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, December 17, 2010

Pure Gold

Since this has been my Dickens year, I've neglected to mention that "the man who invented Christmas" is not my only literary love. In the past I've devoted years to writers as diverse as D.H. Lawrence and William Dean Howells. And decades to Herbert Gold, the "elder statesman of the beat generation."

I first met the latter at novelist Carolyn See's Symposium of California Writers at Loyala Marymount in 1979. In those days I lived in Long Beach, CA, and wrote for an arts magazine, Uncle Jam. See pointed Gold out at an evening reception and said, "Go say hello to that handsome man. He's Herb Gold."

I nearly spilled my Pinot Noir. Gold's Salt: A Novel so moved me when it first appeared in 1963 that I made a diary entry: "Gold's writing is so electrifying that I'm convinced he'll one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature." Alas, he never did...but his close friend, Saul Bellow, did.

So I walked over to Gold and said, "I'd like to give you a hug to thank you for Salt." And always a gentleman, Gold hugged me in return.

Now Dickens, Howells or Lawrence never hugged me. And none of those writers phoned me up yesterday, either. But Herbert Gold did.

Throughout the '80s Gold and I kept in touch. Every time I'd visit my father in San Francisco, I'd give him a call. Once he took me to the San Francisco Press Club, and kissed me goodbye while we waited for the Market Street cable car to return me to Twin Peaks. Another time he came to the house on State Street to exchange stories about the Tenderloin with my dad who had operated night clubs there.

I sent Gold a copy of Uncle Jam with my tale of meeting Henry Miller at his 80th birthday party at a UCLA shebang. Gold sent me autographed copies of his books to offer at a Womenshelter auction. Every time he published a new book, I'd send a fan letter...even confessing that I was so irritated at the conclusion of Swiftie the Magician, that I flung the book across the room.

A quirky correspondent, Gold sent his notes on an assortment of postcards, some depicting the famed Haitian hangout of Graham Greene, The Hotel Oloffson, sometimes known as the Greenwich Village of Haiti. When I finally got to Port-au-Prince in 2001, where I was conducting a Peace Corps HIV/AIDS and Youth training on September 11, I stayed a night at the Oloffson, and bought a copy of the house band's latest cassette.

This past spring I read Gold's latest memoir, Still Alive!: A Feisty Bohemian Explores the Art of Growing Old. Though it had been a dozen years since I last contacted him, I wrote Gold a note and sent the RAM cassette to him. He responded, irreverent as ever.

When the earthquake hit Haiti earlier this year, I called Gold right away. He assured me that he had planned to return to Haiti sometime this year. It was still his favorite haunt. His Haiti: The Best Nightmare on Earth, details his love of the place. At one time Bill Clinton had offered him the ambassadorship there. He declined.

When I visited my son in Southern California this past summer I finally boxed up my hard-to-find these days Herbert Gold books that had been stored in his garage since I first went overseas with Peace Corps in 1987. I think they're worth something these days, as collector's items. But I intend to reread them all.

So why did Gold call me yesterday? I'd sent him a holiday card with a story about my late husband that will be published next year in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for the Young at Heart. "Our Great Expectations" relates the final trip to UK that Ken and I took when he still could negotiate airports, and my Dickensian summer at Cambridge. Gold wanted to tell me that he was touched by the piece. Imagine! A man I consider the greatest living American male writer, bothered to call up an old acquaintance.

"Terri? It's Herb. I guess it's not necessary to say Gold, since nobody since 1929 has been named Herb. It would be like naming your son Adolph in the early '40s."

I wanted to know about Haiti. Gold did go, and his article will appear in The Hudson Review's upcoming issue. I intend to read it. And I'll send another fan note. I have a collection of notes and letters from Herbert. He told me to hold on to them, and maybe I could sell them someday. He confessed he's sold some letters from his correspondents. But he was quick with a disclaimer: "I don't do it while they're still alive."

I asked if he'd sold his letters from Bellow. "Nearly did, but the dealer wanted to barter and nickle-and-dime and it wasn't worth it."

Gold's leaving his own papers and correspondence to the Bancroft Library at Stanford. I plan to copy his notes and the photo or two I have, and mail them to Gold soon...I like the idea of being archived.

Talking yesterday with Herbert Gold, who will turn 87 in March, certainly brightened my day. Especially when Gold responded to my comment that I intended to return to Cambridge this next summer.

"Just make certain you don't fall for some tall, good-looking 23-year-old British undergrad who will offer to marry you for your money."

Here's links to commentary about Gold and to his piece about Allen Ginsberg, written for Salon not long after the poet's death.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Young at Heart

My spirits picked up after I learned that two of my stories will appear this next summer in Inspiration for the Young at Heart. One, "I Never Would Have Bet," recounts how I met Ken via in the early days of computer dating. The other, "Our Great Expectations," concerns our relationship, and, surprise, surprise, my experiences at the University of Cambridge where I fulfilled a lifetime dream of studying Victorian history and literature.

I wrote the latter story one afternoon earlier this week, and after submitting it decided it could double as my 2010 Christmas letter. The next morning, as I was readying to print it out, I received an e-mail from Chicken Soup telling me it is a finalist for the book. Usually it takes weeks or months, and in a few cases even a year or more, to hear if a piece has been accepted. This instant notice helped lift me out of my Dickensian least momentarily. So everybody on my Christmas card list will get a preview.

I'd mentioned earlier that I'd an idea for my novel in stories. Now I have one for a non-fiction book, as well...a format for finally putting together a marketable memoir. So in January I intend to prepare a couple of proposals and move forward with these two books. In the meantime, I have a few more anthology essays to create. I especially hope to write something suitable for the upcoming Thin Threads special edition, Women and Friendship.

The Thin Threads blog posted a story on turning on the light...I needed to read that story when I was so immersed in the gray days of last week. Here it's heartwarming.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bleak House

This has not been the happiest of times. Here's the deal. This past month or so I've learned that my brother in January will begin undergoing radiation for prostate cancer. My sister in Santa Cruz, whose spinal stenosis keeps her wheelchair bound, canceled my proposed visit, claiming she just wasn't up to seeing me.

Then earlier this week I got a phone call from the wife of my half-brother, telling me he had died this past August of complications from melanoma. She'd just discovered my phone number on an old Christmas letter in one of his dresser drawers and wondered if I could notify some of the other relatives from his father's side of the family. She wondered if I had any memories I could share with their children of Albert or his and my father, Al. I mailed her two stories I'd written about our father, Daddy and Raggedy Ann, recently published in "Thin Threads: Compassion and Giving," and Foote Notes from My Father, which I've submitted to a few potential publishers.

Over the weekend I finally watched the Masterpiece Theater 2005 production of Charles Dicken's own Bleak House, three DVDs, each 2 hours and 25 minutes. It's got Gillian Anderson turning in a riveting performance as Lady Dedlock, and Carey Mulligan shimmering as Ada Clare. Though it might be the best production of a Dickens novel I've ever seen, it did little to lift my sagging spirits, even though (spoilers ahead) heroine Esther Summerson gets a "happily ever after," at its conclusion. Well, of course, it's Dickens typical Victorian conclusion...can't leave the folks in the provinces down in the dumps, after all.

To add to the melancholia and general malaise, the ice and snow have transformed my snug home into a true bleak house, gray and gloomy. Even the dogs and cats move listlessly around the living room, peering out at the frozen fog. Just look at the photo I took the other morning. I warned Ken when he ordered the painters to change the maroon trim to white that he was eliminating the only spot of color to brighten a winter day landscape. White on white.

