Friday, September 30, 2016

Beating myself up over a shoe


From this......
To this

I did trade the boot for a brace this morning, but it turned out not to be a direct trade-off. I am to wear the brace an hour or so at a time until I am used to it, gradually spending more time in the brace than the boot. Nor is it a simple procedure to fit it—the brace is clear plastic, molded after my foot. But still the technician put my foot in it and marked here and there where she could trim it. In response to her suggestion of a larger shoes, I took two pair—new OrthoFeet in a Mary Jane style and a pair of Croc lined slippers.

The brace goes inside the shoes—a bit of a trick to get it on, but I imagine it will work out as I break the shoe in—literally. But she trimmed until she had the right combination of fit and protection. Then she checked to see that I was even, and then I walked between parallel bars. I felt like a kid who had passed an exam in school—she said I did a perfect heel-toe walk, which should prevent tripping, and my ankle did not offer to collapse to either side.

Alas the Croc did not work as well. I had taken it because it’s wide and boxy, but she pointed out it has no give, whereas the OrthoFeet shoe is stretchy. We tried and tried, but it would accommodate the brace. Meantime, I who have always avoided Crocs was loving the left shoe that I wear with the boot. Crocs were too stiff and hard—they hurt my feet. But with the lining, it’s comfortable and I think a better height so I’m more even. All of this should alleviate the pain in my left hip.

By the time I got to the prosthesis office this morning, I had worked myself into one of my anxiety attacks. I was afraid of walking between the parallel bars, which turned out to be a piece of cake. I was sure I’d never walk unassisted again. I berated myself for being lazy and a coward because I don’t walk more—and major confession, I don’t often do the exercises that the physical therapist recommended. That’s unlike me, because I have faithfully done exercises, walked, done yoga whatever. I convinced myself that I was useless, lazy, lacking ambition.

I realize tonight, of course, what I was doing to myself—sending all those negative messages. On the other hand, regaining my earlier physical strength and balance compares to my thinking on my career: at 78, I am neither as ambitious nor as determined as I once was and probably that’s okay.

It’s been a long, difficult day, with my morning anxiety and in the evening several urgent trips to the bathroom. I really thought at noon I didn’t feel well…and slept for two-and-half hours this afternoon. Jordan’s friends were here when I got up, and one said to me, “Are you all right? You don’t look like yourself.” I explained it away with allergies that made my eye run but then I started the negative messages all over again. Listening to an account of another friend’s bout with West Nile didn’t help either.

I hope it was a better day for you. I’m putting this one to bed and plan to wake in the morning a new person.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Excitement, an old friend, and seven hats

September 29, 2016

Jacob, wearing seven hats--I have no idea why,
but he remind me of something out of Dr. Seuss
I’m excited, anxious, nervous, and full of anticipation tonight. Tomorrow I get a foot-and-ankle brace and theoretically say goodbye to the walking boot. I’ve been in that boot since May, and it’s getting tiresome to put it on in the middle of the night when I need the restroom. It’s also gotten tiresome long ago to think of clothes that would easily fit over it.

I was measured for the brace a couple of weeks ago. It apparently comes up as high as the boot—almost to the knee—and fits down into the shoe. The certified technician who made the cast said I would need a bigger shoe to accommodate the brace, so I ordered a pair of OrthoFeet shoes in a Mary Jane style and, at Megan’s insistence, a pair of pink Crock fuzzy-lined slippers.

I’ve never been a fan of Crocs. Their hard plastic cuts into my feet at all the wrong places. But tonight I am wearing the left one, and the lining makes all the difference. I must wear shoes anytime I wear the brace, so these will be great in the night. I have lots of questions—is this a permanent brace or do I move on? Can I bear weight without it briefly? Will it be easier to walk on it than the boot? Apparently I’ll have to do some walking on the parallel bars tomorrow—no, no, not on the bars but holding on to them.

