Saturday, January 20, 2018

Not a Work Day

Hard for me to work today because I was enthralled by following two things on Facebook today: the Women’s March and the fallout from the shutdown.

The Women’s March, impressive last year, broke all records across the country this year, turning out thousands in all major cities. Women, children, men, some wearing pink hats, most carrying signs, all shouting positively—an amazing sight to behold. I’m so in awe of them. Locally, I was proud to see several of my friends among the marchers in Fort Worth. I wish I’d been with them, though honesty compels me to admit that even if I were mobile enough to march, I probably wouldn’t have. It takes a special kind of courage to join throngs like that. My lifelong dislike, even fear of crowds, may have kept me away, plus my age. Then again perhaps those crowds look more intimidating in aerial views than when you’re on the ground among the marchers. But I was wholeheartedly cheering for those women and their support teams who did march. The best I can do for the resistance movement is to cheer from the sidelines…and post on Facebook. Believe me I do that with vigor.

The reaction to the shutdown has also captivated me. I expected no less than blame flung on both sides, and I know I have a one-sided view, but I cannot get past the point that the Republicans control Senate, House, and White House—they can stop this any time they want. The other thing that sticks in my craw is that when bills were proposed to guarantee military pay and to suspend congressional pay during the shutdown, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans, was quick to object. So the military may forfeit pay, though they usually don’t, while the do-nothing Congress gets full pay, no matter how long they diddle around with this.

Many blame the Democrats for this shutdown: please remember the Republicans defunded CHIP a year ago and have delayed considering it for months—now, they attach it to a controversial bill. Similarly, they have refused to come to grips with the DACA problem and a solution. Now McConnell claims it’s not urgent—they have until early March to deal with it. What makes anyone think they could deal with it by then, when they haven’t been able to for the past year.

Sorry I got started on a rant, but I hate to see my country being railroaded by a man whose ties to Russia get deeper every day. I’m going to distract myself and read a novel,

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rodeo, Memories, and a Lesson in Aging

Tonight is rodeo night at 6th grade Cotillion, and Jacob and his friends dressed appropriately. I don’t know why Jacob doesn’t have a hat, but praise the Lord his new boots arrived just in time this afternoon.

Jacob’s actually gotten himself in a spot of trouble, but I’ve promised not to blog about it. Still it got me thinking about childhood and discipline, and maybe because it’s rodeo time, I thought about me and horses. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, the only horse I saw regularly was an old one that, when I was very young, pulled a milk wagon down the alley behind our house. I have a vague memory of a man and a horse who looked much alike—old and grey, but the man was very pleasant and cheerful as he left glass bottles of milk in the icebox (literally) on our back porch.

Someone, maybe even me, decided it would be good if I took horseback riding lessons. I was maybe about twelve. We rode English style around an arena in a barn, horses nose to tail they were so crowded. I did all right at it, until some transgression made my mother decree that I would miss two or three of my lessons. I truly don’t remember what I did, but it must have been awful because such severe punishment was not like my mom. When I finally went back to the stables, I was terrified of the horses, and to this day I am uncomfortable around them.

The memory makes me think how important it is to be judicious and loving in disciplining children. They are frail young minds, easily damaged, and I am convinced discipline must come with lots of love and an understanding of why it is being meted out, how it can be avoided another time. I read the stories about the California couple and their thirteen abused children with horror. Today I read they used food to control those starving children. How can anyone be so cruel?

I had an unpleasant lesson in aging today, one I think I’ve had before and apparently refuse to learn. Lovely lunch with Jordan, the woman from the bank who has helped me so much with financing the cottage and such, and a mutual friend. We met at Pappadeaux, early to avoid the rodeo crowd. At first, I could hear the entire conversation, but as the restaurant grew more crowded, I was barely able to follow the thread. Jordan and I split the wonderful Greek salad for one, and I ordered fried oysters, since I can’t eat shrimp. I mentioned the shrimp allergy to the waiter, and oh my, were they on top of it. He asked if he had to redo the accompaniments platter for the salad, since one lonely shrimp was touching the tomatoes. I told him to give the shrimp to Jordan and it would be fine. Then a manager type came to make sure I understand oysters were fried in the same grease as shrimp, and I thanked him but assured him it would be okay. It’s an ingestion allergy, not contact.

But the fried oysters did me in. I felt dull and loggy and just unwell all afternoon, even with a nice nap. Tonight I can’t bear the thought of food, even that leftover spaghetti in the fridge. I had a single small piece of cinnamon toast for dinner. Once again, I’m swearing off heavy fried foods. When will I ever learn?

Happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Everything but the kitchen sink

This cold spell has had me housebound, which means I’ve been in my little kitchen more than usual. One of the best things I fixed was what I call kitchen sink soup. You can guess why—yes, it has everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. I “build” it with leftovers, carrying on my mother’s lifelong habit of saving a dab of this and a dash of that. Leftover chili but not enough for another serving? Put it in the soup pot. The same with casseroles, bits of meat, whatever. When there’s enough to consider it soup, I usually add some broth, either chicken or beef, and a can of diced tomatoes. Depending on what’s already there, I may add frozen corn or peas, some potatoes cut up or pasta of one kind of another. I don’t add rice, because it absorbs the liquid and swells up until you have stew rather than soup.

I used to make this for my kids when they were in high school. We called it “Soup of the Week,” and laughed because it always came out brown. But it was good, and they liked it. I told Christian I had homemade soup and asked if he wanted some. “I’d have to know what’s in it first,” he replied. I told him that was an impossible question to answer. Actually, the soup I ate the last two days was definitely tomato based, and I detected shredded chicken, pinto beans, corn, and two meatballs. The rich soup had a hint of lamb, and I think that was from the meatballs. Yesterday I did as I would do with chili and stirred in a dab of sour cream just before eating. So good.

I also experimented with chicken thighs recently, but I think I reported that—some success both with a recipe for garlicky thighs with lime and soy and a version of smothered chicken—delicious but didn’t keep well for the next day. And my other accomplishment in the kitchen was to cobble together several versions of the classic salmon dip that everyone makes and come up with the version I like best. Simple ingredients—cream cheese, sour cream, scallions (why bother grating onion?), canned salmon, a bit of lemon, maybe a dash of Worcestershire. finely chopped parsley for color, dried dill if you like it.

While I was in a kitchen mood, I tackled the stack of magazines that accumulated on my desk, mostly Bon Appetit and Southern Living. The arrival of Bon Appetit used to be a red-letter day for me, but lately I find fewer recipes that interest me. I’m not sure if it’s me, not moving ahead as cooking trends change and grow, or if it’s a change in focus by the magazine. Probably a bit of both. But I’m not interested in putting kale in everything I cook, and many contemporary health-food trends leave me cold. Southern Living has remained more traditional, and I cut out such recipes as a warm apple compote with cheddar, or Capitol Hill Ham and Bean Soup (Now, see, the leftovers could go in the soup pot), or an herbed sour cream and smoked salmon topping for the latkes I never did make this holiday season.

A recipe I found and really liked was for Rigatoni with Silenced Smartphones. Now if I could get hats off the head and elbows off the table, I’d feel it was a civilized dinner table. Call me old-fashioned, go ahead. I think I’m proud of it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cold mornings and warm thoughts

My childhood home

It’s not surprising that these cold mornings remind me of my childhood in Chicago. When I was young, we lived in a duplex built in 1893—of course they didn’t have that name for them, but it was a tall (2-1/2 stories), skinny (16 feet wide) house that shared a common wall with its neighbor. Ours was one of a string of them in our block. Story I always heard was that they were built to house people coming to Chicago for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Our house was heated by a coal furnace. There was a ground-level window that opened directly into the coal chute in the basement. Whoever delivered coal would just shoot in down into the chute (yes, I did that on purpose). My father, however, had the dirty jobs—he had to shovel coal into the furnace, bank the fire at night, and stoke it in the morning.

I suppose one didn’t let the furnace burn all night for fear of fire and/or asphyxiation. At any rate, if you woke up before Dad stoked the fire or, heaven forbid, you had to use the bathroom in the night, you were treated to icy cold wood floors and a house that was chilly to say the least.

The heat from the furnace came up through registers in the floor—not the rectangular grates we in Texas see with floor furnaces in older houses, but heavy registers, about a foot square. If memory serves, they were wrought iron in a design. The big deal was to lie over the register to get warm, though when the air was blowing you didn’t stay long, because it got way too hot. There was a register in the dining room, right in the path from kitchen to living room, that my brother and I both preferred. We’d take a pillow and book and try to capture the spot. This register was also close to the only downstairs phone, located in a tiny closet off the dining room, so small even I had to stop to go in there--no locking yourself in for a long, private conversation. For the life of me, I cannot remember where the other registers were, but there must have been some.

