Monday, December 04, 2023

My thoughts on caviar--yes, caviar!


My caviar appetizer

For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to do appetizers with caviar—no, not just because it’s ritzy and sounds sophisticated. I genuinely like it. The New York Times occasionally has recipes for dishes with caviar, like a caviar and cream cheese sandwich. I don’t know—that might be a bit much. I think caviar does best as an accent on a dish. But it’s expensive, even the cheap stuff—and my palate doesn’t know any better. But tonight, we were celebrating Subie’s birthday, so I tried something I’ve been wanting to: potato chips with seasoned sour cream and a dab of caviar. I have to confess, that was my supper. I ate a lot more than anyone else, and my honest assessment is that the flavors go together to well. The salty caviar is balanced by the sour cream and the whole things tops a potato chip almost perfectly. Almost.

I laboriously sat in Jordan’s kitchen, spooning sour cream onto potato chips— “Only unbroken ones,” she cautioned me, so I told Christian he could eat all the broken ones. I used my marrow spoon for that—another sign of my supreme sophistication. I mean, really, how many people do you know who own a marrow spoon? For that matter, how many people do you know who will eat bone marrow? Back to the caviar: the wide end of the spoon worked well for the sour cream, and I switched to the tiny narrow end for the caviar. Now, I have never been known for steady hands, and age has brought a slight tremor. So, I used my “good” right hand—still, what I intended as a neat small dollop of caviar ended up as a spray on the chip. And some ended on the counter—Christian scooped it up with a sponge, which I considered a great waste. Someone with steadier hands could have made it look a lot prettier. And the recipe said for the holiday season to use red salmon roe. That’s about twice as expensive as the low-grade black—I got black. Sometime I’d like to taste really good caviar, just to see if I could tell the difference.

A marrow spoon

Subie and I loved the chips. I don’t think Phil voiced an opinion, and I know Christian, who can sometimes these days be adventurous, was not so tonight and didn’t taste them. To my surprise, Jordan must have tried one, because she voiced what I had found: when you put the sour cream on the chip twenty or thirty minutes before serving, the chip gets soggy, at least in the middle where the sour cream is. The ideal would be somehow to make it self-serve, with small pots of sour cream and caviar. I have some left over, and a friend who probably doesn’t mind leftovers is coming one night soon. I’ll experiment with technique. And I guess I’ll use the marrow spoon again.

Writing this has made me think of my caviar memories. I did not grow up eating it. I think my introduction came the night my parents took my new husband and me to the Kungsholm in Chicago, over fifty years ago now. The Kungsholm was one of my favorite restaurants—a true Swedish smorgasbord, generous with such wonders as caviar and smoked salmon and marinated herring and all those things I love. After dinner, guests were invited to a puppet theater where miniature operas were performed. The puppets were on automated tracks, and I’m not sure how they did the sound, but it was glorious. If you ask me how I know about Dr. Faustus, I’ll say the Kungsholm. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed years ago.

But I have to be honest here: my parents were not exactly thrilled about my marriage to a Jewish boy from the Bronx, one who had never been taught much about manners and society and all the things that made my dad’s professional world go around. In Joel’s defense, he made correcting that a big project and quickly learned from Dad everything from table manners to gardening. But that night at the Kungsholm, he was delighted to have caviar. He kept going back for more until my mother said quite aloud, “I’ve never seen anyone eat so much caviar.” Joel’s family were eastern European immigrants and poor, so I don’t know how much caviar he had as a child. But he had similar foods, such as the herring and a marinated eggplant salad, etc. Anyway, that night is one of my fonder memories of him.

For over forty years, I threw a huge Christmas party, inviting sometimes a hundred of my nearest and dearest. It started small in the sixties and kept growing, at first with Joel but after he left, I kept up the tradition, with new friends. And one of the dishes I aways served had a seasoned cream cheese base with caviar, chopped onion, and chopped egg spread over it. Gosh, how I loved that. Today I don’t know if I can even find the recipe—and I certainly have no occasion for a spread that big. But I’d love to make it again.

