Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day, bird watching, and a color scheme

Jacob, distracted from his book, by
the birds overhead
I seem to forget every four years that Leap Day is a big deal. I read posts today from people who were going to make it a day for good deeds (applaud that one) and folks who were going to count it as an extra free day with no obligation to work. I fit into the latter category, because I did a lot of this and that and not much else today. Cleaned up odds and ends on my desk, which included going through three cooking magazines to be sure I had culled all the recipes I wanted. Also tried to deal with my late cousin’s estate—almost two years after her death I find she owes 2015 taxes on $228. Long story. I have written to a CPA in Canada because I know zilch about filing a Canadian income tax…and I doubt my accountant wants to take it on.
Jacob took his book out on the deck to read this afternoon—a book he’s really liking about a boy with a disfigured face. But he was distracted by the birds—from his description I suspect they were crows. No wonder my deck table needs cleaning so badly.
For those of you who’ve seen the cover of The Gilded Cage on the net, I discovered something horrible today—it doesn’t say Gilded; it says Guilded. Yikes. Trying to repair damage now, but I guess since no one else has mentioned it, it’s not a huge catastrophe.
The weaving that will set the cottage color scheme.
Uncle Bob would be so pleased if he were here.
Almost every weekday afternoon Jordan and I plot and plan about our upcoming moves…and the focus of her attention is on getting my cottage arranged to my satisfaction. Tonight we resolved on a color scheme that will go with the rug I want to take. I have put off having a badly worn couch and wing chair (my mom’s) reupholstered because I was unsure of fabric. So now that’s solved. And Jordan figured out that the colors were perfectly picked up by a weaving done by a late and dear friend. A productive day.
Tonight, serious reading.

I seem to forget every four years that Leap Day is a big deal. I read posts today from people who were going to make it a day for good deeds (applaud that one) and folks who were going to count it as an extra free day with no obligation to work. I fit into the latter category, because I did a lot of this and that and not much else today. Cleaned up odds and ends on my desk, which included going through three cooking magazines to be sure I had culled all the recipes I wanted. Also tried to deal with my late cousin’s estate—almost two years after her death I find she owes 2015 taxes on $228. Long story. I have written to a CPA in Canada because I know zilch about filing a Canadian income tax…and I doubt my accountant wants to take it on.

Jacob took his book out on the deck to read this afternoon—a book he’s really liking about a boy with a disfigured face. But he was distracted by the birds—from his description I suspect they were crows. No wonder my deck table needs cleaning so badly.

For those of you who’ve seen the cover of The Gilded Cage on the net, I discovered something horrible today—it doesn’t say Gilded; it says Guilded. Yikes. Trying to repair damage now, but I guess since no one else has mentioned it, it’s not a huge catastrophe.

Almost every weekday afternoon Jordan and I plot and plan about our upcoming moves…and the focus of her attention is on getting my cottage arranged to my satisfaction. Tonight we resolved on a color scheme that will go with the rug I want to take. I have put off having a badly worn couch and wing chair (my mom’s) reupholstered because I was unsure of fabric. So now that’s solved. And Jordan figured out that the colors were perfectly picked up by a weaving done by a late and dear friend. A productive day.

Tonight, serious reading.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Church and the marathon … and an excerpt

The Cowtown Marathon runners went down my street, right in front of my house, this morning. I’m just about at the halfway point. In the long ago, I was enough involved in competitive racing to recognize good form when I see it, so it was fun to watch the early runners, a little after eight this morning. I haven’t heard about a winner or winning time but it’s usually 2 hours plus, so those early easy runners were well on their way to becoming early finishers. It’s also fun to watch the styles—I saw one man who ran stiffly upright, and I thought he’d tire before long; the easy runners are relaxed, giving themselves into their pace.

A group had set up a cheering stand, complete with boom box, across the street from me, in front of the school. They clapped and cheered and yelled for each runner. Eventually they must have seen the runner they were looking for because they packed up and left. A neighbor a couple of blocks over had emailed to ask if it was okay if she left juice for her husband on my steps—she did, and it’s gone tonight. I saw a FB picture of him at the finish line—his 32nd Cowtown.

By the time Jordan came to get me for church, we had slow runners, some walkers, some groups. She stewed and worried about how to get here and finally didn’t do it the way I would have at all but I kept my mouth shut. We tried to avoid the runners by taking a side street, only to find out that the marathon planners had outfoxed us and routed the runners down a cross street. So we sat and waited for a break to cross the street. Made it to church in plenty of time, and by the time we came home, after lunch, there were no runners. I remember the day when the last marathoner would straggle in about four or five in the afternoon.

After church we had brunch at the small Park Hill Café near my house. Really good—I had quiche and wonderful hash browns—you got a complimentary mimosa which I had about half of and gave the other half to Christian. It’s a café where I like to eat lunch, and I was at first dismayed I couldn’t get my half pimiento sandwich. And they never did bring that small mint/dark chocolate bar they serve with lunch. Still it was fun.

Tonight I’m back to working on my writing projects. And have a big announcement: want to read an excerpt from The Gilded Cage, my April 18 novel about Chicago in the late 19th Century. Go here:


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oops--a cooking mistake, and the value of haircuts

Since my dinner plans cancelled I decided to have creamed tuna on toast tonight, which sent one of my sons-in-law into paroxysms and would have sent the other if he knew about it. But to me it’s comfort food. Except tonight I opened the wrong can—I order salmon and tuna from a cannery in Oregon, and unless you read the label carefully, they look alike. I didn’t read carefully enough and inadvertently made myself creamed salmon. Not bad. A little more fishy, and it needed something to spark it up—even though I doused it liberally with white wine. Not a major oops, and Jacob had already had his pizza bites (see me frown), so it wasn’t a big deal.

The only other news from this front is that a haircut always makes a girl feel better. Sophie and I both had haircuts and shampoos this week—she feels so silky and soft when she’s clean. I can’t say the same is true for me.

