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, December 21, 2020

What are You Watching New Year's?

This is probably not the year to be crowding into public places to ring in the New Year. It was a bad year for meeting under the mistletoe. But not a bad year for reading and watching a lot of well-made movies, if even in my rocker instead of a theater.

So New Year's Eve? I am betting I'll be curled up on my rocker with a book. I may set aside a few hours to binge watch the final season of "Scott and Bailey." 

Thanks to Skype and Zoom, I'm not totally out of touch with friends. But I don't recall ever spending so much time inside alone during the holidays. At least I have the luxury of electricity, even though the three-way reading lamp I bought online last March finally defaulted on its first two settings last night. I also have my local library system which still allows curbside pickup for books. And I finally added Netflix Streaming so I can watch a lot of movies and TV series, such as past Masterpiece series on my computers. (I don't have a smart TV nor the expertise to figure out how to transfer to my "dumb" TV.) 

So here's what I've binged watched this year, having made a pact with my Emmy/SAG/Oscars watching partner, actress, playright, writer Joyce Ann Newman Scott. I've finished "The Crown," am on the final season of "Schitt's Creek," and just started season 4 of "Scott and Bailey." I'm going to begin the Ken Burns "Jazz" series this new year, thanks to moving it up in my old-fashioned Netflix DVD queue. 

Christmas night I plan to tune in to see the 2020 Christsmas special of "Call the Midwife," a series I've watched from the start. And I may want to be reminded of what's good in life, so will read another chapter of Universal Table's new essay collection, Goodness. My story, "Grandma Fang's Clowder of Kittens," is in this anthology.

My library book group is reading Never Let Me Go, by Nobel Prize winner, Kazuo Ishigiro and my AAUW book group is reading Marla Jo Fisher's Frumpy Mid-Life Mom. She's a local humor columnist for the Orange County Register.

On my bedside stand: 

Sisters, Daisy Johnson 

This Time Next Year, Jacqueline Winspear

The Great Pretender, Susana Cahalan
I wish you the happiest of New Year's! I think most everybody I know is eager to see Baby New Year kick out Year 2020.


Here's Kacey Musgraves to ask you the question, "What Are You Doing New Year's?"

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Three's a Charm


Three's a charm...and three anthologies that include my stories all showed up in my mail this past month. Though Friends had appeared on Kindle earlier, it now is out in paperback. It includes "Gail and the Special Sears Sale," which recounts my brush with the law when I had just started 10th grade.

A little earlier I'd received my copies of Impact, with the story of why I joined the US Peace Corps at the age of 50, followed by Goodness, with a remembrance of Fang, the kindest cat I've ever known.

Curiosity drove me to research where the expression "three's a charm" originated. I learned that the idiom is rooted in the ancient belief that the number three is magical, but the phrase dates back only to the early 1800s. A companion phrase is third time lucky, generally considered a British term. I'd heard before of lucky seven, but hadn't been certain of the magic of the three. Apparently, that doesn't hold up for clovers, where the 4-leaf ones are what you sesek.

Nonetheless, I'm delighted to have three new books to add to my anthology bookcase. Also, do you wanna guess what my friends will be getting this year for Christmas? If you guessed it's a book, you'd be fact, you can book on it!

What they won't get, and I won't either, is the charm bracelet you see below. I'd longed for one when I was in junior high, just about the time I met Gail, who went with me a couple of years later to that fateful Sears sale. I remember I finally bought an inexpenive dime store bracelet and collected two or three charms...but it wasn't ever what I'd envisisoned. Apparently, not worth keeping, either. I still have the jewelry from those days that was, my Quill and Scroll pin from junior high journalism and my Scian sorority medallion from high school.

But thinking about charms and bracelets to dangle them on, I led me to explore to see if they are still popular. I'm not certain I've seen anybody wearing one in a long while. 

Oh, yes. This bracelet certainly resembles the one I'd imagined owning all those decades ago when I was a tweener. Do you like it? Really love it the way my 12-year-old heart did? Well, you're in luck because  now it's on cybersale. Somebody who put a lot of effort into collecting those charms half a century ago no longer is so charmed...or her heirs aren't. I still am.

