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....

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Our Canadinn Sunset

A few months ago this story closed a wonderful book, Table for Two. All day today I have been thinking of Ken Wilson and the day we married, July 1, 2000.

Our Canadian Sunset

By the time Ken and I flew to northeast Washington State to shop around for our future retirement home, I’d lived, worked, or traveled in exactly forty-nine countries. But I’d never set foot in Canada. A native Californian, I’d always envisioned our neighbor to the north as a kind of frozen wasteland dotted with icebergs and igloos. And now my husband of not too many years wanted to move to a county right next door, edging the Canadian border.

He’d explored the area solo a summer or two earlier, on the recommendation of his son who often had visited Stevens County to fish on the Colombia River or to play golf. And he’d liked what he’d seen.

“The Colville National Forest actually is high desert,” he’d explained, urging me to at least give the place a try. “Let’s consider it seriously. There’s four seasons, a fifth if you count Indian Summer. And I’d never let you freeze to death. I promise.”

Still, I’d read that temperatures plunged below zero in the winter, so that January I’d taken a week’s leave from my Peace Corps job in Washington DC. I suggested we reconnoiter the area in the dead of winter before we committed to such Ken’s proposed move. I wanted to see if indeed I could survive in sub-zero temperatures without turning into a life-size icicle.

During that initial first brief visit our realtor escorted us up and down Stevens County’s Highway 395 corridor. We tramped through ranch houses, log cabins and even farmhouses, from Loon Lake to Kettle Falls, slogging through snow to reach each entryway. By Saturday, weary and chilled, I felt relief when our realtor announced she took Sundays off.

“Thank heavens. I’ll a chance to thaw out.”

“We could drive up to Grand Forks in British Columbia for an early Sunday supper,” Ken suggested the next morning, peeking out the window. “It’s doesn’t look like it will snow today and it’s less than an hour and a half from here. We’ll take our time and really enjoy dining out.”

“What a delightful idea! The rental car does have a good heater.”

I grabbed my jacket and mittens quicker than anybody could say Jack Frost. In the motel lobby I snatched up a brochure about Canada’s Boundary Country. Grand Forks, I explained to Ken as we headed north, had been called the “jewel of the Boundary” and had been settled by Doukhobors. These were Christian pacifists who’d fled the religious persecution of Russia’s 19th-century czars. Russian was still taught in public schools.

“The Doukhobors sound as if they had much in common with the Quakers,” I added. He grinned and nodded. He knew I’d attended a Friends church as a child.

“You’ll probably like them then,” he said.

When we finally reached the Canadian checkpoint, I pleaded with the border guard to stamp my passport, even though he claimed it really wasn’t necessary. I wanted solid proof that I’d finally arrived at my fiftieth country. I’d been keeping count for a long time, and planned to brag to my colleagues at Peace Corps headquarters when we returned to the capital.

The landscape we’d traversed on our drive turned out to resemble more closely the Currier and Ives lithographs I remembered from Christmas cards than it did the barren Frozen North of my imagination. When we pulled into Grand Forks, though, the little town appeared shuttered down for the winter. I didn’t spy any welcoming lights.

My brochure had informed us that Grand Forks, BC, derived its name from its location at the juncture of the Kettle and Granby Rivers in the area's "Sunshine Valley.” Hard to understand why the area earned that nickname. Not a glimmer of sunshine was breaking through the glowering overcast skies that frigid day.

Getting hungry, we pulled up in front of the Grand Forks Hotel, an Edwardian Classical Revival structure that we later learned had survived devastating early 20th Century fires. Its restaurant was closed that Sunday afternoon, but a sign on the door announced that meals were available in the bar.

“Great,” Ken said, as we settled at a little table set for two, nicely set with a checkered table cloth and matching linen napkins. “I’m ready for a steak!”

            When the waiter appeared, I asked what beer he would recommend. I’d glanced around at the few diners and noticed that they all seemed to be enjoying identical bottles of a golden-hued brew.

“I figured you must be tourists,” he said, with a smile. “Everybody here of course drinks Kokanee. It’s brewed in Creston, a town just down the road a stretch.”

