Monday, April 30, 2018

Dinners Large and Small

I’m of mixed feelings about Michelle Wolf’s controversial performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Trump and his followers who are outraged and filled with moral indignation, are on the shakiest of ground. Trump showed again that he can dish it out but can’t take it. He has set the lowest standard for moral behavior, language, and responsibility of any public figure I have ever heard of, contemporary or historical. No need to rehash a list of his outrages. But I hate to see the country sink to his level.

Michelle Wolf told the truth and exposed our society for what it has become, but she met vulgarity with vulgarity. To me that’s no laughing matter. It is a demonstration of cultural decline. I’m not sure of the history, but I bet this annual dinner started out with lightrt humor, light jobs at politicians, and over the years became increasingly vitriolic, as our politics and our country became increasingly polarized.. Without criticizing Wolf or defending Trump and his blind followers, it’s time to rethink the event. Not to spare them, but to elevate our country in the eyes of the world—and in our own eyes.

The dinner was a large and public show of the lack of manners, courtesy, and consideration that infects our country today. I had a minor version of it last night when my three tween grandsons sat to my left at the dinner table. They slid into the chairs and lunged at their hamburgers. I stopped them with a reminder we didn’t eat until everybody was at the table. They looked astounded. Then they fidgeted. They tried to sneak tiny bites. Finally, everyone was seated, and they lunged again. I said, “You know, you shouldn’t eat until the hostess raises her fork.” Jordan made an elaborate show of raising her fork, and they tore into their food as though they’d not been fed for three days. I didn’t even mention a blessing.

Later Jacob defended them to me. “It was just hamburgers, not a fancy dinner.” I replied that manners are manners, and the nature of the food doesn’t matter. “Well, it was just family.” I repeated what my father drilled into me: you use your best manners on the ones you love best. I’m sure my words that manners are all about making others at the table comfortable and giving them a pleasant dining experience fell on deaf ears. I did get to point out that laughing hysterically at an outrageous belch from one of them, slapping each other’s hands, and banging on the table did not make for pleasant dining for the adults present. Ah, Grandma Juju, the wicked witch. But I’m not giving up my crusade—with my family and with the larger world.

We as people and as a country can be a lot nicer. Someone suggested recently that the point should not be to list the outrages of Trump and company but to wonder why we as a nation we continue to put up with this morally bankrupt leadership.

As for those three little boys, don’t get me wrong. I love them desperately. I hope to see them grow into wonderful young men—and gentlemen.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A weekend of dogs…oh, and family too

Sophie appears to be hiding around the corner,
and could not be lured any closer, even with a treat

The Hudgeons branch of the family arrived, complete with their miniature white poodle Eddie. Sophie and Eddie get along fine, IF there’s no human involved. If they’re vying for human attention, it’s not so smooth. And Sophie, now in doggie middle age, still gets so excited she runs in circles. It is, I’m sure, the border collie in her. Last night we had some dust-ups, some running from Sophie, and lots of laughs from the humans.

The result was that Sophie was so high strung she wanted to go out at one in the morning (I talked her out of it in a firm voice) and at three (couldn’t talk her out of that one, and of course she stayed longer than I wanted).

Today they are all tentative friends. Eddie is a lot smaller than Sophie, and he discovered he could stick his head through the gap between gate and fencepost. I worried that he’d get caught. Then neighbor Jay (the good-looking one) was having some work done at the back of their property, which involved taking down a portion of fence. I was convinced that Sophie and Eddie would immediately run through the opening. So, while Jordan and Megan were at Jacob’s soccer game, with Ford, Christian was off on errands, and Brandon and Sawyer at the BFX bike place, I was obsessively watching dogs. Like not taking my eyes off them, especially Eddie.

Jay offering Eddie cabernet
Eddie declined
I got a respite at noon—my two daughters and I had a long, leisurely lunch at Pacific Table, on the patio, and then went shopping, looking for something for me to wear to a wedding in June and also take on our cruise. Good luck at the first store, Chico’s, where I’ve never found anything before. A really cool shell and tunic/sweater in a heavenly shade of blue/turquoise, white pants, and another multicolor top. I rarely wear jewelry any more, but I even bought a necklace. Shopping and trying on clothes is not my favorite thing—I’m an internet shopping. But with both my daughters fussing over me, it was almost fun, and I am pleased to have solved the what-to-wear problem. These are clothes I will wear many times.

Tonight, it’s back to doggy times. Jordan tried her best to get a picture of Sophie and Eddie together, but the best she managed was the one above, with Cricket, one of her Cavaliers. She had treats for all three dogs—the fourth was hiding in the house. For some reason, Sophie decided Jordan had evil intentions, and she lurked around a corner, refusing to come any closer.

Jordan and a calm, contented chicken
Megan has taken two of the boys to a TCU baseball game, and Brandon, Sawyer, and Christian are at the movies. Jordan and I are having a ”chill” night at home, including a lovely time on the patio. Just to round out the animal experience of the weekend, she went to the neighbors behind me to visit the chickens.

Quiet, still, and peaceful. But they’ll all come home soon, and pandemonium will probably reign again. I cannot tell you how much I love having family around me, but it also makes me feel a bit disassociated, removed from my daily life. Must be a sign of age to be so stuck in your routine. Breaks in routine are good, I know that, and I’m enjoying this one. Not sure about Sophie—she sometimes looks like she wants to ask how long these extra people and, particularly, the extra dog, are staying.
Jordan scored a hit and made the boys
bellinis, without alcohol
They loved them!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Writing is such fun—sometimes

For a week I’ve been carrying the opening scene of a mystery in my head. Me, who thought she might not write another mystery. At first it was a Kelly O’Connell, but I’ve decided it’s a Susan Hogan Oak Grove Mystery. And in this week, it has refined itself, taken on a new shape, added details. What they say about things on the back burner of your brain is definitely true—when you think you’re not working on something, your brain is.

Today was grocery store day which effectively took up my usual best writing time. But after lunch, I deliberately sat down and began to co commit my wandering thoughts to paper. Within less than an hour I wrote almost a thousand words and had such fun doing it. Who knows if the next thousand will come as easily or where the story is going—it’s already surprised me once. But it’s a great feeling to have gotten a start. And I even have a title—but I’m not sharing for a while.