As much as I admire this bracelet though, these days I rarely wander out of my senior living apartment to go much of anyplace other than the grocery store. So I doubt I'd ever have much opportunity to wear it. Besides, I still love wearing the gold tennis bracelet that my late husband gave me. I wear only one bracelet at a time...I've never felt the need to be entirely covered in baubles, bangles and beads.

But if you're charmed, you could snap it up. The seller lists it as "a vintage circa 1970s 14kt yellow gold bracelet, originally priced at $4,995.00." During this cybersale, it's offered for $3,496.50, including free, that's right, free shipping.

Or, alternatively, you could buy a book. Maybe one with a story by me! They're all available now on Amazon.

Let me know what you decide. And I hope it makes you happy.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Here Kitty, Kitty, Good Kitty!

"Grandma Fang's Clowder of Kittens" has just been published in a new Wising Up Press anthology, Goodness. The anthology is edited by Charles D. Brockett and Heather Tosteson. It will be available for purchase on December 1 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and from the publisher,

Per Wising Up Press:   Goodness is hard to define, but we know it when we see it. In action or inaction, that pause that isn't uncertain, that is more like a deep, steady breath, an existential embrace. It is easier to see goodness in others than in ourselves. But do we experience it as a choice or part of their essential nature? If a choice, what is the nature of the choice?  What other adjectives constellate around it? Strong? Independent? Loving? Astute? Generous? Sui generis? Trusting? Confident? Firm? Unequivocal? Kind?

Where have you seen goodness in play? How has it changed your own life, the actual choices you make or how you evaluate your choices? Is there a cascade effect? Or is it, in its specificity, always a one-off? What happens to us when we think about it, try to describe it, share our experiences of it with others?

 We hope you will find personal inspiration and resonance in this thoughtful and moving collection that discovers goodness in such difficult social realities as homelessness, imprisonment, and more intimate ones like illness, families, marriage, aging. We also hope these meditations on the often unexpected good in us and those around us can help us develop larger, much needed social conversations about our common good.

This year, 2020, has been filled with much misfortune, but goodness is still around, if you know where to look I found goodness in an aging cat! 

Here are the opening paragraphs from my story:

Fang appeared shortly after Thanksgiving in l965. My eight-year-old son, Steve, found her curled up in the patio, blanketed with purple jacaranda blossoms. He’d gone out with his telescope to look for Pisces, his favorite autumn constellation.

“Look, Mom. I nearly stepped on this cat on my way to the gate,” Steve said, cradling the calico tabby. “I saw its little white paw sticking out of the flowers. Then I heard it meow. It looks so tired.”

Our last feline guest disappeared several months earlier, so I agreed we could keep this latest stray. That’s how it was back then. Except for one neighbor with a purebred Siamese, people didn’t actually

More from the publishers: "Universal Table/Wising Up Press is an organization dedicated to exploring the complex challenges and lasting rewards of living up close and personal with pluralism in social, family, religious, and civic life, or, more simply, Finding the "We" in "Them," the "Us" in "You." Wising Up anthologies use literature by contemporary writers to approach various dimensions of pluralism because of the power of narrative to help us identify safely with others who may at first seem, by appearance or circumstances or culture, very different from us. The anthologies serve as an invitation to stand in that richer relation—empathic, musing, open to new meaning—with ourselves and with our neighbors."


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Coming Up Roses



I won't go so far as to say that everything's coming up roses. It's been a harrowing year from day one. What happened on January 1? I singed my finger while lighting some holiday candles near my rocker, the ancient rocker where I read, watch TV and eat my meals from a TV tray. Yes, that very rocker. The match dropped on my chair and set the foam cushion afire. That set off my apartment's fire alarm. 

Fortunately, I was able to drag the smouldering cushion out on my balcony and smother the melting foam. The smoke didn't get into my building's hallway, so my own alarm quickly subsided. I have an old Air France blanket acting as a seat cover...making do.

I'd no sooner returned from a trip to Napa and Healdsburg, when the pandemic set in. Weeks elapsed when I could barely focus on watching a DVD or reading a book. Fortunately, again, I was saved by connecting with groups and friends via Zoom and Skype. So I hadn't completely isolated.

 By October the Rose Center Theater in my community began to state outdoor concerts in its patio garden, with audiences social distanced and masked. So I began to enjoy live music once more.

A number of area restaurants put up tents and awnings, so I could dine outside with a friend or my son and daughter-in-law.

"I must admit it's getting better," I hummed to myself. But, wait! I went to the supermarket on one of my usual $5 Fridays. Reaching for a packet of seasoning mix, I accidentally knocked over the container. I grabbed it as it fell, catching it right below my waist on my right side. Just as the guy down the aisle shouted "good catch," I felt a searing pain tear through my upper arm. I could hardly manage to load the groceries on to the cashier's counter and stuff them into my trunk. 

By the time I got home, my entire right bicep was beginning to ache. By evening it had started to bruise. The next morning I realized I might have ruptured a tendon. I waited a day to see if the bruising would subside, but it increased, despite the ice packs I'd applied.

 I messaged my primary care physician and she advised I go to the nearest urgent care. So I drove myself over, parked and walked toward the hospital entrance. Just before the crosswalk, I tripped on a piece of concrete that had been raised by a tree root, fell face first, broke my glasses, scraped my face, sprained my left ring finger, skinned my knees and traumatized my entire body.

Fortunately, I didn't suffer a cerebral hemmorhage or break a hip. The damage to my bicep might be permanent, but the fall didn't kill me.

The pandemic isn't going away anytime soon here in Southern California. Nonetheless, I'm focusing on counting my blessings. Though not everything is coming up roses, there's reason for me to celebrate. My Lakers won the NBA. My Dodgers won the World Series. Three books coming out containing my stories appear in the next several weeks. Sasee published a story about the days when I was a majorette. I'm enjoying Taco Tuesdays at a number of different outoor restaurants, while the weather still allows.

Yes, it's autumn, but some things are coming up roses!

And here's my November story:

Saturday, September 26, 2020

I Dreamed the Impossible Dream

Rose Center Theater Courtyard

The last time I saw or heard live music was March 13 at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton. I'd gone to see "The Great Gatsby" right before the pandemic quarantines set in here in Southern California. Though I've had plenty of opportunity to see Broadway play DVDs and listen to jazz, Broadway and classical musical online and through CDs, I hunger for the real thing...seeing and hearing the performers in a theater.

 Rose Center Theater here in Westminster has been a dream come true. After no productions since last winter, a week ago they debuted a live presentation of "The Wiz" in their courtyard, normally reserved for weddings, receptions and other celebratory events. This, indeed, was a celebratory event. Seats were set six feet apart, patrons kept their masks on for the entire hour performance and the performers sang their hearts out. Hand sanitizer was provided and ushers showed us to our seats, depending on where we wanted to sit. We lined up in advance, groups six feet apart. 

 Last night, I went again for "Man of La Mancha." Beautifully and hilariously staged with an appreciative audience giving performers a standing ovation. 

Weekend after next, Rose will be innovative again, with an outdoor movie, "Waiting in the Wings." I intend to go. It's been the answer to my prayers, just a mile from me here, safe from Covid-19 infection possibilities. So I can't chop on popcorn while I watch? It's worth a few sacrifices and I could lose a few pandemic pounds.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Are Angels Still Singing in Scotts Mills?


Scotts Mills, September 12, 2019

One of my former journalism students sent me a piece a day ago about those fighting fighting to save Scotts Mills, OR, from the encroaching Beechie Creek fire that had destroyed nearly 200,000 acres in the foothills of Mount Hood. Wildfires surrounded the region, forcing evacuations of the entire town. Wildfires surrounded the region, forcing evacuations of the entire town. 

 I lived in Scotts Mills as a girl. Here's what I wrote about that town that after I finally went back in 2007. I visited a second time two and a half years ago when I went to Oregon for the total solar eclipse.

 And the Angels Sing

For decades I’d planned to return to Scotts Mills. I’d learned something there once, but couldn’t quite recall what it was.  At troubled times, I’d muse and mull, but that will-o’-the-wisp memory flickered just beyond my perception.

At the close of WWII, my family, like many others, fled Los Angeles in the paranoia over potential nuclear submarine attacks.  They headed for Oregon’s Willamette Valley, miles from the Pacific.

For three years we lived in this hamlet of fewer than 200 people, in our two-story Victorian house with a wooden staircase, a root cellar and a barn.  In l948 we scurried back to Los Angeles.  My family bitterly regretted their hiatus from city life.  I hadn’t wanted to leave.

Grandma had grumbled about the dark clouds, fog, and drizzle that cloaked the area.  Tracking the weather on her kitchen calendar, she claimed the sun peeped through the mist only nine days one entire summer.  Daddy, who played cornet in the sweet swing of style of Bunny Berrigan, rounded up a trio to play at local dances, privately grousing about having to include a schmaltzy accordion for keyboards, which didn’t seem quite right on And the Angels Sing, his signature song.

Mama lamented her suburban coffee klatches, and on weekends would bribe my big sister and me into playing Chinese checkers with heavily-sugared cups of her favorite beverage.  Grandpa reveled in growing parsnips and endive and teasing my little brother with garden snakes, but even he muttered about having to drive seven dang miles to Silverton to purchase his Old Crow from the state liquor store.

For me, a curious 8-year-old, Scotts Mills was Wonderland, Oz and NeverNeverLand all rolled into one.  I picked wild iris, blackberries, and crab apples.  I could earn a dime for a comic book by taking Grandma’s shopping list and wicker basket to the general store for items she’d forgotten to buy at the Silverton Safeway.  I could spot what Daddy said was the Andromeda cluster at night, and he promised when winter came we might see the aurora borealis. I could even earn money at the town store's pharmacy by stripping cascara bark from trees along Grandview Street.

I learned something new every day that first summer.  Grandma taught me how to dogpaddle in the dam and to ignore my classmates’ claims of spotting cousins of the Loch Ness monster in its murky waters. Daddy taught me always to wear a long-sleeved flannel shirt on the mornings when it was my turn to carry wood to the box next to the kitchen stove.  Mama taught me to watch for broken glass when I waded in Silver Creek, and some sneaky opening Chinese checker ploys.  Grandpa taught me how to identify poison oak and make vinegar compresses, but only after I came home blistered and weeping.

When school started, I skipped third grade, since my reading scores indicated that I could do fourth grade work. I had missed multiplication and long division, so my teacher, Miss Magee, spent endless after-school hours helping me understand times tables and what to do with remainders. 

The three-room schoolhouse lumped grades three through five together.  Younger and smaller than my classmates, I was shy and nervous.  I sat with grade four in the middle row, where classmates on each side could jeer I sucked my thumb, chewed on the ends of my pigtails, and gnawed my pencils.  They called me Terri Termite until Miss Magee held a pointed discussion on The Golden Rule.  I worshiped Miss Magee, and studied hard so she would be proud of me. 

I learned outside of school, as well.  The town had been founded by Quakers, and just a few blocks downhill from our home on Grandview stood a Friends Church, built in l892.  Every Sunday I would trudge off to Sunday school, intent on earning my first New Testament, offered as a prize for four months of perfect attendance.  I craved the pocket-sized book with the red leatherette covers, so I would set out even on rainy mornings, ignoring Grandma’s predictions that I’d catch a cold or the dreaded flu. 

 In the basement, we would listen to missionaries tell exotic tales of their work in East Africa.  “I’m going to be just like them,” I’d tell my family.  “I’ll see jungles and monkeys and teach children how to read.”  From the missionaries too I had learned how to pray for others, and not just myself.  I prayed that my classmates would grow in grace enough to stop teasing me and other vulnerable children, such as the boy with the hare lip.

 After we returned to Los Angeles, I got caught up with junior high and high school, boyfriends, youth groups at a variety of churches, and not too much later, even marriage and a child of my own.  But the values I learned from Miss McGee and the Friends Church remained with me, perseverance and discipline, compassion and social justice.

Finally, in spring 2007 I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Oregon School Counselors Association annual conference in Bend, Oregon in October.  The slated theme was “Global Vision, Local Action.” I’d been invited to talk about my adventures all over the world with the Peace Corps.  I had not returned to Oregon since l948. When I looked on the map I saw that Scotts Mills was just a few hours drive from the conference center.   I began making plans.

 Idiscovered that the Scotts Mills Friends Church had a website, so I wrote, mentioning how the church and Miss Magee had influenced me.  The webmaster knew the Magee family and put me in touch with the children of Barbara McGee Hays, who had died of cancer in l972.  Soon I had letters from them, saying they would be at the church when I came in October.  

 I drove over early from the motel in Silverton and sat quietly in the rear pew.  The pianist played a few quick practice notes, and I recognized the song.  I reached for the songbook before me, and flipped through to find the old hymn, Be Still My Soul.

 I opened the Bible, and found the verse that had eluded me.  “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.  I smiled.  It was so simple.  I relaxed and the words “center down” popped into my head, the long forgotten but basic premise of the Friends Church.  What I had learned as a child was to clear my mind of chatter so that I could be receptive to a spiritual message. 

 After the minister arrived, he approached me and asked if I were the woman who had contacted the webmaster.  He invited me to say a few words when the time arrived for offerings.  “We don’t always have much money to offer,” he explained, “but we always ask if somebody has something personal to offer.”

 When it came time, I raised my hand and stood.  “Who is this strange lady?” he asked, smiling.  “Not so strange,” I answered.  When I got to the lectern I looked out at the congregation.  “The last time I stood on this stage was Easter, l948,” I began, “nearly sixty years ago.”

 After the service Miss Magee’s grown children chatted with me. Amazingly, my fourth grade teacher’s son had done some international missionary work in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and knew the Peace Corps director who had been there when I had conducted an international workshop on HIV/AIDS prevention there in 2003.  We agreed to remain in touch.

 I toured the town’s museum later that day, and chatted with one of my former classmates who lived across from it.  He remembered how the children teased.  When I learned to center down, I found I no longer needed to chew my pencils.  I hope the boy with the hare lip learned to ignore the taunts.

 As I drove back to Silverton I found myself humming my father’s favorite, And the Angels Sing. 

Bunny Berrigan

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Please, Mr. Postman

When I picked up Neil Postman's 1985 landmark book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, the librarian who brought it out to me at my Westminster CA local library commented that it was classic Sociology 101.

I'd taken Sociology 101 in 1957, decades earlier, when we were still astonished to be learning about white collar crime. I'd read Postman, his books on semantics and childhood, but not this particular book. Now I'm glad I have.

From Wikipedia, here's a brief synopsis of the origins of this work:
"The book's origins lay in a talk Postman gave to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1984. He was participating in a panel on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and the contemporary world. In the introduction to his book, Postman said that the contemporary world was better reflected by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement, than by Orwell's work, where they were oppressed by state control."

I thought reading Postman's book would help me to better understand how a failed casino builder and reality television host could ascend to the presidency of the United States. It certainly has.

In the preface, Postman's son, Andrew, asks us to recall 1985 when MTV was in its infanccy. And then think about how fast we have become bombarded with technological diversion that there's little time left for reflection. Rarely do you see a group of young people sitting around and chatting. Instead they hunch over their cell phones texting, swiping or playing games, ignoring those on either side of them.

Because I spent a decade in developing countries, 1987 through 1997, without TV, telephone, or nearby movie complexes, with few available newspapers or current magazines, I continued to rely on books and handwritten letters for information and diversion. It was only when I returned to the States and moved to Arkansas in 1998 that it struck me how much our culture had changed.

Though computers now sat on every desk, we went to each other's offices for discussions. It wasn't long before we began to email one another, though our doorways might be thirty steps apart. Then, by 2005 I learned my stepgrandchildren rarely checked emails...they communicated through their cell phones. A year later Twitter had been created. All this in a twenty-year span since Postman's book first came to public notice.

Chapter 9 of Amusing Ourselves to Death, tellingly is titled, "Reach Out and Elect Someone." In it he discusses how TV commercials have devastated public discourse. "By bringing together in compact form all of the arts of show, drama, imagery, humor, celebrity...the television commercial has mounted the most serious assault on capitalist ideology since the publication of Das Kapital." Postman argues that Americans, even in 1985, had begun to accept political commericals as "a normal and plausible form of discourse."

Even those who aren't crazy about combat sports, such as American football, watch the Super Bowl to see the new commercials.

Now our national elections might hinge on which candidates spend the most dollars on commercials. Huxley had predicted this. Postman had nailed it. And our current White House incumbent is more preoccupied with "ratings" than with rising numbers of deaths in the USA related to Covid-19.

Postman posits that TV "presents information in a form that is simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual: that is to say, information packaged as entertainment. In America, we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves.

I often see posted on Facebook, Twitter or commentary on news articles, in relation to politics, this message: "Time to grab the popcorn and sit back and watch the show."

"The show." The circus has come to town.

We may well finally have succeeded in amusing ourselves to death.