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....

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Good Enough for the Golden Gate

Happy Birthday, Golden Gate!
Eighty years ago today, the Golden Gate, arguably the world's most iconic bridge, opened for foot traffic in San Francisco. This morning when I stepped on the scale for my weekly weigh-in, I noticed I'd packed on a couple of pounds. My own birthday is next month, so I've set a goal to shed them by June 28. Once before I've linked the Golden Gate's birthday too personal weight-loss goals.

In the five years since I wrote this story below, I did lose more weight...and met that goal and more. But now I need to reverse the trend of the last couple of months, so I look once more to the Golden Gate for golden inspiration.

Good Enough for the Golden Gate

 “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” --Isaac Newton

A couple of years ago, after my husband died, I gave up on monitoring my weight. I packed on ten pounds in just a few months, simply lacking any motivation whatsoever to to remain reasonably fit. I’d struggled with weight issues since puberty, but now I no longer cared.

I comforted myself with casseroles and stews, preparing plenty so I could enjoy seconds and thirds. I encouraged this behavior with a litany of self-approving affirmations. Nothing shameful about growing pleasingly plump at this stage of my life, I’d tell myself, nor anything wrong with surrendering gracefully to old age. I couldn’t see any incentives for trying to fend off the inevitable.

Without Ken around to smile approvingly when we got dressed to go out to dinner or a movie, I no longer could dredge up any reason to shed pounds, nor see any benefits to trying to keep fit. I made do with loose fitting jeans and baggy sweatshirts. Good enough for tired old me, I thought.

Then one day about eighteen months ago I realized I no longer had anything in my closet that fit. Even the stretchy-waist jeans wheezed as I slid them up over my ever-spreading hips. I had to reevaluate. Did I really want to order a batch of new baggy jeans in an even larger size? Did I really want to grow so large I’d no longer have the energy to weed the garden, take the dogs for a walk, and navigate a big box store without a motorized cart?

I started thinking about what had happened to so many I’d known when they reached their seventies. Both of my two husbands plus a long-time boyfriend had died before their 75th birthdays, all of illnesses somewhat related to poor health habits. Other friends had undergone hip and knee replacements, often related to excess weight, and a few even had become wheelchair-bound or bedridden.

Did I want this for myself? Sure, I didn’t have a husband or a boyfriend…but I had plenty of activities that I looked forward to, including trips abroad. Could I trot over cobblestones at the University of Cambridge if I had to tote a cane? Could I trip down the 138 Spanish Steps in Rome, balancing my bulky body with a walker?

I tugged up the last pair of jeans that fit and sauntered to the mailbox. That day’s junk mail included two more advertising brochures for motorized scooters. I scornfully tossed them in the trash, and grabbed a leash to take my dog, Natty, for a walk.

It isn’t all about appearance, I realized, relishing the afternoon air ruffling my hair. It’s about mobility, about keeping joints and muscles in shape. About being able to enjoy the things I’d always taken for granted. Like an afternoon stroll. So I embarked on a fitness campaign and lost those ten pounds and five extra as well.

For the past year I’ve maintained the fifteen pound loss, but haven’t attempted to shed more, even knowing a ten more pounds off would result in a “normal” rather than an “overweight” Body Mass Index score. I hadn’t found new inspiration until just the other day… in the unexpected form of a bridge.

I fell in love with the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge as a girl of nine or ten. Its graceful lines and cheery International Orange color have never failed to brighten my spirits every time I’ve visited San Francisco, even on the soggiest and foggiest of mornings.

Now I’ve learned that the structure celebrates its 75th birthday in May, 2012. In preparation for this milestone, organizers in San Francisco already have begun to revitalize and spiffy up the old girl. Programs, activities and events already have been launched. She’ll be getting a new coat of paint as part of the celebration.

My own 75th birthday takes place the following month. Sadly, nobody yet has offered to help rejuvenate me. But if it’s good enough for the Golden Gate, it should be good enough for me. So I guess I’ll have to develop a plan on my own…because seventy-five’s a big round number, and I don’t want to blow out the candles on my birthday cake looking like a big round number myself.

I’ve decided to further increase my daily activity and cut back on some additional calories. With that “normal” Body Mass Index as my personal goal, I’ve tailored an old nursery rhyme to my program so that when my 75th rolls around I shall be able to don a garment of International Orange myself, and not look like a Halloween pumpkin.

