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, October 30, 2016

They Did the Mash...The Monster Mash

Frank, as an explorer, and me, the hippie chick
The last time I dressed up for a Halloween party might very well have been in the 1960's. Nonetheless, I did last night to celebrate the holiday at a dance at my apartment complex. I delighted in passing out brownies, with the assurance that I'd baked them myself from a recipe supplied by Alice. Those of a certain age may well remember the famous brownies of Alice B. Toklas. The peace symbol I wore was an authentic one from 1968, given to me by son Steve for Mother's Day that year.
Peace, Love and Happy Halloween

For months Frank and I have been waiting for a chance to try out our moves...and we did in the clubhouse last night. His heavy-tread explorer shoes might not have been ideal for pivoting, but we were able to Mash, foxtrot and Lindy under the strobes.

Frank was dressed as an explorer, so a number of people asked if he were Dr. Livingstone. I erroneously posted an identifying caption, but remembered later that Livingstone was the missionary and Stanley was the explorer who found him.
Here's my neighbors tricking and treating the night away.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

We Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts!

Even my kitchen counter glows with the Halloween spirit!

This year I've vowed to hoot and holler and act like a kid again for Halloween. Last year's holiday was somber, since we'd just lost my daughter-in-law Mari Lou Laso-Elders. Those close to her remember that autumn, and especially Halloween, always was her favorite time of the year. She used to squeal, my son claims, the first time she saw what she called "punkies." Last year I didn't even go to the costume dance at my apartment complex.

This year, though, I'm gonna go...and, yes, in costume! I won't reveal yet what it is, but it's a trek down Memory Lane for me, complete with a piece of memorable jewelry given to me by my son when he wasn't yet an adolescent! I'll be posting photos next week. My boyfriend promises to appear in costume as well.

Killin' it!
In the meantime, my aerobics class a week ago began our annual gyrations to the themes from "The Addams Family" and "Ghostbusters," as well as "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater." Today, in honor of the holiday spirit, I wore my special Halloweeny knee socks. Last night exercise and crafts instructor Sue Burchfiel introduced a new tune, one well-remembered by many of us...Creedence Clearwater Revival's "I Put a Spell on You." Here it is (if you're not remembering all that well) live from Woodstock:

Valerie Ellison chooses autumn leaves.

Sue Burchfiel and I show off our craftiness.
It certainly seems that Halloween (and maybe my boyfriend, too) has put an early spell on me. I'm entranced with autumn. Today in crafts class we fashioned "pumpkin pots," to hold plants, or....candy corn! I'm not known to be a craftsy woman, but even I can paint a pot. Some of my fellow residents here at H-W decided on a more general autumn theme. Me, I went for goofiness.  
Ooh, ooh, ooh...what a little paint and glue can do!

We enjoy a well-seasoned rec room!

My horoscope today reminded me that mystic Thomas Merton wrote, "Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony." So far today has been harmonious indeed. I might even treat myself to a bedtime cup of tea...with a little brandy, just for autumn flavor!

One of my favorite stories that I have written for Chicken Soup for the Soul:

Tea for Two

 "Every problem has a gift for you in its hands." --Richard Bach
My sequined purple satin princess costume remained in its tissue paper wrappings on the top shelf of my bedroom closet that Halloween evening. Dressed instead in my pink rosebud flannel pajamas, I perched on the window seat and watched the neighborhood witches, ghosts, and cowboys scurrying by. I tried hard not to cry. After all, I was six, not a baby anymore.

Daddy had taken my unaffected older sister and little brother to Grandma’s house for a party earlier that evening, leaving Mama and me home alone. I’d finished reading all the stories in the newest edition of “Children’s Activities. I’d even tired of cutting out paper dolls from the old Sears catalog, and longed to be outside. Mama had promised me a special treat, but I couldn’t imagine what could replace the thrill of joining the troops of children wandering door to door in the autumn twilight with their rapidly filling pillow slips. No Hershey bars, candied apples or popcorn balls for me this year, I knew. I didn’t care, I told myself, because though the itching had ceased, I had yet to regain my appetite anyway.

