Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Saga of the Coyote and other predators

A coyote was reported to have killed a cat in neighboring Fairmont a couple of nights ago, and last night one wandered on the prowl in our Berkeley neighborhood. The south end of Berkeley has a tree-lined creek, and a drainage ditch, with a lot of shrubbery, runs along the east edge—plenty of habitat for critters. Plus, we’re so close to the zoo and park, they can wander up from there.

So last night the Berkeley Buzz reported a coyote coming out of the creek and headed east—far end of the neighborhood from us, and I thought no more about it. But Jordan came out in a little bit and closed my patio door as a precaution. At first, I wanted to tell her about the people-shy nature of coyotes. I doubt one could breach our fences and gates, and if it did, it certainly would not come waltzing into the cottage after Sophie. But she was right, of course. The point was to keep Sophie inside, not the coyote out.

This morning all is calm, with no report of the predator.

I’m always a bit on a watch for predators in the neighborhood. Four chickens live behind me in a large pen and a coop made out of an old playhouse. I can best see them from the bathroom window, and I peek at them when I’m in there. Did you know chickens are cuddlers? They cuddle or huddle together, even on the hottest day. They’re also pretty—one is a beautiful golden color, another a striking black-and-white pattern.

One day I saw the pen door open and nary a human or a chicken in sight. I panicked, thinking a predator had gotten them. (It happened once before with one chicken and a dog, and I still remember the predator who got all my kids’ rabbits—gory details not necessary; I was much more upset than my children who didn’t like caring for rabbits.) Anyway, I emailed both the dad and mom behind me; turns out the mom was home and let them out for a bit of free range grazing or whatever chickens do.

A friend’s Shih Tzu was grabbed by a predatory bird (hawk, probably). Fortunately, he was too heavy for the bird, and it dropped the dog.  Poor little guy had vicious-looking wounds from the talons, but with antibiotics, he’ll be fine. I don’t worry too much about Sophie and birds, be they hawks or owls, because at thirty pounds I figure she’s too heavy for them to attack. And I suspect she’d put up a good fight—unless her backyard demonstrations are all bark and no bite.

But a coyote—I don’t know. A part of me hopes a coyote just wouldn’t want to try to deal with a dog almost its own size. I think they go for easier prey. But I’ll never bet on it. And the occasional bobcat found in the city—that scares me.

But Sophie mostly prefers to spend her days on the couch (note the head on the pillow). Of course, it’s twilight that worries me, and I don’t let her out unless I’m at my desk with a full view of the yard. I have no idea what I would or could do in case of an attack. You know what they say about adrenaline—I might well abandon the walker and run to the rescue.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Role reversal, or learning to drive again

Me in my car in earlier days

Hooray! My much-loved 2004 VW Bug convertible is back in my driveway, sitting right outside my door. It was a real joy to pick it up this morning at the VW repair shop and drive it home, with Jordan riding shotgun.

That car is now almost a solid-gold car in terms of what it’s cost to restore it after it sat, undriven, for almost two years. When I was having so much difficulty with my hip, I despaired of ever driving again and entertained the notion of selling the car. One branch of my family said no, don’t sell it—give it to us. And so I did, figuring they would drive it. Didn’t happen.

So this spring my son had all the working parts repaired and took the car to an upholsterer who restored the side panels on the inside of both doors—they had come loose from their moorings and just hung in the air. Then he and his daughter drove it up here, top down. Only when they went to put the top up, it wouldn’t go. Took it to the VW dealership where the diagnosis was it needed a new motor. Nothing about repairing VWs is cheap, and this wasn’t, but I got it back today.

With one little problem. The back window has come loose from the convertible top. The dealership said they don’t repair that, but a glass company would fix it in my driveway. A little exploration today convinced me that was not so. When I finally located the company that does that, I was told it would need a whole new top. And believe me, that’s not cheap.

I have now invested enough money in the car that it would be foolish not to follow through and complete the job. Besides, I realize that I don’t have a lot of driving years left, so I might as well do it in a car I enjoy driving. And astronomical as the restoration costs have been, I could not have gotten another car for that sum. So bite my tongue and write the check.

But there’s another problem. Remember when you worried about your fifteen-year-olds learning to drive? We are now experiencing role reversal in my family. My children are worried about me driving, especially on a walker. Jordan did not let me drive home from the dealership alone today, and she critiqued my driving. What worries her most is my getting in and out of the cottage and the car alone, and I am practicing getting me and the walker down the steps, stashing the walker in the back of the car, and getting it out again.. I think as I master those skills, I will improve my balance, my strength, and my self-confidence. But she says she’s not ready to sign off on letting me go hither and yon by myself. I drive a bit above the speed limit, and she thought I drove too far on the right-hand side of the street.

Colin had similar small complaints but thought I did amazingly well for not having driven for two years. But now the deal is that I must drive with each of my children, and they all have to agree. Two down, two to go. Jamie says he’ll be here this week, and Megan is due to visit in three weeks or so. Until then, I must drive with a chaperone.

Tonight, since Jordan doesn’t want me driving, Mary Dulle drove me to dinner in my car, but I did all the getting in an out by myself. Mary’s vote was that I’m ready to drive.

I think this is called baby steps toward independence.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Whining about a pity party and an honest look at myself

Confession: I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because I’ve mostly been home alone for days while my family was at the Fort Worth International PGA Golf Tournament, what we always referred to casually as “the Colonial.”

