Friday, August 31, 2018

Voted off the island

Several years ago, when there weren’t as many Alters as there are today—grandchildren and all, you now—we used to draw names for a gift exchange at Christmas. One year, one beloved daughter-in-law inadvertently was left off the list and wrote plaintively to ask, “Was I voted off the island?”

Remember that TV show? I can’t call the name, but it had to do with marooning groups of people in challenging situations and seeing how they survived. Each week, one of each group was voted off the island.

Well, I’ve apparently been voted off a technological island. For about six months, I’ve noticed that my emails to some people go into their junk mail. I check my junk mail daily, but you’d be surprised at how hard it is to get others to do it. Excuses range from not knowing how to forgetting. But now there’s a new wrinkled to my problem.

My emails to writers’ groups—one large, one small—and to select individuals simply do not go through. I finally asked an administrator of the small list, and she checked, said my name has a B next to it, indicating mail bounced back. This means I happily send mail off not knowing if it will reach its destination or not, and I have no idea who might be trying to write me. I wrote my three distant children today, and they apparently got the email—I heard back from all three. And it seems mail sent from my phone goes through but not from the laptop, but the tiny keyboard on the phone is a problem for my clumsy fingers.

I reported it to IT at TCU, where my server is, but of course I reported it just before they shut down for the long weekend. Sigh. Nothing will be done until Tuesday, and even then, it will be slow because they’re experiencing the usual back-to-school rush of problems. My timing is incredibly bad, and I am left not knowing who hears me and who doesn’t. Are you there, world?

No wonder I keep going back to bed.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Pomp, circumstance, and the ridiculous

I’m a sucker for pomp and circumstance. I like the formality, the sense that such ceremonies carry on traditions, speak to our values. And I like Joe Biden. So it’s no wonder I teared up today when I saw the clip of him tearing up while delivering an eulogy at the Arizona service for John McCain. It was all done in such good taste, with such control, the widow composed as she laid a cool cheek against the casket. And then came Meghan, the daughter, who completely fell apart. Someone remarked that we all grieve in different ways,, and I thought yes, but she should have been given a moment of privacy rather than having her momentary breakdown broadcast to the nation.

By coincidence, I saw a Craig’s List ad for actors in the Phoenix area, with the note that they would be expected to perform some protest activities. Tell me, please, that nobody was hiring people to protest at the funeral. I heard of no such activity.

I have been fascinated, too, with accounts of McCain’s 106-year-old mother. I admire strength, and she is obviously one strong woman. She is expected to attend the services in DC, and I want to wave and say, “I”ll be there too.” For I will, via TV.

I think the pomp and circumstance surrounding this death is particularly important. It points up to the nation that we’ve lost a hero, a man who put country above party and self, a man who embodied the best of what we think of as American values. No, I didn’t always agree with him on issues—he was too militaristic for me, too much of a war hawk, and I didn’t like his stance on abortion. And we won’t even discuss his misbegotten choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate. But I always trusted that the decisions he made came from deep conviction and carefully thought-out positions.

IN death, as in life, he stands in stark contrast to those who would now run our country, and much as I am against politicizing any death, I hope the voters remember this at the polls in November. We must take our country back to save ourselves—and in so doing we can honor John McCain.

And on to the trivia for the day. Remember when the Barnett Shales was discovered, and gas beneath our property was going to make us each a fortune? Yeah, I sort of forgot too. But today I got my annual royalty check--$2.04. Out of my way! I have to get to the bank!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The treasure of friendship

This lovely orchid on my desk greets me every morning.

I’ve always known my friends are important and valued, but I’ve had two strong and different lessons in the healing art of friendship recently.

For years it’s been my custom to go to dinner with Betty on Wednesday nights, a ritual we both enjoy. Recently as circumstances dictated, we added Jean to our plans. This week we were to go on Tuesday, since I had Wednesday-night plans. But I begged off. I just couldn’t think about what I wanted to eat, wasn’t sure of the idea of a restaurant. Lately I’ve become a bit afraid to venture out for fear of an instant need for bed or bath.

So those two ladies brought their cheerful selves and supper to me. When Betty asked what I wanted I replied “Soup,” so she said Panera. I looked at their Tuesday soup selections and chose corn chowder, broccoli cheese, or tomato basil and asked to be surprised. So Betty and I had corn chowder—it was delicious, though I only ate about half.

We talked about a lot of things, and we laughed a lot, but we did not spend a lot of time talking about how I feel. Because I spend a lot of time idly at the computer, I told them bits of trivia they hadn’t heard. We talked about my latest possible/probable project—shh! Can’t tell yet—and I described the dog kerfuffle of the other day. It was light girl talk, but it made me realize a few things: I’m tired of eating alone, I get lonely in my cottage all day every day, and my imagination runs wild when I spend too much time alone.

Today was a totally different experience, and one I worried about. Friends from Houston were coming to take me to lunch—since I seem to wear out as the day goes on, we switched supper to lunch, These are people I’ve known professionally through Texas Institute of Letters and other connections and, more recently, on Facebook. Babette Hale and I share several interests—we both write fiction, though her is more refined than my mysteries, we are both interested in food, and we love dogs. I think that’s where we forged an online friendship—over my Sophie, and her lab, Rosie.

Leon Hale is a longtime (over sixty years) columnist for first the now-defunct Houston Post and then the Houston Chronicle. Now ninety-seven, he’s been retired for four long years—shoot, he lasted longer than I did. Leon’s columns were personal—whatever struck his fancy, interesting people he met, food, animals, you name it. He mostly wrote six columns a week, and he has a wide and loyal following. He has several collections in print, a cookbook memoir, and at least one novel, Bonney’s Place.

