Friday, September 30, 2016

Beating myself up over a shoe

From this......
To this

I did trade the boot for a brace this morning, but it turned out not to be a direct trade-off. I am to wear the brace an hour or so at a time until I am used to it, gradually spending more time in the brace than the boot. Nor is it a simple procedure to fit it—the brace is clear plastic, molded after my foot. But still the technician put my foot in it and marked here and there where she could trim it. In response to her suggestion of a larger shoes, I took two pair—new OrthoFeet in a Mary Jane style and a pair of Croc lined slippers.

The brace goes inside the shoes—a bit of a trick to get it on, but I imagine it will work out as I break the shoe in—literally. But she trimmed until she had the right combination of fit and protection. Then she checked to see that I was even, and then I walked between parallel bars. I felt like a kid who had passed an exam in school—she said I did a perfect heel-toe walk, which should prevent tripping, and my ankle did not offer to collapse to either side.

Alas the Croc did not work as well. I had taken it because it’s wide and boxy, but she pointed out it has no give, whereas the OrthoFeet shoe is stretchy. We tried and tried, but it would accommodate the brace. Meantime, I who have always avoided Crocs was loving the left shoe that I wear with the boot. Crocs were too stiff and hard—they hurt my feet. But with the lining, it’s comfortable and I think a better height so I’m more even. All of this should alleviate the pain in my left hip.

By the time I got to the prosthesis office this morning, I had worked myself into one of my anxiety attacks. I was afraid of walking between the parallel bars, which turned out to be a piece of cake. I was sure I’d never walk unassisted again. I berated myself for being lazy and a coward because I don’t walk more—and major confession, I don’t often do the exercises that the physical therapist recommended. That’s unlike me, because I have faithfully done exercises, walked, done yoga whatever. I convinced myself that I was useless, lazy, lacking ambition.

I realize tonight, of course, what I was doing to myself—sending all those negative messages. On the other hand, regaining my earlier physical strength and balance compares to my thinking on my career: at 78, I am neither as ambitious nor as determined as I once was and probably that’s okay.

It’s been a long, difficult day, with my morning anxiety and in the evening several urgent trips to the bathroom. I really thought at noon I didn’t feel well…and slept for two-and-half hours this afternoon. Jordan’s friends were here when I got up, and one said to me, “Are you all right? You don’t look like yourself.” I explained it away with allergies that made my eye run but then I started the negative messages all over again. Listening to an account of another friend’s bout with West Nile didn’t help either.

I hope it was a better day for you. I’m putting this one to bed and plan to wake in the morning a new person.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Excitement, an old friend, and seven hats

September 29, 2016

Jacob, wearing seven hats--I have no idea why,
but he remind me of something out of Dr. Seuss
I’m excited, anxious, nervous, and full of anticipation tonight. Tomorrow I get a foot-and-ankle brace and theoretically say goodbye to the walking boot. I’ve been in that boot since May, and it’s getting tiresome to put it on in the middle of the night when I need the restroom. It’s also gotten tiresome long ago to think of clothes that would easily fit over it.

I was measured for the brace a couple of weeks ago. It apparently comes up as high as the boot—almost to the knee—and fits down into the shoe. The certified technician who made the cast said I would need a bigger shoe to accommodate the brace, so I ordered a pair of OrthoFeet shoes in a Mary Jane style and, at Megan’s insistence, a pair of pink Crock fuzzy-lined slippers.

I’ve never been a fan of Crocs. Their hard plastic cuts into my feet at all the wrong places. But tonight I am wearing the left one, and the lining makes all the difference. I must wear shoes anytime I wear the brace, so these will be great in the night. I have lots of questions—is this a permanent brace or do I move on? Can I bear weight without it briefly? Will it be easier to walk on it than the boot? Apparently I’ll have to do some walking on the parallel bars tomorrow—no, no, not on the bars but holding on to them.

Today my cottage got a small wall built around a most ugly gas meter right outside the French doors—can’t move the meter so the contractor improvised.  Lewis and Jim also built a step by my front door and installed a hand railing—much better than the ramp that scared me. After our Chicago trip, I do not like inclines, don’t like having my world tilted, though for a while the ramp was necessary. Now I may be moving on to a whole new phase of this recovery business, and I find that exciting. I have to work on strength recovery and gaining self-confidence, and I am loathe to admit it but I am reluctant in both areas.

My good friend Fred Erisman came for lunch today, bringing the egg salad sandwich I had suggested. Almost fifty years ago, Fred hand-carried or pushed me through TCU’s doctoral program in English. We have remained friends, colleagues, and lunch buddies all these years. He still reads and gives me an honest appraisal on almost everything I write.

Today we caught up with each other and our projects, and I arrived at the conclusion that the two of us, both pushing eighty—he a bit closer than I am—are at a point of contemplating our careers, reassessing what we’ve done and what we want t do in the future. We talked of families and travel and food and Chicago. I find such long-term relationships reassuring. So thank you, Fred, for an egg salad sandwich, a house call, and good company.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Getting Out in the World

I wouldn’t want you to think things are going to hell in a handbasket around here, but someone just brought me today’s paper to read—only it turned out to be last Saturday’s paper. Wednesday is when they run recipes, and I’d really rather have that.

Beefing up my social life and also getting out in the world. Monday a colleague from my osteopathic college days—probably the 70s—brought me a sandwich for lunch, and we had a great, happy visit. Yesterday, Melinda, production manager at TCU Press and my dear friend, came and got me and we went to Nonna Tata for lunch. It’s our favorite hangout, and we take small bottles of wine. We’re in z rut—she has chicken limon and I have braseola. And we always have a great, laughter-filled visit. It was a trick to get into her suburban but I had a stepstool and managed it nicely. Still, making sure Sophie stays confined while I get out, getting into the car, etc. is a strenuous exercise. Melinda said she should have skipped her exercise class that morning.

