Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dealing with the dog

Sophie, at her leisure, in what she
considers her rightful spot.
You think she might be spoiled?

Sophie, my sweet Sophie who only minds me when it suits her, has developed a new bad habit. She does not like people to visit with me, particularly at happy hour, though she was in fine fettle the other day when a friend came for lunch.

She barks incessantly, and the consensus is that she doesn’t want to share my attention. It probably is, as many have suggested, a case of being spoiled and wanting attention. Last night I tried everything—a treat quieted her until she finished it, and then she started again. Jeannie loved on her, even invited her up to her lap. I loved on her. She’d be quiet for a bit, and then she’d bark again, directly at me. I don’t believe in hitting dogs, but I smacked her lightly on the nose. No result. I tricked her into going outside and closed the door. She bounced against the door until I was afraid she’d bring down my magnetic screens. This is one determined dog. Jeannie suggested it’s the border collie in her—she was herding us, wanting us to do what she wanted.

Today it occurred to me that she might have been hungry, because she did bark after Jeannie left. So tonight, I fed her early. She sniffed and turned away, with a look that clearly said, “You want me to eat now?” Tomorrow I think I’ll feed her just a bit in the morning and then cut her evening rations.

Of course, to test that, I need another happy hour guest. Any volunteers?

Rainy this morning, with thunder. Found myself in bed with a needy dog, and I lingered late again. When you don’t get up until eight, the morning isn’t very long. And the rain made me less anxious to get serious about work. I fiddled with email and Facebook and other distractions until Teddy came to walk and declared it too slippery to do the driveway. We walked the path to the gate twice, and I was out of breath—not winded, but out of breath.

Lunch fare of the day: Buffalo eggs. I pickled some eggs and then deviled them with a bit of blue cheese, parsley, celery, and mayonnaise. Since neither Jordan nor I are Tabasco fans, I left that out. Really good. That and the remnants of the pasta salad I made over the weekend added up to a good, light lunch.

After lunch I got serious and wrote my thousand words for the day. Plus in the afternoon I made progress on the book I’m reading to review.

Tonight, Betty and I went to Pacific Table and split trout almandine—so good.

Tomorrow, more rain. Who can believe. Outside tonight it’s already in the seventies. Not sure I’m in Texas.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Taking stock—how happy are you?

A three-a.m. spell of wakefulness inspired me to do a little self-inventory. The results surprised me, and you might find the same.

Where I live. Fort Worth gets a big thumbs-up sign from me. I’m over that conviction I was meant to live in Santa Fe, and I’m realist enough to know that life in a Scottish village is a pipe dream. Oh, I’d change Texas politics in a heartbeat, and I might modify the weather a bit. But there’s no place I’d rather live. Part of it of course has to do with proximity of family, but I love our city—and our state, for all its warts. The history still thrills me.

What do you do every day? So many of us work at jobs that are not our dream jobs. We labor for the paycheck, without the joy of doing something special. I am so fortunate that when I worked, for thirty years my job revolved around things I like best—books and writing. Now in retirement, I get to write every day, and I love it. I was thinking this morning that the happiest part of the day for me is when I turn on the computer, cup of hot tea at my elbow, and start the day with email. Do I want to be Joyce Carol Oates--too much angst. Danielle Steele--all hat and no cattle. A best-selling mystery novelist with a multiple-book contract with a major house? Nah. I’ve read enough about the pressure of deadlines and sales numbers and the like. I’ll bobble along at my own little low mid-list rate, with its occasional moments of high celebration (come to my signing party September 21—it will be a moment of high celebration or me).

What about living alone? In spite of frequent visits each day from Jordan and a few from Jacob (last night he convinced me to sign up for Instagram and now I have to figure out what to do with it), living alone is fine, but it’s not my first choice. My dream would be to share my days with the love of my life (heart partner is such an awkward term). There have been a couple of candidates over the years, and I miss those men yet, but for various reasons things didn’t work out. I’m fairly philosophical about it, certainly glad I didn’t settle for lesser alternatives. Maybe a life of bliss is just another pipe dream.

I do have Sophie, the perfect dog, for companionship, and she’s good at her job. Is she the perfect dog? Of course not. She’s willful and spoiled and sometimes crazy with excitement. But she’s perfect for me. (Couldn’t resist that sly plug for my new book, Pigface and the Perfect Dog.)

And then there’s family. I couldn’t, wouldn’t ask for a different family in any way. Oh sure, I wish they’d call and visit more often. I wish this one wasn’t so busy and that one wasn’t so driven and yet another didn’t have sensitive issues I blunder into unknowingly and…wait! They’re already trying to identify themselves, and I won’t go there. I am blessed with an almost perfect family, and I daily ask the Lord to wrap them in his arms and throw his white light of protection over them.

In sum, I’m a fairly happy person. I hope you are too. Here’s my wish for you: may your life be full of joy and laughter and just enough tears for balance. May you eat well and sleep soundly. And that old Gaelic blessing I love: may the road rise to meet you.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Was the eclipse a jinx?

Eclipse be darned. The important thing around here is that it was Jacob’s first day at middle school. Looks ready to take on the world to me.

The consensus in the Alter/Burton household is that, in Texas, the eclipse as pretty much a bust. Jacob and his classmates were issued glasses and ushered outside, appropriately during science class, but he said it was one of the most boring things he’s ever done—ah, young exaggeration. Jordan and friends went to a restaurant with a patio, and she said she should have stayed home and worked, but she’d have felt she missed something if she didn’t go look. A friend came for lunch with me, and we kept looking outside but really didn’t see much darkening. Apparently, Texas only had 70% whatever that means.

I’ve seen places in the central path where it got dark, and from reports of people who were in Oregon, Wyoming, Carbondale (IL), it was an awesome experience. All it meant here, far as I could tell, was a jinx. I had a lot of work on my desk, but everything I touched turned to mush. I was trying to put together the neighborhood newsletter, but files acted funny, others were formatted in ways that made them so difficult to deal with I threw my hands in the air.

I had to straighten out an insurance matter and none of the options on the automated menu covered it. The robot on the other end didn’t understand what I was saying. So I went online and tried the ”chat” option but when I tried to respond it froze. Finally, with help from the broker who arranged the insurance (through TCU) I got a real person at the insurance company. Of course, it turned out that I really did owe that overdue payment I was challenging.

