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, December 18, 2014

Wondering About the Whys and Wherefores...

Beth Erickson

For several years I've subscribed to Beth Erickson's free newsletter, "Writing, Etc." Sometimes I skim through and delete. Sometimes I take time to think about her sage advice, and occasionally I file away the issue for further perusal. But today she asked a simple question that I know I'll be pondering all day long. Why, during this busy holiday season, am I concerned that I've not yet written a piece to submit to an anthology with a looming deadline? Haven't I already mined enough of my life in this screwy compulsion to submit, submit and submit? And now, WHY, in advanced old age, am I contemplating the challenge of trying my hand at fiction?

"Why?" Beth asks. Well...why not? It's simply what I do. What about you?

Here's her newsletter...and be sure to subscribe to Writing, Etc. if you haven't already signed up.

Why do you write?Posted on December 18, 2014 by 

Writing Etc.: Make your writing sparkle, write killer queries, get published. Tips, tools, and techniques to help sell your writing.
December 18, 2014
~~ Notes from Minnesota ~~~
Hey Writing Etc. subscriber,
All my cancerversary tests turned out OK. Liver numbers? Check. Tumor markers? Yup. So far, so good.
So, what do I do with the next six months?
I pondered this question quite a while. Writing is changing. Fees are declining in many markets. New books are flooding Amazon (many aren’t that great, btw).
So, how do you actually make a living as a writer?
From my perspective, I guess that’s what we’ll focus on 2015. In the mean time, if you have any writing friends, I’d be exceedingly grateful if you’d steer them this direction. We need join forces and create a vibrant writing community intent on not only honing our craft, but who take the business side of this endeavor just as serious.
More on all this later.
Why do you write?
Beth Ann Erickson
Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself why you write?
Sure. You may write to inform. Perhaps you do it to persuade. Some people do it for psychic gratification. Some write for money.
But what do you write? Why do you write it? Why go through the angst of continual critique, challenges to your position, the horror of discovering you’re wrong?
Here’s my take on the subject:
I write because I like to stir my pot. It’s who I am. I ask questions. I make mistakes. I get messy. There are times I side with the underdog only because I want to experience their point of view.
I intentionally place myself in the small edges of the bell curve because I adore experiencing life through the eyes of everyone. Perhaps it’s my newspaper reporting, continually urging me to explore all aspects of the story.
Perhaps it’s because at an early age, as I watched my baby sister slowly die, that experience forever changed the way I viewed life, the way I looked at people, and how so-called imperfections can alter the trajectory of a life, even if that life is painfully short.
Because of that little sister, my life is a continual (and sometimes annoying) adventure. Life is short, if you don’t experience it now, you may run out of time.
Some of my adventures include:
  • Marketing director for a very large metaphysical “university” (Woah, the stories I’ll tell…)
  • Activity director for a local assisted living facility (Adventures in aging.)
  • Personal vegan chef (Interesting lifestyle, easy weight loss.)
  • Foster care provider for local humane society (What some people do to animals is terrible.)
  • Cancer quackery challenger (Want to get people mad? Tell them anyone can get cancer.)
  • Religious commentary writer (Had to be real careful here. Some religious people don’t appreciate questions… evidently.)
  • And a few crazy adventures best left private… (Ha. How’s that for a teaser?)
My point? Every single adventure has added a dimension to that which I call “life.” I write because I have questions. I’m curious. After all this time, I have doubts that will change. There’s nothing worse than thinking, “I wonder what would happen if…” I have to know… through personal experience.
I write because this profession reflects “me” better than any other profession. I can’t be anything but who I am. I’m a writer.
Now… tell me why you write (if you feel comfortable doing so) in the comment section below. Thanks! :)
This article is courtesy of Filbert Publishing. Make your writing sparkle, write killer queries, get published. Subscribe to Writing Etc., the free e-mag for freelancers and receive the e-book “Power Queries.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Irresistible Kristy Tate

The Pretty Ms. Kristy
Sometimes you're lucky enough to pick up a book that simply makes you smile. So I was in luck, indeed, when my daughter-in-law, Mari Lou Elders, emailed that the guest for her upcoming writing group session would be one of her fiction-writing friends, Kristy Tate.

For the past few weeks I'd been reading heavy stuff, autobiography, including the California Reads selection, What It is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes. and Cherie Currie's depressing saga of her years with the 1980s girl band, The Runaways, Neon Angel.

I'd been contemplating next dipping into Dickens, with my eye on Little Dorrit, already downloaded to my Kindle. But when Mari Lou mentioned Kristy, I thought I'd give her a try, even though I've never been much for chick lit or rom coms. In recent years I've shied away from time travel or paranormal themes, though one of my favorite all-time novels is Bid Time Return, Richard Matheson's 1975 novel set at California's hauntingly lovely Victorian Hotel Del Coronado.
Hotel Del Coronado

So I downloaded Stuck With You, and found myself grinning from ear to ear as I scrolled through the pages. Kristy's characters exchange such clever quips. Her preposterous situations somehow become wholly believable. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, a perkily clean romp that readied me to meet Ms. Kristy in person.

Kristy showed up with homemade apple fritters, which she shared with us before she began to read from another of her novels, A Ghost of a Second Chance. It turns out that it's set in Rose Arbor, a place that links several of Kristy's novels.