Tonight Betty and I took Jacob to Swiss Pastry—they now serve a German menu on weeknights. Jacob frowned, doesn’t like that restaurant, etc. I had studied hard to find things on the menu he’d like, but he made a face at mac and cheese with bacon and potatoes—and I didn’t even tell him the cheese was gruyere and not cheddar. But lo and behold, they had a kids’ menu with a hamburger. Their hamburgers are Wagu beef and delicious. I fortunately kept my mouth shut about how good it would be, and Jacob loved it.

Betty and I split the Weisswurst platter—sliced pork-and-veal sausage and mushrooms in a wine cream sauce with mashed potatoes. Absolutely delicious. I’m anxious to go back and try some of their schnitzels. Jacob and I let our imaginations get away with our capacity, and each ordered Black Forest Cake—I brought home a full serving, and he brought almost that much. Good desserts linger in the fridge. Betty had coconut cream pie, liked it so well she took a second piece home to her husband.

Meanwhile I am overwhelmed with small chores at my desk. The neighborhood newsletter consumed an unusual amount of time, and everything I touch seems to take more time than it should. I sometimes get 250 emails a day, plus I check Facebook at least once a day. And now I have three books to read for the Sarton competition sponsored by Story Circle Network. Somehow it seems I work all morning and never get ahead.

My current project is to sort some recipes, and I did a bit today, picking out things to fix for Jordan and me since Christian will be out of town this weekend. We usually eat fish when he’s gone, so I have Italian-style tuna sandwiches and avocado/salmon/lime tostados on my list. Fun to be cooking again.

Two days and I trade the boot for a brace. I’m hoping I will make life a lot easier and so am excited. Wish me good balance and self-confidence, please.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Watching the Debate

I didn’t mean to watch the debate tonight, but a friend called and asked if she could come watch it with me, so of course I agreed. Then she called to say that her wallet had been stolen, presumably in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s.  She called the police and then lamented, “They treated me like a little old lady.” I told her that was what we were—didn’t mean to be unsympathetic, but it’s the truth. Linda went back home to Granbury to sort her life and credit cards out. I presume we’ll connect for the next debate. Darn! I was going to make salmon croquettes for her.

By then, though, I had decided it was my civic duty to watch the debate, and I did. Jordan wandered out, said she didn’t want to watch it. Christian and Jacob were both watching programs inside, and as she said, “Everyone’s doing their thing. That’s good.” But I sort of thought she was sad that her thing is laundry, etc.

I guess I’m out of step with the world. Liberal friends and acquaintances are posting about how awful Trump was and brilliant Hillary was. I didn’t find it so. Trump was, as one poster on Liberals without Borders commented, not orange. And he didn’t throw the hissy-fit that many had predicted. He answered with clear statements and precise numbers-need the fact checkers to tell us about those numbers. Yes, he did talk over Hillary but otherwise he was controlled and reasonable. Hillary had all the answers ready, as she always does—she was reasonable, businesslike but not cordial or friendly. I hear so much about differing expectations-because she’s a woman she must appear softer and more friendly. Poppycock: she’s not presenting herself as a woman but as a candidate for a high office. And I thought she did a good job.

Now I’ll wait to check the fact-checkers. I had heard that a different standard would be applied to the two candidates—in essence, if Trump managed to hold his temper he’d win because he’d be asked less difficult questions. I didn’t find that to be true at all. But I will wait for the pundits to tell me who won.

Otherwise, a slow damp Monday. Never did rain but looked like it could. I was content to stay inside, though when I opened the door for Sophie I could feel the coolness and smell a touch of fall in the air. It will, I’m told, be gone by tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Rainy Sundays are the best

Amy's pasta supper
Thunder and rain wakened me this morning about 7:30. I lay there and listened to a heavy downpour, remembering that Jordan and Christian were having their furniture, stored in a pod for a month, delivered at 8 a.m. Lingering in bed on a morning like that is sheer pleasure, and it was close to nine before I got myself going. I steered clear of the Burtons, didn’t figure it was a good scene. As it turned out, Christian took Jacob to church to serve as an acolyte and Jordan dealt with the movers.

Meanwhile I spent the morning at my desk, alternately working and staring out the window at the damp, wet world. What started as a stormy day turned into a slow, steady rain, the kind good for our plants but not so much for moving furniture or keeping dogs dry. Tonight the world is beginning to dry out but more rain is predicted tomorrow.

As I get settled in my cottage, I’m beginning to cook. I may become an unpaid advertisement for Nu-Wave induction cooking. I have a burner—two but I only need one-and two frying pans and one pot to cook on it. So far I’ve only used one skillet, but Jordan cooked a lamb chop, and I scrambled some eggs and cooked a slider. Burner heats quickly, you can control temperature easily, and the skillet is a breeze to wash.

Saturday night I hosted my first real happy hour—not just drop by for a drink. Served makings for baguette sandwiches—ham and brie, smoked salmon and herbed cream cheese, plus figs halved, topped with blue cheese, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Forgot how much I like figs. So I’m edging back into the world of food, and one of my semi-immediate plans is to sort a folder of recipes.

Having winnowed my absolutely appalling collection of clipped recipes for the move, I’m already beginning to rebuild it. One of my great pleasures is to read Bon Appetit or Southern Living and clip recipes I think I might cook. Sometimes before I even add them to the collection, I sort, throwing away those I know I’ll never cook. But who can resist cauliflower with curry butter?

Tonight no need to cook. Amy Russell, one of my very favorites of Jordan’s friends, brought us supper—a terrific pasta dish with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, all in a creamy sauce. Delicious. Accompanied by a green salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries. Who could ask for more? Then Amy went home and cooked an entirely different meal for her family. Now that’s friendship above and beyond, and I for one am most grateful.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Defending the Indefensible

I confess. I did it. I allowed myself to e drawn into a Facebook discussion with an avid Trump supporter. I just couldn’t keep quiet when she said Hillary is a criminal and should be behind bars, and Donald Trump, that lily-white perfect being, is a victim of media conspiracy. It seems folks, he doesn’t really have a temper, never made fun of a handicapped person, is not racist, misogynist, etc. and it would be perfectly safe to give him the nuclear codes (one of my big fears).

