Monday, March 27, 2023

My friendship garden


These three are among the many friends I treasure

I didn’t do much work today. Instead, I spent much of the day emailing back and forth with friends, or, as I came to think of it, tending my friendship garden. I have long likened friendships to a garden—you have to work to maintain them. I know people who have few if any friends and people who have only their friends of the immediate moment but have lost contact with those from the past. I think that’s sad. I am blessed with friends from my childhood forward—many these days by email, but some still in person. But I work at it. And I think as I age, keeping my friendships alive and healthy becomes more and more important to me.

Today many of my emails had to do with the loss of a friend of fifty years or more. Bill Benge’s death put me in touch with friends from Colorado to New York City who wanted to know how to contact Sharon, when was the service, where should they send memorial donations. I think I said recently that my mom said one of the saddest parts of growing old was that your friends died all around you. That’s true, but I hadn’t thought through to the fact that a death puts you in touch with others who also held the deceased dear. I wouldn’t say it’s been a benefit, but it has helped to share the grief and the admiration for a life well lived.

But then there were also emails about the yard and work that needs to be done, my hearing aid which suddenly went dead, the menu for a guest who’s coming tomorrow night and insists that I have fed her enough and she will bring dinner—I have willingly agreed to that because I’m still a bit gob smacked and the menu I planned, an asparagus tart, suddenly sounded overwhelming. It was the kind of day when I had to stop and think, “Now who was I going to email next?”

A few professional emails worked their way in—one about an upcoming review of my new book, another to send off a guest post, and one in response to my newsletter which just went out yesterday. (Didn’t get yours? Just let me know at and I’ll see that it gets in the mail.) And there were a couple of emails that tied to the TCU community.

All of this emailing was a welcome activity because I am, as I’ve said, between projects and faced with deciding what I’m going to work on next. Ideas for a new Irene are rattling in my brain but not solid enough for action yet, and there is always Helen Corbitt … but I keep procrastinating. Perhaps if I reread what I have, I’d regain my enthusiasm.

But I digress, because I really wanted to talk about friendship and communities. My webmaster who is profoundly deaf wrote me that she hopes to move from Long Island to Rochester, NY where there is a large deaf community. I asked if it is a close-knit community, and she said it is and she already has friends and connections there. And that got me to thinking about the various communities in which we all live.

These days I think mine are the mystery writing community and my church community plus maybe the close-knit neighborhood I live in is a community. When I was younger, the world of osteopathic medicine was also a community for me. When my husband and I first traveled, in so many U.S. cities there was usually a D.O. who I had known as child, several of whom I called uncle. And then for thirty years, there was the TCU community where I spent some of the happies—and some of the most difficult—years of my career. Facebook is a critter of a different nature and yet, a community of its own. I find I have many Facebook friends that I have met online, never met in person and probably never will. But they are important to me.

Communities, I am convinced, shape our lives, but they are not mutually exclusive—a mistaken notion held by many. It is possible to move easily between communities and, as we age, to move from one to another. For instance, my mystery writing and Facebook communities have lots of overlap. But my point about friendship is that you can still maintain contact with some from a community that is no longer a part of your life. That is the case for me and the osteopathic community and, in many ways, for the TCU community. Life brings change, and change usually is growth—but you don’t have to leave behind the people you have treasured.

I may have been wandering in a field of words here, but I think what I’m trying to say is that as we move through life—for me from childhood to golden years—we meet a lot of people, many of whom will pass out of our lives. Their part in our story is done. But there are some in each community or group or aspect of our lives, that we treasure and keep with us as friends. Those friendships don’t automatically survive without attention. You have to tend to your friendship garden.

