Tuesday, November 13, 2018

World Kindness Day

Green shakshuka

"How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world." William Shakespeare

It’s a little late in the day to remind you, but today is World Kindness Day, an international marking of the importance of creating a kinder world by celebrating and promoting good deeds. Can you think of something you did to make someone else’s day better?

All I can think of that I did today that might count was to cook dinner for a treasured old friend. We had a jolly happy hour with Jordan, my neighbor Mary, and dinner guest Nancy. After the first two left, I fixed Green Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a Mediterranean dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper.  I have made and enjoyed traditional shakshuka, with the tomato sauce, but tonight it was a green sauce.

Of course, I fiddled with the recipe a little. The recipe called for Swiss chard, but I’m not particularly fond of chard so I used spinach, which I like a  lot. Worked well—and Nancy commented on how good the spinach was—but I think the chard wouldn’t have wilted down so much. Another time I might simply use more spinach. I followed the directions and sautéed onion and garlic, but I’m wondering if green onions might not have been a good idea. When the spinach wilted, I added a bit of cream, and then made four nests—to hold four eggs that poached in the sauce (in a skillet with the lid on).

The toppings for serving were almost as much trouble as cooking the dish. Cotija cheese—but I used goat cheese; sliced avocado; sliced jalapeno (I fixed it for Nancy but passed for myself); chopped cilantro; lime wedges. I do have to say it was pretty good—the lime really finished it nicely..

Even made dessert tonight. An apple crisp that was so easy and delicious—when my Gourmet on a Hot Plate page is up and running (http://www.gourmetonahotplate.blogspot.com ), that’s one of the first recipes I’ll include. Since I had the cream I’d used for the shakshuka, I offered cream with the apple crisp. A satisfying meal.

My other notable accomplishment of the day: an appointment with the audiologist. I now know how to make a phone call and leave the phone of my desk, while the sound goes directly into my hearing aids. Jacob accidentally discovered it last night playing a video he did when he was about five, and it nearly blasted me out of my seat. Today, with more control, I played it again and thought nostalgically about how cute he was, singing, “I’m uphappy today,”—his own arrangement and creation.

It’s not too late—go do something kind for someone. This tired old world needs every act of kindness we can give.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cold nights and warm suppers

Today was a day to stay inside—cold and rainy. I had to get out to do a quick drop-off errand first thing in the morning and then came gratefully home. But the cottage seems chilly to me tonight, and I have on several layers. And I’m longing for a fireplace. Sophie is undaunted by the cold and has chosen to spend much of the day outside, which aggravates the chilliness in the cottage since I leave the door slightly ajar, so she can come in. My rationale is it saves me from getting up but that’s not true—she pushes it open more widely when she comes in, and I have to get up to close it. But then, if that’s the worst problem in my life, I’m pretty lucky.

Ford with Sophie
Just learned that grandson Ford was the Sixth Grade Student of the Week last week at his school in Austin. Go Ford! I couldn't crop the picture, which was grabbed from a school publication, but I do want to report that Ford was wearing a TCU sweatshirt. He's my TCU kid!

Last night I made a big pot of sloppy Joe, because Jacob loves it and his eyes lit up when I said I would make it. Mine is a bit different. It’s actually a recipe for a wine casserole that I got from an old cookbook called, “A Jug of Wine.” My kids grew up on it, and I’m sure you’ve heard me tell about the time Megan made it for her family. Brandon tasted and said, “It’s good, but it’s not sloppy Joe.” She wrote me sarcastically that she guessed she was the only one who thought red wine was an essential ingredient of sloppy Joe.

The “girls”—June Bug and Cricket—certainly thought they’d like some sloppy Joe last night.

How sad. I’m watching a news clip on teaching high school students to save lives in case of a mass shooting by staunching the blood. Makes me want to put my grandchildren in a bubble—or maybe move all of us to Scotland.