So to try to segue into a more positive mood, I've concentrated on the future. I've browsed Holland America's website and selected three possible autumn cruises that cover Venice and the Greek islands that I've always wanted to visit, and sent a letter to a girlfriend with a suggestion that we consider scheduling one of them. I've poured over the 2011 Cambridge University summer catalog and nearly settled on some selections for this next summer.

And to take care of the present, I finally visited my doctor for a long overdue annual checkup, and am scheduled for a mammogram later this week.

So suddenly this morning the sun has burst through. Natty and Nami are enjoying the backyard winter wonderland. I'm crockpotting some meatballs for the annual AAUW FUNdraiser holiday party and silent auction this afteroon. Maybe I'll pick up some surprise Christmas gifts for grandbaby Kendra or her parents...I'll be seeing them soon for the holidays.

One more touch...I took down the autumn welcome sign and put up something cheerier...and a little more crimson.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Year's Nearly Here

A few years ago I still delighted in the first snowfall. Now, as I stare out the window, the freshly coated Currier and Ives landscape just looks cold and soggy. The problem's not really winter yet. In fact, it's a whole month shy. So I'm not tickled with the arctic storm with accompanying single digit temperatures that's roaring in this weekend. Right now there's a light dusting of snow on the lawns. There will be more flurries over the next few days, followed by a week of icy sunshine. This signals the end of my walks around the Loop with Natty, at least until spring.

The good news is that the young man who mows my lawn dropped by yesterday and for three solid hours he and his girlfriend raked up the autumn leaves blanketing the side and back yards, and toted them to the bonfire pile in the pasture. The lawns won't be smothered by sodden leaves when everything thaws in the spring. I'm a little better prepared this year, since I got most of the bushes and shrubs trimmed back early, and over a hundred new tulip and daffodil bulbs set.

So maybe I can stop worrying about the yard and the weather and concentrate on getting some writing done in December. I've yet to write "Forgiving Charles Dickens" or "Get Me to the Church in Time." And I've got to finish interviewing Peter S. Beagle by e-mail for a story about his terrific comeback with a series of new novels and stories. I also want to write about reunions and rejections.

So it's coming up Thanksgiving week...time to count blessings.

Nat and Nami passed their annual physicals, and the vet says they are in good shape for senior citizen canines.
The cats have fluffed up, so will be able to withstand the colder temperatures.
I finished editing "Wine Wherever" and e-mailed the completed manuscript yesterday.
I've secured a housesitter so I can spend Christmas in Arizona with my stepgranddaughter and her parents.
I've thought of a format for my "novel" in short stories...and plan to begin writing the connected episodes in January.

Okay,'s the deal. It may be cold and soggy outside. In front of my laptop, I'm always warm and dry. So let it snow. There's days I still may find it delightful.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Choosing Shoes Blues

A fashion maven I'm not. I'm inclined towards jeans and sweaters, loafers and tennies. Nonetheless, I share Carrie Bradshaw's love of fancy long as they're worn by others. The last heels I wore was to my son's wedding in 1989, and that was just for the first part of the evening, until we all started to dance.

Nonetheless, I learned this morning that my story about the days my father worked weekends in the Sears and Roebuck shoe department at Slauson and Vermont in Los Angeles has been selected for an upcoming anthology for shoe lovers. It will be published by Princess Dominique, the company that bills itself as "the epitome of all things beautiful."

I'm looking forward to learning when the book will be available, and what it's title will be.

Check out this terrific blog:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Patience Pending

Christina Katz, who publishes The Prosperous Writer, has committed this year's 52 columns to discussing qualities writers should possess. This is Week 39, and she addresses patience.

She writes: The definition of patience describes the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.

Can you bear it? Can you remain calm in the face of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like?

Oh, dear. Just this morning I snarled at Harpo, my marmalade cat, when he leaped up on the back of the chair and clawed my shoulder as I sat at my computer, finger poised to poke "send" to submit an entry to yet another anthology. It didn't help that Natty, the mutt, had wedged his snout between the armrest and my left wrist, or that Nami, the Akita, flanked my right side, panting heavily and licking my cheek. Then the Internet connection dissolved, and I gave up.

"Que sera," I hummed, dragged out the leashes. I took the felines and canines for a stroll through the back pasture. I combed Nami, who has entered a new shedding season, tossed some windfall apples to my neighbor's horses, breathed in some crisp October air and reconsidered.

Was my essay really ready to go out? Did it need revising or at least a little tweaking? Was I rushing to submit because I'm about ready to take off for Southern California for a visit with friends and relatives?

By the time I got back in the house the Internet mysteriously had reconnected. I looked through my piece. Nope. It was good to go. This time the animals flopped in the hallway and left me in peace. The story's off now into ether space.

Now here's where the real patience comes into play...the part that Christina didn't mention. The deadline for the piece I submitted today isn't until next March. Then it will be another month or so before the editor lets the writers know if they've been accepted. If I'm lucky and get accepted, several months more will pass before the book is printed. More time might elapse before I get my contributor's copy and/or a check.

Over two years ago I submitted a story that got accepted. The publisher kept pushing back the date of the book's appearance. Finally last month I got the book and the check. In another case, in mid-2008 I was delighted to learn a piece would be published in an Irish anthology for caregivers. I sent in my bio and waited. Five months ago I got an update...the book would be printed sometime this summer. It's now nearly November and the editor doesn't respond to my inquiries.

How do writers find the patience to deal with these endless delays and perpetual states of suspense? I rely on "the more the merrier." I submit stories to multiple publications, whenever it's allowed. I rewrite and resubmit my "orphans," stories previously rejected. And I try to come up with at least one or two new stories every month, no matter what else is circulating out there.

This morning when I snapped at my annoying beast, I'd had a morning filled with one frustration after another. It wasn't my dogs' fault they wanted an outing and some attention. They're human, too. Well...nearly. Hard-hearted Harpo's another matter though. He's sometimes just plain mean. It's his nature. He's a tom cat.

I realize that all this harping about Harpo and having to wait a year or two for a book or a check is silly, though, taking into consideration how long Samuel Clemens scholars and fans have waited for the publication of The Autobiography of Mark Twain. Clemens wanted his unexpurgated, unBowdlerized book to be published a century after his death in 1910. Various online book vendors advertise the book as available anywhere between October 29 and November 15. I've waited over fifty years for this book myself since reading the earlier heavily edited autobiography in the early sixties. And guess what? Thanks to technology, I just downloaded it onto my Kindle five minutes ago. I'll be reading it in on my trip to Southern California, at long, long, long last.

Some things are worth being patient about!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sweet Sorrow

I love writing inspirational stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Cup of Comfort, Patchwork Path and Thin Threads, but not every story has a happy ending. And in my life, there's been some sadder experiences waiting to be told.

Not long ago at a membership meeting of the Colville branch of AAUW (American Association for University Women), we did a "getting to know you" exercise. Each of us revealed what is her favorite song and why. I wouldn't have guessed this in advance, but John Lennon's "In My Life," immediately came to mind. I've always been haunted by the lyrics...not the refrain of "in my life I love you more," but this:

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them...

I think about those people, places and things all the time these days. I recall once learning in a psychology class about how older people do a kind of "life review." I'm that Older Person now. For the past four years I've successfully reviewed my life through writing my anthology stories. But I'm not Pollyanna, the Glad Girl. I can't find a silver lining to every event or experience.

So what do I do with these bittersweet or edgier stories that may not be altogether inspirational? Mike O'Mary answered that question for me, and other writers, when he established Dream of Things for creative non-fiction. This new series of anthologies provides an outlet for those of us who want to go just a little deeper in our self-examinations.