In an apropos metaphor, I plan to go nursery shopping this week to tend to my springtime garden. A different kind of garden but also important.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

My non-cooking cooking weekend and a doggy discovery


Panzanella (Italian salad)

Shh! Don’t tell Jean, but that dinner I was too tired to cook for her last night—white bean soup and panzanella salad—was delicious tonight. Like my mom’s migraines, my ennui of yesterday was a one-day affair, and while I won’t say I bounced back, I think I sort of hopped—awkwardly. And thanks to Jean, I had a loaded baked potato for lunch—the one she brought from Jason’s last night was huge, and I was not yet ready to eat heartily then. Today I was ravenous. (I just took a picture of the panzanella and sent it from my phone to my computer—it arrived with the captions, “pan smells.”

Slept late this morning, went to church online, made croutons for the salad (not as difficult as I anticipated, but the crust on Central Market sourdough is so good but so tough), and made the soup. Then I had to have a nap, but that’s not unusual for me.

Church was interesting. Russ Peterman has been preaching sermons based on various hymns, which delighted me because I can still recite the word of the old hymns I remember from childhood and in my mind I can hear the melody (somehow it doesn’t come out well when I try to sing, and I am in awe of choir members my age who lift their voices in praise). Today’s hymn was “How Great is Thy Faithfulness,” which I don’t remember but I learned today is a beautiful, soaring piece of music. The sermon dwelt on the fact that we are not promised eternal happiness on earth, but we are sure of God’s faithful love when tragedy strikes.

I remembered a tsunami that killed thousands one year in this century. A friend who was a nonbeliever asked me how I could believe in a good god who let such happen, and I posed the question to our then-minister. He said, “Shit happens, but when it does, God is there to help us.” That was essentially this morning’s message, and since this year a lot of “sh*t” has happened to those I love, I found it meaningful.

Just as I finished making the soup this morning, my induction hot plate began to sing to me—an ominous sign. It had gone berserk. In the six years since I have relied on one, this is the second to fall apart. It leaves me without a way to cook, except the toaster oven. Fortunately tonight Jordan took the soup pot inside and heated it. I have ordered a new hot plate—it should arrive Tuesday. I understand a good friend is already pledged to bring us dinner tomorrow night—good timing.

Tonight I discovered a dog rescue group I didn’t know existed: Doodle Rock Rescue intrigued me. It seems to me yesterday but I am sure is a lot longer that labradoodles were new to the dog world, expensive and rare. Now they and all the designer variations have become so common that they are a glut on the market and many need rescue. It speaks to a lot of things to me—prime among them owners who do not take dog ownership seriously, not recognizing dogs a living beings who love, hunger, know pain and fear.

Of course I would love another doodle—Sophie is a bordoodle, a deliberate cross of a border collie and a miniature poodle. I don’t think she would take well to another dog, and after the recent expensive adventure with her health, I don’t think I can afford another dog right now. But I am so glad there is an active rescue organization for these dogs. This overbreeding, if that’s what it is, has apparently not affected the price of kennel-bred dogs—I just checked the kennel where I got Sophie eleven years ago, and the price has tripled—it was high enough then.

My good friends Sue and Teddy got a Bernadoodle (Bernese mountain dog/standard poodle) about a year ago. Mina is a lovely girl, full of energy, happy, and loving. Just this week, looking for a buddy or Mina, they rescued a labradoodle, almost a year old, a male who has the same high energy and loving disposition. He was raised in a loving home but the owner was unable to care for him because of illness. Sue, Teddy, and Mina are over the moon with joy and I’m a wee bit jealous.

Springfield doodles

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Taking a day out


I read the other day that if you drink chardonnay (I do), you are becoming your mother. If you put ice in your chardonnay (I don’t), you are your mother. In truth, if someone told me I was becoming my mother, I would take it as a great compliment.

Today I became my mother. When I was young, Mom had migraines, and she would periodically take to her bed for a day. If someone said, “How is your mother?” or “I hope your mother is better,” I would cheerfully respond, “Oh, she’ll be all right tomorrow.” And she always was. Her days out were always one-day affairs.

I took a day out today. I didn’t sleep well last night and woke determined to feed Sophie and go back to bed. So I got up three times to deal with Sophie matters and ultimately slept until 9:30, unheard of for me., But by 11:30, I was exhausted and my bed was calling to me. Sophie and I essentially slept the day away. I have a friend who calls these “pajama days,” and says we all need one every so often.

Tonight, it is 8:30 and my bed is calling again, but Soph has other ideas. But I still don’t feel I’ve got all my sleep out. There’s been a lot of stress in our household/compound (two households=a compound?) what with the death of Christian’s mom, the planning for various memorial services, my brother’s illness, and the illness of various friends, including the death of one longtime friend. As someone said to me today, the only bright spot is that Sophie is happy, healthy, and active.

Who knows why I was so tired today—maybe it was nothing more than something I ate yesterday. At any rate, like my mother, I will be better tomorrow.

Jean came for supper tonight. I had planned a lovely supper—white bean soup with pickled celery and an Italian panzanella (bread) salad. Instead, she picked up supper at Jason’s Deli—a loaded baked potato for me and a Mediterranean salad for her. They were good, but my supper would have been better. Oh well tomorrow is another day.

See you tomorrow.


Friday, March 24, 2023

There goes Texas literature—and a fond farewell to a good man


Despite Larry McMurtry’s complaint that agrarian Texas never produced any great literature, Texas has produced some classics, ranging from John Graves, Goodbye to a River to Dorothy Scarborough’s The Wind. Arguably, the most revered of our books, at least in contemporary times, is McMurtry’s own Lonesome Dove, a saga of western life in which he does everything he says great Texas literature should not do—cattle drives, saloon girls, the Old West come to life.

Now a Texas state legislator, Republic Jared Patterson of Frisco, wants to ban from school libraries any book with sexually explicit material. When a fellow legislator challenged him, Patterson stepped into his own trap. Asked if Lonesome Dove would be banned, Patterson admitted he’d never read it—one wonders if he and other book banners read anything—but he went on to say that if it contained sexually explicit terminology, yes it would be banned. Them’s fightin’ words, pardner!

But to make the whole thing more hilarious, an ally of Patterson, Christin Bentley, chimed in to say that she had done a word search of the book—when you can’t read the whole book, do a word search! Marvelous way to judge literature. She searched for twenty-first-century sexual terms—the F-bomb, pussy, sex, vagina—and reported that Lonesome Dove passed her stringent test with flying colors. There is, she concluded, no sexually explicit material in the book.

That line alone left those of us who have read the book in tears of hysterical laughter. I remember a born-again acquaintance of mine complaining way back in the eighties that he thought his wife was offended when Gus asked Lorena to give him a poke. (Note that the guy wouldn’t admit offense but laid it off on his wife—always got to protect women and children). Representatively Bentley, with her earnest good intentions, had searched for twenty-first century terms in a book set in the 1880s and written in 1985. The mind boggles.

Apparently Patterson got a lot of ridicule from both sides of the aisle. Maybe enough to quash his bill.

And it gets worse—we’ve all heard that a principal in a Florida school that prides itself on a classic education was fired because she showed a picture of Michaelangelo’s David to sixth graders. And the inevitable has happened—a couple in Utah is clamoring for banning the Bible because of all the offensive material in it. And, indeed, if you are easily offended, you’ll find something to object to in the Bible.

A letter to the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram pointed out that legislators are busily passing laws to protect our children from smut, sexually explicit images, trans kids in the bathroom and the like, while ignoring that most deaths of teens and even younger children are caused by guns and drugs. When will Texans wake up and stop voting for people who want to legislate morality but not life-saving measures. Spare me the Second Amendment arguments or the passing of blame to Mexican cartels for importing drugs.

Yesterday incensed by Rep. Patterson’s idiocy, I shared his thoughts on a small, private listserv and was rewarded by a colleague who pointed out that you can get banned book stickers on Amazon. I thought it a great idea, approached a neighbor who has a little free library, but she said she wasn’t interested. She just wants the books to be fun. That kind of thinking makes me growl. Give us another generation, and reading will no longer be fun. We will have a generation of students without world knowledge and with narrow horizons, no opening of the mind. Besides, if children don’t read about sex, hetero-, homo- and trans-, in books, they will learn about it on TV and their cell phones. Better they should read literary treatment of those subjects.

