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, August 31, 2014

Chicken Soup for MY Soul!

One of my favorite movies as a girl was Chicken Every Sunday. I giggled and sobbed as Celeste Holm for 20 years coped with her husband's hare-brained financial fumbles by keeping a boarding house. Natalie Wood played the daughter of Holm's character, Emily, and her husband, Jim, portrayed with daffy deftness by Dan Dailey.

I envied Natalie's character, a girl who could depend on chicken for supper every single Sunday. We weren't quite so fortunate. Though Mama and Grandma served up chicken at least once a month, they concocted a lot of casseroles and roasts. Me...give me chicken every time.

Since my late husband died five years ago, it's rare that I prepare a Sunday dinner of any particular note. If it's chicken, likely it's from the Safeway $5 Friday deli. 

But not on Sunday, September 21. That's when I'm throwing a hen party for just us chicks.

This has been a Chicken Soup for the Soul summer for me. For the first time ever, I have stories published in this series three months in a row:

August, The Dog Did What? with "When Natty Rescued Nami."
September, Reboot Your Life with "A Happy Heart."
October, Touched by an Angel with "A Penny from Heaven."

If that's not enough, a week ago I got a note from one of the Chicken Soup editors letting me know I'd won a box of the brand's new line of comfort food products. Last March I'd read this notice in the Inner Circle newsletter, a communique for contributors:

We’re looking for a few volunteers to host Chicken Soup for the Soul comfort food dinner parties. We’ll send you our food products; you cook and invite your friends, and then take lots of photos and write up the results for your blog and/or social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. 

The box is on the way! Needless to say, I can't stop browsing the Chicken Soup for the Soul website, wondering which products it will include. There's soups, broths, meal builders, gravies, soup toppers, trail mix, salsa, barbecue and pasta sauces. My box will include recipes and suggestions, as well.
This weekend I designed my invitation and located some cocktail napkins with a chicken motif. I'm shopping for wine next week, and will look for an array to accompany what I envision a variety of mouthwatering dishes. 

I'm inviting some of my favorite girlfriends to an old school Sunday chicken dinner! Though all of the products look tempting to me, I'm hoping my box contains the sesame ginger sauce! And, of course, Chicken Soup for the Soul chicken soup.

I've selected my centerpiece. Years ago I bought a Chicken Soup for the Soul Commemorative plate that nestles in a wrought iron stand atop my entertainment center, where I display all the books that contain my stories. It features a cozy kitchen with a cat lounging on the window seat and a tureen of soup steaming away on the wood stove. And the words, "Season All Things With Love."

You can win some Chicken Soup for the Soul comfort foods,'s a link to the company's weekly sweepstakes:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

From Out of The Past

Ken's poster, #397 of 2000 signed lithographs
"From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!”

My story, "Heroes," will appear in Whispering Angel's new anthology, available in September, Miracles and Extraordinary Blessings. It's one of my favorite stories about Ken, and his love of Westerns and the "good guys." Here's the opening paragraphs:

Nearly a year had gone by since Ken died. As the anniversary of that sad day neared, I felt lonely and longing for a chat. I wanted to tell him that the neighbors across the way finally painted their house, that I didn’t like the current contestants on American Idol, and that his favorite restaurant had slated a lobster fest. Most of all, I just wanted to hear his voice.

Then one morning as I dusted the den, I paused as I slid the cloth around the frame of one of his favorite lithographs, the one hanging on the wall above his overstuffed chair. The sepia-toned collage featured portraits of two dozen movie buckaroos, ranging from Johnny Mack Brown to John Wayne. Its caption, “All of My Hero’s Are Cowboys,” had made me grin when he’d first positioned the picture when we moved into our retirement home.

“It’s tough to make two mistakes in one word,” I’d said, “but the artist managed. He’s got a superfluous apostrophe and a misspelled plural. It should be h-e-r-o-e-s.”