Her books deal with love after death, love beyond the grave, with people "briefly colliding, before sailing away."

Kristy extolled the virtues of self-publishing. "There's no deadlines, no crunch or stress. Nobody really cares." Nonetheless, she admitted that she treats writing like a business, and has shifted her perception of her audience from friends and family to the world at large. The mother of six, all grown now, Kristy sticks to a strict daily schedule, and manages to fit writing into that routine, several hours a day.

"I've found that if I write for an hour or two, take fifteen minutes to do something physical, take the laundry out of the dryer, mop the floor, anything, I can sit back down and write some more." Good advice indeed for those of us who begin to sink into a computer coma after an hour or two of staring at a screen.

Kristy's ideas for her next novel usually strike as she is finishing her current one...and she begins to fall in love with her characters before they are even born on the page.

I have never written much fiction, other than an attempt at a novel in a creative writing course in the late '50s, and a couple of short stories that merged from tweaking true-life nonfiction that I couldn't place in any anthology.

As we washed our coffee cups at the conclusion of the morning, several of the members of the writing group agreed that Kristy's talk had inspired them to write more, to even attempt writing in a field outside their comfort zone.

Personally, I believe there's fiction in my writing future. In fact, FICTION might be my daily word of choice for 2015, just like CALIFORNIA was for 2014. I hereby resolve.

As Kristy said, "Look at your next five years and what do you see?"

Hmmmmm. At 82, could I be posing for a picture to be posted on my blog, holding a....novel??? If that's to be my fate, I wonder if my story will be set at a world-famous landmark, such as the Hotel Del, or in a more mundane but equally evocative place...such as Kristy Tate's elevator trap in Stuck With You. Something to jump start my imagination. Perhaps if I conjure up the setting, the characters, plot and structure will jump into place.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

D is for Dickens, Discord and Dorrit

Yesterday at Westwood's Geffen Theater, I watched Jefferson, Tolstoi and Dickens debate the legitimacy of the respective revisions they each had done of the scriptures. Reviewer Taryn Hillin comments in The Huffington Post:
It's quite a feat to throw three historical figures in a room together and ask them to figure out the meaning of life. Carter, an executive producer and writer for Bill Maher’s "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time," is up to the task.
He uses a formula similar to Sartre's "No Exit" and locks the scribes in a room which -- you guessed it -- has no exit. It soon becomes clear that each man had died, albeit at different times, and entered this room directly after his demise. Eventually they discover what they all have in common: each man was brazen enough to write his own gospel.
Playwright Scott Carter took the stage after the performance for a half hour Q&A with the audience, along with the actors portraying Jefferson and Tolstoi. The discussion centered on what motivated each of these exemplary 19th century figures to pick and choose which Biblical verses to include in their revisions. Some audience members felt it overwhelmingly arrogant to choose to revise what they regarded as The Word of God.

Fortunately, Carter refrained from engaging in any arguments about the historical development of the books of the Bible, and instead focused on his own inner struggle to resolve what he believed to be the answers to "Why are we here?" and "Does God exist?"

In this performance, the character playing Dickens dominated the stage, just as he did in real life, full of sound and fury, and blustering and bellowing. Ever a Dickens fan, I was amused. As we left the theater there were baskets of buttons instructing playgoers to advertise the play by choosing the philosophical point of view that they would back. Because of my allegiance to Dickens I scooped up two that announce, "I'm with Dickens #THREEDEADGUYS."

After all, Dickens brought Christmas celebrations back to Victorian England in the time of reign of the industrial revolution. Dickens novels focused on the cruelties of the new urban life brought about by those changes...the treatment of children, the poor, the unemployed, servants, shop workers. And, of course, A Christmas Carol, became a lasting recipe for how examining ones life and deeds can impact others. In Discord, this is what the three characters ultimately end up doing.

A couple of years ago I celebrated the Dickens bicentennial in a big way. I'm including here an article I wrote then for Uncle Jam. Now it once again is time for me to read Dickens, and this time I'm choosing Little Dorrit. I also hope to attend the Riverside Dickens Festival in February. 

Even Now…The Best of Times

By Terri Elders

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, English novelist (1812 - 1870)  

In the enchanting Oscar-nominated film, Hugo, young Isabelle gushes, “I’m half in love with David Copperfield.”  How delightful that director Martin Scorsese pays tribute to the genius of Charles Dickens in the author’s Bicentennial Year. A confession: I’ve been totally in love with Dickens’ works since adolescence.

Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812.  Yep, two hundred years ago, so the Dickens Bicentenary corresponds with my own seventy-fifth birthday. Late last year I decided I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my personal diamond jubilee than to devote most of 2012 to a celebration of that foremost gem of English authors.

My romance with Charles Dickens began in my late teens when I started turning the pages of David Copperfield. Over the decades I’ve savored nearly everything he wrote. Back in the early ‘80s I attended The Dickens Universe at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when the novel of focus was Martin Chuzzlewit, known as the American novel.

In 2003 I dragged my late husband to Ford’s Theater to see A Christmas Carol, since it was the last Christmas season we’d be living near Washington DC.  Two summers ago I enrolled in a course at the University of Cambridge International Summer School, “Criminals and Gentlemen in Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.”  

You could call me a Dickens groupie, and it wouldn’t be an anachronism. Dickens indeed was the rock star of his time.