Meantime, back to the cookbook, though I won’t get much done this weekend. Megan and her family will be here in about half an hour, and while I will snatch some time—when they are at baseball games and the like—I won’t have concentrated periods of attention to writing. Which is okay. I’m my own boss, and I do things at my own pace. No deadlines.

Today was a lovely day in North Texas—seventies and sunny. Jordan and I ran errands this morning—which means I sat in the car and she ran into the alterations place, the cleaners, the post office, the school (Jacob forgot his clarinet), the liquor store. But we did the grocery together. Everyone in my family seems to be on a diet, so we didn’t buy much for the upcoming visit, though I did order some cheese and sausage that Christian picked up at curbside at Central Market—we are loving that service.

Tonight, Christian was potting plants on the front porch, and I took a glass of wine out there and sat and visited. . ..

Oops. Pandemonium has just broken loose. The Hudgeons family from Austin has arrived, complete with their miniature poodle, which has Sophie doing her run-in-circles act. ‘Night all. I got to go.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sunshine again—and a Stormy prediction

See that baby variegated plant being starved out by the taller ones
that have multiplied a lot
Make Fort Worth Great Again – doesn’t quite work as a slogan, but hey! According to local columnist Bud Kennedy, Stormy Daniels—yes, that one—will perform in Fort Worth tomorrow night at some place called Bucks Wild. Don’t you all beat down the doors demanding admission.

Storms aside, it’s been a pretty day in Fort Worth, with sunshine and temps in the seventies. I have the patio doors open and am enjoying the fresh air. And in a sign of spring, I fixed my first salad with lettuce from my garden. Wilted lettuce, to go with leftover leg of lamb and vegetables—for a friend who just escaped pasta. She professed to be much happier with lamb.

I actually got so wrapped up in my cookbook today that I let the day get away with me. Jean came for coffee and to pick up a honey jar and look at a plant that I want to split and share with her—the tall plants are crowding out the small one in a cute planter my daughter-in-law gave me almost a year ago. The original tiny plant died, and Jean found me a replacement. It’s holding its own but not thriving. Meantime my orchid is spectacular. I may just add a new picture tonight, even though I think it posted it before.

Anyway, Jean and I got to solving the problems of the world—we specialize in politics—and the problems of our own private worlds and forgot all about the honey jar and the planter. She left empty-handed. And I went right back to my work. Realized with a jolt that it was noon, and I hadn’t washed my hair nor done the dishes—in fact yesterday’s breakfast dish was still in the sink (I didn’t eat lunch or diner at home yesterday so no more dishes).

I did a lot of networking today, reaching out to friends, most in the publishing industry, for ideas on doing my cookbook economically. I don’t expect to make a fortune on it, but I’d like to avoid losing money.

I turned down an opportunity to return to my old life briefly this afternoon—colleague Melinda offered to come get me for an author talk and signing, the kind of event I’ve always relished. After I enthusiastically accepted, I had second thoughts. I knew that as the time to go approached, I’d be saying, “Why did you say you’d do that?” It wasn’t an author I know, though I think I’ve met him. Ditto the man who was going to emcee and introduce him. It would have been fun to see some folks I know. But what stopped me was our newly remodeled main library on campus—I haven’t been there since they moved the entrance and added impressive wide steep steps that I would have found a challenge in any circumstances. There is a handicap entrance at ground level, but I was concerned about having to park blocks away, and I didn't want to have to walk blocks. I can no longer run down the ramp to the loading dock, as I did when I worked there. So I reluctantly (and graciously I hope) declined.

And that’s when it hit me: that’s not the life I’m living these days. Books events of all kinds, from conventions to author readings, were the spice of my publishing life. But I’ve moved in a different direction these days. I’m less interested in those public events, more inclined to see dinner with friends or family as the spice of life. I recognize this without regret but, yes, with a great deal of nostalgia. It’s simply a different place in life. I do hope the reading went well, but I’m glad I stayed home and got ready to serve leftovers to a friend. We had a good visit.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

It’s Still Texas…and Spring sort of

Feeling too smug lately, bombarded with reports of snow in some parts of the country and really warm temperatures in others. In North Texas, after heavy rain last weekend, we’ve had beautiful, balmy, sunny days. Last night I woke in the night and turned on the a/c. Today was a different story. I turned off the a/c as soon as my feet hit the floor. It was maybe 60 but drab, and it just got colder. I swear this afternoon it rained in half our back yard but not the other half—I could tell by the damp and dry areas of sidewalk. And this evening when I went to supper, it was 51, damp, breezy, and downright uncomfortable.

A friend in Nebraska wrote me that spring was finally there—it was 70. I replied that we were expecting 68 and considered it a cold front. All a matter of perspective.

Supposed to warm up tomorrow again, but meantime it’s one of those nights when you never feel quite warm enough.

Got some nice news last night: my oldest daughter, Megan, and her family—Brandon, and sons Sawyer and Ford—are coming up from Austin this weekend. Okay, they’re coming for the TCU baseball games, but I’ll get to spend time with them and am really looking forward to that. My instinct is always to kill the fatted calf but then I prepare for meals that we never fix, so when she said not to worry about food except maybe Sunday breakfast, I curtailed my impulses. Made a shopping list of sausage and cheese and the like, have hot dogs and buns in the freezer for the boys. Jacob will love having his cousins here.

A pleasant sociable day today, though I did get some work done. Went to lunch with friends, and we talked a lot about the Barbara Bush funeral. We’re all on the same page politically, which makes it ice.

I’m always hesitant to back-seat drive, but I bite my tongue about the long way ‘round Robin Hood’s barn (just looked it up to make sure that’s a folk saying and not something I invented—Wikipedia, which is good for some things, verified my memory). Anyway, we went the fastest roads, but they were sure far from where we were going. I kept quiet. On the way back, we ran into what appeared to be a terrible accident—lots of intersections blocked. I had to use my back-roads skills to avoid the resultant congestion.

