Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zippig the lips

This morning, on one of the writers’ listservs I follow, a writer with recent stunning successes,  was sort of philosophically complaining about a man in her critique group who said really ugly things to her at the end of the meeting, like ‘That was the worst thing you’ve ever read. I’m never coming back, going to find a critique group with good writers.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the problem is with the man and not with what my friend had written. All of us on the list rushed to extend sympathy, advice, and all that. I said she was wise to take the high road and walk away without retorting, but I was surprised at the vitriol of some of the posts, calling him a jerk, a scumbag, suggesting she kill him off in her next mystery (a standard joke among mystery writers). All sorts of anger boiled over. In truth, the woman who wrote originally finally added that her critic was seventy and perhaps on medications that altered his personality; others suggested the personality changes some experience with early Alzheimers. But I am for forgiveness, understanding, and looking the other way.

A close friend of mine had an unpleasant encounter with a woman she of necessity sees often. She did not respond, though she was boiling with anger and wanted to say, “Don’t ever talk to me that way again.” Once more, I was proud of someone for taking the high road. But it’s sure a rocky one. I suggested she should have said, “I’m sorry something has made you so miserable and unhappy but I will hold you in my thoughts and hope you find peace and happiness.”  Truth is, I stole that line from this morning’s exchange, but it seems just right to me. My friend laughed and said she thinks she would have been slapped if she said that.

For some reason all this reminds me of my good friend who told me once when one of her five grown children comes to her with a problem, she says, “Gosh, I’m so sorry that’s happened. I hope it works out for you,” and then zips her lips. And when one comes with good news, she shares their joy, says, “I am so happy for you,” and zips her lips. Oh, to have her wisdom!

All this has gotten me thinking that we so often respond in anger and look for revenge, when maybe we should respond to ugliness with compassion and look for its cause, reach out to the difficult person. Or maybe we should just learn to zip our lips.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thought on Aging

I’ve been accusing my children, probably falsely, of pushing me into old age. I appreciate that they are so protective, but I figure they more they tell me I can’t do, the faster I’ll age. It’s all well meaning: Jordan is panicky about my contracting West Nile Virus (mosquitoes don’t even particularly like me) and warns me that I’m in a dangerous age bracket—makes me feel like an endangered species. Colin has forbidden (there’s a shoe on the opposite foot) me to stand on a stool and get the crockpot down from its high shelf—I must ask Elizabeth to do it (and she concurs).

I was talking with dear friends about this recently at supper—she’s seven years younger than I, and he’s somewhere in between. She said that each new phase of aging is like brand new territory for which we have no road map, no clue, yet our children expect us to have cumulative knowledge that guides us through this new land.

As I did the dishes, I thought about that and decided, for me, the flaw in her reasoning is that I don’t ever feel like I’ve moved into a new phase. In many ways, I feel the same as I did twenty years ago. Granted, there are some new physical problems, and my feet are shot, but frequent yoga keeps much of the pain and stiffness at bay. So I still feel I can do things I did twenty years ago, although I recognize that my balance, never good, is worse these days. And I was never graceful, so I’ve taken some falls recently.

I don’t want to start questioning myself—can I take this heavy garbage cart down to the curb or should I ask for help (I did it myself).  Can I stand on a stool and explore what’s in that cupboard over the fridge (nothing as heavy as the crockpot.) Seems to me it would be so easy to slip into old age by saying, “I’m too old. I’ll have to ask someone to do that for me.”

Colin says it’s a question of making good choices, and he’s probably right. There are some things I couldn’t have done twenty years ago and ought not try now. I can’t garden—it kills my low back. But I can keep a pot garden on the front porch and the deck. I can and will continue to cook and throw big parties. And I’ll continue to enjoy life.

A confession: I notice I become much more dependant when my children are around. One day before school was out, Jamie was here and went with me to get Jacob. I clung to him crossing the street. Shoot! I cross that street every day by myself just fine. I’m really watching that kind of stuff.

I’m editing a book now for someone else about a blind man who is really touchy about asking for help and downright angry when people offer help he doesn’t need. I’m taking a hint from him—I’ll ask for help when I need it, and do as darn much as I can for myself.

Monday, July 29, 2013

One of those days

A highlight of my day: Jacob clowning with Sophie
Notice the toothless smile
I started out the day efficient and happy, feeling good. By 7:30 I was dressed, hair washed, bed made, kitchen in order, and it was a good thing because the electricians arrived at 7:45 to put outdoor plugs on the deck. But then the morning went downhill: my computer froze for an hour (thanks, Facebook)--which totally disables me for any work I intend to get done. I finally called the Help Desk at TCU and for the first time ever was told that since it was a private computer they didn't support it. Apparently I can only call about email problems. But the guy did give me one hint, and I held down the power button for a long time to get it to turn off. When it rebooted, it was fine, but it happened once again during the morning, and I am now forever leery of Facebook. Then the electrician had to cut the power to  two breakers or whatever they are, and they weren't labeled, so he didn't know what would go off and would I please turn off my computer. I did, and shortly they told me I could turn it on again. The final insult of the morning was spending thirty minutes on the phone trying to get my prescriptions transferred from one mail-in pharmacy to another, since my insurance changed (not through my choice). The people who handle that give the same speech to so many people so many times a day that they rattle it off mechanically at a rapid rate. No matter how many times I said, "I'm a little hard of hearing. Could you please slow down?" she continued to speed through her rote speech.
By the time friend Jean came to get me for lunch, I was exhausted. But we had a good lunch at King Tut--Egyptian food. I had meat sambosa dipped into cucumber sauce (which I love) and really good hummus. And we had a good visit. Cheered me immensely after my bad morning.
And I actually did get some editing down on the manuscript I'm working on for my publisher--have now started on the second time through and it's going much more smoothly because I know what I'm doing and looking for. The first time through someone else's manuscript is like a get-acquainted trip.
Jordan and Jacob came by about 4:30--her happy hours are going to do me in. But we had a good visit, and I've worked all evening. Elizabeth should be home soon, and we'll meet on the deck for rat watch--but that's another story.
It as almost but not quite a day that made me feel I'm a full-time writer.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Busy days

Do you ever get so busy you feel like you're chasing your tail? That's been me this week, waking early and feeling the pressure of getting this, that, and the other done. So that explains no posts for the last couple of nights--nothing interesting to write about while I chase my tail.
I tell myself that all will get done in good time, to slow down and relax, and I think I'm doing that on some levels--but there's a part of my subconscious that hasn't learned to let go of my lifetime habit of being compulsive about deadlines (many of which I set myself).
Today, I told myself I would have a long spell to work on the novel I'm editing, but you know what? It didn't work. I didn't spend that much time on it. I fixed supper for company in the morning (a cold supper that would keep), I cleared up odds and ends in email, and I read Facebook. And this afternoon, I took a long nap--I mean really long. Think I needed the rest. Woke up when Jordan came to get Jacob, saw them off, and promptly decided to crawl back in bed for another forty-five minutes.
But tonight good friends I haven't seen for a while came, and I served my first "company" supper on the deck--an amazing sandwich made out of one round loaf of parmesan bread, a pasta salad, an appetizer of cheese, curry and chutney, and frozen Black Forest cake for dessert. We sat on the porch, laughed and joked about times past and times present. They are a delightful couple--I've known Linda probably for more than thirty years, and Rodger, her second husband, ever since she married him--can't remember how long ago\. They are comfortable, though always bantering with each other. Sometimes I side with one, sometimes with the other. But it was fun and relaxing to sit outside with them on a pleasant evening.
Watch Potluck with Judy tomorrow for the recipes for my menu.
And will tomorrow be any better? I doubt it. Church in the morning, Jordan and Jacob for a lunch of leftovers, a nap in the afternoon, an early casual supper with Elizabeth. But somehow the work will get done. It always does, and as Linda said tonight, "You put out an amazing amount of work." Somehow I'm not sure how I do that.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A deck is changing my life

I bought my house, circa 1922, almost 20 years ago and have always joked I bought it for the front porch, which is wonderful and spacious, partly roofed. I grow herbs and other plants on its wide concrete railings and have served many a glass of wine and dinners out there. I've long been a proponent of front porches, arguing that you are part of the neighborhood on the porch--people walk by, wave and greet you. You can see a wild variety of dogs--tonight we saw a man walking three dogs and a cat--no, the cat was not on a leash.
But the thought of a deck in the back of the house lingered in my mind. I kept it in the back of my mind because the yard was essentially a dog yard, devoid of deliberate beautification, thanks to dogs and the city who dug it up for a sewer line and replaced old flourishing plants with small news ones which the male dogs I had at the time promptly killed by peeing on them.
But then Elizabeth moved into my guest house and began to put flowers and statues around the corner of her little house, bird feeders in the trees, and then a table and chairs in the back under the trees. The idea of a deck looked better. (Someone said the other night they heard she told me to build a deck; she was appalled and explained she doesn't "tell" me to do anything!) I talked to the contractors who keep my house together, and we sashayed around the idea until I asked, "Which one of us is not talking about the deck," and they said, "Not us!"
The results is I have a beautiful deck, 10 x 12, just the right size for my yard, with one of those toppings that will never weather, and my children bought a table and six matching chairs for my birthday. We had a grand party Saturday night, and Sunday morning I read the paper, with coffee, on the deck and talked to the son and daughter-in-law who spent the night (they sent their children with all the other cousins to my daughter's house--so peaceful). I have been having supper out there, a drink, reading, and just sitting. And I love it. It's quiet and peaceful, and close to the kitchen.
The effect on my dog Sophie is great--she can be out there with us, which she can't on the front porch because she'd go exploring the world at a fast clip. And whereas I've always had trouble getting her in late at night after her final potty outing, I've now learned to go sit on the deck, enjoy the quiet, and wait for her to come to me, which she does fairly quickly. Much less frustration for me.
My oldest son told someone Saturday night that in all the years I've lived here he's never hung out in the back yard (he and his brother lived in the guest house at first) and now he loved it.
I think my way of life will change, all because of a deck.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A thank-you to my daughter

I have four children. When they were teen-agers, one would accuse me of liking the other better, and I would explain as gently as possible that my relationship with each was different. You love them all with all your heart, but you react differently to each child, according to how they react and interact with you. The same is true today now that three of them are in their forties—I treasure my relationship to each, but one is never the same as the other.

Jordan is my youngest and the only one who lives in Fort Worth, and we do have a different relationship. We see each other or talk almost daily. Her seven-year-old son Jacob has been known to tell someone, “Well, I do sort of live at Juju’s house.” No way around it: we are very close.

