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....

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Witless at the Equinox

My day began with great's the official launch of the 85th anthology carrying my work since I began writing my life, story by story, seven years ago. If you're anywhere near Des Moines, here's an invitation from Tending Your Inner Garden:

You're invited to
a book signing
to celebrate the launch of

Fall: Women's Stories
and Poems for the Season
of Wisdom and Gratitude

We're delighted to introduce the fourth and final anthology in our series of four seasonal books, all made possible thanks to the submissions of essays and poems from women around the country and from other parts of the world.

Please join us this Friday, September 20, from 5:30 to 7:00
at Beaverdale Books
2629 Beaver Ave., Des Moines 

I'm unable to attend, but I'm so pleased to be represented in the fourth of this seasonal series with a story, "Autumn Aubade," a variation on a post on my blog just a couple of years ago. At that time I had many friends and relatives facing health and financial crisis, including my brother, Joel.

Today I'm at my brother's home near the Southern California Writers' Conference, which I'll attend tomorrow through Sunday. He's recovered...and we reminisced briefly about those harrowing days.

Then yesterday morning I had a new harrowing moment en transit. Here's what I emailed my son and best friend from Sea Tac airport:

This morning I got up at 4:55, put the cats all outside, put their food and water bowls on the covered side patio....we had more thunderstorms and heavy rain last night, and may for the next couple of days.

I'd finished packing last night, and remembered to include the photos for my brother, the NYMB flyers for the conference, and everything else on my list. I'd also watered the plants and turned off the overhead fan in the entry way.

So all I  had to do was put my luggage in the car, open the garage door, drag the trash bin to the street, and drive to Spokane. It was still dark, but the rain had stopped and it wasn't foggy like it had been the last two mornings. I made the best time logging trucks in front of me or traffic jams going down Division Street to the I-90 on ramp. I'd even gotten my boarding pass yesterday and made sure I knew where the Jet Park and Fly's half the price of airport parking and you get a free drive-through car wash as you exit.

As I pulled into their lot I thought that this was the most effortless trip to Spokane ever. It helps of course that the dogs went to the animal hospital last night. I actually got to sleep all night without any whining, panic attacks, puddles of urine or worse to clean up. I parked the car, noticed the parking lot shuttle bus pulling up my lane, and smiled. Right on time! I hit the trunk opener latch and gathered up my purse and sunglasses and keys.

Then I exited and walked around to my trunk and reached in for my heavy suitcase...and it wasn't there. I distinctly remember putting it into the trunk with my laptop bag this morning. Or at least I thought I had. I remember how heavy it was to heft and how I got another shin bruise. I stood there absolutely dumbfounded.

I thought would be a two and a half hour drive home to retrieve my missing bag if indeed for some reason I'd pulled it out and left it in the garage. But I couldn't remember doing that. I thought, oh, no....dementia is finally hitting me.

All I could think to do was to take the laptop bag and get on the shuttle. At least my boarding pass and all the travel maps, etc. were in my purse. I imagined arriving at my brother's without any clothes, but figured I could buy some stuff tomorrow. The thing that really scared me was not having my cholesterol and blood pressure meds.

My heart was racing but I climbed on the shuttle and looked at the driver who was offering me a ticket with my parking place marked on it for my return trip. I looked down to stuff it in my purse and glanced at the luggage rack....and there was my bag. The driver must have hopped off and got it out of my open truck. I'd been so busy fumbling around packing items in the front seat into my purse that I'd been oblivious of what was going on right behind me.

I'd never done this private parking lot before because I get reimbursed for airport garage when I fly for MQAC. And when I go overseas I have a motel parking arrangement. But I'll like do it again.

It's a relief that I'm not losing my of the scariest moments ever when I stared at that nearly empty trunk.

Got lucky at the airport. They put me on an earlier flight, a big Alaska rather than the little Horizon, so I don't have to exit on a wet tarmac and climb up two flights of stairs to get to the arrival section. I also picked up a penny on the ground near maybe I'll have good luck all day.

My luck held steady the rest of the day...the plane was on time and from my window seat I caught a gorgeous glimpse of Catalina Island, where I spent my honeymoon in 1955. I felt as if I were coming home.

My brother greeted me warmly...and healthily...and we enjoyed the evening reminiscing. We dined on delicious fish suppers at a nifty nearby bistro.

I'm exploring the changing scene of the Belmont Shore and Belmont Heights of my old home town of Long Beach this morning...there's a vacancy in the apartment building I lived in for a couple of years in the late '50s. I'm breathing the Pacific air, noticing the new book shops (I'm writing this at the Barnes and Noble Starbucks at Marina Pacific), and settling into my persona as a California girl once more.

I'm also grateful that I'm not inching towards dementia as I suspected for one brief moment at the Park and Fly yesterday. There's wisdom indeed in knowing what to be grateful for! As my always wise son, Steve Elders, responded to my frantic email:
"What could have been a horror story turns into a funny story. Glad it all worked out."

