Sunday, June 30, 2019

My very own cookfest

Sunday morning, and I went to church on the computer. But it didn’t work out well. In his preliminary comments to the sermon, the minister, Dr. Russ Peterman, told a joke—and a speaker’s greatest fear, no one laughed. He said something about thinking everyone would think it was funny, and then recovered well to say, “I bet it gets a big laugh at the eleven o’clock service.”

A bit into his sermon—on delivering us from evil and how we fall into evil by small degrees—the transmission froze. A message came on to say something had happened, but it would be corrected soon. Meantime, there was Russ, on my monitor, arm raised to make an emphatic gesture, mouth open to make his point—forever frozen in time and space. What would be a normal moment in an ongoing video became sort of grotesque. I left him on the screen—but he never did come back.

Meantime I had a cookfest of my own. I started with a baked egg for my breakfast. Baking eggs is something I’ve only tried once or twice, but this time I buttered the ramekin, put in a tablespoon or so of heavy cream, cracked the egg—to my disappointment, it broke—and topped it with butter, salt, pepper, parmesan, and  pinch of dried thyme. My goodness! I may do that every day because it was so good.

Next I made my version of Chuy’s creamy jalapeno and cilantro dip to serve tomorrow night for neighbors who are coming for happy hour. Confession: I served some to Christian, Jacob and me tonight before supper. It is addictive, which I attribute to the salt in the ranch dressing packet that goes into it. But it is sooo good.

With unusual foresight I had put a stick of butter out to soften, so next I made Worcestershire butter, from the NYTimes recipe. Everyone has raved about it, but I don’t think I got it quite right. The recipe calls for garlic, chives, salt, pepper, Worcestershire of course, and. lemon zest. Christian and I were excited about trying it, so I even sautéed green beans in it. I couldn’t taste any difference it made in the green beans, and on our steak, we tasted lemon not Worcestershire. Conclusion: I used too much lemon and not enough Worcestershire. I may try again.

My final cooking chore was a meatloaf, so I’d have some prepared dinners for when people come for happy hour Monday and Tuesday. By the time I’ve entertained happy hour guests, I never want to cook, so meatloaf seemed like a good solution. I’ve been wanting a good meat loaf and even considered buying a ready-made one, but Jordan suggested I make one.

I’m always ready to try a new meat loaf recipe, and I’d read something about Ina Garten’s recipe, so I decided to follow it. But as is too often my habit I rushed in without reading the recipe. Chopped a large onion—gosh it made a lot—and dumped it on top of the meat, only to read that the recipe called for sautéing it first. So I fished out all the onion and sautéed it in olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme. Long story short, there’s a meat loaf in my fridge, and in retrospect tonight I decided I may like meat loaf better than steak.

Jordan is out of town, so I had the Burton boys for supper. Christian grilled steaks, and Jacob announced he doesn’t like steak and doesn’t like fresh green beans. Not sure what to do about that boy! But after dinner, Christian and I got into a heated discussion that started with immigration and moved on to…. Everything! Basically we agree, but he says I can’t blame trump or any one man for anything, and I say no, the problems—from immigration to climate—began before his time, but he has made them a lot worse. Good thing we love each other. Jacob said it was entertaining to watch us argue.

Then I did the dishes. That’s what life ultimately is—the daily chores that fill our lives nd make them comfortable..

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Three friends and a stranger

When I first moved to Fort Worth, some fifty-plus years ago, I knew nothing of the city and little more of Texas. My parents visited my brother at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station and reported an almost tropical landscape. My then-husband, on the strength of one visit to Turkey, Texas described a brown and desolate landscape. I was puzzled. But uniformly people told me not to worry about living in Fort Worth, because we would be going to Dallas all the time.

It has not worked out that way. We arrived in the summer after the JFK assassination, and after having lived through that long weekend via TV, I was terrified at the thought of seeing the assassination site. But beyond that, Fort Worth kept us busy, and we found few reasons to go to Dallas.

By now, I have been to Addison and Frisco a lot to see one child and his family, but trips to Dallas itself? Few and far between. So it was an adventure for me to go with Carol Roark today, so we could lunch with Texas publishing giant and good friend Fran Vick. Carol drove, of course, and I was overwhelmed by the traffic, the changed skyline, and the dramatically changed patterns of the freeways. I could not even imagine myself driving there, but Carol, who worked in Dallas for years and still goes there once a week, zipped from lane to lane like she knew what she as doing and where she was going—and except for the actual location of the restaurant, she did know. I was in good and safe hands.

When I was director of TCU Press, Fran was director of UNT Press, and with Gayla, from A&M, we called ourselves Three Women of Publishing. We not only collaborated professionally, but we were good friends outside work—and that included sleepovers with conversations that required much wine and lasted into the night. My youngest son went to work for Fran’s husband and, years later, bought the toy manufacturer’s representatives business from him. We were family, and we knew each other’s families.

Carol and I have worked together and been friends for years. TCU Press published several of her books. As a friend, she was the first and most persistent to get me out and back to life in the world after my hip surgery left me on a walker. Meanwhile, at meetings of the state historical association and other groups, she and Fran got to be friends and colleagues.

Time and circumstances have kept us apart, so today’s lunch was a real reunion. We talked about publishing and the recent deaths of three of Texas’ literary giants, today’s politics (we’re all on the same page), families, food, aging (I tried to persuade Fran it’s all in her head) and who knows what else. It was soul satisfying and wonderful.

On the way out of the restaurant, Carol decided we should take a selfie. We were obviously bumbling around about it, so a lovely young woman at another table hopped up and volunteered to take the picture above. We had no idea who the man in the wall art is, though something is dinging around in my mind that he was an iconoclastic Dallas figure who drove an outrageous Cadillac with longhorns on it. But I can’t get beyond that thought to identify him.

Tonight, unexpected thunder and a bit of rain have lowered the temperature, added humidity we didn’t need but brought the nice new rain smell. I’m a happy camper.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Gastronomic adventures and life’s little annoyances

Jordan and I had an adventure today. We ate lunch at the Taste Project, an innovative restaurant where you pay what you think your meal was worth—or whatever you can afford. It’s been open about a year now, and I know many in Fort Worth have discovered it before we did.

