Thursday, March 23, 2017

Windy Day


The month of March forgot it’s on its way out today and acted like the lion it’s supposed to come in as. Son Jamie was in town for the day, and we had breakfast at Ol’ South so I could indulge my love of corned beef hash and he could have his Dutch Baby. But the wind was so strong it nearly slammed the car door back on my legs as I tried to get out, and I had to cling to my walker to make it inside. Corned beef hash and Jamie’s company were worth it

Tonight, friends Subie and Phil came for a glass of wine. I had announced earlier in the day that happy hour would be served on the patio. Towards five I thought the wind had calmed, but when we got outside, not so. Huge trees bent and danced as the wind tossed them, and I worried about the buffeting taken by the bougainvillea on the deck which has just thrown out its first profusion of blooms.

We’re due for storms tonight, or in the early morning hours, and I hope this wind isn’t a precursor of severe weather. My lunch date for tomorrow has cancelled in light of the weather, though I don’t think it will be that bad.

Jamie worked all day, so except for breakfast and briefly during the day I didn’t really get to visit with him It was lovely to know he was here, sitting across the room from me, but the atmosphere tightens when he’s working. He’s so intense and frequently utters comments about how frustrated and behind he is. He did fix the controls to my bed—re-synced them, however you do that, and checked my computer, though he could find no reason for its erratic behavior. He intends to pick out a new one for me to buy, but given his travel schedule it looks like at least mid-April before he can do that. I am praying my computer doesn’t stonewall me as it did last weekend. It had one blurp this morning, but I could fix that.

When I said I worried about the pressure he puts on himself, Jamie said, “This is the bed I made for myself for now.” As an ex-beau told me, “Once a mother always a mother.” Yes, I still worry.

Jamie had talked about going out to lunch but clearly, he didn’t have time. We ordered from Jimmy John’s, which I’ve never done. Tuna fish was good, and Jamie said he likes the consistent quality of the food. But no sooner had I swallowed the last bite than Facebook had a piece entitled, “Why you should never eat Jimmy Johns again.” It seems that Jimmy drops huge bundles of money buying exotic animals so he can hunt them for their horns or whatever. He “bought” the last female black rhino in an African game park and killed her. My food stuck in my throat, and I won’t order from there again. Jamie said he boycotted the chain for a year but it was so convenient and the quality so good, he went back to it. I don’t know—quality doesn’t make up for senseless cruelty, extreme vanity, and whatever else motivates that big white hunter.

I forgot about lunch and made tuna salad for dinner. It’s okay. I could eat it three times a day endlessly. Also made a cucumber/avocado salad—really good.














Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A mid-week, mid-day adventure




Who expects an adventure on a Wednesday, in the middle of the day? Not me, but I had one today. It began last week when a friend I’d not known well but had seen and visited with here and there over the years called and said she’d had a knee replacement in the fall, knew what being housebound was like, and she wanted to come take me to lunch. Thoughtful and kind, and I readily agreed, looking forward to a visit.

When she picked me up, she asked what kind of food I wanted. We settled on Mexican, and she asked if I was up for an adventure—lunch in a new place that was some distance away. Next thing I knew we were driving down a two-lane, curving country road surrounded by trees and brush—we were on Silver Creek Drive, on the far side of Lake Worth. I kept thinking surely a Mexican restaurant was not going to suddenly pop up on this stretch of road with few houses and nothing else. It didn’t.

By the time we reached our destination, we were in the suburb of Lakeside. LaChoza, in a small strip center, was surprisingly modern and well decorated We were early so service was prompt—I had spinach enchiladas and my host had a plate lunch. Good food, typical Tex-Mex but well done.

We visited, filling in gaps we never knew about each other—careers, husbands, children, all those details that flesh out the life of a person. She who had been one dimensional for me—a photographer at events and a friend at occasional chance happenings—took on several more dimension.

When she dropped me at home she said what fun it was and we’d do it again. But I’m not sure she’ll want to tackle my 1920s skinny driveway again!

An adventure of another sort that was less fun: I tried walking with a cane for the second time today. I thought it was a rank failure. I am awkward, uncertain, afraid, and in a hurry to get it over with. Ellen, the therapist, keeps telling me to slow down and that it will take time. I keep telling her that in recent years I was never confident walking, even with a cane, before my hip gave out. She will come for one more week, and then her assignment will run out.

I’m enough of a realist to know that without assistance and encouragement, I won’t practice with the cane—besides she says not to try it alone (she is a worrywart who is more terrified than I am of my falling—I guess she doesn’t want to undo all her work). Not sure what the next step is, but I know there is a next step. And I’ll take it, however reluctantly.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Is There A Gadget Guru in the House?


I’ve been plagued by electronic failures lately—computer, cell phone, bed controls, in-house camera. Clearly, I need a gadget guru. And here, I think, the difference comes in between sons and daughters—or at least mine.

I mentioned over the weekend that my computer developed a mind of its own and would not pay any attention to what I wanted it to do. I spent the morning hard booting, unplugging and plugging, all the fixes I’ve ever heard about. Nada. Colin came in about eleven, sat there for a few minutes, hit a few keys, and voila! (like the way I mix Spanish and French?). It worked, although I have not turned it off since, only put it in sleep mode.

The camera is one of two that my kids installed so they could check on me. It’s rather lie having Big Brother watching you—it reports to their cell phone, video and audio. They put one right by my desk and one in the bedroom. Fortunately I am past the age and place in life where bedroom privacy matters. The bedroom one quit working, and Jamie has taken it home to re-program.

I have a sleep numbers bed, which means I can use a remote to raise and lower both the head and the foot. The other night the remote quit in the middle of the night—with the foot in a raised position, (That has been a godsend—my “bad” foot was really swollen after surgery, and it’s still good to sleep with my feet higher than my heart.) Scrambling out of the bed with the foot elevated was not easy with my weak leg, but I figured I’d make it okay the rest of the night. After a few minutes the remote magically turned itself on, but today it gave me a low battery message. I changed the batteries, and it told me there was a connection failure

Jordan got on the floor, checked connections; I took the batteries out and put them in again, making sure they were all the way in and the right way. Nothing. The last time this happened, after she’d crawled around on the floor, Jamie fixed it by touching one button. He’s due here Thursday, so I’ll probably greet him remote in hand. At least, this time, the foot is flat and the head barely elevated.

The same night that remote quit, my cell phone got wonky. When I woke in the night, I checked to see who’d sent me mail—but it wouldn’t let me open the mail. Everything else worked fine. In the clear light of day, I rebooted the phone and felt proud of myself that it worked.

But that’s three—computer, bed control, and phone plus the camera which I put in a different category. Does that mean my jinx is over? I surely hope so, because clearly Jordan and I are not equipped to deal with such catastrophes. And when you’re as dependent as I am on electronics, such failures are truly catastrophic.

I spend all day every day at my computer. If it doesn’t work, I’m not sure what I’d do. I can only read for so long, and I’m not a TV watcher. Got to think this through.








Monday, March 20, 2017

First day of spring…and trivia


Things that struck me today: this is my parent’s 80th wedding anniversary. Sure wish they were here to celebrate

In a column of funny obituaries today, I found this: “Ding dong, the witch is dead, but the memory of our mother lives on.” Shh. Don’t tell my kids.

I am a devotee of Sam Sifton’s column in the New York Times, “What to Cook Today.” But he may have gone too far this morning in suggesting putting a pot of oatmeal on overnight in your rice cooker or whatever. Then in the morning stir in some syrup and a shot of Scotch whiskey What a way to start the day!

Wonderful lunch today—friend Carol convinced me she was craving fried chicken, so we went to Buttons, a restaurant that advertises food and music for the soul. It was indeed soul food—the best fried chicken I’ve ever had, along with mashed potatoes and gravy and seasoned green beans. Brought one piece of chicken and some green beans home for supper, just added a deviled egg.

Absolutely beautiful day in Fort Worth today-what spring should be like. We sat on the patio with wine and planned the garden. I want to plant onions and lettuce this week, if we’re not already too late, for spring salads. My mouth is watering as I remember my mom’s wilted lettuce.

It’s going to be a good spring. Hope everyone enjoys it!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

A wonderful day—but where was my schedule?





Must be a sign of aging, but I find that even in retirement I live by a schedule—up by 7:30, lunch by noon, nap around two when my head starts falling into my keyboard, dinner around six, and to bed at ten. And I don’t adapt gracefully to changes. Lunch invitations for 12:30 leave me wondering what I can snack on, and I have a hard time on occasion adapting to the late dinner schedule of Jordan’s family.

That said, my schedule went all to pot today, and I loved it. Jamie came from Frisco bringing Mel and his two daughters, Maddie (about to go to college) and Eden—those beautiful girls are above I’m prejudiced but I think they’re lovely, and they are as sweet as they are lovely. Maddie completed training last year to be a Certified Nurses’ Assistant, and she was a big help to me and my walker today.

They got here just before 12:30 and it was 1:00 before we were settled on the porch at Bravo. We ordered drinks and appetizers; Mel was told they were out of Prosecco, and I just flat never got my glass of wine. Finally, after a word to the bartender, we both got our drinks but no food. At 1:50 Jamie gently mentioned our plight, and the manager for the day was on it. I think we had a very new waiter—but I worried about him losing a job, etc. Anyway after that things happened quickly, and we had appetizers and meal in rapid order, then lingered over dessert—tiramisu. Mel joked about spending all afternoon at lunch, and we almost did but I loved the company and the conversation. Great way to spend an afternoon.

After they left for Frisco, about 3:30, my day was off. Napped at 4:15, wasn’t hungry but finally had a sandwich at 7:00—may be ready to go back to bed early.

Burtons are home from skiing today, so my week of independence is over. I find I already have a Jordan list, but I really am working on independence. That aside, I’m glad to have them back—missed them.

Our front yard now sports a swarm of Lily B. signs The Spring Auction for Jacob’s school (right across the street—Lily B. Clayton) is coming up. As publicity, they developed all these bee signs (the bee is the school’s mascot) and a sign that says “You’ve been swarmed.” Glad to be part of it.


Lovely compliment on my Facebook page, one that thrills my heart. A friend who knows my devotion to my Scottish ancestry, wrote “Five thousand years of Scottish breeding shows.” Thanks, Ellen.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Gripes and Glories




The last couple of days have been filled with gripes and glories. My gripes first to get them out of the way:

Today got off to a horrible start. My computer developed a mind of its own and operated with willy-nilly regard to what I was asking or telling it to do. It would flip me out of programs, not accept type, insert rows of meaningless type on its own. I did everything I know to do, which isn’t a lot. But I hard-booted probably twenty times, disconnected from power, let it sit to “collect itself.” Nothing worked, and I grew increasingly frustrated.

Colin and family came through on their way home from ski slopes and he, God bless him, fixed it, though I don’t know what he did. I have asked so I can fix it another time, but I think I see a new computer in my future. Tonight, though, it’s working fine—knock on wood.

Sophie is the cause of my other gripe: yesterday she turned into a food thief. Friends brought me a sub for lunch, it was cut in half and so filling I decided to save the second half—but we all turned our backs for a minute, and Sophie had it on the floor.

Last night, friends brought a bountiful supper that included a round loaf of Irish soda bread. We ate a few slices, and I know they expected to take it home with them. But we turned our back again, and the next thing we knew Sophie was looking at us from the patio, with this half loaf of bread ridiculously clamped in her teeth. Color me embarrassed. Color her unrepentant, like “Why are you all making such a fuss?” We have to learn to do a better job of watching her with food on the coffee table, which is the only place I have to serve in the cottage.

The glories more than make up for the gripes. Joe and Mary Dulle brought Irish stew with stout last night. I know Mary labored over it for three days, in spite of her bad back, even roasted the bones for the gravy. And that gravy was rich and flavorful and wonderful, the meat tender as could be. A pleasant evening—great to visit with them and have that terrific meal to boot. For dessert, we had chocolate brownies with Irish whisky—I was so full last night I only tried one tonight

My other glory was the visit from Colin and family. They didn’t stay long—had one more stop to make in Fort Worth before heading to Tomball, and I know once headed home they were anxious to be there. But they were here long enough for him to fix my computer and Lisa to straighten my closet and, most important, for me to get to hug Moran and Kegan. I so long to see more of all my grandchildren. And bonus: the stopped to bring me a barbecue sandwich for lunch.

Tonight Jordan and family are due home but late. I fixed meatloaf (already prepared), fried potatoes and salad, and am once again over-served. Pleasant evening reading, with French doors open to the patio. Sophie comes and goes at will—but so do flies and those long-legged May bugs or whatever they are. Still, I’m enjoying it.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Before. After, and … you judge



Sophie and I both had haircuts this week, so I thought I’d show before and after pictures. Plus I had a professional phototaken, and I need feedback on a couple of photos. So here goes.
Shaggy Sophie

After haircut


And me--with  long (for me) hair and shorter (with good friend Phil Green).




Looking at these, I'm not sure there's not that much difference, either for Sophie or me. But in person, it's big, believe me.


Neighborhood photographer Polly Hooper was practicing her portrait shots, asked for volunteers, and I jumped at the opportunity. My last head shot, also taken by Polly, was at least six or seven years ago, and I am amazed at the difference. I believe it's called aging! But here are the three shots Polly and I liked--including the one on the left above.


 I had terrible problems formatting this as maybe you can
tell, so I won't be chatty. Just give me your opinon, 1, 2 or 3.






Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Pet Peeve




I know there are a lot more weighty things on Americans’ minds these days, but I want to start a movement to abolish automated phone systems. I settled at my desk this morning thinking I had just one or two small matters to take care of and then I could revise, revise, revise. Not so. Between the bank, the United States Postal Service, and a fabric outlet, I spent almost all my morning on the phone, being shuttled from one option to another, put on hold, assured it would be just a minute, and put on hold again. To say I was frustrated would be an enormous understatement.

In the midst of all this, the upholsterer I had called came to pick up my wing chair. He had one helper with him but I could tell immediately his was a single-person shop. He asked, “How did you hear about me?” Not how did I hear about his company or anything, but him. To my embarrassment all I could say was that he was recommended by someone whose taste I trusted but now (several months later) I couldn’t remember who.

He had a nice sense of humor and a gentle way of telling me I hadn’t ordered enough fabric—I’d ordered the 8 yards he told me, but he meant 64” wide and what I got was 48” Back to the drawing board. But because I instinctively liked and trusted him, he left with not one but two chairs. We decided later by phone to wait until next week when the fabric was due to be in stock again, order more, and order a separate fabric for the second chair—a barrel chair. He explained that the original fabric—a horizontal pattern—wouldn’t work on the barrel chair because he would have to cut on the bias. That personal, individual explanation, kindly and even humorously delivered, was worth its weight in gold.

Whenever I can, I deal with mom-and-pop businesses, and I vow now to deal with businesses where, like the upholsterer, a real live, speaking human answers the phone.

Oh, to go back to the good old days—at least that aspect of them.
















Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gourmet vs. Gourmand


The young doctor who lives next door brought me this rose
from his garden; it opened so much lovelier than
a lot of florist roses. Note my bud vase--a LaCroix can.
Happy Ides of March, everyone. Unlike Caesar, we do not (probably) need to fear the Ides, but some of us old folks remember when this was the day taxes were due.

Are you a gourmet or a gourmand? I worked with an editor once who refused to apply the word “gourmand” to a person. I think it conjured in her mind a picture of fat old men with huge bellies who sat around swilling ale after a huge dinner—someone from Dickens or perhaps Samuel Johnson himself.

Truth be told, a gourmand is defined as one who enjoys eating—and sometimes eats too much. I have been a gourmand lately. Last night at the Old Neighborhood Grill I had a breaded pork cutlet, mashed potatoes, and green beans—all preceded by a generous helping of artichoke/jalapeno dip. Today for lunch a friend served me a wonderful (and beautiful) salad plate topped by a large piece of salmon—and preceded by far too much pimiento cheese. I ate every bite of my lunch. Tonight, I could hardly face supper and brought home potatoes Dauphinoise and marinated asparagus for lunch tomorrow. Also a large Hello Dolly bar which I have not touched and won’t tonight.

I am hungry at lot lately, particularly just before meals. I’ve tried eating breakfast later to get past the pre-lunch hunger, but it doesn’t seem to work. In the late afternoon, I drink a cup of tea sweetened with honey—better than starting on the wine too early. But none of it really helps. I watch the clock, waiting for it to be a decent hour to eat. I’m not sure if this hunger is an effort to make up the weight I lost in recent months (I don’t really want to weigh that much again) or it’s a symptom of boredom with my writing. If the latter, I’m in trouble.

To switch subjects, growing up on Lake Michigan I loved looking at the water. But I was never much for being in it or on it. I think early training in the dangers of getting in over your head or rip tides had a lifelong influence on me. Today, at my friends’ house for lunch, I was struck by how central to their lives a body of water is. They are both waterbugs, as she said (she is a native of Florida) and they live on Lake Worth, with a view of the water that would mesmerize me all day. But their life in part revolves around boats—sailboats and others. Me? I found it delightful to eat that great lunch while staring at the water and seeing baby geese swimming by the dock.

But I came home gratefully to my cottage. Nice to be so happy with where you live. Home, they say, is where your heart is...or maybe where your dog is.

I am surrounded by good and caring neighbors
Daffodils from one; fresh from Florida oranges from another
I have no idea what these letters below are but I can't make them go away. Sorry.
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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Daylight Savings Time…and winter temperatures




Waiting for six o’clock dinner guests and wondering why it wasn’t dark yet. Duh, forgot about DST. When I realized that, I had a happy little sigh. I love DST and don’t understand the people who complain about it. Yes, one time would be nice, but I’d want it to be daylight savings, and I always heard that farmers, etc., want early morning light. Looked up a bit of history and found farmers had nothing to do with it. Daylight savings time began as a fuel-saving measure way be in WWI—the first to experiment with it were Germans. So much for thinking America invent everything.

But to many of us,, summer is vacation and picnics and beaches and all kind of good things that are done in the late afternoon, especially here in Texas where mid-day is too hot. Dark closing in at six o’clock would be depressing in the summer. This argument has been waged for years without any change, so I don’t expect action. Just putting my two cents in.

With all the lovely evening sunlight, it was too cool for the patio. Neighbors Jaimie, Greg and Jay came for supper. Jay brought spinach crostini rich with garlic, and I had made a marinara sauce and salad. Found out I had to ask Jay to cook the supper—I cannot fill a pan with water and transfer to my one-burner stove while in a wheelchair, and I’m not good enough at walking to do it without the chair. So he ended up doing it all. Everyone said it was a good dinner; I would have preferred more sauce in proportion to the pasta.

Earlier in the day I had brunch with a friend at Press Café—we got there right after it opened at 11:00 and still it was crowded We found bar seats, where I discovered I can hear better than across the table from someone. Had a breakfast sandwich—ham, egg, cheese, tomato, greens, sauce on a brioche bun. Good but it required a knife and fork. Next time: chicken salad with gorgonzola.

Mid-afternoon a friend who is practicing her portrait skills came to take my picture. I especially like two shots—kids all liked one, my dinner guests another. Dilemma!

A full and delightfully crowded day—no writing, no reading. But hey, it’s spring break. That’s okay!

What about you? Special plans for this week?


Saturday, March 11, 2017

This, that, and hey—it’s Saturday!





Ah, Texas my Texas—after more than fifty years here, the state can still surprise this Chicago girl. Case in point: this weekend there is a rattlesnake roundup in Sweetwater and a Wild Hog Festival in LaSalle County. Like all ranchers, my brother fights the scourge of wild hogs that ruin his pastures. He shoots them, without apology to animal-rights person me or the hogs, and I can see his point. I don’t dispute the necessity, though I’m not wild about seeing pictures of dead hogs. But I think next year, with a little advance notice, he should go to the festival—they apparently serve a lot of wild hog meat. Sounds like eating roadkill to me.

My brother once thought we tangled because I question the sanity of a law allowing shooting the hogs from airplanes. I had to make clear I wasn’t concerned about the hogs—I was worried that people would be shot by some trigger-happy yahoo in a plane.

This wild hog business is serious. There’s an association of Texas Wild Hog Hunters I recently read that they are opposed to the use of warfarin against the hogs. In case you forgot, warfarin is the stuff most rat baits used until recent years when some of the rodent population seemed to become immune. It’s a blood thinner, known as coumadin and commonly used to treat humans. It prevents clotting, etc.

One problem already existent with warfarin is that birds and other populations feed on rats and absorb it. It enters the food chain and could easily make its way to humans. I see this as a danger in introducing into ranchlands—not only pollution of hog carcasses but perhaps water and crop supplies.

Wait! How did a this-and-that blog turn into a lecture on wild hogs and coumadin? Still, I admit to the danger and threat posed by wild hogs—they multiply at a ferocious rate. To hear ranchers talk, they may soon take over the world—or at least Texas.

On a much more pleasant note, I had a lunch visit today from son Colin, his wife Lisa, and children Morgan and Kegan—on their way to the Colorado ski slopes. I don’t see enough of that family and was delighted to see them. Kids grow so fast. They brought lunch from Carshon’s deli, and I just enjoyed the last half of a brownie after my dinner tonight. Colin grew up going to Carshon’s, and I swear if he had to choose between the deli and my house on a Fort Worth visit, he’d choose the deli. He wanted to rearrange my living area tonight—wait! This was a quick stopover!—and was a bit displeased (understatement) when Lisa and I didn’t think it was a good idea. He promised to put it all back after he saw what it looked like, but I was worried about all the breakables on it and in it. Hated to have a spat when he was here so briefly.
My Tomball Alters four years ago
I need a new group picture!

I put tomato sauce on to simmer this morning and let it cook all day—no, not spaghetti sauce, but plain marinara sauce. Discovered the wonders of San Marzano canned tomatoes—but most cooks already know that. I will report tomorrow on the success of my sauce experiment—and then give credit for the recipe if it turned out all right.

My neighbor Margaret Johnson gifted me with a large tuna/noodle casserole—she makes them during Lent. I love tuna/noodle any time and have pigged out on it two nights in a row Tonight I made freezer bundles since there’s no way I could eat that whole thing by myself.

I’ve been lazy today, but now it’s time to get busy and write just a bit. Don’t forget to change your clocks tonight. My kids, bound for mountain time, figured out it would be a wash—they’ll lose an hour but gain it back going into Colorado. Next week, when they return, they’ll have to face up to the loss of an hour.






Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sleepy the dwarf        


I did hardly any constructive work today, a fact which weighs on my incurably puritanical conscience. Yes, I had things to do. Even woke up with a scene in my mind and wanted to write it immediately. But life gets in the way. I always start the morning with email and Facebook. This morning by the time I did that, got myself ready for the day—hair washed, teeth brushed, dressed, etc.—it was time for the physical therapist to come. By the time she left, it was almost time for an early lunch date.

Betty and I didn’t get our usual dinner out this week so we compromised on lunch today. We both love the Swiss Pastry Shop, so off we went. A triumph for me—I went on the walker, not in the wheelchair, and felt fine about it, a little more secure than the chair. I had been longing for a certain meal all week--bratwurst, kraut and potato salad. Betty had a Reuben, and we were both most happy with our meals.

Came home ready to write that scene but a strange malady overcame me, as it has almost every day for months. I get so sleepy I doze off at my computer. Usually I can work until 2:00 but today at 1:00 I was falling asleep and realized I was nearly falling out of my chair. Struck me as dangerous, so I crawled into bed and stayed there until almost three when the bathroom called. Checked email and was still so sleepy I went back to bed. Only got up because a neighbor came to call at 4:00.. And tonight? Yep, I’m yawning but not quite falling asleep.

The scene I was going to write? I sort of wrote it but only got 700 words instead of the 1,000 that is my daily goal. Gave up and turned to reading, but I find when I read fiction new ideas for my own work pop into my mind. Friend and well-known author Susan Wittig Albert keeps telling me reading is work for authors, and I’m beginning to believe her. And she passed on a quote from Stephen King to the effect that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.

‘Night. I’m going back to my book.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A day of small disappointments and large pleasures


A breath of spring in the cottage
Gift from a friend
A Day without Women totally got by me, but then I don’t know how I could have boycotted, etc. I don’t go to work, don’t care for children or a husband. I’m responsible only for me…which is maybe the point. Anyway I applaud the women who took time and trouble to broadcast the sorry state of women, even today.

My day started with hurry up and wait. Jordan and I were going shopping at ten, but a young woman had an accident right in front of our house, hit a car owned by a PTA mother Jordan has known since they were both in middle school. Jordan went out and found the young woman—pregnant and frightened—sitting in a smoking car, waiting for her husband, ambulance, fire dept., police, whoever. With great authority Jordan said, “I need you to get out of the car.” She took the woman to our porch got her water and waited with her.  I am so proud of her and wouldn’t have wanted her to do anything else but not knowing the circumstances, I was out in the cottage frustrated and waiting.

My other disappointment, frustration came from the phone. I am so weary of calls from institutions where I must punch one for English, punch in my address, phone, last four digits, age, birthdate—only to be put on hold and eventually find that the call is totally unimportant. Or get an operator with such a heavy accent I can’t understand. Bank of America today wanted to verify my information, but when they got me on the phone they found out it was already verified. I’d love to ignore these calls but I’m always afraid it has something to do with my credit or whatever.

Big pleasures: Jordan and I went to Trader Joe’s, with my list. I had never been, had a skewed idea about it, and absolutely loved it. We went at an off-hour, so parking was easy and the store was blessedly empty. I saw so many things I wanted, from snacks to frozen entrees. Had butternut squash with creamed spinach tonight. I want to go back there.

Home for lunch, and then to Central Market. I haven’t been in a grocery store in months, and this was a real treat. In this case, my list was made out in order of where things were because that store is familiar to me. Jordan kept piling things into the basket on my lap, until I could barely see over the top. I was delighted when one of the butchers recognized me, and a cheese man had a good laugh about me and my piled-high basket. I love that store, but it frustrates Jordan. We’ll have to educate each other—she can teach me Trader’s, and I’ll defuse her frustration with Central Market.

Because of these shopping forays, I have provisions enough for a long time.

To top off the day, Jordan took Sophie to the vet. Sophie (not Jordan) has snuffled with allergies, and I’ve been treating her with Benadryl. But yesterday she sneezed a fine spray of blood twice but then normal sneezes. I called the vet hoping he’d phone diagnose but he wanted to see her, so off they went. A vet bill and some drops later, Sophie seems just fine.

No writing today Just dealing with life as it came along. But it was a good day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         






Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Birthday Brother




Happy Birthday to my big brother, who downplays his birthdays and said he wasn’t going to celebrate, but my sister-in-law might cook something special. He was, he said, amazed, surprised and very grateful to find himself 85 years old. His voice cracked this morning but he said that was because he hadn’t talked much yet and he was, as a matter of fact, feeling exceptionally healthy. It should happen to all of us at that age. And good gravy—if he’s that old, I can’t be too far behind. (Six-and-a-half years)

John was the big brother I adored as a child, the one who fought my battles for me. Once a neighbor boy teased me—John pantsed him (took his pants off and left him to go home without them—if I remember the story correctly). He was always my hero growing up. In elementary school, he was sent to private school, leaving me adrift in public school. In high school, he was sent to military school. I remember from those years that the few times he came home were thrilling experiences for me. And I connect dogs with his visits—one was my English cocker who apparently hated uniforms and lunged at him; another, earlier dog was one John got I know not where. I’ll ask, and he’ll say, “Gee, sis, I don’t remember.”

One incident became a family classic. He was trying to teach me to dance, but he yowled and complained loudly to Mom that I stepped on his foot. “He put his foot where I was going to step,” I said indignantly.

When I was in college in Iowa, he was in the Navy in California, I think, and would drive through my college town on his way home to Chicago. He took me to the local café, and I was so excited I had the shakes. He kept asking if I was cold—how do you explain that excitement to your brother when you’re trying to feel cool? Later on that trip, he needed to renew his drivers’ license so I went with him to the license office where they asked if a license drive brought him, and he said, “No, my sister brought me.” For some detail, he was denied the license and complained bitterly that the government trusted him to fly a plane but not to drive a car.

Even in those years, he looked out for me. I transferred from Iowa to the university at home and after I graduated I showed no signs of leaving the nest. John, by then married and with two stepchildren, announced that I was had to move on, so I followed his family to Kirksville, Missouri and enrolled in Kirksville State Teachers College (now Truman University) to work on a M.Ed. in English. That move determined much of the course of my life to come. John and my future husband were students at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.

As adults, both divorced, John and I led different lives, our styles and concerns divergent, though we always remained close for holidays. In my recent years, he happily married and me happily single, we have been closer than ever, a bond strengthened by the closeness of our six children and, between us, thirteen grandchildren.

We have traveled a long and twisting road together, and we are both now nostalgic about our past, our families. We compare memories, and we share a love of many things learned as children. It’s a rich heritage, and I am so glad to share him to share it with. I do not like to hear his talk about aging and being fragile—I want my Bubba to be here as long as I am.

Happy Birthday, John, and thanks for being all that you are for me, including titular head of the family.

Monday, March 06, 2017

The World of Books





Last night, with a sigh of both satisfaction and regret, I finished the latest Deborah Crombie mystery, Garden of Lamentations. It was, like all her books, well crafted, complex, and intriguing with two distinct plots going at once. The ending was satisfactory, which to me is the best that we can ask of mysteries, but I wanted it to go on. I wanted to stay in the lives of Duncan and Gemma and their children, and the lives of Doug and Melody. What happened to them tomorrow? The day after? Like all good writers, Crombie did not tie it all up in a neat package wrapped with a pretty bow. As Texas novelist Elmer Kelton once said to me, “Life doesn’t happen that way.”

When I open a new novel, I am well aware that I am stepping into a new and different world. With books like Crombie’s, it’s not an unfamiliar world. I know the major characters, and through her, I’m beginning to know London. That familiarity welcomes me into what I know will be a satisfying experience.

On the other hand, I’ve just begun a novel set on Nantucket, No Rest for the Wicked by Martha Reed. I’ve never read Reed’s work before though I understand this is not the first in this series. Neither do I know much about Nantucket, except bits and pieces. So I stepped into this world with a great sense of anticipation. So far, I have not been disappointed.

What I hope to create in my novels is a consistent world with likeable characters that welcome readers back. It was high praise when a reader wrote, “These are people you’d meet in the grocery store.” But the highest praise came from a fan who had told me she was missing some friends she hadn’t seen in a while—Kelly and Keisha from the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. Later, in her own blog, this reader wrote, “I think I saw Kelly and Keisha today. They were going into the Neighborhood Grill”—that’s a café frequently mentioned in the books. That those people were that real to her thrilled me.

I’m at work now on a novella featuring—you guessed it! Kelly and Keisha. Keisha narrates this one, which is a huge challenge. She is young, flamboyant, outspoken, and black, and while her speech is not what unfortunately passes for black dialect in this country, it is an entirely different pattern than Kelly’s. Kelly, a late-thirties realtor with two children, has narrated all six novels, so changing to Keisha’s voice is hard for me. Sometimes I feel I’m getting it, but in other passages I know I’ll have to go back and do some major rewriting.

Sometimes, at night I lie in bed and imagine myself in the world of Kelly and Keisha. And I wonder how we get kids to understand the magic of the world of books—some of my grandkids get it but others don’t.

Welcome to my fictional worlds.

Saturday, March 04, 2017


A lazy day

March 4, 2017

            I didn’t sleep well last night—stomach issues--so it was lovely to do what the Brits call a lie-about—lie in bed way past the usual time my conscience gets me up. Being lazy was fun—the stomach issues not so much so. But my energy level didn’t improve as the day went along. I blame it on the weather—dreary all day. This afternoon I swear it was raining in my driveway but not in my back yard—crazy!
            Can you tell I'm reading a Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard novel? Lie-about for sleeping in. This morning, frustrated at something, I almost said, "Bugger!" Talk about getting into the world of what you're reading.

            I finally declared a vacation day—no writing. Determined to finish the novel. When I take a day off from writing ideas bubble in my brain, so it’s a good thing.

            Last night I had dinner with Subie and Phil at Local Foods Kitchen—I’d had takeout from there before but had never been there. There’s a small but pleasant seating area inside, and tables on the porch, where we sat—a little chilly by the time we left but pleasant. Watched the sky turn from rosy pink to gray. But the main attraction is a counter full of take-out food. I had a twice-baked potato and a beet-and-orange salad; my friends had crawfish/shrimp cakes, potatoes Dauphin, and a kale salad. (I can’t abide kale and am allergic to shrimp). Apparently the Kitchen is crowded and noisy at noon but was perfectly pleasant in the evening.

            Today I was ravenous at noon, so diced and fried a potato and had two sliders—should have saved one but I went ahead and ate it. Tonight, Nova Scotia fish cakes, cold roast beet pieces, and sautéed zucchini slices. The fish cakes were a recipe I found and wanted to try but when I got into it, I had second thoughts. You mash potatoes and let them cool; mix milk and fish and refrigerate; then heat, drain, and cool. Then mix all together and refrigerate Good golly Molly, should have started this at noon! It calls for cod or similar fish, but my go-to is my good canned tuna.

            The fish cakes, to my surprise, were good enough that I’ll try again. This time I really will start at noon, so I can finish before 8:30. I’m not one for fashionably late dining. Cleaning up? Time enough tomorrow.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Houses I Have Lived in





 I just learned that my “doctor’s wife” house, the one I lived in for twelve years when my children were babies, has come on the market—for an exorbitant figuring too near $2 million for my comfort. I assure you we did not pay much more than 1/8th that price in 1969 and sold it in 1982 still under ¼ that amount. Times have changed—and so has the house. It has been remodeled, added on to, redesigned—much of which hid its good bare bones.

Originally in the Mediterranean style, it had turned pillars on the front porch, a large terrazzo entry way which made me immediately fall in love, Mediterranean tiles around the circular fireplace. Much of that was covered with synthetic substances in a misguided attempt to upgrade or modernize the house. The second owners after us asked for pictures because they wanted to restore it to its original state—today their efforts hardly show, although they are the ones who added a two-story garage with guest quarters above it, a wonderful addition.

Today the house is chic and modern and too fussy for me. When we moved in, ugly blue fiberglass curtains completely hid the lovely curved windows and the house had a general air of not being loved. We improved what we could on the limited budget of a new physician, but some of our furniture was old, none of it was expensive. I would call the house in our day comfortable, a lived-in home. We did add love—it was a happy house. I can’t say that for it today—but it is fashionable. I don’t know where I’d kick off my shoes and read a book.

We did gut and remodel the kitchen, taking out a lot of brickwork. Today the kitchen has been refigured and remodeled again and a lot of exposed brickwork added. What goes round, comes round.

My kids have been spare in their comments except to say they don’t recognize many parts of it. One son loves the new patio, as do I, but I sure wouldn’t have put a pool in that yard. It’s where my ex grew twenty tons of green beans—too bad he’s no longer alive to appreciate the irony.

The whole transformation—and the price—reminded me of my childhood home. We saw it on our September visit to Chicago. The kids were astounded when I said to stop, that was the house. I had talked about a changing neighborhood, and I guess that didn’t compute for them. They thought poor.


The house today, we guess, is worth one million. Built in 1893, it’s fashioned like a brownstone but made of red brick with elaborate stone work with a typical bay window. I think my dad bought it in the 1930s for under $10,000. It’s tall and skinny, with a half third floor. Whereas in my day the houses all had wooden front porches—we screened ours in summers and lived there, today the porches are all gone and the tiny front yards, once just a patch of grass, are now landscaped with Japanese maple and other exotic plants.

I visited the other day with the girl who grew up next door—then, my dad’s garden, an extra lot, was between our houses. Today, there’s a house there that the owner told us was designed to fit in with my home. But Judy (her name too) told me she always thought of ours as an upper middle class neighborhood. That’s even stretching a point to me but it was nothing like it is today.

Do you think my living in these houses has influenced the price? Can we advertise “Judy Alter slept here” as in the old saw about George Washington? I doubt that would have an effect. And somewhere along the way, maybe when I had an empty nest, I got over the craving for a bigger and better house. Today, I live in 600 square feet and couldn’t be happier. There’s a moral there somewhere but I’m not going to figure it out.















Thursday, March 02, 2017

Old Friends, More Good Food



Old friends Bill and Judy Fleener brought lunch and a welcome visit today. When I say old, I mean the term in several ways. They are indeed old, like me—Bill is 85, and Judy probably on the edge of 80 if not there. But you’d never know it. There’s old in another sense though—Judy Weiland Fleener and I grew up next door as youngsters so we’ve literally known each other all our lives. In 1961, Judy married Bill, a priest at the local Episcopalian church, and they soon moved on to another parish. We lost touch except for Christmas cards but ours is another tale of a Facebook friendship rekindled. Bill retired from a church in Muskegon, Michigan and they still live there.

We weren’t much alike as kids—she athletic and generally fearless, me much ore bookish; she from a Republican household, me from a yellow-dog Democratic background; she, a private school kid; me, one who went K-12 to public school. It’s amazing now how much we have in common today—politics, religion (we follow different faiths but both are involved in them), cooking, books, kids and grandkids. We never run out of things to talk about on our rare visits, though today there was a lot of reminiscing about Chicago and Hyde Park, our neighborhood.

They are following a grandson’s spring baseball tour but taking side trips, such as to Dallas to see friends and to Austin to visit his sister. They fit me in between Dallas and Austin and arrived with tuna sandwiches—I had directed them to one of my favorite cafés.

Their visit was a wonderful high point in my day. I have decided that my days are best in the morning. I often work like a fiend, though I have so many “brush fires” on my desk, I rarely get to writing. After lunch, a nap, and I wake up slowly, reluctant to get out of bed. The afternoons and evenings are lazy, though that’s when I write—still, I don’t have the fire to get things done as I do in the mornings.

Dinner out with another old friend helped revive me tonight. She would not be happy if I told you how old she is, but we’ve known each other 25-30 years. She’s good about checking on me to be sure I have company and am all right. Tonight we went to our wonderful seafood place, Pacific Table. Before I go to a restaurant, I usually pull up the menu on the computer and decide what I want. I had done that tonight, and I had Caesar salad with fried oysters. The oysters were piping hot but delicious once they cooled enough to be eaten, and the salad was one of the best Caesars I’ve had. Plenty of dressing on each and every leaf of romaine. I loved it.

Kathie and I talked people, art (she’s a docent at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art), food (we swapped recipes), and generally had a good visit. Now, home and in jammies, I must post this blog and write 500 more words on my novella.

Night ‘all. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A gourmet kind of a day—or is it gourmand?




Eating outstandingly well is a fine way to start March, no matter whether it’s like a lion or a lamb. Today I think Mother Nature can’t make up her mind—it’s blustery like March and not as warm as it has been, but the sky is blue and the sun is warm. Take your choice.

Gourmand means one who appreciates fine food; a gourmet is more likely one who cooks it. Once I had an editor who crossed out gourmand in something because she said it smacked of gluttony. Not true—I think it means fine appreciation.

My friend and former student Heather Hogan Holt brought me lunch today. Lunch from Heather is not just any old lunch. She’s a trained chef and now cooks on the line lunchtime at the café in the Modern Museum of Art. She inquired ahead of time about tastes and allergies, and she nailed it—salmon salad, arugula and orange salad, and bruschetta with roast tomato slices. Absolutely delicious—and I loved talking with her about food and cooking and the like. I’m a little chagrined that she’s abandoned her English major background, but she couldn’t have taken a better direction. Heather also teaches at Sur le Table, so catch her either there or at Café Modern. She’ll be glad to meet you, and you’ll be glad to benefit from her skill and knowledge. I am pleased to have a bit of salmon salad in the fridge.

Retrospect is always regret: I should have taken a picture! And I did it again tonight—forgot to take a picture.

Betty and I trekked out to Bonnell’s (it seems a long distance though she knew a back way, and it wasn’t bad at all). As is our custom, we sat in the bar and had appetizers. Venison carpaccio was beautiful and delicious—but I was still hungry. Betty had grits and shrimp, a much more substantial appetizer, but since I’m allergic to shrimp that was out. We shared an order of Oysters Texasfeller—oyster with spinach, ham and Hollandaise. I found the ham a discordant taste and don’t remember it from previous trips. But all in all, a lovely evening, charming and helpful waitress. Kudos to Bonnell’s for serving a good but reasonable glass of wine—we had two each $8 glasses of chardonnay (oh, there was Bonnell’s chardonnay for $14). I suspect the reasoning is that at $8 we might have two glasses; at $14, we would limit ourselves to one.

A social day. I’m full and happy, feeling lucky to be able to have such interesting meals.