I often talk about this last stage of life (the Third Stage, if you will) being filled with treasured memories. Tonight reminds me that caviar is one of those memories. And I’m not going to give it up. There’s more potato chips, sour cream, and caviar in my future. Yours?

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Lazy Sunday—and a PS on aging


“And on the seventh day, God rested.” I took full advantage today of God’s designation of Sunday as a day of rest. For some reason last night I couldn’t get to sleep—almost never a problem for me. So this morning I felt justified in sleeping a bit past nine o’clock. But if I thought I slept late, the Burtons outdid me—except for Jacob who was up and out the door about ten to go host at Joe T.’s. It was well after eleven before I heard a peep out of his parents, which meant Sophie did not get her shot this morning. The vet said it’s okay to miss once in a while but don’t do it too often. So this was once in a while.

That start to the day threw my whole schedule off. I had intended to cook this morning, but I needed some dishes from the house—and some bourbon. So I did an extraordinary thing: I cancelled Sunday dinner. I was going to make sheet pan chicken with potatoes and carrots, but I knew the Burtons had big dinners (they went to two separate dinner parties) last night and were out late, and I had a vision of fixing that only to hear, “I’m not really hungry.” Plus I wanted to do the cooking that I hadn’t done in the morning. I was making two appetizers for a celebration happy hour tomorrow night, and once I decide when something is to be done, I am a bit compulsive about it. I wanted to cook today, so that I could work at my desk tomorrow. Besides, Zenaida will be here cleaning, and I can’t cook when she’s here—the cottage just isn’t big enough. I hide at my desk while she cleans.

Last night Jean came for supper, and I splurged. I had intended to make tuna casserole—I have a standard recipe I’ve used for years but somewhere found a new one I thought I’d try. When Central Market had halibut on sale, they hooked me. I fixed roast halibut with crumb topping and creamed spinach—Jean liked it so well she insisted we split the tiny bit left in the pans. And I agree—it was a really good dinner. Topped off by chocolate bonbons.

I need to add a PS to my thoughts on aging, posted in this blog last night. Not that I want to talk about me and my health a lot, but I have several chronic conditions—A Fib, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease, once advanced but now moderate. Plus I cannot walk without assistance. But I am determined not to let those conditions dominate my life. I will not go to the doctor constantly to have my blood levels checked, my heart studied on an echocardiogram, and so on. I go dutifully when scheduled, and, praise be, I get a clean bill of health on those visits. But those conditions are not front and center in my daily thoughts. In fact, I rarely think about them. I feel healthy, pretty energetic, and I am determined to live life as normally as I can for as long as I can.

I did talk to my brother tonight, for whom health is more of a problem. He’s pretty much bedridden—weak as a kitten as he tells it. When I had hip surgery, someone convinced my children I would need an electric wheelchair and should get it with Medicare aid while I could. It sat as a great obstacle in my closet for several years, but about six months ago we got it transferred to John at the ranch, and he gets up to sit in it for a while most days. Today we had a great conversation with lots of laughter, and I thought how wonderful it is that he, in his condition, has an intact sense of humor.

And then I realized again: it’s because of our mother. She taught us to be tough doctors’ children, never to cry “Wolf,” to soldier through whatever happens, to pay attention to our health but never take it too seriously. And until dementia took her mind, she had a marvelous sense of humor. My dad’s family, by contrast, went into a panic if he sneezed, and I think she was trying to counterbalance that. Bless you and thanks, Mom.

It all comes back to positive thinking, at least in my mind. Sweet dreams and positive thoughts to each of you!

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Some thoughts on aging


Me and my big brother.
Both of us aging pretty well. Suppose it's the genes? 

This morning a friend of mine posted in her blog about what some experts are calling the Third Age of life—that period after the kids are grown and gone and retirement has either come or is looming. Men and women are living longer now than they did fifty years ago. The average life span is seventy-four for men and seventy-nine for woman in the United States. That’s up a lot over, say 1950, when it was sixty-eight for men, but the figures dropped during Covid and still have not completely recovered. Still, Americans need to think about their plans for this new Third Age. Instead of seeing it as a time of declining powers, we have to approach those empty years with enthusiasm and a will to fill them with new activities. The Third Age is a time for fulfillment of all that has gone before in an individual life.

