Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye, 2017

I don’t think I’ve talked to one person who didn’t say 2017 was a year they’ll be glad to see end. It was, all around, not a good year, and for too many it was a year of health problems and changing health. Certainly, it was for me.

When I say that, some close to me point out that a year ago I was in great pain, and today I am pain free and free of the hallucinations and fuzzy thinking caused by over-medication with both prescription medicines and wine. And I walk better than I did, though I cannot walk without the assistance of a walker—or sometimes a person. The not-walking was a surprise. I expected to recover from hip surgery like most other patients, but it didn’t happen. My hip was different, my surgery was more extensive, and I’m lucky to be where I am.

Still the not-walking, coupled with two other conditions, makes me think of 2017 as the year my health fell apart. Around Labor Day, a routine doctor’s appointment resulted in a five-day hospital stay. “Go directly to the ER. Do not go home first.” Do not pass Go. Atrial fibrillation, which I now have forever. And in November a lens implanted during 1986 cataract surgery went a-wandering in my eye. That is to be fixed surgically this coming week, but the possibility of a second surgery remains strong. Ah, the perils of aging.

So for me, with many other people I know, it was a bad year for health.

2017 was also the year we saw the era of Trump. Swept in by election results questionable on several fronts, the orange man has brought dramatic changes to our country—flooding the judiciary with extreme conservatives, several of whom are rated unqualified by bar associations and one whose lack of knowledge was so profound he withdrew from the process; reversal of regulations that have protected our health, our rights in the workplace, our environment and climate, our civil rights; destroyed our international reputation, to the point that most of the world sees our presidency as a joke; wrought unrest, unease, fear and hatred throughout the country. Many of us wake with the first thought of “What did he do today? What did he tweet?”

The man who occupies the White House is a buffoon—impetuous, blindly unaware of domestic and international affairs as well as history, a racist, a failed businessman, an egotist, a misogynist, a man without empathy (it’s significant that he has no pets).

I’m far from blaming Trump for my ill health. How could he cause a lens to go wandering? And yet, is there a well-accepted connection between mental and physical health. Could Trump be the reason that so many of us see 2017 as a bad year personally? I think it’s a strong possibility. What can we do about it? For one thing, recognize that connection—knowledge is the best way to fight it. And then, speak out, express your fears, concerns, outrage. And in the 2018 elections, please vote.

I am convinced that 2018 will be a better year. As for me, bad things come in threes, and I’ve had my three—hip surgery, a fib, and the eye problem. As for the current administration, one can’t help but feel that it is a boiling cauldron about to erupt. 2018 may be a very interesting year, Pray God it will also be better for all of us.

God bless us, everyone. Deck the halls!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Home again, and glad of it

We got home after a drive that seemed much longer coming home than it had when we were headed toward a family Christmas celebration. In fact, I thought the high plains were endless and Post, Texas where we would turn south, was a figment of the driver’s imagination. But eventually we went through Post and then by Sweetwater and Abilene. When you hit Abilene, you think you’re almost home, but you really aren’t. It’s still a long way. After a stop to pick up the Burton dog who’d spent the week in a vet’s facility, we got home a little after five.
Twenty-four hours later, I’m still unpacking and catching up. Knowing me, no one will be surprised that catching up desk work, even though I’d had my computer with me, was priority. I’m almost there. But my children gave me complete new wardrobes, and I’m overwhelmed with the task of fitting them into my closet. So they are strewn across the coffee table, the lone chair in the bedroom, and even the high footboard on the bed, waiting until Jordan has time. She’s a great organizer.
We were greeted by a joyous dog, although she’d obviously been well cared for and loved. Still, she was happy to have “her” people back. She’s been a little outrageous since our return, demanding all the attention—no other dog is to be in a lap—and demanding treats. I know I made my bed before we left, but when we came home she had rearranged the covers and carved out a nesting spot for herself. Tonight, her most outrageous act was to grab a tomato that rolled out when I was unpacking groceries. She trotted off, tail high in triumph, toward the bedroom, the only room in the cottage with carpet. I of course feared a tomato stain on the carpet and went chasing her with a piece of cheese. She abandoned the tomato which appeared intact, so I washed it and put it up. If I offer you a tomato sandwich and you refuse, I’ll understand.
Went to the kind of party I like tonight—a gathering of maybe twelve to fifteen people for cocktail hour with heavy and delicious hors d’oevres and excellent conversation.  Warm, comfortable, low-key and so pleasant.
Highlight of my day however was a review of The Perfect Coed that was probably the best review I’ve ever received and will certainly send me back to the work-in-progress and into the new year with renewed enthusiasm and self-confidence. It’s from the San Francisco Review of Books, reprinted from the online review source Long and Short Reviews. Facebook notified me of it, but I couldn’t find it and posted such. Thanks to Mike Hinshaw and Dayle Buckley for sending me a link and the text—they’re my heroes. If you’d like to read it (oh, please do!), you can find It at
And on that note, good night to all. Stay warm—it’s cold throughout most of the country and is supposed to go well below freezing for the next few days in North Texas. My cottage is warm and cozy. I hope yours is too.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Trivia from a trip

Unfortunately we’re leaving a large footprint behind in New Mexico. Sixteen people and as many disposable plates as possible make a lot of trash. We averaged three or four bags a day plus all the wrappings etc. that accumulates on Christmas morning, especially for a large group with lots of presents. We had to take the trash down the road quite a way to a compacter—can’t leave it out because critters, mostly overfed deer, would scatter it.

I’m glad to spent this time in Ruidoso—it’s a place I’ve heard about forever and somehow never visited. We’ve had fun—a big cabin with comfortable beds for everyone, large common spaces, and a gorgeous wall of windows that opened to an enormous deck, two grills, and forested mountains. Deer came to visit often this week. The kids loved the hot tub, and the adults appreciated a huge fireplace—it’s been chilly. The girls coped with the world’s smallest kitchen in a big house—and only one oven.

