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....

Monday, January 30, 2017

Our Differences Mean Less Than Our Kinship

With counterparts and fellow PCV, Dominican Republic 1994
"Peace may sound simple - one beautiful word - but it requires everything we have, every quality, every strength, every dream, every high ideal."-- Yehudi Menuhin

In 1987 at the age of 50 I joined the Peace Corps. My story about why I did this appears below the photo of the Statue of Liberty below.

Though I left Peace Corps Headquarters in 2004, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer I've continued to promote our Third Goal: To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. I speak frequently about my experiences in Belize, Dominican Republic and Seychelles, where I served overseas, and about what I learned by traveling to dozens of countries as a progam and training specialist when I worked at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington DC. Currently I belong to the Orange County Peace Corps Association.

So this morning I reminisced a bit about how my life became enriched from these experiences overseas after I opened the following message from the president of our national association:

"In 1958, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants. The text outlines the history and importance of immigration to the United States, as well as proposals to liberalize immigration law.
"As one of his first presidential acts, President Kennedy established Executive Order 10924 to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps. Since 1961, 225,000 Volunteers have been welcomed in 161 countries — including Muslim majority ones, as well as many below our southern border. As foreigners, we were accepted without prejudice into homes, schools, offices, and houses of worship by our hosts.
"At the time, each of us made an oath: I promise to serve alongside the people of my Country of Service. I promise to share my culture with an open heart and open mind. I promise to foster an understanding of the people of my Country of Service, with creativity, cultural sensitivity, and respect. I will face the challenges of service with patience, humility, and determination. I will embrace the mission of world peace and friendship for as long as I serve and beyond. In the proud tradition of Peace Corps’ legacy, and in the spirit of the Peace Corps family past, present, and future - I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.
"Because of this, those of us who have served in the Peace Corps have a special responsibility. We are tasked with sharing, in a spirit of humility and respect, what it means to be an American. We must speak up on behalf of the refugees who have now been prevented from entering our country and receiving our welcome in return...
"Our national security depends not on building walls, but bridges. Peace is a product of friendship and understanding, and the Peace Corps community demonstrates our lifelong commitment to those ideals by following through when it’s needed most.
In service,

Glenn Blumhorst
President & CEO
RPCV Guatemala 1988-91"

Treated with kindness and compassion by some many host country nationals in so many countries all over the world, I owe the same kindness and compassion to those immigrants who have believed the message on our Lady Liberty:

So what can I do to protect Constitutional rights for

Yesterday I joined a group of over three hundred worried people of faith and good will at Temple Bat Yahm at an interfaith town hall meeting, Coming Together to Combat Hate in Our Community. This was an excellent opportunity to hear from our county and law enforcement officials, civil rights experts and community leaders about the recent rise in racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic incidents in Orange County.

As a native-born Californian, as descendant of immigrants, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, as a board member of the American Association of University Women, as the volunteer liaison for California's AARP District 47, and as a human being, I will continue to work at the local, state and national level to ensure that Emma Lazarus' words continue to represent the wonderful spirit of America:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)



“Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.”–Mark Twain
 “My Great Uncle Loring once shook hands with Abraham Lincoln,” my grandmother used to tell me, her face beaming with pride. “This was right after the Emancipation Proclamation. And everybody in our family has been Republicans since." 
I had no idea when I was growing up that I would be the first in the family to stray from the faithful fold. But at 2 a.m. on October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy addressed a crowd of shivering students on the steps of the Union at the University of Michigan. In his speech, just weeks before the national elections, he challenged students to devote two years of their lives to helping people in developing countries. 
When I heard these words on the radio later that morning, I tried to picture myself boarding a plane and heading for Tanganyika where I would teach toddlers to read. Though married and a young mother, I envied those students who might have this chance to serve. 
But it was never going to happen, I told myself. First, it was unlikely Kennedy could get elected. Nobody in my family or my husband’s thought that the young man from Massachusetts could divert enough votes from frontrunner Nixon. I myself had registered as a Republican when I’d turned 21.  
Second, I was married, had a toddler, and was working towards a bacherlor’s degree. When I mentioned Kennedy’s proposal to my husband, he just laughed. “There’s children right here in Los Angeles County who need to learn to read. You don’t have to go overseas to make your dreams come true,” he pointed out. 
When I went to the polls, I hesitated. Until that very day, I hadn’t made up my mind.  But as I went into my booth, I made a decision. Even if I couldn’t have that chance to serve, I’d still advocate for those who could. So I voted for Kennedy, knowing that my husband would tease me later about our votes cancelling each other. 
A few months later, I privately thrilled to JFK’s inaugural address. I had always scoffed at the notion that I belonged to a so-called Silent Generation, a popular designation of the time. Now Kennedy insisted that the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans, one that could be vocal and active. I vowed to be part of that generation. 
My husband had been right, of course, about people needing help at home as well as overseas. I continued with my studies, eventually getting a teaching credential and settling in to become a high school English and journalism teacher right in Long Beach, CA. 
The day Kennedy was shot, I sent students repeatedly to the nurse’s office for more boxes of Kleenex. I turned on the classroom radio and we listened together as the horrific story unfolded. I thought about Great- Great-Great-Uncle Loring, and wished I’d had the opportunity to shake Kennedy’s hand. Now it would never be.  
A few years later, after riots rocked our inner cities, I abandoned teaching to become a caseworker to help rebuild South Central Los Angeles. My parents had a tough time understanding this. They remembered the depression years, and seemed to think I was working in a soup kitchen. No matter how much I tried to explain about Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the Equal Opportunity Act, they insisted upon telling friends, “Terri’s working for The Dole.”  I suspect they imagined me wrapped in a big white apron, ladling out soup.  Eventually I returned to graduate school and earned an MSW at UCLA. 
Elections came and went, and though I remained a registered Republican, I finally admitted that Kennedy had forever changed my worldview. In the early ‘80’s I finally changed my registration, admitting to myself that I indeed was the family black sheep, or in this case, donkey. 
Then finally, at 50, divorced, my son grown, I joined the Peace Corps. Friends raised both eyebrows and issues:   “Aren’t you a bit, how shall I put this, uhhhh, old?”  “Do you think you’re up for mosquitoes and pit latrines?”   “You know, don’t you, that older people have a lot of trouble learning new languages?” 
I developed some pat rejoinders. Peace Corps told me that a number of retirees join. I would most likely be placed in towns or cities, not living in a mud hut. I could relearn my high school Spanish and college French, if need be. 
I joined, rejoined and then extended. After a decade overseas, I returned to the States and became a health programming and training specialist at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington DC. In this capacity I helped strengthen efforts of Volunteers in dozens of countries to address malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, and the infectious diseases that lead to high infant mortality rates. 
On January 29, 2002, Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of JFK, and founding director of the Peace Corps, gave a speech at the Directors Forum at Peace Corps Headquarters to a packed audience of about 200 staffers. Frail, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, nonetheless, Shriver read in a strong voice from his notes and emphasized that peace is more than just the absence of war. He said that peace “is living together based on what we have in common. Our differences matter less than our kinship.”  I took notes.
After his speech, he shook hands with dozens of us, nodding as we told him where we had served as Volunteers. “I’m honored to shake your hand,” I told him. “I owe my whole life to you and to President Kennedy.”  “I’m honored to shake yours,” he said. 
A few years ago I was the keynote speaker at the Oregon School Counselor’s Association Conference, and I’d prepared a PowerPoint. I spent the weeks sorting through photographs in my faded paisley duffle bag. Here I am, leaning against a coconut palm in the front yard of my house on Regent Street in Belize City. Here I am, painting murals on the Youth Center fence with teens in Mont Fleur, Seychelles. Here I am perched behind my counterpart on her motorcycle in San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. 
And here I am today, still promoting Peace Corps, all because of a campaign speech by JFK over fifty years ago.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wine wherever? Right here! In the OC!

Orange Coast Winery Wins Ribbons at Orange County Fair

Still a delicious read.
Back in 2011 I agreed to edit Wine Wherever in California's Mid-Coast & Inland Regions for my friends, publishers Dahlynn and Ken McKowen. Not long ago, I recalled how, as I scrolled through the manuscript, I dreamed about the days ahead when I could follow in their footsteps.
 Alas, I have yet to take that trip. If I don't do it this year, I'll give it priority in 2018. Nonetheless, recently I thumbed through the book again, savoring vicariously the delights of visiting wineries.I was reminded of how the the McKowens did much more than pop in and
My new wine glasses.
sip as they traveled the region, gathering their material for this book. As they claim in their introductory paragraph, "As national award-winning travel book authors, each of us possesses an avid interest in history and in people...Wine tasting is a wonderful adventure, not only for one's palate, but for the mind and body as well."

