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!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Thoughts on Juneteenth




Everybody is publishing their thoughts on Juneteenth. Here are mine. 
I may yet master this remote discussion business. I’ve now been to a wedding, a memorial service, and a book discussion through zoom technology, although on various servers. Last night was the church discussion of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown. with probably a hundred people involved.

I did not master the mute/unmute button so was unable to contribute and am not sure I was confident of what I had to say. In response to “When were you first aware of racial differences,” a couple of people cited experiences at six or seven of seeing “No Colored” signs and being first puzzled, then indignant. And one couple, from rural Iowa, said  they’’d never met a black person until college.

My experience growing up on the South Side of Chicago was so different. I always knew there were two communities and as a child was afraid when outings took us through the black neighborhoods. My father never locked the car doors on the strange theory that he had survived WWI and nothing was going to hurt him. But in my neighborhood in the fifties, most of us believed violence and danger came from the black population. I grew up afraid, and it’s been a hard legacy for me to put behind over the years.

For much of her adult life, Brown has worked in non-profit religious organizations in the white world, and when she described the rebuffs she’s received, I realized I can never truly say to her, “I understand,” because I don’t. I have never experienced the condescension and discrimination she has. All socially proper, but damning nonetheless. For instance, she says any time conflict arises in an office, it is tactfully suggested that she “try a little harder,” never that they sort things out in a truly equal manner.

Take-away is a buzz word these days, and I found several take-aways in this intense book. One is the concept of whiteness. I guess I have always thought in terns of white and black, but not whiteness, an attitude that pervades everything aspect of life. In pointing out how deeply rooted whiteness is, Brown makes the point that what many white people want is assimilation, which is wrongly called diversity, and not reconciliation. For most of us, all that we say and do and believe is rooted in whiteness. We tend to accept black community members as long as they look, think, dress, act, and speak like us.

What that overlooks is blackness. African-Americans have their own deeply rooted culture and traditions, an ancestry we fail to appreciate. Brown makes that point almost ironically by inferring that the white community is insular and then saying in a later chapter how comfortable and secure she feels in the black community. She grew up “privileged,” which means she went to predominantly white schools and churches and “discovered” the black community late in her childhood. She describes the joy and freedom she felt the first time she attended a black church with the enthusiastic singing and commenting, the freedom to move about, the abundance of joy. It is indeed a totally different world from, say, mainstream Protestantism, and maybe it speaks for the differences between the two communities. It seems to me that the black community is also insular and what we must find is a way for the two, disparate communities to work together as equals.

I think the separation works two ways, though Brown doesn’t address that. But one respondent last night told of a multiracial group from the church that was going to attend a picnic in the black community—until it turned out the black members did not want them, because they would have to acknowledge the friendship and would then be called “Oreos” (black on the outside, white on the inside) by their neighbors. That story demonstrates that there is a lot of hard work ahead for both communities if we are going to achieve anything beyond token integration and a racially balanced society.

It’s a lot more than, “some of my best friends are ….” or “take a black friend to lunch.” I recommend this book.




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Memories and elevators




Strange how a little thing can trigger an old memory. There was one of those rather silly questions on Facebook: “Who remembers when elevators had operators?” And boom! I was ten years old again and riding in an elevator to my dad’s office. A woman wearing a uniform and white gloves operated the elevator—I so remember those white gloves.

During the morning, my dad was the president/hospital administrator at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, but in the afternoon he was  in private practice as a manipulative osteopathic physician, with an office on the seventeenth floor of the Marshall Field Annex in downtown Chicago.

A trip to Field’s, as we called it, was a special treat for me. I can’t remember if Mom and I drove or took the Illinois Central—probably a bit of both. But I know I lived in anticipation for days beforehand. I knew, of course, about the “other” store, Carson Pirie Scott & Company, but Field’s was “our” store.

We started on the first floor, with its wide aisles and glass-and-dark wood cases showing everything from nylon hose and stationery to jewelry. At Christmas, it was a fairyland, with Santa driving his reindeer high above our heads, greenery and red bows everywhere, and Christmas music playing.

