Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Eye surgery

It’s happening. I can’t put it off any longer. My twice-postponed eye surgery is at 7:30 tomorrow. It was scheduled first for December 21, but we would have had to go to Grapevine (a fur piece away) on the 22nd, when we were trying to get out of town. Besides, I didn’t think it smart to have a fairly complicated (at least to me) surgery and leave town two days later. So it was rescheduled for January 4.

By then, I had developed a real, old-fashioned cold. I didn’t think it would be cool to cough or sneeze during the procedure, besides which I was sure they wouldn’t want me and my germs in the surgery suite. Rescheduled for February 1, which at the time seemed like far enough away to be safe.

But now it’s happening. The problem traces to cataract surgery from 1986. The lens implanted at that time has come loose and gone wandering in my eye. The doctor said it’s rare—so why me? —and happens most often with lens that have been in place for a long time. Jordan cannot bear to hear the details or talk about it and is most grateful her next up sibling, brother Jamie, will be here tonight to take me at six in the morning. Hips she can handle; eyes not so much. Since she’s squeamish, I’ll spare everyone else the details.

Yes, I’m nervous. But the intake person I talked to today was most reassuring. By late morning tomorrow I should be home with a patch over my eye. Patch will come off Friday morning. Meantime Jamie will spend the day tomorrow, and Megan will arrive in late afternoon to stay until early Saturday morning. My eye is not really bringing her up from Austin but the death of a good friend’s father, with visitation on Friday. For me, though, it will be delightful to have them both here.

Will this improve my vision instantly? I don’t think so, but I’ll have to wait and see.

Bad things come in threes—I have now had my three, with the hip, the afib hospital stay, and the eye. I am good for another twenty years at least.

‘Night all. I have to get up at five, so I’m going to bed very early, having told you more than you want to know about my eye.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Good News and a long day

Saw the hip surgeon today. It’s been one year plus about ten days since my surgery. He’s pleased with my progress, calls me a star patient. Said the hip is strong, securely in place—no, I still can’t cross my legs in a ladylike manner, and I should never pull my foot back to put on a shoe. As for the walker, he said he can fix the hip, but he can’t fix the brain connection about balance to my leg. I’ve never had good balance in all my life, partly I think due to my phobias (open space is a biggie for phobics, and I always when possible walk next to a wall or railing or something to hang on to) and partly reminiscent of what my mother once said to me: “I wish I’d given you ballet lessons. They would have made you graceful.” Thanks, Mom. Anyway, he said given my poor balance, he wants me on the walker rather than falling again. He complimented the way I came down the hall to his examining room and suggested I put less and less hand pressure on the walker, until I get to the point I’m just barely resting my fingers on it. Oh, and I’m to take up exercises again which I got out of the habit of over Christmas and never got back into. I promise to be a good camper.

The big good news out of this: he thinks I’m doing well enough that he doesn’t want to see me for a year. When I said I was embarrassed because most hip patients walk so soon after surgery, he said to forget it. My hip problem was one of a kind, and I shouldn’t compare myself to others. Good advice about hips and a lot of life.

So tonight, I’m working, with the TV on mute while Mr. Trump makes a speech. With the sound off and glancing occasionally at his facial expressions, I think he’s almost coquettish. But all those people who jump to their feet in applause frustrate me. I of course find less to applaud with this man than previous presidents, but it’s always been an irritation. I’m keeping it on because I want to hear Joe Kennedy’s response. As for having to look at Pence and Ryan sitting behind the president, don’t even go there….

The Burtons have all gone to the rodeo tonight. Our annual family rodeo weekend kind of fell apart this year, so they went so that Jacob would get one night at the rodeo. I’ve worked, gotten a lot done, napped, and eaten smoked salmon for supper—how decadent. Sophie and I are enjoying our quiet evening at home. Well, at least I am, and I’m being bold enough to speak for her.

Eye surgery day after tomorrow, but then I’ll have all the major stuff behind me—knock on wood. Yes, I’m anxious about the eye business, but I keep telling myself it will be Friday before I know it and it will be over and done with. I’m not afraid of the surgery. I’m afraid of being anxious about being anxious. Three of my four children will be here, either for the surgery or sometime that day, so that’s a cheering thought.

In my list of things I’ve done and good things that have happened to me in yesterday’s post, I left out health matters. But tonight and always I am grateful for the health I have and the care I have gotten for major problems. I think back to just over a year ago and what pain I had from my hip, and I feel like a new person.

This “new” person is getting sleepy. Hope the orange man doesn’t go on too long and Joe Kennedy comes on soon. ‘Night all.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Wringing the most out of life

I confessed in a blog recently to an occasional longing to be young, even forty, again. A friend wrote that she well remembered when her mother said to that to her. It was, she said, at that moment she decided to wring the most she could out of every day of life. Got me to thinking about how I’ve lived my life.

Being given more to timid than adventuresome, I have never skiied, ridden a roller coaster, or jumped off a high diving board. I’ve never been to England, Europe or Asia, though the latter isn’t high on my bucket list. I’ve never been on an ocean cruise liner, despite my kids’ urgings. But as I kept thinking of my list, I realized that maybe listing what I haven’t done isn’t the way to go about it.

So I started thinking about the things I have done. I’ve always defined my roles in life as, in this order, mother, author and publisher. So, I’ve raised four wonderful children and watched them establish good families and careers; I’ve written books, won some nice awards, and published other people’s books. I have loved and been loved by a couple of good men and have made and loved lots of friends; owned and loved a lot of memorable dogs and one unforgettable cat; I’ve had a lifelong love affair with good food, eating it and cooking it; I’ve been to more of the states in the union than I’ve missed, particularly in the West; I’ve been to Scotland, the Caribbean, and, once briefly, to Mexico; I’ve flown in planes and ridden on trains, and I’ve read a lot of good books.

In my own way, I think I’ve wrung a lot of living out of life, and, you know what? That roller coaster isn’t essential to a full life.

Now I can’t wait to see what adventures are next. I’m sure they’re out there. But no, kids, not an ocean cruise. Now that Great Lakes cruise and that weekend in Chicago…. different stories.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Gratitude for a sunny day, grocery stores, and dogs

Funny what a difference the sun can make. I slept soundly and woke in a much more cheerful mood than the previous two dull, cloudy and wet mornings. Carried that mood with me all day.

This morning, out of necessity, Jordan and I traded church for the grocery. Habit is sometimes a terrible thing. For years, I’ve shopped for groceries on Fridays—that to me was the way of the world. By today, without groceries, I was feeling a little pressure, though I had the three things Jordan once said our house couldn’t run without—wine, cottage cheese, and Paul Newman’s Own Vinaigrette.

