Sunday, August 18, 2019

And so, another year begins….

It was “Back to Church Sunday” at our church today, and at the end of the service, an invasion of young children poured into the sanctuary, each wearing a backpack. They crowded together on the steps of the chancel for the blessings of the backpacks. A truly wonderful sight. If you feel cynical about our old world, the sight of those bright, hopeful faces would soften your heart.

Jacob, going into eighth grade this week, is of course too old and too sophisticated to get his backpack blessed, but we all went to a Sunday-school hour program to hear about the offerings coming up this year for students from middle school through high school—bell choir, missionary trips, Sunday night snacks, day trips. Someone—children’s minister Jamie Plunkett and his assistants—had worked hard on some complicated programing.

The whole thing took me back to my high school days. I think in part the course of my adult life was determined by my close involvement with a church group. The United Church of Hyde Park, and its neighbor, the Hyde Park YMCA, were the center of my social world. We all went to church together and afterward to hang out at Thomas’ Drugstore across the street—the drugstore owners were not always thrilled but we usually had fries and cokes; sometimes we sang in the choir; we met every Sunday night, though now I’m a little vague about what we did. My first boyfriends and all my close girlfriends came from that group. The group was called something that sounded like “Tuxus”—I never saw it written out and am quite sure I have gotten it wrong. An internet search turns up no such word.

When we weren’t at the church, we were, as a group, at someone’s house. There was usually a chess game going on and lots of pizza ordered. To this day, I avoid pizza with the excuse the I overdosed on it in high school—that includes cold, leftover pizza for breakfast.

This was not my family church. That was in another neighborhood, where I knew no one. A close friend introduced me to the United church when we were young enough to be in a Brownie troop. We graduated not into Girl Scouts (though I was a Scout for a while) but into the high-school church group (there was no middle school in Chicago in those days). My parents, familiar with the opportunities for youngsters to go astray on the South side of Chicago, sanctioned my attending another church, though Dad, son of a Methodist preacher, remained loyal to the Methodist Church. I occasionally went to football games or “hung out’ with kids they deemed inappropriate, and I think they saw the church as a safe haven.

Our dances were at the YMCA— those were the days of the jitterbug, but I was too self-conscious to learn to do it –and my high-school “sorority” was a YMCA group called “Calliope,” probably after the Greek goddess who presides over poetry and eloquence. I’m not sure I can see a connection, but I had the sweatshirt to prove it.

I was in the middle of a group of what today we would call nice young people. They were by no means goody-two-shoes, but they knew where and when to draw the line. And at that age, group acceptance is so important—especially for someone with my shy, wallflower tendencies. I was part of the group, though strangely one of the youngest and shortest, and I was happy. I had no need to look beyond my world for thrills or new experiences.

Jacob has his own group, a bunch of good boys from elementary school. In middle school, he’s branched out a bit in friendship but some of those boys are still the core of his social life. He is not as comfortable with the church kids, because he only knows a few of them, and as I looked at a gaggle of girls and boys today, I realized that I didn’t recognize any of them. A few others, like Jacob, sat quietly with their parents.

I wish for Jacob, and for all my grandchildren, as rich a high school experience as I had. It’s served me in good stead over the years. I’ve been saddened as word came of a death here and there of someone who remained forever young in my mind, and I occasionally wonder the familiar, “Whatever happened to….” But I am still in touch with two of the girls and what they say about old friendships is true—they are gold.
I drove by the church a few years ago when my children and I were in Chicago, and I was surprised at how small it looked. I wonder if the Fellowship Hall still has that wavy floor and the balcony around the edge with Sunday school rooms off it. ah, the memories.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A day in the country

Confession: I am a workaholic, a conclusion I probably reached years ago but am acutely aware of again today. For the second day in a row, I did not a lick of work. Jordan and I went today to visit my brother at his ranch outside Tolar—for those not in the know, Tolar s a small town mostly of deserted stone buildings beyond Granbury, between Fort Worth and Stephenville. Okay if  you’re not from North Texas, it won’t make sense.

Tolar does have a fine-looking bank and an all-purpose quick-stop store and the Methodist church which is our signal of where to turn off the highway. But the stone buildings have taken root in my mind—several are shells, roofless, windows gone, yet standing strong and straight. Someday I want to know the story of Tolar when it was a vibrant community, when those stone buildings were filled with people and activity. Today, I want to see someone move in and put clever gift shops and restaurants in those structures, but I suppose the problem is that Granbury is too close. Everyone goes there for shopping, dining, whatever. Granbury has the historic square and a new, supper HEB grocery—what else could one want? 
When you turn at the Methodist church in Tolar you go through a small residential area—so people really do live there—and worship there, because there are a couple of good-sized, solid-looking churches. But when you turn you still have nine miles to go to my brother’s ranch. 
We went because John, a retired osteopathic physician, has inherited the family ability for osteopathic treatment. In short, he has magic hands. And Jordan has been, as we say in the vernacular, down in the back. So while John treated her, I had a good visit with sister-in-law Cindy, and then we all had a wonderful lunch of chicken salad and fruit salad—delicious peach from a tree in their yard and wonderful large sweet blueberries from Costco.

Is Jordan cured? Not by a long shot—to both their disappointment. But she and her uncle now have a better handle on what’s going on in her back. And if someone comes at her saying “surgery,” she knows her response.

And it was a fine day for a drive in the country—hot but sunny and the land looks partly green, partly brown—it is, after all, August in Texas. We went the Chisholm Trail Tollway, which is empty and fast, but we saw a horrendous accident. On the way out, the entire north-bound side of the tollway was shut down; on the way home, it was open with one lane only. An eighteen-wheeler had apparently hit the guard rail, flipped, and caught fire. Makes you worry about the driver—and is a sobering moment.

Scallops, which look belter than they tasted
Home, with most of the day gone, I fixed scallops for supper. I ordered a quarter lb. from Central Market and was tickled that they called to say that would only give me two—how many did I want? I said, just for me, three. Tried a new recipe and was disappointed—it called for brining them, and maybe I did it wrong, but they were way too salty. I’m going back to my tried-and-true and much simpler method.

A long but happy day.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Let’s reboot this day

tuna salad and squash casserole
an odd pairing but really good

No kidding. About noon today, I thought, “Judy Alter wants to recall this day,” so I could start over. It wasn’t anything really bad, just a lot of stuff.

My oldest daughter had surgery in Austin this morning. Routine stuff, all went textbook well, she is doing fine, her husband is taking good care of her and keeping us informed. Despite all that, there’s that maternal feeling that I should be there. I was there when both her boys were born, and I should be there now. And I’m not.

Then there’s the fact that I have not gotten one lick of work done, not read one word of the manuscript I’m editing. Spent a whole lot of the morning working on meal plans and grocery shopping—there seems to be a general sense of “We’re heading back into the school year, and we have to get organized.” And we got our family schedule mixed up. Jacob was going to the store with me, since Jordan wants someone on hand when I get in and out of the car and since there are grocery items it’s awkward for me to reach. But when Jacob would be available—he’s dog-sitting—was problematic.

I finally tried something I’ve been meaning to: ordered from Tom Thumb through Instacart. But then that bound me to the cottage to await delivery. All worked out, and delivery by a nice young man was fairly prompt. But they left out the Fritos I’ve tried three times to get—can’t make Frito pie without.

Then, in a rush, Jacob had to be driven up to the school to pick up his spirit shirts—only he couldn’t find the right person, said there was no spirit store, and returned to the car empty handed. This did not please his mother, who thought he hadn’t listened to her instructions, and he countered that she had it wrong—and there I was in the middle. Everyone lived happily ever after.

By the time lunch (sardine salad) had come and gone, I needed a nap. But refreshed, I went to pick up more groceries at Central Market. I remind myself of my mom—she used to get somethings at one store and others at another. I remain committed to Central Market for meat, fish, and produce but won’t buy household staples like toilet paper there. So I went to get my weekly order from Curbside Pickup.

And on the way home I went by our local mechanic, and he put a new light bulb in my right turn signal. That rapid clicking that indicates a burnt-out bulb is so annoying, and besides, I think it leaves you liable for a ticket, if not being rear-ended.

So those are three good things today, despite the negative atmosphere—Megan is doing fine, I found I can use Instacart successfully, and I got that darn right-turn signal fixed.

Tonight, after a pleasant happy hour with Jordan and Christian, I fixed a squash casserole and paired it with tuna salad from Central Market. Maybe tomorrow the world will be back in order.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

New Mexico—wildflowers and hot food

I was unprepared for the gorgeous wildflowers in the mountains. Our friends’ cabin sits in a meadow that is literally a sea of flowers, mostly daisies but some black-eyed Susan and an occasional Queen Anne’s lace. It’s impossible to capture the glory of the wide sweep of grass and flowers on a cell phone camera, but a close-up gives you some idea.

In Holy Ghost Canyon, we saw a delicate pink flower that does not grow anywhere else in the world. Botanists have tried unsuccessfully to cultivate it, but the soil in the canyon must have just the right conditions for it.

Lower down, roads are often lined with feathery silver-green chamisa, so lovely to look at. Subie tells me however that many people are allergic to it, and I remember suggesting it for table flowers for my oldest daughter’s wedding—she was married at Bishops Lodge in Santa Fe. I thought the native plant touch would be nice, but the florist said that once cut, chamisa stinks.

Roads are also lined with larger willow bushes, and this year, because of heavier than usual rains, everything was green. So much for New Mexico as an arid state—at least not in this part.

While I loved the flowers, I had, as usual, a problem with food. I do not, cannot eat spicy food—neither my tongue nor my gut tolerate it. And hot pepper spice is everywhere in New Mexico. I have had some of the best meals of my life in Santa Fe but always in restaurants that offered alternatives. I remember a wonderful lobster dish at the Pink Adobe, for instance, or a trout hash at Pasquales. This trip, we had lunch the first day at Casa de Herreras in Pecos where the waitress steered me away from Frito Pie—it’s ubiquitous in New Mexico—and toward the chalupa cups, which I loved. Heavy with guacamole and no chili unless I wanted it, which I didn’t—so good. Chili in New Mexico is not chili in Texas—it’s a thin sauce, either red or green. On the theory that green peppers are milder than red, I always thought I should choose green. But even it is too hot.

With Jacob at Frankie's
With Jacob at Frankie's
In Santa Fe, at lunch one day, I almost reduced the waiter to tears. Having not seen much on the menu that appealed I decided on cheese enchiladas with chili. My Tex-Mex orientation was dominating, because I was envisioning a rolled enchilada stuffed with cheese and topped with chili con carne. Not so. I asked if the chili was hot, and the waiter said he’d bring both green and red. Did I want beans or posole? Refried. They only had charro. What kind of tortilla did I want? No tortilla. “Not under the cheese?” he asked incredulously—well I was thinking of the side tortilla that accompanies everything and not the enchilada. We finally sorted it out, with the waiter shaking his head, and I got a flat enchilada—tortilla and cheese, with two flavors of chili that were both too hot. And I know the waiter thought he’d met a dumb blonde gringo from Texas.

Another day we went to Frankie’s, a popular restaurant in Pecos—only brunch was being served. I was afraid to try most of the selections—huevos rancheros, migas, a casserole with chili and beef or chicken—if the chili had been mild, that would have been good. But it  wasn’t. I ended up with the basic breakfast—eggs over easy, sausage (despite my trepidation, it was really good), and seasoned potatoes, which were also delicious. The honey toast was sort of pitiful—ordinary toast with a slight drizzle of honey in the middle of each slice. I would have loved a traditional sopapilla, one of the small ones that you can cut a corner off and pour honey in. Clearly, Frankie’s was not catering to the mild palate.

But it was an interesting place, especially with a formal table set for the missing soldier. The décor was pure New Mexico and charming.

In Las Vegas, I had a terrific chef salad. And the menu in the old hotel where we had drinks had some wonderful things—oysters Rockefeller, liver pate, crab cocktail—I was sorry we had a big lunch and weren’t hungry. It struck me that the menu was simulating the dishes that railroad travelers in the twenties would have ordered. Similarly, the bar at La Fonda, Santa Fe’s classic old hotel, had several appealing choices.

Clearly, I can eat happily in New Mexico. I just have to pick and choose. I’m working on my bucket list for a return trip. And meantime I’m about to fix Frito pie, the Texas way.
Some pictures I can't resist adding. Our host, Phil, has a service dog, Porter, and Jacob and Porter had a grand times together. Here they are playing and in  sweet moment. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The beauty of a get-away

My blog and I have been on vacation, along with my Fort Worth family. We spent a few days in the Pecos River area of New Mexico, at the cabin of good friends. And we had a wonderful time. I have always been drawn to New Mexico—I swore I wanted to move to Santa Fe but had to content myself with visits. This time I saw an entirely different part of the state—high mountains in the Santa Fe National Forest. I learned again that I love the scenery, the fresh air, the crisp temperatures—and I loathe mountain driving, even as a passenger. I am white-knuckled on hairpin curves. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.

Jacob at Cowles pond
We went ostensibly so Jacob could fish—the Pecos is a fast-moving, shallow, freezing cold river full rainbow and brown trout. Jacob fished several times, once with a guide who is a neighbor of our friends and gave him a slow introduction into casting in fast mountain water. The first evening there he and our friends’ grandson caught their limit or close to it---and we had pan-fried trout for dinner.

Castenada Hotel by the railroad
Armand Hammer University
I expected to spend my days working at my computer while the guys fished but not so. We went into Santa Fe one day—highlight of the day was a prolonged happy hour at La Fonda. Another day we explored Las Vegas (NM). It’s an unexpected treasure of a town with a rich heritage, a history full of outlaws and railroads and mining. We had lunch in a historic hotel and then stopped for drinks at the restored hotel by the railroad tracks. Drove out in the country to see Armand Hammer University—in a castle-like building, although we couldn’t get close to it.

More on New Mexico tomorrow, maybe on the food, and on the wind turbines that are all over northwest Texas.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Confused, angry, sad—and some small mishaps

I woke this morning sad and angry and confused, with thoughts tumbling in my mind. It seems today that anger is what binds most of us together. These tragedies are preventable, but politicians stand in the way. I sense a lot of anger on the internet. I wonder how trump and McConnell feel about the overwhelming backlash—and what they surely must recognize as a weak response from Republicans—49 out of 50 red legislators contacted by CNN refused to comment. There was criticism from an Ohio Republican member of the legislature and a stalwart Texas Tea Party supporter announced he will not run again—the fourth this week. The rats are deserting the ship.

Meantime trump woodenly read a speech he had neither written—word choice made that clear—nor read before. In it he blamed everything but guns—and cited the wonderful progress of his administration. Big deal—they outlawed bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre. He blamed mental health—but he’s the one who made it easier for people with problems to buy guns. He blamed social media, which sounded to me suspiciously like a step toward censoring freedom of speech. He may not have written the speech, but he sure should have okayed it before he read it on national television.

Like everyone, I have my opinion on what should be immediate action: McConnell should haul his broken shoulder back to DC, reconvene the Senate, and consider legislation that the House passed months ago. Why has he stalled? We all know the answer to that. New and immediate legislation should outlaw assault weapons, require strict background checks, outlaw TV and gun show sales, and restore the domestic terrorism branch of the Department of Homeland Security. So clear cut, so simple, so safe.

My apologies. I’ve tried to keep politics out of my blog, but I am too angry, too upset to do it today. On a more personal note, the day didn’t go all that well. My walker almost lost a fight with a plastic cleaner’s bag—try as I might there are still bits of that sheer plastic wrapped around one wheel. That stuff is a wicked enemy. At first, I thought I was marooned and would have to wait until help arrived. My first concern was for the favorite gray sweater in the bag, but I managed to save it intact. Then I pulled endless plastic—and there’s still some left. I don’t expect time will make it go away.

My lunch date forgot about me. Luckily, she was to pick me up, so I wasn’t abandoned at a restaurant. I stewed that maybe she forgot and was waiting impatiently for me at the deli. Turned out okay, because Jordan agreed to pick up a chicken salad sandwich for me from Black Rooster. I love those sandwiches, have half left for my supper. And the lunch is rescheduled for later in the week.

Jacob came out to repay some money he owed me—and woke me from a sound nap to tell me he was repaying it. His presence activated Sophie, who jumped on the bed and began licking my face. I’m afraid I wasn’t gracious to either one, though I have since apologized.

Tomorrow will be a whole new day for me, but our country will still be shadowed by grief and frustration and anger. Maybe I’m a cockeyed optimist, but this time I think we’re all angry enough to effect change. I pray so.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The blahs—or feeling numb

Not feeling my perkiest this morning, so I stayed home and “went” to church on the computer. Sigh. Always makes me wish I was there in the richness of the University Christian Church sanctuary and the comfort of the congregation. It’s a joy to greet old friends on Sunday morning, and I missed that. A timely sermon, ”Possessed by Possessions,” on money, greed, wealth, affluenza—yes, the ministeer used that term. Timely because a dear friend had just this week predicted to me that the current sitting president will be re-elected in spite of his lies, deceit, cruelty, destruction of everything from international treaties to the environment. “It’s all about money,” she said. I guess I’m Pollyanna, but I could not live with myself if I supported someone like that because I thought it would make me rich. Besides, to my understanding, those who vote for the orange man because of their pocketbook are fooling themselves—the economy is not doing well. Indexes like job growth have slowed dramatically and the deficit is out the roof. But I digress.

Hymns draw me to church. I love to sing the old familiar hymns, and most of the words come to me from memory implanted in childhood. But these days they do away with the old familiar—Betty, my organist friend, won’t play “The Old Rugged Cross”—and they change either the words or melody. Not much is as frustrating as singing a strange hymn and realizing that the melody has other words, an older version my memory calls up. This morning the closing hymn was “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.” I waited with anticipation—but it was the wrong melody.

My organist friend is concerned at the changing nature of music she is asked to play at weddings. She was taught that only sacred music belongs in a sanctuary and was distressed recently when asked to play an Elton John song. My argument that music, like language, is an organic, growing, changing thing fell on deaf ears. And now I hear myself being as deaf about changing lyrics and melodies of my favorite hymns. Go figure.

My inspiration for the day: a 101-year-old woman, assisted living resident, who just published her first book of poetry. A fellow resident, her age, got her interested in attending some classes and pouf! She wrote a book. Would that it were that easy for all of us.

I used to watch “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network with fair regularity. Haven’t seen it in quite a while, so I don’t know if it’s gone away and come back or if I just haven’t happened on to it. But last night I watched back-to-back episodes—the first a black mother-and-daughter team in a family restaurant, and the second a Mexican restaurant. Robert Irvine pointed out that the mother and daughter were buying prepared things which ran up their costs. “You’re letting someone else do you prep work,” he thundered. And he showed them some great-looking twists on ordinary dishes. In the second episode, I couldn’t help noticing that when he was interacting with the owners, his hair was dark. But in narrative segments, with him alone, it was gray. I guess even chefs age.

Like the rest of the nation, I am numb with horror tonight. There’s so much to be said, but it’s all been said before—and to no avail. I weep for America, but I still also have faith that we can save our nation. It will be a slow rebuilding. But I read somewhere that the next election is not so much about who leads the country—it is about saving the soul of our country. I’m ready for that fight, and I will do whatever I can to save our country—and our planet.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Restoring my topsy-turvy world

Impressive presentation of great-tasting food

An unexpected Texas treat—waking up this morning to a cloudy, rainy world with fairly moderate temperatures. It even smells like rain. Heavenly!

I’ve spent the morning trying to bring order to my world—specifically to move back into my bedroom, now that the floor is done. It’s still a work in progress, so I’m not showing pictures. Waiting for some muscle from the house to do things that I can’t and that kind of hold up the process.

Last night Christian enlisted Jacob and two buddies to carry bags of things back out to the cottage. Jacob lay down on my bed and, as I’ve asked him not to, fooled with the bed position. He got the foot of the mattress into its highest position—and stuck. It took at least fifteen minutes of Christian working with the remote and me envisioning another night on the couch to get to the point where the remote told us, ”the bed is flattening.” Christian told me firmly, “Don’t touch anything!” I told Jacob just as firmly that I had dire consequences in mind for him. His response? “You should sleep on it that way. It’s comfortable.”

Truth be told, while I’d said I was okay on the couch, I was really glad to sleep in my bed last night. Slept soundly and an hour later than I ever do. Slow start but I began to unload sacks of things I’d taken out of my drawers—treasures such as some jewelry I had forgotten I had, small jewelry boxes that have significance for me—lovely hand-carved small box a boy gave me in grade school and ruined by impressing my initials in the top with a lead pencil, my mother’s jewelry box, that small oil painting with a rip that I never got repaired. On the mundane side—a whole sack of socks, my winter sweatpants, and odds and ends of gift wrapping paper.

Lovely break from my topsy-turvy world last night—dinner with friend Carol at Café Modern. We had a table by the window and the water, which I always love. I’d looked up the current menu online and wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about it, but to my delight it had nothing to do with the menu we were given when seated. I chose scallops with veggies—squash, sugared carrots, micro planed cilantro, ad tiny bits of radish. It was all wonderful except for the bed of edamame hummus on which it sat. I am not an edamame fan! Tried this, in the interest of trying all new things and thinking maybe it would be better in hummus form--still didn’t like it. Blueberry tart for dessert. Great meal.

Watching the Food Network with half an eye this morning and am interested that the chef (don’t know who she is) creates zucchini boas of uncooked zucchini. I always parboil them first and they tend to fall apart Will try this next. Stuffed zucchini is a summertime treat, though I can’t convince my family. Another thing this chef does: separates whites and yoks when frying eggs--starts the whites first and then carefully places the yolk on the partially cooked whites. I think it would give you nice, crisp whites.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Cooking Trivia: corn salad, poached chicken, pasta, pesto, and a lesson learned

A bit of everything on my mind this warm summer morning.

Corn salad

A great accompaniment for whatever you grill, from ribs to burgers.

3 cups corn, preferably from about six ears of fresh corn, but you can cook and use frozen

Salt to taste

½ c. mayonnaise

¼ c.  feta, crumbled

Juice of 2 limes

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

1 tbsp. chili powder

            Mix and chill. At serving time, garnish with more feta and chopped cilantro

Poaching chicken

            I’ve been making a summer soup that calls for diced chicken. First time I made it, I did what’s reflexive for me—bought and boned a rotisserie bird. But I hate the chore of boning, and it’s always so greasy I feel that I’ll never get clean again. So recently, I bought one large chicken breast and poached it. The ideal is to simmer and never let it boil—a state of perfection I didn’t quite reach, so it was a bit tougher than I’d like. But far better than the rotisserie version with its seasoning.

The soup is the cucumber soup, with a base of yogurt and buttermilk, that was in this column in June.

Easy, light pasta

1 lb. linguine

½ cup good butter—I like Kerry Gold, which has a higher fat content than most butters

½ c. grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Cook pasta and leave in hot water just while you melt the butter. Use tongs to transfer pasta from water to butter in skillet. A bit at a time, add pasta water, until you get a smooth, creamy sauce—shouldn’t take more than a cup of water if that much. Sprinkle with cheese. For serving, top with chopped Italian parsley if desired.


This is so easy!

3 cups packed fresh basil leaves

4 cloves garlic

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ c. olive oil

¼ c. pecan bits (I know, pine nuts are traditional, but I’m not wild about them and one family member is allergic—you can also substitute walnut bits)

½ c. chopped parsley

            Combine ingredients in processor and blend to smooth paste. Spoon into a flexible plastic ice cube tray and freeze. When cubes are solidly frozen, pop them out (sometimes you have to use a table knife to carefully pry them out) and into a baggie. Store in freezer for use whenever.

But here’s the tiny-kitchen tip I learned, something you’d think someone who’s been cooking as long as I have would have figured out. I knew the ingredients wouldn’t fit in my counter-top processor, so I decided to do it in batches. I did it by ingredients, so the first batch was garlic, cheese, and nuts. Second batch—parsley and basil, saving the oil till last. But the processor just tossed the herbs around without processing them. Duh! The mixture needed liquid. So I put half of all ingredients, including the oil, in the first batch and then finished with the other half.

For a minute there, however, I was ready to warn that a counter-top processor just wouldn’t do a whole batch of pesto. The problem, of course, was me, not the processor.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Of dogs and floors

Sophie would like her many friends to know that she had a perfectly awful day. From nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, she was locked in her crate. She got two potty breaks, but she was so distraught that all she did when let out was stand at the door with a quizzical look that clearly said, “Why are you doing this to me? What have I done wrong?” I slipped her tiny bits of cheese several times and tried to get her to drink water—she willingly took the cheese but did not want the water. When she was finally released, the first thing she did was go directly to her water dish, which had been returned to its usual place, and drink a pint of water. Then she made a brief trip outdoors but came in to lie on the floor. I think she is depressed.

The problem is that the floor guys were finally here. They were in and out a lot and didn’t need to watch out for a dog, not did they need her supervision while they worked. The only thing I could think of to do was get her crate out of the attic. Christian got it down Saturday so she would have a few days to get accustomed to it. We left the door open, and she voluntarily slept in it at night and some during the day. Being forced to stay in it was whole another thing.

In truth, for as rambunctious as she can be, she was really good today and spent much of her confinement sleeping. I tried to tell her how good she was—hope she got the message.

Who knew how noisy floor men can be? They have drills or something that sound like the devil’s invention, and then there’s the non-rhythmic tapping and the zing of what sounds like an electric stapler.  But the three men were pleasant, polite, and helpful.
My partially finished new bedroomfloor

The owner had been here over an hour when Jordan came out to look, and he immediately began to explain something to her that he had not mentioned to me. Perhaps I am over-sensitive, but I took it as age discrimination. I wanted to assert myself and inform him I’m the one who will be living with that threshold and I am the one paying for it. But I contented myself by pointing out a threshold he installed three years ago which is difficult for me on the walker. I hate it when people assume I am not responsible or capable and immediately begin talking to Jordan. It happens a lot in doctor’s offices.

I did better than I expected sleeping on the couch last night—good thing, because it’s looking like I have two more nights there. Both Jacob and Megan have complained it is too short, but I, taller than they are, could straighten my legs. Yes, it’s a little narrow but not bad. When I once got up in the night, Sophie jumped up there but listened to a stern, “No you don’t.”

All in all, it was a long day, but I got quite a bit of writing and research done and even got a nap on the couch—lulled to sleep (?) by the floor noises. Tonight, I’m looking forward to a visit from neighbor Mary, and we’ll feast on bowls of that good cold soup I made over the weekend.

Sometimes—frequently for me—anticipation is worse than the event, and that’s the way with the installation of the wood floor. I’m glad to have it started and to find out it’s not the ordeal I thought it would be.

Monday, July 29, 2019

I’m not blogging about this

We are all to some extent creatures of habit, me perhaps more than some and perhaps more so as I age. Today my routine was upset. Movers were due at nine o’clock this morning to take three pieces of furniture from my bedroom—a mahogany bed with a six-foot headboard and a four-foot footboard, a matching mahogany buffet with a marble top, and a sewing stand. The buffet is not so heavy, but the bed and buffet are. The plan is for the movers to store the furniture until the new floor is in.

I was not surprised that I woke up at four-thirty and could not go back to sleep. Anticipation. Worrying about those few last-minute things I had to move—a drawer to be emptied, the bed to be stripped. With the help of Jordan and Jacob, I had emptied drawers over a two-week period and moved chairs and gotten everything off the floor and much of it stored in the main house. But there was that nervous anticipation.

The movers arrived promptly, and all seemed well. But then they had trouble dismantling the bed frame, and that made me nervous. It’s the bed my parents slept in—probably the one in which I was conceived—and it’s a memory from childhood, the place I would go for comfort. I remember once having nightmares—the only time in my life—and going to sleep with my parents. And I remember as a tiny child being invited to cuddle in the mornings. No, I don’t want anything to happen to that bed. The buffet was always in our dining room. Now its marble is broken into two pieces, and I am never sure if it always was or if that happened in one of my moves since I’ve had it. The sewing stand, also a piece of childhood memory, is light and not a problem—and it makes a great bedside table. I love being surrounded by family antiques.

They got everything moved in fairly short order once they figured out how to deal with the bed. And Omigosh! The mess under the bed. And the difference in color in the carpet where it was trafficked from where it was under the bed. That carpet was a mistake from the beginning. W will leave it in the closet simply because clearing out the closet was too much to even contemplate. I took pictures of the mess, but even as I did, I heard Jordan’s words, “Don’t blog about this.” I am not sharing those pictures.

The floor people had said they’d be here “after lunch,” but time ticked away. By two I decided to take a nap on the couch, figuring I could hop right up if they arrived. They didn’t, and now I hear that they will be here at nine-thirty in the morning. I can sleep late, provided the couch lets me sleep soundly.

I was delighted that with all this today I got quite a bit of writing done and am headed in the right direction on research. But I sure will be glad to have my house back in order and to sleep in my own bed. Who knows when?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A one-day vacation

Today I took a one-day vacation. I hadn’t intended to, but when the notion struck me, it seemed just right. Jordan announced last night that she and Jacob would go to Frisco this morning to pick up golf clubs from Jamie. Did I want to go? My first reaction—so typical—was no, thank you, I have work to do. But then I thought how I moan and groan because I don’t see much of Jamie, and he complains that it takes a chunk of time to come to Fort Worth. He was here the last two Saturdays in a row, and it seemed that if I had a chance for even a brief visit, I should go. And besides, what really would I have done that I could not do tomorrow.

So a little after ten we set out for Frisco. I enjoyed the drive. Because I’m so conscious these days of the need to plant trees to add oxygen to our environment, I realized how many thick patches of uncleared land there are even between here and Dallas, especially after you get on the George Bush and pass a road called Lower Tarrant County. Always makes me smile because it sounds like “Inferior Tarrant County,” some sort of slum.

We had a good if brief visit with Jamie, Mel, and Eden. Jacob got to ride some sort of power bike that his uncle had and came away convinced he must have one. We talked, drank tea, and were on the road home too quickly—Jacob had a golf date with his father. We stopped at Starbucks for lunch from the drive-through—remind me not to do that anymore. I do not want sandwiches with those puffy, pre-fab eggs ever again. And the only decaf tea (my doctor says I must) was passion fruit. I am not a fan of fruity teas and rode home in a semi-snit, which, fortunately, I managed to talk myself out of.

Tonight was Sunday supper. I had gotten salmon, but only a pound—for three of us. Guess I wasn’t thinking. Christian went back to Central Market, got more salmon and some shrimp for Jacob who doesn’t like salmon—or hasn’t tried it, I’m not sure which. Christian marinated it in the fresh pesto I made yesterday and then grilled it—absolutely sublime. He and I both had leftovers, which sort of proves that one pound would do, but I am grateful for lunch or dinner tomorrow.

The real treat of the day came as we sat around the table after dinner. I’m not sure how it started, but Christian, Jacob, and I got into a lengthy discussion of politics. I mean, we covered the whole gamut—from trump to abortion to racism to how our democracy works or currently doesn’t work, how trump was elected, what options are open now. Jacob asked a lot of questions but showed a good understanding of the subject. At times, we were all battling to be the one to speak.

The entire exchange was satisfying on several levels. I was delighted to have Jacob take an intelligent interest, when a lot of kids his age would have shrugged off the whole thing with a lack of interest. He was passionately engaged. In the past, Christian and I have not always agreed—he tended to think my activism was extreme—and yet tonight we were 95% in agreement. And finally, such discussions help me keep my mind sharp. I had complained tonight to Jordan about being thought of as “the old lady” until she said, “Don’t say that again. It’s not true, and I’m tired of hearing it.” Our discussion and my ability to articulate what I believe and support it with facts reassured me.

I will sleep happy tonight, though tomorrow will be difficult. The movers come at nine to take away my bedroom furniture, and the floor people come after lunch to begin stripping up the ruined carpet (a/c leak) and installing hardwoods. The cottage is already a mess, crowed with things we’ve taken out of the bedroom. Sophie’s crate is down from the attic, and she has slept in it last night and twice today. Tomorrow she’ll have to spend a lot of the day in it to be out of the workmen’s way. And tomorrow night, I will have to sleep on the couch. I will be so glad when this is over.

Even in my eighties, life is never dull, and I am so grateful.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Lost in the past…and wishing I was

I have been having so much fun lately reading the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fort Worth Register from around 1900. You know, the kind of paper that reported the social news. Mrs. So and So entertained Mrs. A. B. Wharton at tea, and Mrs. Wharton honored her sister-in-law with a luncheon that was “delicious and delightful.” Of course, there are endless advertisements, but there’s an occasional lynching—two ranchers angry at a third rancher—and the lawyer who was surprised when his wife did not greet him at the train station when he arrived from a business trip. He went home and got to exploring—found a letter to her from her lover.

Articles about the early use of automobiles in Fort Worth are especially interesting to me. Did you know there was a racing park, sort of behind where the Montgomery Ward’s Plaza now is? Car races were all the thing, almost as popular as horse races, and A.B. Wharton once raced against legendary driver, Barney Oldfield. I remember my mom talked about Oldfield—if she thought someone was driving too fast, she’d ask, “Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?”

These old newspaper accounts are hard on the eyes but a joy to the mind. Sometimes I think I’d like to have lived back then, but of course I realize I’m reading about people of privilege. For large segments of our population—the poor, people of color, the ill—life back then was even harder than it is today.

I’ve had the thought lately that I’ve lived too long—not because I’m tired of life, but because I simply cannot believe what’s going on in our country. For much of my life, Russia was the great enemy to be terribly feared. Their government, if not their people, was bent on destroying America. I lived through the McCarthy era, though my memories of it are vague, and through the Cold War, where we were terrified that atomic bombs would rain down on us. School children hid under their desks or in hallways during raids, and William Faulkner assured us in his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature that mankind will not only endure, he will prevail.

And yet here we are today, with clear evidence that Russia manipulated our presidential elections, indeed was responsible for scooting a criminal into the presidency. Putin as much as said the goal was to turn Americans against their government. Mission successful. Yet the controlling political party does not bat an eyelash. No outrage, no anger. Chin up and eyes out the window—they act like nothing happened. Predictions from those who know are that meddling in our elections is continuing and will increase with the 2020 election—and yet the Senate vows to do nothing, rejects bills that might protect the process.

In another day, in another time there would have been outraged howls of treason and immediate action. What has happened to us as Americans?

I guess one of the things I do when stressed is to cook, because today I made pesto from the basil plant growing in a pot on my desk and made a big pot of the cold cucumber soup I love. For m supper I cooked scallops. Unless I’m going all out and making Coquille St. Jacques, I have a hard time with scallops. But tonight I sort of followed Ina Garten’s recipe for scallops Meuniere—dredged them in flour, browned quickly, then simmered briefly in white wine, and served with a dash of lemon. So good!

Sweet dreams everyone. I hope I dream tonight of scallops and cold cucumber soup and turn-of-the-century teas with “delicious and delightful” food—and not of Russians rigging our voting machines. And I really hope that Faulkner was right.

Friday, July 26, 2019


It’s happens to all of us. In fact, friends and I talked about it at dinner last night. Maybe that’s what jinxed me. More likely it was the fact that I went to bed much earlier than usual. Ten o’clock, and I slept soundly until one. But then there I was, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. One friend had said the worst thing you can do is think about things. But how do you turn your mind off? I have never been able to meditate or focus on my mantra—do I have one?—for that reason. My mind is a busy little critter that darts hither and yon.

I discovered last night that thinking about our country’s current political situation, with what I see as a huge move toward a police state—federal executions to resume, ICE can stop anyone anywhere and demand identification—is not a pathway to sleep. (That new ruling, expanding ICE powers, reminds me of a man I knew who grew up in Columbia, had lived in the States for many years, and was still terrified to leave his home without his identification—this long before trump’s insane deportation policies.)

So I thought about the manuscript I’m working on and the passage I hoped to write today. Medium good. But my thoughts drifted. I thought about the things I want to cook this weekend, and my grandson due home from camp tomorrow, and the dinner with friends I’d just had. I thought about a forthcoming trip to New Mexico and whether or not altitude would affect my A Fib, although two doctors’ offices have assured me it will not. As you can see, some of these are comforting subjects and some are not.

Finally about five o’clock I drifted into a restless sleep and dreamt that my youngest son had misbehaved badly. Poor thing—as far as I know he’s been a model of good behavior. Well, most of the time.

A 6:45 Sophie wanted to go out, and after she came in, I thought about trying to sleep but I knew it was useless. Jordan had said we’d go to the grocery at 8:30, and I needed to be ready. When she came out, she took one look at me and asked, “What’s wrong?” It’s bad enough to feel out of kilter but knowing it’s obvious to someone who knows you well only makes it worse.

You know that saying often associated with Hillary Clinton? “But nonetheless, she persisted”? Well, that’s what I did. I soldiered on. Went to the grocery. Spent too long on the phone with the public library trying to sort out a web access problem, less time but still too much trying to sort out a Central Market order—I have to say in both cases the people on the other end of the line were charming, helpful, and kind. Wrote the passage stored in my mind, tried to make pesto and figured out my counter-size processor won’t do it, poached chicken breasts because I’ve decided that’s easier than de-boning a rotisseries chicken, ate a salmon pattie for dinner and wondered when I would remember that the ones I make at home are much better than the ones I get even from a sophisticated take-out counter.

Yeah, It wasn’t a bad day, but I sure would like to sleep soundly tonight. I hope each and every one of you sleep hard and have pleasant dreams tonight.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Recovery and trivia

I’ve spent the last two days recovering from my birthday. Yesterday I was on fire. By noon, I had been to a doctor’s appointment, written a thousand words, finished the novel I was reading, and, best of all, eaten my Christmas dinner leftovers. Today not so much fire.

It was a day to keep the TV on, even though I was working. I’m no good at focusing on the TV alone, so I was working with one eye on it. I saw a man who is methodical, soft-spoken, controlled, and absolutely thorough. I think some of my persuasion wanted sudden fire and brimstone, dramatics and passion, but that’s not who Mueller is, was, or ever will be. Nitpickers can call dementia and slipping and vague and all the other things I read on Facebook today, but I think he delivered what we need. People also expect instant results, but it will take a few days—or much longer—for this to shake out. But I believe we are on the road to outing a corrupt administration and an equally corrupt political party. And this country owes Robert Mueller a huge debt of gratitude for speaking honestly without fear. Would that others would do that.

So I did a bit of research on my current project, got involved in answering editorial queries on the Alamo book, and yes, keeping up with the social niceties—answering messages to friends, sending notes where I should—a thank you for fresh tomatoes, a note of support where there is illness in the family. A thoroughly satisfying day.

The weather has been so mild for July that I’ve worked with the French doors open. Last night friends of Jordan’s came by for happy hour, and we considered the patio but thought it a pain to transport Jordan’s wonderful array of snacks, so we visited with the door open.

Tonight Betty and I went back to the Tavern for supper. We liked what we had so much last week that we had it all over again--sole piccata or meuniere (whichever—I think they are about the same) with good, buttery mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

Some trivia that I like;

Jordan’s brother-from-another-mother brought me a delightful birthday card. It had a definition of ‘Framily”—friends who are more like family. That’s definitely what David Barnes is to the Alters.

A billboard outside a church: “Too hot to change the billboard. Sin bad, Jesus good. Details inside.”

There’s your laugh for the day. May all your days be filled with laughter and joy, and your troubles few and far between.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Christmas in July

The Christmas in July table
I intended on this my eighty-first birthday to wax eloquent about how blessed I am with memories. There are many things I can no longer do, many occasions and friendships that enriched my life but will not come around again. But the thing I am so grateful for is all the wonderful memories I have. I have become one of those tiresome old ladies who says, “Let me tell you about the time….” and launches into tale after endless tale.

But all such thoughts have flown away in the face of what a wonderful day I had. Because I requested turkey dinner with all the trimmings, Jordan went all out and set the table with the Christmas Spode china, the sparkling red goblets, red roses, and red chargers. It was a true holiday table, and I loved it.

We were joined for dinner by Jordan’s brother-from-another-mother, David, who has been family for thirty years or more, and his wife, a new addition we all adore. Lots of talk and laughter, mostly about trips everywhere from the Caribbean to skiing in Colorado.

Dinner met with success—it was a makeshift turkey and dressing, because do you know how hard it is to find a turkey or a turkey breast in July? Talk about a seasonal market! But I came up with a substitute turkey and dressing dish—no, it was not faux turkey—that met with approval and everyone ate heartily. Jordan fixed the traditional green been casserole and her signature mashed potatoes. You know what? Even turkey gravy from a packet tastes good in those situations.

We topped it off with the richest chocolate cake I’ve had forever—mousses and ganache with a bit of cake in between. A lovely evening.

My day was also blest by the wonderful messages from so many people—from my kids, of course, who called throughout the day, and my brother, and a niece and nephew I don’t hear from often. Plus email messages from several dear friends from the writing world, neighbors, and people I met through TCU, plus countless Facebook greetings from a wide variety of people—friends from daily life, members of Sisters in Crime, people I’ve met on Facebook who share my political views. I am overwhelmed and feel appreciated and noticed—and when it comes down to it, what more do any of us want?

A good birthday in that I’ve done all the things I like—cooked (part of my own dinner—more about that in Thursday’s food blog), worked, read, napped, loved on my dog, and most of all felt the love of family and a wide network of friends. Many thanks to you all
Eighty-one and feeling happy

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Lazy Sunday, sort of

The northern-style bread-stuffing I made today
Jordan and Christian are off to take Jacob to Sky Ranch, and I have the “compound” to myself. When Jacob came out to tell me goodbye, I discovered his education has been severely lacking. I found a wishbone I’d tucked away to dry and held it out to him, thinking we would each make a wish before he left. He looked blank and asked, ‘What is that? What am I supposed to do with ii?” I crooked my finger around one end and indicated he should do the same. This was sort of difficult because it was from a rotisserie chicken and was tiny. As soon as he got his finger around it, he pulled, and it flew out of my hand. So I explained, we made silent wishes, and pulled. He won, and I really hope his wish comes true.

I’m still cleaning drawers in preparation for having the furniture moved out of my bedroom while they put new floors in. Amazing the things you find that you have no place for and yet don’t want to get rid of. A small oil of an ocean/wave scene, done in shades of brown instead of blue—it has a small three-corner tear in the beige sky that I never had repaired, but I always loved the painting. It’s signed, but I don’t know a thing about the artist. A dish towel with various places in Scotland shown on it. A bunch of half slips—ladies, remember when we wore those? (I did get rid of them.) Lots of winter-weight pants and jeans—now I have to inventory the closet and decide which to keep, which to donate. I do not need five pairs of jeans! Found my wool beret, scarf, and leather-palmed gloves, just in case we have sleet and snow ever again.

The summer issue of my “only occasional” newsletter went out Friday, and it’s had an unexpected side benefit—I’ve heard from several old friends in reaction to it, including a former boss at the university who said something unfortunate about my age bracket. I know he meant it as a compliment, but it caught me up short for a moment. Two local friends that I lost touch with responded, and I am hoping we can have lunch one day soon.

I’ve asked for turkey for my birthday dinner, because my mom always fixed it when I was a kid—served cold with potato salad—and because we’re always gone for turkey holidays and never get leftovers. We will not serve it cold but will make a casserole of my invention. Wish me luck.

So this morning I made old-fashioned, northern-style bread dressing. It was a by-guess and by-gosh process, because I couldn’t really find a recipe on line—some called for sausage, others for eggs, the one I used as a sort of guide called for eight stalks of celery which I thought excessive. And not a one told you how much bread in usable terms—a loaf didn’t help when I was using odd bits of baguettes in the freezer. I tried to remember how my mom did it, and I imagined her looking over my shoulder, making suggestions—that’s how I learned to cook. The taste I tried was pretty good, but we will serve this to people used to cornbread stuffing. We’ll see.

It’s late afternoon, and I plan to devote the rest of the day to reading a novel. With a big salad and a glass of wine for dinner—and a piece of the mousse cake we cut into last night. Might as well spoil myself.