Monday, April 29, 2019

A Whole Bunch of Nothing

This morning, as I do every morning, I turned on m computer and the TV. The TV flashed a warning that there was no signal—so I turned off the computer. Go figure. It was not an auspicious start to the day.

Lewis Bundock, who keeps my house and property in running order, came by to put a support in the middle of a newly installed long gutter. As we talked, I mentioned that I’d just had fried mush for breakfast—the plate of syrup on my desk was testimony. “Mush?” he asked. “What’s that?” When I said fancy people today call it polenta, he said he knew that, and he’d call what I just ate “johnny cakes.” Goes to show what I miss as a northerner even though I’ve lived here over fifty years. As a student of western history, I thought I was well-schooled in regional foods, and Lord knows I’ve heard of johnny cakes—also called hoe cakes—but I guess I never made the connection. I thought they were a pancake of some kind. But now I know. I’m going to practice telling people I had johnny cakes for breakfast. Whatever they’re called, they sure are good, but you sure feel like everything is sticky after you eat them.

And that’s kind of how the day went. I did some serious and good work on the book proposal I’m struggling with, and I did some reading—finished a novella. I’ve done more reading lately and recently finished a book called Bayou City Burning. Cast as a P.I. detective novel featuring a young girl (another go figure), it’s the little known story about the machinations behind LBJ’s 1961 efforts to secure the NASA manned space center for the Houston area and the mob efforts to prevent that. A good fast read if you’re a fan of P.I. novels or a history buff interested in twentieth century urban history. You’ll be charmed by Dizzy Lark, the twelve-year-old, and her efforts to prove that a man didn’t really die in a train wreck in Cleburne, Texas. It’s sort of a retro read but well researched and absorbing. Watch for it to be available on various platforms June 1.

Jordan cooked dinner tonight—well, she put the finishing touches on something I started. I found. a recipe for lettuce wraps using ground chicken, but it called for a lot of things I didn’t have like mint and cilantro—the latter would have been really good. So I cooked the chicken the other night and added chopped red onion and scallions, along with a healthy dose of soy. I sort of decided we could use the chicken as a base. Jordan reheated it in wine, added part of a can of green chilis, salt and pepper, diced tomatoes, chunks of avocado, and lots of feta. Trouble was I was reluctant to buy head lettuce, so I thought we could use the leaf lettuce I like so much better. Leaf lettuce doesn’t wrap, so we had sot of a salad with a ground chicken base—pretty and delicious, but not what the New York Times cooking column suggested. Still, I’ll do it again and may experiment with the sesonings.Cumin, anyone? I told Jordan the end result was sort of Mexican/Oriental/Greek.

A good day I’m off to read another novella. Happy times, y’all.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A milestone day

Taking communion after  baptism
Jacob Burton was baptized today, a milestone in his life and in ours. We attend University Christian Church, where they baptize by immersion. Jacob was admittedly quite nervous about this, but it went well, and he said when it came to the actual moment, he felt calm.

Proud grandmother
He certainly had a cheering section—Christian’s parents, his sister, her husband, and their two daughters, a couple of my friends, lots of Jordan’s friends, and several boys Jacob’s age. It was a great tribute to all of them that so many friends turned out to congratulate him. I got hugs from Jordan’s friends—and a couple from Jacob’s contemporaries—not
Jordan trying to get hug
from Jacob

the boys, of course. They’re at the hug-resistant age.

Afterwards we went to the Star Café in the Stockyards. My friends Betty and Don Boles own the café and treated us like royalty—flowers on the table, a cake with Jacob’s name on it. Most people ordered chicken fried steak, and it met with high praise. Conversation was light and flowing.

We came home, with the Burton clan, for more cake, but I gave up—I was full and sleepy and had a good nap.

Baptism is a serious step for a youngster, and Jacob was told that he did not have to do it. He’s the right age, in our church, and he’d been going to the Discipleship class, but it was still his decision. And he decided he wanted to do it—which, to me, made it all the more meaningful. I have a funny take on baptism, mostly because I was sprinkled as an infant in the Methodist Church. I tend to take it for granted and not to realize what a momentous moment it is the lives of young people. Maybe it’s partly my long-ago background as a northerner. But I’m learning And tonight, I’m proud and grateful.

It does remind me of a friend who wrote, remembering her immersion baptism now many many years ago, that her thought was, “Well, at least that’s taken care of!” I think Jacob may feel a bit that way too.

So what do young boys do after the experience of baptism? Jacob and his buddies went fishing.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A cooking kind of a day

Actually it was a working kind of a day. My Burton family went to Six Flags with Christian’s family—parents, sister, and her family. I stayed behind to pound out the first version of a proposal for something I hope will become a book one day. Actually, even if invited, I would not have gone. I have lived in Fort Worth for fifty-five years come this summer, and I have never been to Six Flags. It’s a record I’m not interested in breaking.

I did stay home and get words on paper—those first tentative words that convince you an idiot wrote them. But it’s a start. They will, I hope, get better when I review some sources and then re-read what I’ve written.

But I also had a mini-adventure. Tomorrow Jacob will be baptized, and Jordan ordered a cake for the family for the occasion. Then she realized she wouldn’t be home in time to pick it up. I said no problem—I would pick it up, and they would probably bring t out to my car so that I wouldn’t have to struggle with the walker to go in and pick it up. Jordan is way smarter than I am—she pointed out I couldn’t get it into the cottage and the refrigerator. I called a neighbor, who was more than willing to help. But then at 4:30 when I called Mary I got her voice mail. Feeling threatened by the bakery’s closing time, I went first to pick up my dozen farm fresh eggs from a neighbor who sells them and then to the bakery. They did indeed give me curb service—I find if I explain to people about the walker, they are almost always willing to help.

