Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Saga of a Skinny Driveway

And still it rains. After a welcome break, with sunshine, today dawned dismal and damp, with rain threatening all day. Along with the general unpleasantness, it made everything muddy and slippery, and therein lies my tale.

My house was built in 1922 (some records say 1926, but I won’t quibble over four years). One of it’s less attractive features is a skinny driveway with a slight jog in it right by the electronic gate. There’s also a curb on the right side, by the house, and a stiff lip on the left by the grassy strip between my driveway and my neighbor’s. It’s never bothered me, but several of my friends are reluctant to drive up it, and I have one or two for whom attempting the feat is such a disaster I simply cook lunch for them when we want to visit.

Today I had lunch with a friend who can do the driveway, with some trepidation, but won’t go beyond the gate. For reasons too complicated to explain that makes it easier for her to pull into my neighbors’ drive to get me—they don’t mind, but their driveway is unpaved gravel. Today I got into the car and she put my walker in the trunk and came to get into the driver’s seat. I saw a brief flash of her and then nothing. I waited, thinking she’d gone back to close the trunk or some such. But it was too long, and I began to fear she’d fallen (she is a lady of some age, as am I). I began to review options, but there weren’t many.

The best seemed to be getting out of the car to check, making my way around it by holding on, and then calling 911. Helping her up was not something I could accomplish—one of those times when I wanted to roll things back to three years ago or so to when I was spry. As I considered that, she got into the car. She had indeed fallen and struggled to get up without putting pressure on her knee, surgically replaced about a year ago. When I told her my plan, she said, “The last thing I want is for you to have gotten out of the car.”

Tonight, my Wednesday dinner pal, Betty, and I went to dinner. We’ve been doing that for years. When we first started, I used to pick her up, but for a long time now, she’s picked me up. She drives in and out of the driveway with concentration but no problems. When we came home tonight, I watched her back out so that I could close the electronic gate when she was gone. But she didn’t go. She backed, and then came forward, backed and came forward, finally came forward and was apparently stuck. I could see that the headlights were at an angle. Nothing happened for a long time.

Once again, I railed against my lack of mobility. I watched and worried, finally saw Jordan go down the porch steps to help. Still nothing happened for what seemed an eternity. Then, finally, slowly, the car inched forward. With my mind that instantly goes to the worst disaster, I decided she had busted a tire on that concrete lip. But no, the car slowly righted itself and began to back up.

It turned out Jordan drove it out to the street. Betty had gotten one tire over the lip and into the mud between the two driveways. Every time she tried to accelerate, the tire couldn’t get any traction in the mud. Our neighbor came out (Betty nearly hit his car, don’t know if he knows that), put something under that wheel, and between him and Jordan they got the car back in the driveway.

Jordan came in saying, “We’ve got to get another light out there. I couldn’t see anything, and I know what’s there.”

All’s well that ends well. Everyone is safe and unhurt tonight, no cars are damaged, and the worst is that my lunch friend’s raincoat needs to go to the cleaners. But we will be putting another light in the driveway. Blessings on Jordan and Jim Carmical, our good neighbor.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The nothing-to-say blog

No inspiration for a blog tonight. Sometimes when that happens, I just start writing and see what happens. We were to have more storms today, but far as I know we were lucky to get a bit of rain. But it was not an inspiring day—cloudy and dull. I understand though that sunny days are ahead for us. Can you believe it’s the last day of February? I’m stunned.

I went to the eye doctor today, and while I wouldn’t say he jumped hoops over my progress, he didn’t seem alarmed. Said it’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of blood in the back of the eye—those of you who are squeamish just skip that part, please. I don’t see him again for a month, which I took as encouraging. If he were worried, I’d be back there more often. Of course, there’s an insurance problem with renewing the drops he prescribed but given the rate at which the government is un-insuring people I guess it would be churlish of me to complain.

I am so close to the end of the novel I’m working on! But today when I sat to write, it went off in an entirely different direction than I expected—sort of like I hope this blog will do. I wrote an entire scene, and then took a nap during which I rewrote that scene. Haven’t gotten back to it yet, but I will.

Tonight, friends of Jordan’s came for a glass of wine. Jordan is doing wine tastings for a company that markets organic wine—no sugar, no sulfites, no preservatives, etc. Translate that into no hangover. I read somewhere that all California wines have a trace of some chemical that is also found in Roundup weed killer. Not a comforting thought, so Jordan’s organic wines are pretty interesting. The chardonnay I tasted tonight was on the clean and crisp side, whereas I prefer something oakier. But it was good.

In honor of visitors, I turned on the projector that throw green twinkling lights on the casita across from my French doors. Tonight, I’m noticing that it also covers some branches in the yard with a profusion of lights. Maybe I see it because it’s balmy enough to leave the doors open. In February?

And that’s how the day went—nothing spectacular, neither good nor bad. But I guess we must treasure each day. I got a notice from Twitter that someone calling him- or her-self Crazy_Sex_Life is now following me. Does that count as excitement?

Over and out. I really don’t have anything brilliant to say. Not even anything dumb. Blessings on all of you. Sleep tight.

Monday, February 26, 2018

An older title sees new life

My very first book, After Pa Was Shot, was published in 1978 by William Morrow & Co., then a major NY publisher, now swallowed up by conglomerates. It was reprinted by Ellen Temple Books in Texas, went out of print, and now sees new life as a digital and paperback from Speaking Volumes. I am thrilled and love the cover.

Here’s the blurb, and some nice review comments:

After her pa is shot in a turn-of-the-century Texas gunfight, 12-year-old Ellsbeth James has no time to go chasing off after the killer. She has to buckle down and take care of her mother and siblings, B.J., Little Henry, and Maggie.