To tell the truth, he is a revered grandfather of Texas letters and together they are a high-powered literary couple. I was a bit in awe, especially of Leon, but we had a delightful lunch and the conversation flowed freely. When he looked at me and said, “They tell me you cook on a hot plate. Must be a big one,” I knew we were off to a good start.

We were gone to lunch for two hours, and I never once thought about bed or bath, never felt sick. Didn’t eat much but liked what I did. When they brought me home, I told them I’d felt better today than I had in a couple of months. The healing power of friendship, good conversation, and a little bit of food.

A lot of lessons learned these last two days. Now to digest them—I use the word advisedly

Monday, August 27, 2018

Trouble on the playground

The injured: one grandson, one dog

The incidents: two

Over the weekend, Austin grandson Sawyer—the one with no interest in sports except his BMX bike (whatever that is)--fell off his bike exiting the bowl (no, I don’t know what that is either) and broke his right elbow and wrist. He faces four weeks in a cast. Sawyer’s big thing is the School of Hard Rock, and he had awesome guitar parts in a concert coming up in two weeks. No more. As you can tell from the look on his face, he’s bummed. And, I imagine, in some pain.

Cricket, left, and Sophie on a better day
Closer to home, it wasn’t a playground nor was it a grandchild. It was two dogs trying to exit the cottage door at the same time. We all know Sophie is wildly enthusiastic, while her two Cavalier cousins are more passive. This morning, while I was in the shower, Sophie apparently barreled out the door—and when Cricket didn’t move fast enough, Sophie simply stepped on her and fled. Now I’m pretty self-sufficient, but I wouldn’t feel good about being left in the shower. Jordan got me out, then turned to Cricket who was hiding between the commode and the wall. She carried her inside, came back to report they thought her leg was broken, but it would be three hours before the vet could see her.

Finally, a verdict: sprain, agitated arthritis in one hip and leg. Treatment: rest and meds for a week. Cricket is fine with that—sleeps in the middle of the floor, allows herself to be carried out to potty. Sophie must have felt guilty, because she kept watch on the back deck for much of the morning.

Trivia of the day: a Canadian bride decided guests should pay for the privilege of attending her lavish wedding (wonder what etiquette book she’s been reading?). She set the feet at $1,500 and was indignant when only eight guests responded. Her indignation unfortunately found voice with several expletives. Long story short: wedding’s off (now there’s a man who dodged a bullet). The would-be bride is exhausted. I suggest she find a deserted island someplace to recover.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

A fallen hero and some incredible trivia

Like most of America, I grieve for the loss of Senator John McCain tonight, but at the same time I am filled with a sense of gratitude for his life and service and a sense of hope that out of his death some good will come. In these angry, troubled times, when we are so divided, he was a statesman par excellence. He reached across the aisle with respect for his opponents, never with petty name-calling. He truly, as President Obama has said, felt a higher calling and dedicated his life to his country, a remarkable example when we see all around us people putting party and self-interest above country.

My hope is that his death will make more Americans realize the significance of his life, the values for which he stood, the importance of the country he loved. It will be a week of pomp and circumstance, with formal ceremonies in Arizona, the body lying in state in the Rotunda in DC, and a large and public funeral on Saturday.

Some will be impatient with these ceremonies—God forbid they should interrupt sports schedules, bad enough they will interrupt regular programming, perhaps draw some off the golf course or tennis court. I for one will be watching as much as I can, and I hope many others will. We need this formality to impress on our minds the significance of the seismic change in our democracy.

I did not agree with John McCain on many things—war, abortion. I admired his health care votes until the end and can only assume he had good reason for that final vote, because he never ever took a senatorial decision lightly. In spite of our bedrock differences, I respected him, and I trusted that whatever decision he made came after study and reflection.

He was a good man. To borrow a phrase from a good friend, may he rest in peace and rise in glory

On the trivia side of this major event, did you read about the Utah senatorial candidate who proclaimed that McCain and/or his family timed the announcement of the end of medical treatment to undercut the debut of her campaign bus tour? Get over yourself, lady! How dare you? Just how dare you? She did blame the media more than the family, but that did little to blunt her words.

And on to the truly ridiculous that might be called, “Get a life.” I read tonight about an underwater chess tournament. Good gravy. Chess is difficult enough—why get soggy playing it?

Maybe we need the ridiculous to lighten our days.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lazy hazy days of summer

With August winding down and kids now one week into school, I tend to think it’s nearly fall. Nor in Texas. As I write, in the late afternoon, my outdoor thermometer says 103 and there is not even a whisper of air stirring. Still I have the patio doors open, and it’s quite comfortable.

Last night a neighbor sent pictures of her son Hayes and Jacob at the Japanese Palace, always one of my favorite restaurants. The last time I took Jacob to a Japanese restaurant, he behaved badly—ordered edamame salad, which he disliked, and fussed and squirmed and ruined our meal. So I wrote Amber I hoped the boys were enjoying—the grins on their faces certainly indicated that—and behaving. She replied they were being angels (maybe she’d had a glass of wine which blurred her vision?).

Jacob spent the night with Hayes, but when he came home today he came out to visit I asked about the dinner, and he seemed most impressed that they sat at a table where you actually sit on the floor and your legs dangle in the space under the table—don’t guess I can do those anymore. He liked it that you could learn your elbows—wait for it!—on the floor. What did he order? Shrimp?  Well, no wonder he liked it.

I’m slowly proofreading my cookbook—a chapter at a time. Wow! Sure different from proofing a novel. I’m finding lots—maybe I have changed my mind about this dish or that. And in some recipes, the instructions were left out—I’ve had to go back and reconstruct. Slow, tedious work which is why I do it a section at a time.