I planned to blog about Jordan before she was in a serious accident yesterday but that only made me realize even more how much she is a part of my daily life, whether she’s appearing for an unexpected happy hour or chastising me for not being careful enough “for a woman of your age.” (That covers everything from falling to contracting West Nile Virus.) I am glad to report that Jordan is okay today, very stiff and sore, going to the doctor tomorrow, which is what the ER advised her to do. She’ll be okay, but she has a few rough days to get over.

Jordan and I rely on each other, and it’s a mutually supportive relationship. She makes herself available when I really need help, and sometimes she takes on chores at my house that I don’t realize need doing—she is planning now to rearrange my linen cupboard, such as it is, so the crockpot isn’t on the highest shelf. Her brother suggested it was a bad choice to stand on a stool and get it down. (There’s that woman of my age stuff again!)

Jordan and her friends include me in a lot of their parties and welcome me heartily. I’ve known many of them for years and years, and it is a good feeling to be the grand dame amongst a group of young people. I am, however, always the first to leave.

If I need something done Jordan always gets it done; sometimes she fusses at first, but she does it. And when I’m really in trouble, like the day I had a TIA, Jordan is my rock—she took charge, took me to the ER, etc. And called all her siblings and had me talk to them when I was apparently babbling nonsense.

I am particularly grateful to her now because she worked for weeks planning my birthday party, arranging food, buying the table and chairs I wanted and having neighbor Jay pick them up and assemble them. I was not allowed to do anything except make a marinated vegetable salad. My Megan said, “I’ve worked so hard planning this from Austin. I tried to get Jordan to help me.” We all laughed, because Megan is not a planner—Jordan is. She sees to every little detail and adds touches I never would think of. I realize these days I rely on her more and more when I give a large party. She outdid herself this weekend. The other children were part of giving the party but they are quick to tell  you Jordan did all the work.

What do I do for her? I pick up Jacob after school and help with his homework; I am almost always available to keep him overnight or whenever needed. I am eternally grateful I picked him up yesterday from day camp, so he wasn’t in his mom’s car for the accident. I cook dinner for her family as often as they’ll let me. I do whatever I can to help when something is needed—and I freely dispense cooking advice along with a lot of love.

Best thing? Almost daily, she says to me, “I love you.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Birthday gifts good and bad, and a big thanks to my Facebook friends

I consider it a birthday gift that the new royal prince was born on my birthday. I shared a birthday with Rose Kennedy too and always liked that. But I had a bad birthday gift late this afternoon when my oldest son called from Houston to say he was talking to Jordan, his youngest sister, when she screamed, then he heard nothing for a long while, until she came back and said she’d been in a bad accident but thought she was alright. I called Christian who knew nothing about it and rushed to the scene. Elizabeth  came in from her apartment to hold my hand while I waited for news. A group email among the family ensued but the end result is that her airbag deployed, she’s fine and alert (I think paramedics checked her over), and as Christian said, “The good news is someone is getting a new car.” Praise be to God! Picture of the car is frightening.

Our happy hour and dinner  plans (LaMadeleine) got scrapped. Initial reports that she was all right were sort of cancelled when I found out she had been taken to ER and sent for x-rays. Everything is okay, but she will be stiff and sore for a few days, and she’s bruised and scraped from airbag and seat belt—but they saved her life, so thank God for them. The other driver got the ticket—police said no question. He gunned it, in a heavy utility vehicle, out of WalMart parking lot toward a crossover without looking.

Elizabeth and I took Jacob home—so grateful I had gotten him and he wasn’t in her car—and got to hug Jordan (gently) and see that she’s okay. Her walk is stiff, and she has a headache, but she’s okay--or will be in a few days. And I’m proud of her for holding it together and not giving in to panic. She did the same, taking complete charge, the day I had a TIA. There's great strength there that she doesn't always show. Don't show her a cockroach, but when the chips are down, she's good.

I meant this post to be a thank-you to Facebook. I have friends who say it’s a foolish waste of time and they can’t be bothered. I want to tell them what they’re missing. I have never felt so appreciated, with so many friends, from people I hold dear to people I’ve never met, friends from Sisters in Crime and Guppies, some of whom I correspond with often and some not much at all. Greetings have popped up from all over, some clever and funny, some full of wishes for many more, some from people who were in my life years ago. It’s kept me at my computer almost all day, without accomplishing any real work. A great birthday, and I so wished I could acknowledge each one individually but it just couldn't be done.

So to all of you who wished me happy birthday on Facebook and by email, I can’t tell you how much it means to me.  I will remain a dedicated Facebook user and will be much more attentive about sending birthday wishes.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A wonderful birthday and a new deck

Last night neighbor Susan Halbower and I shared a birthday party--she's twenty years younger than I am. It was a wonderful affair--about forty-five people for brisket, beans, potato salad and marinated vegetables, followed by Black Forest Cake.
I am always proud of my children but never more so than last night when old friends could catch up with them, and I could introduce them to new friends. All seven grandchildren were here, along with several other children so it was far from a quiet affair--at one point a friend conveniently knocked out that loose tooth that Jacob had been worrying with.
My three granddaughters
The deck was a hit, and the children presented me with a tile top table that seats six. Neighbor Jay Mitiguy (Susan's husband) got the chore of assembling the table and chairs. The chairs had, so I heard, thirty pieces each, so many thanks to Jay. But it looks terrific on the deck.
The deck was festooned with Japanese lanterns and white lights, and even Scooby' s old dog house was decorated with colored lights--again, a touch accomplished by Jay and Susan. The yard was festive, a real transformation for what was once just sort of ignored as a dog yard. Susan worked hard to clean the side bed by their guest house of old leaves and debris.
Much credit for starting this transformation goes to Elizabeth, the friend who moved into my guest house last fall. This spring she began to put plants and a few statues around the corner of her house, hanging baskets and bird feeders in the trees. Then Jordan brought over a no-longer-used patio table, and I pulled four green plastic chairs out of the tiny storage space in my garage. When one broke, I bought four new ones.
Somewhere in the back of my mind the idea of a deck had always lingered. In the spring with my tard looking so much better,I talked to contractors, Lewis and Jim Bundock, and we sort of talked around it for weeks. Finally I said, "Which one of us is delaying this deck idea," and Lewis said, "Not us." The results is a 10 x 12 deck with that permanent finished wood on the floor and railing so I'll never have to refinish. It's the perfect size for my smallish yard, still leaves Sophie room to run.
Speaking of Sophie, this was a hard weekend on her. We had thee visiting dogs, all at least half her size or smaller. She tended to overwhelm them with her enthusiasm for play. Eddie, my daughter's eleven-pound poodle, got really annoyed with this larger creature who kept jumping on him. Result? Not only did she have to share her space, Sophie spent way too much time in her crate. But last night and this morning, they all got used to each other and played together happily.
Grandchildren with two dogs on the bed--usually forbidden in my house
My kids and Jay hosted the party (the invitation actually read The Kids and Jay) but the out-of-town siblings were only to glad to let Jordan do all the planning and legwork. She is a planner and a good entertainer, and she did a masterful job, with lots of small touches that made such a difference. More about Jordan later, because she really is s huge part of my life, and she and I take care of each other in a wonderful fashion.
Tomorrow is my actual birthday, but it will be a quiet day, with supper out with Jordan and her family. I've had my big fling and loved it.
Every deck needs a fountain and a flying pig.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The excitement of a new book

Just got the cover for the new Kelly O'Connell Mystery (fourth in the series) that debuts next week in ebook form, with print to follow. I like it a lot, with the dripping blood. It's a bit darker than my previous cozies, so this works perfectly. Here's a blurb that tells  you a bit about the story.

Kelly O’Connell’s husband, Mike Shandy, insists she has a talent for trouble, but how can she sit idly by while her world is shattering. Daughter Maggie is hiding a runaway classmate; protégé Joe Mendez seems to be hanging out again with his former gang friends and ignoring his lovely wife Theresa; drug dealers have moved into her beloved Fairmount neighborhood. And amidst all this, reclusive former diva Lorna McDavid expects Kelly to do her grocery shopping. In spite of Mike’s warnings, Kelly is determined to save the runaway girl and her abused mother and find out what’s troubling Joe, even when those things lead back to the drug dealers. Before all the tangles in the neighborhood are untangled, Kelly finds herself wondering who to trust, facing drug dealers, and seeing more of death than she wants. But she also tests upscale hot dog recipes and finds a soft side to the imperious recluse, Lorna McDavid. It’s a wild ride, but she manages, always, to protect her daughters and keep Mike from worrying about her—at least not too much.

Now that I have the cover, I can start serious marketing. Please help me by spreading the news by word of mouth. I am still excited about Kelly's misadventures...and still thrilled to bee the author of published mysteries.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How blessed I am

Dinner tonight with two close friends at Simply Fondue--we laughed our way through dipping vegetables and bread cubes in a really good cheddar cheese fondue and then fruit, marshmallows, even Rice Krispy squares in Bananas Foster fondue. So good, and so much fun!
When I came home, I let Sophie in...and found my deck festooned with tiny white lights, and Scooby's old dog house decorated with multi-colored lights. My neighbors Jay and Susan did that and brought two benches over because Saturday night we'll celebrate my birthday and Susan's with all my kids and grandkids and a few neighbors and friends. I am so impressed that what was once a wasteland for the dogs has been transformed into a lovely, inviting space. Elizabeth gets credit for initiating this, because she decorated the entrance to her tiny house with her plants and statuary (we have a definite Buddha/Indian influence) and put a table and chairs in the back under the trees.
I'd been thinking earlier today about how lucky I am...or blessed. In a world that seems so full of angry people, I am surrounded by people who take good care of me and seem to enjoy doing it. One day, several months ago, Socorro was here cleaning the house, neighbor and friend Greg was working on the lawn, and Lewis and Jim, the contractors who keep my house together, were doing something. Jacob looked at me and said, "Juju, there are a lot of people at your house today." There were, and I'm not sure I could keep the house going without any of them.
This morning, Lewis and Jim cleaned gutters while Greg mowed. Having Lewis climb that tall ladder made me very nervous (he later said, "Me too!) and then I saw Greg standing on the porch railing (it's really a concrete ledge) trimming ivy off the wood parts near the roof and that made me nervous. But all was well.
So my yard is neat--no roses yet. All the wonderful rain we've had has made it way too muddy. My gutters are clean, though they still need repair when they dry out (it rained downtown tonight--we saw big puddles). And my backyard is festive. Tomorrow my house will be clean.
I saw out on the deck tonight, lights twinkling around me, and though how grateful I am for friends and neighbors and for the people who make it possible for me to continue to live in the house I love.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Family ties