Most of the houses in Chicago in the forties were heated with coal, and oh! How my mother hated it. I imagine she was joined by almost every other housewife. Mom had dainty dotted Swiss curtains in the bank of windows in their bedroom that looked out on the park in front of our house. Before we were very far into heating season, those curtains would be dirty gray. Washing and ironing them was a major chore—no permanent press in those days. Mom used to gleefully cut out small newspaper articles that cited statistics on how many tons of soot (black coal dust) fell per square mile in a given time period.

It was probably the early fifties when Dad installed a gas furnace and boarded up the coal window. We thought we were really uptown—it was all automatic.

No wonder I laugh when Mr. Trump says he’s bringing back the coal industry.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Memories from my childhood


Last night I watched parts of a documentary titled, “I Am Not Your Negro.” It dealt primarily with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The parts about Malcolm X brought memories flooding back to me.

In the 1950s, at the tender age of fourteen, I went to work as a go-fer for my father’s executive secretary. Dad was the administrator of an osteopathic hospital and the president of the associated osteopathic college. Before you shout nepotism, let me say it was the best training I ever had. Over the next six years, I became a darn good executive secretary and could still do that today, whatever moniker you put on that job. And I loved it. Had to be dragged kicking and screaming to college. (Besides there were all those cute medical students that I dated.)

Joan Schmidt was an eccentric, and why my dad, a dignified, straight-laced Anglophile, put up with her, is a mystery, except she was so good at what she did. Probably then in her fifties, she was tall, thin, with red hair piled on top of her head. I suspect, in retrospect, she was a lesbian, but we didn’t talk about such in those days. She smoked, and she drank martinis at lunch. She would occasionally let me order a brandy Alexander and then make me chew parsley before we went back to the office. Once she took me to lunch with someone she really wanted me to impress and asked sweetly, “Judy dear, why don’t you have the Calavo pear with tuna salad?" I replied that I would if it were an avocado, but I didn’t like pears. She kicked me under the table—hard!

Joan lived three blocks from the hospital, on the western edge of Chicago’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood. On hot summer days, pre-air conditioning, she would send me to her apartment to take a shower and freshen up at noon. The apartment was right across the street from a temple of the Nation of Islam and the headquarters for Malcolm X. This was a time of high racial tension, fostered in part by Malcom X’s insistence on black supremacy. One of my girlfriends had to take the El (elevated railroad) to work at Dog World Magazine (talk about a dream job), and she used to describe the black man who went through the train crying, “Arise. The white man is your enemy.”

No wonder that I, a shy and timid teenager, was scared to death as I walked to Joan’s apartment. I was scared of the oversize black men who milled around outside and the women in flowing white robes that even wrapped around their heads. I never actually saw Malcolm X, but I knew all about him, and I was scared by his reputation. Racism was rampant on the South Side of Chicago, and probably elsewhere, in those days.

On the South Side of Chicago, I learned both fear and respect—fear because that was a dominant emotion in those days, on both sides I expect. The bogeyman (oh, was I scolded for using that term!) comes in several colors. And respect from my dad, who knew every person, black or white, who worked in his hospital and always had a personal word for each.

Mostly good memories of a time that shaped my course in life.

Monday, January 15, 2018

North Texas does it to us again!

I’ve only lived here for fifty-four years, so maybe I’m not an expert. But it seems to me that in North Texas we’re always gearing up for that killer winter storm that never happens (hope I don’t have to eat those words). Warnings about tonight were dire, but so far, at eight thirty, we have dry sidewalks. A friend in the Monticello neighborhood reports sleet, so maybe not all is lost.

My Monticello friend was to come for supper tonight. When she announced she’d come earlier than usual so she could be home before the worst of the weather, I discouraged her from coming at all. She grew up in Texas and lived in Florida for years, which to my mind equals no winter driving skills. I was afraid we’d gobble our food while looking out the window between bites to check the weather, and we’d both be anxious and nervous. I think she was content with that idea and says it give her a chance to experiment with her InstaPot.

My friend from Canada and her partner came for wine tonight. I figured growing up in Ontario weather wouldn’t phase her, and it doesn’t. She says her parents in Ottawa (my good friends) cannot get their garage door closed. The wind chill there is forty below. Yikes, I love a good winter storm—well, any kind of storm except tornadoes—but forty below is a bit much.

Still, I may be a tad disappointed if I wake up to dry sidewalks tomorrow, and I know several people, including my grandson, who will be outright bummed. I’m not sure why it matters to me, since I have no plans to do anything but stay in my cottage and work. I guess I like the idea of storms.