The main drag in Ruidoso is brightly lit and crowded with people, most in a holiday mood. Stores, one after another, sell the same souvenir items, so you wonder how any one store survives. I am sure there are scattered galleries and shops with quality items, but we saw lots of reistas and T-shirts, etc. We had two delightful lunches, but apparently there is no rhyme or reason to when stores are open or closed. One place was supposedly closed when we wanted to go there, but when we drove by there were clearly customers inside. Sat. night we tried three restaurants before we found one open—at six o’clock on a holiday weekend! The town reminds me some of the square in Granbury or the North Side in Fort Worth but most of all of Pitlochry in the Scottish Highlands—we went expecting picturesque and found cheap tourist attractions.

We did find one wine bar/gift shop where we hunkered down for a large part of one afternoon. I wasn’t crazy about the wine, but the atmosphere and two of the three sales persons were pleasant, the gift and fine food selections intriguing. Touches like a couch made of an old claw-foot bathtub, and lots of plaques on the walls—plus, of course, wine and accessories. The plaque I liked: The way your day goes depends on turn of the corners of your mouth.

Being so close with family for days is an interesting experience. My dad always told me you use your best manners with family, but on the other hand it’s one time when you know the people you’re with love you no matter what you do (within reason) and you can relax and be yourself. Kind of contradictory. I’ve been reading in some daily meditations about getting out of yourself and thinking about the other person and their enjoyment and comfort—with the ultimate goal of your own happiness. I found it worked this week.

Ready to head home tomorrow. Miss my dog. Reports are that she just started eating regularly today. I guess she’s been on a hunger strike. And I’m ready now to get back to some serious writing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The inevitable family photo and a sky-high adenture

It’s inevitable at every reunion, so bear with me--the family photograph, and I’m proud to show off my gang. In our family, Lisa, Colin’s wife, is the photographer. She studied photography as part of her undergraduate education and was a professional photographer for a while, even taking underwater photographs when they lived in Turks & Caicos.

Today, she found the perfect spot outside a funky little restaurant where we had an excellent lunch. She lined us all up on railroad ties—you’ll notice the matriarch got a chair from the cafĂ©’s front porch—sighted the picture and ordered us around, and then asked the cafĂ© owner to take it. He did a good job—everyone looks pretty happy.

I want to say a word about ziplining too. I knew when they all went off on their adventure yesterday it wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize the extent. If you don’t already know, those who are brave enough are taken up to the top of the mountain on the ski lift. Getting signed up, outfitted, and provided with protective gear takes a long time. Then you stand on the top of the mountain for a long time—and it was windy and cold yesterday.

And then the moment—strapped into some sort of chair attached to what looks a thin cable, you fly down the mountain at a speed of 65-70 mph. The trip down takes one minute, after all that preparation. That’s it! One session includes three trips.

I guarantee this is something that I will never do. For pity’s sake, I get nervous on a second-floor balcony! Someone told me this is 22 stories above the ground. Those two dots you see in the picture below are members of my dearly beloved family, but I can’t tell you who. If I’d been there, I’d have been wringing my hands and praying.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Alas, no snow

We came to Ruidoso so the kids and grandkids could ski, most of them at least. For years, our Alter Christmases (alternate years—I get them on Thanksgiving in off years) have been skiing vacations, usually Santa Fe. But we found a better house, we thought (another story) in Ruidoso and here we are, with no snow while the northern part of the country almost from coast to coast is buried in the stuff. Two bunny slopes are open but they scoff and say that is no fun.

Everybody except me has found other outdoor activities. My two sons geared up and went for a run Christmas Eve morning, though the altitude cramped their style a bit. A big bunch went for a walk later that day and were delighted to come upon a buck who did not run. Deer up here are apparently well fed from residents and tourists and aren’t people-shy.

The four boys (ages thirteen to ten) and one granddaughter have loved just exploring outdoors. Yesterday afternoon they hadn’t been gone long when they all came tumbling into the cabin, breathless and red in the face, panting to get their story out. Someone had chased them and they were sure he had evil intent. Jacob did suggest he might just have been out for a walk, and I said maybe they were accidentally trespassing. One announced with conviction that couldn’t be the case because this is all public land. And he knows that how?

Today they went to a zip line place some forty-five minutes away, left at eleven-thirty and still aren’t home at five. It was, they explained by text, an inefficient operation; the explanation left out the fact that it apparently had a bar.

Meanwhile I stayed home, wrote about seventeen hundred words, answered emails, started a new book, and had a good day and a nice nap. I haven’t been out of the cabin for three days, so I think tomorrow I’ll be ready, but we’ll see what outdoor activity they dream up for tomorrow.

Togethery and Remembery

Santa was here

A friend sent me an e-card in which Pooh describes Christmas a s a ”togethery and remembery” kind of a day. It certainly was for my family—Santa was generous, the turkey and fixings delicious, the warmth and love abundant.

If you celebrated the day, I hope your celebration was a s bountiful as ours. And may 2018 bring ou health, happiness, and at least a smidgen of wealth.  I for one will be glad to see 2017 in the rearview mirror.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

How Christmas Eve should be

If I were to desig the perfect Christmas Eve, I think today would be the design model. The household was slow to get going. I got up late, expecting to find a quiet, sleeping house, but two adults and two kids were up and going, and others gradually drifted into the living area. We dawdled and visited, finally had a catch-as-can breakfast, and got ready for the day. Two groups went grocery shopping and were gone forever. I stayed behind to wrap gifts, but fourteen-year-old Eden, who is the precise wrapper I will never be, took over She wrapped, I added yarn and tags, and we got it all done. And I treasured the one-on-one time which I don’t always get when we’re all together.

Lunch was grilled hamburgers, and dinner, chili. It has become a family tradition that Megan’s husband, Brandon, makes chili for Christmas Eve. He tones it down a bit in respect to some of us, including me, but it is hearty and good. Can’t resist a plug—want the recipe? Find it in Texas is Chili Country, a compilation by guess who.

 As I write a rousing poker game occupies four adults and four children and competes in noise with Christmas carols. Good itmes. But wonderful as having the whole family together is, there are adjustments to be made. They have no sense of time, and their stomachs certainly don’t follow the same clock mine does. We had breakfast at ten-thirty, lunch at two-thirty, and it’s yet to be known when we’ll eat that chili. If you know me, you know that taking my daily nap at four is completely off my schedule.

Somehow all of them, except maybe Jordan, missed the neatness bug that I have. I sat this afternoon and looked at a room semi-littered with paper cups, soft-drink cans, a few used paper plates. Back when I was mobile, I’d have “policed” that room in ten minutes. Today I had no choice. A big reminder that I’m no longer in charge, and my best option, to keep peace and happiness, is to sit back and let the good times roll.

I am certainly no longer in charge in the kitchen. In fact, Jordan shooed me out of there a few minutes ago, and then I heard someone imitating their grandmother who used to say to her dog, “Out of my kitchen, out of my kitchen!” The dog always went, tale between her legs. Thr four adult girls have taken over, and some of the adult males cook as well.

Life has certainly changed, but in many ways for the better. I am so blessed to have them around me, now for five full days together.

May Christmas Day bring you each the blessings of love and peace, the blessings of the day. Don’t forget to watch NORAD—they’re already tracking Santa. He dumped his entire sleigh at this house I think.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Watching the land change

I probably haven’t been west of Weatherford in years, but today we drove west and west, to Abilene and beyond, with Ruidoso our destination. Left behind poor Sophie, who with dog sense knew we were leaving her. In fact, she’s known for days. But she has a dogsitter, so she and the houses are in good hands.

I’d forgotten how interesting the land is beyond Abilene—scrubby, yes, with lots of mesquite, but rolling plains with occasional wonderful views. Great clumps of prickly pear line the roadway for long stretches, and the bare trees hosted lots of mistletoe. When we got beyond Abilene we were in West Texas, that flat land that stretches forever. Endless cotton fields with the cotton now bundled and covered in tarps, waiting for someone to pick them up. I wondered who comes to collect all that cotton, or do the farmers take it somewhere? Isolated houses dot those now-plowed fields, with one or two trees and sometimes a whole cluster. There may be a single house or an old one and a newer one, and I wondered which generation lived in which house. I love to wonder about the lives of the people in these farmhouses and small towns—what are their lives like? Are they happy with them? And then there are those deserted houses, many of them literally falling down.

West Texas also has countless wind farms. Today those giant turbines moved slowly, apparently making do with little wind. I know people go up in them for maintenance, but it puzzled me that there was room for an elevator, and even for people. I saw towns that I’ve heard of but never seen, and towns that had connections for me—Sweetwater, Post, Snyder. Refreshed my memory about Albany and tried to remember which town has the first ever Hilton Hotel (it was Cisco, Texas).

We swung north into New Mexico, and somewhere along there in Texas and New Mexico we came into a land of vineyards, some small, some extensive, but they all looked like young vines. We also passed several orchards, the trees now bare, and I wondered what trees they were.

I’m sorry, but there’s not much good to say about southern New Mexico. It’s just there. But then we turned west and gradually came into the rounded foothills and then the mountains. Hondo Valley stretches like one long, stringy town between Roswell and Ruidoso. We went through San Patricio, and though I’d seen a weather-beaten sign for Hurd Gallery, I had no idea where Peter Hurd and Henrietta Wyeth Hurd had their fabled artistic getaway.

Watching the changing topography and the crops was fascinating. I sort of traced the history in my mind and gave Jordan and Christian mini-history lessons. They were polite bu I don’t know how interested they really were.

Now we’re in a huge two-story log cabin in the woods, all sixteen of us. We saw deer the first thing—a doe came right up to the cabin. Obviously she’d been fed from here before, so Christian rewarded her with a turkey and cheese sandwich. Everybody is exhausted from a long day of driving, but we’re blessed and grateful to be together.

Blessings on you and yours this holiday!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Seeing both sides

What’s that old Judy Collins song with the line, “I’ve seen both sides now”? That’s how I felt this morning. I had a rational, reasonable discussion with a well-educated, articulate, knowledgeable Republican who’s a Trumper. Is there an oxymoron in there somewhere? More than one? This is a young man (he was born well after the Kennedy assassination, which is a topic that fascinates him) I don’t know well, but he’s dear to someone who is dear to me, so I entered this inadvertently but with every effort to be pleasant. In truth, when I said, “You’re not a Trumper, are you?” I fully expected him to deny it. Instead, he said yes, and I was astounded. Where to take the conversation now?

We fell into this because I brought up the issue of sexual predators and knew my friend would want to talk about it but would agree with me. Her partner and I weren’t too far apart, though he apparently thinks most accusers are lying and that the yearbook sentiment by Roy Moore was forged—I hadn’t heard that but haven’t checked it either. On the other hand, referring to the Franken first accuser, he said photos don’t lie. I pointed out I’d heard the photo was staged, and he moved right on to, “There are other accusers.” He didn’t say much about accusations against the president, but he agrees with me that the sitting president is an uncouth boorish man. He’s willing to put up with that to get the things done the WH occupant wants to do. All along, he had done more research, had more arguments to back him up than I did.

But I think that’s part of the conservative/democrat difference—conservatives are all about hard facts and fail to show any human compassion, to take in the caring side of things, which is part of the principles this country was founded on. The founding fathers were offering people freedom, not building empires.