I look forward to an equinox filled with wisdom and free of further frights! Autumn indeed is a season for gratitude.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Travel...and Hope

Traveling Postcards is a humanitarian organization founded on the premise that art has the ability to heal, feed and transform our lives.
Since I was a girl, curling up on the garden bench under the shade of a walnut tree in Grandma Gertie's backyard in Ontario, CA, I've been thumbing through Woman's Day. I particularly revere this magazine because it was the first national periodical to publish something I'd written, a paragraph about my family's "rabbit habit" in its "Neighbors" column back in 1967.

This past July I took a lemonade break and leafed through my latest issue, dogearing pages with inviting recipes to try. Then I came to a new feature, "Embrace Community." When I read this paragraph, it grabbed me:

While you're on vacation, pick up an extra postcard and fill it out with an empowering or comforting message. When you send it to the nonprofit Traveling Postcards, they will distribute it to a woman somewhere in the world who is struggling to overcome violence and oppression. Visit travelingpostcards for the full details.

Timely indeed, since I'd been packing to trot off to England to attend the University of Oxford, Christ Church, and then to spend some time with my friend Heather Bird in Weston-super-Mare. Heather loves to frequent charity shops, second-hand stores where all profits go to benefit certain worthy efforts. So while Heather tried on blouses, I plowed through shoeboxes of postcards, winnowing out some real winners.

I sought only the beautiful, the adventurous, the discarded anything that would not be empowering. I had a project in mind.

A couple of years ago, the Colville Branch, American Association of University Women, tried a new theme. For years we've enjoyed a January BookShare, where we all get together and recommend the best books we've read the previous year. We debuted TravelShare, at my house, and most attending loved playing "Two Truths and a Lie," an icebreaker I'd learned in Peace Corps while volunteering in the Dominican Republic.

This year for TravelShare, I'm going to display my new own Not Your Mother's Book: On Travel, and briefly relate what traveling the world has shown me about the strength and resilience of women. I'm asking the members to bring postcards they've found, and to think of some powerful words of wisdom to write on them.

Though the initial project calls for crafting homemade postcards, Woman's Day had given me an idea for an evening event that would not be so time-consuming as undertaking an art project. Words are art, too, and I'll ask the women to inscribe these cards with words from the heart, woman to woman, affirmations, yes, and additionally, admiration for survivors, women in shelters to escape domestic violence.

A quick tribute to my favorite magazine...thanks for the reminder that every day should be a WOMAN'S DAY!

Some gorgeous examples of comforting affirmations, for those who would like to work on a similar female gathering, can be found  here:

For more information on Traveling Postcards, visit the website: http://www.travelingpostcards
All postcards sent to Traveling Postcards will be sent to women who are currently living in shelters or who are survivors of sexual assault.

Send Cards with Affirmations to:

Traveling Postcards
8 Via San Inigo
Orinda, CA 94563 USA

**IMPORTANT** Please, do not directly mail or stamp your Traveling Postcard — it must be mailed in an envelope or box. 



Friday, September 13, 2013

Relaunching a Literary Life

Looks like Long Beach to me!

California writer Carolyn See, in 2002, autographed her memoir, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers with these sweet words, "For Terri Elders, with enough affection for a life time." I'd first met Carolyn in late '70s when I attended  a series of conferences she staged at Loyola-Marymount, symposiums of California writers. I'd fallen in love with her first novel (The Rest is Done With Mirrors) and believed that we were kindred spirits, both having grown up in Los Angeles in the early '50s.

So I was eager to meet See in person, and had a good excuse to attend the first conference. At that time I wrote literary, travel and social welfare articles for a Long Beach arts publication, Uncle Jam, so enjoyed interviewing Herbert Gold (Salt), Alice Adams (Superior Women), Alex Haley (Roots), A. Scott Berg (Max Perkins: Editor of Genius), and other luminaries as well as lesser lights. I remember later writing that at her events the wine flowed like wine. So I chuckled later when I read in Making a Literary Life, "I love big literary fundraisers and drinking bad wine from a plastic glass."

Carolyn See (l) with daughter, novelist Lisa See (Shanghai Girls)
Carolyn in her memoir includes savvy tips for making your own literary life...just in the off chance that you weren't "born and raised in an upper-middle-class (or higher) family in New York or New England." She advises that it's essential to hang out with people who support your work, and to network, network, network.

In the late '70s and early '80s I lived in Southern California where literary events and writers groups proliferated. Besides the Loyola-Marymount events, I even attended the D. H. Lawrence festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1980, where I rubbed shoulders with Allen Ginsberg, Stephen Spender and Margaret Drabble. I didn't miss a chance to interview a writer, and I'd always introduced myself as a journalist. I even got some freelance gigs for luncheon interviews with authors on tour, through a connection I'd made at one of Carolyn's symposiums with Julia Kessler (Getting Even With Getting Old). This included such bestselling writers of the times as Herb Cohen (How to Negotiate Anything), Susan Isaacs (Compromising Positions) and Martha Friedman (Overcoming the Fear of Success).