My story, "Dreaming as the Summers Die," appears in this beautiful new book, Saying Goodbye: to the people, places and things in our lives. I'm delighted to be part of this literary debut and look forward to writing other stories for this new series.

The official book launch is Monday, but Saying Goodbye already is available at Here's the site:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two Rib Bones and Three Bowls of Borscht

Today's Tsunami's eighth birthday. Doesn't she look contented after chewing away for an hour on a Safeway rib bone? I got one for Natty, too, and at $4.96 each, I could have bought myself a couple of rib eye steaks. (Ken, wherever you may be, please notice that I'm still spoiling "the children.")

Sometimes when I'm trying to put a story together, I get stuck. That's what happened to the tale about a fifth anniversary trip to Canada. Somehow finally it all came together in the predawn hours today before Natty forced me out of bed so he could get outside to chase a deer who had leaped the back fence in hopes of scoring a few windfall Delicious apples. So now all I have to do is let the story tell's called "Three Bowls of Borscht," and involves some wonderful treks to Grand Forks, BC.

Earlier this week I finished "Why Did Cynthia Slap Me?" and fired it off. Over the weekend I plan to tackle "Forgiving Charles Dickens." And I finally have a story in mind for Dream of Things collection on sports, "It's Only a Game." I had to reach all the way back to 1959 when I picked up a trophy for "ladies third place" in a handicap bowling league!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lost in the Fifties...and WOW

So here I am, my first semester at Compton College, my smile captured fifty five years ago by the man who became my first husband, Bob Elders. He took photography in the same building where my journalism classes were held.

This weekend I slipped back to the fifties and sixties. My time travel started when I picked up Terry Ryan's captivating recap of her mom's efforts to keep a family of ten children afloat through contest entries. The book's title sums it up, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less." I well remember the era, as I first married in 1955. I never became an avid submitter, but did win a prize in at least one of these skills contests before sweepstakes replaced them. I received a cardboard soft drink stand, and my son, Steve, and his pals peddled Funny Face from it off and on in front of Circle Gardens apartments in Long Beach, CA, on hot summer Saturdays.

I didn't see the movie made from Ryan's book when it appeared a few years back, but have moved it to the top of my Netflix list. Those were simpler days...less technology, fewer expectations. Postage stamps cost only four cents. Like Evelyn Ryan, I didn't drive in those days either...didn't get my license until I had to in 1967 to go to work for Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. I walked to the grocery store and post office, rode my bike to Cal State Long Beach and the Los Altos library...and took the bus to Jordan High, where I taught English and Journalism. Or Bob would drive me to where I needed to go.

Just as I was recalling those days, I got a telephone call from an old Lynwood High School classmate. She's compiling a mini-anthology for a reunion next month. I transferred to Lynwood in January, 1954, too late for class photos. She wondered if I had something from that period that I could scan and send her. So I spent hours digging through the duffle bag where I store old photos, to come up with one from that time period. Every three or four years I plow through this bag. I've always hoped to take a weekend to sort out the photos, but never have. There's ones dating back to my early childhood, to my son's childhood, to my early teens. Photos from my 1955 honeymoon in Catalina. I spent more happy hours reminiscing.

But now I return to today. Today I appear as the first featured guest columnist in Publishing Syndicate's WOW Principles Newsletter. In this article I detail how I hope to turn my experience at the University of Cambridge into stories for a variety of publications. Here's the link to the newsletter:

I've listed a dozen or so possible stories I plan to create, using my Cambridge experiences. And I intend to follow up on these good intentions...just as soon as I finish two stories that need writing about a humbling experience in seventh grade, and one about borscht.

The story about my transfer to Lynwood appears this month in Whispering Angel's Living Lessons.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Enough Frivolity & Merriment...Back to Basics

It's not that I've not left London. Here's visual proof: Heather, my English pal, and me sharing a farewell feast of chili at The Marquis pub, not far from Victoria Station. After lunch she headed back to Weston-super-Mare and I returned to Colville, WA. But London has not yet left me, particularly Charles Dickens' version of it. My Victorian summer continues, even though the maple leaves have turned red. I'm still watching Masterpiece Theater's production of Our Mutual Friend, and Netflix will be sending Little Dorrit once I'm finished with this series.

I've strayed from writing these past few days...went to the newly opened A Club in Spokane to hear Jason Webley, with his music that tears itself apart, and to the local Alpine Theater to see Javier Bardem steal Eat Pray Love from Julia Roberts. Sunday night, while fires roared in the nearby Shiloh hills, I savored a platter of shrimp and sausage at my first ever Shrimp Boil. I've even partially cleared out a mountain of e-mail that had accumulated while I was in England.

Now, though, if I can shoo away the cats and quiet the dogs, it's time to chain myself to the laptop and commit to writing these stories:
  • Fifth anniversary trip to Canada
  • Going back to school at age 73
  • Forgiving Charles Dickens
  • Botanical gardens, Seychelles, Mauritius and Cambridge
  • Meanness...and I have a title for this one, "Why Did Cynthia Slap Me?"
  • Times of misfortune
  • Museum of Childhood
My goal: to have all of these tales written before I leave for Southern CA on October 20.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Autumn Aubade

"Believe in yourself, your neighbors, your work, your ultimate attainment of more complete happiness. It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in Autumn. "
--B. C. Forbes

After three days of rain I almost feel as if I'm still back in England, sloshing around the gardens at Selwyn College, umbrella in hand. I had to tote that same lightweight Holland America umbrella when I trotted around Pend Oreille Loop with Natty yesterday afternoon.

Recent news, both national and personal, has dismayed me. My brother has somber health issues, a colleague recently took his own life, my sister had been hospitalized with pneumonia and is mostly bedridden with spinal stenosis. Other acquaintances have lost their jobs and my son's closest friend from high school just suffered a stroke. My spirits simply are sodden with sadness.

Yesterday I acknowledged that summer wasn't likely to recur...even though here in NE WA we traditionally enjoy a fifth season, an Indian Summer of exquisite glory. That's usually in October, though. In the meantime, it's September, the month celebrated in song with rain and regret. So I replaced the smiling summer bossy to the right of my front door, the cheerful cow welcome sign, and replaced it with my autumn scarecrow trio.

Yesterday a friend, also lamenting the too-soon change of seasons, posted Jo Stafford's '50s version of Early Autumn on Facebook. Take a listen:

So, on "A winding country lane" that's not quite yet "all russet brown," early this morning my Akita, Tsunami, and I strolled in the September rain.
Because Tsunami's about 115 pounds of stubborn muscle, I often need both hands free sometimes to manage her leash. So no umbrella...I made do with my old hooded navy jacket that Ken bought me in Sitka on our Alaska cruise a few years ago. For somebody who writes stories for anthologies that feature uplifting, inspirational tales, I felt pretty downcast as we set out.

When Nami and I turned at the corner and headed back towards the house, I noticed my zinnias, bold, brilliant and brave, even in the drizzle. There's been no frost I'm grateful for their dazzle, and hope they'll stick around for a few more days. I don't mind's just that I dread winter. I've always loved the snow from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day. Then I wish it would melt, but here it doesn't. It lingers on until mid-March, sometimes even April. But the sight of those brazen zinnias has so cheered me I've decided to give myself an afternoon away from my computer.

Instead, I'll bake some butterscotch cookies to take to my book club tomorrow. I'm facilitating a discussion of Dickens' Oliver Twist. Often we try to match the refreshments to the book, but I doubt that my fellow readers would relish bowls of gruel. So the sweet maple scent of those cookies baking should raise my spirits.