Today my cottage got a small wall built around a most ugly gas meter right outside the French doors—can’t move the meter so the contractor improvised.  Lewis and Jim also built a step by my front door and installed a hand railing—much better than the ramp that scared me. After our Chicago trip, I do not like inclines, don’t like having my world tilted, though for a while the ramp was necessary. Now I may be moving on to a whole new phase of this recovery business, and I find that exciting. I have to work on strength recovery and gaining self-confidence, and I am loathe to admit it but I am reluctant in both areas.

My good friend Fred Erisman came for lunch today, bringing the egg salad sandwich I had suggested. Almost fifty years ago, Fred hand-carried or pushed me through TCU’s doctoral program in English. We have remained friends, colleagues, and lunch buddies all these years. He still reads and gives me an honest appraisal on almost everything I write.

Today we caught up with each other and our projects, and I arrived at the conclusion that the two of us, both pushing eighty—he a bit closer than I am—are at a point of contemplating our careers, reassessing what we’ve done and what we want t do in the future. We talked of families and travel and food and Chicago. I find such long-term relationships reassuring. So thank you, Fred, for an egg salad sandwich, a house call, and good company.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Getting Out in the World


I wouldn’t want you to think things are going to hell in a handbasket around here, but someone just brought me today’s paper to read—only it turned out to be last Saturday’s paper. Wednesday is when they run recipes, and I’d really rather have that.

Beefing up my social life and also getting out in the world. Monday a colleague from my osteopathic college days—probably the 70s—brought me a sandwich for lunch, and we had a great, happy visit. Yesterday, Melinda, production manager at TCU Press and my dear friend, came and got me and we went to Nonna Tata for lunch. It’s our favorite hangout, and we take small bottles of wine. We’re in z rut—she has chicken limon and I have braseola. And we always have a great, laughter-filled visit. It was a trick to get into her suburban but I had a stepstool and managed it nicely. Still, making sure Sophie stays confined while I get out, getting into the car, etc. is a strenuous exercise. Melinda said she should have skipped her exercise class that morning.

Tonight Betty and I took Jacob to Swiss Pastry—they now serve a German menu on weeknights. Jacob frowned, doesn’t like that restaurant, etc. I had studied hard to find things on the menu he’d like, but he made a face at mac and cheese with bacon and potatoes—and I didn’t even tell him the cheese was gruyere and not cheddar. But lo and behold, they had a kids’ menu with a hamburger. Their hamburgers are Wagu beef and delicious. I fortunately kept my mouth shut about how good it would be, and Jacob loved it.

Betty and I split the Weisswurst platter—sliced pork-and-veal sausage and mushrooms in a wine cream sauce with mashed potatoes. Absolutely delicious. I’m anxious to go back and try some of their schnitzels. Jacob and I let our imaginations get away with our capacity, and each ordered Black Forest Cake—I brought home a full serving, and he brought almost that much. Good desserts linger in the fridge. Betty had coconut cream pie, liked it so well she took a second piece home to her husband.

Meanwhile I am overwhelmed with small chores at my desk. The neighborhood newsletter consumed an unusual amount of time, and everything I touch seems to take more time than it should. I sometimes get 250 emails a day, plus I check Facebook at least once a day. And now I have three books to read for the Sarton competition sponsored by Story Circle Network. Somehow it seems I work all morning and never get ahead.

My current project is to sort some recipes, and I did a bit today, picking out things to fix for Jordan and me since Christian will be out of town this weekend. We usually eat fish when he’s gone, so I have Italian-style tuna sandwiches and avocado/salmon/lime tostados on my list. Fun to be cooking again.

Two days and I trade the boot for a brace. I’m hoping I will make life a lot easier and so am excited. Wish me good balance and self-confidence, please.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Watching the Debate


I didn’t mean to watch the debate tonight, but a friend called and asked if she could come watch it with me, so of course I agreed. Then she called to say that her wallet had been stolen, presumably in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s.  She called the police and then lamented, “They treated me like a little old lady.” I told her that was what we were—didn’t mean to be unsympathetic, but it’s the truth. Linda went back home to Granbury to sort her life and credit cards out. I presume we’ll connect for the next debate. Darn! I was going to make salmon croquettes for her.