I began my Dickens Bicentennial celebration a week early, on Christmas Eve, even though the official onset wasn't until New Year's Day. That evening I settled down to watch The Mystery of Edwin Drood, filmed a couple of years before I was born, and starring the remarkable Claude Rains. Earlier that month I’d taped several other films from the Turner Classic Movies wondrous "Dickens in December" series. I’ve been watching them all winter and spring. If you didn’t get to tape them, most are available through Netflix.
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) with Claude Rains.
  • Oliver Twist (1948) with Alec Guinness.
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1947) with Cedric Hardwicke.
  • A Christmas Carol (1938) with Reginald Owen.
  • A Tale of Two Cities (1958) with Dirk Bogarde.
  • Little Dorrit (1984) with Alec Guinness.
As 2012 progresses, I’m rereading Bleak House, and following the daily discussion of its chapters on a Yahoo Group, Inimitable Boz. I also am reading some of the lesser-known Dickens' works, mostly short stories, downloaded for free to my Kindle:
  • The Seven Poor Travellers
  • Somebody's Luggage
  • Going into Society
  • Mugby Junction
  • The Haunted House
  • Doctor Marigold

In June I'll be celebrating in London with Road Scholar's "The Best of Times." Kevin Flude, a Dickensian expert, will be leading this tour. Highlights include:
  • A pub crawl to Dickens' favorite haunts: The George Inn and the Prospect of Whitby.
  • An outing to marshy Kent to see both Gad’s Hill Place, Dickens' occasional holiday retreat, and the manor that was the model for Bleak House.
  • A visit to Little Dorrit's church, St. George the Martyr.
  • A coach trip to the historic waterfront city of Portsmouth, to the site of Dickens' birth, where now is located the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.
  • A staging of Oliver! at the Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green, by a well-known amateur dramatics group.
I’ve also secured a ticket to see the interactive musical comedy, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, at the Art Theatre. This was the last novel Dickens undertook, and he didn’t finish it. Rumor has it that he offered to tell Queen Victoria how it all turned out, but she refused, wanting to follow it in the serial form in which it was published. This production stops two-thirds of the way through, and the audience gets to vote on how it thinks the book would have ended. The actors then finish up, according to the outcome of the vote.

I’d mentioned earlier that there are two full-body statues of Dickens. Besides the one in Philadelphia, there’s another standing in Sydney’s Centennial Park, New South Wales. Though Dickens never visited Australia, two of his sons emigrated there. Since I have several friends in Australia, I’m thinking of a future trip to see this one, as well. Perhaps in 2013 I’ll be still celebrating Dickens, and this time Down Under!

If you, too, want to pay homage to The Inimitable Boz during his big year, here’s some websites you might investigate:

Home of the largest collection of Dickens quotations on the web.

Site of all things Dickens, quotes, reflections, references.

Searchable collection of Dickens’ works.

Historical and biographical information, scholarly commentary and criticism.

An email list presently reading and commenting on Bleak House.

Included in membership is a subscription to the fascinating newsletter, The Buzfuz Bulletin.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pierless No More

 Yesterday morning I strolled to the end of the Huntington Beach pier, an adventure I hope to undertake on subsequent Tuesdays, whenever I'm not attending a book group gathering. The recreation schedule at my new apartment complex, HW Senior Living, schedules trips to the pier each Tuesday.

In Orange County we're enjoying a warm late November, so surfers, volleyball players and fishermen are crowding Huntington Beach State Beach. This three-and-a-half mile stretch of shoreline is a west coast surf mecca. More than eight million visit Surf City annually. Though our bus group stayed only an hour it was plenty of time for me to breathe in the salty air, and admire the gymnastics on land and sea, and the gyrations of both fish and fowl.

Getting to the beach via bus brought back memories of the fifties, when, as a teen growing up in Los Angeles, I used to bus from my southwest neighborhood home to Hermosa to body surf and hang out next to The Lighthouse, hoping to hear The Howard Rumsey All Stars in session.

I browsed the Internet and found a review that explains the popularity of this site in the fifties, where more than once I got to hear the legendary Bob Cooper on tenor sax.

A little over a year ago when I visited family and friends here, I went wading in the Pacific in the Long Beach neighborhood of Belmont Shore. I realized then I had to return to the beach ambiance of my youth. Though Stevens County teems with streams and rivers, somehow it's not the same as being by the sea.

It's good to be home again. I'm hoping to make it next week to Belmont Shore to admire the pelicans.

Pelican at Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier
Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time. --H. P. Lovecraft

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Thanksgiving Tale Redux

“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.” ~ Richelle E. Goodrich

This Thanksgiving I'll be celebrating with my son and daughter-in-law and perhaps a few friends of theirs. This will be the first time I've been in California for this holiday since 1987. My gratitude this year, of course, centers about being back home once more after all these years. I'm thankful to be warm once again, after all the years of holiday snow and ice...and for seeing the sun shine in the late autumn and winter.

I well remember those family celebrations of my childhood...and how Mama and Grandma Gertie planned them out, to the last roll and celery stick. Five years ago I wrote the story below about one such typical planning session. I posted this last year, but it's one of my favorite stories, so I'm posting it author's prerogative. 