Sophie has taken to sleeping, briefly, on my bed. She jumps up, puts her face in my face for loving, then curls at the foot of the bed. Sometimes she stays awhile, sometimes not. I’ve discovered when she goes crazy in the middle of the night and jumps at my bed for attention, all I have to do is pat the bed. She jumps up, comes for loving, curls up at the foot of the bed. When I woke at 8:15 (sinfully late), she was on the dog bed by my bed and stayed there, sound asleep, until after nine.

Jacob did a 5K (3.1 miles) in 25 minutes at the Cowtown Marathon this morning. The running club paid off, and most of the kids from his school finished in good time. HIs mom power-walked the same course in 55 minutes. I'm proud of both of them.

You can tell it’s been an exciting day around here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Nostalgia and the Cowtown Marathon

The Cowtown Marathon this weekend will bring back a lot of memories for me. My late friend, Charles Ogilvie, who ran in that race well into his eighties and took me to many carbo-loading dinners, used to say it began in my living room, and I think it did. My ex was part of a group from the Institute for Human Fitness, and several men met weekly on Sunday afternoons to discuss programming. The Institute, a part of what was then the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, had a program to promote health through fitness and preventive medicine, rather than treating illness. What happened to that approach is sad and a bit stupid, but it’s a story for another day.

At the time Joel (my ex) and I had a friend, Anne, living with us. While the men talked fitness, Anne and I were out in the kitchen whipping up the richest desserts we could imagine. I particularly remember her Italian Cream Cake. And the men ate like there was no tomorrow. Fitness?

At any rate they came up with the plan of a marathon. This was back in the late 1970s—do the math: this is the 37th running. It took months of planning, endless committee meeting, countless volunteers—I was coordinator of publicity and worked with my dear friend Melinda Mason from the Star-Telegram. I’m not sure why they chose a date in late February, but they did.

The night before the first race, we were sitting in our bedroom when we heard it—sleet! Joel spoke eloquently, “Shit! I didn’t want sleet.” Next morning the ground was covered with ice, snow and sleet. He left way early, and the four kids and I followed cautiously, not quite so early. What I can’t believe to this day is that I turned the kids loose in the Stockyards District while their dad and I worked—Jordan must have been really young at the time, but I guess she had her siblings to look after her. Still, I would no more do that today than I’d run a marathon myself. The kids loved it, looked forward to it each year, and have told me since there was always a huge group of kids they hung out with—yeah, where Marine Creek passes under buildings in dark tunnels and rocks anyone could trip on. I don’t like to think about it.

Having abandoned my parental responsibilities, I had a ball, talking on radio stations, taking care of this and that detail, arranging trophies, who knows what? At the end of the day, all four kids magically reappeared and all was well. It was one of the highlights of my year.

Joel never ran until the last year of our marriage which was really frayed by that time, so I didn’t get the joy of welcoming him across the finish line. After we divorced, I worked one or two races, but it wasn’t the same, and I gave it up.

This Sunday the full marathon will go by my house, and I’ll watch the runners, judging their style and timing, and my thoughts will be far back in the distant past.

Jordan will power walk the 5K, and Jacob will run it though he’s made it plain he won’t stay with his mom. He wants to run with his buddies. I’m not sure he even knows what role the grandfather he never knew had in starting the race. But I know, and I remember, and I offer a silent salute.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Pestilence and predators

Don’t you hate it when people say in ominous tones that there’s stomach flu or virus or something else going around? I do and always tell myself it can go around all it wants but I’m not getting it. Usually I don’t but, as you may know, I did get the current pestilence, a stomach virus, last weekend. I’m recovered—about 95% back to normal—but the long tail survives.

Jacob had running club after school today but instead one of the dads brought him home directly from school. He said he felt like he was going to throw up and his stomach hurt bad (his grammar, not mine). He really did look pitiful. Now, tonight, I get word that he’s thrown up and will be spending the day with me tomorrow. I’m glad I got out of the house tonight for the first time in almost a week. Will ask a friend to do my grocery shopping tomorrow.

I went to dinner with Betty, our usual Wednesday night gig, and she said she had been sooo sick. Turns out she got sick last Thursday night and still isn’t 100% back to normal—no interest in food and can’t eat all of whatever’s on her plate. Last Wed. night we ate at a new restaurant and both had salmon burgers. I decided that salmon was the culprit, although I felt all weekend like I had a virus. Jordan said tonight I can’t leap to that conclusion because a lot of people have whatever it is. But I’m not going back to that restaurant.

In addition to the woozies, I have two new worries about which I’m almost obsessive. The first is not really new. I’ve heard a lot about dog fighting which apparently thrives on the east side of my city, but I never worried about 30-lb. Sophie. That is until I read that dog fight villains use cats and small dogs as bait. So now I’m very cautious about leaving her out. She, of course, doesn’t understand and looks at me as if to say, “You want me to come in why?”

My other worry began this week when I read on Facebook of two incidents of apparent attempted kidnapping of children by sex traffickers. Now, okay, it was Facebook and I understand that but it still sent a chill up my spine to read that a woman tried to grab a three-year-old from her mother’s arms and said, “Say goodbye to mommy.” So now I have to worry about my grandchildren as well as my dog. It keeps a soul busy. I’ve threatened to get handcuffs that Jacob and I can wear to the grocery store.

What a world we live in—pestilence and predators!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Saying you're sorry

No, this is not a lecture on the virtues of apologizing, though we hear that all the time. This is more in line with my post of last night about learning not to beat yourself up for something that isn’t your fault.

I’ve been posting several book manuscripts to Amazon in the last week or two—okay, not that many, but it seems like several to me. This is new territory for me, but since I’m now an indie publisher—Alter Ego Publishing—it’s important that I learn how to do this the right way. As a consequence, I’ve had lots of correspondence with the lovely young (I assume she’s young because she’s so technically smart) woman who formats manuscripts for me. I on the other hand am in my late seventies and a newcomer to all this web stuff.

I clearly remember writing Sunday and saying, “Sorry for the Sunday bother.” Today, I found I’d apparently sent her the wrong file, and we may have to start all over again on one book. I apologized. And then it dawned on me, she might well be tired of hearing me say I’m sorry. She’s always gracious about it and applauds my small victories, but even I think you can overdo apologies.

