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.