Thursday, August 18, 2022

What are your children are reading?


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
Pulled from school shelves in Keller, Texas

This morning I posted my weekly cooking blog, Gourmet on a Hot Plate. Normally, that would have done it for me for the day. But the following is a continuation of yesterday’s blog and something I really wanted to say. I realized a bit of it is date-limited—the Rushdie readings—so two blogs in one day. Maybe I’ll take a vacation tomorrow, depending on what my little world and the larger world offers.

In a hangover from my publishing days, I subscribe to an online newsletter for booksellers called Shelf Awareness. Today’s edition had a large serving of irony. The opening story was about a planned reading tomorrow on the steps of the New York Public Library in support of Salman Rushdie and his continuing battle for artistic freedom, for writers to be able to speak their minds, share their thoughts. Several of his close friends, all authors, will read selections form his work. It will be livestreamed on Friday, August 19, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm ET. The authors are all from PEN America, and most names were unfamiliar to me. Rushdie obviously moves in more elite circles than I do, but I certainly applaud the effort. Calling this a watershed moment for the freedom to write, a cause that is synonymous with Salman's life and work,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. said, “We are gathering as friends, associates and admirers to amplify Salman's words and convey our warm wishes, but also to rise in defense of principles that will not be extinguished by violence."

I have never read Rushdie though of course I have followed his career as many of us have. But since the attack on him, I’ve learned a lot more, not just about his writing but about his dedication to freedom of the arts. I’m going to try (yes, that’s the verb) to read some of his work now. I’m even fascinated that he was married to Padma Lakshmi who has many facets to her career, but who I always think of as a food writer.

So much for Rushdie. The very next article in the newsletter highlights the increasing effort to control what students in our schools read. The statistics are appalling. Educational gag orders--state legislative proposals to restrict the freedom to learn and teach—have increased by 250% compared to last year and have become law in 19 states, affecting 122 million Americans.  According to a report from PEN America, 137 gag orders have been filed in 36 states so far in 2022, compared to 54 gag orders in 22 states through all of 2021. Only a small percentage of those proposals are signed into law, but the trend is disturbing.

Racism is behind the majority of gag orders, but LGBTQ and identity issues are not far behind. And the consequences are getting more severe—fines and now even some jail time. And the move that first began in elementary schools is now moving even into higher education. To quote Nossel, PEN America CEO, again, “Lawmakers are undermining the role of our public schools as a unifying force above politics and turning them instead into a culture war battleground. By seeking to silence critical perspectives and stifle debate, they are depriving students of the tools they need to navigate a diverse and complex world."

Some incidental notes: Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin spoke last week on the Chautauqua platform where Rushdie was attacked and told the audience that one of his books is banned in Iraq—and in Texas.

Meanwhile in Keller, administration seems to be feeling the heat. The superintendent of the Keller ISD said today he expects some of the books pulled from shelves to be available again very soon. The question is: which books will be banned?

Censorship is like freedom of speech and abortion rights and a lot of other battles we thought we’d fought and won years ago, and now they are rearing their ugly heads again. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but all of us need to pick up arms—or books and words—and enter the fray again. We cannot let authoritarianism win—that means you, Ron DeSantis, and you, donald j. trump, and you, Greg Abbott.

Peace my friends. Go read a good book.



Wednesday, August 17, 2022

This, that, and—what was I thinking?


I’m just going to start this and see where it goes, because there are several things on my mind tonight, none of them earth-shattering but a few that I really want to give voice too. So here goes.

My day got off to a rocky start. I got up early (for me) and was dressed, had my tea, and was ready to go by 8:45 for a 9:00 p.m. appointment to have my teeth cleaned. The dentist’s office rejected me! I had to call Jordan and tell her to turn around and come get me. And it was all my fault: the dentist had given me a prescription for amoxycillin, which I somehow thought was in case I had a tooth flare-up. But when I got home and read the label, I saw that it clearly said to take one an hour before a dental appointment. I know they used to make patients with metal parts (like my hip) take antibiotics before teeth cleaning, but my surgeon had signed off saying I didn’t need it. Apparently five years later, the dentist has decided I do. I guess caution is best, so I rescheduled the appointment.