By then, though, I had decided it was my civic duty to watch the debate, and I did. Jordan wandered out, said she didn’t want to watch it. Christian and Jacob were both watching programs inside, and as she said, “Everyone’s doing their thing. That’s good.” But I sort of thought she was sad that her thing is laundry, etc.

I guess I’m out of step with the world. Liberal friends and acquaintances are posting about how awful Trump was and brilliant Hillary was. I didn’t find it so. Trump was, as one poster on Liberals without Borders commented, not orange. And he didn’t throw the hissy-fit that many had predicted. He answered with clear statements and precise numbers-need the fact checkers to tell us about those numbers. Yes, he did talk over Hillary but otherwise he was controlled and reasonable. Hillary had all the answers ready, as she always does—she was reasonable, businesslike but not cordial or friendly. I hear so much about differing expectations-because she’s a woman she must appear softer and more friendly. Poppycock: she’s not presenting herself as a woman but as a candidate for a high office. And I thought she did a good job.

Now I’ll wait to check the fact-checkers. I had heard that a different standard would be applied to the two candidates—in essence, if Trump managed to hold his temper he’d win because he’d be asked less difficult questions. I didn’t find that to be true at all. But I will wait for the pundits to tell me who won.

Otherwise, a slow damp Monday. Never did rain but looked like it could. I was content to stay inside, though when I opened the door for Sophie I could feel the coolness and smell a touch of fall in the air. It will, I’m told, be gone by tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Rainy Sundays are the best


Amy's pasta supper
Thunder and rain wakened me this morning about 7:30. I lay there and listened to a heavy downpour, remembering that Jordan and Christian were having their furniture, stored in a pod for a month, delivered at 8 a.m. Lingering in bed on a morning like that is sheer pleasure, and it was close to nine before I got myself going. I steered clear of the Burtons, didn’t figure it was a good scene. As it turned out, Christian took Jacob to church to serve as an acolyte and Jordan dealt with the movers.

Meanwhile I spent the morning at my desk, alternately working and staring out the window at the damp, wet world. What started as a stormy day turned into a slow, steady rain, the kind good for our plants but not so much for moving furniture or keeping dogs dry. Tonight the world is beginning to dry out but more rain is predicted tomorrow.

As I get settled in my cottage, I’m beginning to cook. I may become an unpaid advertisement for Nu-Wave induction cooking. I have a burner—two but I only need one-and two frying pans and one pot to cook on it. So far I’ve only used one skillet, but Jordan cooked a lamb chop, and I scrambled some eggs and cooked a slider. Burner heats quickly, you can control temperature easily, and the skillet is a breeze to wash.

Saturday night I hosted my first real happy hour—not just drop by for a drink. Served makings for baguette sandwiches—ham and brie, smoked salmon and herbed cream cheese, plus figs halved, topped with blue cheese, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Forgot how much I like figs. So I’m edging back into the world of food, and one of my semi-immediate plans is to sort a folder of recipes.

Having winnowed my absolutely appalling collection of clipped recipes for the move, I’m already beginning to rebuild it. One of my great pleasures is to read Bon Appetit or Southern Living and clip recipes I think I might cook. Sometimes before I even add them to the collection, I sort, throwing away those I know I’ll never cook. But who can resist cauliflower with curry butter?

Tonight no need to cook. Amy Russell, one of my very favorites of Jordan’s friends, brought us supper—a terrific pasta dish with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, all in a creamy sauce. Delicious. Accompanied by a green salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries. Who could ask for more? Then Amy went home and cooked an entirely different meal for her family. Now that’s friendship above and beyond, and I for one am most grateful.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Defending the Indefensible


I confess. I did it. I allowed myself to e drawn into a Facebook discussion with an avid Trump supporter. I just couldn’t keep quiet when she said Hillary is a criminal and should be behind bars, and Donald Trump, that lily-white perfect being, is a victim of media conspiracy. It seems folks, he doesn’t really have a temper, never made fun of a handicapped person, is not racist, misogynist, etc. and it would be perfectly safe to give him the nuclear codes (one of my big fears).

