Monday, January 16, 2017

A family favorite





Jordan fixed a family favorite for supper, something we all Doris’ Casserole. In the late ‘60s, my then-husband was a surgical resident, and one night another resident and his wife invited a bunch of us for dinner. Her name was Doris, and she served a wonderful beef casserole. We all got the recipe, and my family called it Doris’ Cassrole. I saw Doris years later, when we’d gone different directions, and she didn’t even remember it. Another friend who was there that night calls it American Lasagna.

Everyone in my family loves it—except Megan, who does not eat sour cream or cream cheese. Colin often requests it for his birthday, and I swear Jordan courted Christian by serving it to him. I gave the recipe to a family friend, who insisted I had it upside down—the noodle layer, she said, goes on the bottom. It doesn’t.





Doris Casserole

First layer:

1 lb. ground beef

1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press

2 tsp each sugar and salt (I cut back on those but sugar is important in tomato-based sauces—my mom taught me years ago it sort of rounds it off.)

Pepper to taste

Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain grease and return to skillet. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, until it thickens a little.

Spread in a 9 x 13 pan.

For noodle layer:

5 oz. (approximately—they don’t come in this size pkg.) egg noodles

3 oz. pkg. cream cheese (here again, you have to fudge; cream cheese doesn’t come in 3 oz. pkg. anymore)

1 c. sour cream

6 green onions chopped, with some of the tops included

Topping:

!-1/2 c. grated cheddar

Cook egg noodles and drain. While the noodles are hot, stir in cream cheese, sour cream, and green onions. Spread over meat mixture. Top with grated cheddar, bake 35 minutes at 350 or until bubbly and cheese is slightly browned.

Leftovers, if any, freeze well.



she said, goes on the bottom. It doesn’t.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Twas a dark and stormy night



It really was a dark and stormy night in North Texas, and that led to all kinds of complications at my house. Jordan was making a Reuben meatloaf for supper—delicious and a whole ‘nother story—so she brought the ingredients out to the cottage to mix. And got trapped by rain. I remembered belatedly that storms were predicted for tonight, but they suddenly arrived, complete with thunder and lightning. Jordan was trapped in the cottage.

She went in and out of her house as the rain subsided. Dinner time came, and Christian was still at the grocery store. He arrived home but was making some unusual potatoes for dinner—Gruyere, cream and potatoes. Dinner was late. So was my pain pill, which I really began to long for. I managed to get it; then my meatloaf arrived, sans potatoes. Jacob brought it and stayed in the cottage. He reported that my nice level patio was flooded.

In rapid order Jacob helped me get in bed—I thought I’d ease my hip/back pain by reading in bed. Barely in bed, I had to use the potty. Jacob helped me with that but I drew the line at any help beyond seeing that I was seated, most of which I can do myself. So there I was, trapped on the pot as it were. Jordan to the rescue, dashing through the rain and floods. She helped me get back in bed…and that’s how I found myself in bed when they had all come out here to keep me company foo supper.

Now, at nine-thirty, I’m back at my desk but headed to bed soon. Jacob and Christian have gone into the house, and Jordan is watching a show on her iPad. It’s still raining with more predicted.

A good day today—I wrote slightly over a thousand words and still read quite a bit in the current mystery on my bookshelf. When I wrote I found it was one of those days when the ideas kept coming. Two or three times my muse turned silent and when that happened I quit. In a bit I’d have another thought and go back to the manuscript. I can’t say I’m one of those writers who can focus for four hours—my focus is sporadic, at least right now. When I go to bed, I often think about what’s going to happen next.

Reuben meatloaf: You’d never get Christian Burton to eat sauerkraut, but he loves a Reuben dip I make, so I thought he might like the meatloaf. He agreed. It’s essentially ground beef, sauerkraut, rye crumbs, Russian dressing, and sweet relish. I thought I had relish but didn’t so we used Thousand Island dressing which has relish in it. Christian couldn’t find shredded Swiss, so they laid slices on top of the loaf. I loved it, thought it tasted more like pork than beef. Can’t testify to the potatoes--dinner was in shifts and I haven’t tried them yet.

A note about Jacob: he is, by nature, a kind and caring child. Lately he’s made sure to come to the cottage and give me a hug at least once a day. He’s anxious to do caregiver chores and when he does, he’s gentle and careful with me. Tonight he was concerned when I told him I could get in the bed alone. “I’ll just stand right here,” he said, planting himself next to the wheelchair.