Dinner tonight with Betty. We went to Ellerbe’s. I admit that was a selfish choice because they have just put beef carpaccio on the appetizer menu. Betty had a seafood salad—shrimp, which I can’t eat. And we split bread pudding—oh, my, talk about rich. Great meal.

I’m off to spend the remainder of the evening sorting through some cooking magazines. Clearing my desk and looking for ideas for my cookbook.

Happy spring, everyone. Surely good weather will come and stay any day now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A thought on being a female and some other thoughts

Honeysuckle is such an awfully invasive plant. I wonder if our grandparents didn’t realize that when they planted it everywhere. It’s all over the chain link fence at the back of our property and that covering part of one side. My house is closing in on a century, and in some places the honeysuckle stems, caught now forever in the fence, are as thick as a small tree limb, impossible to get rid of. On the side fence, a profusion of ivy, carefully tended by my neighbor, has believe it or not, about conquered thehonesuckle.

But on the back fence, it’s blooming now and looks so pretty spilling over the top in cascades. How can you criticize something that cheering and optimistic? Today I sat by a window for a bit and watched the tiniest of birds—a wren?—flit in and out of the leave and a bee seeking nectar. It was like a little bit of nature at work, and I was fascinated.

I ran across a term new to me today: womanist. I’ve been learning daily in recent months from Richard Rohr’s meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. But he did not invent the term womanist—he credits Alice Walker who wrote, “Her origins are in the black folk expression, ‘You acting womanish,’ meaning ‘wanting to know more and in greater depth than is good for one—outrageous, audacious, courageous and willful behavior. . .. She loves, she is committed, she is a universalist . . . committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.’”

For too long, acting “girlish” had been derogatory, so I like the idea of womanish. And how can it be bad to know more and in greater depth. I think I’m going to be womanish from now on and proud of it..

A pleasant day, working on my cookbook and suddenly seeing it take shape before my eyes. There are miles to go, lots to be done, but I see the skeleton now. And I’ve had such fun rediscovering old recipes.

But tonight, I left work behind and went for supper with an old friend who will have knee surgery next week, sort of a last fling before she’s laid up. Her doctor tells her however that she will be driving within seven to ten days. Neither of us can believer it, but she’s an eternally cheerful trouper—and a skilled R.N. If anyone can pull it off, she can. I’ll want to take her supper or something, after her daughter spends a few days with her, but the logistics will take some figuring out.

Meantime we had a jolly dinner at Winslow’s Wine Bar and Café. I had the appetizer crab cake (and wished I’d ordered two), a really good glass of chardonnay, and a chocolate mousse so rich I couldn’t finish it. Who would ever have thought that would happen to me?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Birth, weddings, death, and all the glories of life

A welcome visitor in the cottage tonight
even if he didn't talk much

One of the most engaging videos I’ve seen lately: Prince William bringing his children to the hospital to meet their baby brother. Love it that he drives himself and the children around London—no driver, no nanny, just daddy. Princess Charlotte was charming, waving at the crowd, while Prince George was a little more solemn. And not long after, William and Kate appeared carrying the as-yet unnamed baby. She looked smashing, considering she gave birth just hours before. And to send mother and baby home so soon—one supposes she has lots of help at home. Still, Kate strikes me as a hands-on mother, one who wants to do those middle of the night feedings herself. I wish them much joy with this new baby.

I am a big fan of the royal family. Barring that episode of Charles and Diana, for which we will not cast blame, they conduct themselves with grace, dignity, and a concern for others. Lord knows w e need such examples in our lives these days.

And sad but not surprising news that George H. W Bush is back in the hospital. I suspect he held on to get through Barbara’s funeral, but all the starch has left him with her death. I fear we’ll have a state funeral before long. Prayers for your peace, sir, from this lifelong Democrat.

Yesterday I went to a lovely dinner party and stayed so late I myself had no starch for blogging when I got home. The Burtons and I joined neighbors Dennis and Margaret Johnson to honor Sue and Teddy and their upcoming wedding. We dined at the Johnsons’ house. They are consummate hosts, and everything was lovely. The meal was a collaboration, and my compliments to Margaret and Jordan who, together, recreated one of my favorite recipes: a leg of lamb set on a cake rack over a vegetable gratin so that the lamb juices drip down into the vegetables. It’s a bit labor intensive, as you baste the lamb every twenty minutes. I made smoked salmon tartare for an appetizer, and Jordan made tossed salad, while Margaret did asparagus. A lovely meal.

The best part about it was the dinner-table conversation We talked about ideas and concepts and such, not just who did what. I relish good conversation and regret that I get it too infrequently. We all seemed wrapped up in “So what did you do this weekend,” and not the stuff that makes the world go around—or that you fear will stop it. Two of us at dinner last night are adoptive parents, and that was a big topic, with Jordan coming in for many questions. When asked when she knew she was adopted, she said, “I always knew.” I pointed out that all her siblings knew where babies came from—the adoption agency—because they were veterans of trips to bring home another baby. Lovely evening with people I’m really fond of.

Yesterday also marked the beginnings of my adventures with adoption and children. It was, gulp, Colin David’s 49th birthday. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time—he was eight days old before I met him. Neither did I know or understand how much adoption and children would change the course of my life. But, for me, it was a monumental turning point. I never thought much about children until I had them, and then they became the focus of my life. I always say I’m a mother first and then an author and publisher.

I worried a lot about Colin, because he bore the brunt of all I didn’t know about raising babies. But he survived nicely to become a settled, happy adult, a dedicated family man, a religious man, and a professional—CPA. He is often the rock upon which I rely. He seems to have overcome my blundering into parenthood with grace, and I could not love him more nor be prouder of him.

Stories of that day 50 years ago abound, but they will have to wait for that memoir I’m threatening to write about motherhood, adoption, and being a single parent.

Now I’m going to prowl through not one but two cooking magazines that arrived today. Such bounty.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Remarkable Day

Spent a chunk of Saturday morning watching Barbara Bush’s funeral. I’m a sucker for affairs of state, but beyond that I liked Mrs. Bush. I am not a Republican (fairly obvious) and not particularly a fan of the Bush family, but I admired Barbara Pierce Bush for what she was when you looked at her without blinders. She was not, as one in my family once said to me, “Sweet.” She was anything but. She had a fierce and wicked wit and often gave voice to it, but she was strong, apparently the glue that held her family together and led them to power; she was loyal, she cared about people, and she had a strong faith. The grace with which that large and cohesive family handled today’s ceremony was the best tribute she could have had. And for the first time I was truly impressed with Jeb Bush, as he delivered a brief eulogy (he said he could hear her telling him, “Keep it short, and don’t get all weepy.”). During his term in office, I was a vocal critic of George W. and his war, but after he was out of office, I thought he became a lot more likeable. And this week I’ve been impressed with his attentiveness to his father.

That majestic Episcopalian ceremony also reminded us, in these dark times that lack sophistication and dignity, of what we can be as a nation—and must be again.

A story I like: Tom Brokaw, NBC commentator for the service, said the night before Mrs. Bush died, former president Bush asked if she’d like another cup of tea. “I believe I’d like a Manhattan,” was her reply. She got it and enjoyed a few sips. After that she said something about how anxious she was to go.

Manhattans are legendary in my mind. I remember that my parents and their friends drank them regularly at dinner parties. I remember the time, years later, that my brother took one sip and said, “Say goodnight to me now.” And I remember the night I had one while out with my daughter—she had to drive home. So yay, Barbara Bush. What a nice way to say goodnight.

And a quick camera shot that won’t leave my memory: Barack Obama smiling and talking to Melania Trump. She’s smiling, even with her eyes, and almost laughing. So different from the demeanor we see in pictures of her with 45.

A remarkable day.

My brother called yesterday. He was thumbing through an Orvis catalog and came across a retro picture of an armed services flight crew, Navy I think. At any rate, he recognized a member of the crew as the son of a family he’d been particularly close to. The son was a few years older than John. I remember him, can picture his face, but doubt I talked to him three times in my life, once on the phone when he was at a university where I considered applying for a teaching position.

John said he was so frustrated that I was the only living person to whom it would mean anything at all that he’d found this picture. (I think there’s a back-handed compliment in there.) I understood that feeling, because a lot of things come up that I want to share with someone who will understand their meaning for me—and there’s no one. Ever since her death, I’ve wanted to have my other on speed dial for cooking questions, identification of old pictures, help in recalling memories.

Strangely enough, the other person I’d like to be able to share news with is my now-deceased ex-husband. I was with him only a quarter of my life (so far) but they were formative years, and now we’re reaching the age where former friends and acquaintances develop health problems and/or die. And there are some stories I know he’d find funny, if I felt like sharing them. I didn’t always feel that way when the hurt and anger were raw.

Unlike my brother, I’ve done a good job of keeping in touch with people, so one person I can turn to with stories and questions is my friend Barbara, who lives in Mississippi. If memory serves, we first met in a Brownie troop and have been friends ever since, including going to college together for two years. I have several friends that I’ve known for over forty years, so there’s a lot of sharing. I just have to remember who comes from which part of my life—TCU, the writing world, the osteopathic community. It’s interesting to have lived such a varied life and met so many different people—and it makes recall fun.

I love Texas weather. We were under thunderstorm alert until 6:00 P.M. Nothing but occasional light rain and dreary skies all day. I swear at 6:05 when the alert expired, a gully-washer hit. But it was soon followed by that strange bright sun that follows a storm. Only in Texas.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Excitement swirling around me

Excitement was all around me today while I was safely tucked away in my cozy cottage, doors locked, watchdog on alert—well, not really. She was asleep on the couch, with her head on a pillow, looking for all the world like the position in which I generally sleep. Was she mimicking me? I did hear helicopters from time to time, but I saw nary a police car or officer on foot. Not did I see the dreaded bald man in shorts and a hoodie—with tattooed legs. That probably would have been enough to scare me.

It seems the police were swarming the neighborhood looking for a bad guy who got away. I’m not sure what he did. I’ve heard everything from leaving the scene of an accident—did he really wreck an 18-wheeler on University Drive? —to breaking and entering—breaking a window to get in and steal an older lady’s purse. Also heard he went into another house and began to help himself to food in the refrigerator. That’s a calm fugitive. Supposedly the occupants entered the kitchen and asked him to leave, which he did, but he tried to steal a car outside. At any rate, there was a heavy police presence on the ground and in the air, and the neighborhood email list was alive with warnings and sightings and the like. This afternoon they caught him. Nothing on the six o’clock news, of course.

A young girl has been soliciting in the neighborhood for a fundraiser at a local school, not the school for this neighborhood. When asked why she’s not in school, she has an explanation about being let out of classes to raise money. A call to the school she named quickly disproved that, and the principal expressed concern for the girl. She’s been in the neighborhood several days, but today the agitation increased. Police were called, the principal was sent a picture. And far as I know the girl didn’t appear. Her handlers must have sensed the growing alarm, but like everyone else I worry about the child.

And I thought we lived in this quiet, safe neighborhood. Berkeley prides itself on its friendliness and concern for neighbors. That concern was evident today in the rapid exchange of emails and Facebook postings. Wish we knew what happened in both cases.

I had an adventure in cooking tonight. Decided I needed to cook with the vegetables I hadn’t used, especially that one leek. I cooked something a week or so ago that called for one leek but had to buy two. What does one do with one  leftover leek? I decided to make a kind of cream sauce and bake it with a topping of buttered Ritz crumbs. I opened a new jar of what I thought was chicken bouillon, but it turned out to be tuna. Revise plan. Creamed tuna and leek. Only because I made the cream sauce early, it got too thick. What I had was hash. And the toaster oven burned the baguette slices I meant to put it over. Never give up! I threw away the baguette slices, put the tuna/leek mixture on a plate, and topped it with a good dollop of sour cream. Pretty good. I think the sour cream saved it, and the leek added a new flavor. I doubt I’ll buy a leek just willy-nilly, but I am now less intimidated by them and may do some company dishes with them. They are so difficult to get all the dirt out of!

Speaking of cooking, who has an air fryer? Carla, who I don’t know, found my old food blog and wrote me about her article on brands of air fryers (find it here: ) I’m doing as she wished and giving her a shout out because I like to help writers, but I did check out her Facebook page and found It interesting with advice on purchasing everything from torque wrenches to gardening gloves, though it seems to be heavy on tools. Think what an interesting career that would be—checking out new products and making recommendations to the public. See for yourself: But, alas, I have no need of an air fryer or torque wrenches.
By coincidence, I heard from another Carla today--a woman I worked with in, gasp!, the eighties at TCU. She wrote to ask advice for her daughter, but what a joy to hear from an old friend and find out she reads my blog and my books.
Two Carlas in one day!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Cemetery pictures, a quick giveaway, and a Mexican supper

Cemetery pictures don’t often make good blog illustrations, but this one is special to me. It shows the gravestones of my father and sister at St. Jude Cemetery in Oakville, Ontario. I’ve talked to someone in the city office responsible for the cemetery, and she tells me the graves will be well maintained when I get there—right now they need some attention. She also sent me a map of the cemetery, so I can easily find the plot. My detective work continues.

            Who says book giveaways are old hat? I discovered a “Set up a Giveaway” link on the Amazon page for Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe. Clicked on it out of curiosity but wasn’t quite prepared to have to pay full price for five ebook copies. Still, Amazon is clever, and they know how to hook you in. Soon I was busily filling in the details to give away five copies, one to each fifth person to respond (the method they recommend). The site confirmed the giveaway was live about two this afternoon.

Those who know me know that two o’clock is about the time I take an afternoon nap, a luxury I’ve become addicted to in retirement. And that’s where I headed when I got the confirmation email. I thought I’d publicize the giveaway after my nap, which often lasts an hour.

But I woke up to another email that told me the giveaway was closed. All five copies had been given away, so Amazon was busily spreading the word while I snoozed. I’d love to know how. If anyone reading this got an email or something, please let me know. I hadn’t expected to spend the money, as I said, but it may have been great marketing, depending on how many people Amazon notified. The notice I got had a link to the giveaway which, in turn had a link to “Learn more about Judy Alter,” so maybe some new readers saw my name and books.

I chose to give that book away to publicize the new Blue Plate Café Mystery, Murder at the Bus Depot. My thought was to interest readers in the series in general as a way of leading them to the new book. I just never got a chance to say it. Thanks to Lois Winston for that train of thought. Lois thought up the anthology, Sleuthing Women: Ten First-in-a-Series Mysteries, put it together (including my Skeleton in a Dead Space), and marketed it. It’s done great but will go away April 30. Here’s a buy link if you want to take advantage of this great bargain before it disappears forever:

Haven’t read the first in the Blue Plate Cafe series, Murder at the Blue Plate Café? Not to worry. I’m working on making it free, and it is already free on several platforms. But Amazon moves slowly on such things. I’ll keep trying. Then I’ll leisurely publicize it. The ways of Amazon are sometimes devious, but I’m still a fan.

This is not the week for me to complain about being alone in the cottage. I’ve been out to supper with friends four nights in a row. Tonight, with Subie and Phil, I tried the new Mexican restaurant at Clearfork, Mesero. The evening started off badly when they seated us at a table in the bar area—too noisy for both Phil and me. We asked to be moved, and when we were put in the main section of the dining area, with carpet on the floor, the noise level was much more manageable. Subie was quite sure they seated us in that less desirable, out-of-the-way spot because we had Phil’s service dog with us. My chicken enchiladas with white crema sauce were attractively presented and really good but so rich. I have ¾ of an enchilada in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. A pleasant, early evening.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Life’s Embarrassing Moments

If it’s Wednesday night, it’s supper with Betty. We went to Pacific Table tonight, at my suggestion. Once seated, I realized I forgot to transfer my cell phone from my desk to my purse, and my credit card is in a pocket on the back of the phone. Betty: don’t worry. I have my credit card.

So we had a good dinner—salmon sashimi for me, shrimp rolls for Betty, a fire-roasted artichoke to split, and a glass and a half of wine each. Our waitress was super nice, talking with me about the fact that tuna carpaccio is on the menu on the website but not on the actual menu in the restaurant. I settled for salmon sashimi, which was delicious. She said she talked to a manager, and she bet the next time we came in carpaccio would be on the menu. Carpaccio, be it tuna or beef or elk, which I’ve actually had, is one of my favorite things. I made a mental note to tip generously.

Bill came, and Betty discovered she didn’t have her credit card either and had no cash. I had enough cash for all but slightly under three dollars of the bill but none for the tip. I suggested calling Christian, thinking he might be home and could run my credit card down to me. We couldn’t get him, so I asked Betty to call Jordan (remember I had no phone, and besides I couldn’t hear in the noise of the restaurant). Jordan is a super negotiator in such situations—she asked to talk to the manager, and pretty soon the manager said it was all taken care of. Jordan will go by tomorrow and pay the balance and a tip. And then Betty discovers of course she has a checkbook—the manager, Charisse, waves it away.

I’ve been trying to convince Jordan that I really can have my car back. I’m recovered physically and mentally and responsible enough to drive, so I’m sitting there thinking this is a huge setback, and she’s going to be laughing on the outside about two dizzy old ladies but not so jovial in the long run. She’s not home yet, so that remains to be seen.

Christian called just now and laughed aloud at the scene, sorry he had missed being involved. We’ll hope Jordan also laughs.

The only other interesting thing of my day is that I discovered that my now-defunct food blog, Potluck with Judy, is still online, and I’ve been raiding it for recipes for my new cookbook. Lots of old favorites that I thought I’d lost when we downsized and many of my recipes went away. I’ve been having great fun—chicken in crescent rolls, a beef and noodle casserole that is the best ever, an overnight salad. A great array of tempting goodies.

This ditzy old lady is signing off for the night—no, I take that back. I don’t want to be known as ditzy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Neighbors Night

In Murder at the Bus Depot, neighborliness, of the lack of it, is one of the underlying themes. In fact, toward the end of the book, the mayor calls for a citywide “Celebration of Neighbors.” Well, in my neighborhood, there a small celebration of neighbors every Tuesday night. A group meets at the Old Neighborhood Grill for supper. Sometimes there’s no one, sometimes there are ten or twelve. The core group is about six people.

I used to go regularly and enjoyed it. In fact, when Jacob was younger and before he got too sophisticated, he used to go with me and became a favorite of some of the regulars. I always loved to go because Tuesday night was meatloaf night, and I love meatloaf. But I got out of the habit when I had hip surgery and mobility was difficult, and somehow, I’ve never gotten back into the routine, in spite of Mary Dulle’s frequent kind invitations. Nowadays she often walks, so I definitely can’t go with her.

But tonight, she and her husband, Joe, were driving, along with neighbor Garrett, and I happily joined them, ordered meatloaf, and enjoyed the comfort of old friends. The conversation was good, the food good, the whole thing a pleasant experience. I deliberately wore my T-shirt that says, “Ask Me about My Book,” and they did ask, which was fun. For a brief moment, I felt like a celebrity.

I ate all my dinner but half the meatloaf, deliberately saving it for a sandwich for lunch tomorrow. And I left it in Mary’s car!

Otherwise, a non-remarkable day. I worked on my cookbook and re-discovered a treasure trove of recipes in my now defunct Potluck with Judy blog. My longtime friend, Fred Erisman, brought Caesar salads and chocolate/caramel tarts for lunch, and we had a good visit.

Outside, the weather turned warm—in the eighties—but is expected to cool a bit again tomorrow. I suppose I take a kind of weird comfort in the fact that it’s not just Texas—the weather is strange all over the country and, I suspect, the globe.

And the drama in Washington goes on, actually a bit calmer today. It has gotten so convoluted that trying to figure it out makes my head hurt. But there are some downright funny quotes and things that come out of it. One I like proclaims that Hannity never used Cohen as his lawyer, but he wants to claim lawyer/client privilege; he has nothing to hide, but he wants Cohen not to reveal anything about him; he spent all last week defending Cohen and now calls him a liar. “And that’s why Hilary must be stopped.” Do these people realize how frantic and out of control they are?

The wheels of the gods grind slowly, but they are grinding.

On a sad note, the country has lost one of its shining lights with the death of Barbara Bush. She was the picture of elegant grace, a kind woman who carried herself well as the wife of a diplomat, vice-president, and president. She had her crusty side, which even she admitted, and she was fiercely loyal and protective of her family, but she was sort of everyone’s image of the perfect grandmother. Apparently, her faith was strong, and she believed that she and her husband of seventy-three years, will be reunited again. My she enjoy eternal rest, and may her wishes come true. We will miss her spirit.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday and not much to tell but a good book

An orchid, blooming for the second time
It loves my sunny cottage

Monday and not much to report. Mondays are always kind of low-key for me. I seem to spend most of the day on small things—emails, marketing details (still recovering from all the nice coverage yesterday), and the like.

Dinner tonight with friend Carol at a local “upscale” (does that mean not Tex-Mex?) Mexican restaurant. I had brisket tacos that were really good and cautiously ate just a few bites of the black beans. I love them, but they don’t love me. Carol is just back from almost two weeks in Hawaii, so it was fun to hear about that and the hulu dancing competition they went to. She brought me a T-shirt that says, “At my age I need glasses”—and has pictures of several wine glasses. The remarkable thing about the sort of purple/maroon shirt is that it is wine-dyed. Carol advised, and I agree, washing it separately the first time. She said she didn’t know why wine-related things always made her think of me, and I said it did: it’s because I like wine.

Finished a good book tonight: A Reckoning in the Back Country, by Terry Shames. Terry’s series features an overage sheriff in Texas—everything your typical mystery hero is not. He’s wise, morally complex, an art collector, an animal lover. In short, a fascinating character. He tells his stories in first-person, present tense—a challenge to any author. And he does it with such sly wit and insight that you can’t help but be drawn in. This one is the seventh in the series, but I suggest you begin with any of them.

And that is my story for the day, other than that the weather surprised me. I thought it might get to the seventies, and all of a sudden, it was in the eighties. Good ole Texas!

Have a good night and a happy Tuesday.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A bonus day, reluctant gardens, and adequate meals

A bonus day because I had two book reviews and a guest blog up today. Felt like a real celebrity. The reviews of Murder at the Bus Depot are at Dru’s Book Musings and The Musings of a Book Addict  The guest post, on why I’m an indie author, was on Bookbrowsing I hope you read and enjoy these postings.

Otherwise, it’s been a nonentity kind of a weekend. The weather turned cold Saturday, as it did last weekend—I guess Mother Nature has something against weekends. Saturday morning, I woke up to discover a large branch had fallen in the night—I think we had unexpected wind, though I sure didn’t hear it. Jordan dragged it into a corner, with me cautioning her (yelling, she said—do you believe that?) not to crush the turk’s cap which has grown tall and sturdy.

The uncertain weather has confused my small vegetable garden. The lettuce is doing nicely, and I’m about to make my first wilted lettuce salad. The onions are meh, and the basil seeds remain tiny greens specks. Every day I ask Jordan if she’s watered them, and she says she has. I think they’re reluctant to poke their heads up much for fear of a chill.

My weekend cooking was not the great success I would wish. I had ordered organic, fresh-caught seafood from a new site and decided I’d make salmon cakes with the one can of salmon I got. Then I had an inspiration—instead of cracker crumbs, I’d use the salt-and-vinegar potato chips that were getting stale. Sort of okay but not great. I couldn’t tell for sure if I didn’t like the salmon itself or if it was the potato chips. I could definitely taste the potato flavor. The next day I mixed a pattie with a whole lot of mayonnaise and liked it better. But I think the potato chip experiment was a dud.

Never being one to do things halfway, I also made squash casserole using those chip crumbs. In that case, I think they made the casserole too dry. So the next night I tried to fix it by adding a good hunk of butter and some white wine. Much moister, but mostly I tasted wine.

Tonight’s Sunday dinner wasn’t a lot better. Jordan and Christian are following that Whole 30 diet, which really hampers my cooking experiments. I decided to make round steak cooked in beer—as I wrote a few days ago, butchers no longer cut round steak. And I looked on a Whole 30 website and found that you can’t even cook with alcohol. So I decided to wing it. We bought a cut of meat the butcher suggested—I think it said Tri Rump—and I seared it and cooked all afternoon in onion soup, then slid potatoes into the pot about an hour and a half before we ate. Couldn’t thicken the gravy because none of the thickeners are on the Whole 30 approved list—so I took some out for them and thickened the rest with cornstarch. A medium success. The meat was not as tough as I feared, though by no means tender. The gravy was flavorful—sort of. Certainly not one of my best meals. A whole lot of the gravy went into the freezer to make the base for soup next time there’s a cold spell.

As Christian left the cottage, he said “Thanks for a wonderful meal.” I told him I didn’t think it was wonderful—only adequate.

I think this is a weekend I’m glad to put behind me and head into a workweek. My new manuscript is off to the editor, and I’m going to focus on my cookbook. Hope this weekend’s cooking wasn’t an omen. Instead, I’ll take my heavy web presence as a good omen.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

That special dog


I’ve been thinking a lot today about dogs, thoughts triggered I know by the loss yesterday of Jamie’s dog, Mosby, beloved not only by his own family but all of us. Over my life, I’ve had more dogs than I can count, but it occurs to me that for many of us there is one, or possibly two, who stand out. Memorable dogs. Each dog is memorable in its own way, loved for what or who he or she is, but there are these stand-out dogs.

In medical school in a small Missouri town, my brother had such a dog, a German shepherd named King. I can’t remember where or how King came into the family, but he was devoted to John. Once John was in a lecture on the third floor; King waited patiently until someone opened the door. The dog slipped in, went up to the classroom, and sat by John. The instructor ordered him to take the dog out, and he did. But after the third time, John said, “Sir, if you’ll let him stay he’ll just lie here quietly beside me.” And that’s what happened. King went everywhere with John. I distinctly remember he’d go along when John drove his route delivering cleaning.

About the same time in the same town, my ex- and I had a farm collie named Bathsheba Finkelstein, after one of his old girlfriends so he said. We called her Sheba. One day a friend, an art professor at the university I was attending, said he’d secured a year’s teaching appointment abroad and was taking his family with him. Would we keep his dog, a magnificent mahogany male collie? We agreed, and Shea came to live with us. Shea and Sheba gave us some beautiful pups. A year later, Shea didn’t want to leave. We’d return him, and he’d come right back to our cabin on the edge of town. The professor’s kids would come get him—tore me up to see them put a leash on him while they rode their bikes. So dangerous! Didn’t matter. He was never gone long.

As we prepared to move to Texas, we worried more and more about Shea’s future. We wanted to take him, but he wasn’t ours. Finally, Joel gathered his courage and asked Rich if we could have him. Rich said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Jamie and Mosby
Shea came with us to Texas, but I had to leave behind the two pups we’d kept—broke my heart. In Texas, it was soon evident Shea was getting old and cataracts interfered with his vision. He also lost weight, perhaps from heartworms which I’d never heard of. The excitement in the household the weekend we brought our first child home was too much for him, and we had to have him put down.

King and Shea were standout dogs, and Mosby I know was that for Jamie. All three earned the term, “perfect gentlemen.” No doubt there will be other dogs for Jamie, but none quite the same.

Right now, I have my own standout dog. She’s lying on the couch, head on the pillow, watching me. She and I share a closer bond than any other dog I’ve ever had, mainly because I’ve had her since she was eight weeks old and we are together almost all day every day. After a rowdy puppyhood that alarmed a lot of people, she has, at almost seven, settled down into middle age—almost. She’s loving and affectionate and devoted—but she’s also excitable (I know, doesn’t look that way) and willful, more than a bit spoiled, and a diva. Given the chance, she’d take off to explore the world, which scares me. I adore her and have long conversations with her. She answers with a variety of intonations—just wish I knew what she was saying.

I cannot imagine life without a dog.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The times they are a-changing

            I tried to go grocery shopping at Central Market online today. I’d decided to fix Swiss steak for the family—long story but there’s a diet involved that really limits my cooking. Guess what? Central Market found zero results for round steak. So, in person, at Tom Thumb I asked, and the butcher said it’s an old-fashioned cut of meat, no one cuts it any more. One more childhood memory gone in a swoop. Butcher recommended something else, but it doesn’t have that little round bone. My brother and I used to fight over that tiny bit of marrow.

As we drove to the grocery store—we’ve gotten to prefer the one that is almost downtown, for it’s wide aisles and clean atmosphere—I saw other evidence of changing times. Suddenly, there are whole buildings I’ve not seen before. I know I don’t get out often, but I didn’t think I was that sheltered. A new coliseum almost done? A huge camera shop I’d never seen. In fairness, I have to say I don’t have much occasion to go up Montgomery, but we did today.

Still almost everywhere I go I see new buildings, familiar buildings and houses gone. Today, on Vickery, I looked at a large scraped empty lot and said, “I can’t even remember what was there.” Neither could Jordan. It’s a strangely disconcerting thing to see my city changing around me, even though I am one who acknowledges that growth involves change. But I am conflicted, because I love old houses, old structures. I value our history as it is represented in buildings. And tonight, I worry about the fate of the historic Will Rogers Coliseum.

I also mourn the changing times in the number of people who apparently find me old these days. I am so grateful for the many friends who visit the cottage, take me out to eat, and sometimes take me to doctors’ appointments, but I have noticed a clear drop by a few friends. Some I used to enjoy a glass of wine or a casual lunch with. My theory is that being on a walker has made me suddenly old in their eyes. I am actually in better health, mentally and physically, than most people my age. I simply cannot walk unassisted—and as a restaurant owner said to me recently, “Oh, well, you’ve been hobbling around forever.” And it’s true—I was uncertain of my balance, I carried a cane—but the walker makes a difference. There! I’ve said it! Wanted to say it for a long time and now I’ve done it.

My family suffered a loss today. The Frisco Alters—Jamie, Melanie, Maddie and Eden—lost their chocolate lab, believed to be about thirteen (he was a rescue and you never know the age for sure). He had shown signs of aging—anxiety and arthritis among them, bless him—but I don’t think any of us were ready to send Mosby to the rainbow bridge. I love my dog to the moon and back, but I have to say Mosby was one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever known. Patient, loving, and never demanding, loyal to his family. It’s a hard loss.

A bittersweet day—and it ended with the news that we’re bombing Syria, that poor beleaguered country. Sometimes the world is a discouraging place.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A grandson grows, and my father is found

My favorite picture of Kegan--guess why? 
The long hair is so he can have a man-bun when he plays soccer
Happy Birthday to Kegan David Alter, who turned eleven today. He’s a real star on the soccer field and told me by phone that he won’t celebrate tonight because he has a soccer game. Celebration will come this weekend. Jacob couldn’t believe that his cousin hadn’t opened his presents yet.

As I wrote a few days ago, I’ve been searching for my father’s gravesite and, coincidentally, that of my younger sister who died at the age of six months, because I knew if I found one I’d find both of them. I’d always thought they were in a cemetery in Oakville, Ontario, where my grandparents lived, but there are multiple cemeteries there. I followed various leads—I found a record of my sister’s grave at Oak Woods, an old Victorian cemetery not too far from our Chicago home. Dad was a proud MacBain, and I am a registered member of the clan, so I called the office and they set their genealogist on it. She found a record in a cemetery at Peterborough, Ontario where I’m quite sure he lived at one time, but the associated names and dates were quite right.

Dad was president of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine and administrator of the associate Chicago Osteopathic Hospital, now part of Midwestern University in the Chicago area (not the one in Wichita Falls). On a gamble, I called them and was referred to Dan Grooms, archivist. He’s my hero who solved the mystery.

McBain/Elliott plot
I have no idea who the Elliotts were
My father’s cremains and my sister’s body (I’m presuming in 1942 as an infant she was not cremated) are in St. Jude’s Anglican Cemetery in Oakville, Ontario. According to my new friend, Dan, the graves are in some disrepair, something I’ll look into when I’m in Toronto late next summer. In my childhood Oakville was a small town some twenty or thirty miles from Toronto; today it is part of the urban sprawl of the city. My grandfather was a minister, and this may solve another mystery—I’ve never been sure if he was affiliated with the Methodist church (as my dad was when I grew up) or the Anglican church, which would have been more logical. I’ll call tomorrow and get more information.

I have only vague memories of my sister, Jean Isabelle. She was born April 22 (also my oldest son’s birthday), 1942, and died that fall. My fleeting memories, as a four-year-old, include the day she came home from the hospital and the times I was allowed to sit—way back—on the couch and hold her. I remember nothing of her death, and neither does my older brother. We were told it was a cardiac problem, but I have long wondered about SIDS.

I was on such a discovery kick last night that I uncovered my brother’s father’s gravesite (he is really my half-brother; our fathers were colleagues and roommates at one point; both served in WWI and John’s father died in 1934 of war wounds). Found him at Mound Grove Gardens in Kankakee, Illinois—our mother’s hometown.

I’ve even found my grandparents’ house in Oakville on Google Maps—it was white clapboard and now looks to be brown shingle, but it’s the same house.

Who knows? I may have a new career in genealogical research—except I’d have to have Dan Grooms as my cohort.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A day for memories

            Today is my mom’s birthday. No need to say which one, except that I’ll say I never had trouble figuring out Mom’s age because she as born in 1900. She’s been gone thirty-one years, and I still want to turn to her to ask, “How do you cook such and such?” or “Who are those people in that picture?” or “Do you remember….?” She still seems but a phone call away.

If you ask, I will tell you the first thing I remember about my mother is her laughter. She could find laughter in so many situations, sometimes to the consternation of my more stern father. I see her in the back seat of our station wagon, between my two oldest children who were strapped into 1970s versions of car seats and screaming their heads off. The louder they screamed, the more she laughed. My father stared straight ahead, as though ignoring the commotion would make it go away. She told stories about family members and herself that made us laugh, and she laughed until she cried. There was the uncle who locked himself out of his apartment pulling a fuse to trick newlyweds—only he was stark naked, and my aunt, in the bathtub, couldn’t hear his soft knocking.

Or the time a friend came by to ask her to witness important legal papers. Discovering the woman had not had breakfast, Mom started some toast, wrote Alice P. Mac and then checked the toast. When she came back, her mind on breakfast, she wrote Bread instead of the last part of our name, Bain. Alice P. MacBread. A childhood friend of mine still laughs at that story.

My next big memory is of cooking. She was a wonderful cook, and she encouraged me, let me make a mess of the kitchen so I’d learn, and I did. Once, quite young, I made a chocolate cake that tasted awful. Mom asked how much baking soda I used, and I said, “Nine teaspoons.” She looked, and there was a misprint in the recipe. She laughed about it and made me feel better. By the time I was twelve, I was her sous chef, and when she hosted big dinner parties I had the kitchen cleaned before the guests went home. I often made the appetizers and was known for a blue cheese dip that never came out the same way twice. To this day, cooking is my avocation.

You might call Mom one of the last pre-Friedan housewives. She catered to Dad, cooked him three meals a day, including the meat and potatoes he wanted every night. (But in cities like Boston she dragged him to seafood restaurants where he staunchly ordered roast beef.) Every night before dinner, she showered and put on a fresh dress. She ironed sheets, in the days before permanent press. She entertained lavishly for him.  She led him to believe he was king of the roost, though she often triumphed in subtle ways.

Mom was no slouch. With a degree from the University of Chicago, she was proud of her years as secretary to Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins who accomplishments included founding the Great Books program, which she followed all her life. She never worked because Dad would not have liked that, but she flexed her work muscles by managing the gift shop at the hospital where Dad was administrator. And together she and Dad read all the works of historians Will and Ariel Durant.

She knew hardship, lived through the Depression, lost her first husband to a WWI wound in the early thirties, leaving her with a toddler to raise. She and my dad lost a baby girl who lived six months, and she lived ten years as a widow after Dad died. Some days she gave in to weeping, mainly on the anniversary of my sister’s death, or a migraine, but most days found her with a bounce and a cheery smile. She’s always been a role model for me, telling me not to take myself too seriously, to think of others, to find the good in life.

I miss you every day, Mom.