Saturday, July 22, 2017

Reflections on a birthday

Me and all the young girls
They look bright, but I'm ready to fade

I am seventy-nine years old today, or, as my father would have said, in my eightieth year. A childhood friend with whom I’ve been in close touch all these years regularly writes on my birthday to twit me about being much older—from July 22 until her September 15 birthday, I am a year older. But this year, she added, “Can you believe we’re looking at eighty?” No, the truth is that I can’t. I won’t repeat the mistake I made twenty years ago or so when I told Jamie that I didn’t feel any older than the coeds on the TCU campus. He went into hysterics. But the truth today is that I do feel older—and wiser.

I’ve heard it said that for every individual there is an age at which you permanently place yourself. Mine has always been in my early thirties, when my babies were young and I was, so I thought, happily married. I wouldn’t go back that far any more. In fact, I’m perfectly content with the age I am now, though of course I want to live, in good physical and emotional health, at least well into my nineties. I have to take advantage of the accumulated wisdom of the years, what I’ve learned from heartbreak and, more importantly, what I’ve learned from joy, happiness, and love. I’ve thought a lot about it today and concluded I don’t quite know how to put what I mean in words—a writer at a loss for words. But I think, hope I am a better person—less quick to judge and demand, more compassionate, more understanding.

After all these years, I don’t regret my single state either. Marriage was good—it gave me four terrific children and a taste for kosher food—but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I find myself these days dreaming about a couple of past loves—I wish I could reach out and tell them that I have learned a lot, that I would have reacted differently to our relationships, that I miss them still and they are in corners of my heart. But that isn’t possible, and it’s a slight regret to live with.

I wish I could bring my parents back, for I would be a far better daughter, far more understanding as they aged. And oh! I so wish they could see my wonderful grandchildren. I keep their memory alive with stories and reminiscences…and my mom’s memory lives on in my cooking.

I am a happy, mostly content woman—loved by my family and more friends than I ever deserved, happy with my career choices, which were mostly happenstance but enable me to look back on a professional life well lived and continuing to this day. Lord deliver me from being smug but thank you for blessing me with the riches I have, tangible and intangible.

Tonight, Jordan and Christian welcomed a small crowd to their house—a few neighbors I’m fond of and lots of their friends, who are always glad to see me. That’s another blessing—Jordan has always included me in her circle of friends, and the girls are like daughters to me, the husbands good friends.

Susan and I blow out our candles.
For several years I have shared a birthday with neighbor Susan, who is twenty years and 3 days younger. Tonight, Susan was there to share the fun…and cake.

That's it, folks. The birthday is over. Finis.

The Kindness of Strangers the Love of Family

Dating this post July 21 is a bit of a cheat. It was meant for last night, but I was just too tired to write. So I’m playing catch-up fairly early on Saturday morning. If I had posted last night, here’s what I would have written:

Donald Trump can rant and rave and create havoc in our country, Greg Abbott can legislate against trees (how ridiculous is that?), and Dan Patrick can fight all those imaginary rapists lurking in women’s restrooms, but I’ve had evidence once again that the world is full of kind and good people.

When we came home from dinner Thursday night, an anonymous post on my blog told me to look on my front porch. There we found a bottle of white wine, chilling in a small bucket and gaily decorated with ribbons. Three wine glass were set out and waiting on the porch table. But no note, no hint who I should thank. So this is a public thank you to anonymous—we do wish you’d come forward and let me and my daughters acknowledge your thoughtfulness. PS: we got a fourth glass and shared with Christian.

Megan returns to Austin today. She’ll leave a hole that she carved in our daily lives this week as well as leaving her ten-year-old son. With her absence looming, we had family birthday last night. We’re a close family in spirit, but spread out to the point we rarely see some members. My brother, John, and his wife, Cindy, came in from the ranch near Tolar, and my daughter-in-law, Melanie, drove from Frisco with granddaughter Eden. We see them all too infrequently (thought this is my second visit from Edie in a week—such a treat). It’s hard to get John off the ranch, away from his cattle and dogs and beloved country quiet, but he always seems to have a good time when he’s here. We sat telling family stories, some of them pre-dating Christian, but he said he’d heard one at least ten times. We do repeat the stories we love.

Special bonus—longtime (would you believe forty-some years?) friend Linda arrived unannounced in time for happy hour—I thought she was in New Mexico but business called her home to Granbury. She is family to us, and we welcomed her gratefully, overriding her protests about not wanting to intrude.

When I was a kid, I always requested cold turkey and potato salad for my birthday, so that’s what we had last night, via a local barbecue place that serves much better potato salad than the usual bbq version. I made a large salad of marinated vegetables, a family favorite, in deference to those who don’t eat meat—and didn’t eat anyway. The girls ordered roses for the table and my favorite Black Forest cake. A truly festive evening.

One more party and my birthday is over. Whew! I feel older.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Perils of Pauline…or a writing oops!

With my daughter and grandson here this week, I haven’t gotten much writing down, so I was delighted this morning when an entire empty morning loomed before me. But when I opened the file of the novel I’m working on, there was a lot missing. Computer search followed, but I couldn’t find it. The most recent file was dated a week ago, and yet I knew I had written the scene I was thinking of. Finally, I decided I just had to bite the bullet and rewrite it. The words flowed because I had the scene so clearly in mind, and eventually I convinced myself that I never had written it, except in my head.

I wrote my daily quote of a thousand words, which just about did the scene, saved it, and then prepared to move on. But when I scrolled down, guess what I found? The original version of the same scene. I thought I’d gained a thousand words today, but when I erased the duplication, I was right back at the total I’d started the day with. I’d essentially been treading water all day—no forward motion.

In a way, I was relieved to know that I hadn’t closed the file without saving. That puzzled me, because the computer doesn’t let you do that. I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless as to click don’t save by mistake. I was fully prepared to think it was something I’d done, and I guess in a way it was. Somehow a blank page had snuck into the text between the previous day’s work and the missing text, so I mistakenly thought I was at the end of what I’d written. Almost too confusing to explain, but I guess all’s well that ends well. And in a week of lost days, another doesn’t matter.

Meantime the celebrations continue. I had a good, solitary lunch of leftovers. I’d planned to fix the girls some Italian tuna sandwiches—tuna with pesto, since Megan dislikes mayonnaise (who raised that kid?). But we have so much food left over that it seemed silly to fix something new. And leftovers are so good.

Tonight, we went to the Star Café, owned by good friends Don and Betty Boles. It’s sort of a family place for us. Can’t beat their chicken-fried steak, and Betty had even baked a cake that had cherry pie filling, crushed pineapple and chopped pecans. Delicious! There’s something about going a place where you always have a good time—you’re in a mind set to have a good time again, and we did. Lots of hilarity. Good times.

Home to a neighbor’s woes with the gas company, a wildly barking dog, and a vegetable salad to be made so it would be marinating. Life goes on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Joys of Family

The joy of having one extra daughter and one extra grandchild continues. The boys are having a great time at TCU baseball camp and posed for the great picture above with the coach. Other than baseball, as far as I can tell, they are occupying themselves with the giggles. And having a wonderful time.

And miracle of miracles, I got some work done today—put together everything I have on the neighborhood newsletter and am just waiting for some regular columns. And did some work on a project I’m most excited about but not yet ready to announce.

Had a nice lunch with three friends, two of us celebrating birthdays, and tonight we went to Joe T.’s at Megan’s request. A friend/neighbor of hers was also in town so her son could attend baseball camp, and they joined us. The three little boys were such wonderful company—two with faces in iPhones, the third in an iPhone. Luckily, I turned my chair and squeezed into the table with the grown-ups. The restaurant was unusually slow, so it was blessedly quieter than usual, so I could hear the conversation. Fun. I never order fajita because I don’t like peppers, and the pepper taste taints the meat. Megan split an order with no peppers with me and I enjoyed.

Tomorrow, a day of staying home and working. I swear. I sure am having a great birthday week. Not a day—a whole week.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Food, friendship, and the doctor

Let me start with the doctor. I had a good appointment with my surgeon today—lots of praise, but I came away feeling a little let down. I asked if I was where I should be, given what my condition was pre-surgery, and he said “Absolutely.” Pointed out my hip had been deteriorating for a long time, I had a major bone deformity, and I hadn’t really walked for six months before surgery. He was, he said with restraint, pleased with my progress. As we left, he, not an effusive man, said, “You’re beautiful today,” and I know he wasn’t referring to my looks. He was saying I’ve made beautiful progress.

But I think I went in there thinking I was healed, this surgery stuff could be behind me, and it’s simply not so. He said he expects full recovery for me to take at least a year—and I’m only six months in. No, I cannot cross my legs. If I bend from a sitting position, I am to do it slowly, with my left hip bent open, because I’m still in danger of dislocating it (x-ray shows it is perfectly in place right now).

And the biggie: he was lukewarm about letting me drive, especially since I drive a VW Bug, with a lower seat than a traditional car. He demonstrated how I’d have to get in and out, a technique I don’t really remember. On the way home, Jordan said every instinct in her was opposed to my driving, so I will wait.

I guess I’m not as invincible as I thought. Lesson learned

Other than that, a pleasant day of working and eating, mostly the latter. My daughters and I went to Pacific Table for lunch. A splurge lunch of crab salad (with avocado, Manchego, tomatoes, sautéed shallot, and a good vinaigrette) plus a dessert of sinful ice cream sandwiches  

Tonight, a friend from the seventies came for happy hour with me, Jordan, and Megan. Nancy’s three children and mine grew up as family friends, so it was great for my girls to get to visit with her. Turns out Megan often distance-works with the husband of one of Nancy’s daughters—small world.

Jordan fixed a magnificent spread, which was our dinner. My contribution was the salmon spread. We talked about everything from kids and surgery to murder and had a delightful time.

Now two boys are out here practicing their cursive writing. I never knew it would be the occasion for such hilarity—old-fashioned, uncontrollable giggles.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Just Call Me Grumpy

I’m not sure if I’m grumpier lately or just more aware and catching myself at it, but after grumping my way through a nearby neighborhood, over the McMansions, I found myself grumpy with my two daughters last night. Biggest grump was over a towel I keep in the kitchen to dry my hair because I shampoo in the sink. They insisted it was dirty; I said it was my towel, and leave it where it was. Ended up putting it in the laundry but replacing with a clean towel, which I suppose was a compromise of sorts. Then there were the two bags of leftover meat filling for the meat pies—Megan handed one to Jordan and put one in my freezer. I said no, I wanted both—I bought the meat, made the filling, would feed everyone with them, but I wanted them in my freezer. Petty? You bet, but I felt I was under siege in my own kitchen, between the two of them, with their quickly exchanged eye rolls.

So I apologized for being grumpy, said I wanted it to be so much fun when Megan got here, and it wasn’t going that way. After swearing they weren’t criticizing my kitchen methods and saying I was way too sensitive, Megan said, “We all do that. We get it in our minds just how something’s going to go, and when it doesn’t go exactly as we think it should, we get grumpy. I do it with my boys, you do it your kids.” In truth, I’d already thought of that much earlier but was astounded to find myself still falling into the trap.

My grumpy fit cleared the air, and we had a great evening, augmented by what all (except Jacob) said was a great dinner. Jacob, who ate two meat pies, pronounced them so-so. Turkey! Today I found an online article that I hoped would explain my point of view to the girls and sent a link, asking them to read it. So far, no reaction. But if you’re interested, either as a senior or the child of one, you might want to check this out:

Up early this morning because I felt overwhelmed about all the work that had piled upon my desk—one day of cooking and ignoring the desk side of my life, and I was buried. Getting up early is great, because I got so much done and felt better about the world and my responsibilities. But I sure needed that afternoon nap.

Nice day—fixed a good lunch for the girls, had two doctor appointments, both with praise for my progress, and a delightful dinner with a friend of Megan’s who is here for her son to attend the same baseball camp with my boys. Jordan made it taco night—so good.

Time now to pick up the threads of the novel I’m working on, the neighborhood newsletter, and life in general. I think cooking—and Megan’s visit—distracted me. But what happy distractions.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cooking up a storm

Natchitoches meat pies and tabbouleh
            A friend wrote me today that she spent Sunday morning planting. She knew, she said, she should have been in church, but she wanted to get these plants in and mulched before she left town. I told her she planted, I cooked, and we both worshipped in our own ways. And cook I up a storm I did.

I was cooking for a celebration dinner—oldest daughter, Megan, and her youngest son, Ford, arrived tonight for a week. When I said to Ford we were expecting special company, he asked who, and I said, “You?” Earned me a big grin.

Ford and Jacob will go to TCU baseball camp for four days, the girls and I will work during the day, each of us at our own jobs (Megan is a lawyer and Jordan a travel agent—me? I write!) but we’re looking forward to a lot of good meals and visiting time. Tonight’s menu was homemade hummus for appetizer, cheeses and vegetables.

Notes from the gourmet on a hot plate: I spent the whole morning making the hummus and tabbouleh, both better than what we buy in the store. Hummus was a problem until Jordan discovered I have a large pot that will work on my hot plate. I soaked the garbanzos overnight, refrigerated them for a day, and cooked them for forty-five minutes this morning. The hummus is really easy—you put everything in the food processor with a saved half cup or more of cooking water (I say more because the hummus was a bit stiff). Put spices, oil, and all in and blend. You could easily do this with canned garbanzos—I don’t know if it would be better or not.
homemade hummus

Tabbouleh was more work. You soak bulgur wheat in boiling water. Add spices and let it sit, while you make a lemon/oil dressing, whisking the oil into the lemon. Separately chop four cups parsley, a cup mint, a large tomato. Fluff wheat with a fork, add to dressing, and fold in veggie mix. Chill. Really good—six of us ate the whole thing tonight, and I promise I’m not doing all that chopping again soon.

I asked Ford if he eats tabbouleh, and he said, “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll eat it.” He loved it, had two or three helpings. Such a delight to have a child be such an enthusiastic eater.

Assembly line: me rolling out biscuits, Megan filling them
Main dish: Natchitoches meat pies, a recipe I remember from years ago when I taught a creative writing class that really bonded, to use a trendy, trite word. For the last session, I invited them to my house for a pot-luck supper, and one man brought these pies. I thought I’d lost the recipe during the great downsize, but it surfaced. They are, quite frankly, a pain to make, but we cheated and used refrigerator biscuits that I split in half and rolled out into thin larger circles. The girls filled each circle with meat, folded and crimped the edges. The recipe said deep-fat fry, but we brushed them with an egg wash and put them in the oven. We ate thirteen of them.

Tonight I am tired but happy. Love having more of my “chickens” under my roof.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Let the celebration begin!

My birthday is in another week, but celebrating began today, when Jamie and my second oldest grandchild, Eden, came over from Frisco for the afternoon and dinner. It's not a major birthday, so I didn't expect much of a celebration, but Jamie will be out of town next weekend. Mel and Eden will come over for family birthday.
But first Jordan and I went grocery shopping, which has become a real adventure for me. I drove a motorized cart again. The first time, when I moved but did not destroy a display, the woman who fixed it was grumpy, never looked at me nor acknowledged my profuse apologies. Today we went to a different store, and an employee brought the cart out to the car. After she saw me settled in it, she said, “If you knock something down, don’t worry about it. Happens all the time. Just holler.” I had a great time driving around this store which had wider aisles and fewer dump displays. I didn’t bump into anything stationery nor any customers, and the same woman came to collect the cart at the car. She told me I should have backed up to the car door (I explained I’m not yet good at backing); she scolded me about keeping hydrated in the heat, and when I turned in my seat and reached to close the car door, she said, “Get back in there You don’t need to be doing that!”

Jamie and Eden arrived about one-thirty. They intended to leave Frisco at eleven, but some things came up. Jamie is always later than his original plan and will be the proverbial man who’s late to his own funeral. They were on target for twelve-thirty but didn’t like my lunch options and went to the Mexican Inn on their way in. He had said they’d shop in the afternoon, but he really didn’t know where, Edie wasn’t much interested in Tyler’s, and I’m not much of a shopper, especially now that I’d be using the walker. We pretty much hung out at home, which was better anyway. Swapped “Remember when” stories and had a good time. Jamie wanted to take a Black Forest cake home with him and went to pick up the only one they had—serves 20 and cost a fortune. We had a nice dessert after our dinner.

We had supper at the Tokyo Café—Edie, my favorite vegetarian, loves sushi. I thoroughly enjoyed lobster roll and salmon sashimi, and Jamie ordered three different rolls, pronounced it a good place to go. Nice dinner, and a bit of serious philosophical talk, mostly about the place of religion in our lives. When I said I didn’t believe in hell, Edie’s eyes lit up and she said, “Neither do I, and all my friends do.” Score points for me as a grandmother.

They’ve gone back to Frisco now, and Jordan is in the house watching two little boys. I’m catching up on the odds and ends of a satisfying day and more than ready to go read in bed.

Friday, July 14, 2017

More cooking experiments. And a clear look at myself

Tonight, I ran into more of the disadvantages of downsizing, mainly that you downsize yourself out of everything you’re used to having on hand. Who lives in a kitchen without baking soda? Apparently, I do and so does my daughter. I wanted to soak chickpeas overnight and cook them in the morning to make hummus. First problem with that was we couldn’t find chickpeas in the large dried bean section at Central Market. Duh! A foodie reminded us they’re garbanzos, and we bought twice as many as I needed for my initial experiment.

Then I didn’t think I had a pot big enough to cook them in 10 cups of water. Jordan unearthed one that works on my magic hotplate, so tonight the peas/gabanzos are soaking in salt water. But in the morning, I need to cook them with ¼ tsp. baking soda. My kingdom for a tsp. of baking soda.

Tomorrow I hope to cook the peas, make the hummus, and make homemade tabbouleh—a big order, since we only did the “exotic” shopping today and still have a long list for the “ordinary” grocery store, plus Jamie says he’ll be here at elevnish—read two or three, but it will be so good to see him and Eden. I hope to let the day unroll as it will. The cooking projects don’t have to be done until the next day or the next. I’m trying to learn that lesson—or unlearn all the compulsive lessons that I carry with me as baggage.

Today, after our trip to Central Market, we picked up Jacob at a friend’s house in a nearby neighborhood, one of seventies and eighties ranch style houses and huge trees, all lovely and comfortable. But people are tearing down original structures and building McMansions that stick out like sore thumbs. Apparently, no thought is given to fitting into the neighborhood. There are neighborhoods in this city where McMansions fit the general style, but not the one we visited this morning and certainly not mine. It distresses me.

But with Jacob in the back seat, monosyllabic as young boys can be, I listened to myself criticizing the big houses and realized how negative I sounded. I fear I do that about other things that don’t fit my standard of how things should be, from frozen hamburger to people (a big leap). I made myself then and there a promise to be more positive and less critical. I can keep those critical thoughts to myself.

I remembered something Colin said to me when I mentioned that the stream of visitors to the cottage had slowed down drastically. He suggested maybe I don’t always make people welcome. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in my work that maybe I’m not fun. Another critical look at myself and another resolution.

Lord, I hope I can live up to all this. Meantime, I’m happy to report I had a wonderful and simple supper tonight. Fresh corn on the cob, steamed asparagus, and filet of sole. I used to have an awful time cooking sole because it fell apart. I dusted this with flour, and it browned perfectly and came out of the pan easily. Such a mild but good fish. Color me happy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The story of my life….and a cooking lesson

The story of my life this week is one of cancelled engagements…yesterday friends and I were to celebrate our birthdays at an annual lunch. Cancelled. Today, I was serving pasta carbonara to an old friend for lunch. Cancelled. Tonight, I was going to dinner with a friend. Cancelled. Not to sound too pitiful, I will admit that I have had company—a good friend brought barbecue last night, and another friend came to share the pasta so I went ahead and made it. But I haven’t gotten out of the cottage—well, since Tuesday night but it seems longer. And that was my only outing this week. I stand in danger of cabin fever, because I am dependent on friends who will come get me—and who can negotiate backing out of my 1920s skinny driveway. Can’t wait to drive again.

I can’t really have a pity party, because there are bright spots on the horizon. Grocery shopping with Jordan tomorrow, which is always fun, and maybe I’ll get to drive a cart again. Colin says I should not consider that practice for driving a 3,000-lb. car. Tomorrow night, Jamie, my youngest son, and his youngest daughter are coming to take me to dinner. A rare treat. And Saturday I will have lunch with another friend who shares July birthdays.

But still I’m afraid to pick up the phone, for fear it’s someone cancelling yet another outing.

It was really just as good my lunch date for today cancelled—he missed pasta carbonara which bombed. Jean came for lunch and wasn’t at all critical, having never had carbonara before. The recipe was a spring one and deceptively simple—diced bacon, green peas, and cut asparagus spears, with a bit of the bacon grease. Cook the pasta, drain it, and immediately stir in eggs, beaten with a little milk. Stir frantically so they don’t scramble. I’ve done that before with aveglomono recipes, and it creates a lovely silken sauce for the pasta.

Jean read the recipe and volunteered to go to the front porch for five or six basil leaves, which I cut into chiffonade strips and added—glad she reminded me of that.

Today my eggs scrambled, despite my frantic stirring. I figure cooking mistakes are learning lessons, so I’m analyzing this. I had eyeballed adjusting the recipe from six to two servings, and perhaps I put too much milk in the eggs. Also, I put the pan on a warm burner while I stirred, and I suspect that cooked the eggs—I should have kept stirring. There came a point when I saw the eggs were scrambled and there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I tossed in the vegetables and bacon, sprinkled them generously with cheese, and served.

Jean loved it, but she’d never had carbonara. I loved the veggies and the flavor, but thought the pasta was too dry. But then, I knew what it should be.

One thing about cooking in the cottage: when a recipe says to keep one pan warm on a burner, and cook pasta on another burner, I can’t do that. I only have one burner, so I have to juggle. I will definitely try that recipe again though. Seems I am accumulating a separate file of recipes to try again, having not quite hit the mark the first time around.

Tonight, leftovers. Tomorrow? Maybe tuna fish for lunch. I had given Jean a can of my special tuna, ordered straight from a cannery in Oregon, and they had it for dinner last night. Now she knows why I rave about it.

On Facebook tonight, someone quoted, “Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley,” and it came home to me that I’ve never read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. So that’s my reading now. ‘Night.