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....

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