Mama had turned on the Philco radio in the kitchen, and I heard the Andrews sisters warning “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me.” My sister was probably bobbing for apples right now at Grandma’s house, I thought.

“O.K.,” Mama called, “Time to get dressed!”

Glancing down at my pajamas, I wondered what she could mean, but scooted off my seat and trudged to the kitchen. On the back of one of the chrome dinette chairs hung Mama’s fur chubby, a kind of short jacket that represented the essence of elegance to me those days. I used to love to watch Mama get dressed for special evenings, in her fluffy chiffon dresses, always topped by the chubby.

“Put it on,” she said, pointing to the jacket. “We are going to play tea party, and I am going to be the hostess, while you will be my guest.” She draped a string of pearls around my neck, as I shrugged into the jacket. I noticed that the table had been set with her best Blue Willow cups and saucers, and that an empty platter had been placed next to the toaster.

Though I could not venture all the way outdoors, Mama opened it a crack so I could at least knock on the outside, right below the big black-lettered Quarantine sign.

 “Oh, Miss Terri, it’s so good of you to call this evening. It’s tea time,” she announced. “And even though you are my guest, I’m going to ask you to make the meal, since you have such a special touch with cinnamon toast.”

I’d seen the bakery truck make its delivery earlier, and had wondered what had been left on our doorstep. Now Mama opened the bread box and pulled out a loaf of sliced raisin bread. She placed the sugar bowl, the butter dish and the red tin of cinnamon on the counter, and lifted the chubby from my shoulders. Then she opened her Searchlight Recipe Book to page 44, handed me the yellow plastic measuring spoon set, and said, “Let’s see how you do reading that recipe.”

I was the best reader in my class, so I stumbled only on “substitute” and “proportion” as I read aloud the instructions.

“Cinnamon Toast: Spread freshly toasted bread with butter or butter substitute. Spread generously with sugar and cinnamon which have been blended in the proportion of 1 teaspoon cinnamon to ½ cup sugar.—The Household Searchlight”

I paused, and looked up. “Generously?  Searchlight?”  Mama smiled. “Generous is giving more than you really need to, giving from the heart, not the purse. And searchlight is a big flashlight,” she explained. “It lights up everything to make it easier to see and understand.”  I nodded. So the recipes were like searchlights, making it easier for Mama and me to understand how to cook. And we needed to do it from the heart. So I could put in a little extra sugar, just like Mama did.

While I watched the raisin bread brown in our two-sided toaster, Mama put her tea kettle on to boil, and told me a story about the birds on the Blue Willow china. She said that an angry Chinese father had been trying to catch his daughter who was running away with a boyfriend. Before he could catch them, they had been transformed into birds and flew away together. I rubbed my finger across the birds on the saucer.

“When you grow up, your father won’t chase away your boyfriends,” she said with a little laugh. “And now that you’re learning to cook, it won’t be too much longer before you are grown up for every day, not just for Halloween.” I smiled. It was true. I was learning to cook.

Though I hadn’t been hungry all day long, the smell of the cinnamon sugar seemed to reawaken my appetite, and I ate my entire slice and half of Mama’s, and even managed a swallow or two of my milk tea. When my sister returned later that evening with the candied apples that Grandma had sent, I accepted one, but insisted I wasn’t really hungry, since I had cooked and eaten a meal earlier. When she looked doubtful, Mama just nodded in affirmation.
 “She made a lovely tea,” she said.

Mama’s prediction came true, too, as I became engaged just a dozen years later. And at my wedding shower in 1955 she presented me with a black leatherette bound Searchlight Recipe Book, just like hers.  I turn the yellowed pages today to Page 44, and again recall the delicious aroma of cinnamon toast as I remember the year that, through my mother’s unwavering generosity, trick or treat became tea for two.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

HW's Got Talent!

"Boating Beauties" prepare for the show.