Before my mobility went downhill, as in disappeared, he used to spend the night out here, at first sleeping in my bed and then on the couch. He wants to again but with a night-time caregiver there’s no room for him. This Wednesday, the night before my surgery, all my kids will be here and one (undecided as yet) will stay in the cottage. Jacob will sleep with that one on the couch, which pulls out to a double bed.

But I am so proud of and delighted by Jacob’s concern and care. I hope it springs from affection ,a seed planted when he was younger and we spent a lot of time together.

I’ve discovered that I’m quite comfortable reading in bed, if I lie on my side and read on my iPhone I’m looking forward tonight to snuggling in my bed, with my dog who refuses to leave my side in this weather, and reading Dead Cold Brew.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Where did the day go?



I planned on a lazy day today, but I had no idea I would be as lazy as I have been. I decided I wouldn’t try to write—might not till after the surgery—but I would read. I have a new Cleo Coyle coffeehouse mystery, and I want to get beyond page 1. But I frittered away the morning on Facebook and emails—plus a brief trip back to bed to ease my aching hip, The afternoon went the same way, and here it is almost nine o’clock. I haven’t read at all, and my bed is calling me.

Some nice things happened today. Christian fixed an Asian dinner tonight—cashew chicken with rice. Really good but a tad too much Siracha sauce for me. They brought dinner out to the cottage, and we all ate together. I don’t see much of Christian during the week when he’s busy with work, so it was a treat to have him here for dinner. Jacob has taken to coming to see me at least once a day but he usually doesn’t stay long, so it was nice to have him eat his dinner and take part in the conversation.

During dinner, I got an email from an old friend—I mean old; she was a couple of years ahead of me in high school and her sister was one of my best friends. She had read the newsletter I sent out a few days ago and was responding to the good news of my recovery which has begun even before surgery. I’ve had really good and satisfying response to that newsletter, and I am flattered and grateful. If you don’t get it and would like to, please email me at j.alter@tu.edu.

Sue and Teddy came by about 5:30, bringing with them their happy enthusiasm for each other and for life. We talked about dogs and kids and neighbors and a bit about politics. It’s uplifting to visit with them—happiness is contagious. People who find each other in mid-life deserve special joy.

Earlier in the day Cyndy Twedell, a minister from my church, came by to deliver my prayer shawl. My neighbor’s mother, now deceased, knit it several years ago, and I nearly wore it out wrapping it around me as I sat at my desk and occasionally rolling my chair over it. I thought with regret that I’d just have to discard it when it fell completely apart but it occurred to me to call Cyndy and ask if the prayer shawl group could repair it. They could, and she returned it knowing I’d need it at the hospital. She told me it been infused with renewed prayers. Cyndy stayed for a cup of tea and conversation, and we had a good visit talking about church, some of the people we’ve lost touch with, different choices in worship, and, yes, a bit of politics—the upcoming women’s marches. As she left, Cyndy offered a kind prayer, one that I appreciated.


To there you have my lazy day. Excuse me now—I’m going to read Dead Cold Brew.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Life’s Milestones and Other Matters




A milestone in Jacob’s life tonight: his first Cotillion. I’m not sure he recognized the significance and I hear it was “great” from his mom, but I am waiting for a full report. All week he groused about going but above he looks pretty happy or pleased with his new clothes. His aunt, uncles, and mom went to Cotillion. Colin hated it, used every excuse to sneak out early, etc. There as some problem about making sure Megan was included—I don’t remember what and she did go but it was another instance when I was inept as a mother (when we went to Santa Fe and they wanted to ski, I had no idea how to make that work—the kids had to figure out about renting skis, ,etc.). But if all her friends were going to Cotillion, there was no way Megan was going to miss it. Jamie was in his element at Cotillion and came home one night referring to himself as the “party animal.”

Jacob’s buddies were also all going tonight so I’ll be curious to hear if they banded together or circulated nicely. Do you suppose Jacob will dance with me?

I went to the hospital for pre-op pre-admission today. They have all this down to a science and sometimes ask the most minute questions—very thorough. But it’s a smooth process. We saw an admissions clerk and two nurses and were at the hospital an hour and a half.  So far the personnel we’ve met have all been extremely friendly and helpful. The hospital is new—it was privately built, went into bankruptcy and was bought by Teas Health; if I understand orrectly it is an orthopedic hospital. It’s all open and sleek and thoroughly modern but with clearly Texan touches—one area was partitioned off by a panel of upright untreated tree branches bound together, like fences you see around jacals in South Texas. I’m not anxious to have this surgery, but Clearfork seems a good place for it. I feel I’ll be comfortable and in caring hands.