The liking has been a bone of contention between me and Jacob for years. When he was little, storms terrified him. I still remember one night when there was a tornado warning. He put a chair, a bottle of wine, snacks, the dog and cat, and all the comforts of home in my walk-in closet, where he also settled himself with a blanket. It was before he had a cell phone, so I don’t know what he had to amuse himself, but we could have stayed in there for twenty-four hours, barring potty breaks. As I remember, nothing happened.

What I’d like, please Lord, is one snow day, with the world white and ordinary life at a standstill. But in the early afternoon all would melt, and by the next morning, we’d be back to normal. I don’t think I’m asking too much

Stay warm and safe.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What Goes Around Comes Around, including chicken thighs

Dog night in the cottage. Can you spot the little black dog?

The youngest of my two sons had a birthday last week—not saying which, because it dates me as well as him. But he emailed in response to my birthday message today and recalled the time when he was maybe twelve and I told him I didn’t feel any different than the coeds walking across campus every day. Jamie fell apart laughing.

Recently he was walking on campus in Boulder with his freshman daughter, and he said he thought he fit in pretty well with the college crowd. Her response was apparently much like what he’d given me years earlier. He acknowledged that what goes around, comes around.

A pleasant Sunday today. Jordan was still a bit under the weather, so Christian, Jacob, and I went to church. The sermon was on prayer, and the minister quoted Ann Lamott who suggested the three most important prayers you’ll ever say are, “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!” I really liked that.

Had a good nap this afternoon and slept soundly. First time in over a week that my cough hasn’t kept me awake, so may that cold is leaving.

Left to my own devices for dinner tonight, I decided to do smothered chicken with those thighs from last night. Yes, I had to adjust the recipe a lot, but it worked well. Only Jordan and Christian came to visit, and I thought it rude to cook while they were here. They’d been to Joe T.’s for a four o’clock dinner with his family and were home about the time I was cooking my supper. Finally, they said I should go ahead and cook. So I did. The chicken was great, but I sent the leftover noodles in for Jacob. They didn’t work as well as I thought with the gravy. Still that’s a suggestion I’ll put in the cookbook, though I’d probably do it with a chicken breast instead of thighs—it was just that I had those thighs.

Christian and I had heated political discussions, Jordan and I discussed social schedules, and I was delighted to have their company for the better part of two hours. At one point, as you can see above, Jordan had all three dogs on the couch with her.

Could life get any better? I doubt it.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dinner becomes a production

The kids—you know, those mid-forties kids I live with—were busy getting rid of the last of the Christmas decorations today (the tree finally went out to the curb) so I volunteered to cook supper, something I’m always anxious to do anyway. There ensued great discussions.

I went through my file of recipes I want to try, but I didn’t take into account Jordan (and her sister in Austin) are following the South Beach diet. So she shot down hamburger Stroganoff, which sounded wonderful to me—no noodles and sour cream. Then I suggested Craig Claiborne’s smothered chicken—nope to the flour. We finally settled on garlicky chicken thighs with scallions, lime and soy. She would have to go to the store, since I didn’t have chicken thighs on hand—gone is the day when I had that well-stocked freezer. I emphasized that the recipe called for bone-in, skin-on thighs (why anyone buys anything else is beyond me).

Turned out Christian did the shopping, and she failed to relay that message, so he presented me with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I know he gets tired of my “cooking lessons,” but I pointed out that bone-in chicken always tastes better.  He had no way of knowing crisp skin was essential to this recipe.

By the time I started to cook, Jordan had gone to bed not feeling well, and Christian had gone to watch Jacob’s basketball game. The recipe was fairly straightforward, and my feeling is that lime juice and soy sauce make anything better. I had the chicken and a salad ready about seven, which was our target time.

Jordan didn’t feel well enough to come out to dinner, so the boys—Christian and Jacob—came, bringing boiled potatoes. All was well, except that it took forever to prepare the potatoes with butter and sour cream. And Jacob had a sore toe, which he kept fiddling with, which of course elicited such comments from me as “Go wash your hands. Don’t play with your feet at the dinner table.” His protests earned him a reprimand from his father.

We agreed the chicken had a great flavor, but I know it would have been better with crisp skin. Another nail in my protest about wanting my car back. I could have gone to the grocery this morning, gotten exactly what I needed, and maybe even saved some money. As it is, I have three chicken thighs left over (plus two I had in the freezer)—a puzzle for tomorrow. The recipe will go into that cookbook I’m slowly working on.

