Saturday, July 11, 2020

Flies, mosquitoes, and fun on the patio



So glad to have these two on the patio
Last night, Jamie, my third child and second son, came from Frisco bring Maddie, my oldest grandchild. At twenty-one, she is a rising senior at Colorado University in Boulder. To say that I was delighted to see them is an understatement. Maddie, on crutches after a recent hip surgery, came over to me and asked, “Am I allowed to hug you? I’ve been quarantining.” Who could say no to a question like that? Hugs all around were most welcome.
Even though it was blistering hot, the patio was comfortable—fan and bug zapper going, shaded all day long so it never really heats up. We sat out there quite a while, catching up and laughing a lot. Remember that thing on Facebook where a dress was shown and some saw it as gold, while others saw it as blue. Jamie had never heard of it, so Maddie pulled it up and a lively discussion followed with some yelling “Blue” and others contending “Gold.” Jamie decided it was a conspiracy on our part to make him look silly.
The flies and mosquitoes finally drove us inside. Mosquitoes don’t much bother me, but apparently Jamie is a target. But we have a horrible fly problem this summer, and as Jordan says there’s not that much dog poop in the yard. Christian ordered some fly traps that are very effective—bottles that attract the flies. But they stink to high heaven, so you have to move them if you want to sit outside. I did order some wine tops to cover our glasses—I was tired of throwing out wine because a fly drowned in it.
We ordered chicken enchiladas from Enchiladas Olé and ended up with a banquet—beans, rice, the best queso I’ve had maybe ever, and Jordan’s freshly made brownies for dessert. Jamie and Maddie stayed until almost ten, and it was a thoroughly fun evening.
Yesterday was a big day for two of my grandsons. Sawyer, sixteen and in Austin, got his braces off. Sorry I couldn’t grab the picture from Facebook, but last night we had a big controversy over whether he looks like his mom or his dad. As a toddler, he was the image of his mom, but as he’s grown and lost that pre-puberty weight, he looks more and more like his dad—to me. Jamie held out for his sister, saying Sawyer looks like Megan.
Cousins! She used to change his diaper
When did he grow taller than her?
Jacob got his first debit card and went through the procedure of calling into validate it, with his mom monitoring every moment. He is off today for a week in Colorado with neighbors who have two daughters his age. They’ll be in a house with a swimming pool and then one with a fishing river in the back yard. Jacob was at loose ends—what high school kid isn’t these days?—so it’s good for him to get away.
Me? I’m still working on my lectures about creating a chef. Wrote a brief—really brief—history of American cuisine in the twentieth century yesterday and today worked on a supplemental reading list. Enjoying this project a lot.
Tonight I’m dining alone. Jordan and Christian are eating leftovers, but I decided to do myself a lamb chop that was in the freezer and use that zucchini languishing in the vegetable drawer for a casserole. It’s cooking right now, and the cottage smells of butter and melted parmesan—so good.
Looking forward to an evening with the book I’m reading—Deadlines, the first novella in Susan Wittig Albert’s Enterprise trilogy. Mystery fans may know Susan as the author of the longstanding China Bayles series. The trilogies—this is the second—put some of the secondary characters from China’s books front and center. Entertaining reading.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The New Me and the Old Sophie




I am a new person today—I went to the dentist yesterday and got my hair cut today. Makes such a difference in my attitude. As you may have picked up, I’ve been chewing on the dentist problem since April—that was when my appointment for a cleaning was. I cancelled, because of quarantine. But I worried, afraid to go, afraid not to go. The last time I missed going for several months, due to surgery, I had to have a lot of dental work done, and I didn’t want a repeat of that. (Yes, I am more than a little dental phobic!)
Finally in June I made this appointment—you know how easy it is to commit to something that’s a ways in the future. But then came the surge of virus cases, and I began to have doubts. I admit that my doubts were exaggerated by my general dislike of going to the dentist’s office. My hygienist is a really nice person and I like her a lot, just don’t like what she does, as I told her yesterday. I called and inquired about precautions—sounded good, and I was ready to go. But then I began hearing about people who were hesitant. Finally day before yesterday I thought, “I have to go and get it off my mind.”
Turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I saw exactly three people—two in the reception area and the hygienist. They were all masked. I used a clean pen to sign in and when I tried to hand it back the receptionist held out a piece of paper for me to set it on. They take your temperature and ask you if you’ve been exposed, etc. The hygienist explained that she can’t use the electric pick because it sprays water and they are avoiding aerosol contamination. I told her I was delighted because I hate that thing—reminds me of the drill.
Best bonus of all—my teeth were in better shape than any previous visit, and she said if I keep taking such good care of them, she can avoid the electric thing. And my blood pressure was extraordinarily good. Win, win!
The haircut is a win too. Last time, I told Rosa how I wanted it cut—my own fault I spent five weeks looking dutchy, literally. So today I asked her to ignore me and cut it the way she thought best. Now it’s short, has some shape, and I keep feeling the back of my head because it feels good to have the hair trimmed back there. I am blessed that Rosa comes to the cottage on her way to the salon. And she takes every precaution—even swept the floor and then wiped down the broom.
Sophie, however, is not a new dog—she’s up to old tricks. The other night she got me up at 1:30 because she wanted to go out. She’s so well housebroken that when she does that, I assume she needs to pee. Wrong! She went out, laid on the deck, and stared at me—insolently. No matter how I called, pleaded, bribed, she remained unmoved. This went on for at least 45 minutes—and I’d been sleeping so soundly. I can’t go back to bed when she’s out at night. I think she’s big enough (30 lbs.) to avoid predators—except the human kind. Our neighborhood has night-time visitors who try car doors to find an unlocked car. What if one came up our driveway, saw this cute dog, and decided to take her? The electric gate is no barrier for people with bad intentions. Usually I give her some serious talk about coming right back in, but I was too sleepy. Learned my lesson. Right now she’s crawled into her crate, on her own, and is sleeping the sleep of the innocent. I know better.
Just had my favorite sandwich for lunch—chicken, mayo and blue cheese on rye bread. Cannot be beat. Something I learned in school in rural Iowa of all places.
Happy Friday, folks!


