Thursday, December 31, 2015

What’re you doin’, New Year’s Eve?

 If it’s true that the way you spend New Year’s Eve sets the tone for the coming year, I’m bound to have a good year. Jacob and I are spending the evening quietly at home. I asked what special meal he’d like, and he had no idea—finally settled on spaghetti. So I “doctored” a jar of bottled sauce in the cupboard (added wine, balsamic vinegar, paprika, a bit of brown sugar, a bay leaf), and he declared it wonderful. I insisted he take off ear phones and turn off iPad—told him it’s a special evening, and we would have a sophisticated dinner. He was reluctant but soon got into it—we talked about family and football, cussing and church. At one point I was through and ready to get up, as was he, but he said, “Well, what should we talk about now?” You couldn’t have blasted me out of that chair. We had an hour-long, honest conversation in which, among other things, he analyzed my lifestyle. With perception. I wouldn’t trade for that hour.

At eight-thirty, he began to worry about how we’d stay up until midnight. I had been hoping eleven and the dropping of the ball in Times Square would be enough, but apparently not so. He says at 11:59 we’re going to toast—me with wine, and he with sparkling cider in a flute. He wouldn’t let me take a picture at dinner, for fear someone would think he was drinking wine.

We made it to eleven and to watch the ball drop in Times Square—but on NBC there was no ball! Just all of a sudden, a huge “Happy 2016” and lots of smooching. Jacob left the room in disgust. I meanwhile finished proofing the book I want to put up on Amazon. Weekend project: make corrections. Found plenty! At this point 40 minutes to go until midnight.

We made it, watched the countdown in crowded downtown Fort Worth and the spectacular fireworks. Toasted with kid wine and wine (no pictures allowed by my date for the evening).

Yes, 2016 is going to be a great year. And Jacob and I wish the same for each and every one of you.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Let the good times roll

Watch for it in print on Amazon soon--I hope
 For a lot of people I know, 2015 has not been a good year. Everything from deaths in the family, job problems to health and financial worries. For me, it’s been a year of poor health, principally problems with my low back and left leg and, of course, my balance. I began to think it was the year in which I suddenly become an old lady. With physical problems and the associated pain—believe me I did hurt some of the time—came depression, and I felt like I was becoming an old lady with a sour disposition. I had no energy and no ambition to do laundry, household chores, things around the house. In addition, my publisher went out of business, and all my mysteries disappeared from Amazon and other sources. So on both a professional and personal level, I’m glad to put 2015 behind me.

2016 is going to be a much better year. My neighbor, who has just started a new job, and I agree on that. I felt my depression lifting about a month ago, and now feel I’m back to being cheerful which is my normal state. A dear friend from out of town visited in early December and said, “Well, you seem just fine.” Jay, the neighbor, said, “You should have been around here the last four months!” But to me it’s like a whole new world.

I don’t hurt, and I’m going back to physical therapy next week, to restore my self-confidence and balance. I’m working on getting my last book on Amazon in print—proofing is taking me an extraordinary amount of time but the holidays do bring distractions. Then I plan to put the rest of the mysteries up as e-books, one every month so I’ll have something to crow about in publicity. And I will publish my historical novel about the Gilded Age in Chicago in the spring. It’s a heavy work load, but I can do it. Watch for news about The Gilded Cage—it’s a departure for me and a book I’m really excited about.

This year will also bring major changes in housing—the merging of the Burtons household with mine. So Jordan and I will spend many afternoons downsizing my belongings, and then I’ll live through construction.

Busy hands make happy hearts, and I expect to be busy and happy in 2016. In fact, I think something wonderful will happen, and I will live in anticipation.

I hope 2016 brings each of you magical good things.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My appalling collection of recipes

I am, I admit, hopelessly addicted to recipes. I clip them out of magazines, though I’ve narrowed my subscriptions down to two: Southern Living and Bon Appetit. But I can’t resist, “Oh, that sounds good” and I tear it out with never a thought about whether I’ll really fix it or not. The result is that two drawers in my mother’s antique secretary are filled with files labeled Entrees Tried, Entrees Not Tried, Vegetables and Sides, Appetizers, and Desserts.

New Year’s Day, the Burtons and I are hosting a small neighborhood potluck so that everyone gets their ham and black-eyed peas. Friend Subie tells me we must also have collards for prosperity—collards are a bad childhood memory for me, but I want to be prosperous so I’ll eat a few bites. My neighbor Susan said they have a huge ham left that they will bring, so relieved of getting the ham I decided I should provide another side—like mac and cheese or cole slaw. That sent me to my vegetables and sides file, which was huge. I probably threw away half the recipes—going through one by one (took me an hour and a half). I had several criteria: since the Burtons will be merging with my household, I threw out recipes I knew they wouldn’t eat—squash and zucchini, things with anchovy, spinach, a chicken liver salad (sounds good to me) etc. A lot of those I know how to fix for myself. Most potato salad recipes went—I have a couple of stand-by potato salads that I love, so I’m not likely to try others; I also discarded recipes that looked impractical, like a lot of work. I think I’m beyond that in my cooking.

It was fun to discover things I’d forgotten about that I’d like to fix again—an onion and vinegar slaw to put over green beans, Aunt Reva’s asparagus, corn pudding. But I came up empty on cole slaw (well I did find one recipe that included apples which sounds great to me, and another for vinegar and oil slaw but Christian doesn’t really like cabbage in any form). The one tempting mac and cheese recipe was built on a foundation of a box mix for mac and cheese. Not what I had in mind.

I finally decided that to go with our peas and ham sliders I’ll fix a recipe a friend gave me. She got it from her stepmother, and it is delicious. I close my eyes and overlook the prepared foods in it. Here’s Louella’s rice:
1 cup Minute Rice
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 can cream of celery soup
4 oz. can green chilies

Mix and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Serves four. I’ll double it. I’m sure my source, Barbara Bucknell Ashcraft of Mississippi, must at least triple it for her huge family. Thanks, Barbara, for your contribution to our dinner.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Are we dogs’ best friends?

I heard today about an older, small dog (chi mix) that ended up in a shelter’s care. Somehow they knew the identity and phone of the owner, so they called to ask her to pick the dog up. She said she would but when she didn’t show up after a day, they called again. “Don’t you get it?” she asked. “I’m not coming. Send the dog to the pound.” So much for love and compassion for animals. Too many people believe that dogs have no feelings.

Today in particular I can testify about dogs’ feelings. My Sophie has been my shadow all day. Everywhere I went, she tagged along behind. She even napped on the bed with me, although she’s a restless napper—there this itch to be tended to and that to scratch and hark! Was that a noise in the attic? I get the sense that she thinks she let me out of her sight and I disappeared for four days and it’s not going to happen again!

Facebook is full of dogs and a few cats lost and found in Rowlette, Garland and other areas devastated by the storms. Many pet owners who have lost their homes seem to feel it will all be better if they can get their beloved dog back. And kind souls have rescued animals from debris, wet and shivering, and taken them into their homes. The problem of course is matching them.

For those who have taken dogs in, I have one request: please be sure to get definitive i.d. of the person and the dog before you turn an animal over (I have a persistent and terrible fear of dog-fight people who will use even small dogs as bait). And when you do reunite owner and dog, watch the animal’s reaction. If you can’t find the owner and can’t keep the dog, take it to a shelter (preferably no-kill) where anyone claiming or adopting it will be properly vetted.

If you’ve lost a dog, check with shelters, both the city kennel and private shelters in the area. They are overcrowded with storm dogs, and yours might well be there. Here’s another hint: put a large poster, with a picture, in front of your house. If, God forbid, you lost your home, put the poster where it was. When allowed, curiosity seekers will be driving through the area and might help; chances are also good that the dog will return to the home it’s known.

The goal of course is to see all these dogs in loving homes, reunited with their owners; if that’s not possible, then let’s get them into safe new homes. The elderly girl above? She was rescued and hopefully is settled in a much more welcoming home than the one she came from.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas seems like a dream

A lazy group--look at the logs in those walls!
Here I am, sitting at my computer in my office at home, and the last five days seem like a delicious dream. I spent them with all fifteen of my family in a log cabin (oxymoron) mansion in a resort on either Lake LBJ or Lake Buchanan or in between the two lakes. No water visible from our cabin except a swimming pool and hot tub. There were five bedrooms, plus a dorm-style room which accommodated all the grandkids. Lots of common space for hanging out, a well-equipped kitchen, and I had my own little desk at a small table adjacent to the kitchen. When someone came to talk, I invited them into my office.

Pair of aces take it
We were blessed with mountains of gifts—enough to make any family blush at our largesse. Books, clothes, books, family pictures, a poker set, you name it and it was in that pile. Some of us did a huge and difficult jigsaw puzzle (and finished it except for one missing piece); others played monopoly; at night they were rowdy poker games.

And we ate—and ate and ate. I was the laziest one there. My meals were served to me, and I wasn’t expected to help with cleanup. We had chili, tacos, a family favorite casserole, the traditional turkey dinner for Christmas with three or four desserts. I discovered Christmas Crack, which is a toffee/chocolate thing easily made with saltines. Can you imagine? So good. Hats off here to my two daughters and two DILs—they labored long and hard in the kitchen, and it was always spotless before they went to bed.
Grandkids at Christmas dinner
I don’t help anymore because they have their act together and I feel like Adam’s off ox. My one duty was to remove the giblets and put butter under the skin of the turkey—Colin did it with Megan’s help. First time she ever touched a raw turkey (and she’s slightly over 40). I enjoy the pampering I get but sometimes—okay, a lot—I want to be part of the action in the kitchen. Next year, when I’m walking better, watch my smoke!

A special moment: my mom had a wonderful roll dough recipe which the children remember to this day. Megan not only made the dough and served rolls for Christmas dinner, she made one of her grandmother’s Christmas tree cakes and the pecan sticky buns Grandmother used to make. A sentimental walk back in time for me.

I had moments with the grandchildren and with my adult children—a couple of evenings around a fire pit on the patio, while the children splashed in the hot tub and dared each other to jump into the cold pool—which most of them did.

What can I say, except that I am blessed with a wonderful family and so grateful? I hope in the midst of it all we didn’t forget the gifts of hope and peace that come with this holiday. I think my grandchildren are young enough still that “What did I get?” overwhelms them, but I hope the rest of us realize the importance of what the celebration stands for. I read a wonderful piece lately by Jewish author Sara Paretsky who said she loves the story of the babe and the hope for peace that the story brings to the world. She ended it with the Jewish prayer that, loosely tanslated says, “May the One who establishes peace in the high places bring peace to us all.” Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A hoverboard Christmas

With Christmas morning and the opening of gifts behind us, six of my seven grandchildren now have hoverboards. For the uninitiated, a hoverboard is like a segue without the top part—simply a connected pair of footpads on wheels, with a battery-powered motor or something that makes it go. Speed and direction are determined by the person on the hoverboard which is a scary thought. I will have nightmares of blue lights coming at me for days. I’m not convinced of the safety of these contraptions but efforts to enforce a helmets-only rule have been pretty much futile. We’ve had some crashes, even some tears—they seem to land on their elbows. But the kids have all mastered the balance and control required, and I am impressed. They do present a traffic hazard, whizzing around the house, and one grandson has a tendency to speed. But they’re delighted with themselves and their new acquisitions (two granddaughters had hoverboards before and most of the kids tried them a few months ago).

For me, it was a peacock Christmas, in tribute to my latest book, Murder at Peacock Mansion. Colin and Lisa, who have fostered my liking for colorful outdoor metal sculpture, brought me a peacock to go outside the cottage door when I get moved in. It stands maybe two feet high—when it was lying down by the stockings in the morning I didn’t recognize it. Besides, next to it, was a wicked-looking piece of metal—three prongs with another sticking straight up in the air. It looked like a weapon—turned out one of my peacock’s feet had come off and needs to be welded.

Jordan found a magnificent pair of peacock pants—black with peacock pattern at the bottom of the wide legs. I will look elegant and now need a special place to wear them.

Christmas isn’t about the gifts—and shouldn’t be—but we had a bountiful supply of gifts under the tree, chosen with special care and thoughtfulness. That too is part of the celebration of the greatest gift of all—the hope that the story of the baby Jesus brings to the world for everyone. I hope you got a gift today that gladdened your heart and that you felt the hope and joy of the day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Signing off

I didn’t sleep well last night—holiday anticipation?—and was awake in the early morning hours with weird thoughts. Woke about 7:30 in a funky mood but resolved to get rid of it and enjoy the day. And it worked remarkably well—the power of positive thinking.

Lovely lunch at Nonna Tata with dear friend Melinda, happy hour with good friends and a cheerful present exchange, followed by dinner at the Grill—our usual Tuesday night. Tonight everyone was in a jolly holiday mood, and it was fun. Plus I got quite a bit done today, including my back stretches, some Christmas emails, and the like. Still trying to get the January Poohbah together.

But tomorrow my family will gather—all sixteen of us—and I’m signing off blogging for the duration. Will be back Sunday or Monday night. Meantime I wish all you of you blessed holidays, no matter how and what you celebrate. I personally feel 2016 will be a good year, but I hope it is also a year in which the world makes some progress toward peace. For those of us who celebrate Christmas, let us remember the message is all about love, not war.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow—your God, my God. It doesn’t matter. Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, a Muslim holy day—we all embrace the same basic beliefs. Let us also embrace each other and live in peace.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The beauty of quiet, nice moments

 A quiet, unremarkable day, but I’m sitting at my desk looking at a sleeping dog curled in her favorite chair, perfectly content, sure that she is safe. Today, when my daughter came in after work, Sophie directed her to my bedroom because I’d been napping. But I’d gotten up and gone to the bathroom. Sophie barked and yipped at Jordan to follow her and went to stand and bark (her view of talking) outside the door, telling Jord that’s where I was. (Usually she just barges through the door, destroying any semblance of privacy.) She was doing her job as keeper of the castle. Now she’s relaxed her duties.

Last might Megan called and asked “Guess what I’m doing?” She was making her grandmother’s roll dough, something I haven’t done in years. She had a false start, called for advice, and started over again. But her dough rose beautifully, as I warned it would, and I suggested she roll it out, bake rolls at home, and freeze instead of trying to do it Christmas day in a rental kitchen. So proud she wants to carry on the tradition.

Jacob to me last night: “I acolyted today, Juju.” Priceless. Jacob and I had a crisis today—he landed here at 1:00 p.m. not having had lunch and asked for waffles (is this a spoiled kid?). I couldn’t find the new syrup I knew I had, so he had the tag end of a bottle which barely moistened his waffles but he ate them all. When his mom came, she found two new bottles plus the jar of honey I couldn’t find (she recently rearranged my cupboard).

Lunch with a good friend—we were serious about some matters (I think she worries about my tremors and uncertain footing and so watches me carefully) but we ended up laughing a lot. I suggested we make a pact to always laugh and not become those old people who always see the downside of things and end up being glum.

Presents are wrapped—when Jordan saw them, she called me Mrs. Claus; grocery lists made, and I’m all ready for Christmas, so the days are made up of these small, precious moments. I’m wishing the same for each of you.








Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Ubiquitous Christmas Card

Have you noticed that you get fewer Christmas cards today than you did twenty or thirty years ago? I have, but I’m not surprised because it’s been several years since I sent out cards.

Years ago, it was my Thanksgiving mission to address some 75-80 cards; often I tucked in the much-criticized Christmas letter. Most years I got cards from friends of my parents or aging relatives, and the year the card didn’t come, I knew they had passed on. My list dwindled, changed. 

I gradually shortened my list, cut out the letter, and finally quit. No more rushing to Hallmark on December 26 to buy next year’s cards at half price. I think there are several reasons—ten years ago I became a blogger, and friends who read my blog keep up with me and my children. My handwriting has gone south as I age, and truthfully Christmas preparations seem to take more and more time. And I don’t even cook Christmas dinner any more—we either do it as a family, when we have Alter Christmas, or I am a guest at a child’s home where I pitch in but am surely not responsible for the entire dinner. I remember the days when we opened presents, cleaned up the mess, and then the kids went to a movie while I cooked dinner.

But I digress. I was talking about Christmas cards. I treasure those I get, especially Christmas letters (I do like to keep up with friends) and those family pictures. I don’t think back in the day we ever considered sending pictures of our family at Christmas. It’s a lovely custom. The dwindling of cards is to me just another beloved tradition that is going away—someday it will be as old a memory as wearing white gloves to church (yes, I’m that old—I remember wearing them).

These days I sometimes respond to special cards with an email message. But if you send me a card and don’t hear from me, please know that I am grateful to have the card, and I send you my best wishes for blessings of the season.






























Friday, December 18, 2015

Listen to the silence

This year, the theme of Advent services at my church is “Be still.” It means we must clear our minds and be fully prepared to accept the meaning of Christmas: hope, joy, peace and love. Somehow today that message, read a few days ago in our church newsletter, spoke to me particularly today.

I am one who loves people around me. Although I value my days at home alone at work, I really long to be in the world. That’s the reason I have lunch and dinner with friends so often. I feed on people. And as you may have gathered, even though I live alone, my house is often like Grand Central Station. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today Jordan was here (Jacob was propped up in my bed with the iPad) and three good friends, people I truly treasure, came for happy hour. One had a special reason to celebrate—a new job—and the other two were working through grief over loss of a family member and frantically (well, she was, not he) trying to catch up with holiday chores and plans. They will all be together Christmas Eve while I am with my family.

But today, as is often the case, they were loud in conversation. I turned my hearing aids down a notch but still didn’t hear all of it—and if I wanted to talk to the girls, the guys were talking over me. Suddenly, they all left for dinner appointments and other plans, and there I still sat in my living room. Savoring the silence. Sophie came to be petted, and we sat together for a long time.

Mindfulness is a catch phrase these days, and yet tonight I realized that staying home alone—as I will much of this weekend—is not enough. It takes mindful stillness to prepare us for the gift of Advent, the gift of God’s love for us. In the next few days I plan to practice mindful stillness, preparing myself, appreciating God’s glory to us.

I pray for each of you to experience moments of silence, stillness that draw you beyond yourself.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A day of sunshine

Actually it was pretty gray and chilly this morning but the day soon brightened and warmed. But for me it was a sunshine day. It began early with an appointment with a neurologist which unnerved me a bit but not too badly. Jordan went with me to hear what he said. The doctor turned out to be a delightfully pleasant person who told stories to illustrate medical points he was making. He diagnosed—and corrected—a couple of alignment problems no one had even mentioned before, and he said my back problems are fixable. I go back in a couple of weeks for a complete neurological examination and discussion of future plans. I am quite confident in him and feel uplifted by his attitude and assessment of me.

Barely got Jordan back to her office and me home in time for a Christmas lunch with two good friends. It’s an annual outing for us, and I was looking forward to it. We had an extravagantly rich lunch at Fixture—beet fries (roasted beet chunks dusted in corn starch and flash fried—delicious) and truffle mac for the table. My companions had shrimp and grits, which I can’t eat—so I had the scallop of the day: one large scallop on pureed sweet potatoes with maple/bourbon sauce and, I think, a bit of bacon for texture. Quite possibly the best scallop I’ve ever eaten.

Home for a long nap. Heard Jordan and a couple of boys come in right after school, but they were on their way to a b’day party and they left me alone. I had spent the early afternoon cleaning up details on my desk, so when I woke from my long winter’s nap, it was time to dress for supper with another friend. We went to Piola and I ordered lasagna but could barely eat half of it. Still had a good visit with a friend I don’t see often enough.

While I was out to dinner, Amy, my friend/companion/caretaker, came by to drop something off and was worried—lights on, TV in office going, dog barking but no me. She was at a party with a good friend, asked her to call; she left a message and I called as soon as I got home. So nice to know that neighbors are watching out for me.

Home now, wrapping up the day. But it was the kind of day that makes me think how blessed I am. Full of holiday spirit—and feeling like I ate too much!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Baby Steps Toward a New Way of Life

We got the architect’s sketch of a layout for the garage apartment yesterday, and it made me excited about the prospect of my new life. I’ll  have a sitting/office area, redone bathroom (with lots of grab bars), bedroom and small “kitchenette” area with the things that are out there now—fridge, hot plate, microwave, etc. Any cooking I do will be done in the main house.

Several people have had suggestions—pocket or barn doors to conserve space (contractor say hardware for those is expensive and not good quality), skylights (they might leak), counter space in kitchen and bathroom, and a long list.

The drawings raise as many questions as they answer: where is the secure walkway for me to get from cottage—the official name we’re giving it—to main house? Parking three cars? (Jordan was nicely philosophical about that). We’ll need a new roof and perhaps new siding. Do I carpet in the bedroom? Then I’d have to vacuum.

I foresee a long process ahead—much more work on the plans, then shepherding them through the permit process. We’re still a long way from beginning construction, but it’s a start.

After the holidays we’ll get serious about downsizing my belongings. A good friend who is an archivist will help me cull out my books; Jordan will continue to help with closets and drawers—I have more T-shirts than any ten women need, and I have a habit of wearing the same ones over and over because they’re clean and on the top of the crowded drawer. Lots of knickknacks and dishes I really can let go of—but also too many with sentimental value. It will be a long process. I look at a piece of furniture and think, yes! I want that in the cottage. But not all my family pieces will fit out there, and want it to feel open, not crowded. I will have to be realistic.

Some may remember that this year, beginning with my July birthday, I decided to keep a Word document file of each blog post, with an eye toward compiling a book. It may turn out to be more interesting than I thought as it will chronicle this business of merging households as well as my struggles with balance and hip and leg pain.

My brother asked me tonight what I attributed my improved walking and optimism to and I answered without hesitation: physical therapy. My Canadian daughter (I’m her Fort Worth mom since her real mom is in Ontario) was here tonight and said I was back to being myself. High praise. For a while there, I was quite depressed and afraid the blog book would chronicle the year I grew old. Don’t feel that way anymore.

So, yes, 2016 will be interesting.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Floor plans, giggling boys, and meat loaf

Can you believe? Ten days until Christmas? Today it was a non-Christmas temperature n the high sixties and I had four boys playing football in the backyard—predictably one (that would be my grandson) stepped in dog poop. Fortunately, his mother was here and dealt with the crisis.

Tonight I took two boys and Phil, my sight-impaired friend with a seeing-eye dog, to the Grill for dinner. Phil and I had a nice visit, but the boys ate fries with ketchup, soft drinks, one had carrot cake and the other blackberry cobbler—which got all over his shirt. I told his mother the trick I’d learned from my mom—for fruit stains, pour boiling water through them until they disappear. Believe me, for that shirt, it would take a lot of hot water. I got them home, tried to give them a spelling test, and they were both out of control with the giggles. All that sugar. I had meatloaf, brought half of it home (great restraint on my part because I could have eaten it but kept thinking about a meatloaf sandwich for lunch tomorrow).

Now Jacob is in the shower, where he’ll stay all night if I don’t roust him out, and Hayes and his stained shirt have gone home.

Highlight of the day is that we got two versions of the architect’s drawings for the remodel of the garage apartment. I like features of each and think we can combine them. Lewis, the contractor, will come in the morning, and we can talk about them. I am alternately excited about the plans and appalled at all the work involved in downsizing. We are doing it in stages. I have a good friend who just did it in one fell swoop--not sure which is easier.

But I do know that 2016 will bring a lot of changes to my life. I also feel it will be a much better year than 2015. The past year has been marred by my mobility problems, leg and hip pain, and such. I’m pleased to say after two weeks in physical therapy I am remarkably better and more self-confident about my walking. Watch out, world! Here I come!


Monday, December 14, 2015

The media is electing our next president

 I saw on Facebook that Bernie Sanders said in a speech that ISIS is a serious threat but it’s not the only problem the U.S. faces and, in effect, it’s getting too much media attention. What’s significant to me is that I saw nothing about that speech on national TV or print media. It seems that the major networks have declined to cover Sanders’ campaign—as my son-in-law asked, isn’t that illegal? Aren’t they required to give equal time? But have you seen Sanders on Meet the Press? Face the Nation? Even the PBS News Hour—I admit I don’t watch that all the time so I may have missed it, but his face, his speeches, and his following have been noticeably absent from the public eye. Even Hillary Clinton is much less in the news lately, though perhaps she’s waiting for Trump and Cruz to deflate each other.

Meanwhile there isn’t a news show that goes by without mention of Donald Trump and his obsession with keeping Muslims out of the country. Trump’s distorted, angry face makes great news; Sanders, not a striking figure, doesn’t. This morning the news is all about Trump cancelling his truce with Ted Cruz. Now that’s an interesting case—my understanding is that the president must have been born on U.S. soil. Look at all the fuss birthers raised, claiming Obama was born in Kenya when, in fact, he was born in Hawaii, then a territory, now a state. Cruz on the other hand, if I have the facts straight, was born in Canada, and though he may claim dual citizenship now, the fact remains that he was not born I this country. Yet the media also considers Cruz good copy—whereas most Republicans and others who know him declare him a conniving sleaze ball. But if he’s Canadian, why are we even worrying about him?

Tom Brokaw is that last journalist I can think of that I counted on for honest, fair coverage of the news, including the political scene. Since them journalism has gone downhill. In featuring Trump and Cruz (who apparently has appallingly inhumane plans for ISIS), the news feeds the fears of some Americans and plays into the hands of ISIS. Did anybody hear President Obama this morning outlining the gains that have been made against ISIS. Does anyone recognize—or see on the news—that most mass shootings in this country have been carried out by mentally ill U.S. citizens who are not Muslim?

Listen to Bernie Sanders, folks. He may not be the next president or even the best candidate, but a whole lot of what he says makes sense—if we can afford to send men and women to war, we can afford to take care of them when they come home; the minimum wage is years outdated and expecting people to buck up and live on that meagre amount is ridiculous. And so on. Or listen to Hillary for the continuing need to work on women’s rights in this country, let alone abroad (yeah, Saudi Arabia for electing women!). On the Republican side, listen to Kasich, who has an unfortunately low profile but a strong background in government and, apparently, a good head on his shoulders (quick! Kick him off the clown car!).

I am seriously concerned that the media-fueled campaigns of Trump and Cruz are leading too many citizens astray. I can’t understand why the comparisons of Trump and Hitler don’t strike terror into every heart. But I read of a teacher who decided to show his class how easy it was for Hitler to brainwash Germans—using similar techniques, he turned the class into a group of followers with a few leaders. And then told them at the end what he’d done. It could happen here.

Remember Nazism, or Jim Jones and the Kool-Aid, or Mussolini or many other examples from history. Watch the news with a large grain of salt and seek out reliable news sources. I wish I knew what to recommend.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas Potluck

The Burtons and I co-hosted a small potluck Christmas supper tonight foe neighbors—that means Jordan did most of the work. The house looked festive and pretty, and she arranged a lovely antipasto tray with slider buns, cold cuts, cheese, pickles, olives and all that. Somebody brought a big tossed salad and someone else, a blood orange and red onion platter. Another friend had found a sweet potato recipe in the NYT she wanted to try—spiced with a bit of chile. My contribution was a vegetable ring made with Crescent Rolls and stuffed with broccoli, mushrooms, cream cheese, and cheese (okay I forgot the cherry tomatoes but it was too much filling anyway). It didn’t look as pretty as the recipe picture, but I had a fight with one tube of rolls. Could not get the blasted thing to open and in getting desperate, I messed up some of the rectangles. Still everyone ate almost all of it, so I judged it a success and will keep the recipe—with less broccoli and more tomatoes. We were a small group—still noisy, but I could hear and participate more in the conversation than I sometimes can. Sophie considers all these people her best friends and went from one to the other for tummy rubs and love. A thoroughly pleasant evening.

After everyone left, we cleaned up but I’m not very efficient at it. I can carry an item in one hand with my cane in the other, and after a while my back begins to hurt, so I have to sit down. I did sit in the dining room and remember that it hasn’t been too long since I would shoo everyone out and have the kitchen cleaned in fifteen minutes. My goal is to get back to that. Good as she is, Jordan shouldn’t have to do it all.

It’s amazing what a small comment can do for your attitude. Greg, the neighbor who does my lawn and thus visits with me almost every week, said, “You’re feeling better, aren’t you? You look like it.” My spirits were lifted, because in truth I woke from my nap today feeling better and more optimistic than I have in some time. And Sophie chose that time to jump up on the bed and cuddle next to me—and she’s not really a cuddly kind of dog. We lay there happily for twenty minutes or so.

Strange night-time prayer but I’m praying the electricity doesn’t go out tonight. It went out twice yesterday, and then last night was out from 1:30, when the clock stopped, until five or so in the morning. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s strange to wake in the night to total silence and blackness, and when I do wake I Iike to roll over and see what time it is, mostly so I know how much longer I can stay in bed. And it’s a nuisance to keep re-setting clocks and TVs.

You know how you get emails that say “sent from my iPad” or “sent from my phone”? This morning I found one asking about the power outage that said, “sent from my bathroom.” Gave me a good chuckle.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Eating my own words

Had to eat my own words today. Last night I posted about not getting in a flurry about the holidays—sit back, relax, and let the holidays happen. Today I had a whole long day ahead of me—planned to cook a little, wrap some presents, and proofread. And then, about ten or so, the power went off—suddenly, totally, completely. You know of course how helpless that makes you feel. Oncor said it would be restored at noon. Every once in a while it would bleep on momentarily and then go off. Sophie was terrified.

So I set about doing what I could—but even your iPad is out of commission if you don’t have an internet connection. Couldn’t cook because I’d been about to use my hand mixer. Did my physical therapy exercises but couldn’t, obviously, lie on the hot pad—part of my routine. Wrapped a few presents but felt generally trapped.

Jordan arrived, power came back on, and medical alert company called to see if I needed help. Jordan explained about the power which must have triggered the alert when it came on. We started to fix lunch…and the power went out again, but only briefly this time.

Tonight I couldn’t figure out why my Christmas tree and other lights on timers didn’t come on—duh. The timers were behind in time for the intervals without power. All is well now, though Jordan has cautioned me that we expect severe storms tonight and I should sleep with my cell phone next to my bed, along with the flashlight I always keep there. Right now, it’s unseasonably warm and oppressively humid.

Friend and I had dinner at The Tavern tonight, and had a nice visit with the parents of a good friend of Jordan’s—her first boyfriend who is like another son to me. And they, parents of two boys, claim Jordan as a daughter. Those kids are all out tonight celebrating their son’s birthday. Old ties go way back, and that’s nice.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tis the season when things slow down

I know, I know—everyone thinks things get more hectic as the holidays approach, but for me it’s a season when I turn off other concerns and focus on the holiday. I belong to a small writers’ list online where we report every Friday on our writing brags. Today, I didn’t really have any. I’ve spent my week going to physical therapy and wrapping presents—the latter looms as a great project in my mind, but I guess it’s because there are 15 members of my immediate family.

But to me this is the time of year when the rest of life goes on the back burner, and I enjoy the holidays. My house is decorated—thanks to Jordan—and my gifts are almost all purchased, many wrapped. I’m anticipating a Christmas with all the Alters, all sixteen of us including me. I try hard not to forget the Christ in Christmas and to remember he’s the reason for the season. But I think the Lord is happy to see us celebrate with family and friends the new life he brings us each year.

So, friends, slow down, enjoy the season, remember that whatever doesn’t get done is not the end of the world. And 2016 offers us a whole new adventure. My prayer for the new year is that I can learn to move more slowly. After all, my physical therapist points out you have better control if you walk slowly.

And maybe in that advice is go to bed early. G’night. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Calm and peaceful

Amidst the storm of Donald Trump’s outrageous rhetoric and the political speculations that followed, it’s nice to find a bit of calm. I’m watching a Celtic music program on PBS—I don’t care what anyone says, the bagpipes send a thrill through me. And those sweet female Celtic voices, some accompanied by a dancing violinist, mesmerize me. I tried violin as a small child—didn’t have the ear for it. But I can’t imagine dancing across a stage while playing a violin. It’s the proverbial question about rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time—I’m sure I can’t do it. So dancing and playing leaves me spellbound.

I don’t enter drawings on Facebook much, but tonight I entered my name in a drawing for a week for two in Scotland, with three nights on the luxury Royal Scot train. I know which child would go with me.

Physical therapy did a number on me yesterday—sore in the afternoon, uncomfortable in the night. But today I took a deep nap and woke up feeling more pain-free than in a while and also more optimistic. Tonight I did the prescribed exercises, including a still 15 minutes with the hot-pad on my low back. Almost lulled me into sleep right then.

Otherwise, it’s been a day of doing “stuff”—grocery, one Christmas gift bought, some presents wrapped. Yipped at Jacob this morning when I finally got him out of bed and he went right to his iPad instead of getting dressed. Laid down the law: from now on, no iPad until he’s dressed, fed, teeth brushed, backpack all ready to go. Of course then I had a red face—told him there were no waffles (though I sure I had some)—Jordan put them in the freezer door, where I never thought to look.

All in all, the kind of day each of us needs probably more than once in a while. I just let it happen—no “have to get this done,” no pressure, no deadlines. Busy days ahead, so this was a good day. It’s got me thinking about an early bedtime, though I have proofing to do. It will probably wait until tomorrow—or January. I may finally be learning how to retire.


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Thoughts of a worried Christian

We have to work harder this year to keep Christmas in our hearts and spirits, with all the hate surrounding us, here at home and abroad. I am appalled at news clips and photos of a mob protesting in front of a mosque, a pig’s head thrown at a mosque, a Muslim shopkeeper beaten for his religion.

The love, care and concern being expressed apparently aren’t as good news copy—you don’t see much about the $100,000 raised by American Muslims for the San Bernadino victims and their families. Nor do you see the outreach to the Muslim community by most of the diverse groups that make up America—the Jewish community, Hispanic organizations, and some Christian groups. To our shame, many of those angrily protesting at the mosque probably call themselves Christian.

I have always been frightened by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but now I am truly terrified—how can so many Americans support Trump’s blatant racism, his echoes of Hitler, Senator Joe McCarthy, and George Wallace. And why does he himself not realize he’s playing into the hands of ISIS, creating the division by which they will conquer? Ted Cruz is not far behind him (except in the polls) with his calls for carpet bombing. Yes, let’s kill thousands more innocent people to wipe out the small number of radicals.

Really, which is more frightening—a radicalized Muslim or a radicalized Christian?

A friend wrote in a post today that he feels that our country is so fraught with tension that it’s about to explode—and he obliquely predicted that explosion would come as civil war. It seems a possibility to me, and I think we cannot set back and let things unfold. We have to be proactive.

Meantime, we wrap gifts (I made good progress today), plan for holiday parties, and go about our lives as if the world was as peaceful as it was during Jimmy Carter’s administration—the only president who has not presided over a war.

I think we have to do more. I read a post with the headline, “What to do if a Muslim moves into your neighborhood.” The advice? Take them food, clothes, personal items, blankets—all the things they will need. Reach out and welcome them into the community. Sure, we all have to be watchful for suspicious behavior and not just from brown-skinned people who dress differently from us but everyone. But if we let suspicion and fear replace love and joy, we have lost the battle. We have to keep Christmas in our hearts.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Elves and the Day of Infamy

Jacob has Elf on the Shelf at home, but at my house he has Dinglebell, a deviant elf who was bequeathed to him by the friend who lived in the guest house a couple of years ago. Lately, Dinglebell has been back in the cottage with Chandry, but Chandry has moved to her new house, and Dinglebell flew himself back into the main house. Last night he got himself into a real predicament—flew into Sophie’s crate and locked it. Jacob found him this morning and was afraid Sophie would hurt him, but she had no interest.

I finally got started on wrapping presents today and did nine—which leaves a lot to go. Meant to do more tonight, but I am too tired. Did other household chores and found the more I am moving about the better my hip feels—but then when I’m on my feet much, my low back hurts. Went back to wearing the brace and am proud of what I accomplished today.

It strikes me as sad that on this day of infamy which FDR predicted would live in history we have heard little about Pearl Harbor and the valor of our soldiers in the Pacific during WWII. Instead we’ve heard a lot about Donald Trump and his idea of banning all Muslims from entering the country and Ted Cruz whose ideas are so crazy I can’t call one to mind. I guess my mind just cancelled them out. And I saw what’s-his-name LaPierre repeating his mantra is that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to give a good guy a gun.  It doesn’t seem to occur to him that the good guy might not win, and a bloodbath would probably occur.

How has our country gotten to this point? We seem to have lost all the values of our heritage, the courage of the armed forces of WWI and WWII. Instead of people who are willing to lay down their lives for their country, we have people who mock and bash our president. When we need to pull together as a country, which we do now in the face of terrorism abroad and at home (including mass shootings by apparently unstable Americans), we have people who stoke the fires of hatred and animosity. Congress is surely no help in unifying the country, but instead working hard to separate us into classes.

Congress voted to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood ostensibly because of their opposition to abortion. Don’t they even know their own laws? PP has not been allowed to use Federal funds for abortions for years—what Congress cut off funds for were vital programs such as cancer screening and contraceptive counseling.

Or then there’s Justice Scalia who dismissed the line in the Second Amendment about a well-regulated militia, calling it just a prologue. Justice Warren Burger, perhaps our greatest chief justice, wrote years ago that the gun lobby’s distortion of the Second Amendment was the worst piece of fraud perpetrated on the American people that he’d seen in his lifetime.

There, I did it—got on a rant again. But I am so concerned, so afraid for future generations, so heartbroken, that I weep for our country. And I understand the cartoons of a weeping Statue of Liberty.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

A cowgirl in a Christmas tree

Can you spot the cowgirl? Over the years, friends have given me ornaments
reflecting my interest in the West. There's also a buffalo on there.
And the pink VW? Too good not to use
I had just settled down for a long winter’s nap—well, not really but a late afternoon nap after a day at my desk—when Jordan stalked in and announced they were here to decorate. They had earlier gotten some of my decorations out of the attic, but the lights were out up there and Christian missed some. I haven’t had a tree in years so we never got down my large collection of ornaments. This year, with the upcoming merger of households, we got them all day and went through the collection ruthlessly. Christian found a small tree and was triumphant that he got the lights to work—I don’t think I even knew I had it. Then he and Jordan had fun decorating while I watched and Jacob ignored them except when asked to do some onerous chore like take the garbage out.

I had planned to make myself the fancy tuna sandwich I didn’t fix for my no-show company last night, but they stayed until nearly 7:30 and I threw together a half a roast beef sandwich. It had been a weird day. We were to have Jacob at church at 8:45 to “acolyte” (I told him I never heard the word as a verb) but he woke up sick. He and his mom both went back to bed and slept till ten. There I was at 7:30 in the morning, hair washed, makeup on, and no place to go. Seemed to be the pattern of my weekend. So I spent the day mostly at my desk, reading a book for a competition.

Did fix Jordan a breakfast she had grave doubts about: put a Tblsp. soft butter in an individual soufflĂ© dish, sprinkle with chives, oregano, parsley; top that with four pieces of artichoke hearts, and then break an egg into each dish (don’t break the yolk). Cover with Parmesan and bake at 400 for ten minutes—fortunately for both of us, her egg was more well done than mine. Good but not outstanding—not sure if I’ll fix it again or maybe adjust seasonings—she suggested green chillies.

So here I am, about to go back to that book. Hoped to finish it tonight, but chances look slim right now.

Hope everyone has a good week.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Things that never happened—and one wonderful one that did

Today I got dressed twice in “go out into the world” clothes only to pull them off and get back into my T-shirt and flannel pants. My oldest daughter, Megan, and her family were here and made a point of wanting lunch at the deli. But by the time they had picked up her new car (the reason they came to Fort Worth) and picked up the son who had gone home with Jacob, they were running out of time and had to cancel lunch. Megan was as apologetic as she could be, and I wasn’t heartbroken. I just put that T-shirt back on and fixed the sauce for tonight’s dinner sandwiches.

I was making Italian tuna sandwiches on ciabatta rolls with a sauce of parsley, olive oil, capers, anchovy, and garlic. The sandwiches would have that wonderful Totino’s tuna in olive oil with hard-boiled eggs and watercress. So I got it all ready, put on my company clothes—and my guest never showed up. I had a half a tuna sandwich, store-bought, with cherry tomatoes and hearts of palm. I may see if Jordan will eat the sandwiches tomorrow. I had planned to make her baked eggs on a bed of artichoke hearts and topped with Parmesan, but she is leery of anything but scrambled or hard-boiled eggs. We’re to have brunch after early church when Jacob is an acolyte. I fear she won’t like either of my offerings.

Other than that, it’s been a wonderful twenty-four hours. Megan and her husband, Brandon, came in last night with their two boys, Sawyer and Ford. Ford and Jacob are best buddies and were ecstatic to be together. We went downtown to Del Frisco’s Grille on Sundance Square for dinner. I don’t go downtown often, so I had forgotten how magical and electric with energy it is, especially at Christmas time. I felt more alive and optimistic than I have in months. Just thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the company, the restaurant, everything. Probably had an extra glass of wine. We were all so tired we went to bed shortly after we got home.

So now, I’m home, reading a book for a competition I’ve agreed to be part of, and perfectly content. But I may want to go downtown again sometime soon. Fort Worth is a wonderful place to live. Much as I love Texas and its history, I just sometimes wish we weren’t in the most conservative, redneck state in the Uniion.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Where is America going?

Today a local high school was on lockdown because a student fired a gun at a fight at an adjacent McDonald’s—apparently he fired in the air and no one was hurt. But two high school students are jailed tonight—the second for bringing an air gun on campus. This is the school my niece and nephew attended, across the street from Central Market, a store I frequent. And today in a blog a former minister of my church recalled the night we were all at a board meeting and heard continuing sirens—someone had killed several people at a local church. It doesn’t just happen in San Bernadino folks, it happens all around us.

I have thought from time to time that America is ripe for revolution. I don’t know what form it would take, and I didn’t want to dwell on it but I guess I always thought it would be the poor rising against the terribly unequal distribution of wealth in this country, probably with racial overtones since the poor tend to be minorities—or what is rapidly becoming the majority. Rich old white men are going to lose their grasp.
But now I think revolution is upon us. It doesn’t just come from Muslims—I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether the San Bernadino shooter was American-born or here on a visa. But it comes from our neighbors, from the angry high school student, from the alienated man who shot up a church in Fort Worth, from the disturbed (putting it mildly) young man who shot all those children at Sandy Hook. Violence is all around us, and I wonder how as a society we got to this point.

I think I go back to the inequity of life in this country. Yes, we alienated a lot of Middle Easterners with our senseless invasion of Iraq (I hope you all saw that Dick Cheney was honored today with a statue commemorating his bring an end to terrorism—irony reigns supreme!). And yes, we had no after-conquest plan for helping the people of Iraq, which allowed ISIS to flourish. But the shooters in this country are mostly native-born and Anglo. We can’t keep on blaming Muslims.

We can blame Congress for blocking the President’s efforts at gun control. And we can blame the NRA for the senseless argument that we’d be safer if more people had guns. Tell me, truly, if you had been in that center in California with a gun, how successful would you have been against two crazed people with automatic assault guns? In Texas, we can blame a legislature that approved open-carry, even on campuses. If high school students bring out guns for an off-grounds fight, what do you think will happen at a drunken college frat party? We have let guns become way too much a part of our culture.

So, really, those are my two thoughts—we have disenfranchised so many citizens, and we have let guns become commonplace. Don’t talk to me about the Second Amendment—it was written in far different times and calls for a well-regulated militia.

Yes, I’m afraid. Afraid for my children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors. I see my local grandson off to school every morning with a catch in my throat. And yes, I’m angry. In this season where peace and love should prevail, I fear they are not enough. What can we as a society do about it? I don’t know, but I haven’t heard much come out of Washington that makes sense. Paul Ryan says we can’t stop people on the no-fly list from owning guns because it would violate their civil rights. President Obama, in the face of his many off-the-wall critics, makes the most sense but he’s fighting a corrupt legislature.

God help us all!