Tonight an old friend came for supper—my idea of entertaining is sending her to pick up sandwiches at a local upscale bakery. We both had croissants with turkey, goat cheese and vinaigrette. Good and really filling. We topped them off with huge chocolate chip cookies. Nancy and I have known each other over forty-five years although we lost touch for many of those years. Today, the nice thing when we get together is that we don’t dwell on our past lives (both married to physicians) but talk about our lives, our city, and our kids today. We both have rich and full lives, and I much appreciate that we don’t dwell on the past.

A long, lazy weekend stretches ahead of me, after a week that has been filled with doctor and hospital visits. I hope to make real progress on my novel—and to do some pleasure reading. Looking forward to it. My life is neither busy nor hectic, so it strikes me as funny that I am glad for a lazy weekend.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Blue Day




January 12, 2017

I had a pity party today—my printer doesn’t work and I’ve tried everything, Yahoo forgot who I was and they’re not easy to remind, my hip hurt, my shoulders ached (from pushing up in the wheelchair), I’m tired of being so dependent I need help to go to the potty, I long for solitude and yet I want company, and I want to stand in my kitchen and cook. I could continue my list of causes for whining, but you get the idea. Pity parties are not attractive, even to the person throwing the party.

Pity parties are also contagious—mine spread to Jordan who began to have her own version of a bad day which included me calling her way too often because I had to use the bathroom, the crockpot wouldn’t heat after she got the dinner in it, and so on. Both of us off our game meant we weren’t efficient and cheerful with each other, though once she grasped the situation, Jordan really tried.

When I was young, my family spent part of each summer in a cottage at the Indiana Dunes. It sat at the crest of a high dune, with a sweeping view of Lake Michigan to the north and woods to the south. It was a place to eat, swim, and sleep—not read because Dad would never let us turn the Aladdin lamp up high enough.

About halfway down the dune, there was a path that led to the cabin of friends. Along that path a little bare spot of sand jutted out toward the lake. That was “my spot.” I’d sit there and listen to the gentle lap of waves when the lake was calm, the crashing when it was wild. At the end of the day the sun set a little to my left, and I could see tiny specks that were the skyscrapers of Chicago outlined against what was usually a bright red sun. I took our dog, Timmy, a collie mix, with me, and I’d go to that spot when I was troubled or lonely or content, thinking about how good life was.

I wish I were at the Dunes today and could sit and watch the sun go down. I’d take Sophie, and we’d sit and listen to the lake and all would be well with the world. It’s a comfort even now to go there in my mind—if I close my eyes, I can hear the waves.




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A birthday and a so-so-dinner


Jacob with his mom and his youngest daughter
Today my third child and youngest son turned forty-five. As is true on all their birthdays these days, I have no idea how he got to be that old. Jamie was a surprise baby who quickly wormed his way into my heart. More than his siblings, he had a “mama” fixation as an infant. If I even looked like I was going out he’d howl like a banshee. I’ve never forgotten the babysitter who told me, “If you’d go on and leave we’ll be just fine.” And they were.

Jamie’s had a mischievous streak all his life. There was never anything malicious about his pranks—he was simply curious and imaginative, like the time I found him dragging a cat up our driveway by its tail. “This is muh pet,” he said. Later he came to me in tears—“My Pet,” as we came to all her, had scratched him. “What did you do to My Pet?” “I hammered her.”

Jamie never met a mud puddle he could avoid. He played hard and loved hard but there was something fey about him, in the sense that he seemed to be in touch with otherworldly spirits we weren’t. His hands were as wrinkled as an old man, and his Uncle Bob told me that meant he had an old soul. He was a natural artist, drawing elaborate constructions that put Superman next to Jesus Christ. He had his own art show when he was in pre-school at TCU. When he took art lessons, that spontaneity disappeared.

In middle school, he was my best dinner date. We had our favorites—an Armenian restaurant that just disappeared one day, the Black-Eyed Pea where we loved the vegetables. I’ll never forget going there with him the night his braces were brand new and his mouth so sore he could barely eat mashed potatoes.

Today, Jamie is a devoted husband and father and a successful businessman, owner of a manufacturers’ representatives sales company. But the mischievous little boy lingers inside, and he is liable to prank you when you least expect it.

Happy birthday, James Andrew. I hope you had a delightful day and that sushi you wanted for dinner.