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

A better day




No, I did not eat this much
You know the feeling you get from a really productive day? That was mine today, and I rejoice in it. I began by tackling some things that had been niggling in my mind, things I’d chewed on for days with no decision. So today I took definite action. I had a professional favor to ask from a fellow mystery writer, asked, explained, and got a favorable response. I determined to go ahead and keep my dental appointment tomorrow—my impression is that they keep you very safe and isolated, and I want to stop worrying about whether I should go or let my teeth could to rot and ruin—well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but still….

And there was a social gathering that weighed on my mind: I had issued the invitation but then I began to feel uncomfortable about it, and Jordan reinforced my discomfort. So I flat out cancelled it, and everybody understood. Finally, I worried a bit about my fat leg. Jordan looked at it last night after her several days away and pronounced it no less swollen and red in the lower part of the leg. So I emailed the doctor. I have heard nothing but am assuming that no news is good news.

Oh, and I nudged the graphic designer who is doing cover design for Saving Irene, my forthcoming mystery. Watch for a cover reveal in my blog and elsewhere in the next couple of days. I’m excited about it.

I may have mentioned that I’m to teach an online course in creating a fictional chef this fall, for a subdivision of Romance Writers of America. That, too, has been weighing on my mind. I am to have twelve “lectures”—about 600 words each. Today I roughed out the first two lectures—one introducing me, and one presenting the questions I thought a writer needs to ask him/herself before creating this chef. It was a lot of work, but I was pleased with it—except that I had earlier outlined the twelve lectures and today, in two lessons, I used up the first four topics. I may run out of material. Still, pulling all this material together has been fun for me, and it syncs beautifully with my first truly “culinary” mystery, coming in September. So tonight I am feeling productive, proud, and self-righteous.

Of course there’s always a cloud on the horizon. I tried to attend a Zoom meeting of a church book club discussing Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I have not yet mastered Zoom, but I managed to log in. The group greeted me cordially—but the trouble was I couldn’t see me. They assured me they could. About halfway through I decided to log out and log back in—that worked, and now I could see me, except I was sideways. They all said I was sideways on their screens too, but my friend Renee, who was moderating, said it was okay because it made me distinctive. I’ve got to figure out how to do that.

Got my fried chicken craving satisfied today. My generous and bountiful neighbor, Prudence, emailed that her husband was going to pick up fried chicken from Drew’s Place and what did we want. My good friend Carol and I used to go to Buttons for lunch occasionally, just to have the good, bone-in fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans, which were, I’m sure, seasoned with fatback. But then Keith Hix, chef at Buttons, moved on. I blogged about this a few days ago when Christian, Jacob, and I had a pale imitation for dinner one night. When pandemic hit, Carol and I had already made a date to go to Drew’s Place, source of the best fried chicken on this side of Fort Worth. Of course, that had to be cancelled. So I was overjoyed today to munch—down to the bone—on a thigh and eat green beans. I have enough green beans to feed Coxie’s Army or, as I told Pru, her family of six. So generous, so good.

So, yeah, it’s been a good day. I hope yours has been too.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Home again, dinner, and back in the routine




My version of Cobb salad
Jordan is home again, and we’re glad to have her back. I fixed her a welcome-home supper—well, sort of. Before she left, she suggested a salad or something easy would be good so she wouldn’t have to cook. So I made Cobb salad—well, at least I prepped the ingredients: boned a rotisserie chicken, boiled some small new potatoes, and hard-boiled some eggs.

When she came home, I said dinner was all ready. We just had to peel the potatoes and eggs and fry the bacon. Plus cut up avocado and hearts of palm, and wash and put out cherry tomatoes. She looked at me and said, “That’s a lot of work.”

Tonight was our regular Tuesday night happy hour with neighbors Mary and Prudence, and Jordan regaled them with her story of her welcome-home dinner and how much remained to be done. But when it came suppertime, I peeled the potatoes, shelled the eggs, and fried the bacon. Got everything out of the fridge but asked her to plate it (we decided on individual Cobb salads rather than one big platter) because she knows what her boys will eat and what they won’t.

She confessed she was just making jokes and really likes to cook with me. We’re a good team in my tiny kitchen, though she constantly warns me not to run over her toes with my walker, and she sometimes banishes me because I get in her way. I tell her she should wear better shoes than flip-flops.

She is home for sure. Immediately rearranged the patio to suit her, rearranged things in my kitchen, took stock of what I need from the grocery, and generally told me what’s what. I am so grateful. And I imagine she did that inside her house tonight. So now, Jordan is taking care of all of us, the world is back in its orbit, and all is well. I assured her that Christian took good care of me, which amounts to seeing that I did not lack for company in the evenings and checking on me in the mornings. All the evenings she was gone but one, he and Jacob came out for supper, and the remaining night he came out to visit.

I am having the great dentist debate. I usually get my teeth cleaned every three months, because I have “that kind” of teeth. I should have gone in April but cancelled due to the virus. Now I have an appointment in two days, and I am waffling. I called the dentist’s office, and they detailed their precautions, which sounded good. But then Jordan said how uncertain some of her friends are. Then my neighbor said her physician-husband went to the dentist and found the precautions highly reassuring. So do I go or not? I will have to make up my mind overnight, because if I don’t go, I owe them the courtesy of 24 hours’ notice.

As everyone knows, cases in Texas are surging, and Fort Worth/Tarrant County, which had a relatively low daily new case count for a long time, is also seeing a surge. It’s mostly young people, which makes me wonder if they are the ones ignoring masks and eating in restaurants and not following strict guidelines. I meanwhile am going overboard perhaps, but I take this seriously. What a dilemma!

Rain all around us last night and today, but not a drop for us. I was so hoping it would dump on my new grass. This morning a neighbor assured me it was going to rain tonight, and I took it as gospel. Unfortunately, nothing happened, although Jordan said the ground was moist this afternoon. At any rate, the grass still looks good, and I am still praying for rain.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

Monday, July 06, 2020

One of those days




The view from Jordan's window
Final pictures from Blanco. Jordan comes home tomorrow, and life will resume its normal pace. Thanks to Christian, who has done a great job of seeing that I have company each day and pretty much tending to supper. Tonight was designated a leftovers night, and I had some in the fridge, but I opted to make tuna salad and have it with cottage cheese—my favorite combination. Maybe it was because Sam Sifton’s New York Times cooking column this morning said this was a week for tuna salad.