To relieve my boredom, I’ been reading fiction-today a cozy novel about a Renaissance Faire. Well, I was reading it until I gave up—I do not need to read one more description of a deep green gown with ribbons fluttering or hear in my head one more line of Faire-speak, “Prithee, kind sir!”. Way overdone. I wanted to get on with the action. And there is some bad dialog—suspecting a woman might be abused, one character moans, “Why do I care?” and is told, “Because you’re a woman. We all care.” I’m leaving the world of Renaissance Faires (really, I’ve read some good books on that theme) for the blood-and-guts world of English horse racing in a Dick Francis I discovered I’ve not read.

And no, I will divulge neither the title nor author of the cozy, but I will say that out of 114 reviews on Amazon, 67% are favorable. Those cozy fans are a diehard bunch, and maybe that’s why I hesitate a bit before jumping into writing another. I’m still waiting for inspiration to strike me, and perhaps it soon will.

And speaking of reviews, Murder at the Bus Depot garnered a nice one on Amazon: "Murder at the Bus Depot" is another entertaining episode in Judy Alter's Blue Plate Cafe series, and a welcome addition to the family. Alter's characters are likable and believable, and the plot twists keep you guessing. It's amazing that so much drama can go on in such a small East Texas town.”

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hello, world!

I don’t mean to fill my blog with a daily health report, but some of you have been patient with my woes so I want to share today that I woke up at seven—okay Sophie woke me—and for the first time in a long time I felt rested and ready to take on the day. In fact, I think I may even be a bit hungry, though I wish I knew what I am hungry for! It’s going to be a good day.

Alas, it’s also a bit of a nostalgic day. Jordan and I should be flying to Toronto today (leaving for the airport as we speak) but instead we’re here with that same old question, “How do you feel?”  “I don’t know—better I think.”

I have already proofed the neighborhood newsletter, found one big goof (mine, naturally), and done what I can to fix it, eaten a bit of breakfast, and am ready to move on to the major proofreading that lies ahead.

Mine is a cautionary tale, folks. We are so aware in this country of the opioid epidemic that we tend to think as long as drugs aren’t narcotics, they’re safe. Not so. This is not the first time that prescription drugs have done me in. Once before they caused hallucinations, but when the problem was discovered, and the drug discontinued, it apparently left my system quickly. It’s taking longer this time. It pays to be aware of the drugs you’re taking, to question your doctor about their use and side effects. I urge each of you to be an informed patient.

Enough about my problems. I started this post this morning. It is now evening, and all I can think of is how soon I can go back to bed. But each day gets a little better, and I got a lot of work done today. Plus, some “in my head” work not yet committed to paper. So, It’s been a good day.

A still, quiet evening. Even my friends the rats are queit. Hot temperatures predicted for tomorrow. Stay cool and optimistic, my friends. Things are getting better.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dodging a bullet and heading into Fall

My mom always said the gods work in mysterious ways, and once again life is proving her right. Since we cancelled our cruise, I’ve had two reports of strong storms in the Great Lakes. At first my casual reply was that I always loved Lake Michigan when it was wild and dark and stormy. I’d sit on a dune, arms wrapped around my dog (who probably wanted to run for shelter but was too loyal), and feel the wind whip my hair this way and that, inhale that deep-water small, watch the lake roil and boil, and hear the waves crashing against the shore. Young, I had no idea of the dangers of erosion, etc. I simply loved the energy.

I have always loved storms since, much to Jacob’s dismay. I still remember the night he outfitted my closet with wine, chair, book, and snacks for me, plus a blanket and books for him. He announced we were spending the evening there, and by gosh, there was no arguing with him, Another night, he was with me when a ferocious hailstorm hit, and next morning we discovered my family room—and a lot of books, including all my cookbooks—soggy and wet beyond recovery.

But I’ve never been much of one for being out on the water, and I certainly never was out on rough water. I’d heard from one friend that the Straits of Mackinac could provide a rough crossing in the best of circumstances, and another cautioned that rough weather might mean missed ports of call, delays, and confinement to your room with meals provided by room service. There goes all the fun. So maybe God was looking after us. Not the first time.

Meantime, back at home, we settled into the second day of middle school. Jacob has wrought an amazing change in the household, one I imagine will have long-ranging effects. Because he insisted on going out for football, he must be at school at 6:20 in the morning. Good Lord, folks, it’s still dark then! This morning he was up and dressed, without pushing or prodding, at 5:30. As a result, his dad went to the gym before work, his mom was in her office shortly after eight, and the whole household shuts down early in the evening (I am sort of immune from that).

I’ve always harbored a bit of jealousy that Sophie really thinks she is Jordan’s dog. She runs to her, sits in her lap, loves on her. Now, suddenly, she will have nothing to do with Jord. If Jord calls her, she backs out the door and stares through the screen; no treat can tempt her in. We can’t figure out what Jordan suddenly did to her—that medicine on the back of the next once a month is surely not it. Dogs are their own people, and I guess we’ll just have to let it untangle itself. But Jordan’s feelings are a bit hurt.

Cancelled cruises and all, life goes on.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Caught on the medical merry-go-round

Over the weekend, Jordan and I came to the difficult decision to postpone our Great Lakes Cruise – we were to depart Thursday. I simply didn’t feel well enough to enjoy a cruise—who wants to go on a cruise when they can’t look at food? —and it seems more important to find out the cause of my malaise, malingering, whatever it is. Accordingly, I emailed my doctor and Jordan began cancellation plans.

My general practitioner had said all along he wanted me to be seen by a gastroenterologist, and first thing this morning he said he was working on that. Last week when I asked about the cardiac medicine, he said I’d have to talk to my cardiologist. I left calls for his nurse Thursday noon, Friday morning, and again this morning. About two-thirty this afternoon, she called and in a chipper voice said to discontinue the med in question and let them know if my heart rate goes over a hundred. Simple as that.

