Saturday, March 30, 2019

Bloom where you are planted…




That old advice has taken on new meaning for me lately. I visited the other night with a good friend who lived in Texas forty years but, twenty years ago, moved to Manhattan where she is deliciously happy. When we were driving to dinner, the western sky was painted a beautiful gold with streaks of red, and she said, “I never see sunsets.” Well, of course she doesn’t. The tall buildings get in the way. But that one remark sort of summed up for me the differences in our lifestyles. That, and the fact that she, once a southerner, said she never felt at home in Texas.

As a transplanted northerner, I think I always felt at home in Texas. Maybe the only other place I’ve felt that way was Santa Fe, and I think what I thought were echoes of an earlier life there were simply hidden memories of a trip there in my late teens.

When my ex-husband first explored moving to Texas for training as a surgical resident, I was surprised and slightly appalled. To me, it was a foreign country. His mother, a Jewish woman from the Bronx, was horrified, and believed until her dying day that Indians (she would never know the term Native Americans) would jump out at her from the bushes.

As we drove across Oklahoma, that long-ago spring, for our first visit to Texas, I was impressed by how lush and green everything was. Pastures and fields were dotted with blooming plum thickets, and it was all lovely. “Just wait,” he said, “everything will be barren and brown.” He had been to Turkey, Texas for a funeral—his one previous visit. I thought perhaps a curtain would fall when we crossed the Red River. To add to my confusion, my parents had been to Texas to visit my brother, then stationed at the Corpus Christi Naval Station. They described a lush tropical land with palm trees. I rode with puzzlement and anticipation.

OF course I found North Texas wasn’t that much different from Missouri, where we’d been living. Hotter, of course, but not a foreign land—at first. But the longer I lived here, the more I realized that it is a different place, a different way of life, one that got under my skin. My process of acclimatization was helped by my study of the literature of the American West in graduate school. I soon found myself immersed in Texas history and lore, and I loved it. By the time my kids were born, I was a tad resentful that they were native Texans while the stigma of an outsider clung to me.

My ex- always thought pastures would be greener on the other side of anywhere. Finally, several years after we divorced, he moved to California. I stayed in Texas. After all, I had those four native Texans to raise. Besides, I had a job I enjoyed with TCU Press, and I was still deep in Texas history and lore. Over the years a few places have called to me, mostly Santa Fe, and a few more lucrative job opportunities beckoned, but I stayed where we had a comfortable life and lots of friends.

Now at my advanced age—the kids call it elderly—I feel very much a Texan, and I cannot imagine pulling up stakes. I have watched other friends leave—one lives in the DC area but hungers for retirement in Texas; another left because she could not stand the politics—and I’ve marveled at their adjustment to other places and climes.

Yes, I too hate the politics of Texas, but I see that slowly changing, and I am encouraged. I don’t particularly like the hot summers, but I am grateful to be away from Chicago winters. I love the people of Texas—not all of them, but most of them. I love the history and folklore, the architecture, and, yes, the wildly varying landscape. I am glad I was planted in Texas.

My New York friend? We had a delightful dinner, reminiscing, catching up on families and people and everyday life. And she sort of nailed Texas when she talked about the dichotomy she found—driving around the city, seeing all the familiar places, and then, she said shaking her head unbelievably, “there’s all that newness.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The night the tornado came through




Nineteen years ago tonight a tornado roared through central Fort Worth. It came from the northwest, and I know it did some damage in the Rivercrest area, then moved on to devastate the Linwood neighborhood and cause widespread damage downtown.  Then it, or storms spawned by it, roared onto Arlington where there was also severe damage. I’m sure everyone has their story of that evening. For me, it’s memorable because of the tornado and because it reminds me how long I’ve had the wonderful tradition of dinner with my friend Betty.

I don’t know if back then we had settled on Wednesday nights, as we do now, but we had gone to Pappadeaux, one of our favorites. There were storms forecast, but who pays attention to that? As we enjoyed our dinner,  we  watched the sky go from gun-metal gray to that ghastly green which foretells real trouble.

I remember once being away from home when my children were little, and the sky turned green. My ex and I called the nanny, and I said, “You do know what to do in case of a  bad storm?” I asked. “Oh, yes, ma’am,” she reassured me—followed by “What?” We lived at the time in a house with a basement, and I told her to take the children and go to the basement.  Nothing happened that time, but nineteen years ago we weren’t so lucky.

Betty and I decided it was the better part of wisdom not to go out in that scary weather, and so we sat and watched a horrific storm—sideways rain, high winds, all the things you dread. I still marvel that in that restaurant with all its windows we were not told to hide under the tables or something, but I suppose they wanted to avoid panic. We ordered a second glass of wine  and watched. After a bit, the sun came out, and the sky turned blue again. We finished our wine and left, still not knowing what had happened.

When I walked in the house, the phone was ringing. I answered to hear Jordan say, “I’m all right.” Well, why wouldn’t she be? Only later did it dawn on me that she assumed, as kids will, that her mom was okay and at home and frantic with worry. She never asked, “Are you okay?”

Gradually I learned that the tornado had gone less than half a mile from where we sat sipping that second glass of wine. Ever after, Betty’s husband, Don, would say, “I can’t believe the two of you just sat there and ordered more wine.” But what would he have had us do? I think rushing out in the storm would have been the worst kind of foolishness.

The anniversary is also important because it reminds me how long Betty and I have made a ritual of our weekly suppers. And it wasn’t even a new tradition then. I’d say we’d been going to supper—or sometimes happy hour—for three or four years. Today our friend Jean has had a change in her family situation, and we include her so now we’re a regular threesome. But longstanding friendships are one of the things I appreciate in life, so tonight I look back on a long tradition of dinners with Betty. We’ve had some adventures and tried some wacky places, but we also have our favorites, and I am so grateful for the friendship—and for the near-escape of tragedy nineteen years ago.