I’m upset about censorship these days. Sarasota County in Florida has issued strict guidelines for what teachers can and can’t do—and it’s mostly what they can’t do. Order books from Scholastic—how can they blanketly condemn one of the best publishers of children’s books? Teachers may not read to students or give them books to read without specific approval of the book. No gifts related to books. No books may be ordered, not book fairs scheduled. Remember how excited your kids were on book fair day? Gone. And the list goes on. Talk about Big Brother.

Closer to home, the Keller school district has pulled from school shelves every book to which there was even one objection last year. That includes the Bible, Ann Frank’s Diary (the graphic version), Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and a long list of, I’d say, fifty titles. Many were unfamiliar to me, but some not. I can see (but not approve) where small, closed minds would want to ban a book titled Gender Queer, but school authorities, charged with educating our young people, should understand that many teens are struggling with their sexual identity right now. They would find comfort and help in reading the thoughts and experiences of others. One woman posted that she questioned banning all the books except the Bible—she could understand that. I told her that meant she supported censorship, and maybe if it bothered her, she should just not read the Bible. But what bothers me most is that these insane objections to good books are robbing children of the richness of life lived through books. Books have been my whole life, my career, my comfort. I am appalled. Small comfort: kids with inquiring minds will rush to read the books on the published lists.

I’m a proud Texan (transplant), but I think Texas and Florida may be the worst states in which to live, let alone raise children these days. One post online said we can’t let them read the Bible (where the worst line is probably “Abraham knew his wife”) but we can subject them to shooter drills and expect ten-year-olds to carry and deliver babies. What kind of a world have we stumbled into?

While I’m on a rant: I saw a TV ad last night for some magic cure for erectile dysfunction. The ad was full of hype—buy now, this sale ends soon, end your worry, etc. And it made me instantly angry. Women cannot have the protection of abortion in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency, but let’s enhance men’s sexual ability. I call on Governor Abbott to immediately ban all medications for erectile dysfunction. Let’s see how that sits with his base. (I tried to post my comment on Mothers Against Greg Abbott and Facebook rejected it--at least they didn't put me in Facebook jail.)

It is actually raining as I write! Glory be, Hallelujah! The temperature is down to  90 and falling, thunder is crashing all around (and Sophie is cowering on my feet under my desk). The air smells like rain. It’s wonderful! I know one rain won’t restore our decimated gardens, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I can’t remember all the other things that were on my mind. Maybe they had to do with what a good run President Biden has had in the last week and a half or what a bad week it was for trump. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that people like Beto and John Fetterman and Val Demings and Liz Cheney make me optimistic. If anything I had to say seems significant, surely it will come back to me.

Meantime, if you’re in North Texas, enjoy the rain. How lovely to go to sleep with thunder rolling overhead. The gods are bowling again!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Moving slowly


Yes, that's Jacob in an outfit his preschool put on him. 
My other kids were pretty upset, and I got lots of message to the effect that,
"Your other grandchildren are pretty cute too!"

Moved slowly this morning. Nothing wrong with me except that I felt sluggish, unwilling to face the day. Perhaps it was that unsettling dream I had between feeding Sophie and getting up for the day. I have that technique down to six minutes at my best (I remind myself of a barrel racer). I can let her out, dish out her food, rinse the spoon so it doesn’t stick, feed her, go to the bathroom, and be back in bed in six minutes. Some mornings I time myself—racing against my record. Usually this is about five-thirty, still hard dark.

Or maybe I didn’t sleep as well as usual. Sometimes about three in the morning my brain gets caught in a semi-awake, semi-asleep cycle in which I repeat a scene or plan over and over—it maybe a scene I plan to write, a recipe I want to cook. This morning it was a recipe.

But maybe I was unwilling to face a world that seems increasing loud and noisy. This week, I’m quite sure it’s all the loud noise trump is creating with his multiple, self-contradictory lies and excuses about the classified documents. In a week when the nation should be celebrating several significant victories of President Joe Biden, we’re being drown out by trump, while Biden goes quietly about the business of making America better.

Along political lines, in case you missed it, I can’t resist telling you about a campaign video by Dr. Oz that has recently resurfaced—to the great hilarity of his opponent, John Fetterman. Oz is in a grocery store—with Wegman’s in mind and the real name of the store, he comes out with Wegner’s, which is wrong. He’s shopping for crudities for his wife—as Fetterman points out, a lot of us call that a veggie tray. Trying to skewer Biden for inflation, Oz choses a head of broccoli, a package of asparagus, a ginormous bag of large carrots, a container of guacamole and one of salsa. Then he points out that a crudities tray costs $20. A store employee posted that employees repeatedly tried to tell him they had vegetable trays, with guac, available for $7.95. He said his wife likes salsa. Do you suppose she dips raw asparagus in it?

And speaking of food, I’ve noticed lately that the food memoir is a new thing. People are taking classes in exploring their deepest inner lives by focusing on what they eat/ate, particularly as children. It’s always nice to be on the cutting edge, so I’d like to point out that I wrote a food memoir, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, way back in 2009, before it was trendy. I belong to a small online writing group where many write memoir, and I’ve always felt slightly deficient because I can’t seem to wrap my head around a traditional memoir. It’s not that I’m afraid of confronting some truths in my life, but it’s that I never can get the peg on which to hang it. In 2009 food was the peg. It’s kind of hard to find on Amazon, so if you’re interested, here’s the link:  Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books (Stars of Texas Series): Alter PhD, Dr. Judy: 9781933337333: Books  You’ll not only find out more than you want to know about me, but you’ll get most of my family’s favorite recipes. Then again, a lot of water under the bridge since 2009.

As I write this, it’s six o’clock, and I think I’ve got my groove back. Everyone’s gone elsewhere for supper, so I’m thinking scrambled eggs sound good. My mom used to dump a spoonful of cottage cheese in them, and I think I’ll do that. Haven’t done it in a long time.

I read an anecdote today about a woman who was being shown to her room in a nursing room. “I know I shall be very happy there,” she said, and the attendant protested, “You haven’t even seen the room yet.” “No, but I know I’ll be happy there. Because I choose to be happy.” It’s a choice we each make daily—we can be happy or we can be miserable. Tomorrow I’ll get my happy back on. Tonight, I’ll read a mystery.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Go West, young—er—lady!


Frances Perkins (and all those men) watching 
President Franklin D Roosevelt sign the social security act, 1935

Remember Horace Greeley from when you studied American history in school? He was a nineteenth-century newspaperman, served briefly in the House of Representatives, and was a utopian reformer who believed the American West was the land of opportunity. He’s best remembered for the advice, “Go West, young man!” It became the slogan that expressed the American belief in individualism—a man can pull himself up by the bootstraps, care for his family, make living, and do anything he wants if he is only strong and brave and works hard. It’s an idea that many Americans still take patriotic pride in. But it’s a myth.

During the Depression, along came Frances Perkins, a reformer who fought for workers' rights, became the first woman to serve in the presidential cabinet as Secretary of Labor, and is genuinely considered responsible for social security as we know it. (She was also an ardent feminist.) A witness to the 1911 Triangle fire in which 146 women and girls died, trapped inside a locked factory, Perkins determined that America had to take care of all its citizens, and in contrast to Greeley, she touted another American tradition: communities take care of their own, people look out for each other. Compassion and caring are the American way. She persuaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to implement a social security program, but his first response was, “Nothing like this has ever been done before.” So if you want to talk about a uniquely American tradition, talk about the tradition of caring for all our citizens.

As originally written, Social Security did not just mean old-age assistance. It was an attempt to use government taxes to take care of all in our society—the poor, the homeless, neglected children, the disabled, the unemployed, the mentally and/or physically ill--all those who could not follow Horace Greeley’s idealistic and unreal advice. She said, “People are what matter to a government, and a government should strive to give the very best life to the people under its jurisdiction.”

Perkins saw social security as a permanent part of our government. “It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.” Of course, for a few generations now, we have known it is not safe. Conservatives first target is often social security, and now Lindsey Graham has confirmed that should the party take Congress in November, the Republicans will be coming after social security and Medicare.

I’m no politician nor one to advise them, but that seems like a foolish, shortsighted vision to me. For one thing, so much of the country depends on government aid in one way or another, Republicans would lose a lot of votes. Perhaps they think that would be okay because some among them on planning on rigging elections ( see Trump loyalists form alliance in bid to take over election process in key states | US politics | The Guardian ). But beyond that, withdrawing government aid to many segments of our society would further increase the already dramatic division between the haves and the have-nots. We might return to Depression days (which was when social security started) with throngs of hungry Americans in the street while the rich sat in their penthouses and ate caviar. Far-fetched? Maybe, but too darn close.

America under trump was downgraded in the international order (for example, Trump's Foreign Policy Has Destroyed America's International Standing - Rolling Stone). If we were truly to become a country of hungry, homeless, sick people, neglected children, etc. America would quickly lose its standing in the world. Perhaps that seems far-fetched, but as of now, without congressional interference, social security is set to "run out" in 1934 unless Congress takes action. That doesn't mean all payments will suddenly stop, but it does mean recipients will take a twenty-five percent cut.

Republicans will argue we cannot afford social security, but my understanding is that is gaslighting. We pay into social security, and the money we receive is ours, not the governments. Trump’s tax cuts increased the national debt more than social security ever will, but Biden’s administration has already decreased the debt and the Inflation Reduction Bill is set to effect additional substantial decrease.

I don’t mean to preach, but I think these are things that each of us should study and keep in mind when we go to vote in less than ninety days. If you want to read more about social security and its history, please read Heather Cox Richardson’s column of last night, Letters from an American August 13, 2022 - by Heather Cox Richardson (


Friday, August 12, 2022

On becoming my mother


The Chicago house of my childhood.

Several years ago, when my oldest granddaughter, Maddie, was five or six, she and I were in the guest room giggling about something, the rest of the family was in the living room, and the dogs were in the back yard barking continually.

“Colin really must do something about those dogs,” I said, getting up off the bed and heading for the living room. Maddie darted ahead of me, stormed into the room, and hands on hips said, “Colin, you really must do something about those dogs.” She mimicked me perfectly—tone, inflection, even the semi-angry stance. I clearly heard myself. Everyone laughed, and Colin went to quiet the dogs.

That incident came to mind because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the conventional wisdom that every woman turns into her mother. In my case, that would be a very good thing. But it’s not her laughter or her wisdom, her passion for learning and food, its not even her enveloping love that I’m thinking of. It’s little things.

In Chicago summers, in an old house without air conditioning, Mom would throw the house open in the early morning to bring in cool, fresh air; by noon she had it closed up tight, shades drawn against the sun, and it stayed that way at least until dark set in. I do the same with my cottage, turning off the a/c and opening the French door so Sophie can come and go, and I can get the feel of being outdoors, even at my desk.

For her children, Mom was a one-woman clipping service, often sending us news pieces that she thought we would or should enjoy. I’m afraid Christian gets the brunt of that from me because I’m always sending him links to stuff about garden and lawn care (I did just this morning) or recipes I think he’ll like. I did send all the kids a note yesterday that their favorite greasy spoon in Waco is for sale and I wondered if they wanted to make it a family business. Only a million and a half.

Mom lived through the Depression as a young wife and mother, and the rest of her long life she wasted nothing. When we cleaned out her refrigerator that last time, we found baby food jars with unidentifiable bits of food in them, some of it moldy. She used paper towels twice—once on a counter spill and the second time on a floor spill—and she had a special place she kept them in between. She saved bits of string, used gum wrappers (they were aluminum back in the day), and rubber bands. She canned her own tomatoes, made her own applesauce and soups, and cooked from scratch. I’m not as frugal, a fact she often pointed out to me once I had my own home, but I save leftovers in the freezer, and I do a lot of scratch cooking. I thought of Mom the other night when I made salmon croquettes, one of the dishes she regularly rotated though in retrospect I can’t imagine how she got my meat-and-potatoes father to eat them.

I’ve got a long way to go to be as kind and gracious as my mom, let alone as good a cook and as good a mom, but sometimes I hear her in my voice or recognize her in my attitude. It makes me smile.

On another note, I slept so hard and dreamt so vividly this morning that I woke thinking if I could write like I dream I’d have best-selling novels and box-office hits to my name. My dreams were jumbled but somewhere in there was a sit com about New York fashionistas enduring the hardships of camping for the sake of the men in their lives—it was all slapstick humor, and, by the end, there was not much love to be lost. And then there was a movie about what a wonderful life on the lam a runaway girl had, and I remember thinking what an awful, unrealistic role model that was for young girls. No, it had nothing to do with the movie by that name or the band. It probably came from a book I was reading last night where a young girl is kidnapped, and some officers insist that she was probably just another runaway.

Here's my cheer for the day: to Jou Joubert, barbecue pitmaster who was delivering the wedding dinner to a party at a private home, only to learn that the minister hadn’t shown up and the bride was in tears. Asked if he was an ordained minister, he told them yes and married the couple in a ten-minute ceremony.

And here’s my boo-hiss for the day: to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a headline proclaiming that Beto swore at an Abbott supporter. Beto’s got too much class for that kind of cheap political stunt. Swear he did, but who the man would vote for wasn’t the issue. Beto swore out of passionate, deep-down anger at a man who would try to make a joke out of AR-15s and the massacre at Uvalde. I might not have used the same word, but I’d have sworn too. Go, Beto!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The eloquence of companionable silence


The other night my visiting daughter, Megan, and I were in the cottage, each absorbed in whatever we were reading. We had about chatted ourselves out, catching up on what’s going on in the family, what’s happening with my Austin grands (the younger of the two got a job hosting in one of my favorite cafes—I can’t wait to go there again!), talking about recipes which we can do endlessly. But we had settled into silence. About nine-thirty, she came for a hug and said, “I think I’ll go inside and get ready for bed. It’s not as though we are talking to each other.” I protested, “But I was enjoying your company, even If we weren’t talking.”

It made me think of a favorite poem, “Speech after long silence,” by W. B. Yeats, so I looked it up and printed it out. Only when I reread it did I realize it didn’t really apply to a mother and daughter—it’s obviously two older lovers—but I have always thought it spoke to the eloquence of a shared silence. I printed it out for Meg, but she is not much given to poetry, I don’t think, and was busy with other things. So I’ll share it with you. Yeats having died in 1939 and the poem being all over the internet, I’m pretty sure it’s in the public domain:

Speech after long silence; it is right,

All other lovers being estranged or dead,

Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,

The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,

 That we descant and yet again descant

 Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:

 Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young

We loved each other and were ignorant.

That resonates with me on so many levels, so I hope it may with you too and bring you some comfort on this almost-rainy night, whether you have companionship for your silence or, like me, memories.

Yes, rain—almost but not quite. Last night we had an impressive serenade of thunder. Sophie took it seriously enough that she was right by my side. But we probably didn’t get more than two minutes of scattered drops. Tonight the sky to the northeast is dark and blue, which is strange because our weather usually comes from the west/northwest. I understand downtown they got a brief shower and much farther east, they got some good rain. Not us.

Jordan has pulled the dead herbs from my wooden garden and the petunias from the pots by the door. You wouldn’t think that is cheery, but I am relieved not to look at dead, brown plants. The pentas are still struggling, and nothing has bloomed—not the pentas which were so tall and colorful last year nor the magnificent oakleaf hydrangeas. It’s a brown, sad world. But the bright note is that at seven-thirty, my computer tells me the temperature is only 85.

Trivia for the day: I really appreciate the man who took the time to write me about my You-Tube page, what is wrong with it, what he would do to make it vibrant and attract customers. Trouble is, I don’t have a You-Tube page. I think he may be worse than all those men who write to tell me how beautiful my smile is and how impressed they are with my posts and how they’d love to be friends but they’ve tried a couple of times and the requests didn’t go through. Would I please respond so that we could correspond. My first thought as I hit “Delete” is, do they know how old I am? Second is, how dumb do they think I am?

And I found out the name for cottage: it’s an “Accessory Dwelling Unit,” ADU for short. I shouldn’t joke because I read that in a moving article about a challenged adult whose family built an ADU so he could be close and still get personal care. For me, I like “cottage” a lot better. Granny-pod is maybe okay, though those are often simply a bedroom in a separate building. For heaven’s sake, I want to do more than sleep out here in the back forty. Just fixed myself a dinner of salmon patties, leftover cooked carrots (which I adore and no one else eats), and leftover oven potatoes with gravy—too full to eat the potatoes, so they went back in the fridge.

A good, productive day—I wrote maybe 800 words on Helen Corbitt and a thousand on Irene’s latest adventure. I think I’m entitled to spend the rest of the evenin with a book—in companionable silence with myself.

Stay cool and pray you get wet. If it rains, walk right out into it and raise your arms in glory!

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

The guard has changed


Me and Megan at Don Artemio.
I should have taken pictures of the food.

The Burtons are home, exhilarated but a wee bit fatigued, Megan is on her way to Austin, and routine has settled over our compound. I’m about to fix tuna salad for lunch—what could be more routine?

My week of kids ended with a dining adventure last night. Megan and I went to Don Artemio, the new, upscale steakhouse and tequila bar that has Fort Worth agog. I am by no means knowledgeable enough to critique food from central Mexico (the only other Don Artemio is in Saltillo, near San Miguel), but I can tell you what I liked and what I was uncertain about.

Megan was absolutely fascinated by the d├ęcor and the “feel” of the restaurant, especially the thousands of hand-made Saltillo bricks that make up walls, deliberately just a kilter off. The industrial ceiling with its ducts is dark gray, and the colors throughout are muted, perfect foil for the blue-and-white molcajete that several dishes are served in. At one end of the large space, sound is baffled by an intriguing installation of yarn and wood that looks a little like one loom after another.

We split the guacamole with chicharrones of ribeye, and it was wonderful. Megan loves hot, spicy things; me, not so much. In fact, not at all. So for me the guacamole was perfect—creamy, smooth, and flavorful without a bite but a perfect contrast in texture and taste to the tiny bits of delicious steak. I am also always cautious about ceviche because it often contains shrimp, and I’m allergic. But this was salmon and whitefish in pungent lime sauce. Tasty, but the fish was diced so fine! I’d like the pieces a bit larger.

Megan had a salad of grilled hearts of palm, tomato, avocado, and panela cheese, which proved to be a solid block of a mild cheese—all with a chili vinaigrette. Most people scorn tongue, but I grew up eating it and like it, though my acquaintance is almost entirely with corned beef tongue, as served in our local deli. The menu last night offered tongue tacos (Taco de Lengua) with salsa verde and tequila-cured tomato, onion, and cilantro. I asked the server about the dish, and she said it was one of their most popular. Belatedly, it occurred to me that was probably a clever way for her to encourage me to order it. At any rate I did, and it was superb—rich tasting. The meat had been braised overnight. The salsa was too hot for me, but I put some of the tomato on one of my three tacos and later wished I’d put it inside.

A most satisfying experience. We were too full to even consider tres leches cake or ice cream, but I had a second glass of good chardonnay and Megan had another margarita. Then we drove around the Monticello neighborhood a bit, with Megan remarking that she knew the part of Fort Worth she grew up in and the area around her high school, but there are large chunks of the city that are strange to her. We had planned to do a quick drive to Mule Alley because she wanted to see the Drover Hotel and other developments in the stockyards, but we ran out of time. Megan’s a lawyer and got stuck on a call so we barely made it to the restaurant for our reservation. I told her that tour is a good reason for her to come back soon.

The Burtons were here when we got home, demanding to know why we’d been out so late (nine o’clock). They were full of stories of Cabo with a crowd of birthday celebrants. Megan and Jordan pored over pictures (I figure I’ll see them later) and laughed as they always do when they’re together. Christian gave up and went inside, and I soon announced I was going to bed. This morning there was no sign of life from the house—oh I did see Christian let a dog out—until ten o’clock when Megan came out. The two sisters had sat on the front porch and finished the bottle of wine Megan brought.

Happy times—and now I hear Helen Corbitt calling me.

Soph says goodnight.
A girl needs a pillow for her head.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Changing of the guard—again


With Megan. Not my best picture,
but my new tortoise-shell glasses are cool!

Colin left around noon, and Megan arrived about four. I am the most spoiled mom in town. Burtons will be home tomorrow night, but Megan will stay until early Tuesday morning. We have lots of great plans—dinner at Pacific Table, organizing my freezer (she did it not long ago, and it made such a difference!), a drive to the Stockyards because Megan wants to see the new restaurants and hotel on Mule Alley, and I just want to get out. She has promised Sophie a walk around the block—a rare treat. But we both have work to do, so we’ll see what plays out.

I am eating well during this week of kids. Megan and I collaborated tonight on a recipe new to me: Light Chinese Chicken Salad with Hoisin Sauce. I knew Megan likes salads, Asian food, and light suppers. It was a perfect choice, though Christian may think I’m invading his territory. He’s the Asian cook in the household, though less inclined to make salads than more complicated Asian dishes. When I once suggested a chop suey recipe, he informed me that the chop suey of my childhood is today’s stir fry. He gets a bonus from tonight’s dinner, because he didn’t have hoisin sauce in his armament of Asian condiments, and now he does. I bought it for the salad.

At any rate, the salad was good—a vinaigrette with sesame oil, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, soy; salad was cabbage—do you know how much Napa cabbage costs? I didn’t use it. Used shredded cole slaw mix, shredded cabbage, scallions, bean sprouts, chicken. We topped each serving with chow mein noodles, though Megan points out slivered almonds would add the same crunch and are healthier.

In addition to my children, I have been helped several times by the pet sitter here to take care of the Burtons’ two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The girls are old and a bit of a challenge, but Andrea has gone about it, five times a day in this heat, with good grace and a smile. And she has gone above and beyond to help me with kids locked out of the house, packages on the porch, keeping June Bug out of my cottage (her house manners are unreliable) and other small things. If you ever need a pet sitter, I recommend Andrea Rutledge highly. Email or call me for contact info.

Colin stayed to go to virtual church with me this morning, which was a treat, but he chided me for not paying close attention to the readings. I did pay better attention to the sermon, which was about the role of doubt in faith and the wrongness (is that the right word) of being certain you are right about faith and that yours is superior. We “attended” early church and after that, I got a lot more reading done on Helen Corbitt

Now Megan is looking at her phone, and I am going to read. I’m still reading the mystery series by Helen Currie Foster, and to my delight, the current one, Ghost Dagger, takes Alice to Scotland, so as I read, I’m reliving my own visit to the land of my ancestors—and loving it.

We’re to be cooler this week—in the nineties. Six months ago we would not have thought that sounded like relief, but it does now. Enjoy the break everyone and pray for those threatened by fire.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

My two sons


With Jamie here for two days, followed by Colin for two days, I’ve been thinking about how alike and yet how very different my two sons are. This occurred to me because meal prep for each was so different. For Jamie, I fixed a vegetarian dinner Wednesday—green noodles and squash casserole—and Thursday we had BBQ. They did overlap on that, because Colin suggested he’d stop and bring BBQ and I had to say I’d just had it. So last night, I fixed him salmon croquettes—Jamie won’t touch salmon, wouldn’t have liked the capers I put in them (neither did I—kitchen fail!).

Then I began to think of other differences. Jamie drives a red Lexus sports car; Colin drives aFa huge pick-up that for some reason he has jacked up since the last time I tried to get into it. Jamie lives in an upscale suburb; Colin, on the edge of a small Texas city, virtually in the country. (I have a wonderful picture of the two of them, but I can't find it, so there's Sophie again.)

Of course, they share many similarities. They are, like their sisters, fond of their siblings and close to them. Nothing makes these grown Alter kids happier than a family get-together. But there’s something special between the boys—a loving rivalry that one year prompted me at Christmas to get matching T-shirts that said, “Mom loves me best.” Another year, each one got a tool belt, and they had tool-belt duels in my kitchen. Both are marathoners or have been, literally and figuratively following in their father’s footsteps. And both now, are in their fifties-how did that happen?

Another thing they have in common but don’t is a disregard for time: Jamie is chronically late because he gets involved in something and doesn’t leave it. Colin, on the other hand, never sees a reason to get upset or hurry. He’s the one who, when I get upset about a rude driver, will say to me, “Look at you! Why are you so upset?” Tonight he left a little before five to pick up groceries at Central Market, swing by Lucile’s for lobster rolls, and come home. By seven I called to ask if he was negotiating to buy Lucile’s (he’s in the private equity business). He said no, but he’d met some interesting people at the bar, and he just stayed talking.

Tomorrow, Colin leaves and Megan arrives. It will give me the prompt to think about how my girls are alike and different. They, too, are best friends. Each watches her weight and diet, so I have to be careful with both. Fixing an Asian chicken salad for Meg tomorrow night—an experiment.

Meantime, Colin took Sophie to the vet this morning but was back so fast I couldn’t imagine what he’d done. She got a steroid shot and an order for Robitussin. Dr. Minnerly said her cough is aggravated by the heat and the dust and will diminish if and when we ever get some rain. I can tell she’s better already—unfortunately one thing that tells me is that her bark sounds better, and she is frantically barking at something the neighbor boys are doing. But early this morning she was uninterested in her food; an hour after her visit to the vet, she ate. And I haven’t heard a cough yet. (I did hear some coughing late in the afternoon, but nothing prolonged like it had been.)

A side note on the vet trip: Colin came home and said, “Dr. Minnerly said he has a patient base of 6,000. Do you know what number you are?” and I replied right away, “Two, and number one is inactive.” I had known about second place for a while but did not know the extent of his client list. It’s a milestone of some sort, though I’m not sure what. We moved to the TCU area in 1969, when Colin was not yet a year old, and I’m sure that’s when we started going to University Animal Clinic.

It's like Carshon’s Deli, where Colin has been going since he was an infant. Now, he won’t come to town without a visit to Carshon’s. Today he got himself a Rebecca sandwich. How lovely is it to have all that history, all that tradition built into our lives!

I repeat, as I often do: I am blessed.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Politics all around me


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think we ought to scrub our whole government and start over, perhaps with the wisdom of hindsight. There is so much disorganization, so much disinformation that it makes my head hurt. I am deluged with emails in these days leading up to the mid-terms.

Emails seen to fall into several categories. There are those frantic-sounding “Breaking News!” which often announce news that instead of breaking is at least a week old. Sometimes it’s just a twist on old news.

Then there are the appeals designed to make you think you are special. Maybe because I am outspoken on social media and have donated to various Democratic candidates across the country, I get emails telling me I am one of three chosen to speak for Tarrant County or I have been chosen for a special focus group.

Then there are emails claiming we are so close to passing this or that legislation, and won’t I contribute to help. For instance, I’ve gotten way too many telling me we’re close to passing the judiciary act, and If I’ll just send $10, $20, etc. we can get it passed. I resent the assumption that money will facilitate passage of legislation. How does that work? I understand that candidates need money to make the public aware of their candidacy, but by the time legislation is before Congress, how does money help? The issue should already be beyond advertising and public opinion. Does whatever PAC is soliciting intend to bribe legislators? Supposedly the legislation is now up to the wisdom of congressional members (don’t laugh—wisdom was the only word I could think of).

For candidates of either party, it all comes down to money, not policies. Apparently, the one who buys the most TV time and garners the most name recognition is assumed to win. The worst that can happen is to be out-raised, I don’t understand Citizens United enough to know how much of this harks back to that decision from SCOTUS. I do know that there are some candidates I hear from six, eight, ten times a day, and I’m tired of it.

If I’ve got my history right, the Lincoln/Douglas debates were ground-breaking because up until then it had been deemed unseemly for a man (no women allowed) to speak on his own behalf as a candidate. The office-seeker was supposed to sit back modestly, while others extolled his virtue. I don’t know but my instinct is not much money was involved.

I’d like to go back to a state where candidates could not accept contributions, even from individuals, let alone political action committees and corporations. In the spirit of getting money out of politics, I think lobbying should be a federal crime. Extreme, I know, but we’ve got to clean up this system somehow. Maybe if we did that, we would be ruled by an iron-fisted minority.

And then there’s social media, specifically Facebook. I make no apologies for being active on Facebook—I use it to tell people about my books, to build my reputation as an author (and, I hope, as a friend and a cook). I have renewed old friendships and made new ones that I treasure. But there are some awful people on Facebook who sling lies and insults without blinking an eye. They not only accuse without proof, but they are also often obviously uneducated (spelling and grammar are clues). To me that correlates with a lack of critical thinking and a willingness to accept what they are told. And as we are increasingly finding out, Russia has for some years had an active campaign to sow disinformation in our country and cause divisions among our people. Count that a success for them, and an abject failure for America.

Today a man wrote about the descrace [sic] that Biden is. I resisted the temptation to be snarky and tell him I’d take his opinion seriously when he learns to spell. Others tell me Biden is corrupt, the worst president ever, determined to destroy America, has done nothing while in office. If I suggest I’d welcome a calm discussion, I am told I need mental help. When another person went on about Biden doing nothing, I replied that I just wanted to ask her one question: did she get and accept a relief check from the government during quarantine. No answer.

I know, I know. I should just move on and not try to reason with unreasonable people—and many times I do that. But sometimes I just can’t resist.

Yep, we need to untangle this mess and start over.