Monday, August 31, 2020

Post-vacation exhaustion—and an announcement

Why is it that when you come back from a vacation in which you’ve done nothing but relax, even a brief vacation, you’re exhausted. Last night after three days of reading, sleeping, and being waited on hand and foot, I was exhausted when we got home. I took two naps before I went to bed—slept soundly each time and again all night. If you’d asked me to do anything that required a brain, I’d have declined. I had no ambition for the tasks that waited on my desk.
Today my tiredness is of a better-earned variety. I’ve put in a hard day’s work. Spent most of the morning trying to master Instagram and a graphic design program called Book Brush. The promotion says you can design an ad or announcement on Book Brush in a minute and a half. Took me two hours, but I did finally come up with an Instagram post that shows the cover of Irene and an Amazon logo—don’t ask for a buy link. That’s beyond me at this stage of the game. And the big problem is that I can’t figure out how to get it from Book Brush to Instagram.
In fact, I can’t figure out how to post anything on Instagram. Jacob came out to help me but began with the words, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” He does Instagram on his phone, and it’s a completely different program than the computer version. I guess most people do it on their phone, but this is one time I’ll plead the age card. My fingers are too clumsy to do much but punch in a phone number or text the simplest of messages. Instagram would be a waste on my phone. So I’m stymied, but if I take the long view, I figure I’ve made great progress in the last couple of days that I’ve worked on this. It will, like all computer programs, eventually become second nature. I take comfort in the fact that Jacob is completely baffled by Facebook, which I can hop, skip, and jump around. It’s an age difference thing.
But that’s my big announcement: Saving Irene is now available for advance orders on Kindle Direct Publishing. If you belong to Kindle Unlimited, it’s free but comes with a plea from me—please read all the pages. It will go live on September 16 on Kindle and other platforms. Meanwhile, here’s the Amazon link:
To add to my exhaustion of the day, I’m fixing chicken hash and salad for the family for supper. It involves more steps than I remembered: cook the chicken, cook the potatoes, chop onion, celery, garlic; make chicken broth from Better Than Bouillon. And cook it in stages—onion, then add celery and garlic, then potatoes, chicken, broth, and heavy cream. I remember it as very good; hope my memory isn’t fooling me.
Meanwhile, the Burtons have gone to Coppell to deliver a birthday cake. It’s Christian’s father’s 80th—a landmark birthday. They were to celebrate yesterday, but all summer the family has been gathering in the driveway, masked and distanced. Yesterday was deemed too hot for that, and Christian’s father wisely did not want all his seven children and grandchildren to come in the house. He had, he said, worked so hard to keep them safe from the virus, he didn’t want to risk it. I am cheering for him, knowing how hard it is to forego hugs from children and grandchildren, especially on a special occasion.
Just got a message they’re on their way, so I guess I better put that hash in the skillet.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A late summer mini-vacation

Kind neighbors gave us free rein of their house at Lake Weatherford while they were away on a family matter, so Jordan and Jacob were there for five days, and Christian and I had two or three (two nights). Jacob had a buddy for three days and yesterday a friend of Jordan’s spent much of the day here.
My lake house office
While everyone else was on the dock—sunning or swimming, and Jacob was whizzing around the lake on a jet-ski, I was inside, perched at the dining table with my computer and a marvelous view of the lake. Having had sunstroke as a child and sunburning easily, one of the things I least want to do is lie out in the sun. It makes me fuzzy-headed, and I can’t focus to read. I always says I don’t’ want to be in or on the water, but I love looking at it—part of my Lake Michigan heritage that carries over to Texas’ small lakes.
In the evenings, we had happy hour on the screened in porch where, although it was blistering hot outside, there was usually a pleasant breeze. Jordan fixed us some great meals—spaghetti one evening, a Big Mac salad another night, a chocolate-chip Bundt cake. Jacob complained this morning that the trouble with vacation is that you eat too much.
We had all three dogs with us. They are never allowed outside except on leashes, so they don’t really get “the lake effect” but they like the constant companionship. Dog-walking falls primarily to Jacob, though Jordan does some of it, especially first thing in the morning.
Two boys and a dog
It’s a lazy life, good for a few days. I have my computer but not my monitor, so much is hard to me to read on the small laptop screen. And I don’t feel I can really come to grips with some of my projects—somehow, I have to be home at my desk to dig in. So I spent much of the time reading a mysteries series that I’ve only recently discovered and am thoroughly, laugh-out-loud enjoying.
It’s Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders. I started with Killer Queen, either the eleventh or twelfth in the series and then went back to pick up The Deep End, the first. Narrator is Ellison, a mid-life woman of privilege who lives the country club life—bridge, golf, gossip—but sees it all with a jaundiced eye and a wild sense of humor. Ellison has a domineering mother like none you’ve ever seen and an unfortunate habit of finding dead bodies. IN the first book, one of those bodies belong to her husband, a nasty philanderer. Early on she tangles with a detective with the improbably name of Anarchy Jones, and the fun begins. (Hmmm—I digressed from our mini-vacation, didn’t I?)
We did have a tragic bit of excitement yesterday—while everyone was on the dock, a boat exploded at the marina across the lake. They heard a boom and then watched horrified as black smoke pillared up in the air and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles swarmed the scene. I was napping and didn’t hear a thing. Later we learned that four people, including a two-year-old, had been taken to hospitals by Care Flight and two others by ground ambulance. This morning it appears all will survive, but what a horrible end to their summer. When you see a tragedy like that you vicariously become part of it. If we’d been home and read about it, we’d have said, “Too bad” and put it aside. But being here, seeing it, everyone was anxious for any news last night and this morning.
Fitting end to our stay: a good rain last night. We enjoyed it from the screened-in porch, smelling the rain and watching the way it mottled the lake’s surface. The temperature dropped an astonishing twenty degrees in just a few minutes. But today it was back up to hot—something like 102.
We are so blessed to have friends who open their house to us. Grateful is not strong enough to express our appreciation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Thinking about the passage of time and fame

