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....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Basket Case

Billed as a new anthology for a new century, the Not Your Mother's Book series took off last fall with a BANG...three books in three months: On Being a Woman, On Being a Stupid Kid and On Dogs. The fourth in the series, On Travel, is scheduled for release in late March. As co-creator, I can't wait...but, of course, I have to.

I wish I could give you a preview of its contents, and I will as soon as publisher Dahlynn McKowen makes the final decisions on the stories and their sequence. In the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for everybody who is waiting for final word. Believe me, I am waiting,  too!
I've seen Facebook posts from contributors who complain that the wait to hear whether or not a submission has been accepted or not is agonizing. Yes...sometimes we wait a year or two to learn whether one of our essays, poems or stories will actually be published. Rejections and acceptances sometimes seem to come in waves...and we're all familiar with those long intervals where we hear absolutely nothing.

The current January issue of The Wow Principles newsletter details why it can take a year or even longer to produce an anthology. In March the newsletter will carry a piece that I've been mulling over for a to manage such delays and disappointments in the "hurry up and submit and then wait, wait, wait" process of writing for anthologies. I've tentatively titled it "A Basket Case."

You can subscribe to The Wow Principles Newsletter by clicking on the link below. Additionally, you can browse the archives of six years of back issues, chock full of tips for seasoned writers and newbies alike.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

If I'd Known It Was Coming I'd Have Baked a Cake!

My lackluster Yahoo horoscope gave me little inspiration today. There must be something happier to contemplate for this Saturday, other than ticking off items on my "to do" list. I've been spending a lot of this past week looking forward to London and Paris in March, and not enough just relishing the moment. True, it's hard for me to rev up a lot of enthusiasm for even getting out of bed these subarctic mornings. But I don't give up easy, so I surfed around the Internet and found this intriguing website:

Its home page announces....You've arrived at Holiday Insights, where you will find fun, information, and lots more about every holiday you can imagine. We've got you covered on the big ones, the small ones, and all of 'em in between. So, whether you are looking up information, doing a school report, looking for Ecards or screensavers, clipart perhaps, or just having fun, surf on through and come back often.

I scrolled down the list of the January celebrations and found that aside from New Year's Day, I'd missed them all. I'd been in a daze about the days. I wish I'd known about Male Watcher's Day, Houseplant Appreciation Day, or even Peculiar People Day. I'm certain I could have cooked up something special to help me get through these winter doldrums.

So, celebrate, celebrate, I remind won't be long until spring, and we'll be admiring our flowers once again. In the meanwhile, we've got Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, and more coming up soon. For right now, I'm going to brew up a cup of camomile. After all, Holiday Insights reminds me that January is Hot Tea Month! I'm not letting that one slip by. Of course, there's always tomorrow...Chocolate Cake Day.

C is for Cookie, but also for Cake, as celebrated by Cookie Monster and the Count:


Friday, January 18, 2013

Get a Grip...My Jarring Morning!

The Villian!
Last week I attended a luncheon meeting and could not open my bottle of water. I passed it to the gentleman seated at my left, complaining how my arthritis frequently leaves me helpless at such simple tasks. 

"Happy to lend a hand," he said, twisting it off easily. "But my wife says I'm not the man I used to be when it comes to opening jars at home. Sometimes I need a little help, too. A sharp tap on the side of the lid with a knife usually works."

This morning as I readied my lunch, I remembered that tip. I've had a jar of spiced peaches in the fridge that I wanted to pair with some cottage cheese for lunch. So I tapped the side of the lid with a table knife to break the vacuum seal, but nothing happened. So I tapped again. And again. I couldn't budge it.
Next, I tried pouring hot water over the lid, since I'd heard that might loosen the vacuum between the lid and the jar. It didn't. Then I donned rubber gloves to give my hands more leverage. Nada. Nil. No success.

Hmmmm. I vaguely recalled that somebody once said holding a dryer static sheet in your hand will provide more traction. Since I had to put my laundry in the dryer anyway, I pulled a Sun Sky Fresh Breezy from its box and returned to the kitchen. Nope, but at least it smelled nice.