With Lynn Schell-Milot
 When I first moved to HW Senior Living in Westminster two years ago, I counted my blessings. I'd been trudging upstairs and down, taking care of a huge house, three and a half acres of pastures and lawns, five household pets, and for many years, an ailing husband. Plus I was surrounded by "stuff."
Amazing Grays Sue Burchfiel
When I'd been diagnosed with spinal stenosis and disintegrating disk disease, I worried about my continuing mobility. How long would I be able to negotiate stairs or weed the Asian lilies? I've written before about my desire to return to Southern California. I needed to trade five months of snow and ice for sunny beaches. I needed to hang out with old friends and reminisce. I hoped to have Mother's Day brunch with my son. Though I'd miss my old Colville book groups and AAUW companions, I knew it was time to move on.
So I came home to the Southland, resigned to a quiet old age. Maybe I'd join a new book group. Maybe I'd reconnect with the local Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group. Maybe there'd be a local branch of AAUW. I did all of that...and more.
I began to go to the Amazing Grays yoga and aerobics classes five days a week right here at HW Senior living, and my sciatica symptoms diminished. And I made new friends and began to have new adventures.
Corinne Zavolta emcees.

Last night at HW I participated in the annual talent show. I had the opportunity not only to read one of my published stories, but also for the first time since my high school days, to perform in a choreographed routine!
Our fitness instructor, Sue Burchfiel, lead our yoga group in the opening skit, "Row, Row, Row," to the old Eddie Cantor song.
Jerry and Darlene Steddum played lovebirds.

 Jerry and Darlene Steddum played the parts of Johnny and Flo, as our yoga group vigorously rowed, swayed and wiggled.
The evening's agenda included readings of original poetry and memoir, duets and solos, comedy and even a rousing percussion number. Kathy Hurley, our recreation director, provided refreshments following the show. Many of us lingered by the pool afterwards for an hour or so, beneath a Harvest Moon, basking in the beauty of a balmy Southern California autumn evening. New friends. New adventures. But stay tuned. In two weeks we'll be having a Halloween dance. I've already put together my costume!
L to R, Darlene Steddum, Valerie Ellison and  Corinne Zavolta

George Burchfiel, Musical Production

Mark Lumas, "Jingo"

Corinne closes with "Personality."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Chicken Soup Warms My Heart and Soul

 Several years ago I remarked to a writer friend, who had been hard at work on his first novel, that I'd had a story accepted by the popular series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. He grimaced.
"Why would you want to write schmaltz?"
"Write what?" I asked, not quite certain I'd heard him right.
I had, though. He'd wrinkled his nose and repeated, "Schmaltz. You know...sappy stuff."
I hadn't answered. I felt diminished and disrespected until I'd had a moment to reflect. 
Promoting The Spirit of America
Sappy stuff? Maybe. I write true stories about my life. Yes, I write about being adopted, about getting a divorce, about having double pneumonia as a child. Yes, I write about falling in love, baking apple pies, quitting smoking, and serving in the Peace Corps. All true. And all salient. All about my life, no matter how sappy, silly or sad, or even how sublime those events may seem to others. My friend is still revising the opening chapters of his yet-to-be groundbreaking coming-of-age epic.
Yes, in my teens I, too, dreamed of writing the great American novel. What teen writer doesn't? But then life intervened with my dreams, so instead now and then I'd written book reviews, travel articles, pop psychology, author interviews.
Then one day in 2007, on a whim, I wrote a story about my little brother and a memorable Easter pageant. And Chicken Soup for the Soul published it. I continue to write about my life.
Since then my work has appeared in 110 anthologies, with a few more on the way. My friend still is a struggling would-be novelist. I'm a happily published storyteller. I may not be a household name, but people read my stories. Some even write me fan letters. Some tell me how I inspired them. That certainly warms my heart. 
With Catalina Ortiz at workshop.
Last week in San Bernardino I conducted a brief seminar on how to mine your life's events for story ideas for such publications. A small but enthusiastic group of would-be anthology writers listened attentively, and appeared appreciative. Not a one of them uttered the word "schmaltz."
I've been invited back to do a more in-depth evening session this coming spring. I'm delighted. I'll be covering the basics, beginning, middle and ending. I'll especially concentrate on how to use the elements of fiction in creative nonfiction, including plot, character development, dialogue and the descriptive details that reveal emotions. They constitute the "show, not tell" that you've heard about.
Happy with Amy's new book.
In the meantime, whenever I'm asked what kind of stories Chicken Soup for the Soul is looking for, I recommend that the inquirer carefully read the new book by series publisher Amy Newmark, Simply Happy: A Crash Course in Chicken Soup for the Soul Advice and Wisdom. In it Amy tells us that she seeks stories on how people made changes in their lives that improved their outlook. One of my favorite boxed quotes in the book is, "If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it." When I worked as a psychotherapist, we called this attitude adjustment "reframing." It still works. Sure, it's finding silver linings on dark days. If that's schmaltz...bring it on. It works for me. It could work for you, too.

