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, December 23, 2012

A Special Chica Peep

CHICA PEEPS: groups of women who anchor, guide and nurture each other, often through humor; sisterhoods of strength and support.

Velya Jancz-Urban maintains a website filled with stories and women and friendship, and is calling for more stories about why we value our female companions: 

This Christmas as I open my cards from women friends I once again reflect on how these female friendships have grown more valuable to to me in my December years. In my youth I had girlfriends I couldn't wait to share all my news with. In junior high, for instance, I had baton-twirling friends from Carpenterettes, and fellow referees and umpires from Girls' Athletic Club. By high school, there were sorority sisters from Scians, fellow dancers in Pavlovettes, and reporters from the Manual Arts Daily.

Then, by college, things shifted. Books and boys took over, and I married at the close of my freshman year. So in my early adulthood, my husband became my closest confidante. Later my days became so stuffed with childraising, housework, college classes and then demanding jobs...there weren't many moments left to even think about making any women friends, let alone spend any time with them.

In my early 40s I divorced, and once again I had time to form bonds with other women. Some of those friendships, begun 30 or more years ago, remain the closest to my heart today. Over the subsequent decades I've found new friends, as well...women I've worked with, women in my book groups, and recently, women I've met at the University of Cambridge International Summer School and women I've worked with in civic activities, such as Colville Branch AAUW.

More recently I've joined a new family of women, all connected with the family of the Not Your Mother's Book publishing project. Plus I have other individual female writers that I check in with frequently.

When I think, though, of my women friends, Annie these days first pops into mind. She's the one I connect with every day...the one who hears it all, just as if I were in high school all over again. Sometimes it seems to me as if nothing really happens until I've shared it with Annie. Even as I write this blog I'm munching on the Christmas cookies she sent me from Pennsylvania.

Velya wants women's stories about their same-sex friendships for her Chica Peeps book. Please browse around her colorful website and send her the word of why you're sentimental about your women friends! Here's the Chica Peeps website again:

My story about Annie first appeared in Thin Threads:  Stories of Women and Friendship. 

Totally Not Strangers

By Terri Elders
“Friendship is born at that moment when a person says to another, ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.” –C. S. Lewis

Though Grandma was born in 1890, the era of gaslight, privies and washboards, if she’d entered the world half a century later, I’m certain today she’d be busy with e-mail and Facebook, and maybe even Twitter.

Not Mama, though. She much preferred face-to-face coffee klatches with friends in the neighborhood. She might scribble a hurried note on the bottom of a birthday card, but that was the limit to her personal correspondence.

 “Your grandmother writes to women she sat next to on a bus or bumped into at the Piggly Wiggly cash register. She makes pen pals out of total strangers,” Mama scoffed one morning back in l947, pointing to Grandma who had just cleared the kitchen table of its breakfast dishes before settling down with her address book, lined writing tablet and fountain pen.

Grandma laughed and shook her silver-curled head. “I don’t write to strangers. I write to friends. So what if I met Betty at the bus stop? We have a lot in common. And that woman at the grocery store turned out to be Olive who happened to live right down my street. We’d never met before, but became quite neighborly before she finally moved back east.”

“I still write to my best friend, Ann, in Pennsylvania and will until one of us dies,” Grandma said. “We started school together, and right after we both turned ten near the turn of the century, her family moved. We began to drop each other a line not long after that. It cost a penny to send a postcard then, and two cents for a letter. I earned my pennies for stamps by collecting eggs from our hens, and helping with the laundry on Mondays. I always was in charge of hanging the sheets on the clotheslines because I was the tallest in the family.”

I understood. Just ten years old myself, I’d found a pen pal of my own, through the children’s page of the Portland Oregonian. I ran errands to the general store and the post office to earn my weekly allowance of a dime. At nearly mid-century the cost to mail a letter had increased by just a penny. One week I’d buy stamps, the next a comic book, paper dolls or ribbons for my pigtails.

“I’m writing to Ann this morning,” Grandma continued. “It’s her birthday next week. I haven’t seen her nearly fifty years, but I still remember the delicious deviled eggs she made for my 10th birthday. We had a picnic in the park.”

“What will you tell her today?” I asked. So far as I could see, Grandma’s days were pretty uneventful.

“Oh, there’s always news! I write about you, your sister, your brother, and what your Grandpa Louie is growing in the garden. I might mention how I’m planning to make a blackberry cobbler for tonight’s supper, or brag about winning at Canasta at my card club last Monday. There’s always something.”

“Oh, Mother,” Mama chimed in. “Who cares?” I know if she still lived today, Mama would never Tweet.

My pen pal and I lost touch after a while, and I cannot recollect why. Unlike Grandma and her Ann, I think we simply ran out of things to say, or couldn’t couch our everyday activities in words that captured each other’s interest.