There are a lot of “what if?” questions embedded there. What if they had returned the call Thursday? The trip would probably be still scheduled. What if the general practitioner has called the cardiologist? He’d have surely gotten a more rapid response. As it is, I can’t change mental gears fast enough, and, to me, it is what it is and what it was meant to be. I will be grateful to feel better and to know there is not some terrible underlying physical cause. I am grateful to know it wasn’t “all in my head” (we discussed that) nor because I’m not an easy traveler). One of my many faults is that I’m so willing to blame myself that I sometimes mask real illness as a weakness, a “just not feeling right,” and to determine, as I did in part this time that I just need to gut up and give myself a lecture.

A little corner of me is proud that I kept insisting my symptoms matched those for digoxin toxicity. Twi in one week I was right—about the fungus on the lawn and about my own body. It may go to my head!

Still not sure we’re giving up on Labor Day weekend in Chicago for the four Alters and their mom. Meantime, I have this lovely gap of time to fill—what really, do I want to do with my career? How do I really feel about turning eighty? All psychological hobbledygobble is off the table, and I have a novel to promote, a cookbook to proof, a life to live.

And a wonderful trip to anticipate for next spring.

Now may I please get off the merry-go-round? If you have questions or comments, please direct them to me, not Jordan. She has enough to deal with given her job and the start of school. Thanks, friends, I feel the love.

Back to school

A rainy morning as I write the blog I intended to write last night, my thoughts full of seven grandchildren going back to school this week. I’m particularly celebrating Miss Morgan Helene of Tomball, who turned into a teenager yesterday—that all-important thirteenth birthday—and starts eighth grade today. Her brother, Kegan, had a soccer tournament which he said he wanted to win for her birthday—and he did! Thirteen is such a wonderful age—sometimes so grown up but, thank goodness, still many times a kid. Morgan requested flannel one-piece pjs for her birthday, thinking ahead to how cozy they’ll be on their annual ski vacation. If she can think that in August, more power to her!

Joining Morgan and Kegan in the back-to-school rush are two boys in Austin, a high schooler in Frisco and her big sister, a university student in Colorado. And finally my local homeboy, Jacob who starts seventh grade and, over my loud protests, will play tackle football. Perhaps that is why I dreamt I went to get him at some kind of athletic practice (and my dog—don’t know how the dog got in there) and found him in a bloody bandage. Then he sort of disappeared from my dream as it turned out I had brought home the wrong dog—one with straight fur on its ears and not Sophie’s doodle curls. I think that came from marveling at Sophie’s ears yesterday.

I hope the school year for all of them is off to a better start than my dream would suggest. They are all wonderful children (what else?) and I wish them the many blessings school can bring—knowledge, friendship, lessons in life.

Went to church yesterday via the computer which I do more often than I like. I have become a believer in sitting in the front row of church. My family were always back-of-the-church people, but Christian has converted me to sitting right up front, where I can be sure both God and the preacher see me. Nonetheless, yesterday I was confined to signing my name on the roster of those who attended remotely.

The sermon, part of a series based on Ephesians, was “Words Matter,” and at one point the minister said no one in his family ever, not ever uses the word “hate”—they don’t hate people, they don’t hate broccoli—you get the idea. I remember a conversation with a grandson along the similar lines. He, a young Sophist, suggested it was a bit weak to say, “I dislike a tight collar.” I wish I had been firmer about the evils of hate—the ugly, nasty, destructive feelings the mere use of the word unleashes. A good lesson with which to start the school year.

May the school year be blessed for you and all the students you care about.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Surfing the net can be, ah, enlightening

As I wait to straighten out my stomach problems—pretty sure it’s a medication problem now, but fixing it involves going from one doctor to the other, always tricky—I’ve found myself spending way too much time on Facebook. I have friends who say to me loftily that they don’t “do” Facebook, their tone implying a sort of addiction for the weak-minded. But I have always maintained that it is good for my career and, besides, it generally interests me. You really must learn to separate the junk from the good stuff, but even the junk can give you a laugh.

Like the piece I read today where a Fox newscaster proposed that the reason America is so great today is that “we defeated communist Japan.” Oops. Someone needs some lessons in world history, particularly WWII.

And along the line of blindness, Steve Scalise wrote me upset that I have not yet sent my donation to the RNCC. Hope he’s holding his breath until he turns blue, because it will be a long, cold day before I donate to the Republican anything. Scalise, like Nunes, pleads that the Republicans might lose control of the House—not my worst nightmare by a long shot. Honest, I thought surviving that life-threatening gunshot would have “shot” some remorse or self-examination into him, but apparently not.

On an encouraging note, I read a buried post that the Pentagon has decided to postpone trump’s extravagant military parade, first scheduled for Veteran’s Day this year. They are now looking at dates in 2019. Pray God this is true, and trump is out of office before the parade can cost us much. [Update: this is apparently now, two days later, a done deal, and the parade is toast—a big of common sense lingers on the horizon, thank heaven!]

On a light note, a friend posted the “recipe” for coca-cola syrup, dating back to who-knows-when. But I was surprised it called for a quarter of lime juice—that’s a lot of limes to squeeze, back when I’m not sure margaritas or guac were that central to our diet. Add a lot of water, a quart of alcohol (type unspecified—suppose it was Everclear?), 30 lbs. of sugar (and run to the dentist), and several flavorings including neroli oil, which sounds deadly. No wonder I don’t drink it. Unfortunately, it didn’t say how much you end up with, but I get it’s enough for Coxie’s Army. Thanks, Chrissy Armstrong for a chuckle.

And thanks to another old friend from Park Hill days, Kathy Jackson, for a reminder of the days when I had a good-sized floor loom set up in my bedroom. I suspect I was never a peaceful enough soul to get into the rhythm of weaving. I consider that my loss.