That whole concept struck me because it reinforced some things I think—like opportunities for growth in the Third Age. Retired now for twelve years, I have continued to write, although I’m not sure I’d say I’ve done my best writing during this period. Pretty much, I think I approach my life now with enthusiasm and greet each day waiting for the opportunities it will bring. But I also think I’m a mixed bag of thoughts. Some days, when I can’t do something or feel it isn’t working right---all writers have those days!—I think to myself, “It’s okay. You’re eighty-five. Cut yourself some slack.” I suspect that’s not a helpful—or healthy—attitude. I am thinking here of mental rather than actual physical health. Giving myself a pass on a mental or intellectual problem because of my age is not okay—it’s just a way to accelerate aging.

The Third Age is a time of freedom—free, mostly we hope, from the financial strain of raising and educating children, perhaps from the mortgage for a too-big suburban house, from the pressure to succeed. For me, that means I’m free to fall down a lot of rabbit holes—if something irrelevant to anything I’m doing interests me, I can follow up on it. IF I read something about a historical incident I never knew before, I can do some online investigating; if a Ruth Reichl column inspires me, I can look at the historical recipes she references. It’s sort of a will o’ the wisp approach, but ten years ago I’d have scolded myself for wasting time. Not now. Every new fact I learn, every new thing that interests me keeps my brain functioning.

Of course there are some things I cannot do these days that ten years ago I could—walk without assistance, reach things above the first shelf on a kitchen cabinet, twist off some jar and bottle caps, etc. It’s legitimate for me to ask for help on those things because I cannot physically do them—a weird hip replacement and torn rotator cuffs on both shoulders limit me. But I also tend to throw my hands up in the air at the slightest financial problem and refer it to my son before I try to figure it out myself. Not cool. I need to watch daily that I do not let my mind slip into laziness.

I know a lot of the elderly (yes, that’s me) focus on their health. Have you ever listened to old folks chat? Way too much of it is about symptoms and health problems, imagined or real, limitations, and—yes, great sighs over what they cannot do. I have avoided that by going to the other extreme and ignoring minor problems which turned into major ones that I should have paid attention to (why I’m on a walker). I am, to my discredit, the opposite of the little boy who cried “Wolf!” too often. But I do not want to live the last trimester of my life spending my days in one doctor’s office after another. I have a sort of innocent health theory—if certain signs are okay, if my nails and hair are growing and I am regular, I figure my body is functioning, and I can pretty much ignore other small symptoms. Yes, I do all the preventive things—skin check, mammogram, cardiologist once a year, nephrologist once a year, etc. But child of osteopathic medicine that I am, I prefer to think in terms of health rather than illness. On a wellness scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, I would put myself at a seven because that’s the way I feel. My doctor might disagree, but that’s okay.

I think aging, like a lot of other things, depends on that now-hackneyed phrase: positive thinking. If you go into that Third Age with enthusiasm for what you can do rather than regrets about what you can’t, with a determination to be as healthy as the good Lord permits, with joy in the moment rather than regret for the past, the Third Age can be a wonderful experience. In many ways, I am more content now than I have ever been in my life. I’ve known mountain peaks of happiness and passion, valleys of despair, the joy of young children, the satisfaction of professional accomplishment—and now those are all memories I treasure. But they are not the stuff of my daily life. And that’s okay. I’m eighty-five, alive and healthy and involved in life.

Friday, December 01, 2023

The scary world of doing business online


Sophie needs to learn to brush her teeth.

This morning the sun was shining, and all seemed brighter with the world than yesterday when I woke to a dull, gray day. And the day proceeded to live up to that description. First I got five puzzling emails from DIL Lisa, though I finally figured out that she was giving me the Christmas hints I had asked for. Trouble was, I already had her gift ordered. But that was a minor bump in the road compared to what came next—an email thanking me for signing up for a $700 contract with iStock, with the first payment of $75.78 charged to my Discover card. And sure enough, there that charge was, dated yesterday. Yikes ! At Christmas when I’m trying to live economically in light of holiday expenses and taxes.