Then I tackled the problem of an eye exam. My insurance doesn’t pay my doctor of 30 years because he’s an ophthalmologist—that comes under medical, so I have to go to an optometrist. It took literally a half hour on the phone to get the name of the area optometrist my doctor recommends.

Anybody want to calculate the amount of time I spent on the phone, mostly on hold? I don’t even want to think about it.

One bright spot: Teddy came and walked with me. I determined to be confident and to take it slow. Thought I did really well. Pleased with myself, and he, eternal cheerleader, was complimentary.

Tonight the world looks a bit better. I finished all of the newsletter I can do with what I have on hand—waiting for late submissions. I got the medical insurance straightened out, and a mammogram appointment made, with a note on the calendar to schedule an optometrist appointment (got to space those appointments out). I finished the mystery I was reading. No work on my own novel today, but that was pretty much a given.

Whoosh. I deserve wine and supper.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eating Humble Pie

We all know the internet is full of faulty information, but I hate being part of that. Having realized that some of my comments were based on incomplete knowledge, I want to set the record straight. So here I go, eating a couple of slices of humble pie.

Until this past week, I had never heard the term “antifa.” In fact, I had to look it up. Even then, I didn’t realize it was an actual movement, loosely organized, apparently without national structure or political connections, but still a movement. Members of Antifa don’t start the fight, but they believe violence must be met with violence, and when white supremacists are violent, Antifa is ready to fight back. Because they are so loosely organized and because communism has so many meanings (an actual party, a belief system of a group, a personal belief, an affiliation with a country, often a willingness to overthrow the current government), I think it is erroneous to call these people “Commies,” but they aren’t peace-loving followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. either. According to reports, statistically they represent much less of a threat than the Neo-Nazis who are better organized, often with ties to a major political party.

I don’t like their methods, and I still think it’s unfair to tar all counter-protestors when so many are passive, many of them with religious motivation, with the communist or anarchist label, but thanks to Steve Munday for educating me so I can be a bit more honest and on target.

If you read my blog, you know I have been opposed to the destruction of Confederate monuments. I have bemoaned the frenzy with which we are trying to destroy or rewrite history, and I have been harsh about the fact that these monuments offend some. That, to my mind, is the past. But friend and fellow author Cindy Bonner suggested that the monuments should be removed to battlefields and cemeteries, where they are more appropriate than in our city parks and streets. I would be all for that, if they are carefully dismantled and transported, under the supervision of some government authority. I believe that was done in New Orleans and perhaps elsewhere. The wanton destruction by a mob is still, to my mind, vandalism and against the law.

I am still opposed to the frenzy that saw Six Flags take down all its flags and replace them with one American flag. That, indeed, is to ignore history, and I hope that in this burst of political correctness we don’t start renaming parks and streets. I think we will regret that in a few years.

All this for some reason reminds me that we consistently choose the military over the intellectual, and maybe we are reaping the fruits of that now. I am reminded of Adlai Stevenson, Jr., once governor of Illinois, UN ambassador, and a failed presidential candidate, unfortunately best known for the hole in the sole of his shoe while he sat on a platform during a political rally. A man of rare intellect, he was soundly defeated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike holds a special place in the hearts of Americans who remember that far back, but I grew up in a Stevenson household, and I’ve always been aware of the tension between soldier and thinker.

We see that today—violence vs. peaceful protest. Which do you choose?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Troubling thoughts

A lazy Saturday. That’s what I thought when I woke up this morning, and it was true for the day. I stayed in bed as long as Sophie would let me, dozing and thinking about what I’d do once I got up. Like fix myself corned beef hash—a favorite breakfast—and make the pasta salad I’ve been thinking about for a week. And, of course, write my thousand words for the day. I did all that and had a good, hard nap. I hadn’t slept well during the night, and I dreamt during my nap of my nephew and his kids and then of running a coffee house—my, how the sixties sometimes come back to haunt us. Or maybe the domestic violence of the sixties was talking to me.

Highlight of the day came when neighbors said they were coming for happy hour. They even brought the wine and some really good cheese, and we had a lovely visit, a happy hour that was truly happy.

But all day troubling thoughts were beneath the surface of my activities. While Europe suffers through terrorist attacks which unite countries in a determination not to be beaten, we are a divided country with Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists marching through our streets. And our president makes their hate okay to display in pubic. In seven short months, America has gone from being the leading world power to being dismissed as a joke….and a bad one at that.

What kind of animals honor the Third Reich? They must see the pictures of skeleton-like people, humiliated and demoralized to the point they lack humanity, lined up waiting to be shot. Of holocaust camp victims. I have read the theories about fears of white genocide, men feeling disenfranchised and wanting to return to the day “when blacks knew their place,” all the excuses for this current white supremacist behavior. None merit a moment’s thought.

Equally as bad to me are the people who claim the counter-protestors are anarchists and communists. Many are people of faith, religious leaders who fight violence by silent protest, and others, everyday citizens who, quaking with fear, feel called upon to do protest evil. Lord protest them.

I am troubled also by the frenzy to erase all signs of the Civil War. I’ve read those theories too—the symbols are offensive, they weren’t erected to honor Confederate heroes but to frighten blacks. When Six Flags amusement park forgets history and takes down not only the Confederate flag—it was the battle flag and not the official flag of the Confederacy—but also the flags of Spain, Mexico, France, and the revered Republic of Texas, the madness has gone too far.

What matters is not how things were in the past but how we treat people today—and we’re doing a damn poor job of that, with racism, immigration laws that tear families apart and target innocent citizens, gender bias that would govern our bathroom behavior, laws that cut funding for the least able among us.  There is an evil force at work, dividing us, making us less than we are.  Please. Let’s recognize evil and terrorism where they are, here today, on our streets and in our laws, and fight those forces, not tilt at statues that are no more than windmills.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What a day, what a week!

Today my local family came home from a four-day vacation at Lost Pines, a Hyatt resort property in Central Texas. They go every year with friends and look forward to it—water sports, lots of fishing for Jacob, general relaxation. I promised them a welcome-home dinner today and made family favorite Doris’ casserole. Imagine my disappointment when Jordan announced that Jacob, having just had his eleven-year-old check-up and gotten four shots, was on the couch and not joining us for dinner, and Christian was not feeling well. Christian did join us for dinner—said he thinks the pecans he ate backfired on him. It was a subdued meal, but the casserole was good, and we got good pictures which I will use for a blog I’m to do with a recipe attached.

This was a funny week. With my family gone, I scheduled myself heavily—lunch out two days, dinner out two evenings and happy hour guests the third, a dental appointment. In spite of all that, I got a lot of writing done and feel good about most of it. Plus took care of busy details of various kinds, kept up with my blog and with my email.

It was a great week for feedback on my writing—two posts as a guest blogger and one online review. Plus, today came unexpected news that six of my young-adult novels will be given new life as ebooks, beginning this month and one a month. I signed that contract a year ago, but with all the turmoil in my life I’d forgotten about it, so the news came as a great surprise. I approved cover art today for the first one. I’ll be sharing details on the blog, you can be sure.

It was a wet week too. We had a lot of rain, and yesterday’s storm blew down some small pieces of the big, old elm in front that I’m so protective of. Walking coach Teddy came and neatly stacked them. When we walked, we came up and across the front porch, and we both noticed a hanging plant that was really drooping from lack of water—too high for eleven-year-old Sam to reach as part of his watering chores. Teddy watered it.

Walking was hard of me today. Partly because I worried about the ache in my back, even sometimes at my computer. Teddy, with his usual calm manner, reassured me—yes, it’s probably spinal stenosis because almost every adult my age has it, but no, it’s not severe or I’d be feeling sharp pains. And my breathlessness today? High humidity. He said he was even breathless. I finished the walk in better style than I started it, simply because I felt reassured.

So tonight, I feel lazy. Going to spend the rest of the evening reading. Tomorrow is another day, and I can work then. May next week be as adventure-filled as this.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rain in Texas, Tattoo in Scotland, and good friends

The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but in Texas this August it falls on everything and with unusual frequency. We had a good storm this afternoon. I heard the distant thunder but at first, it’s often not recognizable—could be the construction trucks from the never-ending gas pipe work or any other number of city noises. But then a great clap right overhead, and Sophie was on her feet barking defiantly. I hadn’t even realized that she’d crept up close to me. It blew harder than usual this afternoon, and I worried about the umbrella on the deck. A friend who came by to pick something up about five, reported we lost a small limb or two from the big elm tree in front—the “suffering” tree that I was so indignant about earlier. And the rain continued, slowing down but still coming for well over an hour. Now it’s less a question of watering things than it is to dump water out of flower pots so the plants don’t get root rot.

Elmer Kelton wrote the classic novel, The Time It Neve Rained, about the 1950s drought in the Southwest. But years later, he wrote an article, “The Time It Always Rained,” about the problems that beset sheep ranchers when there is too much rain. I don’t have enough ranch knowledge to enumerate those problems, but I was struck by the fact that too much rain is almost as bad as too little. There are those pests!

A social day. Margaret, a steadfast friend since we met as student wives in Missouri in the early sixties, took me to lunch to celebrate my birthday, almost a month after the fact. We had delicious blue cheese burgers and good slaw with cabbage, kale, and a nice, just-right dressing. Each of us brought half of our lunch home. Then Margaret, good soul that she is, took me grocery shopping. Having spent too many months sending people off with grocery lists and getting some questionable products back, I find grocery shopping for myself a pure delight. And now that I do the motorized carts, it’s even better. I’m not sure Margaret had as much fun as I did.

My list was short, but I promised to cook dinner for my family tomorrow night. Then an opportunity came up to include a recipe in a guest blog, so I decided to kill two whatevers with one meal. I will cook a family favorite for them and take pictures for the blog. But it’s not a last-minute meal, at least not for me, and I needed some supplies.

Tonight, neighbors Margaret and Dennis came for happy hour, joined by Teddy and Sue. Margaret and Dennis have just been to Scotland and knew I’d want to hear all about it. Among other things, they went to Tattoo, an enormous military celebration of Scottish music and entertainment. Warmed the cockles of my heart when Dennis said that mind-boggling spectacle was great but not the highlight of the trip. He was most impressed by the majestic landscape of the Highlands. Fun for me to listen and relive some of my trip to Scotland. They kindly brought me a program from Tattoo and a kilt pin for my clan, MacBean. Dennis said, “Your clan is shrinking,” and I told him it’s always been small—but proud.

A confession: I am so grateful for company and for those who get me out of the cottage, but all day today I was thinking, “When will I write my thousand words for today?” I wrote maybe 200 just before they arrived at five and wrote the rest before I did the dishes. Now that’s focus.

And I got bookmarks today for Pigface and the Perfect Dog. Excited to start passing them out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Special Milestone

My oldest granddaughter is college-bound, and I had been fairly vocal about wanting a Maddie hug before she leaves the nest. She drove over from Frisco to have supper with me last night. It’s the first time she’s driven here by herself, and the first one-on-one visit we’ve had since the days I used to babysit with her when she was an only grandchild—now there are seven of them. When she walked in the door, I said I viewed the visit as a milestone, and she was all grins as she agreed.

I asked what she wanted for dinner, and she remembered the Italian restaurant where we’d had good food and an unfortunate waiter several months ago—no reflection on the restaurant and kudos to them for quickly correcting the situation. We went to Bravo, sat on the empty patio with the evening breeze just beginning to stir, and had a lovely time.

We talked about college. She’ll go to Colorado University where, according to her previously announced plan, she’ll major in psychology. This fall she’ll take psychology, philosophy, biology, and American history from 1875. I envy her the history course and reviewed in my mind the things she’d cover—Industrial Revolution, Columbian Exposition if she’s lucky (she would if I were teaching the course), world wars, Korea, Vietnam. She seemed unaware of WWI and WWII and high-fived me when I told her they’d surely be included.

Maddie is a certified nursing assistant, with an eye on an R.N. degree. She’s also young and strong—perfect person to help me with my walking. We walked down the driveway to the car and from the car across the parking lot, into the restaurant, and headed for the patio. We weren’t too far from our goal, when I had to stop and ask for the walker—my stamina had run out. But she said she was very impressed with the improvement I’ve made. I thrive on praise like that.

We talked about the family wedding where she was a flower girl, and I told her stories from her childhood, and we talked about her cousins and family fun. At the end of our meal, I thanked her for coming all the way to see me. She grinned and said, “I was glad to. You’re fun.” What better compliment can you get from an eighteen-year-old?

She’s one of the many blessings in my life.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waiting all summer for this day

August 15, 2017

Today is the day I’ve been waiting all summer for—cover reveal of my new novel, Pigface and the Perfect Dog (an Oak Grove Mystery). It’s my first full-length novel in over a year, and the first time I have revisited the college town of Oak Grove since The Perfect Coed was published three years ago.

Kudos to Sherry Wachter for the great cover, which I think matches the cover of The Perfect Coed in style and color. I’ve itched to share it with you for weeks, but when you sign up for a cover reveal, you’re pretty much bound to that date. So today’s reveal can be found at

English professor Susan Hogan and her partner, Jake Phillips, chief of campus security, return in this cozy mystery with an edge. Susan thinks she’s about to meet her maker when she confronts a rifle-carrying man, who looks like a pig, in a grocery store. Jake investigates the body of a young college student, shot in the back and found in an empty pasture. Aunt Jenny showers love on the new puppy a young man from the grocery gave her, but she feels she must get rid of that heavy collar.

 Trouble in Oak Grove begins with open-carry protestors in the grocery store and leads to a shooting, breaking and entering, threats, a chase, an attempted kidnapping, and a clandestine trip to the woods late at night. Will Susan Hogan land in trouble…or the hospital…again? Will Susan and Jake survive this as a couple? Susan is still prickly but she learns some lessons about life, love, and herself in this second Oak Grove Mystery.

Reader reaction to The Perfect Coed thrilled me.

Susan is a prickly character, and she doesn’t put up with any guff from her male colleagues, the cops, or even Jake. Aunt Jenny is funny and a great cook. I have a feeling all these characters will be returning for a sequel, so you’ll want to pick this one up now before you get behind. You won’t regret it.

Bill Crider, mystery author

Few mysteries open with a single paragraph of eye-popping intrigue, but The Perfect Coed is full of such moments and its introduction is apt warning that readers will rapidly become involved in something far from mundane or predictable: “Susan Hogan drove around Oak Grove, Texas for two days before she realized there was a dead body in the trunk of her car. And it was another three days before she knew that someone was trying to kill her.”

—D. Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Pigface, as I affectionately call this new novel, is available for pre-order on Amazon, in both paperback and ebook form. It will be available September 7.

For those in the Fort Worth area, there’ll be a launch party September 21, 5:00 -7:00 p.m., at the Wine Haus, 1628 Park Place Avenue. Cash bar, snacks will be offered, and fun will definitely be had. Ya’ll come celebrate with me, please. Many of you will get an evite soon; if you don’t hear by September 11, please let me know. Questions, comments? Write me at

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sanitizing the South

All across the South there’s a move to take down Confederate statues. They are symbols of a dark blot on our history—slavery, the plantation system, an era of extreme human bondage, cruelty to humans. I do not believe that these monuments were built to terrify blacks, as one editorial this morning claimed, but they were built to glorify men who today we do not consider heroes. That they have become rallying points for hate groups probably means that they should come down. But I view that destruction with sadness. It’s like trying to erase history.

The plantation system, with all its inequities and unbelievable cruelty, helped shape the South as we know it today—a region most of us recognize has a rich heritage of literature, music, art, food, and manners. The Civil War, fought to preserve slavery or that culture (depends on your point of view), shaped our country in ways we can never fully appreciate. It moved us beyond slavery to the land of equality our forefathers wanted. To remove those statues is to attempt to remove history, and we can neither erase nor rewrite history. Those men who fought for the Confederacy were part of the great war which molded us, albeit they were on the wrong side..

Let them stand today as reminders of the schism in our country, the positive outcome of the war, the progress we have made toward being civilized. The hate groups that rally around these statues (with tiki torches, no less—how inappropriate is that?) are beyond the understanding of most of us. But rather than spend money, effort, and time taking down statues, let us direct our energies to combatting hatred in our country. What can we do to reach out to those people, understand them (there probably is no understanding), help them change and rid themselves of anger? If I were convinced tearing down statues would help, I’d be for it. But I think it will only further enrage them—that is, of course, why they were in Charlottesville, to protest the scheduled teardown of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

If we sanitize the history of the South we might well begin to look at other parts of the country. The cowboy myth of the American West wasn’t particularly violent, but the clashes between settlers and native American were awash in cruelty on either side, unbelievable barbarianism and cruelty. Shall we destroy statues to pioneers and Native American leaders, besmirch Daniel Bowie and others? History has given us a re-interpretation of Custer’s Last Stand, one in which the general doesn’t come out well at all. Can we not apply that lesson to the South without destroying monuments?

And what about New England? Those Puritans could be extremely cruel and insensitive to those who didn’t think as they did. Shall we ban The Scarlet Letter from school reading lists?

When we try to rewrite or erase history, we start down a slippery slope. Surely, we can be more constructive. I am proud to be an American and proud of our heritage. I decry those who would pervert that heritage and use it for hatred. But, as a literature and history student, I want to preserve our history intact.

This was hard to write and didn’t come out the way I wanted at all, but I have done my best. Many of my colleagues and good friends will disagree vehemently, and I understand that.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hello, 3 a.m. – meet indigestion

Indigestion is not a word in my vocabulary. It doesn’t happen to me—at least not that I’m aware. But  three a.m. is no stranger. I rarely sleep the night through in one long sleep but rather two- or three-hour intervals. Last night the two came together.

I woke up about three-thirty with the feeling that everything in me was in turmoil, a great feeling of unease. If I sat up, I was less aware of it, so I sat up. I read phone messages, I planned a novel, I went to the bathroom too many times. But each time I lay down that scary feeling, located in the middle of my lower chest, was there.

We all know that everything is scarier at three in the morning. I thought of my friend Bobbie who died halfway out of her bed, apparently going for help. I thought of Don who, home alone, felt unwell and called 911. The parameds told him if he hadn’t called in the next three minutes, he’d be a dead man. I thought of the man I worked for who complained of back pain and it turned out to be a massive heart attack. I tried to remember what I knew if anything about silent heart attacks. I was cheered that I really didn’t think it was my heart—I had no sharp pain anywhere and I wasn’t aware of a rapid or louder heartbeat.

After an hour in which my imagination ran totally away with me, I called Jordan. Sweet, caring girl. She came out, diagnosed indigestion, and asked if I’d taken a Pepcid. “Never in my life,” I replied. She went inside for them, gave me one, and settled on the other side of my bed. The culprit she thought was that kielbasa we had for dinner plus two not-small helpings of German potato salad with it’s heavy vinegar component. I remembered the night Jordan, driving us home from Dallas, had her first-ever attack of heartburn (after barbecue sandwiches), so severe she kept threatening to pull off at the next motel.

Sophie totally puzzled by both of us in the same bed at the same time joined the party and went from one to the other, giving face licks.. I began to feel better, but it was one of those elusive things—I thought I’d feel better if I could just turn my mind off.

After about half an hour, Jordan went back to her own bed, and I finally slept. Woke a couple of times and finally got up about 8:45—late for me. I’ll be glad for a nap this afternoon, and I guess I should put some Pepcid in my medicine chest.

And kudos to Jordan for once again proving herself a good caretaker--and a loving daughter.

It’s a rainy day, good day to stay in my jammies and chill. Good plan.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tangled thoughts and some happy notes

One mama who is happy to have her boy back
I tried to write a post tonight about white supremacy, Charlottesville, and Confederate statues, but my thoughts are too tangled to make it coherent. Anyone reading this knows how strongly I deplore white supremacy and today’s violence. Were I in Charlottesville I would have stayed hidden inside, partly because I fear violence and party because I think going out to protest the marchers gave them a certain credibility. I am, like everyone, devastated by the deaths and injuries.

It may surprise some that I don’t favor destroying Confederate monuments. The Confederacy and the Civil War are significant parts of our history, and we are foolish to try to either deny or rewrite history. Let the monuments remain not as objects of glory but as reminders that we are now better people, shaped by the fire of that war.

Hate has been legitimized in this country by a president who encouraged violence at his political rallies, mocked minorities and the disabled, banned certain nationalities from our shores, and still strives to build a wall to keep out an entire race of people. It is a sad day for a nation founded on the belief that all men are equal.

On another note. It’s been quiet around the Alter/Burton homestead lately, but today we welcomed Jacob home from camp where he had, in his words, a blast. He went for two weeks; one week in, he wanted to come home. Now he says he wants to go back next year for four weeks. He’s tanned and healthy and happy and grew two feet, I’m sure. I’m glad he’s back. To celebrate, we fixed Polish sausage for dinner—a favorite of his, but I found I didn’t buy enough. Double that order next time.

And on a personal happy note: I wrote two thousand words today on the novel I’m working on. My daily goal is a thousand words, but yesterday if I was lucky I wrote three hundred. The words wouldn’t come. The late Jerry Flemmons, who gave me lots of good advice and counsel, always said when writer’s block hits the thing to do is put your butt in the chair and write, no matter how meaningless the words. I tried yesterday, honest I did, but I stared at a blank screen and finally resorted to Facebook. Today with everyone gone, I wrote twice my daily goal and made a lot of notes for tomorrow’s writing.

I would say all’s well and the world is in its place, but clearly it’s not. Not with Kim Jung-Un and Trumpf rattling sabers and not with the tragic events of Charlottesville. But when I’m discouraged I remember William Faulkner’s Nobel speech—“I believe man will not only endure, he will prevail.” Call me Pollyanna.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Indignation over a tree

            The landmark that distinguishes my house is a wonderful old elm tree in front. The house was built in 1922, and I suspect the elm dates back that far. For twenty-five years, I have lived in feat that a Texas storm would bring it crashing down. Part of the fear, of course, was that it would land on my roof, but the greater fear was losing the tree. It somehow gives majesty to the property; without it, my house would be bare, exposed, just sitting there. A couple of years ago, I asked the city to check some dead branches at the top—it’s their tree, since it’s in the boulevard. The forester who came out said the dead was because trees were stressed by the drought we’d been having, but the tree was healthy. When I said I was so afraid he’d say it had to come down, he said, “No ma’am. We’re in the business of saving trees, not cutting them down.”

So today comes a letter from someone working with city planning. They want to install a ramp on my property and establish a new crossover to the school across the street. The letter writer said they would take out my “struggling” tree and replace it with a young tree of my choice. I’m afraid my answer was a bit sarcastic, but I was insulted by his use of struggling. I pointed out that losing the tree would diminish my property values, and no young tree will grow to that majestic height during my lifetime. I’m sorry, but what dolt wrote that letter? I told him firmly no and do not expect the matter to be pursued. There is a ramp and a crossing with a guard half a block down, and folks can use it. As for the planning person, he should talk to the forestry department.

This plays into my current concern about trees. I edit our neighborhood newsletter and am grateful to Linda Simmons, who advocates the city’s tree replacement program and has done an article about the importance of trees to a neighborhood. This flies in the face of our Texas governor who wants to pass some silly law permitting cities to cut down trees willy-nilly. I’m not a fan of the governor—that probably goes without saying—but this vendetta about trees is ridiculous. He was crippled by a tree falling on him, sued whoever (the city of Austin?), and received a settlement that apparently set him up for life (he has since pushed legislation which limits the amount of liability settlements). Then he tangled with the city over a huge old tree that stood where he wanted to build his house, as I hear the story, and he lost. So he’s angry at trees, and apparently not educated enough to recognize their aesthetic value nor environmental purpose. My Austin kids had a tree literally growing into their house—when they remodeled, the contractor cut it down, without a permit, and got a fine. But nobody hates trees because of that. What a petty world Texas government is. Yes, I am sorry about the governor’s injury, but I don’t think he’s handled any of this with grace.

Lovely unexpected rain tonight. I went in the house for happy hour with friends. Coming out, poor Jordan and friend Marge tried valiantly to help me walk, carry my wine, and hold an umbrella. No small trick. Such good girls.

When you live alone, you are innovative about meals. I particularly like a brand of marinated tuna, Tonnino’s—in olive oil and oregano. Found it in the store today, so tonight I cooked some orzo and added green peas and leftover corn at the last minute. Drained it, and stirred in tuna with some of its oil. So good. I had doubts about the corn with tuna, but it was great. One more leftover banished!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Walking goals and a pleasant visit

Teddy walked me the length of the driveway today, but the gas people were replacing sidewalk, so we couldn’t go to the stairs. I suggested we do a toe touch to the street instead, which we did. But this meant I didn’t have stairs to get back up the incline. He warned me to lean into it and use my body to help me go up, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be. Teddy’s wisdom: going down the incline is a psychological problem; going up, is a physical problem. Apparently, I used new muscles or at least those unused for a long time. By the time we got back to the cottage, I was winded…and hot!

But now I have two goals: to walk with a walking stick (not a cane) and to make it to the end of the driveway to meet friends who can’t drive up—and then back down—my skinny 1920s driveway. Teddy says at least two or three weeks before we try the walking stick, and that’s fine—I view it as a step toward walking independently. I could make it to the end of the driveway today with the walker, but that incline remains a psychological barrier.

My good, longtime friend Fred came for lunch today. He was my major professor in graduate school and has remained a friend ever since—that’s a lot of years. He reads and critiques everything I write, and I always feel like he’s a cheerleader. We lunch about once a month, discussing everything but politics (we agree, but it’s pointless) and mostly we talk about our writing projects. A true scholar, he is writing articles and reworking a manuscript on pioneer women in aviation. He is also one who does not handle my driveway well, and I won’t ask him to do that

So today I made turkey burgers and a wilted lettuce salad. Did your mom make wilted lettuce? Mine did. She’d take fresh leaf lettuce from the garden, douse it with a bit of vinegar and then pour warm bacon grease over it. Of course, crumbled bacon went into it too. It doesn’t wilt the lettuce but simply coats it with deliciousness. The first time I mentioned it to Christian he said, “I’ll pass,” but when I fixed it he said it was delicious. Turkey burgers not so much—I really like them at the Old Neighborhood Grill but have not been pleased with my two at-home attempts.

We topped lunch off with frozen peach custard—a sweet end to a meal. And we had a most enjoyable visit. Having had to stand me up for lunch two or three times, Fred tells me he’ll take me anywhere I want to go. So that’s my goal—to walk the driveway to his car so he can take me to lunch.

Goals are great. So far, I’m doing well with my thousand words a day goal, in spite of other things going on in my life. Christian paid me a great compliment the other night, and I wish I could remember the way he worded it. But he essentially said I have the best of both worlds—the world of the mind, because I work at my computer every day pretty much alone, and the world of a social life, because I love being with people. I am lucky, and I know it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Compassion as a state of grace

A friend of mine posted about an incident the other night that brought to my mind the few people I know whose lives are lived by compassion for others. Heather teaches cooking classes, and the other night when she had a small class, an older man on a cane wandered in. They tried to welcome him and make him comfortable, but when she looked in his eyes she saw only blankness. There was no way to reach the man, the soul inside that body. It turned out the man’s daughter was shopping, and he wandered away from her. Heather said that blank expression brought tears to her eyes, and she could barely hold herself together to finish the class.

She’s like that. Right now, she’s collecting school supplies for a program called Communities in Schools which provides basic backpacks and supplies to needy children. She’s been known to take a homeless person under her wing, and she says one of the jobs that made her happiest was working in the kitchen of a homeless shelter. We talked about her outreach, and she said, “I see people and faces. A car could crash in front of your house, and I wouldn’t notice, but I see people.”

I have a firm faith that most people are kind, generous and caring, even though tensions in our country seem to have brought out the worst is many of our fellow citizens. But there are many more good people than angry, bitter, defensive, and un pleasant—or prejudiced. I see that daily as I shop and go to restaurants on my walker. People hold doors for me, ask if I need extra assistance, go out of their way to make sure I’m okay. Still people like Heather, for whom compassion is the ruling operative in their lives, are few and far between. They have my undying admiration. I think it’s a quality that is inborn, not learned, but I suspect we all can cultivate it. I’m trying.

Heather is also my cooking buddy. She’s line cook at one of the major museums in town, one with an elegant restaurant. She brought me lunch today—a wonderful green salad with blue cheese and figs, deviled eggs with a flip of smoked salmon on each, and a blueberry/strawberry scone. Delicious, and pretty, as you can see above. She confirmed my suspicions about how to use the mandolin I was given, taught me how to change temperature and time on my toaster oven, and suggested ways I could fix a couple of recipes I had trouble with. Plus, we had fun.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The company of women

I like men—a lot. Not to be trite, but some of my best friends are men. And, yes, in the day I’ve loved some of them. But there’s something about the company of women. Something indefinably comforting. I’m not talking about gossip sessions or those heart-to-heart talks where you confide your deepest secrets and all of your problems to your best friend. No, just ordinary talk.

The Book Ladies met for breakfast this morning. I found myself with women talking about travel, books, and writing. To my right was a preservationist and librarian, and beyond her a bookseller who still works in semi-retirement at Barnes & Noble. A retired teacher and an author sat across the table.

One woman had recently been to Iceland, and someone else piped up that she’d been there years ago and longed to go back. The one who was just in Iceland is going to Australia soon—it will be spring there. The teacher just returned from Dublin. I’ve taken some memorable trips in my life—Scotland comes first to mind—but I’m pretty much an armchair traveler, and I enjoy the detailed accounts these ladies send home.

There was talk about writing and digitizing books and then a writer who has suddenly “broken out,” the phrase for one who has just found success and recognition for her books—broken out of the pack, as it were. One of this writer’s books apparently has to do with the torture of women. We all frowned—we won’t be reading that.

All this while enjoying the kind of breakfast I don’t often allow myself—egg, toast, hash browns. It’s a great way to start the day. One woman wrote me that she was unable to be there this morning but looked forward to talking to me next time about her recent re-visit to downtown Chicago. I have a hankering to return to Chicago and visit the new writers’ museum.