I wrote about them all for Uncle Jam...and in retrospect, my favorite piece probably was about the afternoon I spent at the home of Laura Archera Huxley, widow of Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), herself a writer (You Are Not The Target). She told me of what happened on the day that her husband died. It was November 22, 1963...a big news day, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She confided that she tried to keep the news from reaching his ears. People in the house were glued to the television, but she insisted they turn the volume down to a whisper, while she encouraged her husband to reach towards the light.I remember having goosebumps as she described the scene.

I treasure the copy of her spouse's The Doors of Perception that Laura autographed for me. Laura loved my article and wrote me a thank you note. Yes, it's six degrees of Kevin Bacon, I know...but somehow I felt connected to Aldous, and I had Laura's note framed.

My life took a different path by the mid-'80s. I became so engrossed in my career as a psychiatric social worker that I had little time left for hobnobbing with a literary crowd. Then I went overseas with the Peace Corps and lived abroad for ten years, in four developing countries. When I returned in 1998 I had to reestablish my career as a licensed clinical social worker and worked for the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock and at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. I'd additionally remarried in 2000, so had housewife chores and duties to eat up my time.

In 2006 I took stock and asked myself what I was missing. I knew, of course. I missed writing. I'd been editing other people's works off and on for decades, but I'd more or less stopped producing my own, aside from the occasional travel piece when I lived in Guatemala in the early '90s. I figured it was time to get back on track.

Since I started writing memoir again, I've had true stories published in 85 anthologies, with more on the way. I've also edited half a dozen books, including my own in the new Not Your Mother's Book series, Not Your Mother's Book...On Travel. Though for years I'd been identifying myself as a psychiatric social worker, in recent years when people ask what I do professionally, I now find myself saying I'm a freelance writer and editor.

To commemorate my new official status, yesterday I had some business cards made that simply proclaim Terri Elders, Writer * Editor, followed by my email address and blog website link. No need for too much information.

What am I going to do with them? For starters I'm  heading for California to attend the Southern California Writers Conference in Newport Beach, and the launch of the My Gutsy Story anthology series in Costa Mesa on September 26. I'd entered the My Gutsy Story online contest for August and I now have my very first virtual trophy. Here's more about Sonia Marsh's My Gutsy Story anthology book launch, a free event at Regency South Coast Village.

As Carolyn See always insisted, I'll use these opportunities to hobnob with other exchange leads and tips and writerly inside information. And, as she summed up so well, most likely to drink some bad wine in plastic glasses.

I can hardly wait...California, here I come!


Back in 1960 Ray Charles released a wonderful album, The Genius Hits the Road. This was his breakthrough into the pop-album Top 10. His rendition of "California, Here I Come," leaves Al Jolson and any other connoisseur of sunshine and flowers in the shade! Charles buffs may remember this album for "Georgia on My Mind." But California's on my mind, and I think it was on Ray's when he recorded this tune. He sounds so in-your-face anticipatory!

Here it is:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

When to Keep on Keeping on Can Kill You

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston Churchill

I grew up believing that you should never give up. Stick to your guns! Never admit defeat.

I didn't think I was stubborn...just steadfast. Maybe I'd eased into this attitude because I'd moved around from place to place, from relative to relative in early childhood, until I was adopted at age 5 by an aunt and uncle. So by my forties I'd amassed a long history of sticking with endeavors, regardless of the consequences. 

"You've got to stay with it," I'd tell myself, returning to college time and again to amass a bacherlor's degree, and then a teaching credential, and finally at age 39 enrolling at UCLA to earn an MSW.

(That did pay off for me...and you can read about that here:

But in my mid-forties I suffered a health crisis. I realized I'd was having difficulty applying mascara properly as I readied for work...because it became smudged by my tears. I knew I had to fight back those tears to avoid veering off the freeway on the way home from work. Nothing seemed to be going right, but I figured I'd have to bear the burden...that's just the way things were, I'd tell myself.

Besides, I felt needed. I'd learned in my training as a psychiatric social worker to recognize secondary gains... payoffs a sufferer might not be consciously aware of. But finally there came a day when simply feeling needed proved a serious hazard to my health...and maybe to my life.

I've told my story for an anthology series called "My Gutsy Story." My story, and the opportunity to vote for it as the best August story, can be found on Sonia Marsh's website here: 

If you read my story, you'll see how I found that you do not have to cling to what is...that you can embrace what might be, despite the unknown risks.

Sometimes the courageous option just might be to toss in the towel and step out of the ring.