I spent much of the day reading about Clara Driscoll, so-called Savior of the Alamo. Actually, I think Adina De Zavala was the real savior, but she had the passion while Driscoll had the money—and got the credit. The way of the world. But I keep learning fascinating bits as I research this book. I knew that Clara built a hotel, among her countless projects, and just assumed it was the Driskill in Austin (didn’t even think about the different spelling of the name). It seemed possible. After all, she and her husband built a magnificent mansion, Laguna Gloria, in Austin and lived there for some years. Today it is the Austin Museum of Art.

But of course, the different spellings finally got through to me. It seems Austin’s Driskill Hotel was conceived and built in1886 by Jesse Driskill, a cattleman. Clara’s hotel is the Robert Driscoll Hotel in Corpus Christi, overlooking the bay, and built in tribute to her brother after his death. Fascinating history and I’m enjoying it..

Now for a quiet evening, eating leftovers and reading a juvenile novel.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

An Armistice Day memory

Thinking about my father tonight, Richard Norman MacBain. Born in 1897 in rural Ontario, a preacher’s kid, he served in the Canadian army in the European trenches of WWI. A hundred years ago. If you’ve read about the “war to end all wars,” you know that it was as miserable as the WWII landing on the beaches of France, just in a different way. Much of it fought in a bitter winter, it confined men to trenches that were wet, cold, miserably uncomfortable. They were hungry; their feet rotted from the wet; they rarely slept.

Dad didn’t talk about the war much. I suspect he, a physician, attributed his occasional bouts of lumbago (an old-fashioned term for low-back pain) to those days in the trenches, and I know his frequent chest colds were blamed on the mustard gas to which he was exposed. But my clearest memory of war-related behavior sees him ducking his head and running for our garage when the new jet aircraft from Chicago’s Midway Field went overhead. Their whine sounded like incoming enemy fire to him, and he ducked instinctively, then chuckled self-consciously at himself.

After the war, Dad came to Chicago to study at the Chicago College of Osteopathy. At a relatively young age, he was president of the college and, later, also administrator of the associated hospital. Active in Chicago’s political affairs, he fought for equality for all of his hospital employees—they were his family. And if the maintenance men were to vanish, Dad knew how to start the boiler. He was a man of absolute honesty and integrity, and if I have accomplished anything in life, I attribute it to lessons learned from him at home and, in high school and college, when I worked for him at the hospital. I was, I say modestly, a damn good executive secretary.

While studying osteopathy. Dad roomed with a man from upper New York named Russell R. Peckham. He was one of four brothers who came to study osteopathic medicine. Russell married Alice Peterman, fathered a child, and died in 1934 of meningitis from a piece of WWI shrapnel lodged in his jaw. A few years later and penicillin would have saved him. But after an appropriate time, my father married Alice, and Russell’s son became my brother, John Peckham. The entire Peckham clan was family to us, and when John and I were young, we could count eighteen osteopathic physicians in the family

Today, John is retired as a D.O. but the tradition continues—his son, Russell, is an osteopathic dermatologist, married to an osteopathic neurologist. And my children’s New York cousins, Jordana Alter Blair, is an osteopathic ER doc, having attended the Chicago college after a recommendation from my brother. No six degrees of separation

But, for me, that rich heritage traces back to the trenches of WWI. Some amazing poetry came out of that war. I think of Wallace Stevens, Rupert Brooke, W. B. Yeats, Amy Lowell, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Wharton, Alan Seeger. There’s A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and a poem I can’t quite bring to the front of my mind where a soldier catalogs, from the grave, the things he has treasured and misses. I want to say, “These I Remember,” and Rupert Brooke, but it doesn’t show up on a search.

And always appropriate today is John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field””

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

    That mark our place; and in the sky

    The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Armistice Day and family moments

Flags are flying. In France they held a commemorative ceremony marking the centennial of the end of World War I. Having flown to France for the occasion, the occupant of the White House didn’t attend because of rain—I suppose he was worried about his hair, but Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s  Emmanuel Macron stood bare-headed in the rain, while Justin Trudeau talked of the day at Dieppe when it rained not rain but bullets. President Obama walked in the rain through a military cemetery with the graves of those lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I am confused.

