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....

Friday, March 25, 2016

Quantifying Happiness

To be released June 7, 2016
March 20 was World Happiness Day, so I'm reporting on this a little late...but I feel happy today. I received notice this morning that my story about wanting to get home to my husband from Haiti after 9/11 will appear soon in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. This makes 27 stories in this acclaimed series since I  submitted my first back in 2007 about saving my family from disgrace on a long ago Easter. I still recall how thrilled I was to have a story in an actual book. Though I'd been used to seeing my byline in newspapers and magazines, a book was different. It was something that could be placed on a shelf between bookends, or be located in a library or a bookstore.

Somebody asked me today how many stories I've had published in books so far, and the truth is I have lost count. I know there's close to 110 books in the special bookcase where I store my author's copies, but many of them contain two or three of my stories, so I don't know the actual total...and some stories have been published in more than one book. But on evenings when I'm feeling a little less happy...perhaps I'd received a rejection or had failed to finish a particularly challenging tale, I look at the accumulation of books...and smile. When I find an email in my inbox from Denmark or Australia or Bangladesh from somebody who has read one of my stories and enjoyed it, then I smile again.

Is smiling an indication of happiness? The Washington Post in its Worldview section printed a piece today, "The complicated emotional state of the world, in 13 maps and charts." Here's the link:

One of the indicators indeed is smiling. "Thailand is all smiles. In most countries, at least two-thirds of people said they smiled or laughed a lot the previous day. But the range in such reports was wide: The distribution ranged from as low as 39 percent in Turkey to as high as 91 percent in Thailand."

Hey, though, it's not just receiving an acceptance letter that makes me smile today. I've other reasons to be content. And to smile. There's a weekend coming up that will be filled with movies, dinner with friends, deviled eggs, and possibly a little chocolate. That combination should make even the most glum person from the most unhappy country glimmer a little with joy.

So, yes I'll continue to do my happy dance.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Volunteering No Longer a Fringe Activity"

Last month my AAUW Book Discussion Group read Little Princes, since it was the Huntington Beach Reads 2016 selection.

On Saint Patrick's Day evening I dropped by the Huntington Beach library theater to hear Conor Grennar, the founder of Next Generation Nepal discuss how he came to write about his work in Little Princes Orphanage.

The cover of his book is misleading, he claimed. It implies that he had long held this noble goal, when actually he started out on this adventure in order to impress people and pick up girls.

Appropriately, Conor is if he's kissed the Blarney Stone, I wouldn't be surprised. Sure, he may have thought that volunteering his time might elevate his status in the eyes of potential dates, but I suspect he always had a bit of altruism in his blood.

Conor witnessed firsthand how most of the world really lives. On his website he details why he wrote this book:

 I am desperate for readers, especially younger readers, to see what getting involved can do. How it can change your life so completely, and in ways you could never imagine. How volunteering, whether it is in an impoverished third world nation or in your hometown, requires only that you show up. Don’t worry how little of your time or resources you may have to offer—just offer it, and see what happens. 

The fact is, volunteering is no longer a fringe activity—the world gets smaller every day and we have a responsibility to understand what it looks like. It’s not how the other half lives, it’s how the other 90 percent live. And I believe that each of us has a responsibility to know what those lives look like, even if we only give one single day of our life to discovering it. Because it could have been us.

The Little Princes kids in 2015

It's been a dozen years since he first set foot in Nepal, but Conor returns regularly. This photo is from an October 2015 visit. On his blog he writes, "An amazing first day in Kathmandu with all the Little Princes boys (and girls!), Liz and some friends that came with us! The kids (teenagers!!) organized a whole program for our visit to entertain us, with food and dancing and singing - totally wild and super fun. It was like we never left."

Conor's story resonated with me, and I'm certain it would with many of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers I continue to interact with, nearly thirty years after I first joined that United States agency. Many of us continue to keep in contact with the people we grew to love in our years overseas. And we continue to proselytize about the benefits of volunteering. It's an old but true story that Volunteers usually claim that they gained much more than they gave.  Living and working in a developing country changes your worldview forever. It's an experience that can't be duplicated by merely traveling through a faraway land.

During the Q&A session that followed Conor's talk, one woman asked how college students could find opportunities to volunteer with such groups as Next Generation Nepal, and have a chance to work overseas. Conor suggested that often volunteers cannot afford the airfare and related expenses of such work, but could find opportunities locally.