Came home, wrote my thousand words for the day, and spent the rest of the day culling recipes. I have always had what I called an appalling collection because whenever a recipe came near catching my fancy I clipped it and put it in a drawer which eventually overflowed. I went through it once before the move to the cottage, but I demonstrated to myself today that I kept a lot of recipes I’d never cook.

I discarded a recipe for spaghetti for twenty-five. My days of feeding such a crowd are over. I discarded recipes that called for full ovens, though I discovered last night that my toaster oven will easily accommodate two individual casserole dishes. But that’s a far cry from a standing rib roast. Others went in the recycle bin because they just didn’t suit my taste today or because I now cook better versions, but I kept some for sentimental reasons. A few in childish handwriting—Jamie carefully wrote out a recipe for a small chicken loaf, and Megan copied directions for Play-doh. There was the recipe a friend gave me for chicken enchiladas when I barely knew what an enchilada was—mushroom and cream of celery soups. Not quite authentic.

I pulled some to use soon, particularly that I thought Jacob and/or Christian would enjoy—red beans and ground beef, a sausage and cheese casserole, and others. I’ve said it before, but there are just too many good things out there to cook. Life is a feast.

Cooking and friends, the things that keep us grounded in the present and enable us to go about our lives while President Trump and Kim whoever-he-is rattle their sabers. A crazy world.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Cooking up a storm

Oh, wow! I think I used every pot and pan in my tiny kitchen tonight. On the menu: fireplace trout, squash casserole, broccoli with anchovy/garlic butter. The company was my longtime friend Linda who lives in Granbury but travels so much it’s hard to catch her. I did tonight and even sent her to Central Market for trout filets. Another night when I learned a lot.

About the trout: when I unwrapped it, I was astounded by how much there was. I asked Linda how much she bought, and she said she told the fishmonger two filets. What she got was two trout, fileted. One trout was plenty for us to split. Christian got the other one. I had found a recipe called fireplace trout that called for cooking the fish in an iron skillet in your fireplace. Showy, but the magnetic skillet on the hot plate turned out just as succulent a product. Salt, pepper, a bit of flour so they didn’t stick, and sauté in a combination of butter and olive oil. Cooked just barely underdone—delicious.

The squash: I found one of those recipes that said it was absolutely the best you’d ever eat. I believed it, but for two I had to cut in down (Jordan and Christian won’t eat squash, though I may teach them better). I thought it would involve complicated steps but when I actually got to it, it wasn’t bad at al. Sauté the squash and some onion; mix together grated cheddar, egg, mayonnaise, sour cream, salt. Stir the squash into the creamy ingredients, and top with buttered cracker crumbs. Baked nicely in my toaster oven. I used two squash and have one small casserole left for tomorrow.

The broccoli: Linda loved it, but I didn’t, and it was my own fault. The recipe was quite clear about using butter, garlic, and a bit of anchovy, but Jordan pointed out she still had the anchovy/caper butter I’d made for salmon the other night. Why didn’t I just use that? I did, and for me, the flavors were too strong. Takes a lot to say that. Now I need to go back and try the recipe the right way.

Linda and I collaborated on cooking, though she, poor dear, ended up washing a lot of dishes. It’s not easy for two people to cook in a tiny kitchen, and I fear I rolled my chair over her toes more than once. But we had fun, and as she pointed out, cleanup in a tiny kitchen is pretty easy.

We sat on the patio tonight briefly. Lovely evening, but large, splattering raindrops drove us inside—and then came to nothing.

I had anticipated a busy day, but it was only sort of. The groomer came for Sophie about 8:30 this morning. Sophie thinks being groomed is a great adventure and loves it. Then Teddy came to walk with me around eleven—as always, he boosted my confidence immensely. I did what for me was a marathon—down the driveway to the sidewalk, including the incline, over to the stairs, up to the porch, down the side steps and back to the cottage. I was tired, and my back hurt, but neither was unbearable. And I was pretty proud.

Really a good day.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Chickens, dogs, and a working Sunday

The neighbors behind me have chickens. When I say behind me, my cottage sits as close to their property line as allowed and two windows from my living area look directly into their back yard. Amy came yesterday to separate a bromeliad and take some of the pups and said they are suddenly, unexpectedly the owners of three hens, abandoned by a renter on her father’s country property. Jason has been busy for weeks converting a playhouse into a henhouse, but they weren’t quite ready.

This morning, Sophie discovered the chickens—not sure how. She couldn’t see them, I couldn’t hear them—maybe a dog’s sixth sense. But they required her to go barking to the fence line and then come in barking frantically at me, so that I’d understand her need to get to those critters. Later, I looked out the window and saw a small gray cat sitting outside the fenced run for the hens, staring intently and not moving. So cute. I rather like the whole idea and hope they get lots of fresh eggs—such a treat. For now, according to Amy, the hens are traumatized by the move and three days of abandonment, so they’re not laying yet, but hope springs eternal.

My brother and his wife have chickens on their ranch, and I’ve learned a bit about fresh eggs from them. When sister-in-law Cindy wants to give me eggs, she goes to a wood chest, not refrigerated, in the garage and hands them to me with the warning, “Be sure to wash them before you use them.” I’ve seen this online too. In Europe, they don’t refrigerate eggs, but neither do they subject them to all the cleaning processes we do here which washes off their natural protective coating. Left in their natural state, they will keep a long time unrefrigerated. And nothing tastes better.

Stormy night here. It was dark by 6:30, but the storm was a long time coming, with lots of distant thunder rumbling. Now at 8:00 it’s raining but not pouring. Thunder is still rumbling, and the air is much cooler. I aril have the French door open to enjoy that rain smell and the cooler temps. Sophie, always nervous about thunder, is right next to me.

My brain is exhausted. I didn’t have a way to church this morning, so stayed home and worked. Got an incredible amount done—wrote over a thousand words on my work-in-progress, wrote a guest blog, proofread my novella and one other for the collection Sleuthing Women II: Ten Novellas, due out digitally in September at a bargain price. I’ll post details here when it’s available.

Think I might spend the rest of the evening in frivolous reading. Maybe my bedtime novel, A Pain in the Tuchis. If you don’t know what a tuchis is, you might not enjoy it as much as I am.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Watch the eclipse--safely

Thanks to friend and meteorologist Bill Proenza for hints on watch the eclipse safely and where to go to understand it better, find out more about eclipses and this particular one in August. Bill sent this out as an email and was kind enough to say share it with others. One thing I've heard from him and others: if you plan to look directly at the eclipse, get your safety glasses now--they're selling out quickly. Here's his message:

In the next paragraph, please find the link to NASA's video map animation depicting the temporal and spatial movement for our nation's upcoming, August 21, 2017, solar eclipse.  It also shows the percentage of the sun that will be moon blocked for anywhere in the USA.  For example, the DFW area will experience about a 75% to 80% solar eclipse! 

Remember, this event will be a total solar eclipse for a path across the US and not just an annular (or partial).  It is the first solar eclipse to cross the entire contiguous USA since 1918.  Watch this video to determine what your area will experience and if necessary, how far you need to travel for the full 100% effect:

For more background information, here is NASA's home page on the solar eclipse:

And more from a dedicated astronomical ".org" site:

Safety!  Here is a link on how to view the eclipse safely.  Believe me you can cause permanent eyesight damage without following these precautions in viewing this solar eclipse! So, please take the following advice from NASA:

Very Important!   So, you need to buy the special solar filter eyeglasses following the above NASA safety precautions!  Here is a non-profit ".org" site with eclipse safety eyeglasses at a reasonable cost (from less than $2 to $4 each) fully meeting the "2012 Transmission Requirements of EN 1836:2005 & AS/NZS 1338.1:1992 for Eclipse filters":

Weather?...oh yes!  I wouldn't forget to share the following with you about the weather, especially the cloud factor!  So here is the climatology of clouds across the USA for this solar eclipse time:

And last, here is a brief summary of humankind's accumulated eclipse history:

Friday, August 04, 2017

Cooking, food, and delightful guests

Food on my mind today all day long. This morning, Jordan and I went grocery shopping. I’m getting to be a pro at the motorized cart, and we went to the store I like best—wide aisles few people. I’m comfortable standing in the car to reach items on the top shelf—a graduation mark for me. In spite of great cooking plans, I did not buy nearly as much as last week.

And I cooked. Company for dinner. I made five dishes, all of them experiments for me—the way I love to entertain. We had ham and pickle roll-ups and a chipped beef spread for appetizer. Turkey burgers, cucumber salad, and a vegetable medley for the main course. I learned something by cooking each dish—I’d use thicker slices of ham and only one slice in making the roll-up. You spread cream cheese on the ham, plot a pickle in the middle, roll, and slice. Easy. But the two slices of ham recommended don’t work—the outer layer peels away. I cut the spread recipe in half and then in half again and was glad I did—still have quite a bit left over.

Turkey burgers met with approval, but I would add more spice to them, even salt and pepper, and make each patty smaller. The recipe called for mixing in buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream—the result to my mind was a patty that was too wet and hard to deal with. The vegetable medley was good, I thought, but too heavy on the corn side. The cucumber salad included pickled blackberries (good) and the blackberry vinegar that came from the pickling, along with mint leaves. Good, but I sure couldn’t taste the mint.

My guests thought it was a successful meal and offered to let me experiment on them any time. I hadn’t visited with Katie Sherrod, local journalist, TV reporter, and activist, and her husband, retired Episcopalian priest (do they ever retire?) Gayland Poole, for over a year—they were people I missed during my long year out, so it was special to have them here tonight. They hadn’t seen the cottage and really raved about it, which of course pleased me. Conversation was about politics and the state of the country a bit, but more about kids and grandkids and dogs and food and Texas geography and all kinds of things. A delightful evening, and I hope now that they’ve found their way to the cottage they’ll return. Sophie thought them both among her favorite people.

Darn! Why don’t I remember to take pictures of the food I cook? A picture of Soph will have to do.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

A day of adventures

These days, it doesn’t take much for me to call something an adventure. Carol and I went to Bentley’s on Magnolia today and were absolutely charmed—and well fed. For those who don’t know, Bentley’s has a strange menu—hot dogs and crepes, an unlikely pairing. Several versions of each are offered. I went with my mind firmly fixed on the goat cheese/mushroom/spinach crepe, but when Carol ordered a chili dog, I said, “Oh, that’s sounds so good,” and changed my order. Carol said, “You’re too easy.” It was delicious. But I’m still going back for that crepe. They even have breakfast offerings that sound wonderful.

Kaycee waited on us. She is apparently not the owner, but has some involvement with building and opening the business. She told us she doesn’t really work there. I gathered she’s part of the owner’s family. She was ready to visit and delightful. Bentley’s is sort of bare bones—they rescued a tiny building that might well have been demolished and turned it into a sort-of restaurant. Not much room but a counter with a few stools and a bar with more stools along one wall. But there’s a patio between it and a building where Kaycee’s father-in-law sells jewelry. Hemmed in by those two buildings, the patio is shielded from the sun, and with a big fan, was perfectly comfortable. Part One of a good adventure.

Part Two was a trip to the Dollar Store. A friend is involved with Communities in Schools and sent me a list of supplies needed to fill backpacks for kids who can’t buy their own supplies. So list in hand we went shopping—I truly thought I was beyond shopping for school supplies, but not. Carol had to do most of the work, because with the walker I couldn’t push the cart (I did a bit at the end and discovered I might be able to do that) and the print on the list was blue and small, so Carol had to read it with her glasses on. But we got crayons and markers and erasers and paper and Kleenex and lots of other stuff, and loaded it into a backpack. I also discovered I could get some items on my grocery list. Came home and realized I could have gotten even more. I may start to do some weekly shopping at the Dollar Store—great savings, and great sales.

Tonight, was a culinary adventure. Christian has learned that fish is good for rheumatoid arthritis, which he has, so he’s ready to cook more fish. He grilled salmon, and I made an anchovy/garlic sauce—absolutely delicious. With asparagus and pasta salad. Wonderful meal.

I did not fritter away the day. I spent much of the morning and a bit of the afternoon still reacquainting myself with my novel-in-progress and got quite enthusiastic about it. I feel myself being drawn back into that world. This weekend, or Monday at the latest, I’ll be ready to forge ahead with new copy. Oh, and I found the two thousand words I thought I had lost. Yippee!