My pal Betty came for dinner tonight, and I put her to work cooking it. I had it all figured out ahead of time, but the result was only medium. We made shakshuka, an egg breakfast dish that originated in North Africa and spread throughout the Near East. It’s eggs poached in a tomato sauce seasoned with onion, garlic, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. Because I don’t have an oven, we cooked it in a skillet, and our eggs were hard-boiled, the sauce solidified before we knew it. It’s hard to tell someone else how to cook something but it’s near impossible to cook from a wheelchair in a kitchen not designed for that. Another reason I can’t wait to be mobile—so I can cook.

My next project? A wild mushroom stew served over polenta but for now, back to my work-in-progress. I’ve written 3000 words since I went back to it and am beginning, especially today, to get the rhythm and feel of writing.

Life is good.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Going to Camp


With company here tonight, Sophie found a lap and '
loving hands. Nirvana!


When I was a child in Chicago, I dutifully went to summer camp. That’s what city kids were supposed to do. I didn’t really relish the experience—I’ve never been particularly interested in sports—a lackluster swimmer at best, a disgrace on the tennis court, intimidated by horses You get the picture. Badminton was my sport. Yeah, I hated gym class in school too, with those freaky green jumpsuits.

Today I went to camp again—Joint Camp at the Texas Health hospital where I’ll have my surgery. It’s a requirement that you go. Needless to say, I dragged my feet about this. Jordan went with me, partly because she had to take me and partly because they tell you to bring a caretaker with you. And the morning was made more enjoyable by the presence of my good friend Jeannie, who will have knee replacement a month after my surgery. Jeannie, however, is a veteran of joint surgery, and I’m a newbie.

To my surprise, the morning was most informative and useful. Half of it was devoted to what happens before, during, and immediately after surgery; the other half dealt with physical therapy (if you don’t follow through with the therapy, you might as well now go through the surgery).

Am I better prepared emotionally? I think so. The philosophy I apparently the better educated the patient is, he better they’ll do in surgery.

The rest of the day has been a work day—writing a newsletter, this blog, posting a book on a digital network, and writing on my novel in progress. Plus, of course, my nap.  Tonight, we had a small dessert gathering for neighbor Jaimie Smith’s birthday, Once again, I was impressed by the cheerfulness that seems to envelop people when they come into my cottage. And how lucky I am to have such friends.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


A Writer’s Awakening

January 8, 2017

I feel like I’ve just woken up, and I’m reminded of the Yeats’ poem, “Speech After Long Silence.”. I haven’t written anything new, except blogs, for at least nine months. I haven’t had the instinct. I had four mss..with “starts” and no idea how to go any further with any of them. When people asked what I was working on, I replied, “Managing my career.” I was stalled.

One of the things that happened to me was common to “elderly” people—my meds were fighting with each other. At one point I had hallucinations—fascinating people had soirees and picnics and art exhibits in my back yard. When I told my neighbor, he asked, “Why don’t they invite us? We’re fun.” But it wasn’t a joke. My kids and the surgical team jumped in and got it straightened out—I take fewer meds these days, and no wine, and my head is much more clear.

The other thing happening to me was that I was in pain. My leg hurt and my hip hurt. That’s been sorted out too—the leg has healed, and the end of hip pain is in sight with hip surgery scheduled.

With all this “cleaning up my act,” I’ve had a resurgence of interest in writing. I spent the last week reading the 40,000 words I had on a new mystery (I can’t imagine I abandoned something that was at least 2/3 done) and today I wrote a thousand new words. I find I’m wildly enthusiastic about getting back to it, and last night when I went to bed I was plotting what I’d write today. Other writing chores—those “managing my career” things seem to intrude.  But I have older titles to make available as e-books. I’m sending one to a formatter, which requires some preparation on my part, and will post others to a site where I can do it myself—except that I couldn’t do it Friday and have written for help. And on down the line I think I have a publication possibility for a novella. My desk is piled high and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The manuscript I’ve returned to is a sequel to The Perfect Coed with college English professor Dr. Susan Hogan. This time she’s trying to foil a group of open-carry advocates (but it turns out there’s more to their story). And she’s trying to protect Aunt Jenny and her new dog, Lucy. I like it so far, and I hope you will too.

Meantime I’m in a wheelchair with 24-hour help—mostly Jordan but different folk at night. It’s a funny feeling to wake in the morning to an unvaried routine—work, eat, sleep, work, eat and go to bed at night, sometimes unsure who will answer if I wake in the night. I’m glad it’s temporary. Surgery is January 19—yes, it looms on my mind—and two weeks from now I expect to be yet another new person—a writer. Whoopee!                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Sometimes it’s good to have a routine





If all of life were lived by routines, it would be terribly dull. But sometimes I find routines comforting. Since Jordan is my primary caretaker, we’ve developed several routines. In the mornings, she’s at my cottage before I wake up and is waiting to hear me call her. I have tea, read my e-mail, wash my hair and drink Muscle Milk for breakfast—I’m partial to the chocolate, with its slight tinge of almond flavor. Most mornings we each do our own work—she for her travel agency and me whatever writing project is on my desk.

