Monday, January 21, 2019

Moon watch and the mystery of young boys

So there we were, all four of us, bundled up and huddled under blankets, sitting on the patio watching the moon. With high enthusiasm, Jacob had organized this moon watch, even coaxing out his mom who had spent the weekend in bed being sick and feeling utterly miserable. We probably went too early, right at the start—it was a slow process. Christian described it as watching paint dry, and I laughed because long ago I had a friend who literally could be content watching paint dry. Jacob was the first to spot just the beginning of an orange-red color. I was the first to retreat inside where it was warm, but I returned when Christian came to tell me it was near totality.

It was another of those rare moments when I felt so blessed with my world—they seem to happen a lot on the patio. I think it was because this was Jacob’s party, and he was having such fun. Twelve-year-old boys are funny. On the edge of puberty, they don’t know who they are, and we never know from minute to minute. They can go from sweet and funny to bored and blasé at the flip of a switch, and I guess what sustains the rest of us is that we know that the sweet, funny, affectionate kid we love is still in there. When he favors us, it’s sheer delight.

I am fortunate because Jacob comes out to talk to me, to sit and love on my dog and talk about school and church—he will be in the pastor’s class this year, whatever it’s called now—and friends and, occasionally, girls, though he’s pretty much sworn off them for the time being. Jacob is impervious to my bits of hard-gained wisdom, such as happiness is a choice you make and so is boredom. But he keeps my thinking young, and I like to think some of my sage advice registers, even if it doesn’t kick in for a few years.

This morning, Jordan came out to the cottage, hammer in hand. Startled, I asked what she intended to do, and she said she was going to finish hanging crosses on my wall. I had a small collection, but thanks to Marjorie who donated some she had collected. They hang on an unavoidably awkward small piece of wall in my bedroom between two doors. I could put a skinny chest of drawers or something there, except that it’s in a direct route between my bed and the bathroom and the path is not wide. I have a vision of crashing my walker into any furniture there at three a.m. so it has remained a blank, empty wall until today. I like the crosses, a couple of which have sentimental stories and one of which I know I’ve had forty years.

Tonight, supper with a longtime, faithful friend who has been so good to me through the rough times of the past few years and whose company I thoroughly enjoy. Tonight, we talked about photo logs—a subject much on my mind these days but one on which she is an expert—and a new book project and all kinds of good things. We ate at Lucille’s, where they serve the lobster bites that Jacob loves so I brought him some. Just because he’s a good kid, and I love him.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

This, that, and the other

A hodgepodge on my mind tonight, but I have to begin with the delicious dinner we just had.  I bought some really good salmon yesterday but, after cooking all week, I was relieved when Christian said he would cook. I gave him the recipe I wanted to try—a molasses/soy marinade. I volunteered to sauté some asparagus and sugar snap peas.

Christian: I’m not much on sugar snap peas.

Me: Have you ever eaten them?

Christian: Yes. And how will you cook the asparagus? I like mine crisp.

Tactfully said, but I told him he should have more faith in me than to think I would overcook the asparagus. As it was, I sautéed asparagus pieces and snap peas in olive oil with a generous splash of soy. Cooked them just enough to get warm, and he liked them. But the salmon was the pièce de résistance—grilled just right so that it was still soft and moist and topped with toasted sesame seeds. Christian was rightly proud of having done the sesame seeds. I always have to do two batches, because I burn the first batch. The molasses marinade gave it an extraordinarily rich flavor.

I was editing our neighborhood newsletter tonight and came across a sentence where the writer said we would utilize something. Struck a nerve. My red pen came out, and I changed utilize to use. It reminded me of a passage I read recently in an online newsletter, stressing the use of the most straightforward words. Using fancier words simply makes you look pretentious. So here are a few suggestions, beyond use for utilize:

For commence, simply say begin;

For launch, say open;

For myriad, say many;

For prior to, say before.

You get the idea—write as you would talk.

I’ve written before about how kind people are when you have a walker, but I found a passage in a short story collection that states it perfectly. The collected short stories, An Elderly Woman Up to No Good by Swedish author Helen Tursten, feature octogenarian Maud whose sins range from kleptomania to murder, mostly the latter which she meticulously plans when people annoy her. It’s a darkly humorous adventure in reading, and I almost read it in one sitting. One feature is that Maud hides her strong body and active mind behind the façade of a frail, slightly dotty old woman. One of her tricks is to use a walker—which she also employs as a murder weapon when the occasion arises.

But here’s the narrator’s description of Maud’s use of the walker: it provided useful support, she could sit on it and have a rest, she was suddenly offered a seat on the bus, people held the door open for her when she went into the stores, and middle-aged female shop assistants started treating her politely and . . . well, they really were quite sweet to her. The walker was a brilliant acquisition.

I think I shall practice the frail old lady part on occasion—just not the murder part.