So there I was in my car with a dozen eggs, which I probably could have gotten into the house in a grocery bag with handles, and a cake in a box that there was no way on earth I could get safely inside. I went by my neighbor’s, and her husband came out, rode home with me, and got everything safely inside. Gratitude.

So tonight I sautéed some ground chicken to make lettuce wraps for a light supper tomorrow night—didn’t have nearly all the things the recipe called for, but I can improvise. And then I peeled some beets—may never do that again, because after I labored to do it, I found directions for roasting them unpeeled. Then I compounded my error by roasting them too long, because I fell for that old trap—it a while in the oven is good, a bit longer is better. Not so. Beets are not supposed to be crunchy! But I doused them with that leftover Hollandaise I have, and they were good. (This morning I had my version of Eggs Benedict—a poached egg on half a piece of rye toast with smoked salmon and Hollandaise—oh my, so good!).

I thought I ordered a blue cheese burger from Central Market, but I got a straight sirloin burger. No matter. It was good, and I’ll try for the blue cheese next time.

Now, after my sort of dull yet sort of unusual day, I’m settling down with a novella by Susan Wittig Albert. Perfect end to a pretty good day.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Help! I’m trapped in Aisle 6.

Ever since I first ventured forth on a walker, Jordan has been on a crusade on my behalf. She finds most handicapped access and facilities in Fort Worth inadequate. There’s the restaurant that has a ramp—in a brick herring-bone pattern. If you haven’t ever tried, please borrow a walker and negotiate a patterned brick walkway. Or a pebbled one. Or one with deep cracks between squares of concrete—perfect for tripping up a walker. I nearly took a tumble in front of the chancel at church one morning, because my wheels caught on a crack where floor covering met brick. The walker stopped but my body’s forward momentum didn’t, and I nearly went head first over the walker. I did instinctively (and loudly) call out, “Jordan!” She turned around, looked at me, and said, “You’ve got to be careful, Mom.” Thank you, Miss Defender of Those with Disabilities.

Bathroom facilities and handicapped parking spots are whole other topics. Both are required by law, and in some places, they make life ever so much easier to deal with. But some high-traffic establishments have only one or two reserved handicapped spots. And bathroom facilities? Needless to say it’s bad form to use that big stall if you don’t need to.

Today in the grocery store our frustration levels came to a head. When we grocery shop, I ride one of those carts. Secret: I find it sort of fun and am pretty proud of my ability to guide it. But there’s one store, part of a chain, then private, and now once again part of a chain where we have shopped off and on for over thirty years. It’s obviously an older store and has not been updated, the aisles widened. That wouldn’t be too big a problem if management didn’t put display dumps at each end of aisles. Jordan routinely goes ahead of me and shifts dumps out of the way.

At one store (where the aisles are wider) they have a philosophical attitude about it. “If you hit something, just come tell us. We’ll pick it up. Happens all the time.” But not where we were this morning. I’ve been lucky—or careful—and only had one true accident, in which I ran into a display of Bundt cakes that ended up, unhurt, on the floor. The bakery attendant did not smile; with an exasperated sigh, she gave me a dirty look.

This morning, I sailed down one aisle only to be met by a wall of soft-drink cartons, a wall taller than Jordan and overlapping both sides of the aisle. My first attempt to maneuver almost took out a hanging display of some sort on my right, and I surely didn’t want to bring all those soft drinks crashing down on my head. I considered backing up that whole long aisle, but I’m not good at backing without a rear-view mirror. Jordan waved at a clerk at the check-out stand, but to no avail—maybe he thought she was just being friendly. (If he’d talked to her at that moment, he’d have known how wrong that thought was.)

While she stormed off to find help, I tried again and was able to maneuver around that corner, without damage to myself or any dumps. I think we’re through with the store—and I told the checker that. I know the handicapped are a small fraction of the store’s business, but they do have four carts lined up for those who need them, and it is in a neighborhood with an elderly population.

Later this afternoon I’ll go to curbside pickup at Central Market for things I couldn’t get where we were. It may be foolish to go to two stores, but I don’t like to buy ground meat anywhere but Central Market (did you read about the loosened standards for hamburger? No? I won’t spoil your day) but you can’t buy household staples—paper towels, Kleenex, baggies, etc. there.

I read recently that the administration is thinking of monitoring the social media of people with disabilities to see if they’re “too happy”—if so, they’ll lose part of their disability benefits. After all, we can’t have happy handicapped citizens. But who would decide how happy is “too happy”? I swear the buffoon in the White House wants everyone to be as miserable as he is. Please don’t tell him how happy I am riding my grocery carts—oh well, I don’t get disability benefits anyway, so go ahead—fling it in his face.
Tonight, I could hardly be happier--I have so much good food in my fridge and freezer that each meal for the next few days will be a matter of choice and whim, I have a project on my desk that I'm excited about, I have family, friends, dog, and cottage. Life is sweet. Don't tell trump.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A scrambled beginning to a calm day


As everyone in Fort Worth knows, the heavens let loose last night. I sat at my desk and watched sheets of water blow across the deck—and deluge from the new gutter installed only yesterday. And therein lies the beginning of my tale of today.