All that negative stuff about him? It’s all the media’s fault. To me, the media has given him a free ride for way too long—I swore in recent weeks that Chuck Todd of Meet the Press was his campaign manager. Today Trump said media shouldn’t fact check debates because Lester Holt is a Democrat—turns out he’s a registered Republican.

What struck me though about this very determined lady—she kept writing me after I suggested we call the whole thing off—was her focus on a conspiracy against Trump. To me, the idea is patently ridiculous, but since the Kennedy assassination, our country has been obsessed with conspiracy theories. It’s always an “us against them” kind of theory that pits the individual, god-fearing citizen against the government.

Frankly I think the most obvious conspiracy currently is the one the Republicans have been carrying on against Hillary for the last 25 years. It explains why so many people think she’s a common criminal. But that’s not the point here—the point is conspiracy theories and passionate defenses.

I was struck by the passion with which this woman defended Trump. And then I went on to a post from a Bernie supporter, who brought up the defense that “they” (read established Democrats) were never going to let Bernice win. It was a conspiracy. Well, folks, Bernie Sanders hadn’t been a Democrat for long, in terms of service to the party, he hadn’t paid his dues, and suddenly he came out of nowhere to run for president. What he achieved was remarkable, and I hope many of his ideas are incorporated into the party platform. But there was no conspiracy—he just wasn’t part of the Democratic Party’s process. Of course that’s what he built his appeal on, and it almost got him there but not quite.

I’m beginning to think that the more a person knows, even instinctively, that they’re defending a lost cause, the more passionate they become in defending it.

Please, Lord, help me to pass by those passionate defenses and keep my nose in my own business.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the cottage , , , ,

I’ve been so wrapped up in recounting our four glorious days in Chicago that I’ve overlooked posting about the doings at home….and there are doings to report.

In a development really exciting to me, I was measured for an ankle brace. I will get out of the dreaded boot, though I’m not sure the brace will be a lot better. It too will come up almost to my knee, and I must wear a shoe at all times. So that means in the night I will have to put on the brace and the shoe if I want to use the restroom. Also I don’t know how it will fit with pants. But it is a step forward. I will have to get a larger shoe to accommodate the brace.

I admit I have not been good about the exercises the physical therapist gave me, and I’ve been maybe halfway good about walking with the walker instead of scooting around on it. I saw clear evidence this weekend that I’ve lost strength and probably muscle mass, and I must make myself work on that.

Much as I loved the Chicago trip, I was glad to get home to my cottage. It has passed its occupancy inspection and is officially good to go. One thing that means is that I can cook. Last night, with Jordan doing most of the work, we sautéed a loin lamb chop, and I ate applesauce. Tonight I scrambled a couple of eggs, using my New Wave induction burner—piece of cake, and they were good. They cooked quickly but I got them at the soft stage, which is where I like them. Now I’m anxious to cook and will start exploring recipes and ideas. Next week, when Jordan and Christian unpack their belongings, I expect to get the fancy toaster-oven that Megan brought me. When they remodeled their kitchen, that was all they had to cook with. It’s lovely to get the least little bit of feeling for cooking again.

Sophie is apparently glad to have me at home. Greg said when he’d come up here to check on her, she was all droopy and depressed. He’d take her outside and instead of jumping and running as she usually does, she’d plod along. He kept telling her, “It’ll be all right. She’ll come back.” According to him, there’s no question about whose dog she is. I’m not sure I’ve ever had that strong a relationship with a dog before, and I love it.

It’s good to be back home, viewing the world from my cottage, once more involved in my various writing chores, and always savoring the memories of one of the most significant trips I’ve taken. It ranks right up there with ten days in Scotland.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Palmer House

In planning our Chicago trip, one of the highlights I almost insisted on was lunch at the Palmer House hotel, followed by the lecture and tour on the historic hotel. Lunch was at noon, and the tour began at 1:30, scheduled to be over by 3:00. Last May I published The Gilded Cage, a novel of Chicago in the late 19th century, the Potter Palmers, the Palmer House Hotel, and the Columbian Exposition. Okay it’s much more than that, at least I think so, but those are the main events. I wanted to see if I was on the mark or not, and I wanted to see the famed hotel, though I think I was probably there with my parents as a young child.

Lunch was delicious—most of the kids had salmon, but I had a buttery homemade pasta with mushrooms and truffle sauce. Absolutely delicious.

We met the tour guide in the lobby adjacent to the restaurant. Everybody stood around talking, while Ken Price, the guide, questioned us. Eventually he led us up a floor to the hotel’s museum. Now, how many hotels do you know that have their own museum? Price was, if I got the story straight, hired to do marketing for the hotel, but today he is the archivist, whether or not he still does marketing.

We gathered around a table in the crowed small space, and he went around the room asking each of us questions. When he found out I was an English major, he zeroed in on me. But before that he had orchestral music playing, told us it was from the 1930s and asked who knew what orchestra it was. I said Eddie Duchin, because who else played in that decade. A lucky guess.

The next question was a quote: “In the room, the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.” His question was the source, and he looked directly at me. I said T. S. Eliot, and he asked for more, so I said Prufrock. Yes, it was from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

His final question was, “Who called Chicago the hog butcher of the world?” Easy. Carl Sandburg. I was a little bit filled with pride to have been singled out and to have acquitted myself well.

For the next two hours he gave us a random, rambling history of Chicago, the Palmers, the hotel, and himself. Charming, garrulous and knowledgeable, he was one of those people who liked to name-drop and had me convinced that he had important ties. I was convinced he had important connections. He’s occasionally drag out posters or other visuals to augment his talk.

When the overlong lecture wound down, he suggested a 15-minute break and then a tour of the hotel. We had dinner plans and couldn’t stay which didn’t bother me a lot. I had learned much from his lecture, most of which confirmed that I got the information in The Gilded Cage right except when I deliberately veered off into fiction.