As the mother of four adopted children and a woman who has been befriended by so many people, I have long said it's not blood that counts. It's love, what you do for others, what they do for  you. I'm having the opposite experience of that right now in an odd way.
I have a cousin in Canada who is bipolar, 78 years old, in a nursing home, and not in good health. She's in a wheelchair and can be verbally abusive when she doesn't get her way. Since she can't handle her own affairs, I have power of attorney and have been handling her affairs for several years. I remember my father saying years ago, when I was maybe 20 and he and Mom were about to set off on a trip, "Judy if anything happens to us,  you will take care of Jenny, won't you?" All these years later, those words have come home.
I have not seen Jenny since I was perhaps ten or twelve, so I can't claim we're close. And these days I can neither understand her on the phone nor read her handwriting. Sometimes she dictates a note to a nurse to send to me. She loves dogs (when I first got into this she had several animal shelters on an automatic withdrawal plan from her checking account and was donating $500 or more a month--I had to put a stop to that). But I send her pictures of Sophie, and since she's a packrat, I occasionally send a stuffed animal. And I send email notes through a wonderful lady at the home.
The other day the Senior Health Centre said they like to have final arrangements information on file in case a patient dies unexpectedly. No, they assured me, she had not taken a turn for the worse. So I've been planning a future funeral and on a journey through a branch of my father's family I know little about, tracking down her mother's birthplace--I have no idea and my dad is the only one who could tell me, so that's out. My grandfather was an Anglican minister who moved his family to a new parish every two years, and I swear they lived in every small town in southern Ontario. I give up equally on her father's birthplace and his mother's maiden name--I barely remember Uncle Walter and was never close to Aunt Rachael. Why do funeral homes need this? Then I got an estimate sheet--holy cow! It's expensive to die! Since there is no family I simply requested an Anglican minister say a prayer at the gravesite. But it's a lot more complicated than that-- they would have to hire pall bearers, and have cars to transport staff and clergy, use a hearse. If there's no funeral, why do they need staff? All of this makes me feel kind of ghoulish, since she's still living and shows no signs of dying soon.
I knew that somewhere in my files I had a record of the Denison Family Cemetery, so tonight I went through nine years of files--and found it in the last place I looked. The current file. Went to the website only to be warned it had a known threat. Wrote to the person who maintains the Denison family Web page, but it bounced back. So somehow I have to verify that Jenny's parents are buried there and there is a plot for her. All of this, of course, makes me nostalgic about family ties and sad that so little is known about Jenny, grateful that my children will carry on my legacy, such as it is.
And my one major thought about Jenny is what a sad, unhappy life she has had--sometimes off her meds and dumpster diving, never married, never worked, never had the ordinary life that most of us have.
So I'll keep digging until I contact someone at St. John's Cemetery on the Humber, beside Denison Park, in North York, Toronto--which is a long way from Texas.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

George Zimmerman and a town in the south of France

Everyone and their brother has had their say about the George Zimmerman acquittal, so I am perhaps foolish to jump in. But we had a strong sermon in church this morning that immediately brought that case to mind—not that we can escape thinking about it on this day after the verdict.

An associate minister titled his sermon, “Religion for Grown-Ups” and told the story of a small village in the mountains in the south of France, a village of perhaps 3,000 residents. During WWII, some 300 of those residents hid and saved over 5,000 Jews, mostly children. They fed and clothed them, educated them, and loved them. When word of an impending Nazi raid came, they spirited their guests to the woods; afterward, they would bring them back. Apparently they were never discovered, but the residents of the village did this at great risk to themselves and their families.

The movement was spearheaded by the Presbyterian minister in the town, and when the minister’s wife was asked why they did it, she said, “We did what we had to do.” Asked when a decision was made to save these people, she said, “There was no decision. We just did it.” That, our minister suggested, is the true spirit of God’s injunction to love they neighbor as thyself.

Somewhere on Facebook this morning I read the comment, “Would it be cool to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain?” I couldn’t help comparing the town in France with Zimmerman’s reaction.

Through the long seventeen months since Trayvon Martin was killed, one fact has bothered me: Zimmerman called 911 and was told to stay in his car. He didn’t do it. Today I saw a post on Facebook that made all kinds of sense to me: If George Zimmerman had followed any of the basic rules of a volunteer citizen patrol program, Trayvon Martin would not have died. They are:

Always have a buddy.

Wear some kind of identifying clothes with a badge or label—jacket, T-shirt, whatever.

Never carry a weapon of any kind—gun, blackjack, nightstick. Nothing.

Never confront someone.

I’m not fooling myself that Trayvon Martin was innocently skipping along, Skittles in his pocket, whistling Disney tunes, but I am very dissatisfied with the verdict. Justice was not Zimmerman’s to enforce, and if he hadn’t confronted Martin, he would have no claim of self-defense. A sad business all around.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Joy at a memorial service

Years ago a colleague said to me, “I don’t do funerals,” when a designer we had worked closely with died. I was indignant, because sometimes you do funerals out of respect for the one who’s gone on and for family and friends. But in a lot of cases, I don’t do funerals either. Today I attended one because I really wanted to. It turned out to be the most uplifting and faith affirming memorial service that I think I’ve ever been to. Faith is a very personal thing, and I usually don’t write about it, but here I go.

The service was for Leah Flowers, a longtime major lay figure at University Christian Church and wife of a minister who taught for years in the Department of Religion at TCU. I saw his fine hand in the scripture readings—all affirming God’s love for us, all looking forward, never backward. The homily was given by Associate Minister Cyndy Twedell, and she had us thoughtful one minute, a bit teary-eyed another (the vision of Leah learning to break dance with a young son was touching) and laughing the next. It was a wonderful tribute to a woman who loved her husband, her family, and her church, and was always ready to welcome newcomers with a smile and a handshake or a hug.

Leah loved to sing in the choir and the choir sang today in her memory—“When I Survey That Wondrous Cross” and “How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings.” The first one had my friend Betty in tears—she had directed the choir as they sang that all across Europe and she was close to Leah.

I’m struck by the impact the service had on me. I came away uplifted, so grateful for my faith that sustains me, so grateful for the loving church community of which I am a part. What a blessing Leah was to the world, and what a gift the service was to me. Praise be to God.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Kaboom! A summer storm

On the way home from lunch friends and I speculated on the ten percent chance of rain and laughed at the likelihood that if it came it would only be a sprinkle. But about 4:30 there was one big kaboom! of thunder that sent me to let the dog in. Within seconds, it, as we say in Texas, came a gully washer--fierce wind, sheets of rain. I looked out and saw that my gutter was leaking--afraid it would drown the basil plant. It kept up for a good while, then gradually lessened, but with another kaboom! my electricity went. When that happens I wander the house like a lost soul--no TV, no computer, not knowing how long it would last (I remember a four-day outage after one summer storm) I didn't want to use up the battery on the iPhone or iPad. Figured I'd sit on the deck with wine and read on the iPad but it was still sprinkling at six. When Elizabeth came home I said we might as well sit and drink wine, since we can't do anything else. Just then the power came on and she asked, "Can we still drink wine?" She had cracked her car windows because of the hot day and had a soggy car.
But my daughter's house sustained much heavier damage. The tree above is in her back yard--praise be it didn't hit the house! And the worst--Jacob's basketball hoop, put up with much difficulty, blew over, effectively blocking the driveway and garage plus it will be difficult to get back up. Can't tell if it's damaged or not.
Other than that food has been the big thing on my mind. Two longtime good friends and I shared joint birthdays at lunch today. Went to Piccolo Mondo, a lovely, classy Italian place in Arlington, as we had last year, and once again I had carpaccio. Almost too pretty to eat but it was delicious.
The waiter, having seen the gifts we arrived with, asked whose birthday, and when we said all of us, he presented us with dessert--a profiterole with chocolate sauce and small scoops of whipped cream on either side. I wasn't full until I ate every bite of that, but it sure was good.
Last night, after a birthday party for Representative Lon Burnam, friends and I went to Ryan's Fine Grocery and Deli and had a fine dinner indeed. I had the cheese and charcuterie platter with three wonderful cheeses, sausage, smoked ham and a wonderful jelly for the thin crackers. They each ordered three sides and got enough food for three full meals. Lesson learned--great place for dinner if you share. They serve salmon, steaks, lamb shops, scallops, roast chicken--but the servings are so generous you need to share. And one side will do for both, though they all looked delicious.
So tonight, with no power, I had a pimiento cheese sandwich. The life of luxury is fleeting.
I am grateful for the storm but sorry for the damage it did. If it did so much at my daughter's it must have hit hard throughout the area. Jordan lives 20 minutes south of me; someone who lives 20 minutes north said she didn't get a drop. Capriciouos summer storms.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Orange shirts, blue shirts--and change in the wind

 It will come as no surprise to most readers of this blog that I am terribly upset by the goings on in the legislature in Austin, where they are about to pass the so-called abortion bill, which really isn’t about abortion at all—it’s about women’s health care, particularly reproductive health care. I don’t have hard and fast statistics but it would close down all but a few clinics now serving women throughout Texas, particularly poor and rural women, many of whom will now have to drive hundreds of miles for health care—and may not be able to do it. I have seen predictions that the number of abortions will go up, not down, because women will be denied access to counseling, family planning, and contraception knowledge. And there will be more illegal abortions—remember coat hangers! The way to prevent more abortions is to prevent more unwanted pregnancies—and that comes through counseling and education.

The thing I resented most that I recently read concerned those few clinics who meet the new tough health care standards. Guess who owns one such clinic (I think there are five in the state)—Governor Perry’s sister! He talks anti-abortion out of one side of his mouth and gives a huge business advantage to his sister out of the other side. No comment.

It was a pleasure tonight to go to a fundraiser/birthday party for Representative Lon Burnam, one of the most outspoken and loud voices in the House in defense of women’s rights.  Lon has served in the legislature for many years now and sometimes been the lonely only liberal voice, but he brings a much-needed balance to the scene. I hope he continues his service for many years, and it was cheering to see the great number who turned out to celebrate with him. Who ever thought Lon would turn 60?

I am also proud that Senator Wendy Davis, who has led the charge and is still leading it, is from my home district. Her statewide bus tour was in Fort Worth tonight, but I couldn’t be both places and missed it.

I sense a seismic-and overdue change in the Texas political landscape. I think this controversial bill has galvanized more people to take a stand than any issue that’s come up for years. It’s the beginning of a political movement that just might sweep the state, if not the country. I liked Bud Kennedy’s column this morning that suggested that the leading names in state politics will shortly be George P. Bush and Wendy Davis. I don’t know enough about the young Bush’s agenda, but I sure like the way Wendy Davis thinks. And I would never ever underestimate her. A change in leadership would be so welcome, both on the state and nation al level.

To all those pro-life blue-shirted protestors, I wish you could understand that this nasty piece of politics is not about preserving the life of those unborn children you are so ardent about—it’s about women’s health. And children’s health care. Politicians righteously proclaim every life deserves a chance—but once that life is here, they are totally unconcerned about health care, insurance, education, etc.

Got to get myself an orange T-shirt. Wonder why those chose such an unflattering color?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Feeling my own mortality

I’ve lost four friends, of varying histories and degrees, in the last two weeks, and it’s making me feel my mortality and how quickly life can change. One was a man who, young and “finding himself,” lived with my family. If he didn’t work that day, he got no dinner that night; if he stayed up reading all night (and drinking wine), no dinner; we had “pick on Alan” nights, but it was all loving. He was the son of an older lady who had been good to me—always called me on each of my children’s birthdays, a remarkable act of memory and kindness. Later in our lives, Alan helped me through a rough patch—divorce and the selling of my dream house, but then we drifted apart and I hadn’t seen him in years until my oldest child married and I wanted to invite Alan’s mother to the reception we had in Fort Worth. I invited him because I knew she couldn’t come alone. We had a great time catching up. When his mom died, he called me the night before the obituary appeared to tell me and say, “I didn’t want you to read it in the paper.” So RIP Alan Burk. You will always have a corner of my heart.

Carolyn Bilyea was the wife of one of my ex’s surgical partners, and probably one of the most cheerful women I’ve ever known. David died many years ago, but Carolyn lived happily by herself and then in an assisted living facility. She called often and sent Christmas cards, which I don’t much do. So last Christmas, after the holiday, I made repeated attempts to call her—the switchboard put me through to her phone, I left messages, but nothing happened. I tried without success to talk to the switchboard people, and upshot was I never talked to Carolyn. I regret it to this day and regret that I didn’t do more to stay in touch with her.

I didn’t know Leah Flowers well, but we were in a Sunday school class together, and I can still see her singing with the choir at church, one of the things she most loved to do and was known for. I knew her husband, a professor of religion at TCU, through church and because I helped him with some publication questions and problems. And it seems like no more than six months ago but must have been longer that I had a lovely lunch with both of them. Alzheimer’s took Leah at a relatively young age, but from what I read on Caring Bridge hers was a peaceful decline—Ron let her sleep as much as she wanted—and she was surrounded by family and loving friends. Her death leaves a big hole in University Christian Church and TCU, where she worked for many years.

And then there was Jean Flynn, one of the wittiest, brightest, most caring women I ever met. Her husband and I worked together on several projects that he published with TCU Press, and I came to feel that he and Jean were family. She was always full of jokes and stories about what she had to put up with being married to her irrepressible husband. A respected writer in her own name, she always put Bob’s career ahead of hers. She wrote for young readers because, having been a school librarian, she felt there were not enough good and interesting books for young readers. But the funniest thing I ever saw of hers was a piece describing a camping trip they took to Alaska--decidedly unromantic from Jean's point of view. Rest in peace and rise in glory, Jean—you have left a vast empty space in many hearts.

Jean died about three weeks after an automobile accident which at first seemed not so serious, and we were reassured. All the writing community in Texas who loved her soon learned it was indeed serious. That she died in an accident—or as a result of—has brought home to me the fragility of life, the suddenness with which it can turn in a minute and be forever changed.

I’m quickly approaching my 75th birthday—in a little less than two weeks—and I have a friend, now in his eighties, who said his 75th was the hardest. I’m determined not to let it be hard on me, to go my way, aches, pains, deafness, lack of balance notwithstanding and continue to enjoy life, my family and grandchildren, my work, my dog and my house and be grateful to be in good health..

“But at my back, I always hear/Times winged chariot hurrying near.” Seventy-five is a good age…and a scary one.


Saturday, July 06, 2013

Summer evenings

Another lovely summer evening. Above, I was about to take off from Jordan's house for home, top down, Scottish music blaring. I could have ridden with my neighbors, but I had an errand to run and wanted to have my evening drive home with the top down. Wonderful evening with Jay, Susan and Jordan--Jacob hid in the bedroom though he emerged to shoot baskets with Jay, and Christian was working. I knew Jay and Susan were going to be there about four--took a nap and woke up at 4:15, thinking it was awfully bright for morning--a sign of how heavily I slept. Threw on clothes and flew out the door.
I've made good use of a lazy day when I was supposed to be at gay festivities. Got up early and went to Central Market for chicken for tomorrow night's casserole. Then home to wait for Jordan and Jacob--we went looking for a table and chairs for the new deck. Found one I think will be just right at Albertson's--much cheaper than all the ones at patio furniture stores. And I had good luck with the small patio table I bought for the front porch from them. Then to World Market, where we both did some shopping. Jacob pretended to be interested, but he actually found several things he wanted at World Market. He got one magic rock.
Jamie sent me a picture of the wedding ceremony I was missing tonight, and I'm sorry to miss it and all the people I would have loved to see but feel blessed that my weekend has been so happy in spite of disappointed plans.
Tomorrow church and supper at the Burtons'--I'm bringing the casserole. Hence the chicken I just took out of the oven.
Life is sweet, even in Texas in July. We've been blessed with mikd-90s temperatures, cool mornings and evenings. Please, Lord, all summer long.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Going with the flow

Here it is--a finished deck. Still needs
furniture and plants but I'm
working on that.
I was so looking forward to a busy full weekend, with a luncheon today, a houseguest tonight, and a wedding reception tomorrow night in Dallas, followed by a night at son Jamie's house. By this morning, as I was preparing ingredients for a great supper salad, my houseguest called: she had gotten sick over the night and wasn't coming. That meant no luncheon (it was out of town, and I don't drive on the highway) and no wedding, plus no stay at Jamie's and a chance to hug one branch of the family.
But I've had a good day and have busy plans for the weekend. This morning I ran some errands--to get a much-delayed birthday present for my brother (finally happened on something I thought he'd like), get printer cartridges (all wrong, have to return tomorrow), and buy stamps to send letters to Canada. Seemed like there was a line at every stop. Came home and caught up on things, took a nap, got Jacob, and headed out for his house. Meant to be home early but they delayed grilling because of the heat, so that it was 8:30 before I got home.
But oh the glory of driving home, top on the car down, breeze blowing in my hair, and Scottish music blaring. May have been the high point of my day. Went the scenic route, through residential areas and parks with lots of trees. Glorious.
So here I am settling down at 9:20. How much work do you think I'll get done tonight? You're right, but I'm determined to go through one chapter of the manuscript I got first edits on--second time through.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Faery peaches for a faery garden

A couple of weeks go, in Austin, I visited a wonderful nursery called The Great Outdoors. One special area was devoted to faery gardens, miniature gardens with house, tiny plants, rock and crystals for faeries. They ranged from elaborate to quite small; one was even in an old desk drawer. I bought a small one for Elizabeth, partly because I knew she'd like it and partly to thank her for caring for Sophie while I was gone. The faeries, I assured her, would protest her at night.
Now she's gone to Pennsylvania for a visit, and the faery garden is in my house, where I carefully give it just a tiny bit of water--faeries don't need much--every other day.
Last night a neighbor I'd never met (sad commentary) came to the door with three small children in tow. They were sharing an abundance of peaches from their tree--small, tiny peaches like none I've ever seen. But he assured me they were sweet and good--and he was right. I thanked them, all the time holding on to Sophie, so I wasn't the best hostess.
When I took the peaches out of the bag I found a note that said "Peaches from our faery tree." I wish I'd known sooner--I would have invited the children in to see the faery garden. Jacob, who covets the small garden, was thrilled with the peaches. He insisted on putting the bowl next to the garden and said the peaches were for the faeries to eat, one a day. I could not convince him that they came from the faeries for us to eat. He even put the note in the garden, so the faeries would understand.
Isn't it wonderful to have the imagination and belief in faeries, elves and other creatures of the air that a seven-year-old holds to so firmly? It's like magic, and I vow to stop trying to bring too much reality into his world of the imagination. I only wish I could recapture that magic myself.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Deck, garden--and a day of piddling

My new deck is a almost done, and for the first time in a week I can walk out the back door. I love the flooring. When finished, it will have a matching 6" railing top --perfect for plants. Meantime Sophie and I enjoyed it tonight--if you look hard in the shadows you can see her. Jim and Lewis Bundock, who are building it, don't trust me--they nailed a board over the opening where the staircase will be to make sure I didn't try to go down the stairs that aren't there. I did slide off the front of the desk to water some plants. I'm very excited about the whole thing.
Lewis (standing) and Jim Bundock, who keep my house in order

And neighbor Greg, who tends my lawn and garden, spent the whole morning clearing out the "way back" which used to have photinia bushes until the city took them out to do sewer work. In so doing, they left an open six by six foot hole, maybe three or four foot deep. Jordan and I came home one night late to find our lab, Maynard, at the bottom of the hole. We had to call the fire department, and they came with sirens and lights, but they got the dog out and were nice about it.
The city replaced the old bushes with tiny plants, which the two large male dogs I had at the time promptly peed on and killed. It's been a wasteland ever since. Greg is going to put roses back there--mutabilis, an antique shrub rose. He's had them for a month or more and every time I ask about them, he says, "They're real pretty." They'll actually go in soon. I didn't realize how much clearing he had to do in preparation, but he even took out an old tree stump, rotten to the core. He says he practically just kicked it over.
Other than that a lazy day--piddling. I didn't get a lick of honest work done. But it was kind of neat. Jordan asked if I wanted to pick Jacob up at 3:45 and I said no, I'm having a lazy day. Did have dinner with a friend at the Grill--meant to bring half my meatloaf home for a sandwich but ate it all.
Now to some honest to goodness work.

Monday, July 01, 2013

What a wonderful day!

As I drove to the grocery this morning, with the top down on my VW Bug, I thought I must be someplace other than Fort Worth, Texas. I had been transported to a place that looked just like Fort Worth--all the familiar streets--but it couldn't be North Texas. At 9:30 a.m. on July 1, it was in the seventies, with a lovely breeze. The day continued that way, never reaching ninety.
At happy hour, Elizabeth and I sat on the porch sipping wine and talking about the remarkable weather. The breeze still blew, we were surrounded by green--trees and plants and hanging baskets. We agreed if the weather would stay this way year round, North Texas would be an idyllic place to live.
After supper, when Jacob had left, I snuck back out on the porch, ignoring the work on my desk, to read for a while. Often when I do that, I end up staring into space. Tonight I was thinking about a man who had once been a good friend. He died in the last couple of days, too young. May he rest in peace--he will always have a small corner of my heart.
Right now my prayer list is long--more people than I care to count with life-threatening illnesses, automobile accidents with severe after-effects, two families affected by last-stage Alzheimer's--I pray for comfort for all of them. I pray that they can find some comfort in our lovely weather.
I hope you got out and enjoyed the breeze, the light sunshine (rather than intense sun that beats on you), and the cool temperatures.