"Time and place come to life in Alter's bright, atmospheric novel set in Center,
Texas during the early 1900s."
Publishers Weekly

"Minor characters are exceptionally well drawn, and the whole concoction is as full
of old time Texas flavor as a piece of Ellsbeth's special chicken-fried steak."
New York Times

The story is based on a true incident, from an older friend’s mother who lived it. She was four at the time. Late in life she sat down at a typewriter and wrote, “The Story of My Life.” At the time I was fresh out of graduate school, trained to document everything, and I thought fiction was over there on another shelf. But that proverbial light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, “That’s what I can do. I can make the girl fourteen instead of four and tell the story from her viewpoint.” I had no idea I was writing young-adult fiction—I was just telling a story. But that novel pigeon-holed me as a young-adult author for too many years.

I called it A Year with No Summer because Ellsbeth didn’t get to do the things kids did in the summer back in the day—fish, skip rocks in the stock tank, wander barefoot. She had to help her mother in their new boardinghouse and take care of the younger children. The marketing people at Morrow said that the words “year” and “summer” were intangible, and kids wouldn’t identify with them. So they called it After Pa Was Shot. My mother threw up her hands and said, “More violence,” and I found it wasn’t easily understood. When I told people the title, they inevitably said, “Pardon me?”

Speaking Volumes has also reprinted three other titles: Katie and the Recluse, Callie Shaw, Stableboy, and Maggie and a Horse Named Devildust. All four are available on Amazon.

I couldn't steal covers from Amazon and haven't gotten them from the publisher yet, but if you want to see them--they're wonderful!--here are the links:
After Pa Was Shot - 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A day of contrasts

Weather: Yesterday I awoke to gray drizzle, thunder, and occasional heavy rain. A day to stay inside. But about noon, the sun came out and stayed, as though it had just discovered the world. It made me itch to be outside, but I had no opportunity, nowhere to go. Reinforces my longing to have my car back—just driving around would get me out of the cottage for a welcome break.

Today, the sun shone all day, but I sensed that we were not going to church. Jordan had someplace to be by twelve or one, and the Cowtown marathoners ran right by our house. Only the laggers came by at ten-thirty, when we would have gone to church, because we’re fairly early in the course. But I didn’t point that out. I watched the livestreaming service at nine. With hearing aids, livestreaming, and only half the choir at the early service, the music is not as glorious as it can be, but the message was strong.

Healing: The Lenten theme is strong at the broken places, playing on the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi in which broken pottery is mended with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. Last week, the sermon was on broken relationships; this week, on broken bodies.

I was inspired enough to have a much more positive attitude about the sight in my bad eye. It will heal. Right now, I can distinguish light and dark—a window, a door, the computer monitor—and I can see motion if I wave my hand in front of my eye (even can recognize that it’s a hand) but everything is blurry. Doctor said, “We’re just going to ride this one out,” and of course I was skeptical. But after this morning’s sermon, I’m determined Waiting for positive results

Food: Yesterday, my lunch consisted of rare Mediterranean roast beef (not sure what was Mediterranean about it, but it was so good), artichoke hearts, and a bit of creamed spinach; dinner was a delicious crab cake and a potato croquette with goat cheese. Today I slipped into what you might call the vernacular: bbq sandwich for lunch and chili for supper.

But tonight, I had sweet Jacob for company. As I write he’s absorbed in an iPad on the couch. I must get up and do the dishes.

And off we go into another week. Hope it’s a happy one for everyone.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Cowtown Marathon Started in My Living Room

Honest! It really did. In the late 1970s, my then-husband was involved with the Institute for Human Fitness, an institute that was part of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (now UNT Health Sciences Center). A group of men—nope, no women—used to meet in our living room on Sunday afternoons. It so happened that a friend was living with us at the time, and while those men were in the living room piously discussing health and fitness, we were in the kitchen fixing the richest, most decadent desserts we could think of. Things like Italian Cream Cake.

I still remember one of the men—the one my friend eventually married—standing in the kitchen, plate laden with cake and ice cream, asking plaintively,” Isn’t there any diet Coke?”

Planning went on for months, as you can imagine. Because I worked for TCOM at the time, doing pubic relations, and I had some experience in that field, I was on the Cowtown committee. I well remember the night before the race. Sleet began to fall about ten. What my ex said at the time is not printable, but it amounted to sleet was the last thing he wanted.

Next morning, incredibly early, I bundled four children into my car and headed for the North Side on truly ice streets. (For several years, the races all began in front of the Northside Coliseum instead of downtown as they now do.) My children, all now safely grown, will tell you that I turned them loose in the Stockyards. They reassure me these days that they were safe because there was always a big gang of kids who wandered around together. If I recall correctly, I didn’t see them until late that afternoon. The thought gives me great pause now—what kind of negligent mother was I? Especially since I think the youngest, Jordan, was three. I like to think her siblings took care of her.

For me, I remember it was a heady day, flitting here and there, dropping in frequently to an RV sent by a radio station and chatting with the hosts. And in the afternoon, there was the almost climactic awards ceremony.

The kids and I loved those marathon days and treasure the memories to this day. After my ex and I divorced, I continued to work the marathon for a year or two, but it was different, and I was an outsider. I quit.

Both my boys became runners. Jamie, the younger, has done several marathons and triathlons. I think Colin has done half marathons, but not a triathlon. But I’ve never been able to interest either in the Cowtown, which I thought they might do for sentimental reasons. Colin tells me there’s an Iron Man in Fort Worth this spring, and he’ll do that. Meantime, I treasure our T-shirts from that first year. There was some debate whether their dad or their Uncle Charles was the model for Cowtown Charlie on that shirt

Tomorrow morning, the marathon runners will go right past our house. If I can, I’ll cheer from the front porch. It brings back a lot of memories.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Good food, good friends, despite the rain

This is getting monotonous. More rain, more cold, more gloom. Today, for the first time since last Sunday, I got out of the cottage and went—wait for it!—to the grocery store. Actually, a trip to the grocery is one of the highlights of my week. I like to pick out the items I want. My kids have wonderful intentions, but they come home too often with the wrong things—wrong brand, etc. I guess I’m picky. These days, the fun of driving that motorized cart adds to my shopping experience. A checkout clerk looked at me today and said, wistfully, “I could never drive one of those.” I assured her she could and would come to love it.