 He brought a couple of bottles and some glasses to our table. “Look for the Sasquatch on the label,” he said, “You can’t miss him. His name is Mel.”

After we located the Bigfoot icon mascot, we perused the menus. No steaks. Instead, it offered us a selection of borscht, perogies, hamburgers and fries.

“What’s a perogy?” Ken asked. “I know that Borscht is beet soup.”

“They’re potato dumplings. I ate some in Ukraine. They’re addictive! I’m going to have some. If we’re drinking local, we might as well eat local.”

So, we ordered the soup, as well. Neither of us had ever been fond of beets, but we hadn’t driven all this way to settle for burgers. The perogies, accompanied by a creamy dill sauce, appeared as crisply inviting as the ones I’d sampled in Ukraine. Our borscht was thick with cabbage, onion, beets, and carrots. We dipped our dumplings into the dill. Umm. Not bad at all. Then we each spooned up some soup. At first taste, we gazed at one another. We’d fallen in love. It was drop-dead delicious, the perfect hearty dish for a gloomy winter day.

As we headed that evening back to our motel, I turned to Ken and grinned.

“Canada’s a perfect fiftieth country for me to add to my list. This has been a golden afternoon.”

A year later Ken and I, long since settled into our Stevens County home just south of Colville, discovered that our upcoming fifth anniversary on July 1 was also Canada’s national day. Since it fell on a Friday in 2005, I suggested we take a long Independence Day weekend and celebrate Canada Day in Grand Forks and come home to Colville in time for July 4th fireworks.

Ken concurred. “I’m ready for some more borscht!”

This time we sampled the luscious velvety red concoction at The Borscht Bowl, in a heritage bank building in downtown Grand Forks. We spent the afternoon wandering through the festivities in the city park, and visited Mountain View Doukhobor Museum, a collection of artifacts and heirlooms set in one of the last original Doukhobor communal homes. We drove out to the Spencer Hill Orchard and Gallery, admired their contented cows, and picked up some organic Gouda, Ken’s favorite cheese, for snacking later at our motel.

We dropped by the local bowling alley, ordered a couple of Kokanees, and watched locals compete at five-pin bowling, a variant played only in Canada. I puzzled over how the bowlers could get a grip on the hand-sized hard rubber balls that lacked any finger holes. Somehow, they never fumbled.

We lingered outside our motel room to watch the sunset together, and then settled in to catch some cable television. Ken delighted in finding a local channel running a marathon of his favorite old western series, “Have Gun, Will Travel.” He’d always admired its black-clad gun-for-hire, Paladin, a man of ethics and conscience. In fact, Ken knew all the words to only two songs, “You are My Sunshine,” and the theme song from Paladin. He even treated me to a few bars as the show closed. Then he hugged me close.

“What more could I ask for on an anniversary?  I’ve got you, borscht, Gouda, and Paladin. Life’s good.”

And it continued to be for a few more years. Then Ken died, just three weeks short of our ninth anniversary. On what would have been our tenth, and another Canada Day, I drove up to Grand Forks by myself. Perhaps revisiting my golden 50th country would cheer me.

Doukhobor women, in their head scarves, were selling handicrafts and ice cream in the park. I wandered through some of the art galleries that Ken had loved, and visited a new one in the Palladian-style red brick courthouse. Then I treated myself to a bowl of aromatic borscht at the hotel where we’d first become enamored of borscht. I looked across my table set for two at an empty chair, and silently toasted Ken’s memory with a Kokanee, after checking the label to make sure that Mel, the Sasquatch, was still atop his glacier. He was.

Each prior visit when Ken and I left Grand Forks to head south, we’d steal a last lingering look at the nearby Hardy Mountains. We’d pretend to search for Mel in the shadows of the evening sunset.

This time, though, as I scanned the mountains, I fantasized that I could catch a glimpse of Ken. He’d be riding alongside his friend, Paladin. He’d be wearing white in contrast to Paladin’s black. The pair would be heading towards a hitching post outside a cozy saloon where they could down a Kokanee and savor a bowl of borscht. Perhaps they’d wave to Mel on their way.