During my own years of finishing an education, starting a family, pursuing a career, I, like Mama, had little use for letter writing. Like her, I penned brief notes on birthday cards, and personal updates at Christmas. I lacked any regular pen pals, depending instead on the telephone to keep in touch. Letters were as antiquated as bustles, I’d decided, relics of the past, as dead and gone as Grandma, her friend, Ann, and even Mama.

But now, retired and far away from friends I’d made all over the world through my work with Peace Corps, I, like Grandma, keep in frequent touch. I don’t even have to save my pennies for postage, since I usually e-mail, unless it’s to send a thank you note or special card. Instead I reserve my free time to write personal stories for magazines and anthologies.

About three years ago I received an e-mail from another writer, Annie. Each of us had written stories about our mothers that appeared in a popular anthology series. My tale was about a Halloween that Mama had made special when I was too ill to go out to trick or treat. Annie’s was about a summer dress her mom had fashioned from some unfashionable fabric. Both stories detailed a loving mother’s concern for her child.

“My own mother always wanted (and never had) a sister,” Annie wrote to me. “Our mothers seem so similar, I think perhaps they now are sisters in heaven.”

I immediately responded. Soon Annie, who lives in Pennsylvania, and I began to send rough drafts of our stories to each other. We swapped tips about which publishers were seeking submissions, and offered suggestions when one of us got stuck for a catchy title.
Though our lifestyles seem very different, since I’m a globetrotter and she claims to be a reclusive homebody, we share compatible values, opinions and worldviews. Though we take pride in our generally optimistic and positive attitudes, there’s a little pepper in each of our sugar bowls. We’ve both been known to snip and snark.

Since we write about our families, our childhoods, and our reactions to the events of our daily lives, through reading each other’s stories, we may know one another more intimately than most women who sit in adjacent classroom desks or workplace cubicles.

When my late husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Annie was the first person I told, other than immediate family. We comfort each other through lesser travails, as well, through rejection slips and sick pets. We celebrate together when either of us has a story accepted for publication, when either reaches, or alas, more frequently fails, to reach a weight loss goal, or even when one of us boasts of managing to set aside some hours to mop and vacuum our homes.

Are our daily exchanges of literary merit? Not unless anybody would be interested in the menu for Annie’s family holiday dinner or my take on a video I watched. Mama would say, “Who cares?” Well, I know I do, and I’m pretty sure Annie does.

Though I’ve never met her in person, nor am likely to, if more than a day or two elapses without a message from Annie, I began to suffer withdrawal symptoms. I’ll check my inbox, worry and fret. I’m so relieved when I finally read that she’d just had a minor family crisis that called her away from her laptop for a day or two. When I’m out of state or out of the country, I’ll receive plaintive pleas to write as soon as I can.

I call her my writing partner…but Annie’s more than that. A total stranger? Not at all.

Mama wouldn’t understand. But Grandma would. After all, her best friend was a woman in Pennsylvania named Ann.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Divine Intervention

All December I've been remembering Grandma Gertie's Christmas candies. She'd start right after Thanksgiving, squirreling away tins of her fudge, sugared walnuts, penuche and my favorite, divinity. Back in the late '50s I'd taken a lesson or two from her, and for years made boxes of homemade candy for Christmas gifts. After I married Ken in 2000 I avoided anything requiring much sugar, since he had been diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

This year I determined I'd make divinity. But even though I've had good intentions, I haven't managed to propel myself into the kitchen long enough to whip up a batch of anything much. I've been too busy writing and editing.

Last week when I toted a suitcase full of packages to the post office, the man behind me in line looked at the small Priority boxes and remarked, "Ohhh...somebody's in for a treat. Looks like homemade candy."

I actually blushed. Remembering that I'm fortunate enough to have a writing partner who does her Martha thing every holiday season, and usually sends me a box of goodies, I smiled sweetly. "There's treats in these boxes, but they're full of books, not candy. Nowadays the candy comes to me, not from me."

"Books?" He scrunched up his face as if he smelled something unsavory indeed. "What kind of a present is that?" I continued to smile as I piled the books in front of the postal clerk. I didn't mention that the books, all from the new Not Your Mother's Book series, had been copy edited by me, and contained stories written by me...certainly a treat enough for my friends and family.

Yesterday I dashed into our local big box store to pick up some insulin for Natty, my late husband's mutt, also afflicted with diabetes, plus a few rawhide chews for both of the dogs. As I wheeled my cart through produce, grabbing a head of lettuce and some cherry tomatoes on the way, I noticed a stack of plastic boxes filled with divinity. Since I had a party to go to last night, I tossed one in my cart.