Tonight Betty, Jean, and I had supper at La Madeleine on Camp Bowie, carrying on the tradition. The weather was calm and lovely, and tornados were far from our minds. Christian reminded me when we got home.

Here’s to a spring full of warm rains and gentle breezes and free of severe storms.


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Some days are really rare




Some days are ho-hum, with work and that’s sort of it, but some days are really rare. Yesterday was one of the latter for me.

I worked in the morning, but about eleven Jacob, who did not have school, came out to the cottage and we ran errands. He helped me take review copies of the cookbook to the post office to mail for an upcoming blog tour. Then we went to PetSmart for dog food. First big problem: I know Sophie eats ProPlan but Christian usually gets it, and I was unprepared for a thousand choices of flavors and target ages and consistency. (An aside: a long time ago I sent Christian to PetSmart with a request to find ProChoice dog food—he called me perplexed because there was nothing by that name!) Jacob had no doubts—“My dad gets this brown bag,” he insisted. So we got 35 lbs. of shredded dog food—shredded? Sophie eats kibble. He insisted. (It turned out to be a bigger kibble than usual, and she loves it.) He also chose a new treat since they didn’t seem to have the Purina Dental Chews which are a staple of her life and which I usually get on line but had run out of. He insisted again, and we came away with a large bag of Beggin’ Strips—some sort of faux bacon that the label said was real meat. She liked them so much I have to keep them hidden.

Jacob often doesn’t talk a lot on such trips, but on the way home I did my usual back-roads thing, weaving through neighborhoods to avoid congestion on major streets, and we got into a discussion about which houses we liked. He tends toward the stark and modern, while I love old houses. But it was great fun to pick out a house and pass judgement on it.

And then last night I went with neighbors Margaret and Dennis to a dinner party to meet Carol Coffee Reposa, the 2018 Poet Laureate of Texas. I had met Carol’s daughter, Ruth, and her husband, Scott at a holiday dinner party, and we’d talked about getting the mothers together. Ruth and Scott hosted the small dinner party, and I simply could not have had a better time. Carol and I had lots to talk about—turns out we met in the ‘90s at a conference in San Angelo TCU Press is publishing a book of her poetry this spring, and we know a lot of people in common. Fun to catch up.

Ruth is an obstetrician and, to my surprise, attended the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, once my stomping grounds and home to a lot of people I knew and liked. So we too compared friends and talked of the new medical school at TCU and the effect it will have on the osteopathic school. We plan to continue the discussion soon. Scott cooked an absolutely wonderful meal—pork tenderloin with citrus/ginger sauce, seasoned tiny new potatoes, green beans, and Caesar salad. The wine flowed freely.

A bonus: they have two of the most wonderful dogs—shh! Don’t tell Sophie. One is a cross of an Aussie with a poodle. He’s Willie Nelson, and he’s about the same size as my beloved Scooby with the same blue merle markings. And, as all Aussie dogs are, a real sweetheart. I was instantly in love. Then came a shaggy white dog, slightly bigger—she is a Golden Doodle, though I’ve never seen a white one, nor one with as straight a coat. But they were both friendly and well behaved—sat at the table, under our feet, while we dined.

Scandal! I didn’t get home until 10:30, and Jordan immediately came to the cottage to say that she and Jacob had waited up for me. When she tried to get Jacob to go to bed, he said, “I’m not going to bed. Juju isn’t even home yet.”

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Nothing like a good book


Jacob went camping and fishing this weekend
In a tent, the fish they caught for supper
What a great experience for a twelve-year-old


            Today I treated myself to an occasional self-indulgence—a day devoted to a book. I dearly love to get lost in a good mystery, but lately I haven’t had time to read much—still proofing the Alamo book and have miles to go, plus I was reading some “serious” nonfiction. And there’s the problem that nothing I casually picked up really spoke to me.

So yesterday I started Hemlock Needle: A Maeve Malloy Mystery by Keenan Powell. And today I spent the day reading—oh, I went to church (with all three Burtons, what a treat!), and I made the stuffed lettuce from the “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog last week for supper tonight, and yes, I took my nap. But I read …a lot.

I chose Hemlock Needle because I know Keenan from Sisters in Crime, Guppies, and Facebook—and mostly because I know she had an Irish Wolfhound. That’s enough reason to like anyone in my book. I’ve owned those gentle giants, and I adore them, though I am saddened by their relatively short life span. Keenan ran into that too, when her Fitzhugh recently died.

But I kept reading this because it’s one of the new mystery series I’ve read in a long time. Not a cozy, which is what I usually read, but what I guess you could call a legal thriller. Set in Anchorage, where Keenan just happens to be a lawyer, so she knows whereof she writes. This is her second book in the Maeve Malloy Series.

Alaska and the Native culture are the backbone of this novel, and I find reading it is much like reading Tony Hillerman’s novels of the Navajo culture. It’s a different world for most of us, and the customs and mores dictate the direction the story will take. So does the climate. Hemlock Needle is set in Alaska’s deep winter, with plenty of snow, subzero temperatures. The plot revolves around a young woman who is found frozen to death in a snowbank—unfortunately not an unusual death for the alcoholic, homeless Native population. But Esther Fancyboy was none of those things—mother of a young son, she owned a condo and had a responsible position with a corporation that worked to bring water to remote communities.

It goes without saying that Maeve and her sidekick search for the truth behind Esther’s death and uncover corporate corruption, illicit affairs, and all manner of bad. It’s an absorbing story. And I look forward to finishing it tonight.

And now I’m back on a fiction kick, with several other titles on my TBR list. What a lovely way to spend a day. I read at my computer but today I had the patio doors open, so it was like bringing this glorious day inside. What happened to our storms?

Friday, March 22, 2019

My Funky Days




I have long believed that every once in a while, we all need a day off, a “time out.” Not a holiday—the Fourth or July or Labor Day won’t do. Just a sudden, unexpected day. I found a quote today from someone named Laura Ding which says, in part, “A day is not a lifetime, a rest is not a defeat…think of it as a quiet, kind retreat.”