Jordan and Christian both separately treated me to their opinion of the new gutter, and though now they both disclaim this, I got the distinct impression that they held me personally responsible for installing an inferior product. Today all is smoothed over—five inches of rain in a really short period of time is more than any gutter could handle. The couple of remaining small leaks can be fixed. As my contractor said this morning, “I’m not going to think about the gutter anymore.” Well, that turned out not to be true…but close.

I let Sophie out rather early this morning, because she seemed to feel it was urgent. But within minutes, she was barking so franticly that she drew Jordan and Jacob out on the deck. Jordan turned, went into the house, and returned with a broom, which confirmed my suspicion that Sophie had cornered something. A lizard, I thought, or possibly a small snake. Not so. It was a baby possum. She trapped it under the patio table and only gave up when Jordan swatted her once, gently, with the broom and then dragged her inside.

That solves another mystery though. Something has been digging dirt up out of the tiny strip between the house and the sidewalk by the deck. In all the time three dogs have lived here, none have ever done that, and we were puzzled. Besides Jordan was tired of sweeping the dirt back where it belongs.  So now we know that it’s the mama possum, though we’re not sure why she’s digging there.

Fortunately Jordan has listened to my lecture about possums being our friends, and she treated the baby gently and seems glad we are hosting a mama and her babies. After all, they eat thousands of bad insects a day—mosquitoes, which are a problem in our yard, as well as ticks and fleas which threaten our dogs.

With the gutter problem solved and Sophie safely back inside, I thought the morning would calm down. Not so—today was garbage day, and the kids had put the bins out on the street last night because who wants to do that at seven in the morning. But this morning, they were gone and an inspection of the neighborhood all the way to the foot of the gentle slope that is our street did not turn them up. Jordan asked me to put the loss on the neighborhood email list, and all I learned was that half the neighborhood had lost their bins in the storm last night. Some collected at low spots and some just never turned up. Ours were so neatly aligned in front of the neighbors’ house that Christian thought they were the neighbors’ bins—until he saw them bring theirs down to the street. So another mystery solved.

For me, it was a stay-at-home and read day, so I punctuated it by fixing myself three good meals, instead of picking as I usually do. Scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast; a BLT for lunch, because I got organic tomatoes with my imperfect produce last night—and was that ever a good sandwich. Tonight I went all out—made a summer squash casserole and doused a chicken thigh with soy, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder, and baked it in the toaster oven. So good.

I expect to have another stay-at-home and get-lots-done day tomorrow, but I surely hope it gets off to a calmer start.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

It really does take a village….

What's the saying? The family that eats together
stays together
People often ask me how I managed to raise four such great children as a single parent, and all I can do is shrug and say, “Sheer dumb luck…and maybe a heavy dose of love.” Lord knows I look back on those years and see all the things I did wrong as a parent.

But this weekend, talking to the kids’ half-sister, I realized one thing I did right. She is an only child and referred a couple of times to growing up on an isolated farm in the hills above Santa Rosa, CA. Later, thinking about it, that proverbial light bulb went off in my brain.

Sunday dinner! That was the thing I did that I doubt many single moms did. Somewhere along the way, when they were approaching teen years, I made a structured if not formal event out of Sunday dinner. Once the kids got part-time jobs outside the house, and they all did, work was the only excuse for missing Sunday dinner.

It wasn’t that the five of us sat around the table. There was usually anywhere from fifteen to twenty. My brother, also single by then, came with his two kids, and various friends came—some regularly every Sunday, others only on occasion. All were always welcome. One friend, widowed and older than me, came most weeks, as did a young couple whose baby, now well grown, is my goddaughter. The dad put her in one of those chest carriers and often spent much of the meal standing by the table bouncing up and down. We thought he’d probably never learn to sit quietly through dinner again.

My brother instituted a tradition whereby he went around the table and each person, child or adult, had to tell him what was special about their week. The kids moaned and groaned, but in retrospect I think it let them know that we cared about each of them and wanted to know what was important to them. Table manners were important too, and John was quick to correct any slips like elbows on the table. As a result, my kids have great table manners, and they are passing that on to their kids. Colin in particular—his youngest, Kegan, watches me like a hawk to catch me with my elbows on the table and then says slyly, “Juju, elbows.”

Sometimes it got funny, like the Thanksgiving (okay not Sunday but in the same spirit) when John asked each to tell what they were thankful for. Megan had brought a new beau to dinner, and he stood and very solemnly said, “I am thankful for Megan and her beauty.” The other three of my kids and their cousins practically swallowed their tongues in an effort to keep from laughing. It’s a favorite story to this day.

I don’t remember all the things I fixed—turkey breast Wellington (I used two boneless turkey breasts), not too many casseroles because the traffic wouldn’t bear it. Maybe once in a while a leg of lamb and sometimes a roast, but my budget often wouldn’t stretch that far. Probably roast chicken, maybe spaghetti—things I wish I could recall, though some maybe in Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. Once I made a dish called, I think, hamburger corn bread—it was from a history of Texas foods that we were publishing at TCU Press at the time. John tried it and looked at me to ask, “Sis, is the budget the problem?”

This morning Jordan and I were in the car together, and I told her my sudden inspiration that Sunday dinner probably made a difference in their lives. She picked up on it immediately. “Yep, it was a community of family.”

I was crushed when the kids moved away, and Sunday dinners dwindled. When Jamie moved to Dallas, I figured it was close enough he’d come home for Sunday dinner, but he scoffed at the idea. Living alone, I often made it a point to invite others for Sunday supper. It was good, and I was grateful for the company and for a reason to cook something special, but it wasn’t the same.