We shopped at the fairly new Tom Thumb near downtown where the aisles are wide enough that I can steer the motorized cart with ease. Because I’ve shopped at another store for years, my list is never suited to the arrangement at Tom Thumb, but I like the store, feel their meat is fresh—holding out for Central Market for hamburger. Shopping is always fun for me, and I am adamant about choosing my own groceries. I like certain brands, etc., and never quite get what I want when others shop for me. My oldest daughter urges me to subscribe to a shopping service, but the idea holds no appeal. Guess I’m old-fashioned. My Canadian daughter last night kept urging me to use Uber, so as not to be dependent on Jordan. I’ve used Uber with my kids but don’t quite have the chutzpah to do it on my own.

I’ve taken a two-day vacation from writing to do odds and ends at my desk and read. Such a staycation doesn’t do much for the word count, but for me it often results in new ideas, and I’ll get back to the manuscript tomorrow with new scenes in mind.

I know I promised not to talk about every sermon, but gosh—they’re so spot on. Having missed church this morning, I watched the livestreaming version in the early afternoon.. The sermon was on gratitude, and the line that stuck with me is that gratitude changes the way you see the world around you. I’ve often thought some of the most bitter and unhappy people I know don’t see the glorious happy world that I do. Dr. Russ Peterman suggested that we do a little spiritual exercise at the end of our day—thanking God for what we’re most grateful for in the day and then thinking of what we’re least grateful for. I hadn’t ever thought of talking to God about what I wasn’t grateful for. Sound like complaining to me, but oh boy, do I have a list..

Tonight, we had family dinner, always a chance to feel the blessings of being together.  Christian fixed a crockpot dish of Mexican-marinated chicken, black beans, and rice, and I contributed a salad. Somehow, we rehashed old family stories and secrets. Sort of interesting but disquieting. Sophie got terribly upset and kept pawing at me. I said I thought it was the tension in the conversation, particularly when we talked about my eye surgery scheduled for this week. Jordan and Christian both have engagements outside the home the night of surgery, and I jokingly accused them of planning to go off and leave me. But our voices got loud, not in anger, but I still think it upset my dog. We can never know what goes on in their minds, but I know that she’s very protective of me in her own way. And, of course, very spoiled.

When I was going into the house for dinner, Jordan went ahead with an armload of stuff to carry. I came along behind more slowly, getting my walker out of the cottage, etc. Poor Soph sat on the patio outside the door, torn—she wanted desperately to go in the house, but she wasn’t about to leave me. Such unquestioning loyalty is beyond price. I don’t think I could live without a dog to greet me, to listen to me chatter, to look at me with those adoring eyes that say, “Please love me.”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dull days and the value of cooking

Woke up to a grey, wet world today, and after letting Sophie out promptly went back to bed and dozed to what for me is a sinfully late hour—almost eight-thirty. It just wasn’t a day I wanted to get out of bed. Finally did though, only to find that the grocery crisis continues. The sun did come out though, and that makes anything better.

We didn’t get groceries this week because Jordan’s car was out of commission. Today it was back, but somehow a trip to the grocery never came together. Jordan finally suggested four-thirty, but I reminded her that Sue, my Canadian daughter, was coming for a visit and a glass of wine at five-thirty. So that didn’t work.

We discussed dinner at length and finally decided I should make tomorrow night’s dinner tonight, because I had all the ingredients. So I cooked German potato salad and kielbasa—chunked up the kielbasa and sautéed it, but I got too much oil in the pan, and it was greasy. The potato salad was sooooo good if I do say so myself. It’s one of Christian’s favorite dishes.

Jacob did not join us for dinner. He’s not been feeling well and is running a low temp. Christian had taken him to a mall this afternoon, and when I asked if he felt well enough for such an outing, Jordan said he had to get out, couldn’t just stay cooped up in the house all day. I thought it prudent not to mention how many days I am cooped up in the cottage all day—like today.

A friend posted on Facebook tonight that she’d been sick all day but rallied enough to fix salmon croquettes (a favorite of mine) and green beans for supper. Cooking, she said, made her feel better. And that’s sort of how it made me feel tonight. Still, it wasn’t a great day.

Now, back to that Dick Francis novel I’m loving. Maybe we’ll go to the grocery tomorrow.

Friday, January 26, 2018

From Feast to Famine

Jordan and her girls at the rodeo
Not sure what roadhouse is--new since my day

Yesterday was such a high day, full of sociability and good food, that today is a bit of a shock. A dull gray day when the sun never did shine. I’ve been home, working, all day. Tonight Christian is out at a business event, Jacob is home, not feeling well and stewing in front of the TV, and Jordan has gone to the rodeo with her girlfriends.

This afternoon, when she said they had rodeo tickets for tonight, I had a momentary longing to go with them, to be one of the girls. I quickly came to my senses: I don’t really want to go. Years ago, I swore off watching the bull riding because I didn’t want to see man or animal hurt. I used to leave the arena when that event started. Besides, not walking without assistance, I couldn’t navigate the coliseum or the stands well, and I knew they didn’t have a box. I have in the day been privileged to sit in a box a few times, and it is sure up close and personal to the action. Much better than the Backstage Club perched high above the arena.

But it dawned on me what was really making me a bit nostalgic. I wanted to be forty again and in the frame of mind to go to the rodeo. I wanted to recapture the past.

Rodeo night was a rite of passage in our household. We always went with another family, had dinner in the cafeteria, and went to the show, back in the day when they had class entertainment acts. Each child waited anxiously to be deemed old enough to go to the rodeo and not be left behind with a sitter. By the time they were all of an age, there were four adults and eight children in our party, all dressed in our best western gear, all excited for this annual event. Back in those days, I stayed for the bull riding.

A lot of things are different now. The rodeo is different, my consciousness about animals is different—yes, I know the animals are well cared for and tended to, but I still don’t want to see calf roping. I am not of the ranch life born, in spite of all the time I’ve spent writing about the western life. And I am, alas, older. No, the rodeo is not for me.

So here I sit, another exciting weekend at the Fort Worth Alter/Burton compound. Jacob came out for me to heat his soup, and I explained he waited so long that I was heating my own dinner and he’d have to wait. I can’t turn on the hot plate and the toaster oven at the same time. So he took his can of chicken noodle soup inside to heat in the microwave. He says he’ll come back and visit, and I hope so. I’d like a little company, though Sophie is being quite companionable. I don’t mean to sound pitiful, because I’m not. But I just wish for a bit more company on this dreary evening.

My unattributed quote for the day: “The only normal people are those you don’t know very well.”

“Night, all.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A lovely busy day

Looking toward the open kitchen at Fixe
Photo by Sean Green

Today was an extraordinarily busy day for me, with a blend of old and new experiences. Began the day with a haircut. Rosa, who has done my hair for at least fifteen years, comes by the house because I can’t drive. I’m sure she’ll be as relieved as I will when I get my car back, but meantime she has my undying gratitude. We have good visits while she snips and trims.