On an ordinary day we worked our way up, floor by floor. My memory is not clear, but I think housewares were on two or three, and girls clothing, which of course interested me, on four or five. The top floor—was it six or seven?—held restaurants. I particularly remember the Verandah, decorated to look like a southern front porch (or someone’s idea of that) and the more staid Walnut Room. Years later, on a return to Chicago, a friend and I ate in the Walnut Room and found it disappointingly shabby.

I think Mom had a map of Field’s imprinted in her brain, but she knew all the nooks and crannies. My favorite was in the basement were the sale items were—bargain basement had real meaning in those days! Tucked into one corner was a small counter that served hot dogs and chocolate frosted malts. I thought that was the best treat in the world.

Then if you knew where you were going you wound through dry goods to an obscure doorway, went up a flight of stairs, and into a hallway—you had gone under the street and were in the Annex building. Into the elevator and up to the 17th floor, then around a corner, down a long hall with marble wainscoting (I suppose it was real), and there was the office Dad shared with three colleagues. Spoiled child that I was, I loved going there because the two women who ran the office always fussed over me. Mrs. O’Donnell always wore a starched white uniform and her stiff RN cap. She was a happy, outgoing, but very efficient woman who assisted the doctors who had a more general practice involving office procedures.

Dad’s office was simply two treatment rooms adjacent to the desk where Rose the receptionist sat. Rose was a gentle soul, a spinster I believe, quiet and retiring but most concerned about those around her. She once asked Dad so often if he felt well because, she said, he didn’t look well that he went home a sick man and asked Mom how he looked. But I remember treats from Rose and fine conversations with her.

Then it would be time for all of us to go home for the day. Dad, a proper gentleman in the British style, would put on his Brooks Brothers overcoat and don his fedora, and we headed for the elevators. No matter which operator we got, he or she always said, “Evening, Doc.” It made me think my dad was a really important man. And, of course, he was.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Good food and bad service




Ceviche on a tostada
We had some good food experiences over the weekend. Christian went yesterday morning to the Hot Box Biscuit Club downtown and brought home biscuits with sausage gravy. Heated again, it was super, rich and creamy gravy, the biscuit fluffy and soft, the sausage just spicy enough,

Breakfast was quickly followed by lunch—homemade scallop ceviche from a neighbor, tangy with lots of lime. We were told to serve it on a tostada shell, which we need. Jordan ate two helpings and got herself the recipe, said she could eat it once a week. It was a treat for me because so often ceviche has shrimp in it, and I am allergic to shrimp—sob!

Pot roast ready to simmer dall day
And last night Christian served us roast and potatoes. He had started the meat in the crock pot early in the day and let in simmer in a rich sauce. Tonight, Jordan is off to spend the night with a girlfriend at her lake house, leaving with the assurance that “the boys” will take care of me. They did indeed, both Christian and Jacob coming out for happy hour on the patio. Christian and I lingered until seven-thirty, when he brought me another hot biscuit and sausage gravy for supper. Tomorrow, enough leftover roast for a sandwich. Jordan meantime is enjoying happy hour in an idyllic setting.

My rant for the day is aimed at ATT, notorious for poor customer service. I spent at least an hour on the phone today, talked to four “service representatives,” made a payment, and still ended with a balance due, which means I have to go through it all again to sort out the balance due.

Jordan had tried twice to pay my cell phone bill,  sone of the chores she took over when I had surgery and was in rehab and has just kept doing. But ATT declined the card. Turns out that part was our fault—I had to get a new card, and she forgot to change the online stored information. It took two representatives to sort that out. The online screen showed a $346 balance; the automated voice that answers the phone and two reps assured me it was $207. I wanted to pay over the phone since the card had been rejected, I didn’t want to go through the automated system. That recorded voice warned me there would be a $5 charge. I protested that and the second rep processed the payment—up to a point. Then something happened to the phone—I could hear the rep, but he couldn’t hear me. No choice, I hit end.

