Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, February 14, 2020

Dang! We Did It Anyway!

How do you get to Book Soup? Practice!

Since I first heard of its existence back in 1975, I've wanted to get to Book Soup. Located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, it's been the hip home of the literati for nearly half a century. So when I got a message from Larry Upshaw, the founder of Ageless Authors, that he planned a reading and signing of Dang! I Wish I Hadn't Done That! for four Southern California contributors and one of the Ageless Authors judges, I agreed to show up. For me it felt like making it to Carnegie Hall.

I've done dozens of readings in the past fifteen years since I've been writing about my life's adventures, but never one at a venue quite so chic with a group of authors quite so enthusiastic.

The area where we read our stories.
Larry Upshaw, from Dallas, introduced us as enormously talented writers. Not a single one of us raised a hand to object to this lofty praise. Larry already had staged readings in Dallas and Albuquerque, so by now he knew how to get the authors to look cheerful.
Larry begins the intros...Geoffrey at right.

My fellow contributors at this reading included Geoffrey Graves of Laguna, Brenda Mutchnick of Beverly Hills, and Gered Beeby of Encinitas.  Candice Kelsey of Los Angeles, a literature teacher at a private girls high school in the vicinity and an Ageless Authors judge, also read several poems from a collection she's about to publish. 

Book Soup, with its floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with some of the most memorable books ever written, proved distracting. I'd have loved to have bought more books there...saw so many I want to read. But I already have stacks piled up in the corners of my tiny apartment, so steeled myself to resist. But I know I'll return to Book Soup.

The next afternoon the same group assembled at Barnes & Noble, Irvine Spectrum. Again, we enjoyed chatting with the audience members who came up for autographs...but it wasn't quite like Carnegie Hall, er....Book Soup! Dang! I'm glad we did this.

L-R, Gered, Terri, Candice, Brenda, Larry
Thanks to Myrna Beeby, Gered's wife, for taking the photos of the authors.

You can buy this book here:

Saturday, February 8, 2020

50 Years of Nichols Togetherness

Don & Mary, Still Swinging After All These Years
Once in a while, things last. They may frazzle a bit and fade around the edges, but they last. Such has been the marriage of my friends here at FountainGlen Goldenwest, Mary and Don Nichols. Today they shared their 50th anniversary with family, friends and neighbors here in our apartment senior living complex.

What a wonderful occasion...complete with an Italian buffet, featuring lasagna, pizza, salads and a variety of soft drinks. Their family decorated the entire clubhouse with 1970s posters, golden, silver and black balloons, gold cutlery, fold-edged plates and enough candy, cookies and cake to cause us to gasp with delight. The music of the seventies kept us all tapping our toes. 

Most memorable moments? When Don & Mary revealed the "Escape" signs on the back of their respective walkers...and when Mary smeared Don's face with the first bite of anniversary cake.  

Thanks to son Don, Jr. and all the other family members and friends for contributing to this fantastic celebration. Don, Jr. says we all have to wait now for another 25 for the diamond jubilee!

Friday, February 7, 2020

An Evening With Roz Chast

No matter where I've lived, and I've lived in some of the far corners of the earth, I've lived a literary life. Back in Southern California, though, it's less of a stretch to do so. Nearly every month there's an author I admire speaking someplace near.

Last  night, it was graphic novelist, Liz Chast, at the Bowers Museum in nearby Santa Ana. My Westminster library book group will later this month be discussing her National Endowment for the Arts book, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?". I'd finished reading it a couple of nights ago. It brought back a lot of memories about my own mother's last days.

Chast has been a featured cartoonist for "The New Yorker" since the late '70s...I always turn to her cartoons first each Friday or Saturday when my issue arrives. Last night a number of women in the audience stood during the concluding Q&A session to relate how they feel that Chast has chronicled their own lives. I'm not mother wasn't similar to Roz Chast's. Nonetheless, I've known that sometimes stereotypes become such because of prevalent examples. So when these Jewish women began to talk of their moms, I still could chuckle. I've known a few.

So has Roz Chast. When one woman mentioned that her mother had the audacity to die on Mother's Day, Roz said, "Oh, yes. Maximum effect." The audience howled.

Chast's talk began with the photo above. "Me, Age 9." The gentleman seated next to me helped me decipher the titles of the books surrounding her. We managed to squint enough to make out, "A Child's Garden of Maladies," "The Big Book of Horrible Rare Diseases," "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scurvy," "Lockjaw Monthly," and "Merck's Manual."

Chast explained that she's sometimes been called "The Poet Laureate of Neurosis." This began in her early childhood. Her aunt, a nurse, gave each year's outdated "Merck's Manual" to the family when a new edition appeared. When Roz thumbed through it, she found much of it way over her head. But she knew what signs and symptoms were. So she always was seeking these. 

She explained that she realized that leprosy was rare in upper Brooklyn. But rare did not mean impossible. So when she found a symptom that she thought she'd experienced herself, she knew right away that she'd contracted this disease. 

