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?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Notes from a ho-hum day  

My cheese haul

What started as a ho-hum day was brightened considerably mid-day when my most kind neighbor, Mary Dulle, brought me cheddar (slices, cubes and shredded), Mozarella (shredded), cream cheese, cottage cheese, and bleu cheese dressing—all lactose free. I’m about to discover a new world, and I’m sure it will make my life…and my gut much better. I’ve been grieving for blue cheese, and longing to mix my tuna into some cottage cheese. I will feast the next few days.

Though not tonight on cheese. After last night, my advice to young women is to be sure the man you marry can cook and grill a decent steak. I benefitted last night when Jordan and Christian entertained friends who had helped them move. Christian grilled tenderloin steaks, and mine was surely one of the best I’ve ever eaten. Jordan’s friend Hilary was sure it was underdone and came along when Jordan delivered it—“it’s raw.” Well, it was in the middle but it had a crusty brown outside and was melt-in-your mouth tender What happens when you put good meat in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it. So I, who loves cold meat, will have leftover steak tonight—and cheese tomorrow. Isn’t the world wonderful?

It was so cold in the cottage this morning that I cowered under the covers, even as I yearned to get up and get another blanket. When I finally did rouse myself, Sophie wanted to go out so I threatened her with death and destruction if she didn’t come right back in. She didn’t. I left her outside, which puzzled Jordan. Mid-morning, I let her out again to play with the other dogs; Jordan brought her dogs in, left for the football game, and left Sophie outside.

I couldn’t see her anywhere in the yard—and my desk offers a good view. I called and called and after 15 minutes was about to call the neighbors and put something in the neighborhood email hotline, when she wandered nonchalantly onto the patio. She is grounded for the day, which doesn’t bother her. She’s sleeping in her favorite chair.

I decided a cup of tea would warm my cold bones, but these days you have to unplug the Keurig and plug it back in to convince it there is water in the reservoir. In trying to plug it in with my fumble fingers, I hit the reset button on the switch plate and then couldn’t reset it again. So I forgot about tea and worked at my desk. I realized though I was growing colder by the minute—indeed freezing. I had cut off power to my heat sources. Jay came and fixed it.

Who knows what will happen the rest of the day? Stay tuned.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Cool weather—and the love of a dog

Bringing Sophie home at eight weeks

We always think that hot, humid days make us lazy and lethargic, so by that kind of reasoning do cool days energize you? I suspect many would say both yes and no---want to go for a brisk walk? Great day for it. Want to work at your desk? Not so good.

Today was the first brisk day we’ve had—and to think it’s almost Thanksgiving. It didn’t at all inspire me to action. I spent much of the day wishing I was warmer. I worked at my desk, but didn’t do a thing on the two projects before me—the neighborhood newsletter and notes for a novel. I am perfectly capable of frittering away a day like this with email, Facebook, and a long nap.

The nap part ends with Sophie jumping on the bed and snuggling. She’ll use her nose to boss my hand around, indicating she wants me to scratch her head and not just lie there. Then she’ll lay her head on my shoulder and stare into my eyes—sorry, folks, but it reminds me of a couple of men with heads on my pillow. Pleasant memories, and it’s good to know you’re the center of someone’s universe. I started to say even if it’s a dog but I think I mean especially if it’s your dog. I’ve heard that one sign your dog recognizes you as the alpha dog and master is that it looks you directly in the eyes and not in a confrontational manner.

Somehow this is transforming itself into a dog blog, but one of the things that intrigues me about Sophie is her protective nature. A physical therapist comes to do exercises with me and an LVN comes to stand by while I get in and out of the shower (right now I’d never do it unattended—too afraid of falling). Sophie likes them both and greets them joyously, but when they are with me she never leaves my side.

One of the most difficult parts of my life these days is getting out of the cottage—yes, my physical problems make it difficult but leaving Sophie doubles the degree of difficulty. If she sees the transport wheelchair come out of the closet, she goes ballistic—jumping, whining, barking—and ready to run out the door with me. A solution that usually works is to put her in the yard—whoever is helping me gets me out the door and goes back to let Sophie in the cottage. When I return, she never threatens to leave. I laughed when one friend said to her when we returned, “See? I brought the love of your life back to you.” Sophie was quite satisfied.

I am blessed to have family and friends but Sophie is a special blessing. The first dog I housebroke and trained in years—she’s not perfect, and she sometimes has inappropriate but unquenchable enthusiasm. But she’s the best dog I’ve had in years—maybe ever—and she and I have a real bond.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Diets…and education

Okay, friends and followers, I find that some of you need a bit of education. A good friend was bringing me lunch today, and she called to confirm. She was bringing split pea soup, one of my favorites and something I would never make for myself. So when she called, I told her I was really looking forward to it and asked her to just be sure there was no dairy anywhere in it. I felt safe about that—how could there be dairy in split pea soup?

Dairy? She asked. “I thought it was gluten you couldn’t eat.” It’s a common misconception, too common. The gluten-free diet has become almost a fashion trend in recent years. For a while it seemed to me every third person I met was on a gluten-free diet. For a while, a good friend lived in my garage apartment who was gluten- and dairy-free. Cooking for her was a challenge but I often did it because I enjoyed the fellowship. I remained a skeptic, and it does amuse me that today she has let go of those dietary restrictions and seems no worse for it.

But in the meantime I developed food intolerances and have gone from skeptic to firm believer. So here it is: gluten is a protein found in wheat and related products. There are of course many theories about why more people today are gluten-sensitive but one that makes sense to me is that wheat etc. today has been super-bred to make the wheat stronger and more durable…and hence more people are sensitive. I on the other hand can eat wheat with freedom-problem there is I’m not a bread eater.

Lactose on the other hand is a product of dairy, though I can’t explain the complicated chain of chemistry. But it affects people who are intolerant in a variety of ways—in my case, about six hours later it causes galloping diarrhea. You can imagine I’m anxious to avoid it. And I’m still learning: last night a waiter cautioned me against fried chicken because they dip it in buttermilk. The dairy-free taco soup a friend brought? It had Hidden Valley ranch dressing—dehydrated dairy products. You never know where you’ll find dairy lurking, and it’s a continuing education project.

Meantime, I grieve for blue cheese, cottage cheese, Manchego, all the things I loved. Do you suppose I o.d. on them, as I did thirty years ago on shrimp? Or is it simply, as my doctor says, an aging thing—as we grow older, our gut grows less tolerant. There it is again—that aging thing!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Where’s your safety pin?

I had been searching in my mind for some clever internet campaign that would contribute to the idea of countering hatred with love and kindness—and along came the safety pin campaign. I wish I’d thought of it, because it’s a terrific idea.

If you wear a safety pin, you say without words to people you meet, “I’m here for you. You’re safe with me.” A lot of Americans are living in terror right now, bone-shaking, gut-clenching terror that makes them cower and dread. Muslims, Jews, women, gays, African-Americans, Latinos—any of the target groups of Trump-style hatred. I hear for instance that the director of immigration—whatever his correct title—is preparing plans to begin deportations the first day of the Trump presidency. Imagine for a moment you’re a Latino born in this country but your aged parents are illegal, though they’ve paid taxes and been contributing citizens for years. That my friends is terror. Or the Saudi who was beaten to death because his skin was the wrong color…or the gay beaten within an inch of his life. Remember that poem, “First they came for the socialists….” It seems unbelievable but it can happen to any of us.

So wear your safety pins. Show those living in fear that you support them and are there for them. It’s not your call whether or not you think the fear is justified. To those suffering from it, it’s very reeal.

I like the story behind this current safety pin campaign. It originated in the Netherlands during Nazi occupation when people did not dare speak up. Instead they wore safety pins—men tucked them under the collar, while women generally pinned them on the inside of their hems. I suppose at the right moment they flashed these surreptitiously to give reassurance and comfort.

We can do no less. A small step but an important one.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mashed Potatoes for Breakfast? Of course

Jordan takes great pride in her mashed potatoes. She loads them with butter, sour cream, goat cheese, until you hardly know there’s any potato there. But this year, in preparation for Thanksgiving, she’s experimenting with lactose-free mashed potatoes so I can eat them. Smart Balance for butter, Greek Gods original plain yogurt for the sour cream. Result was so good I enjoyed some for breakfast this morning—heated them on my induction burner and felt like a pioneer of some sort.

(Note: my doctor tells me Greek Gods yogurt is probiotic, lactose-free, and safe for me to eat. I’ve eaten the strawberry flavored for breakfast without a problem.)      

Eating high on the hog today—Jordan made her tuna salad for me last night, and I’ll have a sandwich for lunch—with a glass of wine. Anticipating it already, at ten in the morning. As you may have gathered, I’m a tuna aficionado. So far I know two different salads that I like. Jordan’s tends to be chunky with lots of lemon; Betty’s is smooth in texture with pickle and no lemon. It’s been a good week for tuna—Betty made me lunch Wednesday, and I ended up having the leftover for dinner. To make me healthy while she ate potato chips, she brought me red grapes—which is how I discovered that fructose needs to join lactose on my do-not-eat list. It’s like all my favorite foods are being pulled away—I can give up strawberries but I grieve for blueberries and raspberries.

An unrelated kitchen note: I lost my skillet the other day. I knew when I got up it was in the sink for me to wash, but in the morning, it was gone. How do you lose a skillet in a 4x6 kitchen? I looked in the fridge and freezer, under the sink, and with the dog food. Finally, I asked Jordan, who collapsed in laughter at the idea of me looking in the freezer: she had taken it in the house to wash.

These fall mornings my cozy cottage is not cozy-in fact it’s darn chilly. I sit here in a sweater, while Jordan comes out in a tank top. I have those things that heat and cool cheaply. They were great at cooling but not so good at heating, and I’ll have to pull out the space heaters soon.

Jordan is preparing for Christmas a bit ahead, but she wants everything done in advance of the family’s arrival next week. So my cottage is now Christmas-y—Santa Mac sits atop my tall skinny bookcase, with three poinsettia candles; a tree glows with lights on a side table (though there is an unlit strip in the middle), and pictures of my gramdkids with Santa—including the classic screaming ones—are atop the legal bookcase. Right now, a Christmas basket with yarn and other seasonal items decorates the coffee table, though I don’t know if it will stay or not. Merry Christmas, y’all!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

And so it begins…

Jacob and his overnight guests cleaning up after some girls teepee-ed the house. It’s a n innocent, if annoying, prank that kids have been doing for years. Jordan and the boys intended to retaliate last night but all fell asleep, and we all slept with lights ablaze all night.

Some not so innocent pranks are going on. I hear rumors of Trump followers attacking minorities, and Trump opponents protesting, though peacefully as far as I know. Facebook has poignant posts from people who have been unfriended by longtime friends and are hurt, angry, puzzled. All over politics. At this time, when the nation needs to come together in unity, the division is getting more sharp.

I had my own minor experience. A friend I’d known and shared confidences with,  encouraged her publication hopes, cheered for her over the last few years, sent me an email saying her opinion was good enough to elect a president, and I needed to stop thinking that my opinion was the only one that matters. Their sanctimonious attitude defeated the Democrats, and I needed to get off my high horse. I was stunned, and na├»ve as I am, thought she’d been hacked. Not so. Politics, she said, has nothing to do with friendship.

I’m not so sure about that, not sure I separate the threads of my friendships so easily. And I am saddened that someone has that opinion of me. Beyond that, there were several ways I could have responded, the most obvious being to retort with comments about Trump and rudeness and compassion.

I didn’t. Because I believe that message is exactly the kind of thinking we need to eradicate, the pitting of one side against the other. I wrote instead that I was stunned, sorry, apologetic. It was my step into my new world of love, forgiveness and unity. I truly believe in these troubled, contentious times the only hope for America is for us all to come together as Americans—not Trump followers, not Trump protestors, not black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, whatever—just Americans. And work together to build unity in our country.

Begin with that safety pin that says you welcome and will protect people of whatever persuasion. But don’t attack those who differ with you, and don’t bemoan the incoming president’s election. It is what it is—now what can you do to make it better?

I almost didn’t post this story. My friend will read it and she will be angry and I’m sorry. But I truly believe the larger message is more important.

Let us put differences aside and remember that we are all Americans, with a glorious heritage and, if we will work for it, a bright future.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hallucinations…or goodbye to the good times

The lovely 19th-century people no longer party and mingle and linger in my back yard in the middle of the night. Nor does the magnificent wild dog lie next to the wall and survey his peaceable kingdom. My hallucinations are gone.

At first I thought they were simply middle of the night flights of fancy. Then I thought they made an amusing story. Neither my family nor my doctor were amused, and the latter expressed his opinion in one word: hallucinations.

It’s not a bad thing that they’re gone, at least from my point of view. I no longer wonder where I am when I wake up. One morning I’m sure I scared Jordan by asking if I was truly in my own space. Then I sat up in bed and pointed to the foot of the bed—the baby? I asked. She moved a pile of clothes and showed me there was no baby there.

Other mornings—and one afternoon—I thought I was in neighbors’ houses. I remember when Subie let herself in by the deck doors—my first thought was, “Subie, do you know these people well enough to walk into their home without knocking?” Of course, it was my home, and yes she knows to come and go without knocking. Other mornings I woke up in a purple and lavender bedroom—not my style, I assure you. I soon learned that if I closed my eyes and waited the bedroom would once again be a soft yellow.

So, amusement benefits aside, it was a disquieting experience and a huge lesson in the power of modern medicine. Bless my physician, Dr. Richwine, who knew right away what was going on. And my advice? Don’t accept strange behavior as just something that happens—ask your doctor. Amazing what those trained professionals know!

Obviously, I can’t find a picture to go with this. Wish I could. Some of those night scenes were truly lovely. So instead here's a new picture of Sophie.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Do we go forward or backward?

My friend Devorah Winegarten had a really good take on Trump’s election and what it means for the country. I posted her comments on my Facebook wall if you want to look; otherwise I’m going to paraphrase her here, with credit freely given.

We’re all moaning that so many people voted for Trump, though it’s worth pointing out that he did not win the popular vote. Still his campaign exposed an ugly underbelly in American society. And the people who followed him all voted or so it would seem. They are people who are threatened by change and progress, at a time, particularly under President Obama, when our country is moving toward inclusion, diversity, recognition of different faiths, lifestyle, beliefs and the fact that we can all be one diversified society.

Trump followers feel they are losing their way of life, their future. They cling to the life they know, with all its hate and prejudice and bigotry because it’s familiar. It makes them feel safe, better than the next guy, to have those beliefs. In his campaign Trump played to those fears, though I will say he’s sounded a bit more mellow in recent days.

It is time, Debra says, for us not to wring our hands and moan about a future we can’t control but to move forward positively. It is a pivotal moment in our history that calls for us to say, “No more.” We won’t be governed by hate and prejudice, small minds and violence. We will live in an America that values and embraces differences. What Trump does with the presidency remains to be seen but it is beyond our control. We need to start with what we can do.

I don’t think the mass protests we’ve seen across the country are at all helpful. They emphasize the division in the country when we should be concentrating on bringing the country together. We are, after all, Americans—not gays, straights, women, Muslims, and other isolated populations.

I read a post by the mother of a teenager in a private school in New York. One of his classmates is a Muslim girl who wears a hajib. He planned to go to school this morning, give her a hug, and tell her he had her back. That’s the kind of thing we can do to overcome hate.

So many people are swept up with gloom and doom right now. I urge them to adopt Debra’s attitude and look at this as an opportunity to be part of change and progress.

Besides, as someone pointed out, the Republicans now own it. They have the White House and both houses of Congress. Whatever goes wrong, they have no one else to blame.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Some glimpses from the cottage

Most of the views from the cottage these days are unfortunately political, but I do love this picture of my youngest grandson, nine-year-old Kegan, focusing on his soccer game. He’s small for his age but makes up for it in skill and dedication. His ambition has been to get his hair long enough for a man bun and now he’s made it—or, as his mom says, a boy bun. This is one of a series of pictures and at first I thought Kegan’s  sister has started playing soccer but there’s no mistaking that boy. So proud of him. Last I knew he had been invited to play on a team of older boys.

We did sort of have a watch party last night. My friend Linda came from Granbury and reminded me the last time she came to a watch party, everyone left by eight—George W. Bush swept the election, which didn’t please my liberal friends. As the evening wore on last night, I assured her I’d never invite her again, and she retorted that if invited she wasn’t coming.

The dogs, however, thoroughly enjoyed watching—because all their people were here.

Jacob is doing homework out here tonight, having refused the good taco soup I had for him. He asks me questions, then flings himself on the couch in despair when I don’t know what he’s talking about. But really, he wanted a definition of deposition—but then he added the qualifier “science-wise.” First of all, science-wise is not a word and if used as one is bad usage. I had no idea what he was talking about.

The view from the cottage the last almost week has been a wet one. We’ve had an incredible amount of rain. The gutters on the back of the main house have a thousand holes, despite frequent and recent repairs, and I watch the water sluice off the roof in a marvelous imitation of Niagara Falls. I look at Christian’s new grass and think how happy it is with all this wet, and then I realize how happy Christian is that his grass is getting watered.

Jacob announced last night he was cheering for Trump-a definite change of attitude. I asked why, and he said because of the e-mails. I tried to explain that was a dead issue and he said stubbornly, “You don’t always know the truth.” It occurred to me that his understanding of that and other issues was about on the level of all those Americans who voted for Trump.

Of course I have thoughts on the election but I don’t know that they add to anyone else’s. I am hugely disappointed in the American people—and stunned by their collected voice. Many of my fellow liberals have chosen the route of gloom and doom, but I refuse to do so. Not because I have any confidence in the incoming administration but because I refuse to let my life be dominated by a demagogue filled with hate. I take the high road recommended this morning by President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Someone posted on Facebook that the Obama legacy is now shattered. I don’t think so. I think the class he brought to the presidency, the goals he set and the things he accomplished, the example his family set will not go away.

Be of good cheer, folks. America is still America.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Texas Honors Its Own

The Texas Literary Hall of Fame (Fort Worth Public Library) inducted a class of five on Friday, November 4, at the Botanic Garden Conservatory. Inductees were George Sessions Perry and Dorothy Scarborough, both honored posthumously with James Ward Lee accepting for them and beginning his comments with, “I speak for the dead.” Novelist Rick Riordan sent a young girl to accept in his place. Living and present were H. W. Brand, UT, a historian who brings history alive through individual characters; award-winning western writer Jane Pattie best known for her classic work on spurs; award-winning Latina poet Carmen Tafolla, (who  will now always be Carmen Tortilla in my mind); and folklorist, novelist, historian, rancher, naturalist, former teacher—I could go on and on with accolades—Joyce Gibson Roach, who can give the funnies after-dinner speeches you’ve ever heard.

Okay I went a little overboard about Joyce—I know some of the other inductees but Joyce and I have been writing buddies and traveling companions for years. We’ve traveled the West together, hitting every writers meeting that would have us and some that shuddered when we walked in. We knew the road from Fort Worth to Amarillo and beyond like the proverbial back of our hands, and we once took eight hours to drive from Amarillo to Decatur because we stopped at every small town, every junque store that caught our fancy. We’ve done our dog-and-pony show—she a fifth-generation Texan (and a bit stuck on herself because of it) and me, a newcomer, interloper, she never lets me forget—in front of bleary-eyed writers at 8 a.m. and before the selects guests at one of the TCU Chancellor’s luncheons. We’ve worked on books together and rejoiced in each other’s awards and commiserated in failures.

I am indebted to Joyce for help on many books. Once as we settled for the Amarillo/Fort Worth run, I announced we could use the time to plan my next juvenile book—and I numbered from 1-10 on a legal pad. “That’s all?” she asked. “That’s all you do, and you’ve got a book?” I explained that we still had to figure out what happened in each chapter, so she began making suggestions. I finally snapped. “Joyce, it’s my book.”

Another time I was writing a book based on the life of trick roper Lucille Mulhall, and I wanted to know every tiny detail about roping, preparing ropes, etc. Finally it was Joyce’s turn to snap: “Enough with the ropng, Judith Ann. Get on with the story.” She was so right.

Joyce has been honored many times in many ways—Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, the Texas Historical Association and the Texas Historical Commission. But this hall of fame was a missing chunk in that awe-inspiring biography, and I am so glad to see it made right, even if belatedly. In her acceptance comments, Joyce said all she ever wanted was to stand tall enough for her hometown of Jacksboro and for the state of Texas. “I believe tonight,” she said, “I am tall enough.” Yes, Joyce. You are tall enough. You always have been, but we could never make you believe it.

Our traveling days are behind us now as aging reaches out and grabs us. But those days are forever in my memory, and Joyce is forever one of the special people my life. Hush, Joyce, or I’ll tell everything I know about you and cooking and recipes and your mom.


Sunday, November 06, 2016

When Your Mind Plays Tricks on You, or Hallucinations

November6 6, 2016

One thing I learned in 75 years: ignore nightmares or hallucinations. I distinctly remember a nightmare when I was about five. I cowered in bed next to my mom. Every time I peeked another figure leered at me—George Washington, Donald Duck, and the like. But I kept peeking. Last night I didn’t look.

Having lost two nights’ sleep, I decided the best way to handle nightmares was to ignore them. So when my secret friends gathered in the yard, I took one long look—and went to the bathroom. The art du jour last night was sort of an impressionistic painting of a 19th-century artist studio, perhaps in Manhattan. People mingle and visit and art lines the walls along with gold-framed mirrors. The colors are muted—blue and a sort of taupe, lots of beige and off-white. It reminds me of a Degas or the lines from the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo. It is an inviting scene, and I could linger. I don/t though--I will have a couple more chances during the night, but I ignore them too.

And when I wake in a purple and lavender bedroom, I sigh and close my eyes, knowing it will return to its lovely soft yellow. The result is that I wakened this morning refreshed and well aware of where I was, whereas the two previous mornings I was disoriented, sure that I’d been moved out of my cottage even though I saw it all around me.

A puzzlement: when I first saw the crowd in the artist’s studio, Sophie went crazy, barking to go out (I didn’t fall for it). It was the bark she uses to tell me she has to investigate our safety outside. Do you suppose she “sees” my hallucination?

Friday, November 04, 2016

An unsatisfcatory day...and a wild dog

There’s no other word for yesterday—unsatisfactory. I capped it off by falling as I stood up from my desk. My shoe had come off, and I didn’t realize how slippery the brace bottom is—it scooted out from under me, followed by the walker, and I was flat on my back. Christian and Jacob came to get me up and are my heroes—after several tries, and after I calmed a bit, we got me on my knees and then Christian seated me on the coffee table. I rested, caught my breath, and headed for the bathroom which is where I’d been going all along. No damage done but it’s disquieting to fall.

Earlier Jordan and I had a good visit with my family physician—at least mostly good. He took over my meds and became traffic director which is just what I wanted him to do. But it turned out that what I saw as lovely middle of the flights of imagination, he was as hallucinations and changed a prescription. It was because of the dog.

In the wee hours Thursday morning I looked out and saw what I presumed was a plastic bag flapping in the breeze. It looked like some large and majestic wild dog—or wolf. I stared for a long time, and of course the more I looked the more real it became. I was convinced there was a wild animal—peaceful for the time, but who knew?

I called Christian who is a sound sleeper (understatement) and said, “Okay. I won’t let the dogs out in the morning.”

Me: You don’t understand. We have to get it out of there. You collect yourself, and I’ll call 911.

Christian: do we have to deal with this right now? (hear plaintive tone).

Just as I was about to say we did, I saw a bit of bag flap in the breeze and confessed it was, after all, a trash bag. “But be sure to tell Jordan just in case.”

Christian: Oh I will. I undoubtedly will.

I think what he intended to tell her was that her mother was bat-shit crazy. In the morning she quizzed me, and I asked if she couldn’t see the dog—I still could. No, she couldn’t.

I had no idea this would come back to bite me at the doctor’s office, but it did, and my protests that I wrote fiction fell on deaf ears. So now the doctor probably has the same opinion of my sanity as Christian does, and I left the appointment feeling neurotic. (There’s a sequel to te story, but I’ll save it for another day.)

I truly think the doctor thought it was a medication problem, and he adjusted things for that. But like the fall, or not, crossing a street canbedsietig \ was disquieting.

The dog was there again last night. Shhh! Don’t tell.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Halloween has come and gone

Like the buildup to Christmas and other major holidays, the run-up to Halloween is too long and protracted –all those cooking shows and ads and store displays and then, poof! It’s over. At least that’s how I felt about it this year. We anticipated the event with hamburgers and pumpkin carving—about ten of us. And I ended the evening at my desk with two carved pumpkins glowing at me from the deck. I notice tonight that they’re gone—presumably to the front porch.

Yesterday, the day, I was isolated from the festivities, including the approximately 1300 children who came trick or treating. My cottage proved ideal—no one found it to trick or treat except grown girls who came begging a glass of wine. And I was back here in solitary quiet, enjoying it.

I am not usually such a curmudgeon. Usually go to Jay and Susan’s for a bowl of stew and to watch them hand out treats. No kidding—we get about 1300 tricksters on our block. Most are small, sweet, and oh so polite. In the next block over, Medstar brings handicapped children and allows them a rare chance to participate. I’m proud to live in a neighborhood that welcomes so many and such diverse children.

But last night I was not myself. All day I had noticed that I tended to fall asleep over the keyboard—in fact, I had noticed it a few mornings during last week and of course my brain immediately went to brain tumor. When Jordan said to me last night that I looked like I was about to fall asleep, I said that was because that was how I felt. She suggested—being oh so reasonable—that perhaps I was overtired. Since I slept 10.5 hours last night I suspect she was right. I still fell asleep a bit this morning but nothing like yesterday.  Maybe cumulative tired, like six months of it, has caught up with me.

But now it’s over, and I think we can settle down to a few peaceful days—If Jordan doesn’t invite half the world for another function which she has yet to dream up. I am not falling asleep over the keyboard but I am weary tonight.

I did wish at 3 a..m. this morning I’d had my camera at hand. I was in bed, thinking those black three-o’clock-in-the-morning thoughts about things that didn’t really need to be worried about. I decided to go to the restroom to sort of break the cycle, but I forgot to turn on the bedside light. When I came back I could barely make out that there was something large, black, and rumpled in the doorway between the bedroom and kitchen. Sophie never bothers towels, but that was what it looked like. As I inched toward the light, half of mass moved several feet. Sophie had gotten her color caught in the afghan that covers her chair and was doomed to drag the blanket with her wherever she went. She gave me the most pitiful look that said, “Help me, please” I scooted into the kitchen, got scissors and freed her.

It was one of life’s little lessons—don’t fret and stew over things that are not here yet, if ever, but help your dog. Priorities.