But excuse me now, Jacob wants to watch the eclipse, and I’ll join him.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

An open letter to Mike Pence,

Mr. Pence, I am greatly offended by your wife’s acceptance of a teaching position at a school that requires sexual pledges of staff and students. As the second highest elected official in our country you should be thoroughly familiar with our history, our Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution. America is a land of equality for all, regardless of race, religion, or gender. As “devout Christians,” you and Mother Pence should know that nowhere does Jesus forbid or condemn such pesky things as abortion, homosexuality, dining alone with a person of another gender, and a raft of other things that seem to bother you.

I am further offended by the idea of Mother Pence working. Is the budget the problem? Surely you do not need a second income. Is this an appointment for show, a volunteer position that allows the school to boast of the celebrity on its faculty? You both should know better than to walk into that trap.

I feel confident that, as SLOTUS, Mother Pence has enough official duties to keep her so busy that she won’t stray, as you apparently think women are wont to do. Perhaps she can help Mrs. Trump with official entertainment and duties, since the latter person doesn’t seem much interested in those things. Besides, the two women seem like they would be so compatible and share the same values. Think what jolly fun they could have serving tea to members of Planned Parenthood or the National Center for Transgender Equality.

I hereby call for SLOTUS to resign from the “Christian” school forthwith, devote herself to her duties as second lady of our country, with enough time left to volunteer to use her teaching skills to bring art to the students in the public-school system of Washington, D.C., where, as in God’s kingdom, all are welcome.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Restaurant memories

Star Café on West Exchange in the Stockyards
I’ve been having lots of fun reading Lost Restaurants of Fort Worth by Celestina Blok. My ex- and I arrived in Fort Worth in 1965 and for several years were dead broke. But when he finished his surgical residency and I finished my graduate studies at TCU, we were able to step out on the town a bit.

We ate at the Carriage House most frequently. I remember a favorite waiter—Chad, a tall, thin man with a big Afro. When he saw me come in, he’d say, “Dover sole and spinach,” and he was right. That was what I wanted every time. The waiters used to serenade birthday customers, and I remember once when Joel told them it was my birthday. They sang to me, much to my embarrassment, while Joel’s mother kept saying, “Judy dear, such a considerate husband you have.” I was seriously thinking about strangling him when we got home.

A few years pass, and we took our two oldest children for their first night out—I think dinner was to be followed by a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore and I now have no memory of how indignant the two younger ones must have been to be left behind. We ate, as always, in the back room where Mac had lined the walls with pictures of nudes. The kids could hardly eat they were so busy surreptitiously glancing at the art. And then there was the time we took my parents—my Scottish father was appalled that Joel spent $40 on a bottle of wine; Dad could hardly drink it.

We ate at Mac’s House frequently enough to be considered regulars—and I even did after our divorce. Colin, my oldest, worked there as a bus boy in high school, and we all have fond memories of Mac’s salad—the recipe is in the book. I also remember the Christmas Eve we all had brandy ices and went straight home to bed instead, as we intended, to the late church service.

The book solves another puzzle for me: for years I’ve wondered why the name Steve’s is embedded in tile in the sidewalk near the back of Lucille’s. In a charming passage, Steve Murrin, Jr., talks about the restaurant his dad, Steve, Sr., had in that spot. The feature was ham sandwiches, and a big part of his business came from people who had been hired to drive used cars to California, where there was a good market for them. They were given lunch money and stopped at Steve’s on their way down Highway 80.

I barely remember the Farmer’s Daughter on South University, a steak and prime rib house fashioned after a northern California fancy restaurant and owned by the man who also owned the Cattleman’s. What I remember best was that after its heyday they used to have wet T-shirt contests, and all the guys would gather to wait for their girls to emerge from the bar. I better remember the London House on Camp Bowie where I first saw—and loved—the concept of a salad bar. Later, the Steak and Ale chain picked up on the idea.

Other memories came flooding back—Theo’s Saddle & Sirloin Inn, supposedly the place that introduced calf fries—can you even get them these days? They also served a delicious sauerkraut soup—I remember taking a suitor there who was horrified that I would eat that. And the cafeterias—remember when Jetton’s introduced the new concept of food stations rather than one long line?

There are places in the book that I never ate and wish I had—Neil Hosper’s Cross Keys and Jimmy Dip’s, the Richelieu Grill where legend has it the famous chili recipe was written on the wall. When the building was demolished, someone saved that piece of plaster wall.

This slim book makes you appreciate what a rich restaurant heritage Fort Worth has. The last chapter is devoted to longtime restaurants that are still feeding us—and they include some of my favorites: Angelo’s Barbecue (who can forget the moth-eaten bear?) and Carshon’s Delicatessen where I still lunch frequently, the Paris Coffee Shop and Joe T. Garcia’s. But where is the Star Café, supposedly the longest continually open restaurant in the city?