Friday, October 7, 2016

And They're Better Than a Wall: Bill Staines

George Burchfiel introduces Bill Staines, 10/5/16

"On the Road" never has been Bill Staines' theme's Willie Nelson's, of course. One of the highlights of my music appreciation life had been hearing Wilson sing it live at Radio City Music Hall in 1995. But folksinger Staines, who has logged well over two million miles driving the country roads and blue highways in his circuit travels around the USA, has rolled along steadily for over forty years. He's been on the road almost as long as Willie. In over 25 albums he's chronicled his observations, some wry, some whimsical, some poignant, some heartbreaking.

The other night I delighted in finally hearing Staines perform in person in one of the fabled house concerts he's so beloved for. George and Sue Burchfiel of Orange treated 35 lucky listeners to an evening of Staines reminiscing, singing and strumming on a guitar that he so treasures that he's never risked taking it on an airplane. Its worn case looked as weary as I imagine Staines sometimes might feel, rising before dawn to head for his next gig.

But when he sat down before his mic at the Burchfiels' living room Wednesday night, he sounded as fresh as Sunday morning. My boyfriend, Frank, and I had arrived a little early to get front row chairs. Frank's favorite tune that evening was "Bridges." I've posted the lyrics to "Bridges" at the bottom of this post...and I continually revisit them in these days when I hear so much talk about erecting walls.
 You can hear Stains sing "Bridges" here:

My favorite of Staines' selections that evening was "Song for Tigmissartoq." Here's why, from the liner notes for the album, Looking for the Wind.  Staines wrote: "Song for Tingmissartoq" is my tribute to Charles (and Anne) Lindbergh. Their pioneering flights of the 1930's in the "Tingmissartoq" went a long way toward the establishment of international air routes for then fledgling commercial aviation. By the Way, "Tingmissartoq" is Eskimo for "One That Flies Like a Big Bird." Anne Morrow Lindbergh chronicled these flights in two books that she wrote entitled "North To The Orient" and "Listen, The Wind." It struck me how many of us in our lives look to that very same wind, the same wind that lifted the "Tingmissartoq," to provide us with enough lift to change things or to move on.
What does Anne mean to me? When I got married in l955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s eloquent and elegant book, Gift from the Sea, had been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 19 weeks. It went on to remain there for 80 weeks altogether. I read it not long after coming home from my honeymoon on Catalina Island, off the California coast. I had grown up loving the ocean, so I was entranced by the idea of a few quiet weeks in a beach cottage.
 In those '50s days, Charles Lindbergh, the first man to cross the Atlantic
Anne Morrow Lindbergh , 1918
nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927in The Spirit of St. Louis, was still famous, but Anne, a pioneering aviator herself, found herself nearly equaling his fame with this landmark book. In it she addresses issues that remain timeless. Essentially how does a woman fulfill the roles of citizen, artist, wife, partner, mother, career person, friend, family member, and balance all of that with the time and self-commitment for spiritual and emotional nurturing? I’ve returned to this book half a dozen times over the decades, and its words always speak to me in a new way and shed light on how I structure my time.

At the close of the evening I thanked Bill Staines for singing this number...and for honoring Anne..."he had a way for wings, she had a way with words."

Indeed! Here's the song:

Staines invited me and Frank to sit and chat with him for a while, and we talked of Anne, and of Thomas Wolfe. Staines recently had seen "Genius," the Jude Law/Colin Firth film chronicling  Wolfe's relationship with book editor Maxwell Perkins. I mentioned how I'd visited the Wolfe museum last year in Asheville, where I learned that Zelda Fitzgerald had once been a resident of one of the rooms at "The Old Kentucky Home," the boarding house operated by Wolfe's mother and immortalized in Look Homeward, Angel.

Frank told of our first date this past May when we saw "Papa Hemingway in Cuba," because I'd told him that night about Perkins and how I'd met his biographer, A. Scott Berg, who had written the book the film is based on.

Since Staines so obviously appreciated Wolfe, I asked if he'd read the 1962 novel by Herman Wouk, Youngblood Hawke. I added that I had stayed up all night before my 26th birthday, turning the final pages of that book...and how I'd written about its impact on me. That story I titled, "One Fine Day."

Staines had read it, and said,  "You're the only person I've ever met who knows that book." I felt special indeed. And Staines is the only songwriter I've ever met who paid tribute to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, my personal heroine.

 Reluctantly, Frank and I took our leave, me armed with new CDs to play as I drive the freeways of Orange County. It had been only one brief evening, but I felt connected forever to this remarkable artist. Through mutual appreciation of Anne and Thomas...and Youngblood Hawke, we'd built a bridge between us.

Here are the lyrics of "Bridges":
Bill Staines, Terri Elders

Bridges Lyrics

There are bridges, bridges in the sky,
They are shining in the sun,
They are stone and steel and wood and wire,
They can change two things to one.

They are languages and letters,
They are poetry and awe,
They are love and understanding,
And they're better than a wall.

They are languages and letters,
They are poetry and awe,
They are love and understanding,
And they're better than a wall.

There are canyons, there are canyons,
They are yawning in the night,
They are rank and bitter anger,
And they are all devoid of light.

They are fear and blind suspicion,
They are apathy and pride,
They are dark and so foreboding,
And they're oh, so very wide.

They are fear and blind suspicion,
They are apathy and pride,
They are dark and so foreboding,
And they're oh, so very wide.

Let us build a bridge of music,
Let us cross it with a song,
Let us span another canyon,
Let us right another wrong.

Oh, and if someone should ask us,
Where we're off and bound today,
We will tell them, "Building Bridges",
And be off and on our way.

Oh, and if someone should ask us,
Where we're off and bound today,
We will tell them, "Building Bridges",
And be off and on our way.

We will tell them, "Building Bridges",
And be off and on our way.

Bill Staines official website:

One Fine Day

The morning of my seventieth birthday, I sipped some pomegranate tea and reminisced about other landmark birthdays. I’d celebrated my fiftieth with escargot at an award-winning French restaurant in Ensenada, right before I went into the Peace Corps. On my sixtieth I’d hiked over moonlit trails in Seychelles with friends in the Hash House Harriers.

Now I was tucking another decade behind me. Did I fear aging? No. Only one birthday had scared me, my twenty-sixth way back in l963 when I thought I’d have to relinquish my dream of becoming a writer.

I’d just finished a student teaching assignment at a school that subsequently hired me to teach English and journalism. My husband had been jubilant.

“It’s wonderful that you’ll have a steady job,” he’d said. “Teachers get good retirement pensions and solid medical coverage.”

I remember how I’d scowled at his well-meaning comment. I might as well have been turning seventy, instead of merely twenty-six. Goodbye to youth and dreams, bylines and best sellers. They’d be replaced by lesson plans, bulletin board exhibits, and report cards.  Now I’d be a grown-up with a full-time grown-up job. I’d been tackled and wrestled to the ground. I’d turn into a stereotypical respectable middle-class wage earner, abandoning forever the wild-hearted Bohemian writer I’d always intended to be.

All the time I’d been accumulating credits towards my teaching credential, I’d thought of myself as a promising young writer, even though I’d been married since shortly before my eighteenth birthday, and two years later became a mother. But on the eve of my twenty-sixth birthday, I felt the hot breath of middle-age on my shoulder, and I believed then, as Yogi Berra had once remarked, that my future lay behind me. Since I’d written my first poem in seventh grade, I’d seen myself as a budding Edna St. Vincent Millay. Now icy-hearted reality warned me I was destined to become a hair-in-a-bun drudge.