We left a copy of The Gilded Cage with him, along with a business card, and he promised to be in touch and read the book. Who knows? This might be my one chance at fame and fortune. On the other hand, I’ll probably never hear from him. But it was still a heck of an interesting afternoon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The River Cruise

September 19, 2016

On the Thursday we were in Chicago, we walked from lunch at Frontera Grill to Wacker Drive and descended to the river walk, also known as lower Wacker Drive. There we boarded Chicago’s First Lady for a river cruise sponsored by the Architectural Foundation of Chicago. The Chicago river, which slices through downtown, is dotted with small cruise boats, but the tour we chose is supposed to be the most authentic and thoroughly researched. The docent who narrated our tour had certainly done her homework.

Because the river limits the buildings discussed to those visible from the boat, it necessarily leaves out a lot of Chicago architecture and focuses principally on high rises, though there are a few residences—both multi-story and individual condos—on the river. Our docent wished aloud that the buildings along the river had been built in chronological order, but of course that didn’t happen.

The architectural styles—triangles, rounded surfaces, vertical construction and horizontal, are a bit much for someone like me who has a vague knowledge of architecture but can’t wrap my mind around what feature is typical of what style. But it was delightful, wine in hand, to drift along the river on a pleasant afternoon. Our boat probably held at most a hundred people but was not at all full. We sat on the forward deck.

The Great Fire of 1871 destroyed all of downtown Chicago, with the famous water tower on North Michigan the only structure that survived. Architects realized they could not rebuild with wood, and steel-frame buildings came into existence. The invention of the elevator allowed architects to build up, not out—a huge change in architecture. In some ways, Chicago set the pattern for architectural changes throughout the country, and the city produced world-renowned architects, even though they differed dramatically in their design approach. Example: Louis Sullivan detested the neo-Classical buildings that Daniel Burnham designed for the Columbian Exposition.
Wrigley Building

Tribune Building

Marina towers

We passed landmark buildings such as the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building and Marina City Towers—which I remember from a Blues Brothers movie. We passed buildings designed to reflect the undulations of the river. The closeness of all these tall buildings illustrated something I noticed about Chicago as opposed to my hometown of Fort Worth—Chicago is a dense city. Many people work and live in really close proximity, something we Texans are not used to. I don’t think even Dallas or Houston are that dense.

The river tour necessarily misses some well-known buildings in the city—Robie House, the Frank Lloyd Wright structure on the University of Chicago campus and all of Wright’s Prairie School influence, the Gothic buildings of the University of Chicago. But the tour gives a heady taste of the changing style of the city—and it’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
Robie House

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Eat your way through Chicago          

September 18. 2016

First, I somehow didn’t post a full picture of my childhood home, so I’m making amends tonight. I must have given my children an erroneous picture. They expected something run-down, perhaps even torn down. Christian thought probably a modest white clapboard house on its last legs. Instead they found what they insist on calling a Brownstone—it isn’t, because it isn’t made of the classic brownstone but it and many of the houses in Madison Park are in the style of a Brownstone. So here’s 1340 Madison Park, in all its red brick-and-stone glory. My family used such words as quaint and charming, and I think they’re right.

On to food. Chicago is a city that likes to eat and knows good food. We spent most of our time on the near North Side, which is where our hotel was and where the new and trendy restaurants are. Fortunately, the Drake Hotel has concierge service, so we ate only one huge breakfast, but oh my! Lunch and dinner made up for it. I’ve already written about our dinner at Publican on Wed. night, so let me begin with Thursday lunch.

Thursday morning was our great tour of Hyde Park, but the timing was just right—we were at Frontera Grill in time for 1:30 reservations. Frontera is Rick Bayhless’ restaurant, and an educated guess leads me to say it features food from the interior of Mexico. I am leery of spicy hot, but the waiter was most helpful, bringing me a sauce to taste. It was mild and buttery, made of summer squash blossoms. But it went on trout, which seemed too much for lunch, so I had a goat cheese tamale with fresh wild greens and a pasilla sauce, along with a Caesar salad. Others had tortilla soup, and we shared ceviche and guacamole. Wonderful menu and the food more than lived up to its promise.

A friend generously gave us a certificate for an impressive Italian restaurant—tucked away out of the mainstream, quiet and classy. We had drinks and then went to Berghoff’s, a historic Chicago restaurant. We went at my request, but I wasn’t as hungry as I wanted to be or as blown away by the menu. I ordered German potato salad; Megan tasted it and said, “Yours is better.” The hit of this meal was the giant soft pretzel, which everyone said was one of the best they’d ever had.

Friday lunch found us at the Palmer House—my choice was butternut squash soup and a pasta with mushrooms. Delicious. Several of the kids had salmon, and then we were off to the lecture and tour about the Palmer House.

Friday night was perhaps the best meal at RPM, an upscale Italian place. My kids seem to want to try everything, so we had five kinds of pasta, with each of us tasting just a bit. My favorite was the classic done with butter, salt and pepper. Before that we had carpaccio, fried artichokes with lemon aioli sauce, and prosciutto-wrapped dates. We should have walked to the hotel, but we didn’t.

The waiter at RPM recommended Orange, in Lincoln Park, for our Saturday brunch on the way to the airport. Their feature is Frushi—a combination of fruit and sushi-style rice. We tried it of course, but when the waitress asked if we didn’t like it—there was a lot on the platter—Megan said tactfully that it was interesting but not quite what we were looking for. The others ended up with lunch—hamburger, fancy grilled cheese, chicken nuggets but I had Popeye’s Scramble—with spinach, tomatoes and cheese. House potatoes turned out to be a cone of mostly mashed potatoes. Good, but the place was a casual diner, and neither the food nor the atmosphere lived up to the extravagance I’d come to expect.

Several things I noticed about Chicago food: most restaurants tout locally grown food, and the menu will tell you where each item came from. They are big on squash-like flavors—I had buttered corn, squash salsa, butternut soup—all with that wonderful, buttery taste.