One, two, buckle my shoe.
I can’t remember a time ever when I couldn’t touch my toes, feet flat on the ground, knees unbent. I’ve now recognized that I don’t want to lose that ability ever. So to stay flexible I now begin each morning with some waist-whittling toe touches. As soon as I put the dogs and cats outside, I put some soft music on, envision myself in a new birthday outfit, and get in a peaceful mood. I alternate right hand to left foot and left hand to right foot, a dozen times each. This gets the blood flowing to my brain and helps me wake up.

Three, four, knock on the door.
It’s my Natty and Nami, signaling that they want back inside. So I let them in and leash them up. Nami, the Akita, only gets a ten-minute stroll up and down in front of my country property. But Natty gets the real deal, a twenty-minute hike around the hairpin loop I live on.

Five, six, pick up sticks.
With nearly a hundred trees on my three and a half acres, here in windy northeast Washington, that’s a lot of twigs and branches blown to the ground daily. A brisk ten-minute walk around my property daily, shoving my wheelbarrow, gathering the windfalls, allows for more bending and stretching as I tidy up the lawns.

Seven, eight, lay them straight.
Clearing the lawns isn’t enough. It’s also time to clean out the closets, cupboards and drawers, an activity that gives me plenty of opportunity to bend and stretch. If I can get them all cleared by the onset of winter, I’ll have made great progress on getting the house in shape, as well as myself.

Nine, ten, a big fat hen.
Here’s my dietary secret. I’ve been substituting chicken for beef for about eighty percent of my meals. It’s leaner, and costs less. Plus I’ve found over a dozen varieties of low calories single serving frozen entrees…and this staves off temptation to reach for extra portions.

Since I’ve resolved to join the Golden Gate in celebrating our mutual and exhilarating three quarters of a century, I’ve whittled off another pound. Just nine now to go! On that upcoming 75th birthday, I’ll toss a kiss heavenward towards Ken and hope his spirit approves of the luminous high visibility International Orange top that I’m planning to wear. Deep inside this old hen still beats the heart of a happy young chick.

The Golden Gate has been featured in many films. Here's some favorites:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Proof of the Pudding

Bakewell Pudding aboard Queen Elizabeth

Several years ago I posted a blog about how I discovered the Burgess side of my family originated from Bakewell, Derbyshire, England. On my recent cruise on the Queen Elizabeth I met some women from that area who asked if I knew about Bakewell pudding. (There's also Bakewell tart, a bit different dish.) 

Coincidentally, a few nights later we were served this dish in the Brittania dining room. I loved the almonds and the creamy sauce. I hope to visit the Bakewell Bakery some day, where Bakewell pudding and tart are featured. I found their shop online, and learned that the eponymous pudding has been made in that hamlet since the 1800. My ancestors must have sampled some, and now, so have I.

Thinking about pudding, I remembered that my Grandma Gertie, who married Joe Burgess, knew how to make pudding herself, even though it wasn't Bakewell, and didn't involve almonds. Here's what I know about Grandma's pudding, and how I tricked my late husband, who claimed an aversion to all things pudding:

 The Proof of the Pudding

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Miguel Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote. I believe that to be absolutely true, literally, not just figuratively!

“I don’t eat pudding in any way, shape or form,” my husband Ken had warned me when he spotted the package of banana pudding mix I’d set on the kitchen counter.

“I thought I’d mash up these two elderly bananas and stir them into the mix. I know you like banana cream pie.”

“Make some banana bread instead. I don’t do pudding.”

Yes, Ken had definite do’s and don’ts about what he’d eat. So now I added pudding to the mental list that already included lima beans, candied sweet potatoes and deviled eggs. When we first got married I’d been amusedly puzzled that he’d refused to sample some of the down home dishes Grandma Gertie had taught me to cook and that I dearly loved.

How could he be so fussy? After all, here was a fellow who bragged he’d savored snails in garlic sauce purchased from a street vendor a block from the Eiffel Tower, and lamented that Wal-Mart didn’t carry quark, a kind of yogurt cheese he’d buy when he’d lived in Germany.

But now, a few years into our late-in-life marriage, I began to be a bit troubled. I’d found myself more than once forced to toss out a dish that simply didn’t please his palate. Ken knew how much I hated to throw any food away. My years in the Peace Corps had taught me “waste not, want not” when it came to edibles. Why, one spring as we weeded the front yard, I’d even mentioned I wished I could remember how Grandma had prepared what she called “a mess o’ greens.”