On that eve of my birthday, the night of June 27, 1963, our beloved Dodgers weren’t playing, so my five-year-old, Steve, and I didn’t spend our evening as we usually did, glued to the radio. He went to bed early, and I picked up my novel. For the past week I’d been reading Herman Wouk’s classic Youngblood Hawke, an indelible portrait about staying true to a writer’s dream. I’d been nearing the last chapters, and couldn’t put the book down.

I finished the final page shortly before dawn, crept up the stairs and crawled into bed, tears trickling down my cheeks as I envisioned the parade of gray days that would constitute my future. I shuddered as I pictured myself correcting papers, diagramming sentences, and brushing chalk from my drab schoolmarm clothing.

When I awoke, I turned on my favorite radio station KRLA as The Chiffons burst into their rollicking “One Fine Day,” a song with a message of hope. I brightened. Maybe somehow I’d find a way to continue to write. Maybe I wouldn’t have to give up my dream altogether. That night Warren Spahn finally beat the Dodgers on their home turf, breaking a losing record that stretched back over a decade. Maybe that was a sign. After all, Spahn hadn’t given up hope. Then we all piled into the old Chevy and went to the drive-in to see Bye Bye Birdie.

Any day, I concluded, could be one fine day.

The night I turned seventy, Steve phoned me. I explained how I’d been remembering that earlier birthday.

“Yes!” he exclaimed, “I remember how cute Ann-Margret looked with the credits rolling across her face at the end of that movie. And it’s funny that the Dodgers lost that game to Spahn on your birthday, because that was the year they went on to sweep the Yankees in the World Series.” That certainly proved to be one fine day for the Dodgers!

As it played out, I taught for only three years, and then segued into another career as a social worker. Eventually I joined the Peace Corps and saw more of the world than I’d ever hoped. And as the years passed, I continued to write and to publish.

I never become a novelist, as I’d anticipated. Somehow I’d lacked the discipline to set aside the requisite chunks of time. Nonetheless, I stole evenings here and afternoons there. I wrote and sold articles and essays, book reviews, travel pieces, and author interviews. I never ceased to be delighted when I saw my byline in newspapers and magazines. The thought that somebody might be enjoying something I’d written continued to inspire me. With each submission, I kept my dream alive. It didn’t matter that I’d never written a novel or that my name never made a best-seller list. I had clippings galore.

Now on my seventieth birthday I savored yet another special day, one more fine day. I fed the dogs and cats and transplanted the zinnia seedlings. Every year I’d plant those seeds, and hope they wouldn’t get nipped by a late frost. I paused frequently to marvel at the myriads of butterflies fluttering around the poppies and delphinium in the front garden. The garden teemed with life. So did my spirits.

Later, I lost a game to my husband at cards. “Happy birthday,” Ken chirruped, plunking down his second gin hand. I opened his gift, a crystal unicorn, rampant over a sapphire blue heart. I touched up my pecan-hued hair and sprayed myself with honeysuckle. I donned a navy dress with a splashy flowered border, and coaxed Ken to photograph me in the garden by the scarlet Asian lilies, flowers against flowers.

We drove to town where he treated me to an Early Bird Supper at the Oak Street Grill. I savored every bite of my lemon garlic salmon. In the evening we watched Jeopardy, read the local papers, caught the results show of So You Think You Can Dance, relieved that our favorites had made it through another round.

Then shortly before midnight, I sat down at my computer and finished an essay I’d started earlier, about how writing, like sowing zinnia seeds, calls for an act of faith. You put your words down on paper, just like you plant seeds in the soil, and hope they’ll bloom and that somebody eventually will find them entrancing. I’d seen a call out earlier for stories on gardening for an anthology. I decided to submit mine.

That story so far remains unpublished. But since my seventieth birthday I’ve had over a hundred other stories accepted by a variety of anthologies. So I never doubt that indeed I am a writer. I’m never haunted by the ghost of failure. Bohemian? Perhaps not. Wild-hearted? Certainly…until this very day.

My eightieth birthday now looms on the distant horizon…just one more year. I’m betting it, too, will be one fine day. It's likely I'll write about it.