All that negative stuff about him? It’s all the media’s fault. To me, the media has given him a free ride for way too long—I swore in recent weeks that Chuck Todd of Meet the Press was his campaign manager. Today Trump said media shouldn’t fact check debates because Lester Holt is a Democrat—turns out he’s a registered Republican.

What struck me though about this very determined lady—she kept writing me after I suggested we call the whole thing off—was her focus on a conspiracy against Trump. To me, the idea is patently ridiculous, but since the Kennedy assassination, our country has been obsessed with conspiracy theories. It’s always an “us against them” kind of theory that pits the individual, god-fearing citizen against the government.

Frankly I think the most obvious conspiracy currently is the one the Republicans have been carrying on against Hillary for the last 25 years. It explains why so many people think she’s a common criminal. But that’s not the point here—the point is conspiracy theories and passionate defenses.

I was struck by the passion with which this woman defended Trump. And then I went on to a post from a Bernie supporter, who brought up the defense that “they” (read established Democrats) were never going to let Bernice win. It was a conspiracy. Well, folks, Bernie Sanders hadn’t been a Democrat for long, in terms of service to the party, he hadn’t paid his dues, and suddenly he came out of nowhere to run for president. What he achieved was remarkable, and I hope many of his ideas are incorporated into the party platform. But there was no conspiracy—he just wasn’t part of the Democratic Party’s process. Of course that’s what he built his appeal on, and it almost got him there but not quite.

I’m beginning to think that the more a person knows, even instinctively, that they’re defending a lost cause, the more passionate they become in defending it.

Please, Lord, help me to pass by those passionate defenses and keep my nose in my own business.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the cottage , , , ,


I’ve been so wrapped up in recounting our four glorious days in Chicago that I’ve overlooked posting about the doings at home….and there are doings to report.

In a development really exciting to me, I was measured for an ankle brace. I will get out of the dreaded boot, though I’m not sure the brace will be a lot better. It too will come up almost to my knee, and I must wear a shoe at all times. So that means in the night I will have to put on the brace and the shoe if I want to use the restroom. Also I don’t know how it will fit with pants. But it is a step forward. I will have to get a larger shoe to accommodate the brace.

I admit I have not been good about the exercises the physical therapist gave me, and I’ve been maybe halfway good about walking with the walker instead of scooting around on it. I saw clear evidence this weekend that I’ve lost strength and probably muscle mass, and I must make myself work on that.

Much as I loved the Chicago trip, I was glad to get home to my cottage. It has passed its occupancy inspection and is officially good to go. One thing that means is that I can cook. Last night, with Jordan doing most of the work, we sautéed a loin lamb chop, and I ate applesauce. Tonight I scrambled a couple of eggs, using my New Wave induction burner—piece of cake, and they were good. They cooked quickly but I got them at the soft stage, which is where I like them. Now I’m anxious to cook and will start exploring recipes and ideas. Next week, when Jordan and Christian unpack their belongings, I expect to get the fancy toaster-oven that Megan brought me. When they remodeled their kitchen, that was all they had to cook with. It’s lovely to get the least little bit of feeling for cooking again.

Sophie is apparently glad to have me at home. Greg said when he’d come up here to check on her, she was all droopy and depressed. He’d take her outside and instead of jumping and running as she usually does, she’d plod along. He kept telling her, “It’ll be all right. She’ll come back.” According to him, there’s no question about whose dog she is. I’m not sure I’ve ever had that strong a relationship with a dog before, and I love it.

It’s good to be back home, viewing the world from my cottage, once more involved in my various writing chores, and always savoring the memories of one of the most significant trips I’ve taken. It ranks right up there with ten days in Scotland.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Palmer House



In planning our Chicago trip, one of the highlights I almost insisted on was lunch at the Palmer House hotel, followed by the lecture and tour on the historic hotel. Lunch was at noon, and the tour began at 1:30, scheduled to be over by 3:00. Last May I published The Gilded Cage, a novel of Chicago in the late 19th century, the Potter Palmers, the Palmer House Hotel, and the Columbian Exposition. Okay it’s much more than that, at least I think so, but those are the main events. I wanted to see if I was on the mark or not, and I wanted to see the famed hotel, though I think I was probably there with my parents as a young child.