Read and enjoy—and then go to the Star for what Bud Kennedy says is the best chicken-fried steak in town.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Going camping—or I apparently thought I was

This brightens our dull days for me

Colin had a minor surgical procedure today, one of those where they tell you to bring a licensed driver who will not leave the premises. So I was his designated driver—since I didn’t drive for two years and there was great family concern about my getting behind the wheel again, just the idea of me as a designated driver is enough to strike fear into some hearts in my family. But I was determined to meet the challenge—and to plan ahead.

Anticipating a long, boring morning in a sterile waiting room, I packed a bag. My purse wasn’t big enough, so I got one of those recyclable bags every other store gives you these days. Into it went a bottle of water (unnecessary—they had water available in the waiting area); a buttered biscuit and a half a bar of dark chocolate with peppermint (unnecessary because I wasn’t there long enough to get hungry though I was anticipating a pre-lunch famine); two pairs of glasses in their cases—sunglasses and readers (unnecessary because it wasn’t  sunny  and I never had time to read more than email and Facebook). By the time I got the bag loaded, it was so heavy I could hardly manage it with the walker. But I felt like I was going on a campout.

And all my preparations were unnecessary because everything went smoothly and quickly. We got to the one-day surgical center at eight-thirty and left at ten-forty-five. I was called back to see Colin twice—once before the procedure and once when he was in recovery. In between I visited with a woman who has three adopted children through the Edna Gladney international program. I saw her T-shirt with “Gladney” on it, and when she kindly asked if she could get me water, I mentioned the shirt and told her I am the proud mother of four Gladney babies, although they’ve long since grown past the baby stage. So then we had a wonderful talk about Gladney and adoption and big families and all that’s entailed. Time passed so quickly that I never even got to read the two books I had on my Kindle just in case.

And then we were off to Carshon’s. Colin does not consider a trip to Fort Worth complete unless he has a Rebecca sandwich at Carshon’s—hold the Russian dressing, please. We visited with staff who have helped us for years—after all, Colin’s beating eating there at least forty-five years.

Tonight we had Doris’ casserole for supper, at Colin’s request. I’ve told that story so many times I’m sure you all know it, but here goes. When my ex was a resident, we went to a small dinner party at another resident’s home. The wife, named Doris, served this casserole called American Beef Casserole that had won a Mrs. America cooking contest or something like that. We loved it, and the wives who were there have cooked it over the years. One calls it American lasagna, because it’s basically a meat and tomato sauce layer, a noodles and cream cheese/sour cream layer, and grated cheese. I’ve even had the catering department at TCU cook it for a luncheon. It’s ubiquitous and delicious-and I ate too much tonight. After residency, I never saw Doris much but once, when I did, I mentioned the casserole—and she didn’t even remember it!

At dinner, Colin, Christian and Jacob got to reminiscing about past family holidays and looking at videos—and I thought what wonderful memories my grandchildren will carry through life. Like the Thanksgiving they hunted for Big Foot on my brother’s ranch and actually found his foot prints (don’t ask!).

Nine-thirty, and my “big baby,” (nearly fifty), is asleep on the couch, and I’m ready to go to sleep. A long but happy day.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A family day

Sophie telling me naptime is over

The holidays are over, the days of family getting together gone for the time being. You really don’t expect much in the way of family reunions in mid-January. But that’s what I had today. A mini-reunion.

My good friend Melinda, who I hired as production manage for TCU Press some sixteen years ago, a position she still holds, brought lunch today—a wonderful chicken salad sandwich on a croissant—and we chattered about publishing and the press and one project in particular, a book I had shepherded. Now she either has to reprint or look to a new edition. I promised to talk to some of the contributors and look ahead into the crystal ball of the future. Meantime, I said, reprint. It’s Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women. IF you’re in Fort Worth and don’t have a copy, order it now.

I expected Colin, my oldest child, about suppertime, so I was surprised when I was in another part of the cottage (hard to do in this small space) and heard the front door. “Your dog isn’t much of a watchdog,” he said. Of course not--she adores him. He just got unloaded for a two-night stay when my brother and sister-in-law arrived. We were having a good visit, when Christian came in, saying he had come home for something he forgot and saw the cars in the driveway. So we had a cheerful, happy reunion. My brother has not been feeling well lately, was sick over Christmas, so I was delighted to see him with good color, in good humor, and by his own admission feeling a lot better. We siblings are aging, and it’s easy to worry about each other.

Tonight, with Jordan enjoying sunrises in Puerto Rico, I fixed dinner—a repeat of last night’s spaghetti. I am spending the week cooking a day ahead of myself—today I cooked tomorrow night’s dinner, and tomorrow I will at least get a start on Wednesday’s dinner. Jordan comes home Wednesday and announced she would really like a dinner. So she’ll get chicken pot pie—Jacob liked it so well last time he used fresh strawberries to wipe up the sauce left on his plate.

It’s a social week for me, but that’s okay because I’m in a holding pattern—waiting for the editor’s comments on my Alamo manuscript, waiting while people research photo requests, etc. And I’m reading fiction—what a joy.

Hope your week is off to as good a start as mine. What more can a mom ask than to have one of her out-of-town kids asleep on her couch. I am, always, blessed.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

When I grow old, I shall wear purple...and red!

I did not make it to church this morning. There was uncertainty in the household about how Jordan’s 3:30 a.m. departure for a business trip would affect everyone’s sleep, so I elected not to scurry around and get ready for church only to hear at ten in the morning that my escorts were not going. I attended church via live streaming, which is a blessing.
And I was so glad I did. The sermon was about asking the bigger questions, such as if I am to love my neighbor, who is my neighbor. But the takeaway for me came when Russ Peterman quote Scott Colglazier, who was the UCC minister for eleven years (and married Jordan and Christian). Scott said there are two kinds of churches: answer churches and journey churches. Answer churches have a prepared answer for every question you ask—I would assume that encompasses their bans on abortion and gay marriage, among other issues. But at journey churches, we seek together to find the answers to question that arise. I love that approach, because I have always thought I go to church not to study ancient Biblical texts but to find the answer to how I can better live my life today. That’s a journey, and I am happy to be on that journey with my church.
My second philosophical moment came when I discovered an article by Mary Pipher, author of the forthcoming Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. Pipher’s thesis is that women in their seventies and above are happier, more fulfilled than at any other stage in their lives. In our seventies and beyond, we are marginalized—something I am very aware of on my walker. But most of us consider ourselves vibrant and happy. We have learned not to expect too much but to find happiness in what we have. We have learned how to make our own happiness, how to create a good day.
This resonates with me because, after a series of fairly devastating health problems, I am feeling better, healthier, and happier than perhaps I ever have in my life, except maybe when my babies were little. There are some things I miss about my earlier life—the social involvement, the sense of being part of something important (In my case, publishing), the possibility of romance. But like magic, those concerns have disappeared. What matters to me these days is love of family and friends, and I have that in abundance. I have meaningful work and the avocation of cooking. My days are full and busy.
Happiness comes from small things—like a discussion tonight of family genetics with Jacob who was truly engaged and interested—and not from the most exciting party, the latest love of my life, the thrill of professional recognition. I make my own happiness these days.
I know all this could be swept away in an instance. A friend, much younger than I, died in her sleep recently, and the threat of a dread disease hangs over me. But I will not cross my bridges until I come to them, and I will not let the world spoil the extraordinary physical and emotional well-being I am enjoying.
Not over seventy? Not female? No matter. I suggest you read the article anyway. And the book, due out January 15—uh-oh, tax day for those of us who pay quarterly—is on my TBR list Find the article at
Happy week ahead, everyone!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

An Aha! moment and no more boredom

This story begins with my shoulders. I know for sure I have one torn rotator cuff, torn so long ago the muscles have atrophied beyond repair. I suspect the other shoulder is in the same shape. Yes, my reach exceeds my grasp, and I can’t put dishes on the second shelf, etc. But mostly it doesn’t bother me. And then, sometimes it does. Last night was one of those nights. I woke about 2:30 with both shoulders painfully stiff—maybe I slept wrong. But I couldn’t go back to sleep. You know about those three o’clock in the morning thoughts—they can be devastating.  And for a while, they were.
But then I had an aha! moment and came up with an idea for a new book. No, I’m not going to share—I don’t trust a one of you not to usurp my idea and run with it. But I lay there creating notes for an introduction, a table of contents, a list of things to check on the web in the morning. In fact, I was so revved up about this I nearly got out of bed and headed for the computer—but that violates one of my principle rules for dealing with middle of the night wakefulness. So I stayed cozy and comfortable and plotted and planned—no, its not another mystery. I will give you a hint: it involves subjects dear to my heart, including Texas.
I did finally fall asleep again, and worried that I’d forget everything. I used to work for a man who would wake in the night, think of something, and call to leave it on his administrative assistant’s voicemail. I don’t have that option This morning I felt rushed when truly it was a day I had not much to do, except pick up my groceries at Central Market. To my joy, I remembered all the planning I’d done in the night. Internet exploration convinced me this this is good topic, because there’s nothing on it.
So today has been busy. I delivered an orchid to a friend for her birthday, picked up my groceries, explored on the internet a lot. Tonight, soup of the week—an accumulation from my freezer, which seems perfect for a chilly night. Then I’m going to investigate vacation housing for my clan, all sixteen of us, next Christmas. And then, the luxury of a good book.
So glad to be over my spell of boredom. It’s absolutely no fun to be bored or to feel sorry for yourself. Besides, today was rain free and a bit brighter though still not filled with sunshine.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The downside of a rainy day, some encouraging news, and advice from Jesus

Rainy, chilly, damp and dark in North Texas today, and frankly I was bored. I find that a whiney admission on my part, some sort of lack of character, but nothing engaged me, and time dragged. I am doing photo research but was stymied—one curator is out of the office for an indeterminate time, as in months, and not a single other soul can help me; another was just out today, so I suppose I can call her Monday; and a third office is only open Monday through Thursday. I suppose photo research is not considered urgent, but when it’s what’s next on your plate, such lack of response is frustrating. I have emailed a couple of archives twice with no response.
And I finished the cozy mystery, Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, that I was much enjoying. I always hate to finish a book when I’ve gotten absorbed in the story and its world. I didn’t expect to like this one so well—a British cozy set on an estate in the 1920s, very Agatha Christie-like with the houseguests at a Saturday-to-Monday the suspects in the murder. But the hostess, recently widowed Adelaide Compton, is charming, sly and witty behind the naïve and overly kind façade the world sees. And when her late husband, a terrible philanderer, reappears in ghostly form, she thinks she is losing her mind. A standard cast of characters, including the dullard nobleman who wants to marry her, but then. .. there’s the handsome inspector of British and Indian descent, so good looking, so…. well, read and find out. It’s all good fun.
One of my new year’s resolutions was to share more positive posts on Facebook, and I’ve been pleased to share several on environmental subjects. From schools in the jungles of Brazil to roads in India made from discarded plastic and from high sales of electric cars in Norway to desert lands reclaimed by using ancient farming methods, it seems to me the world is light years ahead of America, the so-called strongest nation in the world, on saving our physical world. While our government allows pollution of rivers and the use of poisonous pesticide with nary a thought to the consequences, much of the world seems to understand climate change and the desperate need to change our ways. Some days it’s enough to start me fantasizing about moving, though I’m too old for that.
And then there’s this word about Biblical commandments. You have my permission to throw it in the face of the next rigid, righteous Christian you meet. In his daily meditation yesterday, Richard Rohr, a monk well known for his theological writing, pointed out that there are 613 clear commandments in the Bible (do you think he counted them?), but Jesus reduced them to two: Love they God, and love they neighbor as thyself. See? You don’t have to worry about abortion and LGBTQ and other people’s marriages and marijuana and any of those things that send some off into a tizzy. Why did Mike Pence, that walking uptight bundle of repressed emotions, rush into my mind when I read that? I read today he predicts legalized abortion will disappear in this country soon. Talk about rigid ways. But back to Jesus’ two commands, just think if we all, Christian or not, followed those two commandments, what a great world it would be.
Here’s a link to Rohr’s complete meditation for the day. I read his work daily and find it inspiring, pushing me in a direction I need and want to go.
Which reminds me of a joyful note: Tarrant County Republicans voted NOT to unseat the duly elected co-chair because of his Muslim religion. Can you imagine? It should never have been an issue at all, but at least good sense won out. He can worship his God, I can worship mine, and we both can love our neighbors. Great hope for the world.
Tomorrow I plan to avoid boredom. I’ll do a grocery run, make a batch of spaghetti sauce, and think some more about the vague idea for a mystery that is batting around in my mind.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Dancing with my walker

A neighbor, sending an email about another matter, asked that question I hear too often: Are you walking yet? It was well intentioned, and I’m afraid my reply was a rant. Two years ago this month I had a rather bizarre surgery on my hip—the damage to the hip was such that the surgeon had to invent a new technique to repair it. And I’ll sing his praise loud and long, because  I have been walking, with a walker, since a month or two after the surgery, though full recovery took a lot longer.
But today I can dance with my walker—you should see my sidestep! (I have actually seen dance classes for people on walkers,though I don't' know of any around here.) The thing is, “Are you walking yet” is the wrong question. Yes, I’m walking. Is the walker going away? No, It’s a lifetime companion, and for a good reason. My balance was never a strong point all my life, and it’s shakier than ever now. And I have a semi-phobic fear of open spaces (and heights), so I’m a candidate for a fall. And before the surgery, I fell a lot.
Once before the surgery I fell in the parking lot at Central Market, and a man rushed to help, asking, “Are you all right.” I replied, “Oh, yes, I’ve fallen so often I’m used to it.” A bit taken aback, he said, “I guess, you’re a pro at it.”
The thing is that my surgeon has told me that another fall could render me bedridden, so he’s a big advocate for the walker. And so am I. It’s my security, my best friends. And it doesn’t keep me from doing much that I really want to do—I drive, I go out to eat, I shop, I run other errands. My life is full. So, “Ae you walking yet?” is the wrong question. I’m grateful for the interest, but the last thing I want is to be thought of as the “little old lady on a walker.” Think about hearing aids (yeah, I've got those too)--they don't change how you feel about a person, so why should a walker?
While I’m at it, the other questions I get is “How are you feeling?” Think about it. That’s not how you greet a friend who’s in good health. You may say, as my son did yesterday, “How’s it going?” or “What’s going on?” or, the question I like: “What are you writing?” Asking me how I feel implies that my health defines me, and I don’t want that to be the case. Yes, I’ve had some blips on my health screen—but I am over them, And to tell the truth, I’ve probably never felt better in my life.
I don’t mean to diss on those who ask, with genuine concern, about my health and well-being. I am grateful for the concern. But I am almost desperate to ensure that people not treat me like an invalid—or think of me that way. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

Monday, January 07, 2019

This is how my garden grows

One of my Christmas gifts this year was an indoor herb garden. We’ve all seen indoor herb gardens—ho hum, the herbs wither and die before you can do anything with them. Not this one! It’s hydroponic, automatic, and nearly foolproof. You place little cups of pre-planted seeds in the designated holes, fill the receptacle with water, and plug it in. The light in the arm over the plants cycles on for 16 hours, off for eight; all you have to do is fill the reservoir with water when the indicator gets low. My gift came with a wide selection of seeds—later I read the reason the starter kit was three basil plants is that basil is easy to grow and fairly unforgiving. I didn’t read that in time, so I planted basil, mustard greens, and romaine—shoot, if it’s dangerous to buy, I might as well grow my own. The kit comes with two extensions for the light arm so as the plants grow you can raise the light and allow them to increase in height.

Called Click and Grow, the company has a web site and is most responsive to questions—I asked about why my light was going off and on because the instructions didn’t say, and I got not one but two quick responses. Apparently, there are also all sorts of videos on YouTube about pruning, etc. I will explore, but for now I’m in the seedling stage. Even Jacob is having fun watching them grow.
Last year, neighbor Jay planted basil outside my front door. It struggled but finally flourished into a big plant as basil will do Trouble was I couldn't get down from the walker to harvest it, so if no one was around to cut it, I couldn't get to my basil. Now it will be handy on my desk top.

A last look at Christmas ligh ts
It’s all over but the shouting and maybe that’s over too—another holiday season has come and gone. Son Jamie, giver of the herb garden, was here today, and he and Christian had a mournful discussion about how sad it makes them to take down the Christmas tree. “The house looks so boring,” Christian said. I definitely feel that and am turning on my Christmas lights as long as I have them. Tonight, Jordan whisked away the wreath from my front door, the snowman who stood outside the steps, the large snifter of Christmas ornaments, and the German Kinder Claus and Scottish Santa Mac from my coffee table. I’m back to Mexican tin art—a Chihuahua and a wise old owl--on the coffee table. I’m sure the tree and the lighted glass block will disappear soon, so I took one last picture. My spray of green neon lights—from a diffuser that throws these dots of lights on the neighbors’ wall—remains all year, and I love it. Somehow though I haven’t figured out the cycle. I turn it on in the evening and off when I go to bed, but if I wake in the night—says three or four in the morning—the lights are on again, though they are always off when I get up in the morning.

Last night, Jordan and Christian lingered by the firepit after the guests had left, and Jordan found herself buried in dogs with the most amazed expression on her face. This picture somehow seems a fitting end to the holiday season, though I must say I woke during the night because the cottage smelled to strongly of pinion smoke. Today I’m used to it, but Jamie said he smelled it immediately when he came in, and Christian came in and threw open the doors to get fresh air in. Next time we have a fire we will keep my French doors closed.

The end of a wonderful holiday season is but the beginning of a new year. May all your dreams and hopes and wishes come true and may the Good Lord smile upon you.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Reflective moments

My dinner companions

Dinner last night with two old and dear friends—both, like me, former doctors’ wives, one divorced, as I am, and one widowed. We talked of ex-husbands and good times and people we knew and now wonder about and those halcyon days when we thought we had the world on a strong. It’s been a long fifty years since we met, and our paths have diverged, but I am so grateful that we can still remember and laugh and mourn together—and toast our good fortune. The talk got me reflecting back on my life and marriage—when my husband left, I was devastated, afraid I could not raise four children on my own. But he gave me the greatest gift, besides giving me the four children. I found out I could do it and with some degree of success—they are all happy with good careers and families of their own, and I am so proud of them and so sorry he never shared in the joy of watching them mature and never was part of the “family” we became. And I am grateful that he freed me to pursue a career of my own, instead of focusing my life on being a doctor’s wife. I may not have hit the bestseller list or overseen publication of a work that shook the halls of academia, but it’s been a good and rewarding career.

Another reflective moment: Jacob was an acolyte at church today, probably his last stint in
that role. He’s aged out. Generally, children do it in fifth or sixth grade or through their twelfth year, which means he could do it until spring. But I think he’s done, so it was a bittersweet moment—and a different experience since the church was set up for the Boar’s Head Festival and he had to improvise a bit on the candle lighting and snuffing. In honor of the occasion, lots of pictures, including one with the senior minister. But I like the one with his grandmother best.

And tonight, a small gathering of people I care about for Twelfth Night. When I was a kid, my neighbor/adopted aunt always had a Twelfth Night ceremony whereby you threw a branch of the tree into the fire and made a wish. The kids and I have continued the tradition for years. With Jordan, it’s grown beyond family to something we share with others. She did her usual magic job of entertaining tonight, with a happy hour spread and plentiful wine. The night was slightly chilly but we all gathered around the fire pit to throw our greens and make our wishes and enjoy the warmth of the fire. Christian had gotten some pinion to burn with the firewood, and it smelled wonderful, even if smoke did get into our eyes and hair. One of those moments when I felt so blessed. And no, I’m not telling what my

wish was—that would ruin the whole thing.

Now I’m inside, hearing voice from Jordan, Christian, and a friend who lingered and seeing the flames. Next year we need Graham crackers and Hershey bars and marshmallows.

Friday, January 04, 2019

A dinner date that wasn’t and a glance at politics

Friday night looming, and I thought a dinner date would be fun, so I approached the most eligible male I know. Here’s how the conversation went yesterday:

Me: Jacob, you want to go to dinner tomorrow night? Your folks are going out.

Jacob, with extreme caution: With who?

Me, brightly: Me

Jacob, the caution still evident: Who else? (He thinks my friends are dull, particularly his Aunt Betty who adores him and with whom I frequently go out to supper. His complaint is we talk about politics.)

Me: No one else, just me.

Jacob, the caution lessening just a bit: Where?

Me: Wherever you’d like to go. (Now I admit I would draw the line at some places, but I was pretty much open.)

Jacob: I’ll think about it.

The last I saw of him he left at one o’clock for a movie with a buddy. I presume his parents know where he is, but I don’t. Jordan did explain that he’d been home without friends for two days—the horror of it!—and needed some buddy time.

So I had a bowl of terrific venison chili, gifted to me by a friend, and a big salad with blue cheese dressing, homemade, of course. Dinner out wouldn’t have tasted as good, but the company might have been better. Then again, I’d have had to decree no cell phone.

I am almost glued to the internet these days, following the goings on in Washington—fascinated by the new Congress, with its diversity (although a couple of the women need to learn to think of ramifications before they speak), filled with admiration for Nancy Pelosi’s tough confidence, and appalled at the squatting president. The wall controversy seems to get worse and worse, but I believe Democrats cannot give in on trump’s foolish obsession and what it turns out is mostly a desire on his part to save face. Once they succumb to the temper tantrum, trump will know he can bully them. I grieve for the Federal employees on whom this is a real hardship, for our national parks where garbage is piling up, for our nation which will soon be a real mess without government. But I do have to laugh when trump claims he is overcome with phone calls supporting his stance on the wall—and then someone points out that because of the shutdown, the White House switchboard is closed. Fascinating days we live in—but oh so scary.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Is this a forecast for 2019?

This has been the kind of day that only North Texas can deliver—cold, wet, gloomy, not quite freezing, not cold enough for lovely snow. I grew up in Chicago and lived four years in northeast Missouri—the icebox corner of the state—but that kind of clean cold and dirty snow doesn’t compare with the bone-chilling damp we had today. I sat at my computer in my all-purpose gray sweater (I really need to relinquish it long enough to send it to the cleaners, but this time of year I wear it every day). A lap robe over my knees, both of my heat units working—I usually only use one. And it was still chilly. Looking out the window did not brighten my mood, and once again I longed for a fireplace. But I worked and got quite a bit done, a good start on locating pictures for the Alamo book.

Last night, we had ham, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and company. A more subdued evening than the night before, though the guests had also been there for New Year’s Eve. Dinner was delicious—I ordered a pre-cooked, pre-sliced ham from Central Market and cooked a big pot of dried peas. I’d forgotten how much work that is. Christian brought me the dried peas and a piece of salt pork (I would have rather had a ham hock, but I gather the stores were a mess and supplies running out. A friend reported that Central Market was a zoo).

So I made do with what we had—and fought to get that tough skin off the salt pork. Wanted to use chicken broth, which meant I had to make it from the concentrate I keep in the fridge—six cups is a lot as you spoon out the concentrate and finally put it in boiling water. And then chopping an onion—I wore my special onion glasses, but it’s still a chore. At least I can do it without crying. Megan gave me these some time ago, and I have since gifted a lot of my cooking friends with them. I think they’re lifesavers.

Tonight, a friend and I mutually cancelled our dinner date—too cold, too wet, too risky. So I made scalloped potatoes with ham and scallions—okay, I didn’t have an onion and figured I could substitute scallions. All my adult life, I’ve struggled with scalloped potatoes—they were too runny, they were undercooked. My Colin loved them, but I never got them quite right. Tonight, I cheated and used cream of mushroom soup, cooked them in the toaster/oven, for two hours, and they were great—soft, tender, with a nice browned crust. I’ll blog about them on the Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog, along with the super recipe Christian used for corn bread. You begin with a mix and add sugar, sour cream, etc.—so delicious. Watch for it all at in a few days.