In my mind, November 11 is Armistice Day. The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. We all stand for one minute facing east. But that’s tomorrow. Has someone passed a law that we cannot mark Armistice Day on Sunday? Will the Rotary flag at my curb still be there tomorrow? I wish they’d quite messing with the dates of national days of celebration and memorial all for the sake of commercialism.

Nonetheless, our pretender-president has shown us again how fragile he is. Between dodging a few raindrops and attacking Jim Acosta, he’s not coming off as a man of self-confidence. General Bone Spurs rides again.

On a personal level, today held some of those family moments you take for granted at the time and later realize are to be treasured. Last night I asked Jacob if he would run some errands with me this morning. In return, I promised him a sausage and biscuit sandwich for breakfast. He dutifully appeared this morning, ate his breakfast, and we went on our way. I can do the pharmacy drive-in and the cleaners, where I would request curb service to turn in my metal hangers for recycling. But the post office to mail a package and the grocery are difficult me with the walker.

Slowly Jacob warmed to the task. By the grocery, he was whipping out my walker for me, and he carried it while I drove the motorized shopping cart. As he remarked, “You only hit one thing, Juju, and that wasn’t a hard hit.” I do wish stores would quit crowding their aisles with dumps. Somewhere in our travels, he said, “Last night when you asked me, I thought I didn’t want to do this. But it hasn’t been bad.” Be still my heart—from a twelve-year-old that’s as close as we can come to praise, but I told him it was called a left-handed compliment. He also said my car didn’t smell bad—he has for a long time said it smells of old leather, maybe because it’s an old car—and he did not say one word about my driving frightening him. I considered the whole outing a success.

This afternoon, the Burton family went to have their pictures taken for a Christmas card. For the first time I was asked to come along—they wanted me in some pictures. Flattering. As I told Christian, I even washed my hair. We took pictures at the shelter at the old site of Shakespeare in the Park—endless shots it seemed, and a long walk for me to and from the car. Then Christian walked me back to the car, where I sat and read while they did family pictures on the levee, with the downtown skyline as a backdrop. Then on to the duck pond where they did more pictures, and I read some more but watched with one eye.

All this photography involved lots of standing, often propping me against a wall or a post so the walker wouldn’t be in the picture—I did clutch Jordan a bit. And one wooden post had nails which caught at my sweater as I moved away. It was by then dusk and growing chilly. Jordan froze on the levee and at the deck pond, and even sitting in the car I was chilled. But it all had a nice family feel to it. I’m waiting for the pictures—hope I wasn’t squinting.

And so tonight I’m going to wrap a few Christmas presents. Don’t judge. I will see some of my family at Thanksgiving—only a week and a half away—and not again before Christmas, so I will have to deliver two families worth of modest gifts then.

Nope, it’s not too early to think about Christmas. As we walked through the super hardware store in our neighborhood shopping center, headed for the post office at the back, we passed all kinds of Christmas things, and Jacob said, “I can’t wait for Christmas.” If a twelve-year-old can admit that, so can I at eighty. Bring it!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

There ain’t no free lunch—but groceries? Maybe.

Yesterday a friend and I went grocery shopping. Whereas many people dislike grocery shopping, I'm one that loves it. It's one of those things I could manage by myself but it’s easier with someone helping. I can’t handle bags of groceries from a walker. As we checked out, we were each given a long-stemmed rose (really long). Betty said it was because they like and appreciate us as good customers. I rarely shop there, but I didn’t turn down the rose. Gave it to a friend I had lunch with.

Betty and I went to the store in her car, transferred the groceries to my car at her house, and I came home. I had specifically asked for refrigerator things to be put in plastic (I usually eschew using plastic) so I could loop my fingers into the handles and get it into the house. Jacob brought the other groceries in when he came home last night.

I had wondered about the blue fabric bag—looked like more groceries than I bought, but I didn’t really pay attention. Gosh know, Idon’t need another fabric bag.. When I unpacked it, I saw things I had not bought, including a 1.5 liter bottle of soft drink which I would never buy. This morning called the store ad explained I got someone else’s groceries and would be glad to bring them back. The manager with whom I spoke said she’d come out to the car to get them.