I'll spend the afternoon reading Maggie O'Farrell's The Dista
nce Between Us. It's billed as a modern day Victorian I'll stay in genre. Then this weekend I'll write my essay on forgiving Charles Dickens.

And today I'll forgive Mother Nature.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Never Count Your Chickens....

A writer friend recently asked if I'd ever had a story tentatively accepted for an anthology, then not make the final cut.

"Yes, and I'm still trying to learn to not count my chickens before they hatch," I confessed.

Recent example: Several months ago I got a permission release for one of my favorite stories, "Choosing Shoes Blues," from Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was being considered for Family Matters. I'd not been in the Chicken coop since last year's What I Learned from the Cat, so was tickled, and immediately began to think of who in our family would love to receive this book for Christmas. Shortly thereafter I got an additional permission request for "From Nuisance to Blessing," for Think Positive.

"Wowser! Two books for holiday gifts!!"

Not quite. I began to realize I hadn't seen the page proofs for the Family Matters book and the publication date was approaching fast. Sure enough, I opened my e-mail one morning and there was an update: I'd been cut at the last minute.

Nonetheless, I continued to "Think Positive," and that book will appear in September. I've also been asked to sign permission slips for a couple of stories for Chicken's Grieving and Recovery, and will keep my drumsticks crossed.

I've had three other instances of making the finals for other prospective books, and then been cut. I've found homes for two of those stories, but still am looking for a place for my tale that didn't edge into The Ultimate Gardener. I've also had stories accepted by books that never quite materialized...some because of the recession, some because a similar collection had been published earlier.

Am I bothered by rejection? Well, nobody likes to get turned down. Nonetheless, I like to reassure myself that it's always a judgment call. What might be one editor's "not for me," might be another's "yes, indeedy." Others have shared that thought:

"I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, to hell with you."-Saul Bellow

"The vital point to remember is that the swine who just sent your pearl of a story back with nothing but a coffee-stain and a printed rejection slip can be wrong. You cannot take it for granted that he is wrong, but you have an all-important margin of hope that might be enough to keep you going."- Brian Stableford

"We keep going back, stronger, not weaker, because we will not allow rejection to beat us down. It will only strengthen our resolve. To be successful there is no other way." -Earl Graves

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great, Greater, Greatest

So...which was the best musical I saw this week on the West End?

"Avenue Q" is billed as the greatest musical of the decade. I'd say it might be the funniest. When the Miss Piggy parody character is hospitalized as Slut, Lucy The, I broke into laughter. Since I had a first row seat, the Gary Coleman character eyed me during "Give Us Your Money," and nodded invitingly. I shook my forefinger, Belizean style, signifying no. "How about a date?" he offered with a wink. I gave him a thumbs up. But a few minutes later I caught him cheating with Lucy The Slut, so I didn't wait at the stage door.

"Oliver!" supposedly is the most lavish staging yet of this perennial Dickens favorite. I'd say it well deserves that accolade and more. Gravelly-voiced Bill Hartley certainly gave me shudders and shivers...easily the scariest villain I've seen since Heath Ledger's The Joker. My only complaint is that the musical's ending is so different from the book's...the London bobbies really didn't carry pistols in those days, and Sykes didn't have Oliver with him when he met his end. Nonetheless, I loved the antics of the Artful Dodger and wept for poor doomed Nancy, who stood by her man.

And "Jersey Boys"? I didn't stop tapping my feet and pounding rhythm on my knees for the entire two and a half hours. I may have learned more about the Four Seasons performers than I'd ever wanted to know, though...and had no idea that they were all born before me. Apparently their promoter shaved a few years off their ages to make them more appealing to the teenage record-buying public back in the day.

My recommendation? See 'em all...and more if you have time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Murder, He Said

This morning I shared a ride with a fellow Dickens student to the National Express bus stop in Cambridge, arriving about an hour and a half before my scheduled 11 a.m. ride to London. I woke up with an annoying sore throat and sniffles, and hoped to get to my London hotel as soon as possible to spend the day resting before my friend arrives tomorrow for our whirlwind sightseeing spree.

The 10 a.m. bus soon arrived but the driver apologetically explained that his bus was fully booked, and he couldn't take me. Because I had a reduced "Fun Fare" rate I had to travel on the specific bus on my ticket. I'd have to wait for another hour. I wheezed, sneezed and nodded, smiling woefully.

A few minutes before 10, he stepped out and began to close the luggage compartment, then glanced my way. I was perched on the little railing, partially sheltered from the drizzle, reading "The Suspicions on Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House," by Kate Summerscale. This book recounts the true story of an 1860 child murder that captured the public attention in England the way the Lindbergh kidnapping did in America decades later.

"Good read, that?" the young man asked.

"Yes," I said, fishing for a Kleenex.

"Oh, hop on," he said. "A few people haven't shown up, and I can squeeze you in. You might as well read in comfort."

"Thank you so very much."

"My pleasure," he said, "I'm a big follower of murder mysteries."

We nodded at each other companionably as I clambered aboard.

Hey, I just love England.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Revels Now Are Ended....

at least at Cambridge for this summer. Today's the last day of classes, so we took group shots with the professors. In the photo below Ulrike Horstmann-Guthrie, the knowledgeable Victorian expert who taught "Criminals and Gentlemen or The Victorian Underworld in Dickens's Oliver Twist and Great Expectations," is the tall cool blonde in the middle...I'm the short grinning-like-a-loon brunette on her left.

In the photo on the bottom Dr. Sean Lang is seated at the right. I'm to his immediate left. He got a resounding round of applause at the conclusion of both "The British Empire in Film and Literature" and "The Victorians and Their World."

Tonight we have a formal dinner by candlelight and will receive our official certificates of attendance at the University of Cambridge. I'm meeting new friends from Switzerland, Australia, Germany, France, China and Denmark for drinks at the bar before...and we may conclude the evening with a trek to the Anchor or the Eagle for a final farewell pint.

With great pride I add the University of Cambridge's Selwyn College to the list that already includes Compton College, California State University at Long Beach and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Other part time gigs where I've taken up residence include The University of Santa Fe, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Loyola-Marymount. But there's something special for me to be able to casually mention that I've studied Victorian literature and history at Cambridge. Tomorrow...London!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

What the Dickens....

Above is the dining hall at Selwyn College, where I'm daily served scrumptious full English breakfasts, including the proverbial grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, and porridge so thick that it would make poor Oliver Twist sigh in envy.

Supper starters have included baked mozzarella with cranberry sauce, crayfish and mango salad and English summer soup, as light and feathery as a celery frill. Entrees range from salmon risotto to sirloin steak to tarragon chicken, all doused with ketchup by some of the international students from China. (I'm reminded of a colleague who drank his tempura dipping sauce at a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles, thinking it was soup.) I've exhibited unusual dining habits as well, as I'm yet to be able to manage a knife and fork in the English manner, no matter how hard I try.