Several rational thoughts indicate I should not feel sorry for myself. In truth, I got out for supper one night, the grocery store with a good friend another day, and had company last night. If the kids weren’t at the golf tournament, I probably wouldn’t see much more of them than I am right now---just knowing they’re out of pocket makes a psychological difference. I have projects to keep me busy at home—first edits on a manuscript that I’m slowly working through, a book I’m enjoying, blogs to write, all that cooking I did. And, were I offered a chance to go to the tournament, I’d decline in a flash—sun and heat are not my friends, and I’ve never seen much point to golf, though my mother loved it, both of my sons have played at one time or another.

So this morning, I took a long hard look at myself and came to a conclusion. It has to do with aging. Jordan and Christian and my other children are in the midst of life—in their forties, they’re in the midst of careers (and career change for some), an active social life, the joy of children. And I’m on the edges of life.

Don’t get me wrong. My kids, as regular readers of this blog know, are unbelievably good to me. Jordan always goes out of her way to include me in things. For a few summers, they used to have Friday night potluck open house, and I was always invited. Their friends were (and are) my friends; one even said to a stranger who queried my attending these parties, “Are you kidding? She’s the star.” An exaggeration, but it made me feel good. But that was then—they lived about 20 minutes away, and I drove my car out there, could drive myself home whenever. All that has changed.

Maybe, I said to myself, I’m not accepting aging gracefully. But another part of my mind countered with the thought that if you don’t stay in the mid-stream of life, you wither and waste away. I could become a little old lady in a rocking chair—well, I hope not.

There’s got to be a middle ground, and some days I think I’ve found it; others, like this weekend, I indulge in a bit of self-pity. Maybe my mind is just unstable. And maybe I need to shut up and count my blessings, which are many.

Sometimes it’s risky to share moments of honesty with your grown children. You never know what the reaction will be. But this morning, when Jordan came out to say good morning (see what a good girl she is), I told her that I was feeling lonely and I thought maybe I was jealous. She asked for an explanation, and I told her the conclusion I’d reached.

Her response took me by surprise. “But you’ve done all that,” she said. Perhaps she thinks I should live on memories, of which I have many. But that’s not enough. I still want to be in the middle of life. Maybe that’s the eternal dilemma of aging.

Which brings me back to my car. Somehow, I think when I get it, fully repaired, and I am cleared to drive, I can plunge right back into the mainstream of life, even on a walker. May it be true.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Cooking up a storm

My idea of a good, long, holiday weekend? Cook a lot. Better if you have someone to cook for. I thought I was cooking for two guests tonight, but only one showed up, so I have lots of good leftovers.

The menu: chicken rolls—a mix of chicken, mushrooms, scallions and cream cheese in crescent roll dough, drizzled with butter and sprinkled with crushed croutons. I thought the croutons were an especially nice touch. The rolls puffed up and turned out larger than I expected, plus were so rich I could only eat half of one. I served them with a mix of sautéed asparagus and mushrooms and a fruit salad. With oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert.

Last night, I prepped some of tonight’s meal--baked the cookies, skinned and boned the rotisserie chicken breast—I love to get the breast only instead of the whole chicken. When I washed the mushrooms, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I diced the stems to put in the chicken rolls and saved the caps to slice and sauté with the asparagus.

In addition, last night I fixed myself steamed spinach and salmon cakes for supper. Salmon cakes are one of my favorite dishes on earth. My mom called them croquettes and shaped them into little logs, which I have always found hard to brown evenly. I shape them as patties. And Mom rolled the final product in crushed crackers—I decided that was trouble and the crackers didn’t stick to the filling, so I just use crushed crackers in the patties and don’t coat them. Seems to work well. I love those salmon cakes cold the next day, with lots of lemon and a bit of mayonnaise. Ate two today, which may be why I wasn’t really hungry at dinner.

So today, for supper I cut up the fruit salad—started with cantaloupe and an orange and realized I had a sort of pale, orange-colored salad. A banana, done at the last minute, would add some variety, and Jean brought blueberries at my request, because I said the salad needed color. Whereas the chicken was too rich, the fruit was bright and just right—I ate two serving. Asparagus and mushrooms proved to be a great combination. All in all, it was a menu I’m proud of.

I’m probably through cooking—at least until next weekend—but I have a lot of rotisseries chicken left. I’m thinking a pasta salad with chicken would be really good. Do I miss the barbecue and traditional foods of Memorial Day? A bit but not too much.

What’s on your weekend menu?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Lessons in semantics

Some lessons in semantics lately have, I hope, made me more sensitive. But they’ve been hard lessons. Last year I published a novel titled Pigface and the Perfect Dog. The sobriquet Pigface refers to the major bad guy in the book. One look at him, and protagonist Susan Hogan is reminded of a pig. We’ve all seen people like that—fat, fleshy face, with beady pink-rimmed eyes buried in the flesh, small, pursed mouths. I didn’t think anything about it when I used the word. Susan simply turned when he bumped into her at the butcher counter, and her immediate thought was that he looked like a pig. The nickname stuck throughout the book.

Alas, that book was not my best-seller, and when I investigated, I discovered several people were vocal about disliking that term. Some said it was an insult to pigs. I am amazed I didn’t think of that—pigs are underestimated but truly intelligent and sensual animals. So, I’m guilty on that count. Others countered that in this age when most of us try to be sensitive to others, it was demeaning and nasty, and I can see that too.,I think it was like a lot of childhood insults—we still use them without thinking first. Finally, there was a Jewish friend who reacted because of her religion’s abhorrence of swine. I suspect that doesn’t count for many, but I respect her position.