I crossed the border into Washington, reflecting. Ken’s absence loomed large in the front seat of our vehicle. Nonetheless, it had been a good, if not grand, tenth anniversary in Grand Forks. I’d be home by sunset, still missing my husband, but aglow with tasty memories.

Monday, June 25, 2018

ACEs and Elsewhere

Impact Pyramid of ACEs

About a decade ago I edited a training manual for Save the Children, the organization that recognized in 1919, a century ago, that every child deserves a chance. It emphasizes these words: every last child.

The manual Save the Children trusted me to edit would aid child care workers in conducting activities with children in refugee camps to support cognitive development and foster emotional resiliency, Gargantuan tasks under such dire circumstances. I got the task because I'd experienced first-hand the trauma of young children separated from parents. For five years I'd been the psychiatric social worker for the nursery at Los Angeles' locked facility for abused and neglected children awaiting placement by the juvenile court.

The sole clinician working on Sunday, I'd responded to the needs of the entire institution, so also dealt with the anxiety and anguish of bewildered K-12 age children, as well as my nursery infants and toddlers.

So when I think about children worldwide who face crisis because of war, natural disaster or family breakup, no matter what the circumstances, I remember those children I worked with in the early '80s. I can still see their faces contorted by fear and rage. I remember those wrinkled brows, twisted lips.

Right now Save the Children works with refugee camps in Syria, South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Myanmar. And in rural America, beginning in the 1930s in Appalachia. Here's a plea from its website:
Right now, Save the Children remains gravely concerned about the well-being of children in the custody of the U.S. government after crossing our southern border. We know from our nearly 100 years of service that family separation and detention can cause severe, long-lasting trauma, which ultimately results in the loss of childhood.
For nearly 100 years, Save the Children has put the rights of every child at the very center of our mission. We’ve now heard these children’s cries and we must raise our own voices to protect their best interests. Because every child deserves safety and a chance at a future.
Tell Congress to reunite families and ensure unnecessary family separation never happens again.

I share this concern. I'm particularly concerned about ACEs, the adverse childhood experiences that impact healthy development. These ACEs effects can last an entire lifetime.

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member
For more information about ACEs:
To learn more about what you can do to help Save the Children:

When I worked at MacLaren I learned some important lessons about nurture and separation trauma. When places that shelter children apart from families are equated with "summer camps," I shudder. Here's my personal experience at MacLaren, 1978 to 1983.


 I hung up the phone and stared at a poster on the wall beside my desk. The receptionist at the visiting center had called to let me know that a mother had appeared for her court-ordered monitored visit. For the past three years I'd been the psychiatric social worker for the nursery at the Los Angeles County residential institution that housed children awaiting placement by the juvenile court. Not often a sunny job.

 I could already anticipate how the visit would go. The visitor would be angry. We had her child in our locked building. It wouldn't matter to her that the two-year-old had been removed from his home because he’d been left alone for hours and neighbors had called to police to report hearing his cries. No. All that would matter is that mother and child were separated. We had him. She didn’t.

The nursery aide who would escort the toddler to the visiting room would treat both me and the visitor to hostile glares. Most of the nursery staff resented visiting days. The children cried when their parents left, leaving them behind. I'd conducted training on bonding and attachment, and explained that though these children might be too young to remember events, they would forever remember feelings. Nonetheless the staff still believed in "out of sight, out of mind."

"It would be better if the parents didn't come at all," they said. "Besides, they don't deserve to see their kids."

And, yes, the toddler himself after the visit would squall and kick and flail at me with tiny fists all the way back to the nursery. I could understand why the attendants held me responsible for provoking the tantrums.

"I hate you, I hate you," those children old enough to talk often screeched when their visits ended, as I returned them to the nursery where they’d turn their rage and frustration on the hapless attendants and nurses.

On Sundays, when I conducted these visits, I forced myself to become a jumbo sponge to soak up everybody's ire, taking care not to ooze any out myself. That would be unprofessional behavior for a psychiatric social worker.