I knew the session was drawing to a close so that Conor could autograph his books and have his picture taken with the attendees. So I resisted raising my hand. But as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer,  I would have liked to have reminded the crowd that for well over 50 years Peace Corps has given Americans such a chance, and at no personal expense other than a commitment of 27 months of service. The Peace Corps continues to provide technical assistance at the invitation of developing countries, and does not drain other countries' limited resources. Rather, it furthers sustainable development through its transfer of skills to host country nationals. 

I probably would not have picked this book up at the library had it not been a book group choice. But I'm glad I did...and it's a reason I belong to book groups. They lead me to books I otherwise would have overlooked. I'm delighted to learn that the Huntington Beach Reads partnership ensures that high school students have access to such books that will expand vistas for young readers.

HB Reads is a joint program of the City of Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force and Huntington Beach Library Board of Trustees.

For more about Conor Grennan and Next Generation Nepal:

And for more about Peace Corps activities in Orange County:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

There are Places I Remember...

The Beatles Story, Liverpool
Dr. Johnson famously said that to tire of London is to tire of life...but I love more of England than just the city. Here are some places I'll remember from my recent whirlwind tour:
  1. The comfortable location of the Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace Road, just across the street from the Colonnade office of Golden Tours, which whisked Linda and me to all of these places in two days: Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford with a tour of Bracenose College, Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Bath.
  2. The Newport Quay Hotel in Newport, Isle of Wight, a brief stroll down the High Street to The Castle, Newport's oldest pub. Unfortunately, it doesn't carry Old Rosie anymore, so settled for Stowford Press, Weston's milder brand, but I missed that "scrumpy" tang. I loved chatting once again with Mike Winter, who is a "caulkhead," born and raised on the Isle of Wight, and full of tales about its history.
    With peppery Mike Winter, The Castle, Newport, IOW
    I'd brought him some pepper seeds from California for his garden, and he told me about Carolina Reaper, rated as the world's hottest chili pepper by Guinness World Records since August 7, 2013. "Put some on cocktail sticks and torture your friends," he advised. I can barely tolerate chipotles.
  3. Finally going on The Magical Mystery Tour, with a guide, Jay, the brother of Holly Johnson, of "Frankie Goes to Hollywood", and a driver who allegedly played with the Beatles first drummer, Pete Best, at a concert in  Brazil last year. Everybody of a certain age in Liverpool has a Beatles connection, Jay told us. Sir Paul appears annually to hand out diplomas to grads of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. We stopped at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field (John added the final "s"), Princes Park which is Ringo's birthplace, Mendips where John lived with Aunt Mimi, and the homes of Paul and George, the latter still occupied by a family.
    Linda, Liverpool
    We saw St. Barnabas church, where Paul was a choir boy, and the street called Arnold Grove, the name George used to check into hotel, as well as St. Peter's Church, where Paul and George met, with its adjacent graveyard where an Eleanor Rigby is buried. We rocked out to John Lennon songs at The Cavern with new English friends who had come for the day from their home between Nottingham and Sheffield.
    At The Cavern,with John Wallace, Glenda Griffith
  4. The Victoria and Albert, "Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York" where Linda and I got to don costumes. The V&A will have an exhibit this coming fall and winter, "You Say You Want a Revolution: Records & Rebels, 1966-1970."
  5. I'm ready for my closeup, at the V&A "Curtain Up" exhibit
    The marvelous actor at Shakespeare's birthplace who, as Rumour, recited the prologue of Henry IV, and sang "Hey nonny, nonny, lovers love the spring."
  6. A sign I spotted on London's Cromwell Road, for a restaurant named "Scoff and Banter." Reminded me of a name Dickens could have chosen for a law firm in Bleak House.
  7. The great wait staff at our new "local" in Pimlico, St. George's Tavern, where Linda and I had fish and chips, a Sunday roast supper, and a full English breakfast, getting to know Veraya from Spain, Agnes from France, and Martin from Poland.
  8. Traveling with tour guide Antonio on Golden Tours, who made history come alive, though a rainbow flag at Bracenose College, Oxford, caused him to make a couple of odd remarks about "Gay Day."
  9. Discovering the French cafe at Victoria Train Station, Cafe Rouge, where I enjoyed a Bloody Mary and eggs Benedict, a nice change from the usual "full English," with grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread, poached eggs, sausage, bacon and baked beans. How is it that I ate these breakfasts, plus fish and chips, plus swilling cider, and managed to lose three pounds in the 12-day trip?
  10. Seeing friends from Seychelle's Hash House Harriers days in the 1990s, nurse Mimi from Seychelles, who now lives on the outskirts of London, and Heather and Nigel Bird of Weston-Super-Mare. Already looking forward to seeing them again

Breakfast with old friends, Cowes, Isle of Wight

With English friends, Heather and Nigel Bird, Southampton