Most of this blog post was written two days ago and, as happens these days, got set aside. Part of my new resolve is to blog daily, beginning today, but I just can’t waste already-written copy. So here it is, for whatever it’s worth. More to come.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A bookstore, rats and grass fungus—and a truly hot potato

No, they don’t all go together, as though there were rats and fungus in a bookstore—disgusting thought. Good news first--Fort Worth will once again be home to an independent bookstore. This, to be called Leaves, will feature books and teas—I gather everything from dry tea leaves to fresh-brewed. Waiting to for specific details but it will be located in the newly booming Near South Side area. I’m asking all my friends to support it in whatever way they can.

Now the not-so-good news: I am still hearing rats—last night their squeaking was so close, I wanted to just say, “Well, come on in.” I have seen two, looked like babies, run along the back fence—in fact, I scared a guest sitting on the couch one night by announcing, “Rat!” He ducked immediately, and I had to reassure him it was outside and wouldn’t land on his shoulders.

Out of curiosity, I look up the rat/chicken relationship and found the expected—chickens do not attract rats but their food, water, habitat does. Feeders that hang in the are best, and our neighbors use those. But I still see the chickens scratching at the ground.

The rats don’t really bother me, but it’s kind of eerie to sit and listen to them and think, “They’re out there, waiting to attack.” Like something out of science fiction of a Hitchcock movie.

I also wondered about the relationship between rats and rain, because I didn’t hear them until our recent rainy spell—call it what it was, a deluge. Generally, from what I read, heavy rains aren’t likely to bring out the roof rats, which are probably what I’m hearing. Yes, rats will leave their burrows and seek a more secure spot—like your car engine—but roof rats likely also have a home in your attic already. And they head there, not for the trees where I’m hearing them. So no explanation—there are rats out there, and if they get to be a problem I’ll call an exterminator and get those dog-proof boxes.

Meanwhile, a yard problem solved—and easily. All summer our grass has been disappearing in the back yard—not a very big space but still. Everyone had a different theory—I thought we should check for fungus (though I don’t know how you do that), Christian thought it was fragile grass (new last year) and three dogs, albeit little, peeing on it killed it; Greg, who used to be my gardener, shrugged and said, “It happens.” I got fed up, called the landscaper who put in the ground cover (and whose wife was Jacob’s first-grade teacher—we live in that kind of small world). He came by this afternoon, and I didn’t even see him glance at the grass went he went by, but he had his answer—gray leaf spot fungus. Hesitantly I asked for a price to treat it, and he said, $40. To think I could have done this two months ago, and we would have had grass all summer! He’ll treat it tomorrow.

So two up—a bookstore and an easily treatable fungus—and one down—persistent rats. Not a bad record. Hot this week, not so much so next week. I’ll take that for sure.

Ah, but the day held a final indignity. With my still uncertain stomach, I fixed a baked potato for supper—put half in fridge for tomorrow and was busily cutting up the other half getting ready to slather it with butter and yogurt and add salt and pepper. Somehow potato and plate flew off the butcher block table. The plate landed in Sophie’s water dish, and the potato I assumed was under the table. She found it before I did, prized it out from under the bottom shelf, and prepared to trot away with her prize—but it was too hot. She dropped it and proceeded to look at it in puzzlement. Telling her no at this point was useless, but I tried. She picked it up again, went a few feet and dropped it. By then I had my grabbers and did just that—grabbed it and put it in the trash. She nosed around, nibbled a few crumbs that had dropped, and went back to studying under the table, as though another potato half would emerge. I should have gotten pictures, but I was too busy trying to recover the potato. And laughing.

Cottage cheese with yogurt for supper.


Monday, August 13, 2018

‘Twas dark and dreary.. . .

I think those are the first words of a song, probably a Scottish ballad. I can hear them and the voice in my mind. Is it Alex Beaton? Perhaps singing about Glencoe when the Campbells wiped out the Clan of MacDonald? At any rate, the words perfectly describe the day in Fort Worth today, one of the darkest (literally) that I remember. Between bouts of welcome rain, the world has cowered under a thick pad of grey clouds.

It’s the kind of day when your bed calls you back, and if you have the luxury of returning there, you lie still, without moving a muscle, and realize how perfectly comfortable you are. You almost wish you had to pee for that would force you up and out of the bed. It’s the kind of day for reading in bed—if only I had once ever learned to get comfortable reading in bed—it seems my neck is always at the wrong angle.

Same song, 35th boring verse, but after a weekend of not feeling good, I really do think I’m on the mend this time. Can’t tell for sure, because who feels energetic and full of optimism on a dark and dreary day?

My uncertain stomach has kept me from cooking much, but yesterday I made my first-ever galette. I’m calling it a “cottage galette” because the size of my oven and the instruments limited its size, which is fine. I meant to use nectarines and blueberries but realized I had bought nice firm peaches. They made every bit as fine a dish.

Jordan refuses to eat cooked fruit—no fruit compote, no pies nor shortcake with peaches and cream, none of that good stuff. There’s something wrong with the way I raised my daughter. She won’t eat cooked fruit; her sister doesn’t eat “white” things—no mayo, cream cheese, goat cheese, and so on. When I tell her, she’s missing the good stuff, she sighs and says she knows it. She really wants to like goat cheese because people that do are so crazy about it.

Jordan is away on a business trip, so I thought it was time to use those good summer fruits. I asked Christian if he would eat a galette. When I ask him these questions, he always comes at the answer in a sideways manner. First, we talked about what a galette is. Then he carefully described to me the pies he does and doesn’t eat. No cherry, because the fruit gets sort of slimy—though he does eat the sauce. I wanted to demand what he thought made the cherries slimy? That very sauce he says he eats. Finally, he allowed as how blueberry and peach sounded pretty good. And last night he voted in favor of my galette. A small victory!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A magical storm

I suppose any rain in August in Texas has a magical quality to it, but today’s certainly did, at least for me. I woke in the night because I was cold and turned off the a/c. But I also woke because it was noisy outside—wind blowing, rain pouring onto my roof, maybe a dab of thunder or two. When I looked out the window, the heavens were really dumping water on us. Went back to bed and slept soundly, secure in my little cottage. This morning it was still raining but slowed to a drizzle, and Betty took me to the grocery.