The three earlier visits I’d monitored so far, that late November day, had been particularly unpleasant. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, parents had fixed me with sullen eyes, dropping references to having little to be thankful for.

I had trained myself to hold my tongue. Many of these parents were in sad need of parenting themselves, some so woefully uninformed about the stages of early childhood development that they expected a two-year-old to follow instant and sometimes complicated commands.

Usually the poster by my desk brightened my spirits, with its sunflower motif and splashes of bright lettering in yellows and reds. A local artist had been engaged to design it for MacLaren's annual Sunflower Day, a summer Sunday when actors, artists and musicians visited to entertain and mingle with the two hundred and fifty or so children in temporary residence. Today, though, even the poster's glowing gold and shimmering scarlet hues failed to cheer me. Instead I held on to a vision of a sodden gray sponge as I trudged towards the visiting center.

I glanced out the window at the darkening clouds, and realized that by the time my shift ended and I headed home, it would probably be raining. I dreaded driving the oil-slick Los Angeles freeways in the autumn.

No sunshine for me today, I thought.

I reminded myself again that only three elements needed to converge to create a situation that could lead to child abuse or neglect: a child, a parent with poor coping skills, and stress. Many of the parents I saw were ignorant of the most basic child-care routines. Many suffered from untreated character disorders or alcohol or drug addictions. Most were so deprived in their own childhoods that they had no alternative to repeating their own parents' pattern of poor care.

What was evident, though, was that most of them indeed loved their children. Some cared enough that they'd even enter treatment programs or ditch an abusive partner, so they could rehabilitate themselves and eventually make a home again for the child. In my Parent Outreach project, I offered such resources to the visiting parents.

To my surprise, the visiting mother's face was wreathed in smiles. It had been a few weeks since she'd visited. I'd tried to reach her, but her phone had been disconnected.

"Guess what?" Her smile illuminated the little room. "I've been released from the recovery center and I've got a job! I've got a gift for Tommy." She held up one of the new plush Care Bears. This one, bright yellow, was Funshine Bear. I well knew the stars of the new Care Bear television series, sitting on the nursery floor, and watching the cartoons with the kids. Funshine Bear had a tummy symbol with a smiling sun. He was famous for always trying to help someone, being able to use his symbol to light up the darkest night or shine a beacon for all to see.

Kind of like me, I thought, the first time I noticed him. I'd wondered who lit up Funshine's dark days. Could he turn his beacon toward himself? The aide who brought Tommy to the visiting room was new on the job. Her eyes twinkled when she spotted the bear. "Oh, look, Tommy," she said, a pleasant lilt to her voice.

Tommy squealed, grabbed Funshine Bear, and hugged him close. He clambered up on his mother's lap and answered her questions as best he could.

"We walked to MacDonald's yesterday. I ate ice cream!"

I waited for the mom to begin a rant about how she didn’t allow her kid to eat sugar. Instead she smiled at her son, hugged him, and then smiled at me.

"The nurses decided it would be a good day for an outing since the sun was out in the afternoon and the restaurant is only a block away," I explained. The Saturday nursery staff often liked to get a little exercise and fresh air, and would stroll to the nearby fast food place, pushing the younger children in buggies and strollers.

Besides, they remembered that most of the children were familiar with MacDonald’s, and that any familiar experience helped them with the trauma they suffered being separated from their families.

This visit even ended in an exceptional way. Tommy didn't even cry when his mother kissed him goodbye. She'd promised to come again soon, and confided to me that she thought the court would release him to her soon. Her probation worker was ready to vouch for her.

“Congratulations,” I said. “I hope the hearing goes well for you.”

Tommy didn’t even scream when she left.

A couple of years earlier, still new on the job, I’d complained to my consulting psychiatrist that sometimes I felt unappreciated – by staff, by the children, by the parents.

"Honey," he'd said, "in this line of work you've got to get your loving elsewhere. You've got to get it from yourself. Appreciate yourself!"

At that time, I vowed to not a let a working day go by without doing three kind things: one for a staff member or parent, one for a child, and one for myself. I found I felt more in control if I had definite goals for my days that otherwise could spin into chaos.

This Sunday when I returned for my last evening report in the nursery I made a special effort to single out the aide who had been so cheerful in bringing Tommy for his visit.

"You made it so easy for him to leave," I praised her. "Letting him take the bear back with him to his crib was a really great idea!"

I spent several minutes before my shift ended rocking one of the four-year-old girls. She'd fallen in the playground earlier and bruised her forehead. She’d had a bad day.

“When will Mommy be here?” she’d implored, eyes shiny with unshed tears.

They never showed up. This wasn’t an isolated case, where parents failed to appear. Sometimes cars would break down. Sometimes buses ran late. Sometimes they got drunk or high again, and forgot their appointments.

"I love you," the little girl whispered in my ear as I tucked her into her youth bed. I gave her a final hug.

Then I climbed into my car and turned on my windshield wipers, anticipating what kind thing I'd do for myself that day. I usually saved me for last, enjoying the anticipation.

"A Christmas Story" had just been released. It played in a theater close to my home. I decided to get an early jump on the holidays and see it. Then I'd treat myself to a hot bubble bath and a mug of cocoa before bed.

Perhaps tomorrow would be sunnier. Sunshine already was breaking through in my heart. I remembered my grandmother’s old mantra that even on a cloudy day the sun is shining somewhere.



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What's Cool in Cool-inary Moments?

What's twice as cool as having a story in the newly-published Cool-inary Moments? Having two. Yes, both "A Pair of Merry Mollusks," featuring my first husband, Bob Elders, and "Proof of the Pudding," featuring my second, Ken Wilson, were selected for this anthology. Both of these men were credible cooks, by the way.

But to make this book even cooler, it contains a story, "Making Scrambled Eggs," by my current (and likely last!!) beau, Frank Stern, also a writer. In it, the narrator coaches his daughter through her first culinary experience. Quite a stretch for Frank, whose kitchen mastery these past couple of years so far as I've personally witnessed,  has been limited to slicing strawberries to accompany his cereal or cottage cheese. I've yet to sample the scrambled eggs he writes so knowingly about.

And guess who else appears in this book? Some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul and Not Your . Mother's Book writers I've grown close to over the past decade, Annmarie B. Tait, Lola De Maci and Nancy Julien Kopp. 

Editor Yvonne Lehman outdid herself in crafting this subtitle: Culinary Memories, Mishaps and Masterpieces Including Real Recipes Flavored With a Little Advice. How could you possibly resist a book that offers all that?

You can't. So hurry over to pick up a copy from Amazon now,

A little more from the back cover: "Cooking and baking provide their own adventures. From the child who learned to cook in Grandma's kitchen to the adult who had never even tried to boil water, anyone who has ever attempted to prepare food has experienced memorable moments. That's why most of us have a favorite culinary story. Sometimes it's about a success. Other times it's about a total disaster. Oftentimes, it centers on a gathering of family and friends. Whether you love to cook and bake, or stay as far away from a kitchen as possible, you'll smile and remember your own stories when you join 46 authors as they recount cool-inary moments -- good, bad, even hilarious -- and share some recipes behind the stories."

I don't know which I want to do these stories or whip up the accompanying recipes. I'm craving some pasta with clam sauce right now!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ain't it Grand? The Luck of the Draw

Orange County Courthouse

"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by
man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its
constitution." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1789.

Last December I saw a notice posted at my Westminster library, calling for applicants for the 2018-2019 Grand Jury. Curious, I picked up one of the flyers and studied it carefully. I've served on both municipal and Superior Court juries in the past, and from time to time hear that a Federal Grand Jury or a County Grand Jury has summoned people to provide testimony. Certainly in the past year, I've heard about indictments issued. But I was uncertain about the basic differences between regular jurors and Grand Jurors, Federal or County. I decided to look into the matter more closely.

A grand jury is a body that investigates criminal conduct. Federal, state and county prosecutors utilize grand juries to decide whether probable cause exists to support criminal charges. ​A regular jury – aka a petit jury – hears only trial cases. A regular jury decides the facts.

 While I was researching, I also took a closer look at what is expected of us as citizens. Below are the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens, as enumerated on the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration official website.

  • Freedom to express yourself.
  • Freedom to worship as you wish.
  • Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
  • Right to vote in elections for public officials.
  • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
  • Right to run for elected office.
  • Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
  • Support and defend the Constitution.
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
  • Participate in the democratic process.
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
  • Serve on a jury when called upon.
  • Defend the country if the need should arise.

In Orange County, the Grand Jury’s responsibilities include:
  • Ensuring that the performance of county, city, and other local agencies is proper and ethical;  
  • Providing recommendations to government agencies for improvement;
  • Responding to citizen complaints about local government agencies;
  • Ensuring that our local tax dollars are wisely spent; 
  • Evaluating conditions at our county’s jails;  Issuing indictments for serious crimes.
What qualifications do Grand Jurors need to have?
  • Citizen of the United States.
  • 18 years of age or older.
  • Resident of state and county or city and county for one year prior to being selected.
  • In possession of natural faculties, ordinary intelligence, sound judgment, fair character.
  • Possess sufficient knowledge of the English language.
  • A general knowledge of the functions, authorities and responsibilities of the county and city governments and other civil entities.
  • Research abilities, including complex reading capabilities, background in accessing/analyzing facts and report writing.
  • Substantial background in group/committee work.
  • Respect and objectivity concerning the positions and views of others.
As I browsed the Grand Jury website, I found that Orange County first empanelled a Grand Jury in Santa Ana in 1890. That was the year that Grandma Gertie was born, also Santa Ana, CA.
Grandma Gertie, born 1890, Santa Ana, CA
  Our country doesn't ask a great deal of us once we age out of the cohort needed to defend our country from attacks, I decided. Additionally, we seniors who don't have a lot of money to contribute to causes we espouse, still can contribute our time. It's just a year I concluded. I could give a year to an entity born the very same year as Grandma Gertie. It's fate.

So I filled out an eight-page application, attached a recent resume, and had it notarized, as required.

The selection process of potential Grand Jurors covered several months, including an orientation session at the Superior Court for all 150+ applicants. After learning that Grand Jurors report to work five days a week, and prepare their own reports without help from administrative assistants, a handful of applicants lined up to withdraw their paperwork. I persevered. In my seventies in NE Washington, I'd served eight years on the Washington State Medical Commission as a public member, traveling to Seattle or Olympia every few weeks. So I'd learned a great deal about the process of responding to citizen complaints. Plus, I'd enjoyed getting an insider's view of how another branch of government works.

Soon I received notification that I was one of 90 who had been screened and cleared to continue the process. I'd be undergoing a background investigation by the Orange County Sheriffs Department. Moreover, I'd have an interview with two Superior Court judges, who would decide whether or not to nominate me for the final 30. Ideally, the judges select five qualified candidates from each of the five supervisory districts.

One day I received an email notifying me that I was in the final 30 and would receive a court summons. Soon a sheriff appeared at my door with a summons. He asked my name, handed me the summons and smiled.

"Thank you for your service," he said. "Believe me, we who work for the County, appreciate it."

Those words of appreciation from a uniformed officer who puts his life on the line daily for his fellow citizens, touched me deeply. Of course I thanked him, as well.

Orange County has a unique process for determining the 19 who constitute its Grand Jury. The thirty finalists are issued a summons to appear in court, and their names are placed in a box. Nineteen names are drawn, one by one. Those 19 will constitute the Grand Jury. The remaining names are then drawn by random selections, as alternates. If a vacancy occurs during the upcoming year, the alternates will be called upon, in the order drawn.

So it all came down to sitting in Superior Court with my fingers crossed. I'd come this far, and hoped to be among the first nineteen. I was not. I am #21, the Number Two Alternate Juror. Some years the Grand Jury calls upon no alternates. Other years, all 11 end up serving. I still have a chance of making the panel later in the year. In the meantime, the entire 30 finalist will be attending four days if training in June. 