Would I do it all over differently? I don’t know. I write by instinct, and that’s what came to me. It fit, and it made the title work and carry on the use of “perfect” established in the first book But authors have to look at the marketing side, and if I’d known that word would affect sales, I might have gone an entirely different direction. Of course, I have no proof that was the cause of the low sales. If you haven’t read it, take a look at Pigface and the Perfect Dog. I still think it’s a pretty good mystery.

Now to my current work-in-progress. Titled “Contact for Chaos,” it’s a Kelly O’Connell Mystery on the theme of racism. For shock value and to emphasize how awful it is, I used the n-word on grafitti and banners from the bad guys and, occasionally, from someone’s mouth. In fact, an early stab at a cover had grafitti with that word on it. Several people objected, and my editor wrote a long note about how that jars people, especially in the black community, and how they would particularly resent it coming from a white woman.

The fact that I used it to emphasize the negativity, to show how wrong it was, got lost in the discussion. I certainly can see why it would put people off on the cover, and I’m bowing to wiser heads and writing it out in the text—mostly writing around it, occasionally using “n-word” or “n-----.” Racism was a difficult topic to tackle, and both my beta reader and my editor have praised my handling of it, but I want to walk that difficult line between marketability and intellectual honesty.

It all reminds me of that childhood verse that began, “Eeny meeny miney moe.” If you’re old enough (as I am), you’ll remember the version I’m referring to.  If not, you know the sanitized version, probably from the sixties, and I won’t repeat the older one.

I fear that Americans of my generation unconsciously absorbed racism and its language, even when we knew better. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago, a diverse area if anything is, but I was early taught to respect all people as equal. Still I absorbed the attitudes of the day—in my case, fear—and the language, and though I know much better, those old habits come out sometimes. I’m working hard to banish them forever. It’s one of the many things we all must do in this troubled political climate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Strange Requests, Free Books, and Golf

I go weeks without getting an email from a fan or stranger through my web page, but there must be a spot on the moon because today I got three. One was for help in tracking down a photo permission, and I’ve put out feelers about that. The second though was unusual, or so I thought. I guess this potential reader, a woman, read the blurb for the free Murder at the Blue Plate Café. She wrote, I have one question regarding the series Blue Plate Cafe Mystery. Is Kate really hearing her grandmother or is it all in her head? I'm only asking because I don't read books with any type of paranormal involvement in them. Thank you for your time.”

I wrote back that one never knows what is in an author’s mind, and sometimes the author doesn’t even know. She’d have to answer that question for herself. Her polite answer indicated she had indeed decided—that I meant voices from beyond, a touch of the paranormal. Referring me to a Biblical passage, she said that we all know the dead are dead and cannot communicate and therefore she’d try another of my series. Her view on faith is not mine, but I appreciated her candor and honesty and her willingness to try another series. I wrote and told her I hoped she enjoyed the books she tried, and she replied that she hoped so too.

The third email was an offer to list my free title on ebookdaily, a giveaway site. As of today, 5,652 people have taken me up on my free book offer on Amazon alone—I haven’t checked the other platforms. At the height of the free book craze, that would have been peanuts, but today I think it’s pretty good. Just think if a third of those people like the book well enough to move on through the series, my sales should look pretty good. I’ll probably leave the offer open another week and then shut it down.

I’m a golf orphan, which doesn’t have much effect on my routine except psychological. Jordan and Christian are involved, as spectators, in the annual PGA tournament at Colonial Country Club. I remember when it was just “the tournament” or “the Colonial.” In recent years, it’s had a lot of different sponsors and borne those names. This year, it’s sponsored by local donors and is the Fort Worth Invitational Tournament. It’s one of the highlights of the year for Jordan and Christian—for him, it’s partly work, entertaining clients, etc.; for her, it’s sociability, see and be seen which is always good for her growing clientele of travelers. They really won’t settle down at home again until Sunday night.

I’ve done my best to fill my schedule so I either get out of the cottage or have someone in each day. But there’s something different about knowing they’re beyond reach except in an emergency. I feel a little set adrift, though I’m really not. Glad I have projects to keep me busy.

Ended my day with a delightful dinner with Betty and Jean at the Star Café. Nothing better than savoring their chicken-fried steak with a view of the doings on Exchange Avenue.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The frustrations of a power outage

An unwelcome but powerful lesson today in the perils of being electronically dependent. My morning was going smoothly—I was working, someone was cleaning the gutters on the house, someone else was cleaning my cottage, Lewis Bundock fixed the shelf that I had loosened from the wall, and all was well`. Suddenly, the cottage went dark. I suspected the gutter man had tripped something and caught Lewis before he left, thinking he’d go fix the breaker switch. But then Jordan called from the main house—power out inside too. My alarm system alerted me belatedly and then sent me an email that fewer than 5% of houses within a mile were affected. I found that cold comfort.

But there I was—no computer, so I couldn’t work. No TV to distract me. Even my land line didn’t work because it relies on an electric power source. And I hesitated to use the cell phone for fear of using up the charge in the battery. Even the books I’m reading are on the computer. And cooking was out of the question, even cold dishes because I didn’t want to open the refrigerator unnecessarily.