So far I've learned more about Dickens, the British Empire and the Victorians than I'd anticipated I possibly could in so short a time. For instance...
  • English gardens of the Victorian era took on geometrical shapes to show that nature could adhere to science, and be tamed and shaped.
  • Kipling wrote, "To be English is to win first prize in the lottery of life."
  • Cricket was a democratic game played in villages where the local blacksmith or butcher could bowl out the lord of the manor.
  • The entire idea of celebrating birthdays as momentous occasions was a European concept that England transferred to its colonies.
  • Queen Victoria was the first person ever to appear on a postage stamp, and the word "England" did not need to appear on these stamps, since her image was iconic.
  • David Livingston, the great missionary who carried "liberation" to the heart of Africa actually converted only one solitary person.
  • Millicent Fawcett, a Suffragist, used political power to get women the vote in 1918, unlike the militant Suffragettes who had taken to bombing empty buildings.
  • Public health became a matter of concern in 1842 after Edwin Chadwick, later knighted, wrote a tract called "The Report of the Sanitary Condition of the Laboring People in Great Britain," which became a huge best seller.
  • In Oliver Twist it's ludicrous that Dickens, who spent his career championing the downtrodden, devoted so much reflection to the idea that character can be read by physiognomy, "nature being written on his face."
  • The adoption law in England wasn't passed until 1924, so the "adoptions" of Oliver by Mr. Brownlow, and Estella by Miss Havisham in Great Expectations were informal philanthropic acts.
  • In Dickens lifetime the population of London increased 2.5 times!
Finally, today, after several days of clouds and rain, the sun broke through, so a classmate could snap this photo of me below in front of the flowers in the Selwyn College garden.

The rest of this week I'll be reading Jeremy Tabling's Going Astray: Dickens and London, and hope to do a Dickens walk while I'm in London next week...if I have time. I'll be seeing two musicals, Avenue Q and Oliver! as well as visiting the Grace Kelly exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum and seeing the newly opened apartments at Buckingham Palace, all pre-booked by my friend Heather from Weston-super-Mare.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

British History for Dummies

I'm delighted to have two classes with Dr. Sean Lang, author of British History for Dummies, who sang a number of Victorian hymns to the class today, after enacting the roles of Catholic priests and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to contrast the differences in sacraments.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Secret Loves

What could be better than starting my day learning that my first attempt at fiction will appear in an anthology?

I'm delighted to read that Michy Devon of Twin Trinity Press will include "Secret Love" in her Expressions of Pain collection.

Here is what she says in her Accentuate Writers blog:

Secret Love, by Terri Elders – This story is sweet and sad at the same time, and while it definitely shows regrets, it’s also not shoved in the reader’s face. We see the lead character regret, and then we see her secret love with his regret too. The last line of this story made me snort out laughter, and that doesn’t happen too much. I loved the way we were expecting, “Ah! Finally!” but then only to find out, nope, can’t happen. LOL Great job!

Here's the first line of my story:

“You’re 15, right, babe? So you can catch grunion without a fishing license?”

Oh...and the answer to my initial question...what could be to down a full English breakfast in the Hall at Selwyn College, Ann's Court, University of Cambridge, then skitter off to back-to-back classes in the "British Empire in Literature and Film" and "The Victorians and Their World," both taught by the dynamic professor Sean Lang. This man, simultaneously erudite and entertaining, might be my new "secret love."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Room in Ann's Court, Selwyn College

Here's my room at Selwyn College, Ann's Court, where I'll be living for the next two weeks.

My room contains a closet with a few hangers…glad I brought three more from home, a bookcase, a red reading chair, a round table with a plug-in tea caddy, a spacious desk with three drawers and a table lamp, a bulletin board with the same red fabric as the chair, a single bed, a bedside table with a locking drawer, a bureau with three drawers, and a bookcase with three shelves, about the size of the bookcase Grandpa Elders made for me.

The furniture is blond, and the red and orange drapes match the bedspread. The bathroom has a large walk-in shower and an automatic motion-operated light. I spent five frustrating minutes searching for a switch to turn it off, then went in and flopped on the bed to read another chapter of Victoria R.I. and was pleasantly surprised when the light finally when out by itself.

The room is large enough that it could be pleasant to live and study in for a year, with paintings and personal belongings to brighten it. The large double window opens on to a view of the central court, filled with enormous shade trees.

Everything is bright and new at Ann’s Court, unlike me. I may be bright, but I'm far from new. Fortunately, I've spotted a dozen or more around the registration site who seem to be 50 or over...and met a couple who are nearing mid-60s.

Tonight after our inaugural suppers at our colleges about a hundred of us from Special Studies (my track), Shakespeare, and Medieval Studies, are marching up Sidgwick Avenue to the River Cam, where we'll hoist a pint at the Anchor Pub.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From Nuisance to Blessing

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive will be on sale September 28. It's available on for preorder now, for $10.08.

This book contains a story I initially called "Oh, Fudge...Another Nudge," about how Ken's furry Flour Mill mutt, Natty, dragged me into daily walks around Pend Oreille Loop. The vet, who is also my neighbor, told me Natty needed to lose some weight. Who doesn't, I thought to myself, but got out the leash. I've lost ten pounds...won't know how much Natty has shed until early December when he goes in for his shots.

The editors at Chicken Soup renamed the tale "From Nuisance to Blessing," which is how I described my change of attitude towards this particular animal. Now, despite that the temperature's edging toward 90, we're off for a trot, good old Natty and me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thin Threads

It looks as if I've hit a triple with the Thin Threads series. I just learned this morning that my story about having double pneumonia as a young child, "Daddy and Raggedy Ann," will be included in the upcoming Special Edition, Thin Threads: Compassion and Giving.

Yesterday I received word from Ellen Gerst that she reads the opening of my story, "Winging It," which will appear in Thin Threads: Grief and Renewal, on You Tube...see link below.;

Additionally, "Kisses for Mr. Castle" will be published in Thin Threads: Teachers and Mentors.

These Special Editions will be available in September through

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why I Haven't Had Time for the Blog...

No, it's not simply those hazy, lazy days of summer. I've got a legitimate excuse for falling behind on my writing. For the nonce, I've been reading. Well, and watching DVDs...but it's serious study, not just hapless self-indulgence. Honest!

On July 29 I fly to England to attend the University of Cambridge International Summer School. For two weeks I'll be living at Selwyn College, Ann's Court, and taking three courses. For the past several weeks I've been preparing for studying with people from all over the world.

The British Empire in Literature and Film.

So far I've watched Four Feathers (the Heath Ledger 2002 version...couldn't get the original from Netflix), and the first three episodes of The Jewel in the Crown. Later today I'll watch David Lean's A Passage to India. I've read a biography of Kipling, Forster's A Passage to India, and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Today I'm reading H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines.I still have to read John Buchan's Mr. Standfast and Greenmantle, Paul Scott's sequel to the Raj Quartet, Staying On and Kipling's Kim.

Criminals and Gentlemen: The Victorian Underworld in Dicken's Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

I've reread Oliver Twist and will begin Great Expectations Wednesday while waiting for the plane to take me to Seattle for the Medical Commission meeting. Hope to finish it by the weekend. I've also read portions of Going Astray: Dickens and London, a street by street synopsis of the settings of each of Dickens' novels.

The Victorians and Their World.

So far I've read all 620 pages of A.N. Wilson's monumental study, The Victorians. I've got three books more to finish, which might not happen until I'm actually in England. I've dipped into Marriage and Morals among the Victorians and Inventing the Victorians. I may finish Victoria R.I. before I leave.

The University maintains an online student forum. Through that I've hooked up with a group that will meet Sunday night, August 1, for drinks at the Anchor Pub, on the River Cam.

