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....

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Oh, Beautiful for Spacious Skies...

Thanks to the Good News Network for Sharing This Today:
Today’s Independence Day marks 244 years since the birth of the United States, so in celebration of the holiday, we’ve gathered 21 inspirational quotes on the essence of liberty, freedom, justice, and independence, the principles on which the country was founded:

1. “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” –Samuel Adams
2. “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” –Napoleon Bonaparte 
3.Without freedom I am a slave in shackles on a ship lost at sea. With freedom I am a captain; I am a pirate; I am an admiral; I am a scout; I am the eagle souring overhead; I am the north star guiding a crew; I am the ship itself; I am whatever I choose to be.” ―Richelle E. Goodrich
4. “Patriotism is a thing difficult to put into words. It is neither precisely an emotion nor an opinion, nor a mandate, but a state of mind – a reflection of our own personal sense of worth, and respect for our roots. Love of country plays a part, but it’s not merely love. Neither is it pride, although pride too is one of the ingredients. Patriotism is a commitment to what is best inside us all. And it’s a recognition of that wondrous common essence in our greater surroundings.” ―Vera Nazarian
5. “This, then, is the state of the union: free and restless, growing and full of hope. So it was in the beginning. So it shall always be, while God is willing, and we are strong enough to keep the faith.” –Lyndon B. Johnson
6. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –Ronald Regan
7. “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
8. “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” –George Bernard Shaw
9. “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” –Peter Marshall
10. “The history of free men is never really written by chance, but by choice; their choice!” –President Dwight D. Eisenhower
11. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” –Nelson Mandela.
12. “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” –Albert Camus
13. “For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail?” –Ralph Waldo Emerson 
14. “I believe in America because we have great dreams, and because we have the opportunity to make those dreams come true.” –Wendell L. Wilkie
15. “Liberty is a constant battle between government; who would limit it, people; who would concede it, and patriots; who would defend it.” ―Samuel R. Young Jr.
16. “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” –Thomas Paine
17. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” –Voltaire
18. “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” –William Faulkner
19. “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.” –John Dickinson
20. “All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” –Abraham Lincoln
21. “Listen to me, there is freedom in love. Every day should feel like independence day.” ―Evy Michaels

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Food for Thought, But Nibbles Only

When you're writing flash nonfiction, you don't spend any time on appetizers. My story, "Proof of the Pudding," which appears in this new book, cuts directly to dessert, specifically

Grandma Gertie's famous recipe for apple bread pudding. Enjoy!

Proof of the Pudding

By Terri Elders

My spouse, Ken, spotted the package of banana pudding mix I’d set on the kitchen counter. “No pudding in any guise,” he warned me.

“Oh, I thought I’d mash up these soft bananas and stir them into that mix. You like banana cream pie.”

“Make banana bread instead. I don’t do pudding.”

I added pudding to a list that already included cabbage, sweet potatoes, and deviled eggs. But I regretted Ken’s refusal to taste the down-home dishes Grandma had taught me to cook, the nostalgic nibbles I dearly loved. He even declined fried zucchini.

This was the same man who bragged he’d savored snails in garlic sauce, purchased from a street vendor next to the Eiffel Tower. He’d lamented that he couldn’t find quark, a kind of yogurt cheese he favored when he’d lived in Germany. And Ken never pushed away any kind of fried meat.

A devotee of Miguel de Cervantes, Ken collected Don Quixote paintings and images. He’d complained about his hero’s diet, described in the opening pages of Cervantes’ 17th century Spanish novel as sparse, monotonous and unpalatable.

“If Quixote and I hung out, I’d insist he try a chicken-fried steak,” Ken said. “That would help fatten him up.”

I disliked having to toss out a dish that didn’t please his palate. Ken knew I hated to throw any food away. My years in the Peace Corps had taught me it’s unethical to waste food.

One spring as we weeded the front yard, I’d held aloft a dandelion, lamenting that I couldn’t remember how Grandma had prepared her “mess o’ greens.”

“She wilted the dandelion leaves in bacon grease, and added onion and garlic,” I began, dreamily recalling the delicious aroma. “I think she added a dash of vinegar. Or maybe it was pepper sauce.”

“It would be a mess, all right,” Ken had retorted, yanking the weeds from my hand and tossing them into the wheelbarrow.

I usually went along, but when it came to bread, I balked. I believed that letting bread grow moldy amounted to blasphemy. Bread, Grandma had taught me, was the staff of life. Every crumb had value. Stale loaves could transform them into croutons to sprinkle on French onion soup, or crumbs to pad out meat loaf, or cubes to stir into stewed tomatoes.

One morning I noticed that some of the apples I’d stored in our pantry when they’d ripened on our trees the past autumn had begun to look dehydrated. I also saw we had half a loaf of more-than-a-day-old French bread.

I thumbed through my recipes and found Grandma’s instructions for apple bread pudding.  Aha! Maybe I’d claim it was Brown Betty. Grandma had made that, too, but it didn’t contain milk and eggs. Ken wouldn’t know the difference. After all, in Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes had immortalized the adage, (in one translation, anyway) “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Sometimes Grandma served her bread pudding with a sauce, either vanilla or caramel, but since Ken scrunched up his face at syrupy toppings, I’d garnish it with whipped cream, which he loved.

“Ready for dessert, honey?  I baked something this afternoon.”

Ken favored me with his lopsided smile. “What’s it called?”

I scooped out a couple of servings into custard cups. I had difficulty telling even a little white lie without turning crimson, so I averted my face. I squirted whipped cream, cooking up an evasion.

“Oh, it’s something Grandma used to bake. It’s an old-fashioned dish, like a Brown Betty with apples.”

Ken ate every bite. “It’s paradisaical,” he said. “I’ll take seconds. What’s it called again? How do you make it??”

I bit my lip and handed him Grandma’s recipe card.

“Bread pudding?” Ken sputtered. “I thought you said it was Brown Betty.”

“Hmmm. I must have pulled out the wrong recipe. Still want seconds? It’s a pudding. That you don’t do in any guise.”

Ken grinned and handed me his bowl. “Guess I can’t say that anymore.”

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I’ve heard. Wait…did Miguel de Cervantes say
that? No…I think it was Grandma.

 This is book will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Woodhall Press. (Temporary delay in publishing because of pandemic.)

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Taps: Reflections on D-Day and Normandy

American Cemetery, Normandy, France

I didn't know much about military protocol until I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1935 short story collection, Taps at Reveille about fifty years ago. I found myself forced to look up the meaning of "Taps" and "Reveille". To my surprise, I learned that there's an additional third military bugle ceremony, "Retreat."

Reveille, played at sunrise, derives from the French réveille, meaning "wake up." Sometimes these days I have to remind myself that it's probably not to my benefit to roll over and sleep until noon.

Retreat, played at the end of the work day, has signaled the military end of duty since the Revolutionary War, with the bugle call harking back, astonishingly enough, to the Crusades.I'm no longer much of a crusader, so now this for me signals Happy Hour!

Lastly, Taps, can signal lights out, but also is played at military funerals and ceremonies.

Chet Baker
My favorite jazz musician, Chet Baker, left school at the age of 16 in 1946 to join the US Army, assigned to Berlin, where he joined the 298th Army Band. He also played Taps each evening. I wish he'd recorded that...I'd certainly listen to it today.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's choice of that title for his book seems so significant for me. He understood the irony, the nuance, that reflections at the end of the day should also begin at the beginning.

I intend to commemorate these signals so that at least three times each day I will pause and reflect and focus on one thing. Right now, because it's June 6, I'm recalling my visit last November to Normandy and to Omaha Beach. My friend, Linda, and I went in a limo with six other people, to see the German bunkers at Gold's Beach. Then we stood on Omaha Beach where we gathered shells, and heard our guide describe the events that lead to this invasion where 3000 Americans were killed.

Linda at Omaha Beach
We continued on to the American Cemetery, in time for Taps. Strange to be standing on American soil in France, but we were. Twice each day the American flag is lowered, because there are two flagpoles. The tradition is to have a veteran, hopefully a WWII veteran, and sometimes with a lot of luck, a veteran of the Normandy campaign, assist in the ceremony while the actual flag lowering and folding are handled by active military personnel. The day we were there, four WWII veterans were present, two in wheelchairs, one a Normandy veteran.

When I came home from this visit to France I gave shells I had picked up at Omaha Beach to a few friends and kept a couple for myself. I have rubbed and polished them again today, remembering to reflect.

For more about the significance to these events and the places in Normandy that commemorate them, here's some resources:

If you get to Omaha Beach, do not miss the war museum there:

 Or this:

More on Omaha Beach:
Operation Overlord

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Vice and Virtue and Vice Versa

The Seven Deadly Sins, Hieronymus Bosch

I’ve read about the seven deadly sins. Remember these? Maybe you heard about them, as a kid in Sunday school. This is what I recall from my childhood: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Sloth, and Wrath. 
I’ve also read Pope Gregory’s values that oppose those sins, that counterbalance them. These include: Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice and Temperance.

So I'm bothered by the catch phrase, "virtue signaling," I'm hearing parroted by those who oppose mask wearing to protect others from possible infection of COVID-19. I'm bewildered by those who use the term to show their disdain about those who claim solidarity with peaceful protests of racial injustice.  

Oh, it's only rhetoric, I hear. Oh, it's just political posturing. Oh, it's just huffing and puffing, with no real meaning.

I don't think so. To me words count. I don't just toss them on a page when I write. I mull them over. I ask myself it they're accurate, if they're nuanced, if they're precise.

So I cringe at today's catch phrases, such as the supposedly compassionate, but actually dismissive, term "All Lives Matter." Of course they do, but the current racial injustice protests aren't about all lives, they're specifically about black lives endangered across the globe. 

I don't like the phrase, "OK, Boomer," which express disgust with an older generation...and I'm not even a Boomer.  I'm from the so-called Silent Generation, or as Tom Brokaw wrote, "the Greatest Generation."
I don't like the phrase, "OK, Karen," which disparages middle-class white women in general, by using a name that one of my favorite writers, Karen Blixen, bore. It's a Danish derivation of Katherine that became one of the most popular names for girls in the US in the fifties and sixties.

I don't like the bromide, "The cure is worse than the disease," alluding to the quarantines and lock-downs designed to keep the COVID-19 virus spreading to the extent that it would overwhelm our hospitals and medical workers. No, the cure is NOT worse than the disease.

I had the infamous 1980-1981 influenza that killed over 32,000 in the US. I was only 40 and in otherwise good health. But I never have been more acutely ill in my life. I came close to being hospitalized, but suffered from pleurisy for weeks afterwards, as I continued to go to work, feeling as if I'd been kicked in the ribs by a mule. Yes, I know that's a trite phrase...but it describes exactly what I felt. 

I love words. I also value virtue over vice, though I know full well, I suffer from many. 

This is a good time to reread Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter and ponder the meaning of the central symbol of that book.  Some scholars argue that while the "A" initially symbolizes "adultery," as the Puritan community changes its views of the central character, Hester, it can take on other meanings. Maybe"Angel" or "Able," or "Aristocratic" or "Authoritarian." I could make an argument that it stands for "America." 

Words count. Virtue counts. And so does kindness in horrific times. 

"But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."

—George Gordon, Lord Byron