Ken laughed. “I’d never noticed before. I’ve had this for years, but I’ve always been too busy admiring those actors. I love Westerns because the good guys always win.”

Ken claimed his mom had named him for one of the Western stars in the painting, Ken Maynard. “I’m just glad he was the one she idolized, rather than a couple of the other guys up there. I can’t imagine having gone through life as Hoot or Hopalong.”

I looked at the lithograph more closely. “Hmmm. There’s also Lash Larue and Crash Corrigan here. Lash or Crash would have been dashing.”

So what miracle is involved in this story? I linked it to a reminder that came out of nowhere to mail my stepson a birthday card...and the extraordinary coincidence I encountered when I dropped into the Colville Post Office to buy stamps.

The book can be ordered on Whispering Angel's website:

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ride on the Dark Side

Even though I usually can find silver linings for most of the misfortunes I've met with, some heretofore have remained in the shadows. Mostly for good reason. It's easy to write about embarrassing moments when I can be sure people will smile and nod, and agree that it could have happened to anyone. Then there's those moments that I've been uncertain I'd ever want to share.

A few years ago Cara Bruce and Shawna Kenney founded Pinchback Press. I'd submitted a story for their collection, Tarnished. I'd been pleased when it had been published, and when they announced an upcoming book, Busted, I figured I'd contribute again. This time I mustered up all my courage and wrote about an event that has haunted me.

A longer story, "Arrested Development" told of a secret I've kept for over fifty years. I'd congratulated myself for finally putting it into a creative nonfiction piece, and reassured myself when it was accepted that I'd done the right thing by finally coming clean.

Unfortunately, the book got cancelled, and my 2500 word confession retired to my orphanage, where my rejects languish indefinitely. I doubted I'd ever find a good home for this particular story. It didn't fit the usual anthology's not particularly uplifting, it's not inspirational, it's not laugh-out-loud hilarious. It's a ride on the dark side.

A few months ago I saw a call out for a contest for an anthology to be titled Uncertain Promise, which would include fiction and nonfiction. Some cash prizes would be offered, and though I've only once before entered a literary contest that required an entry fee, somehow I believed that my particular story might be a contender. If not, it might fit the premise for the collection.

The publisher, Compass Flower Press, defined it this way:

Uncertain Promise: an unexpected outcome (joy, satisfaction, renewal, despair, emotional growth, etc.) from an otherwise routine or mundane circumstance. The uncertain promise might be an unspoken commitment from a friend or lover falls through due to misunderstanding or unforeseen happening, a career failure or future crashes--or ascends--depending on the outcome of a single event. These are some of the editor's ideas, but writers are welcome to use their imaginations and interpret the theme broadly. 

This morning I've learned that my story did not win one of the prizes...but it will be included in the book, which will be published in October. It turned out that the tentative title of my orphan also had been the title of a sit com, which I'd not been familiar with. So it needed a new title. I reread my story and decided on "Blame and Shame," which the publisher, Yoland Ciolli, agreed would be fine. Here's the prize winners, and I look forward to reading their stories:

• First Place: “Body Language” David G. Collins, Fulton, MO
• Second Place: “Our Ventana” Mary Pacifico Curtis, San Jose, CA
• Third Place (Tie): “Ballerina” Sally Whitney, Millersville, MD and
“The Broom” Marlene Lee, Columbia, MO

Uncertain Promise can be ordered at a $10 prepublication price through PayPal on the Compass Flower Press website:

So another orphan has found a home. Counting the books with my stories on top the entertainment center, and the ones that I've received acceptances for that will be published in upcoming months, this totals 99. I'm aiming for a hundred by New Year's Eve. Maybe another Chicken Soup for the Soul? Another Not Your Mother's Book? Another indie?

That will be a ride on a sunnier side of the street.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Keeping My Sunny Side Up

With son Steve, California, July, 2014

It's taking longer than I'd sell my house in northeast Washington and get moved before the first snow falls. To bolster my sometimes sagging spirits last week I bought a bathing suit. I might not be jumping into that heated pool to participate in water aerobics any time soon, but I'll be prepared when it does happen. Plus I saved a bundle on an end-of-season sale.