A note on getting around Chicago: I am still in a wheelchair, and I have never in my life gotten in and out of so many Suburban vehicles. Getting out is no problem, but getting in required gritting of the teeth. Colin developed a method which essentially had me end up sitting on his lap, and from there he boosted me into the seat while I grabbed the handhold. I’m sure both of us developed more muscle.

We left Chicago vowing never to eat again, or at least to tone it down. I didn’t actually feel I overate but I loved every bite and taste.

Tomorrow: an educational trip.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

One of Life’s Magic Moments

September 17y, 2016

This morning Chicago was cloudy, and Lake Michigan was perfectly still, a quilt of pale blue and gray patches reflecting the sky/ It had rained during the night, and the beach was wet and nearly deserted. I settled myself to write this blog while staring at the view. Ran out of time, saved my work, intending to finish it tonight. Now I’m safely home again in my cottage, but determined to reconstruct the blog. It dealt with our first morning in Chicago and described one of life’s rare magic moments.

We headed out to tour the neighborhood where I grew up. When we turned off the Outer Drive at 47th Street, we were greeted by a huge sign saying,, “Welcome to the Kenwood-Hyde Park Neighborhood.” Nothing would be but we take a picture.

We drove down Dorchester Avenue, past Farmer’s Field (a big open field in my day) which is now a community park. Then past St. Paul Episcopal Church were the Judy who lived next door to me met her husband and married him fifty-some years ago. And then we turned into Madison Park.

I grew up in a small, three-block long enclave between 50th and 51st street. The park is ringed by houses on the north side and apartments on the south, with a narrow one-way drive all the way around. 1340 is about a block into the park, a skinny tall red brick-and-stone structure. The kids were enchanted and got out to explore. Eventually the next-door neighbor came out to see what was going on—his house sits on my dad’s garden and was specifically designed to match 1340. He obligingly took a picture of the kids on the steps of the house, and that picture is forever emblazoned on my mind. That was the magic moments for me.

We lingered in the park, which is lush and green with well-tended grass, a profusion of trees, and bushes. As best I could I recalled who lived where. Finally we drove out the far end  and went a few blocks to see the Obama family’s home. Big disappointment. I didn’t expect to drive right by it but neither did I expect the whole block to be off-limits to foot or vehicle traffic. Trees around the house have been allowed to grow up to the point you can barely tell there’s a house there from the main street to the side.

We drove around the immediate neighborhood, dodging one-way narrow streets. Couldn’t recognize the hospital where Dad worked—it’s now condos but I couldn’t see the structure of the original building. We drove by and photographed friends’ houses, we drove down 53rd, the main drag which took us past the YMCA where I spent much of my teen years and past the church around which my social life revolved. The kids wanted to see Cunag’s, an ice cream parlor that made the best thick, old-fashioned milkshakes—alas it is gone.

Then on to the University of Chicago campus where the Gothic buildings seem to transport you back in time.
Particular favorites were the impressive Rockefeller Chapel where I graduated, Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and the Unitarian Church where my parents married—my kids are a bunch of sentimentalists and insisted on pictures.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, they wanted a Chicago dog, and we found a hole-i-the-wall Nathan’s. Then on to lunch, but eating out in Chicago is a whole ‘nother story.

I had forgotten the beauty of Madison Park. Today those wooden front porches everyone had are gone, revealing the beauty of the original huoses, and property is landscaped in a way never dreamed of in my day. I was delighted with how beautiful everything was—the kids expected a neighborhood that had seen better days and were delightfully surprised. And the tour gave me a whole new appreciation for my parents, the atmosphere in which they raised me, and their taste in neighborhoods and houses. And a big appreciation for my children, who were so excited to see it all, so responsive. They understand what the day meant to me...and to them.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Living the High Life

St the airport ready to go
My children and I flew to Chicago today. Being older has ots advamtage, and I have decided never to fly again unless certain conditions are met like they wwere today: we had a driver to the airport (Jordan couldn’t cope with me, luggage and wheelchair); we met Jamie in the admirals Club; we had first-class seats. A minor disappointment: the first class lunch menu didn’t appeal so Jordan got me a club sandwich to go from the Admirals Club. When I opened ir on rhe plane, the bacon was raw.

O’Hare Airport makes DFW look wonderful, and we had a bit of a wait and confusion getting the rental car and meeting up with Megan and Colin. But we finally arrived at the Drake Hotel—another of my childhood dreams. The Drake was always a symbol of luxury to me, and it remains a gracious old hotel—the best kind. Our rooms may be a bit in need of updating, but it’’s a suite—two bedrooms and a living aarea, on the 10th floor, with a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and  the North Shore. As I write I’m sitting looking out at the lights of night traffic and the lights on the beach. It’s breathtaking, and nostalgic for me.

Tonight we wwent to dinner in what was the meat packing district. A trendy restaurant called Publican. Had avocado salad, trout, farm chicken, chicken liver pate, a wonderful corn dish, suckling pig, and pork rinds. Everybody tasted some of everything, except Colin and I were the only ones who ate pate.

Although we have a rental car, we  used an Uber driver to and from the restaurant. Turned out to be a man named Leo, who gave us a wonderful tour—Buckingham Fountain, the Magnificent Miles, the water tower that survived the Great Chlicago Fire.

We have a two-sided approach tothis trip.The kids told Leo they were bringing their mom back to her hometown because she hasn’t been here in years (I have neither family nor friends left here). I think of it as a chance to show them where I grew up. Tomorrow we will tour Hyde Park, my South Side neighborhood and I will show them my house, the homes of friends, even the home of President Obama. And the University of Chicago, the hospital where my dad worked, who knows what else.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Golly Gee, today was so much fun

Not! The roofers were here from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Among other things I am having a lesson in the lives of skilled and unskilled laborers and gaining a great deal of admiration for these men—that is not gender bias. There has not been a woman among them. Pouring concrete and tearing off an old roof, putting on a new are men’s work requiring more strength and stamina than all but the most fit of women have.

Lewis warned me to leave for the day, but there was no place to go. And by 7:30, they had me blocked in with junk from the old roofs—that’s right, plural. There were four old roofs up there, one more than is legal today. It was really noisy most of the day, like they were using sledgehammers. Then there would be a deceptive period of quiet. I got my afternoon nap during one of those periods. Then in late afternoon the pounding began again—they were putting down new decking.

I didn’t have much interaction with the workmen, but the supervisor was friendly, polite, and meticulous. In the late afternoon, he used a magnetic sweeper and then laboriously picked up nails by hand. It took him a long time. But they left the work place neat and safe, which I needed for the dogs.

I think tomorrow they will finish in half a day, but other than the noise, it was no problem having them here.

The fact that no women do this kind of work brings up another gender issue—Hillary’s health. My take on it is that she has walking pneumonia and soldiered on with her incredibly difficult schedule. Her campaign people have described it as a small setback. Trump’s people have tried to put her on her deathbed and argue that it shows that a woman doesn’t have the strength to be president. I get so angry at the misrepresentations, lies and mud slung at HRC that I see purple and red.

Once again, we are faced with that 25-year Republican-fed smear campaign. I am absolutely appalled at the number of people who have drunk that Kool-Aid. It worries me for our country that so many are so gullible as to believe the conservative lies and distortions and to embrace an egotistical maniac like Donald Trump.

On the other hand, I’m a bit out of sorts with the Democrats today. Last week, they were talking about a record-breaking landslide. Today I got an email from one progressive organization saying, “We are going to lose.” Not because of Hillary’s health but because Paul Ryan is putting $30 billion into retaining the House. Where does he get that kind of money? Who can verify the amount? I am disgusted by the whole business—but not enough to vote for Gary Johnson.

A libertarian vote is a wasted vote, and HRC is clearly the best qualified candidate in a long time. I will be so glad when this is over, and I hope Trump keeps his promise to disappear. I notice that lately he hasn’t forecast blood in the streets if he loses.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Figuring out retirement

The kidnapping crew wakening Jacob for breakfast
Yesterday started out rainy, wet, and gray—a perfect day to linger in bed, read a book and be lazy. Of course for Jordan and Jacob, it started with a bang at 7 a.m. when several of Jacob’s friends came to kidnap him for a breakfast birthday party. One brave mother took 18 fifth-grade boys to Ol’ South. Jacob reported sleepily later in the morning that it was fun, but the most fun was being so rudely awakened.

The day turned sunny, so rain and gloom weren’t any longer excuses for malingering. I did some desk work, getting two Kelly O’Connell Mysteries posted to several e-book platforms—Danger comes Home and Deception in Strange Places.. But somewhere along the line, today or yesterday, it occurred to me that I have made some momentous changes in my life.

Not just the move to the cottage, though they may all be associated. But I let go of the notion that I had to labor under deadlines to produce three mysteries a year, and I decided to focus on a memoir. I’m still exploring that, but to me, you don’t sit down and write, “I was born in….” Pieces of my memoir come to me, and I write about them, but I don’t worry if none come to the front of my mind for a few days..

The big benefit of all this is that I have now given myself permission to read. All my life, reading has been my greatest pleasure, but I always felt guilty taking time for pleasure. Talk about a Puritan work ethic. But when I had deadlines, etc., I was focused on them and rarely stole time for reading, let alone the relaxed kind of reading I like to do.

Susan Wittig Albert banished my guilt. Reading, she said, is part of our work. So now I’m happily reading Pancakes in Paris, by Craig Carlson, founder of threerestaurant Breakfast in America diners in Paris. Talk about overcoming a dysfunctional childhood and jumping into the entrepreneurial role! After that, I intend to read The Mercer Girls, about young women brought to Seattle in the early 20th century to bring culture to that city. Mercer was the gentleman in charge of this venture.

With my new approach to life, I find myself more relaxed. If I wake and want to lounger in bed, I do that—I doze, I think about projects, I play with the dog. I’m less impatient with Jacob, and I enjoy the visits of company more because my mind is not always rushing ahead to a new project.

How much of this is due to the cottage? I have no idea? After seven years though, I think it’s time I figured out retirement—and maybe I’ve done it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Beauty of Storms

Around five this morning I was awakened by a furry black body leaping into my bed and pressing up close against me. Only then did I hear the thunder and lightning. Sophie does not like to be alone in storms. Her preference is to be as close as possible to me.

Apparently I missed a heck of a storm. Jordan said later that she too was wakened by dogs and told Christian, “I hope Mom is enjoying this.” I do love a good storm, a love that stems back to my childhood days. My brother tells me that our mother taught us to love the fierceness of storms rather than to be scared by them.

When I was a kid, my family had a cottage high on a dune in the Indiana Dunes State Park. The cottage literally sat at the foot of Lake Michigan, and we could watch storms roll down the lake toward us. When we saw one coming, great preparations would ensue. Dad would put the windows back in the frames---they came completely out to allow fresh air. Awnings would be pulled in. And I would sit mesmerized, looking at the clouds and whitecaps. Lake Michigan in fury is a powerful thing to behold.

When my parents allowed, I loved to be on the beach, with the wind whipping my hair, my feet digging into the sand to get a foothold against the wind. I wasn’t allowed on the beach alone if there was a storm, but I could go to a spot on the second level of the dunes that I had carved out as my own. A little sandy knoll stuck out among the grasses and weeds, and I would sit there forever with my dog, a female collie mix incongruously named Timmy. From that sot at sundown I could watch the sun go down behind the buildings of Chicago, which looks unbelievably small. Sometimes yoga or meditation instructors urge you to go to a quiet, peaceful spot in your mind, and to this day that knoll is the spot I go to.

The lake was powerful and tricky, and I was taught always to be careful. I had to swim parallel to the shore and to touch my foot on the bottom to make sure I hadn’t gotten in over my head. I still can’t swim in the deep end of a pool where I can’t touch my foot to the bottom. Riptide was a word I didn’t even want to hear.

There were more or less three levels of cottages at the dunes—ours on the high ridge, with windows on the back to the woods, which I thought was wonderful except when I needed to use the outhouse in the dark of night. Then I woke someone to go with me, but I refused at an early age to use the chamber pot.

The next mid-level row of cottages was where my secret spot was, and then there were those that nestled up on the high end of the beach, where the grasses began. Every year, one or more of them would just wash into the lake. Erosion was and is a real problem all along Lake Michigan’s shore.

You could not drive to our cottage. We parked in the woods, a mile away, and carried our clothes and food in; you could also walk the beach—which we rarely did—or, oh luxury!—have the park jeep drive you to the foot of your stairs, with all your belongings. This was not a luxury cabin—an outhouse, at first no gas, so the refrigerator as a kind of box on a pulley that we lowered into the cool ground. Once a week, the ice man cometh—to put a huge block of ice in the bottom of the hole. We put milk in the bottom shelf so it would stay cold.

Drinking water came from a pump on the beach and had to be carried up three flights of stairs. Drinking water as therefore precious, and I always remember the nigh we heard a splash—a mouse drowned in our drinking water, wasting a whole bucket. In the cottage we had only cistern water, so Mom would wash dishes and then scald them to rinse. No electricity—kerosene and Aladdin lamps. Dad was always saying, “Turn it down. You’ll burn the mantle.” I don’t know what we would have done in this age of computers and cell phone. The Dunes did not offer a luxury vacation but to this day a piece of my heart is there and I have fond memories.

My dad and some friends owned the cottage when the state of Indiana took it over under eminent domain. Thereafter Indiana leased it to my folks and one other couple until the year my folks retired to North Carolina. For a while the cottages were leased by the weekend, but I guess that proved too difficult because after a few years they tore down all the cottages.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Where do you begin a memoir?

I’ve been thinking about this memoir thing all week, but not written a word. I don’t think that’s all bad. I’m a big believer that ideas rattle around in the back of your mind while you don’t think you’re actively working on them. And in fact I may have been actively procrastinating—I’ve started a memoir before, in fact I’ll have to resurrect that effort. But it was focused on how I’ve lived a full and active life while coping with an anxiety disorder. I never went far with it because I don’t want my life to be defined by anxiety and because I feared prowling around in that portion of my life might awaken memories and feelings best left undisturbed. But this time I feel like the memoir is the real McGillah—where did that phrase come from?

I’ve been reading posts on Telling Her Stories on The Tao of Memoir. One suggested making lists of people and places that have shaped your life, and I think I’ll do that, though I rarely follow such writing exercises. Tonight I read about starting your memoir. Do you begin it at the gate or in the middle of the garden?

If I were to begin in the middle of the garden it would be with the current changes in my life as I emerge from a period of health problems and also settle into my cottage. I’ve blogged about that a bit but I haven’t really crafted it as the impetus that set me on this new journey.

If I began at the gate, which makes eminent sense to me, I would begin in Chicago, where I began my life journey. My father was a Scots-Canadian osteopathic physician, president of an osteopathic college and administrator of the associated hospital. A preacher’s kid, he was one of the most moral and upright men I’ve ever met. Some PKs as they’re called, rebel against the physical poverty and spiritual strictness of their childhood. I can still hear one of Dad’s sisters giving a sarcastic twist to the words of “Work, for the Night is Coming.” Not Dad—son of an Anglican in Canada, in the U.S. he hewed strictly to the Methodist order of things (except for the abstinence pledge—he always just passed it by, but he never would sign it without meaning it and he enjoyed his Scotch too much).

Mom was a ‘50s stay-at-home housewife with a much better mind than that implies. She had been secretary to Robert Maynard Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago and founder of the Great Books program. Whether she recognized it or not, I think Mom longed for a career but knew that it would embarrass her husband if she worked. And so she did the things a doctor’s wife was expected to do in those days—joined the auxiliary, entertained, read a lot, and managed the hospital gift shop. Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique was written for women like my mother. I loved her laughter, her enjoyment of life, and her patience in teaching me to cook. She was a wise woman—but sometimes I wanted to shake her.

Mom’s German heritage—her parents were first generation—never had much influence on me, though I was grown before I tasted sauerkraut because she hated it. But Dad’s Scottish ancestry was and is a big factor in who I am. So was the osteopathic background that both gave me, the grounding in faith, the love of food and wine. The city of Chicago also shaped me, for better or worse. Those are factors I’ll explore.

Mom had a son by her first husband, who died of a WWI wound. To this day I proudly claim John Peckham as my brother—he enriches my life, looks after me, and, despite our raging political differences, brings a lot of love and a certain balance to my life.

Later on, when I was four, we had a sister. Both of us were excited about that, and I remember, though John doesn’t, quarreling over who would get the head end of the bassinet when she came home from the hospital. I won. I don’t have many memories but I do remember being told to sit back on the couch so I could hold the baby. Isabelle Jean MacBain died suddenly at six months. My parents told me it was a congenital heart defect, but I have always wondered about SIDS. I don’t think they knew much about it in 1942.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A recluse blessed with friends

I have been blessed by a lifetime filled with good friends—some of us are finding we’ve been hanging out together for almost forty years; others have come into my fold within the last ten years or less. All have been wonderful during my recent housebound phase when I could not put weight on my broken leg. They came to visit, probably in itself the most important gift I could have; they brought food; they offered to help with various chores. I won’t try to name them all because I would surely leave some out.

This week, my longtime friend Carol Roark has marched to the front of the pack, taking me to overdue appointments—the dentist, the podiatrist, and a mammogram. Plus in Carol’s care, I’ve been out to lunch and dinner in one day—living the high life.

Carol is not an easy caretaker. Yesterday she gently bullied me into using the walker.
A trip with the walker scares me because it begins with the ramp at my front door. The walker goes downhill faster than I want it to. Yesterday Carol went in front of me, acting as a brake. This morning Lewis said he wouldn’t be a brake but would be a bumper. I made it to the car both times.

Yesterday with the walker I went from car to imaging clinic to mammography room and back again, though I was shaky when I got back in the car, either from nerves or exhaustion, though I would like to think that small bit of effort didn’t exhaust me. For the podiatrist and lunch, I asked Carol to use the wheelchair.

But today I walked across the parking lot and into the dentist office. This was double jeopardy because dental appointments always make me shaky—like everyone my age, I grew up in an era when dentistry was brutal. I had particularly bad teeth and a taciturn dentist, a distant relative—not a cool combination. At any rate, after an hour and a half getting my teeth cleaned, walking was an effort of will for me. So was going back up the ramp, though Carol was an efficient godsend.

The relief I felt when finally settled in my cottage, at my desk, gave me food for thought. I am safe here and happy and not anxious. The temptation to become a recluse is strong. I still love to go to restaurants, but sometimes I find myself wishing I was in the cottage. I think, however, that becoming more reclusive is a path to aging, and I’ll have to resist it and to stop being so fussy about what interests me and what doesn’t.

Carol said my new blog is in part about aging gracefully, and she is helping me do that. Staying in my comfortable cottage is not part of that plan. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The problem of bullying
September 7, 2016
The view from the cottage is dark tonight. Jacob was teased at recess at school today. A good friend called him Chubby Brown. Jacob didn’t inherit a thin build. He’s not chubby but he’s solid, stocky, always has been, always will be. It’s the way God made him.
But his feelings were hurt. This is not a new phenomenon—it’s happened several times. Jacob even said he didn’t want a birthday cake because it would be fattening. We don’t know how to handle it gracefully. We don’t want to teach a child to be mean in retaliation, but how do we tell him to handle it. My vote is to tell him to be direct and tell the friend involved that it hurt his feelings, that he is not fat but built like his parents, and they are not fat but they are not stick skinny. Jacob has to learn to stand up for himself, without being mean and sinking to the level of his bullies’ meanness. But it’s a hard lesson.
Bullying seems to be an endemic problem among school childr4en these days, though I generally think of it as a middle school problem and not for ten-year-olds. But if Jacob can learn to handle it now and know that he has the love and support of his large family, he’ll be set to deal with middle school. And I hope he’ll always reach out to someone he sees being bullied.
In a way I see this as related to the anger and hatred that have been exposed in our society lately. But on the other hand, I remember kids who were whispered about in grade school—for instance kids got ringworm and in those days they shaved their heads and put the end of a nylon stocking on them for a cap, presumably to keep the infection from spreading. Talk about a stigma.
So maybe bullying and being bullied are part of growing up. Jacob told me tonight that one of his good friends really likes a certain girl, so Jacob teased him about where they were going on their honeymoon. The boy hit him, and Jacob seemed to think it was funny.

             Anonymous sent a good solid comment that  I accidentally deleted from the comments, so I'm pasting it in here: Please don't get the parents involved. The name that he was called is not worthy of an adult all out intervention. Today's kids are been trained to have their parents do conflict resolution. Kids will be kids, they will insult each other (please understand that we men have a bonding method different than women, we call each other names (as adults), punch each other and call each other B*****). I have seen it a million times, kids will fight, adults get involved, five minutes later, kids back at play, but now adult sisters no longer talk to each other.
If Jacob is self-esteem is affected by his body, perhaps he can be empowered by getting him involved in exercising, simple things like a pull up bar, a jump rope, sit-ups can do wonders for a kid, not to mention the fact that by seeing steady improvement it will affect his confidence.
Unfortunately I have been around kids who have weight issues and the affect it has on them is tremendous, but I also see are parents who refuse to accept the facts, refuse to see a nutritionist etc.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Concrete and politics
September 6, 2016
My view from the cottage for much of today was concrete workers in low rider jeans that they frequently had to hitch up. But oh my, did they know what they were doing. This was a completely different crew than the ones that laid the forms and rebar.
Concrete was to be delivered at eleven o’clock. They got here a little early, and the concrete was a little late, so they mostly hung around talking. Once the big concrete truck was on the street, they snapped into action. I had worried about that truck and my skinny 1920s driveway. But the truck with that rotating thing that keeps concrete from hardening stayed on the street. The crew had a motorized vehicle with a huge container—one guy would go to the street, get it filled, bring the raw concrete back and dump it. While men smoothed out what he dumped, he went back for another load. When it’s poured the concrete looks really rough and lumpy. But they wet it down and then smooth it, first with large tools and then with small trowels, expertly changing trowels to fit their need, smoothing corners and things I couldn’t see. We can walk on it tomorrow but still not let the dog out, because the fence won’t be repaired until the roofers are through. Meantime I didn’t get a lot done because I was mesmerized watching them work.
I don’t know if these men would be called skilled labor or not, but they certainly knew their job. And each man seemed to have an appointed task. Their work made me think again of the holiday we celebrated yesterday—these are the people Labor Day was created to honor. They work hard for little pay and keep our world running. I have been impressed by the whole concrete process.
On a different note a friend sent me his reflections on Paul Krugman’s essay, “Hillary Clinton Gets Gored.” (
The word gored is a double entendre, for she is receiving from the press much the same treatment Al Gore did in 2000 when he ran against George W. Bush. Krugman’s point was that journalism is neither honest nor proud these days. With few exceptions, the media goes for the sensational story, so Donald Trump gets lots of coverage, and negative accusations about Hillary are not fact-checked but repeated almost gleefully. Read the article—please. It is a sad but honest commentary on our society today.
Hillary is the Republican party’s scapegoat—they have always hatef her and have conducted an orchestrated campaign of lies and innuendoes against her; Trump is the Teflon man to whom nothing sticks—even the charge of rape of a minor (preliminary arguments on that case will be held in NY in a few days). Somehow the rape charge has flown under the new media radar—why? I am puzzled by that.
And I am puzzled by the Republicans who seem willing to throw the country to the winds to hold on to their power and majority. Party apparently comes before country, in a kind of crazy logic I don’t understand. It saddens me. I’m Pollyanna, the idealist.

I inherited my strong liberal tendencies—and belief in the Democratic Party—from my dad, but that’s another story for another post.