So I had to start all over again, but with a hitch. I had to make sure that first payment hadn’t gone through. Finally I was assured that it had not, but once again it took two reps to make the payment.

And after all that, I still had a balance with the alarming word: overdue. So tonight, I’ll get a class of wine and try one more time. ATT apparently doesn’t have a chat service, which I guess is okay because that is often a frustrating experience too.

Part of my frustration is dealing with representatives in faraway places with heavily accented English. I grow weary of saying, “Slow down. I’m 81 years old and hard of hearing.” They slow down momentarily and then pick up speed again. I admit to impatience—and a bit of rudeness creeps in. I was apologetic, and twice today the reps assured me there was no problem, they understood. Since I am usually Pollyanna-polite, it upsets me that my manners slip.

And a final gratitude for the day—to the Supreme Court, which passed a landmark decision protecting the work life of gay and transgender people and let stand California’s sanctuary laws, despite claims from the trump administration. Some days things just seem to be working out for the good guys.
Jordan's happy hour at the lake

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Putting good memories into fiction




Palmer House loobby
In the fall of 2016, my four adult children and I went to Chicago. It was a pilgrimage for me—I wanted them to see where I grew up. We stayed at the Drake Hotel, epitome of luxury when I was a Chicago kid, we toured my Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, they gawked at my childhood home (a sort of red-brick brownstone built in 1893—I had always stressed the modest means of my family, and I guess they thought I grew up in a shack), and we ate at fantastic restaurants, mostly on the near North Side. It was a trip that made memories I will treasure forever.

One highlight though, for me, was lunch and a tour of the famed Palmer House Hotel, now a Hilton property. I had researched the hotel for my “big” Chicago novel, The Gilded Cage, which is fiction loosely based on the life of Bertha HonorĂ© (Cissy) Palmer, one of the first women to combine wealth with philanthropy. Cissy’s husband, entrepreneur and robber baron Potter Palmer, built the hotel as a wedding present for his bride in 1871. Within weeks, the city of Chicago burned, taking with it the hotel. Potter Palmer rebuilt, and for a few years the Palmers and their two sons lived on the top floor.

In the 1920, the original structure was rebuilt into a 25-floor hotel. For well over a century, the Palmer House has provided luxurious splendor in its public areas, oversized private rooms, and sumptuous meals. It has hosted the rich and famous – Mark Twain spoke at a reception for General Ulysses S. Grant (related by marriage to the Palmers) and Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were among the entertainers who performed in the Grand Ballroom.

museum
The Palmer House is the only hotel I know of with a museum and an on-staff historian who gives daily tours. Historian Ken Price presides over a tiny, glass-walled museum tucked away in the mezzanine and overflowing with memorabilia—menus, hotel bills, signed celebrity photos, newspaper clippings, portraits, books, even ashtrays and a teapot. On his daily tour of the hotel’s public spaces, Price takes visitors to the Grand Ballroom, the Red Lacquer Room, and, of course, the lobby where he is quick to point out the Tiffany chandeliers. Afterward, there is an informal discussion in the museum.

I loved every minute of it, and this week I’ve been able to weave that experience into my work-in-progress, a culinary mystery set in Chicago. The Palmer House fit into my plot as though I had planned it all along, and I’ve had fun mentally replaying that tour, sitting again in awe in the lobby, ogling like a teenager just off the farm.

Is it a stretch to put the hotel in the mystery? I hope not, but you’ll have to tell me when Saving Irene is released, probably in September or October. Meantime I have memories to savor.
Red Lacquer Room

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Those pesky masks—or the pesky people who won’t wear them




I wish I could say I am so done with people who won’t wear masks, but the truth is I can’t say that. They walk among us in alarming numbers. Just today I have been accused of living in fear and told to go back to hiding under my bed because I advocate masks in public. And I have seen pictures of crowds where maybe half the people were masked.

My funniest story is about a friend—not an evangelical Christian—who wore a mask to the grocery store. In one aisle she saw a woman coming toward her without a mask, and she commented on it. My friend said, “My mask protects you, and your mask would protect me.” The other woman answered, “Oh, honey, Jesus loves you!” Make me laugh, but it is so serious.