Today, I was doubly grateful for the scooter. We parked just a tad farther from the door than usual, and as is our habit, I walked in on Jordan’s arm. I guess it was the rain, but my hip began to hurt, and by the time we got to the vestibule of the store I was sure I couldn’t make it any farther. I stopped by a door, held on to the frame, and said, “I’m going to stay right here.” Jordan got a grocery cart and, holding on to it, I was able to walk to the scooters. But the incident upset me and stayed with me all day. I’m not sure yet if my hip failed me or my will power.

We did our shopping and went to Eatsy’s. For those who don’t know, it’s a marvelous take-out grocery. Pastries and bread in one section, “designer” sandwiches in another, a small cabinet of sushi, a long refrigerated cabinet of cheeses and snacks, lots of wine everywhere, a take-out dinner station featuring catfish as the Friday special, a coffee and tea bar. My favorite is the counter in the middle with prepared a la carte items—I got a crab cake (the saleslady, asked to choose between salmon and crab, said, “The crab is awfully good”), a goat cheese/potato croquette, a couple of slices of Mediterranean rare roast beef (at $36/lb. but I figured two small slices weren’t that much), and a mustard potato salad. Salivated at the oversize cookies at the checkout counter and now wish I’d gotten one. Jordan got wine, cheese, the same potato croquette, some shrimp. We feasted for lunch, but I have the crab and the potato cake for supper tomorrow.

This evening Jay, my handsome neighbor, brought his sister over for happy hour. Enjoyed meeting her. They come from a large family—seven children I think—but all seem extraordinarily close, which delights me. I made a salmon dip, but no one ate much, and I put it on toast and topped it with a slice of smoked salmon for my supper after they left.

Tonight I’m going to be lazy but tomorrow I must tackle my tax preparation for the accountant. I’ve done some of it, but it still looms as a big job. It’s supposed to storm again tomorrow, and I suppose whether or not I got to the funeral of a close friend’s sister-in-law depends on the weather. Jordan doesn’t like me out in slippery weather, and today’s outing discouraged me a bit

Hurry on, sunshine, where are you?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dogs, chicken, rain, and a radio show

Nasty rainy morning again. I woke in a funk to thunder, and when I opened the door so Sophie could go out, she looked at me like, “Are you crazy?” It was thundering, which made her stick close to me all morning.

When I turned on my computer, there was a message from a radio show host saying her guest for today had cancelled and would I fill in. I always believe you should take any opportunity, so I said of course. Among the many things I didn’t realize, it is a two-hour show. What I did realize is that I had better get rid of my funk. And I did.

I rearranged my day, took an early nap, with funny dreams about wet dogs out in the rain. Sophie was there, but so were several dogs I’ve loved in the past. Glad I set the alarm on my cell phone. A minute or two before three o’clock, I was on board, phone in hand. We did talk about my books, I read some blurbs and some excerpts, but, folks, two hours is a long time. I was silent a lot of that time, listening. If you want to hear part of the show (I don’t recommend slogging through all two hours), it can be found at

Shortly after the show ended, my Canadian daughter arrived for happy hour. I had barely put the appetizer in to bake. I’d bought two Portobellos with the idea of stuffing them for Jordan and me one night but never did it, so I fixed them tonight. Essentially the stuffing is a version of the standard spinach/artichoke heart dip. Recipe recommends a half mushroom as a dinner portion. I cut the two into quarters (they did NOT cut easily or gracefully) and found the serving recommendation was spot on—they are rich and filling but delicious. A recipe I’ll save. No picture, because they weren’t pretty by the time I cut through the mushrooms and the filling slid all over so that I had to spoon it back on. But oh so good.

We talked about Sue’s wedding, scheduled for June, to Teddy, whom we all adore. Jordan and I and neighbor Margaret want to do something but don’t want to duplicate what others are doing. In middle age, how many lingerie showers does she need? We settled on a couple of alternatives, plus we will entertain Sue’s folks—from Ottawa, Ontario—one night after the wedding. They are good friends of mine, and I am truly looking forward to these festivities.

It’s stopped raining, but the forecast for one more day is not encouraging. I realized this morning that had I not had the back yard landscaped with ground cover and edging, half of the dirt would have been at my patio door. And when I looked behind me, at the neighbors’ chickens, I saw that their pen was awash with standing water, though it went down by mid-day. And we got a mild version of what’s been all around us. I know about needing rain, and I’m grateful for the moisture, but oh how I long to see the sun. Maybe this weekend.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chili on a cold, rainy night

Day three of being housebound by the weather. Today was one of those cold wet days that chills you to the bone—seems like I’ve said that a lot lately. But even my cozy cottage was chilly, and I went around in a sweater all day. And it rained all day, sometimes a drizzle but other times steadily. Praise be that we missed the ice storm to our west though in some areas surrounding the Metroplex the rain was so steady that flooding was a problem. I do hope this nasty winter means a beautiful spring.

I found I can be quite social staying at home. Yesterday, Jean came for a most welcome coffee visit, and I cancelled any thought of dinner plans—too nasty to go out. The same reason caused me to cancel tonight’s standing Wednesday night dinner with Betty. But Lewis, the contractor who keeps both our houses in running order, came to install my new kitchen shelf and provided some human company this morning.

When you have limited space, as I do, a new shelf can be cause for rejoicing. This one is over my butcher block/cutting board/rolling table. The shelf let me clear off a lot of junk from the cutting board—sugar, salt, pepper, garlic keeper, etc. Looks ever so much neater. The picture above it is deliberately off-center, at my request. But the picture is original artwork from my friend Barbara Whitehead for the cover of The Gilded Cage. When we used the InstaPot the other night, I realized the art was about to get steamed into oblivion and quickly moved it.

Lewis’ visit—and we did chat a bit—was followed by John, the landscaper who is going to put in my tiny, tiny garden for lettuce and onions. We chatted a bit too, mostly about wilted lettuce and the salad his mom made that sound similar but with cabbage instead of lettuce. I’m waiting to hear an estimate from him. I’ve no doubt it will be the most expensive lettuce I’ve ever eaten, but once installed, I hope I can keep the small space full of vegetables, even after the lettuce dies out in June.