I worked hard today—checking more edits on the manuscript, making a list of people to notify when I “cross over.” Not sure why but that struck me in the night as important. When I wrote Colin and told him I’d done that, he replied, “Sounds like a fun morning, Mom.” It didn’t particularly depress me, but I know that since I developed the afib I’m much more aware of my own mortality—even though the cardiologist said the other day he didn’t need to see me for a year. Also sorted out files and taxes, so that my desktop filing system is not so crammed. Once I finish these edits, I’ll go back to organizing tax info. Medical information from last year looms big, with surgery, home health care, hospitalizations, lots of prescriptions. It will be a mess.

Now, dishes to be washed and more edits. Sleep well, my friends.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Understanding the weather—an impossibility

We did not get the predicted snow flurries or sleet last night, though I understand they showed up east of us. My son Jamie and his family live at the far northeast corner of the Metroplex in Frisco, and I probably live close to the southwestern corner. It’s amazing the difference in the weather we get—theirs is often more severe, and I think they got some kind of precipitation last night. We have another chance, oh joy!, Monday night when wintry weather is forecast.

A couple of patio plants take temporary refuge in my shower when it freezes, and I noticed today that the hydrangea has a bud. We need to put that plant outside where it’s cold and let it re-orient itself to the season!

We did get the perfect dinner last night for a truly cold night—chili. I asked Jordan if I should defrost either chili, left from Christmas, or the kitchen sink soup I’d made. Instead of choosing either, she said, “Maybe Christian will make chili.” And he did. He’s having fun trying different recipes, whereas I always stick to my tried and true. Sometimes Christian prowls through my book, Texas is Chili Country, but yesterday he searched on the web. Some recipes called for chocolate or cinnamon, both of which sounded good to me, but were not in what he ultimately fixed. Whatever it was, it was delicious, and I’ll have leftovers tonight. But I think Christian is usurping my place as the cook in the family. Sometimes I want to yell, “But I want to cook!” Still, I’m delighted he’s having so much fun doing it. Wish Jacob would show an interest in cooking.

Today a quick grocery trip, a pleasant visit with some of Jordan and Christian’s friends—who are also my friends—and I’m back in the cottage, reading more edits for Murder at the Bus Depot. I’ll probably tell this story too often, but credit for the idea behind that novel Post cover on FB, Guppies, etc goes to my friend Linda Preston of Granbury, Texas where they really do have an old, unsolved murder that took place in a bus depot. Some townspeople wanted to tear the old depot down, but Linda, who’s been active in preserving both Granbury history and buildings, held firm and had the depot moved to her property. I’ll have to ask if it’s still there.

Stay warm and safe.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Warning: rant ahead. Detour if you wish.
I am outraged, angry, humiliated, resentful, puzzled—I cannot begin to tell you the emotions that have raged through my mind since I read about 45 referring to people from “shithole countries.”  That such language from the Oval Office is unpresidential goes without saying; so does that it violates every one of our dearly held democratic principles, the ideas that our country was founded on. “Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry.” The statement is racist beyond belief.

And sadly, it will appeal to his base, those people who are desperate to find some way to feel better about themselves. LBJ, whose wisdom was probably underappreciated in his day, said it: If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice that you’re picking his pocket.”  Unfortunately, not much has changed since LBJ’s day, and 45 is playing that song like his theme.

But there’s more. Not only is he a disgrace to democracy, to American principles, and to our presidency and the White House, he is a man with clear mental incompetency, what appears to be dementia.

And nobody is doing anything! That old phrase keeps going through my mind: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . . .” Well, you know the rest.

Clearly the Republicans are in power, and they are the ones who can do something about this terrible, frightening situation that they have thrust us into. We look to Mueller to save us (and he may, but he’s a slow and deliberate man, carefully building a foolproof case—will he be in time?); recently we’ve looked to Michael Wolff’s book to save us (and again it may—that’s what Kim Jung Un predicts). But it is the Republicans who have the power and the tools in their hands right now to correct what they have wrought. They have the 25th Amendment.

Suely they don’t think their legislative record, their blind eye to the president will win them votes. Most are seasoned politicians, and they know the odds. The base 45 courts is not big enough to counter a voter wave that will sweep many of them out of office—perhaps that’s why so many are announcing resignation and retirement. But for the nonce, they are unfettered. They have their way, with a president who can be easily manipulated, and they’re going wild with power. Not a conscience or a backbone among them. The best they can do is resign, which doesn’t help us. I call out Senator Bob Corker who seemed for a bright moment there to be earnest, sincere, and aware, but he caved to a little bribery. Greed rules all.

What will save our country at this point? I don’t know. Do you? Will you be the one? Will you vote come November?