Admiring the Orange Coast inventory...
I agree it's an adventure. And I didn't want to wait another year for another, as appealing as the Central Coast trip may be. I figured there must be some place where I could indulge in a wine tasting on a lazy Sunday afternoon right here in Southern California. So last month as I did my online Christmas shopping, I browsed Gruopon and came across an offer for a wine tasting for two that included a gourmet cheese platter and two souvenir Bordeaux-style wineglasses. I decided this would be an adventure my friend, Linda, and I could enjoy during the post-holiday January lull. I anticipated we'd likely need to drive to Temecula or at least to Laguna Canyon to take advantage of this offer...but then my eye fell on the location of the winery. Why, it's just a few miles away, in nearby Newport Beach! 

The last wine tasting I'd shared with Linda had been two years ago at the Italian castle of Verrazzano in Chianti, between Florence and Siena.  But this past Sunday I warned Linda as we headed out that we'd be in somewhat simpler surroundings this time around. Indeed, Orange Coast Winery calls itself a "urban boutique winery," with an entrance in the rear of an industrial park on a Newport Beach side street. I didn't spy any nearby vineyards.

Here's the explanation: At this self-described urban microwinery, vintners crush, age, and bottle their own vintages using local California grapes. Inside its capacious cellars, juices from grapes grown in regions such as Paso Robles, Napa, and Sonoma age in oak barrels. The resulting vintages are available for purchase onsite, online, or through a nearby genie, and also fill glasses Thursday–Sunday in the attached tasting room. There, patrons can meander through rows of barrels, stop to rest their glass on a granite-topped bar, and on nicer days, catch a salt-sprinkled breeze through the open warehouse door.

(Since I posted this I received this clarification from Debbie Wiens: Presently, we only source grapes from my husband's original vineyard in Lodi, along with several of his old friends and neighbors. We also source grapes from our Temecula vineyards. All of our grapes we use come strictly from vineyards that we personally own or directly manage. We're also open 7 days a week making it completely accessible to our members and the public!)
Doug and Debbie Wiens, owners

The Newport Beach winery opened in 2011, and showcases a variety of whites, rosés and reds. Our personal server (or genie) Carsten Coombs, provided us with the wine list, and suggested we begin with whites and progress toward the heavier reds as we each selected our six tastings. He made certain that our glasses never stood empty for long, and served us water from time to time so we could cleanse our palates.

Carsten additionally gave us the inside story on the winery, on how Doug and Debbie Wiens decided on this locale, and on each wine we selected. He even told us a little about each of the cheeses on our platter. Though it was hard to choose among all the varieties, tempted by their mouth- watering descriptions, I finally settled on a 2016 Pinot Grigio, a 2016 Endless Summer White Blend, a 2016 Rosé of Malbec (a Gold Medal winner at the OC Fair), a 2014 Winterfest Red, a 2013 Big Wave, and a 2015 Reserve Primitivo. Of the six, I'd rank the Winterfest as my's described as a "light-bodied wine containing notes of cranberry and orange with touches of holiday spice and oak. It pairs well with appetizers, cheese and fondue."
Linda and I linger by the sangria punch

Our artisan cheese platter included chèvre (goat) cheese with olive oil and rosemary, smoked Gouda, gorgonzola with clover honey drizzle, pecorino romano, marcona almonds and orange marmalade. For those with heartier appetites, the winery offers a variety of dips and spreads, flat breads, paninis, and even a platter of artisan cheese and cured meets, that includes pickles and mixed olives. Yes, there are gluten-free options.

The winery sponsors a couple of wine clubs, with complementary tastings and pick-up parties in a private club room. There's a "Sangria Sunday" punch also offered in the club room.