This morning Jordan said it was a day to have chili for supper. I volunteered to cook, but Christian wanted to do it. A little after five, Jordan came out with a basket of groceries—Christian would be late and couldn’t cook. So we made hurry-up chili. She makes a great sous chef.. By 7:30 we served a credible pot of chili, but I laughed at the “service” and told Jordan her grandmother would have thrown up her hands in dismay. Saltines in their wrapper and sour cream in the carton. I think I’m a casual person, but sometimes my mom comes to mind reminding me of manners. When I was a kid, we had linen tablecloth and napkins for dinner, and nothing ever was served in the store contained. Ah, but it’s only one of the many ways life has changed—and a minor one at that in the overall scheme of things.

I anticipate one more housebound day, and I’m almost looking forward to it. I’ve got my routine down. But I will be glad to get out of the house and into the world. Friday, grocery shopping. Saturday, a funeral. Sunday, church. Life is pretty exciting.

Jordan said today she had a moment of reflection and thought how lucky she was to have such a good husband who, when it seemed necessary, uprooted their lives and moved into my house—and believe me, it was a big upheaval for all of us. Then she said, she thought about the scary days when my kids feared I’d never get back to being myself, and she realized how grateful and happy she is. All of us are well and flourishing. Her question was, “Now who can I reach out to and help?” That’s my girl. And a big hug of gratitude to Christian for being who he is.

I too am blessed…and happy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Flotsem and Jetsem

Woke up to a gray, drizzly morning, and nothing changed all day, except that occasionally it rained a bit harder. Suddenly, as I write, it came down hard but not for long. We have been surrounded, though, by areas of damaging storms, so I guess I must be thanksful. I am appropriately grateful for the moisture but now ready for it to end. It is supposed to last all week however.

I thought a record was being set today—the first day in the year and a half that I’ve been in the cottage that I didn’t see Jordan all day (except when she’s been out of town). She sent Jacob out this morning to raise my blinds (I can’t get to them in my Rollator or with my walker—too much furniture in the way). But tonight, she came out for two seconds to lower the blinds (she is more security conscious than I am) and give me a hug.

I’m having what could be viewed as a bleak week or a productive one, depending on how you look at it. The only thing on my calendar all week is dinner with Betty tomorrow night (pending weather) and happy hour with Sue and Teddy the next night. Long days at home, with no lunch breaks. But Jean came to chat over coffee this morning, so I had some human company, and last night Jordan shared a glass of wine and a long calendar planning session—way up into July. So tonight, as I sat alone in my slightly chilly cottage (I forgot to turn the heat on when the temperature suddenly plummeted) I was content as I ate defrosted leftover hamburger stroganoff and a salad.

I fiddled yesterday away, spent too much time on Facebook because I am so caught up by what the Parkland, Florida surviving teenagers are doing and by the fallout from Mueller’s Friday indictments. Those teenagers are amazing, and of course now they’re getting the slings and arrows of American conservatives and Russian bots. I think they’re tough, though, and they’ll lead us to the future.

But today I wrote, making real progress on my novel-in-progress, with notes on where I’ll take it tomorrow. Plus I have embarked on an organizational process with the cookbook I keep alluding to. I want to get it all in one file, so I can see where I am with it, what I need. A good workday.

This morning, for my own satisfaction, I looked up bot. It’s the larva of the botfly, which somehow seems appropriate to me. But a alternative meaning is a robotic internet program which repeats automated messages. The Russian bots increased dramatically within thirty minutes of the Florida shooting, stirring up the gun controversy in this country. Thanks very much, Russia, but we needed no help in making it an acrimonious, bitter divisive issue.

Two subjects are supposedly verboten on the internet—politics and religions. So here I go. I saw a post this morning by a man who said that at last we have a God-fearing president. I wrote politely and asked him how he knew and got back an almost illiterate answer that ended with “God bless even you.” I wrote and thanked him. But it struck me that’s my big difference with evangelicals: they believe in a judgmental God, separate from us, who is just waiting for us to mis-step so he can punish us. I believe in a loving God who is in each of us and we are each in him.

The political issue that gnaws at me is the puzzle of why 45 hasn’t done anything except crow about his own innocence (still in doubt) in light of Mueller’s indictments. It’s an information war, folks, and we are under attack. I’ve read several articles about the steps that any real president would have immediately taken: imposing the neglected sanctions, ordering stricter protections on voting this fall, etc. And Congress has done nothing about his inaction.

Don’t you feel that you’re living in suspended animation, waiting for the next indictment or whatever to drop? I wake up each morning thinking something stupendous will happen that day. One day, I’ll be right.

With that thought in your mind, sleep tight.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A new Blue Plate Café Mystery

I am excited to tell you about the new Blue Plate Café Mystery, Murder at the Bus Depot, due out as an ebook and in paperback print on April 6. You can pre-order on Amazon now.

Here’s the cover and a brief synopsis.

Is the depot a symbol of the worst episode in a town’s history or does it stand for revitalization, bringing the citizens of Wheeler together with pride in their community?

Kate Chamber’s trouble antenna go up when Dallas developer Silas Fletcher decides to help “grow” Wheeler. She and her brother-in-law, Mayor Tom Bryson, have less spectacular and drastic ideas for revitalizing the town. When Old Man Jackson dies in an automobile accident, the specter of the past comes back to haunt the town. Thirty years ago, Jackson’s daughter, Sallie, was murdered at the bus depot. The murder is still unsolved.

Kate and Silas clash over almost everything, from the future use of the abandoned depot to a fall festival celebrating Wheeler.

Another murder at the depot blows the town apart, and Kate know she must do something to solve the murders and save her town, let alone the festival she’s planning. And maybe to save her own life.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cooking away the grief

Vigil in Parkland, Florida

When my mother’s first husband, my brother’s father, lay dying from a WWI wound, my mother was in the kitchen baking a chocolate cake—her way of dealing with overwhelming grief. At least, that’s the story I’ve always been told. I’m my mother’s daughter, because this weekend I took my small part of the national grief over the Parkland shootings to the kitchen. No, it didn’t make things any better or the grief any less, but it kept me occupied.

Friday night with guests for supper I made the easiest chicken and rice dish ever—recipe below. My guests raved about it, and I have two and a half chicken tenders left, which I intend to use for a chicken salad lunch tomorrow.

Saturday was all about food. Jordan and I mixed our signals—I thought we were eating together Thursday night with Christian busy, so I suggested mushrooms on toast. She turned out to have plans but got the mushrooms anyway, and then began to say “You better cook those.” So my decadent Saturday lunch was mushrooms on toast. I saved enough mushrooms to go with our roast tonight—only Jordan and I eat them. Saturday night I made myself ham patties—an experiment but so easy and so good. That recipe as well as the chicken one will go in my cookbook.

After church today we went to Pearl Snap, a kolache shop that was closing as we got there but let us in. I had been counting on a ham pattie for lunch and went reluctantly, but the bread part of the kolache tasted exactly like my mom’s dinner rolls. Nostalgia! I still came home and ate one pattie to see how they held up. Good.

Tonight, is a big deal, an experiment. I had toyed with the idea of getting an InstaPot but decided against it—I have no room, and I certainly have the time for long, slow cooking. But my brother, having gotten one for his wife, his daughter, and his son, decided I had to have one. I have to admit right here that he also got me a bidet over my objections—and I love it!

We solved the space problem rather easily. The InstaPot lives on the low-down shelf in my butcher-block cutting board. When I want to use it, it trades places with my induction hot plate. The learning curve was another matter. I gave Christian all the instructions this afternoon, including a recipe for roast with potatoes and carrots. We started at 5:45; we ate dinner at 8:45. That 55-minute roast took a tad longer than we anticipated. The InstaPot was not instant.

Christian cooking
We had accounted for it being a trial run which would go a bit slow. We had not accounted for the test run, the sauté cycle, the vegetable cycle, and the reduction sauce. By the time we ate we were ravenous and all a bit cranky. But the carrots were delicious, the potatoes nice and soft, the sauce or gravy wonderful! The meat was flavorful and tender enough though it could have been a bit more so. For a first time, it was a pretty darn good meal.

Confession: Christian did it all, with me watching closely. I’m not sure I’m ready to cook a meal, but I sure learned a lot. I need recipes to choose from and will work on that. One of my neighbors is in love with her InstaPot and stands ready to help. Maybe next Sunday’s dinner.

Meantime, I’m exhausted, maybe from a bit of extra wine while we waited for dinner, maybe from hunger, maybe from a long day. ‘Night all. Sweet dreams. I feel it in my bones—good times are coming. I’m almost but not quite ready to break out a chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again!”

That chicken recipe:

Our InstaPot dinner
1 box Uncle Ben’s Original Wild Rice, Fast Cooking if you can’t find Original

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 lb. chicken tenders.

Mix rice and seasonings thoroughly with the two soups. Put in oven-proof dish (I used one that fit in my toaster oven). Salt and pepper chicken tenders and lay on top of the rice mixture. Cover dish tightly with foil. Bake two-and-a-half hours at 275. No peeking or you’ll ruin it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


            I read an article about an elementary school teacher who asks her students each Friday to write down who they would like to eat lunch with next week, be partner with in reading, be on a team with, and so on. Friday nights, she sorts the papers. No, she’s not looking for the most popular kid. She’s looking for the kids whose names never appear, those shunned, lonely, perhaps bullied children who need her special attention. Those are the children who are “othered.” She pays special attention to them.

A friend of mine teaches English at a religiously-affiliated school. She has a transgender student who has had to sit through committee meetings while faculty representatives discuss what bathroom she should use, whether she is a danger to herself and to other students. She is being “othered.” My friend is encouraging her to write about the experience as her semester project, on the theory that exploring her feelings about it will help her sort out what has happened to her.

Nikolaus Cruz, the Parkland, Florida shooter, was “othered.” His parents and stepmother all dead, from what we know he tortured animals, was obsessed with guns, and mentored with a racist supremacy group. Psychiatrists would probably tell you many of his actions were cries for attention. His threats to kill people might be interpreted as “Pay attention to me—I am important too.” His family, society, even the FBI failed him; schoolmates apparently thought him weird and reported him as did a You Tuber, but no one paid attention. He was “othered,” an outcast in society. He took out his anger in the most tragic way imaginable.

No, I’m not saying he is not responsible for his actions nor that society bears the responsibility. Nor am I enough of a bleeding-heart idealist to think that he would have dramatically changed if he’d gotten help at a younger age. But compassion somewhere along the way might have prevented his horrendous action or at least resulted in help for him. We’ll never know.

The article I read about the elementary teacher suggested she in her own way was preventing future school shootings by catching “othered” children at a young age and working to restore their self-esteem.

When was the last time you reached out to a child—or an adult—who was an “other”? Maybe a cup of coffee or a lunch date or even a casual conversation might make the difference. It’s a chance for us to get out of ourselves and pay attention to those around us. It’s a challenge.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Overwhelmed Blogger

Make new friends, but keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold

I’ve missed a couple of nights of blogging, maybe more, and I think it’s in part because this has been an overwhelming week nationally. When I did blog, it was mostly out of outrage, and I apologize for that—sort of. I am weary of people who won’t speak out for their beliefs because they don’t want to offend someone.

On a more pleasant note, this has been a week to treasure old friends. One night three friends and I went to dinner at a restaurant some distance away—we were chef-chasing, because one of us really liked this chef at another location. The restaurant experience was not good—the waiter spilled ice water on two of my friends, the waitress confessed that she didn’t like the chicken fried steak (well trained staff), they forgot the happy hour prices, etc. Food was okay, not great, but we’ll not make that trek again.

The evening was rescued by the fun of being together. I’ve known these ladies close to thirty years, at a guess. I first me one of them, and she introduced the second. Meantime I was already long friends with the third. Now they are all fast friends with me and with each other. It’s a joy when you bring people together. We laugh, we talk about serious matters, we enjoy, and we go home refreshed.

Next day I had lunch with a forty-year friend. As I wrote in the blog earlier, the lunch was marred at least for me by a strong political difference, but there is still the tie of shared experiences, a past of years that cannot be erased. When I brought my first child home from the adoption agency and didn’t know a thing about caring for babies, she left her child with her mom and came to help me. Our children grew up together. We saw each other through many personal ups and downs. Today’s polarizing politics can’t undo those ties, thank goodness.

Ethnic dining was on my agenda this week too. Betty, my weekly dining companion of some twenty-five years, and I went to Tokyo Café, always a favorite. I discovered something new to me on the menu—a Bao Bun. Essentially smoked brisket wrapped in dough, baked, and served with a wonderful teriyaki sauce. The next day neighbor Mary (a relatively new friend of say five or six years but still valued) and I went to King Tut, and I enjoyed sambosa with cucumber sauce and tabbouleh. Hadn’t been there in a long time.

Tonight, a reunion with old friends, both, like me, the ex-wives of osteopathic physicians. I see one of them from time to time, after a space of many years, but hadn’t seen the other in years. Talk about old friends! I’ve known these ladies since probably the mid-to-late seventies. We had great fun talking about old times and catching up on the present and children and grandchildren. Yeah, we talked about those ex-husbands a bit too, but there was lots of laughter and little regret.

I am fortunate to have had so many friends last a lifetime, and I count my blessings every day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Grief and Outrage

No real blog tonight. I was going to write about the joy of old friends, but it seems somehow trivial in the face of the latest school shooting, one with a high number of victims. I grieve for those students in Florida, for the families who lost children, for the children left behind to live in fear that will haunt them forever. I grieve for my country, where one apparently-deranged person can wreak havoc and ruin so many lives.

I am outraged, but I’ve been outraged before. What good does it do me or the country? I am outraged at those legislators who have pocketed NRA money. I am, in a fit of anger, outraged at anybody who voted these fools into office, which pretty much means any Republican voter. How can they? I want to cry out to the heavens. (I have one dear, dear relative and several friends who voted Republican; some will talk to me about it, but others will not).

I think of my grandchildren. One in college, one in high school, three in middle school, and two in elementary school. They are all vulnerable, though the worst threat so far to the college girl was a man sighted on campus with a sword. Slightly archaic but give me swords over guns any time. But it’s a bit scary to think of them heading to school every day.

I am tired of “We need our guns for self-protection,” and “We have to be able to hunt.” I used to be sympathetic to those arguments, but no more. We need to get rid of guns in the hands of private citizens. Sure, criminals will still get them but in dramatically smaller numbers, and we stand a good chance of keeping them out of the hands of the mentally ill. Look at the buy-back program in Australia or the effective gun control that’s been working in England for years. No, it’s not an impossibility. Internationally, we hold a lot of honors—like the most mass shootings, the most gun deaths.

I know we cannot blame the Trump administration for these shootings, since they started years before. But this administration just did relax controls so that now it is easier for the mentally ill to obtain weapons. I do blame Trump and him alone for setting the mood in this country where it’s okay to be angry, belligerent, hateful and spiteful, and to act on your anger.

I’d been thinking about Trump today before the shooting, and it occurred to me there’s so much about him to dislike, so many changes he has wrought that destroy our democracy, our country, and our way of life. But, unfortunately, they are mostly things that cause us to wring our hands and gnash our teeth. But two things stand out to me as treason, before the Mueller report is even in (which I expect to confirm collusion and more):

Trump has refused to enact the sanctions imposed on Russia by Congress for meddling in our elections (which they are apparently poised to do again, without any concern from the White House), and he has exposed our country to security risks in the guise of highly placed staff who apparently cannot get security clearances. I know nothing of Rob Porter (except that I despise him), but Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has known, established ties to Russia and no security clearance. Does Donald Jr. have a clearance, he who said they get all their money from Russia these days? (45 should teach his sons to button their lips).

How long as a country do we allow a traitor to sit in the White House and undermine all that we hold dear? Please hurry, Mr. Mueller. And please, those of you who thought your vote didn’t matter, turn out in mass numbers this fall. My grandchildren are depending on you—and so are your children and grandchildren.

Oops, no blog, but I certainly did carry on.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When your stereotype meets reality

Politics came up and hit me in the face today, or maybe it wasn’t so much politics as a whole way of looking at life. I lunched with a woman I’ve known for over fifty years. Younger, we were close, but our lives took us in different directions. Still the bond was there, and we get together every occasionally.

To give her credit, she did not bring up politics. I did. We were talking about my books, and I mentioned that Pigface and the Perfect Dog is in part about open-carry (weapons, not alcohol), and she said she could see how that could offend some people. I know she’s conservative, so I figured she supports the NRA. Should have kept my mouth shut, but I said these days it’s crucial to speak out about our beliefs. If people turn away from my books because I’m a progressive, so be it. One thing led to another, and she said she thinks Trump is doing all the right things.

I was appalled. Speechless. My stereotype of Trump supporters is an uneducated man in a gimme cap or woman with bleached blonde hair, both wearing tight T-shirts with obscene slogans, probably the F-bomb. Here she was—someone I’ve known almost all my adult life, grey-haired, well-dressed, educated, a grandmother (we share grandkids stories a lot—safe ground for us). I managed to ask how she, a good Christian (she and her husband are active in a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian congregation) could support a man who is a proven philanderer and liar. She shrugged and said, “He’s all we have right now.” I wanted to scream that no, he’s not. She explained, “I don’t believe America can support the whole world.” I swallowed what I thought—in this global world, how can we not? We’re past the age where isolationism will work.

Finally, I said, “It’s hard for me. I feel so passionately about it,” and she replied, “It’s hard for me that you feel so passionately about it.” We were at a stalemate, and eventually as gracefully as I could manage I steered the conversation in other directions. But that lunch has shaken me to my core. My heart and head are full of things I want to say—about love and compassion, about caring for others, about the dangers of isolationism, destruction of the environment, nuclear threats, about tearing apart people’s lives and robbing them of medical care. Fortunately I remembered Mark Cuban’s words (of all people, since I’m not a sports fan) to forget about converting Trumpers and aim your concern at the lethargic people who didn’t vote.