Additionally, I've learned which evening lectures will be given. So many of these sound appealing. I plan to attend as many as I have energy for:

Cambridge Ancient and Modern: The Architecture of the University
A View of England: John Betjeman, a Very English Poet Laureate
The Victorian Garden - The Quest for the Best
From Lapis Lazuli to Laundry Powder: The Alchemy of Colour
An Introduction to Julius Caesar
New Meanings, New Colours: Painting the Thames
Undertanding the British Hero Figure: from Boudica to Bond, and Beyond
Engineers and Alchemists: The Accidental Makers of Modern Science

Although there's an excursion to Oxford and one to Stratford for Julius Caesar scheduled for Saturday, August 7, I decided to stay in town and take a walking tour of Cambridge. I'd learned that
the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival runs in July and August. So I booked a ticket for Twelfth Night, which will be staged in the gardens of nearby Robinson College. I inquired on the Student Forum if anybody else would like to go to this with me, and so far two women have indicated interest, a secondary school teacher from France and an undergrad from India.

When I leave Cambridge on Saturday, August 14, I'll take the train to London, and stay at a little hotel near Victoria Station. My friend, Heather Bird, plans to come up from Weston-super-Mare (near Bristol) and we may see a play together. Her timetable is uncertain, contingent on a couple of jobs she's applied for, so I'm leaving my days open for now, in case she can stay a few additional days beyond the weekend. I do plan to see the Grace Kelly exhibit at the Victoria and Albert, and booked a ticket for the matinee performance of Oliver! at the Royal Drury Lane Theatre for Wednesday, August 18. I fly back on the 19th.

With this immersion in Victoriana I've recognized that:
  • Dickens indeed was a champion for the underclass and alternated horror with hilarity.
  • I'm appalled by the overarching theme of British racial superiority and entitlement.
  • Victoria herself wasn't nearly so Victorian as her peers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

All Summer in a Day

Ray Bradbury's short story told of a class of nine-year-olds on the planet Venus where nobody could recall a time when there wasn't rain...except Margot, who had moved there from Earth. She wrote:
I think the sun is a flower
That blooms for just one hour.

Yesterday appears to have been that sunny day. Today, the first of July, the temperature hasn't reached the mid-60s, and gusty winds prevent me from taking Natty for a walk around the entire Loop. There's rain predicted for tomorrow.

Ten years ago Ken Wilson and I got married on a very sunny July 1 afternoon in Sparks, NV. Hubbin 'n' Wipe appears in Patchwork Path's Wedding Bouquet,

Here's my tale of that glorious day:

For a year Ken and I had courted long distance, he in Reno, Nevada, me in Little Rock, Arkansas. And now our cross-country, Internet-augmented, Sunday morning phone-date romance would culminate in a millennial wedding. On Valentine’s Day, after Ken officially proposed, we consulted a calendar and set Saturday, July 1, 2000 as the official Big Day.

Both in our sixties, with other marriages behind us, we agreed that this would be an informal ceremony, a joyful afternoon affair at Ken’s son’s house just outside Reno. We wanted family, friends, food, and festivity. Like any bride, though, I hoped for perfection. Ken just hoped for a party.

To ensure that perfection I listed every task that needed tending in columns headed Mine and His. Under Mine I jotted down invitations, color scheme, decorations, clothes, guest book, flowers, program. I could arrange all of these from a distance.

Under the His column I scribbled rings, cake, notifying friends, and, locating someone to conduct the exchange of vows. Those items all needed a Reno on-site supervisor, so Ken would have to be in charge.

I e-mailed Ken the list, and he replied right away. The ring issue was a no-brainer, he wrote. He knew a local jeweler who could fashion our unique gold nugget matching bands. Rick, his son, worked at Costco, so he would order the cake, a carrot sheet cake, just like I said I wanted. It could have Congratulations scrawled in bright yellow against the white butter icing.

The next morning I got more news. Ken had phoned all of his friends to let them know the date and place. His best friend from fifth grade, his roommates from college, old business acquaintances and even his barber of twenty years…they would all be there! I could envision Ken’s eyes twinkling. Party!

On our next Sunday chat I asked about who would perform the ceremony. “Don’t worry,” Ken reassured me. “We’re all set. I picked a guy out of the yellow pages, and he’s got us down on his calendar for July 1 at 2. All you have to do is just show up.”

I smiled to myself. I’d been indulging my “second time around” bridal fantasies. Behind the scenes I’d inching down the Mine column, and obsessing about my cream, yellow and gold color scheme. I’d ordered my lacy cream-colored dress from the Candlelight & Champagne pages of the Woman Within catalog. I’d cajoled my son to pack his pale yellow Mexican wedding shirt when he flew to Reno from Southern California to give me away. I had congratulated my best friend, Linda, for locating a gold satin dress for her turn as my maid of honor. Perfect!

I’d combed the North Little Rock Tuesday Morning shop for yellow paper plates, napkins, and cutlery, and for gold crepe paper to make garlands to be festooned above the alcove off Rick’s living room where I envisioned the ceremony taking place. I emitted a joyous yip when I located a suitable guestbook, with hearts and roses emblazoned against a lemon background. Impeccable!

I wanted everybody to have a program as a souvenir, and chose wheat parchment paper that could be rolled into skinny scrolls and tied with gold grosgrain ribbon. The program itself looked positively regal, with everybody involved in the ceremony listed in Engraver’s Old English font. Flawless!

I wanted my son to escort me to the alcove to the strains of Mendelssohn’s Processional, recorded decades earlier by my grandfather, Jesse Crawford, “The Poet of the Organ”, on the Mighty Wurlitzer. Unsurpassed!

For the introduction of the ceremony itself, I’d located a passage from A. J. Cronin on miracles, which Ken’s youngest son, Darren, would deliver. Nothing mawkish, maudlin or mundane: no Elizabeth Barrett Browning, no Kahlil Gibran, no Velveteen Rabbit rants on what is real. Then after the vows, he would read the reassuring lines from The Blessing of the Apache, “Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be the warmth for the other.” Immaculate!

Ken sent another e-mail. Still focusing on the party aspects, he’d powwowed with his sons. During the champagne reception, barbecue and conviviality following the ceremony, Rick would play love songs recorded from his Classic Rock era collection, and Scott, the eldest, would supervise the production of the food. Fiesta!

The morning of the wedding itself we picked up my son at the airport and made a brief stop at the florists for the corsages of golden hybrid tea roses. The table with the guestbook looked festive, the basket of scrolls surrounded by yellow rose petals. Classic!

Linda and I giggled together girlishly as we dressed in the back bedroom, admiring one another in our gowns. “It’s just perfect, Terri,” she said. “A lovely summer afternoon home wedding.”

“I know,” I agreed. “I am so happy that everything fell into place.”

Just then Darren tapped at the door. He would escort Linda to her position in the alcove. He shot me an inscrutable glance, shook his head, and whispered, “Don’t be surprised at the minister.” Then they were off.

A minute later I heard the rousing opening bars of the Processional, and Steve was at the door, offering me his arm. We ambled out into the living room where we were greeted by applause. Ken’s friends indeed had turned out for the party. I could hear a few guffaws though in the background, and then I spied Ken, with his designated Best Man, son Rick, standing side by side next to a grim-faced blue-suited man who swayed slightly from side to side.

As we neared I could smell the overwhelming odor of Kentucky bourbon, and it emanated from Ken’s Yellow Pages pick. Ken blinked at me and lifted an eyebrow as I slid into place beside him.

The dour rent-a-clergy started out steadily enough, but as he progressed, the words spilled out more slowly and more slurred. He sighed from time to time, and then plodded on. I wanted to sneak a peek at my husband-to-be, but abstained.

Ken’s friends cleared their throats and coughed at the line about showing just cause why we may not be joined together, but Ken silenced them with a sardonic glance over his shoulder.