Went to lunch at a friend’s apartment. She and two other women have their own book club, and they just read my historical novel, The Gilded Cage. So I went to talk to them about the novel, but one of the women had to cancel. The three of us talked about the book and a lot about Chicago. The other woman had also grown up in Chicago, so we had lots to share. Nancy fixed a terrific lunch and had festooned her apartment with hearts. I even came home with a small, heart-shaped box of chocolate. Happy Valentines Day, a bit early.

In the late afternoon, Tracy Hull, associate dean of the TCU Libraries, came by for a visit and a glass of wine. Turns out she not only wanted to take me up on my invitation to visit, she wanted to see the cottage because she is passionately interested in tiny houses. She said many nice things about the cottage but our visit ranged far and wide over a lot of topics and was lots of fun, lots of laughter.

And the really new experience—friends Phil and Subie took me to a new restaurant at the Shops at Clearfork. Turns out tonight was only the second night Fixe was open, so we were treated like royalty. I want to say the restaurant is starkly modern, with the open concept kitchen—but it’s not. The idea behind the food is a southern-style family supper, so the dining space is partitioned to look like a screened-in-porch. But it’s not at all folksy—it’s clean and smooth. Large, heavy and very comfortable leather chairs are almost incongruous, as is the extensive collection of varied china plates that decorates one wall. The idea is that you order a variety of small plates and share. We had the most wonderful biscuits I’ve ever eaten--the owner (at least I guess that’s who he was) said they’re triple fried, but no, no calories. Then deviled eggs, some of the best I’ve eaten; fried chicken; lobster and crawfish pot pie; chilled green bean salad. Every dish was delicious.

The wine list is extensive, but so is the ice tea list, and they brew all their own. Subie had the green tea, but the list of choices was interesting—flavors such as hibiscus. Tea comes in a container they set on a carafe of ice and the tea is released into the carafe. At least once during the meal, they refreshed the tea by pouring it into a fresh carafe of ice. Those little golden touches. I went to the restroom and missed the hot towels. A lovely dining experience and fun to be on the cutting edge with a new restaurant.

I’m one pooped person tonight. For someone who generally spends her days at the computer, that was a busy day. Not much work done at all, but who cares? A lovely day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Day That Didn’t Go as Planned

Early this morning, Jordan reviewed her plan for the day and asked mine. We shared, but none of it worked out. My early morning haircut appointment turned out to be tomorrow, not today, and my standing dinner date for Wednesday night canceled. I took most of this calmly—a whole day to stay home and work. And oh my, did I get things done—wrote a scene in the novel, sorted my astounding medical bills from 2017 for tax purposes, wrote up a recipe for the cookbook.

Late morning Jordan called: her car died. In better times I would have quickly gone to get her. Obviously, I couldn’t do that. Fortunately, Christian could go to her rescue. The car had to be towed, and who knows when she’ll get it back. Errands for me were on her schedule—oh, well.

I saved the day for myself by cooking. In fact, I felt like a real cook, because I “rescued” leftovers from a restaurant meal. With great anticipation last night, I went to a German restaurant and ordered schnitzel, red cabbage and German potato salad. None of it turned out quite like I wanted—the schnitzel was dry, the cabbage neither sweet nor sour, the potato salad lacking the zing I wanted. It was all good but not what I craved. I brought half of it home.

Tonight I made a lemon/butter sauce for the schnitzel and cabbage, and made a cold salad out of the potatoes by adding a splash of vinegar and a bit of mayo. Somehow that brought out the dill flavoring that I hadn’t noticed before. Meal was much improved but still not my favorite

I found a chart on Facebook that fits in with this perfectly. It has succinct descriptions of ethnic cooking from various countries. To my dismay it has no description of German cooking, though my dinner companion last night, Carol, told me Germans don’t eat corn—they feed it to pigs.

But the chart says for American, “Buy three cans of this stuff and put them in a pan. Congrats. You cooked.” For English, “Boil and salt. Okay, that’s it. Enjoy.” And Australia: “Chuck it on the Barbie.” I think you can find the chart here:

Cooking and thinking about food is such fun!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lost in a book

Okay, I confess. I didn’t blog last night because I was lost in a book and desperate to finish it. No, it wasn’t one of my own, though I sincerely wish I could tell you it was my current work-in-progress. No such luck—I’m only halfway through that one.

I was nearing the end of a Dick Francis horse-racing mystery, Wild Horses (2008). I’m a huge Dick Francis fan, though I’m puzzled to know why. His mysteries are all set in England’s racing country and feature characters who are either in the midst of the racing world or on the fringes. Many of his protagonists, always male, have grown up in racing but gone on to other careers—a film director, a chef, a journalist, etc. His most frequent protagonist, however, is Sid Halley, a former jockey.

I am not particularly intrigued with English mysteries, including those by Agatha Christie  who all cozy writers are supposed to recognize as the source of our genre. Shh—don’t tell on me. I usually like mysteries with female protagonists, and I am not at all drawn to the racing world. The only time I went to a horse race I nearly divorced my then-husband because he wagered all that money we didn’t have (and that was on the honeymoon! No wonder the marriage didn’t last.).

The only exception to my non-English criterion, besides Francis, is Deborah Crombie. But Deborah’s a born-and-bred-in-Texas girl who has been fascinated with England all her life and takes frequent research trips there. The result is that her series, about man-and-wife Scotland Yard officers, rings with authenticity. Note that she breaks a major unwritten rule right there—her characters are married!

Back to Francis, my mentor/friend Fred, who is also a great Francis fan, suggested my fascination is with the characters Francis writes about, but I can’t quite buy that. They are not people I would know or be drawn to in real life.

I think Francis has a way of drawing the reader into the mind of the narrator/protagonist, and his use of language is both clever and solid. In Wild Horses, which Fred claims is one of his favorites, the protagonist is a movie producer, filming about a young horse trainer’s wife who committed suicide by hanging thirty years earlier—or did she? The more he’s drawn into the story and meets the real-life characters, the more he doubts that suicide theory. An associated subplot, involving a man he knew as a child, leads him to pursue his doubts to a surprising conclusion.

Francis’ climactic scenes are often frighteningly real and grisly. The hero sometimes suffers unbelievable physical danger and harm, but this one was, to me, less of a nail-biter. Yet I finished the book, late last night, with a sense of satisfaction with the ending. All loose ends had been accounted for.

Dick Francis, himself once a jockey, died in 2010. In his last years, his son Felix, formerly his manager, became his co-author and maintained the quality of the books. Francis’ canon consists of over forty novels. If you haven’t read one yet, hurry online or to a bookstore or library and prepare yourself for absorbing reading. One of my prized possessions is a signed hardback. Francis used to winter in the Caymans, and when my son Colin lived there, he got the autographed book for me.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Facebook and Forgiveness

Lovely afternoon for a nap—rain, thunder, telephone call from Jacob about using my computer (no, now now!), dog barking at the thunder. The peaceful cottage. But there I was, snug in my bed, awake, but not ready to get up. So I thought about this morning’s sermon (I promise I won’t report on the sermon every week). It was about forgiveness, and it spoke directly to me.

For much of the sermon, I listened attentively with thoughts of my ex-husband in mind, he who left me to raise four children alone because he’d “spent enough time taking care of others.” Since, as I heard this morning, forgiveness doesn’t mean approving the act or reconciliation, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of putting that anger behind me. Oh, yes, I still have flashes of it, but they’re rare. Mostly I’m grateful. Leaving turned out to be the best thing he ever did for the kids and me.

But then the minister asked us to think about who we need to forgive, and his list included “world leaders.” Bam! Even Christian said he thought of me immediately. I realized that my anger and frustration with our current government and our leaders is turning me harsh and shrill. Okay, I’ll be specific: McConnell, Ryan, 45, more recently Tom Cotton and Trey Gowdy who have surfaced again. I am appalled at the anger over the Dreamers, the people who call them alien illegals. I’m appalled that McConnell thinks he’s giving Democrats a choice between saving CHIP or the Dreamers—they are all individual souls. How do you choose?

I did not join the Women’s March yesterday. I cannot walk without a walker, and that crowd was no place for me. I can’t drive, so I haven’t gone to, for example, evenings with Beto O’Rourke when he’s in Fort Worth, though I heartily support him. I haven’t volunteered at political headquarters nor, obviously, to walk my block. I figured what I can do is make my voice heard on Facebook, and boy howdy, have I shouted! But today those two words haunt me: shrill and harsh.

I’ve tried recently not to be snarky and not to share snarky posts, though some of them are so funny and clever I can barely resist. Still, I’ve tried to stick to what seem to be well documented, factual posts with information people should know, like the fact that the Koch brothers gave Ryan $500,000 after passage of the tax bill. Or McConnell is the one who vetoed Senator McCaskill’s bill to continue military pay (done during shutdowns in Obama’s administration) and to suspend congressional pay until the shutdown is over. I think those are fair guidelines, with a nod to Snopes.

But what makes me lose my cool are tunnel-visioned Trump followers who claim Obama and Hilary should be in prison, the shutdown is all the Democrats fault, etc. That’s where I become shrill. No more. I’m practicing letting go. Facebook and forgiveness simply aren’t good bedfellows, and I know that much as I rant I convince no one. I only earn comments like, “You drank the Kool-Aid” or “You need to take your meds.”

Watch for the new, kinder, gentler me, and if I mess up, call me on it.

The minister this morning quoted Ann Lamott, her version of something I’ve heard many times and will try to live by: “Holding on to anger is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Not a Work Day

Hard for me to work today because I was enthralled by following two things on Facebook today: the Women’s March and the fallout from the shutdown.

The Women’s March, impressive last year, broke all records across the country this year, turning out thousands in all major cities. Women, children, men, some wearing pink hats, most carrying signs, all shouting positively—an amazing sight to behold. I’m so in awe of them. Locally, I was proud to see several of my friends among the marchers in Fort Worth. I wish I’d been with them, though honesty compels me to admit that even if I were mobile enough to march, I probably wouldn’t have. It takes a special kind of courage to join throngs like that. My lifelong dislike, even fear of crowds, may have kept me away, plus my age. Then again perhaps those crowds look more intimidating in aerial views than when you’re on the ground among the marchers. But I was wholeheartedly cheering for those women and their support teams who did march. The best I can do for the resistance movement is to cheer from the sidelines…and post on Facebook. Believe me I do that with vigor.

The reaction to the shutdown has also captivated me. I expected no less than blame flung on both sides, and I know I have a one-sided view, but I cannot get past the point that the Republicans control Senate, House, and White House—they can stop this any time they want. The other thing that sticks in my craw is that when bills were proposed to guarantee military pay and to suspend congressional pay during the shutdown, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans, was quick to object. So the military may forfeit pay, though they usually don’t, while the do-nothing Congress gets full pay, no matter how long they diddle around with this.

Many blame the Democrats for this shutdown: please remember the Republicans defunded CHIP a year ago and have delayed considering it for months—now, they attach it to a controversial bill. Similarly, they have refused to come to grips with the DACA problem and a solution. Now McConnell claims it’s not urgent—they have until early March to deal with it. What makes anyone think they could deal with it by then, when they haven’t been able to for the past year.

Sorry I got started on a rant, but I hate to see my country being railroaded by a man whose ties to Russia get deeper every day. I’m going to distract myself and read a novel,

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rodeo, Memories, and a Lesson in Aging

Tonight is rodeo night at 6th grade Cotillion, and Jacob and his friends dressed appropriately. I don’t know why Jacob doesn’t have a hat, but praise the Lord his new boots arrived just in time this afternoon.

Jacob’s actually gotten himself in a spot of trouble, but I’ve promised not to blog about it. Still it got me thinking about childhood and discipline, and maybe because it’s rodeo time, I thought about me and horses. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, the only horse I saw regularly was an old one that, when I was very young, pulled a milk wagon down the alley behind our house. I have a vague memory of a man and a horse who looked much alike—old and grey, but the man was very pleasant and cheerful as he left glass bottles of milk in the icebox (literally) on our back porch.

Someone, maybe even me, decided it would be good if I took horseback riding lessons. I was maybe about twelve. We rode English style around an arena in a barn, horses nose to tail they were so crowded. I did all right at it, until some transgression made my mother decree that I would miss two or three of my lessons. I truly don’t remember what I did, but it must have been awful because such severe punishment was not like my mom. When I finally went back to the stables, I was terrified of the horses, and to this day I am uncomfortable around them.

The memory makes me think how important it is to be judicious and loving in disciplining children. They are frail young minds, easily damaged, and I am convinced discipline must come with lots of love and an understanding of why it is being meted out, how it can be avoided another time. I read the stories about the California couple and their thirteen abused children with horror. Today I read they used food to control those starving children. How can anyone be so cruel?

I had an unpleasant lesson in aging today, one I think I’ve had before and apparently refuse to learn. Lovely lunch with Jordan, the woman from the bank who has helped me so much with financing the cottage and such, and a mutual friend. We met at Pappadeaux, early to avoid the rodeo crowd. At first, I could hear the entire conversation, but as the restaurant grew more crowded, I was barely able to follow the thread. Jordan and I split the wonderful Greek salad for one, and I ordered fried oysters, since I can’t eat shrimp. I mentioned the shrimp allergy to the waiter, and oh my, were they on top of it. He asked if he had to redo the accompaniments platter for the salad, since one lonely shrimp was touching the tomatoes. I told him to give the shrimp to Jordan and it would be fine. Then a manager type came to make sure I understand oysters were fried in the same grease as shrimp, and I thanked him but assured him it would be okay. It’s an ingestion allergy, not contact.

But the fried oysters did me in. I felt dull and loggy and just unwell all afternoon, even with a nice nap. Tonight I can’t bear the thought of food, even that leftover spaghetti in the fridge. I had a single small piece of cinnamon toast for dinner. Once again, I’m swearing off heavy fried foods. When will I ever learn?

Happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Everything but the kitchen sink

This cold spell has had me housebound, which means I’ve been in my little kitchen more than usual. One of the best things I fixed was what I call kitchen sink soup. You can guess why—yes, it has everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. I “build” it with leftovers, carrying on my mother’s lifelong habit of saving a dab of this and a dash of that. Leftover chili but not enough for another serving? Put it in the soup pot. The same with casseroles, bits of meat, whatever. When there’s enough to consider it soup, I usually add some broth, either chicken or beef, and a can of diced tomatoes. Depending on what’s already there, I may add frozen corn or peas, some potatoes cut up or pasta of one kind of another. I don’t add rice, because it absorbs the liquid and swells up until you have stew rather than soup.

I used to make this for my kids when they were in high school. We called it “Soup of the Week,” and laughed because it always came out brown. But it was good, and they liked it. I told Christian I had homemade soup and asked if he wanted some. “I’d have to know what’s in it first,” he replied. I told him that was an impossible question to answer. Actually, the soup I ate the last two days was definitely tomato based, and I detected shredded chicken, pinto beans, corn, and two meatballs. The rich soup had a hint of lamb, and I think that was from the meatballs. Yesterday I did as I would do with chili and stirred in a dab of sour cream just before eating. So good.

I also experimented with chicken thighs recently, but I think I reported that—some success both with a recipe for garlicky thighs with lime and soy and a version of smothered chicken—delicious but didn’t keep well for the next day. And my other accomplishment in the kitchen was to cobble together several versions of the classic salmon dip that everyone makes and come up with the version I like best. Simple ingredients—cream cheese, sour cream, scallions (why bother grating onion?), canned salmon, a bit of lemon, maybe a dash of Worcestershire. finely chopped parsley for color, dried dill if you like it.

While I was in a kitchen mood, I tackled the stack of magazines that accumulated on my desk, mostly Bon Appetit and Southern Living. The arrival of Bon Appetit used to be a red-letter day for me, but lately I find fewer recipes that interest me. I’m not sure if it’s me, not moving ahead as cooking trends change and grow, or if it’s a change in focus by the magazine. Probably a bit of both. But I’m not interested in putting kale in everything I cook, and many contemporary health-food trends leave me cold. Southern Living has remained more traditional, and I cut out such recipes as a warm apple compote with cheddar, or Capitol Hill Ham and Bean Soup (Now, see, the leftovers could go in the soup pot), or an herbed sour cream and smoked salmon topping for the latkes I never did make this holiday season.

A recipe I found and really liked was for Rigatoni with Silenced Smartphones. Now if I could get hats off the head and elbows off the table, I’d feel it was a civilized dinner table. Call me old-fashioned, go ahead. I think I’m proud of it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cold mornings and warm thoughts

My childhood home

It’s not surprising that these cold mornings remind me of my childhood in Chicago. When I was young, we lived in a duplex built in 1893—of course they didn’t have that name for them, but it was a tall (2-1/2 stories), skinny (16 feet wide) house that shared a common wall with its neighbor. Ours was one of a string of them in our block. Story I always heard was that they were built to house people coming to Chicago for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Our house was heated by a coal furnace. There was a ground-level window that opened directly into the coal chute in the basement. Whoever delivered coal would just shoot in down into the chute (yes, I did that on purpose). My father, however, had the dirty jobs—he had to shovel coal into the furnace, bank the fire at night, and stoke it in the morning.

I suppose one didn’t let the furnace burn all night for fear of fire and/or asphyxiation. At any rate, if you woke up before Dad stoked the fire or, heaven forbid, you had to use the bathroom in the night, you were treated to icy cold wood floors and a house that was chilly to say the least.

The heat from the furnace came up through registers in the floor—not the rectangular grates we in Texas see with floor furnaces in older houses, but heavy registers, about a foot square. If memory serves, they were wrought iron in a design. The big deal was to lie over the register to get warm, though when the air was blowing you didn’t stay long, because it got way too hot. There was a register in the dining room, right in the path from kitchen to living room, that my brother and I both preferred. We’d take a pillow and book and try to capture the spot. This register was also close to the only downstairs phone, located in a tiny closet off the dining room, so small even I had to stop to go in there--no locking yourself in for a long, private conversation. For the life of me, I cannot remember where the other registers were, but there must have been some.

Most of the houses in Chicago in the forties were heated with coal, and oh! How my mother hated it. I imagine she was joined by almost every other housewife. Mom had dainty dotted Swiss curtains in the bank of windows in their bedroom that looked out on the park in front of our house. Before we were very far into heating season, those curtains would be dirty gray. Washing and ironing them was a major chore—no permanent press in those days. Mom used to gleefully cut out small newspaper articles that cited statistics on how many tons of soot (black coal dust) fell per square mile in a given time period.

It was probably the early fifties when Dad installed a gas furnace and boarded up the coal window. We thought we were really uptown—it was all automatic.

No wonder I laugh when Mr. Trump says he’s bringing back the coal industry.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Memories from my childhood


Last night I watched parts of a documentary titled, “I Am Not Your Negro.” It dealt primarily with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The parts about Malcolm X brought memories flooding back to me.

In the 1950s, at the tender age of fourteen, I went to work as a go-fer for my father’s executive secretary. Dad was the administrator of an osteopathic hospital and the president of the associated osteopathic college. Before you shout nepotism, let me say it was the best training I ever had. Over the next six years, I became a darn good executive secretary and could still do that today, whatever moniker you put on that job. And I loved it. Had to be dragged kicking and screaming to college. (Besides there were all those cute medical students that I dated.)

Joan Schmidt was an eccentric, and why my dad, a dignified, straight-laced Anglophile, put up with her, is a mystery, except she was so good at what she did. Probably then in her fifties, she was tall, thin, with red hair piled on top of her head. I suspect, in retrospect, she was a lesbian, but we didn’t talk about such in those days. She smoked, and she drank martinis at lunch. She would occasionally let me order a brandy Alexander and then make me chew parsley before we went back to the office. Once she took me to lunch with someone she really wanted me to impress and asked sweetly, “Judy dear, why don’t you have the Calavo pear with tuna salad?" I replied that I would if it were an avocado, but I didn’t like pears. She kicked me under the table—hard!