By now my stomach had started to rumble. I considered sticking the peaches back in the fridge, and slicing a tomato. Then I figured that maybe an old fashioned can opener, the kind we used to call "church keys" back in the '50s...when I didn't need help opening jars, I recall...might do the job. If I could wedge it between the lid and the jar...but, alas, I couldn't. Nor could I find a way to puncture the lid with it.

Exhausted, I marched to the garage and lifted an ice pick off my late husband's work bench, where I store it with the screwdrivers so I don't puncture my hand when I forage in the utensil drawer...and a hammer. I carefully positioned the ice pick in the center of the lid, and gave it one mighty whack. The tip sank into the metal and it worked. The vacuum disappeared so I could turn the lid easily.

So there went 30 minutes of my morning....time I'd intended to spend drafting the beginning of a story about how I never traveled to Kiribati. Oh, I know...excuses, excuses. But it's the absolute truth. My morning had hijacked by a pint of pickled peaches.

The peaches and cottage cheese tasted delicious together. I'd have been one bitter biddy if they hadn't.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Geezers Just Like Him

I'm working on the introduction, bio and dedication for Not Your Mother's Book...On Travel, scheduled for release by Publishing Syndicate on March 25. I wandered down Memory Lane this morning as I sorted through some photos taken while I lived in Guatemala, and suddenly recalled the one published piece online that I'd ever seen by my friend, Kelly Presley, who shared so many of those adventures with me. It never had much of a readership outside of the ex pat community in Antigua, Guatemala, where it had been published in an English language periodical, and among his family, so I'm resurrecting it now.

Kelly had a habit of working names of his friends and family into his stories and unpublished novels. So don't be surprised to see a nod to me from my Little Rock days in his concluding sentences of this story written just after his 65th birthday in 1998.

Geezers Just Like Me
A Central American Change of Lifestyle
by Kelly Presley
It happened in Antigua, Guatemala, just last week. I had a birthday and, God help me, I had become sixty-five years of age. Had I reached a new stage of life? Had I left the fun & frolic-filled days of middle age? I had to know the terrible truth!
In panic I tottered to my Webster’s and turned to the entry, “middle age.”   bummer! This Webster guy had ended my joyful days of mid-life at sixty-five. And worse bummer, he defined middle age as “the period of time between youth and old age.” I was now Webster’s officially “Old.” Depressing.
Having been a psychobabblist for a number of my middle-aged salad years I knew that being “old” is a major source of depression. But I don’t pee in my pants like June Allyson and my teeth are my own, even if Jane Powell demands I soak my dentures. Still I needed to know what new passage I had embarked on. I tried on “senior citizen” and “third age” but they didn’t provide emotional comfort or wear well. And “elderly” is for the truly old, not a pup like me. So, Webster’s in hand, I began the search that would lift me from the depression suffered by “old people,” and bring me my golden years.
I had nearly given up, settled for decrepit old man, when I found my Prozac, right there on page 560! The words lifted me: geezer an eccentric man or, rarely, a woman. 
That was me! Certainly having weathered the slings & arrows of four careers & as many wives would make anyone a tad eccentric and I was rarely, if ever, a woman.
Under the joyful cloak of geezerhood... I bounded from my hermitage in search of the companionship of other geezers. And I found them basking in the sun in Antigua’s Central Park. A motley crew at best, we all had three things in common; we had cast off the burdens of middle age, we were free of unholy matrimony and we were living on fixed incomes. The latter was a major source for conversation and the bonding that is unusual to a group that resembles a gathering of rogue elephants.
“The best meal for your money is at Los Tacos,” advised Rich Watson on my first day with my geezer buddies. He had been a New York investment banker and could cost-benefit analyze everything from a plane ticket to a plate of rice & beans.
“Don’t rent at those Zersch River apartments, they’re overpriced and they don’t have cable,” added Don Mut, a former Germantown real estate broker.
“And if you need a doctor, I’d advise Dr. Swazy,” added Jack Morris, a Newark house painter who was recovering from his monthly disease.
My geezer buddies...were giving me the absolute skinny and I also learned there were geezers just like me throughout Central America. Jim Hearne, a retired helicopter pilot, said you could find them from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Guatemala’s beautiful Lake Atitlan, in every city or small town with a central park and a nearby cafe for morning coffee and an afternoon beer.
As I was leaving and shaking hands with my new buddies, Terry Elders, a retired pharmacist from Little Rock, slipped a pill into my hand. I looked at it and then at Terry. He smiled and said it was “uplifting.” 
And it was... And so is geezing in Central America. Come on down! It’s uplifting.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Just White Blossoms That Fall From Above

