Sunday, October 13, 2019

Who are the Kurds?

With the Turkish offensive in northern Syria, the internet s full not only of news of fighting and atrocities—beheadings being live-streamed to social media, a senior woman Kurdish politician pulled from her car and executed—but beguiling pictures of Kurdish children. They are wide-eyed, curly-haired, charming. Yes, it’s a form of propaganda, but it worked with me. I was charmed and spent some time this morning exploring the internet to find out who these people are and, if possible, why Russia and Turkey are determined to wipe them out.

This is sort of a primer for me, a simplification of what I found online. Wiser heads will no doubt find errors and misinterpretations, but maybe this will help others begin to understand what’s happening.

In my mind, I think I equated the Kurdish with Europe’s Gypsies—people without a country. Although they are racially closer to Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, the Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a country. And that is part of today’s problem.

The Kurdish number between thirty and fifty million worldwide, with the highest concentration (about thirty million) in southwest Asia in an area known as Kurdistan, a mountainous terrain located in parts of Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. There are Kurdish communities in Istanbul as well as diaspora communities in Germany, America, and other countries. The focus today is on those people in the Asian mountains. They have their own strong culture and their own language, but they are usually bilingual, often fluent in Arabic. Islam is the predominant religion, although Kurds follow several other religions. A minority are Christian.  

Betrayal runs through Kurdish history, including from western nations that have promised protection. A treaty signed after WWI created a Kurdish state but was cancelled three years later when the boundaries of Turkey were drawn without regard to the Kurdish state. They are historically a minority in whatever country they occupy, a fact that has led before to genocide and rebellions. Throughout the twentieth century the Kurdish people have fought for their culture and for the creation of a Kurdish state, despite the fact that their host countries seem determined to wipe them out. Because militant Kurds support force to backup nationalism, Turkey has declared the Kurds along its southern border “terrorists” and sees them as a military threat. Turkey wants to control a narrow strip of land on that border now held by the Kurds (at least until last week).

And yes, Kurdish forces fought alongside the Allies in WWII and more recently alongside U.S. forces to defeat Isis in the 21st-century conflict known as the Syrian civil war, in which the U.S. and its allies, including Russia, supported Syria in its defense against Isis and the militant forces of Iraq.

So why now are we reading that the Russians bombed four Syrian hospitals? Why are they in the mess? They claim they are supporting the regime of Syrian president Beshar Al-Assad, who inherited the presidency from his father in 2000; his father ascended to the presidency through a coup in 1971. A democracy this is not.

Russians insist they are fighting terrorists. In fact a Russian general used the same unfortunate description for the Kurds that a Texas sheriff spouted last week from the White House about Mexican immigrants: They’ll run over your children. Of all the things I worry about, immigrants running over my children--or grandchildren—is low on the list. Experts in international relations suspect, not surprisingly, that Putin’s reasons are much more complicated and self-serving. The politics are so convoluted, I won’t begin to try to sort them out here.

The saddest picture on the net: a small Syrian boy, about three, obviously injured and in distress, said, “I am going to tell God everything.” They were his last words.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The old lady in the mirror

Mushroom soup
Routine mammogram the other day. As usual, they sat me in  tiny dressing room to wait my turn, and the tech gave me the simple instructions all ladies have heard countless times. After she left, I turned to Jordan who was with me and said, “There’s an old lady in that mirror.” She laughed and said, “You were staring at the mirror the whole time that woman was talking to you.”

Indeed I was—staring in horror. I have always prided myself, vainly perhaps, on neither looking nor feeling my advanced age. But there I was staring at this woman with thinning gray hair plastered to her head—where was my comb and what happened to blond me? I had great bags under my eyes and sort of sallow skin. Plus of course, those wrinkles.

“I look like my Aunt Alice,” I wailed, which set Jordan to giggling again.

“It’s a fake mirror, designed to make you look old. Maybe I should see how I look.” She stood up, back to me, and stared in the mirror for a long time. Then, with an impish grin, she turned around and said, “I look pretty good.”

Thereafter ever time she caught me looking, she’d giggle and offer to change seats with me. Truly, there was no other place for me to look. The blasted mirror was about four feet in front of me in that small room.

I swore I didn’t look like that when I left the cottage, and I vowed to go home and check my mirror. At home, I did look better, but the lighting is different, softer. Now I worry about how I really look to others in the daylight. Maybe I’ll just wear dark glasses all the time. The pouches truly are hereditary from my dad’s side of the family.

To top it off, the tech was too solicitous. In truth, she was pleasant, talkative, and concerned. But she repeated things in a deliberate loud, slow voice and kept reassuring me I did fine. What’s to do wrong in a mammogram? Maybe she took a clue from the receptionist who checked us in and talked almost exclusively to Jordan after I confessed that I didn’t remember to bring my insurance card. And some money fell out of my purse, which led Jordan to ask why I had loose money in my purse, and I replied I didn’t have a clue. Guess I was marked as doddering right then and there.

Tonight I redeemed myself, I hope, by fixing dinner for a friend—a goat cheese/pesto appetizer, homemade mushroom soup, small dinner salads. So good. The soup was an experiment and involved both my small food processor and my immersion blender, but I finally got it close to the velvety texture the recipe specified. For dessert, I offered Trader Joe’s cookie butter. When I read about it, I asked Jordan what you ate it with, and she replied, “A spoon.” Tonight my friend tried it on a baguette slice and said it was much like peanut butter. I gave the rest of the jar to Jordan.

It’s a joy to me to prepare such a meal for a friend, and even the fixing is a joy—okay, maybe not chopping the onion and garlic—but the rest of it, making it come out right even if I have to use blender and processor (I have hand washed a lot of dishes tonight), planning the menu, finding I had hearts of palm to add to the salad, deciding to add a dollop of sour cream to the soup when serving. It’s all fun and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Tonight I cooked for a friend of over forty years. Our ex-husbands were colleagues in medicine, and we stayed in touch, sporadically, over the years after our respective divorces. Though she’s recently had major surgery, she remains a person of happy disposition with a good sense of humor, and I thoroughly enjoy her company. We differ on our opinions about trump, but I tried to soft-peddle it when it came up tonight. That means I was not my usual vociferous self. Where, I wonder, do I draw the line between passionate loyalty to our beleaguered country and friendship of long standing.

This old lady in the mirror is signing off. Sweet dreams, everyone.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Winter, chili—and sunshine?

A lifetime in costume jewelry spread out for sorting
We were so prepared for winter last night when it was still ninety degrees. Jordan envisioned chili for dinner, but chef Christian said he refused to cook chili when it was still so hot. Since it was to be rainy and cold today, Jordan ran out and did some grocery shopping yesterday and decreed today would be a stay-at-home-in-your-jammies kind of day. So I had my mind all set for a long, dark and dreary rainy day. Sophie made a hurried trip outside and was back in her crate, where she spent much of the morning gently snoring. A comforting sound.