Today, in the Burton/Alter combined household, we try to make Sunday dinner special, but it’s just us. Christian and I take turns cooking special dishes, but guests are rarely invited. Some days I really miss those large happy dinner tables. I do think they were an important part of my children’s growing years.

But I still say it’s sheer dumb luck that my kids, each so different, turned out so great.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Showing off Texas

A California turned into a Texas cowgirl
Although our Texas visitor, Dylan, was born here and has been to Fort Worth a few times, she’s apparently not seen much of the rest of Texas. As we drove to and from Tomball for the weekend, we had a great time showing it off. She was charmed by the wildflowers, which I think may be a bit past their prime—they were good but not spectacular. And she was impressed by one Longhorn we saw with really long horns.

Our first stop was at Czech Stop in West where we loaded up on sandwiches for lunch in the car. She was excited to find there is a Czech Stop cookbook, although none of us bought it, and she says she wants to go back to buy some of the breads. But she went “Oh, yes,” after her first bite of a cream cheese kolache and gave her pastrami sandwich a favorable rating.

On Highway 6, Dylan was charmed by the town of Calvert, so on the return we stopped for pictures and speculated on what some buildings had been. In the car, Dylan read up on the history of the town and learned that it was once a thriving railroad and commercial center. A Jewish woman named Ella Oscar, mostly known as a vibrant force on the Waco music scene, was responsible for many of the Victorian buildings in downtown Calvert.

I tried to show her the Steamboat House outside Marlin, but trees have grown up and pretty much hide it from view. Built in 1858 by a professor at Austin College, the structure has twin turrets in front and galleries on either side, giving it the appearance of a river steamboat. Today the house, restored to perfect condition, is part of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum complex and is toured annually by 40,000 visitors, including schoolchildren.

I guess no trip to Texas would be complete without a stop at Buccee’s. Both Jacob and I chose to remain in the car, but Jordan, Christian, and Dylan went in for a long time. Dylan emerged with a T-shirt and keychains for friends. Jordan brought out lunch for all of us—this was Sunday. Mine was a plastic-wrapped turkey sandwich with some kind of bread that was too much bread, tomato, mayonnaise, and jalapenos. Who in the world puts jalapenos on a turkey sandwich? I promise to boycott Buccee’s hereafter.

Back in Fort Worth, Jordan determined that Dylan had to have some chopped barbecue, although we’d had barbecued brisket with all the trimmings on Saturday. Last stop on her Texas tour was Railhead. And that’s how a Left Coast person saw Texas.

On the other hand, there were our New York relatives who were astounded that we drove four hours to get to the reunion. “Without a stop?” they asked, and Christian got the idea they thought we should have stopped overnight. Aunt Amy told me their idea of a road tip is a half hour, max an hour. They delighted in walking their grandkids down the road to the stable to see the horses—first that the youngest had ever seen. Uncle Mark asked if there was a big city between Tomball and Houston, and we explained it was all city. As we left to drive home, one of the cousins asked if we would be stopping at the “Czechoslovakian Stop.” We assured her we would. Reminded me of Uncle Mark’s first experience with Mexican food—he asked if the taco meat was potted pigeon.

Joking aside, it was fun to show off Texas to people from both coasts.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A big dose of family, a birthday, and a dog

The Alter en masse

Catching up with UncleMark
We had a glorious family reunion this weekend at my oldest son’s house in Tomball to celebrate his 50th birthday. Twenty-four of us—my clan of sixteen; the New York Alters which includes Uncle Mark and Aunt Amy, two daughters, and three grandchildren young enough to still care about hunting for Easter eggs; and my children’s half-sister from California. High times as we caught up and repeated family stories, all the while sitting on an arbor-covered patio by a small lake.

Colin’s house is a little bit of heaven—a mid-century modern structure set on two-plus acres tucked away down a bumpy dirt road, with lots of trees, including some fruit-bearing, and either the smallest lake or biggest pond in Texas. The barn is used for storage, and the riding arena for basketball and other non-arena activities (there is a riding stable next door) but both can be re-purposed someday.. I think my favorite spot in the world these days is in a rocker by the lake at twiligh

Fishing was a big thing. Jacob abandoned his cousins (several are all about the same age) to stand alone on the lake’s bank, casting his lure. His California aunt, Dylan, joined him frequently, and he was as excited as anybody when she reeled in the catch of the day—what appeared to be about a four-pound bass. He came running and posed for a picture with her, but he also caught some good-sized ones on his own. Three boy cousins and one girl spent the night on an enclosed trampoline. They’ve tried this two or three times before, and something always chased them inside, but last night they stayed and slept until six in the morning. Yes, Jacob slept part of the way home.

Colin’s wife, Lisa, had done a might work of preparing for this weekend. We were well-fed, with fajitas Friday night and barbecue Saturday night, plus chips, veggies, dips, and the like out all during the day. We dined at three long picnic tables pushed together down by the lake, and the tables were decorated with mason jars holding on spikes pictures from Colin’s life—mostly his childhood. Colin on his Shetland, Charlie Brown; Colin with his cousins; Colin in the North Carolina snow wearing plastic bags on his feet (age two) because he didn’t own boots; an adult Colin just after finishing a half-marathon. For me, each picture brought a twinge of memory—a bit of missing for all the good days gone by, in spite of the wonderful present.
It was also a dog weekend. A stray came up to the patio for the second day in a row. I thought he was a pit bull but wiser heads said he’s an American bulldog. Uncle Mark swore he materialized out of the lake and was an evil spirit. In truth, he was a very young and lonely dog hungry for affection. Colin soon gave up attempts to shoo him away, and Dylan reached out to him until he lost his scared. Our family predicts the Tomball Alters will have a second dog. Jordan named him John Doe, which may or may not get changed to Johnboy or J.D. Colin’s dog, Gracie, was not entirely happy about this intruder.