Joan lived three blocks from the hospital, on the western edge of Chicago’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood. On hot summer days, pre-air conditioning, she would send me to her apartment to take a shower and freshen up at noon. The apartment was right across the street from a temple of the Nation of Islam and the headquarters for Malcolm X. This was a time of high racial tension, fostered in part by Malcom X’s insistence on black supremacy. One of my girlfriends had to take the El (elevated railroad) to work at Dog World Magazine (talk about a dream job), and she used to describe the black man who went through the train crying, “Arise. The white man is your enemy.”

No wonder that I, a shy and timid teenager, was scared to death as I walked to Joan’s apartment. I was scared of the oversize black men who milled around outside and the women in flowing white robes that even wrapped around their heads. I never actually saw Malcolm X, but I knew all about him, and I was scared by his reputation. Racism was rampant on the South Side of Chicago, and probably elsewhere, in those days.

On the South Side of Chicago, I learned both fear and respect—fear because that was a dominant emotion in those days, on both sides I expect. The bogeyman (oh, was I scolded for using that term!) comes in several colors. And respect from my dad, who knew every person, black or white, who worked in his hospital and always had a personal word for each.

Mostly good memories of a time that shaped my course in life.

Monday, January 15, 2018

North Texas does it to us again!

I’ve only lived here for fifty-four years, so maybe I’m not an expert. But it seems to me that in North Texas we’re always gearing up for that killer winter storm that never happens (hope I don’t have to eat those words). Warnings about tonight were dire, but so far, at eight thirty, we have dry sidewalks. A friend in the Monticello neighborhood reports sleet, so maybe not all is lost.

My Monticello friend was to come for supper tonight. When she announced she’d come earlier than usual so she could be home before the worst of the weather, I discouraged her from coming at all. She grew up in Texas and lived in Florida for years, which to my mind equals no winter driving skills. I was afraid we’d gobble our food while looking out the window between bites to check the weather, and we’d both be anxious and nervous. I think she was content with that idea and says it give her a chance to experiment with her InstaPot.

My friend from Canada and her partner came for wine tonight. I figured growing up in Ontario weather wouldn’t phase her, and it doesn’t. She says her parents in Ottawa (my good friends) cannot get their garage door closed. The wind chill there is forty below. Yikes, I love a good winter storm—well, any kind of storm except tornadoes—but forty below is a bit much.

Still, I may be a tad disappointed if I wake up to dry sidewalks tomorrow, and I know several people, including my grandson, who will be outright bummed. I’m not sure why it matters to me, since I have no plans to do anything but stay in my cottage and work. I guess I like the idea of storms.

The liking has been a bone of contention between me and Jacob for years. When he was little, storms terrified him. I still remember one night when there was a tornado warning. He put a chair, a bottle of wine, snacks, the dog and cat, and all the comforts of home in my walk-in closet, where he also settled himself with a blanket. It was before he had a cell phone, so I don’t know what he had to amuse himself, but we could have stayed in there for twenty-four hours, barring potty breaks. As I remember, nothing happened.

What I’d like, please Lord, is one snow day, with the world white and ordinary life at a standstill. But in the early afternoon all would melt, and by the next morning, we’d be back to normal. I don’t think I’m asking too much

Stay warm and safe.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What Goes Around Comes Around, including chicken thighs

Dog night in the cottage. Can you spot the little black dog?

The youngest of my two sons had a birthday last week—not saying which, because it dates me as well as him. But he emailed in response to my birthday message today and recalled the time when he was maybe twelve and I told him I didn’t feel any different than the coeds walking across campus every day. Jamie fell apart laughing.

Recently he was walking on campus in Boulder with his freshman daughter, and he said he thought he fit in pretty well with the college crowd. Her response was apparently much like what he’d given me years earlier. He acknowledged that what goes around, comes around.

A pleasant Sunday today. Jordan was still a bit under the weather, so Christian, Jacob, and I went to church. The sermon was on prayer, and the minister quoted Ann Lamott who suggested the three most important prayers you’ll ever say are, “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!” I really liked that.

Had a good nap this afternoon and slept soundly. First time in over a week that my cough hasn’t kept me awake, so may that cold is leaving.

Left to my own devices for dinner tonight, I decided to do smothered chicken with those thighs from last night. Yes, I had to adjust the recipe a lot, but it worked well. Only Jordan and Christian came to visit, and I thought it rude to cook while they were here. They’d been to Joe T.’s for a four o’clock dinner with his family and were home about the time I was cooking my supper. Finally, they said I should go ahead and cook. So I did. The chicken was great, but I sent the leftover noodles in for Jacob. They didn’t work as well as I thought with the gravy. Still that’s a suggestion I’ll put in the cookbook, though I’d probably do it with a chicken breast instead of thighs—it was just that I had those thighs.

Christian and I had heated political discussions, Jordan and I discussed social schedules, and I was delighted to have their company for the better part of two hours. At one point, as you can see above, Jordan had all three dogs on the couch with her.

Could life get any better? I doubt it.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dinner becomes a production

The kids—you know, those mid-forties kids I live with—were busy getting rid of the last of the Christmas decorations today (the tree finally went out to the curb) so I volunteered to cook supper, something I’m always anxious to do anyway. There ensued great discussions.

I went through my file of recipes I want to try, but I didn’t take into account Jordan (and her sister in Austin) are following the South Beach diet. So she shot down hamburger Stroganoff, which sounded wonderful to me—no noodles and sour cream. Then I suggested Craig Claiborne’s smothered chicken—nope to the flour. We finally settled on garlicky chicken thighs with scallions, lime and soy. She would have to go to the store, since I didn’t have chicken thighs on hand—gone is the day when I had that well-stocked freezer. I emphasized that the recipe called for bone-in, skin-on thighs (why anyone buys anything else is beyond me).

Turned out Christian did the shopping, and she failed to relay that message, so he presented me with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I know he gets tired of my “cooking lessons,” but I pointed out that bone-in chicken always tastes better.  He had no way of knowing crisp skin was essential to this recipe.

By the time I started to cook, Jordan had gone to bed not feeling well, and Christian had gone to watch Jacob’s basketball game. The recipe was fairly straightforward, and my feeling is that lime juice and soy sauce make anything better. I had the chicken and a salad ready about seven, which was our target time.

Jordan didn’t feel well enough to come out to dinner, so the boys—Christian and Jacob—came, bringing boiled potatoes. All was well, except that it took forever to prepare the potatoes with butter and sour cream. And Jacob had a sore toe, which he kept fiddling with, which of course elicited such comments from me as “Go wash your hands. Don’t play with your feet at the dinner table.” His protests earned him a reprimand from his father.

We agreed the chicken had a great flavor, but I know it would have been better with crisp skin. Another nail in my protest about wanting my car back. I could have gone to the grocery this morning, gotten exactly what I needed, and maybe even saved some money. As it is, I have three chicken thighs left over (plus two I had in the freezer)—a puzzle for tomorrow. The recipe will go into that cookbook I’m slowly working on.

I worked hard today—checking more edits on the manuscript, making a list of people to notify when I “cross over.” Not sure why but that struck me in the night as important. When I wrote Colin and told him I’d done that, he replied, “Sounds like a fun morning, Mom.” It didn’t particularly depress me, but I know that since I developed the afib I’m much more aware of my own mortality—even though the cardiologist said the other day he didn’t need to see me for a year. Also sorted out files and taxes, so that my desktop filing system is not so crammed. Once I finish these edits, I’ll go back to organizing tax info. Medical information from last year looms big, with surgery, home health care, hospitalizations, lots of prescriptions. It will be a mess.

Now, dishes to be washed and more edits. Sleep well, my friends.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Understanding the weather—an impossibility

We did not get the predicted snow flurries or sleet last night, though I understand they showed up east of us. My son Jamie and his family live at the far northeast corner of the Metroplex in Frisco, and I probably live close to the southwestern corner. It’s amazing the difference in the weather we get—theirs is often more severe, and I think they got some kind of precipitation last night. We have another chance, oh joy!, Monday night when wintry weather is forecast.

A couple of patio plants take temporary refuge in my shower when it freezes, and I noticed today that the hydrangea has a bud. We need to put that plant outside where it’s cold and let it re-orient itself to the season!

We did get the perfect dinner last night for a truly cold night—chili. I asked Jordan if I should defrost either chili, left from Christmas, or the kitchen sink soup I’d made. Instead of choosing either, she said, “Maybe Christian will make chili.” And he did. He’s having fun trying different recipes, whereas I always stick to my tried and true. Sometimes Christian prowls through my book, Texas is Chili Country, but yesterday he searched on the web. Some recipes called for chocolate or cinnamon, both of which sounded good to me, but were not in what he ultimately fixed. Whatever it was, it was delicious, and I’ll have leftovers tonight. But I think Christian is usurping my place as the cook in the family. Sometimes I want to yell, “But I want to cook!” Still, I’m delighted he’s having so much fun doing it. Wish Jacob would show an interest in cooking.

Today a quick grocery trip, a pleasant visit with some of Jordan and Christian’s friends—who are also my friends—and I’m back in the cottage, reading more edits for Murder at the Bus Depot. I’ll probably tell this story too often, but credit for the idea behind that novel Post cover on FB, Guppies, etc goes to my friend Linda Preston of Granbury, Texas where they really do have an old, unsolved murder that took place in a bus depot. Some townspeople wanted to tear the old depot down, but Linda, who’s been active in preserving both Granbury history and buildings, held firm and had the depot moved to her property. I’ll have to ask if it’s still there.

Stay warm and safe.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Warning: rant ahead. Detour if you wish.
I am outraged, angry, humiliated, resentful, puzzled—I cannot begin to tell you the emotions that have raged through my mind since I read about 45 referring to people from “shithole countries.”  That such language from the Oval Office is unpresidential goes without saying; so does that it violates every one of our dearly held democratic principles, the ideas that our country was founded on. “Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry.” The statement is racist beyond belief.

And sadly, it will appeal to his base, those people who are desperate to find some way to feel better about themselves. LBJ, whose wisdom was probably underappreciated in his day, said it: If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice that you’re picking his pocket.”  Unfortunately, not much has changed since LBJ’s day, and 45 is playing that song like his theme.

But there’s more. Not only is he a disgrace to democracy, to American principles, and to our presidency and the White House, he is a man with clear mental incompetency, what appears to be dementia.

And nobody is doing anything! That old phrase keeps going through my mind: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . . .” Well, you know the rest.

Clearly the Republicans are in power, and they are the ones who can do something about this terrible, frightening situation that they have thrust us into. We look to Mueller to save us (and he may, but he’s a slow and deliberate man, carefully building a foolproof case—will he be in time?); recently we’ve looked to Michael Wolff’s book to save us (and again it may—that’s what Kim Jung Un predicts). But it is the Republicans who have the power and the tools in their hands right now to correct what they have wrought. They have the 25th Amendment.

Suely they don’t think their legislative record, their blind eye to the president will win them votes. Most are seasoned politicians, and they know the odds. The base 45 courts is not big enough to counter a voter wave that will sweep many of them out of office—perhaps that’s why so many are announcing resignation and retirement. But for the nonce, they are unfettered. They have their way, with a president who can be easily manipulated, and they’re going wild with power. Not a conscience or a backbone among them. The best they can do is resign, which doesn’t help us. I call out Senator Bob Corker who seemed for a bright moment there to be earnest, sincere, and aware, but he caved to a little bribery. Greed rules all.

What will save our country at this point? I don’t know. Do you? Will you be the one? Will you vote come November?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dogs, dinner, and work, work, work

When I was ready to go to bed last night, this is what greeted me—a dog happily settled on my bed and not inclined to move. We sat and loved together for a bit, but when I started to pull back the covers, she hopped down. Sometimes if I get up in the night to use the restroom, she hops right into the space I’ve vacated. On rare nights, she’ll follow my suggestion to get on the other side of the bed, but she never stays long. And usually just gets down. She’s not really a cuddly girl. Don’t know what I’d do without her antics to keep me company.

Dinner tonight with Betty at our standby place, the Tavern. Split a large filet of sole, mashed potatoes and spinach—barely cooked with a little cooked cabbage and Parmesan with it. Absolutely delicious. We had Christmas to catch up on, so lots of chatter. She just had cataract surgery and is doing well, says the surgery lasted maybe twenty minutes. She encourages me but not much since they say my surgery will take a maximum of two hours. I would be so grateful to sleep through the whole thing.

Work piled high on my desk. Today I got back the copy edits on my next novel. A heads up for those of you interested—Murder at the Bus Depot, a Blue Plate Café Mystery starring Kate Chambers and her cast of friends in Wheeler, Texas is scheduled for May 16, 2018. Fun to go back over it, fixing things the editor caught and finding a couple on my own. The editor posed a couple of thorny problems that I must work out, but mostly it’s sort of tedious work, correcting typos and small usage problems.

And I’m still moving along well on the untitled Kelly O’Connell Mystery I’m working on, eighth in that series. Time to reread what I have and figure out where it’s going, but I already have the next scene in mind—a biggie. And tonight, I promised myself I’d get back to organizing tax information for my new accountant. Life is busy, but not necessarily exciting. Then again, the prospect of a new novel is always exciting, and it’s pretty darn good to work on one where the ideas keep coming.

Ice tomorrow? Tell me it’s not so. Stay warm and safe.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Taking Time Out

Some days you just have to take a day out, even me who has anything but a busy schedule. This morning I was to go to a breakfast meeting of the Book Ladies, a group I really enjoy. But I forgot to program it into my thinking (and wardrobe planning) last night, and when I woke at seven, my thought was that I did not want to rush around, wash my hair and make myself presentable in time to leave at 8:20. I sent a text to the friend who was going to pick me up and went back to bed, where I dozed until eight when Sophie rousted me out with frantic barking that said she’d been in long enough and needed to pee Her routine is to get me out of bed, pee, and come back in to cuddle in the bed I’ve just vacated. She knows that once up I rarely crawl back in.