Sad to hear that Gail Sheehy has died. I remember reading Passages in the 1980s and thinking it was life changing. Maybe it was. Change like it might have wrought never comes with sudden swiftness. The earth does not move beneath you. But instead change comes slowly, over time, as you absorb new ideas. I was a fan.
Some years later I became a bit less of a fan. She must have been working on Sex and the Seasoned Woman (2007), and she had a focus group on the TCU campus, all single women in their forties and fifties who were actively interested in finding new partners. I didn’t qualify—I was older and not looking for a partner, but I managed to worm my way into the group with a plea that I was most interested in Sheehy’s work. As the discussion progressed, it was obvious I was not emotionally where these women were.
For one thing, over the years since my divorce I had only known one man who I would have let into my close family circle, someone the kids really liked. The relationship didn’t work out for other reasons, and I grieved. But I was always aware that my kids came first, my love was for them, and my duty was to focus on them. I’d seen enough of women who put romance above parenthood.
Sheehy didn’t get or didn’t buy my explanation. I earned a paragraph in the book—I have it still on my shelf. She said something to the effect that I ran the cash register on Saturday nights at a Stockyards steak house to get out of the house, completely overlooking the fact that I had an active and lovely career as director of TCU Press. Yes, I did run the cash register at the Star Café for several years because the owners were good friends, and I enjoyed watching the people and getting to know a few of them. Sheehy made me sound like a dried-up, withered woman desperate for any amusement.
Sometimes when you are a guest on a blog (that would be me promoting my mysteries) one of the stock questions is “What famous people have you met?” I joked to a friend yesterday that I had forgotten about Sheehy and I would have to add her to the rather short list. Then I got to thinking about who is on the list. Not many national figures—I did once shake hands with George W. and Laura Bush, but I was among a throng of authors breakfasting at the Governor’s Mansion when he ran Texas. And I did meet NY columnist Liz Smith, but it was at the funeral of someone dear to both of us. She’d never remember. Some of my famous “sightings” are of another era—who remembers Larry L. King, not the talk show host but the playwright and author best known (unfortunately) for “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”? He was a much better writer than that. And I really knew Dan Jenkins, though we weren’t always on friendly terms. And I once met Congresswoman Kay Granger, but I don’t like her politics and don’t consider that a coup at all.
The reputations of many of those I consider famous is limited to the circles they moved in and the time. I am proud to have called Elmer Kenton a good friend, and Montana writer Dorothy Johnson. But they are not only of another era, their fame fades beyond the world of western American writing. Guess I’ll have to keep working on that list and see what I can dredge up from the back of my mind.
When I was very young, we ran into Roy Rogers in Chicago’s Union Station. I was too shy to speak, but my dad asked for his autograph for me. I guess that’s too distant to count.
Meanwhile, back to Sheehy. I found a quote this morning in “Shelf Awareness,” the online daily column for booksellers. In a 2016 commencement speech at her alma mater, the University of Vermont, Sheehy said, "Whenever you hear about a great cultural phenomenon--a revolution, an assassination, a notorious trial, an attack on the country--drop everything. Get on a bus or train or plane and go there, stand at the edge of the abyss, and look down into it. You will see a culture turned inside out and revealed in a raw state."
I think that truly applies to our country right now. We are at the edge of that abyss.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The long road to publication

I’ve spent the last two days proofing two formatted electronic versions of Saving Irene, all with an eye to getting it posted asap on Amazon and various other web sites for advance orders. It will officially launch September 16, and I’ve been trying to do as much advance publicity as I know how—not a chore I excel at. In fact, Jamie, my salesman extraordinaire son, gave me lectures on salesmanship when he was here and recommended I get on Instagram. I’ve always avoided it because I thought it was all pictures, and I didn’t have that many. But a look at my various picture files convinces me maybe I’ve been underestimating myself.
But Instagram remains a mystery to me. I started a new account—Instagram had forgotten the username and password Jacob set up for me long ago—and got it installed on my computer. But then a tutorial (yes, Jamie sent it to me) is focused on using Instagram on your cell phone. I’m not that good at cell phone navigation, so I’m waiting for Jacob to give me lessons.
Meantime what I found with my new account is a list of people—none of whom I know—that I can invite to follow me. That doesn’t seem efficient or profitable to me, and I have no idea where to go next.
Yes, I am an old lady trying to figure out millennial technology, and it ain’t going well.
Back to proofreading. Before I sent the manuscript to my graphic designer for formatting, I read it so carefully. And yet I found all kinds of errors—Howard was called Harold at one point; in another instance I talked about a great cap when I meant a great gap. It’s really true—the eye sees what the mind wants it too. I have now read the entire thing, carefully, twice in the last two days, and I feel that I could recite it from memory.
The road to publication is indeed long. And I even shortened it a bit with this mystery, because a year or more ago I wrote 19,000 words before abandoning it for historical projects. So when I turned my attention back to it, in mid-April, I had a head start. I wrote steadily, at least a thousand words a day, until I had a final manuscript of about 65,000 words. More importantly, I wrote steadily until the story worked itself out—who did what and how the characters would react.
Next, I sent it to an editor, who made extensive comments, sent it to me, and I dealt with the comments. Then it went back to the editor for a final review. Meantime, I was looking for guest posts on blogs and make extensive notes about marketing, soliciting blurbs, and generally going about letting the world know that I have written a brilliant cozy mystery.
The graphic artist was the next step, and she required two weeks or more to work on it between more urgent projects, while I sat biting my nails. Now I think we’re moving toward the final step, and it will soon be available.
Will this book make me rich and famous? Almost definitely not. After more than a hundred books, from young-adult titles to historical fiction to mysteries and a scattering of nonfiction, I know better than to expect such a miracle. But that’s not why I write. I write because I cannot not write, because I enjoy the process (though sometimes I want to tear my hair out), and because I love the satisfaction of having written—yes, I’m like Mark Twain in that respect.
I accept that I am a third-tier author in the mystery field (I had much more credibility in the field of western American lit, and I’m not abandoning that). And it’s okay. Writing is a wonderful way to spend my retirement. It keeps me busy, actively engaged, and, I hope, young in spirit.
I hope, of course, you’ll read Saving Irene and then let me know what you think  about it. A review on Amazon, however brief, is always appreciated. But you know what, if only ten people read it, that’s okay too.
And if you have hints about Instagram, I’m open to anything.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The return of the family

