Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Cooking Weekend

Where did September go? It may be true time flies when you’re having fun, but I don’t recall having that much fun. In fact, I look back at the month as one of working a lot and being a recluse in my cottage.

This weekend, I tried my hand at cooking. Last night for my supper, I fixed a baked egg—so simple. Buttered sourdough toast in a ramekin, a bit of cooked spinach, grated cheddar. Then crack an egg over it and covered it with just a bit of milk. I should have leveled off the cheese and spinach, so the egg would sit in the middle. As it was, it slid off to one side, and the milk all went to the other side. But I like my eggs soft (my kids call it runny), and I mixed it all up together and thought it delicious.

Tonight a pot of spaghetti sauce simmers on my burner and smells wonderful. Thanks to Carol Roark who shared her mom’s recipe. Christian and I will picnic in the cottage—Jacob has a youth group meeting of some kind, and Jordan has gone off to the opera at the invitation of a neighbor. Yumm—leftovers.

I also made an overnight salad which defies everything I ever knew about making salad but is delicious. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

I’m trying to avoid the news so as not to let it consume every minute, but I find myself drawn to the MSN news banner that pops up when I open Explorer. Several times a day something new comes along—some of it opinion, some of it fact, some of it doubtful. But we sure do live in interesting times.

A former neighbor sent me a Facebook message, saying, “I’m asking politely. Is there a Republican you like?” I should have replied, “Yes, you!” But I wasn’t that sharp. I did answer honestly and politely that I can’t think of one right now. I did not agree with John McCain on many issues, from abortion to war, but I admired and respected him and thought he honestly had America’s best interests at heart—something I can’t say for the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. I like Jeff Flake, think he’s a man of conscience, but I wish he were a little firmer in his convictions. He goes from one side to the other, though we owe him a round of thanks right now. Other than that, no. I can’t think of a one, but I promised to be on the lookout.

My neighbor did not reply, and I wish she had for I would enjoy a good exchange of ideas and viewpoints, though as many say mine are set in concrete. A friend I haven’t seen in thirty years or more writes that we are still friends despite our differences. It’s hard when she posts, “I’m still for Trump and not ashamed of it.” She truly believes if liberals win in November, we will have no more freedom of speech (where did that come from?), no more SCOTUS appointments (please God), no more immigration laws. I have a hard time dealing with closed minds.

The coming week is a busy one, with medical appointments and dinner plans. I’m looking forward to a more active life—but my writing will suffer. Can’t win them all.

Friday, September 28, 2018

When the grocery store is the highlight of your day

Tonight’s supper: a lamb chop with zucchini sticks. I sautéed the zucchini in butter and soy, and then cooked the lamb chop in the same pan. After it was done, I made a sauce of a bit more butter with a touch of anchovy paste. I guarantee two weeks ago I wouldn’t have eaten that, and I am delighted to have most of my appetite back.

Central Market is having their celebration of all things British, and I persuaded Jordan we should go there for our weekly shopping. She really doesn’t like to shop there, finds it too crowded and confusing. I on the other hand love it, but I do recognize there are things I can’t get there. Like baggies and napkins. But today it was worth it—I think. I got a good British cheddar called Rockers. Jordan tried another and made the most awful face before she declared we were not buying that. Apparently, it was strong with horseradish.

I bought some spices for the spaghetti sauce I’ll make tomorrow and ground meat—it’s really the only place I trust the ground meat, and spices are such an amazing bargain in the bulk section—why pay five dollars for a jar of marjoram you’ll never use when you can buy enough for one recipe for a quarter. But I also wanted one of their mini meat loaves—had my taste all set for meat loaf sandwich for lunch—and the crab cakes with smoked salmon that were advertised as part of the UK week. When we got to the deli carousal, it was crowded, the servers were impatient, and some woman was yelling at me, “Ma’am, ma’am,” because Jordan was trying to get my attention to say that they had neither meat loaf nor crab cakes. I was studying the British counter, wondering about getting bangers, thinking my shepherd pie was probably better than theirs. But I wanted to linger, not be rushed into a decision so I said no I didn’t want anything. And got into the car disappointed and cranky.

I called later—the crab cakes were in the seafood counter. Who knew? They’re usually in the carousel. I doubt I’ll get back there tomorrow, and it’s hardly practical to pay the curbside delivery fee for a couple of crab cakes. By the time we finished the regular shopping, Jordan was in a rush because she had other obligations. So I didn’t ask, didn’t explore. Guess I’ll buy some smoked salmon, but crab cakes are not among the things I do well—and crab is so expensive. You can’t buy enough for one cake but must buy a pound and, unlike most seafood at CM, it’s frozen.

I spent the first of the morning watching the Judiciary Committee again—no wonder I don’t get much done. But it’s riveting. One of my new heroes: Senator Klobuchar. And Christine Blasey-Ford. I’m on the fence about Jeff Flake—he’s been one way, then the other, and I wish he’d decided sooner, but I’m glad he did what he did. Turns out the future could be decided, at least for now, by one man. And blessings on those anonymous women who confronted him in the elevator.

This whole thing has been a lesson in politics, if not democracy. It’s not the way democracy should work, but it’s the way politics works today. I like to think Democrats would handle power differently, but who knows.

Exposing Angry America

Well, wasn’t yesterday fun? Many Americans, like me, watched the long, long day of hearings, and Facebook is full of comments, mostly disbelief at the anger displayed. Lots of us seem to feel Kavanaugh disqualified himself, and it had precious little to do with Christine Blasey-Ford. It had to do with his anger management issues, his belligerent partisanship, his total absorption in himself.

I have nothing to add except one point I haven’t seen belabored much: Lindsey Graham, who also disgraced himself, kept shouting, “You’re ruining this man’s life.” And Kavanaugh himself whined a lot about how hard all this has been on his family.

They miss the point: his future, his career, his happy family life is not what’s at stake here. It’s the future of our country, the future of women, of working people, minorities, even wildlife species. I don’t care a fig about his career or his family, and now I find it even harder to dredge up any sympathy.

By contrast, Dr. Ford did not mention her family. When asked, she admitted to claustrophobia which she traced to the high-school attack on her. And when a senator—Cory Booker, but I don’t think he was the first—asked how her family was doing, she simply said they are fine and, “Thank you for asking.” The contrast in styles is remarkable.

And, frankly, I would give two cents for the future of the Kavanaugh marriage. Mrs. K. looked neither proud nor happy while her husband spoke.

The committee will vote him out today, angry old white men predominating. There’s still a chance he will not be confirmed next week, but it’s strange to think that our fate is in the hands of so few. This is not democracy at its best. Nor have the cream of the crop of our population risen to the top.

Hear that shouting? It’s the Founding Fathers protesting from the grave what’s happened to their experiment in democracy.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

On top of the world—almost

A beautiful, sunny morning in Fort Worth, if a tad chilly—57 is just a bit below my comfort zone, and I am at my desk wrapped in the comfort of my prayer shawl. Big contrast to yesterday when I woke to dark and dreary skies that eventually produced a good rain. Our ground is saturated. But the rain disappeared, and the day brightened

This morning I’ve been corresponding with my BFF from high school—so wonderful that we are still close. We’ve mutually agreed that some of the good times of our past aren’t going to come around again, but we have rich memories to call up and enjoy. Like days and nights at the Indiana Dunes (a comparison sparked by a friend’s photos from the Sahara) and the time Barbara and her sister dropped a window screen out of their third-floor window to the sidewalk below. Fortunately, they didn’t kill anybody.

I’ve also sent notes to several close friends with whom I had not checked in lately (I heard a complaint, which made me put them first on my to-do-list). So, I am feeling much surrounded with love this morning. A medical report which had me a tad worried came back normal yesterday, I had dinner at the Star Café—chicken-fried steak again—and I slept better last night than I have in several years. Sophie slept well too, except for one episode of wanting her water dish filled at 1:30. When she sleeps well, I do better.

This morning I’m going to sort through files relating to my current project—it’s a long story, and I’ll share it another time, but the files were compiled by a good friend, so for me it will be an exploratory journal. And I’ll definitely have the Senate hearing on the TV while I explore. Sure is a big box of papers—sigh.

No wonder I’m almost on top of the world. Hope you are too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Oh, Eve! Why did you eat that apple?

American women are almost unanimously united in the belief that justice was served yesterday with the sentencing of Bill Cosby and his classification as a violently dangerous predator. Certainly, I agree—women accused him in overwhelming numbers, he drugged and raped them, and he damaged or destroyed a lot of lives. Still I found it sad to see “America’s Dad,” old and blind, led away in handcuffs. The image chipped away another bit of our image of ourselves as a moral nation. We are not who we like to think we are.

Tomorrow I will rearrange my work on my desk to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of Christina Blasey-Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. I am interested to see Ford and hope she can conduct herself with dignity, but I’m afraid my mind is made up on Kavanaugh. His innocent “Oh gosh! Who me? I would never do that!” act or as someone called it his choir-boy image is too much to be believed. The way we see him fawn over government leaders on TV these days makes it easy for me to believe he would do whatever to be one of the boys back in the eighties.

It’s not just two accusers—one credible and one a bit uncertain—who seem to confirm his guilt. It’s the aura of nastiness that surrounds his high school and college years. Too many people testifying to the culture and groups he was part of, too much inuendo, too much guilt by association. If he truly is innocent, I would think he would be the one to request an FBI investigation. But no. I believe he even declined to answer some questions in committee because they were too personal. Not a privilege he can enjoy at this point.

We all know that this SCOTUS appt. goes beyond the irreparable damage he does and can do on the bench. The way our government treats women, the respect we’re shown, the control over our bodies, our freedom, our lives all hang in the balance. Along with other major issues such as fair treatment to workers, survival of endangered species—a whole frightening laundry list.

But I think, like the Cosby case, the significance goes beyond that and determines the image of America as a moral nation. It’s almost a morality play with the good guys in white hats and the bad in black. Are we going to allow ourselves to be bullied by scum like Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn who would ram an appointment through for the sake of party and not country, not democracy? Or are we finally at last ready to stand up and declare that it’s time for the good guys to win?

It’s not easy. Today a few men (and a couple of women) hold that power in their hands, and we are momentarily dependent on their sense of morality. The Founding Fathers wisely wrote checks and balances into the Constitution, but I fear they never foresaw a situation where an entire party would be as corrupt as we see today.

I am a bit cheered to hear the idea floated again of impeaching Clarence Thomas—apparently another woman has come forward to second Anita Hill’s accusations. I doubt anything will come of it, but it’s nice to know Supreme Court judges can be impeached in extremis. I read somewhere that if confirmed Kavanaugh will be “impeachable.” 

Call me Pollyanna, but I still believe the guys and gal in white hats will triumph. Sometimes I'm impatient about how soon.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Whoosh! What a day

My day started early with an appointment to be fitted for new hearing aids. I’m excited about this, especially since I have a difficult time hearing on my cell phone. I don’t even want to talk about how old the ones I have are, but the new ones will be about a third the weight and half the size. Sound quality is dramatically better, and I’m told I will be able to talk on the phone without holding it to my ear. Noisy restaurant? No problem. I’ll just put my phone in front of you, and then both the phone and my aids will transmit. Can’t wait.

And after all the fuss I made about getting my car back, I don’t get to drive it often, so it was a treat to go all by myself to the hearing clinic. Made me feel like a grown-up girl. Also made me sad, because even close to our neighborhood I discovered new houses, new condos, buildings that have sprung up overnight. Development is destroying what was a neighborhood of modest charming bungalows, particularly around the university, and replacing them with condos and the dreaded stealth dorms. I am so dedicated to preserving the inner city that this destruction hurts.

After that, the day was a mess, though mostly in a good way, I guess. The mowers who couldn’t come last week because of rain came today and plowed through about five inches of weed growth—fungus killed much of our grass. What excites me is that they leveled off the ground cover, so now it should grow thicker instead of leggier. But they were noisy folk. And then the air conditioner guy came and was here for two hours. Don’t get me wrong—I’m as grateful as can be, but it was my nap time. 
While he was working, I was struggling with computer problems, one of which I finally resolved but not to my total satisfaction. The other, an email glitch that keeps me from communicating with two groups I value, continues to plague me. Most frustrating.

A bad day too because it started with Jordan delivering the news of a neighborhood tragedy, a family who lost a grown daughter in a wreck. Later in the morning I heard her ordering a large sandwich tray, fruit bowl, tea, etc. and I asked who we were feeding. It was of course for the bereaved family. It struck me that the custom now of assigning different nights to different people to provide a full meal in such a situation is a good solution, but I was raised to believe you cooked for the bereaved. I have made and delivered a lot of casseroles in my day, and somehow the idea of “store-bought” food seems a little less personal. You used to take a ham, or a big bowl of potato salad, or a cake. I remember once taking a batch of blueberry muffins (homemade of course) in a pretty basket. The times, they are a-changing.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Could you write a sermon?

Another dreary, uninspiring day. I felt sleepy and chilly most of the day but did try to go to church on the computer. Frustrating. Partway into the service, the computer tells you the video has timed out. It has something to do with broadband width, which I don’t understand at all. Last week, it was in the middle of the pastoral prayer. This week the minister was in his sermon and had just made a profound point unknown to me. Did you realize that the “Close Doors” button in elevators Is a placebo? Most of us push it not once but seven or eight times, and then the doors magically close. Not because of all that button-pushing but because it was time for them to close. But since we’re always in a rush, pushing the button makes us feel like we’re doing something.

I didn’t get to hear the rest of the sermon, but it got me to thinking how difficult it would be to write a sermon every week. Like being in graduate school, where I had a professor who loved to command, “Discuss Shakespeare.” Where in the world to begin? With the sermon, clergy, as I understand it, are pretty much given the Scripture for the day. The challenge is to find their own profound interpretation and then write 20 minutes or so worth of copy that is instructive, interesting, even humorous. Go!

There’s a bit of moral instruction I’d like to put into words but am not sure I can articulate. It’s a mix of two of my mom’s favorite aphorisms: “You catch more flies with a teaspoon of sugar than a cup of vinegar” and “Never judge until you have walked a mile in another man’s moccasins.” I like to think of myself as Pollyanna, all sweetness and light, but the truth is I’m hard-headed, and the older I get the more determined I seem to be that my way is the right way. (I’m excluding politics here.) I need to do that mile walk. Each of us has a story that we don’t share with the world, but that story so often shapes our actions and reactions. If we knew more about an individual we’re talking to, we might tailor our response differently.

Now I’ve tangled via email with someone I have to work with if not weekly at least monthly. I made suggestions that he took as me telling him what to do, and he’s probably right because I’m convinced he makes an unnecessary muddle of things. But I was preaching from my high horse, and I know better. I don’t know his story, and I guess neither of us appreciate the other aspects of life pulling at us I thought, by suggesting, I was using sugar. Apparently it came across as vinegar.

There’s a fine line when you try to “make nice” after a misunderstanding like that. I will not fall all over myself with apologies because I do think he should have listened to me and others. Too much sugar. But I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel or cup of vinegar, always causing trouble and turning people away. Where is my mom when I need her? She’d help me write that sermon.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rain and football

Watching the game. Can ou tell my level of interest?

One of those days when you wake up to rain and it never really stops. Demoralizing, depressing. I fear I am tired of telling myself how grateful I am for the rain—the ground is saturated, which of course makes for muddy dogs. I watched one of the Cavaliers slip on the wet deck and nearly go tumbling down the steps. When I went into the main house, I didn’t feel much more sure-footed myself.

We were overdue for a mowing on Friday and of course it rained. The weeds are long enough that I’m worried about snakes getting the dogs. We have weeds because a fungus among us destroyed our grass in the backyard. I am really tired too of looking at the overgrown mix of weeds and surviving grass. Last year we had such a beautiful lush lawn.

Jordan and Christian had friends over to watch the TCU/Texas game, all young people I am really fond of. Young? Ouch—they’re sure approaching middle age. Hard for me to believe. At any rate it was nice to be surrounded by conversation and company, a break from the dreary day, though one girl, a Texas fan, said, “I was going to tell you that you look pretty, but since TCU is winning, I take it back.” At the end of the game, a disaster for TCU and triumph for Texas, as I was leaving, she said, “Okay, you look pretty.”

I always root for TCU, but I am not what you’d call an ardent football fan. I usually don’t watch, partly because I don’t understand. I see a jumble of men pounce on the ball and I hear people of one persuasion or another cheering or holding their breath or booing, but I really have no idea what happened. I told the group I’d brought a book just in case they got boring.

I do worry about my Megan. Although she went to UT for law school, she remains a rabid TCU fan. Her husband is equally rabid about UT, though he too only went there for law school. Theirs is a divided—and vocal—household. And their youngest son, eleven-year-old Ford, is a devoted TCU fan When I said I worried about Megan, Christian pointed out that Ford was the one who would suffer.

More rain tomorrow I suspect. Everyone get out your boots and stay safe and dry.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Chicken-fried steak and motorcycles

Friends Betty and Don own the Star Café in Fort Worth’s Stockyards National Historic District. The Star is known for steaks and for my favorite—chicken fried steak. Local food guru and restaurant critic Bud Kennedy has rated it the best CFS in town for several years now. So last night Betty and I planned to go to the Star, so I could have a CFS fix. Until word came down that between 300 and 700 members of a Southern California motorcycle gang, with a pretty tough reputation, were expected to arrive in the Stockyards last night for a weekend rally. Betty thought it the better part of wisdom not to mix me and my walker into the inevitable parking mess, and I agreed. I declined her too-kind offer to fetch my dinner in mid-afternoon—too much coming and going for her and besides, I am quite sure reheated CFS at home would not taste the same as the real deal freshly cooked in the café. So we’ll reschedule.

But I looked this gang up on the internet, and they are indeed scary. So then I began to worry. Fort Worth police promise an extra-heavy presence in the Stockyards, and some merchants have posted signs that anyone wearing gang insignias, etc., is not welcome (that seems like throwing a glove in their faces as a challenge, to me). The aura is one of tension before a storm. And of course, rumors are flying. Is it safe to go to the North Side for dinner?

Last night I sat home, ate a leftover salmon patty, and worried. My imagination conjured up scenes of violence—shattered store fronts, people injured, etc. Of course, none of that happened. Betty said this morning she saw nary a motorcycle—apparently, they didn’t arrive until later at night. But while my imagination ran wild with the worse possible scenario, the practical side of me was wondering where 700 motorcyclists sleep. Do they pitch tents? If so, where? There’s not much public land up there, and surely they would need a permit. Would motels rent to them? I think I had a primitive vision of all these men—and surely some women—sleeping out exposed to the rain (yes, it’s supposed to storm) with their motorcycles as their pillows. You know, like cowboys around the fire using their saddles as pillows. Told you I have a good imagination!

Hmmm. The imagination and the practical side. See why I write fiction?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A New Book—and Some Nostalgia

Today is the publication date for my eighth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Contract for Chaos. I published the first in that series, Skeleton in a Dead Space, in 2011, so that makes fourteen mysteries in seven years—not quite two a year, a record that makes me look back.

I have always been a mystery fan. Like so many young girls, I grew up on Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, R.N., and whoever else. I can’t trace the progression, but as the years went by my heroes were Carolyn Hart, Susan Wittig Albert, Cleo Coyle, and all their sisters in crime. I, meanwhile, was writing about women in the American West.

My writing career came about in a strange way. Academically trained, I was taught to support, defend, footnote ad infinitum, and do everything but give in to my imagination. Fiction was over there on another shelf, written by those with more freedom and imagination than I brought to the typewriter (yes, in the early days) and then the computer.

A friend gave me her mother’s memoir, and I was fascinated but I didn’t know what to do with it except annotate, criticize, dissect, and rob it of every bit of life it had. By serendipity I read some children’s books--Dust of the Earth and Where the Red Fern Grows come to mind—and it dawned on me I could turn that memoir into a children’s book. It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d thought, but one day (1978) I had a novel, After Pa Was Shot, published by a prominent New York publishing house. I envisioned movie contracts and great wealth.

What followed instead was a career low on the mid-list, writing about women of the19th Century American West—Elizabeth Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall (first Wild West roping queen), even Etta Place of the Hole in the Wall Gang, Cissie Palmer of Chicago’s Palmer House. I wrote non-fiction for school libraries and almost anything else I could get an assignment for. But, always, the mystery shelf called to me.

I didn’t know enough about the genre to realize there was a term for the mysteries I liked—cozies. No blood and guts, little if any nail-biting suspense, no sex or profanity. Usually a female amateur sleuth, a bit of romance, a bit of danger, and a happy ening—Nancy Drew all grown up. Joining Sisters in Crime was an education in a whole new writing world, and I ate it up, learning everything I could, reaching out to people, networking. Newly retired, I had a whole new career—and I loved it.

I’m realistic these days. Gone are dreams of even specials for the small screen. But I like the few dedicated readers I have, and it makes me happy they enjoy my stories. No, I don’t expect people to read my work a hundred years from now (a criterion I learned in graduate school), but I’m living—and writing--in the here and now. I hope you’ll keep reading. And I’m proud to offer you Contract for Chaos.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pinch me-I’m dreaming

Wouldn’t you think you were dreaming if you crawled into bed in the late afternoon for an overdue nap and fell asleep while someone softly played acoustic guitar at your bedside? Son Jamie came over today, and we did have a long afternoon—lunch at Ol’ South, our favorite. That child of mine ate a chicken-fried steak dinner and a Dutch pancake! I contented myself with an order of corned beef hash, no egg—our order was so distinctive the server remembered us from a previous visit.

Then it was a long but satisfying time spent in a doctor’s office and home to figure out some computer problems and other things. By five, I who am used to a one o’clock nap was falling asleep on my feet. I never go to sleep when one of my out-of-town kids is visiting, but I went to change clothes and absolutely fell into bed. Jamie always has his guitar, and he came and played soft music. I have a tin ear, and he’s disappointed when I don’t recognize a tune—but I love the sound. Went soundly asleep and only wakened to say goodbye when he left. Thought it was all a dream—a nice one.

The other highlight of the day—Jacob’s middle school team won their game tonight. He, bless him, is a linebacker on the A team—not sure I know what all that means. I fought tooth and nail to keep him off the football field but to no avail. It still scares me, but I see changes in him to the good—maybe self-confidence, maybe physical from working out at, heaven help us, 6:20 in the morning.

So there are my two heroes for the day—Jacob and Jamie.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A happy meal—no, not McDonald’s

I went to a cool dinner party recently—all done with class and style. About 30 guests, seated places but buffet platters, host and hostess perfectly relaxed as though they did that every night of the week.

But what struck me most was a talk with the host who elaborated on their plans for the house. I should say here that though they are newlyweds, she has lived in the house ten years and transformed an ordinary sixties bungalow into a thoroughly modern house with a floor plan that flows easily and naturally.

In telling me the plans for continuing upgrade, the host told me how happy he was, how much this house felt like home to him. I was happy for him but also happy for myself, for having heard that. It struck me how uplifting it is to be around happy people.

I have known people in my life, too many of them, whose approach to life is to moan and complain. They are over-worked, under-appreciated, they never get a break; they always have something to find fault with—if it’s not their life, they’ll find something in yours to criticize. Such people drag you down.

Last night, because of that discussion, I went home on a cloud of happiness that lasted all day, and I realized how important it is to be around happy people. It’s contagious.

Having sounded so Pollyanna-like, here are a couple of downer notes. Last night as I was going to bed, I started to refill my ice water. The refrigerator had no power—so no icemaker, no water spigot, no interior light. It had been fine an hour earlier, and nothing catastrophic had happened. Jordan and Jacob, bless them, came out with flashlights and checked the breakers—all okay, and everything else in the cottage worked. We put towels out to catch the drips, and I resolved to call the repair service first thing today.

Here’s the lesson learned and the reason I’m telling this story. This morning I remembered about computers and suggested we unplug it and plug it back in. The plug was difficult to access—Jordan got down on the floor in a position I could never duplicate, reache way back in a cupboard, unplugged and plugged—there was a small beep, and voila! It was up and running. I’ve kept a watchful eye on it all day.

Today I learned that an old friend died, in a nearby nursing home, at the age of 97. We used to be part of the same social group, at least twenty-five years ago, and I knew his wife had died, thought he had too. Now I am overcome with remorse for not visiting him. Object lesson: keep track of your friends. Joe Schott was a good man, and I am sorry I missed years of knowing and listening to his stories about life in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Joe was the author of the book No Left Turns, which detailed a trip in which Hoover did not allow the car to make a left turn—ever!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Losing our heroes

If certain “volunteers” have their way, we Texans are going to lose all our heroes. A volunteer committee has been making recommendations to the State Board of Education on “streamlining” teaching. A red flag shot up in my mind—who are these volunteers and why are they qualified to make recommendations?

They did not start quietly. Their first suggestion was that seventh-grade teachers should omit the word “heroic” in referring to the defenders who died at the Alamo. Talk about jumping on a Texas icon! I know they say politics makes strange bedfellows, but I never thought I’d find myself in bed with Greg Abbott and George P. Bush. But they are apparently as outraged as I am.

The explanation was that heroic is a value-oriented word. I’m not sure I understand the concept of value-oriented marketing completely, but it has to do with a customer’s perceived value of an item vs. its real value. All that says to me in this case is that the customer (student?) perceives value in describing the men at the Alamo as heroic. I do—I “perceive” courage and loyalty and determination, all kind of qualities we want our children to learn about.

I think I know part of the thinking—and it’s sort of appropriate in this day and age when harsh immigration policies have demonized our neighbors to the South even more than usual. It’s an effort to counter the stereotype that all Mexicans are evil, and all Anglos are pure and white. But instead of attacking our heroes, why doesn’t the committee teach the whole story—many Mexicanos fought alongside Travis, not against him.

The committee also recommended teachers mention but not teach Travis’ famous “Victory or Death” letter. Where, pray tell, does one draw that line in the sand distinguishing between teaching and mentioning? The board of education apparently didn’t accept that recommendation.

Also on this committee’s hit list: Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller. There is apparently some kind of point system by which candidates are judged. In spite of being the first woman to lead a major political party in a presidential campaign, Hillary fell short. Keller came closer, but she too missed the mark.

You know all those Confederate statues torn down in a frantic effort to erase history rather than learn from it? This is just another way of tearing down statues. I for one think those volunteers need to get a life.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Some doggy memories

Do you remember the dogs of your childhood? I do—a wild and lovable female collie mix inappropriately named Timmy, an English cocker with a less-than-sweet disposition, a gentle and genteel collie called “Sister” for some reason.

A recent thread on Facebook is bringing back bittersweet memories of my years with Cairn terriers—and giving me new memories to savor. The oldest daughter of old friends posted a picture of the house her dad lived in as a child. The house later became the first osteopathic hospital in Fort Worth—the ground floor was the hospital, and a surgeon and his family lived on the second floor.

For the family who initially posted, the thread led to an online reunion with the descendants of the two Hispanic women who had cared for their father when he was a child and whom he loved very much. Talk about bittersweet memories.

But another part of the thread led to a discussion of the several buildings occupied by Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital until its demise in 2004. By then I had worked at the hospital, been married to a surgeon, divorced, and moved on with my life. But the thread connected with a friend who also worked there and then morphed into a thread about Cairn terriers because Ellen, the woman, and I met when she bought a Cairn from me.

And then, as these things do, the thread twisted back to the original family of kids—because they too had one of my Cairns—named Jody, because it combined my name with that of my then-husband, Joel. And then the memories of Cairns came flooding back.

As I child I read the book Greyfriars Bobby, about the Edinburgh dog so attached to its master that he refused to leave his grave. Mistakenly all those years I thought Greyfriars Bobby was a Carin—he was a Skye terrier. But I determined to have a Cairn—and we ended up raising and showing them, not that we were ever great successes at either. But we had one champion, and I recall someone telling me outright that the judge was interested in the dog’s legs not mine. I remember Jemima and Bitsy and the cute male with the bent tail who died from chewing on a wicker basket (always a cautionary tale for me).

I guess I had forgotten though how I spread my Cairn joy, until the son of my friends posted, “You spread a lot of joy with your doggies.” Funny the way that networks form, and the way that memories come and go. For  Facebook doubters, this was an example of the good that network can do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Storms, horses and squirrels

                Evacuations for Hurricane Florence are massive, and predictions frightening. I have good friends whose relatives are in the hospitality industry in the Outer Banks, and my friends are biting their nails, worried to the point of distraction. I too am worried about the thousands of people who will have to be moved. Every year these mass evacuations cause accidents and problems not directly related to the storms. And the storm damage—it can take years for an area to recover. So please join me in praying for those in the storm’s path.

And that includes animals Did you read the Misty of Chincoteague books as a child, about the wonderful wild horses of the Outer Banks? Things has changed since that day, and the horses have moved and changed, but they’re still there. I read today that they will be turned loose on their island—most are still so wild they would harm themselves if confined to a stall or barn during a wild storm. The horse caretakers all live on a farm near the horses favored habitat—a skeleton crew will stay, and the animals will have shelter but will also be free to roam. One person familiar with them said the horses know the places to go to be safe. One hopes—for the horses and for their caretakers.

If horses know about nature and weather changes, why not squirrels? A Facebook friend wrote that his facial hair always grows thicker as fall approaches. Someone else compared him to the squirrels, whose coats thicken. I have noticed bushier tails on squirrels lately. One afternoon I looked out at a tree and saw this strange creature hanging from a tree—like a hairy snake. Turns out it was an unusually long and furry tail on a squirrel—the actual critter was on the other side of the tree trunk and all I could see was that long tail.

I admit to being a bit like the squirrels. A sweater has felt good the last few mornings. It does help when the plumber tells you how good you look. My cottage obviously only has one commode, so when it isn’t usable, it’s a crisis of sorts. I called the plumbing company this morning, and they sent the man who has taken care of my house for years. I was not quite ready for company—no makeup, hair pretty rough—and he insisted I looked good. Then he confirmed it: ”There was a time or two there where I was really worried about you.” That elevated his compliment beyond mere words and made my day.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Downer of a day

The small, online writers group to which I belong has lost two in the last few days. I did not know Bob Spittler, except through comments of his wife, Connie, who wrote an artful and wonderful book, The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies. We all treasure Connie’s presence in our group and have been beside her as she and her daughters cared for Bob, her husband of sixty years. Although non-responsive, Bob hung on to life long enough to mark their anniversary September 6. A true mark of their mutual devotion.

Devorah (Debra) Winegarten died this morning of a fast-spreading malignancy. I didn’t know her a lot better, and yet I did. Debra was our powerhouse, the one who inspired the rest of us to try new marketing techniques, make outrageous requests, expect the moon and reach it. She was the original Energizer Bunny. Each week, we posted our modest list of goals for the week—Debra had goals upon goals. She never tired, and her joyful enthusiasm never wavered. Author, teacher, public speaker, publisher, she founded Sociosights Press, a nod to her training as a sociologist. Her goal was to publish books that would transform society, one book at a time.

Having fallen away from her faith and then rediscovered her Judaic heritage, she was passionate about Jewish beliefs and traditions, often saying with glee, “We Jews don’t believe in hell.” These last three months in hospice, she talked without flinching of her date with HaShem (a Jewish circumlocution to avoid saying the name of God). She was well aware that the date was in HaShem’s hands. Some of her books reflect both her Judaism and her humor, such as There’s Jews in Texas? or Where Jewish Grandmothers Come From. The daughter of Ruthe Winegarten, an outspoken pioneer in the fields of women in Texas and Jewish history in Texas, Debra also focused on Texas women with books to her credit on pilot Katherine Stinson and politician and women’s rights activist Oveta Culp hobby.

Perhaps the book she was most proud of was an award-winning title she published but did not write: Almost a Minyan, a wonderful children’s book with words by Lori S. Kline and charming drawings by Susan Simon. The book, designed for Jewish children from families devout to secular, tells children of the importance of sacred ritual along with the significance of remaining flexible.

As I read my words, they are stale and flat. There is almost no way to capture all that was Debra on paper. Larger than life, she filled any room she was in, any page that mentioned her, whether she was encouraging a shy writer or stirring up a pot of her classic chicken soup for someone who needed comfort.

Debra was devoted to her life’s heart partner, Cindy Huyser, and watching Cindy’s devotion and care these last three months make me think of the old saying. “We are all just walking each other home.” We’ve been proud to be by Cindy’s side as she walked. Debra’s home now. She’s with HaShem.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Thoughts on a rainy Saturday

I’m bored. Bored, I tell you! Bored, bored, bored. I had so looked forward to a rainy Saturday. The rain all morning was constant, though I saw scary pictures from around town. A nearby street known for restaurants, bars, and fun was ankle-deep in water that was running fairly fast. And a tragedy on the far east side of the city, where a woman and toddler were swept off the road into thirty feet of water. No way rescue could get to them. Imagine that. Thirty feet. I was glad to stay home, safe and dry, casting an occasional eye at the patio to be sure the water wasn’t threatening to come into the cottage.

Sophie periodically walked to the screen door and peered out, then turned away as if to say in disgust, “Still raining.” She, by the by, has developed the bad habit of wanting to go out between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. and last night it dawned on me she may not so much want to go out as she wants the bit of cheese she knows I reward her with if she comes right in. Last night she was by the refrigerator awfully quickly. Another reaffirmation of my decision to live in a cottage and not a high-rise retirement community.

I was so much looking forward to the day that I was up and at my computer by 7:30 this morning, enthusiastic about all I could accomplish today. And my goodness, have I accomplished a lot—wrote 1800 words, finished proofing the cookbook (and came to grips with the reality that I have to do an index of recipes), read a bit, followed the day’s happenings on Facebook—and napped, twice. Not because I was sleepy but because on a rainy dull day bed seemed like a good place to be. (Honest, I work out plots in my head when I’m dozing.)

Typical of my day: called my oldest son about 10:15 in the morning to discuss a financial matter. He was riding his bike—stationary I presume—and said his training session would be over in ten minutes and he’d call then. Texted at 2:00 inquire if he was still riding and wasn’t he tired yet. He called right away. Emailed my younger son with a computer question, and he answered promptly asking for more info that he needed to answer me. That’s the last I heard from him today. Suppose he fell asleep?

There comes a point when you’ve written all the words you have for the day, you really don’t want to start an index sort of late in the day, and the book you’re reading s good—but not that good. And that’s where I am—bored.

TV? I rarely watch, and tonight I’m afraid as a final insult added to injury football is going to take over the news slot. There is no justice in this world.

Do I feel silly complaining about boredom when I have my dog for company, my cozy cottage, a desk full of work to do? You bet I do. And it’s a rare confession from me. But tomorrow will be better.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Cooking with Mom

My mom has been gone thirty years, and yet she’s still in the kitchen with me. I’ve been proofreading my new cookbook—Gourmet on a Hot Plate, due out in November--and there are reminders of Mom on so many pages—recipes, household hints, etc.

I can’t tell you how many times she cautioned me that food is half eaten with the eye. She taught me to put a pinch of sugar in any tomato-based sauce to “round it off,” to put a splash of vinegar in the water when I boil eggs so they don’t leak out of the shell, to stick cloves of garlic in tiny slits in a roast before cooking it.

I still use her recipes (never written down) for things like wilted lettuce salad or devilled eggs or stuffed mushrooms or salmon patties—okay, I’ve varied that one a bit. Today I had diced tomatoes with butter and crushed saltines for lunch. Jordan’s immediate reaction was, “Yuck,” but she quickly added, “I’m happy for you if you like it.” I do. It’s comfort food my mom used to make.

Then in a bit Jordan asked me to add a certain brand of sweetener to the weekly grocery order, and as I did I thought how strange Mom would find that. She was an Adele Davis fan. Davis was a nutritionist, popular in the mid-20-century. Her basic approach was to stay fit through eating right—and that did not include additives, supplements, etc. It meant eat healthy, natural foods Mom would not understand a sweetener powder, because she would have used sugar. She would understand, as one family does not, my insistence on grating my own cheese—they don’t believe me that the pre-grated in the store has wood fiber to keep it from clumping. Don’t relay on me for that one—I got it straight from the cheese monger.

One of my favorite stories, handed down by Mom, involves the time my parents took a friend and me on a convention trip. In the hotel cafeteria, we girls ordered spinach, but Mom noticed Eleanor Lee wasn’t eating hers. She asked what the matter was, and Eleanor Lee wrinkled her nose and said, “I think it’s fresh.” We were used to canned spinach. Mom went off into one of her well-known laughter fits.

When I think about my kids, I realize how different their eating patterns are. One son’s wife is a representative of a line of prepared seasonings--she has mixes for everything from meatloaf and ranch dressing to apple pie. Much of it is delicious, though I can’t help worrying about preservatives.  Another son drinks far too many diet drinks, no matter how I lecture about the evils of aspartame and the looming specter of dementia. Jordan—and to some extent her sister—eschews carbs. There are several good, old-fashioned casseroles that she won’t eat because, you know, fattening.

I’m an old-fashioned cook, like my mom, and in these my golden years I sometimes long for the days when I cooked for a crowd (four kids is a crowd; add some relatives, and you’ve got a production). As I explain in the cookbook, I don’t want the newest gadgets—Insta Pot, air fryer, etc. To me, they just put a machine between me and the food. If I want to make a pot of soup, I’ll simmer it all day--I’m lucky I have the time to do that.

Here’s a recipe I long to make It would feed Coxey’s Army, but my local army won’t eat it.

Cheesy, creamy beef noodle casserole

6 oz. egg noodles

2 lb. ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped,

3 Tbsp. garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Sliced mushrooms – optional

1 can each – cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup

1 can corn, drained

1 c. grated cheddar (more of you wish)

1 sleeve buttery crackers (I use Ritz), crushed

½ stick butter

Cook egg noodles and set aside

Brown beef with garlic, salt and pepper, and mushrooms. Drain

Add noodles to beef mixture along with soups and corn. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

Mix crackers with one half stick butter, melted; distribute evenly on casserole.

Cook 30 minutes, uncovered, at 350. Enjoy! I never said it’s good for your waistline.

No, it’s not one of my mom’s recipes, but she’d have approved. Cooking with canned soups never bothered her at all.

Watch for the cookbook in November. Meantime, bon appetit! Okay, Julia I’m not.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Settling in to school routine

Musical Alters in Tomball

I am amused, bemused, whatever as my grandkids settle in to school for the year. The Tomball kids are both playing marching band instruments—I can only imagine what their household sounds like, but I may take earplugs next time I visit.

Sawyer with his broken elbow and wrist is keeping up in school by dictation—it’s his right hand, and he’s right-handed. His big recital is this weekend and of course he can’t play guitar—he’s reduced to singing back-up for four pieces.

But it’s the boys’ athletic record that intrigues me. Of four grandsons, I have two who are so far unscathed by athletic injuries; one who suffered a broken arm last year or the year before on the soccer field, and of course Sawyer with his shattered elbow due to a biking accident.

Of the two unscathed, Ford is playing basketball this season, which I consider relatively safe. But Jacob—oh, Jacob. Over my loud and frequent protests, his parents gave permission for him to go out for football. He’s in seventh grade, and that’s the first year they play tackle.
The two unscathed--can you see mischief in those faces?

My hip surgeon said to me in all seriousness, “Whatever you do keep him off the football field.” In the next breath, he added that soccer is almost as bad if a kid heads the ball—and Kegan does. So two to worry and wring my hands about.

So far, Jacob’s football involvement has been interesting. He has to be at practice at—heaven help us—6:20 in the morning, and he doesn’t get home until 4:30. The most conversation I usually get out of him is, “I’m sooo tired.” But it’s had an interesting effect on the family: Christian now goes to the gym most mornings—he hadn’t been fitting the gym into his schedule as much before. And Jordan reports that after she takes Jacob to school, she gets an enormous amount of deskwork done by nine a.m. All to the good.

My daughter has not only joined the booster club, but she has volunteered to be the mom who feeds the boys before games. She assures me it means arranging to have the food there, not personally fixing it, hauling it, etc. If anybody is organized and fit for such a job, it’s Jordan. But still, it’s a hassle, and I asked her one day why she took it on when she had so much else on her plate. Her answer floored me.

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Seventh grade was the worst year of my life. I want to be involved so that doesn’t happen to Jacob.”

Can you see the wave of guilt washing over me? I remember she had academic trouble—we had just transferred her to public from parochial school, the latter being a nightmare—and she was jumped by a bunch of girls in the john one day. But beyond that, the traumas of her year are lost to me, and I am now feeling like an inadequate mother.

No excuses, but at the time I was the single parent of four teenagers (she’s the youngest), and I had a full-time job plus a writing career I was trying to nourish. And I had a bit of a social life—not much, mind you, because that was an arena where my kids really did come first. But school? I didn’t like or have time for PTO or PTA or whatever they call it, and I think I pretty much sent my kids off in the morning, with as nourishing a breakfast as I could manage, and welcomed them home at night. They all worked after the age of fifteen, so we went a lot of separate ways. But in some dark corner of my mind I figured they were the school’s responsibility from nine to three or four or whatever.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of Jordan. She’s got the coach on speed dial, she can go anywhere in that school with her booster badge, people know her—and they know who her kid is, even other kids. It’s a great thing she’s doing for Jacob. Too late for a do-over for me, but all four turned out all right, and I can applaud and support them. Will you join me in clapping?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Finally exasperated

Okay, friends and neighbors. I have reached the breaking point. I’m going to do something I vowed I would never do. I’m going to block or unfriend some people on Facebook over politics. I had hoped for reasonable discussion, but it’s not there.

I am tired to death of statistics when talking about police brutality. One death of an unarmed black boy is one too many, and statistics will never convince me otherwise. When I mention the Chicago policeman who fired I think 14 times into a boy already down and writhing in the streets, statistics don’t matter a darn. We have a police brutality problem. The majority of officers are dedicated to doing their duty, dispensing justice fairly, but we have too many who are rogue, whose sense of power is inflated by the badge and the gun.

When a Supreme Court nominee turns in obvious horror from the father of a Parkland murder victim, I do not want to hear that it is was the wrong time, the wrong place. How good would your judgment be if you lost a child to random gun violence? It was a moment for compassion, not one to recoil as though a leper tried to touch him.

I am tired of people who make sweeping generalizations (All Democrats are anarchists) without any knowledge or basis of fact. Don’t they read newspapers, watch anything but Fox? .Do they really believe Beto is a thug and a punk rocker?

I am tired of people who can support trump in spite of the atrocities of his administration, the corruption, the obvious incompetence.

I watched a clip of Beto on the Ellen Show today—he praised her for representing the qualities he wants in America; kindness and joy, caring for others. I too want those things. I don’t want to live in a country ruled by old white men without hearts or souls, without an ounce of compassion.

These things I am not: burning for open borders for our country—what an idiotic accusation, and yet its been flung my way. We need immigration control, and everyone recognizes it. It’s just that we need a reasonable system that is not based on race, creed or quotas. I don’t want to abolish ICE—some branches do good work. I do want to curb and perhaps abolish the branch that deports people willynilly, whether they’re guilty or not, and tears families apart, locks children in cages. I don’t want to murder small children, but I do want to let women decide what to do with their own bodies, not that same bunch of old white men. I want to do away with whatever authority allows banks to freeze people’s accounts until they prove their citizenship.

Peace, my friends, and go about your lives with joy and kindness. I’m still going to speak out. I just won’t hear some voices—and they won’t hear mine. Just as well.

An Uncertain Reputation

If you watched the service at the National Cathedral for the late Senator John McCain you no doubt saw former President George W. Bush sneaking candy to Michele Obama under the bemused glance of Laura Bush. It was a touching moment and typical of the relationship that seems to have developed between the former president and former first lady. Barack Obama, Mr. Cool, remained aloof, uninvolved in that moment.

A columnist (whose extreme pseudonym I can’t remember) recently wrote that we are in danger of making George W. a treasured national figure, a sort of charming grandfather possibly in the way that Jimmy Carter is considered. We must never, the writer warned, dismiss the atrocities of Bush’s presidency. Of the Michelle/George W. relationship, he wrote that the Obamas were forced into encounters with the Bushes and are skilled at putting the best spin on things. Hogwash! The Obamas are definitely skilled at polite but distant encounters and that is not one—there is genuine affection between those two.

That affection is one of the things that gives me pause. I too have noted the growing public affection for Mr. Bush and tried to put it in perspective. I was a strong critic of the Bush presidency, and I struggle to reconcile today’s man with the one responsible for the hasty invasion of the wrong country after 9/11, the false claims of weapons of mass destruction, the sanction of torture, the terrible loss of life on both sides of the Iraq War, the disaster of Katrina—wasn’t there a tax cut for the wealthy in there too? How can such a man become a national treasure? (There looms in my mind the unanswered question of how much he originated and how much Dick Cheney was responsible for—wish someone would write that book if they haven’t already.)

For starters, there’s George’s relationship with Michelle, which has done much to humanize him. Then, he’s done what former presidents probably should do—stayed under the radar, content with his paining and, presumably, his granddaughters. When he does emerge into the spotlight, he does so as a wise elder statesman, speaking the words of wisdom and patriotism we all long to hear these days.

Is that enough? For me, his transformation, if that is what it is, poses the old question of how much influence the media has on us. When Bush was president, he represented power, he was at the top of his game, he was a fair target and the media delighted in exposing his worse moments (“Good job, Brownie”); now that he’s settled into a senior statesman role, there’s not so much to write about or criticize

Frankly during his presidency, I wouldn’t have given you a fig for the reputation of any of the Bushes. Papa George was sort of ineffectual, wasn’t he? And he used to make those glaring gaffs in speeches—I remember laughing hysterically at an after-dinner speaker who carved a whole talk out of “Bushisms.” And Barbara—she wasn’t really the sweet grandmother she seemed, was she? In reality, she was harsh and demanding, wasn’t she?.

But by the time of Barbara Bush’s funeral, the entire family had become a national treasure. I wonder now if, out of power, the family quietly went about doing their thing. Maybe we’re the ones who changed, whose attitudes changed. And did the media lead us by the nose? The Bushes in tragedy—the death of Barbara—were once again good copy.

As you can tell, I haven’t sorted out my thoughts on this. I met George W. once, for two seconds, when he was governor of Texas. There was a reception for authors at the Governor’s Mansion, in connection with the annual Book Festival. Laura, crisply efficient in a pantsuit, greeted arrivals. She and I were chatting about a book I was doing on extraordinary women of Texas when her husband walked up. She introduced him, and he shook hands and ducked his head like a shy schoolboy. He looked as though he’d just pulled a wrinkled shirt out of the dryer.

I liked that George W. Bush, and I like the one I see with Michelle today. I’m not sure I can forget—and I know I can never forgive—the George W. who was president. It’s a conundrum.