We are all home now, and the weekend is but a happy memory, but we’ll each treasure that memory. Sophie was ecstatic to see us come home, and for all the fun I had, I was glad to be with her again.
Just realized this post has no picture of the birthday boy, so here he is with his dog, Gracie.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A new daughter sort of, chicken salad, and politics, always politics

Sophie during happy hour 
If everyone else has treats, she should too
As we all knew, since we took heroic precautions to protect plants and cars against the predicted huge hailstorm---there was no hail. Lots of rain—two inches, I’m told—and wonderful thunder to fall asleep by. The thunder drove Sophie up onto my bed. She usually makes a quick visit, as though checking to see that I am still in there and then jumps off, but last night she burrowed in for quite a while. I love a good storm and found the thunder sort of comforting. Jordan and her sister, Dylan, apparently sat on the front porch talking until the wee hours, and they report spectacular lightning, but I missed that.

We are much enjoying Dylan’s visit. She is the child of my ex-husband/s second marriage, so I am always at a loss to describe succinctly my relationship to her. I’m thinking step-daughter sounds appropriate, but I would have to ask her permission for that. Meantime she is, and has been since she was a teen, my friend. We have politics and cooking in common, and we can talk endlessly about either subject.

Today was a particularly appropriate time for us to be together, with the release of the heavily-redacted Mueller report—and AG William Barr’s cover-up speech beforehand. Dylan and I have rubbed our hands in glee and satisfaction as more and more comments emerge pretty much revealing the trump administration’s willingness to collude (such an odd word) with Russia and to obstruct justice. They just weren’t successful enough at it that they can be charged. We are both fascinated to watch this play out, particularly in the Southern District of New York. It may take longer than we wish, but I think karma will triumph and justice will be served.

Meantime, my laugh for the day came from a prediction that the latest date for the rapture has now been moved to April 23—just five days hence. I know it’s a relief to Mike Pence that he will be raptured up before he can be prosecuted for his part in the trump campaign and administration.

Jordan decided we would take Dylan to lunch at Lili’s Bistro. My last understanding was that we would go at one o’clock, so as to avoid the lunch crowd. So I was a bit taken aback when she came to the cottage at 11:20 and asked why I wasn’t dressed? I doubt you’ve ever seen an old lady throw on make-up and clothes as fast as I did. But we did beat the crowd.

Foodie that she is, Dylan loved the gorgonzola fries. Everyone had hamburgers except me—I had chicken salad and the house wedge salad. Too much food. I brought most of the chicken salad home. We ran errands—picked up Jacob from school, went to Trader Joe’s and Walgreen’s, and then home. Late this afternoon Jordan came to me and said there had been a problem: she gave the chicken salad to Jacob to bring out to me, and he set it on the deck while he practiced casting in anticipation of fishing this weekend.  And then he forgot it.  So the chicken salad sat out in the sun most of the afternoon. There goes that.

We had fajitas for supper, though I had really been counting on that chicken salad. I’m not a big fan of fajitas, though I like all the things that go into them. So I had what Dylan described as a
deconstructed fajita for dinner. So good.

I have given up being a writer for the time being. Next week is time enough to get serious. Meantime, I’m enjoying Dylan’s visit and looking forward to seeing more family this weekend.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Growing pangs, dogs, and an anticipated guest

dogs in motion

Last night as we sat on the patio, we had four dogs racing around the yard—well, Cricket didn’t race. She sat on whatever lap would accommodate her. But Sophie had a high old time running. She couldn’t quite figure out why Merry Berry was so fixated on chasing that scruffy old tennis ball, but she was glad to run along next to her and never did try to get the ball. I was doubly glad we’d put in the ground cover, because they can tromp through it and do no damage.

We also had two teenagers—well, if you fudge a bit for Jacob who will be thirteen in June—and it was a lesson in the different growth rate of boys and girls. Eva is two months older than he but at least a head taller. They played together back in the days when both were in cribs but have pretty much gone their separate ways these days, though they will always be good friends.

Today, as we worry under the threat of unpredictable and possibly severe storms this afternoon, we are preparing for the arrival of Dylan, my children’s half-sister. Her plane is scheduled to touch down right at 5:30—in the midst of not only those dire storm predictions but also rush hour. Jordan and Christian will pick her up, and Jordan is worrying ahead about being on the highway during a storm, while I’m worrying about Dylan and a rough landing or a diverted flight.

I do hope she makes it because I spent the morning fixing dinner. We’ll have my old standby and family favorite—Doris’ casserole. (Shhh! Don’t tell Colin! This is what he requests whenever he comes to visit.)

Probably over fifty years ago, my ex- and I were invited to a small dinner party—several residents in training at the hospital and their wives. The hostess, whose name was Doris, fixed a beef casserole that she got from the Mrs. America contest. It’s sort of like American lasagna—in fact, I have another friend whose family calls it that. It’s basically a meat layer, a noodle layer, and grated cheddar. It quickly became a standard for my family, its original boring name replaced by casual references to Doris. Once years later when I told Doris how much we like it, she didn’t even remember the recipe. Or the dinner party.