Spellbound by Swanky Swigs 

This past November I laid in a good supply of cheese spreads…for stuffing celery for Thanksgiving dinner, of course. My grocer still stocks those little Kraft jars with the savory olive pimiento and roka blue flavors I’ve always loved, but I regret that now they’re sold in plain little glass jars, not the glamorous red tulip or blue cornflower juice glasses of my girlhood. Even so, I could hardly wait to get the jars home and once again sample my favorite canapĂ©.

Of course, if they were still around, Grandma and Mama probably would laugh at my nostalgia, just as they laughed at those glasses in their l940s heyday, and at Auntie Dorothy who always toted them to our holiday feast. Even as a girl I realized that when it came to holiday dinners, my female forbears were culinary elitists with rigid ideas about appropriate bills of fare. Cheese-stuffed celery, in their view, was just plain cheesy. And Grandma and Mama could be downright catty.

Looking back, it seems as if every year as soon as we set aside the candy corn and jack-o'-lanterns, Grandma and Mama would huddle in the kitchen to conduct their annual Thanksgiving dinner debate.

One year when I was twelve, the awkward age, too old for toys, too young for boys, I joined the women in the kitchen, volunteering to peel potatoes or shell peas. I had seen Grandma pull her writing tablet and yellow pencil out of her purse, and knew that the confab was about to begin. The two would bicker and banter on the venue and the menu…and then get down to the real family gossip as they discussed who would bring what. I didn’t want to miss a word.

“We’ll do it again at my house, since I have the larger dining room,” Grandma began.

“But our house is so much more accessible,” Mama countered.

“I have a kitchen table for the children,” Grandma parried.

I smiled to myself. Grandma always won this argument. Never in my memory had the family gathered elsewhere, but Mama always felt obligated to put in her pitch. I’d overheard her tell Daddy she didn’t know how she’d accommodate everybody if Grandma ever actually gave in.

“I’ve been thinking about the menu. Maybe a ham would be nice this year,” Mama ventured, winking at me. I knew she loved to tease Grandma.

“Oh, Mama, that sounds wonderful, and with pineapple garnishes!” I chimed in, conspiratorially.

“For heaven’s sake, it’s Thanksgiving. We’ll have turkey just as we always do,” Grandma folded her arms and stared at the two us as if we’d both lost our senses.

 Mama nodded. “OK, I’ll bake the pumpkin pies.”

“And I’ll make lemon meringue, since you know that the boys don’t like pumpkin.”

 Grandma tapped her pencil on the table. “Should we ask Joe and Julia if they’d do the sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes? Joe always eats three times more potatoes than everybody else put together, so maybe if they’re in charge they’ll bring enough to go around.”

Mama and I grinned. Burly Uncle Joe could be counted on to ensure there’d be no leftover spuds. When he’d ask for his fourth helping, Aunt Julia would pass him the bowl with a big smile, proud of her trencherman spouse.

“And what about Teddy?” Mama loved her bachelor stepbrother, but knew he couldn’t cook worth a whit.

“Let’s ask him to bring some wine,” Grandma said, gnawing on her pencil. “He makes plenty of dough, so maybe we should suggest champagne.”

Mama brightened. I don’t think I’d ever seen champagne at a family feast, and I don’t recall Mama and Daddy having any even on New Year’s Eve.

“Poor Opal can bring the green bean casserole,” Grandma continued. I perked up, waiting for more information. It was true that Auntie Opal always looked pale and tired, but I wasn’t certain why.

“Well, the way Jim drinks, Opal has to look after the house, the jewelry shop and raise those kids practically on her own. It’ll be a wonder if she finds the energy to open a can of onion rings,” Mama observed.

Grandma stared at her tablet and scribbled a few words. “I’ll do the turkey, stuffing and gravy, and you can make some rolls. I guess Dorothy will bring the celery,” Grandma said, looking up. “And she’ll think she’s done something special when she brings that dreadful processed cheese in those dinky little glasses.”

Mama snickered, but I held my breath. I loved helping Auntie Dorothy stuff the celery, and adored the elegant flowered glasses she said were mine.

Mama sighed. “Just because she and Roy never had children is no reason for her not to learn to cook. She should be making decent suppers for her husband instead of expecting him to live on baked beans and bacon sandwiches.”

I set down my potato peeler and waited expectantly. I couldn’t imagine Daddy’s reaction if Mama put such a meal before him, but it sure sounded tasty to me.

Roy has the patience of a saint,” Grandma said, shaking her head. “Imagine that woman off to the church every day to play the piano for choir practice, when she should be cleaning that little apartment.” I’d been to those practices with Auntie Dorothy. The choir even let me sing along, even though I knew I wasn’t quite on pitch.

On Thanksgiving we gathered at Grandma’s. Uncle Jim greeted us jovially, smelling of equal parts Old Spice and Old Crow. Uncle Joe huffed and puffed up the steps, a tub of potatoes tucked under each arm. When Auntie Dorothy arrived with her big brown bag, I hurried to her side.

“Can I help you get your celery ready?”

“Of course, and I’ve got another cheese glass for you, too.” I gaped, spellbound, as she pulled the latest acquisition to my collection out of the bag…a rare black tulip.

Today I open my kitchen cabinet and gaze at the miniature tumblers that I’ve treasured for over half a century: tulips, forget-me-nots, lilies of the valley, bachelor buttons, and my favorite, a light blue cornflower with emerald leaves.

When I checked recently on e-Bay I was astonished to learn that these days collectors call these humble glasses swanky swigs, and they’re highly regarded for their ornate decals. They now sell for what Grandma would have called a pretty penny. Why, one set of four blue tulips is listed for twenty bucks, and forget-me-nots go for at least eight dollars each.

I pull down the black tulip and hold it up to the sunlight. Not only can I recall the snap and crunch of Auntie Dorothy’s celery filled with pineapple cheese, I remember how Mama poured half an inch of Teddy’s bubbly into this very same tumbler, and I, feeling swanky indeed, had taken my first swig of champagne.

For supper tonight maybe I’ll fry up some bacon and open a can of beans, fill a few stalks of celery with roka blue. I’ll check the pantry for champagne so I can toast to the entire family that provided such memorable Thanksgiving dinners, including, especially, Auntie Dorothy. 

 "Spellbound by Swanky Swigs" appears in Thanksgiving Tales, edited by Brian Jaffe, and available on as a paperback and on Kindle.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Gift of Love for the Holidays

I'm going to the matinee on December 13 and you can, too. From chixLIT partnering with the Chance Theater to my blog to my Los Angeles and Orange County don't want to miss this opportunity!

Have you already met the love of your life? Georg and Amalia escape the stress of the parfumerie (and each other’s company) through passionate letters full of longing to anonymous pen pals – never guessing that they are writing to each other! This crown jewel of the golden age of musicals and winner of 10 Tony Awards, is the musical adaptation of the play that inspired such films as “The Shop Around The Corner” “In The Good Old Summertime,” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

chixLIT is proud to be a community partner of the Chance Theater for its holiday production of SHE LOVES ME, running Nov. 28-Dec. 28 at the theater in Anaheim.

As a gift to chixLIT supporters and A Touch of Tarragon readers, you can save $15 per ticket to any show (subject to availability) by using the code CHIXLIT116 when you call (714-777-3033) or order online (

"She Loves Me," a Tony-winning musical version of "The Shop Around the Corner" (and "You've Got Mail") is family-friendly and suitable for all ages. There are matinee and evening performances. Tickets also make nice gifts!

Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center is located at 5522 E. La Palma Avenue in Anaheim Hills. Going west on La Palma from Imperial Highway, we are on the left in the front of the industrial park just past the In & Out. There is plenty of parking in front of the theater and within walking distance.

Friday, November 7, 2014

More Than One Way to be Wild!

With Sonia Marsh at My Gutsy Story 2 launch at Zov's
What could be a gutsier venture than Cheryl Strayed's trek, described in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail? How about packing up your entire family, including three sons, and moving from suburban Orange County to the cayes of Belize? That's what Sonia Marsh did. And then she wrote about it in From Freeways to Flipflops. Here's how Sonia describes her decision to go public with her tropical adventure:
Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family's Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island started as a journal, six months before we left for Belize. Once there, I sent e-mails to friends in Europe and the U.S., and they encouraged me to keep writing and said, "Wow, Sonia, your life is so much more exciting than my daily routine. Please keep writing."
The challenge was to turn my journal into a memoir. After numerous rewrites and professional edits, I finally finished a memoir which many say, "It reads like a movie."
My dream would be to see our modern-day "Swiss Family Robinson" adventure, turned into a movie. 

Since I've been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize, I sometimes browse Amazon for books on the country, so a little over a year ago I came across Sonia's book, read it, and then found that Sonia also had a website, and sponsored a My Gutsy Living Contest. I entered her contest in August 2013, and since I happened to be visiting in California at the time of the launch of her first anthology from that contest, attended and met Sonia in person.

Later she discovered my Peace Corps background included not only service in Belize, but in Dominican Republic and Seychelles, and four years at Peace Corps Headquarters as program and training specialist for community health for both InterAmerica/Pacific Region and Europe/Mediterranean/Asia Region.

In my submission for My Gutsy Story 2, "A Happy Heart," I discussed how I became free to join the Peace Corps at age 50 in 1987. Coincidentally shortly before I came to California a few months ago to look for an apartment, I received a message from Sonia that she intended to embark on yet another gutsy adventure...she, too, planned to join the Peace Corps.So I met her for lunch and talked about the challenges and joys of Peace Corps service for older female Volunteers.

Now I'm settling into an apartment in a senior retirement community in Orange County, so once again was here and able to attend Sonia's book launch last Saturday at Zov's in Tustin for My Gutsy Story Anthology: Inspirational Short Stories About Taking Chances and Changing Your Life (Volume 2)

So I had the opportunity to meet one of Sonia's panelists, Julia Capizzi, Peace Corps Regional Representative, Orange County. Julia had served as a PCV in El Salvador during the time I worked at Peace Corps HQ. Together we encouraged Sonia to continue to pursue her current application for service. Sonia is considering a possible placement in Timor-Leste.
With Regional Rep Julia Capizzi
While she awaits word from Peace Corps about her future, busy Sonia seeks contributions for the 2015 My Gutsy Story 3 collection. Submission guidelines for the contest and anthology are here:

For those interested in joining Peace Corps, the application is online here:

If you live in Southern California you can call Julia Toll Free at 855-855-1961 or Direct at 949-482-7804. You can also email her at

I'm hoping to help Julia in some of her upcoming recruitment events, to continue to assist and advise Sonia when she gets her PC assignment, and to join the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group in Orange County.

There's nothing gutsier than giving Peace Corps a chance. Though I'll go see Wild, which opens on December 5 and stars Reese Witherspoon, and continue to follow Cheryl Strayed on Facebook, I'm also eagerly awaiting the movie version of From Freeways to Flipflops. Who would I cast as Sonia? Hey, I'd pick Laura Dern! She's a gutsy enough actress to take this on.
Could Laura play Sonia?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Traveling in Arkin's Country of the Blind

Matt Arkin showed me his...I showed him mine!
His is In The Country of the Blind...mine is Not Your Mother's Book...On Travel.

One benefit of tramping around the world for the past several decades...I've learned what places I'd never return to, given free will, and those I want to visit again and again. The same goes for books that celebrate geographical settings.

Charles Dickens plunged me into the streets of Victorian London...and I've trotted back there time and again. Raymond Chandler did the same for me in my hometown, Los Angeles. Now Matt Arkin has me itching to revisit New York City.

In  In the Country of the Blind, Arkin introduces a Phillip Marlowe-like knight, Zach Brandis, who haunts the seamy side of NYC, as well as its upscale bistros, in search of answers on how to help damsels...and dudes, distress. I'm hooked. I can't wait for the second novel in this new series. 

My son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Mari Lou Elders, regularly attend plays at South Coast Repertory and had seen Matt Arkin (son of Oscar-winning Alan and brother of actor Adam) in several productions. So when they saw a blind auction item at a fundraiser for the Chance Theater, a lunch date with Arkin, they bid...and won. At that lunch, Mari Lou invited him to come to a writing class she has taught for several years, to discuss self publishing and read from his debut novel, In the Country of the Blind. 

Steve emailed me Sunday with this news and an invitation to attend. I downloaded the book on my Kindle, and was up past midnight on Monday night, finishing the last chapters. It's a page turner, but much, much more. This character-driven quest features a protagonist, Zach Brandis, a self-described "recovering attorney" turned building super. Zach's inner North Star, it turns out, revolves around an unwavering view of justice, equity and responsibility for one's fellow creatures. The social work profession shares this value system of social justice, which perhaps explains why I, a licensed clinical social worker, so intensely identified with Zach's motives for wanting to get involved in righting what he views as wrongs. And he does. When Zach learns that nobody is much interested in the death of the roommate of Cynthia Hull, a woman he's interested in, and the police seems to think he and Cynthia might have "cleaned up the scene," he sets out to piece together the puzzle.

An ardent fan of serial mystery novels since his youth, Arkin told the writing group that he got hooked early on John D. McDonald's Travis McGee novels. In the sixties and seventies I doted on this series, featuring a hero who is neither a cop nor a private investigator, but rather a "salvage consultant." Similarly, Brandis, like McGee, has managed to find a way to live that doesn't depend on a salary. This frees him from bondage to established institutional loyalties. And like Chandler's Marlowe, Brandis remains morally upright, reflective and philosophical throughout threatening and sometimes outright dangerous encounters.

In naming his hero, Arkin did some research and learned that Brandis meant "burnt field." I did a Google search and found that people named Brandis allegedly are thought to be passionate, compassionate, intuitive, romantic, and to have magnetic personalities. This all rings true with Zach...a perfect choice for a moniker that would have left Henry James, the master namer, proud.

Arkin asked the group who they would cast as Zach in a TV or film production. Though he'd love to play the role himself, he's in his mid-fifties, and Zach is about 35. He confessed his choice would be Josh Radner, who played Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. But Arkin has his doubts. "Only one book ever was made into a movie where they got it all right...To Kill a Mockingbird." There's another modern-day knight, Atticus Finch. No wonder Arkin bestowed "Atticus" as a middle name for one of his sons.

Some in the writing group felt Arkin devoted too much detail to NYC, identifying actual landmarks that they had little interest in. On the contrary, the city became vibrant for me, so I long to revisit it and seek out the physical sites, just as I did on my Road Scholar trip to England for the Dickens Bicentennial. I suspect I'll be revisiting NYC soon.

Here's the link to where you can order In the Country of the Blind:

And because I love to tag along for the ride, here's where you can order my NYMB...On Travel.

Arkin reading Chapter 1 at Mari Lou's Orange writing group

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Class of '14: Emphasis on Ethics

Washington State Medical Commission 2014
This past week I attended what likely will be my last meeting with the Washington State Medical Commission, formerly known as the Medical Quality Assurance Commission...or MQAC. Appointed by Governor Christine Gregoire in July 2006 as a public member, for the past eight years I have met with my fellow Commissioners for two or three days every six weeks, mainly in Olympia or Seattle. Additionally I have served on a couple of dozen health court hearings, as part of the judiciary process of ensuring patient safety in the state of Washington. I've also attended a number of national conferences sponsored by both the Federation of State Medical Boards and the Citizen's Advocacy Council.

The Washington State Medical Commission overseas the practice of medical doctors and physician assistants. Its mission is clear: promoting patient safety and enhancing the integrity of the profession through licensing, discipline, rule-making and education.

My term ended in August, but at that time Governor Jay Imslee appointed me as a pro tem, so officially I am still a member. That will end when I terminate my residency in Washington. Seven of us left together in August, and were honored at our August meeting as "The Magnificent Seven." I like to think of us new grads as the Class of '14,

We accomplished a lot in the past few years. The highlights are listed here:

A member of the Policy Committee and the Newsletter Committee, I also participated regularly on the Case Management Team reviews on Wednesday morning, and volunteered for other assignments that fell within my nonclinical skill set.

The achievement I am proudest of is heading the committee that developed professionalism and electronic media guidelines. These guidelines can be found here:

They earned the national Administrators in Medicine Best of Boards Honorable Mention Award earlier this year, and this past Wednesday night at a gathering of new and old Commissioners, staff and speakers for the conference, the current Commission chair, Richard Brantner, MD, awarded me the certificate our work committee work had won.

I am so proud of my fellow Commissioners and our staff who worked on this document with me. These are the basic concepts we wished to convey:

  • First, do no harm;
  • Place your patients’ interests above your own;
  • Always adhere to the same principles of professionalism online as offline;
  • Maintain professional boundaries at all times;
  • Do not misuse information gained through the physician-patient relationship or from patient records;
  • Do not do anything which you would hesitate to note in a patient’s chart or to explain to patients, their family members, your colleagues, the news media, or your medical review board.
The personal lesson I learned over the past eight years working with the Commission is that there are no easy answers in the practice of medicine. We debated, agonized and soul-searched over every single decision we made. Noted surgeon and writer Atul Gawande summed this up eloquently in his book, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science.

“The core predicament of medicine - the thing that makes being a patient so wrenching, being a doctor so difficult, and being a part of society that pays the bills they run up so vexing - is uncertainty. With all that we know nowadays about people and diseases and how to diagnose and treat them, it can be hard to see this, hard to grasp how deeply uncertainty runs. As a doctor, you come to find, however, that the struggle in caring for people is more often with what you do not know than what you do. Medicine's ground state is uncertainty. And wisdom - for both the patients and doctors - is defined by how one copes with it.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hallelujah! Change...for Good!

During the 2008 Summer Olympics, frequently I tapped my toes to Taylor Swift's "Change," a paean to overcoming obstacles and achieving triumph. That song's message reminded me of my Peace Corps years, when I worked with Volunteers and staff worldwide to try to effect change. 

What was it we wanted to change? Oh, how about saving lives and building futures? Peace Corps Volunteers worked to eliminate infectious disease, to fight human trafficking, to offer educational opportunities, to transfer business and occupational skills, to improve access to safe water and short, to do what some call the impossible, to bring about change for the better in this world. 

The line from Taylor's song that resonated with me: "You can walk away, say we don't need this,
but there's something in your eyes says we can beat this."

In the dozens of countries I worked in and visited while affiliated with Peace Corps, I frequently interacted with United Nations Volunteers and UNICEF. We had common goals. 

I'm going through some changes myself right now, preparing to move back to California, to a tiny apartment in an independent living community not far from my son, from my brother and from friends of decades past. As I sort through everything in this huge old country house, I try to find a place where what I no longer need can find a home. So I take bags of clothes and household goods to Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity. I'm taking books and magazines to the local libraries and to a nursing and rehab facility. Old computers will go to a business in town that bleaches the hard drives, cleans them up and donates them to needy area youngsters. 

For nearly 20 years I've kept a box with coins and bills from countries that I've visited, pocket change that I couldn't get rid of in far flung airports. It's a heavy box, and I can no longer remember where many come from. Some have little on them to identify their country of origin. Tomorrow I'm taking them to the post office. They're going to UNICEF USA's Change for Good program. Their experts will sort them and use them to provide a happier, healthier life for children globally.

Change for Good, established in 1987, the year I first became a Peace Corps Volunteer, is a partnership between UNICEF and the international airline industry. Click here to learn about how the program works:

Here's the address where you can mail international coins and bills:

U.S. Fund for UNICEF
ATTN: Change for Good Program
125 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038
As donations of foreign coins are processed in bulk by a third party vendor, please note that the acknowledgment you receive for your donation will not specify the amount of your gift.

When I first joined Peace Corps, many friends reminded me that plenty of children right here in the United States needed assistance with health, education and social needs. I agreed. They do. So I'm not forgetting them. For years as a social worker in Los Angeles County I served in programs addressing the needs of abused, neglected and abandoned children. Many cannot find permanent adoptive homes or adjust to life in foster homes because of a variety of developmental obstacles. One group home that I support is St. Jude's Ranch for Children. They have two programs for those who have little spare cash to contribute.

One is Campbell's Soup Labels program, eLabels for Education. To learn more about this program, click here:

One way to recycle and help is to save greeting cards until there's enough to fill a box. I'd been saving for ten years. St. Jude's seeks cards for all holidays, not just Christmas, through its Recycled Card Program. Right now they particularly want thank you and birthday cards. You can mail them all year long, and don't even have to cut off the fronts.
Yesterday I sent a small USPS Priority box filled with hundreds of greeting card fronts to this address:

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children
Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude’s Street
Boulder City, NV 89005 - See more at:
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children
Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude’s Street
Boulder City, NV 89005 - See more at:
St. Jude's Ranch for Children
Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude's Street
Boulder City, NV 89005

It's comforting to know that our discards can help improve the world. It might seem like an insignificant gesture against the Goliath that is neediness. But together, yes, we can bring about change in the world. We can sing along with Taylor, "It’s a revolution, throw your hands up, cause we never gave in, and we sang hallelujah, we sang hallelujah...Hallelujah."

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Clutch of Chicks: Warming Hearts and Souls

Nancy F, Terri, Ann
It wasn't a gaggle of geese, an exaltation of larks, or a murder of crows. was a clutch of chicks I'd invited to fly to Arden yesterday from Chewelah, Colville and Kettle Falls to celebrate Chicken Soup for the Soul's new line of food products and old line of heartwarming books. I greeted guests in my new Chicken Soup apron, with its caption, "Food is like life; it doesn't mind if you throw in a little spice."

Not all of the women were acquainted. I'd assembled my guest list from members of both my Colville Library and Chewelah book groups, and AAUW. I invited actress/director Woodland Theatre maven extraordinare Nancy Christopher, plus actress/reporter Sophia Aldous, soon to star in Woodland's Barefoot in the Park.

My menu, based on the products Chicken Soup had sent me, included soup with sour cream/onion toppings, turkey meatballs in tomato basil sauce, chicken thighs simmered in sesame ginger sauce, rice pilaf, a green salad with Caesar dressing, herb bread and a carrot cake, baked by Jane Conn.

Although the new products are rolling out throughout the country, they are not yet available here in Northeast Washington. They're so good that I know I'll be trying the other pasta and meal-builder sauces when they hit West Coast stores. Here's the link to product descriptions, recipes and comfort food sweepstakes...if you win, you, too, can roost a while with a clutch of chicks:

So what did we do besides eat, eat, and eat some more? Though males were not invited to our "chicks only" party, we toasted them with glasses of Rex Goliath wine, in honor of the 47-lb. rooster. Nancy Christopher lead us in an icebreaking exercise to help us remember each other's names. We talked about Libraries of Stevens County Lid Lift. Nancy Folkestad sold raffle tickets for a quilt for Friends of the Kettle Falls Library fundraiser. We discussed my upcoming move to Southern California and the wonderful senior living complex I'm heading toward.

Though I'd initially planned to seat six at the dining room table and four at the living room game table, the women couldn't bear to be separated. While I drained the pasta, they pulled the tall game chairs right into the dining room. So some towered above the rest of us, balancing plates precariously on their knees. What a clutch of chicks we were, chattering away the Sunday afternoon.

As each friend left, I presented her with her choice of the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul books containing my stories, Reboot Your Life and Touched by an Angel. You can order these from Amazon now!


Nancy C, Jane, Rusanne, Nancy F
Ann, Linda, Maggie, Nancy F
Nancy C, Ann, Sophia, Nancy F

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Bird in the Hand...

A Friendly Flock of Visitors
I've learned over the years that if you want to be a contributor to anthologies and periodicals, you need to become comfortable with a state of constant suspense. It goes with the territory. With the kind of first person true story creative nonfiction that's my genre, I send stories out for consideration and never hear anything back from their recipients. This is understandable.

Many publications let contributors know up front that they'll respond only if they're interested in using the material. Some considerately post on their submissions page that if you don't hear anything within a certain period of time, you can assume the material will not be selected for their publication.

Others, such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, may keep your story in their database indefinitely to use not for the prospective title you'd geared it toward, but for some future publication date. Maybe they have already selected a similar story for the immediate upcoming book, but still think yours might fit in sometime in the future. It's certainly happened to me, and to other writers I know.

Yet other publications give an approximate date that they will send acceptances and rejections. So there's that suspenseful moment again before you click on the email. Will it be good news or bad news, an acceptance or rejection?

Then there's publications, such as a beloved magazine group with millions of readers that says contributors will only be contacted if their material will be used in its magazines or website. This certainly is understandable. This particular well know brand name receives thousands of unsolicited manuscripts each month, and its editors claim they read them all.

So yesterday when I saw a message from that publication in my inbox, you can imagine my reaction. Of course I felt a surge of joyous anticipation. I'd done it! I'd broken into a market that I hadn't tried before. Wow...cause for celebration amid all the chaos of my days right now, as I try to clear my house out for moving back to California.

Then I opened the note and found that might not really be the case. A senior editor took time from her busy schedule of poring over countless manuscripts to offer a little advice and a little comfort. (I've deleted identifying information.)

 Hi, Terri. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your story. (I just read it again.) It’s not the kind of story we usually tell in our publications, but I’m hanging on to it in case I come up with a place to put it. Thanks so much for sending it to us.

Will they? Won't they? For me, the delight is that somebody read and apparently liked my story, enough to go back and reread it. How kind to let me know. So even if this story never sees print in this particular magazine, I feel affirmed and appreciated.

This morning a flock of wild turkeys landed in my pasture. When I went out to photograph them, I thought about the old saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Sure. But is that all the fun there is?

If one of these turkeys hopped up and begged me to ensnare it, provided, of course, during legal turkey hunting season, I'd certainly have the question of what's for dinner solved. On the other hand, if the birds stuck around, playing now-you-have-us, now-you-don't, I'd continue to enjoy the thrill of pursuit.

Seems to me it's a win-win. The birds haven't yet taken flight. They're hanging around, enjoying my pasture. There's still that outside chance I'll eventually enjoy a tasty dinner. And that's better than an outright rejection any day.