I considered just going back to bed, but the sheets had been stripped and were in the washing machine—wet and soapy. Along with the extra set of sheets because Colin and Morgan slept out here Saturday night. I could file all those papers in my “pending” file, but without light I couldn’t really see the files in the drawer well enough.

I sorted a thick file of recipes and patted myself on the back because I cut its size by half. Did so by making myself realize that I am not going to cook big dishes that feed eight because eight would not be comfortable in the cottage, and the days of burner-to-oven skillet cooking are behind me. I cannot use an iron skillet on my hot plate, and the skillets I must use are not ovenproof. A year and a half into cottage living, I realize that dishes I’ll make out here and send inside to be cooked are few and far between. Many of them don’t fit the diet Jordan and Christian are following, and scheduling is a problem—to send dishes inside I have to choose a time they’re home and not cooking. Few and far between.

Belatedly I realized that I could unhook my computer from the remote monitor, so I could write but nothing else. No connection for internet or email. For some reason, the remote keyboard still worked. Small blessings. So I did a little writing.

Suddenly, after about three hours, it came back on. And from then on, the world seemed to get better. The dealership called about repairing my car (I’d been waiting since Saturday to hear from them); my Austin son-in-law, the computer genius, called and quickly walked me through erasing emails that had been stuck on my cell phone since December—I’d erase them, and they’d come right back. Now they’re gone! He also gave advice on cutting my Kindle backlog. I thought of two niggling things that had been in the back of my mind and dealt with them. I had the inspiration to ask for TV tray tables, nice wooden ones, for my birthday, because I’m really tired of asking guests to hunch over the coffee table to eat. It was like a whole new fresh start.

So here I am in this bright, new, electronically-restored world. Ah, what to do next? So many opportunities. Life is good. I think I’ll start by charging my phone and iPad.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Distracted by a Novel

No, silly, not a novel I’m reading. One I’m writing but had put aside. Today was a stay-at-home and work day. I planned to put together the June Poohbah, the newsletter I do each month for my neighborhood, and then work on my memoir. But it was close to noon before I started any of that. I did get the Poohbah mostly put together and will wrap it up tomorrow. But then, after lunch, on a whim I decided to read that thousand-word opening I’d started on a novel a week or so ago.

It’s actually based on the incident of a semi-polite, unarmed intruder we had in the neighborhood about three weeks ago. At one point he was in the living room of a friend of mine—maybe I told you—and when she followed him outside as he tried to start her car, he said, “Stop yelling at me!” That line still makes me laugh, so I  invented a sort of inept intruder. Eventually, I fear, the story will have to have a more serious crime, because I don’t think this guy, who I’ve dubbed the “perfect stranger,” can sustain a whole book.

As novelists do, I moved the action from Fort Worth to fictional Oak Grove, home of Susan Hogan, Jake Phillips, and Oak Grove University/ Reading it today, more of the action began to play out in my mind, and I just kept writing. Kind of fun. I wouldn’t mind doing this for the time being—one day on the memoir, one day on the novel. I’m sort of between projects, waiting for edits on the eighth Kelly O’Connell novel, Contract for Chaos, and on my cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate.

As for reading a novel for distraction, I’m between things there too. Think, with regret, that I’ve read the books in both Ellery Adams series that I’ve been following. So, one of tonight’s projects is to settle on a new book. Hoping to find one that will totally absorb me in its world.

Speaking of worlds, have you met Kate Chambers of the Blue Plate Café series? If not, hurry to get your free digital copy of the first book in the series, Murder at the Blue Plate Café. It will, I hope, draw readers into that world of Wheeler, Texas and the café until it becomes as familiar as your own neighborhood. Here’s the blurb:

“Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but when Kate Chambers returns to her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, she soon learns it is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate runs Gram’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Café, but she must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve the murders to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.

            “No, life in a small town is anything but idyllic and peaceful. But Kate loves the café, and she shares some of her favorite recipes—and some of her good friends.”

Kate’s adventures continue in three more books as she deals with a nosy journalist, an eccentric recluse, a thirty-year-old unsolved murder, and, of course, too many fresh murders. And she continues to share recipes from the café—some hers, some Gram’s.

The thing I know about series, from my own reading, is that you do get drawn into the world they create. At least I always want to read the next book to find out what happens to people I’ve really come to like. And I finish the last book with a sigh of both pleasure and regret at saying goodbye. So welcome to Wheeler, Texas.

Murder at the Blue Plate Café is free on several digital platforms.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Haircuts, “the” wedding, and a golf tournament

My youngest grandchild, Kegan David, got a hair cut today. Normally a boy’s haircut is a big step in his initiation from toddler to childhood, but not so with Kegan. He’s twelve, and he’s worn his hair shoulder-length for a couple of years now. When I was in the rehab facility, he came to see me, and an attendant asked if he was my granddaughter. I said no, my grandson, but his dad assured me it was okay. Kegan was used to the confusion, and it didn’t bother him.

The thing is, Kegan’s is a super soccer player. He’s small for his age, but he makes that up in determination, and he’s a tiger on the soccer field. At the age of ten, he was invited to play with a team of twelve-year-olds. His goal became getting his hair long enough to wear a man-bun, like the European soccer players, and he achieved that. But it seems the school he attends harbored some suspicions about long hair and exerted pressure to have him cut it.