The casserole is a bit of a pain to put together, so I have come to think of it as cooking two separate meals. I fix the meat sauce layer and clean up my dishes; then I fix the noddle layer and clean up those dishes. It can be refrigerated, but I wait until just before popping it in the oven to grate the cheese and spread it. But today I’ve done it, cleaned all the dishes and my tiny kitchen sparkles, and I also cooked two artichokes (per Jacob’s request). We feast tonight.

Doris’ casserole has been featured in articles, blogs, a cookbook. It’s been shared with friends, including the late Bobbi Simms who tried so hard to convince me the noodle layer belongs on the bottom; no, Bobbi, it doesn’t. The casserole was even served at a luncheon at TCU once. If I am famous for any dish that’s it.

Watch for the recipe in tomorrow’s blog,

Keep an eye out on the weather and be prepared to take shelter. Stay safe.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Flowers, food, and happiness

Jordan, Christian, and even Jacob did yard work this past weekend, getting us ready for spring. Jacob would rather have been fishing, thank you very much, but this morning he was elated that he caught (and released) six bass last night. Back to the garden=-they even swept the cobwebs off my house, something I was afraid to try for fear of losing my balance—I had a graphic vision of one hand wielding the broom and the other desperately clutching the walker—and the whole thing dumping over, me included. So thanks to Christian for that chore. And to Jordan for planting all those wonderful things we bought. And to Jacob for emptying my overflowing garbage.

The back yard (my domain) is beginning to look good. Much of the day I sit at my desk, with a big window to my right and French doors dead ahead, so spring beauty is important to me. Christian has put his big bougainvillea out on the deck railing, where I have a clear view of it, and I’m just waiting for it to bloom. I can’t see the hydrangeas in the bed directly under my office window, but I when they bloom I will see them as I come in the driveway. The patio is alive with purple phlox (we’ll replace with plumbago when the phlox dies out), daisies, and bright red geraniums. Patio weather coming up!

I am thoroughly enjoying the NYT Cooking Community page on Facebook. On a lengthy thread the other day, someone posted that they fried polenta in butter and served it with maple syrup for breakfast. I immediately replied that we had that when I was a kid, but my mom called it fried mush. Nothing would do but that I get some polenta, and this morning I had fried mush with maple syrup. So good.

Yesterday was fried chicken day—lunch at Button’s with a friend (they have the best fried chicken in town—hold out for the old-fashioned bone-in, none of this chicken-fried chicken stuff). Ate one piece, with mashed potatoes and green beans, and brought the other piece home. With a salad and fresh raspberries (an indulgence on my part), it made a great meal. Unlike a lot of leftovers, it didn’t lose its flavor.

Then this morning I got hooked on one of those internet sites that gives you the iconic meal for each state. You know what Texas’ is—no, not barbecue, but chicken-fried steak. There were a couple of Polish and Russian dishes that I was surprised to see, but the New Jersey dish is a ham roll sandwich for breakfast—thinly sliced Taylor’s pork roll (It’s pork, not ham) with cheddar cheese and a fried egg. Yum.

I’ve been thinking about happiness and what dour, unhappy people most Republican politicians seem to be. I read that the trump administration is considering tracking the disabled on social media to see if they’re “too happy” and therefore not qualified for disability benefits. How miserable you must be yourself to decide others are too happy. It seems they want to do everything they can to make us unhappy—cutting benefits from food, health, and education, cutting veteran benefits, polluting our world. I pity them for their antagonistic view of life.

As for me, I choose to be happy. How about you?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

A big day for Jacob

Today was Jacob’s public confession of faith, along with fourteen others in the Discipleship class at our church. Looking solemn, these kids stood in front of the congregation and assured our senior minister, Russ Peterman, that they believed in Jesus Christ as the Savior. Jacob did well. Although I know he was nervous, he looked composed, and he maintained eye contact with Dr. Peterman. This was a prelude to his baptism, which will take place on April 28.

Of course, we were the last to leave the church. The Burtons took lots of pictures and then explored the balcony to figure out where they could best see the baptism. I will not be sitting in the balcony with them, thank you very much. All those stairs! And I’m not sure I have to see it. Just knowing and being there is enough for me. Unless the minister drops him.

This baptism business sort of snuck up on me. I was baptized as an infant in the Methodist Church; my children were welcomed into the community of faith in the Unitarian Church. We do not come from this dunking tradition, but Christian, raised a Baptist, is invested in it, and has passed the significance along to Jacob. The day of the baptism will be a big deal, with many friends present.

To celebrate today, we went out for Mexican food for lunch. Fun and good. Then Jordan and Christian worked in the back yard putting potted plants in place, putting down mulch. Jacob went fishing, and I took a nap. When I woke up, the back yard looked like spring. Pray for no storms for a bit so that the new plants have a chance to strengthen.

Jordan has gone to a performance at Bass Hall with a neighbor, so I fixed Sloppy Joe for the boys and me. I’ve told the story so often about my Sloppy Joe recipe that I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say it’s the only recipe I know that calls for red wine. I wanted to check something and looked it up on an old cookbook file—wrong move. It had an error that has since been corrected—no, the recipe doesn’t need 1-1/3 c. ketchup; only ¼. For a moment I panicked, but in the new cookbook, it’s correct. At Jacob’s request, I cut down on the onion and diced what I did use very fine. As it simmered, it looked dry. Easy solution—sprinkle more red wine and ketchup on it. It was really good.

Busy week coming up, and I’m glad. Hope you all have a good week.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Ho, hum! Another stormy Saturday.

My German supper

You’ll know what kind of a day I had when I tell you the two highlights: one was watching the ferocious storm that hit just a bit before noon, with some light hail. I have been apprehensive about hail ever since the great hail storm in the spring of 2016. The roof on my house had been replaced, all except the back add-on which we used as a TV/family room. That flat roof was temporarily covered.

When I woke up that morning, I smelled wetness—you know, like the smell after a good rain, only it shouldn’t be in the house. I woke Jacob who was with me, and we ventured through the kitchen into the family room—which was ankle deep in water. Because we were downsizing my library, there were books spread out all over the long, wrap-around couch, and cookbooks lined one very long bookshelf. All ruined. The couch had to be sent out to be baked, though it is fine today.

Within minutes it seemed, the roofing contractor and my contractor were on their hands and knees, mopping up water. Neighbors formed a chain to transport books to the front porch, where Jordan separated salvageable from throw-away. I was by then using a walker and not very mobile, so not much help. And it was Jordan’s birthday, though definitely not the way she wanted to celebrate. I think I stood around and wrung my hands. It was surely one of the most dismal days of my life.

Having lived in old houses all my life, heavy rain always makes me a bit nervous. I am grateful that my cottage is tight and dry. And after that storm three years ago, it’s natural that I’m apprehensive when hail begins. Today’s though was small and brief, but the wind was high, and rain blew in sheets.

The other highlight and the only human I’ve seen today: my accountant brought my tax returns for me to sign. Although he was quite cheerful, it was not a cheering visit. I wrote two large checks—one for 2018 and one for the first estimated quarterly payment for 2019. I posted about this on Facebook, because I am glad to pay my fair share of taxes, grateful to live in this country, but not happy that my taxes enrich the wealthy and support a mega-military presence that could be more efficient, slimmed down, less wasteful, and less costly. I want my money used for the poor and sick, education, infrastructure, environmental causes, care of our veterans, etc.

Otherwise I spent the day re-reading a manuscript I wrote thirty years ago. Yes, it had a public life—serialized in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram—but I was worried that my writing would seem immature, clumsy, you name it after all this time. It’s not as bad as I feared, if a little over-written and sentimental. In fact, I’m sort of enjoying it. I’m doing this for research and not quite sure how to wrap my head around what I want to come out of it.

Tonight I made myself a German dinner—what my mom called cottage potatoes, fried kielbasa, and kraut with caramelized onions (okay, I burned them a bit), white wine, brown sugar, and a pinch of thyme. I fried things in batches—only one skillet—and kept them warm in the toaster oven (in retrospect I’m amazed I didn’t blow a circuit breaker). But the neat thing was that I ate out of the small pan I put in the oven, so I had very little clean-up to do.

Apparently, the storms are gone but we will have high winds for a couple of days. Spring in North Texas.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Garden time—and a bit of role reversal

Jordan and I planned a full day—grocery, plant nursery, and a really belated birthday lunch. Only I forgot about the lunch. Since we had to leave early (for me) to get Jacob to school, I threw on sweats and a T-shirt with a hoodie. Grocery-store chic. At home, after the grocery and waiting for friend Mary who was going to the plant store with us, Jordan came charging out to the cottage and announced I had to change clothes. It was okay, she said, to go to the grocery in sweats and a T-shirt, but I had to dress better for lunch. So she chose some dark green sweats that look a little more like regular pants, and a lighter green sweater (of sweatshirt material). I threw on a fling, but it proved too much as the day warmed.

We went to Weston Gardens rather than the local chain nursery. It’s a bit of a drive, out in the country, but a wonderful place with most helpful employees. I sat in royal splendor in my walker with a seat and supervised as Jordan, Christian, and Mary picked out plants, mostly for pots. We came home with geraniums, columbine, fountain grass, phlox, hydrangea, ferns, and a pot of chives. Severe storms are predicted for tomorrow, so the more delicate blooming plants will live in my shower until Sunday, which Jordan has designated as planting day.

The winter rye in the back yard looks so wonderful that I hate to see it go away, but I know it soon will, and we’ll over-seed with Bermuda. Jordan worried that the ferns we bought were too small for the pots, but they will grow. And soon the yard will be filled with bloom, and we can enjoy lovely evenings on the patio. Someone please banish the mosquitoes.

For lunch, we went to Righteous Foods—Jordan’s choice. It took me a while to realize how really good the food is there. I was put off at first by the emphasis on smoothies and grains and the like. But I’ve had a couple of dishes there that I like a lot—and it’s nice to feel righteous. Jordan had a lovely hamburger, and Mary had shrimp tacos. I chose franks and beans—what kind of health food restaurant serves franks and beans? It was delicious—locally made hot dogs with marinated cabbage and cheese, with black beans on the side. And churros for dessert. Color me stuffed, but I only hate half my sandwich and will have the other half tonight.

Buttoning down for the predicted storms.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Waiting for inspiration

            I might as well be waiting for Godot. The project I’m working on just isn’t coming together—and I haven’t even written the first word. But I’m trying to get thoughts down. There’s a good story there—nonfiction—but I’have yet to figure out the focus, the point of telling it. What does the reader learn? I can see some negative lessons, but I guess at heart I’m a sentimentalist. I like happy endings.

So I too the day off to let my thoughts percolate. I’m a big believer in things simmering in the back of your mind. And sometimes I get my best inspiration when I nap in the afternoon. That did not happen today, however! But I happened across a Diane Mott Davidson novel I haven’t read—I had thought I read them all. The Last Supper starts with Goldy’s wedding day—only there is no groom. He’s missing, apparently kidnapped. That’s enough of a good beginning for me, and I hooked. Spent a lovely few hours reading.