Then, somehow, we got to immigration, and I was clearly outclassed in argumentative fuel. He had a good grasp of the political tendency of this country for the last twenty-five years. Using Silicon Valley as a example, he talked about companies who terminate employees and tell them, “Your replacement is from India, and you will have to train him/her.” Clearly, cheap labor wins out over patriotic loyalty. It’s not a foolproof argument, but he made me see immigration as an economic issue rather than solely a racial one. And it explains much of what’s happened to our economy.

Of Mexico and the wall, he says the Mexican government is hypocritical, because they have stricter immigration laws than we do and a stronger border on their south, prohibiting immigration from South American countries.

Of outsourcing manufacturing, he says it’s a clear choice: do the patriotic thing, keep your factory here, and go broke because you can’t compete with those who manufacture so much more cheaply overseas or in Mexico. For him, it all comes down to any businessman will do whatever he can to make more money. Patriotism doesn’t enter in, nor does compassion. My verbal opposite says there are provisions in the new tax code that will bring some of that tax revenue to this country.

Our conversation, which had previously been lighthearted and full of laughter, had turned dark, and my good friend ended it when she said, “I’m not enjoying this conversation very much.” Later, she confessed that their darkest moment as a couple had come in a similar discussion. He did not convert me, not as he protested did he mean to, but it was an eye-opening experience.

I cling to the belief that most Trumpers are not as well educated nor as versed on the issues. They vote out of misplaced emotion and, perhaps, anger at “the way things are.”

An interesting breakfast, to say the least.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cooking for Christmas

Something about the holidays makes me want to cook. I realize that the days are gone when I’d prepare hors d’oevres for sixty at a Christmas party or dinner for sixteen or so on Christmas day. In some ways I’m grateful—I watched Jordan stress today about getting everything done and realized that I have most of my Christmas things done, without stress and at a leisurely pace. But in other ways I miss the supercharge of energy, the excitement that comes with the stress of being busy.

My girls, daughters and daughters-in-law, have taken over the cooking, except that I have to clean out the turkey because they’re a bit squeamish. But they have their own ways. One makes a green bean casserole that’s great—but it’s not the way I always did it. Jordan makes mashed potatoes—and resisted my suggestion or a new way to do them. The daughters-in-law like that canned cranberry relish (yuck! Gelatinous!) and no one would eat my raw relish. My sister-in-law has a brother-in-law (how’s that for complicated?) who loves the relish, and I’m sorry our families have grown too large to celebrate together. I will miss the turkey leftovers, though we may have some.

And my annual Tree Trimming party—I had lots of appetizers I made every year. A caviar/cream cheese spread, a cheeseball (Lisa will bring that, thank goodness), sometimes a chicken liver pate that some loved, and others hated. A curry/cream cheese spread that was a recent addition but so delicious. I think of those dishes with longing.

Tonight, I entertained for happy hour. Sue, who calls herself my Canadian daughter because her parents live so far away and she needs a local mother, brought her mother and father who are here from Ottawa—and of course her life partner, Teddy, whom I adore. I had fun preparing what I thought was a feast—imitation escargot (Crescent rolls, made into a jelly roll around anchovy butter—Sue loves anchovies), a tuna spread that Sue’s mother loved and I did too—it was an experiment and a good one. Salami, a hunk of good blue cheese, and a hunk of feta (it’s not easy to find solid pieces of those cheese—most grocery stores have only the crumbled, but Central Market rarely disappoints—they even pointed me to a blue that is akin to Maytag, my favorite which is off the market).

The feta was an experiment—I read a recipe for topping it with honey, made spreadable with just a bit of boiling water, and doing a quick broil, then serving it warm. My toaster oven has no broil setting, so I tried toasting, with foil to prevent it burning or leaking from the bottom. When I took it out, I dripped the cheese/honey liquid all over my clean pants—oh, well. But I was so nervous about overcooking, that I didn’t cook long enough. It was to be served warm, but no one ate it. Sue took it home, so I’ll have to get a report from her. I also meant to put out a tiny container of honey with the blue, but had neither the right dish nor spoon. I’ll do that another time. But a drop of honey on blue cheese is exquisite.

At any rate, putting all those things together and choosing how to display them was fun for me. Like a mini-tree trimming party. We had a jolly time, with Christian keeping everyone in laughter with tales of the night he asked Jordan to marry him and the night the cat died—the latter shouldn’t have been funny but in his telling it was. And his telling reminded me again of the many happy and funny and crazy times my kids and I have shared. As I said to Christian, it should have been a warning when he asked me for my daughter’s hand. I said sure, I thought he was the right guy—if he’d take me to buy a new washing machine. Serendipity, the machine we bought that day after lunch, fourteen years ago, just died. The marriage, however, seems set on survival.

Hope your holiday is as jolly and filled with good food. East dessert first, abandon the diet, and enjoy! I love that say, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Spreading Christmas Cheer

Don’t let Donald Trump fool you, as he fooled all of us so many times. Saying “Merry Christmas” never went out of fashion, and President Obama said it often enough. I’ve adopted it as a slogan this year, and I hope those of other faiths know that when I speak those words, I am really saying, “Happy Holidays.” But for me, because I celebrate Christmas, those particular words are the way to wish people the happiness of the season. It’s amazing in some cases how their faces lighten up when they hear that wish directed at them.

I’ve been out and about, celebrating the season, so I’ve had lots of opportunities to say those words. Two friends came for supper Monday—I cheated and reheated frozen spanakopita from the Greek festival, and we had a jolly time. Yesterday, lunch with good friends from my old office and dinner with three women I’m close to. Tonight, Betty and I went to one of our favorite haunts for supper. For me, that’s a veritable social whirl.

I saw a post on Facebook that suggested several “giving” ways to celebrate the holidays, and one was to reach out from friends that had fallen by the wayside. So I sent one an email, sent another a Jacqui Lawson card, and tonight called a third. Also, since I didn’t do Christmas cards, I did quick, personal email replies to three cards that I received today. Doing my bit to spread Christmas cheer.