Is it really easier to get through winter if you're in love? Popular music lyrics long have sent us that message. From "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to "June in January" we're told we can shrug off the ice, the winds, the snow...just as long as we've got someone to love.

What about those of us who are unattached, though? What if we have no "special someone," no "significant other" to get us through these bitterly chilly days?

For me, the answer's clear. Just turn my two aging oversized dogs outside and watch them frolic and wrestle and bellyflop as if they were puppies once more. My heart sang yesterday when I watched my nearly blind diabetic mutt, Natty, take on his bigger, older...and arthritic...stepsister Akita, Nami, in a game of tag as they plowed through the new foot of snow we'd received overnight.

So just as my cat, Chico, got me through winter a few years ago when my late husband was so ill, now the dogs are stepping up, stepping out and stepping amazingly friskily to send me the message that it's still going to be a happy new year, despite the gray landscape of January.

Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to spring, even as I marvel at the beauty of the coated firs outside my windows. Natty and Nami may be up and ready to romp by 6:30 each morning, while I pull the covers up around my head. I appreciate their enthusiasm, but for me it's never too soon for crocus and tulips. So I continue to look forward to warmer days. Why, by June I'll have written at least a dozen more personal essays, traveled to London and Paris and back, and will be preparing for my July stint at Christ Church, Oxford, where I'll be studying the history of the English language.

Speaking of's Julie. You may remember "Cry Me a River," but she also recorded an upbeat "June in January."

 June in January
A clouded moon creeps across the clouded sky
Winds of January sigh and moan
And yet it's June.
I can see a sky of blue
Dear the miracle is due to you.
Just you.
It's June in January
Because I'm in love
It always is spring in my heart
with you in my arms.
The snow is just white blossoms
that fall from above.
And here is the reason, my dear,
Your magical charms.
The night is cold
The trees are bare
But I can feel the scent of roses in the air.
It's June in January

 The late great Julie London, a woman for all seasons.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Worrying About Poop on the Loop

 My story, "Eighty-five Percent" illustrates what a waste worrying really is!

A day or two before Christmas I crawled out of bed and realized I'd wrenched my back the day before, shoveling snow from around my front walkway. I hobbled downstairs, tossed a jacket over my long velour robe, leashed up Tsunami, my 120 pound Akita and headed for the mailbox by the side of the road to get my morning paper. I live on Pend Oreille Loop in Arden, and have a  circular driveway that turns into an ice rink at this time of the year. At 75, I fear slipping and falling and breaking something that might not mend.

So I inched along, following in Nami's wake. Even my normally sure-footed purebred had trouble maintaining her footing. As I retrieved my newspaper, I saw a trio rounding the curve at the eastern end of the Loop. So did Nami. Good guard dog that she is, she wanted to bound over and ensure that nothing wicked our way came. I struggled to pull her along behind me, anxious to get back in the house. I feared if she gave a sudden lurch she might yank me over, so I hurried as best I could, despite my aching back, hunched over so that if I slipped I wouldn't fall backwards and bang my head against the ice.

By the time I got up to my door, I'd run out of strength. I collapsed in one of the chairs in front of my door, keeping a tight two-handed hold on Nami's leash. The advancing strollers had drawn up in front of my yard where they slowed, swiveling their heads in my direction. I smiled in anticipation. So often people walking around the Loop who see my dog for the first time remark on how beautiful she is. I waited expectantly as the woman in the center of the trio leaned forward. Maybe she'll ask about the breed. Lots of people do. Or maybe she just wanted to shout out a Christmas greeting on this chilly morning.

Her shrill words slapped my ears. "Can't you pick up your dog's poop?" she yelled, pointing back in the direction from which she'd come, where Nami and I definitely had not trod that morning. "There's a big pile of it in the road."

I sat stunned. Mind you, this is a country road, well traveled by dog walkers because it's on a school bus route and plowed regularly. Occasionally an equestrian or two passes by, as well, with their horses leaving their calling cards. Why did the woman assume Nami and I were the guilty parties? Because she saw us outside on a winter's morning, I guessed.

Don't reply, I told myself, but then I couldn't resist. "Twenty dogs a day walk down this road," I shouted back, shaking my head in disbelief. The man and child who accompanied the woman said nary a word, and the three proceeded down the Loop towards the Old Arden Highway.

Later in the day, after I got dressed, I wandered down the road with a plastic bag to collect what had offended the morning stroller. There it was...a neat pile of poop just inches from the snowbank on the side of the road. I'd figured maybe it had been in the middle of the road and she'd slipped in it, so angry was her tone. But was a pristine pile off to the side, well out of the way of foot traffic!

All day I kept thinking about how aggressive people have assume it's acceptable to walk down a country road and shout at an elderly woman who is minding her own business in her own front yard a day or two before Christmas, the day that celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Then my imagination kicked into gear. What if I'd been a crazy evil witch with a trained attack dog? I could have leaned forward, whispered "sic 'em" into Nami's ear and let loose of her leash. so many I read about in the newspapers or hear about on the news...maybe I could claim I'd been attacked on my own turf and needed to stand my ground...with a weapon. Or maybe I could snoop around and find out where she lives and collect dog droppings for the next month to deposit in front of her property.

Maybe my furious neighbor is a fastidious lady who believes she was doing me a favor by pointing out what she assumed was the error of my ways. I was still in my bathrobe at 8 a.m., so maybe she'd classified me as a lazy layabout who needed a good bullying. I don't know.

I do know that I hope she enjoyed her Christmas and that she's starting her New Year off on a happier note. I know I am. My backache has subsided, the snows have slowed, and nobody's accosted me in my yard for the past week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Bradbury Beach, Lake Roosevelt, January 1, 2013
L to R: Jane, Rhonda, Leah, Crystal, Bruce, Jackie 

This certainly wasn't my first exposure to a sizable body of water on January 1. No sirree. Why, back in the late '90s I even dipped into the drink three years in a row in 27º weather. Of course on those particular New Year's Days I'd plunged into the Indian Ocean at Beau Vallon Beach in tropical Seychelles, and it was 27º Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Yesterday at the Columbia River's Lake Roosevelt, my polar bear companions were the real deal...truly intrepid daredevils. I snapped the photo above mere seconds before this modest sextette shed their robes and splashed into the icy waters.

And here they are scrambling for the safety of shore!

Me? I stuck my right hand in the water, and then spent half an hour trying to coax circulation back after it turned an alarming shade of blue, except for my ring finger which bleached whiter than the knee-deep snow we'd waded through to reach the sandy bank. My mittens didn't work one whit to reverse the numbness, so I clutched a paper cup of hot tea between my trembling hands, occasionally dipping my corpselike finger directly into it. The polar bears roasted their hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire, seemingly impervious to the chill.

Some traditionalists might believe a better way to celebrate the year's beginning, when you live just below the Canadian border, would be to stay comfortably ensconced at home with a hot toddy and a good book. Well, I did that too last night, rereading Charles Dickens' The Chimes, which celebrates New Year's, and foreshadows It's a Wonderful Life. A happy end to a happy day!
Dickens reading ‘The Chimes’ to his friends, including philosopher Thomas Carlyle, and artist Daniel Maclise, who drew this sketch, 1844. (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  “So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you!"--The Chimes, Charles Dickens