“I know she wilted the dandelion leaves in bacon grease, and added onion and garlic,” I began, dreamily recalling the delicious aroma. “I think she added a dash of vinegar. Or maybe it was pepper sauce.”

“It would be a mess, all right,” Ken had retorted, yanking the weeds from my hand and tossing them into the wheelbarrow.

I usually went along with his preferences, but when it came to bread, I drew the line. I believed that letting bread grow stale or moldy amounted to blasphemy. Bread, I’d learned from Grandma, was the staff of life. Every crumb needed to be consumed.

So when ours started to stale I’d make croutons to sprinkle on French onion soup, crumbs to pad out meat loaf, or cubes to stir into stewed tomatoes. Then finally one day I noticed that some of the apples from our trees that I’d stored in our pantry last autumn had begun to look a bit dehydrated. We also had half a loaf of more-than-a-day-old French bread.

I thumbed through my recipe box and found Grandma’s recipe for apple bread pudding.  Aha! I told myself, ready to delve into a little deception. I’d have to call it something else. Maybe I’d claim it was Brown Betty. Grandma had made that, too, but it didn’t contain milk and eggs. Ken wouldn’t know the difference.

I headed for the kitchen to whip up dessert.

Gertie’s Apple Bread Pudding

4 cups                                      soft bread cubes
¼ cup                                      raisins
¼ cup                                      chopped walnuts
2 cups                                      peeled and sliced apples
1 cup                                       brown sugar
1 ¾ cups                                  milk
½ cup                                      butter
1 teaspoon                               ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon                              ground nutmeg          
½ teaspoon                              vanilla extract


In a large bowl, combine bread, raisins, walnuts and apples.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, milk, and cup butter.  Cook and stir until butter is melted.  Pour over bread mixture in bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and eggs. Pour bread mixture into prepared dish, and pour egg mixture over bread.  Bake in the preheated oven to 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until center is set and apples are tender.

Sometimes Grandma served this with a sauce, either vanilla or caramel, but since Ken scrunched up his face at syrupy sauces, I’d simply top it with whipped cream, which he loved.

“Ready for dessert?  I baked something this afternoon that I think you’ll love.”

Ken favored me with his lopsided smile. “What’s it called?”

I averted my face as I scooped out a couple of servings into custard cups. I had a hard time telling even a little white lie without turning crimson. I squirted a little whipped cream as I thought about how to answer.

“Oh, it’s just something Grandma used to bake,” I said, carefully evading the question. “It’s kind of an old fashioned dish, sort of like a Brown Betty with apples.”

Ken ate every bite. “It’s paradisiacal,” he said. “I’ll take a second helping. What all goes into it?”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to fib outright, so I handed him Grandma’s recipe card.

“Bread pudding?” Ken sputtered. “I thought you said it was Brown Betty.”

Now it was my turn to smile.

“Hmmm. I must have pulled out the wrong recipe. Still want seconds? You said you didn’t do puddings in any way, shape or form.” I stifled a giggle, as Ken’s frown morphed into a grin.

“Now I can’t say that anymore,” my amiable husband replied as he handed me his dish.

Grandma always said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. And I had been convinced Ken would love her old-fashioned dish if only I could coax him to taste it. Grandma also taught me that results are what count…it’s not how you start but how you finish. I’d started with good intentions, albeit a little loving trickery, and ended with a satisfied spouse.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I’ve heard. Wait…did Miguel Cervantes say that? No…I think it was Grandma Gertie.


Queen Elizabeth buffet food sculptures

Here's the link to the earlier blog about discovering my Bakewell background:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"No Coincidence, No Story"--Lisa See

Lisa See signs her latest, and most poignant, novel
April 29, 2017, Danish Lutheran Church, Yorba Linda
Approximately 150 dedicated fans of the novels of Lisa See gathered a recent Saturday morning to hear her discuss her latest effort, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Fortunately I'd returned from a long overseas trip just in time to catch her penultimate appearance to promote this novel.

The book's provocative opening line, "No story," reflects what led Lisa to write this novel. She'd seen a couple in Santa Monica with an adopted Chinese daughter. The child had a mischievous air about her that reminded Lisa of what is known in Asian mythology as a "fox spirit." Such spirits, while often naughty, are possessed of magic powers which also can bring great love. This little girl even had worn her hair in a fox tail.