Okay, so the Republicans finally shoved through the tax bill with which they’ve been threatening us—but the House couldn’t even get it right, and had to vote twice. Anyone think there’s an omen there? And net neutrality is gone, in the sitting president’s zeal to erase everything President Obama accomplished—but he can’t erase the goodwill and respect Obama earned from most of us—what is wrong with those who continue to hate him? Net neutrality will end up as a Congressional vote and maybe a court case. We’ve got an old, bitter, angry, narcissistic man envying a younger, vibrant, enthusiastic and charismatic man. Petty.

I refuse to let politics dampen the season’s joy, even as I realize the enormity of what’s been foisted on us. This is a season to celebrate and give thanks—come January, maybe about the 8th (after Twelfth Night), I’ll start worrying about the world again. Meantime, Merry Christmas. Reach out, do what you can to make it a joyous season for others.

And take time to contemplate the wonder of Christmas lights, the joy of the music. Enjoy, whatever holiday you’re celebrating.

Monday, December 18, 2017

‘Tis the season of Christmas visits

I’m not sure where we get the belief that we must visit with everybody close to Christmas, even people we don’t see for months or even all year. But I think it’s a nice tradition. I like connecting to people and wishing them a jolly holiday.

Tonight two friends came for a sort of impromptu supper. They’d met once before and enjoyed each other’s company, but they didn’t seem to remember. Once they figured that out, conversation flowed, and we had a happy evening, even though we talked a lot about such grim topics as aging, death, divorce—you get the drift. What old women talk about when they get together.

It was my day for cooking disasters. I had delicious fresh green beans and a small filet of sole left from my supper last night, so I started to heat both for my lunch. Totally lost my head and tried to use the hot plate and toaster oven at the same time. Of course, I blew a fuse, which I am unable to fix because it requires navigating the space right behind my cottage. I had a cold lunch—believe it or not, it was good. And not quite cold, because both the fish and the beans began to heat before the circuit breaker went (listen to me, still talking about fuses—gives away my age).

Jordan came home, fixed the breaker, and the lights came back on. I didn’t think it suspicious that the hot plate and oven didn’t, until I tried to heat the dinner—spanikopita that I’d gotten from the Greek festival and kept in the freezer. Nothing. Hot plate didn’t work, toaster oven didn’t work. I tried to reset the wall socket, but nothing happened. I was frantically thinking what I had that would do for a cold supper, when one of my guests fixed it. Her secret: you don’t press the button hard enough with your finger; use the prong of a plug. She did, and, hallelujah, it worked. But then we had to wait for the spanakopita to heat.

I had cobbled together some appetizers (you know, like John Cornyn cobbled together the votes for the horrendous tax bill). I found a small log of goat cheese in the fridge, and “decorated” it with chopped scallion and parsley. Didn’t do much for the taste, but made it look less bare, more festive, even seasonal. And I had some of my fromage fort, the mix I make of leftover cheeses, this one heavy with blue cheese. People like it, and it seems to keep forever. So we lingered over that and a glass of wine while the spanakopita heated. Spanikopita and a green salad made a great dinner, and we had brownies—a gift—for dessert.

Getting together with friends is a wonderful custom, compulsive or not, and I treasure it. I’m looking forward to a couple of visits this week with friends I don’t see often enough and, a special treat, visits with friends in town only briefly for the holidays. It’s a good time to share the love.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Words, Women and Fellowship

It has dawned on me this holiday season that I belong to and treasure three groups that are mostly or all women and all revolve around words. They are Sisters in Crime, the Book Ladies, and Story Circle Network Works-in-Progress.

Sisters in Crime is the biggest, but not the oldest I don’t think. And the sisters have welcome some brothers into their ranks. Back in1986, mystery writer Sara Paretsky spoke about the graphic sadism that was being found in many mysteries, and author Phyllis Whitney spoke out about the lack of recognition of women as writers of mystery. Those talks ultimately led to the formation of Sisters in Crime. Yes, folks, it was founded with a feminist agenda. Today the organization has about 3600 members and 48 chapters worldwide. The “mother chapter” is a bit large and impersonal for me, although I do monitor the listerv one day a week.

But I am more active in the Guppies subchapter. Guppies either stands for “going to be published” or the “great unpublished,” but so many members who have moved on to publication stay active because the chapter is warm, welcoming, and full of information from marketing to construction. Guppies also offer a wide range of online classes for members. I served one two-year term on the board and was reluctant when my term expired. At the time, two or three years ago, a man was president.

If I hadn’t joined Sisters in Crime, I doubt I’d be published. From them I learned about agents, blurbs, blogs, everything I know, and from them I got the sense of self-confidence that I could do this thing I’d wanted to do for years—publish a mystery. I found my first mystery publisher through them; later their shared expertise gave me the impetus to jump into indie publishing.

I’ve not met many of the Guppies, because mobility issues and age prevent me from going to the many conferences where there is always a gathering of Guppies, be it in the hotel bar or a nearby restaurant. But I’ve become friends with several on the listserv, and I treasure those friendships.

The second group, a bit more personal, is the Book Ladies, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately. Anywhere from five or six to twelve or fourteen ladies meet once a month for breakfast at the Old Neighborhood Grill. Sometimes we talk books, sometimes we talk politics (we inadvertently ran off the one conservative in our midst, during George Bush’s presidential campaign). We have no agenda, no dues, nothing beyond one member who sends out a monthly reminder. We’re mostly a grey-headed group these days, but most of us have had a career that involved books—lots of librarians, a few authors, booksellers, teachers, etc. We too share personal news, and we recently had a lovely Christmas breakfast at a member’s home. I was one of the founders of this group back in the ‘80s, and that’s why I think it pre-dates Sisters in Crime—or comes pretty close. I really look forward to the breakfasts, though these days the restaurant is noisy, and I miss a lot of the conversation.

The third group is the smallest and the most personal. In the online Works-in-Progress subgroup of Story Network, about ten or twelve of us chime in regularly, at least on Mondays to share plans and goals for the week and on Fridays, as brazen hussies, to share good things that have happened to us during the week. On Wednesdays, I ask the group what they’re reading—great way to get suggestions for your own reading list. As a mystery writer, I’m sort of an oddball in this group because most of the women—and membership is women only—are memoirists. It comforts me that Susan Wittig Albert, who founded Story Circle Network, is a mystery writer and keeps reminding me that mysteries serve a real purpose. In this group we share writing triumphs and tragedies, as well as personal news, and I feel that I know many of them really well, even though I’ve only met two members. We rejoice together, we mourn together, we worry together, and we cheer for each other.

What conclusions can I draw from belonging to these groups? Not many. It doesn’t mean I hate men—I don’t. Does it mean women are more engaged with words than men? Not at all, though probably it’s still true that women who write get less recognition than men, but it’s getting better every day, thanks to organizations like Sisters in Crime. Do I think women tend to confide and support each other more? Maybe so.

But what it really means to me is that I’m lucky to have found my niche in the world. It took me a long time, and I’m grateful for these groups. Writing still is a solitary experience, when you come to put words on paper, but it's wonderful to have cheer grups.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A conspiracy theory

I am not big on conspiracy theories, with all due respect to people who built careers on theories about the JFK assassination. I remain convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was a seriously disturbed man, perhaps influenced by his time in Russia, but a man who acted alone.

But yesterday a conspiracy theory popped in to my mind when I read about the rules the Trump administration has sent done to the CDC banishing these words: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, science-based, evidence-based.

How can the government banish words that are a part of our language—in this case, words that provide problems for the GOP, things they don’t want to talk about? The only way to banish them is to violate The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees the right to free speech and to peaceful assembly. Established international law also recognizes individual freedom to speak without fear of retribution or censorship.

Plain and simple: this is censorship, one of the steps on the slippery slope to totalitarianism of one kind of another. Control our speech, and eventually your control our minds.

I would hope the CDC files suit in Federal court.

Yesterday my mind coupled this disturbing censorship with the recently passed reversal of net neutrality. I don’t pretend to understand all that is at issue here—the mechanics of broadband provisions, etc. But I understand enough to recognize that this puts control of our media in the hands of a few corporations. So now someone somewhere is controlling the information we received, the words we use. That slippery slope just added some grease.

It amounts to slow but steady brainwashing of the American people.

Particularly after his rant about the FBI, I don’t pretend to think the occupant of the White House is smart enough to orchestrate such a subtle conspiracy. But what if he is knowingly or not the puppet for some other agency? I leave it to you to fill in the blanks. Or perhaps Mueller will.

What this means to me is that our country is now on a steeper downhill trajectory unless the American people do something—and that something as a very basic step is to vote out the Republican party of ever state and national office possible. (It would be an enormous help if Mueller’s investigation would do something sudden and surprising, but that’s now how he conducts business).

I am weary of people who say, “I don’t like labels. I don’t want to be affiliated with any party.” It’s well and good to be an independent, but please recognize that it is the GOP that is destroying America, taking it on a path diametrically opposed to our democratic principles. It is crucial for us to speak out against censorship, information control, destructive economic measures, environmental disasters in the making—the whole shebang that has happened in the last year.

This is not your father’s Republican Party.

Rant over, but the crisis builds. Help America. Donate, speak out, vote!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Laughter at a memorial service and great plans gone awry

At our cozy happy hour tonight
Oh, there were tears, but laughter also rang out at Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon at the memorial service for Father Mart Gayland Pool, one of the kindest, most natural men I’ve ever met, a true gentleman. His good friend, Father Bruce Coggin, preached about Gayland’s generosity, curiosity, his sense of humor and his idiosyncrasies, and about the nature of life and death. A moving service, a fitting tribute, and a joyous send-off for a friend and much-respect member of the community.

Amye, the dog whisperer
with a mesmerized cricket
Tonight, I had great plans, a scene in mind that I intended to write. But two of Jordan’s close friends came for happy hour and I was easily distracted. We talked dogs and holiday traditions and memorial services—on my mind since I’ve been to two in the last six days. All this in front of the fire and Christmas tree. Lovely setting, good friends, pleasant evening.

And a pleasant day, including lunch with Carol and Lon. Memorial services are not exactly day-brighteners, but this was a true celebration of a life well lived. And once again tonight I am reminded how lucky I am that the “young” people—omigosh, they’re in their forties! —are so affectionate and open with me. Life is good, and for one day I don’t want to think about tax bills and sexual predators and fake news and what is happening to America.

Back to normal tomorrow, and I’ll write that scene. It will probably keep me awake all night. Sometimes when I have a scene in mind, I write it a hundred times in my head at night, as though I’m trying to remember it. But then when I go to actually write it, I often can’t remember the wonderful details of my nighttime version. Go figure.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A bit of local history and a fond farewell

The Book Ladies say thank you to Peter at The Old Neighborhood Grill
Photo by Carol Roark
In 1965, my then-husband and I moved to Fort Worth because he had a surgical residency at Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital, on the corner of Montgomery and Camp Bowie. That first year, I worked as secretary to the pathologist at the hospital and, informally, as a pr person. I remember being proud that I started the first in-house newsletter for staff and employees, though I’m sure in those pre-computer days, it was a pretty primitive publication.

I left the hospital when TCU awarded me an NDEA fellowship (those were the days of strong national support for higher education, now sadly gone) to work on a doctorate in English. But the hospital remained a major place in my life until our divorce in 1981 or ’82 (strange I can’t remember the exact year) and even after that. My doctor/brother had an office in the hospital, and I’d go see him occasionally. Good friends like the late Connie and Russ Jenkins kept me on the fringes of the osteopathic world by taking me to various events.

The day officials announced the closing of the hospital, I was in a doctor’s office, and we sat together and had a sad wake. I remember him saying, “I’ve never practiced in any other hospital.”

Last night a thread started on the Fort Worth Memories Facebook page with the question, “Who remembers FWOH?” Answers poured in. You’d be amazed how many people want to tell you what year they were born there and/or when their children were. Many commented on the camaraderie and care at the hospital, but inevitably there were a few people with bad memories. I saw no one else among respondents that I remembered from those days, so I became self-appointed apologist, explaining that when people have suffered the loss of a family member or undergone a severe illness or trauma, their memories are naturally colored by their experience. It’s been an interesting but time-consuming exercise, and the comments have brought back lots of memories, most of them good. In some ways, I long for those days, but then I remind myself I’ve gone on to build such a better life.

This morning, nostalgia of another sort. The Book Ladies, a group I mentioned just the other day, have met regularly at the Old Neighborhood Grill for a monthly breakfast for several years. Now we have word that Peter Schroeder has sold the Grill, new ownership to take effect In January. So this morning, we had a special breakfast to say goodbye, thank you, and God’s speed to Peter. A good turnout, and we presented Peter with a book titled, The Joys of Retirement. It’s a book of blank pages, but each book lady wrote Peter a personal message. Lots of fun.

Topsy-turvy day for me. I started the day with a haircut—my stylist is so kind to come to the cottage until I get back to driving—and was still in pajamas when Carol called to say my presence was required at the Grill. She gave me ten minutes to get out of pajamas and into clothes. So I went, sans makeup but with a cute new haircut, if I do say so. Then, my lunch guest had to cancel at the last minute, so now I’m about to cook that chicken pot pie for my family. Still I got my daily words written, so I’m feeling smug.

Remind me, smug goeth before a fall😊

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Alabama and a cooking dilemma

It’s a strange world when you can’t decide whether to blog about politics or cooking, so here’s a bit of both. Like much of our country, I’m jubilant over the Alabama results. A good friend is coming for lunch tomorrow, the man who years ago shepherded me through the Ph.D. program and continues to read and critique almost everything I write. He emailed to suggest he bring champagne, so we could celebrate the Alabama election—so out of character for him and so perfect for the occasion. I told him I’d supply chardonnay—can’t quite do champagne at lunch.

We were not only spared a pedophile, we were spared a man who openly defied the Constitution, who wanted to abolish the Bill of Rights (or was it the first ten constitutional amendments—who can keep track of his radicalism?), who called some minorities “reds” and “yellows,” who thought homosexuality should be illegal. And who incidentally can’t ride a horse and shouldn’t try publicly. The list goes on and on. We were saved from the worst of the alt-right, but it’s frightening that 68% of whites who voted in Alabama voted for him. We owe the black population of that state an undying debt of gratitude.

Debate rages over the most significant aspect of this victory. I am not a political analyst and can’t begin to understand all the implications, but to me it’s a clear defeat for Mr. Trump, who had endorsed Moore and led his weak party to follow him. It’s a signal that if Mueller doesn’t get him (which I believe he will), the women of this country will. In my dreams, Trump and Moore pay for their sins behind bars and Franken is restored to the Senate—and higher office should he wish.

As for Ryan’s promise that they’re coming for Medicare and Social Security, it’s so wrong it makes me sputter, but I’ll save it for another time and move on to cooking. As I said above, my mentor Fred is coming for lunch. He doesn’t like to back out of my driveway, so I fix lunch here, and he claims to be amazed at what I can turn out without a kitchen. I decided to “amaze” him with chicken pot pie. Found a good recipe.

Then realized I couldn’t do that crescent roll braid in my oven. Decided on puff pastry. Bless Jordan—she tried; first she brought me phyllo dough, which the Albertson’s person convinced her was the same—it’s not; then on a trip to Central Market she triumphantly brought home puff pastry. When I looked at it today, it’s pastry shells that come with a strict warning against baking them in a toaster oven. I debated baking one as a test, or using the crescent rolls dough I’d bought, or asking Jordan to cook the pastry shells—or giving up and asking Fred to bring lunch.

Tonight, I made the filling—looks good though it violates my purity theories and uses Campbell’s cream of chicken soup. But tomorrow, I’ll put it in a Corningware dish, cover it with roll dough that I’ve pressed together into one piece, and bake it in the toaster oven. Cross your fingers, please. Maybe the chardonnay will be so good the pot pie won’t matter. Do I need a salad? Ah, indecision.

This is, though, exactly the kind of situation that leads me to work on that cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate. It’s about exploring what you can and can’t do in a tiny kitchen and what’s the best way to do it. Puff pastry? Crescent roll dough? Forget it?

As for Roy Moore, no sympathy. Cheers for Doug Jones. He’s got a huge task ahead of him, because the country looks to him to make an impact in what seems to me a corrupt Senate. And, of course, McConnell is rushing to push the horrendous tax bill through before Jones is sworn in. Is that legal? The trickery and deception never end.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Living the Good Life

The other night at a party a friend half my age sat down by me, and when I asked how he was, he said, “I’m living the good life.” An unusual response from a man the age of my children, so I asked him what he meant. “My family and I have our health. We have roof over our heads, a pretty nice roof, and we have more to eat than we ever possibly could. And my wife and I have good careers.” I agreed with him: the good life.

I have long been aware that by his standards I too live the good life, but I’ve often taken the thought further in my mind. Why am I living this blessed life when people are losing their homes to horrendous wildfires? When people in Syria are dying, caught between warring armies? When people in Africa are starving to death? Did I go through those trials in a previous existence and work my way up to the good life? I don’t exactly believe that the Lord chooses some of us to live in almost luxurious comfort while other endure endless privation and hardship. Sometimes it makes me feel more than a little guilty, and it spurs me on to give—what I can financially and in service and goods. But none of us can ever do enough. The thought is in the foreground of my thinking as we prepare for yet another family Christmas.

I certainly was living the good life today. Went to a breakfast potluck for the Book Ladies, a group I’ve belonged to for at least thirty years. Usually we meet once a month at the Old Neighborhood Grill, but today we were invited to a member’s home. We had our meal in a wonderful solarium that was festively decorated for the season, and we dined on wonderful dishes—green chile egg casserole, cheese grits, a cake, sausages, fruit—and we had a book exchange, one of those were you could “steal” a book someone had already chosen.

I went from that wonder almost directly to a Christmas luncheon with two friends. We went to Rise, the restaurant new to Fort Worth but known in North Dallas for its souffles (and for being a favorite of George and Laura Bush). The Fort Worth incarnation is almost a carbon copy of the Dallas restaurant and, I suspect, the one in Houston—heavy, ornate wooden doors, a massive centerpiece that tables are gathered around, and glassed-in porches (quieter and my choice for a meal).

Ordering soufflĂ© leaves you lots of time to talk while the souffles cook. The menu says, “You may wait on your soufflĂ©, but your soufflĂ© won’t wait on you.” Betty and I had creamed spinach soufflĂ©, while Jean had a southwestern chicken. We split a sweet raspberry soufflĂ© for dessert—two sweet for me, and too much soufflĂ© in one meal. But we had a wonderful time.

I came home besotted and sluggish—a nap cured me, but I resolved for the umpteenth time to eat modestly over the holidays.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday, oh Monday

Today seemed like an ordinary day—stay home and work. Mondays are often my most productive days, and today was no exception. I wrote the scene that was on my mind and figured out the bare bones of the next scene—always lovely to know where you’re going when you return to a manuscript. I did some business work, catching up on things from the neighborhood newsletter to defrosting sausages and cooking them for a potluck breakfast in the morning.

A bit of good news—the Poohbah, newsletter for the Berkeley Place Association, which I edit, is a finalist in the newsletter for the mayor’s neighborhood awards. I’ll go to a luncheon in January and see if we won. Nice to have your work recognized.

Beyond that, it was an ordinary day, and I had no blog ideas. I didn’t want to get heavy again about our country’s dismal situation, sexual predators (okay, I’m breathless about the Alabama special election), the Russian intervention investigation (say that fast three times) which seems to be heating up. There’s so much to mull and worry about, but I wanted to find something light hearted and new.

And then Jordan reminded me. Thirteen years ago today, she and Christian married in a truly beautiful ceremony at University Christian Church—full choir and everything. I remember being so nervous about lighting the unity candle, but Colin walked me up to the chancel and stood by me every minute. And Jordan had decreed she wanted both her brothers to walk her down the aisle—her father was there but in a wheelchair. When they got even with where he sat, both boys leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Even one of my most non-sentimental friends said, “Be still, my heart.” Then Christian walked down the aisle to get her.
To my surprise, I don't have any pictures on my computer from that momentous occasion. Shows you how far I've come in technology--or even, maybe, how far technology has come. I snatched the one above from Christian's Facebook post.

Tonight they celebrated with steak and lobster, at home, and Jacob and I were exiled to the cottage—except he went to Young Life and I didn’t see him until they all came out here at ten to share chocolate pie. Meanwhile I had leftovers for dinner--but Rob Seume, your meatballs were great the next day.

So it was, like every day, a special day. There’s always a golden lining when you look for it. Every day is special in some way. Oops, I sound too Pollyanna-ish.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas spirit and a gleeful dog

When my ex-husband and I moved to Fort Worth in 1965, we had few friends by Christmas and the holiday loomed as a little bleak, though I think that my brother and his family came down from Missouri in a converted bus that year. Still, to make Christmas joyful, I threw a small tree trimming party. Our friends were then like us—physicians in training and pretty much broke. It was a modest party.

The tree trimming idea actually traces back to my childhood. We would go as a family to pick out a tree; my father and brother would put on the lights and retire; my mother and I were left to put on the ornaments. The process had none of the joy that I thought trimming the tree should have, so a party was my attempt to create that joy.

Over the years since then I have hosted a tree trimming party almost every year. Those parties grew until there were sometimes fifty or sixty people, and I began cooking and freezing in late November. The week of the party I’d lay out the serving dishes, each with a tiny slip of paper to remind what was to go in what dish. It was a lot of work, but the kind of work—and anticipation—that was fun for me.

Alas, those days are over. Last year, my first year in the cottage and the kids first year in the house, we were all too frazzled with moving and my health problems. This year, I couldn’t face all that cooking. I had neither the facilities for doing it nor the ambition, the latter an admission I hate to make.

Tonight, with the tree already trimmed, we had a small potluck gathering for neighbors, a group we’ve been close to. The beauty of potluck is that you get a wonderful array of treats, and we had a bountiful table. The downside is that Jordan wanted to use china and silver and got out all the good stuff, which now must be washed. Still, it was a lovely warm fun party, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Who knows what next year will bring?

One of life’s joys, to me, is to be greeted by a joyous dog. Sophie got left in the cottage—she just gets too excited with even a small crowd of people, and with people coming and going I was afraid she’d slip out the door. The look on her face when I left was pure devastation. During the evening, which ended nicely early, someone let her into the back yard, so she greeted me when I came out the door. That little black dog wriggled all over with joy, jumping here and there, running to the cottage as if to lead the way, and then looking back to make sure Jordan and I were following.

Now, Sophie and I are settled in, and after a warm day, I’ve turned the heat back on because it turned chilly outside. I have happy memories of a lovely evening to keep me cozy. And I can look out on my backyard which Jordan has made bright with Christmas lights. Such joy!

See? I told you I’d be more cheerful than last night. Sweet holiday dreams, y’all.