About noon yesterday it stuck me that my stomach and I were not in agreement. It could have been anything, from the sushi and black beans I’d eaten over the last few days to a virus or “bug.” By coincidence, I got a column for our neighborhood newspaper from our contributing veterinarian in which he referred to dogs' "food indiscretion." I couldn't help but take it personally. I didn’t know caused by my distress, but I knew I didn’t feel well, and I didn’t feel like working. Deciding to call it a funky day, I took three naps. I did, however, get the neighborhood newsletter off to the designer, write two blogs, proof two chapters of the Alamo book, and do a little work on an upcoming blog tour for Gourmet on a Hot Plate. A funky day but not a useless one.

I went to bed early last night, expecting to feel one hundred per cent this morning. After all, in my mind funky days are one-day affairs. But it was not to be. Neither my stomach nor I were happy overnight, though this morning I went to the grocery with Jordan and then holed up to do some work.

Now, by early evening, I feel almost human and plan to have smoked salmon and cream cheese for dinner—it’s in the fridge and needs to be eaten, and I figure what sounds good for dinner is a measure of my recovery. But I’m still a reluctant cook tonight—maybe that will come back tomorrow.

Today’s bit of trivia: who can remember what Alexandre Dumas wrote? The nineteenth-century French writer was the author of such swashbuckling novels as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But who knows what he considered his life masterpiece? A 1500-page work he called Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine. A lifelong cook and gourmand, Dumas considered his book a history of his own gastronomic life. In reality, it’s a curiously unbalanced compendium of trivia—five pages on mustard but a half page on milk, two pages on cheese but five on ambergris, that whale secretion sometimes used for flavoring.

The book was published posthumously three years after Dumas’ death, with a condensed version following. Interested? You can buy a shortened version for Kindle for just under $4.00. Fascinated as I am by all things food-related, I think I’ll pass on this. But I’m interested to know it exists.

Have a great weekend. Don’t waste any of it on a funky day.

               

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Eating my peas with honey and other trivia




Who remembers that limerick from childhood? “I eat my peas with honey/I've done it all  my life/Makes them taste kinda’ funny/But it keeps them on the knife.” After a lifetime of thinking honey was mostly too sweet, I find myself addicted to it—could be anything from a change in taste to a change, due to aging, in body chemistry.

It started with tea. A couple of years ago I had a bad cold, the kind that turns your stomach, and coffee tasted awful. So I switched to green tea, but I sweetened it with a bit of honey. And I’ve had a cup of green tea every morning since.

Sopapillas were the only food I considered appropriate for honey. Not those elaborate big things slathered in whipped cream that we get here in Texas, but the true “tiny pillows” served in New Mexico. The ones where you bite off a corner and pour the honey in. Somehow recently that led me to biscuits and honey, and now I keep a stash of biscuits in the freezer (confession: I don’t make them from scratch—Pillsbury does the work for me).

This morning I had a biscuit with butter and honey—delicious. But when I’m alone, I eat at my desk, which I did this morning, and now I cannot get rid of the sticky. It’s everywhere! I have taken the dish rag to the desk top three times and about have it licked clean. But after two thorough washings, my hands still have sticky spots. The downside of honey. I do realize how fortunate I am if that’s the worst problem I encounter today.

My vote for the cleverest web site of the day is an advertisement for a book titled 100 Jewish Foods. Click on this link--https://100jewishfoods.tabletmag.com/?te=1&nl=cooking&emc=edit_ck_20190320 – and you’ll find a giant table laden with dishes. Spin the table and click on any dish you want to read about. I could have spent the day playing on that site. But I didn’t.

I spent the day editing my neighborhood newsletter and working on edits on the Alamo book. I thoroughly enjoy a work day like that and, I confess, it’s easier than a day when I’m writing a novel and have to dig in my mind for the next scene. But still, it was a relief to go to dinner with friends. We went to Lucille’s—nobody seemed to know where they wanted to go, and my motto was, “When in doubt, go to Lucille’s.” That’s sort of how I feel about it—it’s always reliable and good, not showy, not special, but familiar.

I am so enjoying these days with cool nights and mornings, warm days. In the afternoons I turn the heat off and open the French doors so Sophie can come and go; then at night, I leave the heat off and sleep in cool comfort but in the morning, I turn it on to take the chill off the cottage. Too soon, we will be into hot days and nights, so I’m making the most of this while I can. How about you?


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

My day of international eating


Old-fashioned potato salad



            I’m working on a culinary mystery, and I’ve discovered as I write that one of the themes will be an appreciation for good, old-fashioned American food. In fact, I’ve rediscovered James Beard, who was a terrible food snob but also a proponent of American cooking done well—it’s just that he so often found it done badly. French fries, for instance, which he called limp, greasy, and tasteless. But perfectly cooked cottage fries? Ambrosia.

I don’t think I’m parochial in my food tastes, but when I responded to a question from the New York Times cooking columnist about what kind of food I was interested in, I wrote, as I said above, “good old-fashioned American food.” I guess I must have mentioned potato salad, but I surely did not mean to insult anyone. A woman with a Middle Eastern-sounding name (I sincerely hope I’m not stereotyping) wrote to ask if potato salad wasn’t German and added that it sounded pretty exotic to her. I pondered a bit if her response was sarcasm and I’d offended, but then I decided to go with a straight reply. I told her hot German potato salad is indeed German in origin, but I think the mayonnaise and mustard versions so common on picnics are strictly American.

But the point I’m working around to is that my taste is pretty international. I offer as proof my international diet today: lunch at Righteous Food with bison tacos, black beans, and churros; dinner at Tokyo CafĂ© with a marvelous lobster roll (I got a little heavy-handed with the wasabi in the soy and had to blow my nose and wipe my eyes a lot.) It’s not that I don’t like foods from other cultures. It’s just that I am bombarded with recipes for exotic foods and lots of grains and difficult-to-get ingredients. Surely there’s a balance there. I don’t want us to lose American cooking in the swell of recipes from other lands. And I think maybe that’s the point James Beard, for all his bombast, was making. He did favor northern European cooking a lot.