I was safely home and stashing my groceries when the heavens opened up again, dumping great buckets of water on us. I simply sat and watched for a while—it was magical seeing things in the yard perk up. All that is except the grass which, for some reason, is beyond hope this summer and gets worse ever day. Several of us have theories on what’s wrong with the grass—no two theories alike. Mine is a fungus, though gardener/friend Greg says he doesn’t think so. I’m about to call in the storm troops.

But the rest of the garden loved the rain. Fittingly, I am reading a book about a magical garden in Scotland. Now, you must realize, much of my career has been spent studying the American West, and if you told me there was a magical garden in Texas, I’d scoff and dismiss you as a featherweight. But tell me it’s in Scotland, and I’m all ears. I believe in Scottish lore, in the wee people and the legends.

The book is Flowers and Foul Play, fittingly enough an entry in the Magical Garden Series by Amanda Flowers. In this, which may be the first, a Tennessee girl has come to see her inheritance—a small, almost-seaside property in Scotland left her by her godfather. The land includes a walled garden, built around a stone menhir said to stand for at least the last three centuries. The garden itself began to die the minute word came of its owner’s death in Afghanistan. When Fiona finds it, all is brown except one yellow rose that twists around the menhir and blooms brightly in defiance of the season and the locale. It bloomed, Hamish the caretaker tells her, when her plane landed on Scottish soil.

As Fiona walks along the wall of the garden, the brown ivy turns green as far as she walks. When she stops and turns, the greening stops. Wonderful, impossible phenomenon. Of course, there’s a body in the garden, and an attractive but too-brusque inspector, and you can see where all this is going. But I’m loving it.

And today there was such a parallel between my greening garden and the magical garden. Now if that magic would only reach my grass.

May your dreams be filled with greening gardens and magical wishes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A rainy day—in Texas—in August

The news is all over town. No use trying to keep it a secret. It rained in Fort Worth today, much of the day. Almost unheard of any August but particularly considered too much to ask for this year.

I was getting ready to go to the grocery when the friend who was going to take me—I can’t go alone because I can’t get groceries into the house—called and said she thought we’d better wait. She didn’t think taking me and my walker out in the rain was a good idea. I appreciated her concern, but a part of me wanted to go stand in the rain and get soaking wet. We never did make it to the grocery, because it rained until mid-afternoon. A steady but gentle rain that finally settled down into a drizzle. I see mud in my yard—mud, I tell you!

For some reason I particularly noticed that the Turk’s cap was wilted, its leaves drooping straight down without a sense of life. Tonight, those leaves are perky and standing up. Even the fig tree, which has suffered so badly, is looking better. The grass, which turned tail and quit much earlier in the summer, doesn’t look much different, alas. That’s why I can see mud.

And the temperature. I’m not sure it even got to ninety today. Since I don’t especially like meat-packing temperatures, I turned off the two ductless a/c units and threw open the patio doors, so I could drink in that heavenly smell of rain and wet plants and earth. Only thing that doesn’t smell better in the rain is the dogs, but I didn’t notice Sophie too much. She didn’t stay out long enough to get soaking, and didn’t, as she sometimes does, go crazy wild running and tearing things up in the yard and then bring all that mud into the cottage.

So it was an inside day. I’m feeling much better but still tired enough to retreat to bed several times—woke tonight at nine with a start and couldn’t figure out where I was or what time it was. And why was the TV, which automatically goes off about nine, still on? Just as I got myself oriented, the TV obediently flipped off.

A funny phone call enlivened the day. Did you all read about the couple in a small town in New Mexico who apparently stole a Willem de Kooning painting years ago and kept it hidden on the wall behind a door in their bedroom? The only way one could see it was to be in the bedroom with the door closed. The painting, definitely not to my taste, is worth something like $165 million and will be returned to the Tucson Museum of Art from whence it was stolen. Its location was only discovered upon the recent death of the woman—her husband had died many years earlier.

The couple’s last name? Alter. So when I read that story I forwarded the internet link to a niece in New York and asked her to show her dad and inquire if there was any hidden wealth in the family. He apparently laughed and said no. My own kids didn’t think it was a funny as I did.

But today, a friend from church called because he wanted to make sure I knew the story and to ask if those were relatives of my late and ex-husband. He seemed to think that at the least I would get a good mystery out of it, but intriguing as it sounds there’s not enough story there. A short story, maybe? A book, nope. I have filed it away in my mind for possible use as a subplot in another story.

The way I heard it Alter wasn’t even the patriarchal name in my ex’s family. His grandfather came over on a boat from Poland and was asked his last name. A long, complicated Polish name, so immigration officials asked how he made his living, and he said he was a tailor. “Good, we’ll call you Alter.” Years later, my ex, a surgeon, proudly wore a T-shirt that said, “Alterations by Alter.” But I digress. The point is we weren’t related to the art thieves, and ultimately nobody who was profited from the theft. One of life’s funny stories that just happened to come close to home.

Hope you all enjoyed the day as much as I did. I love rainy days. Now if I can just remember that tomorrow is Saturday, not Sunday, and I’m going to the grocery about nine-thirty, all will be well.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Disappointing rain

Thunder rumbled all around us this most of the late afternoon, and Sophie stuck right by my side, both things giving me hope that good storm was on the way. No such luck. I suspect it did rain everywhere but on us—it may even have rained next door. But our poor thirsty back yard remained bone dry.