I’ve also been laughing about things I wish I’d known sooner. For some time now, I’ve had trouble plugging my phone into the charger. I plug maybe ten or twelve times, turning the charging prong over this way and that, but it never “takes.” You can feel it the phone and see the change in the color of the bar that indicates the charge when it’s working. I ordered a new cord from Amazon but then had an idea—a little bit of spit on the charge cord works like magic!

I also have trouble with the automatic gate closer. I try to use it from inside my kitchen, through the window in the door. But you have to hold it just right and hold your mouth just right to make it work. Until I realized that if I open the door and stick the remote control outside, it works like magic.

It’s those little things. Why did I have to get so old to learn them?

A nice dinner with friends tonight, and I’m back home and ready to bury myself in that book. Maybe inspiration will come.

Every day an adventure

Several years ago I inherited the job of editor of our Berkeley Place Association newsletter, the Poohbah, from a friend and neighbor. It was sort of temporary while Mary, then the editor was on an extensive European trip, but it morphed into permanent, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I don’t mind; in fact, I’m glad to do my bit for the neighborhood because it’s a great place to live.

Along with the job, I inherited the woman who was designing it—a graphic designer, I’m not. We’ve worked together smoothly for several years and developed a nice give-and-take in our working relationship. In fact, she designed my cookbook and did a super job. But I knew nothing about her as a person.

My good friend Subie distributes the Poohbah, and was astounded that I’d never met Amy, the designer. “We must take her to lunch,” she said. And so today, we met Amy for lunch.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I think it was someone older, perhaps a little Bohemian. Amy is a bit younger than my youngest child and looks ten years younger than that. She has a four-year-old child and says she does her best work after he’s asleep. And Bohemian she’s not—she’s a graduate of TCU and would fit right in on that campus today.

We had a delightful lunch, chatted about design work and the Poohbah and probably bored her with too many tales about our families and adventures. We probably won’t meet often, but it’s terrific to have a face and a person to match with the name.

                                                                                          Wednesday morning

Oops. Didn’t finish this last night, because I went to the TCU Scholarship Dinner—a huge and impressive affair honoring scholarship recipients and donors. There are well over 900 scholarships available to TCU students.

The dinner was held in the Ed and Rae Schollmeier Arena, where the usual basketball floor was covered with temporary carpet and filled with beautifully decorated tables. What most impressed me was that TCU knows how to do it with class and precision. Everywhere we turned there was someone to help us—my host, friend and neighbor Mary (she who gifted me the Poohbah), had called ahead to be sure there was a golf cart to take us from parking to the concourse; inside there was someone stationed to show us the elevator, and on the floor level someone  else guided us through halls to the dining area. Same when we reversed, where TCU police gallantly opened doors.

Although I only spoke to a couple of people I knew from my TCU days, I spotted many other familiar faces. As I said to Mary, some of them have aged. Her reply was, “So have we.” There were easily a thousand people there, maybe more.

Fun, briefly, to be back in the academic world, but even when I was there full time I rarely participated in the big, showy events—so it was almost a new adventure for me.

Back to routine today.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Busy day


You know those days when you have a list—either on paper or in your head—and you check the items off one at a time? I had such a day today, and it made me feel great to go through that list. Phone calls, files sent, files studied. I sent my picture files for the Alamo book off to the editor—I know, deep in my heart, there will be problems matching pictures to captions, locating pictures I had, pictures she has, and merging all together. But I figured sending them off was a good start. And now I can stop worrying about that in the back of my mind.

Then I spent a long time on the phone with the TCU Help Desk, figuring out some computer problems. Lucked into such a nice tech person. First, we talked about why I couldn’t access online books from the library—I could get the book title on my Favorites but couldn’t open. She quickly found it was a browser problem—changed browsers and voila! There was the book. As I suspected, it had little of value for me—probably one footnotes to add. But once again, my conscience was cleared, and I could quit worrying about that book.

Then we turned to Word and the reason it told me upload was blocked and it couldn’t save my files. That took a lot longer, but she consulted others and found that TCU doesn’t license Microsoft Office for retirees, only active faculty and staff. So I had to license it for a year. I think we’ve got that solved too. I told the young woman it was a delight to spend the morning with her. And I have to say such technical support is one of the big benefits of being retired from TCU.

For a couple of weeks I’ve been an author in search of a project, and I don’t do well when at loose ends like that. Yes, I read—among other things Saving Ferris, in which a young widow’s murder trial hinges on whether a dog is family or property. If you read this blog, you know where I come down on that. The novel had all the elements of a sentimental story, but it managed to sidestep them nicely, and the story was told in a straightforward, sometime humorous manner. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But reading someone else’s accomplishment was not like having a project of my own. I prowled and played with ideas and suddenly had an inspiration—or at least a semi-inspiration. I am going to do some research and brushing up on old files to see if I can re-shape a project of thirty years ago into a book for today. I’m not ready to talk about it, except to say that it’s Texas history—and that’s where I belong. So life looks good to me tonight.

Tonight was the first spring night we sat on the patio with wine. Jordan and I made a list of plants I want—well, let’s say plants she wants for me with some input for me. The backyard is apparently my kingdom, but that’s okay. I’m envisioning some gaillardia or coreopsis and plumbago in a pot, and she insists on geraniums. I want some herbs and have a planter I think will work. A plant store trip is in our near future.

It’s nearly nine o’clock, and I still have the patio doors open. May have to turn on the a/c to sleep tonight. It’s the best time of year in North Texas.