Lisa had been thinking of writing about the one-child policy and adoption for a long time, and now yet another coincidence occurred. She'd been on a promotional event for her previous book, China Dolls, and the group that had sponsored her speaking engagement had brought in a tea-master who conducted what she describes as a messy ceremony. But realizing that tea is the second most popular drink in the world, after water, she began her research, which lead her to discover that Yunnan province, China, still has original Pu'er tea plantations.

Lisa compared the quality of teas to that of wines, ranging in quality from "Two Buck Chuck" to  fine teas can fetch as much at auction as certain rare vintages of Chateau Margaux. In fact, when Hong Kong reverted back to China, some people sold their valuable collections of Pu'er to finance their immigration to the States. One cake of tea sold for $150,000. She mentioned the Tea Horse Road, sometimes known as the Southern Silk Road, that extends from Yunnan to Tibet. The route earned the name Tea-Horse Road because of the common trade of Tibetan ponies for Chinese tea.

During her research into issues of identity, as it relates to adoption, Lisa interviewed dozens of young adoptees. She'd heard of the "grateful but angry" adoptee, but what she found was more "grateful but sad." Many of the young women said they knew they were precious to their adoptive families, but believed they had not been precious enough for their birth parents to keep.

"This is my deepest mother/daughter story yet," Lisa added. Her previous novels,  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, deal with how mothers look at children. This novel focuses more on daughters' views of mothers.

One further coincidence...just as she was finishing the novel, Carolyn See, Lisa's novelist and literary critic mother, was diagnosed with cancer. She'd died just ten days later.

I'd been a dedicated fan of Lisa's since I first met both her and her mother in 1979 when she helped Carolyn put on the first of a marvelous series of symposiums of Southern California writers at Loyola Marymount. Those were the days even before the debut of the popular Monica Highland novels, on which Lisa collaborated with Carolyn and Carolyn's longtime partner, UCLA professor John Espey. (The inspiration for the trio's pen name had been the intersection of Highland Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd.)

I'd been on a European river cruise last July, so hadn't heard about Carolyn's death until a few weeks before this April event at the Danish Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda. I wanted to tell Lisa how much I'd valued her mother.

The mother/daughter theme also ran through Carolyn's I mentioned that I remembered that to Lisa, when she signed my book. I added that while she had been talking that morning I couldn't help but recall Mothers, Daughters, Carolyn's novel of family relationships set in California's turbulent '70s. Many of the events in that book had been drawn from Carolyn's experience in raising her own daughters. Lisa nodded. "I know," she said, her eyes reflecting her pain.

Lisa signed my copy, "A Story of Mother Love."

A final note. Lisa's next novel will not be connected to China. Rather it will focus on the haenyeo, the women seafood divers of the coastal Jeju province of South Korea. Some of these divers are still working at their trade, even in their seventies. The gender reversal roles in this matriarchal society will play a central theme. 

For more about Pu'er tea and Lisa's research, visit her website:
A conversation between mother Carolyn and daughter Lisa:
Carolyn See on mother and daughter relationships:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Kind of Chicken Soup!

Chicken Soup publisher Amy Newmark with contributors at Buca di Beppo, Carlsbad, CA

Though I'd not met publisher Amy Newmark before, she recognized me the minute I neared the registration desk at the luncheon she hosted yesterday in Carlsbad for contributors to the popular Chicken Soup inspirational series.

"Terri?" she asked, approaching me. I'd arrived a little early, since I'd been uncertain how long the trek would take me from my Westminster home. It looked as if I were the first guest there. When I'd promoted Amy's book, Simply Happy, at a San Bernardino library event several months ago, my photo had appeared in the Chicken Soup communique, "The Inner Circle." Still, I never would have expected that Amy would be able to associate my face with my name.

D'ette Cortona whirled around from where she'd been arranging identification tags, and asked how I liked being back in California. Barbara LoMonaco joined us and we chatted briefly about the Chicken Soup luncheon I'd had for my book club friends shortly before I moved south, and how I still treasured my Chicken Soup picture frame, apron and oven mitt. Talk about a warm welcome!

How could they keep us all straight, I wondered, as I watched the three women greet roughly 60 other area writers as they filed into the upstairs dining room of this cozy Italian restaurant. Since I'd stolen a seat near the front, I listened in on many of the conversations. What a family reunion, with conversations focusing not so much on writing, but on updates about children, grandchildren, marriages, divorces, graduations and career changes.
With D'ette Corona

As I chatted with those seated closest to me, Sallie Rodman and BJ Jensen, I realized that I, too, enjoy an insider's view into so many lives. That's the secret of the Chicken Soup magic. All of us who write for the series willingly reveal our daily triumphs and tragedies. I know more about the daily lives of many of my fellow contributors than I do about my neighbors and relatives.

Though few of the contributors had met in person before, we settled into an easy familiarity. BJ Jensen, who took the photo at the top of this page, declared she was dining with her true BFFs. (And for the curious, and the foodies, no, we didn't spoon up chicken soup. Instead, our waiters served us bruschetta, Caesar and apple and Gorgonzola salads, penne basilica, chicken
Barbara LoMonoco and  husband Frank
limone and chocolate chip cannoli. And yes, I likely gained a pound.)

"Our mission is more important than ever before," Amy began, adding that the Chicken Soup franchise ALWAYS has been about kindness. "We will continue to feature stories about people from all religions, from all gender identifications, from all walks of life."

She revealed that the Chicken Soup webmaster has been receiving angry letters, mostly from old women, complaining that as a Christian publication, the franchise should not be publishing stories about gay couples or people who adhere to other religious beliefs. 

"We are not exclusively a Christian publication," Amy said. "We welcome inclusion. If we lose readers who fault us for that, then we do. We have never been political in the past. But if promoting kindness now is seen as political, then we're political."

An old woman myself, I personally congratulated Amy for taking a strong public position. Because I'm dating a rabbi, I, too, have been subjected to some mean-spirited comments. (A personal aside: my new love is the founder and past president of the Orange County Interfaith Council, dedicated to combating hate crimes. I've been writing about some of these experiences, and will continue to.) Amy reminded me that she covers the topic of ridding oneself of toxic people in Simply Happy.
Amy emphasized that the upcoming book, My Kind (of ) America, exemplifies Chicken Soup's dedication to fighting mean-spirited attitudes and open expressions of hate that have increased over the past year or two. This new book will feature stories that reflect what Amy believes is the true nature of our country.

This is how it's described on the Chicken Soup website: Our book about Random Acts of Kindness was a big hit, and we are doing another one now, with an emphasis on the USA. America has always been known as a kind country, filled with people who care about one another and about the rest of the world, too. We live in a country filled with good people who volunteer in our communities, help people who need help, and pride ourselves on doing the right thing. Our huge and varied country is known for tolerance, energy, and spirit. We are proud of our inclusive and welcoming attitude, no matter our color, our country of origin, our sexual identity, or our religion.
Amy and Barbara introducing key personnel involved in May Chicken Soup releases

 Tips from Amy for fellow contributors to this series:

1. Don't be discouraged if you don't get as many acceptances as in the past. Chicken Soup now receives nearly double the number of submissions for each title, five to six thousand, rather than the two to three thousand it used to expect. (My guess is that this is because the number of publications seeking first person creative nonfiction has diminished in the past few years. Chicken Soup remains one of the last publications that pays well for our stories.)

2. Current pet peeves include dangling participles ("Having no pulse, I dialed 911,") and contributors, sometimes even seasoned ones, who submit what obviously is a first draft, expecting the Chicken Soup editors to clean it up. (If you don't like to edit, ask you like to get published?)

3. Don't assume that just because one of your stories isn't accepted for the title you submitted to, that it's been discarded. Sometimes it's kept in the database with a future title in mind. Resubmit stories that you think might fit current upcoming titles. (I've successfully resubmitted stories that had not been accepted the first time around.)

4. Chicken Soup appreciates the local promotions, the book signings and interviews that contributors do, since it's difficult these days for publishers to get press and television coverage. It's even getting difficult to persuade retailers to stock books. The company also lost money in the Border's bankruptcy. ( I've loved seeing Chicken Soup books with my stories in such stores as Walmart, Rite Aid and Safeway. A friend tells me that authors call this "seeing it in the wild." I hope these businesses continue to stock Chicken Soup books.)

Here are the three timely new Chicken Soup titles that Amy discussed at the luncheon...
all possible gifts for May events. Though I don't have stories in these editions, writer friends of mine do. And every Chicken Soup book contains stories that will warm your heart.

Here's the link to my blog about that Chicken Soup luncheon from a few years back.
My 2014 Chicken Soup luncheon