, which will be in More's April issue.

Now I am hunkering down, getting ready for what appears to be a huge blizzard coming my way. Annabelle is sitting next to me typing letters to her far flung friends. I have a fresh bottle of single malt whiskey to open in a bit, maybe while I'm watching ROMANCING THE STONE...