It was certainly a salad day for me—one of my favorites for lunch: tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm, and blue cheese, all doused with straight lemon juice, no oil. So good. If I’d had watercress, I would have added it for a pungent taste.

Otherwise, I’d almost write the day off. I spend most of my days and evenings at my computer—it’s where I work, eat, read, “talk” to friends. And today I wanted to throw the darn thing through a window. I tried to log into an online organization—they had recently completely redone their web site, and I guess there are some bugs not yet worked out. The password I had carefully copied, pasted, and saved wouldn’t work. The webmaster got me by that, and I have a new password—still not a sensible combination of letters and numbers that I can remember. So I cut and pasted again.

Over the weekend, I read voraciously to finish a book for review, and last night I wrote the review, remembering a thousand-word deadline. Today when I got into the site, I read the directions—500 words. I cut mercilessly, really butchered my golden prose—and got it down to 840 words. An unusual problem for me, since I usually write short.

I filled out the form for book review submission, but it would not accept the ISBN (international standard book number)—the form had it spaced a way that the number didn’t fit. Back to the webmaster, though I was sure by this time, she thought I was incurably tech-challenged. Not at all—others had the same problem. So I got around that one too, and the book is officially reviewed. Will be up on the Story Circle Network site tomorrow or the next day.

Then I turned to my entry on Helen Corbitt for the Handbook of Texas and discovered that several of the editor’s questions were beyond me. I ended answering questions with questions, which made me feel totally inadequate. I realized that’s why I write fiction—I’m not a dive-deep researcher, as is my good friend who is editing these entries. More frustration.

I think I’ll spend the rest of the evening with a good, cozy mystery and escape all this worrying. Tomorrow, back to editing on my own cozy mystery. So glad and grateful that I have meaningful work to do in retirement. Makes me a happy camper and, I hope, keeps my brain active and me young.

This morning, after that lovely six o’clock rain, weather people forecast wild storms today. Nothing. By tonight, when Jean came by for a glass of wine, she reported that there was no rain in the foreseeable future—but suddenly, the sky has that funny cast to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a storm headed our way. Stay safe, everyone.
Shopping on the square in Blanco
Jordan says they only got ice and soft drinks
No browsing in t he stores
and they are nicely masked. Good girls.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

A Sunday miscellany




We continue to get photos from Jordan from the Hill Country which make us glad she’s enjoying but wish we were too. The latest is the sky just before sunset. Meanwhile, back at home, things remain calm.

Church this morning was a treat. The church began a series on Broadway shows and how they reflect our current values. First up this morning was the hit, “Hamilton.” The service opened with an actor, apparently a former TCU student, providing a striking rendition of the opening song. Russ’ sermon gave a lot of background on both Lin Manuel-Miranda, who wrote the musical, and the actual history of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Doesn’t sound like church? Well, it was, because the sermon ended by posing several questions that hit home with me. Apparently, Hamilton was obsessed with contributing something to make the world better—he did a whole lot—and with having someone to tell his story. His wife outlived him by fifty years and spent them telling his story, building his reputation, publishing his voluminous writing. So, Russ challenged us: who will tell your story? What is your story? What I have done to make the world a better place is a frequent question for me, and I was comforted that Russ confessed it is for him too.

The actor who played the lead in the opening Broadway show used to gather the cast for prayer before each performance, and his challenge to them was that they make each person in the audience grow during the performance, go away from it having learned something that changed them, made them a better person. It’s what I’ve always said about books. I’m seeing lots of links here between Broadway and literature and religion. Lots to think about, and lots of history to explore.

I watched the nine o’clock service, but then to my surprise Christian and Jacob came out to watch the eleven o’clock with me, so I’ve been to church twice today. We’ll see if it makes me a better person.

I was saddened to learn that actor Nick Cordero died today after fighting COVID-19 for ninety days. I never heard of him, not being up on such things, until he got sick, but his struggle and his wife’s determined faith have been much in the news. He underwent the amputation of a leg and was recently told he would need a double lung transplant. Perhaps had he lived he would have had no quality of life nor life expectancy, so maybe his death was God’s grace, but it is still a tragic story. Don’t even talk to me about how you don’t have to wear a mask!

I spent the day writing a review of a book about France, food, and World War II. Fascinating to immerse myself in the life of villages and the stories of what it was like to survive the war’s hardships. One woman reported they relished heated pork belly on toast, because when you have little, what you do have becomes a treat. There’s a moral there. Another slyly said, “We did not need to diet” and talked of evenings when there was one potato for a family of five. On the other hand, many French households today have really well-stocked larders, the reaction to the years they went without. The French eat a lot of seafood and a lot of rabbit—the latter a surprise to me. They are surprisingly unsentimental about eating the bunnies they raise. The book is Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table, #Two by Carole Bumpus.

Tonight Subie and Phil came for happy hour, and we had a lively discussion—of the title business. They quizzed Christian on his work, what he did, how it affects home buyers. Educational and interesting. We managed some other conversation too, and as Subie said, it was good just to see people. Subie questioned how our patio can be so cool and comfortable when the rest of the world is sweltering, but it’s true—it really is a lovely place to be. Christian pointed out that it is tree covered and never gets sun—which is why there’s so much ground cover and no grass. But the new grass in the center of the yard is doing well, and Christian is faithfully watering. Jordan will be proud when she comes home.

Tonight, Chef Christian fixed sesame chicken, and I quick sautéed some asparagus. A good meal.

And so another week begins. I lose track as they roll one into the next, but I hope it is a good week for each of you. Stay safe and well.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

A quiet and safe Fourth of July




Fireworks in Fort Worth
The pool in Blanco
It’s a quiet Fourth at the Alter/Burton compound. Jordan ahs gone off with her high school girlfriends for a weekend at a rental house in Blanco. The house they’ve rented has a wonderful view of the Hill Country and a smashing swimming pool, which would be important to them as they like to lie out. (My granddaughter recently said something to me about laying around, and I quickly corrected her that it’s lying around—but I can’t correct these girls.)

I truly admire Jordan and her friends for remaining so close in the years since high school. I won’t give away their ages, but trust me—they’ve seen more than one high school reunion. Yet these are the women she would turn to first in moments of joy or crisis. And I am most fond of each of them.