Though I still need to wait another year for the trip up the coast, I'll definitely be back to Orange Coast winery soon. I still have my eye on cozying up to 2013 Endless Summer Cabernet Sauvignon. If it lives up to its billing, I might take a bottle home. After all, who could resist a wine that's imbued with "herbal aromas of rosemary and eucalyptus with rich dark fruit and velvety finish?" Oh, and you'll never guess what the winery suggests pairing this baby with: Chateaubriand with mushroom sauce, grilled asparagus and vanilla bean crème brûlée. Now does that sound like a romantic supper or what?

You can learn more here:

Orange Coast Winery
869 W. 16th, Newport Beach, CA 92663
Entrance and Free Parking In Back
(949) 645-0400 
Tasting Room Hours of Operation
Monday-Friday: 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday: Noon to  9:00 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 8:00 p.m.

For delightful reading about California wineries farther north,  you can still buy Wine Wherever from the Publishing Syndicate website:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Panicked? Think positive.

You'd think I'd welcome the beginning of this new year with open arms.  The last one ended with a series of unfortunate events, but hadn't been altogether too terrible for me. After all, I'd met a wonderful gentleman who shares my loves of literary pursuits, who dedicates his days to achieving social justice and who colludes with me in occasional outbreaks of silliness.

Nonetheless, since the long New Year's weekend, I've lapsed into my old childhood habit of awakening each morning, paralyzed by dread. I've relentlessly been playing that old "what if" trick on myself again.

Fortunately, a couple of days ago I received an email that's made me reassess what I gain about peering into the dark abyss of "what might be."
A woman named Maryann took the time to send me this note:
Good day. I am presently reading Chicken soup for the soul and just now read your excerpt titled Eighty-five Percent.
It was as though I was reading about myself! Thank you for sharing. I have been working for many years to change my life's habits. One step forward and one step back appears to be my motto. Insecurity rears it's ugly head at the darnedest times.
Once again thank you. I needed to contact you.

I hadn't thought of that story for quite a while. I opened my copy of the book it appears in, and reread it. "Oh," I reminded myself. "That's what I need to begin doing again." So now I'm starting each morning with thinking a positive thought...or three

Here's today's: Though my date, because of a bad cold, had to bow out of attending a concert with me tonight, my son and his lady friend will share the evening with me instead. And it's Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1 at the Segerstrom Center. How positive can you get?

Grateful, I emailed Maryann:
Thanks so much for writing and letting me know how "Eighty-five  Percent" from the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive, affected you. Yes, anxiety does paralyze us sometimes...and I learned so much from my late husband's advice. I try to remind myself every time I feel knots in my stomach that I may be worrying about something that is not going to happen. Ever.

Chicken Soup for the Soul's provided readers for over 20 years now with inspirational examples of how to address life's perplexing issues. I've been privileged to have 27 of my stories included in the series over the past decade. I realize how fortunate I am to have this platform to share what I've learned in my nearly 80 years of living. I value hearing from readers, and want you to know how grateful I am that you took the time to write to me.

Here's the story that inspired Maryann. May it aid you, too, if you feel paralyzed by doom and gloom.

Eighty-five Percent

Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen.
~James Russell Lowell

In my earliest years my older sister and I bounced from place to place. Our parents separated when we were toddlers, so we made the rounds, staying with Grandma,with our dad, with his friends, and then back again to Grandma’s.

As if these uncertain circuits weren’t enough to disquiet even a tranquil tyke, onetime I even lost the company of my sister, the closest thing I had to a security blanket. At age four I became hospitalized for several weeks with double pneumonia.

Then when we were five and six, an aunt and uncle adopted us. But my childhood continued to be peppered with predicaments. In addition to the normal childhood diseases of those pre-vaccination days -- measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chickenpox -- I also contracted scarlet fever, which kept me bedridden for weeks. I’d barely recovered when I had to be hospitalized again, this time for a tonsillectomy.

I became a nervous wreck. I realize now how frustrating it must have been for my adoptive parents, watching while I ran through the gamut of self-soothing behaviors. I covered all the bases. I chewed off the entire left collar of my red boucle coat. I sucked my thumb, even licking off the acrid iodine Mama painted it with. I rocked myself to sleep, banging the bed against the wall so violently that my entire family complained of  lack of sleep. And, most embarrassingly for Mama, I’d huddle under my bed, shivering in fear, if visitors showed up.