It’s not quite the prodigal son story, but all is well in our little compound again. After five days at Hyatt Lost Pines Resort outside Bastrop, Jordan, Christian, and Jacob are back home. I hate to confess it, but I always feel a bit off kilter when they are gone. Reminds me of the story about the little old lady (I resent that designation!) who went for her first plane ride. When asked about it afterward, she said, “It was all right, but I never did put my full weight down.” When the Burtons are gone, I don’t quite put my full weight down. And now you know why I was so glad to have son Jamie here for two days.
Lost Pines has been the Burton family August destination for several years, a trip Jacob always looks forward to. It’s got everything from fishing and kayaking to lounging by the pool. This year, Jordan tells me it was quite safe—only booked to twenty percent capacity; staggered times for guests to be at the swimming pool. (Since she's a luxury travel consultant, she knows about such things as how resorts are coping with safe distancing.) The pictures they sent sort of murmur “tranquility.” This was the first year Jacob is old enough to kayak alone, and also the first year he didn’t have a buddy with him.
On the way home they had lunch with Megan and family and toured the new house. Their report is a rave, and I am anxious to see it. According to Christian, it is “very modern,” which the old house, on the same spot, was not—anything but. I am delighted that they are settled in and happy.
Tonight I’ll cook a welcome-home dinner (after Jordan picks up the groceries at Central Market)—chicken enchiladas, a recipe I found online. It’s got Rotel and hatch chilies, and I’m hoping its not too spicy for me. I ordered the mild version of both of those ingredients. And it’s got lots of sour cream and cheese—sounds just a bit rich.
If you’re on Facebook, perhaps you’re enjoying as much as I am the postings on the timeline, “View from My Window.” Spectacular views from all over the world, with lots from South Africa, Norway, New Zealand, and Australia. And of course some from the U.S. I have hesitated but this morning I snapped a shot of the view from my window in Fort Worth. Not too shabby, just not as dramatic as the mountain and ocean views I’ve been admiring. I’ll probably post it. What do you think?
My saying for the day comes from my friend, Chloe. She too is “of an age” as am I, and she too is strictly quarantining. She lives alone, having lost her husband during the past year, but has family close by who visit her frequently. Still, like many of us, Chloe feels the pull of the life she has had to give up. In recalling a memory, she wrote, “back when I was someone else.” I think that’s how a lot of us feel. Before the pandemic, we were someone else. The question, which our minister touched on this morning, is what or who will we be when it is over. Chloe Webb, by the way, is a sacred harp singer and the author of Legacy of the Sacred Harp.

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Welcome Visitor

Jamie, Kosmo, and Sophie
An extra special treat – my younger son, Jamie, arrived yesterday afternoon and is staying through supper tonight. Much to Sophie’s delight, he is accompanied by Kosmo, a Pomeranian who never leaves Jamie’s side. We’ve laughed and talked and caught up, debated over what to eat, complained about politics, worried about lost money, and had a really good time.
Jamie was not much intrigued by the dishes I offered to cook for him—maybe his childhood memories are too much for him. So last night, we had dinner from Righteous Foods—salmon tacos for me, beef fajitas and meatballs and guac for Jamie. Then we watched the last night of the DNC together. Jame and I are on the same page about politics and our national crisis—our complaints are solely about how this country is being destroyed, and we tend to echo each other. But neither of us can refrain from commenting, so there is a lot of conversation, even as we listened to what we agreed was a powerhouse speech by Joe Biden.
Today, Jamie has done some chores—often things I didn’t know needed doing. He dismantled and cleaned the a/c unit in the living room. I’m never sure what to call it but I think a ductless split system describes it—it hangs up near the ceiling and functions as needed to heat and cool. Jamie found mold, though he assured me it wasn’t black mold—there are grades of mold? He’s emptied garbage, reached things I can’t on the shelf, and stepped in to give Jordan and Christian a break from taking care of me.
I never like to think of myself as needing a caretaker. That reminds me of a meme I saw yesterday that said, “It’s weird being the same age as old people.” That’s how I feel about it, and I would bristle at those who might suggest I need a caretaker or can’t take care of myself. But the truth is that being mobility challenged and needing a walker, there are things I can’t do—like reaching something from the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet or making a bed that’s, by space necessity, shoved against a wall. I can cook and, do a fair job of cleaning, but I can’t take my laundry into the house where the washing machines are—no space in the cottage. I realize more each day how dependent I am. So I am daily grateful for Jordan, Christian, and Jacob—and for occasional visits from Colin, Megan, and Jamie. Besides I enjoy their company so much.
So I’m grateful to have Jamie here—and Sophie is grateful to have Kosmo, although he doesn’t play as much as she would wish. Tiny as he is, he thinks he’s a cat and walks around on tables, sleeps on the back of the cough. Sophie, who cannot get to any of those places, is a bit frustrated. And I cannot help thinking how horrified my germ-conscious father would be were he with us.
Meantime, a patio disaster. My patio is shaded by a beautiful, spreading, sprawling pecan tree. It provides lovely shade and a wonderful home for birds such as the pair of cardinals who have taken up residence. But it has drawbacks—those pesky yellow tassels—worms, Jordan calls them—at some times of the year, and recently we had to have it trimmed away from the power lines before Oncor came to do it. And now a new problem: for the first time that I can remember the tree has pecans—and the squirrels are going wild, cracking nuts and dropping the shells. I can sit and my desk and hear the ping, ping, ping as they hit. And the patio is a mess, littered with shells. Maybe Jamie will blow it tonight, though it will probably be littered again immediately.
And low water pressure problems popped up today—the sprinkler system is not working efficiently, and one patch of grass is turning brown.
The worries of a homeowner are many and seldom solved all at once. It’s always something.

Monday, August 17, 2020

A not-so-minor explosion

June Bug enjoying happy hour on the patio
You know that big storm we had last night? The one that came up in two minutes flat, turned daylight to immediate dark, and blew so hard I feared for my lovely old oaks? Yes, that one. It was nothing compared to the explosion in the cottage this afternoon.
Let me back up. My younger son, Jamie, is coming over from Frisco this week. Knowing he’s partial to Diet Coke (which makes his mother frown because of the aspartame), Jordan bought a twelve-pack and stocked my fridge. Four cans left over, so I put them on the butcher block and this afternoon was busily transferring them to the bottom shelf.
I dropped one! I’m not sure how, perhaps my hand was wet and slippery. But it fell at my feet, puncturing a hole in the surprisingly fragile can and sending sticky sweet liquid everywhere. I resigned myself to mopping the floor and wiping down some of the other things on the bottom shelf.
Just then Jordan walked in, looked at my desk  (probably five or six feet from the kitchen) and asked, “What happened? It’s all wet?” The more she looked, the more frustrated she became. Long story short, she mopped the floor three times, washed down cabinets and walls, appliances and the fridge and sink, muttering all the while about a forthcoming invasion of ants. She found it in my bedroom (next to the kitchen) and at the other end of the cottage on the coffee table. She was hot and frustrated, and I sat helplessly by. I know better than to get in her way. Worst of it is she had spent an hour and a half yesterday thoroughly cleaning the cottage.
Sophie observed all this with a mixture of curiosity and uncertainty. She watched from the bedroom doorway and then tried to investigate what was on the floor when Jordan pulled out the butcher block. Jordan kept saying, “Out from under my feet!”
Order is restored, and I’m going to cook one of Jordan’s favorite dinners—spinach fettucine with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, green onion, pesto, and lots of lemon and butter. The boys can fend for themselves since they don’t eat mushrooms or artichoke hearts.
I did a bit of creative cooking earlier today. Made gazpacho from a recipe by Texas food and travel writer and cook extraordinaire June Naylor Harris, only I halved it and made it my own by substituting green onion for a red onion and leaving out the serrano chile. I am just not a chile person—I guess it’s because way back when, over fifty-five years ago, I was a northerner, and I’ve just never learned to like spicy. I’m letting it chill until tomorrow, but it smells wonderful.
It was a joy tonight to sit on the patio comfortably. The air is not cool but not oppressively hot, and we had the fan on. Loved being out there again and not cooped up behind closed doors. I wish spring and fall in Texas lasted all year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Blessing the students and other blessings

Jacob and Christian at Baylor, presumably on the stadium

After lollygagging for a couple of days, I got back to work today, which in itself is a small blessing. I blame my inertia on the heat, but the last couple of days I have conscientiously kept the outside doors closed and the a/c on 70, which made the cottage a bit chilly. Today I kicked it up to 72 and am comfortable, though my kids probably prefer the lower setting.
Wrote my summer newsletter today and found I had way more to say than I thought, plus I listed eight pictures to go in it. Waiting to hear from the webmaster who puts it together for me so I can send it off. Last I knew she had lost power, but that was from Hurricane Isiaih, a bit ago. Surely the power is back on.
If you do not get my newsletter and would like to receive it, please email me at with your name and email. I promise it doesn’t come often, and I hope it’s interesting. If not, delete, delete, delete.
You know how churches occasionally have “Bless the animals” day? Everyone brings their pet to be blessed---I swear I heard of someone once bringing a skunk. It reminds me of when my children, as infants, were welcomed into the concerned community of the Unitarian Church (what I was doing at that church is a long and separate story). But when Jamie was to be welcomed, at around a year of age, someone brought their dog. The minister never missed a beat. After asking each set of parents, “How do you call your child?” he asked the dog owner, “How do you call your dog?” I forget the dog’s name, which may be the punch line of the story. I can remember clearly how both surprised and amused my brother was.
But I digress. Last night our church had a drive-through “Bless the students” evening to replace the usual school send-off event, now cancelled because of social distancing. I thought it was one more innovative way that the church is reaching out to keep us attached and involved until we can meet as a congregation again. Jordan took Jacob—they were only gone about ten minutes—and he came home with small gifts, including a leather key fob with his name on it. She said the youth minister chatted for a minute and then prayed with them—and she confessed she cried when he prayed about Jacob going to high school. He will be going to virtual school at least at first, as will my Austin sons. The Tomball two and Eden in Frisco will attend classes, so I am praying extra hard for their health. My Tomball daughter-in-law will also be in the classroom so she, too, has my prayers.
Tonight, the Burtons have gone to Baylor for supper—sounds like a long drive for supper, but Christian loves that campus and has passed that love on to Jacob. Jordan assured me the Baylor Club, where they have reservations, has a patio. I said it sounded awful hot to walk around the campus, but she says they’ll drive. When I said that I apparently gave away their surprise, because they hadn’t told Jacob about the outing yet. He perked up happily at the news. Meantime, Jean is coming for happy hour, and I’ll fix myself some leftover beef-and-bean and some squash, because they won’t eat squash. They’ll be home about dark.
Jacob and Jordan at a very empty Baylor Club
PS What I thought was a small zucchini, from my sister-in-law Cindy on the ranch, turned out to be a small cucumber. I had a larger very round squash—I don’t know the name—that I cooked with salt, pepper, panko and grated pecorino. Overcooked it, but it was delicious.

Friday, August 14, 2020

More small excitements

r lobster lunch

My major accomplishment of the day was wrestling with a cooked lobster that Jordan brought home from the market because it was on sale. Fortunately, she had an old-fashioned nutcracker and the pick to go with it; otherwise I would never have gotten that claw meat out. I got enough for one generous lobster roll or two skimpy ones. We decided to split the one and side it with cottage cheese, a favorite of both of us. Pardon while I brag, but the salad I made out of that lobster was really good—and so simple. There’s one more lobster in the freezer, and because Jordan liked our lunch so well, I’m going to give her a lesson in extracting meat from the shell when we decided to eat that last one.
We’ve had other little excitements around here. Yesterday, it was the lawn crew that dug a trench and moved a sprinkler head. Jordan was driving herself crazy watering and worrying about the grass turning brown. To a certain extent, it just will turn brown in August, especially with the beastly hot weather we’re having (105 as I write).
The lawn crew was followed immediately by the tree crew. The wonderful pecan tree over my patio had grown out of bounds—beautiful, but it was on the neighbor’s roofs (a garage and a guest house) and on mine, plus it was over the power lines. I was most anxious to get it trimmed before Oncor comes and butchers it. Now I wonder about fending off Oncor, if and when they appear. The guy Christian hired did a good job, but oh my! The difference in the light in the cottage is amazing. At certain times of the year, the western set is going beam straight at my desk.
It tells you a lot about my days whenthe lawn crew and tree trimmers are the big excitement. Sophie thought them exciting too. She had a field day barking at all these men in the yard. Wore herself out, missed her usual morning nap, and slept all afternoon. It is so hot these days that we have abandoned the patio. I even have closed my French doors to keep the cool air in—to the dismay of my family, I usually leave them open with the a/c running. Now, Sophie cannot go in and out as she pleases.
She doesn’t understand that and around five in the afternoon barks at us as if to say, “Come on! It’s time to go outside.” We’ve had this extreme heat most of the week and expect 105 again tomorrow, a tad cooler Sunday and then cooler early in the week. It will be a relief to be back in the low- to mid-nineties.
Meantime I read on one of my listservs a note from a friend who is experiencing 107 without air conditioning in California. She had pulled the shades and shut the doors. When I read that, I vowed not to complain about Texas anymore.
A small bit of vicarious excitement: we were sitting in the cottage one evening, ignoring the TV which was on but muted. All of a sudden, Christian said, “That looks like my fraternity brother!” It was indeed his fraternity brother who is today our family physician. He was in an ad for the health network his office belongs to. We told him we were thrilled to be treated by a celebrity.
Here’s to cooler weather, better mail service, and happier days!
Cricket among the pentas

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Little excitements

We had little excitements last night, little that is if you weren’t the visiting possum. I was at my desk, reading, about 8:30 when Sophie tore out the door and began barking frantically. Not a squirrel bark but something much more intense. I finally looked up just in time to see a possum scurry across the patio. I hurried to take my phone to the door for a picture but didn’t make it. The possum had taken shelter under a small table, and Sophie was gleefully dancing around the table, almost sticking her nose under it, barking all the while. If that possum had an ounce of courage, it would have taken a swipe at her nose.
What to do? I didn’t think it wise for me and my walker to charge out there, and I knew Jordan had gone with Jacob to the neighbors’ pool, because he wanted a swim. I called Christian, who sounded a tad reluctant, saying, “I’ll come, but I don’t know what I can do.” He came after several minutes, armed with—wait for it!—his phone.
By that time, Sophie had miraculously come bounding into the cottage, and I slammed the door. Sophie then was jumping around, wanting me to open the door, which I refused. Christian was taking pictures of the possum, and it beat a hasty retreat.
After a few minutes, Jordan came out, armed with—wait for it again!—a broom. I asked what she intended to do with it, and she replied she was just going to encourage the critter away. Fortunately, it was gone. We opened the door and Sophie bolted out to search the yard fruitlessly.
I had to explain to my two nature-loving protectors that possums are neither harmful nor vicious. They eat tons of all those bugs we want to get rid of—mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks. They are our friends, although I doubt if that particular friend will ever venture back into my yard.
I’d had a moment of excitement earlier, when Christian stood by my desk and said, “I can’t believe Jacob all of a sudden wants to go swimming.” I promise, I had my hearing aids in but what I heard was, “I can’t believe Jacob all of a sudden lost his sense of smell.” Panic! I managed to say it calmly, “I hope he doesn’t have the virus.” Christian looked at me as though he thought I had clearly gone round the bend this time.
I even had little excitements this morning. Either my computer or I have been saving files under the wrong name—this morning, when I opened a short biography I’d written for an essay submission, it turned out to be last night’s blog. Yesterday, I “lost” the entire text of my new novel—what popped up was the header and one sentence from a column in the neighborhood newsletter—both in Dropbox and on the pc. Fortunately I had sent it to the formatter, and she supplied a copy which I saved very carefully.  Lesson learned—I think I get in a rush and don’t notice that the computer is saving things under the title of whatever was last saved. Scared me though.
One other bit of bad excitement—my car wouldn’t start for Jacob last night. He is tasked with starting it occasionally and asked last night if he could back it up just a bit. It was dead, though it had been started last weekend. Jordan was all for selling it immediately, but with Christian’s advice, I ordered a car battery starter. It’s not parked so that we can put another car next to it and jump it.
That’s enough excitement for one day. Peace, y’all, and be safe and well.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Meal planning—not what you think

Cashew Chicken - dinner last night
thanks to Christian
In the “to do” stack on my desk—and in the back of my mind—is an essay on the temptations of quarantine. You see, I am sort of enjoying quarantine, even while I’m horrified at the illness and death ravaging our country (don’t let me digress). Of course I miss restaurant meals with my friends and the like, but now I have an excuse to sink into the bubble that my wonderful daughter, Jordan, has created for me. I can write, read, nap, and cook—a purely self-indulgent life. And I do see friends—a few, who we know are also quarantining, come by for a BYOB, distanced, masked happy hour occasionally. And I don’t have to do the few things in this world that I really don’t want to do, although I did go to the dentist.
But last night I discovered another plus to quarantine, and I think it will have to go in that essay, should I ever finish it. Jordan and I spent a companionable hour and a half going over recipes and choosing our dinners for the week to come. Yes, we had glasses of wine at our elbows.
When we first started this communal living—Jordan and family (the boys, as we call the father and son) in the house and me in the cottage—we gathered for family dinner on Sunday nights in the house. Other than that, we were on our own. All of us frequently had outside dinner plans; sometimes Christian’s work happy hours kept him out late; Jordan had happy hours for work and pleasure; I had weekly dinners with friends. it was just easier to each cook for ourselves. Sometimes when Jordan would come to the cottage about five-thirty in the evening, I’d ask what they were having for dinner, and she’d shrug and say, “I have no idea.”
But with quarantine, all that changed and the meal planning sessions gradually developed. None of us went anywhere—no more restaurant meals or happy hours. With grocery delivery, it was easiest to pool our lists and place one or two orders a week. These days, masked and gloved, Jordan ventures to the grocery, but we pretty much order from Central Market and pick it up at curbside delivery. A friend goes to Trader Joe’s and always checks with Jordan to see what we need. We do order take-out occasionally, but with a few exceptions we find what we cook at home tastes so much better.
Most evenings we eat in the cottage. Christian and I do most of the cooking, while Jordan does clean-up—and Jacob gets the garbage detail. We’ve all had to make some adjustments—the Burtons don’t like some things that I enjoy. Cold summer soups and squash come immediately to mind. Christian has been slow to come to some things, but is now enthusiastic about salmon, and he liked the Dover sole we did one night recently. I’m not responsible for shaping his palate, but I do sometimes wonder where I went amuck raising Jordan. I, on the other hand, have learned to appreciate more Asian dishes—Christian’s specialty—and I am indebted to him for leaving bell pepper and hot spices out of everything he cooks.
So what took us an hour and a half last night? First of all, my gigantic folder of things I want to try—every time I go through it, I eliminate a few that I know I won’t cook. But it’s still bulging. Then a recipe for red beans and rice (I know—who needs a recipe?) reminded me of a beef and bean dish I cooked when the kids were little, and Jordan immediately wanted that. Luckily, it’s in my first cookbook—Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, so I still have it on the computer. We’ll have it one night this week.
After our planning, we’ll also have Mongolian beef (Christian does a superb job on that), chicken with pesto and noodles, family favorite Doris’ casserole, Asian dishes so Christian can play with his new work. Tonight it’s hamburger Stroganoff, because I need a picture for a guest blog pushing Saving Grace. And Jordan and I will cook together--from my seated walker, it's hard for me to use two hands to scrape a bowl or skillet, and she happily does such for me. It's a good system, and it will be a good week.

My newest yard art
Courtesy the Tomball Alters

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Nasty doings continue

Sophie trying so hard to be still
as she waits for a daredevil squirrel to reappear
This is not a peaceful weekend in our calm and lovely neighborhood. The wrap-up from last night’s excitement with a kidnapper hiding by the creek is pretty much what you’d expect—he was caught and that’s all we know. We probably never will get the whole truth of it. I did see a clip of him and the girl running down the street—he should try out for sprint races! That guy can run, though I guess he had some incentive. The girl couldn’t keep up, and he clearly never looked back to see what was happening to her. The video shows her veering off the street and heading for a house. Originally the rumor was that there were two or three people in addition to the supposed kidnap-victim, but that clearly was hype. The police, however, did arrest the girl. Apparently, she was an “acquaintance” of the man. And they began their flight in a stolen vehicle in San Antonio, not Waco. A picture shows a car that is pretty much totaled.
And the neighborhood has moved on. This morning we learned that the plate glass on two Park Place businesses was shattered in an act of senseless vandalism. Winehaus, a cozy wine bar scheduled to close at the end of the month, had the windows shattered, and next to it, the front door of Chadra Mezza was smashed. As someone pointed out on the neighborhood listserv, it’s hard to believe that anyone could get away with this on a main street and an evening when police presence in the neighborhood was extraordinarily heavy.
We are unhappily accustomed in my neighborhood to what I call night walkers—people, mostly young men and often wearing backpacks, who walk the driveways, checking all car doors for an unlocked one. Some take whatever they find—like loose coins, a cell telephone, whatever, and others just resort to messing up the interior, strewing papers around, etc. Woe to the person who leaves a laptop in the car. Most of us are now pretty good about locking our cars, but I have heard there is a magnetic device that can pop the lock on some cars—I imagine older cars, which would fit my 2004 VW.  A lot of households now have Ring or other cameras that cover the driveweay, so our listserv gets pictures of these intruders. It’s petty theft and vandalism, but willful destruction of  business windows seems to raise nasty activity to a new pay grade.
And as a final insult, the patio umbrella in our yard crashed into the ground cover. No serious damage, but we are bumfuzzled how it crashed on a calm, stll morning. It was upright until about ten o’clock this morning, but when I looked out it had suddenly gone down. I did have a bizarre thought last night as I sat locked in my cottage with the umbrella casting strange shadows and red and green scatter lights playing on the neighbor’s outside wall that I was probably perfectly safe. If the fugitive did make it into our yard, he would think he’d wandered into an alternate universe and prefer to take his chances outside with the law on his tail. The umbrella is righted now and all seems in order.
May your world stay in as much order as possible in the coming week, and may you stay safe and healthy.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

A little Saturday night excitement

Helicopters circling overhead, police SUV vehicles racing down our street—and me oblivious to all of it until a breathless Jordan came to the cottage to alarm me. The story was vague at first—a kidnapping and a car wreck, with the assumption the car wreck freed the kidnap victim, billed as a girl (could be anywhere from seven or so to 20).
Then more details trickled in, though I doubt any of it is official. The car was stolen in Waco and wrecked in the creek east of Lily B. Elementary—where those desperadoes thought they were going is a mystery since all streets in that area dead end at the creek. So the next report was that state troopers with machine guns were searching the creek, looking for three people.
Jordan and I sat on the patio but when the helicopters began circling overhead again, she rushed me inside, told me to lock the door, and said she be back with her key. So now she’s back, with a report they are still looking for the suspects, including a Black man with an Afro.
In the midst of all this, Christian has gone to Tokyo Café to pick up our dinners.
This is the stuff of a thriller—too bad I write cozies. I asked Jordan what she would do if the kidnap victim came to her door. She said, and I applaud this, she would step outside, lock the door, and call 911. She would do that to protect her family. It occurred to me, since so much is unknown, that the girl who came to someone’s front door could well be one of the criminals deciding to cover herself with the story of a kidnapping. Hard-hearted as it may sound, we have to consider all possibilities these days.
Meantime I am locked in my cottage, wishing for fresh air.
Bulletin: one person still at large (no word on how many in custody). Girl claims she was kidnapped in Waco, and troopers have been pursuing them since Waco. If all that pans out, it was a terrifying experience for the girl. The possibilities are endless—darn, maybe I should try my hand at a thriller. I don’t mean to sound insensitive. It’s just hard to process that this goes down in your own quiet, lovely neighborhood.
We’ve had a string of happy hour nights, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I was looking forward to a low-key, calm night tonight. Because the Burtons were to be gone for several nights, I had lined up guests every night. Between cooking myself dinners and happy hours at night, I was kind of tired.
The Burtons meanwhile turned their unexpected stay at home into parties and had two, small, distanced happy hours on the front porch to celebrate Christian’s birthday. No, I won’t say which one, but I will say it’s not decade changing although he, like my younger son and other son-in-law are approaching that milestone—they were  all born in the same year.
Last night was a special treat. Jordan had a surprise guest for Christian—his friend Gary from Dallas, with whom he went to college (a few years ago, ahem!). I knew Gary but not well until one day Christian said, “You ought to friend Gary on Facebook.” I replied I wasn’t sure he even knew who I was, but Christian said, “Oh, he knows.” Since then, Gary and I have become fast friends, sharing everything from simpatico politics to a love of dogs and some thoughts on food. I promised him next time he came to Fort Worth, I’d make tuna casserole, but that didn’t seem fair on Christian’s birthday—he hates tuna. Anyway, we visited late last night on the patio, after the other guests had gone, and this morning, again on the patio, over coffee. Such a pleasure! And he has promised to come back. In spite of huge differences, including age, I feel like I’ve found a brother under the skin.
Apparently, all is quiet on the western—or wait, eastern—front right now, so I have my patio door open and am enjoying a pleasant, if slightly hot night. First sound of helicopters, I’m locking the doors. Hope to read more in the morning and untangle this neighborhood thriller.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Blogging woes

Way back in 2006, my daughter-in-law Melanie looked at me and announced, “You should start a blog.” Blogs were pretty new back then, and I had never even thought about it. “I don’t have anything to say,” I protested. “Sure you do,” she said. “You can talk about grandmothering and cooking and writing. Call it Judy’s Stew, because it will be a mix of all those things.” And that’s how Judy’s Stew began.
I should add that Melanie, who works in the health care insurance industry, is a talented writer herself. She started a blog some time later, called The Raggedy Edge, if I remember, and the post she wrote when my oldest granddaughter turned into a teen—a loveable teen, if you can imagine—blew me away. I hope I have it saved someplace.
Ever since Mel’s suggestion, I have written on my blog more nights than not. It’s been a joy for me—let me keep sharpening my writing skills, kept me alert to things around me that I wanted to talk about, made me lots of new friends.
Somewhere along the way I added a food blog once a week, Potluck with Judy, and solicited recipes from others. It worked and it didn’t, was a hassle, and I let it drop. When I published the cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, after my move to a 600-square foot cottage where zoning laws forbid a stove (can’t have two kitchens on one property), I started a new blog, picking up where the cookbook left off. That too has been a joy, forcing me to think creatively about cooking and to try new recipes and techniques.
Now it’s all threatened, and I’m bummed. I’ve always posted my blogs through (Wordpress seemed too complicated). Blogger has done the unforgiveable and “upgraded.” It’s called fixing what ain’t broke. I cannot figure out the new system—my attempts have led to disaster. The other day I posted a picture smack dab in the middle of the carefully-designed header to the blog and couldn’t get it out. Last night’s, Gourmet post suddenly had a sidebar of gigantic pictures of my Tomball family when they were here last weekend.
I sent an SOS to the computer guru who designs my web page. She fixed the first problem, but today, due to Isaias, she has no power, promises to fix delete those pictures as soon as the power comes on and to maybe figure a way to lead me through the new Blogger. They are threatening to take down the old version—they call it the legacy version—August 24, but I don’t really want to write a farewell blog on August 23.
I’m not alone in this unhappiness. There have been lots of complaints on the Guppies listserv (Going to be Published—a sub-group of Sisters in Crime) and on Facebook. I’m going to lodge a complaint, although I’ve queried for help twice and heard nothing.
And my fingers are crossed for what this one looks like tonight. Life does not have to be complicated by “upgrades” which make things worse.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A pandemic learning lesson and a pleasant happy hour

We have all gotten into routines during this pandemic/quarantine that vary wildly from our usual daily routines. I’ve pretty much gotten used to my new routine and am okay with it, but today I had a funny wake-up call about how much my life has changed.
I haven’t worn make-up in five months. Why waste the makeup and the effort when I was going nowhere, wouldn’t see anyone but my family and a very few friends who, I hope, love me as I am. But today I had a doctor’s appointment—routine checkup, a little blood work, a look at my still-fat leg, nothing to worry about. But I decided to wear makeup because I think the better you look, the more it makes a subconscious impression on the doctor. If you look pale and wan, he’s going to think you’re poorly.
So I sat at my bathroom sink which doubles as a vanity—and I couldn’t remember what to do! I put on a light bit of liquid foundation and then scrambled in the drawer to find what was next. Powder! It turned out to be the dregs in a pressed powder compact. Do I have another? I still don’t know. I figured out blush, but then came to the part I think it important—eye makeup. My eyebrows have never darkened with age—they’re still the pale blonde they were when I was ten. Had I lost the technique for darkening them, so they were subtle, not obvious? Could I still do mascara without smudging it all over my eyes?
In the long run, I think I looked fairly respectable when I arrived at the doctor’s office. Certainly, he said I would survive such things s the apparent mosquito bite on my elbow and the arthritis in one of my fingers. And my leg is oh-so-gradually going back to normal. But I imagine it will be a while before I try the makeup thing again.
One doctor’s appointment messes up my now-established routine for the day, and I didn’t get much work done today. Mary came for happy hour, but it was just us two. Jordan has pulled a muscle in her back and does not sit comfortably; Prudence was busy with a final exam for an online graduate course she’s taking. But Mary and I had a pleasant, low-key visit.
She is one of those people who attract mosquitoes. While they rarely come near me, they swarm around her. It’s a concern these days not just for the discomfort of bites but because we’ve seen rising rates of West Nile virus in our county. So Mary arrives with all kinds of paraphernalia—a long-sleeved shirt, a face fan that drapes around her neck, bug spray (we have some but I think she likes hers better—ours is organic, at my insistence), and a lantern that is supposed to emit a vapor that drives the pesky critters way. She never got it to work quite right and fiddled with it a lot.
Meantime, Jordan had turned on our fan and the bug light which should discourage most flies and mosquitoes. It worked well for me, but poor Mary was constantly batting them away, particularly from her ankles. I told her I was grateful that she attracted them all so that they wouldn’t bother me. She wasn’t particularly amused.
Tomorrow I’ll get back to serious work, writing lessons for the online course on creating a chef. I think tomorrow’s topic will be “How ambitious is your chef?” and I’ll explore the career paths open to chefs. Which means I’ll spend a lot of time online researching. Not everyone can become Wolfgang Puck or Giada de Laurentiis or Jacques Pepin.
Now I’ll settle down with a book I’m to read for a competition. It’s about a rather grim subjects—can’t say more—but I have a feeling it is well done, which means I’ll have to read more of it than if I could dismiss it as sloppy and amateurish.
Today was pleasant, but the temperature is to go up all week. Bummer. Glad Is Isaias didn’t do more damage than it did, though several deaths are significant. And pray for the people of Beirut, where an explosion has killed at least seventy and injured many more. As someone I respect says, “There’s a world of hurt out there.”

Monday, August 03, 2020

Spiffing up the cottage and plans gone awry

My stained glass panels

Birthday presents came home to roost this weekend. Jordan and Christian’s gift was a stained-glass hanging. Most of the windows (there are four plus a set of French doors) in my living area look out on the garden, but one has a wonderful view of a hurricane fence with straggly honeysuckle (the honeysuckle is lush everywhere else) and the back of a neighbor’s garage. Jordan thought a stained-glass hanging would soften the view, but before we could begin to investigate, friend Subie said, “We have four in the garage that we have no place to put.” She brought two vertical panels, and they now sit in the window—and they do soften the view.
Morgan's sign
Then granddaughter Morgan arrived with a sign she’d made for my cottage. The sign, boldly proclaiming “Juju’s Cottage,” now hangs outside my door to welcome visitors—for the day when I can have visitors again. We now make them detour to the patio. So proud and grateful that she made that for me.
The best laid plans of men—and daughters—gang aft agley, according to Robert Burns. They sure did this week for Jordan and her family. They planned to take their annual trip to Hyatt Lost Pines resort in Central Texas near Bastrop, where they could sit by the pool, Jacob could fish and kayak. Jordan, as a luxury travel planner, had checked out the situation thoroughly and decided their pandemic precautions were satisfactory. The trip would celebrate Christian’s birthday—no, we won’t say which one.
But factors other than the pandemic intervened. When Jacob came out to the cottage this morning to ask me to print a label, he said casually, “Oh, we cancelled our trip.” When Jordan came out later, I said, “You really messed up all my plans,” and she replied that she had spent the morning cancelling plans—the dog sitter, the neighbor boys who were going to water, etc.
I had planned carefully for four days and nights without them. I have a list of meals I was going to cook—things they don’t want to eat but I love, like the okroshka soup I make with buttermilk and salmon croquettes and maybe a tuna casserole and for sure a Spam spread—shhh! Don’t judge.
I ate Spam as a kid—baked or fried—and I liked it, at least to my memory. I came across a recipe on the internet for a spread made with onion, celery, relish, mayonnaise, etc. Sounds like a ham spread to me, and ham salad is high on my list of likes. And I now have a can of low-fat Spam. I know once of the objections to Spam is high sodium, but I believe the low-fat is also low sodium, and besides every time I have blood taken, my sodium is on the low side and the doctor tells me to eat salt. My friend Jean once practically tried to grab the salt out of my hand as I doctored some split pea soup. But I digress. I’m going to make it, even if I have to eat the whole batch myself.
So that I would not be without human contact, I had lined up friends to come for happy hour each night that I would be alone. Jordan’s reaction this morning was, “Bring it on. I’ll visit with them too.” So now we have a week ahead filled with friends. I’m grateful.
Isn’t it nice that life brings change? I hope it also brings growth.
Be safe and well, friends. New cases of Corona-19 are down in Fort Worth and Dallas today. Hope it’s a good sign.