Still, when my daughter asked how lunch was, all I could say was, “It was difficult.”

On a brighter note, some authors will do anything to get into print. My letter to the editor was in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today. It was—as you may have guessed—in support of a progressive topic: the protection of Dreamers, and the verbal support Texas Senator John Cornyn has given them so far. I want to see him put those words into action now that the Senate is debating the immigration issue. No, I’m not too hopeful.

Guess I’ll have a glass of wine, eat some good leftovers, and read a good book. And maybe write a conciliatory email. It’s the progressive thing to do. Happy Fat Tuesday folks. Eat all those pancakes!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What happened to that wintry mix?

The Reverend Dr. Russ Peterman, new senior minister of Fort Worth’s University Christian Church, must be feeling a bit of extra blessing today. The morning of his formal installation and acceptance of the call to the church dawned as winter mornings can—cold and damp, with the threat of a wintry mix hanging over us. Just before we left for church, the sky began to spit sleet. But when we emerged from that impressive service, with spectacular music, the sun shone brightly in a clear sky, as if to join the chorus welcoming Dr. Peterman.

Jacob was privileged to be an acolyte this morning. Where I sat I had a clear view of him throughout the service, though I couldn’t get him to look at me, let alone smile. He sat admirably still without fidgeting through what was a very long service and even appeared to be paying attention to the sermon. He said afterward he liked that “old guy” who preached. (We must work on his age sensitivity.) I had to tell the lectern minister afterward that I was not staring at her. It was that darn cute acolyte!

Russ Peterman came to the church in December, a time when there is too much else on the church calendar to schedule an installation. Having it in February provided a bright spot in a dull, gray month. There’s just something about winter.

My dad, a doctor, was also the administrator of the hospital at home. He twisted that old saying, “A green Christmas means a full churchyard,” to be, “A green Christmas means a full hospital.” We didn’t often have a green Christmas in Chicago, but Dad felt personally responsible for the hospital’s daily census, Christmas snow or not. While he never would have wished ill health on anyone, he was acutely aware that the institution’s income depended to some degree, probably large, on the daily census.

Once sitting quietly at home, he said to me, “Judy, go call the hospital and ask what the census is.” I drew the line. I could just hear the guffaws if I, then maybe twelve, called and said prissily, “This is Judy MacBain. Could you tell me the census?”

Winter or not, Sundays are often cooking days for me, and today was no exception. Last night I made salmon cakes for my supper. I’ve been making them all my life but found a new way—instead of whole eggs, use whipped egg whites. I thought it would make the cakes light and fluffy. Problem: I have the mixer, but I couldn’t find the beaters—they must be in the house. So I ended up making cakes the usual way—even forgot to grate the fresh ginger I’d bought. But as I proved today, there’s nothing like a cold salmon patty on rye bread with mayo for lunch. Then I unearthed a bar of dark chocolate with raspberries and ate twice my daily portion. Terrific lunch.

On to dinner. It was one of my cooking triumphs in the cottage, though it strained my facilities to their stretching point. I adjusted a stroganoff recipe to substitute hamburger for tenderloin—a slight price point difference. The recipe served six, and Jordan pointed out that I should have halved it. As it is, if you want leftovers, just call me. But it was really good. Christian baked asparagus, and I fixed a salad. The hardest things about the stroganoff were adjusting to one burner, trying to keep the noodles hot while I reheated the meat, so I could add the sour cream at the last minute, and transferring a huge pot of noodles from hot plate to sink to drain. I can do it, but tonight Jordan helped me. And she did the dishes—which in the cottage means hand-washing. Such a good girl.

Stay warm and have a great week starting tomorrow.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Winter, pause for thought, and a thought on vanity

            It’s a wintry cold day in Fort Worth, the kind of damp cold that chills to the bone, or as old-timers would say, to the marrow. A morning trip to the grocery made me cold for the day. My cottage is cozy, but it has lots of windows, and since it’s an old structure at heart, it’s drafty. I long for a fireplace, but there’s no room for it.

My ego has suffered a terrible blow. A couple of weeks ago, Jacob confided he had asked a certain girl to be his valentine. When I asked what that meant, he shrugged and said he’d probably take her to dinner. I heard no more about it, but Jordan announced the other day that she and Christian would be going out that night, and I would have Jacob for supper. Valentine’s happens to be a Wednesday (and also, in an odd twist, Ash Wednesday). That’s the night my weekly dinner pal Betty and I go to supper, and she said Valentine’s didn’t matter. So I asked Jacob if he’d like to bring said girl to dinner with me and his “Aunt Betty.”

The answer was a definite negative shake of the head. I have to say it was delivered with one of his charming smiles and a sparkle in his eye. But he was clearly appalled at the thought. “Why?” I asked. “Is it because we’re old.” The head shake was affirmative this time, though the grin stayed in place.

I have to admit I was taken back. I don’t think of myself as old, and it . .. well, it hurt my feelings a bit, that he sees that as my defining characteristic. Jordan said he wouldn't even let his parents take them to dinner and is trying to get up some groups event. Still, I’ll have to get his oldest cousin to talk to him. Once last summer she drove over from Frisco to have supper with me, and when I thanked her for coming all this way to see an, old lady, she assured me I’m fun. Maybe when Jacob’s eighteen instead of eleven!

I’ve been thinking about the occupant of the White House and vanity. A friend posted that 45 has done so much bad that people attach anything bad to him, whether it’s his fault or not. I agree, but he bulls through life with such belligerence and such lack of grace that it’s hard to muster any sympathy.

I saw a picture the other day of him boarding his plane. The wind was up, and it played havoc with his hair, exposing the very bald back of his head. I might feel sympathy for another man—or woman—similarly exposed, but all I could think was what crashing vanity compelled him daily to construct that elaborate and unattractive hairdo. Why doesn’t he adjust to baldness, like thousands of others do? Or at least wear a hat.

Thought for the day: The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. So, folks, adjust your sails and stay warm this wintry weekend. And, Mr. Trump, get a fedora.