With me, I think it’s a need to have people like me, to not seem a bother. I know I am a nurturer by nature, but is that driven by a deeper need for approval, even affection? I’m not sure. I just know it’s been part of my nature for years. I apologize when I don’t have to, I accept blame for things that aren’t my fault. All in an effort to be pleasant.

I am learning to stand up for my opinions, even my politics, in discussions. I have a friend who never contradicts or crosses her husband, and I want to shout at her, “Stand up for yourself.” But the kind of apology I’m talking about is different. I’m not a milquetoast, and often I defer to others because the argument is not worth the effort. I can tell when someone is talking from a determined one-sided point of view and not willing to listen. That’s not it.

I’m talking more tonight about always apologizing, even if you’re not wrong. My new resolve is to simply say, “I made a mistake” and move on from there. It’s all a part of self-esteem. Why did I have to get so old to learn these lessons?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Meeting life with joy, or why do we blame ourselves?

Did you see the video of the 106-year-old woman dancing at the White House with the president and first lady? She was gleeful and so spry, said she’d always wanted to come to the White House and more recently to meet the Obamas. Now she was there in honor of Black History Month. Obviously, both the president and first lady delighted in her company, and one thing I must say to all his critics, from videos we see of him with the beyond-elderly and the very young, he is a man of compassion, grace, and love for humanity.

I on the other hand spent too much of the day having a pity party. It is now four days since I had the stomach virus, and the music lingers on. Saturday I felt great, last night with eight people for supper, I lost my starch—my neighbor came over to pull the barbecue, and Jordan, Susan, and Subie did the dishes. I ate but not much. This morning I woke feeling awful, got myself together once I got up and had a good and productive morning. But this afternoon and evening, my starch has gone again. One thing I know about a virus—it can linger and make you very tired.

But I also spent the day beating myself up mentally for giving in. I should, I thought, find the joy in life. It was all my fault for letting stomach issues get in my way. I should rise above. I also thought at times it was a sign of aging. I decided irrationally that my blog chronicle of the year would be of the year I aged—when in truth I’ve done so much else and really had a good year (I’m counting the year from my July birthday to the next, so it’s more than half over). Yes, I’ve had some health problems, and yes, I’ve probably lost some mobility but I’m working on improving it. And I don’t think my brain or my attitude have aged, so I’m going to ride out this pesky pestilence and stop blaming myself. I think it’s a trap we all fall into—blaming ourselves for things beyond our control.

Don’t mean to give the idea that I have the TV on all day, but sometimes I do most of the day with the sound muted, and tonight The Biggest Loser is on. I may not be in good shape, but I’m closer than some of the contestants. They are an inspiration to make me work harder at staying healthy and active. My resolve: back to Yoga. And stop feeling guilty.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Circadian rhythms are out of whack

My Circadian rhythms—those almost 24-hour patterns that control all animal and plant life—out of whack, and I suspect I know why. After I slept the clock around Friday night, I couldn’t go to sleep last night. I’m sure I dozed but I watched much of the night go by. Having a restless nine-year-old in the bed didn’t help. This morning I said to him that I didn’t sleep well last night, and he said, “Neither did I.” I said, “Of course you did. I watched you all night.” He grinned and said, “Just kidding.” I’m about to offer him my side of the bed, which he seems to edge toward. Actually he prefers the middle. Once I turned over, looked at him and saw that his face was “in my face,” with his head buried in the pillows. If I hadn’t felt his regular breathing, I’d have worried about him suffocating.

In the long dark hours of a sleepless night, which doesn’t happen to me often, I’m capable of the most bizarre thoughts—like, “I’m having another TIA” or “This is an omen—something bad is going to happen.” I thought my foot was swelling again, and I’d have to go to the ER. All kinds of fears can raise their ugly heads at three in the morning. I tried relaxation, deep breathing, every technique I knew. I read a question somewhere, probably on Facebook, that asked, “What is it with people who fall right asleep? Don’t they have thoughts?” I outlined a new book, which may eventually lead to something but it falls wide of the mark now; I solved some of the problems in my friends’ lives—which I’d never have the nerve to tell them. I thought of all those emails I should have sent yesterday—they took me five minutes total when I finally did them this morning. I got leg cramps; I had to pee an inordinate number of times; I twisted and turned from back to side and fought off that encroaching child who once gave me such a good whack on the arm I was sure I’d have a bruise. Finally, at 7:30, I gave up, got up, and started my day.

My mom was quite cavalier about sleepless nights when I was a child. I remember complaining that I couldn’t go to sleep because I itched all over. “That,” she said serenely, “is a sign you’re about to go to sleep.” If I complained that I hadn’t slept at all, she’d say, “You did. It just seems like you didn’t.” I did have a few, brief, weird dreams last night and sometimes saw messages and words that made no sense—origin of my fear that I was having a TIA.

This morning, all was sunshine. I went about my routine, fed Jacob, did some work at my computer, did some kitchen work. Okay, don’t look at all the unfolded laundry by the washing machine.

Now I’m sleepy. Jacob has gone to brunch with his parents, and Sophie is curled up in her chair. Company coming at 5:30. I may not be ready, because I’m going to take a long nap (I hope).

P.S. Nice nap. Crockpot barbecue was good. And two important dinner guests are shown above. The younger one is serving as a seeing-eye dog for my friend; the older one is retired. Sophie loves these boys!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Barbecue, silly accidents, and a new day

Taking a break while making crockpot barbecue that I’ll let simmer all night and maybe all day tomorrow. (Blessing my onion goggles—thank you, Megan.) I am a new person today and do not wish to repeat yesterday. Slept 11-1/2 hours last night, although not without interruptions—once when Sophie needed to go out (she’s not used to me going to be at 8:30) and once when she decided we were under attack from a squirrel or rat (imaginary, I hope) in the attic. By then it was about three in the morning, and I thought, “I’m better! I feel good.” Such a relief.

I worked at my desk all morning getting the neighborhood newsletter in shape and did three loads of laundry—the family room looks like laundry central with all the unfolded things. I washed my bed clothes, as I figure a just-over-a-virus person should do. The quilt, however, was too bulky for me to handle in one hand with the cane in the other. I decided dragging it would be the answer, but sometimes it hung up. I finally looked behind me and realized Sophie was walking on it, following me (talk about a Velcro dog). After that I didn’t look in my wake and was astonished when I picked up the comforter and several items from my purse fell out. I had knocked the purse off its chair and left a trail of objects behind me, in addition to rolling up the kitchen rug (convenient for tripping). When Jordan came I told her that story, and she laughed aloud.

So I told her that yesterday I drank a little wine trying to quiet my increased tremor. “It didn’t work, and I spilled wine in your shoes.” She had left a pair of shoes by the living room buffet. She laughed again. One of the things I love about her is that she sees the humor in these things.

Jordan has been setting up for a party for 80 she’s co-hosting tonight, but she made time to help me. We put the clean linen back on the bed—I cannot lift that heavy mattress to get the bottom sheet fitted. That was all the help I really needed, but bless her, she finished the bed, set the table for eight, and did other stuff until she said, “There. Your house is ready for a party tomorrow night.” That girl takes such good care of me.

So does Sophie. When I napped this afternoon, she slept at the foot of the bed. Once, when I lay very still, she reached over a paw and moved my leg. I raised my head and asked, “Yes?” Reassured that I was okay, she went back to sleep.

Tonight Jacob and I had bacon and scrambled eggs for supper. By eight, he was hungry, so had a bowl of cereal. I’m slowly coaching him to fix such things for himself, but the first time he did he used almost all of a small bottle of milk. Tonight I told him, “You’re not floating a battleship here. You’re just getting a little milk on the cereal.” He found a baseball card he had to have on ebay for $18.75. Told him I don’t do ebay, so he found it on Amazon—for $85.00. I should have quit while I was ahead. I told him I’d consider it by his June birthday—counting on him finding a dozen other things by then.

Back to my barbecue.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Taking a day off from the world

I suppose it does everyone good to take a day off from the world, but today was pretty miserable. I woke at five this morning with the clear thought, “I don’t feel well.” Stomach issues (any further information would be TMI). Finally, at seven I knew I had to cancel the day—which meant my cleaning lady (I wanted to sleep in peace and quiet), a long overdue haircut, a trip to the grocery (Amy, my miraculous “travel assistant”) went for me, and lunch with a friend.

I spent the morning getting up and down from bed—I’d do a little work and go back to bed for an hour or so. About 11:30 I had a cup of tea, and at one—a banana and a glass of water. Sophie lay at the foot of my bed, and when I heard a stomach growl, I couldn’t tell if it was hers or mine.

Jacob came in about three and asked, “Are you really throwing up? I never saw an old person throw up.” Such a helpful kid.

Now I’ve been up a hour and a half and it’s time to go back to bed. Jacob has gone to play with a friend, and Jordan has sanitized the house, made me huge glasses of water, and gone to set up for a party they’re co-hosting tomorrow night. My bed is beckoning.

I expect to be a new person by tomorrow morning. Not sure about doing crockpot barbecue for eight Sunday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Learning to meditate

 Meditation is supposed to help you relax, and Lord knows I need that. I’ve had a bad couple of days, and my physical therapist told me every muscle in my body was tense. So I decided meditation was one of the keys.

The other day I was in the living room with Jordan having a happy hour glass of wine. She left, and I just sat there, thinking this would be a good time to meditate. But instead of the deep spiritual revelation I wanted, my mind wandered to what to cook for this weekend, what computer chores I needed to do, what could I do about the downsizing mess in my house. We’re told in prayer not so much to talk to the Lord, especially asking things of him, but to be silent and let him talk to us. Well, he seems to talk to me about food and grandchildren and the nitty gritty of everyday life. Clearly, my mind is on the mundane when I am searching for revelation.

Years ago a psychologist taught me to consciously relax every muscle in my body, thinking clearly about the muscles in my scalp all the way down to my toes. Then, with eyes closed, I could meditate. I remember the relaxation part really helped, but I don’t remember much about the meditation except that one day it came to me, clear as a bell, that I shouldn’t take the solo trip to Singapore that friends had proposed. I do take that kind of revelation seriously…and it has saved me from some uncomfortable situations. Recently I couldn’t wrap my head around a teaching opportunity, and it occurred to me it was because I shouldn’t do it. I declined.

But somehow I want something deeper, and maybe I’m looking for too much. I want great insight into the nature of the world and my place in it. I want more insight into my faith and the nature of spirituality. And it doesn’t happen.

Do you really suppose God meant me to cook and focus on everyday chores? I’d like to think there’s something more.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Life is in Disarray

Can you even see the little black dog on my lap?
Well, maybe not my whole life but surely my house. Downsizing continues. I now have four bags for Berry Good Buys—which benefits victims of domestic violence at Women’s Haven—and six or seven bags I will save for the Association for Retarded Citizens when they pick up in a couple of weeks.

This is how Sophie and I help—we lie there and watch, and I say yea or nay. Occasionally Jordan sets me to work sorting a bag or something. In one I found tax returns from 2006. If the seven-year-rule holds, I can get rid of those, though Colin will probably want to take them to Tomball where he can legally burn them. (We can’t do that in Fort Worth.)

What was once my guest room is now downsizing central—a disaster on wheels. A friend may spend the night tomorrow, and I’ll have to carve out someplace for her to sleep. Meanwhile, the detritus (a friend used that word last night at dinner, and I have adopted it) is spilling over into the rest of the house. My current project is to try to bring order to the rest of the house and ignore the guest room.

Tomorrow I will take bags to Berry Good Buys, which will make the living room look better, and the garbage carts will be empty so we can refill the recyclable with all the stuff in another corner of the living room. I will try to put away most of the stuff in my bedroom and find out what the boxes are. Yesterday, in cleaning the guest room closet and armoire, Jordan just put everything she didn’t know what to do with in my room. Sigh.

I used to be known for keeping a neat house. I didn’t really care if there were dust curls in the corners, but I wanted everything picked up and not cluttered. Word was, “Don’t set your coffee cup down or she’ll whisk it up and put it in the dishwasher.” I’m afraid those days are gone for at least a year until I am settled in my new quarters. Then I won’t tolerate any mess, loose papers, left-behind ice cream dishes or coffee cups. Small quarters don’t need clutter.

Meantime I’m trying to live with disarray.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Cover Reveal

My blog tonight is unabashed BSP (blatant self promotion). I am so excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming novel, The Gilded Cage, a historical novel about my hometown of Chicago. Watch for it April 18. Meantime, here is the reveal, taken straight from Historical Fiction Blog Tours. The cover is by renowned Austin book designer and my longtime friend, Barbara Whitehead. In subsequent blogs, I’ll talk about why I’m so excited about this and consider it one of my “big” books.

y, February 8, 2016
Posted By amy @ 11:50 am | No Comments
The Gilded Cage
by Judy Alter
Publication: April 2016
eBook & Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Born to a society and a life of privilege, Bertha Honoré married Potter Palmer, a wealthy entrepreneur who called her Cissy. Neither dreamed the direction the other’s life would take. He built the Palmer House Hotel, still famed today, and become one of the major robber barons of the city, giving generously to causes of which he approved. She put philanthropy into deeds, going into shanty neighborhoods, inviting factory girls to her home, working at Jane Addams’ settlement Hull House, supporting women’s causes.
It was a time of tremendous change and conflict in Chicago as the city struggled to put its swamp-water beginnings behind it and become a leading urban center. A time of the Great Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Riots, and the triumph of the Columbian Exposition. Potter and Cissy handled these events in diverse ways. Fascinating characters people these pages along with Potter and Cissy—Carter Harrison, frequent mayor of the city; Harry Collins, determined to be a loser; Henry Honoré, torn between loyalties to the South and North; Daniel Burnham, architect of the new Chicago—and many others.
The Gilded Cage is a fictional exploration of the lives of these people and of the Gilded Age in Chicago history.
The Gilded Cage is a wonderful recreation of early Chicago and the people who made it what it is. Central character Cissy Palmer is a three-dimensional, real, vibrant person. The Gilded Cage is fiction, but firmly based on fact—the Chicago Fire, the prisoners from the War Between the States interred in Chicago, the newcomer Potter Palmer, the explosive growth of wealth in a prairie town, deep poverty adjacent to great riches—the American experience laid bare. You don’t have to be a Chicagoan to love this book.” -Barbara D’Amato, author of Other Eyes
02_The Gilded Cage
About the Author03_Judy Alter
Judy Alter is the award winning author of fiction for adults and young adults. Other historical fiction includes Libbie, the story of Elizabeth Bacon (Mrs. George Armstrong) Custer; Jessie, the story of Jessie Benton Frémont and her explorer / miner / entrepreneur / soldier / politician husband; Cherokee Rose, a novel loosely based on the life of the first cowgirl roper to ride in Wild West shows; and Sundance, Butch and Me, the adventures of Etta Place and the Hole in the Wall Gang.
For more information visit Judy Alter’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Food...and a dumb cook

I found a recipe I thought sounded great—put pork chops in crockpot, dump in a can of cream of chicken soup, sprinkle dry onion soup over it. After I got home from the grocery, I thought three pork chops looked sort of skimpy, and Jordan increased my anxiety by saying Christian would want more than one. (We don’t count Jacob because he doesn’t like meat.) So today I defrosted three chicken breasts and added them. Then it dawned on me—that’s exactly how I used to cook pot roast for my children (where was my brain?) only I added a bit of red wine—for the beef. So today I added white wine but apparently too much—the gravy was way too thin, so I mixed flour and water and thickened it. And added a bit of Kitchen Bouquet to darken it—only that came out of the bottle too fast and I added a whole lot more than I meant too. It was all good though—roasted asparagus that was perfectly done, just the right amount of crispness, and rosemary potatoes that were browned and crisp. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Last night I fixed shakshuka, a dish that seems of Mediterranean origin to me, though I think I read someplace it’s a traditional Israeli dish served either for breakfast or dinner. I fiddled with the recipe a lot, reducing it from six serving to one, and substituting where I wasn’t sure I had the right spices, using scallions in place of onion, etc. Basically you sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, add cumin and sweet paprika (cayenne optional and I left it out), add canned tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes have thickened. Then crack eggs into the mixture—I used two just for me—and bake until eggs are done to the required firmness. That’s where I once again went amuck—when I first looked at them, they were a little jiggly—even for some who likes her eggs easy. When I went back, they were rubbery. Still lesson learned, flavor was good, and I’ll do it again—but better. Oh, and I forgot to add the feta, which would have made a wonderful difference.

One of life’s embarrassing moments: Friday night I was having a glass of wine with Jordan when a friend appeared at the door. I had totally forgotten that we were going to dinner—and I’d been looking forward to a long overdue visit. I jumped up, hastily changed clothes, and we left, first to see the condo she’d just moved into and then to Taverna for dinner, all with me still in a sort of daze. Mary ordered trout, which looked wonderful, but I settled for an appetizer—artichoke hearts baked in a cream/garlic sauce with fontina cheese and a crisp bread crumb topping. Oh my goodness—so garlicky and rich but so good.

Tomorrow night a friend is coming to get me and take me to his house for dinner with him and his wife. This time I will be dressed, ready, and looking forward to another dining adventures.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Oh, my! Politics, hatred, and what else?

Politics: The internet is abuzz with news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death—in Texas of all states. Some say he was at a luxury resort; others that he was at his own home. Whichever, few people are mourning, and I think that’s sad. No, I didn’t like him, didn’t like his politics, his arrogance, his bias. But I truly believe we should rejoice in no man’s death. My condolences to his family, especially in light of the vitriol being spewed out, some even hoping it was a prolonged, agonizing death. What is wrong with people? Where have we lost our humanity?

I doubt few of us can absorb the impact this will have on American citizens. Republicans are clamoring that no new justice should be appointed until after the presidential election, which goes contrary to the Constitution and to precedent. Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell have already begun shrill objections to the appointment before the deceased is even in the ground and before the President has even thought about a replacement. Democrats are suggesting everything from Obama resigning so Biden can appoint him to waiting for the election so that either Bernie or Hillary can appoint him. I’ve seen Elizabeth Warren’s name mentioned, but I think she likes the Senate and is valuable there. There is an irony here—many of us think President Obama’s next job should be on SCOTUS---bad timing. But my mom had two sayings: “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” and “The mills of the Gods grind extremely slowly but they grind extremely finely.”

And probably few of us realize how important SCOTUS decisions are to our daily lives. One of the most serious responsibilities of a president is to appoint justices. We’ve been left with a conservative court, and may now that will change.

The court is almost evenly split now, maybe even leaning left since I’ve read that Justice Clarence Thomas always took his cues from Scalia and will be adrift without him. I don’t know what major cases are pending, but it’s bound to be an interesting and divisive time.

I’ll leave that topic with this frightening question: Who would Donald Trump appoint?

Be of good faith!

Meanwhile I am disheartened to see the Clinton and Sanders camps sniping at each other. I will support either as a candidate because I think it’s important—essential—to put another Democrat in the White House and hopefully clean house in the Congress. When I suggested we as liberals or progressives or whatever are shooting ourselves in the foot by making accusations against one or the other candidates that might resonate in the campaign after the conventions, I got vituperative, mean emails from someone who hates Hillary. Again, where did all our hatred come from?

I want to live in a country known for its humanity and compassion, not one where the poor are ignored, we have a clown car, and Bruce Jenner is the Woman of the Year. Yes, I too will be of good faith.


Friday, February 12, 2016

The Grandsons' Kisses

Two of my grandsons have decided to make a game out of not kissing Juju. Kegan, the youngest, was always a bit shy so I would send messages that I was saving up lots of kisses for the next time I saw him. He was patient and a bit stoic when I bestowed those kisses. The last time his family was here, as they prepared to leave, his mom and sister came and hugged me. Kegan stood by the desk with that sly grin he has and asked, “What?” He knew perfectly well we were all waiting for him to give me a hug and a kiss. I bluffed through it and got my love.

Jacob is another matter. When he was young, he would kiss anybody and everybody on the mouth. But he’s a fourth-grader now, doesn’t even like to be hugged in public. He hugs me when he comes in and when he leaves—often sort of a passive hug. But a kiss? Never. If I do score one on his cheek, he wipes it off with his hand.

The other day his other grandparents were here. Nana asked for a kiss, and he kissed her on the mouth. I said, “Jacob Burton!” and he came over, put an arm around me, and said, “You’re mad, aren’t you?” I said, “No, not mad. Just jealous.” He was quite affectionate the rest of the day and late that night when they were going home, I asked for a kiss and he kissed me on the mouth—didn’t even wipe it off. We joked about it with his dad, and I opened my arms and said, “Come here and let me hug you”-no kisses.

His older cousin, Sawyer, has always been a great kisser and at eleven continues to be. Sawyer’s younger brother, Ford, settles for hugs.

I don’t want my grandchildren kissing Coxey’s Army but I think it’s sad that somewhere along the way they lose that natural affection.  I think it’s because they become so conscious of what others are thinking. I was going to write that I thought perhaps we taught young boys ideas of masculinity that excluded affection, but I’m not sure that’s it. My granddaughters all give tight, loving hugs but they don’t kiss.

I guess it’s a function of growing up, not gender roles, but doesn’t fourth grade sound a little early? I’m always threatening to put a brick on their heads to keep them from growing. It earns me puzzled looks. I am so proud of the way all seven are growing and becoming, but a small part of me wants them to be toddlers forever.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sorting through my life

Not my best photo, but this is how I spent much of the afternoon—sorting through boxes of clippings of book reviews and magazines articles I wrote in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hungry to be a writer, I wrote about everything and anything. My bent for western history was evident in the book reviews, mostly for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when Leonard “Sandy” Sanders was book editor—a glorious period of book reviews now long gone. My reviews are on crumbling yellow newsprint, but interestingly enough I attached my copy of the typewritten review to each—on a thin, onion-skin paper.

Then there were articles for a wide variety of publications—the Dallas Morning News had its own Sunday supplement called Scene, and I wrote often for them; many articles for the American Osteopathic Association magazines for lay readers called Health; a few for American Baby Magazine and some for a now defunct publication called Fort Worth Women. I was nothing if not eclectic.

These things will go to my archive at the Southwest Writers Collection, Texas State University-San Marcos. I wrote Steve Davis, curator, to say, “Are you sure you really want this stuff?” and he assured me they did. So when Jordan and I go to Austin in March, we’ll take them that far and arrange for pick-up. Maybe they’ll be an object lesson for some future writers. I am always surprise that the archive thinks I’m important enough to have my papers.

What surprises me about this collection is how wide-ranging my nonfiction was, how many publications I wrote for on what a variety of articles. It was my salad days and I guess I was anxious for any publication, but I think the training stood me in good stead and built the foundation for my later career.

I checked each magazine, discarding duplicates, being sure that I could find something I’d written. I gave Jordan one thick magazine and asked her to check for an article by me—she tired of it and went back to her phone. But she carried out the trash we discarded and loaded up two boxes for the archive. And she kept me company and served me wine. It was an eye-opening afternoon, revisiting things I’d almost forgotten.

And on a bright note, Jordan took this picture of my Valentine roses, which were delivered early for last night’s happy hour.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Big day for the Burton/Alter household

Christian, holding his award,
and a very proud Jacob
It’s been a secret for three weeks—especially from Christian—but today the Fort Worth Board of Realtors named him Affiliate of the Year at their annual awards luncheon. It essentially means that he has gone above and beyond to aid realtors, bring in speakers, offer events, and assist them in any way he could.

Christian had no idea the award was coming, let alone that his family would appear. But when the award was announced, Jordan, Jacob and Christian’s parents were ushered in. Jacob had on his brand new first blazer and was so proud. Christian said something about, “And there’s my family….and my son. What are you doing out of school?”

We had a celebration happy hour tonight—about 20 people. Jordan worked herself half to death but there were flowers and candles throughout the house and wonderful food—sandwich tray, tortilla roll-ups, cheese, veggies and hummus, and a gorgeous chocolate cake. We had toasts and cheers and pictures.

It was one of those days you get all geared up for and suddenly it’s over. As I write one couple and their daughter linger in the kitchen, but Jordan has it almost all cleaned up. As people left, they thanked me for hosting and I replied that it was all Jordan.

I do feel already like we live in a shared household—we are making the mental and emotional change gradually. People ask me if I’ve moved out back yet, and I’m astounded. The Bundocks are going to make their first sally to the city for a permit this week, the roofs aren’t repaired yet, and no construction has begun. Plus we have tons of sorting to do in the main house. Nope, folks, it will be a while. But I can feel things slowly working their way out, and I’m glad we can do this gradually.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Are you a feminist?

I thought I’d skip the blog tonight. An ordinary day, no news. All I did mostly was work on taxes. Moved ahead a bit on the big redo—the contractor will take the plans to the city this week and the bank verbally approved the loan when I have an estimate. A tech came to fix the alarm system which has persistently insisted that the back door is open when it’s not. Turns out rats have chewed on the wires. Worst part: the wires are under the flat roof, so there’s no way to get to them. The alarm tech has it all solved and will be back to fix it. And that’s how my day went.

Except I’m intrigued about all the sudden buzz about feminism and Hillary’s campaign and Madeleine Albright and someone else telling women they must vote for Hillary. I am really sorry we’re still fighting this battle fifty or more years after Betty Freidan’s breakthrough book. And yet I know we are. Some people are upset because Albright or someone in her camp was described as “scolding” women. The cry was that men never scold—it’s a diminutive applied only to women. On the other hand, Hillary has been criticized for her shrill, harsh voice. How’s the poor girl to win anything?

I like Hillary and will probably vote for her, but I resent being told I have to vote for someone on the grounds of gender. Does that mean if I were Republican I’d have to vote for Fiorina (a horrifying thought in my mind)? I’d like to see a woman as president, especially one as capable and experienced as Hillary, but I still think it’s important to vote for the person best qualified to lead the country. Gender isn’t the great qualifier. And I don’t like that it’s raising such an ugly head in this election. I don't think being a feminist--and I probably am, means I have to vote for a woman.

If we as women want equality, we have to show ourselves as being as capable as men.  I think in many instances women have done that and more. And we’ve come a long way, baby, since the early days of my adulthood and professional life—I know I have. But being female doesn’t make me qualified to be president. Vote your conscience folks, gender aside.

I can’t resist a snarky comment here: one of the main problems I see with the Republican clown car is that they all tend to marginalize women. Not what I want in a leader either.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

What a lovely morning

 This morning, on a Sunday when I usually look forward to lounging and reading the paper, I was up at 7:00, ready to go at 8:15. Jacob was an acolyte in early church; friends were going to join us at church and then brunch. I decided it was all too important to miss by lounging in bed.

Jacob was solemn as he walked down the aisle with his—whatever you call the thing that lights the candles. But when the congregation stood for the recitation of the blessing, he looked at me, I smiled, and he smiled back. A wonderful Sunday morning gift. The rest of the service he had his solemn look on.

The friends with us were a longtime friend of Jordan’s, her fiancé, and her mother. We went to a local bistro, and I had a half order of delicious Eggs Florentine—the whole order is two eggs, but that was too much. And we had a great treat--beignets. Made me think of rice cakes I used to let “rise” with yeast on the counter overnight and then fry. I guess because they’re both New Orleans specials.

The highlight of the morning came when Julia’s fiancé said to Jacob: “I need two things. I need a cake guard, and I need an usher. Will you do those?” Jacob readily agreed, and I think he was pleased. At the June wedding, I’ll be sure my grandson escorts me down the aisle. As for guarding the cake, it struck me at first as asking the fox to guard the henhouse. But I know Jacob better than that. Given a responsibility he will do it.

Speaking of predators, there’s a lot of Facebook buzz about bobcats and coyotes in our area. I didn’t leave Sophie out long at all tonight. And may have to start standing guard when she is out. A friend lost a large feral cat to a bobcat, and I’ve been leery ever since.

Had a long nap until Soph decided it was time to wake me. She’d napped at the foot of the bed herself. But I was too warm and cozy to get up for a long time. I had planned an Italian tuna sandwich, complete with flavors I love such as pesto, anchovies, and capers—but suddenly it sounded, well, wrong. I wanted the comfort of creamed tuna. And oh my it was good. I once suggested Jordan make a white sauce and she fixed me with a withering look. But here’s how I did it for one:
Sauté a couple of scallions in one Tbsp. butter (I would have added celery but I didn’t have any). Add a Tbsp. of flour and stir to make a roux. Thin with white wine and a good dollop of sour cream. Add ½ a 7 oz. can of good white albacore tuna (maybe the other half will be that sandwich tomorrow). Salt and pepper to taste and serve on toast. I used the wonderful Parmesan bread I get from Central Market but its cheesy goodness got lost in the other flavors. An afterthought: I should have put in some frozen petite peas. But it was good.

Did some taxes this afternoon and can’t bear anymore. Am reading. Taxes tomorrow. Think I’m getting lazy.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Having fun with income taxes

Well, not really. I’ve spent the last two days sorting out information for my accountant. I know some people just dump it all on the accountant and let him/her do it, but I am too Scottish for that. I figure I save money by having it organized enough to complete the tax organizer. I also figure some things need explanation, and I keep track of those as I go along.

My taxes aren’t all that complicated, but there’s enough I can’t just file a short form. I have income from several sources—mostly small checks from various publishers, though a couple of distributors were pleasant surprises this year. I keep track of business expenses having to do with my writing and household expenses, because I have for years taken a home office deduction. It’s all too much for me to figure but I can organize—though I’m sure I miss some deductions here and there.

Today I did my business account. Did I really spend $216 for supplies at Staples in one trip? Turns out it was computer repair. And there was a check to a press I’d never heard of—found the invoice showing it was for a blog tour. This year I became an indie publisher and discovered, as many have, that I simply can’t do it all—so I hired an editor, formatter, webmaster, etc. And I began to do more advertising—found I spent an inordinate amount on Facebook ads which most authors say are useless. Must change the ceiling on my ads—though then you limit the people reached. I think it’s a pay-per-click system, so if you pay more it means more people clicked on your ad.

There are puzzling questions—what do I do with royalties that are below the level where the IRS requires a payer to file a 1099? I’m reporting them, but I generally just send the 1099s to the account to figure my royalties. And then there are odd expenses that fit nowhere—why did I spend $26 with Just Answer? And how did my hearing test get in with business expenses?

I’m not done by any means but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I quit for the night. Going to read some more of The Storied Life of A . J. Fikry and go to bed early—going to first church tomorrow.

Sweet dreams, everyone.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Food and trivia

I seem to go on food kicks from time to time. There are times when nothing appeals, and I really don’t want to eat. Unfortunately, there are also times when everything appeals, and I have to watch what I choose. Lately I’ve been eating high on the hog. Tonight I sautéed three sea scallops—good big fat ones—for myself and did it better than I ever have. I got a mix of butter and olive oil really hot in the skillet, put the scallops in, and didn’t disturb them for perhaps three or four minutes. Then flipped them and turned the heat down just a bit. Result was scallops with a wonderful brown crust on either side and still soft and tender inside. Perfection. My side dish was a salad of chopped tomato, avocado, and blue cheese, dressed with just a bit of lemon juice.

Yesterday I had lunch at Nonna Tata, a tiny restaurant (six tables plus outdoor seating) specializing in country Italian. It’s one of the places where I always order the same thing—brasaola, the beef version of prosciutto. It served with greens and grated grana cheese, all dressed in a light lemony sauce. So good.

The night before I split a crab cake sandwich with dining pal Betty—wonderful though a bit hard to eat so we both resorted to knife and fork. Jacob was with us and ordered his usual noodles and cheese at the Tavern. He had complained that much as he liked it, the serving wasn’t large enough, so I ordered a side of black beans, which he usually loves. No surprise—the mac and cheese filled him up, and I have the beans in the fridge. I told my brother he must be on my mind because when I mean to say, “Let’s go to the Tavern,” I often say, “Let’s go to the ranch.”

And the day before that, Subie and I had a fancy lunch at Ellerbe’s—a gorganzola and wild mushroom quiche with a salad of I don’t know what kind of greens, but they had a great dressing.

Enough of my gastronomical tour. Today I made real progress on my taxes, which made me feel good enough to be lazy tonight. What I had anticipated as a day alone at home didn’t turn out that way—Socorro Escobar was here cleaning the house and chattering about how dirty it was after our weekend cleaning: Jordan came by and we went to Central Market.

The grandmother of one of Jordan’s longtime friends died Wednesday. Jordan and the granddaughter have been friends at least since middle school, and that family considers Jordan a part of them. So tonight she was involved in taking her friend’s sons to the visitation, then bringing them back here, then taking all the boys to the family dinner. Every time she popped in (three times I believe) we had a glass of wine. I shall have to go to bed early. She will be involved with the funeral, graveside ceremony, and family gatherings all day tomorrow, but I won’t be surprised to see her pop in. That’s how my life goes, and I couldn’t enjoy it more.

Tomorrow more income tax work, but at least I see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Family ties

My brother and sister-in-law came today to pick up the things we found that he should have from all the things we sorted out last weekend. It was another moment of family bonding. My brother is six-and-a-half years older than me, and we share the same mother but his father died when he was two. Still we grew up together. My memory of him when I was young was that he was always my protector. Woe to any kid who tried to pick on me. John went away to military school in high school, then to college and a career in the Navy. We really didn’t reconnect until he went to osteopathic medical school in Kirksville MO and declared that I, living at home and recovering from a broken heart, needed to get out of our childhood home. I went to live with him and his then-wife in Kirksville. In retrospect that says to me that he was still looking after me.

Flash forward maybe fifteen years and we were both in Fort Worth TX, both married, and both heavily involved in the osteopathic community. Then he divorced, followed by me, and our lives took different paths, and we had what I would call a testy relationship for a few years—close but with undercurrents. Now, in our “golden” years (he says we’re fragile), we are close. We don’t see each other often but we talk. Today was a special occasion—they came to visit in my house, drink wine, and prowl through our memories.

We had put aside Blue Willow china for him—he ended up taking it for my niece and for himself the heavy Appalachian pottery my kids didn’t want. He took, at my suggestion, a painting that hung over the fireplace in our childhood home, a couple of cookbooks Cindy wanted, and a framed quote from Owen Wister: “The West is dead, my friend. . . .” I think the things he most treasured were battered small photos of our maternal grandparents—he remembers them and I don’t, a small journal our mother kept when he was a toddler and his father died. He kept saying, “I’m very pleased” and “Thank you.” If I’d known how happy these things would make him, I would have given them earlier—then again I didn’t even know that Mom’s journal was in the attic.

Two articles remain in limbo—the tea table given to my folks when they married and a wonderful small wooden footstool. My kids love the sit on the low stool in front of the fire, and the tea table is an occasional table in my living room. Mom used to roll it into the living room, in front of the fire, for casual Sunday suppers.

We had a lovely visit. Jacob is in awe of Uncle John and even let him treat his injured wrist—must have worked because Jacob left the brace behind when he went home.

I am glad to share these things with family who will treasure them, but I am going to live with gaping holes on my walls where art work has disappeared. If I entertain, it will be with my everyday china, because other sets of china are gone. I am ready to move into my new quarters and let the Burton branch of the family move into the main house. We are making progress-got the architect’s elevations two days ago. It’s exciting to be moving ahead, bit by tiny bit.

But still, it’s all an emotional time.