Meanwhile, back in Fort Worth, Christian, Jacob, and I are having a quiet but satisfactory time. Jordan charged Christian with taking care of me, and he’s most attentive. Lucky for him though I am over whatever bug I had and do not require as much attention or sympathy. Today I read most of the day, because I have a book I agreed to review, and I figured the best way to go after it was to get it done. So I devoted the day to it.

It’s a book about two women traveling through France, seeking the stories of women in various small cities and towns about food and family and how they survived World War II. I enjoyed it, especially the family stories and the recipes. One of a man who was separated from his mother as a child by the bombing of Paris and how that affected him as an adult. Another about a woman whose family had a farm. Of what they ate, she said, “We didn’t have to diet,” as she described sometimes having one potato for a family of five. Even in these difficult times in America, I don’t think we can truly grasp the hardship of Europeans during that war.

As for food, my comment is that the French sure ate a lot of rabbit—in rillettes (I think that’s a paté) and stews and other dishes. I have had rabbit once—chicken-fried—and liked it, but like many Americans I am leery of looking at a bunny and then finding it on the dinner table. The French apparently have no such compunctions, and I’m not sure why I do. We eat chicken, don’t we?

Back to the mundane. Christian and I decided on take-out fried chicken tonight. We chose a nearby restaurant, but friends told Christian the chicken was really spicy. He knows I don’t like that, so we settled for the Cook Shack—I had a good chicken sandwich and cole slaw but not the fried pickles I wanted. And I still have a craving for good, old-fashioned, bone-in fried chicken. When quarantine is over—will it ever end?—I’m going to Drew’s Place, where they serve soul food, including fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. Meantime, this was good.

Christian is spending evenings watering my new grass. The rain we hoped for has not materialized and is now not predicted for a couple of days. Like taking care of me, watering the grass was one of the things Jordan charged him with while she is gone. Woe to him if she comes home and finds brown spots!

So ends an unusual Fourth. I found it hard to feel celebratory today. I’m too upset about where my country is, with a pandemic killing thousands of my fellow Americans and racial unrest being fueled by the man who is supposedly leading us. America today is not the country of my dreams—I pray that we will be able to reverse this and begin the long, slow climb back to greatness, a new kind of greatness that leaves behind some of the problems that got us where we are today. But we need a totally new administration to do that.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Welcome rains and the power of imagination




No sign of rain this evening, although “pop-up thunderstorms” are possible, according to the TV weathermen. Yesterday I had no idea it might rain—first brief shower came while I was napping. But then, when Jordan and I prepared to sit on the patio with wine, the world darkened, and the gods began their bowling. Didn’t see lightning, but the thunder was fierce. It scares Sophie, and she takes it out with sudden, ferocious barking. We had two good, heavy rains.

I just had new grass put down in the backyard—it’s not a large lawn, because much of it is in ground cover and patio, but it was more than enough to challenge my pocketbook. The lawn care crew put down zoysia sod Thursday, with directions to water daily, twice daily if needed. So the heavy rain was a blessing.

I have a bit under the weather, and that’s frightening in this time of COVID. Mostly stomach issues, which led me to believe that it was a virus of some sort. But at three o’clock in the morning, it’s so easy to imagine yourself into all the symptoms of COVID. I did have a rash on my leg and other symptoms that could have been it but weren’t—no sore throat, no unusual cough (I always cough a bit from blood pressure medication), no fever. Still I felt I had to ask my doctor, even though I felt a little foolish. He was kind and gentle, assured me it was a transitory virus, unrelated, and since I was a little better each day, I am not communicable. I love being able to “talk” with my doctor via email—one of the great perks of modern medicine.

So tonight with my stomach feeling better, I’m going to test it. Jordan has gone for a weekend with her high school girl friends to a rental house in Blanco, so I am alone with Christian and Jacob. I will give them hot dogs, baked beans, and the potato salad I made a couple of days ago. A real Fourth of July picnic meal, only eaten inside. It’s pretty steamy outside, and we have a bad fly problem on the patio. Christian is enthusiastic tonight about some non-toxic fly traps that are found on Amazon.

Back to that problem of imagination. I am capable of all kinds of wild thoughts at three in the morning. When we first went into this corona virus quarantine, I would wake convinced that we were all going to die. I’ve since modified that opinion. My brother says he has three o’clock thoughts of, “Wish I hadn’t done that one.” I too have regrets—sometimes I fix on a lost love or a book not written and feel great regret. Why is it that three o’clock thoughts are always disturbing?

On the other hand, I can wake at six, go back to a deep sleep filled with dreams, and wake at eight with happy feelings. Sometimes I quickly forget what I dreamt, but other mornings I carry the memory around with me all day. When I worked in the TCU Press office, I used to recount my dreams. One was that a possum made its way into our office, and our production manager picked it up to carry it outside—when it peed on her. Ever after, she would say, “I sure hated being peed on by that possum!”

I am blessed that for the most part I am a sound sleeper and almost never bothered by nightmares or night terrors. Sometimes I dream that dream-within-a-dream where you know what you’re experiencing is a dream, but you can’t wake. I do have tenacious dreams—I’ll wake from a dream I don’t like, go to the bathroom or something to kind of divert my brain, and go right back into that dream. It’s like I can’t get rid of it.

Sometimes I write great fiction in my dreams, but in the morning, I either can’t remember it or realize that it was an impossible fantasy that would never translate into good writing. Still, I am blessed not to be an insomniac!                                                                                                                                                                                 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Looking out for your neighbors … and yourself