On a different but sad note, I learned today that I lost a friend of fifty-plus years yesterday. Bill Benge was a one-of-a-kind good man. He and Sharon had children a little older than mine fifty years ago when we all lived in the Park Hill neighborhood. We have remained friends ever since, entertaining each other in our homes, keeping up with the kids, all the things that friends do. Bill and Sharon were always so good about including me in events, theater trips, and the like. In recent years, Bill would call every now and again just to check on how I was doing, and I returned the favor, though not as often as he would have liked. His health took a turn for the worse so suddenly that I didn’t have a chance to tell him how much his friendship and kindness have meant to me over the years. Now I hope his family realizes that and I send prayers to Sharon, their children and grandchildren.

My mom was right when, in her eighties, she said to me the hardest part of growing old was seeing all her friends die. This has been a heck of a difficult year so far.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A short meditation on being a stay-at-home.


I go days, even weeks these day without leaving my own property. It’s not a problem, and I am perfectly happy. I am fortunate to have family just a hundred feet away, a loving dog for companionship (and nagging, demanding behavior), and many friends who come for happy hour or a light supper. I am also happy with my own company, have plenty to keep me occupied, and sometimes find myself longing for a bit of solitude. So all that is of my own design and is a good thing.

Still, I find I miss restaurant dinners. I keep up with reviews and announcements of new restaurants, I drool over menus, I crave the sociability and atmosphere (though I often find the food at home is better), and I should probably make a list. Tonight I went out to dinner with three friends who try to dine together more than occasionally. We went to a new restaurant (in a jinxed location) that I had suggested, and it was a medium success. I had sliders and Caesar salad—sliders were good, not great, a bit dry, but the Caesar salad was terrific. Not tossed like most salads, but served the way Caesar was originally meant to be—individual romaine leaves loaded with dressing and grated Parmesan. Two of my friends had had pasta alla carbonara and enjoyed it thoroughly. But, alas, the fourth had eggplant parmigiana which looked to be a small if artful serving. She reported however that the dish was too salty and the eggplant tough. You have to work hard to make eggplant tough. At our urging, she told our waitperson, but nothing ever happened. I would think they would have sent out a manager to apologize, comp the meal, etc. but nada. That doesn’t mean we’ll write the restaurant off, but none of us will order eggplant again.

But what I learned, just for me, is that going out so changes my thinking so that I spend the whole day in anticipation. Not anxious, none of that stuff, just a different sense that I am going out that evening, and I am waiting for it to happen. With the result that I don’t get as much done in a day. I don’t buckle down to any serious, big work, because, you know, “I’m going out to dinner.” All that means, of course, is that I should go out more often, but I find when the opportunity arises, I often say, “Oh, just let me cook.” And that’s partly because I do enjoy cooking and feeding friends and family, but also partly because I don’t want to gear myself up to go out.

That of course leads me into a bit of guilt or angst or a case of the “shoulds.” I really must get over that, I tell myself. I must make more of an effort to get out. But then another voice in my head asks, “Why?” It’s not as though I am miserable and lonely. In fact, I have plenty of company, and I am in many ways more content than I have ever been in my life.

This is one of life’s dilemmas—granted not a major one—where I guess the answer is in the middle of the road. So I’ll continue to go out occasionally and to enjoy folks in my cottage more often.

Sigh. Tomorrow, I have to go out for medical appointments. Now that’s a whole different thing!


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

A Scottish disappointment, a somber happy hour, and a wild sandwich


If you know much about me, you know that my maiden name is MacBain and that I am a fan of all things Scottish—except yesterday I had a disappointment. Fortunately, it wasn’t major and didn’t affect my love for the land of my ancestors.

Before I get to the story of my disappointment, I want to say something about my last name and pen names. These days so many divorcees take their maiden name back. I didn’t because I had four little Alters and a smidgeon of a reputation as a writer. Many times I wished I was writing as Judy MacBain—I have a lot of emotion invested in that name and not much, except maybe lingering regret, in the Alter name. But it is far too late to change now. Once, a man I worked for thought I should be writing as Judith MacBain Alter. I asked Larry Swindell, then book editor of the Star-Telegram, what he would think if I did that, and he replied, “I’d think Judy Alter had taken on airs.” That was the end of that. And I never wanted to use a pen name—if I wrote it, I wanted people to know that.

Back to my disappointment: Mary found a company that gives live-streaming walking tours of various sights around the globe. Yesterday they had one scheduled of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile. It came right in the middle of my morning work time but I determined to play hooky and watch it. I’ve been to the castle—ten or twelve years ago—and wanted to refresh my memory.

The tour opened with a shot of the entrance—fair enough. But the camera stayed on that shot … and stayed and stayed, every once in a while panning around to the parking lot and tourists coming and going. We saw a lot of castle employees moving barricades and looking busy, but we never got beyond the entrance. And I quickly figured out, hearing aids or no, the narrator had such a thick Scottish burr I couldna understand what he was saying. It’s like the bagpipes—I love the sound but never can detect the melody.

Finally, the camera moved on—down the Royal Mile, away from the castle. What we essentially saw was tourists coming and going. Occasionally the camera would pan on a specific business, but since I couldn’t understand the man, I had no idea of the importance. It was fun to see the architecture of the shops and structures, and the mix of tourists was interesting—but far from riveting. And periodically the camera froze, so the people were frozen in mid-step and odd angles. All in all, it was a royal disappointment.

We had happy hour tonight with Mary who goes into the hospital tomorrow for some heavy back surgery. So that was on our minds, and we are still reeling from the illness and death of Christian’s mother and the pending services. We have another friend in hospice, my brother still in the hospital, and tonight brought news of a friend who suddenly has several unrelated health issues. We were a gloomy bunch, though we did have a laugh about the time Christian got us all lost in the tiny town of Edom, which is a hard place to get lost. Still, I was aware again tonight of what a difficult year 2023 has been—and I had such high hopes for it.

Tonight was sandwich night. The Burtons intended to eat in the cottage but got involved in

something in the house, so I ended making my own sub sandwich. I got carried away, went overboard, and made a gigantic sandwich. It was a real challenge to eat It, and I had to mop my desktop after I got through and probably should have taken a shower. It eventually got
The point at which
I gave up trying.

down to crumbs that were impossible to eat. Sure was good though.

In this topsy-turvy, uncertain year, we all need sweet dreams. May yours be blissful tonight.

Monday, March 20, 2023

A cooking weekend with some silly problems


The glory of a leftover hamburger and potato salad

Some days just don’t start off well. That was my day yesterday—nothing serious but three disconcerting moments before I was even out of bed half an hour. I tried to comb my hair, which is straight and fine and does not tangle—and the comb snapped in two in my hands. I put away dishes from the night before, including a pair of scissor that come apart for thorough cleaning—and I could not get them back together again, even though I’ve done it a thousand times. And I could not get the electric teakettle to stay on and heat water for my tea—every time I pushed the button, it popped right back up although I knew the water was not yet hot. I truly considered going back to bed. It kind of frightens me how often I think going back to bed would solve all problems! (I realize in re-reading this paragraph it could sound like the onset of senility--I believe and hope not!)

It may look striated,
but it is one piece.
My cooking has been off lately, mostly because I never knew who would be where, when, and hungry. But this weekend I got back to it—with some triumphs and some failures. Triumphs first: I love a filet of sole, that most delicate of fish. But not only is the taste delicate, the flesh is too. I have never been able to sauté it without the fish breaking into pieces. It’s become known as fish hash in our family, and I don’t serve it often. Saturday night I was dining alone, so I got myself a half lb. of sole, thinking I didn’t care if it turned into hash. It would still have the delicate flavor. Voila! I sauteed two filets without breaking up either one! And I learned a quarter lb. of fish is enough for me. Had the second filet for lunch Sunday, with a green salad. Jordan happened into the cottage when I was fixing it and said she was jealous.

Failure: I made a Reuben casserole Friday night, out of leftover corned beef, to share with friend Renee. She is either the most polite person I know or she hasn’t a discriminating palate, because when I said, “This is not my finest meal,” she protested that she thought it was good. To me, the proportions were off, and it had too much pumpernickel. Christian loves a Reuben dip I make, so I thought he’d like the idea of this if not the reality. Next morning I texted him, told him I had leftovers, but I didn’t much like it. He texted back, “You’re really trying to sell it to me, aren’t you?” But he came out and got it and reported later he thought it was good. I think after this I’ll stick to the dip and serve the pumpernickel separately.

A medium success: years ago someone gave me a recipe for a dip with Beau Monde seasoning. You hollowed out a round loaf of rye or pumpernickel, made cubes out of the bread, and served the dip in the hollowed-out shell. Jordan loved it. I’ve rarely made it in recent years because round pumpernickels were hard to find, and I didn’t have Beau Monde. I found a small oblong pumpernickel at Central Market and discovered Christian has Beau Monde, so for Jordan’s birthday I made the dip. It was good, though the night before I had invented one with Ranch dip seasoning, and it too was good with the dark rye. I am delighted to know now where I can get a usable pumpernickel. I asked the market to slice the bread, but it occurs to me there’s no reason you can’t hollow out an oblong loaf of bread. Think out of the box, Judith!

We had a small birthday dinner for Jordan last night—two couples that they are close too. Christian made his hamburgers—he is better than Whataburger, McDonald’s, Wendys, all of them—so good. He has the magic touch. I made potato salad, following the County Line Barbecue recipe but halving it. When I made it Saturday I thought it was too watery and I’d probably gotten the proportions wrong in halving it, but last night it was much better and even got some compliments. Christian likes a mustard potato salad, which I don’t, and I was tempted to tell him to put a dab of mustard on his and stir it in—but he said he liked what I served. Thanks to Lexi Nader for Jordan's favorite cake--yellow cake with chocolate icing/

Today: leftover burgers for lunch and dinner. Last night I had a real dilemma: eat my whole hamburger or save half for lunch. I saved half, because there was so much other good stuff—dip and deviled eggs and fruit. So I had the half for lunch today and tonight I’ll have a whole one.

Seven-thirty, and it is just dusk! Woohoo! I love Daylight Savings Time!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

In memory of Sandra Burton


Christian’s mother passed away in the wee hours of March 16, peacefully in her sleep, after a long bout with Alzheimer’s and a shorter fight with an infection that attacked her weakened system. It’s been a hard month for Christian, his dad, and sister, and, by extension, our household. After a hospital stint, then time in rehab, and back to the hospital, Sandra came home under the care of hospice nurses. Although they knew the inevitable, having her home allowed her children, Christian and Julie, to spend nights and days with her, and they and their dad were with her when she died. She was very much a family person, and Christian says he was pleased that her nuclear family was all with her. I hold firm to the belief that though she was unconscious, at some level she knew they were there.

Sandra and I were not close—in so many ways, we were of different backgrounds and had little in common, except family. She was from a small town in East Texas and brought to her city life many of those traits—the food she cooked for her family, her faith, her outlook on life. When I first met her, she was a real estate agent, but I’ve heard many stories about her years devoted to motherhood.

In the twenty years I’ve known her, Sandra was not only a devoted wife and mother but a grandmother, almost as besotted with her grandchildren as I am with mine. We of course shared one—Jacob. When Julie and her husband, Aaron, fostered and then adopted two little girls, Sandra welcomed them into not only her family but her heart. Of course, Sandra and I shared another love—Christian. I remember once when I tried to complement her on her son, saying he was so helpful in doing small chores for me. She said she only wished he’d do some of her chores. Christian told me later, with a laugh, that her chores were big—rebuild the cabin in East Texas, trim all the trees on the Coppell property, etc. After that, I tried in other ways to tell her how wonderful he is.

There will be a private burial in Pittsburg, Texas. Arrangements for a celebration of life in Coppell, where the Burtons have lived for many years, are pending. Rest in peace and rise in glory, Sandra. I hope you found those streets of gold.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Storm memories


My neighbor, Susan, mopping.

In the recent devastating storms we’ve had in the Metroplex, the Alter/Burton compound has been lucky. We have survived with very little damage. When we had hail a night or two ago, I listened with worry as it pinged against the frail old  glass in the cottage windows, and I worried about the cars, particularly my soft-top VW. But all was well. Just blocks from us, at TCU and University Christian, windshields were shattered and in one instance a car top broken.

But this morning my computer popped up a memory from ten years ago, and I was taken back to a terrific spring storm that did real damage. Jacob was probably six and scared of storms, so he had slept in my bed. I am not sure if this was the time we sat in the evening and watched the rain and hail fall furiously, only later to hear that it had taken the entire roof off a building down the street. My protestations that I loved a good storm only brought forth one word from Jacob: “Why?” I couldn’t explain that as a kid in a cabin on a high ridge in the Indiana Dunes I had watched storms roll down the length of that lake and stir the water into dark, big whitecaps. Thanks to my mom’s attitude, I reveled in watching the power and was never afraid. In Texas, I have learned that a little fear might be a good thing.

But this night it must have rained hard during the night, and when I woke in the morning, I could smell wetness. It came from the back of the house, where the add-on family room has a flat roof. We were in the midst of getting the house and cottage re-roofed, and the roofers had put a tarp over the family room. I didn’t want to go back there alone, so holding Jacob’s hand, I went through the kitchen and into the family room. The wood floor was two inches deep in water, and if you stood in the middle of the room, you were rained on.

I called everyone I could think of—Jordan, our neighbors, our contractor, our roofer, and it wasn’t long before there was an army cleaning, sorting, mopping. I can still hear my neighbor (the good looking one) saying as he walked into the room, “Sweet Jesus!” and I can see Lewis, my beloved contractor, and the roofing company owner on their hands and knees sponging up water.

My cookbook collection was on top of a long bookshelf, specially built for the room. I lost all of them, including beautiful four-color coffee table books as well as books I had treasured since childhood. We were planning a special sale that afternoon of my children’s books for the parents of children at Lily B., across the street. All the children’s books were spread out on the couch—and mostly ruined. It was Jordan’s birthday, but instead of the lovely lunch we planned, she spent the day sorting wet books on the front porch, as everyone else ferried them out to her.

The long Lovesac wrap-around couch was soaked, the wood floor buckled. Fortunately, insurance covered most of it, and eventually order was restored—the floor smooth, the couch as good as new after it was sent out for a long drying process. But the books were a total loss. To me, an incredible loss.

I guess I never again felt the same about storms. But there was one funny night a year or two later when we were under severe storm warning. Jacob decided we had to go to the closet, and he kept urging me to the long closet on one side of my bedroom. When I finally went there, I saw he had a pillow and blanket for himself, an electronic game of some sort that he could play on batteries. And he had a dining chair, a flashlight, and a glass of wine for me. So we sat for a long time. When I’d ask if we could go out (I heard no thunder), he’d say, “Not yet, Juju, not yet.” It’s one of my favorite memories of his childhood.

I know with the last couple of storms this spring, friends and neighbors have suffered damage. I am grateful we’ve been spared—even the new Chinese pistache tree came through unscathed—but I worry for friends who lost so much, especially a Facebook friend with a nursery who lost a greenhouse. Storms are something we learn to live with in North Texas, and I guess we always think it wouldn’t happen to us. But it can. While I still enjoy the power and glory, I am respectful—and ever watchful.

Next time we have a storm I hope each and every one of you is safe.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

View from the cottage

The view from inside my house 
in the days when I had a houseful of littles.

I’ve been writing this blog now for seventeen years, a record which frankly astounds me. Way back in 2006 my daughter-in-law, Melanie, suggested I start a blog. Blogging was then fairly new, and I complained I had nothing to write about. “Yes, you do,” she replied. “Write about writing and cooking and grandmothering, the things you do. And call it Judy’s Stew, a stew of those things.” So that’s what happened. In those early days, I had no idea how to attach a photo, so I would write a post, send it to my computer at work, and have Melinda, the production manager, add the photo and post it. I’ve gotten a lot better since those days, thank goodness. And over the years, the number of people who read my blog and sometimes respond has grown steadily. You may never know how grateful I am to you for letting me share my thoughts and doings, some serious, a lot silly. Blogging is my form of journaling.

Six years ago, I moved into the cottage—I cannot believe it’s been that long. But I immediately recognized that my view of the world, sheltered in the back of the property, was distinctly different. And I wanted to rename the blog, “View from the Cottage.” I was discouraged from that by wiser heads, but I still keep old posts in a file with that title.

Today I was struck again by the difference in my view. As long as I lived in the main house, one of my great pleasures was to sit on the porch and watch the schoolchildren arrive in the morning for the elementary school across the street and leave in the afternoon. For six of those years, Jacob was one of those children. He stopped a my house each morning for a hug, and, most of the time, I was the one who walked across the street to get him at three o’clock (wreaked havoc on my nap time!). These days, my view of the street and the school is obstructed.

Ever since Jacob’s catalytic converter was stolen, the Burtons have parked three cars inside the electric gate—my VW which Jordan drives, Christian’s Lexus, and Jacob’s van (I have been chastised for calling it a van—it is a Toyota Sequoia, but it looks a lot like the van I drove in the late seventies). I can see around the two cars, but not Jacob’s, so my view is of a tiny sliver through an iron gate. And only if I go to the kitchen window. From my desk, I cannot see the street.

This morning was half-price day during spring break at the zoo, a day when our neighborhood is notoriously brought to its knees by zoogoers and lines of cars parked on both sides of the street, and others in a long line waiting to get to the zoo. It’s frustrating and dangerous—emergency vehicles couldn’t get in if they had to. This year new extreme measures have been instituted, and I wanted to see if they were working. I wanted to look out and see if there were bumper-to-bumper cars on the street. But I couldn’t see.

I mentioned the other day that a new building has gone up, unnoticed by me, on the neighbor’s property behind me and one lot over. I kept waiting to tell Jordan about it, but when I did, she said, “I know. I see it every day.” When Jamie and I went to the grocery Monday, we both saw it, looming over the single-story garage next door, and were amazed. Jordan made me realize it was clearly visible all along—except from my limited view from the cottage. I had wondered for weeks why I heard so much hammering—including a nail gun that seemed to ratchet up just when I wanted to nap. Now I know.

But if my view is limited, it also has advantages. You know those tacky people who leave Christmas lights up all year? Count me as one. When Mary Dulle moved, she gifted us with a live tree, about four feet tall, strung with Christmas lights. Now, in March, it still shines brightly outside my French doors. And one year Jordan bought a light that throws tiny specks of green lights on the wall of the neighbor’s casita (guest house). I love it.

When the yard is in bloom, I have a wonderful view from my desk. Last year, the pentas were pitiful, but most years they are lush and gorgeous, and in fall bright yellow mums line the front edge of the deck. This year, my new native plant bed is showing great signs of growth, and I am anxious to see it when it’s had time to fill out. It’s also showing great signs of weeds.

This morning I saw that June Bug, the youngest of the Burtons’ two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, was walking better. Several years ago, she was given months to live, but she defied predictions. Not without several lapses when we thought for sure she was going. Somehow, she rallied. This past weekend, her hind legs gave out on her until she was literally on her last legs—the dogsitter had to hold her up so she could pee. We thought it was the Rainbow Bridge for Junie. But this morning, I watched fascinated as she walked almost straight down the sidewalk. Marvelous recovery. We are calling her Kitty from now on.

Such is the view from my cottage—limited but oh so rewarding.

View from my desk window







Watching Junie walk better