Located in the burgeoning South Main Street development, the restaurant is industrial modern inside, clean and bright. Volunteers greeted us at the door, telling us how glad they were that we had come. We were early and had no trouble getting a table, but the restaurant began to fill up quickly. We shared an absolutely delicious lamb burger on an obviously house-made bun and a small plate of caprese bites—and were too full for dessert.

We overpaid generously, because it looked to us like some other customers might not pay or would underpay. Probably I was making snap judgments. but then again, I realize for some that lunch might be the only meal, let alone good meal, of the day.

Two caveats: don’t over-order, because no doggie bags are offered or allowed. And get there early or be prepared to walk. As far as we could tell there is no off-street parking and street parking is limited.

The people who greet you, the wait staff, and many of the kitchen staff are volunteers—perhaps that’s why they’re so cheerful. But they were all beyond pleasant. It looked to me like they had more volunteers than they needed, but if you’re looking for a good place to share your time, I suggest you call them. I would if it weren’t for my walker.

A couple of night’s ago friends and I had a delightful light supper at Winslow’s Wine Café. Winslow’s is popular, which means it’s noisy—so despite a relatively warm evening, we elected to sit outside. Under a shade cover, with fans blowing on us, it was quite pleasant—except for the flies that kept dive-bombing us. We actually had three wine drownings, but the waiter was pleasant about bringing us fresh glasses of wine. And we splurged—white chocolate mousse with a dark chocolate ganache for dessert.

I had one of those annoying phone calls the other day—time to renew my property insurance so they needed proof that my alarm system is active. The monthly fee is automatically deducted, so I didn’t have a bill to send. I went online and found in almost three years I haven’t set up an account yet. To do that, I had to supply a verbal password—which, of course, I had no idea about. And to bypass that, I had to tell the operator, the names and phone numbers of two people on my emergency call list. I completely went through all the children before I landed on the right ones. The operator I was talking with was short on patience but long on background noise, which only made it worse.

Finally though I had an account, and I called the insurance office to ask what I needed tosend them. “Just take a screen shot,’ the young woman said. Confession: I don’t know how to take a screen shot. She hooted and said, “Neither do I, and I’m married to an IT guy.” We finally bumbled around the web site until I fund an insurance certificate I could download as a PDF and send to her. When she emailed, “Got it!” I wrote back and said, “That loud noise you heard was my sigh of relief, clear across town.” She replied, “Glad you clarified. I was wondering what that noise was.” Doing business with someone like her makes up for the impatient lady with the security company. Win some, lose som.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Of birds and dogs and dinner

An angel came to visit me today. I was sitting at my desk, with the door open as always, and suddenly a large male cardinal, in full red glory, landed on the screen—a tricky move, but he hung there just long enough to stare at me a moment, then he flew to the low wall next to the door—and in an instant he was gone. The old saying is that when a cardinal visits you it means someone from heaven is thinking about you, and, of course, I always think it’s my mom

Jordan put a more mundane spin on the story. She says the cardinal landed on the deck, outside the window where she was working, and kind of fell over before righting himself. She got up to see if he was okay—she suspected a wing issue—but he was gone by the time she got outside. So we’re praying that he’s safe and hearty and just came to give us a message.

I was surprised Sophie didn’t react, but she was sleeping in her favorite chair. That’s how she usually spends the mornings—cat naps with periodic forays to patrol the outside. But I think this morning, she was extra tired because she was absolutely hyper yesterday. She chased squirrels all morning, barking in an annoying manner. My attempts to lure her inside were ignored. Last night I mentioned the muddy footprints on the sidewalk, and only then did I learn that she had been “refreshing” herself in the kiddie pool recently vacated by Jacobs bass fish. Jacob found her standing in the muddy water—and I suspect it was only muddy because of dirt she had tracked into it. Thank goodness, she didn’t crawl into my bed.

Last night she refused to go out at ten as she usually does, and this morning she slept until I woke her. I think Sophie, now eight and in doggie middle age, might have learned that she can’t chase squirrels all day as she did at two.

While animals seem to be flourishing in our little compound, so do my desk plants. My patio tomatoes are growing nicely, though I don’t see any blooms on them which might promise fruit. And my basil is growing enough that I soon need to do something with it—probably pesto. I used to have old-fashioned plastic ice cube trays. I’d fill each cube space with pesto, freeze, and then dump into a baggie. I need to do that again. Meanwhile I think I have the only weeping basil I’ve ever seen—it looks like it’s in desperate need of water, but I water it regularly and the leaves and stem are perfectly firm. I just think it’s a weeping variety—if there is such a thing.  Or an aberration.

Monday nights are often salad nights for Jordan and me—a big salad with leaf lettuce and my special blue cheese dressing. So good.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What generation are you?

Most of my friends are Baby Boomers, but I am a bit older than they are and have always known I’m not a Boomer. But what am I?

Thanks to a manuscript about some women artists in Houston, I now know I am a member of what is called the Silent Generation. The women I read about came of age in the sixties, caught between the traditional world of their mothers and the oncoming force of feminism and Betty Freidan.

They believed themselves failures if they didn’t snare a husband by the time they graduated from college, and they thought their mission in life was to keep house for their husbands and raise their children. But something was missing. They turned to art and eventually formed a collective which held yard sales and often profited handsomely. They never claimed to be fine artists—theirs was decorative art. In spite of this self-imposed limitation, many of them produced some fine paintings and showed real talent. (There may well be a corollary here to how women authors thought of themselves—second-tier talents.)

Strangely enough, about half of these women, dedicated wives that they were, ended up divorced. Several were still pursuing their art late in life, and all looked back on the days of the collective as the happiest time of their lives. They talked of being like one big family, and they talked of joy.

The birth years generally given for the Silent Generation are 1925-1945. All of this hit home with me. Born in 1938, I was very much of my mother’s generation. When I used to speak to school children, I’d tell them that I majored in English in college because I knew I was going to get married and some man was going to take care of me, while I spent my days reading novels and eating bonbons.

For my generation, I married late—at twenty-six. And marriage did not work out according to my plan, for either of us. I was a doctor’s wife in the sixties, expected to do all the things doctors’ wives did—join the auxiliary, volunteer, but not have a life or career of my own. I rebelled by getting my Ph.D., and the older wives often regarded me as a kind of cute aberration. Once when I wore a denim pantsuit (from Neiman Marcus no less) to a dinner meeting, the wife of one of my husband’s partners felt obliged to identify me as belonging to “our younger partner.” Hey! I wasn’t his property—or is that my 2019 sensibility kicking in?

But there was that traditional side to me. Not sharing that desperate need for children, I found myself the mother of four. And I loved every minute of it. Indeed they became and still are central to my life. I liked the housewife-ly aspects of our family life, from trying to broaden childish gastronomic preferences to entertaining at fashionable dinner parties. I was a happy camper, but I was also a frustrated author.

Oddly enough, my then-husband, the one who was desperate for children, ended up leaving both me and the children. By that time, the new situation sited me just fine, and I was, for the most part, a happy single parent.

But I think I felt that pull between domesticity and liberation at least until my children were well launched into their independent lives. And I think of many other women of my generation who weren’t able to reach a middle ground between the two. I feel very fortunate.

Having found my generational niche, I looked for where my children belong. No surprise that, now in their forties (one just turned fifty), they are Generation X, just a bit too old to be Millennials. Once latch-key children (a couple of mine were), they are generally now described as healthy and happy, having achieved a good work/life balance. My grandchildren are Gen Z, the internet and social media generation, more inclined to diversity, less traditional.

I don’t know if it’s comforting or disturbing to know the characteristics of the group with which you are associated. Does it reassure to know we are like others? Or do the descriptions become molds to which we think we must conform? Jury is still out, but I found it all most interesting.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Great Fish Rescue

Compassion overcame reluctance tonight as Christian and Jacob hurried to rescue a fish before the predicted storms hit. The story begins few days ago. One of Jacob’s friends caught a lovely striped bass, took it home, and put it in his fish tank, where it proceeded to terrorize the other fish. He offered to sell it to Jacob but Christian intervened and suggested we were not paying to help the boy get rid of a fish he wanted to be rid of. Long story short, the fish ended up in a kiddy pool, with an aerator, in the back yard—with an umbrella to shield it from the sun. Christian announced that the fish would return to its fishy home in the Trinity today. That didn’t happen.

But tonight, with storms approaching, Christian said they had to return it because it was inhumane to leave the fish unprotected in the shallow kiddy pool. In storms, fish go to the bottom of the river. So the plan was, with dark approaching, to return it to the river.

The transfer from kiddy pool to cooler for the ride was accomplished, although with some loud voices. But the car is gone, so I presume the fish is headed back to the non-briny depths. I wish him a long and happy life and hope he’s learned some lessons about lures and avoiding them.

Earlier today we went to church for an emotional service during which the congregation said ‘Fare Thee Well’ to a beloved minister who is retiring after more than thirty years. Cyndy Twedell was, I believe, the first woman minister at University Christian Church and a real pioneer in women’s ministry. She was an inspiration to all of us, whether she was leading a mission group in Central America or delivering the eulogy for someone we valued. I turned to her several times for advice and comfort, and always found her spot on. Among her many duties, she led the women’s book club which gave us something in common, though I didn’t often attend..

This morning, the ministerial staff each took a turn thanking Cyndy for her many roles in our church. It was an amazing service. She cried-and I found myself getting teary.

Today is also my oldest grandson’s fifteenth birthday. I foresee a learner’s permit in his future, but for his birthday he wanted some kind of high-powered computer (beyond my comprehension) which he and his father built. He sounded so exited on the phone. The one thing he told me was that it’s really colorful, and he sent a picture that confirmed that. But I still don’t understand why it’s so special. Probably he’ll explain it, and I still won’t understand.

Oops! The breeze just picked up, and I think we are about to get the predicted storms. Jordan just stuck her head in to say, “it’s coming in real strong,” and Sophie has headed for the bedroom. Guess it’s time for me to crawl into bed, pull up the covers, and listen to the storm.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Birthday goes on....and a new bookstore

The birthday goes on…yesterday’s four-hour fishing trip on Lake Lewisville, with a guide, was apparently a raging success. Jordan reports they caught twenty-three fish, and she herself caught four. Quote: Jacob had a blast. Then they went to Jacob’s other grandparents for a Mexican feast and birthday cake.

The fun continued today when Christian took Jacob and a friend to a golf course—haven’t gotten the report on that, but from the picture it looks like a success. I was a bit dismayed that they got a cart—in my day (you know, ancient times), the virtue of golf was that you walked. Okay, I know it was hot today, but then again, I remember Christian telling me fishing is not an aerobic activity. Neither is golf if you ride in a cart.

For me, a lazy Saturday with a good book. I’m reading a novel called Cooking for Picasso. Apparently at some point, during his bitter divorce from Russian ballerina Olga, Picasso went to the south of France and rented a villa. His one wish was to remain anonymous. He ordered his food from a small café, and the owner’s teenage daughter, Ondine, was tasked with bringing it to him every day at noon. The relationship that developed is only part of the story, though I haven’t gotten very far into the work.

But it seems that the Ondine/Picasso story, which is probably true, is wrapped in a contemporary story—and mystery—told by Ondine’s granddaughter. So far, I’m enjoying it.

Hooray! Fort Worth has another new independent bookstore. Commonplace Books in the West Bend shopping area had its grand opening today, after three weeks of a successful soft opening. It’s a pop-up store, designed to last a year unless it becomes a raging success and they decide to stay longer. Jordan and I went to explore in the late afternoon. This is not a store where you go for the latest NYTimes bestsellers. The selection of titles is offbeat, sometimes obscure, and always fascinating. Books are not categorized by genre in the usual manner but by categories of the owners’ design—the Intentionalist, the Achiever, the Explorer the Historian, and so on. Jordan found a book that really intrigued her: Around the World in 80 Cocktails. We know people for whom that would be a perfect gift. She also found books that she thought would interest Jacob, and the salesperson talked with us about her younger brother and what he is reading.

A bonus: a lovely dog wanders the store. Agnes is a cross of poodle and Bernese mountain dog, big, gentle, and quite shy. Occasionally she gets frightened and searches for Caitlin, her owner who will be manning the store daily.

I had searched in old purses and other hideaways at home until I found a presentable business card, which I presented when I introduced myself as a local author. My hope is they will be curious enough to google—my web site gives some credibility. Anyone can walk in and say, I’m a local author. Hope they investigate further.

Inner Fort Worth has at least one other indie bookstore—Leaves, which is south of downtown (in the newly trendy South Main area) and sells tea and books. I would like to visit and intend to, but the reviews we have read suggest that the tea offerings get the most attention and the books are secondary.

On the way home, we detoured by Railhead, and I brought home a chopped beef sandwich and cole slaw for my dinner. A Texas treat.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The shipwreck continues….

If it hasn’t been a shipwreck week, it sure has been a week of ups and downs. We began yesterday with a birthday breakfast for Jacob—his dad’s eggs in a tortilla, balloons—and, of course, presents. One happy kid, newly a teenager.

Then Jacob and I continued the celebration by taking my Sophie to the vet for her annual checkup. Amazing to see my spirited, feisty dog so cowed, but the vet’s office really gets to her, even though he did the entire exam, shots and all, sitting on the floor with her. Hats off to Dr John Minnerly of University Animal Hospital. Sophie is healthy but will need her teeth cleaned mid-winter next year—in eight years, she’s never had that done, and Dr. Minnerly said it’s time. I’m spooked about having dogs anesthetized, but I’ve also lost a dog to untreated gum infections, so I understand what I have to do. Sophie also has the beginnings of doggie cataracts—a sign of her middle-age status. Nothing to do except understand she doesn’t see quite as well as she once did. Makes me sad to hear such aging news about her, because I still feel like it was just yesterday that we brought her home as a squiggly, wonderful puppy. Now she’s a middle-aged adult with a fully developed personality of her own—mostly good, but sometimes difficult.

I asked Jacob to go with me, because I can’t drive the car and handle the dog. I suggested he go in, give Sophie to an attendant, and come back to help me. “I can do both at once,” he protested, but I held firm. As it turned out, he was right, and I needed little help—a ramp from the parking spot and an easy, one-step doorway.

Then we went to pick up the shrimp he requested for dinner, with Sophie, now anxious from her trauma, panting and drooling in his lap—the final indignity was when she sneezed all over his leg, and he said disgustedly, “Gross!” when we got home, Sophie was wound tight and absolutely frenetic for about two hours, barking at me for I don’t know what. She had water, turned down a treat, had access to outdoors, but she wanted something I didn’t understand. She finally calmed down enough for a nap.

Jordan and Christian took Jacob and a friend to Top Golf in the afternoon, and Jacob left them all in the shade. Fittingly, he marked his entry into the teen-age years by swinging his golf club in his room and taking out the chandelier.

This morning, someone discovered that Jordan’s car had been broken into during the night. She always locks it, but thinks it must have been unlocked because there was no broken window. The would-be thieves rifled through everything in the car, opening all the glass holders in the ceiling, but the took nothing—just left a mess. Over family protests, I called it into our Neighborhood Police Officer because I know they need to have records of such for their statistics.

Today, the family continued Jacob’s birthday celebration with a four-hour fishing trip, with a guide, on a nearby lake. I’m not sure I expect to see them until tomorrow morning.

Meantime, I had adventures of my own. You know the feeling of accomplishment you get when you do something that worries you? I did that today. Put off installing my new remote keyboard and mouse because I was intimidated. But finally I came o the point that I needed it if I was going to get any work done. And like the trip to the vet, it went so smoothly that I was astounded and grateful.

The rest of my day was odd jobs at the computer and a dinner of leftover steak and mashed potatoes from the birthday dinner, brightened by a happy hour visit from good fiends Phil and Subie green. Looking forward to a weekend with a good book.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Flotsam and jetsam

It’s pretty much been a shipwreck kind of a week. But the high point is Jacob’s birthday—tomorrow, his thirteenth. He turns into a teen. But. he got his “Juju” present early because who can disguise a fishing pole when it comes in a long, skinny box. Yes, he has other poles, but this was a special one that he was excited about. He brought the package out to the cottage to open, and I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t quick enough to grab the phone and capture a picture as he pulled the pole (protected in a fabric sheath) out of the box. The happiness on his face was magical. He took it fishing that day and caught one small fish.

Today he came out to the cottage to ask, “Did I tell you I caught a fish with he pole you got me?” I assured him he had. I am so delighted with his absorption with fishing—it gets him out in the great outdoors and away from TV, iPad, and phone. I haven’t heard a word about “Fortnight” in months. But as Christian pointed out to me, fishing is not an aerobic exercise.

Otherwise it’s been a week of checking things off the to-do bucket list. The pest control people sprayed the back yard with what they assure me is an organic mixture, mostly eucalyptus and rosemary. It’s the remaining ingredients I should have asked about, but the deed is done and supposedly good for ninety days.

Next to check off the lists was the dentist. The hygienist cleaned my teeth and turned to her computer to write up her notes, but her keyboard was dead. She protested she’d just put a battery in it the day before, but it was clearly dead. I came home, booted up my computer—and my keyboard was dead. I called the dentist’s office and asked them to tell Stephanie, the hygienist, that she’s a jinx. Then I ordered a new keyboard. I have no idea what Stephanie did.

Jacob and I went to pick up dog food at the vet’s, with him pointing out one-way streets to me and prodding me to go the second a light turned green. I finally told him I am sure he’ll be a good driver because he’s had so much experience telling me what to do. “It doesn’t seem very complicated,” he replied with assurance.

Tomorrow, before the birthday celebrations begin, he will help me take Sophie to the vet for her annual checkup and then we’ll scoot out to Central Market to pick up groceries for dinner. He’s requested shrimp, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. No cake, though his mother baked one. “We have to have a cake for us,” Christian explained.

A week of storms too. Unexpected, unpredicted rain on Monday, a sprinkle on Tuesday when we were told it would be clear and dry all day, and then a thunder-rumbling storm in the night that had Sophie cuddled as close to me as she could get. Tonight they predicted violent storms with large hail—so far, sunny blue skies.

I’ve gotten a bit of work done, an anonymous mystery synopsis and sample critiqued for a program of Sisters in Crime and a manuscript read and recommendations submitted to an academic press. I missed some blogs because of the keyboard problem, although tonight, knock on wood, I find I can do pretty well on the laptop keyboard. Every once in a while, for no reason, it wipes out whatever I’ve just done. I need to get back to my major work in progress, but I am waiting—and hoping—for inspiration to strike. Perhaps I’ve just let it sit idle for too long.

It’s also been a week of ethnic meals—sushi for lunch at my favorite Japanese place the other day and, tonight, enchiladas at a Mexican place I’ve never been to. I was impressed that when we asked for boxes, the waiter not only boxed our leftovers but brought clean flatware to transfer it. And he worked hard to clean the floor under a table near us where teenagers had made a holy mess with chips.

All in all, an odd week but not really a bad one.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

One man’s happiness

Father’s Day, and I’m sitting at my desk, worrying about all the dads who wanted to spend their day on the golf course. It’s almost as dark as night, and the thunder and rain have been constant all afternoon. When I napped, I had an anxious dog snuggled up next to me.

We went to early church—no wonder I’m sleepy—and afterwards had a delightful brunch, apparently Christian’s favorite meal. Now they have gone to Coppell to see his parents and pick up Jacob who spent the weekend there.

The internet is full of memories of fathers today, and most of them are being described as fun and crazy. Makes me think about my dad. He was never crazy but one of the most disciplined men I ever met. Fun? Only when you were old enough to appreciate his droll humor. Dad was Canadian and very much an Anglophile at heart. He liked order and routine, and Mom gave it to him.

I was his only child (a sister died at six months), though he raised my half-brother. Theirs was not always a meeting of the minds until John was old enough to appreciate Dad’s virtues and approach him as an adult. Dad was, among other things, a stickler for respect and table manners (the British version—I still want to switch my fork from the left, for cutting, to the right for eating—it drove him crazy, as did buttering your bread in the air. And elbows on the table? Never! No hats at the table either—perish the thought.).

But I got to thinking today, as I read about all these joyful fathers, whether or not my father was a happy man, and I concluded he was. Without boasting, I’ll say I know that I made him happy (except for the few major times I disappointed him). He was proud of me, as I was proud of him.

My mom made him happy. She ran what to his mind was the perfect household—meat and potatoes for dinner at six every night, served at a table covered with a white linen tablecloth and linen napkins at every place. Anyone remember napkin rings? And she was a perfect intellectual match for him, being equally as well read. She acceded to his belief that women should not work outside the home, though I think she sometimes longed to. She compensated with volunteer activities.

I think of three happy places for my dad. He, an osteopathic physician, president of an osteopathic college, and administrator of the associated hospital, liked nothing better than to put on old, disreputable clothes and work in his garden. When I was growing up in Chicago, we had a beautiful garden in the empty lot which was part of our property. Dad was equally happy on our annual vacation to the Indiana Dunes, where we had a primitive cottage—no electricity, no indoor plumbing. You had to walk a mile to get to it, carrying your clothes and groceries. But with woods to the back of the cabin and a sweeping view of Lake Michigan to the front, it was a little bit of heaven. Food tasted better, you slept better, and a swim in the lake was the highlight of the day.

Mom and Dad retired to North Carolina, the foothills of the Smokies where they had honeymooned, and Dad once again had a glorious garden. Mom had fresh roses on her dining table every day (the linen cloth had gone the way of all good things). Dad would come in from the garden, shower and put on a fresh shirt, and they’d have a proper British tea, with milk of course, never cream, and always some kind of biscuit.

Today it sounds like an old-fashioned life and maybe even by the sixties and seventies, it was. But looking back, I would say my dad was a happy man. He had professional success, a family he loved, and life that just suited him. Not many of us can say that.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The value of new friends

Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.
New-made friendships, like new wine,
Age will mellow and refine.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed with friends, many of whom are still in my life today. Witness the fact that I am still in contact with the girls who grew up next door to me in Chicago—they were part of my life ever since I can remember. And one of the people who understands me better than most? The friend I made in fifth or sixth grade at church—our lives diverged, but we have always been in touch and always value each other. Among my long-term friends, a couple I knew when working on my master’s degree in Missouri—I remember when they married, and they celebrated their fiftieth several years ago. Yes, I am getting old.

But I am not too old to make new friends, and last night a “new” friend came for supper in the cottage. She is a relatively new associate minister at our church, someone I’d met and visited with twice over meals, but not someone I had ever had a long and one-on-one conversation with.

You know, sometimes with old friends and even family there are long silences in your communication, as though you’ve exhausted everything there is to say. It’s not always a bad sign, though I do remember that when my marriage was falling apart, we would go to dinner and have absolutely nothing to say to each other. On a happier note, I see this silence even with my kids—sometimes we’ve said it all, and the bond between us is unspoken.

But new people offer all kinds of conversational opportunity. There’s so much to explore about the other person. Last night’s conversation was a two-way street as I learned about my guest and shared with her some of the milestones of my life. The nice thing is that we were both genuinely interested in learning about each other. We talked of kids and dogs and divorce, of climate change and the disaster in our country. She is a person of boundless energy and, like me, on who thrives on optimism. We may both be Pollyanna crying in the dark, but we believe in the future. We believe that our country will go back to being a democracy, that this dark period is a good learning lesson. We share a deep religious faith though she puts hers to more active use than I do. I have rarely known time to go by so quickly and happily. We talked—and ate and drank wine—for almost three hours.

I had fixed a light summer supper. When I entertain, the food is almost always an experiment, and so it was last night. Okroshka, which I’d never heard of before I found a recipe in the New York Times. A traditional cold summer soup from Russia. There are, of course, variations on the recipe, but I made it with a base of yogurt and buttermilk, diluted with water. I chopped all kinds of things to go in it—potato, scallions, cucumber, radish, cooked chicken, hard-boiled eggs. I worried if I should warn her, ask if she was lactose intolerant—it is, after all, a fairly unusual dish.