I live in a pleasant, older neighborhood. Some houses have been here almost a hundred year. Some are two-story, some are single-story Craftsman. Yards are mowed, gardens tended. We have an active neighborhood association and lots of traditions. Our community attracts people who are looking for the inner-city experience, where you know your neighbors and feel part of things going on.
One of our traditions is our annual Fourth of July Parade. Everyone turns out—families dress their kids up, drape bikes and trikes with red- white- and-blue streamers. Parents walk along next to their kids, and non-marching residents line the streets of the route to cheer. The parade ends at our local elementary school, the capstone that holds our neighborhood together, where there are various activities for children—face painting, bounce houses, and lots of treats for everyone!
It’s going to be all different this year. The social co-chairs planned a variation of the usual route, with proper social distancing, and issued an edict that masks would be required. The city approved the amended plan. But then the spike hit our county, along with most of Texas, and the ladies went back to the planning board.
The results? We’ll have a parade of motorized vehicles only—sort of like those drive-by birthday parties everyone is having these days. No motorized scooters, no bikes, none of the wagons with baby brother getting a free ride. Nope, not even the dogs we’re used to. And the generous neighbors who always had a post-parade Bloody Mary and Budweiser stand? Postponed.
The parade will wind through internal streets of the neighborhood, so many folks can cheer from their own front yards. And the usual celebration at the end? With a totally different route, the parade will end in a cul-de-sac where residents can take their turn, at a distance of course, at an ice-cream truck. Yes, masks required.
The reason I’m telling you all this is that I am so impressed by the resilience our neighborhood shows. Everyone recognizes that things are not what we want them to be. But instead of throwing our hands up in despair and retreating into our homes, we have a new plan. We will still have fun and celebrated our nation’s birth, but we will be looking out for our neighbors … and ourselves.
When I see people who make such a scene when confronted with a mask requirement—the woman who threw all the groceries out of her cart at a check-out, flinging food hither and yon; the man who had a huge poster saying, “I will not sacrifice my freedom for your health.”—I am appalled. I would like to say I’d invite these self-centered people to my neighborhood to see how people care about each other, but no, I don’t want them and their germs—or their attitude—here.
A friend of mine was in a grocery store with one-way aisles (best idea grocers have come up with yet), when she saw a mask-less woman coming toward her. Not being a shrinking violet, she asked, “Where is your mask?” The woman said something, and my friend said, “My mask protects you. Your mask would protect me.” The woman looked at her and said, “Oh, honey, God will protect you.” Maybe that’s why all those choir members in Dallas sang for Pence without masks. And did you hear that in Oklahoma, post the trump rally, they are getting 100% positive tests. God gave us masks and social distancing; we can’t expect magic from a deity.
Since I don’t go out of my cottage very often—I’ve been off the property three times since last March—I rarely wear a mask. So I’m the first to admit they’re a pain—hot, itchy, uncomfortable. With my hearing problems, I find it difficult to understand a person wearing a mask—I’ve noticed this with a couple of repairmen who have come to the house. But it is what it is, and it’s better than getting COVID-19.
Our numbers are up again today in Tarrant County—605 new cases, and I forgot how many deaths. I notice with satisfaction that more and more people across the nation who at first resisted are now wearing masks. I mean, really, if Mitch McConnell says it’s absolutely essential that everyone wear one, that’s a huge step. Now if only the squatting president would get on board. And then we have to work on the hordes who want to spend the day at the beach or tubing on the Guadalupe or marching in a protest, though a lot of the latter are properly masked.
Do you wear your mask every time you leave your home? For sure?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

No Day of Rest




Usually I relax on the weekend and take a break from those deadlines I impose on myself—well, a couple of them come from outside my mind, but a lot are me. No break today, because I felt overwhelmed by half-done projects.

 I did get my work-in-progress, Saving Grace: A Culinary Mystery, off to an editor and a second beta reader. Usually I do that sequentially, but I decided on simultaneously, because I’d kind of like to be sure I can get the book out in at least September. I already have edits from one beta reader and still have to key them in--another half-done project. Today I got cover art and will share it as soon as I figure out the computer glitch that doesn’t allow me to save it. Ah, I love computers. I got some gobbledygook  message about being sure the C drive is connected, and after that when I tried to save it, nothing happened. Maybe a reboot will do.

The Sisters-in-Crime Guppy chapter (Going to Be Published or Great Unpublished, although probably half of us are published) offers a Fantasy Agent project, where unpublished authors can submit a synopsis and the first three chapters of a novel. These are blind matched to a published author, who looks at them as an agent would and advises. I find it intimidating, partly because through a long career, I’ve had little luck with agents—and several bad experiences—so I know little of how their minds work. But I do know how mine works, so I do the best I can and hope it’s helpful. I’ve done enough editing in my life that I approach it from that point of view.

The manuscript I drew this time was interesting—the author is obviously from Australia (language is a huge giveaway) and the story is set in the Outback, featuring a female bush mechanic. I was grateful for the explanation that a bush mechanic is one who uses whatever’s at hand for a repair job. Sure enough, the main character makes a temporary replacement for a fan belt out of a pair of pantyhose. I found it most interesting to be transported to a different land, with different customs and, as I said, language. And there just aren’t many cozies about girl mechanics!

Jordan and I went to church this morning on the computer—a powerful sermon about hope in these traumatic days. The text was from Revelations, a biblical book I’ve always been leery about. Dr. Peterman pointed out that though it is often considered apocalyptic, forecasting the end of time, it really forecasts a time when God will create us and our world anew and dwell among us. Pretty hopeful stuff. The music was provided by a trio of young people (from Australia, I believe)—one on piano, one playing violin, and the third playing bass. They are in Fort Worth for the Mir Mir Chamber Music Festival, which offers residencies for emerging artists. The music this morning was spectacular.   
As I have listened to this series of sermons, I have often thought of the line from Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope is a thing with feathers/That perches inside the soul." We have a pair of cardinals apparently living in the yard—we see Papa a lot. They mate for life and rarely move beyond a yard or two from their home base. We haven’t seen the mama much, but last night there was much scolding in the trees, and I thought she was involved in that. When Jacob was little, he was fascinated by cardinals calling them “the red birds.” The name has stuck. There are many legends about what the sighting of a cardinal means, but somewhere I read that when you see one, someone from the afterlife is visiting you. So now, when Jordan sees the male, she says, “Grandfather is here again.” Nice thought, and I also think the red bird is Dickinson's thing with feathers.

It’s been a dull day—I guess the Sahara sand is hiding the sun, but it’s looked like rain all day but no such luck. I woke up with a feeling of apprehension this morning that I couldn’t tie to anything—until I decided it probably was atmosphere-related. I haven’t yet stepped outside, though I will shortly for happy hour on the patio, but I have had the French doors open all day so Sophie can come and go. She likes to lie just inside the door, when she can bolt if a squirrel be so bold as to tempt her.