Nowadays, the average parent may be better educated about the impact of childhood trauma and might seek out professional advice. Back then, though, my family hadn’t a clue. Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book on baby and childcare wouldn’t even be published until I was nine. So bless their hearts… my adoptive parents tried every ploy they could dream up to deal with me, an abnormally anxious child, as I struggled to get through the days and the nights.

“What’s the matter with you?” Mama would demand, as I sobbed uncontrollably when she turned off the light at bedtime.

I was scared to death all the time. I didn’t know why. Nothing seemed to calm me down. Not promises of ice cream or bluffs to drop me off at a nearby police station if I didn’t like it where I was. No treat or threat succeeded in seducing or scaring me into tranquility.

In those days in our suburban Southern California neighborhood, people didn’t chauffeur children to school. We simply walked. We’d been warned to look both ways before crossing streets, and not to jaywalk. Nevertheless my heart began to pound every time I came to an intersection. What if I stepped off the curb and a car came around a corner hit me and I died? Thank heavens I only had to cross three streets to reach Bryson Avenue Elementary. If there’d been a fourth I might have made “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” column as the youngest heart attack victim ever.

By the time I turned eight and my family moved to Oregon, I’d settled into a daily routine of waking up early to enumerate the dozens of imaginary landmines I’d be called upon to sidestep if I were to live until nightfall. “What if” became my dismaying morning mantra.

Then things changed. Miss Magee, my new teacher, decided I should skip third grade because of my high reading scores. She worked with me after school to catch up on long division and multiplication. She stared down the boys who called me “Terri Termite” because I chewed my pencils. She suggested to my parents that I be given a baton for Christmas because I’d had my heart set on one for years. She let me read every book in the little three-room-schoolhouse library. She praised my book reports, gently reminding me to write on, and not between, the lines.

Most of all, she helped me to distinguish between my negative and positive thoughts. She told me that as a child she’d been afraid, too, but at her Friends Church she’d learned to believe she had an Inner Light. This Inner Light would always lead her to find positive ways of viewing the world. So she suggested that when I awoke in the morning I ask myself what wonderful things I’d be doing that day, rather than wondering“what if.”

It was hard at first to change my thinking pattern. I’d grown used to viewing each new day as yet another struggle to avoid trouble. But Miss Magee would check with meat recess, and I had to be ready with an answer when she’d ask what positive thought I’d selected for that day.

“Picking crab apples in the orchard,” I’d say. Or “Reading Dandelion Cottage.”Or “Helping Grandma shell peas.”

If I fell back on my old habit of looking for the worst possibilities, Miss Magee would remind me that when I learned my multiplication tables I’d had to practice them a lot to get them right. Now I had to practice looking for positive possibilities, over and over, until it became automatic.

Gradually, I grew more comfortable around other children and even trusted a few enough to make friends. Of course I still encountered woes. Once I caught poison oak,and once I cut my foot stepping on a piece of broken glass while wading in a creek.Though these were uncomfortable experiences, somehow I’d grown mature enough to realize that minor rashes and gashes were only that... minor.

Now I realize that I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder as a child. Its repercussions have remained with me for life. Now, though, whenever I lapse into dread,I force myself to think of what positive activity I’ll soon engage in: an hour with a Dickens novel, a walk with my dog, a dish of frozen yogurt… something wonderful.

When I married my late husband in 2000, he told me he could never understand worry. A man who spent his career in the gaming industry, Ken appreciated statistics and odds. Somewhere he’d read that eighty-five percent of the things that people worry about never come to be. And worrying can’t alter the final outcome of the remaining fifteen percent, he’d remind me. If I voiced what he determined to be unreasonable concern,he’d just cast me a baleful glance and murmur, “Eighty-five.” Gradually, I picked up his phrase.

Oh, I still have some telltale anxiety traits. I’m not a hoarder, but I like a well-stocked pantry, and probably have a dozen more cans of soup than I really need. I’ve never lost my keys in over fifty years, but I still check several times to make certain they’re in my purse before I leave the house. I still have that recurrent dream of not being able to locate the classroom where I’m scheduled to sit for a final exam.

Worry? Yes, but not excessively. Eighty-five percent of the time I’m thinking positive!

In 2008 with Ken Wilson, who'd remind me: "Eighty-five!"