Lockjaw? The playgrounds surrounding her home had lots of old rusty swings and slides. Consequently, her playmates all obsessed about contracting this disease. They'd scratch themselves on a rusty nail and figure that in fifteen minutes their jaws would clamp down, so consequently they'd starve to death. Such was preadolescence in Brooklyn in the 1960s.

After showing the sketches she made of her mother on her deathbed, Chast closed her talk with displaying what recently has been my favorite cartoon of hers. When I look at this, I think how appropriate it would be for some of my health food-obsessed California friends. I mean, fair is fair. There should be payoffs!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Happy as a Clam!

One of my favorite stories about the early days of my first marriage is "A Pair of Merry Mollusks." In that story about Valentine's Day, 1956, I explain to my husband that the full phrase that begins with "happy as a clam" actually is "happy as a clam at high tide." Hide tide, of course, is when clams are free from the attentions of predators, so, of course, the happiest of times in the bivalve mollusc world.

I felt I deserved some happiness. I'd been trying to see all the movies likely to be Oscar winners. Many of these didn't leave me in a happy mood. Mobs. Corruption. Same thing as I'd been seeing on the nightly news. The other evening my friend and I went to my local Regency movie house to see "1917," another somber and intense film.

I thought we needed a little cheer afterwards. I'd bought a Groupon deal earlier for a seafood feast and a bottle of wine at The Cajun Islands. I hadn't heard of this restaurant before, though it's just four miles from where I live.

When I suggested it to my friend, Bob agreed that it sounded like an adventure. Four pounds of seafood, choice of shrimp, mussels, clams or crawfish plus a bottle of the house wine.

The amenities include bibs and a bowl to dump your seafood.
"Four pounds? That's a huge amount," Bob said. 

"Remember that includes a lot of shells, so maybe it won't be so overwhelming in size as we suspect. Besides I can take the leftovers home to nibble on the next day."

Wrong. Even with the shells, it was a heap of food. We chose half and half, unpeeled shrimp and clams with basil, with medium seasonings. The chef uses fresh chilies; guests can choose Mild, Medium, Spicy, Extra Spicy, or 2xSpicy. Since our medium was pretty piquant, the 2xSpicey might burn your tongue right out of your head. But, I well know from marveling over how much hot sauce my son can consume, that it's true that some like it hot.

The house Cabernet Sauvignon proved decently drinkable and we managed to finish the bottle. It held up nicely to the spicy feast. 
Anthony and  Thu, our hosts
I don't often devote a whole blog to a local restaurant...this, after all, is a strip mall in Westminster, not the Rue du Bac on the Left Bank. But the ambiance, service, food and my companion were all so delightful that for the first time in months I felt optimistic about the future once again. If nothing else, I can always look forward to coming back to The Cajun Islands. Maybe for Taco Tuesday...won't be so messy to consume a seafood taco or two. Or maybe the crawfish. Clawing through the claws would be an adventure, indeed.

 Take a peek at the menu:

Crawfish Platter

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dang! I Wish I Hadn't Done That!

"a vibrant collection"

One of the joys of getting published in anthologies remains the possibility of making literary connections with other writers who can teach you something about the craft. Such is the case for me as I browse through Dang, I Wish I Hadn't Done That, a collection of stories and poems recently published by Ageless Authors. I'll have a chance to meet some of these talented older writers at author events scheduled for February right here in Southern California

You can buy this book now on Kindle for less than you'd pay for a single  gallon of gas...and it will take you farther down the road. If you're a senior, these reminisces will take you down Memory Lane to your earlier years, and you, too, will be likely to recall your  events that relate to the book's three major categories: Military Memories, Regrets and Parents.

I've read my story, "An Arrested Development" aloud twice so far to estimate how long it will take me to present it in February. It took me just 14 minutes, but if you read it to yourself, I'll bet you can do it in far fewer. Plus you'll learn one of my darkest secrets.

If you live in Southern California I invite you to attend a  reading at either Book Soup in Hollywood on February 11 or Irvine Spectrum Barnes and Noble on February 12. You'll be able to buy a hard copy and get several of the authors to sign it for you. Or you can get it today on Kindle.

This is from the press release:
Los Angeles (January 6, 2020) -- Great storytelling by four remarkable writers age 65+ and one outstanding writing educator is on tap at two Ageless Authors book events in Southern California in mid-February.
The five local writers will read their work, sign books and offer writing tips at Book Soup, Tuesday, February 11, 7PM, and at the Irvine Spectrum Barnes & Noble, Wednesday, February 12, 3 PM.
Scheduled authors include Laguna Beach writer Geoffrey Graves, Terri Elders of Westminster, Brenda Mutchnick of Beverly Hills, and Gered Beebe of San Diego. Writing teacher and author Candice Kelsey of Los Angeles, an Ageless Authors contest judge, will also participate. Each author will read from the hot-off-the-press anthology DANG, I Wish I Hadn't Done That, a collection of 34 stories and poems all penned by senior writers.
Kirkus Reviews has called the book “A vibrant collection of pieces by an eclectic group of older writers…” was even more impressed: “A display of courage and vision, this remarkable collection of stories and poems could be a step forward in laying the foundation for a new literary field that reflects the wisdom and experience of seniority.”
The book will be available for sale at both locations. DANG is published by Ageless Authors, a unique publisher and writers’ group that works exclusively with senior authors around the world. 