Two weeks ago or so, he cut a couple inches off, but this weekend, when he was up here visiting, he still had that shoulder length, fine, blonde hair. His dad said today, back home, Kegan announced, “It’s time.” I’m so pleased that his parents let him be the one to make that decision. His mom says he likes his new haircut and grins all the time. I’m waiting for a report when he makes his debut with his new look at school tomorrow. Mom Lisa just happens to teach at the same school he attends.

Other than that, a lazy day. I guess I’m still recovering from the heady events and lack of sleep of the first part of the weekend. If I’m that tired, just think how Harry and Meghan must feel. I’ve read more about the new Duchess of Suffolk in the last day—she is much more than an American movie star. She’s known for being an activist, particularly for feminist causes, and apparently, she and Harry may take royal public service to a whole new level. I’m cheering for them. They sure are a stylish couple, and who but a strong woman would walk down the aisle alone, trailed by those adorable bridesmaids. I’ve also read much about her mother, Doria Ragland, and come to a great admiration for that woman who sat alone in great composure during the ceremony. Surely, she passed some of her strength on to her daughter.

My take-away from the wedding, besides awe at the wonder of it: the word bespoke. I knew it before but was never sure of the meaning. Now I’ll never forget. Everything Meghan wore was bespoke—made especially for her for the occasion. I’m working on understanding the “quire” of a church. Dictionary doesn’t help much—it’s says a quire is four sheets of paper folded to form eight leaves. We used to call that f&gs back in the day in publishing—folded and gathered proofs, but not bound. Clearly not what was meant when the news reported that Prince Charles met Meghan at the quire of the chapel.

On the home front, Christian marinated and grilled salmon tonight, and we had a wonderful supper. Christian and Jordan will disappear this week, wrapped up in the events of the Fort Worth National Invitational Golf Tournament. I liked it best years ago when we could just call it “the Colonial,” but I’ve never been a fan. Who wants to walk around a hot golf course following men who are chasing a little white ball? For Jordan and Christian, it’s a big event.

Should be an interesting week. How about yours?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A heady twenty-four hours

Me and my car
though I'm kind of hard to see

Really, it wasn’t even twenty-four hours. The Tomball Alters—Colin, Lisa, Morgan, and Kegan—arrived just before ten last night and left at three-thirty this afternoon, but we packed a lot into that short visit.

Started with staying up way too late talking—evicted them from the cottage about eleven-thirty and finally crawled into bed at midnight. To Sophie’s delight and puzzlement, Colin and Morgan slept in the cottage. Soph jumped up on the bed with them, but then in the night she’d come to my bedside with a puzzled look. I think she wanted to say, “Mom, there’s someone sleeping where I usually sleep.”

I woke them, gently, at six by turning on the TV. Missed the processional of the royal wedding but tuned in just in time to see Meghan and Harry take their vows and remained glued to the TV through the ceremony and that long carriage ride to the Royal Mile and Windsor Castle. I loved the wedding, the ritual, the pomp and circumstance, the ladies’ hats. The Most Reverend Michael Curry gave an engaging sermon with a message that’s spot-on for today, though you could see some Brits looking a bit puzzled—was it his enthusiasm or the length at which he spoke? The Kingston Choir performance of “Stand by Me” was stirring and, I thought, an innovative addition to the service.

I’ve heard comments about how sad it was that Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mom, had to sit alone, but I thought she was the picture of grace and elegance in her bespoke (just learned that word again) pale green outfit. She looked happy, pensive, a bit sad, but always in control of herself. Watching the royals is endlessly fascinating, and I loved the camera pans throughout the invited guests.

Queen Elizabeth was striking in her bright lime green outfit. She wears bright colors beautifully at her age and carries the look off with panache. I admit I’m a fan of all about the monarchy. Worried about Prince Phillip—he looked ill, though he seemed chipper enough. The elegance of the monarchy is something surely missing in our country today, and I think not having that model lessens us all some.

When we turned it off, we got down to the business of the day. Colin had driven my car up from Tomball, but the convertible top was stuck down. Since I haven’t driven in two years, the first thing was to let me drive around one of the empty TCU parking lots. I did okay, because after five minutes or so, Colin directed me onto the streets around the TCU campus. Again, I did okay, and then I drove us to the VW dealership to get the top fixed.

I loved driving my old (2004) VW convertible bug, felt right at home. But as I guess mothers and sons will, we quarreled. He wanted me to drive like an eighty-year-old woman with an abundance of caution. I suggested that there are few things other drivers hate more than a cautious old lady. I thought there was something to be said for self-confidence. Impasse. The kids still want me to go to the Baylor rehabilitative driving program, but it is in Dallas and a pain to get to. We’ll see what happens.

Lovely lunch with the Burtons at Chadra followed by everyone going separate ways for errands—Colin and I went to Central Market to pick up seafood I’d ordered—I do love curbside pick-up. Then nothing would do but we drive by the house we brought him home to as an infant—I can’t believe he never saw it. And then his memory brought up Harper’s Blue Bonnet Bakery, and we had to go get cookies. Mostly it was fun, though every once in a while, our disagreements surfaced—he doesn’t think I realize the responsibility of driving; except for the last two years, I’ve driven for sixty-four years. He’s afraid his siblings will blame him if he okays driving and then I have an accident. I guess it will all work out, but meantime my car sits at Autobahn waiting to have the top repaired.

And what I learned today: my driving skills may be okay (even earned compliments from my son), but I am not as young as I was and I don’t multi-task well. By the time they left for Tomball, I was exhausted. I had invited friends for happy hour and intended to fix something very British to celebrate the wedding, but a few days ago I had the foresight to reschedule that. A late nap, followed by a nice supper. Jordan had dinner guests, and some of the girls came out to say hello. A comfortable evening.
My supper: salad Provencal 
and a salad from my garden
Nice,light and delicious

Friday, May 18, 2018

Sophie’s Birthday

Sweet Sophie is seven today. She has lived with me all but the first eight weeks of her life. The day we (half my entire family it seemed like) got her, she was a cuddly black ball of fur. Today she is thirty pounds of energy, affection and enthusiasm.

We went to the kennel, Safari Doodles in McKinney, Texas to pick out a miniature golden doodle. Even then experiencing a bit of trouble with my left hip, I had been talked out of my dream of a full golden or labradoodle. Miniature it would have to be.

The golden pups were only six weeks old and had just wakened from a nap. They were sweet but quiet, subdued. The breeder mentioned she had one bordoodle left. I’d never heard of that cross, but because I loved the farm collies I’d had I thought border collie would be a good mix. Little did I know that she’s a mix of two of the most intelligent breeds. She can and does outwit me easily.

On the way home from the kennel
When Sophie came into the room, she was full of energy and fun. She ran, she played, she hopped in laps, but she also settled down for some loving. I remember a friend’s advice that he always got the liveliest pup in the litter (Sophie has since given me reason to question his advice).

Now at seven, she’s in middle age and slowed down some, but she still chases squirrels with a wild velocity, and her urge to see the world is undiminished—last weekend, with extra grandsons to leave gates opened, she escaped twice. Didn’t get far either time, and if you go after her with a car, she’ll hop right in. Go after her on foot, and she’ll outrun you every time.

She lives a dog’s ideal life—in all but the worst weather, the French doors to my patio are open so that she can come and go as she pleases. Most days, she sleeps on the couch, her head on a pillow. She’s found that things pick up around here in the late afternoon, so why waste energy until then? Mornings, when I wake up, she hurries to my bedside for some head-scratching and conversation, mostly about how wonderful she is. She enjoys hearing that, thank you very much.
Yes, she’s a bit spoiled, a bit demanding. When she decides she wants her dinner, she doesn’t stop barking until she gets it. But then she doesn’t eat it unless someone else is around, preferably other dogs so she can protect it. Last night, she finished her supper but there were guest dogs here, and she kept a protective paw on her dish.

You never can be too sure.

Sophie’s fans are legion, and she’s never met a stranger she doesn’t like. That worries me a bit, but I trust her judgment. If someone wicked came in, she’d know. She is loyal and protective—jumps right up on the bed to protect me from thunderstorms.
I couldn’t live without a dog, and Sophie is the perfect dog for my tiny cottage.
Happy Birthday, sweet girl!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Memories of a long-ago marriage

Yesterday was an anniversary that you’d think I’d have long ago forgotten, but not so. It marked fifty-four years since I married Joel Alter. We were married in my brother’s backyard, by a hedge that barely separated us from the neighbor’s goat pen. My brother gave me away, and my mother stood looking stoic. My father did not attend. My parents did not approve of me marrying a young Jewish boy—their disapproval turned out to be well founded but for all the wrong reasons.

We were so poor that the wedding punch had Everclear in it, and though I can barely remember all the people who attended I do remember that the 14-year-old son of Joel’s mechanic got blotto on the punch. We did have a cake, and at the time it seemed a fairly festive occasion. My dress was made by a close friend—a straight shift of lace with a beige/pink background material. I do remember that our closest friends came from Kansas or Nebraska—I’m not sure where they were living—and the four of us spent the night at the local Holiday Inn. They are still close friends today.

The date got me to thinking that unless you’re careful, the end of relationships can blot out the memories of the good times. Our divorce belonged to Joel. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had a mistress he wanted to be with. When a man tells you he wants the house and the children, and you’re the only part of the package he doesn’t want, you can’t help but being angry and bitter. I was all those things and more, though for some time I’d fantasized about life without him. Because I had four children, six and under, I was afraid to take that step, afraid I could not support them. As it turned out leaving was the best thing he ever did for us.

We had been together twenty years, married for seventeen of them, and in honesty I would say we were wildly happy for the first ten or twelve, moderately so for the next five, and miserable for the last two. And those last two tended for years to wipe out the memories of the good times we had together.

In the medical community in which we lived, we were the “alternative” couple, smiled upon indulgently by his older partners who turned a blind eye to his “hippie” decoration of his office and my tendency to wear blue jean suits with macramé belts—how dated! We were slightly outrageous but never outré, and we enjoyed that role, played it to the hilt. We lived in a big old house, adopted four kids, gave outrageous parties, and loved life. Where and why it all went wrong is a long tale. From my point of view, it has to do with a mid-life crisis, a career that didn’t soar as he though it should have, my preference to be a stay-at-home mom instead of a happy traveler. Joel has been gone several years, so he can’t give his viewpoint. But Jordan told me tonight she once saw what he’d been writing on his computer and it included apologies, confessions of guilt, and other regrets. He tried to apologize to me a couple of times, and I brushed him off. Now I wish I’d listened.

It took me a long time, but now I am able to remember the good times and downplay the anger. And I owe him a debt. He brought me to Texas, encouraged me to get a Ph.D. while he did a residency, encouraged me in the outrageous idea that I wanted to be a writer. And oh yes, four wonderful children and today seven grandchildren. I hope in our years together I did as much for him, though I’m not sure.

I’ve finally comes to term with that gratitude, the memories of happiness and joy, and mostly but not completely worked beyond the anger. Time does indeed heal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

You Too?

This past weekend a respected figure on the Texas literary scene was accused by a thirty-something-year-old woman of having harassed her when she was fourteen, seventeen years ago. This is a man who is noted not only as a writer and poet but also as an editor and publisher. Over the years he has helped many new and seasoned writers. (No, I do not know him personally—only by reputation.) He is a married man with children. Apparently when accused of harassment he wrote a letter of apology (all before the Me, Too) movement.

All this came out when the accuser went public recently, causing him to state that his relationship to her, as a teacher, was strictly platonic. He also resigned from the state’s most prestigious association of authors to save embarrassment—and I suppose to save the association from a painful choice. As far as I know, no one has ever been booted out (yes, I am a member). Since then he has been censured and punished by other organizations. His once-flourishing career is in shreds.

All this sickened and saddened me, and led my thoughts to the Me, Too movement again. I am quite frankly uncertain about it. It’s long past time to out such men as Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Eric Schneiderman, and others for whom sexually predatory acts are an ongoing way of life. They are completely selfish, self-centered men who delight in domination. Probably Bill Cosby fits in that group, though it saddens me, and maybe our sitting president.

But the lives of a lot of less well-known men have been destroyed, often based on accusations that are decades old. And that’s where it gets dicey for me. This woman has been harboring all her insecurities for seventeen years, insecurities born in a fourteen-year-old’s mind (if you’ve raised a teen-ager, you’ll understand the peril there) and no doubt nurtured and encouraged to grow over those years. What it sounds like to me is that her teacher was fascinated by her and saw talent; in trying to encourage her he overstepped the bounds not only of the teacher-student relationship but of general propriety. But I sincerely doubt his actions were prurient or even lustful. Misguided, yes, by all means.

Someone wrote yesterday in response to my blog on calling the police. She was read about a police officer who pulled a gun on a man he thought was stealing Necco wafers (whatever they are). The writer asked if a bit of candy is worth taking a life over. My question today is where we draw the line between sexually predatory behavior and sexual harassment severe enough to ruin a man. When does it become a crime instead of an annoyance? Many women handle wandering hands and other annoyances tactfully and quietly, without public attention and, as far as I know, without great damage to the psyches.

The problem seems to be one of degree, and we need a definition of sexual harassment, a checklist if you will. Even with such a list, I am not convinced of the validity of all these “recovered memories.” Time can distort. And there’s the bandwagon effect—once a man is accused, other women come out of the woodwork to join in the accusations.

Maybe I’m an anomaly. I once described to a younger friend a couple of incidents and relationships that made me uncomfortable, and she said, “You’ve been harassed, and you just don’t know it.” Well, okay, if I don’t know it, it didn’t damage me that much, and I went on with my life without making a mountain out of a molehill. The classic example to me of women who exaggerated small, meaningless gestures into a brouhaha were those who were incensed because former President George H. W. Bush patted them on the behind. I’m quite sure he wasn’t copping a feel—he thought of it as a friendly, almost affectionate gesture. Yes, it’s a hangover from an era well put behind us. But for Lord’s sake, he’s an old man in a wheelchair who has served his country well. Cut him some slack. I am a bit weary of women on their high horse, though as I try to emphasize I support genuine victims 150%. Where do we draw the line between abuse and foolishness?

It’s another conundrum.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cookies, memories and an exciting look ahead

My Mothers Day flowers
courtesy the Frisco Alters

How did I miss it? Today was National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, and several places offered free cookies. I am truly distressed that it passed me by and I got no free cookies. If you keep up with “national days” your head will spin. Every day has three or four things assigned to it----but chocolate chip cookies are so special. I guess now I have to bake the last ones left in my freezer, a product of one of Jacob’s school campaigns.

Looking backward, today I reviewed my blogs from two years ago, with an eye to a possible new project. I was astounded to read my accounts of my broken ankle, the pain I was in, the depression I felt. It was eye-opening and made me so grateful for my recovery. And I hadn’t yet gotten to the really bad parts. Don’t know if and when I will. But it’s so instructive to look back at ourselves from a different emotional place.

There were some wonderful memories in those blogs too—the Mothers’ Day card Jacob gave his mom that said, “I love you the yellowest”; all the many things Jordan did for me—I hope her caretaking chores are less now; the week that Colin came and took Jacob and me to Tomball to give Jordan a break—we laughed, explored restaurants, sat by the lake and sipped wine at night, and generally had a wonderful time.

I tried to be upbeat in those days, but I was astounded at how many days I didn’t feel well, hurt too much to walk, really wasn’t keeping up with the house and daily chores. Jordan cooked most of my meals and finally moved in with me because she didn’t trust me alone at night. I don’t quite know how to sing her praises—all she gave up, the effort to run two homes at once.

Jacob was nine in those blog posts—an entirely different kid than the “grown-up” almost-twelve he is now. All the sweetness, none of the angst. There were nights when he and Sophie both slept in my bed with me. I think nostalgically I miss those nights; in practical reality, not so much.

I may not have gotten much actual work done this morning, but it sure was eye-opening and instructive, and made me grateful for the physical and mental health I enjoy today.

A funny bonus: recently I ran across a recipe I wanted to try for the family Reading the old blogs, I realized I had tried it two years ago and found it good but not quite what I expected. It was for a whole roast chicken—what I did two years ago was chicken thighs. Tonight, I defrosted a boneless thigh and did it for myself. Again, good but not great.

Looking ahead: Jordan, my personal travel counselor, came home with the brochure and itinerary for our Great Lakes Cruise in August. It looks wonderful, though I worry that I will be able to do the excursions or that my inability to walk will handicap Jordan in her enjoyment of those outings. But who wouldn’t want to go to Sault Ste. Marie, or Mackinac Island, or Muskegon/Holland where I have friends.

Jordan and I have already talked about packing and planning. She is so efficient about all that. It’s a relief to put myself in her hands. Last night we ordered the kind of visor hat she thinks I’ll need, the water bottle, and I can’t remember what else, but whoosh! I spent $100 at Amazon. Still I am so excited about this trip. Lovely to have something to look forward to so much.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Have you called 911 lately?

            In recent years, we've seen an alarming number of fatal shootings of young, unarmed men—almost always black men and too often by law enforcement officers. I’ve thought for a long time that if I were the mother of a young black man, I’d live in terror every time he left the house.

But now, just in the last few months, we’re seeing the acceleration of a different kind of racial discrimination. Police are being called to check out African Americans going about daily life. Police have been called by a Yale student because another student, who happened to be black, was sleeping in the common room of their dorm; they’ve been called to check on men in Starbucks, women playing golf, and families having a picnic in the park. And, now famously, they were called when some Airbnb guests were checking out. The latter instance provides a strange twist: the woman who called the police did so because the Airbnb ladies did not wave. The moral of that is that if you are indeed robbing a house, all you have to do is wave and you’ll be fine.

I am a child of the South Side of Chicago. Back in the day, Chicago did not have the epidemic of gun violence it’s experiencing today, but I grew up with fear, no doubt about it. We lived in a pleasant and integrated neighborhood of older homes, but it was ringed by poorer, crime-ridden neighborhoods, and that crime leaked into our neighborhood in the guise of muggings, purse snatchings, and the like. A would-be mugger snatched my aunt’s Bible from her two doors from our house; she always said she hoped he read it carefully. Of course, he thought he was getting her purse. I was not allowed to go to her house after dark without someone watching me, and my uncle always carefully walked me home. I’m not proud at all to say that there was a racial element to my fear; today my intellectual side fights that intently, but my instinctive side still feels the fear.

It reminds me of my father who served with the Canadian army in Europe in WWI. When jet planes first began to fly over our home (in the flight pattern for Chicago’s Midway Airport), Dad would instinctively duck and head for the garage. The whine of the engines sounded too much like incoming enemy fire to him. Sometimes, it’s hard for our knowledge to silence our instinct for survival.

Today I again live in a comfortable neighborhood of older homes, a neighborhood prey to petty crimes, mostly auto break-ins and auto thefts. We have an active, even pro-active neighborhood association, and we are constantly urged to call 911 if we spot any suspicious activity or anyone who rouses the hackles on the back of our neck. That advice is counter to what I feel when I hear of police being called to a family picnic in the park.

Common sense might be the answer, because I certainly don’t think the college student at Yale or the authorities at the golf course (which is now struggling) showed common sense. But my common sense may trigger your instinct for survival. Who’s to know?

It’s a conundrum.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day Extraordinaire

My girls and me
Two daughters, one son-in-law, and three grandsons—I reveled in family this Mother’s Day. Megan arrived last night with her two boys in time for hamburgers and the overnight salad I had stashed in the fridge. We talked, drank wine, and stayed up later than I meant too. I loved it. This morning, lazy. Christian fixed  big breakfast, and it was 11:30 before we got up from the table.

A hurried trip to the nursery, but we pretty much knew what we wanted—hydrangeas to put under my office window. They’re gorgeous, though not my favorite plans. I catered to my urge for wildflowers by buying one pot of coreopsis—no place in the back yard gets enough sun for that delightful, cheery plant except the deck. But from my desk, where I spend so much of my time, I have a clear vision of the deck. The coreopsis will join Christian’s marvelous bougainvillea, which show signs of being as bountiful this year as it was last. I bought some herbs, especially lemon oregano to discourage mosquitoes. On my shopping list this week: a big jug of cheap blue mouthwash, Epsom salts, and cheap beer to make what is supposed to be a guaranteed effective non-toxic spray to protect an area from mosquitoes.

Two o’clock found us at Joe T.’s for a late lunch/early supper. We didn’t sit on the patio because of the heat, but inside is always so noisy I have trouble with ordinary conversation. Christian’s family joined us so we were a party of fourteen, and our server turned out to be a sorority sister of Megan’s so it was old home week. As always we ate too much, and tonight, past eight o’clock, none of us are interested in food.
My grandsons, wishing me Happy Mothers Day

Megan and the boys left almost as soon as we got home from Joe T.’s and they are now safely back in Austin. We’re back into our routine, but I’ll treasure the memories of an almost-perfect day for a long time.

With a fond memory of my mother, who taught me to laugh, look on the bright side, and love creating in the kitchen. Some thirty years later, I still wish I had her on speed dial. I know her grandchildren miss her and I would so love to have her know her great-grandchildren.

Hope all the mothers, all who nurture and care for any of God’s creatures, had a wonderful day. Bask in the love, folks. We need each other these days.