Thursday, February 28, 2019

The lazies and a discourse on language

What happened to the sunshine? Tuesday was such a pretty day. Seems, though, that spring was teasing us, and March will come in like the proverbial lion. We apparently got precipitation overnight, but all was dry this morning, despite scary TV coverage of fender-benders and icy bridges. Jordan and I got out for a quick grocery run, and then I was in for the day.

It was a soup for lunch, a good book, and a long nap kind of a day. The kind of day when I sit at my desk with a sweater around my shoulders and my prayer shawl draped across my lap. Talk about stereotypes of a little old lady! All I need is a cat and some African violets. Still, it’s the kind of day when you never really get toasty warm.

I have a bad case of the lazies. Spent the late day mostly reading—yes, some in social media—but the book that should really capture my attention is the one I’m supposedly writing. I wrote 500 words, far short of my daily goal but that’s okay. This is the book I tell myself I’m not being compulsive about finishing. I did have a revelation today—about the naming of characters. The protagonist is Cordelia Smith—she makes a fuss about that highfalutin first name with such a simple last night. I gave her Cordy for a nickname, but it never sounded right to my ear. So today I played with nicknames and came up with Delia—I have known women named Delia. But then it occurred to me that in childhood her name might have become Dilly in the speech of other children. I think that fits her personality. At least I’ll try it on her for a while.

Dilly is an assistant to a haughty, pretentious TV chef (with no real reasons for pretension) whose name is Irene Foxglove. I like the play of a chef, fixing food, with a last name that is also a poisonous plant. Too much? I think I even have a title for this fledgling novel—either Saving Irene or Protecting Irene. Opinions welcome. See the conundrums authors deal with, in comparison to weighty matters like the future of our planet?

And since I’m worrying about language in my writing, I’ll share a concern. My church, in its drive to be inclusive (which I much admire and applaud), has announced a change in wording. The word “Creator” may be substituted for “Father”—it’s that gender thing, you know. But if you feel comfortable with “Father,” in say the Doxology, you are welcome to say it. I’m just old-fashioned enough that I do prefer the traditional language. I even wrote a note to the senior minister expressing my hope that in the rush to be inclusive, church leaders would also consider the flow and beauty of the language.

The words of a traditional hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” were changed several years ago to be gender neutral. Here’s the original version:

The church's one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.

Well, you can see how that upset the gender-neutral applecart. That’s the version I grew up with, and I cannot quote the revised to you. I can only tell you it violates grammatical rules such as subject/pronoun agreement, is awkward, and grates on my ear. It seems significant to me that I could not find the revised lyrics online. I’d like to go on record as believing in the generic pronoun.

So call me traditional, a little old huddled in her prayer shawl. Change is good—but not all the time. I’ll be watching what happens to the language.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

First this, then that—a couple of full days

Yesterday kept happening so late into the evening that I didn’t get to blog. Too much going on in the Alter family.

Daughter Megan called to announce that her Austin home will be bulldozed March 11.  That’s right—demolished in one day. Then construction begins—a new house on the existing foundation. They like their lot, like the location, and didn’t find anything on the market they liked as well. This family of four will live in their two-room garage apartment for the duration of construction, which could be a year. No, they’re not completely ready but they will be. A measure of Megan’s confidence: she and Brandon are in Utah skiing, while his parents stay in the house with the boys. Hope they’re not feeling like they’re camping out.

Granddaughter Eden turned sixteen yesterday and, of course, went straight for her driving test. After her friends took her to breakfast (do these kids not go to school?) She and her mom were at the DPS station for six hours—at first, it was crowded, and then the DPS system broke down and they had to do things the old-fashioned way. But she has her driver’s license—and her cute little Mini Cooper. A sign of growing up—she told me she didn’t want the traditional birthday party. Her parents were taking her to dinner. (Good heavens! Jordan still wants a party!)

Me? I went to the dentist and yet again heard a doctor say, “Everything looks good. No problems.” I’m getting downright smug about all these clean bills of health. The dentist, however, did not give me the five years’ grace that the hip surgeon did—I have to go back for another cleaning in four months. But even with the dentist appointment I wrote my thousand words on the new novel.

Last night, a friend I met on Facebook came for happy hour in the cottage. As we exchanged posts and messages over time, we discovered that we go to the same church, and she, a mortgage banker, does some business with Christian’s title company. Plus, she works at a family-owned bank with the man who lives behind us. Small world. We chattered happily, and Christian came home in time to join us.

Then Jordan came out and we reviewed the day. By then, it was too late for that quick nap I sometimes sneak after dinner. I went to bed.

This morning I managed to multi-task. My chore was to organize notes for a talk I think I am to give next week on one of my books—gulp, I wrote Sundance, Butch, and Me twenty years ago, don’t have  electronic files or reviews or notes—nada. There are some seventy reviews on Amazon, and I reread them to refresh my memory. I had scribbled some notes yesterday, and today I got them into the computer in expanded form. But I did it with one eye and both ears on Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee.

For those of you on Facebook, I have posted some comments two or three times as the hearings went on, so I will just add this note: I’m sure dedicated Republicans and trump followers came away with a totally different impression than I did, but I thought the Republicans exhibited rude, raw, blatant partisanship, attacking both Cohen and the Democratic Party. They had to really stretch to do that, but they complained the committee was wasting time listening to a liar when they should be helping solve the problems of America. Ironic, since most on the committee were in the House last term, the most do-nothing Congress in American history. Whey weren’t they hot to solve those problems until they saw trump in real jeopardy?

I sure didn’t ignore sustenance today. Jordan and I had a lovely lunch with a woman from Frost Bank who is now my go-to person. Of course, I was the one who messed up—heard the Mexican restaurant she specified but thought another in my mind. Jordan went to the correct one, while I waited at the wrong one. They both ended up coming where I was, though we joked they should have just forgotten me and eaten together. Leah is younger than Jordan, with small children, so they had a great time talking, and I mostly listened in.

Tonight, I went with friends Betty and Jean to Pappadeaux. Delicious crab cake, lots of good crusty bread, and nice wine. Their desserts are tempting, but I was too full.

The air has turned cold and a freezing drizzle is forecast for tomorrow, just when Jordan and I mean to go to the grocery. Betty complained bitterly about the cold tonight, and Jean and I, both children of the Midwest, tried to tell her it’s not really that cold. But it has been gray and damp and there’s a chill in the air. Down into the low twenties one night next week. I am so ready for spring, for warmer temperatures and sunshine and flowers and evenings on the patio.

Monday, February 25, 2019

In defense of Facebook

A few of my friends aren’t on Facebook. In fact, they are downright scornful of it. I try to tell them it’s benefits, but they think it’s all fake news and Russian bots and foolishness, and they can’t be bothered. I, however, am a Facebook addict.

Originally, I signed up to keep track of my children.  I soon found, however, that one son told me what time before dawn he went to the gym, what time he left, what he had for lunch. Too much information, much as I love him. Today, my sons have melted away though my two daughters and two daughters-in-law are medium active. Some simply react to what I post; others post about their lives and doings.

As an author, I found it important to be on Facebook to let the world know about my books and about me. I try hard not to post too much “Have you bought my book yet?’ stuff. I know authors who post some self-promotion every day, and I find it wearying. But in judicious amounts, I think it’s helpful. I’ve read that young people don’t read Facebook much—they’re on Instagram and other new platforms. That’s okay, I think my readers, my target audience, is on Facebook.

These days I find myself n a conundrum. Some authors never ever post about politics, lest it offend a reader or two. I find I cannot keep quiet about what’s happening in this country, and I post and share and comment a lot. You do have to be careful that what you’re posting is authentic and true. I have a Facebook friend—an author I knew in my publishing days—who does his best to keep me honest. Lately he’s alerted me to “outrage” sites which exist to stir up controversy and diversity. Russian bots? Could be. Beyond the New York Times and the Washington Post (both of which limit my views because I don’t subscribe), I like the National Memo, Wake Up to Politics (done by an incredible high school student), and Daily Kos.

Some days Facebook makes me laugh aloud. Yes, it’s sometimes about things that our squatting president does, but it may just as well be a dog post. I liked one recently that had two pictures, one on top of the other. The top was trump saying he’d love a dog but he doesn’t have time (it would cut into all that Fox watching and golf I suppose) and below it a Dachsund, paws in a prayerful pose, saying, “Thank you, Jesus.” Or the one of a couple exchanging wedding vows at an outdoor arbor. Their large dog sprawls upside down in front of them—that absolutely unselfconscious, happy pose that dogs get when they’re perfectly happy with their surroundings.

It took me a while to learn what a meme is, but there are many on Facebook that I like and that would make me a little wiser, I think, if I pay attention to them. These are often accompanied with terrific photography. A current favorite: “Life’s tragedy is that we are too soon old and too late wise.” Another favorite: “May you touch dragonflies and stars, dance with fairies, and talk to the moon.” One that hit home said, in effect, “Buy that plane ticket, apply for that job, date that person—do what scares you the most.” I wish I’d heard and heeded those words when I was younger. I think a lack of courage has limited my life—too late now to discover that.

Lately I’ve found lots of posts about the great strides other countries, a lot of them so-called “undeveloped,” are making to slow climate change. India, for instance, builds roads of plastic waste. We in this country should be ashamed that we are so behind but then, trump is recruiting fourth-rate scientists to prove that climate change is a fiction. He may kill us all. Meantime I share the environmental posts I find.

And finally, there’s friendships. Like many others, I’ve rekindled old friendships and sustained longtime ones with Facebook exchanges. I’ve made new friends, and I’ve chatted with an extensive network of writers. Facebook has broadened my horizons.

Okay, yes, it’s a time suck. I prowl Facebook early in the morning, after reading email, and late at night, just before I go to bed. During the workday I ignore it. But I won’t give it up, and I invite you to reach out and explore the world it offers.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A good day to run

Jordan and Jacob cheering for friend Colman
It was a beautiful day for a marathon—sunny and clear and bright, temperature low enough to keep runners comfortable, cold enough to make spectators chilly. We sat on the front porch as the first runners came by. Jordan and I missed the very first one because she had come to the cottage to get me, but I suspect it was the gentleman from Kenya and though I’ve heard no results, I suspect he was the winner. As we explained to Jacob, only a handful run with any hope of winning. Most run against themselves, hoping to beat their time.

But those first few to lead the pack are wonderful to watch. Obviously seasoned, whether professional runners or not, they move with confidence, erect with long strides, art in motion. A few, knowing what weather does to runners, were bare-chested which made me feel cold, and most were lightly dressed. By the end of 26.5 miles, a T-shirt can be a hot burden. We also had fun watching the outfits as well as the runners.

Sooner than I expected came a few walkers—I’m quite sure they didn’t come from the starting line. And then people whose form was less skilled, less practiced. A clue to those who didn’t expect to win or even finish—they were often as bundled against the cold as I was.
Colman's cheering group at Mile 18

Christian reported lots of closed streets and obstacles on his way to take Jacob to Sunday school. That put his morning schedule behind, and we were late to church. Though by shortly before eleven, the flow of runners had slowed. Still policemen were at almost every intersection. We barely made it into the church during the opening hymn and were greeted by a relieved look on Jacob’s face—he’d been saving seats.

Our minister had led a pre-race worship service at the coliseum for the runners, and he talked about that, about the spiritual nature of running, and asked us to pray for the runners. Christian has not been around running culture as Jordan and I have, and he was baffled that Jordan is so interested in the race each year. I think it goes back to her childhood and is strengthened by the fact that both her brothers are runners. For me, as I wrote last night, it is a link to happy memories. And I know just enough to admire the dedication and commitment of the runners.

Tonight, the Oscars. It seems an ironic leap in a way that I don’t know that I can explain. But it’s like polar opposites in our culture—the one a test of yourself and your accomplishments, done with physical strength; the other, an admiration of the accomplishment of others, done with lots of technology and money. I know I sound judgmental, but one seems real to me and the other artificial. Then again, I’m not a movie fan.

The highlight of tonight: salmon with anchovy butter and a tossed salad.

A good day.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Some Cowtown Memories

A lifetime ago, forty-one years to be exact, I sat in my house in Park Hill and heard my then-husband utter an expletive, followed by, “Sleet!  I don’t want to hear sleet!” But indeed, that was what he was hearing.

By early the next morning, Fort Worth was a world of white, streets covered with sleet, snow, and ice. Joel left home at something like 4:30 or 5:00. Not too much later, I bundled up four children, one barely three years old, and we slipped and slid in my ostentatious “doctor’s wife” Cadillac (can you believe I drove that thing?) to the North Side for the first ever Cowtown Marathon. Joel was a founder of the race, and I was part of the publicity team.

At the coliseum, I turned the children loose—to this day I can’t believe I did that or that I even made that drive, but I did. One of my children swears to this day he’s suing for negligence. Fort Worth’s North Side was then not as bad as it had been, an area of derelicts, bars, and who knows what else, but neither was it that relatively safe tourist attraction it is today. The rest of the children assure me that each year at the marathon there was a band of children who stuck together. They roamed the tunnels alongside the river under buildings on Exchange and who knows where else they went. I didn’t see them until late afternoon. I guess they got lunch. I know the older three, ranging from nine to six or seven, looked after Jordan, the baby.

Joel did not run. In fact, he did not get to run his own race until three or four years later. Somewhere I have kids’ T-shirts that celebrate that first marathon, with a caricature of Cowtown Charlie. Joel always thought he was Cowtown Charlie because the cartoon figure had a mustache similar to his. I think to this day it was Charles Ogilvie, Uncle Charles at our house, who was also TCOM faculty and ran marathons into his eighties, always winning his age group (not much competition).

Me? All these years later, I can’t exactly remember what I did all day, but I know I ran my tail off. Some years a radio station brought a big RV to the site, and I had fun going in to talk to the deejays, giving them up-to-date news about the race. Surely, I was at the finish line when the first runner came over, and I remember assisting the race chair at the awards portion that capped the day.

That was the pattern of our marathon days for four or five years, until Joel and I divorced. Determined to prove that I would not be shoved aside, I worked the race one year after the divorce, but it was no fun anymore, and I resigned from the committee. But I like knowing that I had a bit part in the race’s history, and that Joel and Charles had major parts. The organizers, all from what was then the Institute for Human Fitness, were TCOM folks, people I knew well.

So each year the marathon makes me nostalgic. Those were good days, and good memories. Tomorrow it will be better weather, though not perfect—chilly enough in the morning that runners shouldn’t overheat, but it is predicted to get to sixty degrees. Hot for running, but better than sleet. Jordan will host a small cheering party on our front porch—the halfway or thirteen-miles point is just a few doors from our house, and a good friend is running. I’ll join them, and I will cheer for our friend, but I also will cheer for a lot of people who have now passed out of my life and for a time of happy memories.

Friday, February 22, 2019

A golden day

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

Those are Silver, These are Gold

I had a golden day today. An old friend came to visit. Carole was in town for the weekend and slated herself to spend the morning with me and stay for lunch. I met Carole in the early eighties when she moved to Fort Worth to head our city’s sesquicentennial celebration. The way she tells it I was at an event where she spoke, and I went up to her afterward to ask if she’d like to have Sunday supper with my family. She said she’d love it.

Husband-to-be Bill joined her shortly afterward, and their daughter—my godchild—was born here. They were regulars at my Sunday dinner table--which is a whole other long story. Thanks go to their daughter Kate for the nickname Juju by which all my grandchildren and half the world knows me. As a toddler, Kate couldn’t say Judy.

But in 1995, Bill’s work took them to the Chicago area, then Atlanta, and finally the D.C. area where they still live. Visits were scarce—they came once when Kate was a teenager, and I visited them in Atlanta for an afternoon once on my way home from the Caymans—a long story. They missed the Alter family occasions, though they almost came to Jordan’s wedding. And then, a few years ago, Carole and Bill came for a visit. We had dinner on the deck and talked of old times. I have to say this: Carole is not a good communicator—she doesn’t write, and she doesn’t do Facebook—though I did find out today she sometimes reads my blog.

There is a W. B. Yeats poem entitled, “Speech After Long Silence,” and that’s sort of how I felt today. She was no more in the door than she was on her knees, burying her face in Sophie’s coat and loving her. Once we settled with cups of tea, we talked non-stop, catching each other up. I heard about Kate’s boyfriend and her travels, and about Carole’s mother’s death (at ninety-nine, I believe) and its impact on Carole, which I understand thoroughly because after thirty years I still want to call my mom with a question about cooking or an unidentified person in a photo. Carole, having known my mom, brought all that back. And I heard about their travels and their dog—a Wheaten terrier, which is sort of a ragamuffin dog like Sophie.

Carole asked for a rundown on each of my kids and their families, and I was glad to oblige. She was on the spot for their growing up years—all those Sunday dinners and all the stories they spawned, We talked about people we’d been close to twenty-five years ago and where they are now—alas, some gone. The subject of my health came up, and she said she’s been worried but will now stop worrying—and I’m glad. We talked a lot of politics—Carole and I have always agreed, and we do to this day. She said she and Bill talk about politics a lot, and she can speak for him. And she promised to come back soon and bring him.

I served a smoked salmon and potato salad for lunch, and she took the recipe and vowed to make it this weekend. You can watch for it Thursday on my Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog—because I took a great picture of it. Dessert was sacher torte parfaits that I picked up at La Madelaine. Decadent and good.

Carole left at one, saying in advance that by then I would be tired of talking and so would she. And I think I was. But I wished she was just a jump away and not half way across the country. I hope she comes back soon.

And, yes, Carole, I took my nap—in a golden haze of memories and friendship.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dogs, diets, and an alarming start to the day

Before: Shaggy Sophie. After: slim and trim

Well, I got my day off to an exciting start today. I let the dog out before disabling the alarm; then I made it worse by leaving the door ajar so she could come back in. The alarm’s “voice from nowhere” was issuing me stern warnings while I stumbled around to find the remote control. Then the siren went off. Sophie howled and came barreling inside to pick up her chew toy from last night—I suspect her thought was if there was an intruder, he was darn well not going to get her treat. Finally, things got beyond the abilities of the remote, and I had to deal with the actual control panel. But I did get it all stopped, so I could make myself a soothing cup of tea.

I’ve been lax about posting on the blog for a couple of evenings, but I have had such a good excuse. Jordan has been out here talking to me most of the evening. We’ve talked about family and friends, people who make us joyful and friends who disappoint, birthdays and celebrations, dogs and kids—and of course food and menus. We laughed and got teary-eyed. And yes, we drank a bit of wine.

One big topic of discussion was Colin’s upcoming fiftieth birthday—a great jolt for me. But we just got word yesterday that the children’s half-sister from California will come for the celebration, and we’ve known for some time that Uncle Mark, Aunt Amy, and cousin Emily from the Bronx will join us. A wonderful, rousing family affair. I anticipate a lot of high jinx and laughter.

On one of these evenings, Jordan looked at me and said, “I’m really upset with you.” My heart sank. How had I overstepped the bounds of the mother-daughter relationship? But I burst out laughing when she said, “It’s the biscuits. The whole cottage smells like fresh-baked biscuits, and I can’t eat one.” I had baked a tube of Pillsbury biscuits to stash in the freezer for my breakfasts. Jordan is on a self-imposed “Whole 30” diet, so no carbs. I guess all is well in our relationship, biscuits aside.

I dislike this dieting that pops into our lives occasionally – Christian is on it too, and it severely limits the things I can cook for Sunday dinner, rules out a lot of things I’d like to cook. For this week, I gave them a list of possibles, hoping they would choose trout or a lamb stew; Jordan chose one of two chicken dishes. Christian hasn’t voted yet, but he did give everyone a good laugh when Jordan caught him in the kitchen complaining, “I’m so hungry! I’m so weak!”

I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe in a regular diet of three balanced and modest meals, and I harbor a lingering suspicion that alternating dieting and splurging is not good for the body. Of course, I was this fall in the enviable position of needing to gain weight, and while I no longer have that excuse, my doctor still says, “Your sodium is low. Eat all the salt you want.” Jordan and Christian came they are in recovery from the excesses of the holidays and the rodeo season.

A former neighbor was here for happy hour last night and kept saying how good I look, slim and with a sparkle in my eye and a sharp new haircut. I wanted to urge her to continue, but then she’d say, “You really look so much better. You didn’t look so good the last time I saw you.” I’m sure my voice was weak when I asked, “How long ago was that?” I don’t like to be reminded of my down periods.

For several weeks now, friends coming into the cottage have exclaimed about the weight Sophie has gained—I discarded the idea of putting her on the Whole 30 but did cut down on the size of her supper. Today, she’s back to being slim and trim, all due to a haircut. Bobo who grooms her said it was her winter coat, and he took it back a little more than usual this time. She seems to know and prances around here as if proud of herself.

A moment I wish I’d had my phone to take a picture: when I went to brush my teeth last night, Sophie lay between me and the commode, keeping guard. You must be protective when your human is brushing her teeth! I love life with a dog.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The tax man cometh and does not bring happiness

carnitas for dinner
I’m one of those compulsives that people love to scorn. I start organizing my income tax return on New Year’s Day or shortly thereafter, not because I am anxious to give Uncle Sam the money (particularly not this year with the new tax law) but because I hate the chore and want to get it behind me, so that I can take a deep breath and say, “Wow! That’s done for another year!” This year, more than ever, I’ve dreaded it because of all the reports that people who previously got huge returns were now owing great amounts—thank you, the Republican swamp.

Much as I hate it, I rely on a tax planner from my accountant to organize my returns. That usually comes in the mail about mid-January, by which time I have things sorted into categories. This year, it didn’t arrive, so by the first of February I dashed off a note asking about it. Seems that the revised tax law made new planners necessary, and the software wasn’t up to speed yet. Without really chastising me, the accountant was saying, “Chill, and be patient.” As I read in various news sources about other people filing and getting bad news, I was increasingly nervous. Saturday, I sent another of my gentle queries—not minutes after I hit Send, Jordan came out with my mail, which included the tax planner. So guess what’s the big thing on my calendar for Monday.

But not today. Today is Sunday, and once again I went to church online. The fragile dog in the house was not doing well this morning, and concern kept Jordan and Christian home. The sermon was “Deep Joy in a Shallow World.” Among the takeaway lines, “We have learned to make a living, but not life.” Russ Peterman stressed that happiness does not come when you are seeking it but only when you forget yourself in service to others and God

It made me think of the new word I had just learned this morning: hygge. It’s a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as cozy, charming or special. It cannot be purchased or learned—it just happens. Sort of the polar opposite of Marie Kondo. But I’ve known those moments, often in a small gathering of people I care about, sometimes around an outdoor fire. To be treasured.

During the church service, much of the camera work involved shots that put the viewer behind the organist, looking over her shoulder as she played. Remarkable experience—four keyboards, all those stops, and the footwork that we couldn’t see. For someone who can’t rub her belly and pat her head at the same time, it was impressive—and the music, as always, glorious though it never sounds quite as full online. This morning, the church presented third graders with Bibles. It was sort of a nostalgia moment—was Jacob really that young just four years ago? Dr. Peterman stood by to shake hands with each child—someone should prime those kids about shaking hands with their right hand. About half offered him their left.

Weekends mean good food at the Burton/Alter compound. Last night, Christian fixed a pot roast with gravy and roasted potatoes, Jordan made a salad, and I contributed a killer
Roast pork done on the stovtop

vinaigrette—new recipe. Look for it on Thursday at the Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog. Tonight, we had carnitas—sort of tacos without the tortillas, though Jacob and Christian had theirs in corn tortillas. I’m not a fan of tortillas and always eat the filling without the shell, and Jordan is avoiding carbs, so we just had the meat and accompaniments. The recipe for the meat is in Gourmet on a Hot Plate. Gosh, I really am becoming an obnoxious self-promoter. Sorry about that.

And now we head into another week. Have a good one, everybody.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Valentine’s recap

My late-night pal
Few things are more comforting than the company of a dog. Here’s Sophie, in one of her favorite places—she sleeps at the end of my desk when I am working late in the evening. She’s not a great cuddler—her leaps on my bed are short-lived. It’s as though she buries her face in mine and then becomes bored and jumps down. But she wants to be close. When I sleep, she’s often, but not always, at the foot of the bed—she has her favorite chairs in the living room. But when I stir the least little bit, she’s at the side of the bed, wanting to be petted and reassured about the day to come.

Sophie is always anxious to go into the main house. It was, for goodness’ sake, her residence for the first five years of her life. But after she checks things out and enjoys the company for a bit, she lies by the back door, ready to go back to the cottage. Last night, Jordan put her in her lap, an awkward move at best with a thirty-pound dog, and Sophie put her head on Jord’s shoulder briefly, but then she struggled to be down.

We had a split Valentines dinner last night. Christian was going to cook a special dinner but
Jacob and the croque monsieur

make it do double duty as a project for Jacob’s French class. I suggested croque monsieur—Jacob’s French teacher does not want to know how he pronounced it! Croque Monsieur is essentially a glorified ham and cheese sandwich, but oh so rich! It calls for thinly sliced boiled ham, good bread like sourdough or ciabatta, and a rich cheese sauce made with gruyere or Emmental. You toast the bread, make the ham-and-cheese sandwich with a bit of mustard, pour the cheese sauce over, and then bake or fry until it has a golden crust.  Not for the cook who is faint of heart, nor for the dieter.
Boys cooking

Jacob and Christian made one sandwich (I won’t say who did how much of the cooking, but you can guess). It was a work of art-. As Christian said, it looked like the picture.He cut it in fourths, so we could each have a bite. Jacob ate my bite. I guess I’ll have to go to La Madeleine for a croque monsieur.

But Christian wanted something else for dinner, so I gave him a recipe for chicken francese—French chicken, right? Only it turns out francese is Italian for French, and the recipe was not only Italian but American Italian. So he and Jacob cooked both. The chicken was delicious—in a delicate lemon sauce

Today was, I think a pivotal day in American history, when a president tried to usurp power and break the long tradition of checks and balances in a democracy, all over a crisis that does not exist. Once again, I feel as if we are living in suspended animation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. In this case, the other shoe will drop slowly, with long, drawn-out court cases. Pray to God that our democracy and our country may survive and triumph over the will of one man and the venial abdication of responsibility on the part of many. I have my own list of deplorables.

And as if to echo the national mood, the weather turns cold again tonight, after a day in the balmy seventies. Roller coaster weather is hard on all of us. Stay warn and safe,

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

Nobody wants to know the technical reason that chocolate makes you feel almost as good as being in love—phenyl-what?—and nobody really needs to know that St. Valentine was beheaded by order of Roman emperor Claudius for marrying Christian couples. Claudius thought being married would make soldiers less fearsome in battle. So Valentine was fearless in love.

But everyone needs chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Here’s a recipe that you can either call pudding or mousse, whichever strikes your fancy. It’s quick and easy, and if you don’t have the ingredients on hand, it’s not too late to run get them. Just to show how old this recipe is, it calls for a double boiler. Anyone have one of those still?

16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, either two 8 oz. dark candy bars or chocolate bits

½ cups chopped walnuts

2 Tbsp. crème de menthe

4 cups whipping cream

Melt the chocolate in that double boiler you don’t have or the microwave. Just don’t let it burn. Stir in walnuts and crème de menthe. Cool to room temperature

Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the whipped cream until thoroughly blended. No white streaks.

Serve chilled in individual dishes. Wine glasses, even martini glasses, are nice Decorate with chocolate sprinkles.

Note: I don’t really like nuts in soft things, so I leave them out of this. Everyone to their own taste.

If you’re old enough to remember double boilers and valentines like the one above—remember they used to come in variety packages? —you’re old enough to remember Valentine Boxes and the days when every kid worked hard to make his or her own to be proudly carried to school on the day. Lots of tissue paper, some crepe paper rolls, cut-out cardboard hearts, maybe even a bit of lace if your mom sewed. It was definitely a competition to bring the fanciest box. And then teachers made sure you had a valentine for every child in your class, so no feelings were hurt.

Ah, the good old days. I don’t think kids do that anymore. They’re missing wonderful memories.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Is it the walker?

Several years ago, friend Betty and I went to a new restaurant for our regular Wednesday night supper. The waitress was, to say the least, condescending, with a too-cheery, “Well, are you ladies out of the town tonight?” I remember having perhaps the best appetizer I’ve ever had—one huge scallop on a bed of pureed cauliflower, topped with a dab of foie gras. We each had two glasses of wine, and we got our revenge—the waitress forgot to charge us for the wine. I called the next day to pay for our drinks and was curtly told, “It was her mistake. She can pay for it.” I thought it was karma for her attitude toward us, but that’s the first time I ever noticed age discrimination.

It hit me in the face again today. A nice guy came to measure for a section of fence that  needs to be replaced. I was the one who had called him (I’m comparative shopping), made the arrangement for him to come out this morning. The whole thing was my deal.

When he got here, Jordan was in the cottage, and, because she is more fleet of foot than I am, she opened the door. He greeted us both and proceeded to talk directly to Jordan with an occasional word my way. It was clear he thought she was in charge, even when she gave him my email and told him it was mine.

After he left, I said it was obvious he thought I was incapable of absorbing what he said, either because I look my age (that crepey neck), I had to ask her to hand me my hearing aids, or I’m on a walker. At one point I wanted to raise my hand and say, ”I’m the one paying this bill.” I did interject a light-hearted comment in an attempt to become part of the conversation—it didn’t work. Jordan maintains I am being too sensitive, but I don’t think so.

A friend who is blind says that people talk extra loud to him until he wants to say, “Hey, I’m blind, not deaf.” I think too many tend to think one disability somehow affects the whole package, especially including the mind. I am not in dementia. I am old, and I use a walker, but my mind is clear and works fine, thank you very much, and I enjoy a full and vibrant life. I do not want to be isolated or categorized because my legs don’t’ work quite right. In the two years since I’ve been using the walker, a few friends that I used to see frequently have dropped away. I don’t know that it’s the walker, but I have a suspicion. And I am so grateful for the many who have stayed by me, putting up with loading my walker, praising my independence.

Strangers are extra kind to me in passing. They nod and greet me, they hold doors, they wait patiently because I am a little slow. The difference comes when I make personal contact with just a few people. Next time you meet someone with a handicap, don’t stereotype them in your mind with that handicap. Look at the whole person. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sunshine and problem solving

My romaine harvest
Loving this bright, sunny day even if it is still cold enough that I have my woolly gray sweater around my shoulders and my prayer shawl over my knees. Sophie, feeling better than she has in a couple of weeks, is out enjoying the sunshine instead of sleeping in a chair. Her day got off to a better start than mine—she ate the biscuit I had put out to defrost for my breakfast.

My day got better though. I woke in the night worried about three things—hearing aids, my herb garden, and the novel I think I’m writing. You know how sometimes in the night your brain gets wired, and no matter how hard you try to think of other things your mind always goes back to what’s bothering you? That’s where I was at two-thirty this morning.

I am having hearing-aid-battery troubles—one ear keeps going dead, which I could stand except that, because my aids are hooked to my phone, the phone quits when the battery goes out. The other day I picked Jacob up from a sleepover. Not wanting to disturb people I didn’t know early on a Saturday, I parked at the curb and called him. The phone rang once and disconnected. About that time, I realized that right aid had died, but I didn’t connect the two. Kept trying to call—I’d hear him say, “Juuu” and then nothing. When he finally came out, I asked why he didn’t answer and he said, “I did. You called so often I thought you were butt dialing me.” Later that day when I went on an errand by myself, I had to choose which was more important—the hearing aids or the phone. I chose the phone.

This morning the wonderful Tracy Burger at TCU’s Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic told me I can use disposable batteries until the rechargeable one on order comes in, so I feel relieved about that.

And the equally wonderful Zenaida who cleans my cottage every other week was able to undo
The out of control mustard

the extension on the arm of my herb garden, so now the light is back down low, directly on the seedlings. Last night Christian and I transplanted the basil, which is semi-flourishing, to a separate pot, and I started seedlings in the herb garden, having figured out that mix and match wasn’t a good idea. If you do three of the same things, they grow at the same rate, and you aren’t raising the arm for one plant and thereby depriving of the warmth and light it needs. I worried about not being able to raise and lower the light not just because I didn’t want to waste seedlings but also because I didn’t want to be a failure at indoor herb gardening, after my son had given me the garden.

So far I’ve harvested romaine—made a salad—and mustard greens, which I added to a salad I served a friend the other night. The plant had grown tall—taller than the highest extension of the light arm—and had flowered, which to me indicated harvest time. It was good but there wasn’t enough to make a real difference in the salad.

And I’m working on that novel, putting into play all the notes I made yesterday, trying to get to know the characters better, figuring out their backgrounds. Usually I get the first line and just sail into a story, but it wasn’t working this time. I didn’t feel I knew the characters well enough. I’m slowly getting a handle on it. Thirty-six hundred words; only sixty-seven hundred to go!

Enjoyed my weekly Tuesday night happy hour with neighbor Mary Dulle tonight, and then had sauerkraut and potatoes for dinner. I intended to add meatloaf, but the vegetables looked so good I just stuck to them. So glad I don’t have to watch a political speech tonight. I didn’t want to watch trump last night but kept it on in case coverage switched to Beto. It didn’t on the channel I was watching.

Interesting and horrifying times we live in.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The blog I didn’t write last night

Jacob and his mom on the midway
Conversations—first with a close friend and then with my daughter—carried me through the evening until it was bedtime, and I wasn’t sharp enough to post on the blog. You didn’t miss much except a bunch of trivia. This morning, in retrospect, I will say that mother/daughter conversations are a rare and lovely treat.

We talked about family—siblings and children/grandchildren, holidays, travel, fences and gutters, food, and a host of other things. We laughed, we worried, and we got downright passionate about some things. And we drank wine. Such evenings are a benefit of my unusual and wonderful living situation.

The rodeo ended in Fort Worth amid great hoopla because it was the last year the event would be in the iconic Will Rogers Coliseum. Next year, the new and lavish Dickies Arena where, among many changes, I hear the tickets will be a lot costlier. The new building has risen like a behemoth just blocks from the old coliseum. I am with the many who feel sentimental about the change of venue. And where will the midway be? Jordan and Christian bravely took three pre-teen boys to the rodeo and midway Saturday.

Sopphie's first day with us
Did you know this month is Black Dog and Cat Appreciation Month? I am wondering at the overlay with Black History Month—coincidence or was that someone’s wicked sense of humor? I never had a black dog in a long life filled with many dogs—until Sophie Girl. I didn’t even think of her color when that lively pup stood out so from the other sleepy, lethargic ones. She was simply adorable and mischievous at the same time. In the last almost eight years, I’ve found the only difference about having a black dog is that she’s harder to photograph. But I do often call her, in affection, “my little black dog.” She still sniffles and snorts—poor baby is living with allergies. When I told friend Jean last night about this special month, she immediately thought of Velvet, the pure black cat she had and loved for many years, now long gone.

It was a dreary weekend, and I had to go to church via my computer because life was too hectic for my family. I appreciate being able to do that, but I like so much better being in the rich surroundings where the music is lush and full, and you feel a sense of awe at being in the community of faith. The Texas Boys Choir sang for our service yesterday, and I know they sounded better in the sanctuary than on my computer.

I filled the weekend with cooking. Saturday night I made salmon patties, something I’ve probably been making for at least sixty-five years. But somehow, I got off on the proportion of meat, egg, and binder. Ended up with salmon hash—tasted just as good but not pretty to look at, and I remembered my mom insisting food is half eaten with the eye. Sorry, Mom. I also wilted some cabbage and cooked it with water and a bit of molasses—half of Sunday’s meatloaf dish. Christian walked into the cottage and demanded, “What is that smell?”

The meatloaf was kalpudding, a Swedish dish which sandwiches meatloaf between layers of cooked cabbage. No, I don’t know why the Swedes call it that. Much as I like cabbage, I found it
superfluous. My takeaway though, is that a meatloaf of equal parts of ground pork and ground beef has an entirely different texture than my usual all-beef version. I liked this—more dense, less like eating hamburger. Once again, it made me think of my mom who always put pork in the meatloaf. Now I have a fridge full of leftovers—meatloaf, salmon hash, spinach, a bit of black beans and another bit of chicken salad, tossed salad from last night. Lunch will be a buffet today.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Is your suitcase packed?

Mine is not. I am not an easy or an enthusiastic traveler. But this leads to a lot of inner conflict. I am surrounded by addicted travelers: one friend just returned from Machu Picchu; another leaves tomorrow for three weeks in India; yet another goes to Australia in April for three weeks. I have neighbors, longtime friends, who go to Europe twice a year. When I confessed to them one night at supper that I don’t much like to travel, he looked at me in amazement. “Judy, I’ve never met anyone like that.”

Too often, I feel that not wanting to travel indicates some sort of deficiency in me. Perhaps I’m not adventuresome; maybe I’m not intellectually curious, which would lead to the inescapable conclusion that I’m boring. Whatever, none of this is helped by the fact that my youngest daughter, Jordan, is a travel agent. And she keeps putting temptation in my path.

But it’s true. I’m happy as a clam in my cottage. I like my own bed. I hate to leave my dog. Travel doesn’t have the siren call for me that it does for many. Yes, I have traveled a good deal in my life—mostly within the continental U.S. but as a child I went to Canada a lot, and I have been to Hawaii—a wonderful trip that I loved—and to Scotland, the land of my ancestors—a trip that will always be a highlight of my life. I’ve been to most of the western and midwestern states in our country, with a few ventures into New York and Florida (hated the latter) and lots of trips to North Carolina. The things about travel is that once I do it, I enjoy it.

And yes, there are places on my bucket list. If I could snap my fingers and be there, I’d go back to Scotland in a flash. I’d like to ride the Royal Scot, the luxury train that winds through the Highlands. As a substitute, I might like to take the train across western Canada. My one trip to New York City was pretty much a disaster, but maybe I’d like to go back, mostly because we have beloved relatives there. New England in the fall beckons to me, as do the Outer Banks of the Carolinas. Jordan and I had reservations for a Great Lakes cruise last summer, but I got too sick to go, and I’ve not worked my enthusiasm back up about that. I’m pretty content to travel by car (with someone else driving) in Texas to see my kids.

I have one friend, also a writer, who doesn’t much like to travel and finds it hard as we age (that’s a factor in my travel reluctance also). She posits that seniors often retire and travel because they have nothing else to fill their days. I sometimes think some people travel so they don’t have to stop and think about their lives and the empty days. These theories of course don’t apply to everyone—some of the most interesting and vital people I know are those who travel. Which leads me back to my inadequacy.

I’m going to Tomball TX in April—four hours by car—to celebrate my oldest son’s50th birthday. And next Christmas I’ll go with my whole family to a vacation house in Blanco TX. Now that’s my kind of travel. Scotland in my dreams. Texas is my reality.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Little Annoyances

Sometimes life just seems full of little annoyances. Nothing big. Nothing that matters in the long run. But still, things that are annoying. Like yesterday, when my computer wouldn’t turn on. I pushed the button. Several times. Then I pushed it and held it. Nothing. Many folks would shrug and move on to do something else, but I spend a large portion of my day at the computer. On days I’m home all day, it’s my lifeline to the world. It’s where all my work is stored. I made my way around the desk to where it’s plugged in—yes, to a surge protector but nothing is guaranteed. Unplugged it, waited a minute, plugged it back in. Power! I was connected.

An archive sent me three photos I had purchased for the Alamo book. I can’t open them to add to my photo log and write captions.

My dog has allergies. I can hear her when she breathes. Sometimes it sounds the way a child does with a stuffy nose; other times it sounded like air going through a damp sponge. The vet and I treated it by phone, because there’s no way I can get her to the car to bring her in. She’d get better; then she’d get worse; then she’d throw up. I thought of pneumonia. I wrung my hands. I worried a lot. Tonight, she’s much better.

Went to the Wine Haus last night about five with Jordan, Christian, and good friend Nancy. Delightful evening. Lots of laughter. Got in the car this morning to go to the grocery—no sunglasses. They were at the Wine Haus, which is closed until three. Of course, what started out to be a gray day this morning turned sunny and bright. I squinted.

The cold snap we’re having, however, is more than an annoyance. It’s definitely the next step up the scale of problems. My cottage is chilly. I never feel quite warm enough. I now work wearing my gray all-purpose sweater that gets me through the winter, and on days like today I drape my prayer shawl across my knees. And I added an extra blanket to the bed. I still think I may never really feel warm again until the temperature reaches 80 and stays there. None of this 80 one day and in the twenties the next, thank you.

Jordan thought 22o was too cold to shop early in the morning. “I don’t want to get you out in that temperature.” I didn’t remind her that I’ve lived in Chicago and northeastern Missouri—I don’t like cold, but I can handle it. She’s the Texas-born baby. We went about ten o’clock, and the car was so warm I had to turn the heat down a bit.

Now they say there’s the possibility of sleet this evening. I plan to go to dinner with friends, but I don’t think me and my walker will do well on sleet-slick handicapped ramps.

Later this evening: no sleet, and a delightful dinner at Righteous Foods. Salmon tacos, wonderful black beans, and churros for dessert. Good company. Satisfying end to an annoying day. Got my sunglasses back. My editor opened the mystery file of images. All is well in m world.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Hey, doctor, I'm not sick

I am a child of osteopathic medicine. My father, countless uncles, brother, ex-husband and some cousins were all osteopathic practitioners. Today, my nephew, his wife, and one niece proudly hold the degree, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. I think in the public mind osteopathic medicine is often confused with chiropractry and characterized by manipulation—and sometimes voodoo. Here’s the truth as I understand it: chiropractic medicine is an offshoot of osteopathic medicine which began to emphasize manipulation; manipulation is but one tool in the osteopathic doctor’s medical bag.

Andrew Taylor Still of Missouri developed the concept after the Civil War when he lost his wife and several children to spinal meningitis. Basic to his thinking was the idea that health, not disease, is the natural state for the human body. His focus on manipulation came about because he found the body that was well aligned was much more likely to remain healthy. He also stressed the body as a unit—if you have appendicitis, it is not just your appendix that is in trouble, but the entire working system of your body. The ankle bone is connected to the knee bones, etc.—there’s something to that old ditty. Sounds pretty logical, doesn’t it, but in the late-1800s it was radical thinking. Today, of course, osteopathic physicians are fully licensed in all specialties and subspecialties of modern medicine, and they employ all its tools. The only difference, when there is one, is a focus on health as the natural way for the whole body.

All of this came to mind because I collided with modern medicine recently. It’s a long story and I won’t go into details, but basically last summer a medication I took to control my heart rhythm was making me sick. It was probably a little over two months before I convinced doctors that the medicine was the problem—no anti-nausea pills were going to cure it. By then, I had apparently developed a kidney infection which, to my alarm, was called acute renal failure. Antibiotics took care of it, but in the course of checking out my recovery a small anomaly in my blood landed me in a hematologist’s office. And that’s the point of my story.

If you have lots of whatever protein molecules in your blood, you may possibly have multiple myeloma. I had only one molecule, but the doctor felt obliged to check it out—probably both to protect my health and her medical status. My protest that I felt great was met with the cheery assurance that I wouldn’t know if I had this condition. Urine and blood studies followed and still only one molecule, but I was anemic (remember the kidney infection). She wanted to do a bone marrow biopsy but said she would give me two months to bring my red blood cell count up (as though by hard work and positive thoughts I could do that).

Yes, I was worried, but I came to some conclusions, and that’s why I’m boring you with my medical history. My gut told me I was healthy, and my brain told me I felt better than I had in years. I could not see subjecting a person who felt as well as I did to an invasive procedure. (No, I’m not a Christian Scientist, but yes, I believe in following your instinct in health and other matters.) I knew the biopsy was a minor procedure, but it still invaded the body’s health system and as such carried some risk. At that point, I didn’t think the need outweighed the risk, and I, who have always followed doctor’s orders, resolved to ask for a second opinion.

This story has a happy ending. My blood work had improved to the point that the doctor dismissed me as a healthy patient. She had indeed been practicing good, pro-active medicine but like much of medicine today she saw disease, not health, as primary. And from the onset of taking that cardiac medicine to the final good outcome, the story is one of being caught up in the medical spider web. I could easily have been drawn into being a chronic invalid had I not resisted. I could have let medicine convince me I was sick. There’s an object lesson in my story.

Watch yourself in the doctor’s office. Yes, the doctor is a friend (like we tell kids about police officers) but you are your own best advocate. Uncertain? Take a spouse, other loved one, or friend to be your advocate.