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, August 31, 2016

Be the Change...

Dr. Stern, L, and leaders of Orange County Interfaith Network

This past Friday, August 26,  I attended the Orange County Interfaith Network's Kick-Off Breakfast to learn what is being done right here in my own neighborhood to support victims of violence. This overarching organization, OCIN, coordinates and supports all of the 11 interfaith efforts in Orange County. It defines the work of interfaith as:
  • From dialogue to understanding and respect;
  • From understanding and respect to wisdom and compassion;
  • From wisdom and compassion to civility.
 More about the history of the organization can be found here:
In his opening address, OCIN Founder and President, Rabbi Dr. Frank Stern recounted several horrific acts that lead to the choice of support for victims of violence as the focus for the upcoming year's activities: attacks on a Coptic church in Egypt and on innocent civilians in Paris and Syria; random stabbings of Jews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv...and in the United States, the 2012 massacre at the gurdwara Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; the June 2015 murder of nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian church in Charleston, South Carolina; and, locally, the 2015 Christmas party atrocity in San Bernardino. These violent acts impact all races and religions, Dr. Stern emphasized.

"Consequently," he concluded, "this year we mourn...we pray...we remember...we organize."

Heather Powers
Maria Khani
Subsequent speakers and performers reiterated this theme. At the close of the intense morning, I reflected on what had most impressed me. The heartfelt prayer ceremony lead by Rev. Adelia Sandoval of the Acjachemen Tribe, the inspired singing of "Grateful Girl" Heather Powers,the Blessing of the Bread by Cantor David Reinwald, and the hauntingly beautiful moment of reflection lead by Maria Khani. Equally illuminating were the brief messages delivered by three young women from the Interfaith Youth Council, representing the Sikh, Zoroastrian and Jain faiths.

Keynote speaker Reverand Dr. Gail Stearns, of Chapman University, delivered an address, "Developing an Interfaith Identity Today." She discussed how millennials are more interested in the betterment of lives than preserving an interest in established institutions. Youth, she suggested, don't necessarily adhere to one conviction. They can claim their rituals, their morals, their ethics, yet demonstrate openness and commitment through awareness and respect for differences. In the era of multiculturalism everybody no longer shares the same identity, but rather admit to hybrid identities.
Gail J. Stearns is The Irvin C. and Edy Chapman Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University

Though this was the first event sponsored by OCIN that I'd attended,  I've slotted several more on my calendar, beginning with a series of programs taking place on Sunday, September 11, Patriot Day. 

Truth, Love, Compassion, Beauty, Hope: Change
Additionally, I'm drafting a piece on what we all can do locally, nationally and internationally for an upcoming issue of Uncle Jam. It always comes to can we foster peace and understanding among peoples of different ethnicities and belief systems?

As I found in my many years with Peace Corps,both overseas and in Washington, DC, first, we get to know them. It's one thing to claim empathy in the's another to put a name and a face on a potential victim. I'm blessed to live in Orange County, rich in diversity. I'm thrilled to have discovered this organization that sets realistic goals and objectives to carry out its mission, "People of Faith Working for a Better Orange County."

As a result of attending this breakfast I can claim that I now know Laura, from Hawaii, a Latter Day Saint who displays her peace quilt to schoolchildren worldwide. I now know Maria, who was schooled in Damascus, and who, according the Los Angeles Times, even before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was active in her community, encouraging fellow Muslims to follow suit. "The best way to counter anti-Muslim stereotypes," she says, "is get out and be a part of American society." I now know Reverend Susan, of the Sacred Seasons Center, and I know Heather, a singer with a touching story, a "Grateful Girl." Consequently, now that I know some of the key players, I'll be looking forward to learning more about the valuable work this group continues to do.

Laura Ava-Testimale 

How many people of different faiths do you know? It might depend on where you live. It could also depend on your level of education. Here's some survey results that might surprise you:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Partners" : Masterpieces in Artistry

"Butterfly Brooch," an Art Nouveau gem by Gaston Lafitte

 Around 30 years have elapsed since I experienced art coming to life "right before my eyes," as the flyer for the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters proclaims. I vaguely remember how impressed I'd been with the tableaux I'd seen...but I don't recall those earlier presentations drawing together so many different forms of art.

Brilliantly staged, this year's "Partners" highlights how art emerges from partnerships of all kinds: spouses, siblings, artists and models, even artists and their patrons.  My favorite segments include Lewis and Clark (aided by Sacajawea and her husband), the Wright Brothers, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and even Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. And, of course, the magnificent duo, Astaire and Rogers.

I particularly like the backstage glimpse of how the models were selected and outfitted for "The Perfect Match." We watched how that painting come to life to the tune of "It Had To Be You,"  as the chosen two were garbed and groomed and led to their positions.
The Kiss on the Hand, Gerolamo Induno

Perhaps the most surprising story for me involved the complex partnership that developed between Antoine Lavoisier and his wife, Marie-Anne. During the 18th century and before Lavoisier's breakthroughs in modern chemistry, many natural philosophers still viewed the four elements of Greek natural philosophy—earth, air, fire, and water—as the primary substances of all matter.