Jordan, Christian, and Jacob have been gone all week, so it was nice to welcome them home today. Only four days, but of course I had a list of things to talk to them about. They took Jacob and a friend to Lost Pines, a resort near Bastrop or Smithville or somewhere in Central Texas. Said the boys had a blast. I gather the adults did too.

My big adventure of the day was driving to the doctor. Jordan insists I have someone come out to walk me in and, when I’m finished, walk me out. Last night, after a severe and very public episode of nausea I thought I couldn’t drive myself, but I did just fine. The doctor thinks my ongoing nausea is a medication problem, drew bloodwork, adjusted some meds, and said I should be better by Monday. There go my weekend plans for dinner with friends—I still can’t face the thought of much food, though I think I feel better tonight just knowing that help is on the way and that I'm not wasting away--I've gained four lbs. through determination to eat in spite of this. Had fruit and wine for dinner.

And just now I answered the phone to hear the familiar and dear voice of an old friend that I’ve been missing for several years. He and I both have hearing aids now, so we weren’t much good on cell phones, but I did bring him up to speed on my kids and their families. I’d been trying to contact him by email for some time but got this strange little “I can’t answer right now” and had about given up. So nice to catch up with him!

My spirits are up—maybe it’s feeling better, maybe it’s the friend, God willing maybe it’s the rain. But I feel quite optimistic tonight. Time to get seriously back to work. Why do I keep thinking this is Friday night?

Pray for rain, folks. And for peace.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Speech after long silence

Unconscionable! I’ve gone—what?—three days without blogging. That’s mostly because I had little to talk about. I pretty much am spending quiet days reading, writing a few guest blogs to promote my September 20 release, Contract for Chaos—the eighth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, if you can believe that.

My mind is so much occupied with the perilous situation of our country and what I see as the horrors of the current administration that there’s not a lot of room for much else. But I don’t want to continually blog about what a monster our current leader is. I tend to be of the school of thought that if the media would ignore him, particularly his hate-filled rallies, it would be the best revenge. He thrives on the attention, even as he rails about the fake media. But he does seem to absorb all the air in the room, the country, perhaps the universe, and letting him do that only encourages him. So no, I don’t want to blog about trump, although I wring my hands about what irreversible damage he’s doing to the environment.

Sometimes I think other countries get it so much better than we do. Two instances have come to my attention. In Portugal, they use a huge herd of wild goats to prevent wildfires. The goats eat the dry brush by which fires leap from tree to tree, so if the goats eat that brush, fires do not spread nearly as rapidly. And there’s less repellent dropped from the sky, therefore less long-term damage to the environment and the populace, less danger to firefighters, and less expense.

In several countries, wild ducks are used to control weeds in the rice fields. The ducks eat not only the weeds but their seed and do not touch the rice—hmmm, wonder who taught them to be so discriminating?

Looking for reading? I just ordered a book today called Hope Never Dies. No, it’s not a political polemic—it’s a mystery, featuring those two intrepid sleuths, Joe Biden and his sidekick, Barrack. One review described it as part dark thriller, part wonderful bromance. Certainly, memes of those two have been all over the internet and this brings their relationship to another level. Some in my writers group wondered about the wisdom of fictionalizing living characters, and I wonder about the effect if Biden does run for president. I hear on the net that he’s a popular choice, with high poll numbers, and that he’s seriously considering it. I don’t suppose a little-known mystery series would have much effect on a well-run campaign, but one never knows. Somebody said the book helps his image, but I think he already has a pretty good “Uncle Joe” image. Maybe a longer report after I’ve read it.

Right now, I’m reading S’More Murder, one of Maya Corrigan’s five ingredients mysteries. Imagine being a caterer and being asked to duplicate the last dinner on the Titanic for eight people on the client’s yacht. Naturally, murder ensues.

I’m still not quite back up to snuff. Perhaps turning eighty had more effect on me than I thought. But I will try to be more faithful about blogging and about finding interesting topics. Peace and sweet dreams, my friends

Sunday, August 05, 2018

A weekend vacation

Sometimes the power of positive thinking fails me. After determinedly announcing I felt better toward the end of last week, Friday I had to give in and admit I really didn’t feel well. I decided to take the weekend to feel better; if I didn’t, I’d call the doctor Monday. Friday, Saturday and most of today I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to. Mostly I slept—a whole lot!—and read. I didn’t worry about writing, cooking, etc. I ate very tentatively, very little. I’m making no promises to myself, but I think it worked. I’ve felt halfway human yesterday and pretty much all the way there today. After all my psychological explanations to myself—I was worried about everything from my career to my upcoming trip or so I told myself—I think I had a stomach bug. Jordan wisely asked, “Could we wait until after our trip to worry about your career?” And a wise friend said, “Stop worrying about how you’ll get on and off the boat. The crew is expert at that, and it’s their job. Just relax and enjoy.” Besides, I know Jordan takes such good care of me when we travel. Today she said I should call and get an x-ray of my hip in case we have to show it at security. Seems extreme to me, but she knows best.

Sophie has been a sympathetic companion. Saturday morning, she hopped up on the bed when it was time, she thought, for me to get up. Usually she only stays long enough to jiggle me out of bed (she’s not a good cuddler), but this time she stayed probably half an hour. She’d snuggled up close to me, and I’d think she had settled in—only to have her twitch and shift positions every two minutes. It was required that I have one hand on her at all times, and that hand had to be moving, even if only ever so slightly—petting, rubbing, scratching, some sign I was paying attention. Sometimes she’d end up with her face right in my face for a nose lick; other times she buried her head in the crook of my shoulder. You get the point—she was never still. Only when I asked, “Want to go potty?” did she jump down.

As I’ve said a thousand times, I don’t think I could live happily without a dog.