I panicked and called Discover, swearing I’d never signed up for such (this is going to be a lesson in reading the fine print). I bounced from one customer service rep to another until I was finally directed to the fraud division—now that sounded awfully serious to me. But the lady talked me through it—and the most direct result was that my Discover account was closed and a new account opened, with the new card due in the mail sometime next week. That means I can’t order gifts, etc., online until I get the new card. Of course, immediately I got a notice from our local newspaper that they couldn’t access my payment information and did I need to update my account. I began a list of accounts that will need updating when I get the new card. Tonight I realized I can’t even order groceries—so had to borrow a Burton credit card, because Colin has scared me about using my debit card online, even with a company I trust like Central Market.

Meantime, back to yesterday morning—something was nagging at me, a thought that I’d done something wrong. So I called Colin, my solution to all financial problems. Methodical person that he is, he had me forward the emails to him. Then he explored online, called me and made a joint call to Getty, which owns iStock. First time we got some medical solutions groups which really sounded like a phishing operation. Colin insisted we try one more time, and this time we got a Getty representative who looked at records, said I had signed up for a free trial which automatically became a contract if not cancelled—but they never warned me it was time to cancel, which I think is fraud in itself. I had, after calling Discover, written Getty to protest I had never signed a contract and request a refund of what they had billed me for (It was still pending, so I doubt it went through). Someone in their outfit had acknowledged my email, though I’m still waiting for action. The rep assured me I would hear, and cancellation is no problem. I’m still waiting, and meantime I’m really hampered without a credit card since I do so much shopping online. Sheer frustration.

To top the day off, I got a text from the North Texas Tollway folks, saying I had a ticket and had instructions for entering my license number and something else. I am by now so leery that I didn’t know if this was phishing or if Jordan or Christian had possibly driven my VW on the tollway. Christian said that might have happened and he’d check their bills—though how would they have a bill if it’s in my name? Anyway I have heard no more about that either, and despite his advice to ignore and not let it worry me, I do worry.

To me, it’s sad that at this season of love and hope, most of us worry about finances. I have for years paid quarterly income taxes (I’m not sure why, but some accountant way back set it up that way), so I have a bill in January, right after Christmas. And property taxes are due in January, plus our lawn people have advised me I truly need to get a professional arborist to trim my trees. And Sophie’s teeth need cleaning. It all hits in December.

Today, thank goodness, I have my groove back, and the world doesn’t look so grim to me. It’s amazing what sunny weather can do for you—and maybe a good night’s sleep. But I learned some lessons yesterday, mostly about reading the fine print and being careful online. I have always thought I was careful, but now I know it wasn’t enough. I know I’m impatient and sometimes I zip through emails when I should stop and read carefully. MY day yesterday is also a demonstration of how easy it is for the unwary to get into tangled and ultimately disastrous financial situations. I am fortunate, as a single, elderly person, that I have my son to protect me. Not all are as lucky.

I tell you all this as an object lesson. And also to get it out of my brain.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

An old Fort Worth scandal revisited

Downtown Fort Worth, 1940
A city with a high-dollar underside

In 1940, Dial Press published a novel titled The Inheritors, written by James Young Phillips under the pseudonym of Phillip Atlee. The story had echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a tale of the daily life of over-privileged, over-indulged young men of the country club set as they drank, chasing women, and openly scorning the capitalistic, empty lifestyle they were about to inherit. Trouble was, it is a thinly veiled picture of Fort Worth and, as one reviewer claims, the River Crest Country Club crowd.

The main character is George Bellamy Jimble, III, supposedly based on Phillips himself. Phillips came from one of the staid, moneyed families who lived in a mansion by one of River Crest’s golf greens. His father, Edwin Sr., made a good living as a lawyer, housed his family in that mansion, and belonged, of course, to the country club. But he died just before Black Friday, and his widow lost their fortune in the crash of 1929. She went to work for the school district, but James and his brothers were forced into a difficult situation where they had little money and yet tried to keep up with the lifestyle of their neighbors. It was apparently enough to jade the young man about what was called the “dollar aristocracy” of Fort Worth—mostly the big oil money.

Fort Worth high society erupted in indignation at the book—and took their revenge, buying up every available copy of the book. By the time I was at TCU Press, few had ever heard of it. Cissy Stewart Lale, the indomitable society editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, told me I should read it and the press should reprint it. That never came about, but I had some interesting correspondence with a brother of Phillips, who was deceased by then. If I remember right, the brother was Olcutt Phillips or something similar. By then, you could hardly find a copy of the book—I think Cissy loaned me hers. I read it and wasn’t that impressed, but then I was not of the society being pilloried in it. I simply found all that debauchery pointless. Today, the Fort Worth Public Library and TCU’s Special Collections hold copies which may only be read on site. I’m sure there are probably a few copies squirreled away in some Fort Worth attics, but it is hard to find.

Phillips always claimed Fort Worth ruined his budding writing career, and, indeed, his career never achieved what might be seen as the promise of that first book. He served in the Air Force in the war, lived in Mexico, Burma, and the Canary Islands, did some work in Hollywood, died in 1991 in Corpus Christi, and remained forever bitter about Fort Worth.

In a way, the book fared better than its author. It is included in selections of the best books about Texas and Fort Worth: George Sessions Perry’s Roundup Time: A Collection of Southwestern Writers, A. C. Greene’s Fifty Best Texas Books, Literary Fort Worth, the collection that James Ward Lee and I put together.

Fort Worth author E. R. Bills knows a lot more about Phllips/Atlee than I do. Indeed much of the above is taken from an article he wrote for Fort Worth Weekly. He points out that The Inheritors had a long tail, reaching into many aspects of Fort Worth life, citing the Cullen Davis shootings and the Legion of Doom from Paschal High School as evidence that the aristocracy continues. There’s much more to the story behind The Inheritors and its effect on Fort Worth than I have sketched here.

Saturday, December 2, you have a chance to hear Bills talk about the book, its author, and its city. Bills will present a program, cosponsored by the Fort Worth Public Library and the Center for Texas Studies at TCU, at 10:30 at the Southwest Regional Library. For more information, contact Linda Barrett ( Seating is limited and on a first-come basis. The program will also be available on Zoom, and Linda can give you instructions for registering for that.

There’s a postscript to this story. In 1984 a novel titled Lords of the Earth, by Patrick Anderson, has almost the same effect. It too revealed the underside of Fort Worth’s moneyed community. Heiress and artist Electra Waggoner Biggs called me late one night to rant about “that awful book.” It seems that Fort Worth never will run out of stories to be told—and scorned. I’m going to be glued to my computer Saturday to hear what Mr. Bills says.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas


My cottage is now cozy with soft Christmas lights. Jordan has done an amazing job of decorating with all my favorite things—the tree (okay it’s fake, and I don’t love that, but I bow to convenience). The fake tree is redeemed by Scottish ornaments sent by dear friends in Omaha. And Santa Mac—a very Scottish Santa complete with bagpipes, gift from Jeannie Chaffee—dominates the coffee table. On the bookcase is a lighted glass block given to me years ago by a friend of Christian. It sits next to the Jim Shores Kris Kringle I bought myself as a treat when my friend Linda carried Jim Shores works in her store in Granbury. Like the cottage as a whole, each piece has a meaningful story.
Santa Mac

What I love most is the overall effect—the sometimes-harsh ceiling lights stay off, and the Christmas lights, including the electric candles Jean gave me, give a soft glow to the whole living area. It’s a cozy cottage look. And on my desk is the small faux fireplace Jamie gave me. For safety’s sake, we have it turned so that it gives almost no heat, but the flames inspire warmth.

I am all set for the season.

Jim Shores Santa

I didn’t feel so Christmas-y this morning, however. I usually get up about seven, feed Sophie her first breakfast and let her out. By now, she knows I have a piece of cheese waiting for her, so she doesn’t stay long. Once she’s safely back in the cottage, I go back to bed for my second sleep. Well, this morning I totally missed my second sleep because I had to get ready for a nine o’clock dental appointment.

I won’t say I’m a dental phobic—although my dentist might say that. But as a young teen, around twelve, I had to have extensive dental work, and back then, in the Dark Ages, it was not as smooth, fast, and painless as it is today. The drill was clumsy and slow, the noise in my ears horrible. Our dentist was a non-relative uncle, a man I greatly appreciated when I was grown but who terrified me as a kid. To say he was taciturn is an understatement. So I had a bad introduction to dentistry.

My desktop fireplace
not on my desktop here but you get the idea

I have been with the same dentist now for fifteen years, and what I have learned about caring for my teeth is amazing. I wish I’d known all this years ago. Even in fifteen years, it’s been interesting to watch the developments in dentistry—tiny cameras that get way back in your mouth, video screens that display an x-ray as soon as it’s taken, a computer program so complicated I couldn’t begin to master it. I do have a standing deal with my hygienist that if I continue to take such good care of my teeth, she will not use the hydroelectric thing to clean off stains. It wakens every old memory I have.

So cheers to Dr. Peter Ku and to my hygienist, Stephanie.  Got a clean bill of health along with some cautions about being proactive. And that’s over but only for another three months!

Going to the dentist pretty much shoots the day for me—it’s not so much the time it takes (maybe two hours out of the cottage) as the disruption in routine. But tonight Mary came for happy hour and brought some cranberry relish she’d made—we put it over cream cheese, and it was delicious. Then I fixed Mongolian hamburger and snow peas for dinner—Jordan got busy on a work call, so Christian and I had dinner and a lovely discussion that covered everything from Hunter Biden and Donald trump to Dante’s The Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost. I am really delighted to have someone to have such discussions with. Besides, he washed the dishes.

Life is really good.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Marshall Field and Company


The iconic clock on the Marshall Field & Co. flagship store
Corner of State Street and Washington Street, Chicago

Sandwiches for supper turned into a trip down memory lane for me. It wasn’t just any sandwich—it was a classic Marshall Field Turkey Sandwich that actually resembles “classic” sandwiches served in many places. I remember having something similar at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. An open-faced sandwich with rye topped by turkey, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing and decorated with tomato, sliced egg, bacon and olive—shh! don’t tell Christian because I didn’t offer him an olive, which he loves.

Anyway, the sandwich started me thinking about my many ties and trips to the flagship Marshall Field store in downtown Chicago. Those excursions started when I was very young. My father, an osteopathic physician, had an office on the seventeenth floor of the Marshall Field Annex, and Mom would end shopping trips by taking me to the bargain basement where, hidden away in a corner, was a snack bar that far as I can remember only served hot dogs and frozen malts. I loved it. Then, nearby, was a secret door (I just thought it was a secret—it really wasn’t) that opened to a staircase. Go up one floor and through the door and, like magic, we were in the lobby of the annex without having to go out of the building and cross the downtown street. We’d take the elevator to the seventeenth floor. That was in the day when there was a white-gloved, uniformed operator in every elevator.

By the time I was old enough to be turned loose in the store, I knew every inch of every floor.  I could take you to household goods or teen clothes. I knew we came in by the glove counter, and on that pillared first floor were the hosiery and jewelry counters. On the sixth floor you could choose from several restaurants. The Walnut Room, a bit staid and dignified, was the main dining area, but Mom and I always liked The Verandah, decorated as though it were part of a southern mansion. In fact, I bet I had the classic sandwich there. And I know at least once, when Mom was nowhere around, my friend Eleanor Lee and I rode up the down escalator and down the up, to the consternation of store employees no doubt. Today I’m uncertain of my footing on escalators and avoid them when I can, so I look back on that adventure with awe.

Eventually I could go downtown by myself, riding the IC or Illinois Central commuter train. And mostly I went to Marshall Field’s though I did give a bit of business to rival Carson, Pirie & Scott just a block down State Street. I remember once paying twenty dollars for a blouse and thinking I was terribly extravagant. By then, Dad had closed his downtown office and was full time president of the Chicago College of Osteopathy and administrator of the adjacent hospital, so I had no downtown refuge.

The last time I was at Field’s was in the nineties, when I visited with a Texas friend who had grown up in a northwest Chicago suburb. We had lunch in the Walnut Room, and it was a bit shabby. We both felt the magic we remembered from our childhood was gone. But my connection to Field’s doesn’t end there.

I can’t remember which came first—the book I read or the one I wrote. The one I read was What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age, by RenĂ©e Rosen, which perhaps inspired both the title and subject of my The Gilded Cage: A Novel of Chicago. My novel focused on Bertha (Cissy) Palmer, wife of hotelier Potter Palmer who built the Palmer House. Marshall Field played a large part in that story, for he and Potter Palmer were prominent among Chicago’s Robber Barons, along with Gustavus Swift, Philip Armour, George Pullman and others. Cissy Palmer interested me because she was the first (or one of them) woman philanthropist and most probably the first marred to a Robber Baron. The fictionalized version of her life covers Chicago history from the 1840s through the 1893 Columbian Exposition, including the Great Fire, labor troubles, the Civil War, and the Haymarket Riot. You can read a bit more about Cissy and her world here: The Gilded Cage: A Novel of Chicago - Kindle edition by Alter, Judy. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ (That’s called blatant self promoton or BSP.)

Last night, Christian liked the Marshall Field sandwich so much he voted to keep it on the rotation of dishes we frequently have. I agreed, because not only did I like it, it brought back happy memories. There has never been another store like Field’s—not even Neiman Marcus—and I miss it. At least you can still get their much-praised Frango Mints online.


Saturday, November 25, 2023

That fleeting moment of tranquility


Sunset at the lake in Tomball

When I was young, I had a favorite spot in the Indiana dunes where I would go in the early evening to watch the sun go down. It was a pathway, halfway up the high dune where our cottage was on the ridge at the top. I could sit, accompanied by my wild collie mix named Timmy, and stare at the lake, smell the dune grass (and perhaps chew on a blade) and listen to the water either lap gently on the shore or crash, depending on the mood of Lake Michigan. I love the lake in all its moods, but I used to be fascinated by the whitecaps when it was roiled up. I was in awe of the power in that mighty body of water.

If I looked at an angle to the left, I could see the buildings of Chicago, looking like tiny sticks. Sometimes the sun was a crimson ball outlining those little black sticks. It was a moment of tranquility. Of course, at eight or ten I was too young to know I needed moments of tranquility, but late in life I often went back to that spot in my mind when life seemed to press on me.

Around the heater at the lake
In recent years, I’ve found another spot—on the edge of the tiny lake at my son’s house in Tomball. Four properties ring this lake—I wish I could guess at the size, but it’s bigger than a stock tank, smaller than a lake. Colin and Lisa have several seating areas between the house and the lake, and late yesterday afternoon we took drinks and snacks and went to watch the day disappear in shadows.
They have recently gotten a mushroom outdoor heater that is most effective, and the day had warmed enough that we were quite comfortable. As I sat staring at the lake for just a moment, I thought, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” I didn’t really grasp my moment of tranquility because there was conversation around me—Colin and Lisa, my two teen grands, and two dogs. But it was enough for me to get a much-needed feeling of peace.
Morgan and Ginger

My moment of peace

Lisa's mother's house on the lake

Today, Colin drove me to Waco where we met Jordan and Christian who brought me the rest of the way home. We had ordered fast food from a chain I thought was nationally ranked but now can cross off my bucket list. Fortunately, because we had Sophie with us, we ordered take-out—the restaurant was a loud, noisy zoo, and we would have been unhappy eating there. Instead, we took our food to a charming little park on the Brazos River—Christian went to Baylor in Waco and so knows all the little places like that. I thought our picnic was a lovely cap on a trip that I enjoyed.

The Brazos in Waco
A neat little park by the river

I have confessed here to not being a confident traveler and to feeling like a bother, but this trip put both those qualms to rest. I enjoyed all of it—from the long drive on Tuesday where I talked Colin’s ears off and made myself hoarse to the picnic today and all that came in between. I have so much to be thankful for, most of all my family who watch out for me and help me with the things I can’t do alone.  Nope, it doesn’t get much better.

Friday, November 24, 2023

The joy of tradition


Colin carving

Don’t be fooled by the picture of Colin carving in his starched white shirt and Santa Claus tie. The bottom half was navy blue shorts, bare legs, and sandals. Reminded me of Covid days when men I know worked remotely from home, dressed just that way.

The happy table
This year Thanksgiving in Tomball was a lovely, low-key family day, filled to the brim with tradition. For me, it was turkey, a good book, and a nap. For some of the others, it was football, with special appreciation for Dolly Parton and the half-time show. And for still others, it was a day for a complicated, thousand-word puzzle. And our meal was traditional as it comes—ham, smoked turkey, dressing, gravy, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, truffle mac ‘n cheese (that was never a traditional dish for me until my kids began to demand it—I still have a hard time associating it with holiday meals), rolls with cinnamon butter, pumpkin pie, and apple pie. Couldn’t get more traditional, and I loved it. Of course, everyone was too full after a two-o’clock meal for the pies, so we had them for second supper in the evening.

I had a lovely nap between first and second supper and spent most of the evening reading a mystery I had just started. Lisa and her mom spent a good four hours on the jigsaw puzzle—they still have a long way to go.

Lisa and Torhild working on the puzzle.

To top the day off, I slept hard for ten hours and woke feeling sleep-logged. Sophie slept all night, though she wandered about the bedroom a bit in the wee hours. At six, when Colin appeared in the kitchen, she was more than ready to go out.

Yesterday was chilly, damp with a bit of drizzle—not a day to encourage sitting by the lake. This morning is sunny and pretty, but Lisa tells me there is a chilly breeze. Maybe later, with the fire pit and a heater, we can sit by the water, one of my favorite spots. Meantime, I’m at my computer, enjoying the view from inside, with a cozy heater at my feet, basking in the laziness of the day after.


Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Tale of the difficult houseguests




Thanksgiving a day early

That’s us. Sophie and me. We are the houseguests from hell.

Colin’s house is midcentury modern with several levels. A wonderful house—unless you rely on a walker to get around. Then ordinary things become difficult. Last night it seemed all I did was ask for help—and much of it had to do with Sophie. Could you feed her? And then I gave precise instructions for what she eats, in what order. Could you give her the insulin shot?  Something I don’t do at home. Could I have another glass of wine? Could you hook up my computer for me? Could I have a night light in the bedroom, but would you turn out the overhead light because there’s a heavy chair between me and the light switch. I’m cold—do you know where you put my jacket? Turns out it is apparently still in the car, and I am wearing a cozy sweater of Lisa’s. Colin and Lisa have stars in their crown, but I am feeling so dependent. I’m sure in addition to my needs, they are tired of my apologies. At home, because I have things arranged to suit me, I am much more independent.

The worst of it came in the middle of the night. Sophie went out at eleven, just before we went to bed. At one, I had to tell Colin she was really begging to go out. At two she began to bark again and paw at the bed. I tried loving and talking—I’d get a few minutes quiet and then she was back at it, bouncing her empty dish around in frustration. I gave her water from my tumbler, and she drank it gratefully, was quiet for a while, and then began to bark again. Colin appeared, said he was taking her outside and then sleeping in the front room with her.

(Lisa told me just now that she dreamed a duck was quacking and woke enough to ask Colin if he thought the duck would be okay!)

Colin took Sophie, closed the doors to the front room and told her she was not leaving. But he said by the time he got up at six, she was anxious to get back into my bedroom. And when I woke up at eight, there she was quiet as an angel. I’ve never seen her so agitated, even though she’s been here many times before. So wish us luck tonight. She has appeared content and happy all day, so maybe she knows I’m not going away and leaving her with these strange people.

Tonight there were thirteen of us for dinner—Morgan’s longtime boyfriend and some of his family, with relationships to tangled to mention. Plus three dogs who got along admirably. Lisa’s mom, who grew up in Norway, cooked what we have come to know as Norwegian hamburgers, along with her special chicken recipe, and peas and carrots. I’ve been the lucky recipient of Torhild’s meals before, looked forward to this, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Noisy, happy, long dinner table. As the evening wore down, Colin summed it up perfectly: It almost felt like tonight was Thanksgiving

So blessed to be here. Tomorrow it will just be the five of us, and I’m looking forward to that too. Lisa and Morgan are talking about first and second dinner—first is scheduled for one; second, at six, will be leftovers.
Best of both worlds.

Sweet dreams tonight of turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie!