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, 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.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Ever Heard of Nine Eleven?"

9/11 Memorial at Night
Ordinarily I enjoy a trip to my local post office. The usual window clerk welcomes me, takes my package, which nearly always is a book that I'm sending media mail. I clearly specify it's only a book, no cards or letters enclosed. She asks me the required HazMat questions, nods, asks if I want stamps, a receipt, overnight delivery, and treats me as a valued customer.

For some reason that didn't happen today. Another clerk stood at the window. As usual, I set my package on the scales, announced that it contained only a book and that I wanted to send it media mail. She began the required litany of questions.

"It's all 'no's today," I said. "It's only a book, and I want only media mail. Nothing else."

"I'm required to ask all these questions," she said, an aggressive note creeping into her voice, as if I were an unwanted pest. "Ever heard of Nine Eleven?"

This might have been the wrong thing to say to me today. I'd been thinking about 9/11 since I'd hopped out of bed, thinking that Patriot Day was coming on fast. I knew I'd want to say something about how that day still haunts me.

"I can understand that you have to ask the questions about hazardous materials," I said. "But there's no need to ask me the other questions when I've already said that all I want is media mail."

"I'm required to ask. Some customers have complained that we didn't offer an earlier delivery."

"My answers still, no and no."

"Then I'll have to start the questions all over again. It's my job to ask, and that's what I get paid for."

And she did. She didn't miss a one.

I'm a frequent flyer, and for years I've felt sorry for the TSA workers who've had to pat me down, dust my fingertips and ask me questions about a little computer that's been issued to me by the State of Washington for my work as on the medical board. I hadn't realized how annoying the postal workers have been required by their employer to become.

I suppose it's been because my usual clerk is so gracious and sweet. She even looks sympathetic as she runs down the questions she's required to ask. Or maybe it's because I'm in a better mood than I was today when I visited the office.

 In September 2001 as health program and training specialist for the United States Peace Corps InterAmerica/Pacific Region, I'd flown to Haiti to conduct the first training for Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts. We'd just opened our training session that morning, in a seaside hotel about three hours north of Port-au-Prince. The Haiti health program assistant Peace Corps Director beckoned me over.

"I've got bad news," she whispered. "I just got a call on my cell phone from the office. Two planes have crashed into the Twin Trade Center buildings in New York City, and another  has hit the Pentagon."

My husband and I lived in Silver Spring, MD. He was a late sleeper and I wondered if he'd turned on the news yet. I wondered if my office at 20th and L, near the Farragut North Metro station, had been evacuated. I wondered how in the world I'd ever get home, since my program manager told me she'd heard that JFK airport had been closed.

Somehow we got through the next three days. When the counterparts arrived the Volunteers were prepared to follow the training schedule on incorporating youth into HIV/AIDS programs. I walked through the exercises, worried about my husband, my coworkers, and the future of the United States.

And somehow I indeed got home just a few hours later than I'd anticipated, despite urgings on the part of the U.S. ambassador to remain in Haiti until more news was forthcoming.

"Your American Airlines flight from Miami to JFK will have been cancelled," he explained.

"I'd rather get to Miami and figure out what to do next." I'd felt relieved when the Haiti Peace Corps Director reported she'd sent an email to my husband and he'd responded that all was quiet in Silver Spring.

Fortunately when I got to Miami American Airlines told me they had a seat remaining in a midnight plane that they'd diverted to Dulles in Virginia, from its original JFK destination. I got aboard. The plane crew all wore black armbands and American flags in their lapels.

Thirteen years later, I speculate about what we've done here in the States to provide an illusion of safety. Were all the TSA and postal clerk tactics really effective in preventing further acts of terrorism on American soil? Or have they only lulled us into a sense of comfort? I grew up in the days of the 1950s "drop drills," which attempted to convince students we'd be safe from a nuclear attack by huddling under our school desks.

I remember that when I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Seychelles in the mid-'90s, a coworker confided her suspicions about why the government there didn't institute a way to control the mobs that pushed aside and trampled on the smaller and weaker passengers, in a frantic rush to fight one's way aboard the infrequent buses.

"I suspect it's to keep us diverted, to keep us worried about the little things, such as will we get home in time to cook dinner for our kids, rather than the big things, such as why our freedom of choice about what profession we'll enter is so curtailed."

In that country at that time, the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs pretty much determined what line of work young people would be trained for. It wasn't a choice the eventual employees could make for themselves.

So I think about Homeland Security, about FEMA, about TSA...and about USPS clerks. Do dealing with these bureaucracies somehow distract us from larger worries?

I'm glad I don't have to be aggressively hostile to customers in order to keep a job and draw a paycheck. I wish common sense weren't so uncommon. I wish I sometimes had more patience when it's absent.