As for my mystery, I’ve had to step away from it to work on edits on the Alamo book, and that will probably take me another two weeks at least. Meantime, I have a tentative title, “Saving Irene.” We’ll see what happens with that.

In Alter family news, my oldest Austin grandson, fourteen-year-old Sawyer, broke his femur skiing yesterday in Colorado. It was a clean break, not near a joint, and they transported him to Vail where his surgeon was a surgeon to the Olympic skiing team. Moral of that story: if you’re going to break a bone skiing, do it near Vail. Sawyer will be on crutches for six to eight weeks, which is a complication because his family is temporarily living in the apartment over their garage. Sawyer won’t be able to do those stairs (which I always hated anyway). I have faith they will work it out.

Sawyer is just a few months free from a broken elbow, incurred on a MBX or whatever bike. His Uncle Colin is sympathetic but crowing—at the same age, Colin broke an arm, then a leg on the ski slopes, then another arm, and finally a finger. Now, almost forty years after his early teen accidents he has not broken another bone. At the time people hounded me to have him tested for brittle bones, but a wise doctor said, “He’s just a growing boy.” Now I’m hearing people says Sawyer must be tested—I’ll be interested in what they decide.

It’s been a long day. I was up for an early doctor’s appointment—okay, 9:15 is early for me—and then lunch and dinner and tiny bits of work in between. I look forward to tomorrow—a long working day at home.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Some thoughts on adoption


An older picture but it shows a happy family
The families adoption can create


I read a moving piece today about a young woman, an adoptee, who devoted years to finding her biological parents. She was raised, as an only child, by loving adoptive parents but she always felt incomplete. And after her diligence, she had a joyful reunion with both biological parents, who could barely remember that they knew each other. I’m afraid the story moved me not in the direction she or the writer intended. I need to speak out about adoption from the viewpoint of an adoptive parent.

My four children were all adopted as infants. My husband and I created a loving perfect family for them for twelve years, and then he left us. I was terrified. My first thought was, “How can I raise four children by myself?” They then ranged in age from twelve to six. But you know what, I did raise them and, if I do say so, pretty successfully. Today there are wonderful people with solid marriages, happy families, and good careers—a CPA, a lawyer, an entrepreneur who outshines us all, and a luxury travel consultant. I could not be prouder of them.

Sure, we had our ups and downs. My oldest had something to discover about his dad and went to live with him a couple of times. The girls were sometimes horrendously difficult as teenagers, but aren’t most girls? I think the boys were equally difficult in a different way, but I was blissfully unaware of what they were doing.

But in all those difficult years, I never heard one of them say they wanted to find their biological parents. Sure, one once said in anger, “You shouldn’t have bought me,” but for the most part I think they were afraid of what they would find. One knew that her biological mother had done drugs, and she never expressed any desire to find her.

Adoption became, for us, something we joked about. Once Colin saw me talking on my cell phone, making a large gesture of moving it from ear to mouth, and he said, “Mom, you don’t have to do that. If I see you doing that in public, I’m going to say, ‘I don’t’ know her,’ and if someone knows you’re my mom, I’m going to say, ‘I’m adopted.’” When Jordan’s son was born, her obstetrician kept saying the newborn favored me, and I finally had to say, “You do know that Jordan is adopted, don’t you?” Then again, they say that people who live together begin to look alike, and these days, as Jordan matures, I think I see my mother in her. She was Mom’s baby, and they spent a lot of time together.

I am the envy of many women my age because my children are close, affectionate, loving, and oh so independent. I’m often told I did a good job of raising them, which amuses me because all I can think of is the many mistakes I made, things I shouldn’t have said, things I overlooked. Jordan says I was a strict disciplinarian, but I think many parents would have been appalled at my laxness. Once when she was a latch-key kid, another mother refused to let her daughter come home with Jordan after school because of the lack of supervision.

I don’t know why they turned out like they did. A combination of love, trust, and damn good luck. But I want to speak for the other side of the adoption triangle. Finding biological parents is often a major disappointment, a disruption of life rather than the solution to all problems as some seem to believe. Not all adoptees pine for their biological parents, and some biological parents don’t really want to be found. It’s not as simple as taking a DNA test.

My second son travels often on business to the city where his birth mother was raised. I asked if he wanted to meet her family, and he said, “I’d like to see them from a distance.”

So next time you read one of those DNA miracle stories, stop for a minute and think of the many other sides of that story. And remember my wonderful family.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Happy St. Patrick’s Day…and a birthday






Jordan with the love of her life
St. Patrick’s Day has always been a high holiday around my house—it’s the birthday of my baby girl, Jordan Elisabeth. This year, she’s . . . well, we won’t go there. For years, ever since she was young, she requested tacos for her birthday party; even as a married mother, she wanted tacos. And Jordan likes to celebrate with a crowd—she loves a party. So tonight, there were about twenty-five folks wishing her well.

But the menu changed. It was a St. Patrick’s Day pot-luck, and there was a bit of everything Irish, from green deviled eggs to shepherd’s pie made with corned beef (gosh, was that good!). I made a Reuben dip—yep, all the ingredients of the classic sandwich in a dip form. Someone brought corned beef and cabbage, and Jordan’s brother—my Jamie—and his Melanie arrived with a platter of tacos and all the fixings. Too many other things to name. A bounteous feast.

I love these parties with her friends because I feel like the queen bee—or else the aging dowager (haven’t quite figured that one out). But I get kisses and hugs from all her friends and most of their kids as they come and go, and I am so grateful to be around younger folks. Some of my friends were included, along with some of the neighbors, so it was a varied group.

In high school, Jordan had two best buddies—Rob Seume and David Barnes. I love that those three are still what they called themselves back then—the three musketeers. So here the three are tonight and at her 2004 wedding. I am tempted to quote poetry, something about age shall not wither nor dampen friendships. These pictures are fourteen years apart and yet don't capture the span of their friendship.




The other high point of my day was going to church with Jacob. He went to the Pastor’s Class (they have a much more high falutin’ name for it these days) at ten and then met me at the valet parking at eleven so we could go to church together. Color me one proud and happy grandmother. I wore the only green top I have, though Jacob insisted it was turquoise, and he offered to show me the green waistband on his underwear, which was his only green. It was fun to see the various shades of green scattered throughout the congregation.

When we got home, I asked if he’d get my walker out for me, and he said, “Naw, I’m going in the house.  See you later, Juju.” Of course, he came around, got the walker, and saw me inside. He has learned from his uncles how to pick on Juju.

Such a full day—no work accomplished, and now I’m sleepy. It’s an early bed time for me tonight.

May the road rise to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

The rains fall soft on your fields.

            And until we meet again,

May the good Lord hold you in the palm of his hand.
Got to share this last picture. I don't always look this good in pictures. Must be Jordan's loving arms or her influence.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

A day with high points and some low ones




I’m really glad and grateful that several of you said wonderful things about my post last night and my evening back in the literary world of Texas. I needed that affirmation because today someone on Facebook told me that I am surely the most ignorant of the ignorant. It had to do with a thread about Beto O’Rourke. At this point I am not promising to support Beto but neither will I criticize him—I’m waiting to see how this overcrowded field shakes out. But I contributed what I thought was a reasonable statement on the fact that he waves his arms and jumps around a lot when addressing a crowd—d.trump also waves his arms a lot. It doesn’t say a lot about either man’s ability to run our country. But, oh boy, was I jumped on. A blazing example of the ugly divisiveness that has engulfed our country, and it makes me feel sad. Two Facebookers, one I know and one I don’t, came to my defense and I appreciate it. I know I have a lot of flaws—ignorance is not one of them.

The highlight of my day was the arrival of Colin and his family for lunch. I had been uncertain if they’d stop on their way home from skiing, but first I heard they would stop for a quick visit. Then came the question: did I want them to bring Railhead for lunch? Of course I did. We had a good visit, and I was reluctant to see them go. And the barbecue was great—I’d been wanting it.

The rest of my day was not so glorious. I went the zoo road to pick up groceries—it was the middle of the day, and I figured zoo people were all in there visiting the animals. I would not get stuck in either arriving or departing traffic—and I didn’t. It’s those one or two drivers who think they can game the system. Zoo or park officials have parking carefully controlled and well managed, but there’s always that person who thinks he or she can evade the rules….and so drives five miles an hour looking for opportunity. How do you tell these people they’d have more time at the zoo if they’d just park in the designated spots and walk there? My frustration level was not great, though I had a lovely conversation with the Central Market employee who brought my groceries—we had North Carolina memories and farm fresh eggs in common.

I went my way, picked up my eggs, and came home—it’s no easy task to get two bags of groceries in while using a walker, but I did it and thought I’d just check email before a well-deserved nap. Someone in the neighborhood had sent me pictures for the newsletter, but every time I tried to copy them my computer crashed and getting it rebooted was touch and go, a long, slow process—I was actually proud of myself that I worked through it. I finally erased the email pictures and suggested she send them straight to the designer.

Then I napped but couldn’t sleep. Just not my day.

Tonight, Jordan and her boys came home from two days at a neighbor’s lake house, only to find the carbon monoxide detector going off. The firemen came, said the detector was probably old, get a new one and call them if the new one went off. They also told them all kinds of symptoms to watch for. So Christian and Jacob set off to get a new detector, and I’ve heard no more. I presume they’re okay.

Just that kind of day. We all have them.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Texas Literary Hall of Fame




I’m in danger of the big head tonight. I just got home from the biennial induction ceremony for the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Friends of the Fort Worth Public Library. Hors d’oevres, wine, and the presentation ceremony.

It was my great privilege to accept for Susan Wittig Albert, who was unable to attend because back problems make it difficult for her to get around. As I lugged my walker to the podium, I joked about the lame helping the lame. Susan is perhaps best known for the China Bayles herbal mysteries, which she has been writing for thirty years. She also wrote the Beatrix Potter series and still writes the Darling Dahlias Mysteries. But she also has to her credit several historical nonfiction titles – A Wilder Rose, about Rose Wilder Lane, daughter and co-author with Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame; Loving Eleanor, highlighting the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and political reporter Lorena Hickok; The General’s Women, exploring the relationship between Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, his wartime driver and lover, Kay Summersby, and, to a lesser extent, Mamie Eisenhower.

Susan is a consummate professional, and it was a great honor for me to accept in her place. She sent me the words to say—clever, funny, and blessedly brief. They were well received.

There were five other honorees, and I proudly say I was instrumental at one point or another in getting three of them published, and the other two are old friends/acquaintances. For a brief moment there, I was back in the world of literary Texas and oh so delighted to be there. In addition to the honorees, I saw several people I was glad to see, made some good connections, and generally had a good time.

The Texas Literary Hall of Fame began in 2003, and I was part of an advisory panel that first year when inductees included John Graves, Elmer Kelton, Katharine Anne Porter, J.Frank Dobie, Shelby Hearon, Larry McMurtry, Horton Foote, and Walter Prescott Webb. I myself was inducted in 2010 and feel honored to be in such stellar company.



From the sublime to—well, if not the ridiculous, at least the mundane. We have a new fence. What’s remarkable about that is how wonderful it looks and how it emphasizes that we were overdue for that fence. The old one was gray, haphazard, and missing a board of two. Wooden fences don’t necessarily have a long life in Texas.

And I’m still on my unusual foods kick—mushrooms on toast for breakfast. So yummy.

So now comes the weekend. I intend to spend it working. How about you?




Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Storms, daylight savings, and insomnia plus a nice dinner




Hard to get out of bed this morning. It was a rough night. Somewhere between three and four, the warning sirens went off, the thunder rolled, the wind blew—up to 70 mph we’re told. I’m not sure why, but in the cottage, everything has an amplified sound—the wind and the rain, although I didn’t hear the sirens. But I lay awake listening to the moaning of the wind, the drumming of the rain. Sophie stayed right next to the bed. Of course, by six it all quieted down, and I slept again. But by 7:45 my conscience pulled me out of bed.

Today was one of those days that gives Texas a reputation for, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” It stayed damp, dark and chilly early this morning, and I thought sure Jordan would cancel our errand/grocery run. But she didn’t. She said ten o’clock, and by ten it was “fairing off,” as one of my children’s nannies used to say. By eleven, left alone in the car on one errand, I shed my fleece jacket and complained that I was getting a sunburn.

I have been the big cheerleader for Daylight Savings Time, proclaiming my love for dark mornings and long light evenings. I think I have to eat a bit of crow here. I have found I am longing to linger in bed in the mornings, just burrow in and stay there. I have to make myself open my eyes and get on with the world. And in the evening, I’m unbearably sleepy at too early an hour. My inner clock is out of whack.

Worse yet, even without storms, I wake about four and sleep restlessly from then on. I read something about insomnia that identified nap insomnia—napping uses up your sleep need, and you don’t rest as well at night. Guilty! Some days when I nap (which I do every day religiously), I think I haven’t slept but then I realize that I have come from some far country and, indeed, I’ve slept and dreamt. The other insomnia cause that hit home with me is wine—a bit of the grape at night helps you go to sleep but you tend to wake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep.

I do, however, expect things to be better in the morning, when it will be sunny, and I will bounce out of bed ready to dig into the edits on my Alamo manuscript. Ah, don’t hold your breath.

Tonight, a lovely supper with Betty and Jean at the Tavern—delicious sole, mashed potatoes, and spinach. And talk—about Better Angels and politics, about 23andMe, and Alzheimer’s and what we know, and always, about food. I think I’ll abandon that wonderful-sounding butternut squash recipe. Too hard to peel a raw squash. Life’s big problems.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Far-fetched musings on the soul and some snowbound games




My snow bunnies
I’ve been pondering why I feel such a sense of unease, disquiet about the demolition of the house in Austin. As Brandon said, I didn’t live with its creaky bones and failing sewer system. Although when he said if I lived in a house as old as that, I’d understand, and I had to remind him I have always lived in houses about thirty years older than that one. And maybe that’s part of it—I have an affinity for old houses.

It’s not just preservation, though I am a devoted believer in the importance of that, and I am distressed to see in Fort Worth modest bungalows from the ‘50s and’60s coming down to be replaced by condos and town houses and stealth dorms. We are losing a part of our history, and it grieves me.

But beyond that, I arrived at the notion that a house has a soul, at least a house that has been happily lived in does. By serendipity, I started tonight to read The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, by James Meacham. He quotes everyone from Jesus to MLK about the nature of the soul, but the line that grabbed me was, “the soul is a central and self-evident truth, what makes us us.” Some of us, maybe those like me with an overdose of imagination, talk about the ”feel” of a house. When I first walked into my cottage, I said it felt like a happy place—and so it has proven to be. But I have been in dark and dreary homes without soul, with nothing about them to speak of love and joy and happiness.

The house in Austin was not a particularly spectacular one, nor was it large, but it was comfortable. And when the kids moved in, it had a cold,unloved feel to it—perhaps it was the built-in furniture, a disastrous but thankfully short-lived fad. But my kids brought to the house two baby boys, a brand new marvelous kitchen, and hordes of family and friends for parties and good times. Those are the things that give a house a soul. And so now, it’s a bit sad to me to see it become an empty shell.

Oh, I know. The new house will be wonderful and exciting, and I can’t wait for that first-floor guest room—how many times did I climb that scary spiral staircase, something I no longer can do and never could with a suitcase. I’ll love the new house, but for now I’m a bit sad. But I tell myself, as I do about my long life, that I have good memories.

Another branch of my family is snowed in at Wolf Creek—22 inches last night. They occupied themselves playing in the snow, shoveling it off cars, making a giant snowman, something they couldn’t ever do in Texas.
You couldn't build a snowman this big
in Texas ever!

And me? I worked on edits to the Alamo book all day, except for a laughingly happy lunch with old friends at the Black Rooster. One of them brought me a rotisserie chicken breast, because she’d heard me complain once too often about wanting just the breast and not the whole bony chicken. Thanks for supper, Linda. Another good day.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A demolition report and a day with lots of irons in the fire




It’s really nice to have a son-in-law who pays attention o my books. Brandon sent this demolition picture with the explanation that they found a dead space next to grandson Sawyer’s closet but, alas, there was no skeleton. Some may remember that my first mystery was Skeleton in a Dead Space; that dead space, like the one in my house, was in the kitchen. Haven’t read it? I think it’s one of my best mysteries. And I love that Brandon saw the connection.

Megan reported about five that grandson Ford and friends were having fun tearing out walls, and she was going home to join them. So demolition proceeds but apparently won’t be total for a couple of weeks. Meantime, what excitement for teen boys.

And the local teen is fishing with his grandfather. He called to ask if the tanks on his uncle’s ranch are stocked. The answer is yes, years ago, but the only way to find out if there are still fish is to go fishing. Jacob said we’d plan a day at the ranch, but then he said, “Juju, when you say tanks, do you mean the ponds?” I told him tank is Texas-speak for pond, and he would have to work on his vocabulary.

For me, a busy day, which I like. When I was in my late teens, I was my father’s secretary—he was administrator of a hospital. I always swore that experience made me a perfect executive secretary, though heaven forbid we should refer to a woman that way today. But I can clear a desk of lots of projects in one big sweep. And I like it that way.

Today I met with a co-conspirator about forming a local group of Better Angels, the national organization that brings together people of opposing political opinions for moderated discussions—no arguing, no proselytizing, just learning from one another. I pretty much secured our church as a meeting place and began to compile a list of interested participants—if you’re interested, please let me know. I set in motion a blog tour for my cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, and committed to write five blogs by early April. I emailed my accountant that I had finished my tax organizer and was ready to turn it over to him. I straightened out some prescription confusion--always a time-consuming chore as you get left on hold. But the biggie was that I got the edits back on the Alamo manuscript, which means I have a lot to do immediately—dealing with edits, adding some new material, and compiling a complete list of photos. I actually love waking up in the morning and knowing that projects like this are waiting for me.

The mystery I’ve been doodling along goes to one side, though I did make enough notes that I would know where to pick it up. A good day, and I’m a happy camper.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

To sleep, perchance to dream. …




Exhausted, I tell you, simply exhausted. That’s how I woke up this morning. No, it wasn’t the change to daylight savings that did me in, although Sophie did not sleep as late as I’d hoped. No, it was the dream.

You see, my daughter Megan’s house will be demolished tomorrow, to make room for a new house on the same spot. Preparation for this day has been intense—sorting out twenty-some years of accumulations, deciding what to keep and what goes, planning for life n a two-room guest apartment for her, her husband, and their two teen sons. It’s going to be tight, and as of Saturday there was still some furniture in the house, though a cabinet-maker had dismantled kitchen cabinets and granite. She assured me they were almost ready and would be by Monday morning.

A part of me feels I should be in Austin with her—for moral support. The sensible part of me knows I would be in the way and just be one more thing for Megan to worry about. So early this morning I was in Austin in my dreams—oh, those early-morning dreams! Most of the family was there, and the house still held way too much, including some of my best pottery (which I don’t have anymore anyway). Dogs and a goat were underfoot (they have one dog and no goast), and I was badgering son-in-law Brandon (me? badger?) for value estimates of some items so that I could file my income tax (a problem that has nothing to do with Brandon and everything to do with another of my brood).

Then I had to go find Scooby (poor Scoob crossed the Rainbow Bridge some seven years ago so I have no idea what he was doing in Austin). Jamie went with me, and we met with bankers and lawyers (back to the tax question, I guess) and all my old anxiety disorders came back to haunt me.

And then Sophie barked at me in a demanding tone, and I was back in my cottage bedroom. Got to call Austin today and check on them.

I just learned tonight that the demolition tomorrow will not be the great dramatic event I expected. I asked if they would bulldoze or implode, and Megan said neither. They will take it down piece by piece to save the foundation. The contractor has done a great job of protecting trees, etc.

For some reason I feel very sentimental about this demolition—there go twenty years of memories. Megan said tonight after all the work they’ve done to empty the house, she’s more than ready. She’s not as sentimental.

After my exhausting sleep, I really needed a nap this afternoon. Settled down, and not ten minutes later Sophie barked at me. I sat straight up in bed and in my meanest voice said, “No! Absolutely no way!” For good measure I shook my finger at her (can’t you just see the mean old lady?). She left, but turned around to look at me with an expression that clearly said, “Don’t you think your reaction was a little over the top?” Yeah, it was. These are tense times. Isn’t it great that I have no bigger problems in my life?

It is, in spite of all else, Sunday night. Dinner was steak hache with porcini butter and salsa verde, tiny oven-roasted potatoes with rosemary, and salad with blue cheese dressing. A collaborative effort--I did all the prep, Jordan watched over the potatoes as they roasted, and Christian cooked the steak patties. I worried a bit about this great and complicated experiment, but it turned out great.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Another lovely day




I felt very much the matriarch today at lunch. Last night Colin texted to ask if we would be able to meet for lunch at Carshon’s at noon today. He and his family plus close friends were driving through on their way to spend spring break skiing at Wolf Creek in Colorado. Well, of course, you know with a request like that we rearranged our schedules. Jordan and I did a quick grocery trip and then I made an even quicker run to Central Market for curbside pickup. I have gotten in the habit of doing what I call “ordinary” grocery shopping at a local chain but ordering special items from Central Market. Today that included Dover sole, ground sirloin, blue cheese, smoked salmon and a few other things.

At 11:55 we were at Carshon’s where Stephanie and Theresa made a table for twelve work even though they were already busy. Colin has literally been eating at Carshon’s all his almost-fifty years and does not ever think of coming to Fort Worth without going there. You’ll note, he didn’t come home—he went to Carshon’s. Theresa takes one look at him and says, “Rebecca. No Russian dressing.” Jordan and Christian splurged and had another designer sandwich, and Jacob seemed to like his bagel and cream cheese. The family of four that my kids always ski with joked that this was not their first time at the deli, and they knew exactly what to order.

But I had one of those special moments as I sat at the head of the table and looked at all the twelve people. I thought, “I made this happen. This wonderful moment. These are my kids, their children, their friends. How blessed we are.” Later, Jacob sort of echoed that. Waiting for Christian to bring the car up, I sat next to him—and he immediately scooted away. I joked about it, and his cousin Kegan sat between us. “Juju,” Jacob said, “Kegan doesn’t see you very often. I live with you.” I hope that was a brag and not a complaint.

Sophie had a good day too. Here she is in that classic position that indicates a dog feels perfectly safe and perfectly content and at ease. Christian and I had a good laugh at the one leg sticking straight up in the air. She actually sleeps that way a lot in the daytime.

Tonight, Jordan’s longtime BFF, David Barnes, came for happy hour. Nice now that he lives just blocks away, even though his wonderful new wife, Kelly, was out of town. We had a great visit, with lots of projections of what they would all look like as they aged. Funny, but my warning to them was not to laugh it off too lightly. Christian, whose father is bald, did a projection of himself as bald—much better than with long hair.

They went inside for dinner, but I chose to stay in the cottage. I made an avocado/blue cheese/cherry tomato salad with lemon and cooked the Dover sole I bought today. Although a friend told me about a recipe with brown butter and capers, I chose to use the garlic/herb butter I bought by mistake and need to use, and I left out the capers—that particular fish is so delicate in flavor I didn’t want capers to overwhelm it.

Amount of work I got done today? Zero, zilch, nada. Maybe tomorrow. But then again, that’s what being eighty and retired is all about. It was a lovely day.

Friday, March 08, 2019

The Joy of Aging




I am getting better, happier, and nicer as I grow older.

So I would be terrific in a couple hundred years. —novelist Maeve Binchy



I’ve been searching for a way to say this for a long time, and here Binchy does it so gracefully in so few words. Perfect!

A friend and I talked about similar feelings over dinner last night—miso soup and salad for her, and a too-spicy beef bowl with broccoli and carrots for me. We touched on the reactions of a mutual friend to a difficult situation and shook our heads and tsk-tsked as only old ladies can do. “It reminds me of high school drama,” I said, “but who knows? Forty years ago, I might have done the same thing.” She agreed she might have too.

Then the subject of friendship came up, along with my oft-quoted favorite line from Ann Lamott about people who drop out of your life—their part in your story is over. We carried it a little farther and jointly reached the conclusion that it was time to re-examine the nature of those friendships now gone. Often, they aren’t the friendships we’d choose today.

Finally, she said, “I like my friends today better.” I agree, except that I’ve been so fortunate in a few friends who have held tight over long years. It’s dangerous territory to name them because I’ll inevitably hurt some feelings. But I am still close to Barbara, who I got to know at church when we were both in elementary school. We went to high school and college together and are still a part of each other’s lives—and if I’ve gotten better and nicer, so has she, because we agree on everything from families to cooking to faith. There’s Martha and Dick in Omaha—I’ve known them since before I married, over fifty years ago. Once we hadn’t seen each other for years and took a trip together to Santa Fe. I worried that it wouldn’t be the same, but it was. And ever is. And Carole, whose visit to me a couple of weeks ago was like speech after long silence. She is not, as I told her, a good communicator, but we too picked right up where we left off. The ties that bound us when she lived in Fort Worth are still there.

Yes, I make different choices in friendship today, and I am fortunate with the friends I have around me, several dating back at least forty years and others fairly new in my life.

Maybe age is on my mind. My brother had a birthday yesterday. My age is no secret, so it suffices to say he is older by a few years. We’re both older than either of us thought we’d ever be, and I think we’re both a bit in awe of that fact. What happened to the high school kid who tried to teach me to dance (and yelled to our mother, “She stepped on my feet!”) or the one who would take on any bully who bothered me. He was my Bubby, my hero, my protector. These days we talk on the phone, maybe once a week, but rarely see each other. Still we are bound by caring and family ties and memories. Today we talked about all the cousins who have passed on. Except for one girl in Florida—the granddaughter of a cousin, to whom he talks occasionally—we are the last of what was once a large extended family.

But we are building our own families—he has six grandchildren, and I have seven, and praise be! They are all in Texas (except for one in college). It’s like watching history cycle around you, a nice feeling that things are and will be carried on. I like it that my niece is so pleased to have a set of Grandmother’s china and that my nephew treasures Mom’s marble-top dressing table. He’s busy restoring the finish.

One of the stereotypes of literature is the crabby old person, and we all know they exist in real life.  We’ve probably known too many. Not everyone gets happier and wiser, but I think those that turn unhappily inward with age just don’t have a lifetime of happy memories behind them. Pray for them. And happy birthday, John.


Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Haircuts, tigers, and the Alamo




The difference a haircut makes is amazing. This morning, it was still chilly although sunny, and I was in a bit of a funk, reluctant to get started on a long day of work broken only by a two o’clock haircut and dinner with a friend. But then Rosa, the wonderful lady who keeps me from looking shaggy, called to say she could come by around nine instead of two. I managed to get my hair washed but she found me lazy otherwise—bed unmade, dishes in the sink. But that haircut turned my attitude around, and the whole day was better than I expected.

Sophie got a haircut a week or so ago. She had been having terrible allergies, and I could hear her wheeze and that wet breathing that scares you when you hear it in a child and worried me for my dog. She was also sleeping a lot. But after the haircut, she is a new dog—lively, allergy-free. I truly believe she was carrying around dust and pollen in that shaggy coat.

So in my next life I’m either going to be a hair stylist or a dog groomer. Such a good service they do for us.

Something appalling that I read this morning: there are only 3,000 tigers in the wild, while there are 5,000 in captivity. No, most of them are not in zoos and wildlife preserves. They are in people’s back yards. Estimate is that 2,000 are in Texas yards. Sorry, folks, but that’s an atrocity. Those magnificent creatures deserve to run free and should not live their lives in cages in back yards. Thank goodness, zoos are doing a better job these days of keeping animals in a so-called natural environment, but even that is less than ideal. The virtue of zoos is their breeding programs, which save many animals from extinction. I can’t begin to understand why someone would want a tiger in a cage in their backyard. Probably people who think life isn’t complete without an AR15.

Today is the 183rd anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, which means, among many other more significant things, my book about the Alamo should be out by this time next year. I’ve seen several posts about this anniversary, and they all show pictures of the chapel. But that is not where the battle was. It took place in a building, now restored, adjacent to the chapel, called the long barracks. In the public mind, though, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie swung their rifles in hand-to-hand combat on the roof of the chapel. Truth is, the chapel was in such disrepair at the time of the siege that it had no roof. When the U.S. Army occupied the building as a storage depot, in 1847, they put in the roof and added the familiar rounded arch or hip at the center.

Today I read an article that demonstrated how popular that style is in commercial and residential properties in Fort Worth, many dating back a century but probably few if any pre-dating the Alamo roof. So the assumption is that loyal Texans copied that feature, probably as a tribute or way or honoring the history. If you’re in Fort Worth, take a look, for instance at the Livestock Exchange. I suppose the same imitative style can be found in other Texas cities.

Take a minute too to think of the men who died defending the Alamo. As I’ve found out in my recent research, it’s not the simple heroic story most assume it is, and its ramifications are felt, good and bad, in Texas to this day. History lives on.