This morning, however we did menu planning. Jordan’s new resolve is to plan menus a week at a time, instead of clasping hand to head about 5:30 and thinking, “What will we have for dinner?” I’m not sure what all we settled on for the week, but I had lots of fun going through the food magazines that had accumulated on my desk. My theory is to have a big Sunday supper, something like a roast chicken or pot roast that will provide leftovers for lunches and the rest of the week. Not sure about tomorrow’s entrĂ©e—may be tourtiere, a hearty French meat pie. Jordan also must plan five days of lunchboxes for Jacob.

Another routine I’ve treasured since retirement: an afternoon nap, I used to nap on weekends before I retired but since then I’ve slept every afternoon-and I do mean slept, in the bed,at least an hour, complete with dreams.

Dinnertime brings a routine for the dogs: Jordan brings her two and their dishes our here. You should see them prance and dance when she heads this way with dog bowls. Sophie is waiting, and all three get a treat—sort of like happy hour for dogs. Sophie gets a rawhide chew but theyre too big for “the girls”—Cricket and June Bug. Each dog must wait until all three are through with the treats and then they get dinner. They know by now not to try to poach on someone else’s dinner. After dinner, they get a milk bone but they must sit to get it. So cute to watch them, especially when they’re anticipating dinner.

We have no evening routine except reading, writing. My days are comforting—it’s a good word for routine, but then I’m not an adventurous person, not one whose feet itch to travel. I’m so comfortable in the cottage.                    


On a completely unrelated note: my 43-year-old son-in-law just got carded trying to buy wine.
                                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Friday, January 06, 2017


Snow, an outdoor fire, and wishes for the new year

January 6, 2017

Few things excite a North Texas child more than snow—any kind of snow. Today it began to sleet lightly at noon, quit for a while, and then began to snow. Soft white flakes drifted down off and on. The caretaker who was here was fascinated. But Jacob had the most fun. He hung his hammock in the back yard, right across the sidewalk between the house and the cottage. Then he lay in it and watched the snow come down. He even looked happy as he swept snow off the deck.

I’m back to work on my own writing, and it’s a good feeling. I had “starts” on four manuscripts so my first chore was to settle on one t work on. I tried that a month or so ago and couldn’t concentrate. But I apparently have renewed energy because I settled on one that had the most words—but that wasn’t the deciding factor. This is a sequel and involves Susan of The Perfect Coed in the controversy over open carry—oh, yes, of course there’s a murder early in the book. At this point I’m just re-reading what I wrote months ago, but my mind is whirling with ideas, and I’m making lists—something I don’t normally do. Other writers use elaborate outlines, post-it notes, and all kinds of aids to keep them on track. I’m making a list of characters—sometimes I get way into it and think, “Now what was the sheriff’s name?” The other list I’m keeping is of threads—red herrings are one thing, but you can’t leave them hanging so I’m going to keep track.

This sounds egotistical and I certainly don’t mean it that way but as I read I’m thinking, “Wow! This isn’t half bad!” and I’m pleased with how complicated it is, the number of threads. As my mentor/friend Fred would say, “Onward and upward.”

Tonight is 12th Night, Epiphany, the night the wise men brought their gifts to the manger. It is a big celebration in many other countries but in the US we tend to pass it by. My family, however, has always celebrated with our own tradition. It is our custom that each person throw a small pine twig in the fire and make a wish. You can tell no one your wish, and woe betide you if your branch misses the fire--that happens more often than you think.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        your .

We invited five couples to light branches with us—two were going to Dallas, illness kept another away, and the last one went home and crawled into bed by six o’clock.  But some of Jordan’s girl friends came by for happy hour and stayed to burn branches so there were nine of us. Usually we do this in the fireplace but it was disconnected during construction so the burning was in the brazier on the patio. Very cold tonight, so I commissioned Jacob to throw my branch on the fire—getting me bundled up is a chore for Jordan and hardly seemed worth it for ten minutes. I saw inside and watched the jolly scene—and there was lots of laughter.

May your secret wish for 2017 come true, whatever it may be. And may your days be as pleasant as my last two have been.