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair

The musical, "South Pacific," opened on Broadway in 1949. Seventy years later, in 2019, I saw two productions of it right here in Orange County. One was at my little town's Westminster Community Theater and the other at Irvine Valley College. Both were stellar.  And both reminded me of the passage of time.'
The song that always stands out is "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair." Mary Martin could do that, and so can I. But I'll change the word "man" to "traumas." I had many. 

I was 12 years old when "South Pacific" hit Broadway. The major event for me that year was marching in the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade with the /Carpenterettes, fronting the Cadillac carrying Bob Hope, Grand Marshall. I've written about that event and included the photo of my 12-year-old self here.

Seventy years later, I'm reviewing what I'd expected would develop in my life. And reviewing what I thought how I'd spend it. I'm reflecting on that tonight, seventy years later. 
 One of my favorite novels is Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Most close followers of Dickens know that the novel had alternative endings The one I favor is? The optimistic one:
Wouldn't you?

What still brings me joy? Aside from personal relationships, even now it's been reading, writing, traveling. Last year those goals somehow got shoved to the back of my life's priorities So my resolution this year is to reinstate them. Here's how I'm going about it:

Reading: Right now I'm reading "Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom," by Thomas E. Ricks. I've got another Cornwell book on the Jack the Ripper murders as next on the list. My Westminster library just notified me that David McCullough's "Pioneers" is waiting for me.

Writing: The first half of the year got swallowed by my Orange County Grand Jury duties...and the second by obligations, expectations, and a series of crises almost beyond belief. I've written before that I never experience "writer's block." But ennui attacked me. I found myself wasting precious hours ruminating about what I "should" have done.  But now...that's over. New me. Starting afresh and welcoming 2020. Since the first of the year I've made six submissions...some rewrites of "orphans," but also a couple of new ones. And one about the Santa Claus Lane Parade. I was twelve when Bob Hope signed my majorette boot. 

Travel: It's set. University of Cambridge International Summer School in late July...this time the history track...The Rise and Fall of Empires and Britain's Prime Ministers, with an additional week to revisit London and the Isle of Wight tucked in there somewhere. And then, at last, in December, Argentina! Buenos Aires! Iguassu Falls! And what will be my FOURTH  total eclipse of the sun in Patagonia.

That's my plan for 2020 and I wanna stick to it. No more time for regrets or for what "might have been." Moving forward. Loving life. Remembering what I came home to Southern Californium for: time with family and old friends...and theaters, movies, museums, beaches,'s all here and I am blessed to be back where I started from.

Pip and Estella

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020: Perhaps, Perhaps....But All Things Are Perhaps

Edith Wharton, 1881    
New Year's Day and back in the roaring '20s once more. I've been in love with the original roaring 20s since I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. So I'm regarding the new '20s as a beginning of possibilities.
I used to claim that 1988 was my favorite year. That year the Lakers won the NBA championship and the Dodgers won the World Series. Though I never picked a least favorite year, there's been some contenders, including 2019. This past year began with my car being t-boned in front of the Kaiser Permanente clinic where I was about to go in for a blood pressure check. One positive outcome...I've at last come home to Toyota after a couple of decades of Nissan.

Other calamities befell me, lawsuits, the sale of my family-owned senior living apartment complex to a huge corporation, intermittent writer's block, and several injuries, both emotional and physical. Nonetheless, 2019 brought me some treasured moments, too: a jazz seminar in New Hampshire, a visit to Emily Dickinson's home,  making some new friends, the chance to serve on the Orange County Grand Jury, seeing more of my son and daughter-in-law and brother and his companion, a third trip to Paris...and this time to Normandy and Versailles.

It's at Versailles where Edith Wharton is buried. Suffering a heart attack in Paris in June, 1937,  a couple of weeks before I was born, she had been bundled off in an ambulance. Nearly her last words were, were, "This will teach you to ask decrepit old ladies to stay."'

On my November Paris stay at the wonderful Saint Germain Hotel on the Rue du Bac, I wandered around the corner one day and found myself in front of what had been Wharton's home there at 58 Rue de Varenne. The door is now painted green

It's been a while since I last read Edith Wharton, but I plan to revisit her this year. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, the first woman to do so. Though she never won it, she also was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. A true giant...and a friend of Henry James, another of my favorites

Edith wrote a poem of unrequited love, "Some Woman to Some Man," when she was only 16. These lines continue to haunt me:

Whichever way the difference lies between us,
Would common cares have helped to lessen it,
A common interest, and a common lot?
Who knows indeed? We choose our path, and then
Stand looking back and sighing at our choice,
And say: " Perhaps the other road had lead
To fruitful valleys dozing in the sun. "
Perhaps — perhaps — but all things are perhaps,
And either way there lies a doubt, you know.

So as this new decade begins, I wonder about possibilities. Perhaps, perhaps.