My oldest daughter called the night before and asked what I was doing. I said, “Making a soup you wouldn’t like.” When she heard the ingredients—yogurt and buttermilk—she said, “Yewwww.” Megan does not like white things—sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, yogurt, goat cheese—though she regrets the latter because she says everyone who eats it loves it. But my soup is not everyone’s cup of soup.

Fortunately it, and the blue cheese salad that accompanied it, were enthusiastically received. I decided to splurge for dessert and bought two pieces of chocolate ganache cake from Central Market. So wrong! One piece was more than enough for both of us. One of the problems with my curbside pickup is that I can’t always tell about size or quantity. These pieces were huge, and Jordan, Christian, and I will share the second piece tonight.

Meantime I am hoping that my new friendship will, like the new wine mentioned above, mellow and refine with age. But may we never run out of things to talk about.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

That “To Do” List

Chipping away at that list of things that need to be done around the house and yard, and that makes me happy. I hate that term “deferred maintenance,” and all that it implies. To me, putting things off means that eventually you have a big mess on your hands that you should have taken care of bit by bit. And it signals to the world you don’t care about your property. So I have this list.

Today the tree men came to remove a large branch that had fallen off a neighbor’s tree but hung directly over our driveway where I park my convertible. Previous similar incidents have taught me, through my insurance company, that if it falls on my property, it’s my responsibility. When it fell the branch landed on another branch and was balanced there—a good wind could have blown it off, and I’m surprised it didn’t crash in that brief but furious windstorm last weekend. While here, the men also removed two large and long dead branches from the oak tree that’s directly out my office window. I was tired of looking at dead branches, and I know that they too were a potential problem waiting to happen.

Watching these two men work as a team was fascinating. They are obviously a team and have learned to watch out for each other. When one man started up a ladder, the other unconsciously moved over to steady the ladder even though he was talking to his boss on the ground. They use a kind of pulley and seat system to pull themselves up to high branches—it must take incredible arm strength. They know how to position a limb so that it does no damage as it falls. Even had to maneuver the one recently fallen branch around what looked like telephone lines or something—not power, I’m sure. The new break was bushy and full; other two branches had been dead long enough that they were bare. Still, they were long and good sized, and it took skill to get them down without mishap. And the men cleaned the driveway perfectly before they left.

Also made an appointment to have the yard sprayed for mosquito control on Monday. It took a lot of phone work to find a company that uses organic spray. Several companies ignored my query; one poohpoohed it saying nobody used organic. Well, you know what? I won’t contribute more toxic sprays to our atmosphere, let alone expose my family and animals to them.  Another promised organic repellent but nothing that would kill the mosquitos and larvae. It had to be renewed every two weeks—I didn’t even ask the cost. I settled on a man who answered his own phone—always a good sign to me. He says the spray they use is mostly eucalyptus and rosemary, but he added, “I have to be honest with you. I wouldn’t want you to drink it. It’s got to kill the mosquitos.” Maybe I should have asked what kills them and what percentage of the spray it is, but I didn’t. He was also honest about the time a treatment will last and its efficacy—90 days on average, 90 per cent effective. “But if you have a creek or your neighbor has a bad infestation, you’re going to see some bugs.” I proceeded on faith—hope it wasn’t misplaced.

And tomorrow, Jacob and I will check Sophie’s annual checkup off my list. Do you ever sit in your doctor’s waiting room worrying that he or she will find some hidden problem you’re not aware of? I don’t think that worry carries over to dogs—Sophie seems perfectly healthy to me, but she needs her shots.

Dinner tonight with Betty at Chadra. Jacob declined to go with us but requested we bring home meatballs and spaghetti. We had penne a la vodka, which has no vodka in it but was rich with tomato sauce, spinach, and mushrooms—so good. By the time we left, we had to-go orders for Betty’s husband Don (spaghetti with meat sauce) and for Jacob (spaghetti with meatballs), salads for each, garlic knots for each, plus a small container each of the penne we couldn’t eat. And our leftover garlic knots—Betty loves them and simply cannot let any go to waste. I had to carefully package our take-home foods so each of us got the right one. Jacob would have been devastated if he got meat sauce instead of meatballs—it doesn’t take much for devastation when you’re thirteen.

Can you believe I came home and ate a half a piece of pecan pie that Mary brought last night? Color me gluttonous. Now I need a nap.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Feeling old

You know the feeling you get when someone you remember as a youngster is suddenly in middle age? I’ve been having that a lot lately. A man I remember as a kid in footed pajamas wrote me, and in the course of our correspondence, I found out he’s now sixty-one! And today a girl who babysat my kids when she was in high school came to visit.

Kathy brought her younger sister, Tracy. Both girls were at our house a lot when they were young, and I was at theirs. Their mom was a good friend of mine, and Kathy became a regular babysitter. I think now both are in their fifties—how did that happen? We had a great visit, reliving old times, catching up on our lives, their family, my kids. Kathy and her mom and husband have lived in the Denver area for years, but we’ve kept in touch, mostly through Facebook. Their mom is a terrific cook, and over the years I’ve gotten lots of great recipes from her.

It was a sociability day for me. Started early with the Book Ladies monthly breakfast, which I always enjoy. One of the women had on a striking dress—loose, plain, but classy, and we all commented on it. Turns out she saw a dress she liked in a store, went home and got tape measure and whatever else she needed, went back and took the dress to a dressing room, laid it out flat, and measured to make her own pattern. We were all in awe of such talent. They may call themselves Book Ladies, but the conversation ranges far and wide. I’ve probably been meeting with this group for thirty years, but far as I can tell there’s only one other original member. Over the years people have come and gone.

After breakfast, Jacob and I ran a couple of errands. It’s much easier for me to run errands with him along as he can get the walker in and out of the car with more ease and can carry things. Today we took three different things to a pack-and-mail station (one of them something Jacob ordered by mistake) and went to the hardware for a nozzle and watering can his mom has been wanting. Made me feel good because I love to check things off my to-do list, and these days that list is long. Tomorrow I’ll chip away at the list by making follow-up calls to people I haven’t had a response from.

And tonight was regular happy hour with Mary who generously brought leftovers from a dinner party she had—maple-mustard salmon, pulled pork, parmesan crisps, two kinds of pie, and cream puffs. Happy hour was dinner—and delicious

But I didn’t get much work done today, and I can feel it piling up on me. Tomorrow’s assignment to myself—some background reading for a sidebar on native tribes in Texas. Good thing I really like that kind of stuff.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A bit of excitement for the day--and the plots of possible novels

            Jacob called a little before noon.  “Lock your doors,” he said breathlessly. “The police are driving up and down our street looking for someone.” It seems he and his mother were outside when a policeman drove up and told them to go into the house and lock the doors. I did as I was told.

Thereafter, for almost three hours, we got bits and snippets. I couldn’t see the police from the cottage, but I certainly could hear multiple helicopters overhead. Jordan reported that police presence on the street was heavy. The neighborhood email listserv came alive with this bit of information and that. Put altogether, it revealed that a mental patient wearing a floral shirt and possibly armed had escaped from Baylor Scott & White Hospital, perhaps half a mile north of us. Police were concentrating their search around the hospital, but then I heard of a heavy convergence of helicopters and police cars in the southwest corner of our neighborhood.

Jacob came out to the cottage, again breathless, to report police were still everywhere, and he thought he saw the man riding a bicycle. He protested it looked like him, even if the clothing was different. He warned me that Sophie could not go out. She looked at him in despair. Police were discouraging pedestrian travel, so Jordan drove a woman, a stranger, to the Old Neighborhood Grill. Then she urged our neighbor, who was outside sweeping her walks, to go in the house. So proud of my daughter.

About 2:45 I texted Jordan to say I was going to take a nap, and she said it apparently was all clear. Police had left the neighborhood; the helicopters were gone. But there was no official word. Tonight I watched the local news but there was no mention. What became a big deal for our neighborhood was not such to the city at large apparently.

Note to the Fort Worth Police Department: I know it’s difficult and in a crisis,  you have many demands on your time and services, but a public relations announcement to neighborhood listservs would help keep neighbors informed and safe. And you could let them know when the all clear sounded—and maybe what happened. Even a truck with a loudspeaker might be useful—the water department does that, so why not the police?

Tonight we did find out it was not (necessarily) a mental patient (who knows for sure?) but a domestic dispute, apparently in the hospital. The guy was armed or so they think, and the girl screamed for security. He was last seen walking away from the hospital. Hours later he still had not been apprehended. Thanks to our neighborhood police officer (NPO) for the update

I can sure see at least the subplot of a cozy novel in this incident—maybe Kelly O’Connell to the rescue in my Fairmount series.

In the midst of the search, I turned on the TV hoping there was an update on our local bad guy. No such, but I got extended “special report” coverage of the helicopter crash on a skyscraper in Manhattan. A horrifying accident that for many of us, even those not in the city, brought back 9/11. Planes crashing into buildings, buildings on fire. Fortunately tonight there seems to be agreement that this was a tragic accident, involving a seasoned pilot but not terrorism. Still, imagine the fright of the people in the building as they were evacuated and, like 9/11, not allowed to use elevators to go down fifty-four floors.

In this accident, I see the makings of an espionage novel—not my cup of tea, but someone could sure run with it.

And, hey, I’m still gonna lock my doors tonight.

The things we can live without …or do you wash dishes by hand?

A recent essay in The New York Times Magazine praised the virtues of washing dishes by hand. The writer had worked in a small restaurant while in college,      and his duties included dishwashing and, late at night, blowing into the breathalyzer on the boss’ car so the boss could drive home drunk. I have no comment on the breathalyzer, but the dishwashing interested me. The restaurant had a commercial machine, but he ended up doing dishes by hand and apparently has still been doing that until he and his wife made a recent decision to purchase a dishwasher. He wrote, “Washing dishes, I give myself the chance to remember that ordinary isn’t the enemy but the bedrock upon which the rest of experience ebbs and flows.”

A dishwasher is one of the appliances I do not have. Like a stove, it’s part of that built-in kitchen that zoning laws forbid. (For those who are puzzled, zoning does not permit two kitchens on one property—an effort to keep nearby university students out of garage apartments and the like). I suppose if I wanted, I could have a portable dishwasher that I had to plug in and hook to the faucet, but there’s not room in my kitchen. I had one once in my salad days and remember that it was more trouble than it was worth.

Besides, like the essayist, I don’t really mind dishes. How many pots and pans can one person dirty? When I get down to it, washing dishes for most meals is quick and easy. Maybe one pot or skillet, one plate, a bowl, a bit of flatware. It’s done and draining before I know it. It would probably take me as long to rinse and load a dishwasher, and then the task of emptying it would loom large. And I too find it a reflective time, a time when I can put my mind on hold and go with the flow. That’s something I’m not usually good at doing.

Dirty dishes weigh on my conscience, a product I guess of a certain degree of OCD on my part. Sometimes I’ll sit with an empty plate on my desk, working away, for an hour or more. And I’ll put off thinking about the dishes at the sink. But guilt will get me. I almost never let dishes accumulate from one meal to the next, and ever since I’ve been keeping house, it’s been a firm practice never to go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. Yep, OCD. Probably one advantage of the dishwasher, even for a single person—you can put the dishes out of sight, so your conscience is clear.

The essay also got me to thinking about other things I do without. The New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page has had an interesting thread on InstaPots that has brought a lot of people out of the woodwork who don’t use this latest magic appliance for cooks. One woman said she didn’t like the final taste, and most, like me, balk at the steep learning curve. I suppose the same is true of air fryers, though I note that Emeril has come out with an air fryer that will supposedly replace almost all your small kitchen appliances.

I also live without a microwave, though occasionally I wish for one. I simply don’t have the counter space. When I first moved into the cottage, my older daughter visited and convinced me I didn’t need the microwave. But then she spent the rest of her visit saying, “I’ll just run into the house and heat this in the microwave.” I use small ovenproof casseroles to reheat food in the toaster oven—not quite as speedy but good enough for someone like me who had given up hurrying.

I’ve become an advocate for the simple life, at least in the kitchen—fewer appliances, more things done the “old-fashioned” way, though I am not, like Thoreau, claiming any special virtue to the simple life lived deliberately. It just works for me.

Excuse me…the lunch dishes are in the sink, and I must go.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

A happy hour kind of day

A slanted view of happy house
Happy hour on the patio. In truth, I needed that sociability. Happy hour was a welcome break from a long day in which I was getting tired of my own company. I did work—my usual thousand words, and I was pleased with them. I’m finding my brain tires after a thousand words, and I best give it up. Today I was deep in cattle drives of the 1860s, from Texas north to Abilene, Kansas, and then points ever closer until the railroad got to Wichita Falls. Not sure if tomorrow will be a working day or not, since it’s Sunday and church is on my agenda. I hope to go in person, but if that doesn’t work out, I’ll be a virtual attendee.

But at any rate, the next workday will be devoted to a study of the “Indian depredations” in nineteenth-century North Texas. The trouble with writing about this is the problem of politically correct language. I know better than to refer to Native Americans as Indians—they should be referred to by tribe or called Native Americans, but the latter does not roll off the tongue easily, and it sounds downright awkward in some passages in writing the kind of history I’m writing. On the other hand, I can only say “Comanche and Kiowa” so many times, and I end up using the word Indian which is inaccurate and derogatory. I tell myself it’s okay because back then it was the current usage.

I worked hard this morning, wore my brain out, and had a nice nap dreaming of preparing to take a cruise, with Jordan, to Alaska  For some reason we were staying in an upscale hotel for several days before departing, but Jordan had left my walker in a field where we’d parked to load the VW van (don’t ask). The worst of it was that she’d left Sophie tied to the walker. That image alone sent me into the giggles, because a walker would never stop Soph—she’d just go where she wanted, dragging the thing along with her, albeit somewhat unhappily. Tonight on the patio, she wormed her way into the passageway between our yard and the neighbors, and Jordan and Jay (yes, the handsome neighbor I haven’t blogged about much lately) had to go fetch her. When I scolded her, she refused to look at me.

Jordan, who has been working all day helping clients even on a Saturday reminds me of myself at that age. She doesn’t sit still but pops up to feed Sophie, water a plant, get the wine bottle, let her June Bug out and then in when Junie changes her mind. Jordan’s moments of peaceful rest are few and far between.

We did have a nice visit with Jay, who we don’t see much these days. Mostly we talked about garden matters, and it left me with a list of things to do. Some tree branches are threatening to fall on my car and must be tended to, there is nut grass in the lawn, and the lawn crew needs to weed eat in that narrow strip behind the cottage. Sigh. It’s always something.

I came inside and fixed myself a squash casserole, which was really good and will, I’m sure, show up in a “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog sometime soon. The innovation I am proud of? I topped it with crushed Cheez-Its, those crackers I remember from a childhood addiction. Neighbor Mary likes them as much as I do, and I keep them for our Tuesday happy hours. Tonight, when I went looking for Ritz crackers, the Cheez-Its seemed like a perfect solution—and they were.

Sweet dreams, y’all.

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Kindness of People

Melinda, my longtime pal and production manager at TCU Press, had the great idea that we should go to Joe T.’s for lunch today. Perfect weather to sit on the beautiful patio and enjoy just the slightest of breezes. We chattered, caught up with each other’s families and professional lives, laughed a lot, had a bit of wine for me and a margarita for her, and it was all delightful. There were obvious groups of tourists there—big clusters of people who oohed and aahed when they saw the gardens, and I thought how lucky we are to have that available all the time (okay, all the time if you will stand in line).

But Joe T.’s is not an easy access place for me. We parked around the corner from the patio entrance, so I had to walk a bit. Then I opted for stairs rather than the long, sloping ramp. Melinda took the walker up the stairs and prepared to come back to help me, when a man came up, asked, “Need help?” and held out his arm. He helped me to the top and saw me firmly reunited with my walker. I sat on a low bench, while Melinda went back to the ramp and stood in line for our table. (I realized later my helper was with one of the tourist groups.)

The paths at Joe T.’s, so scenic, are not great for a walker—flagstone and pavers, lots of cracks to catch the wheels. When we got on a smooth patch and I said, “Now I can go like the wind,” the young man showing us to our table grinned big-time.     

All that difficult walking makes me breathless, and when we left, I asked Melinda if I could sit on the low bench while she went to bring the car around. She did, and this time when we started down the stairs, she said she could carry the walker with one hand and help me with the other. A man started up the stairs and asked, “You need help?” but she assured him we were all right. I wanted to tell Melinda never turn down a willing arm, but I didn’t. The woman behind him said, “Let me take that walker,” and she took it down the stairs and opened it up for me.

It’s what I’ve noticed all along—most people go out of their way to be helpful and kind when they see the walker. Would I rather be walking on my own two feet? You bet! But it is what it is, and there are some saving graces. I didn’t realize it, but my hip was deteriorating for years before I had surgery. Between that and the neuropathy, my balance—and sense of security as I walked—sunk to nothing. I needed railings, walls, something to give me security. Walk across an empty parking lot alone? Not me!

The walker has given me back my sense of security. I go places now with confidence that I wouldn’t have gone before. It does mean that walking takes more effort—got to push, lift, and drag that walker, lightweight as it is—and I run out of breath and tire easily because o my atrial fibrillation. But still I am grateful—I am much more mobile than I was three years ago, I am once again out in the world, and I am not in pain.

Occasionally I see people who are so unsteady they need a walker or even those who fall frequently, but it’s a point of pride not to use assistance when they walk. I want to say, “Get over it!”

And to repeat, people are so kind and helpful. There’s only one longtime friend that I’ve lost over the walker—and I’m not sure that’s the reason, but I think it is because his desire to go to lunch with me cooled (after years of happy lunches) after the first time we went with me on a walker. I’m sorry for the loss but I am much too busy to worry about it, too busy appreciating the wonderful support I get from family, friends, and strangers.

God is good, and so is the world. And, hey, Melinda, let’s do it again soon.