Saturday, December 31, 2016

And another year begins .

            As I wrote those words, I wondered how the world will reflect on them in 2037. There’s been much moaning and groaning about what a bad year 2016 has been—for celebrities, for our country with the bitter divisiveness and what I at least see as an unsatisfactory and scary outcome, and for me personal—one shattered and one broken hip, lactose intolerance, etc. Briefly putting aside the good things that happened (moving into my cottage, a Chicago visit with my kids, etc.) I admit 2016 didn’t seem to lay the groundwork for a bountiful and joyous 2017. Most predictions are that it’s going to be worse, a year that requires all our strength and courage and faith, and I admit it may well be. But despite some naysayers, I don’t think the world will fall apart nor will our country. There will be bright moments and happy spots, and circumstances may conspire in ways we’ve not even imagined to make it a happy new year.

It’s been years since I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve at a fancy restaurant or huge, noisy party, and I never had the slightest urge to spend it in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop. But I do believe the fantasy that how you spend the evening of December 31 sets the tone for the coming year. With that in mind I invited a few close friends—six couples to be exact—to come by on their way wherever they are going and help me welcome 2017 to the cottage (all but one couple came—and they were out of town). Most were spending a quiet evening at home and liked the social break.

I intended to serve drinks and no more, but Jordan got hold of it and suddenly my “party” was the focus of her Saturday planning. She served meatballs, hummus, and the artichoke/spinach dip I asked Christian to get at Costco.

At six tonight, the cottage was filled with laughter and loud voices, and I said to one guest that was exactly what I wanted-it will be a happy, joy-filled year. Oh I’m not guaranteeing it, nor am I saying that hard times won’t come. I think I’m hedging my bets and trying to ensure that there will be good times if we all stick together.

Another neat note for New Year’s Eve—at the invitation of my good friends Betty and Don Boles, Jordan and Christian took Jacob and his pal Collin to the Stockyards to watch the herd today and then have lunch at the Star. Jacob loves to go to their restaurant, the Star, and reports they had a really good time. And a good grilled cheese.

Now the Burtons have gone to a local party, and I am at my desk. But that’s how I want my new year too—early fun and a quiet period before bed. I’m off to put the finishing touch on my evening—read a good book.

May your new year be filled with the blessings you wish for, with love and friends and fellowship. And may our country prosper and recover its moral ground and strength.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Home again!

An exhausted Grace

Home again, after a week. Jordan and I left a trail of sleeping kids and dogs behind us. I waken frequently during the night, and Colin got up with me but last night I was sound asleep—his chance to get a good rest—and everyone else in the household woke up. Some puffy eyes and tired faces over donuts this morning. I’m sure everyone was a bit disgusted that I felt chipper and fine.
Jacob and Sophie in a sleep tangle
in the car
Kegan and Morgan

We left Tomball about 10:15 and by 11:30 were pulling into Gayla’s driveway in College Station. The original plan was for a quick hug, quicker use if the facilities, and back on the road. She greeted us in the driveway with Sir Uno, a 75-lb. Alaskan husky and a really sweet dog—but energetic. Jordan got out of the car and Uno greeted her with friendly paws on her chest. It’s somewhat of a procedure to get me in and out of the car and going through that to be welcomed by an energetic, enthusiastic dog didn’t appeal. I elected to stay in the car for a driveway visit and hug. And of course we visited longer than we intended as one topic led to another. Sophie, meanwhile, was having fits in the back seat—she wanted to get out and play with that dog.

Uno is the second dog I have found for Gayla. Over ten years ago, when she decided she wanted a dog (collie preferred) I told her about one in Fort Worth that needed a home. She asked me to “interview” the dog. I’m a dog lover, as you know, but how do you interview? I took a friend and we muddled through. The dog had been shaved for summer (never do that to the long-haired breeds) but later turned out to be a mahogany tri-color with a magnificent, luxurious coat. Gayla called her Eppy, after her own maiden name of Epperson. Eppy died a few years ago, but by then Gayla had Jake, a mix who looked like he had a lot of collie, even if he didn’t. When he too died, Gayla challenged me to find her another dog. I came up with Uno, who lived only blocks from me. His family had an infant who was just beginning to crawl and wore one of those protective white skull-caps or whatever. Uno growled—I still think the strange creature crawling toward the dog scared him, but the growl got him whisked out of that house. Gayla came to get him and take him home to her acreage. Uno has been living the good life ever since. Now Gayla says Uno desperately needs a pal . . . . I assured her I’ll be on the lookout.

Gayla sent us on our way with a container of delicious, homemade vegetable soup, and we were home by 2:30. Good time, Jordan!

No matter how long or short the trip, I come home to a strong urge to organize. I kept up with email while away (worked at my temporary desk every day), but when I got home I was convinced I needed to dig right into the accumulated mail, and I found some treasures—a newsy letter from an old boss, a certification of insurance from a company I never heard of (is that some new kind of a scan?), and a personal Christmas card from the Ted Cruz family. I know, you think it was a political ploy of some kind. But it opened with, “We are big fans. We love Judy’s Stew.” I showed Jordan the card and asked if she knew who they are. “Do they go to our church?” she asked.

Mr. Cruz thanked me for my continuing support. I deny ever having supported him but he doesn’t look nearly as bad to me now as he did a year ago. And if he has such good taste in blogs . ….
My Tomball coffee cup
Lisa fixed my tea in this each morning
I am plotting revenge

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The magic of a sunset

Far too early in the afternoon, the shadows begin to fall long across the lake at Camp Tomball, and the light takes on a rosy glow. The house directly across the lake, a modest structure that could probably use some siffing up and one of only four houses, takes on a romantic rosy glow. We are reminded that sunset is early; it’s winter, and we aren’t in for a long summer evening, making s’mores over a fire pit until midnight. Tonight the air will turn a bit chilly, and I bet we’re all tucked in not too long after ten.

The three kids have done country kids things today. This morning they disappeared, but sent back an occasional runner. Once was probably to ask for breakfast, because pretty soon Lisa put a huge platter of waffles out with a bowl of strawberries and some syrup. I quietly drank my protein drink.

The next runner who came back announced Jacob had a splinter in his foot. Why was he barefoot in December where he could get a splinter? Don’t ask. Lisa set off with oil, a needle and a Band-Aid and soon was back, reporting success. They all went bowling about three this afternoon.

Just while I sat here, the sky turned more blue, with one great white cloud and soft fluffy light pink clouds at the skyline. Sunsets are fascinating—different every night.

When I was a kid, we had a cabin at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Our cabin was at the top of a huge Dune (I always thought of it as the third floor, maybe because we reached it by two long flights of stairs from the beach), The sun set to the northwest of us, across the water of Lake Michigan, to end many nights as a huge flaming ball outlining what appeared to be the miniscule skyscrapers of Chicago. My dad would go to his favorite spot on the “second floor landing” and take pictures of the sunset. Our dog, a wonderful female collie mix named Timmy, followed him and so sometimes did I.

When Daddy died he had literally thousands of slides (this was the ‘50s) of sunsets. I cried as I threw them away, but I’ve never forgotten those dramatic sunsets. and I can see Dad with his camera, calling out, “Look at this, look at this!”

Shiver me timbers, bite my tongue, and whatever. The outside temperature is 52, and everyone is by the fire pit making s'mores. We ended the day with a post-sunset mishap--Colin was outside for something and found Morgan on the ground, whimpering. She'd fallen off the trampoline, and the boys, not realizing she was hurt, had gone off and left her. Damage amounts to a few bumps and bruises and a bad scrape on one leg. She'll soon recover, and we would have quickly missed her if Colin hadn't found her. It could have been a lot worse.Hazards of being a country child.
It dawns on me I refer to these kids as country cousins, yet they live  in a small city and probably feel as much urban dwellers as they were in Kingwood or Sugar Land. But here the house is on acreage,, with the lake, swimming pool, barn and arena. Sure feels like country to this city kid.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A typical day at Camp Tomball

Seventy, sunny by mid-day, a perfect December day in Texas.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My own personal anti-Donald note  

A friend posted on Facebook today 2016 seems determined to crush him under its heel. He’s sick, and the news about Carrie Fisher’s death was the final straw. In response someone suggested that he should be first and consider it a challenge—then he should crush 2017 under his heel. It seemed to me a clear expression of Trump-authorized hate and confrontation. Why must the first thought be one of violence and retribution?

I wrote suggesting instead that he make 2017 his best year yet and work hard to make it a best year for those around him. It seemed a good opportunity to counter Trump’s world of hate. It is always suggested that we counter hate with individual acts of kindness and love, and I worry about how we’ll get around enough to counter all that hate. This was one small step.

There were incidents, ranging from melees to lockdowns, at malls in Fort Worth and Denver last night, and a Denver-area friend worries that “the Troubles” are just beginning. I worry a lot about that too but I have a hard time believing we’ll sink so low after being the greatest nation on earth,

I’ll take almost any chance I get these days to preach the importance of love, of acts of kindness. I will quote clergy, Bible, hymns, because the supremacy of love is that important to me. Look ar=around you-who are the happiest people you know?

Have you had a chance for an anti-hate moment lately?

Sunday, December 25, 2016


It’s over. That fast. The gifts are neatly stacked in a corner, waiting for various recipients to take theirs. The living room is swept and vacuumed, and all the trash picked up. Dinner is done, dishes washed and put up—oops, it didn’t quite go that way around here. Years from now we may refer to it as the “Wipes Christmas” but the joke is still too raw, not funny.

The sewer is still backed up, or there’s a problem with the septic system. We used disposable bakeware as serving dishes and ate off paper plates Still delicious. And the grace was the same (thanks to TCU Pre-School some 45 years ago). And even though we didn’t have turkey, lethargy settled in. Lisa’s parents left to go home, and the rest of the family began to work on gingerbread houses which they are submitting to some contest.  I somehow got side-tracked worrying about taxes and began some explorations I should have begun a month ago. And made lists of things Colin and I should discuss tomorrow.

It had been a warm, sunny day so Colin took a break from sewer troubles to take the first dip in the pool—Morgan and Kegan followed but all three retreated to the hot tub pretty quickly.
Colin wanted to show me I’m all ready for a dip once my hip is fixed so he got out my bathing suit. I refused to model it, however.

I am actually making progress on the giant project I’m reading for aa university press—but no closer to a conclusion. And tonight I’m too sleepy. I’ve often felt that Christmas night households are full of people letting a giant “Whoosh” as all the piss and vinegar rushes out of them. And they go to sleep, as I’m going to do.

Which one would you vote for? A, B, C, or D?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas View from the Cottage

Christmas Eve—for many Christians, it’s the most significant day of the year. If you “do” Christmas for gifts and the joy of celebrating, this may be your night. My family has always opened gifts on Christmas morning, but one son-in-law is used to Christmas Eve, and he moans and schemes and complains every year. If you “do” Christmas out of deep faith, this is the night of watchful waiting for God’s announcement of the gift of Love to mankind. No matter their motive, Christians can’t escape the looming significance of this holiest of nights.

I read something this morning that struck me powerfully though I will never state it as eloquently. Each of us wakes to a different world on Christmas Day-inevitably a part of us goes back to our childhood view, no matter where we are now and where we were then.

So the view from my cottage this morning sweeps down a staircase—so steep! –to a narrow living room wherer a tree is piled high with gifts, some overflowing on the couch next to the tree. My father sits in his chair, my mother in hers, and my older brother on a second couch across the tiny room from the tree. The gifts are for all of us but even I know they are mostly mine. I am the spoiled daughter my father thought he’d never have, My brother’s biological father died several years before I was born, but gifts have come from his family, my father’s family in Canada, and my mother’s family. I am allowed to look at the “out’ gifts—stocking and anything large or spectacular enough to be left just where Santa Claus put it. Then we eat a formal breakfast before tackling the gifts.

And then a few years forward—another tree, more gifts, this time in a larger, grander house with four children—two fair and blonde like me, two dark-headed like their Jewish father though they are mixed race—one Eurasian, one Hispanic. But the ritual is the same—“out” gifts  and stockings, then breakfast, and then gifts.

And one more scene—this is a spacious, rustic lodge in the Texas Hill Country. There are seven  children and five adults, and the gifts have grown exponentially in number, But the warmth and love and friendship are the same that I’ve known through the years. The story of my life, caught in Christmases.

The mundane always intrudes. The sewer backed up at Colin’s house this morning. I have offered to loan my potty chair but gotten no takers. Between that and being my caretaker, you can tell how Colin has spent Christmas Eve. Tonight he’ll be solaced with Norwegian hamburgers, and we’ll be into another Christmas. Different house, different people, different traditions—but always the same reverence, love, and joy.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Scrambled thoughts at Christmas

December 23,2016

My intentions have been good each night. This time of year there’s so much to blog about—caretakers and visiting family, children rejoicing at the end of school and friends come to make Christmas visits, meals at once sparse and plentiful. And each night before I can unscramble my thoughts, it’s bedtime and I’m fading.

Today was a long day. Colin came to get me yesterday, and we planned to leave early today after delivery of my new mattress. The mattress was in plsce by ten; we left at two. Tells you something about my days.

After promising to pack for three or four nights, Jordan packed my clothes, cosmetics, medical supplies (for a while it takes a truckload), Sophie’s paraphernalia, my computer—you’d have thought I was moving in for  a month, not a week. Colin even put the old mattress in  his truck, and I’ll be sleeping on it, then leaving it for granddaughter Morgan. It took a bunch of the morning, and then friends came to chat. We decided by then to each lunch before departure. Colin went to gas his truck and buy lunch for himself and Kegan.

Next Wed. Jordan and Jacob will arrive, spend a day, and take me home to FW. It’s nice to be able to leave the house in the Burtons’ capable hands. In some distorted way it’s even nice to be the invalid in the family. This unexpected health problem has brought us all closer together and I was besieged with offers too be my caretaker. Colin, however, had been on the books since last Christmas.

Over the last month I’ve also enjoyed three-, four-, and five-day visits from each of my four, which has also brought us closer. Apparently after I went to bed, whoever was with me reported to the siblings. Colin shared one  of his reports with me. Herewith the first few lines:

“It’s been almost three days since I drove up the narrow driveway and parked in front of what had, up until now, been pleasantly known as “The Cottage”.  As I watched the automatic gate shut in my rear view mirror, I was unaware, but later amused, by the prison sentence that it foreshadowed.

“I should tell you about my cell-mate.  She is a 78-year-old uber-left leaning mystery author with a broken right ankle and destroyed left hip who scoots around backwards like a cross between a pinball and a dog with an itchy bottom – sometimes wearing an Obama shirt/nightie.

Confined to close quarters, we have been within 20 feet of each other for 68 hours now……and counting.  Our arrangement is that of caregiver and ward but it is actually much more than that.  You see, over 4 decades ago the roles were reversed.  She is my mother.”

Tonight we Alters find ourselves  in different households preparing to celebrate with different families. But we are ever mindful of the great blesssings we share. “And of these, the greatest is love”-God’s gift to all of us as we welcome the Christchild and look ahead to a season of growth and longer days and maybe—I still believe it possible—greater peace on earth. I didn’t mean to veer off into a   sermon but I can’t quite see an equal battle between  the power of God’s love and the forces of Donald Trump and those who would drag our country down  for their own sake.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Oh my, such a day

At this time of year when we’re counseled to seek the calm and quiet of Christ’s arrival on earth, my day was anything but calm and quiet. It started badly and went downhill. I got up early to be ready for a 9:00 pre-op appointment. My computer wouldn’t do anything. Finally, I unhooked it and left it to collect itself.

The pre-op evaluation was okay until the EKG. The tech left to get the results checked before unhooking me and came back with a wild-eyed, frantic look.

“Have you ever had a heart attack? Any kind of cardiac problem?” I said no, but gradually I remembered an episode where the doctor could barely tell extreme anxiety from a bad EKG and decided there was a hole between the chambers of my heart—a pinprick that I may have had all my life. They have since decided not because after two years nobody could ever find it again. This reassured the tech and PA that they would have to rush me to cardio. On the other hand, they were left with a “wheelchair” EKG which was not satisfactory and may have to be redone.

Bright news was that the pressure sore on my backside looks great—no open skin, no infection, etc. Greatly cheered (well, sort of) I left the office only about an hour and a half later than I hoped. The dog groomer was at the house…and had pulled her big old grooming truck into my 1920s driveway, where it appeared stuck between a tree root and the electronic gate—neither of which we wanted damaged. Brittainy, today’s caregiver, told her I wanted her to move and she replied “45 minutes.” We sat in the driveway over an hour, both of us going downhill in disposition.

When the groomer finally started back down the driveway, it was clear she didn’t know how to manage her vehicle. Brittainy finally climbed out to go direct traffic; my friend Melinda was in the truck with me chanting “Don’t hit my car. Please don’t hit my car,” alternated with “This is unbelievable.” We finally got back in the house about 12:30.

Meliinda and I had a good Christmas visit, but after she left my computer still wouldn’t do anything. It had progressed a bit and offered me an out, which I took. Knock on wood but it seems to be working fine. I played catch-up all afternoon and finally got a late nap. Ate dinner about seven-thirty and am ready to go to bed. Too  much to do.

Please, Lord. Deliver me to the peace and quiet of the season. Teach me to draw deep breaths in the face of women who can’t drive and computers that won’t work and false-alarm medical reports. Bring me instead to a true appreciation of the peace that passes all understanding, of the gift of God’s love.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas comes to the cottage

On this cold blustery night—29 by morning--Christmas finally came to the cottage. We’ve been so wrapped up with x-rays and MRIs and dental extractions and doctors and dentists, that we sort of overlooked the season. Tonight, though we opened the doors to Christmas and the Christ child…and pulled the shades against the cold.

Megan has been here since Thursday, taking me to the doctor, fixing meals, sitting in the cottage with me of an evening. This afternoon we sat on the patio in 70+ sunshiny weather Tonight because of the cold we sent the caregiver home early. Truly there was another reason—I got to spend the evening with just my two daughters, wrapping presents, laughing, talking, and truly anticipating the holiday. For the first time this season it feels like Christmas, though a very different holiday from past ones in this family—no tree trimming party for a hundred of my nearest and dearest, no planning the huge meal, no last-minute shopping desperation. I’ve warned the family that my gifts will be slim but my love for them and gratitude overflows my ability to express it. I think this Christmas, with much to be grateful for, may be the best Christmas ever..I also think, though we’ve always been a close family, this health crisis of mine has brought u+s even closer together.The Lord has truly blessed me, and I am grateful at this season celebrating God’s goodness to us.

If you haven’t already done so, I hope you too can throw open the doors and windows to welcome the Christ child into your homes and hearts.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Case of the Missing Tooth

I am missing a tooth tonight. Not just any tooth--the wisdom one on the upper right. It’s been with me over fifty years, and I don’t think many people keep their wisdom teeth (or wisdom) that long. Two of mine were impacted when I was in my twenties and resulted in an embarrassing late-night surgery during which I remember behaving badly. A distant relative (his sister married my ex--you figure out the relationship). He scared me badly, giving a deadline of 30 days before excruciating pain swept over me.I caved and had the tooth extracted.

Since then ‘ve had to fight to protect that last tooth occasionally. My dentist wasn’t as successful in scaring me. The tooth held on, though I was told it had decay and could became excruciating. I said I’d call when it did; he said he wouldn’t answer the phone on weekends. I thought it was all a bit light-hearted but I’ve learned in the last week many physicians are not light-hearted about much.

The looming hip replacement surgery finally doomed my tooth. It is a precept of replacement surgery that there be no infection in the body, and the tooth could introduce bacteria at surgery. Therre also has to be a certain amount of time elapse between dental procedures and surgery so today was the last day I could have the tooth pulled in time for a January 19 surgery. So I was literally rushed into it with less time than usual to build up my customary anxiety.

One of the things I tell myself when dreading a procedure is to think about the time when I’m on the other side of it. So now from the other side I’ll tell you so far the extraction hasn’t been a problem—no pain, no swelling, minimal drainage. And I would venture to say I was a good patient. Growing up in a doctor’ family, I was always told how important it was to b a “good” patient.

Tomorrow, an MRI—gosh will I be glad to be on the other side of that! Then a pre-op check-in, Christmas and ho ho! ho! It’s surgery time.

Monday, December 05, 2016

I haven’t posted to this blog in about five days—an unconscionable time for me.  There was no one major event that kept from it, but I’ve had a couple of difficult days and suffered a setback in  my recovery—though  I always want to ask “recovery from what?” My hallucinations are back in mild form; I fell out of bed, though I insist I slid out, a deliberate act to  kee; from falling; I spent Sunday morning sitting on the bed trying to decide what t doo next. Jordan was headed to Dallas and didn’t want t o leave me alone, so Jamie came to spend the day and pamper me—he washed my hair, finished the soup I was cooking, straightened the house, and served dinner to my guests.

Things escalated, and Colin arrived to take over as caretaker. He’s here through the week, so that’s why I’m not planning on blogging.

Let me assure you I’m just fine,and we will be in the doctor’s office tomorrow afternoon, checking  out my health. Clearly I have lost strength, and have to work the kinks out of my leg muscles and regain flexibility and strength. But I  can do that with work, and  I will do it. Codlin says right now I cannot live alone and  he’s right. My goal is to make it by the end of the week. And then I’ll be back to blogging.

Thanks for understanding and waiting till I get back.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Ritual of Turkey Soup

December 1, 2016

Jordan decided she really wanted turkey soup a night or so ago, but we had none I often do simmer the carcass for a day or two with onion, celery and a lot of other stuff to make a rich broth as the base for soup. This year the carcass got away from me, and all I had were the remains of two chickens that had been infused with Cajun butter and deep fried. Didn’t want to do that because of   the butter, so no soup.

“Make a quick version,” I suggested. Naturally she didn’t know how to do that. I told her to begin with turkey and some of that broth from the box we had. Well, there wasn’t much broth left. Got gravy I asked. Yes, she had gravy. I told her to start by browning onion, garlic, and celery in some olive oil. Eventually she may have added everything but the kitchen sink. She sent me a picture of the finished product—like all of us, she is probably incapable of making a small pot of soup for two people. Hope she’ll freeze serving size portions—but I bet that’s the next lesson.

Her soup was also sort of Texas tan. Wasn’t it author/sports writer Dan Jenkins who claimed to have moved back to Texas so he could eat brown food like chicken fried steak and frijoles refried? When the kids were little I used to make soup of the week, throwing in any and all leftovers in the fridge. It always came out brown, and the kids even called it brown soup, but they liked it well enough

Jordan's soup could have used a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet. If you haven’t tried this amazing stuff, I recommend it highly…. A few drops adds earthy undertones to soup, stew,, gravy, and one small bottle lasts me forever. Lisa’’s parents insist it has anchovy in it, and I wouldn’t be surprised

I ran into another food obstacle last night at a German restaurant known for its rich entrees. Last time I was there I had a wonderful veal dish in a rich cream sauce; last night I was told the only thing that fit my dietary restrictions was the bratwurst with browned onions and a sauerkraut-and-apple compote (where the kraut was warm and the apples cold). Don’t get me wrong—it was delicious and even better for lunch today, but I longed for thoe veal dishes.

And Jordan’s soup.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fire and drought--is brimstone next?

After the recent election, I vowed not to join the ranks of those who preach gloom, doom, and the end of America as we know it. Yet two national happenings really disturb me tonight. They are not directly related to the election, but eventually they are.

The first is the terrorist at Ohio State. Call me a bleeding heart, but to my mind he was a miserably unhappy soul, displaced, probably facing academic and social pressure. And he lost it. No sane person does what he did. News reports called him a shooter, but as far as I have heard no gun was involved—a knife and a car are lethal enough. Spouting anger at the U.S. for what our country has done in the Middle East, he was the perfect recruit for ISIS. Doesn’t sound like they got to him yet, but they would have. May he rest in peace that he couldn’t find here, may his family learn to live with this tragedy, and may his victims recover without many scars, either physical or emotional.

Most terrorism and mass shootings in this country are not done by Muslims, but the perception persists that Muslim terrorists are responsible for all violence. There is the occasional disaffected one—the Boston marathon bomb detonators, for instance. But we can’t blame terrorism on Muslims alone. And maybe it’s time, as a lot of the country has said, to re-examine the Middle Eastern policies put in play by Bush and Cheney. Certainly it’s time to study gun control, but I’m not hopeful about that.

On a personal note, I have a granddaughter headed to college next fall. Statistically she’s safe—but you can’t help but think that yesterday’s victims probably also felt safe. As soon as that thought went through my mind, I realized that I have a  twinge of fear sending off the elementary school children. Jacob goes to school across the street from my house. One day I came home to see fire trucks at the school—of course, it was nothing except it caused a wave of fear to go through me.

The other event that I can barely watch on TV is the fires in the area of Gatlinburg TN. I have only been to Gatlinburg once years ago and my memory is clouded but I recall it as a touristy town with slow-moving traffic. We bought a wonderful heavy pottery dinner service and I used it for years—I think my brother now has it. On the way across the mountain, it was single-lane, one-way traffic—a long, slow ride—and of course one of my children developed an urgent need for the potty. My dad drove stoically, eyes ahead, without comment, while I tried to placate the child. The other thing I remember is a black bear mama and two cub prowling through garbage at a shelter turnoff; a woman with a young child got out to show the child the bears—as far as I know it didn’t turn out the other way, but how dumb cab some people be?

So I have no wonderful memories of Gatlinburg, but my folks retired to Tryon, North Carolina, the other side of the mountains, and we all loved that area.. I checked Tryon today and they had heavy smoke drifting in from fire in western North Carolina--the Highlands—but no immediate threat of flames. Watching the flames eat brush, trees, and houses in Gatlinburg was devastating—I don’t think I could stand to see Tryon go up in flames.

And of course here I differ dramatically with climate change deniers. I think the dramatic changes in our weather patterns speak to the urgency of that problem…and here again I have little immediate hope.

And there you have it—two tragic instances in the last two days that speak to larger threats facing our country. No, they won’t be addressed in the next session, but I still have hope for the future. Join me in praying for America.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A new view from the cottage

The view from the cottage just keeps getting better. Tonight, Cyclops was running around the yard in the dark—at least that’s what it looked like. Actually Jordan, dressed in black as she usually is, was wearing a miner’s lamp type thing—a headband with a flashlight in it—and stringing Christmas lights, multi-colored on the deck railings, red around my front door. I may live in the brightest house in the neighborhood but few will find all the lights hidden away back  in my corner. Love it!

Otherwise today was one of those days when it was hard to get going. I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, contemplating standing up, or sitting on the walker thinking about moving to the office chair. Part of that is because my hip is extremely sore today, so I know it will hurt to stand. But part of it is general inertia. Maybe everyone’s entitled to a little inertia now and then.

Also it rained fairly heavily about seven this morning—not an encouraging start to the day and maybe not encouraging for my hip either. Someday when I’m feeling really loved I may go into the latest theories on why I don’t walk and why my hip hurts so much. My kids convinced me this weekend I had it all backward.

And maybe the truth of it is that I am still recovering from a wonderful holiday.

Whine, whine-I’ve also had phone troubles today—the phones in the cottage wouldn’t call in or out, though they had power. I could dial and hear it dialing the number but then it didn’t ring; if someone called in, it would ring but nobody was there. I think Jordan, Christian, and Colin (via phone) have it fixed. It has to do with the medical alarm service, but I’d  rather be out here without that than without phone service. Tells you I’m an old fogey—I still don’t trust cell phones completely.

Okay, this old fogey is calling it a day, looking forward to a better day tomorrow--and count my blessings. How many live adjacent to a daughter who strings Christmas lights for them? Yes, I am blessed..

Sunday, November 27, 2016


A dull gray day here. No rain, but no sunshine, nothing to inspire to activity. It seemed everybody had the lazies, perhaps from the weather but more likely recovering from the holiday festivities. Even Sophie slept all day, didn’t even want to go out in the morning until ten.

Jacob was an acolyte at the 9:00 a.m. service so the Burtons went to early church. Afterward, he complained this his acolyte partner, serving for the first time, corrected him on the way he walked. He said he wanted to tell her he’d done it 30 times and to zip her lip, but he apparently refrained. Even he was tired—the social butterfly said his plans for the day were to watch a video, nap, and read a book. “My kind of day,” he said. Clear proof that child as exhausted.

I asked Jordan what her plans were and she said, “Pretty much like Jacob’s.” At 7:35, she has gone to bed with the acknowledgment she may not be back here tonight.

My brother saw his family off this morning and said he’s slept all afternoon. Exhaustion is universal. I worked at my desk, ate peanut butter for lunch, napped a good long while, and decided to cream some turkey for supper. I have a foolproof method for doing that—or did when I was actively cooking in the main house.

My cooking proved …ah…less than satisfactory. I couldn’t get the induction burner to stay plugged in, and it went bananas when I burned the toast and set off the smoke alarm. Tried and true method worked—I waved a towel at it. Nice to have tested its function though.

Melted Smart Balance butter doesn’t behave like regular butter, and I had to balance that—plus add wine and broth to my sauce. Got the diced turkey in just fine and then accidentally poured a ton of green peas into my supposed dinner. More wine—for the turkey, not me, though I was tempted. Sophie’s score for the evening: 2/3 slice of rye bread (it was frozen and didn’t pull away easily) and who knows how many green peas? I figure they were good for her.

Finally got it all together and sat at my desk with creamed turkey on burnt rye toast. Not bad—but not as good as I had hoped. And creamed dishes are like salad—they grow exponentially, so I have a skillet full left. Afterthought: dried cranberries would be a good addition.

Second afterthought; I’m about ready for a fresh batch of tuna salad. Don’t think I’ll try creamed tuna for a while.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cows, football, and the party's over

The Alter and Peckham families--a terrific crew

My family and I spent Friday at my brother’s ranch with most of his family. We number close to 30—fifteen adults and thirteen children of varying ages. Getting us together is often like herding cats but this opportunity came up suddenly and worked well. The girls tried to make it work-free for Cindy but there’s no stopping her. Jenn, my niece, did a lot of the work, and Colin brought potato casserole. John cooked tenderloins, and with an array of snacks, we ate way too much.

John had promised good weather so the kids could play outdoors. Good luck with that—when I work that morning it was wet, cold, and gloomy. But as a woman I knew used to say, “It faired off” into a pleasant day…and the kids did mostly disappear outside. It tickles me to ask Jordan if she knows where her child is and she says no but appears completely unconcerned.

For the adults, the attraction was twofold—a chance to be together and a focus on the TCU/UT football game. My kids grew up with their cousins close by---Sunday dinner every week. So though they rarely see each other these days, they are tightly bound by memories.

We have only one diehard UT fan among us—Megan’s husband Brandon. I didn’t realize before but he’s a vocal fan—very. Three of my four went to TCU as did Jenn; her husband grew up in a TCU family. So B. was outnumbered but undaunted. Until he grew quieter as the game progressed. In those agonizing, drawn-out last few minutes, he said to me “I have never seen a team so utterly defeated.” And they were—heads hanging, some in tears. What made it so poignant was the knowledge that Coach Charlie Strong would be replaced…and he was promptly on Saturday. But he conducted himself throughout the game with dignity and grace, and I kept thinking what an impossible position he was in.

It may well have been the first game I watched in years. I brought my iPad and read my book, but watched with one ear, more drawn by the drama of the rivalry and the coach’s awful position than by the technicalities of football, which I don’t pretend to understand. Of course, I wanted TCU to win and was cheered when they did.

Today, everyone’s gone home. After family leaves, it’s sort of like coming down from a high. You do the things you ignored and need to, but your mind wanders to special moments—watching my brother’s grands and realizing they are as close to each other as mine, brunch (at 12:30) at Ol’ South and watching best buddies Ford and Jacob have a big-time disagreement, talks with various of my children at different times, often late at night; listening to the  young mothers giggle over their concerns and joys, their voices increased a bit by wine; falling into bed at night grateful for all of them and optimistic about the days ahead, but so ready to sleep.

The cottage is perfect for visits like this—the family stays mostly in the main house, where it’s generally too noisy for me; but one by one or several at a time they wander out to the cottage, where I welcome their company. Maddie, my oldest grand, joins the adult conversations as a matter of course; her younger sister swings either way but this weekend was mostly drawn to the X-box games with her younger cousins.

The Tomball Alters took my car, promising to have it tuned and brightened.
Here, Morgan and Kegan look pretty pleased to be on the
way to Tomball in a convertible.

Today was back to business for me—I have quite a bit of work on my desk (including Christmas) but got some done today. I’m reading a mystery I want to finish before I dig into editing a lengthy manuscript, so I look forward to reading—when work becomes pleasure.

Okay, guys, let’s charge ahead into Christmas, the most joyous season. I’m looking forward to it a lot and hope you are too.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Laughter amidst the blessings

Thanksgiving at the Alter/Burton house
Almost a perfect day—sunny, just the right temperature, You’d have thought it was October’s bright blue weather instead of almost the end of November. And Thanksgiving. At our house, it was a perfect holiday.

Kids riding bikes, playing tetherball and dodgeball and football and other things I didn’t recognize.
Football teams-oops, how did Aunt Lisa sneak in there?
Maybe because she doesn't look an older than her nieces and nephews

Boys, temporarily not into mischief

My two oldest granddaughters with aunts Jordan and Lisa
Adults sitting lazily on the patio, some reading, most visiting…and with my French doors open I was part of the conversation yet removed. My sons frying turkey and chickens, while another turkey roasted inside.
Boys at the fryers
For me, deskwork done, peanut butter for lunch in anticipation of a big dinner, a nice nap, and then time spent on the patio.
Christian and Judy on patio
Happens every time—I get out there, which requires some difficulty, and everybody leaves. The kind of day where you just exist, do what you want, and enjoy the pleasant laziness of it. Inside the girls were cooking, setting a beautiful table (clear plastic plates on chargers worked just fine, thank you), and preparing a lavish feast.

At dinner, ten adults at one table and seven children at the family room table. Wonderful and very traditional dinner--Megan made dairy-free gravy for me—I could have eaten a pint. Jordan mashed potatoes with Smart Balance dairy-free butter and yogurt, and I had crisp fresh green beans.

After dinner, our one guest, Chandry who is more family than not, suggested everyone go around the table telling what they were thankful for about me. The moment could have succumbed to sentimentality, but instead great hilarity and long-winded stories followed, with lots of banter and much toasting with wine. A recurring them was how grateful we all were that we remain so close. A moment to treasure.

Hope you all had a good day too. Life s really good, and I am thankful.

Thanksgiving blessings

Eden, with the wreath she made me

I am a firm believer that our dogs know what’s going on with us. Sometime in the early hours this morning I awoke feeling not thankful but anxious and agitated. I often think its best at these times not to get too introspective but before I decided how to fight off this feeling, Sophie jumped on the bed, gave me a few quick kisses and settled her head on my shoulder. After a few minutes, apparently having satisfied herself that I was all right, she jumped down. But she spent much of the night at the foot of my bed and followed me to the bathroom when necessary. She is among my many thanksgiving blessings.

So are my grandchildren. Four sweaty little boys and one semi-tomboy ran through the house last night. Minor flap when Sophie almost got out. I scolded Jacob and then had to apologize—seems he was the one who saved the day (or dog) by holding her back. Some walkers apparently happened on a tan-and-white lab and the kids wanted to see the "found" dog.

It was the two older girls who brought special blessings. Maddie, 17, arrived basking in the glow of her official acceptance by University of Colorado, Boulder. She’ll be part of the Class of 2021 (can you believe?) in the fall. We’ll miss her but we’re so proud of this wonderful girl.

Her younger sister, Eden, 13, started her own cottage industry this fall and made lavish, decorative wreaths for everyone’s front door. I asked her to choose the colors for mine, so it is red and white and now decorates the door of the my cottage. She and her family all undertook to hang it late last night.

Grandchildren brings other blessings—a quick hug here, a kiss there. Their parents are no less blessings. It’s sometimes overwhelming when the whole family is together, so I especially enjoyed it when Colin and Megan followed me out to the cottage and the three of us discussed everything from my falls to the failure of the Democratic Party.

Each of you have your own blessings even if, as one friend anticipated, it’s only a quiet day at home sprawled on the couch with dogs and book. May you find new ways to share the blessings of America with those around you. Reach out in new ways to spread the joy and beauty of our lives, to share love with everyone. And thank your god.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Let the parties begin  

Jacob and Elizabeth, probably three years ago

This strangest of years may turn out to have a sociable holiday season for me—surprise!

Sunday night, a longtime friend and former student came for a one-on-one girl chat and a light supper. I first met Elizabeth at least 25 years ago when she applied to be a student worker in my office. She worked for us for three years, and we clicked. She wrote, and one year she walked away with almost all the awards in the annual Creative Writing Competition—that gave us a basis, but the friendship grew slowly. I would tell you she was a bit shy, not an easy conversationalist. Marriage made a difference, made her more forthcoming, gave her more self-confidence. But it didn’t last—on a Labor Day weekend she asked if she could come stay in my guest apartment for three weeks. She stayed a year, and we both enjoyed it immensely. We sat on the deck with many a glass of wine, and we cooked salmon patties and ham salad and breakfast for dinner, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon being a favorite. She was then gluten- and dairy-free, and I enjoyed the challenge of cooking for her. Today she is part of my extended family and among those whose friendship I treasure.

So Sunday night we scrambled eggs and drank wine and shared girl talk. She now lives in Pennsylvania and teaches yoga. Her partner, also a yoga instructor, always feels that I am angry at him for taking her away—he should talk to neighbor Jay! But at his suggestions, they are coming for coffee, tea, whatever tomorrow morning.

Today Jordan, Subie and I had lunch at an upscale restaurant, the kind of ladies’ lunch that make you feel elegant. We had wine and lots of laughs—and I had an unladylike lunch choice, a hamburger. I’m noticing that most restaurants have some form of cheese in almost every dish on the menu. After lunch we “breezed through” World Market, one of those stores that overwhelm with variety.

Tonight, the architect who designed my cottage came to view the results. I hope he was as pleased as I am. He brought his family-wife, ten-year-old daughter, and two-year-old daughter. Precious girls, though Jacob, being in 5th grade with the older girl, hid the whole evening. Still we had a good time, talked about everything from ridiculous building codes to the title business-and no politics.

And tomorrow my kids and grandkids all arrive. Let the good times roll!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Traditions loom ahead

Every family treasures its own holiday traditions. For the Alter clan, the night before Thanksgiving (or Christmas—whenever we’re all together) is chili night. Brandon, Megan’s husband, makes killer chili; everyone else stands around watching, drinking margueritas, amd kibbutzing.

We used to combine with my brother’s family but there grew to be too many of us, so we split the holidays. This year we’ll go to his ranch to party with his family the day after Thanksgiving. There will be 30 of us, eleven of them children. Religious attention will be paid to the TCU-UT  game, with both side represented by family members. My brother is already joking about the conflicting cheering that will go on. I’m not a fan but would of course like TCU to win. If I understand correctly, neither team is having a particularly good year. Meantime, on Friday John will cook a couple of tenderloins in his "magic""" (commercial) oven ad we'll' bring queso and potato casserole.

Another thing we’ve grown too big for—seating all of us at a formal table. We number sixteen, ranging in age from 78 to nine. Jordan and I always set out serving dishes for any gathering days ahead of time, with little slips of paper in each indicating what goes in each dish. When Christian first saw this, he told Jordan, “You and your mother have a screw loose.” So did my mom, I guess, because she taught me that when I began helping her entertain—at about ten or twelve. Not sure what Jordan’s plan is this year—she’s the mistress of the castle now.

One tradition is going by the wayside: my annual tree trimming party. I’ve been giving it in one form or another since 1965. Divorce didn’t stop it but we missed two years—once for remodeling and once because of an angry husband. Every year about October I’d play the “Should I, or should I not” game but I always ended up giving it. This year there’s no game. No way I could have 60 of my nearest and dearest in the cottage, nor am I up to fixing all that food, I’m not making a cheeseball or caviar and cream cheese or all those things we loved from year to year. I often tried to inject a little variety but nobody liked that. A friend suggested I have an all-day open house—no food, just fellowship and, oh yeah, wine.

Jordan and Christian don’t feel settled enough in the house to undertake the annual party, and they always trim their tree together. I started those parties because even when I was a child, trimming the tree was a chore, no fun, finally relegated to the “little woman.” At my parties people arrived to a tree without ornaments; by the time the evening was over, every ornament was on the tree. Each year people brought new ornaments so I have an amazing collection—in the attic.

Times change, situations change, and you best change too—my family has had a real lesson in that this year. I imagine other traditions—church events, etc., will also get a bye this year. Who knows what will happen next?