Yesterday I went to lunch with an author/friend and much as I looked forward to it and enjoyed it, I was amazed at the chunk it took out of my day, not even counting the time it took to put on makeup and dress. We were gone from 11:15 until 12:45. Now there’s a dilemma for me: had I stayed home in jammies, that’s an hour and a half of work I’d have done, with just a tad of time out to fix a lunch that I’d eat at my desk. But I’d have missed a visit with a wonderful woman who is one of my special friends.

I usually work until two or three at my desk and then take a nap that can range from one to two hours. Not whining, but since I’ve had this cold, it’s hard for me to go to sleep because of coughing and snorting, and I usually stay longer when sleep finally comes. And then I feel guilty for sleeping the day away. (When will any of us get over guilt?)

After I nap I am not nearly as efficient as I am in the mornings, though last night I worked on getting tax info together, and evenings are usually when I blog.

So today, with the whole day to myself, I got a lot done—wrote my daily scene on the work in progress, put together the recipe section for “Murder at the Bus Depot,” which is currently with the editor. How had I forgotten that Blue Plate Café Mysteries have a recipe section? And then I did a chore that loomed as overwhelming—totaled up what I spent in 2017 on ebooks. Even at $1.07 or $2.15 for a lot of them, it adds up. A day well spent. Lunch? Cottage cheese with yogurt in one bowl and some reheated black-eyed peas in another, eaten at my desk.

Late this afternoon, neighbor Margaret came, bringing wine for happy hour, and she, Jordan, and I had a delightful time. Somehow at the end of the day, that doesn’t seem to take as much out of my work time.

But I know myself too well. I’ll stay home and work like a beaver for three or four days, and then cabin fever will set it and I’ll be desperate to get out, eat in a restaurant, visit with friends. It’s a never-ending dilemma—and one I suspect not only writers but any others who work at home share. It’s like getting rid of guilt—why can’t we learn to be happy with the moment and stop craving whatever it is we’re not doing?

Monday, January 08, 2018

Noisy restaurants and Christmas lights

One of the joys of my work with TCU Press was the friendships I developed with the authors I worked with. Today I had lunch with one of those authors, Chloe Webb, whose Legacy of the Sacred Harp, was published several years ago. It’s about shape note singing, dinner on the grounds, and a lot of Chloe’s own life. Chloe is, I suspect, older than I am (good heavens!) but she’s game, gets around with a cane, still drives, and wasn’t intimidated by my narrow driveway with its jog. (She did have some difficulty with it when she actually tried to back out the gate.) So there we were—her with a cane, me on my walker—the lame leading the halt.

Chloe’s husband has health problems that keep him from going out much, so she said she wanted to try one of the newer restaurants she’d never been to. We went to one of my favorites, a restaurant where in pleasant weather the outdoor dining opportunities far outweigh the choice of indoors, but today it was chilly. We both ordered what they call their deconstructed tuna salad—a wonderful plate of traditional tuna salad, fresh fruit slice, tomato slices and a slice of cheese. We loved it.

But I have a new crusade—against noisy restaurants. I tried with and without the hearing aids and neither way worked. I was a bust as a conversationalist because I couldn’t hear her. Even with the aids on the restaurant setting, the background noise was deafening. It disappeared without them, but so did Chloe’s rather soft voice. Every surface in that place is reflective—floor, ceiling, bartop, tabletops. I don’t think people were talking extra loud, and there wasn’t that big a crowd. But it was unbearable.

So here’s a word to restaurants: I know it’s possible to soften sound without compromising atmosphere. Whether it matters to you or not, you’ll lose my business if you can’t lower the noise level, and I will urge my friends to follow me. We—ahem—elderly folks have money and time to dine out; if you want our business, cut down on the noise. If you want to focus only on the younger crowd, blast away. I won’t be there.

My Christmas lights are gone, although the tree, its lights unplugged, sits in the middle of my coffee table. But the lights still shine on the fence and deck railings, and I’ve kept the screen of tiny green sparkles. I think it will brighten the evenings as we move into the dark days of late January and February. Remember, my friends, spring is not far away!

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Finding Joy at Church

Some people go to church for inspiration, others for instruction, meditation, some out of a sense of obligation, and a few, reluctantly. I go because I want to learn how to be a better person in this world we live in today, not so much to learn ancient biblical history. Today I also went because Jacob was an acolyte—he is the cutest acolyte! But what I left the church with was a sense of joy.

One of our associate ministers, Shannon Moore, simply bursts with enthusiasm. When he welcomes the congregation from the chancel steps, you know he means each and every individual. Even his prayers are joyful. At the communion table, he told a story about how as a young boy he’d hidden from his family while they searched every room in the house. When they found him and asked why he was silent, he said, “I thought I was lost.” It was, of course, an invitation not to be lost but to come to the table. And Shannon wore the most wonderful, cheery bright green socks.

Our new minister is a joyful person too. Today was the first time I had a chance to meet him and shake his hand, and when I said, “We’re glad you’re here,” his smile was broad as he replied, “I’m thrilled.” He really meant it. His sermon this morning, based on the Scripture where Jesus, as a young boy, educates the temple scholars, was titled, “Always Wear Clean Underwear.” He talked about the lists that all parents see equipped with, a list that includes “always wear clean underwear” and “never speak to your mother in that tone.” His point was that we are all the beloved children of God.

One poignant moment: at the end of the service, a family of four—mom, dad, and two young girls, joined the congregation. The younger of the girls, probably no more than three, looked very apprehensive as her family went to stand before the congregation. Gradually she backed away until she was back at the transept pew, where she stood watching. Attempts to approach her didn’t work—her parents tried, two ministers tried, a woman in the pew sat down on the floor to talk to her, and, in the most touching moment, her big sister, maybe five years old, came to put her arms around her and try to drag her to their parents. Nothing worked. Those of us who could see this little drama watched with amusement and concern for the obviously frightened child. As soon as the formalities were over, the dad picked her up and carried her in his arms, where she looked quite concerned. It was a perfect follow-up to Shannon's story of being a lost child. We are all lost in some ways.

I carried that sense of joy with me throughout the day. One of the things I look forward to as I get more mobile is being able to be more active in the church again. I once was. When my friend Betty was the organist and music director, I swore every time she had an odd chore to be done, she said, “Judy will do it.”

And a shout-out to neighbors Greg and Jamie: their son, his wife, and infant daughter were the Holy Family in the annual Boar’s Head Festival today. I am sure it was a thrill for them.