I spent the morning working at my desk, with my prayer shawl warming my shoulders, even though I had the heat on and kept the patio doors closed. But when I looked up at noon, the sun was shining brightly—still a bit chilly, but so much for rainy and cold. Winter didn’t last very long.

We should be grateful though. In Denver, yesterday, it dropped 64 degrees within 24 hours (naw, there’s no climate change). My oldest granddaughter is in school in Boulder, and her family is visiting her this weekend—I suspect it’s parents weekend or some such. At any rate, I hope they bundled up well.

Tonight, Jordan is getting the pot of chili she wanted last night, but supper will be late. Christian rarely gets home before six and then it takes him a while to make chili. So Jordan unexpectedly busied herself going through old jewelry of mine that had been stashed away. I thought it was from boredom, but it turns out she was looking for an orange necklace to wear to a watch party for the UT/OU game tomorrow. She had already rejected the one orange shirt I own. To my mind, orange is not a flattering color, and I laughed that she thought she would find an orange necklace.

She got caught up in the task, sorting necklaces I haven’t worn in years, earrings without mates, strings of pearls that we couldn’t identify, strange pins that obviously came from clubs or groups of one kind of another. She found three Scottish thistle pins, which she promptly allocated to her sister and Melanie, the Scottish DIL. I don’t suppose I’d wear them, but I thought she might leave me one. She had fun texting her siblings pictures of her finds—a pair of pearl drop earrings elicited from Megan the sarcastic comment that she had been looking for years for a pair just like that. A ring with SAE on it went to Colin—no response yet.

In my working days I was a jewelry freak—big showy necklaces, earrings, and lots of rings. Somehow in retirement I put all that behind me. My hairstyle hides any earrings (I never did successfully pierce my ears and always wore clip-ons), necklaces were just too much trouble, and my fingers seemed to swell so that rings were uncomfortable. Today my fingers are slimmer again, and a friend just urged me to start wearing rings again. Jordan unearthed tonight the old pawn turquoise ring that belonged to her Uncle Bob and that I wore every day. I’m tempted to start wearing it again.

What started as an idle search has now turned into a full-scale obsession. Jordan has gone through several small jewelry boxes, moved on to her home safe, and is talking about looking at the safety deposit box at the bank.

Meanwhile, I’m hungry. Hope the chili is ready soon

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Today’s trivia

Tomato plants in bloom
Today’s trivia because nothing significant happened today.

My tomato crop: I have a little desktop plant system—not a greenhouse, but three little pots with a grow-light that is on most of the day but off for specified periods of time, which seem to change as days go by. In the middle of the night, it lights up the cabin like broad daylight. I’ve grown lettuce in it—a medium success—and basil, which was a whopping success. I made a big batch of pesto from the first cutting of basil and have a small but respectable second cutting coming up.

First tomato harvest
But lately—for at least a couple of months—I’ve been growing tomatoes. Tiny, tiny tomatoes. I was surprised by lots of blooms, delighted by tiny green things. It took them forever to ripen. Meanwhile the vines grew out of hand and threatened to take over my desk. So today I harvested and meant to discard the plants. I suggested to Zenaida, who was here to clean my house, that she throw them in the back of the yard where they would compost naturally and provide nutrients for some of the bushes. But she wanted to plant them, so she found a pot with something that had given up the fight, pulled the dead plant out, and planted my three plants, which were more yellow than green. I kind of doubt they’ll survive the transition from indoors to outdoors, but we’ll see.

Second tomato harvest
Meanwhile, I have these tiny tomatoes, which really don’t have a lot of flavor. I think I’ll grow more basil next, or maybe oregano which I’d like to have. But for a while, I’m going to have a few less bushes on my desk. And I have a lifetime supply of dried oregano leaves in the freezer, the result of not being smart about ordering spices in bulk.

I was so sorry to read that former President Jimmy Carter fell, blackened his eye, and required stitches. But as a recent fall survivor myself, I was glad to have someone so praiseworthy join my company. Of course, he’s a tad older than I am, and he’s fallen twice within recent months. Jimmy, my advice is that you get a walker. I do admire him so much though—within hours of his trip to the ER, he and Rosalind were at a country music benefit for Habitat for Humanity. As a couple, they have built homes and done so much good for people across the world. What a stark contrast to the man squatting in the White House now who pled bone spurs to get out of service.

I went to a breakfast gathering of the Book Ladies this morning, and once again it was difficult for me. When two or three conversations are swirling around me, I simply cannot focus on anyone, no matter how good my hearing aids are. I love those ladies and long to be a part of their group. Today one treasured friend I haven’t seen in a long time was talking about the changes brought about by new ownership of Barnes & Noble, where she works part time. I probably got about half of what she said, but it all sounded good. It’s hard for me these days to pull myself out of bed early for these meetings and then disappointing not to be able to hear. And it got my morning of work off to a late start. So I may have to rethink that.

Tonight, happy hour with a neighbor and my Canadian daughter and her husband—she is a former neighbor. Our neighbor across the street promised wine and a snack, but I felt I should have something so invented a dip at the last minute—Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, buttermilk, blue cheese, lime juice, garlic powder, and finely chopped green onion. Not bad if I do say so. Margaret brought some Brazil-bites—light bread/cheese tiny things, but so good. And a chocolate nut mix that I talked her into leaving. No dinner for me tonight.

My distress at our national situation continues, with the White House forbidding people to testify for Congress and the Attorney General saying if Watergate happened today, he would not provide evidence to Congress. We are indeed held hostage by a corrupt regime. The Founding Fathers intended the Congress to be part of a system of checks and balances, but I fear that won’t work today. I shudder at the word revolution and wonder what form it would take. God help us avoid violence in our streets but also help us get rid of the people who now seemed to be exploiting the American system for their own benefit—and destroying democracy. There are many in Congress—Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff—devoted to saving our democracy, and I pray for them.

Monday, October 07, 2019

An accidental experiment and other trivia

Last night I accidentally performed a little social media experiment. I posted a blog—nothing spectacular, just cheeseburger soup (so good on the first cool night, even though cool hadn’t yet quite hit), some thoughts that struck me in church yesterday, and comments on a church Connection luncheon we went to. The point was to connect with other members, and I thought it a great idea. Anyway, today I did not get one like nor one comment, and I guess I’ve gotten spoiled and used to feedback.

So I checked. I had neglected to put the post on Facebook. If you want to read it you can find it at But it demonstrates to me that a big part of my audience is on Facebook. In Sisters in Crime and other groups, there’s always debate about the usefulness of Facebook, but one comforting bit of social media advice I like is to do what is comfortable for you. So I have given up trying to master Instagram and I don’t do much other than post on Twitter, but I am really vocal on Facebook—and that includes occasional advertising in the form of “boosting” posts. So my experiment kind of confirmed what I do.

Another bit of cyberspace wisdom I picked up yesterday; two friends said they had tried to order So Far from Paradise and were told it was unavailable. So I ordered a free sample as a test—no problem. Then I called Amazon. It seems you cannot always order all books from an iPhone of iPad app. So my advice to readers: if you try that and get word the book you want is unavailable, order it from your computer. As an author, I wonder how many sales lots of us have lost because that fact isn’t commonly known.

Not much spectacular today, except that I got a routine dental appointment out of the way. Dentistry brings out my anxiety, and I tried to explain it to the hygienist: when I was a young teen, I had lots of cavities (poor enamel inherited from my dear father, whom I otherwise loved a lot). Our dentist was an uncle (by adoption if not blood), a taciturn man who scared me. Plus dentistry sixty-five or so years ago was not as smooth as it is today, and I still have a real dental phobia. So grateful that Jordan drove me and picked me up, that Stephanie the hygienist is such a good soul, and that my teeth are good enough the cleaning was brief, and I got a clean bill of health.

My day ended with a most pleasant happy hour with friends—one of those small world situations. I honestly thought we met on Facebook but Mary Kay Hughes tells me years ago she and her mother came to a reading group I conducted through TCU’s Community Education programs. But we also have our church and our politics in common, plus she works with Christian, and her husband proved to share all our convictions and more knowledge than I had about some of them. An evening of lively and interesting discussion.

I am heartsick tonight about withdrawal of troops from Syria and the almost instant bombing by Turkey, though I don’t think we know the truth of the situation yet. What does seem clear is that the orange one, he of “great wisdom,” let himself be hornswoggled again. He has not the faintest idea of the cost in human lives—ours and Kurdish—of his impulsive acts and lack of negotiating ability. But I won’t belabor the point—it’s all over the internet, and we will have to let the true facts sort themselves out. Tonight, my prayers for the Kurdish people and for our troops in the region.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Could Fall really be here?

Not the world's best picture because it's what was left in the pot
after four servings and two 'to go" dishes but
you get an idea of he richness
The cold front isn’t exactly here but the air is much cooler already tonight. In my corner of Fort Worth, we got only sprinkles of rain—missed the showers that were all around us, but we’re ever hopeful that they’ll hit us tomorrow.

Tonight, anticipating that cold front even if it was in the 90s today, I made a pot of cheeseburger soup—hearty and good. All the things that make cheeseburgers good—ground beef, cheese (Velveeta, but you can use that occasionally), onions—plus some extras—celery, carrots, potatoes, chicken broth. I meant to make a half recipe but was far into it when I realized I was making the whole thing. We shall have plentiful leftovers all week.

Christian and I went to church this morning, while Jordan stayed home with Jacob who is not feeling well. But she met us for a lunch at the church—no agenda, no program, just a chance to visit. They called it a Connection luncheon, an apt term. We “connected” with people I knew slightly but never had really visited with. Made some small world connections, such as the woman I used to see at Lily B. pickup, when I went for Jacob, is the mother of a neighbor we all know. Good times.

This is the beginning of the church’s capital campaign, but Dr. Peterman, our senior minister, changed the focus with his sermon. Instead of telling us the pitiful stories of how much the church needs to continue its programs, especially outreach into the world, he talked about generosity as it benefits the giver and urged us all to live generously and appreciatively. “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘thank you,’ it’s enough,” he said.

As I sat in the sanctuary this morning, with the glorious music and rich traditions, I was indeed grateful to be there. It strikes me that an organized religion two thousand years old with billions of devoted followers around the globe, a religion based on love, will always triumph over the selfishness, greed, corruption, and, too often, perversion of Christianity we see around us in our country today. Our people are steadfast.

I don’t think this is a Christian thing either, although Christianity to me is most relevant today. Judaism in its pure form reflects a respect for the law that is sadly missing in some of our leaders today. And contrary to the distortions we are fed, many Middle Eastern religions—Muslim, principally—are built on kindness and concern for others. With a great body of believers, we will hold on, and perhaps one day achieve a measure of peace.

I haven’t really said that very well, but it was for me a powerful thought, and this morning was not the first time it came to me.

Peace, my friends. Be of good faith.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

A major family crisis—and I slept through it

The Cavaliers--Cricket is the black and white one
They are inseperable

This morning when I raised the blind in my kitchen door, I noticed that the cars in the driveway were all rearranged. I knew Jordan and Christian has been to a big do last night—the American Cancer Society’s Cowtown Ball—and they planned to Uber home. So why were the cars moved? Then I booted my computer and got a chilling message, “Cricket missing. Plz watch for notices on neighborhood newsletter.”

Cricket is the older of their two beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a placid girl of ten years or more who would never bolt out to explore the world the way Sophie would. But Cricket could wander sort of without knowing what she was doing or where she was going. Still, this morning, the house was quiet, so I figured she was home and safe. In fact, I thought she was probably in some hidden corner of the  house and they just hadn’t searched hard enough. I lost Jacob that way once when he was still a toddler—and after a neighbor and I searched the house and called and called, I had the phone in hand to call the police when I saw him under the dining table.

No such luck with Cricket. Turns out they came home about midnight and sat on the front porch for a nightcap, letting the dogs wander in and out because they had gates across the two sets of stairs. Cricket had apparently slipped by the gate and was gone. There ensued frantic phone calls and driving around the neighborhood. No sign of her. Jordan spent much of the night siting on the front lawn, sobbing, as she waited for Cricket to come home. Got to say Cricket, like our other two dogs, has no street sense, no car sense, and probably couldn’t find her way home from next door.

About five this morning, they got a text. Some good Samaritans had picked her up at the school across the street and taken her home, about a mile away. Christian went to fetch her at ten, and when I saw her Cricket looked blasé, like “What’s the fuss about?”

Of course, that threw the day off. Jordan and Christian were both exhausted from lack of sleep and worry. The errands we planned to do were first postponed to late afternoon and then cancelled. I did go pick up groceries from curbside at Central Market, but I am still in urgent need, of all things, of a block of Velveeta.

But at 9:30, the house is dark, and I assume everyone is sleeping. Jacob missed the excitement because he stayed over at a friend’s house. And that’s another story. At 8:30 last night I let him walk about six blocks to the friend’s house, though he was met halfway. I knew he was safe, because I talked to him after he got there, but I am of the school where you don’t walk alone after dark. It’s a hangover from growing up on the south side of Chicago. So at three a.m., when Jordan and Christian were searching for Cricket, I was lying awake beset with guilt for letting Jacob do something dangerous.

I am clearly too old for all this trauma. May everyone have a peaceful sleep and sweet dreams.

Friday, October 04, 2019

The good, the bad, and let’s not talk about it

Jacob’s school had something called Color Blast today. It means for a few minutes eighth graders can run around and throw packets of color powder at each other. Sounds like fun, no? No. Not to me, but he reported he had a blast, and he sure looks like one happy kid, although he was looking forward to a long, hot shower.

For me it’s been a couple of good-and-bad days. You ever have a day when you just don’t feel quite right? That was me yesterday. I woke in the night feeling queasy, sat up, and coughed a lot to make the feeling go away. Sophie was so concerned that she came and stayed on the bed for a while. Then she apparently decided I would survive and went back to her safe spot—her crate.

Yesterday, food didn’t interest me, and I didn’t eat much. My stomach was just a tad off, not even enough to say I didn’t feel well, and I had just the tiniest twinge of a headache—nothing worth complaining about. I did what I needed to do at my desk to get the day started—checking emails, clearing up some details on small projects. But work on my manuscript? Nah. I wasn’t there.

The good? I blew off most of the day and lost myself in a mystery novel by Susan Wittig Albert—one of many China Bayles mysteries I missed when it first came out. Reading a China Bayles novel is, for me, like visiting old friends. I know the people, I know the community, and I’m quickly drawn into whatever is happening to them. This was Nighshade, a novel that involves deep corporate corruption, murder disguised as accidents and suicide, an old family problem. I was thoroughly engrossed and hated to come to the end, though I admired the way Albert worked in personal growth for China. Not a bad way to spend an off day.

Today I felt much better, attacked the editing of my manuscript with enthusiasm, and think I made a bit of progress on the first chapter—making the chronology clearer, tying together threads of the story. This is nonfiction, so I don’t have the leeway I would in a novel. We’ll see if it keeps getting better.

But then there was supper. I found a lamb chop in the back of a lower shelf of the freezer—no idea how long it had been there, but I thought I could rescue it. Sautéed it in butter while I made a salad of avocado, tomato, blue cheese, lemon, and just a splash of olive oil. When the lamb chop was done, I squirted some anchovy paste into the pan with the butter and juices and poured it over the chop. Looked forward to a really good supper.

It wasn’t. The flavor of the lamb chop was medium—certainly not the best I’ve ever had but okay. But the darn thing was so tough I couldn’t cut or chew it. I finally dumped it. The avocado salad, however, was delicious.

So now the weekend looms, with grocery shopping, cooking, church—this Sunday we’ve signed up for a church luncheon, billed as “Connection.” I’ve been wanting to be more visible as a longtime member of the church, so this is a good opportunity.

And with up and down days, I remain transfixed by the antics in our government. In spite of that, I think life is good. Hope you think that too.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Good food and more heart-wrenching moments


Always a joy to go to the Star Café. Friends Betty and Don Boles have owned the Stockyards restaurant for years, and for a few years around the turn of this century, I ran the cash register on Saturday nights. Now I go occasionally for the food and the atmosphere—and, of course, the company. The food—best chicken fried steak in Fort Worth, bar none. I never ate the stuff until I went to the Star and now I love it—but only here. It’s crispy, and flavorful, and tender. Tonight I split a steak and a baked potato with Betty, and had a small salad with their house-made ranch dressing—best ever. The steaks are also darn good, and even the hamburgers are hard to beat.

Atmosphere is funky western, though Don probably wouldn’t like that description. Lots of neon beer signs, walls covered with Texas memorabilia and signed photographs, tables covered with checkered tablecloths, scarred wooden floor. This is one of the oldest continually operating restaurants in Tarrant County. And rumors say it’s haunted—I even wrote a short story about a ghost seen there from time to time.

In reality, no ghosts. Just a lot of North Side folks and some others, ranging from friends from our church to “characters” of the North Side and everyone in-between. A warm, comforting mix of people, always friendly, always helpful. Tonight I was with Betty and our friend Jean, and we sat in the front window where we could watch the world go by on Exchange Avenue. A cowboy came and sat on the bench outside, playing his guitar—alas, we couldn’t hear it. Sometimes you can watch a mounted policeman patrol the streets. And Betty and Don love to invite “greenhorns” to come watch the Longhorn herd parade down the street. Then they take the greenhorns back to the Star for lunch.

Correction: Last night I referred to Amy Guyger, but even as I did, it sounded wrong. Still I had found the name that way on the internet. It is, of course, Amber Guyger, and today was another highly charged emotional day. Guyger’s mother took the stand, a woman so broken by grief that she could barely talk and mostly simply answered with, “Yes, ma’am,” while dabbing at her eyes with  crumpled tissue.

The most emotional moment came after the sentence of ten years was delivered. The younger brother of Botham Jean, the murdered man, took the stand and quoted John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Then, with remarkable grace, this young man—eighteen I believe—asked the judge’s permission to walk across the courtroom and hug the woman convicted of murdering his brother. It’s hard to imagine such grace of spirit, but I hope it sets a pattern for those who continue to cry out for justice. The prosecutor spoke and said the jury has done its duty; justice has been served. It’s what our system of government is all about.

And a moment of trivia: I promise I won’t come up with a new word every day, but I came across one today I couldn’t resist. Cockwomble: a foolish or obnoxious person. You may apply it to whoever you wish.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

A sad night

During the day I squirreled away a couple oh-so-clever items to blog about tonight, like my miniscule crop of tiny, tiny tomatoes from my unruly plants on my desktop green house. Or I could tell you about the birthday dinner I had tonight, with three friends—lots of laughter and a bit of commiserating about the difficulties of aging. But my heart is too heavy tonight for trivia, and aging seems a blessing denied to many.

A Paschal high school student died at noon today because he was racing his car against a friend, lost control, and hit a tree. On a street that I travel often, the route I took to work for years. Somehow, we don’t expect these things to happen close to home. I do not know the boy’s identity, but the horror increased when I heard that tomorrow is his sixteenth birthday, and the car in which he died--a Mustang—was his birthday present. I cannot stop thinking about that family whose child is not coming home tonight. Jacob will go to Paschal in another year, which also brings it closer to home. How do we build a protective bubble around our children?

I grieve too for Bothran Jean, who left us some time ago, and for his family and for Amy Guyger who shot him and who today was convicted of murder. I watched TV for a while just after the verdict was announced, and it was wrenching. What she, a police officer, did was so wrong that there is no comprehending. Jean was in his apartment, eating ice cream—the only thing he did wrong was to leave his door ajar. She entered, thinking she was in her own apartment a floor below, and shot him, out of fear for her life, she says. I presume, as a police officer coming off duty and still in her gear, she had other ways to subdue a threat, but she shot to kill.

As the prosecutor said today, there’s a strong lesson there for police officers, a lesson about deadly force that should be a cautionary tale for so many police officers across the country. I was sad that supporters of Bothran Jean’s family made it into a racial issue, though the tones of racism were always there—she is white, he was black. But it seems to me this is more a police training and brutality issue than a racial one, though perhaps in our society today the two are so intertwined as to be inseparable. But like the teenage driver, Bothran Jean will not be coming home to his family—ever.

The judge allowed the castle theory defense for Ms. Guyger which seemed really out of whack to me. She wasn’t defending her “castle,” which was one story below. She was invading his castle. Still I thought she might be convicted of manslaughter. When the murder conviction came back, I felt a wave of sympathy for her, awful as what she did was. I could imagine, seeing the shock on her face, that she was desperately wishing that this was a bad dream from which she would wake up. But it wasn’t. She will pay a stiff price—from five to 99 years—for the grief that she had brought to two families and to a community and a city.

As a good friend of mine says, there’s a world of hurt out there. Be gentle with one another, my friends. None of us can see around the next corner in our lives.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Of dreams and final exams

There it was again, that dream that I’ve had so often. It hasn’t come for quite some time, but last night it came again. I’m in college, but I haven’t been going to class—indeed, don’t know how to find the classroom for whatever subject is involved. Of course, I haven’t been studying or keeping up. The dream takes several forms—sometimes I’m taking a class I despise, like paleontology. Sometimes it’s a subject I’m fairly good at but would still need to do the assignments. It always ends with my assuring myself that I already have a college degree, and I don’t need these credits. I’m told it’s the almost the most common recurring dream for many adults.

Last night’s version was a bit different. I knew I had a doctorate in English, but I wanted to teach, so I was back in school taking philosophy, English and French. I had to spend all my time on a thick, dense philosophy book, so I ignored English and French, subjects I’ve always been good at. There are several flaws in this dream: I never wanted to teach, because while I’m pretty good at leading workshops, I’m lousy at regular classroom presentations. I’ve done enough teaching at the college level in my day to know that I don’t shine in the classroom. But I wouldn’t need to go back to school if I wanted to teach—I have the qualifications already. So where did this come from?

Psychologists are reluctant to offer firm theories about dream interpretation, but off the record some suggest that this dream is typical of type A personalities, people with strong ambition and drive who like to be in control, feel a sense of urgency, and value success (guilty!). The dream is likely to come in times of stress, when the dreamer is afraid of not meeting a certain goal (guilty again!).

I would tell you there’s no stress in my life, but that’s not true. I suspect I live in a state of perpetual stress. Right now, the fact that I’m not enjoying driving my car and dread outings where I must drive alone is stressing me, but I can push that to the back of my mind. More prominent, and I recognize it, is stress over my current work-in-progress, the history of a major Texas ranch and the family who owned it for 165 years.

I finished a first draft, getting all the facts, the chronology, the timeline in order. The result is a manuscript that is much shorter than my editor wants, and when I read it, all I could think was “vanilla, it’s plain vanilla.” I know, from working with this editor before, what I must do—I have to go back and interject my storytelling skills, insert fictional scenes and dialogue to make it lively and readable. Of course, that horrifies historians, so I’m caught betwixt and between. But I will go back and begin editing all over again. I just keep procrastinating, and it weighs on my mind. Right now, I’m doing the easy stuff—reading for typos and repetition (gosh, there’s a lot of that) and stylistic inconsistencies. But I’m going to have to buckle down and get serious.

It’s easy to procrastinate these days, what with the national turmoil. I would say I spent a large portion of the morning reading about the latest developments, the latest intrigue—and posting responses online. Last night, a friend who is a political activist said to me, “Keep your opinions coming. They’re valuable.” I hope she’s happy today, because so many things I read about trump and Barr and Giuliani cried out to be shared, information that any intelligent voter needs to know. We live in perilous times, and I think the most important factor is an informed public—some will scoff and cry “fake news,” but the tide has turned.

Tomorrow I’ll get serious about that book.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Becoming my mother and thoughts on someone else’s long marriage….

They say we women all become our mothers as we age. When my mom got older, she had a series of strokes which affected her ability to think clearly. One little result of that bothered me a lot—her clothes were always spotted. You could tell what Mom had for lunch by looking at her outfit. I swore I would never get there, but today I happened to look down at the T-shirt I sleep in. You can count how many times I’ve brushed my teeth by the drips of toothpaste! And then there’s that spot of marinara.

Another clothing faux pas. I wore what I thought was a cute, coordinated outfit to church this morning. As a matter of fact I also wore it to dinner last night. A turquoise-and-gray top, with gray pants and gray shoes. Imagine my surprise when we got home at noon and I looked down in broad, full daylight only to discover that my pants, far from gray, were blue. I asked Jordan why she didn’t tell me, and she said she didn’t notice. Maybe no one else did either.

Tonight I went to a dinner party and managed, I think, to wear an appropriate outfit—okay, that turquoise top again but with gray pants this time—and not to dribble food on my shirt, though we were in a Mexican restaurant with plenty of opportunity for dribbling salsa and pico de gallo. I gathered with some fifty other people to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of friends Carol Roark and Lon Burnam. We celebrated our friends and clapped when Lon made a short speech about their first meeting.

The whole gathering was like a mini-meeting of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, and we were all energized, even before the news went around the room that Nancy Pelosi had lunch in Fort Worth today with a couple who were in the very room with us.

For me, the party was a chance to see friends I hadn’t seen in a while and sort of catch up, though the noise level was extreme and half the time I couldn’t hear what someone was saying to me. Still, I managed to re-hook with a friend that I thought had moved out of my life and to garner a speaking arrangement for spring, after my Alamo book comes out. So it was fun, with an extra layer of good for me.

Lon is a former Texas legislator and now a consultant for causes he cares passionately about, like world peace and nuclear waste and the environment. Carol, a historian and librarian, retired as director of the Texas Collection at the Dallas Public Library and now pursues independent projects she cares about, like digitalizing records of the local black genealogy society. She also writes books and has edited some of mine. They travel frequently, sometimes together but often not. Seeing a couple like Lon and Carol, with a long marriage but yet degrees of independence, makes me think of those wonderful words from Robert Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

Grow Old with me,

                The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made . . . .

They fill me with admiration for what they have accomplished, because I know the forty years haven’t always been easy, but as a survivor of a marriage gone terribly wrong, I also admit o a twinge of jealousy. Happy longevity is something not many achieve. God bless them.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Old friends, good times

I love these ladies! We have been friends for at least forty years, probably more. Three of us are the divorced ex-wives of osteopathic physicians. In one of life’s little ironies, two of those men are deceased, while we party merrily on. The fourth woman is the widow of a physician all of us loved. We have gone our separate ways, sometimes for long periods of time, but then one or two at a time, we come back together again. For the last year or two all four of us have come together for dinner every couple of months. When one of them thanked me for once again organizing a get-together, I repeated what I often say: Friendships are like gardens. You have to tend to them and cultivate them.

We caught up on children and grandchildren. We rejoiced with one who has just had a major surgery and reassured another who faces surgery soon—signs of aging, I guess. We oohed and aahed over one whose son was moving back close to her and lamented other children far away. We talked of people we knew and missed. When one name came up of someone who’d dropped from our radar due to personal and health problems, someone said, “She should know that we still care about her.” Most names brought us happy memories, though there were a few snarky comments about some of the people in our shared past. All in all it was a joyful, happy evening.

We met at Ellerbe’s, where the service and the food are both fine. When they started to seat us on their second level, I suggested as politely as I could that their ramp was a bit steep for my walker. It took a little fiddling, but they found us a table downstairs. Our waiter was charming, took this picture of us, and let us linger over three courses of dinner—I never ever eat an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert, but I did tonight. Actually I had two appetizers—one when others had their salad and one as an entrée. And  brownie as dessert. Result is that I am almost uncomfortable tonight—too rich, too good. One of those lovely evenings that leaves me happy with my life.

Speaking of tending friendships like gardens, there was gardening going on at our place this morning. Our neighbor had a mountain of mulch dumped in his driveway. After he had, as he said, mulched everything on his property twice, he asked what we wanted. The picture below is the best I
could do through my office window of the neighbor and Jordan mulching the bed under my window, under Jacob’s supervision (sorry about the green lamp in the foreground). Jacob did work harder at other times—I saw him spreading mulch and shoveling it into the wheelbarrow. That stuff smells so good—like the best parts of a barnyard. Far as I can tell, there’s still a mountain of mulch in the driveway next door—and the wife’s car is in the back yard, hemmed in by the mulch. Which I guess is all right because she is staying home with a two-week-old beautiful baby girl.

Menu items that recently struck me: last night on the menu at the Italian place where we dined, chocolate salami was on the menu. And today I saw an ad for kale candy canes—I don’t even like kale in salads, but I love salami. Not chocolate though. Two food adventures I’ll be skipping.

Blessed Sunday ahead, everyone.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Bragging on a grandchild

My Apple genius granddaughter
As you may remember, I did a face plant on the bathroom floor at two a.m. three weeks ago. Glad to report my bruises are almost gone. But when I fell, my Apple watch did not call Colin or Jordan as it is programmed to do. That was the main reason Colin gave me the watch. So we’ve been wondering and worrying and planning to go to the Apple Store whenever Colin comes up here or I go to Tomball.

But today I had an inspiration. My oldest granddaughter is a student at Colorado University and works part time behind a genius bar at an Apple Store in Boulder. I sent her a long email, detailing my woes, and then spent the afternoon texting with her as she walked me through checking various settings. I had to apologize for my denseness, but she was sweet and patient—gave me clear instructions where to find various settings. Finally, she suggested that old remedy—turn it off and let it re-start. Then Jordan called me as a test—and voila! It worked! I can answer calls on my watch, and should I fall again it should notify Colin and Jordan.

When Colin gave me the phone, he said, “Now if you’d just fall on the floor, we can trust that it works.” I declined, and I decline to test it again, but I feel reassured—not that I plan to fall again!

Different kind of evening tonight—it was Central Market’s 25th anniversary celebration. Mary had two tickets and her husband was not interested, so she and I wandered the market while he sat in the café and read. I don’t get inside Central Market often anymore because I used their curbside pickup service, but it was fun to go up one aisle and down another, spotting several items I forgot about but will now remember for my next order—the pimiento cheese I like, chicken sausage with spinach.

The celebration consisted of different food stations and involved a lot of waiting in slow lines, but I got one of their motorized carts and waited in comfort, looking around at people and groceries all the while. At each station, the serving was small, but I still felt like I’d eaten when we got through. We had a good green salad with crisp apples, cheddar, and a vinaigrette—delicious; a bite of strip steak with micro greens—steak was good, greens had no dressing so weren’t appealing; crab bites (I was afraid they had shrimp and didn’t try, though I can eat crab and love it), sushi, chocolate with a bite of orange, crisp toast with citrus and yogurt, ice cream with Balsamic vinegar drizzle, bread and butter, Parmesan with a pear/Balsamic drizzle. We skipped the salmon bite and the station with jalapeno bites and margaritas.

I did just a bit of grocery shopping, and Mary was patient about fetching items I needed—avocados on sale, a special cheddar that has Roquefort embedded in it, chips and Jordan’s favorite dip.

Mary, Joe and I went to dinner afterward at an Italian place where they had pizza and I couldn’t even finish my Caesar salad. Good visit, good times.

Another of those evenings when I was struck by how good people are to the handicapped. One group at Central Market urged me to get in line ahead of them. I thanked them profusely and explained I was waiting for someone; a woman stayed behind to open the restroom door for me—the kind of door I often struggle with. She saw me out with a cheerful, “You have a good one.” Such incidents reinforce my faith that most people are good. Got to remember that in these trying days.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tidbits from a significant day

Somehow, today, a blog about what I did today or how cute my dog was doesn’t seem appropriate. I have tried to stay away from politics in my blog and confine my comments to independent posts on Facebook, but as several people have said, today was not about politics. It was about the future of our country. I feel this has been a significant day in American history—the day Americans, or their representatives in Congress, finally got fed up and said, “Enough is too much.”

It’s also been a busy day. Random thoughts cross my mind, some about Greta Thunberg who I think is absolutely amazing. She has the courage and class that those attacking her will never achieve, and her passion has built an enormous following in just over a year. To think of a sixteen-year-old addressing the United Nations—power to the youth! One of the best things I saw today was a picture of her talking with Jane Goodall, their faces lit as their eyes locked. You could almost feel the palpable bond between these two crusaders. And one of the funniest is that image of her glaring at trump. At first, I thought his comments about her were just vacuous, the mumblings of a disordered mind that didn’t know what to say. But then I realized that gave him too much credit—he was openly mocking this girl who understands the world and science in ways he unfortunately never will be capable of grasping.

One of the worst things I saw today was our squatting president addressing the UN and calling for isolationism. With modern technology in everything from communications to weaponry linking us inescapably to every far corner of the earth, how in the world does he expect that idea to fly? It was naïve, self-serving, and outright stupid. It justifies his bigotry and his apparent desire to make America not just great again, but white again. I was pleased to see that Congress today began considering the legitimacy of his ban on Muslim travelers to the U.S.—just now? Better late than never, I guess.

A cheering thing today: the UK Supreme Court bashing Boris Johnson and declaring his suspension of Parliament illegal. What a world we live in when the two mightiest Anglo countries are in such political crisis (though I don’t think we can continue to call America an Anglo country, except possibly by heritage and tradition). With impeachment set for trump and the probable resignation of Johnson, it’s as though, however briefly, the good guys are winning.

Of course, Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of impeachment proceedings was the big news of this busy day. Do I expect those proceedings to remove trump from office? Absolutely not, though it would be a welcome miracle. Do I expect the House to vote for impeachment? Absolutely yes. And that will expose the extent of trump’s corruption, treachery, and quite possibly treason. And the Senate will be put in the difficult position of either convicting or defending a terribly corrupt man at the helm of our country. (Did everyone hear that the other day he began a speech with, “When I took over America….”? Enough to make your blood crawl.)

Impeachment based on the Ukrainian scandal overlooks a list of sins so long that I’s hard to put it into words. Someone posted a list of trump’s abuses of authority recently and when I printed it out, it came to almost three pages. We can’t overlook the leaking of classified information, the confiscation of needed military funds to build the wall which is his obsession, his affinity for dictators and his alienation of our traditional allies, his obviously shaky mental state, his flagrant abuse of the emoluments clause—I could go on for three pages. But if the Ukraine scandal is the thing that does it, so be it. I will be grateful.

It's going to be a rocky ride, folks, and an interesting fall, but I am hopeful, and I have faith in the American process and the American people. Today, we said, “No more.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Shades of a bygone era

Seems to me that every day we lose a bit of graciousness in this country, a sort of soft slipping away of a kindlier, gentler way of living. I read with dismay that Amtrak is going to discontinue dining cars and fresh, cooked-to-order food on its trains.

I’m dating myself badly with these thoughts, but I grew up in the era of the trains. My father’s family lived in suburbs or Toronto, and every summer we traveled from Chicago to Ontario to visit. Some years we drove, but the best were the years we took the train. I slept in Pullman berths, where the porter made your seat into a bed and when you were safely tucked in, drew the curtain so you had privacy. Those berths were double-decker, but being young, I was never allowed on the top berth, and I usually slept with my mom. But I have clear memories of waking in the night when the train stopped at a station and looking out the window at the people gathered on the platform. In the mornings, you wakened, made your way to the loo, took care of business, and brushed your teeth. Then, scrunched in that berth, you dressed quickly so as to be ready for breakfast in the dining car.

Some years Dad splurged, and we had a bedroom, with a commode that masqueraded as a plush-covered seat right out in the middle of the roomette. You still had berths, and I still slept in the bottom. The porter would knock gently on your door to tell you it was time for breakfast.

Best of all in those trips was the dining car, with white linen tablecloths and napkins, and goblets of ice water, and porters in starched white jackets—do I really remember they also wore white cotton gloves. I was probably ten or under on those trips, so the food didn’t impress me so much, though everything I hear is that it was elegant and delicious. I remember being catered to by kindly men who seemed to anticipate my every wish. And I thought it was wonderful to sit at those tables, with my parents, and watch the landscape go by—probably by morning we were well into southern Ontario.

A few years ago, research for my Chicago novel, The Gilded Cage, brought me smack up against George Pullman, the man who invented the Pullman car and revolutionized railroad travel. Along with Marshall Field and Palmer Potter of the Palmer House Hotel, he was one of the robber barons of Chicago who believed in helping the poor—as long as the poor obeyed their rules.

In the 1880s, Pullman built a model community on Chicago’s far South Side, called appropriately Pullmantown, for his employees. This community of look-alike houses was luxurious in its day for its amenities—indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers. But residents had to follow a strict code of behavior. Pullman believed that fresh country air—no saloons, no red-light district, no labor agitators—would lead to happy contented workers. Residents paid rent to the company and shopped at the company store, worshipped at approved churches. Newspapers were not permitted, nor were public gatherings, speeches, and the like which might agitate people. Step out of line, and you lost your job and your home.

The panic of 1893 caused Pullman’s business to falter, so he cut jobs, laid men off, and raised rents. The result was predictable—the nationwide, bloody Pullman Strike of 1894. Sort of takes a bit of luster off the memory of my 1940s trips in Pullmans.

So these days, were supposed take the train and eat packaged food. Amtrak has lots of reasons it’s more practical, more convenient, will satisfy more customers. My daughter, who probably only has vague memories of an uncomfortable train trip to San Diego sleeping in freezing cold coach cars, assures me this is better. More practical, and people will get what they want. And I am left with visions of all those disposable dishes adding to our planet’s waste problems.

Me? I think I’ll just travel by Vonlane luxury motor coach from now on. Sure, it’s pre-packaged food, but attendants anticipate your every need, bring you pillows and blankets, serve you wine. And best of all? It’s always on time.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Working the room

Last night there was a wedding reception for some of Jordan’s closest friends. They married some months ago in a small, family ceremony and just had the reception last night at La Puertita (the chapel) at Joe T. Garcia’s. I was pleased to be invited, though Jordan had some words of caution. Basically, she said she and Christian would “park” me at a table while they mingled and socialized. In my day, we called that “working the room,” basically moving around the room, chatting briefly with this one and that, never getting caught in a long conversation, meeting new people. A networking skill that takes a bit of practice, but before the walker I was pretty good at it. (Maybe I should divide my life into before and after the walker—naw, I have better divisions.)

True to her promise, they parked me at the first table inside the door, and I was a captive because Jordan folded my walker and stuck it against a wall out of my reach. I need not have worried about solitude though—since I couldn’t work the room, much of the room came to me. I am so blessed to be friends with many of my children’s friends. A steady stream of people came to give me a hug, sit for a minute in the chair next to me, share people-watching with me. The bride’s mother, whom I’ve met, came over to make sure someone would fetch me a cheese nacho, and the bride’s father, whom I’d not met, came and sat for a chat. So did both her sisters, and the groom wandered over twice to be sure I was taken care of.

A couple of wives I’d not met—both from our neighborhood—came to chat, saying they knew all about me and my books (nice bit of flattery) and one husband I’m fond of settled in for a political discussion (we agree heartily!). Jordan’s BFF, David, was solo because his wife was in Dallas, so he sat next to me for longer periods of time. He’d wander away—to work the room, I suppose—and then come back, and we shared some good laughs.

When the buffet opened, Jordan brought me a plate (how could she forget I love those beans?). David and Christian settled on one side of me, Jordan and Amye on the other,  with Marj and Colman across the table, and I met some folks, also around the table who were new to me. The food was predictable and familiar—it’s good to have “the dinner” every once in a while.

The young people dropped me off at home about 9:30 and went on to party, although the bride had suggested I could party with them and be the designated driver. David pointed to my glass of wine and said, “Too late for that.” I was glad to be home but oh so glad I went to the party.

It was a social weekend. Friday night, some new neighbors came for supper. Jordan, Christian, and I collaborated on the cooking—she made mashed potatoes, he roasted a tenderloin and made sauces, and I made a big, green salad that, believe it or not, sits in the fridge overnight, plus a goat cheese/wasabi appetizer. We had fun getting to know these people—seems when you first meet people you always have so much to talk about. She is a stay-at-home mom of four (I could relate to that) and he, a surgeon at the county hospital, so we had a bit of talk about the new medical school. All in all, lots of fun—and, again, lots of laughter.

Now to settle down to work.
Chandry and Jordan showing off their high heels.
How do they walk in those things?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fall might really come to Texas

Jacob with Kit, our newest neighbor
I think the high today was something like 82—a blessed relief. People have complained long and loud about the endless summer, but to my memory after over fifty years in Texas, September is always hot. We can’t count on it to cool down until the first of October, so if temperatures are dropping now, it’s an early blessing. I notice in the evenings, with my patio door open, there is a refreshing breeze.

Of course, Texas hasn’t escaped weather woes. The flooding in southeastern Texas is a major disaster, much of it in an area just recovering from Hurricane Harvey. I am grateful that daughter-in-law Lisa reports that she and my Tomball grandchildren are high and dry—this morning she said they could get a deluge, but tonight she reports it skipped them. Tomball is far enough northwest of Houston, I guess, that it was spared. But my son Colin is stranded in Atlanta tonight because Houston International Airport is closed. Wish I’d suggested he fly into Dallas/Fort Worth, but I know he’s anxious to get home to Tomball. And I’m glad he’s not on those highways tonight.

We have a new baby girl next door to us, and Jordan got a picture of a smiling Jacob holding her. Yeah, she looks a bit scrunched up, but it doesn’t seem to bother her—she’s sleeping peacefully. Jacob always wanted a baby sister. Once when he was about three, I caught him cradling a crumpled up set of pajamas in his arms. He looked at me and explained, “This is my baby sister.” I guess the Lord never saw fit to give us that little girl. Her name was chosen, and Jacob has been told it’s now his name for his first daughter.

A peaceful, quiet day in the cottage. I got some work done—a blog, some copy for a newsletter, and a rough rough start on an epilogue to my book about the Waggoner ranch and its place in Texas history. That kind of stuff is hard to write. There’s no research in front of you, just the whole body of what you’ve written from which you have to draw conclusions. I had promised my editor the book would have a feminist slant—now I’m not sure that’s working out. She’s terrific though, and I’m looking forward to her comments.

I decided spending days at home is not good for me, although I’ve gotten out every day this week. But just to get out, I took a shirt to the cleaners. Part of the value of that was the driving—my old insecurities about driving have started to come back, but today I was delighted with how comfortable I felt behind the wheel of my 2004 VW convertible. I do love that car, and I can easily make it twist and turn to avoid Jordan’s big SUV parked next to me, the new fence, and the gate in our jiggedy-jogging 1920s driveway. I’m going to keep doing small errands. Besides, the shirt is a favorite and I want it back yesterday! The cleaners, knowing about my walker, gives me cheerful curbside service. People are so nice for the most part.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Thoughts on Fort Worth's new medical school

Today I went to the TCU Retirees luncheon to hear Dr. Stuart Flynn, the founding dean of the new TCU and UNTHSC medical school. As I listened to him talk about training empathetic students, memories of my own experience with osteopathic medical school came flooding back.

No, I never was a student, and I didn’t marry my husband until a few days after his graduation, so I didn’t really earn that PHT (pushing hubby through) certificate. But my affiliation with osteopathic medicine is lifelong, and my involvement with the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine was intense in the 1970s. I am the daughter of the president of an osteopathic college, the sister of a former clinical dean of TCOM, the niece and cousin of several (most now passed on), and the aunt of two practicing D.O.s. I take my heritage seriously. My ex- was founding chair of the department of surgery when TCOM opened in 1970, and I was director of communications (and then assistant) in the late seventies. I like to say I grew up at TCOM and its sister hospital, Fort Worth Osteopathic.

I applauded today when Dr. Flynn stressed training empathetic scholars and the importance of the doctor/patient relationship. Patients, he said, want to be seen as people, not “the hip” in Room 215 or “the gallbladder” in 240. He talked about bedside manner, and teaching students to look a patient in the eye. All good stuff, and it took me back to the late ’70s when TCOM developed a whole new approach to the medical school curriculum. Instead of emphasizing the treatment of disease, they designed a curriculum that emphasized wellness and the prevention of disease. I remember my good friend Charles Ogilvie developed a wellness scale, with ten being optimum health and one, miserable illness. If I remember correctly, most people live at about six or seven, and the goal was to raise that number. So what happened? Students did abysmally on state medical exams. They had been taught humanistic medicine, but no one taught them to the test (teaching to the test is a problem with education from kindergarten on up to my mind).

So it’s lovely to see this more humane approach today, but to me it seemed like re-inventing the wheel. Especially with the new school’s close affiliation  with the parent of TCOM, where that philosophy has long prevailed.

My question to Dr. Flynn, had I lingered, would have been, “What does your school bring to the table that isn’t already on the table? Other than the fact that a medical school is a feather in TCU’s cap, what’s the reason for two medical schools in one city? Can Fort Worth, with only one major county/trauma hospital, provide enough clinical opportunities to train these young people? Empathy is major, but so is clinical knowledge and experience.

There is still a crying need for more physicians in Texas, especially in rural areas. This was the case when TCOM opened, with the stated goal of training physicians who would go into rural areas. But one of the arguments for an M.D. school has long been that it would attract heavier research funding. To my mind, research trains specialists who are unlikely to then go to rural areas where family physicians are needed.

I know my knowledge of medical education is woefully out of date. I do know, for instance, that students begin clinical experience in their first year instead of the old system whereby they spent the first two years studying basic sciences and the last two in clinical rotations. A great change that puts that doctor/patient relationship in the foreground immediately. And no more one-year internships, as in my day. Students must do a three- or four-year residency, with slots somehow assigned by some sort of national clearinghouse. Only there aren’t enough slots for the students that attend medical school. Is it fair to enroll a student for whom there might not be the required post-grad slot?

Maybe I’m just defensive about osteopathic medicine—a lifelong habit. But I really wish I could have talked with Dr. Flynn. Maybe he’ll talk to the retirees again in a couple of years and I can send him my questions. Who knows? It may all be clear by then. I wish the new school much success, but I don’t want it to crowd out traditional osteopathic medicine.