But then Betty called, and I thought she said she should have left that bag in her car. So, bingo! They were Betty’s groceries. Wrong. She said she already had her bag. I was getting mixed up between the bag and the contents, and I’m not usually that thick in the brain, but she had a hard time getting me to realize the bag and its contents were a gift from the store. So I cancelled the grocery run. Surprised the manager didn’t mention that, but when I called her back, she said “Oh yes. Did you get a rose too?” I considered going back to bed and starting the day over.

Actually turned out to be a good day—I got a lot of work done. It amazes me the small details and chores that crop up and keep me from my writing, but I knocked them out and spent a lot of time reading background material. I now have a fair handle on the life of Clara Driscoll, “Savior of the Alamo.”

And tonight, dinner with three close friends at a renowned enchilada place that was new to me. It was good to catch up on everyone’s doings. Lots of political talk. If we thought it would end after the election, we were wrong. Of course, some returns are still being counted and recounted, but I have a feeling the level of citizen involvement—and outrage—will continue. And that’s a good thing.

Cold weather coming to Texas. Bundle up, everyone.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Watch night and other matters

I’m sure the sale of Tums has gone up dramatically in the last twenty-four hours. I’ve heard from more people and seen more posts on Facebook about the anxiety this election has produced. One meme said last night was like a combination of Christmas Eve and the night before a colonoscopy, and I thought that was pretty apt.

I waited too long to make watch party arrangements and then got cold feet about going out. I’m in a hermit mood, still in the pjs I’ve worn all day. In spite of a neighbor’s nice offer to take me down the street to the Wine Haus, where there is no TV, I’ve elected to stay home alone. Perhaps Jacob will come out and watch the returns with me later. But for the time being, I’m keeping the TV muted. I don’t want to hear all those early predictions. I’m waiting for solid results—and praying a lot. Two years ago, for the presidential election, I went to sleep and left a good friend and Jordan in my living room watching. When I woke in the morning, they were both there again, and when they told me trump had won, I went back to bed, like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

Meanwhile, I spent some time shopping online today and am so proud that I really whittled down my Christmas gift list. I try to give something to each of the fifteen family members, not big but something I hope they’ll like, and then there are assorted friends I am close to. A little creative online searching, and I think I came up with some good choices. I will have to have many of my family gifts wrapped to be delivered when we’re all together for Thanksgiving, since this is an Alter “off” year when the kids all celebrate with their spouse’s families.

Sophie provided a little diversion from the election-day tension today. She had a spa day a week or so ago and came home sporting that triangular scarf around her neck. Knowing that it would just get dirty, I suggested Jordan take it off one night when she was loving on Sophie. She eased it over the dog’s head, and Sophie backed off and literally glared at her. Jordan began apologizing, saying, “Mom told me to do it.” Finally, she put the scarf back on, and Sophie seemed satisfied.

This morning, there was a repeat performance with Zenaida who cleans my cottage for me. She sweet-talked Sophie and eased the scarf over her head. Soph immediately grabbed it in her teeth and began a game of tug o’ war. When Zenaida tried to ease her mouth open to get the scarf, Sophie gave her baleful looks. Finally, we decided to just let her carry it in her teeth until she tired of it.

She didn’t tire. Scarf in her mouth, she barked demandingly at Zenaida, who restored the scarf to its proper place around Sophie’s neck. And then my spoiled dog trotted away, perfectly satisfied. She won another round with those silly humans.

Monday, November 05, 2018

How Far Do You Bend?

We seniors are always being admonished to stay flexible—and I don’t mean physically. What we’re warned against is getting so set in our ways that any disruption in schedule or routine sends us into a tizzy/ Adaptability is the key. My adaptability has been tested twice in recent days.

The first was a test we all share, young or old. Our bi-annual adjustment from Daylight Savings Time to Central Standard and back again. I handled Saturday’s night switch quite admirably, thank you, by sleeping ten hours. But by Sunday night I was exhausted at 9:30. I told myself that my body thought it was 10:30 and it was really all right to go to sleep. But eight hours later, almost to the minute, my eyes popped open, and I was awake. I did not want to getup at 5:30 no matter if I’d had my eight hours or not. That sounded awful to me. I did sleep for another hour but was forced out of bed by both Sophie and needs of my own.

Sophie worries me every time the time changes, especially when we fall back. In her mind, when it’s daylight, it’s time to start the day, and she comes gleefully into the bedroom at a full run with a bark that says, “Get up.” She doesn’t even necessarily want to go outside, she just thinks I should be up and keeping her company.

I’ll adjust. We all will. We always do. But it takes a few days.

My other test came this weekend when I spent three nights at my daughter’s house. She went out of her way to make sure I was comfortable and taken care of. For instance, I didn’t take my gadget that helps me put on my left sock nor the stool I use to put on the shoe. So I’d go limping into the kitchen, one shoe on, the other in hand, to ask for help.

Going to the bathroom was a challenge because my walker wouldn’t fit between tub and sink, and I inched along holding on to the sink. Then I had to go to the kitchen to wash my hands because the guest bathroom sink has a problem.

There were other little things, none serious, that made me realize how Jordan and I have shaped my cottage around what I can and can’t do. Out of my own environment, I’m at a disadvantage.

I will brag that I handled the bus trip well. Couldn’t take the walker on board with me, so I walked holding on to one seat back and the other. With Jordan’s help, I even managed to go to the restroom without falling. (On my first Vonlane trip, solo to Houston, I had a spectacular fall—no immediate consequences but I’m sure the incident contributed to the overall deterioration of my hip.)

And I managed the walker on Austin’s hilly streets, though not without effort and frequent stops to rest. Uphill is not good.

How do I grade myself? Medium flexible but room for improvement—physically and emotionally. How about you?

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig

Same picture, three days later
Do we look a little more tired

There’s so much anticipation, even excitement about going away, just for a long weekend. You’ll see people you miss, do things you don’t get to do at home, eat at different restaurants—it’s a real high.

Coming home is always nice, in a different way. Although you’d think, by contrast, it might be low key, it’s not. For me, there’s again a sense of anticipation as familiar sights appear, a comforting sense of relief when we drive in our own driveway. As if I’ve been holding my breath, minding my manners, and been on my best behavior. Now I can let my hair down—well, it’s too short for that—and be myself.

 We came home on the Vonlane bus today in the early afternoon. Had lunch, wine. I read. A good trip. And once home, we were greeted by an enthusiastic Sophie, who sniffed all over everything. Clearly, she smelled the Austin dog—sweet Eddie, a poodle much tinier than Soph. And, of course, we were greeted by Christian, who picked us up and seemed glad to see us. He’s now fixing meatloaf for Sunday supper, which I think is about the nicest welcome home offering he could do.

But coming home also entails work. Unpacking, hanging all those clothes up, sorting out the mail you’ve missed. I came home to a couple of welcome checks in the mail and some bills to take care of, plus I had saved several things on my computer that I needed to print out—tracking receipts, etc. Of course, tonight was the time the printer chose to have a paper jam and then tell me it’s out of ink. But I have waded through the mess and straightened my desk into a sort of orderly mess that I at least understand.

And now it’s barely time to take a breath before Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas fast on its heels. I ordered Christmas bags today because I will see some of my children at Thanksgiving and not at Christmas, so I must have their presents wrapped in a couple of weeks.

Lots to do in the days ahead. I feel the holidays coming on. And that’s a great, exciting thing!

Saturday, November 03, 2018

An Amazing Day

Yesterday was an amazing day, mostly thanks to my daughters. We set off mid-morning from Auston for San Marcos, and the Witliff Collection/Southwest Writers Collection housed at Texas State University. The collection has an exhibit, up through mid-December, titled, “Literary Frontiers: Historical Fiction and the Creative Imagination.” And my early novel, Mattie, is featured along with works by Larry McMurtry, Steve Harrigan, Robert Flynn, Elizabeth Crook, Jan Reid, Bud Shrake and others too numerous to mention. I was absolutely thrilled to be in such company—most of whom I either know or had met a time or two. I just sat for a long time in that gorgeous room—exposed wood, Saltillo tiles on the floor==soaking up the atmosphere, the sense of writers. Of course, we took a lot of pictures, and the girls had fun seeing authors they’d met over the years.

We moved on to the exhibition of photographs by Keith Carter, intending to take a quick look. Instead we ended studying each photograph. The exhibition celebrates fifty years of work by Carter who has been described as the “poet of the ordinary.” He captures the beauty of people not at their best moment, the wonders of childhood, the glories of the animal world. He plays with perspective and focus and has an eye for the extraordinary in the ordinary. A truly compelling exhibit. Carter lives in Beaumont and teaches at Lamar University.

Then on to lunch. I’d never been to San Marcos, didn’t expect such a charming, almost funky downtown area, a contrast to the sprawling modern buildings of the university. We had lunch in the Root Cellar, literally a cellar, casual atmosphere, good food, and a great dessert. I’m still trying to gain weight, so you say “turtle cheesecake” to me, and I say, “bring it.”

Detoured on the way back to Austin to a store both girls knew about but I’d never heard of—Warby Parker for eyeglasses. With two daughters as fashion judges, I got the new sunglasses I’ve needed forever and a pair of readers. Silly me! I had thought we’d just go to CVS and pick them out. This was considerably better, though a bit harder on the pocketbook—enough so that my bank called to check out the unusual transaction in a strange city.

Back to Megan’s where I napped and woke up to find an unexpected party in progress. Friends had dropped by, and Megan and Brandon urged them to stay for supper. Asian marinated flank steak and Asian coleslaw. Noisy, lots of fun. But by ten, I was drooping—after all, I’d walked farther and done four times the physical activity I’m used too. My conclusion? I could never live in Austin—pushing my walker uphill is way too hard.

But several times during the day I just took a minute to say silent thanks for the day, my family, and the life I’m so lucky to lead. Now, today, it’s back to work. Home tomorrow. I’ve been getting good reports on Sophie from Christian who is holding down the Fort Worth fort.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Hittin’ the Road

Back in the day I occasionally took the Greyhound bus from Fort Worth to Austin. It was at best a medium experience. Sometimes the bus was crowded and smelled of the food people had brought for their lunch; sometimes I spent way too long in the Waco bus station waiting for the next bus. There was the time I was to transfer buses in Waco, but the bus sailed on by Waco. When I asked, the driver said they were going to take me to Dallas and then back to Fort Worth. Made for a longer trip on an overcrowded bus, and in truth the Dallas bus station as not a place I wanted to be. Neither was the Austin bus station.

No such problems today. Jordan and I took a Vonlane luxury bus from just outside the Fort Worth Hilton Hotel non-stop to the Hyatt Regency in Austin. We sank into seats as soft and comfy as any first-class airline cabin. We were offered a wide choice of drinks—no surprise there! We both took wine! Salad or sandwich for lunch and better than airline food I’ve had, a snack tray was passed twice, a warm blanket for a nap, a nice attendant to take care of our every need.

I had ridden a Vonlane bus before and know they offer wifi, etc. I took my computer, but it was so pleasant to ride along and look out the window that I never got any work done. Reminded me of being a kid and taking the train with my parents. Today my thoughts were all about how familiar the land between Fort Worth and Austin is—I must have made that trip a thousand times—and how acclimated I’ve become to the Texas landscape. It took me a few years to leave the Midwest behind, but I’m a Texan now, native or not. I did close my eyes a bit for a nap too.

Another surprise awaited us in Austin. Daughter Megan had an appointment and couldn’t pick us up, so we called an Uber. After we got in, the driver asked if we’d ever ridden in a totally electric car before. We chorused “no,” and he told us we were in a Tesla. An older one but a Tesla. Smooth and quiet.

Now comfortably ensconced in Megan’s house, drinking wine. Have had a good visit with Cindy, whose partner gave me the Alamo project. And now we’re headed for Mexican food. Life could hardly be much better.