 Christian is fixing Mongolian beef tonight. It’s one of his signature dishes, and I look forward to it.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Adventure on a wasted day




At the doctor's office
Tonight sitting on the patio with a glass of wine, I decided I could either consider this day an adventure or a wasted day. In terms of the work projects on my desk, the day was a total loss. I got not one thing done. I did spend a lot of time on Facebook, because it kept me occupied while waiting and gnashing my teeth.

Long story short I have been worrying with a skin infection on my leg. Yesterday, Jordan pointed out it was badly swollen, and the doctors in my family decreed it was time to see my primary care physician. I am fortunate that he is in a network, so I can communicate directly with him. So last night, I sent him an email detailing the problem, along with pictures of the leg.

No response. I couldn’t concentrate on work this morning, while I was hoping he would email any minute. Finally, about ten-thirty I called the office only to be told he does not see patients on Fridays. Stymied. And more waiting, looking up emergency care clinics—found a mobile one, which sounded great because they would come to me. But turns out they don’t treat patients over seventy-five, so that ruled that one out. While Jordan and I were trying to figure out what to do next, I got a most welcome email from my doctor. Even on Friday, he wanted to see me and my leg. I wrote back with gratitude and asked what time.

No answer. More waiting and wondering and gnashing my teeth. I didn’t want to miss him and go the whole long weekend worrying about my leg. I could see on the Web site that no one had looked at my last email, so at one, when they opened after lunch, I called. Complete confusion was followed by a long time on hold, but finally someone came on and said they would call the doctor and call me back. I anticipated another long wait, but they called right back and asked if I could be there at three. Of course I could.

The doctor did an exam, an office ultrasound, and offered some encouraging words, but he said he wanted to send me for a more extensive procedure at an imaging office. Another long wait ensued while they made arrangements, but then we got word I had a five o’clock appointment at an office in far southwest Fort Worth.

I had forgotten how windy that part of Fort Worth can be—it almost literally knocked me off my feet. Jordan had on a dress, and the wind threatened her modesty. She had a frustrating time trying to get my walker out of the back seat—all the while raining curses on my car because it’s so small and the new walker is a bit bulky.

The actual sonogram was fine—a bit uncomfortable but nothing to worry about, and by a little after five-thirty we were on our way home. The tech said my doctor will get a report tonight, but the general impression I get is that no one thinks it’s a blood clot. What it is, is more complicated—and I don’t know for sure—but details don’t belong here. Enough to say that I feel fine and am not in pain. We will see.

This was my third trip off my own property since March 12, a date firmly fixed in my mind. I couldn’t help saying, “Oh, look, there’s a whole wide world out here.” As we drove familiar roads, I saw new buildings and other things I’d never noticed before. I found it a bit tiring to be out in the world, and I longed for the moment I would be home again in my cocoon. I either have to get out more or resign myself to being a recluse—which isn’t all bad.

I was grateful to note that everywhere we went, everyone was masked and observing social distance. I thought maybe that was because we were in the health care system, but a friend wrote today that two days ago she went to the grocery and hardly anyone was masked; today she sat in the car while her husband ran an errand in Walgreen’s, and she said everyone was masked. A wonderful change. We may lick this thing yet. Of  course, Governor Abbott should have issued a statewide directive a week ago.

Stay safe and well, everyone.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

It’s summer in Texas




My kids are all celebrating summer in different ways. Jordan, Christian, and Jacob are just home tonight after four nights at a friend’s lake house on Lake Weatherford. The occasion was Jacob’s fourteenth birthday, and the big deal was that he passed a six-part test and got his license to drive a motorized water vehicle. The friends who loaned them the house have two sons—and therefore two jet skis—and Jacob and a buddy had a grand time. Jordan reports that when it rained, they were perfectly content inside with games and the like.

With them gone, I realized even more how spoiled I’ve gotten. After my chickens left the nest (is that a mixed metaphor?) I lived alone for many years and did just fine. But now I’m used to having company at happy hour or to having Jordan pop in in the morning to check on me or sit in the evening to watch the news (when did she become such a news hound?) and discuss menus and grocery lists. Fortunately I am blessed with several friends who came for happy hour, so I had company on the patio every night they were gone. People whose company I thoroughly enjoy came to give me a bit of human companionship for each day. Sophie’s great—and I talk to her a lot—but it’s not quite the same.

If you read this blog often, you probably realize that happy hour is how I’ve chosen to keep in touch with those I care about. We invite only those who we know have been quarantining as strictly as we have. They bring their own drinks, glasses, whatever they need, and we sit at least six feet apart. Masks are not required but some wear them. One friend didn’t think Jordan’s six-foot spacing was enough and backed his chair off the patio and onto the grass, but he is out and about in the world, and his wife is in an at-risk category. So far I feel quite safe—knock on wood—and I am grateful because one of the two factors most cited as contributing to longevity is socialization.

The other is exercise, which I can’t much do. I wrote a yoga friend who now lives out of town and asked for chair exercises, but she didn’t want to recommend long distance without seeing my range of motion, etc. She recommended a colleague in Fort Worth but I declined because of quarantining.

My Austin daughter and her family celebrated summer by moving into their new house. They love their location in the Tarrytown neighborhood, but their house had many “old-house” problems. When Brandon complained about the 60-year-old house, I told him he should live in my almost 100-year-old house (and pay the repair bills). But they tore down the old house and rebuilt in the same footprint, which I heartily applaud. The new house is open and airy and modern and wonderful. Tonight, Megan said they are drowning in unopened boxes, but movers brought their furniture, and they will all sleep under their new roof tonight. The two teenage boys have been sleeping in their rooms for several nights and are thrilled to have their own bedrooms, bathrooms, tooth paste, mouthwash, towels, you name it.

Ginger with Morgan
The Tomball kids announced today that they are rescuing an Australian shepherd—the breed that is the love of my heart. A friend of theirs is moving this weekend and cannot take his six-year-old dog, Ginger. So it looks like Ginger will live on Mueschke Road with my family. Fourteen-year-old Morgan is particularly delighted, and I am anxious to meet the new member of the family.

The only news of my Frisco family is that Jamie somehow managed the other day to set off the emergency button on his phone, when he was halfway across Dallas from home, and panicked the family members who got the message. I am forever grateful that I didn’t get it and didn’t know to be alarmed until it was all over.