Whether or not I eventually have a chance to serve, I still have the opportunity to get an overview of how the County Counsel and District Attorney's offices function. 

I have one more task, to complete an autobiography questionnaire. This will go into the Procedures Manual that is given to each juror/alternate at orientation. I'll be compiling my answers over this weekend. There's not enough room for me to answer two of the questions: tell us bout interesting places you have lived or traveled and have you volunteered for any activities in your community or in the county?

Thanks to a previous volunteer experience, my years of service with the United States Peace Corps, I'd need several pages for a comprehensive response to the first question. For the second, I'll need to allude to my former activities in Stevens County, WA, as an AmeriCorps/VISTA, and my current work as a California AARP Congressional District 47 volunteer representative.

For those who've been inquiring about why I would want to volunteer yet again, and this time for something that offers no travel delights beyond the borders of Orange County, I suspect the simple answer is I have an addiction. Hey, volunteering is what I do. I'm hooked.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I Owe it All to Jo

Louisa May Alcott, 1832 - 1888
This Sunday I'll be watching the first installment of the new two-part PBS Masterpiece Theater production of "Little Women." Sure, we all know the story. It's been made into movies several times, with such diverse actresses as Wynona Ryder, June Allyson and Katherine Hepburn starring as Jo. Now PBS, as part of its advance publicity, has a page full of teasers and quizzes.
Even knowing what the answer would be, I took the bait, and checked off my answers to "Which Little Women Sister are You?" Here's my result: "Whether you're a tomboy, a writer, or a rebel, you have a lot to say, and you're certain to say it with creativity and sincerity (though not necessarily with tact or forethought!) Having a strong will and a free spirit can be a blessing and a curse, but with your tremendous moxie, watch out, world! You are Jo March. " I'm working on that forethought thing!

 A few years ago I wrote a piece about Jo as my personal mentor. This morning, thinking about the upcoming TV special, I went through my archives and reread it. This time I managed to inspire myself. Though I protested in this piece (see below) that I never lacked for inspiration, I must admit Ms. Muse has been eluding me recently. I've been preoccupied with concerns about pressing social justice issues, and distracted by the wealth of movies, concerts and plays I've been fortunate enough to attend.

I've even found excuses not to write, when I actually had free time. Come on. I voluntarily cleaned out my refrigerator and sorted out the shoes on the bottom of my closet. If I had a garden, like I did when I lived in Northeast Washington, you can bet I'd be out there fussing with my tomato plants, knowing full well the deer would snap up the fruit before it could ripen.

Thanks again, Jo March. Your very birth date has inspired me to begin a story about my great-great-grandmother who also was born in Pennsylvania, just a year before you.

Here's the post from 2014:

A Role Model for Life

By Terri Elders
“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” –Carl Jung
As a child I’d often curl up on the sofa and watch Grandma create pretty dresses for me on her treadle sewing machine. All through elementary school I’d dream of the day when I’d be creating my own wardrobe. I’d clip drawings of countless gowns from her dog-eared Sears and Roebuck catalog, and then flip through its pages in search of matching accessories. I’d imagine designing an outfit for my high school prom. Maybe even my own wedding gown.
Then, when I got to junior high, I nearly flunked my seventh grade sewing class. I couldn’t sew a straight seam, no matter how hard I tried. Stunned, I realized I’d never be clever with a needle like Grandma. I lacked whatever skill that pursuit seemed to require. 
Some dreams, though, die hard. My dreams had always involved succeeding at something that I loved doing. I’d love sewing, just like Grandma. But struggling with unraveling crooked seams began to feel like work, not play. When the school year concluded, I decided I’d spend my summer seeking another endeavor…and another mentor.
Soon, after reading a book about Anna Pavlova, I began to dream anew. I longed for a tutu and ballet slippers. After I stumbled through half a dozen lessons, I realized I couldn’t hold an arabesque without toppling over. Next I raced through a book about women athletes, and stared, fascinated, at a photo of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel. It took nearly the entire summer for me to accept that if I couldn’t manage ten laps across the Harvard playground pool without becoming winded, I’d never churn my way across the English Channel. It didn’t matter how cute I thought I’d look in swim goggles. It wasn’t going to happen. 
So…if I couldn’t be like Anna Pavlova or Gertrude Ederle, not to mention my own grandmother, who could I emulate? Where could I find someone to model my life on? Then, one afternoon as I reread my favorite book, Little Women, it became clear. I caught my breath when read Jo March’s ringing affirmation in Chapter 14. She’d just sent off some stories to a potential publisher.
 "There,” she proclaimed, “I've done my best! If this won't suit, I shall have to wait till I can do better."
I smiled. Maybe a role model didn’t have to be an actual living person. Maybe a fictional character would do. I certainly could identify with Jo’s initial hesitation and subsequent bravery. I, too, had attempted to write stories, but aside from a letter on the children’s page of the Portland Oregonian, I’d never been published.
But it might not be too late, I decided. When school began again in September, I asked my counselor if I could take journalism as an elective. I’d always enjoyed writing essays in my English classes. Maybe I could become a reporter for the school paper, The Naturalist.
This time I met with success. I appeared to have the aptitude to pair with the attitude. I particularly relished taking my turn at writing the continuing column, “Silhouettes.” These were profiles of teachers and student leaders. I’d try to flesh my stories out, to make my subjects appear to dazzle, like the characters Jo and her sisters admired in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. If my teacher or fellow students criticized my stories, Jo’s words would echo in my mind…”If this won’t suit, I shall have to wait till I can do better.”
I never had to wait long. If I reread my own work a few days later with a critical eye, I’d almost always be able to do better. That’s when I realized that the secret to good writing, as Jo knew, lay in rewriting.
In high school and college I continued to write, never failing to delight in playing with words…like Jo. When I transferred from a community college to a state university, somebody scribbled in the upper right hand corner of my transcript in a space for comments, “Said to be creative.”
Over the years I’ve wondered who it was that wrote that cryptic comment. It’s always been a mystery. Nobody ever used those words to my face, not a teacher or a counselor. I wonder if that anonymous annotator realized that all I’d ever wanted to do was to succeed at something I loved, while I played. Like Jo, I’m convinced that writing involves play, playing with ideas, playing with words, playing until I can play better, arranging...and then rearranging.
Unlike Jo, I’ve never written a play or even a novel. I’ve stuck to shorter pieces, essays, commentary, reviews, and true stories for anthologies. Writing remained my lifetime avocation, my source of joy, with a blank page always my playground.
When friends inquire about “writer’s block,” I claim I’ve never really encountered it. Jo’s spirit always remains with me…she never thought of writing as work, as something to suffer through, as something to be endured. Oh, no! For her it was always play.
Jo never doubted her ability. She never hesitated to retreat to her attic, assemble her words, and enjoy herself. She remains my inspiration. Her playful spirit never deserts me.
So early on I’d been forced to set aside the dreams of sewing my own prom dress, dancing in the chorus of Swan Lake, and coating myself with oil to cross the English Channel. Nonetheless, I’d never allowed defeat to discourage me from trying something else. Through trial and error, I’d finally found where my talents lay…in persistently playing with words.
Oh, sure, there’s been times when I’m trying to write a story and the patterns fail to form, or the message remains elusive, or I begin to feel too frazzled to dazzle. When it doesn’t feel like play, I put the piece away. I owe myself a break. I take that tip from Jo. I wait until I can do better. It’s the best advice I ever came across.
It’s never a very long wait. And when inspiration strikes again, I remind myself that I owe it all to Jo.
Aunt March in the upcoming PBS broadcast is played by Angela Lansbury. Here's my favorite fun fact: Asked about her greatest achievement by The Telegraph (UK), Lansbury said, “Staying alive!” She attributes her longevity in part to genetics, her mother’s energy, and to her grandfather, George, a founder of the Labour Party, who was once jailed for supporting women’s right to vote.
The preview of Sunday's special, including this update on Angela Lansbury, as well as the sisters quiz, appears here: