Monday, October 22, 2018

Pumpkins, barbecue—it must be fall

Tonight was the annual pumpkin carving on the Burton front porch. Ideally, the idea is that everyone eats pizza and some appetizers—broccoli and cheese bites, hummus, cheese, sausage—and then the kids carve the pumpkins, while the adults sit around, drink wine, and visit. That’s not exactly how it worked out.

Jacob had the first finished pumpkin, and it was great. But he had drawn teeth into it. My explanation of how to carve the teeth didn’t work. After he had created a toothless mouth, he said, “Oh! Now I get it!”

With the younger girls—and one boy—there were lots of squeamish faces about cleaning out the insides of the pumpkins, though Jordan had gotten a marvelous scooping tool.

And you know who ended up doing most of the work. The moms.

The evening turned cool, and I didn’t last long on the porch, but it was fun.

A random email from someone named Jack Thompson asked me to mention his web site, BroBBQ. I looked at it and found a really helpful interactive diagram of a beef cow—hover over any one section and it tells you all about the cuts from that part of the animal, how they are cooked, etc. Then there is a page of recipes for various meats—beef, chicken, ribs, etc. I haven’t figured out what the site sells or how they make any money, but it’s worth a look.

Thompson says he is dedicated to all things BBQ and was once told: “Whatever you do in life, do it slow and steady like when you barbecue your beef cuts, because the best BBQ is slow cooked. 

Check it out at

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Clothes, food, and good people

Some Facebook posts today have made me realize there really are still good people in this world—a family who took in a Central American boy for a summer and ultimately adopted him, a woman who opens her home to immigrants recently released from our detention centers—she has given food, clothing, a place to sleep, and, most of all, kindness and encouragement to over 1400 immigrants in the last eight years. And there’s a South African community that “punishes” a miscreant by putting him in the middle of a circle of his tribe who spend two days talking about the good in him. What a wonderful, positive approach. We need to spend a lot more time talking about the acts of kindness and caring in this tired old world of ours.

I can’t claim much self-pity tonight. I am well-fed. Jordan picked a recipe for our Sunday supper—chicken francese, essentially chicken in a lemony broth. But it required dipping the chicken first in flour, then in beaten egg, and doing it in batches. Definitely not a recipe for a tiny kitchen and a hot plate. I turned it over to Christian, and he did a masterful job, with some tweaks of his own. Delicious.

And speaking of recipes, friend Ellen Kurtzman hooked me up with a Scottish web page. I got to tell you—those folks really like fruitcake, something my family won’t touch. Years ago, when I was a doctor’s wife, we used to get fruitcake as gifts, and I had it in the freezer for months. Don’t get me wrong—I like it. But a little goes a long way. Still this web page has tone of fruitcake recipes.

The most amazing one? A three-ingredient cake—dried fruit (which my kids uniformly abhor), flour, and chocolate milk. Sounds great to me, but I don’t know what I’d do with it after I made it.

My mom used to make a yeast-rising coffee-cake with English dried fruit in it, flavored with cardamom. I love it and long for it to this day, but my kids are loudly scornful of it. Who raised those kids with such limited taste?

And clothing. At this late date, I ordered and got a Beto T-shirt to show my support for our Texas senatorial candidate. I wanted to wear it to church this morning, but common sense prevailed. Still I figure I have to wear it everywhere in the next—what?—sixteen days.

Loved the picture of Thomas Torlincasi, a local activist, at a Cruz rally. Talking to a reporter, he casually unzipped his jacket to reveal his Beto shirt. The image even made the George Stephanopoulus show this morning.

And, finally, speaking of clothes—I set the record for a fast change this morning. I wasn’t sure if Christian would make it to church or not, but just in case I washed my hair early. At 9:30 he said he probably wanted to go, but he was trying to get up and would let me know by ten. By 10:15 I decided we weren’t going. So when Jacob came out, dressed in church clothes, at 10:40, I was still in jammies, no makeup. Would you believe we left at 10:48 and made it to a pew before the processional? As always it was worth the rush, and I’m glad we went.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The long walk north

I’ve been worrying about the Central American immigrants for some time. You’d think by now that word would have spread that we aren’t exactly putting out coffee and doughnuts for them. Indeed, they run the real risk of having their children taken from them and put in cages. Some will never see their children again. Some parents will be deported, without their children, and our government has done an unbelievably poor job of keeping records. They simply can’t match children to families. Some youngsters will be placed in adoptive homes, which I suspect is  illegal without parental consent. The parents themselves will be locked up for long periods in hardship conditions and in most cases ultimately sent back to their homeland. A long, difficult walk for nothing.

And still they come, which makes me wonder how bad conditions are in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. What is bad enough to make them risk the journey and the unpleasant reception at the end? We hear tales of murder and rape, starvation and poverty, but those ae only tales—until you see people desperate enough to undertake this uncertain journey.

I saw a clip this morning of trump talking about the immigrant caravan. He, who usually is harsh in his criticism of Mexico, praised that country for its efforts to stop the caravan. But what really caught my attention was his insistence that the people of the caravan are hardened criminals, “really bad guys.”

Sure they are—that’s why they carry their children in their arms and the few possessions on their backs.

No doubt there are some bad guys among the 4,000 people. But statistics I’ve read indicate that most immigrants want to live in peace, work hard, raise their families in safety. And to those who complain about the drain on our economy—think again. The immigrant population picks our crops, cleans our houses and hotels, keep our yards in shape.  In lesser numbers, they are also PhDs, faculty at universities, physicians who protect our health, businessmen who move our society ahead.

Then there’s that sticky issue of legal vs. illegal. Obtaining legal status in the U.S. is a lengthy, expensive, and uncertain process. Many would-be citizens do not have the money and are not allowed to stay here long enough to establish residence, etc. Probably, those “hardened criminals” enter illegally, but I wonder if the same desperation that drove them north doesn’t push some good people to try illegal entry.

We haven’t head as much in the last couple of months about ICE’s cruel and senseless deportation of family members who have lived here a long time, built a business, paid taxes, abided by the law, and been contributing members of society. I think each such case should be carefully considered with compassion rather than that instant deportation we’ve seen.

I have no solution. I wish I had the wisdom for one. We cannot absorb the numbers of people who want to come here—it’s physically and economically impossible. But we do need rational, compassionate immigration reform, done without racial prejudice or economic motives.

Meanwhile, perhaps trump should remember that folk saying: Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. The last I heard though trump was threatening to deploy the full forces of the military. Where are you, General Mattis?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Death and taxes…or money on my mind

You know that old saying—nothing is certain except death and taxes. I hope death is not imminent, but taxes certainly are, with the new tax code. For years I have paid my property taxes and church donation twice in one year—the current year in January and the next in December. That got me a nice deduction beyond the standard deduction.

Today I talked to my accountant just to verify if this was a year I paid or not. He told me under the new tax law it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t reach the standard deduction. I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or not—does that mean I get a higher deduction?

We talked about medical costs—last year mine were so high I got a deduction, and I told him they wouldn’t be for 2018 and going forward to 2019 I expected to have much lower costs because I am done, done, done with medical problems. He laughed and complimented me on my positive attitude (I really mean it—I’ve had more than my fair share).

As we ended the conversation, he said, “At the end of the day nobody benefited from the new tax law except a very few,” and I replied, “I’m voting Blue.”

Couple that with the fact that McConnell, the man who is hell-bent on destroying democracy, will push for a cut in social security and Medicare next year, and folks like you and me are, well, I believe the phrase is screwed. Other administrations—George W. Bush comes to mind—have “borrowed” from social security with no intent to repay, but this is the first time that I know of that anyone in Congress has suggested cutting the amount paid monthly to seniors. The cost of living raises may not have been much, but we have gotten them all fifteen years that I’ve been eligible. Apparently McConnell’s scheme is one to avoid the repayment issue.

I absolutely cannot understand how McConnell can talk so blithely about this, when those funds are not entitlements. They represent money we as citizens—well those of us who are elderly—have paid into the system to ensure payments in our golden age. Even Reagan made it clear that is not government money.

If by chance (please, Lord, no) the Republicans keep control and pass a Draconian measure, it’s bound to end up in the courts. But that would drag on forever—would we get payments while it was considered and appealed all the way to SCOTUS? And if it got to SCOTUS, are we again screwed because Kavanaugh is on the court?

Then again suppose the Blue Wave sweeps Congress—it’s all a moot point. The cuts won’t happen, and Kavanaugh may well be impeached.  See what a complicated world we live in?

I’m voting Blue.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A new world of sound

Ring the bells! Bang the drums! Clash the cymbals! Let the music begin. I have new hearing aids! They’re half the size and half the weight of the ones I’ve had forever—and the tone is so much better. I spent most of the morning in the audiologist’s office learning how to use them. One huge benefit--I can now talk on the phone while my cell phone is lying on my desk. I don’t have to hold it up to my ear.

One thing I’ve learned with my medical troubles of late is that assistants in medical offices tend to chatter way too fast and talk way too softly. I’m hoping the new ears will mean I don’t have to keep saying, “Whoa! Slow down!” I’m so tired of saying, “Pardon me. Would you repeat that—slowly.”

I also expect these new aids to allow me to enjoy music more, especially church music. Hope to try it out on Sunday.

Other than that lengthy appointment, today was a work day, and I made good progress on the Alamo book. But last night I had one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time. Betty, Jean, and I went to Paris Seventh, a spin-off of Saint Emilion, the fanciest French restaurant in town (maybe the only upscale French one). At Paris Seventh they offer a bistro menu on Tuesday and Wednesday nights if you have a reservation and get there before 6:45. The cost for three courses is $30 including tip but not wine.

I try to remember to watch the menu, because it changes every week. This week, the three courses were cream of mushroom soup, salmon en croute, and crème brulee. There’s a lot of cream and richness in those dishes. I ate all the soup but could only manage half the salmon, which was in a rich cream sauce with a bit of spinach. Absolutely delicious, but so filling. I brought half the salmon home but enjoyed the crème brulee which was lighter than many versions.

Had the leftover salmon tonight. Still good, but not as good as when it was fresh, hot, and finished with that good sauce.

Service was courtly if a bit slow—everyone seems to hit the restaurant at the same time to take advantage of the bistro menu. But I will continue to watch for the weekly menu and go back for the bistro dinner. Great experience.

But there was restaurant chatter. I need to go back with my super-sensitive aids which constantly check and adjust for the environment. So excited to hear the world again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Soup’s on! (on the hot plate, that is)

Our chilly damp weather continues. Yesterday afternoon it occurred to me that it is definitely soup weather. So I made a clean sweep of the freezer, scooping up a bit of corn, both beef and chicken broth, a serving of beef and barley soup, and I’m not sure what else. This morning I added a can of tomatoes (turned out to be whole plum tomatoes when I wanted diced, but I didn’t discover that until I’d opened the can), some egg noodles, the peas and carrots combo from last night’s supper. Cooked it all morning at a low simmer—I have to watch because the hot plate turns itself off every so often and for long cooking, I have to go re-start it.

When my kids were young, we called this soup of the week. They used to identify Monday’s meal, the stew from Tuesday, the hamburger casserole from Wednesday. And it always came out sort of tannish brown, often that muddy color author Dan Jenkins called the color of Texas food. Today my soup was a rich brown because of the tomatoes and beef broth.

A good friend was coming to pick me up for lunch, but I surprised her with my pot of soup. She appeared delighted, and we had a good quiet visit without contending with restaurant clatter and chatter. She said her late husband used to make what they called “leftover soup,” and if it came out especially delicious, she warned everyone to enjoy it now because it could never be duplicated. It never does come out quite the same way.

It’s sort of appropriate that I made soup on the hot plate today because I’m excited to announced that my new cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s the link: It will be for sale November 15. Right now, you can only pre-order the digital version but on publication day it will also be available in paperback.

So if you’re wondering how I cook a full meal with a hot plate and a toaster oven or how I make tzatziki or why I put a pinch of sugar in spaghetti sauce, the cookbook has your answers.

In November, I’ll announce an ongoing blog page where I’ll add recipes and welcome your comments, recipes, and suggestions so we can have a conversation. Putting together a cookbook is fun but there are always those recipes you come across later and wish you’d included. And some I either haven’t had time or nerve to try, like Cacio de Pepe, literally cheese and pepper pasta—think Parmesan and Pecorino.

Stay warm and dry, folks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

News of the world

Yesterday almost everyone in the Metroplex braved their way through a day without the internet, due to a lightning strike that got a crucial AT&T station plus the backup, or so I heard. When I finally got email back, just before I went to bed, I had about 60 emails but at least half were people in my neighborhood complaining about the outage, counting the hours, etc. I heard on TV that it was such a major problem that AT&T is considering honoring discount requests.

So today we have wifi back, and it’s amused me to know what I learned, what I apparently missed yesterday. Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess, are expecting a baby. Jamal Kashoggi was probably killed by “rogue” killers—aren’t all killers rogue? Justin Bieber is conflicted over his romantic interests. The national deficit continues to grow, but McConnell knows how to fix it—just cut entitlements. That means your social security and Medicare—and mine but not that big tax deduction or the one percent. Ted Cruz is running doctored footage and telling lies about Beto. Maybe Trump was right when he called him “lyin’ Ted.”

I think in retrospect yesterday was peaceful. I need to keep the TV off, not check MSN and Facebook, and only use wifi for research.

Heavy rains this morning but it stopped in time for my doctor’s appointment—the nephrologist says I’m going to live, but when they gave me my paperwork I was startled by her initial diagnosis. For those who want to know what made me whine all summer it was acute renal failure. It sort of makes me feel like the hypochondriac whose tombstone read, “I told you I was sick.” Fortunately I feel a whole lot better.

Poor Jordan was caught in rush-hour traffic returning from a five-day trip to Cabo, and I am sure she was freezing. The trip was work for her but still pleasant, and the pictures she sent of food at high-end resorts were amazing. But it was 90 when she left, and she came home tonight, without coat or sweater, wearing flip-flops. She came into the cottage wearing a warm work-out suit and complained she was still cold.

More food thoughts: I got busy this afternoon and made tuna patties, with the goal of one for supper. And defrosted the makings of a pot of soup of the week—this is turns out will be heavily beef flavored. Some beef stock, some beef and barley soup, black-eyed peas, a bit of carrots and peas left from the can I opened for supper a little bit of chicken stock that will get lost in the beef flavor. Tomorrow I’ll add a half potato from the fridge, a half zucchini sliced, and some egg noodles. And then I’ll think about whatever else it needs, but it already threatens to be a huge pot of soup. It struck me today that cold and rainy as it was it’s a good time to make soup—and it’s also a good time to clean out the odds and ends in the freezer.

Neighbor Mary came for a happy hour glass of wine and brought me an amazing piece of pear and chocolate tart with an apricot glaze. Made up for my rather mundane supper. So delicious.

I’m so glad to be back to cooking and eating.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lessons in the internet—and good food, good company

A one step forward and two steps backward kind of a day. I had a delightful lunch with my friend Heather, who cooks at the Modern and teaches at Sur La Table. I had whined to her that so many of the recipes I collect contain things my family won’t eat. She suggested I send her one, so I did—it was called spaghetti pie, though to me it was just a skillet spaghetti meal—and it had eggplant in it, a no-no in this household I’m sure.

Today she brought it for lunch, and I fixed a quick green salad. We feasted, and we talked about dogs, cats, politics, TCU, and all things irrelevant. I enjoy our occasional lunch visits. My turn to cook next, so I will have to find another recipe I want to try that the kids wouldn’t like.

And speaking of things the family won’t eat: Jordan being out of town, she picked our Sunday night menu—hot dogs with a semi-Korean topping of cabbage, cilantro, onion, kimchi, a sauce of mayo, lime juice, sesame seeds, and scallions, and grated cheddar. Too me that was more than one poor hot dog could bear, so I simplified. I had never tried kimchi—to eat or to cook with—and I was apprehensive about Christian’s reaction. I bought “mild cabbage kimchi”—he doesn’t like cabbage, but hey! He said he loved it. I thought it was pretty good. Jacob ate his hot dog with ketchup and cheese. Strangely enough, the recipe said to sauté the kimchi—Heather said she’d never heard of cooking it. Now I have half a bag of kimchi—any takers?

Tonight’s experiment was a gourmet pizza of crème fraiche, smoked salmon, and caviar. But for two people I decided to make individual pizzas on lightly toasted flour tortillas. Lesson learned: flour tortillas puff up like sopapillas when you toast them, but they deflate quickly. And crème fraiche is a bit sweet. Still, my dinner guest raved about it. Good quick easy meal. Served with Caesar salad.

But on to today’s frustration—in mid-morning, I suddenly had no wifi. Unbelievable how that hampers you—I couldn’t send or receive email or Facebook messages, and, most important, since I was working hard on the Alamo project, I couldn’t do online research. So I still don’t know who General Andrade was and if he really tried to destroy the Alamo after San Jacinto but was met with flaming swords, nor what happened to the chapel during much of the nineteenth century—did it just sit vacant and decay? And other questions—I’ve made a list. Most frustrating was that somehow, I would get notices that someone had posted on Facebook—but I couldn’t see the posts. My cell phone tells me I have fifty invisible posts. Who knows how many emails?

I did find that I could text Christian, and he reported that the outage is all over the Metroplex, the results of a lightning strike to one of AT&T’s motherboards. No estimated repair time. Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have bothered me much; now it makes me frantic. Ah, technology. Save a little time and waste a lot more.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

That verboten subject

We’re always cautioned not to talk about politics and religion. But our minister made a strong argument this morning for talking about politics—and doing something about it. The root of the word is the Greek “polis”—it literally means city, or citizenship. We are encouraged to become active in our larger community, to do something for the common good. That should hit people who scorn politics and refuse to “get involved.”

On the other hand, the word partisan comes from the military and means to separate or divide. It can also mean to be prejudiced in favor of a particular cause. Ideally, we should be political but not partisan. These days I find that a hard distinction to make.

To avoid being partisan, I sometimes like to identify myself as a liberal—but that choice is fraught with peril. Conservatives use it s a term of scorn and distort it to libtard (the etymology of which I don’t which to explore, thank you). But maybe we wouldn’t be so divided if we could think of ourselves as liberals and conservatives.

There is much to admire about ideal conservatism—fiscal responsibility, holding to old values. I have trouble with their ideas on the distribution of wealth and opposition to change and progress.

But today, the conservative party in power has so twisted and abandoned the ideals they espouse that their philosophy is not recognizable. If you hold to traditional values, you don’t elevate an accused sexual attacker to the Supreme Court; you don’t tear families apart and lock children in cages; you don’t wantonly pollute the environment and kill God’s creatures.

Maybe if we thought of ourselves as liberals and conservatives, we could hold a conversation without resorting to shrill shouting matches and exercises of power. I’d like that.

Meantime, as I reflected to myself in church this morning, my faith determines my politics. I believe God loves a people and creatures, and he gave us enough wealth on this earth to take care of all. It’s how you treat others that matters. And if there is a judgment day—I’m not sure about that—how you treated others will be how you are judged.

Sermon over.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The second battle of the Alamo

I was a recluse today. Just me, Sophie, and that pesky squirrel on the patio. If I had to choose a day to be a recluse, this was a good one. Dark, rainy, stormy this morning. We had those proverbial sheets of blowing rain. Not much thunder, but enough to keep Sophie close to me. This afternoon, the rain stopped, and I even saw sunshine briefly. But there’s more rain tomorrow and then a severe drop in temperature.

I made good use of my day at home alone, worked hard most of the day except for a mid-day break. Spent the day at the Alamo, and I guess it’s time to explain that. In June, a friend was diagnosed with metastatic cancer—someone I knew basically through a close-knit online group of writers but had had one really good in-person visit with. She had a contract with a New York publisher and was working on a book on the second battle of the Alamo. But Debra, the Energizer Bunny, had several other projects going on all the time, and I became part of the squad cheering her on to work on the Alamo book. I knew the story of the second battle, and it’s the kind of history that fascinates me.

When she was hospitalized, she called me one day. “Deb, what can I do for you?” I asked, and she replied, “Write the Alamo book.” I would never ever have wanted that assignment under these circumstances, but it was a project I took on willingly, partly to honor her and partly because it intrigues me. It was the end of summer before the editor, Deb’s partner and literary executor, and I could all reach an agreement. We had danced around the subject as long as Debra was with us. But when she died, we tackled it.

And I have been working on it for about a month now. I’ve sent a draft of the first bit to the editor and gotten back an incredibly helpful critique. Since I’ve written fiction for so long, it’s almost a new experience for me to work with an editor this closely in a back and forth manner, and I’m loving it. I spent most of today putting together a chapter she wants that hadn’t even occurred to me. But it’s all the history I love, and I’m having fun. Problem is, unlike my own fiction, I have a deadline—it was February, but it’s been pushed to May. I think I can do it, but I feel the pressure. So today was a long day at the keyboard.

Tonight, I’m going to continue re-reading a novel about this second battle. TCU Press published it some twenty years ago, and I edited it. But that’s a long time. So far, just barely into it, I’m finding it enormously helpful for atmosphere and period details.

So you might like to know about the second battle of the Alamo. I assume everyone knows about the first. The second was in the early 1900s when a part of the mission compound was in danger of being torn down and replaced by a glitzy hotel. Two women, members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, saved the iconic mission. But what began as a collegial relationship soon deteriorated into a definite difference of opinion about which parts of the mission were essential.

The story of the massacre at the Alamo is a man’s story, full of blood lust and courage—and all those qualities we associate with bold men. But the story of the Alamo does not end with that 1836 battle and defeat. Nor is it always a men’s story. The second battle of the Alamo was a women’s battle, fought with the same determination as shown by the original defenders but with different weapons—with words and money and sometimes with outrageous behavior.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Drums in the morning

This morning I was rudely awakened at 7:30 (after being up at 6:45 with Sophie) by what sounded like someone tapping the window in my front door. When I pulled myself to full consciousness, I realized it was the tat-tat-tat of drums, soon followed by the boom of bigger, deeper drums.

It was the annual walkathon at Sweet Lily B. Clayton, the elementary school across from my house. When Jacob was in school there, I thought the spirit activities preceding the walk were stirring and always watched from the front porch. Now that I’m tucked away in the cottage out of sight I find it less thrilling.