Green noodles
And to make it a family night, Jordan and I shared a family favorite dish for dinner tonight—we call it green noodles. I usually use spinach fettucine, but Central Market sent me green pea noodles, so that’s what I used. Artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, scallions, garlic, in a butter/lemon sauce. Couldn’t find my homemade pesto cubes—I know they’re in the freezer somewhere—but it was good without them.

Sharing news and cooking favorite dishes makes me feel close to family that I haven’t seen since Christmas (with the exception of Megan and her youngest son) because of COVID-19. Pray God this scourge goes from our land, though I don’t expect it to soon. I read one expert opinion today that if 80% of people wore masks, we’d flatten the curve in no time. Come on, people—do it for your family, your neighbors, your friends.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Good intentions that got it all wrong




These are troubling times, and I for one am often confused about what I’m supposed to believe, what is “right” and “not right” about racism. There are no reliable guidelines for our beliefs or actions. Today I read a long thread, many voices, most if not all white, on Facebook, where I believe the intentions were good, but most of the respondents got it all “not right.”

The general gist of it was defensive—there was never racism in our home, we raised our kids right, they don’t see the difference between black and white, and some of them had to be bussed to black schools, and it did no good because now we are going through it all again. Really? Two of my four children were bussed and liked it; they both had the same, wonderful teacher at Eastland Elementary, and the younger one particularly had a rich experience that both he and I treasure to this day. I didn’t teach anti-racism or racism in my home. I just raised them with what I hoped were values that would enable them to be good citizens, good people in the world. So far, it seems to have worked.

Part of the objection today was that Rayshard Brooks’ funeral was on TV getting national coverage and what about all the cops who died in the line of duty and all those whose loved ones can’t have funerals because of COVID. Seriously? If you lost a loved one tomorrow, would you want the funeral on national TV? Maybe we should devote a channel in each state or county to coverage of funerals. Yes, all lives matter, and, yes, most deaths are tragedies—except those that bring blessed peace to the individual. But most lives and deaths are not national news; Rayshard Brooks’ death was, to his misfortune. I’m sure his widow or his mother would give anything not to be on the news today, probably not to have to share their personal grief with an entire nation, some of whom it appears are skeptical.

Another subject in this stringy thread was the conspiracy of the media. Somehow it had to do with what the media shows us and what it doesn’t. But these folks didn’t mean the trumpian kind of conspiracy to make our leader look bad. I’m not sure what they meant but I suspect it was back to that funeral in Atlanta. To me, a conspiracy occurs when two or more people plan together to accomplish some goal, usually but not always nefarious. So what is the media goal in this so-called conspiracy? The Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy suggested that TV media is a business and as such they show what people want to see. He got told he should stick to food writing, though I doubt that flip retort bothered him much.

We sling a lot of terms around these days—integration, diversity, assimilation, reconciliation. There again I am often confused. But when I read this thread today one term jumped into my mind: white privilege. These people were inconvenienced—by bussing, by Rayhard Brooks’ funeral, by disruption of their firmly held beliefs on how life ought to go along day to day, by their comforting conviction they had done it right all along and it hadn’t worked.. And to me they sounded whiney.

Sorry for the rant, but when I read that thread, it struck me as wrong, but I couldn’t figure out why. Sometimes a nap clarifies things, and when I woke up, I wrote this right away while what I wanted to say was clear in my mind. I hope it was clear to you, and I hope I didn’t offend any friends.

Monday, June 22, 2020

A busy day at the office




Honest, I think I worked harder today than when I had a “real” job. But at least I earned my keep. First on my list was proofreading the neighborhood newsletter. This time it was down to twenty pages, its normal length, but fraught with problems. The minor stuff involved mis-used italics, consistency of quote marks, and all those little errors that bother me but most readers might not notice. On the other hand, one of my neighbors is a proofreader, and she’s fussy. Then there was a historic photograph that I assumed came from a private collection. Wrong! When I investigated for a caption, I found out it came from an academic library’s special collections. So then I had to trace down permissions. I’m in the process of supplying proof that we’re nonprofit, but it has taken a lot of time.

I had a big accomplishment today too. Spoke, via Zoom, to a small book group. A friend and her four cousins have formed this remote group. Several are members of the Daughters of the Texas Revolution, and they read mostly Texas history. They just read The Second Battle of the Alamo. She asked, and I said I’d be glad to do meet with the ladies..

Not as easily done as said. First of all, I put make-up on for the first time in three and a half months. It did no good, because I was horrified when I saw all the wrinkles that showed up onscreen. Of course, I was looking at an in-the-face large version of me, but all the others saw was a tiny thumbnail. And since I usually work at my desk in whatever I slept in until mid-afternoon, this required that I “dress for the occasion.” So I had on a tangerine-colored top—but if you could have seen the bottom, you’d have seen lilac shorts (one of those color combinations that could be great or awful—I fear it was the latter). I assured myself no one would see. Wrong again! After the meeting started, I realized I forgot my hearing aids. Had to get up and go get them. Fortunately, I hope no one noticed since the pictures are so small and the camera mostly aims above the waist.

Of course, we were all amateurs at this remote meeting business. At first the woman in charge tried to get us together via Google Meet. Nobody, not a one, could get online. So then we went to Zoom. I’m almost pretty good at that—knew where to click to turn on audio and video. But when free Zoom decides you’ve used your time, they cut you off without warning—in mid-sentence. My friend said they were going to restart a separate meeting but after about ten minutes, she said they all gave up.

Still for the half hour or whatever it was, it was interesting and a fun challenge for me to answer their questions about Adina de Zavala and Clara Driscoll and what responsibility the Daughters of the Republic of Texas bear for the deterioration of the chapel and how the Alamo ended up in George P. Bush’s hands. And now I feel more confident about Zoom meetings. I filled out a speaker’s form for the FW Women’s Club today and indicated that I am not speaking to groups but would be glad to do a remote meeting. Courageous, that’s me!

After all that, it was lovely to sit on the patio with neighbors, sip wine, and talk about nothing much—until a fly decided to swim in my wine, and I had to throw it out. Still we had a good visit—thanks to Greg and Jaimie Smith for giving me a bit of human companionship and to Jay Mitiguy for scanning documents for me and then joining us on the patio. Greg kindly brought packages from the porch and moved the bougainvillea under the roof overhang in anticipation of the severe storms predicted for tonight.