Lunch was delicious—most of the kids had salmon, but I had a buttery homemade pasta with mushrooms and truffle sauce. Absolutely delicious.

We met the tour guide in the lobby adjacent to the restaurant. Everybody stood around talking, while Ken Price, the guide, questioned us. Eventually he led us up a floor to the hotel’s museum. Now, how many hotels do you know that have their own museum? Price was, if I got the story straight, hired to do marketing for the hotel, but today he is the archivist, whether or not he still does marketing.

We gathered around a table in the crowed small space, and he went around the room asking each of us questions. When he found out I was an English major, he zeroed in on me. But before that he had orchestral music playing, told us it was from the 1930s and asked who knew what orchestra it was. I said Eddie Duchin, because who else played in that decade. A lucky guess.

The next question was a quote: “In the room, the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.” His question was the source, and he looked directly at me. I said T. S. Eliot, and he asked for more, so I said Prufrock. Yes, it was from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

His final question was, “Who called Chicago the hog butcher of the world?” Easy. Carl Sandburg. I was a little bit filled with pride to have been singled out and to have acquitted myself well.

For the next two hours he gave us a random, rambling history of Chicago, the Palmers, the hotel, and himself. Charming, garrulous and knowledgeable, he was one of those people who liked to name-drop and had me convinced that he had important ties. I was convinced he had important connections. He’s occasionally drag out posters or other visuals to augment his talk.

When the overlong lecture wound down, he suggested a 15-minute break and then a tour of the hotel. We had dinner plans and couldn’t stay which didn’t bother me a lot. I had learned much from his lecture, most of which confirmed that I got the information in The Gilded Cage right except when I deliberately veered off into fiction.

We left a copy of The Gilded Cage with him, along with a business card, and he promised to be in touch and read the book. Who knows? This might be my one chance at fame and fortune. On the other hand, I’ll probably never hear from him. But it was still a heck of an interesting afternoon.


Monday, September 19, 2016


The River Cruise

September 19, 2016

On the Thursday we were in Chicago, we walked from lunch at Frontera Grill to Wacker Drive and descended to the river walk, also known as lower Wacker Drive. There we boarded Chicago’s First Lady for a river cruise sponsored by the Architectural Foundation of Chicago. The Chicago river, which slices through downtown, is dotted with small cruise boats, but the tour we chose is supposed to be the most authentic and thoroughly researched. The docent who narrated our tour had certainly done her homework.

Because the river limits the buildings discussed to those visible from the boat, it necessarily leaves out a lot of Chicago architecture and focuses principally on high rises, though there are a few residences—both multi-story and individual condos—on the river. Our docent wished aloud that the buildings along the river had been built in chronological order, but of course that didn’t happen.

The architectural styles—triangles, rounded surfaces, vertical construction and horizontal, are a bit much for someone like me who has a vague knowledge of architecture but can’t wrap my mind around what feature is typical of what style. But it was delightful, wine in hand, to drift along the river on a pleasant afternoon. Our boat probably held at most a hundred people but was not at all full. We sat on the forward deck.

The Great Fire of 1871 destroyed all of downtown Chicago, with the famous water tower on North Michigan the only structure that survived. Architects realized they could not rebuild with wood, and steel-frame buildings came into existence. The invention of the elevator allowed architects to build up, not out—a huge change in architecture. In some ways, Chicago set the pattern for architectural changes throughout the country, and the city produced world-renowned architects, even though they differed dramatically in their design approach. Example: Louis Sullivan detested the neo-Classical buildings that Daniel Burnham designed for the Columbian Exposition.
Wrigley Building


Tribune Building

Marina towers


We passed landmark buildings such as the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building and Marina City Towers—which I remember from a Blues Brothers movie. We passed buildings designed to reflect the undulations of the river. The closeness of all these tall buildings illustrated something I noticed about Chicago as opposed to my hometown of Fort Worth—Chicago is a dense city. Many people work and live in really close proximity, something we Texans are not used to. I don’t think even Dallas or Houston are that dense.