So now we are into the routine, the holidays behind us, the government shutdown unfortunately not. It’s either a time of boundless enthusiasm and optimism for the new year—or a time when you think, “Ho, hum, here we go again.” I prefer to choose the boundless optimism. And tonight, my Christmas lights still cheer me. We’ll leave the decorations up until Epiphany, then have yet another party to mark the date.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Taking Stock

New Yer's Eve gaiety with Jordan
and her BFF from high school, David

Oh, how hard it is to remember to write 2019! Soon it will become automatic, but today I must think carefully. Seems to me as we look optimistically toward the new year, it’s a good time to look back and take stock of what happened in 2018. Most folks seem to agree that for a variety of reasons it was a bummer of a year.

Nationally, it was a year beyond belief and not in a good way--one increasingly outrageous act after another, one false tweet followed upon another. But there were hopeful signs—Donald trump’s presidency seems like one of those endangered species that he so wantonly removes hunting restrictions on—it’s endangered and crumbling; the NRA’s hold on America is also crumbling, thanks to some courageous teenage survivors of a horrendous mass shooting; the Republican stranglehold on Congress has been broken—I realize whether or not that is good depends on your personal point of view, but to me that is cause for rejoicing. I have a great deal of confidence in Nancy Pelosi, for whom I will use an unladylike phrase—she’s a tough old broad.

For me personally, health matters were once again prominent in my concerns, and again, there was good news and bad. Recovery from my bizarre and complicated 2017 hip surgery found me stronger every day. I have accepted the doctor’s suggestion that the walker is now my lifetime companion and focused on getting as good on the walker as I can. These days I’m fairly good at collapsing the walker, stashing it in the car, and driving away—I can do errands alone, which is a relief to both me and Jordan. And the atrial fibrillation which flared in 2017 seems under control, but in 2018 eye surgery for an implanted lens that went wandering proved to be an ordeal. I had just gotten over that when I began to feel negative about food. Turns out intolerance to a heart med led to “acute renal failure”—not the way I wanted to lose 15 lbs. I didn’t eat, slept a lot, and didn’t care one whit about my writing—the latter tells you I really felt bad. But thankfully that is all behind me. One more hurdle to jump in my ongoing effort to prove to doctors that I am healthy. I swear they keep finding one more thing that “we really have to investigate.” Meantime, I am feeling strong, healthy, and happy.

And 2018 was a landmark year for me—I turned 80. Don’t feel it, hope I don’t look it, though it’s hard not to act it on a walker. Jordan engineered three wonderful days of partying, and all the kids came, along with many many friends. But a planned Great Lakes cruise later in the summer had to be cancelled for health reasons.

A side note: I am heartened by the kindness of people when they see me on the walker, from those who hold doors to the grocery people who worry that a sack may be too heavy and all those who simply smile and say hello as they pass by. Americans are generally good, kind, caring people despite the turmoil in our country and what sometimes seems a prevailing climate of hate and racism.

My writing career took a tumble and a turn this year. In the spring I published a Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Contract for Chaos, but it landed with a thud and needs love to this day—it’s about racism, so I thought it timely. The few who’ve read it often say it’s one of the best Kelly novels, but it hasn’t caught fire. I am proud of the cookbook I published in November, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, an outgrowth of my learning a different way of cooking in the cottage with a tiny kitchen and no stove. I’m trying to build an audience for a related blog. I want tiny kitchen cooks to share their recipes, concern, ideas, etc. Turns out many single people say the cookbook is great for meals for one. Possibly because I have little room for dinner guests and most of my entertaining these days is at happy hour. Consequently, the book has lots of appetizers.

But my career took a major turn when I inherited the “second battle of the Alamo” project. It’s a big deal for me to write under contract to a major publisher and on a subject that fascinates me, but I am tremendously saddened that it came about because of the death of an incredibly vital and energetic woman who I called a friend. When Debra Winegarten realized the seriousness of her cancer diagnosis, she called and asked me to write the book she had under contract. The publisher was agreeable, and Debra’s wife sent me all her massive research materials. So, since September I’ve spent my days deep in Alamo history. The book will be a tribute to Debra, who passed away in September.

For the time being, the Alamo book marks at least a temporary end to my mystery writing and return to my first love—the history of women in the American West. The book will take the first half of 2019 and maybe longer, and where I’ll wander after that is up in the air. I toy sometimes with the idea of mysteries based on the real-life people of the second battle (think Daughters of the Republic of Texas) but no aha! moment has hit yet.

So that’s my year, a mixed bag of good and not-so-good. How about you? Have you taken stock of 2018? Are you feeling the general optimism about 2019?