Then the officiant pronounced us hubbin ‘n’ wipe.

We signed the documents, had them witnessed, slipped our solemn friend an envelope for his services, and whisked him to the door.

“Looks like he partied before he got here,” said Ken’s best friend from fifth grade.

“Just perfect!” I exclaimed.

“Let’s party, Wipe,” Ken responded, handing me a flute of champagne.

We did. Sublime!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

6/23/1935: Ken's 75th Birthday

My late husband, Ken Wilson, would have celebrated his 75th birthday today, had he stuck around another year and a bit. In his honor, I checked out what happened on the very date he was born. Ken was a Sunday child, full of grace.

Ken shared his birthday with pharaohs, warlords and kings.

47 BC - Pharaoh Ptolemy XV of Egypt
1534 - Oda Nobunaga, Japanese warlord (d. 1582)
1763 - Josephine de Beauharnais, Empress of France (d. 1814)
1894 - King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom (d. 1972)
1941 - Robert Hunter, American lyricist and poet (The Grateful Dead)
1965 - Paul Arthurs, British guitarist (Oasis)
1972 - Zinedine Zidane, French footballer

Bing Crosby's Red Sails in the Sunset was a hit in '35.

Happy birthday, baby. xox

Friday, June 18, 2010

Life Review - June 18

Today I celebrate three important June 18 dates.

Fifty five years ago today I married Bob Elders, in Lynwood, California, ten days before my 18th birthday. A story I wrote about going to his memorial service in Long Beach five years ago, "When He Looked Like James Dean," was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul's Divorce and Recovery volume in 2008, and also won a prize in the Past Loves contest, and is published online here:

My stepgranddaughter, Kendra Wilson, celebrates her first birthday today. I last visited with her in Casa Grande, AZ, at her christening in February, and look forward to her arrival here in Colville with mom and dad, Angela and Rick, to housesit in August while I'm studying Victorian life and literature at the University of Cambridge. I'm working on a story about Kendra for a Chicken Soup for the Soul submission for a collection on grandmothers. I may get it finished this weekend.

Sir Paul McCartney was born on this date in 1942. My tale about my son, Steve, and the Beatles and how Steve memorializes our joint affection for the Liverpudlians and rock 'n roll in general, will appear soon in Patchwork Path's Treasure Box, under the title "All Those Years Ago."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Terri's Travels

There's still so much world to see...and to write about. I've been to fifty countries (more, but I never count them if I don't get beyond the airport) and most of the states, save a few New England, midwest and deep south. But I've not seen nearly enough yet of Asia and South America to feel truly "well travelled."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Unforgotten

I've never been much of a believer in the supernatural...but my late husband, Ken, definitely was. In the months before he died, just a year ago today, Ken regaled me with tales of how he would come back to haunt the dogs, and me.

The afternoon of the day he passed to the other side, the dogs escaped through a gate left ajar by the young man who mows my lawns. They dragged themselves home in little more than half an hour, looking sheepish. I thought then that Ken's spirit had scolded them and sent them home.

Not long after, Gregory Kompes, who edits the wonderful Patchwork Path anthology series, launched a new career as a psychic, and offered me a telephone consultation. He told me that Ken's spirit indeed walked around the backyard with the dogs. I wonder if that's why Natty, who was so attached to Ken, lies out there for hours, looking totally zoned out and blissful.

Just a few minutes ago I heard a repetitive thud/thud in the backyard, and went out to find both dogs hurling themselves against the one gate that sometimes gives. I put another nail into the post and rehooked the chain to ensure they stay safely inside.

Ken told me of Houdini's avowal to contact people from beyond. I don't think he succeeded. But twice this year I've found books overturned from the case next to my writing desk in the family room. The first incident, about a month after Ken's death, involved Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter. Ken and I met Walter when he came to the Colville library to give a talk and dined beforehand with the Colville book group. I shivered as I set the book back in place.

Then just last week I spied a second book from the same case on the floor. It was Faye Kellerman's The Forgotten. Both of us had been fans of Jonathan and Faye Kellerman's mysteries. I reflected on its title. I'm not certain I am ready yet to declare myself a believer in psychic phenomena, but this is the kind of spooky coincidence that Ken adored.

So if you're trying to send a message to me, dear spirited Spirit...I got it. Here's one for you: you're not forgotten. Not today. Not ever. Your portrait still hangs in the bedroom, and I've added the maps of ancient Briton that you never got around to displaying. I'll weed around your Asian lilies this afternoon and sprinkle them with deer repellant. Tonight I'll haul down your special ceramic cup and pour you a brandy Manhattan. I'll think of something special to commemorate you on your June 23 birthday and on what would have been our tenth anniversary on July 1.

As a postscript, yesterday I learned that the story I wrote about Natty pining for you after you left, "From Nuisance to Blessing," will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul's Think Positive, publication set for November 2.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Spring Cleaning

My friend Linda from California plans to visit me here in Northeast WA next month and writes that she looks forward to seeing "lush green foliage." This past week's rain and drizzle ensure she'll get her fill. There's more downpours and deluges predicted for this week, as well.

The gray skies merely serve as a muted backdrop for the blush of lilacs and iris everywhere, so my spirits aren't nearly as soggy as they could be during such a prolonged wet spell. I'm so relieved it's spring.

I'm not undertaking spring cleaning this year. Instead I'm brightening the house with little changes. If I organize one drawer, hang one picture, replace one fragrance candle, it doesn't add up to a total renovation, but it makes my surroundings a little more inviting. Sure, I could devote a weekend to cleaning the carpet, but wouldn't I rather spend that time:

Writing about facing my first funeral at fourteen?
Cheering on the Lakers?
Attending a performance of "Dearly Departed" by Chewelah's Park Avenue Players?
Walking Natty around the Loop?

So when Linda arrives the carpet may be dingy. But there's fresh paisley sheets on her bed, a jasmine candle in the family room, a bouquet of peonies in the kitchen, and the framed maps of ancient Briton that Ken purchased five years ago finally up on my bedroom wall.

I'll rent the carpet cleaner in July.

As for writing, here's tales that need telling:

How I helped a colleague come clean about her potluck potato salad.
Why I wept buckets at stepgrandaughter Kendra's christening.
What I learned from Blanche DuBois about relying on the kindness of a stranger.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wistful Vista

Four events of the past couple of days have mired me in the mellow 1950s.

First, I reconnected with a high school friend who had been my bridesmaid in 1955. I'm planning to see her at a high school reunion later this year. I've been remembering how the two of us used to slather baby oil on ourselves and spend hours lounging on towels in my parents' backyard, pretending we were at the beach. It's a wonder we aren't both dead of skin cancer by now. As it is, we're the only two still around from those long ago wedding photos.

Second, Chicken Soup for the Soul has some new books geared for preteens and teens on its upcoming list, and a writer friend and I have been reminiscing about proms, dates and all the anguish about being asked to dance to the slow, dreamy numbers.

Third, I received a note through Classmates from a boy I'd known at my original high school...and waves of memories came back involving social events from those days. Sadie Hawkins dances. Senior Days. Family interactions. After decades of teaching drama, he became a motivational speaker and writes for Chicken Soup for the Soul. What a coincidence.

Last, I received a packet of photos in the mail from my late husband's lifelong friend. There's Ken in his high school days and Air Force days. All 1950s again.