I capped the evening off by repeating last night’s dinner—a salmon croquette (honest, I like them better cold than hot) and a zucchini casserole (yes, I heated that). So good. I could have eaten the extra croquette and bit of zucchini, but I restrained myself.

North Texas people, please stay safe if we do get those storms tonight.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Thoughts on Father’s Day




Gilles MacBean
Martyred hero of the Battle of Culloden
As I think about my dad today, I realize he was many people in one—a physician, college president and hospital administrator, a lifelong progressive, a staunch Methodist, a devoted gardener. But the side of Dad that most brings a smile to me is fascination with his Scottish ancestry.

My maiden name is MacBain, and Dad was a member of the McBain Clan (there are countless ways to spell it). Once, a native Scot said to me, rather condescendingly, “One of the lesser clans,” but I was quick to counter, “Maybe, but a part of Clan Chattan.” In the bloody days of Scotland’s history, Clan Chattan was an amalgamation of clans united for protection against such larger marauding clans as the Campbells.

I’m not sure how Dad’s fascination with Scottish history and ancestry began, whether it had to do with his being Canadian or not, nor do I know if my grandparents shared his interest. But Dad read about Scotland, studied its history, collected fat file folders labeled, “MacBain.” He had a MacBain plaid tie, though he never went so far as to don a kilt. A sword passed down, so I was told, from the War of 1812 was one of his treasures.

It was probably in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s that a gentleman named Houston McBain was the McBain of McBain, the chief of the clan. He was also the chairman of the board of that iconic department store, Marshall Field & Company. I think Dad’s friendship with Houston began by letter, progressed to telephone calls, and eventually resulted in one or two meetings. Dad used to joke that if Houston McBain wanted to tell him they were related, he was all for it. By serendipity, Houston’s daughter married a student at the osteopathic college where Dad was president, giving them yet something else in common.

Houston purchased a part of the original McBain homestead in the hills above Loch Lomond. It was just a small part, but he complained that people don’t realize it’s as difficult to get a Scot to part with his land as it is to part him from his money. The memorial park established on this land is not a cemetery but simply land dedicated to the clan. Although there is a surfaced parking lot, it is essentially in its steep and natural state. Houston once complained that tourists were stealing the heather—several varieties grew on the land.

Mom and Dad visited the memorial park, and someplace I have the pictures that Dad, an addicted amateur photographer, took. It was a thrill for me in 2010 to travel to Scotland with my two oldest children and visit the park. We climbed one of the hills to a sitting area with a bench where we could see a tiny patch of Loch Lomond. No wonder Dad always liked to play “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” on the piano. When I was a kid, I knew all the words so I could sing along with him—neither of us ever able to carry a tune.

From the memorial park, Colin, Megan, and I stopped in the pub in the village of Dores, outside Inverness, and signed the McBain Memorial Park guest registry. We paged back and found my parents’ signatures, and one of the kids wondered aloud if someday they would bring their children to sign the  book and look back for our signatures.

The sense of strong Scottish identity is one of Dad’s gifts to me, just as the trip to Scotland was a highlight of my life. We rented a car and drove from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye, and then made our way back by weaving through various villages, stopping to eat in pubs, spending the night in B&Bs.

Today I have a trivet and a wall hanging with the clan crest, a marvelous handmade quilt with alternating squares of plaid and plain fabric and the crest, in gold, in the center—Colin and Lisa made it for me. I long ago outgrew the one McBain plaid kilt I had, but I have a square from the plaid carpet that Houston McBain ordered woven. And my couch sports lap blankets in the McBain and Stewart plaids. Colin as the oldest child, has the sword, the MacBain tie, and a miniature bagpipe. These memorabilia make me feel that Dad is still close.

Sláinte, Dad! I miss you.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Saturday is a hodge-podge day




At least, that’s sure how my Saturday was today. The big deal was that it is Jacob’s fourteenth birthday? Really? He was just that cute kid who said all those funny things, and now he’s this lanky thing who walks like a jock, smiles some of the time, but is pretty solemn. Except he does take an interest in social issues and politics, and he’s determined to perfect his golf game. Plus he’s a sweet boy. I think we’ll keep him a while longer.

He’s outgrown birthday parties long ago and is today off for a day at a local lake with a buddy—and his parents. He’s been studying hard to pass the online test so that he can operate a motorized water vehicle—jet skis. The last thing he said was, “We’ll work it out.” Which meant he hadn’t passed the six-module test yet. Fingers crossed for passing it and for safety.

After checking email and all, I spent a good part of the morning making a huge pot of okroshka, a cold soup that probably originated in Russia. It’s a buttermilk base with a variety of diced vegetables—scallion, radish, cucumber, potato—plus diced eggs, a meat (I used a rotisserie chicken), fresh dill (Oh my, those herb scissors are a blessing), and a buttermilk/water/lemon juice mixture. It made so much it wouldn’t fit in the biggest pot I have, and I had to improvise. I’ve been sharing the wealth far and wide with my neighbors.

I also started organizing the July issue of my neighborhood newsletter, which for some reason this month was a particular challenge. I’ve put it aside now, to review in the morning. Think my head was getting fuzzy from overthinking some of it, and a good proofreading is in order. This month, we have a new column: Poohbah Junior. A group of neighborhood kids have written a column, established a website, and one of them is offering a service where she’ll make pillows out of discarded T-shirts and tea towels. Love that spirit in these kids.

Tonight good friend Jean came for happy hour on the patio. We had a good visit about everything from the sad state of our nation to food. When Jean and I are together, there seems to be a lot of laughter, and I am always grateful to her for that.

Tonight my mind is much on Tulsa. I am leaving the TV on mute, in hopes that if a special news report comes on, I”ll catch it. I honestly don’t know which I’m more afraid of—a riot or an epidemic. I guess the real answer is both. I am appalled that the squatting president would blindly go ahead with the rally plans in spite of loud and frequent warnings from health officials. In an effort to keep peace, the mayor of Tulsa ordered a curfew, but let himself be talked out of it by trump. The potential for tragedy is so great. I somehow see this as a climactic moment in the trump presidency—maybe the worst moment?

Meantime I feel so distant from it all, sitting here, safe, secure, and isolated in my little cottage. I hope each of you are equally safe and secure. God help America!