My hostess, another Martha type, accepted the gift. "We'll just transfer these to a pretty dish and put them on the buffet table."

A little later I overheard her telling another guest, "No...I didn't make the divinity. Terri made it." A woman who had accompanied me to the party, and who knew the truth, gasped, "Umhhh!"

I helped myself to a piece. was divine indeed, just like Grandma Gertie's.

When I lived in Belize I'd learned a proverb that I recall frequently. "If it's not so, it's nearly so."

I had made the trip to the store. I had made the decision to buy the candy. Now I made myself keep quiet so as to not embarrass my hostess by pointing out she'd told a little white lie about those little white candies.

The way I see it, I nearly made the divinity.

Here's a recipe that I've made in the past...and that's just like Grandma's:

It's divine.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Be There Now Giveaway


I'm so pleased to have the lead story in the new Dream of Things anthology, Be There Now. My contribution to this collection describes an electrifying moment. I'll never forget witnessing a total eclipse of the sun, lounging on my sundeck in Antigua, Guatemala, with Kelly Presley. It indeed was something that could happen "Only Once in a Lifetime," as I've titled my recollection.

This second anthology by Dream of Things is available now on's more:

Be There Now is a collection of true travel stories featuring twenty-two contributors who share adventures and escapades from around the world.

The stories include the tale of an amateurish kidnapping in Nicaragua that could have been told by Woody Allen, and a David Sedaris-esque tale of two ships passing in a Paris art supply store. Existential stories from a man lost on the flooded Amazon River at night, and from a woman who encounters a grizzly--in the same area where her father and stepmother were killed by a bear. Insightful stories about a woman's spiritual journey in Peru (complete with hallucinogens!), and about a female journalist's friendship with an Iraqi translator in Syria. And stories about endangered species in exotic locales, including helping a sea turtle lay its eggs on a Costa Rican beach, and taking a blind man to visit the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Be There Now is travel writing at its most authentic--real people sharing real stories of awe and insight, fear and laughter, humility and humanity as they explore the world around us and seek footholds on their own inner journeys. In a world that often demands that we "be here now," it is nice to take a break, daydream, and "be there now" with thoughtful people who take us with them on journeys that lead to inspiration, insight, humor, and deeper meaning.

Be There Now is part of a series of anthologies of creative nonfiction on various topics from Dream of Things, which strives to publish anthologies that fill the gap between popular collections that can be regarded as "short and sweet," and the Best American Essays series, which tend to be longer-form. The goal for Dream of Things anthologies is to be not short and sweet, but short and deep.

Register today at GoodReads for a chance to get a free copy!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Winter Morning in the Country

Aside from a brief pre-Thanksgiving flurry, we'd not yet seen snow in my little slice of Arden in the Colville valley. But this morning as I took Tsunami for her walk at daybreak a flake or two clouded up my spectacles, and ten minutes after we came inside, the fat fluffy snowflakes had transformed my dismal dead-branched yards and pastures into a true Currier and Ives winter wonderland. I feel full of the Christmas spirit. So today I begin to send out my Christmas letters, and I'll make one final foray before noon to finish off my Christmas shopping. I've an AAUW Christmas party and silent auction, our FUNdraiser for girls' scholarships, set for Sunday afternoon...and at last I feel in full season.

This will be a relatively quiet December for me, however. I no longer want to fly during this season. In former years I visited friends and family in other states sometime around Thanksgiving. The past two years I arrived home shortly after Turkey Day and found I was unable to get my car up my driveway into the garage, because of the snow. Though it came in late this year, I no longer want to deal with snowdrift uncertainty during the holidays. I don't want to mar my merriness obsessing about whether I'll be unable to creep up slippery Slide Creek Road to fetch my dogs from their End of the Trail kennel when the temperature's plunged down to the oughts. I don't want to worry about skimming over a patch of black ice and slidinig off the side of Highway 395. Nope. Just want to hunker down, read, watch videos, pet my pets, and watch pre-taped Dickens films.

I'm easing into my hibernal mode, even though the calendar shows there's still a couple of weeks of autumn left. I can feel my system slowing down...time for afternoon naps, ambles--not sprints--through the library stacks, thawing out some of the soups I froze last spring, even welcoming the ghosts of Christmas past.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a beautiful 1890s Spokane house that reminded me of the rambling old Scotts Mills home I lived in briefly in the 1940s. I spent the evening remembering those childhood holidays, and delighted in recalling the trees my grandfather used to chop down each Christmas. Now I live in the Colville National Forest, surrounded by those firs. Just like a print from Currier and the one here, Winter Morning in the Country.

What do you suppose the men in the sleigh have in those tanks?  Is it cider? Ale for holiday wassail bowls? Milk? Are there any jingle bells on those horses?'s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.