The anti-mask people have a role model in the orange man who squats in the White House. The reason he refuses to wear a mask hasn’t been definitively stated, but the general assumption is that he considers it a sign of weakness, and he, coward that he is at heart, is all about appearing strong. The result is catastrophic. On a recent visit to a plant manufacturing test swabs, he refused to wear a mask, and the company had to throw out all the swabs, desperately needed for corona testing, that they had made that day. He had contaminated them. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that the mask is not to protect him but to protect others. Somehow, he considers himself immune to the virus.

Now, this man, charged with protecting the public good, is threatening to schedule new election rallies and a giant Republican campaign, and he has explicitly said, no masks allowed.

I have decided those who won’t wear masks fall into two categories (they may overlap): those who won’t let the “guv’mint” tell them what to do, by God, and those who are too stupid to understand. Either way, it’s an awful decision.

If everyone in this entire country wore a mask every time they were in public, the spread of the nuevo corona virus would be virtually stopped within three weeks. But no, we see people, even sick people, on beaches, and in protests, and even in restaurants and other places of business, going happily about their business, breathing their germs onto everyone else. I noticed today at the TV showing of George Floyd’s funeral, about half the people were masked.

The people who refuse government suggestions and cavalierly say, “If I get it, I get it,” are so blind to the consequences. If you get the virus, you are in danger of dying, no matter your age or pre-existing condition. A lot of perfectly healthy people in their thirties and forties have unexpectedly died. And it is not a peaceful, easy death with your loved ones surrounding your bedside. You die alone, with nurses, desperately gasping for breath. And if you survive? Maybe you’ll be healthy in a week, but maybe you’ll be like actor Nick Cordero who has been in ICU forever, had a leg amputated, and is just now starting on stem cell therapy.

If you say, “If I get it, I get it” you are not just putting yourself at risk—which is, of course, your right. But you are risking your family and friends. And you are adding one more desperate patient to a health care system already so overburdened that 600 health care workers have died, countless more are overworked and exhausted. I can add a personal note to this: I have a niece who is an RN on a COVID unit in Manhattan. She definitely does not want you as a patient. The statistics on how many people can be infected by one sick person are mind-blowing.

As for those too stupid to wear a mask, we need to find a way to make them understand that the great risk to themselves and their loved ones. Too many are saying, “It’s just like the flu,” or “There’s always illness.” Wrong folks, this is a menace like none known to history. Doctors don’t understand it, can’t predict it s course, haven’t yet develop an effective treatment therapy or preventive vaccine. It is not like any other disease, so get over that.

A confession: I don’t wear a mask much, because I rarely leave my home. But I would if I went out in public, and I have worn one when people came to my cottage. I know they’re uncomfortable and hot in the summer and maybe even an affront to your dignity but get over it. The public health is more important.

I have nothing but contempt for the millions of Americans who refuse to follow the guidelines. They are the reason the United States infection rates are so high, and the disease keeps spiking. Think about it: are you helping your neighbors and just being self-centered?

Monday, June 08, 2020

Escaping into Helen Corbitt’s life




Helen Corbitt

Sometimes writing is a great way to escape. I had nary a thought about pandemics or protests today as I wrote a short piece about Helen Corbitt. She is known as the doyenne of food service at Neiman Marcus. You have to be of a certain age to remember her. She was at Neiman’s when I moved to Texas in the early 1960s, but I was young and green, and Neiman’s was way beyond my budget. Besides I hadn’t yet developed my fascination with all things culinary. Today she is one of my heroes.

Born in upper New York and educated at Skidmore College, Corbitt worked as a hospital dietitian in Newark and New York in the late 1920s. But she was bored. A job hunt was unfruitful until she got an offer from the University of Texas at Austin. Her initial response was, “Who the hell wants to go to Texas?”