Now I'm edging back a little the beginning of the decade as I try to piece together why I never graduated to making an apron in my 7th grade sewing class, when I so wanted to succeed. I've got to get that story written tomorrow when I return to real time. As for now, I'm still locating old Joni James and Stan Kenton tunes on You Tube, and remembering how Pavlovettes danced to Blue Tango at the talent show of 1953.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Orphan Sojourns

Though I finished the story, Grandma Fang and a Clowder of Kittens, I've rummaged through my files and revisited some orphans. So I dolled up these perfectly good older stories, never before published, and sent them to knock on new doors:

Vaya Con Dios
Miss Laird and Horse Sense
Upside, Downside
A Peanut Butter Kind of Day
Light of My Life
Hot Biscuits and a Zillion Zinnias
Crowning Glory
Double Sawbuck
No Rotten Tomatoes

I'd hoped to be writing a "cubicle story" today, but it might not get to tell itself. I'm about to take a nap instead. Before dawn my telephone rang. No good news ever announces itself at 4 a.m. so I started to shiver as I reached for the phone. A child's voice asked me if my refrigerator was running. I tried to imagine parents who would allow their child to phone strangers at this hour, awakening worrywart old ladies like me, heightening the risk of heart attacks. Then I remembered cell phones. That child might have been huddled under her covers, just as I used to be with my flashlight. Only I was reading "Black Beauty," not dialing at random to strike fear in the hearts of all of us who know in our bones that no good news arrives at 4 a.m.

Patchwork Path's Wedding Bouquet
arrived yesterday, carrying two of my stories about weddings, including mine to Ken in Reno nearly ten years ago. That's the 21st anthology between the wooden A and Z bookends atop the entertainment center.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Grandma Wasn't the Only One....

This has been a day crammed with distractions. Since taking Susan Woolridge's poetry workshop yesterday afternoon and being awarded my "poetic license," I've wanted to attempt a new piece of creative non-fiction, using some of her techniques.

Instead I had to scamper to town to fax new forms to the University of Cambridge, since I heard that the National Trust never received my tuition voucher, which Cambridge mailed to Washington DC on February 24.

I returned to town a second time to attend a meeting, a ribbon-cutting for a wonderful new website put together by Eastern Washington University, with data on this tri-county area. This will be useful for area grant writers immediately.

Now I'm readying to attend a book group discussion on assorted tomes about Benjamin Franklin.

Tomorrow I hope to write the story about forgiveness in absentia or about the grumpy grandma cat. In the meantime I polished "All of His Heroes," and sent it off to an anthology.

With little block time for any serious composing, I determined to clear out accumulated e-mail and found this priceless quotation, that I wish I could share with Grandma Gertie, whose quote heads my blog:

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around."--James Beard

So there you have it...two great cooks in agreement, for a change.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rabbit Habit

When I awoke this morning I remembered that it was on this date last year that my late husband and I said our last "rabbit" together when I refreshed his bedside ice water. By the first of June he was too weak and too disoriented to say "rabbit" for luck. And, of course, Ken's long run of luck had nearly run out.

As a young girl I'd read an English storybook where the heroine upon awakening said "rabbit" for good luck on the first day of each month. I later learned that this tradition was widespread throughout the British empire. I found women in both Belize and Seychelles who practiced it. I passed the habit along to both of my husbands and my son.

In 1967 I wrote a couple of paragraphs about my "Rabbit Habit" and the brief piece was published in Woman's Day in the old Neighbors column. It was my first sale to a national publication, one carried in thousands of supermarkets. My first husband secretly photocopied and framed my $25 acceptance check and wrapped it as a Christmas gift. That memento is in a file cabinet in my son's garage in Orange, CA, and the next time I visit I plan to dig it out.

After my anecdote was published, the Neighbors editor sent me a sheath of letters she had received in response. In those pre-email days, several folks invested stamps to recount the English origins of the story, or to share their delight in reading my contribution in the pages of their favorite publication. Others sent in bombasts seething with the style and substance of Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:

"Don't believe in luck...everything is predestined by your Maker!"
"Knocking on wood and saying "rabbit" are invoking Satan!"
"Read the Bible, not English storybooks!"

Oh, well. The Lord indeed is my shepherd, but I do believe in luck, in English traditions, and on good days, in fairy tales. I always clap for Tinker Bell. Don't you?

I concur with Thomas Jefferson, my favorite founding father:

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

So today, the first of May, I said "rabbit" and asked for luck and opportunity to write about :

1. Ken's love of secret codes and cowboys.
2. A grandmotherly cat.
3. Forgiveness in absentia.

Then I opened my e-mail and found that three more of my stories either have been accepted or are being considered for inclusion in the new Dream of Things anthologies, and...a fan letter from a lady in South Africa who loved "Withstanding Winter's Woes," in Chicken Soup for the Soul's What I Learned from the Cat.

Now that's gotta be a lucky start to the merry month of May!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Two Gifts: Airborne and Edible

1. For the community: I wrote my presentation for the AAUW event this coming Tuesday:

When I got married in 1955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s eloquent and elegant book, Gift From the Sea, had been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 19 weeks. It went on to remain there for 80 weeks all together.

I read it not long after coming home from my honeymoon on Catalina Island, off the California coast. I had grown up loving the ocean, so I was entranced by the idea of a few weeks in a beach cottage.

In those days, Charles Lindbergh, the first man to cross the Atlantic nonstop from New York to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis, was still famous, but Anne, a pioneering aviator herself, nearly equaled his fame with this book. In it she addresses issues that are timeless: essentially how does a woman fulfill the roles of citizen, artist, wife, partner, mother, career person, friend, family member, and balance all of that with the time and self-commitment for spiritual and emotional nurturing.

I’ve returned to this book half a dozen times over the decades, and its words always speak to me in a new way and shed light on how I structure my time. To pay homage to Mrs. Lindbergh, five years ago I volunteered to be a grant reviewer for the Lindbergh Foundation. As a reviewer I was able to ask Mrs. Lindbergh’s youngest child, her daughter Reeve, a writer herself, if she’d be interested in signing bookplates for the AAUW award recipients. She agreed to do so.

She wrote: “It is good to know that my mother’s writing has meant so much to you over the years. I feel very much the same way about it and return, as you do, to this little volume for comfort and for inspiration. All my best to the scholars. Warmly, Reeve Lindbergh”

I hope you’ll treasure this little book as much as I have.

2. For my freelance anthology work:
I wrote a last minute story to contribute to the Redbook competition on couples, about how much I miss Ken's delectable, delicious cooking for me. Ken was a first class chef.

It's been a good writing day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

High Hopes

There's a few stories simmering, but just not ready to cook yet. I've got tomorrow to get at least one actually on paper, and it's gotta be Winging It.

1. Ken and chicken wings.
2. Kendra's christening and grandmahood.
3. A tale of forgiveness...I know this one will reveal itself soon.

Meanwhile, this week I revised some orphans and sent them out to charm a publisher into adoption. I've renewed hopes for The Crave Slave, Ugali by Golly, An Astonishment of Unicorns, Suds 'n Solace, Right on Time, Choosing Shoes Blues, The Double Sawbuck and At Home in My Heart.

And High Apple Pie in the Sky Hopes...

Yesterday I chatted with an entrepreneur who is a sponsor of an organization that encourages youth to realize their potential. He's looking for a writer/editor to help with a proposed book. I think we have similar views on youth development, and am hoping for a second chat next week with him or one of his partners. It's about mindsets...and I bet I could write that book, if I set my mind to it!

I'm also looking forward to writing poetry again, and have signed up for a workshop in Colville with Susan Woolridge, author of Foolsgold and Bathing with Ants. Hey...ants! They can move a rubber tree plant!

Oops, there goes another problem, kerplop.