Each day I remind myself that sinking into despair never helps. Things unfold in due time, as they need to do, and I can't always control outcomes. I've found a place I really like, and hope eventually to get there. It just might not be next month or the month after.

In the meantime, I'm counting my blessings. I've found a seniors complex I'm hoping to move to. I have a little more time to sort through boxes and books, and decide what to give away, what to list on eBay and what to take. And I plan to take as little as possible. One way to reboot my life is by ridding myself of encumbrances, which is how I've grown to view many of the objects around me.

Speaking of rebooting, my story, "A Happy Heart," will appear in September in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life. I'm eager to receive my contributor's copies, because right now I'm in need of continuing inspiration about moving ahead with life's journey. In the meantime, I'm keeping my sunny side up. Remember this song? You might have heard it if you saw the film Paper Moon. It dates back to the big crash of 1929...and though it's not The Great Depression these days, the lyrics resonate with me. 

Here's Judy Garland singing "Keep Your Sunny Side Up."

There's one thing to think of when you're blue,
There are others around much worse off than you!
If a load of troubles should arrive,
Laugh and say, "It's great to be alive!";

Life can be a pleasure or a pain,
Good or bad, successful or in vain;
Happiness is just a point of view,
If you have it here's the thing to do;

Keep your sunny side up, up,
Drown a frown with a smile.
If you think it's raining for you,
Just remember, others are blue.

Always look for the bright side,
Start the day on the right side;
You'll find life worthwhile,
Learn to wear a smile,
Keep your sunny side up!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I Wanna Go Home

HW Senior Apartments, Westminster, CA

I returned from Southern California yesterday, after prowling neighborhoods in Long Beach, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Westminster, looking for my heart's desire. I found it, centrally located in Westminster, right off Beach Blvd. Yes, BEACH, as in the Pacific Ocean. It's not Belmont Shore, but it's still close enough to the sea to get an ocean breeze. You can see more of this quiet and conveniently-located apartment complex for the 62+ and better independent living crowd here:

Michael Buble isn't the only one who wants to go home. In recent years every time I return to where I grew up and raised my son, I begin to get homesick. No different this time around. When I was younger I wanted to get far, far away...and I did. Now I want to go back to my roots.

Here's a story I wrote a few months ago about this longing.

Right Back Where I Started From 

“And I have loved thee, ocean!” –George Gordon, Lord Byron

When I turned five, I received a copy of  The Runaway Bunny. I determined that it conveyed the message that elsewhere is better than right here.

“I’ve got to run away today,” I announced.

Mama nodded. “I understand, honey bunny,” she said. So she wrapped a peanut butter sandwich in wax paper, tucked it in the pocket of my red boucle coat, and kissed me goodbye.

“Remember, you aren’t allowed to cross the street,” she cautioned.

So I trudged to the corner, about three houses away. I peeked over my shoulder. Yep…Mama stood there watching me, so I dare not attempt to cross.  I contemplated my options and decided to set up camp right on the corner and eat my lunch there.

As I nibbled I raised my face to the noontime sun. I’d have loved to have flopped down and snoozed for a bit, but knew I was only supposed to take a nap in my bed. I took a final bite, stuffed the wrapping in my pocket and trudged home.

That night at supper when I recounted how I’d run away from home. Daddy and my first- grader sister didn’t look impressed. “Looks like you ran right back,” they chimed.

They were right, of course, at least for the time being. So for several decades I pretty much stayed put. I married, I worked, I raised a son, and took care of a variety of houses that never quite felt like home. It all was just…California. I always imagined that home was out there somewhere beyond the horizon beckoning me. It was someplace else…across the street…around the corner…across the continent…on the other side of the globe.

So at age 50 I ran away a second time, this time joining the Peace Corps. At long last I’d have the opportunity to explore those faraway places I’d always dreamed of. Now I wouldn’t have to stop at any corners. And maybe I’d find my home.

“You’ll come back in two years, and won’t ever want to venture far again,” friends warned.

“I doubt it,” I’d replied. In memory of my late mother, I packed a peanut butter sandwich to take on my first flight to Miami for a Peace Corps staging.

Though I never got to the moon, that Runaway Bunny would have envied my worldly adventures. I joined, joined again and rejoined. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I hacked open coconuts with a machete outside my house in Belize City. I clung to my counterpart as we raced on her motorcycle to get across streams before they flooded in the province of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. I helped paint murals on the Youth Center fence with teens on a rare dry afternoon when the monsoon winds had died down in Mont Fleuri, Seychelles. Vacationing in Singapore, I sipped Slings at Raffles and stuck a toe in the South China Sea.

Later, I continued to travel as a health programming specialist for Peace Corps. I heard gray wolves howl on the steppes outside Ulan Bator on the spring equinox in Mongolia. I thrilled to the spontaneous singing of Samoan chiefs and missionaries at a training session in Apia. I explored the corners of the earth, Guyana, Uzbekistan, Thailand, St. Vincent, Bulgaria. I still was looking for home, though I’d been to over 50 countries.

When I remarried during the millennial year, my new husband, Ken, began to talk about his vision of a dream house. “It’s got to be somewhere with four seasons,” he insisted. “I love sweater weather.” So we settled in the far northeast corner of Washington State and for a few years we shared what began to feel like home. And then Ken died.

I’ve continued to live in this huge old house, plodding through the seasons. I’ve hired handymen, gardeners, snow plowers to tend to the property, acres that I can’t handle on my own. I’ve dragged my vacuum upstairs and down. I’ve mopped, scrubbed and dusted until my aging muscles ached.

And I’ve shivered. Friends who’ve lived here all their lives perk up in the winter, wandering outside to cheer on mittened children who barrel down hills on cookie sheet sleds. Me? I huddle by the fireplace, sip hot chocolate and wish it were iced tea. I’d rather be basking somewhere on a beach.

But it’s impossible, I decided, to attempt to move. I’m too old to be starting over somewhere else. Just thinking about what moving again would take in time and energy wore me out. Hopeless, I thought. I’m stuck here, and have to make the most of it.

Then I visited family in California last fall. I rambled across the beach to the edge of the Pacific. Suddenly, as the waves washed against my toes, I realized that this was home. Always had been. I’d grown up by the ocean. I’d gone fishing in it off a pier when I was a child. I’d sailed on it as a young adult. All my life I’ve loved the salty taste of my fingers after they’ve dipped in it, the delicious shock of the water’s icy bite when I first would dive in to body surf, the distinctive scent of seaweed and sea spray.

“I never realized how much I miss being close to the Pacific,” I told my son that night.

“Have you thought of moving back to California?” he asked.

“It would be overwhelming to even think about it,” I said, shaking my head at the impossibility.

He raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were the lady who at aged 50 set out on an odyssey that took her to the remote corners of the earth.”

I stared at him, ideas clicking away in my mind. Yes, and I braved my way to the corner of my block when I was only five. I took a deep breath. Have I ever been too young or too old to refuse a challenge?

I’m ready to run away again. Challenging? Sure. But I’ve made a list and I’m checking it twice. I’ve already called the real estate agent. I’ve written to senior apartment complexes in my old hometown for rental estimates. I cashed in some frequent flyer miles for a ticket for a stepson to come in late spring to help clean out my garage and shed. I’m asking friends if they know of an art dealer who might be interested in the paintings and sculptures.

Each day I sort through a drawer, a closet, or a bookcase to determine what to donate, what to trash, and what to pack. I wake up each morning humming, “California, Here I Come.”

I’m allowed to cross the street. I’m going home.