This afternoon, a happy and pleasant gentleman came to repair our gate. He assured me it was fixable and he wouldn’t need to bother me again—so I took a nap. However, fixing it involved some weird kind of machinery that whined at various pitches. It reminded me of having an MRI, listening to the sounds and try to make a pattern or some sense of them. I almost—but not quite—got up to see what he was doing. Whatever it was, stopped, and I did fall asleep. Presto! When I got up the gate was fixed.

For me to get annoyed at those two intrusions on my sleep tells me it’s either the falling barometer or I need to work on my negativity. I was bummed last night because I found my latest prescription for a blood thinner will cost over $400—I’m fortunate I can scrape that together, while I know many people couldn’t. But still it’s frustrating. I’m in the dreaded doughnut hole where I landed because of lots of very expensive eye drops earlier this year. Another reason to vote blue.

And when I went to pick up my prescription I got annoyed by all the construction around the east side of the university campus. All those cute, old bungalows—so typical of a major era in our history—are being swept away and replaced by townhouses and stealth dorms (buildings that skirt zoning laws by having one kitchen for several small apartments). The university has closed a couple of side streets and is generally complicit in changing the face of the neighborhood. I wish they’d take a course in urban preservation.

Hmmm—there was a third thing that irritated me, but I have to laugh at myself. I can’t think of it now. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain all day, so I’ll have to make a determined effort to brighten my mood. I’ll probably stay home and work on revisions of the Alamo book, which is what I did today. Intense work. Not exactly cheering but encouraging.

IF you’re in North Texas, stay warm and dry. It’s not only going to be wet, but I heard it’s going down to the forties by Monday.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A return to the coat-hanger era?

With the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on SCOTUS, many are worried about the possible overturn of Roe vs. Wade. Such a move would rob women of control over their own bodies—and their lives.

Before Roe vs. Wade, desperate women often had what were called back-alley abortions, procedures performed by some unlicensed, probably unqualified practitioner. Other women induced their own abortions by using coat hangers. Too many died of sepsis (overwhelming infection) and other traumas.

So it was entirely inappropriate when a Republican legislator (sorry, can’t remember if he was state or Federal) made a joke (he thought) by saying, “Get your coat hangers ready, ladies!” It was a tacit admission that the only thing that will change about abortion is the safe treatment of women.

I well remember the era before Roe vs. Wade—and one specific incident which made the whole thing come home to me. My father was an osteopathic physician and administrator of a hundred-bed hospital in Chicago. He was also primarily responsible for getting osteopathic physicians to the right to perform surgery in the State of Illinois (he himself could have been sued for lancing a boil). It was no surprise that staff surgeons looked to Dad for advice and counsel.

One day when I was about twelve, I answered a mid-day phone call to hear a surgeon growl, “Let me talk to your dad.” With my best phone manners, I assured him Dad wasn’t at home. “Goddamit, Judy,” he exploded. “I know he’s napping, and I need to talk to him NOW. Go get him.” I did.

It turned out the surgeon had been called by a back-alley abortionist who had botched a procedure and thought his patient was dying. He was begging for help to save her life. This was a real dilemma for the surgeon: it being against the law to perform an abortion, he could lose his medical license if he tried to save the patient. His career, and his chance to help many other patients, would be gone; if he didn’t’ help, a young woman might die.

As I said, I was twelve, not tuned in yet to consequences, and I don’t know the outcome of this situation. But it has remained seared on my mind almost seventy years. I’m not going to argue the issue of when life begins—conception or birth—but I will argue to the death that a woman has a right to make her own decisions. I was never able to conceive, and I am grateful beyond measure for my four adopted children, but I consider the ability to conceive and carry to term an infant a gift from God. I am opposed to abortion. But that is me. I can’t make that decision or anyone else. The subject never came up with any of my girls, and I am grateful. Had they, in different circumstances, chosen abortion, I would have been disappointed but supportive. The life of the young woman I know and loved means more to me than that of the fetus.

If you were that surgeon, would you have walked away? Or would you have risked your career and future to save a life?

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

My appalling recipe collection

October 9, 2018

Before I downsized from the house to the cottage, I had an appalling recipe collection, overflowing two large drawers in a Victorian secretary. Recipes were haphazardly collected in folders that bulged so that their spines tore. But they were organized—a folder each for entrees tried, entrees not tried, vegetables, appetizers, desserts, breakfasts. I saved some—they are in an out of the way file cabinet that I envisioned as part of my office—until I realized how limited space in the cottage is. Now the cabinet and the recipes are in my closet. Not handy. I’m not sure I could find an old favorite if I wanted to.

The irony is that I’ve started a new appalling collection, and it’s growing out of bounds. I just can’t resist recipes that intrigue me. Of course, my main cooking audience is my local family—Jordan, Christian, and Jacob. Truth be told, they are fussy eaters, and many of the recipes just aren’t on thei list of acceptables—spaghetti pie with eggplant, smoked salmon pizza, kalpudding (a meatloaf and cabbage combo). You get the drift.

My chef friend Heather said to just send her a recipe they won’t eat, so I did. She’ll make  spaghetti pie with eggplant for our lunch next Monday. Maybe kalpudding later—it sounds like a winter dish.

I’m excited to remind you that my new cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes, will be available in early November—plenty of time to put it on the Christmas gift list for that senior living in small quarters or the college freshman just cooking on his or own on a hot plate in a dorm room.  A couple of my old favorites will be included, but mostly it’s new recipes and new cooking hints.

For instance, did you know to always add a pinch of sugar to tomato sauces to cut the acidity? Or how to make your own buttermilk. Or ranchero sauce? Lots more. I’ll be giving some hints as the pub date gets closer.

Meanwhile, think eggplant and cabbage.

Monday, October 08, 2018

How to waste a morning

My drenched patio
Mornings are my best work time, and I try to guard them zealously. Still, sometimes a doctor’s appointment intrudes. When possible, I try to schedule such appointments first thing in the morning, before the doctor gets behind for the day. That way, with luck, I can salvage part of the morning. None of that worked this morning—a 10:30 appointment for routine tests ate the whole morning, and much of it was my fault. I realized that these days it’s complicated for me to get out of the house alone.

First, I need a checklist of things to remember: phone, credit card, hearing aids, insurance card, medical alert gizmo just in case, handicap parking sticker, the clicker for our electric gate, sunglasses.

Started out the door and realized I had left Sophie outside. Bribed her with cheese to come in, locked the patio door, and tried again.

I have one of those phone cases you wrap around your arms when you jog. I can’t quite jog, but I wrap it around one handle of the walker. I stuffed the keys, handicap permit, and gate clicker in my jeans pockets, put phone, insurance card, and medical alert thingy in that phone case. Gently (I promise) lifted the walker down the two steps by my front door—phone case went one direction, sunglasses flew off my nose in another direction. I generally pick things up from a sitting position—my balance isn’t so good to do it standing. But somehow, I retrieved both items without falling and made it to the car.

The electric gate wasn’t quite open all the way, so it took me lots of maneuvering to get the car lined up just right so I didn’t damage the gate more. Oops, forgot that part of the story. Saturday night a friend was leaving in a car that sits so much lower than my VW that I thought she was already out of the driveway and started to close the gate. She was still inside. Car and gate met—damage to both. Lewis Bundock, who’s kept my house up-to-date and running for over twenty-five years, tells me a part of the gate is pretty well bent and will need rewiring. Not sure about damage to her car. Yes, I called insurance—probably not covered. Am on the gate man’s list.

Anyway, by the time I got to the medical office, only fifteen minutes late, I felt like I’d put in a day’s work. And I was raised in a doctor’s family where it was a cardinal sin to be late for a medical appointment. The doctor might keep you waiting, but you were always on time.

The appointment took a little under an hour, but I figure the whole thing took two hours out of my morning. I’m still playing catch up. But I had to laugh—in going through email while I ate my lunch, I was looking at the New York Times recipes and found one for burnt toast soup. Sounded like it would about fit my day, but I think I’ll pass.

The day of wasted times and mis-steps ends this evening with a lovely soothing rain. Both patio doors wide open, cool, rain-fresh air. Who could wish for more.
Scared dog, curled up at the foot of my desk.
She doesn't like thunder and stays close to me during storms.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Words from an old fuddy-duddy

No, I don’t think I’m an old prude. But I keep remembering the old adage that if you can’t express yourself without cursing, you probably have nothing to say.

 It’s no secret that I’m a Facebook addict. Years ago, I was scornful of Facebook, then the new kid on the block. I didn’t need that foolishness. My kids convinced me otherwise. “You can keep up with what we’re all doing,” they said. So I signed up. I soon knew what time one son went to the gym, what time he left the gym, the details of his lunch, etc. I love my kids beyond measure, but that kind of detail I didn’t need. But then most of them melted away—the girls in the family still post a bit, one son rarely, and one son not at all.

But by then I was hooked. I saw the value of Facebook in promoting my mysteries and my blog. I made friends. I learned a lot about current events, once I realize how important it is to check the sources. Facebook is now part of my morning ritual, and I usually check it late at night. These days, with the Kavanaugh mess, I’ve checked it more often.

But I am dismayed, upset, disappointed—choose whatever word you want—at the level of many conversations. On some timelines, if I express an opinion, I am vilified as naïve, stupid, blind, etc. I rarely play this card in my own defense, but I would like those men (yeah, they’re all men) to know that I am not stupid. I hold a Ph.D. in English, and I’ve published over a hundred books. My opinions about the current political situation in our country are no knee-jerk reactions but are based on my sense of honor, morality, and integrity—and they have a lot to do with my faith.

The posts that offend me the most are scurrilous, often in horrendous taste. One recently alluded to Lindsey Graham’s sudden infatuation with trump in such gross anatomical terms—an act between two men that I do not want to contemplate further, but I can’t erase from my mind. The F-bomb has now become common, as have insults of the most virulent kind. So have sexual innuendos of the grossest nature.

What happened to civility? What happened to an honest exchange of ideas? Tonight Christian and I had a discussion about Kavanaugh/Ford—we disagree on some points. He says I want to make it political, and I say it has to be. We were both passionate—and grew loud. Jordan left the cottage. But you know what? We weren’t mad, we kept it civil, and we exchanged ideas.

That’s what I hoped for on social media—a civil exchange of ideas. Okay, here I go being political, but I blame much of it on trump. With his comments about grabbing women in the crotch, etc., he has lowered the bar for discussion. And I am offended—by him as a person if not by his politics.

I don’t necessarily want to go back to the days when if you mentioned something slightly sexual, my mother’s chin went up in the air and her eyes went out the window. That discussion was over. But I would like to be able to exchange ideas in a civil manner. I might stretch my mind a bit, and that would be good. And maybe I could stretch yours.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Everybody’s Mom

Wonderful rehearsal dinner last night at Lonesome Dove. Jordan’s “brother from another mother,” David, marries Kelly tonight, and we are all singing and dancing for joy. David has been like family to us for—gulp! —thirty years, not that he doesn’t have a perfectly wonderful (and big) family of his own.

The wedding is in Dallas, and Jordan decided—and I agree—I shouldn’t try to go to Dallas. They left early this morning, so they could watch the Red River Shootout (Texas vs. OU)—an activity that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I have better things to do. Tonight, they will spend the night in Dallas, and Jordan wasn’t sure who she trusts to bring me home late at night. So, David’s parents kindly invited me to the rehearsal dinner. In his remarks, David’s father alluded to my having helped raise David.

Several of Jordan’s longtime (from high school) friends were there, all people dear to me. Jordan hung out a lot with David and Rob (who now works with my Jamie)—they called themselves the Three Musketeers. At one point last night, Rob’s wife adjusted the jacket I was wearing, and I said she was just like Jordan, always fixing me. Rob said something, and she replied, “She’s everybody’s mom.” And that’s how I felt at that gathering—like I was everybody’s mom and in the midst of family.

The sense of family was further enhanced when Jordan wanted to make a toast to the happy couple. David’s father introduced her as “my daughter.” She was cute and clever, telling David she thought she’d go to Jacob’s rehearsal dinner before his and asking if he remembered when—she let it hang there and then said, “Mom remembers.” Indeed, this mom remembers so many things from over the years.

We are delighted to welcome Kelly into our “branch” of the family. She is beautiful and bright, and as David told Jordan, she “gets” him. Turns out I have some connection to Kelly’s mom and grandmom. One of the fascinating things last night was to watch the blending of David’s friends and family with Kelly’s. It’s going to be a happy union.

Lonesome Dove was great. I haven’t been there in years and came away with a new appreciation. We dined in the wine cellar—easy access for me from the alley. A lovely sitting area planted with xeriscape greens and overlooking Marine Creek opens off the wine cellar. For dinner, we had a choice of tenderloin, redfish or quail. Most people got the beef, but I chose the quail and was so unsophisticated as to whisper to the girl next to me that I longed for some ranch dressing. She laughed and said she’d really like some ketchup for her steak. Only on Fort Worth’s North Side. Dessert was a sinfully rich ancho chile chocolate brownie topped with vanilla bean ice cream. All tastefully done with great service and plenty of wine flowing.

So tonight, I’ll go back to the North Side, with a friend, to eat chicken-fried steak at the Star Café. But a big part of my spirit will be in Dallas.

Here’s to David and Kelly and a wonderful future together.

Friday, October 05, 2018

The book that was snake-bit

Apologies in advance for a whiny post, but my latest Kelly O’Connell Mystery, the eighth, Contract for Chaos, was snake-bit from the beginning. The manuscript was finished, ready to go in June, with publication scheduled for early September. That left the summer for advance publicity.

I was “under the weather” most of the summer, so lethargic I barely turned on my computer. My publicist was distracted by severe illness in her family—she has nothing but my most sincere sympathy. Blogging and review opportunities were missed—I just couldn’t bring myself to write much. Contract didn’t get much attention, though I shared its terrific cover when I could.

Then I tangled with Amazon. I thought I was posting the book for advance orders before September publication; instead, they listed as published June 18—which calls to mind that old saying, “IF a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”—and the listing said, “Limited availability.” Limited! I wanted to scream, “No! Lots of availability! Come one, come all!”

 Today, there was to be a guest blog, one I was rather proud of. It dealt with what a character looks like. I suppose most authors envision their characters in their mind—you must in order to get an adequate description. But you rarely actually see them. This time, I sent the designer several descriptive passages about Keisha, Kelly’s idiosyncratic assistant, along with a request to have her in the cover art. Thanks to artist Sherry Wachter, the art work came out spot on—Keisha was every bit as flamboyant and larger than life as I’d written her, and I was delighted to have put that into words in a blog post.

So the post this morning showed the cover (above) and talked about the agrarian myth as it relates to two previously published small-town novels: The Perfect  Coed and Pigface and the Perfect Dog. The agrarian myth, the concept that life in small towns is somehow more simple and pure, is really hard to relate to an urban novel about racism, complete with neo-Nazi protestors and snipers with deadly aim.

I’m not even sure if I should share that misplaced post wide and far or not. You suppose it would do the two earlier novels any good—or simple confuse people? Or worse yet, make them think I’ve finally gone off my rocker?

As you can tell, my health is better, my lethargy gone, and I’m energized—but frustrated. Sure, this is a subtle plea for each reader to rush to order Contract for Chaos. But more than that, I wanted to explore and explain how delicate and complicated indie publishing is. You can’t just put your book out there and forget it—it becomes like that silent tree falling in the forest, lost in the forest of books that are published daily. Authors often spend more time marketing their books than they did writing them. Gone are the days when you wrote, and a publisher publicized.  It’s enough to make a person take up scrubbing floors. Remember Erma Bombeck? Writing in pre-computer days, she said a blank sheet of paper always gave her the urge to scrub floors.

I’m going back to defending the Alamo. I guess some day I’ll have to explain that. Suffice to say now, I’m working on a book about the second battle of the Alamo.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The critter in my walls

Sophie has discovered a critter in the wall in my bathroom, in the tiny space between the commode and the shower. At least, that’s all I can think because she periodically goes berserk, rushes into the bathroom, and barks furiously at the wall. My calming words come to nothing.

The idea of a critter alarms me for several reasons. Fort Worth, like most cities, has rats all over. We live near a zoo, a park, and a creek. There are chickens right behind me, and I’ve seen rats on the fence, heard them squeaking at night in the trees. I’ve had rats in my belfry, rats in my attic, and, yes, rats in my walls. Two or three times they have died in my walls, an experience not to be forgotten. The stench is awful, and there’s not much you can do except wait for it to go away.

I remember once when the Texas Institute of Letters held their annual meeting in Fort Worth. I invited some that I was close to for brunch the following Sunday morning. The rat probably died Thursday, maybe Wednesday. By Sunday, the odor was in full bloom. And it was in the dining room wall. I served an elegant brunch, if I do say so, and hoped no one said anything. Classy bunch of people, I never heard a comment.

I don’t know this is a rat. Could it be a snake? There is no visible way anything could get from inside the wall to the house, though I intend to call the contractor tomorrow and ask about that. Tonight, I just hope that Sophie sleeps through the night without feeling the need to defend us against that critter.

Jordan and I both went to the doctor today for blood work. On the way home, we stopped at a well-known place that offers take-out food as well as catering. I’d always heard their King Ranch casserole was good, so we bought two—Jordan insisted one would not feed Jacob and anyone else. My opinion: delicious flavor but it was more like King Ranch soup. Should have been served in bowls. Next time, I’ll do it. I make a darn good King Ranch casserole.

My cookbook got a step closer to reality today. With the help of Melinda, production manager for TCU Press, my longtime friend and former employee, who told me where to send the files to have them converted so that I can offer the book on various digital platforms, including Kindle. Wish I understood all that stuff more. But fun note—the person she referred me to has been with that Austin company since the days when I first started at TCU Press—early 1980s. And we did business back then. Company name has changed but still the same outfit. Small world.

And I’m still struggling to save the Alamo—again! Busy day and I’m sleepy.

The importance of neatness and organization

My living room
cluttered with research
Ever since I’ve been in my tiny cottage, I’ve stressed the importance of keeping a small space free from clutter and mess. Twelve-year-old Jacob has been the particular recipient of my repetitive lectures. So here’s how my space looks these days. My desk is a cluttered mess, and my living/entertaining space not much better.

The problem? Research materials for my latest writing project. Papers are strewn everywhere, as I try to put all these photocopies in meaningful order—important, marginal, probably not useful. The problem is complicated because I inherited someone else’s research—more on that story another time.

Yesterday, friends from TCU Press came to do a podcast, and I felt obliged to make a clean
sweep of my desk, hiding most of the loose papers and stacking the couple of books and magazines in a neat pile. Jordan came along and promptly laid a couple of loose sheets on top, destroying the balance—I incorporated them into the pile. But by last night, my desk looked as you see it in the picture. You’d think I could at least read Bon Appetit and get it out of the way, but it takes me two or three times through a cooking magazine before I can discard it. I must be sure I’m not missing a recipe I can’t live without. And these days I am driven to go through all those research papers in that huge box, so reading fiction or food magazines seems a little frivolous to me.

Typical of my dilemma—yesterday I came across a master’s these that could be central, but it was missing the first forty pages, including the attribution. I wasn’t sure who wrote it, where it might be stored, etc. Then I discovered I have it in digital form on my computer. I run into duplication all over the place. But I keep plugging away—and I’m having fun.

Yesterday was also a day of surprises. I washed my hair early so it would dry before the podcast—and then came an unexpected phone call. Rosa was here two days earlier than expected to cut my hair. I can’t say enough about Rosa, who’s been keeping me trim for years and has become a treasured friend along the way. Since getting out is a bit hard for me, she comes by on her way to the salon about once a month, and we get a good visit while she snips and cuts.

So there I was—trim and neat for the podcast, if not scintillating on camera. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will share when I do. We mostly rehashed my writing career.

Another surprise, less pleasant: when I tried to refill my ice water, the cube dispenser got stuck and sprayed ice cubes all over the kitchen. Not easy to sweep up from a walker. I swept, put the broom and dustpan away, opened the freezer—and sprayed a second batch of cubes all over. Repeat sweeping.

Pleasant to end the day at Pacific Table with Betty—Caesar salad, fried oysters, and a decadent chocolate brownie topped with peanut butter ice cream. I think my appetite is returning.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Crab cakes, a bet, and a chameleon

October 2, 2018

Remember those crab cakes I whined about not getting at Central Market? Sue and Teddy brought me some, and I had one tonight, cooked another for lunch tomorrow. The smoked salmon definitely adds a different taste, but it was so good. Sue, my Canadian sort-of-daughter, came for happy hour tonight, and I insisted on paying her for the crab cakes, over her objection. So then we bet—I don’t think Kavanaugh will be confirmed; she thinks he will be. We bet the $16 I paid her for crab cakes—she said she’ll set it aside and hope she has to return it to me.

I no longer have an excuse, I don’t think, for not eating what I don’t want, going to bed early, etc. Saw a nephrologist (kidneys) today, and she thinks I’m on the mend, especially since I’m feeling so much better and eating more. She had no firm answers to why I felt so awful during the summer and worse in August, but she made some educated guesses, and they pretty much confirmed what I thought. I still think digoxin, the cardiac medication, was at the root of all my problems. More blood work on Thursday to confirm that I’m getting better.

Panic moment of the day: I somehow saved a short file over the long one I’d assembled on the Alamo book I’m working on. Instead of a file of almost 10,000 words I had a file of barely 2,000. Calmed myself and reconstructed the long file under a new name—thank goodness I’d kept individual chapters before combining them. I figure in total I lost about 500 words, and I can reconstruct them. I remember where they were going.

Calm moment of the day: watching a lovely, bright green chameleon (may have been a gecko but looked a little large for that) climb up and down on the flexible screen on my patio door. Sophie didn’t discover this one—they drive her nuts when she tries to chase them—so I sat and admired him for a while.

Trivia recipe of the day: Fellow enthusiast of all things Scottish Ellen Kurtzman put me on to a three-ingredient fruitcake recipe. It calls for dried fruit, chocolate milk, and flour. I am intrigued by the use of chocolate milk. You make it in an 8-inch pan and it serves 30? Come on—Ellen says it’s rich and the servings are small, but how small? It’s a moot question—everyone in my house hates the dried fruit.

And on that note, good night all.