Jacob was away at camp last week, home yesterday, and leaves again tomorrow for a few days. I’m going to bake some chocolate chip cookies for him to take. Right now.

I’m increasingly disturbed by extreme trump supporters, their virulent hatred, and their blindness to the truth. Many many things about trump disturb me, prime among them his war on our environment and wild animals, but I am struck lately by the way he plays people at his rallies, whips them up to a frenzy. Jim Acosta is right—someone is going to be badly hurt. These are people it’s easy to whip up—the raw anger on their faces is as amazing and frightening as their words. Many uneducated, they truly believe he is decreasing their taxes and raising their income; they support his antagonism toward international leaders; they praise his harsh immigration policies. They seem to have no idea about future consequences and only live in the moment of their anger. I am truly worried about the future of our country, but I refuse to give up hope. Maybe, indeed, that was what was wrong with my stomach.

Peace, friends. My cookies are done—and so am I.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Watching chickens and feeling better

Not sure there's a connection between watching chickens and feeling better, but I have a great deal of fun watching the chickens outside my bathroom window. Once I found the pen empty, door open, and emailed the owner in alarm. Now, I’m more seasoned. I know they let the chickens free range in their back yard if someone is around to watch them. The other day I found a lone chicken in the pen and the other three out roaming. Had the penned one been bad, I wondered. Do you punish chickens? Surely not. Another day, I found the pen empty of chickens but the relatively new pup, who happily plays with the chickens, was trapped in the pen and obviously waiting for someone to come rescue him. It occurs two me that the two young boys, ages ten and twelve, growing up at that house are having a marvelous childhood, whether they realize it now or not.

Now it’s happy hour amusement at the cottage to encourage guests to look out the bathroom window at the chickens. And tonight, in their honor, I had scrambled eggs—from those chickens.

After self-diagnosing myself with everything from stomach cancer to the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, I feel better today and apologize for my whiny blog last night. Signs and symptoms, which I won’t detail here, lead me to believe I had some kind of stomach bug. I’m still being careful but feeling more cheerful—and a bit more interested in food. Now if I could stop blowing my nose….

In fact, I’m feeling much more optimistic about my writing and anxious to get on with my research. But I keep getting sidetracked by the Alice Roosevelt mystery I’m reading, The Body in the Ballroom. She certainly was an interesting young lady—and a fascinating character all her life.

It occurs to me that maybe life gives us these little setbacks as a way of energizing us to go forward. You know, one step back and two steps forward. That’s how I feel about the world tonight.

Our neighbor, Susan, and one of her New York sisters, came for happy hour tonight, and we had a great time, talking about their childhood home, which just sold, our church, where they grew up, restaurants in Fort Worth—Becky says the food is better than New York. And, yes, they looked at the chickens.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Down in the dumps and scolding myself

Sitting at my desk and gazing out the window at the garden, I see the stark contrast between last year and this year. Last year we had a lush and lovely yard, at least the half near the main house. This year, we have abundant and leggy ground cover in the back half, by my patio, but the grass has not done well and there are great bare patches. Is it because last year it was new grass, not strong enough now to endure three dogs peeing on it—I admit I’m not happy with that theory. The other thing, of course, is the extreme heat. And last year, the deck was full of abundantly blooming flowering plants—a bougainvillea, hydrangea and hibiscus. This year, most of the blooming plants are on the front porch where they are somewhat sheltered from the heat by a partial roof. The ones left are struggling and look—well, the word for it is crisp. It’s this blasted hot summer we’re having. The lettuce, long turned to brown stalks, and the basil, drooping beyond recovery, need to be torn up and discarded. When even basil doesn’t flourish, you know it’s bad.

I guess maybe I’m not in a good mood tonight, and perhaps the heat magnifies my discontent. I have so much to be thankful for that I am ashamed to say all those blessings sometimes cause me stress. My birthday was wonderful—but stressful. Being the center of attention and yet confined to my seated walker was a new experience. The trip to Tomball was wonderful—but stressful. I’m at a crossroads with my career, not sure what I want to do next, exploring. Being an impatient soul, I want something to leap out of the woodwork at me and say, “Write this!” Some days I think I did best as a student when there was a clear assignment.

Jordan, Christian, and Jacob are going on vacation soon. I lived alone in the house for probably twenty years and did fine, but now I’m used to Jordan coming out morning and night, just to pop in, and to Jacob occasionally wandering out to visit. I will feel abandoned, isolated—or maybe I am just telling myself that. But I am busily filling my social calendar for the time they will be gone. I know I’ll be fine once they’re gone—it’s the anticipation.

I am not an easy traveler. I think anxiety pretty much covers it, so excited as I am about our upcoming Great Lakes cruise, I am also apprehensive. I will be traveling with the family travelmaster, Jordan, superstar travel agent, and I know she takes care of every detail, planning ahead, and will take excellent care of me. But doubts beset me—how steep is the ramp up to the ship, boat or whatever we’re going on?  What about seasickness, apparently possible even on the Great Lakes. I have more than once been accused of bringing my bridges up close, so I can jump them, and I guess that’s what I’m doing now.

The logical part of my mind scoffs at all this and lectures me sternly on how petty my problems are. I have friends who are facing medical uncertainties, one woman I care about who rather suddenly finds herself in hospice care and with at best a short lifespan left. How dare I grouse about my problems, most of which grow out of the blending of many happy advantages with my natural disposition toward anxiety. No panic attacks this time—just a slightly queasy stomach.

The best I can do is be stern with myself, whack those anxieties right out of my life, and carry on with a smile. It may take me a day or two. Meanwhile. I am reading in search of a new topic, reading focusing on some interesting (and spunky) women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Friends, thanks for listening. I’ll be back “at myself” in a day or two. Hang on with me, please. Have a good evening.