Marie-Anne! What a helpmate!
The Lavoisiers
This young woman, though not formally educated, helped her husband in his research and soon became widely regarded as a valuable laboratory assistant and hostess. She recorded his lab research in her drawings and prepared engravings for publication. She promoted his work everywhere.

All day today I've thought of personal partnerships, and what makes them work. How do two individuals become a compatible "us"? Is it because they have similar values and goals, like the Wright brothers? Is it because one leads masterfully and one follows gracefully, like Rogers and Astaire? Is it because both share a passion for exploring together, like Lewis and Clark? 

Do we even recognize when we've found the ideal partnership that we've been destined for? The only sad aspect in last night's celebration of wondrous partnerships was when the narrator, Richard Doyle, cited Rivera's words during the segment on his tempestuous relationship with Kahlo: “I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life. And would continue to be, up to the moment she died, 27 years later.”

Consequently, I've renewed my awareness that my habit of fully savoring the moments that spell magic in my life have enabled me to lay claim to an contented old age. Last night I absorbed how the Pageant's magnificent setting, combining those ancient elements, took center stage:
the evening air, sultry so close to the sea;
the fiery descent across a hazy sky of one of the last of the Persiads; 
the adobe earthen walls of of Laguna Canyon, incorporated into many of the displays (Lewis and Clark with their spyglasses high up the hill toward the left);
and always the water...the omnipresent Pacific Ocean ambience of Laguna Beach. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Setting Sail in the Summer of '16

Viking's Lif on a Grand European Cruise

If you'd asked me this past May what I'd envisioned for the last summer of my seventies, I certainly would not have predicted another miracle.  I've already benefited from so many. Death-defying recoveries from accidents, attacks and ailments. Life-enhancing jobs in Belize, Seychelles, Washington DC and Washington State. Unexpected honors and heartwarming celebrations. My life actually can be defined as a long series of miracles. I've already had far more than my fair share.

Sue leads the Amazing Gray Yoga Group in a rowing skit
So at this summer's start I'd only anticipated continuing to enjoy the yoga and aerobic classes at my apartment complex, lead by Sue Burchfiel, of Amazing Grays Fitness. And I do, attending one session or another nearly daily, if only for the discipline of being forced to wiggle my arthritic ankles, and to pretzel myself into a forward fold. Sure, I long for the days when I could execute butterfly bends on a drum and one-handed walkovers. Now, at 79, I'm content that I can not only lean down to touch the floor without bending my knees, but can flatten my palms on that floor. Also I credit Sue's gentle flexibility classes for my ability to have soared through 2016 so far without a major attack of sciatica. Another miracle.

Though my late husband, Ken Wilson, and I had taken Holland America cruises to Alaska and across the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, I'd never floated down a river, except on a kayak on the Saline south of Little Rock one afternoon with a friend. But this summer, after watching Viking longships sail at the opening of season after season of "Downton Abbey," I embarked on a fifteen-night Grand European Cruise, down the
New friends from Alabama and New Zealand enjoying Mozart.
Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers, from Budapest to Amsterdam. Highlights aboard our "Lif" included a Mozart concert in Vienna and a German night aboard the boat, where we feasted on seven kinds of sausages, plus pork loin and schnitzels. Our staff dressed in lederhosen in honor of the occasion. We ended the evening discoing to the tunes of Abba...and I shook my booty for an entire half hour without collapsing on the postage-stamp-size floor...another minor miracle. Again, all the credit for my continued stamina goes to my low impact aerobic classes.

All these summertime diversions have kept me away from updating my blog. July is my first non-entry month since I began to log my literary and travel adventures back in 2010.

These have been busy and engrossing weeks, with AAUW activities, with learning my responsibilities in my new appointment as 47th District Liaison for California AARP, and participating in my book, film and travel discussion groups. I even put the final touches on two or three stories that will be published in books in time for the holiday season.

And it's been a summer of nonstop fun. There've been excursions for starlight concerts during the last season of the Pacific Symphony at Irvine Meadows, frequent treks to the movies...special favorites include The Free State of Jones, The Music of Strangers, Genius, Cafe Society and theater presentations, including "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," dining at old favorites like Mimi's and El Torito, and new favorites like The Galley in Newport and Hercules in Orange.

My 6/28 birthday at Hotel Laguna with a friendly author.
Best of all...this summer I met a friendly author. A university professor, he's published a scholarly book and has been working on polishing his skills at fiction. In his youth he greatly admired Hemingway, but is patient as I rant about why I consider Fitzgerald a better novelist. It's been an unexpected treat to trade ideas for future literary projects. He also shares my passion for classical music and Broadway show tunes.

We've planned more summertime fun...the Laguna Pageant of the Masters next weekend, and a trip to Pismo Beach in September, as well as a Catalina voyage for his December birthday. Maybe even London, Oxford and the Isle of Wight next summer.

Nearly daily we find new common (and sometimes uncommon) interests. You might call if serendipity that we met one another at all, given the population density of Southern California. Or synchronicity, or simply happy circumstance. He claims we're riding the same wavelength of the universe. I'm convinced it's yet another miracle.