Friday, February 09, 2018

A good news day

Today was a good news day on two counts: this morning I finally mastered posting a print copy of my forthcoming mystery, Murder at the Bus Depot, on Amazon through their Create Space program. Well, maybe mastered is a bit of an exaggeration, but I came a lot closer than I did with yesterday’s frustrating attempt. I produced (I think) a book where the pages almost match evenly and fit inside the margins as they should. The cover fits. When I ran the preview, I did not get any intimidating warnings that this, that, or the other was wrong. I learned that I can format a book on Word in 8.5 x 5.5. Who knew? I thought all Word documents were 8.5 x 11. I am obnoxiously proud of myself for this accomplishment. I sent all proof copies to my publicist because she has review requests, so it will be a while before I can see my accomplishment and judge for sure.

Eye doctor this afternoon, and I got a good report, though at first the tech scared me half to death. She seemed surprised that I can’t yet see out of that eye; then she took the pressure and asked, sort of accusingly, if I’d used eye drops today. I assured her I’ve been religious about the eye drops. Then she reported the pressure in that eye was too high. By the time I saw the doctor, I was half convinced I would lose the sight in my right eye and was one of the surgeon’s statistically rare complications.

The doctor was most reassuring. The swelling has gone down, external and internal, by over half; at least half the pooled blood has been absorbed. The pressure is high, not to the point of alarm but requiring a new drop. But it’s because of the blood in the eye. He said everything is healing nicely, and it’s simply a matter of being patient. Patience is not my long suit, but I can do it. So I am relieved and happy tonight.

Cold weather coming to North Texas again this weekend. Time to burrow in and stay cozy. Happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Napping after a frustrating morning

When I napped this afternoon, I had the clear sense that I was in my childhood bedroom in the house in Chicago. My mom and brother were talking softly downstairs, because sound carried in that small row house. Downstairs were living, dining, and kitchen; upstairs, three bedrooms and the house’s lone bath. The house was only sixteen feet wide, though as a kid I thought it large. Delicious feeling to be back there again, even in my dreams. I’m sure Mom had cookies waiting downstairs.

The most frustrating morning today. I decided I could do advance reading copies through Amazon’s Create Space program without hiring an expensive designer or formatter. But I ran into problems, which I thought I could solve with a quick call to Amazon. Hah! There is no such thing as a quick call to Amazon, though their support service is willing and hepful. Still, I spent almost the entire morning on the phone, being bounced between techs at Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. By eleven, still in my pajamas, I reluctantly cancelled my lunch arrangements. I finally got it done and ordered the copies that were really needed last week, but it’s not a lovely professional job, good enough I hope for advance copies.

The market for mysteries these days is heavily skewed toward ebooks, and I honestly don’t sell many print. I’m old-fashioned enough that I want a print copy in my hands, but I’m also a realist—and today I made myself be a financial realist, balancing the advantages of print against the cost. When the book, Murder at the Bus Depot, comes out in May, it will be available in print, but I might advise for the ebook, which will be available on several platforms, not just Amazon.

I’ve been accomplishing a lot this week, and my other triumph for the day is that I finished the novel I’m editing for friend and fellow author Cindy Bonner. Cindy published several good novels in the nineties, until life called her to other occupations. Now she’s back to writing, and I’m delighted. The novel follows a Texas boy to England where he flies for the RAF in WWII, meets a Canadian female pilot, eventually flies for the USAAF. It’s compelling well done, accurate and convincing about the business of flying and life in England at the time. I look forward to seeing it in print. Meantime, though, Cindy’s agent advises it’s too long, and I’m charged with the task of helping her cut a whole lot of words. Yikes!

Tonight I’m allowing myself the fun of playing with recipes. French onion panade, anyone? Perhaps Fettucine Alfredo is a bit more accessible.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Mom, the Great Depression, and the Trumpeter

A hopeful sign of spring
My spider plant got left out in the cold
but one brave shoot is poking its head up
Spring and good times are coming
Like many Americans, my reaction to the dramatic drop in the stock market ranged from disappointment (there’s that trip I wanted to take my daughter on and my friends who wanted to replace the windows in their house) to mild and brief panic. No, I am not old enough to remember the Great Depression, but my mom lived through it, and I have heard the stories. More directly, I saw the lifelong impact it had on her.

Born in 1900, Mom was in her thirties in the years of the Depression, a mother at thirty-two, a widow at thirty-four. The years of scraping by and making do showed in her housekeeping. She hated to throw out leftovers and would squirrel them away in small containers in the back of her fridge. In her later years, we would periodically clean out those containers and find many with mold growing. When I was a young wife and mother and would say of leftovers, “Just pitch it,” she mocked me and finally made me see the error of my ways. Her frugal habit is surely the origin of my soup of the week—I collect and freeze leftovers and put them all together when there’s enough to make a pot of soup with the addition of broth or canned tomatoes (this week it definitely tastes of lamb).

Mom re-used paper towels. She’d clean a spot on a counter or something and then stash the slightly-used paper towel in a special place she had for them. Spill on the floor? Out came one of those slightly used pieces of towel. She saved bits of string. And foil? The smallest pieces were saved and re-used. Of course, she washed out plastic bags when they became available. Socks beyond darning (who has a darning egg these days?) became dust rags, great for running your hands over stairs.

Mr. Trump would be in the cross-hairs of Mom’s ire for many reasons, among them the fact that he has not taken responsibility for this historic drop in the market the way he was quick to take credit for the meteoric rise in the Dow Jones. The rumor that he once said a president in office when the market dropped a thousand points in a day should be shot into the air from a cannon is that—a rumor, or as he likes to say, “fake news.” But he does consistently ignore that the rise in the market began well back in the Obama years—he probably dismisses the  calendar and history. I’m sure he’ll never mention any possible connection between his disastrous tax bill and the market fail.

I saw a cartoon on Facebook recently that should give us all pause. It showed a homeless person, asleep on a park bench, covered by newspapers for just a bit of warmth. The caption suggested that instead of measuring our economy by how well the wealthiest among us are doing, we should measure by how the poorest are doing—or not doing.

Food for thought.