The river tour necessarily misses some well-known buildings in the city—Robie House, the Frank Lloyd Wright structure on the University of Chicago campus and all of Wright’s Prairie School influence, the Gothic buildings of the University of Chicago. But the tour gives a heady taste of the changing style of the city—and it’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
Robie House

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Eat your way through Chicago          

September 18. 2016

First, I somehow didn’t post a full picture of my childhood home, so I’m making amends tonight. I must have given my children an erroneous picture. They expected something run-down, perhaps even torn down. Christian thought probably a modest white clapboard house on its last legs. Instead they found what they insist on calling a Brownstone—it isn’t, because it isn’t made of the classic brownstone but it and many of the houses in Madison Park are in the style of a Brownstone. So here’s 1340 Madison Park, in all its red brick-and-stone glory. My family used such words as quaint and charming, and I think they’re right.

On to food. Chicago is a city that likes to eat and knows good food. We spent most of our time on the near North Side, which is where our hotel was and where the new and trendy restaurants are. Fortunately, the Drake Hotel has concierge service, so we ate only one huge breakfast, but oh my! Lunch and dinner made up for it. I’ve already written about our dinner at Publican on Wed. night, so let me begin with Thursday lunch.

Thursday morning was our great tour of Hyde Park, but the timing was just right—we were at Frontera Grill in time for 1:30 reservations. Frontera is Rick Bayhless’ restaurant, and an educated guess leads me to say it features food from the interior of Mexico. I am leery of spicy hot, but the waiter was most helpful, bringing me a sauce to taste. It was mild and buttery, made of summer squash blossoms. But it went on trout, which seemed too much for lunch, so I had a goat cheese tamale with fresh wild greens and a pasilla sauce, along with a Caesar salad. Others had tortilla soup, and we shared ceviche and guacamole. Wonderful menu and the food more than lived up to its promise.

A friend generously gave us a certificate for an impressive Italian restaurant—tucked away out of the mainstream, quiet and classy. We had drinks and then went to Berghoff’s, a historic Chicago restaurant. We went at my request, but I wasn’t as hungry as I wanted to be or as blown away by the menu. I ordered German potato salad; Megan tasted it and said, “Yours is better.” The hit of this meal was the giant soft pretzel, which everyone said was one of the best they’d ever had.


Friday lunch found us at the Palmer House—my choice was butternut squash soup and a pasta with mushrooms. Delicious. Several of the kids had salmon, and then we were off to the lecture and tour about the Palmer House.

Friday night was perhaps the best meal at RPM, an upscale Italian place. My kids seem to want to try everything, so we had five kinds of pasta, with each of us tasting just a bit. My favorite was the classic done with butter, salt and pepper. Before that we had carpaccio, fried artichokes with lemon aioli sauce, and prosciutto-wrapped dates. We should have walked to the hotel, but we didn’t.


The waiter at RPM recommended Orange, in Lincoln Park, for our Saturday brunch on the way to the airport. Their feature is Frushi—a combination of fruit and sushi-style rice. We tried it of course, but when the waitress asked if we didn’t like it—there was a lot on the platter—Megan said tactfully that it was interesting but not quite what we were looking for. The others ended up with lunch—hamburger, fancy grilled cheese, chicken nuggets but I had Popeye’s Scramble—with spinach, tomatoes and cheese. House potatoes turned out to be a cone of mostly mashed potatoes. Good, but the place was a casual diner, and neither the food nor the atmosphere lived up to the extravagance I’d come to expect.

Several things I noticed about Chicago food: most restaurants tout locally grown food, and the menu will tell you where each item came from. They are big on squash-like flavors—I had buttered corn, squash salsa, butternut soup—all with that wonderful, buttery taste.

A note on getting around Chicago: I am still in a wheelchair, and I have never in my life gotten in and out of so many Suburban vehicles. Getting out is no problem, but getting in required gritting of the teeth. Colin developed a method which essentially had me end up sitting on his lap, and from there he boosted me into the seat while I grabbed the handhold. I’m sure both of us developed more muscle.

We left Chicago vowing never to eat again, or at least to tone it down. I didn’t actually feel I overate but I loved every bite and taste.

Tomorrow: an educational trip.