She went, taught quantity cooking and restaurant management and ran the University Tea Room, a laboratory school for her students and probably where she developed some of her signature recipes, such as chicken bouillon and popovers with strawberry butter. Eat lunch at Neiman’s today, and you will be served a complimentary demitasse of bouillon and the popover with butter.

The Houston Country Club hired her away from UT, but she didn’t unpack her bags. Homesick, she only wanted to earn enough to go back east. But six months later, she unpacked. She loved cooking fine food for appreciative members of the club. When the club met financial difficulties in wartime, she moved to Joske’s department store—only job she was ever fired from. She and management disagreed.

Back to Austin, where she managed food service at the Driskell, but in 1955 she finally accepted Stanley Marcus’ offer—he’d been calling her for eight years. Like Marcus, she believed in pleasing the most discriminating customer. But she was a spitfire. Marcus liked to wander unannounced into various departments in his store. When he entered the kitchen, she demanded, “Stanley, did I invite you here? No? Please leave and come back when I do.” She once fired her entire crew, only to desperately retrieve them when she realized she had customers to feed. And  when Maria Callas was late for a reservation for thirty people, she made them all stand at the back of the line.

Corbitt retired from Neiman’s in 1955 and went on to a career teaching, lecturing, and writing. She was the author of several cookbooks. The first, Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook, was an enormous success. If you can find a vintage copy today, it’s a treasure—full of sixties food and things we miss today, like jellied salads. Helen Corbitt Cooks for Looks came about because her doctor advised her to lose weight. One of her most interesting projects was to teach a class for select Dallas businessmen. They met in her apartment, kept notebooks, and relished the class. She always said she proved that Texas men wanted more than steak and potatoes.

Corbitt had several signature dishes. Among them, chicken salad with white grapes and Texas caviar. She invented the latter when she had only been in Texas two weeks and was told to prepare a convention banquet using only Texas products. After uttering a profanity, she produced a superb meal. Texas caviar is black-eyed peas in a dressing of garlic, onion, oil, and vinegar. You’ve probably eaten it. Ladybird Johnson particularly loved her flower pot cakes.

Helen Corbitt transformed the way Texans looked at food. Her complaints when she got here were that salads were dull and over-dressed and vegetables where overcooked. She waged what she called the al dente wars, fighting for crisp, fresh vegetables. Her influence is long-lasting, and yet she is unfortunately overlooked in the long list of American chefs. Search out her books, read about this sassy woman, and try to have as much fun as I did today.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Sunday, oh Sunday!




Went to church (euphemism for watching an online service) by myself this morning, since the family had gone to celebrate with friends who joined our church today—a momentous occasion for them, and Jordan made sure that it was well celebrated. I stayed home, made chicken salad for supper, and did a bit of writing. Leftovers for lunch.

This evening our neighbors down the block, Greg and Jaimie Smith, came for happy hour, and the man behind the screen (Jay) and his wife (Susan) joined us. Greg used to do my lawn, and Sophie adores him, so she was in heaven—and he paid her lots of attention. We were all sorry they didn’t bring Levon, their new English shepherd/doodle pup. It was good to see these neighbors we simply don’t see enough of.

Sophie has a sad story. After her morning of joyous and carefree abandon, she began to limp in the evening—Friday, this was. By Saturday morning, she was moving tentatively, like an old lady. Quite a contrast to the happy abandonment twenty-four hours earlier. I called the vet in a panic, but they were totally booked for the morning. I was distraught because I thought perhaps she got a sliver of glass from a broken wine glass, though we worked hard to clean up ever little bit, and also because she was clearly in such misery. I couldn’t bear the thought of her in pain all weekend. To my relief, the vet on duty volunteered to stay late to see her, and Jordan and Jacob whisked her up to the clinic.

Seems Sophie has been tearing up the pads on her paws for some time—she had old, healed cuts, and fresh new ones. Hearing this, I realized that ground cover is probably really hard on her paws, something I’d never thought of. She had a shot and came home with two kinds of medicine. Tonight she is almost back to her old self but sticking close to me, staying in the cottage, and not interested at all in running outside.

After our company left, we had chicken salad for supper, disguised for Christian’s benefit as a chicken casserole. It’s a cold salad that you top with cheese and crushed potato chips and run under the broiler briefly at the last moment. To my relief, he went back for a second helping. So I start the week with plentiful leftovers—a bit of tuna salad, some salmon, a small serving of potato casserole, and a generous helping of chicken salad. So good to have such delicious things to look forward to. I’m told chicken piccata is on the menu for supper one night, at Jacob’s request.

So, high ho, here we go—into what for us is the thirteenth week of quarantine. Yes, we’ve relaxed a bit but not much, and each little bit of relaxation, each new face we introduce makes me a bit nervous. I am still content, though watching the protests and the government response with tenacious—and sometimes indignant interest. For me, the week holds more writing—a short project, which wrote itself in my mind today and I must get on paper, and the novel, which is nearing the end and is more of a puzzle to me. I look forward to all of it. Sometimes I pinch myself about how blessed I am.

The sermon this morning was about hope, and I admit I have abundant hope for the future—for my family, for Texas, and for the country. For the long slow slog out of racial discrimination to begin finally, truly. The protestors will not be ignored—and good for them. As someone else said, “Hold on, folks. It’s gonna’ be a rough ride.” But a good one. I have faith in the American form of government and in the American people (most of them).

Have a good week, everyone. Stay well and stay safe.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Letter to a young man who won’t read it




Last night a friend told me her son, eligible to vote for the first time, wasn’t enthusiastic about Joe Biden, so he thought he’d just sit this one out. I was appalled. There is so much I want to say to him and can’t, so I’m saying it here: Voting is a privilege and an obligation if you live in America and enjoy the dwindling benefits of that residency. Even more of an obligation if you’d like to return America to the standards and values we were raised with and have held on to all our lives.

We vote not just for the president, but for an entire new government—from cabinet ministers on down a long list of presidential appointees, including right now attorney general.. And we vote, in 2020, for a totally difference concept of government, one that starts with the “little people.” If you don’t vote, you also miss the opportunity to voice your choice on a long-list of down-ballot state and local officials.

Somewhere I saw a meme that pointed out that voting is not like marriage. You don’t have to fall in love with a candidate—you simply have to make a reasonable choice about who would bring about a better way of life for all Americans. To make that conscientious choice requires some research, study of the platforms, familiarizing yourself with the issues and the positions of various candidates. It should not be a decision based on who appeals to you—that’s falling in love, not politics.

In the upcoming election, the economic issue raises its head. People believe that the economy will do better under trump, though history consistently demonstrates that the economy does better under Democratic administrations than Republican. Right now, the economy is doing great for the one percent, but failing the middle class and the poor miserably—especially people of color.

People claim that we have to open up after quarantine, that the economy is what matters most. I would suggest that human life  matters more. A sick and dying people cannot rebuild a shattered economy like ours. Opening up too soon will eventually leave the economy in worse shape—more deaths, more illness, more fear that will keep people at home, more overuse of health facilties, more cost to the government from unemployment and health care. Germany stands out as a country where workers survived pandemic unemployment almost unscathed, a contrast to America where 40 million are unemployed. (Sorry, you’ll have to research that one, but you will find our government could have used bailout for average workers, hourly employees out of work, instead of bailing out the wealthy and corporations who were not desperate, just greedy.)

A huge part of the problem in our country is the percent of the population that is noncompliant, from ridiculous “virus parties” to the guy next door who won’t wear a mask. Setting the tone for that is the man who calls himself president and refuses to wear a mask, wants mass gatherings of people at rallies and political conventions without disregard to the health concerns. Florida, whose governor is an ally of trump, recently experienced the highest ever one-day spike of new virus cases, after opening up.

It’s almost a circular argument that brings you around to the beginning—vote Blue. No, getting rid of trump will not make everything roses and sunshine immediately. It will take time to rebuild our country, but it is a task we must begin. And it starts with voting out trump and his enablers, including much of the Senate.

A long lecture the young man in question won’t listen to, but I needed to say it. Thanks for listening.