Saturday, November 30, 2019

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Sophie and I are settled back in the cottage, after our adventure in Tomball. Colin, Morgan, and I set out this morning before nine o’clock under gray, drizzling skies. The drive offered another nice chance for me to visit with Colin. Morgan had her Air Buds or whatever in her ears, listening to music. It didn’t seem like a long drive, but it was—we were eleven minutes late to meet Jordan, Christian, and Jacob at the Health Camp in Waco.

Do not be misled. The Health Camp is anything but a health food restaurant—the menu is limited to various forms of burgers, a grilled chicken sandwich, Frito pie, and Frito pie salad. The last item puzzled us—Morgan and I could not envision adding lettuce to Frito pie. We all had burgers, but poor Jacob ate his (and a rich chocolate milkshake) in the car, babysitting Sophie. We would have chosen a patio table, but the skies were still threatening.

My kids are beyond good to ferry me back and forth as they do. Colin was expecting to drive me all the way to Fort Worth, but Jordan volunteered to meet him in Waco—about two and a half hours from Tomball and an hour and a half from Fort Worth, Christian and Jacob, hardcore Baylor fans, make the drive fairly frequently for football games.

Just as I was basking in the glow of how good they are to me, I realized everyone had a hamburger but me. Jordan and Colin each thought the other had ordered it. So that got straightened out, and I had my very own greasy cheeseburger—not usually my choice, but the kids love that place.

We were back in Fort Worth by a little before two, and by five-thirty I was unpacked, everything put away, and I’d had a nap. It’s called being compulsive. Jordan brought out some of the cheeseball she’d made for Thanksgiving dinner, and we had a delightful happy hour.

I would call the trip to Tomball a rousing success—I enjoyed it a lot, got some work done, ate more than I usually do, and slept a lot. Visited with people I enjoyed, got to sit by the lake, did a good bit of reading. Colin and Lisa and the grandkids waited on me to the point I felt over-indulged, but they were sweet and kind about it.

Every trip has its hitch—this time it is that my car and house keys are still in Tomball. I remember saying to Colin, “I’m putting my keys in the side pocket of the car. Don’t let me forget.” Of course, we both forgot until I got home and couldn’t find them. As Jordan pointed out, I never should have taken them in the first place—obviously, I didn’t need them.

Sometimes there’s a letdown coming back from even a short vacation, but none such here because I had such a warm welcome. Jordan had Christmas decorations up in the cottage and fed me a great dinner—yeah, you got it: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole.

I had a great time, but it’s good time, but it’s good to be home.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The morning after

I love that morning-after-the-holiday feeling. The pressure is off, though I readily admit with Lisa preparing the feast, I was under little pressure. Maybe it’s anticipation that adds a bit of spice to the holiday—waiting for company, waiting for the meal. Anyway, that feeling is gone by morning, and I feel free to sleep late and sort of float through the day.  Early this morning, a dense fog contributed to the lazy atmosphere. It has gone now, but the day is cloudy and uninspiring.

I may not have had the hostess pressure yesterday, but I do want to protest that I did my part for the meal. Because I asked how I could help from a sitting position, I got the great privilege of peeling apples and potatoes. When Lisa plunked the bag of apples down in front of me, I asked weakly, “All those apples?” She smiled (a bit mischievously) and said, ‘Yep.” And do realize how many potatoes it takes for mashed potatoes for thirteen? I’m now even more in favor of mashing red potatoes with the skins on!

Dinner was traditional and so good—I think I forget from holiday to holiday how much I like turkey and gravy. And Lisa, despite being a Texan, made ‘northern” white-bread stuffing—my favorite dish perhaps of the whole meal. An updated version of green bean casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, pistachio salad, and rolls. All wonderful. And of course it had been preceded by bountiful appetizers—a vegetable platter, a sausage-and-cheese platter, a French onion dip, hummus, guacamole—need I go on?

I haven’t yet had a piece of apple pie. After dinner, which we ate about 3:30, I suddenly found myself alone in the dining room—I think boys had gone to watch football and the ladies to see Lisa’s parents’ new house. Turkey had worked its proverbial effect, aided by a bit of wine, and made me sleepy. Plus the a/c was running full steam, and I was freezing—my internal thermometer does not sync with the rest of this family. So, full and sleepy, I snuck off for a nap. After a bit, I was vaguely aware of the hum of conversation of many voices but too comfortable and cozy to rouse myself. Two hours later, I joined everyone, just as some guests were leaving. I’d totally missed dessert.

Among the guests was a longtime friend of Colin’s—they tended bar together in their salad days—and his wife and two teenage sons. Alirio, a native of Colombia, just retired after twenty-two years with the Border Patrol. Somehow, after my nap, I ended up at the now-clear dining table with those two—lots of catching up to do, but we also talked about everything from raising kids to politics. For at least two hours. Serious discussion, interspersed with bits of humor—no, Alirio, I did not “yell” at you all those years ago for speaking Spanish at the dinner table, when I was trying to encourage Central American students to speak English. I gently suggested.

It was the kind of sustained exchange of ideas I think you only have with people you don’t see often. I did ask once if Alirio had anything to do with immigrant caravans, and he put his head in his hands and said, “It was horrible, horrible.” After a minute, he added, “Still is.” I didn’t pursue it.

One big takeaway for me: Colin and I, though basically in agreement, look at things from different perspectives: he, once a science major and now involved in big business, looks at process and results, whereas I, after a lifetime in the humanities, focus on the human aspect of politics, as well as everything else. It was an evening that will long stick in my mind, and a thoroughly good holiday.

My hope is your holiday, whatever, wherever, and with whoever, was equally rich.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Happy hour by the lake
Sunny, clear, and gorgeous today, but the lake is not mirror-smooth like it was last night when Colin and I at out there with two dogs and watched dusk turn to dark. The wind is up today, and the surface of the lake is ruffled, the windmill (decorative only) spinning fast. Even the swimming pool has tiny waves. Lisa has suggested happy hour by the lake tonight, with a fire in the pit. We’ll see how that goes.

Sophie and I are adjusting to different schedules than we keep at home. In the cottage, I usually take a short after-dinner nap and then work until eleven or twelve. Here, I’m in bed at ten—and I’m the last one up in the house. I laugh at Sophie—having once been shut into the bedroom, she won’t go in there with me unless I bribe her with a treat. But about nine o’clock, she decides it’s bedtime and crawls into her crate. When I come into the room, she looks askance at me as if to ask, “Why are you up so late?” But after that first rocky night of being in strange surroundings, we both sleep soundly all night. And she no longer sits anxiously outside the closed door when I disappear into the bathroom—the first day we were here she didn’t want me out of her sight and seemed to think the bathroom was a black hole which would swallow me.

For me, adaptation is a bit more difficult. At home in my cottage, I can roll around on my Rollator and fix my meals, take care of myself; Sophie can come and go out the patio door at will. Here, the house is on many levels, so I pretty much live in the section that has the family room, bedroom I’m using, and bathroom. For morning tea, meals, and the like I have to depend on others—and it makes me feel like a bother, though all four Tomball Alters are sweet about taking care of me. And about walking Sophie—when she comes to me and barks, I have to call for someone to come take her outside on a leash. No fenced yard. It’s a learning lesson in gratitude—gratitude that this branch of my family cares enough to take care of me and my dog and cater to our needs, cares enough to have me visit them even though my visit entails inconveniences.

Adaptation has been good in another way. Everyone here is busy—Colin working from home, Lisa getting ready to feed a multitude tomorrow, the kids busy with whatever teens do, from phones to working out. Where at home I can distract myself with everything from cooking to Christmas shopping, here there are no distractions. I’ve gotten a lot of work done, some of it things I’d been putting off.

Dogs and people, I’ve decided, are adaptable creatures, if they want to be.

No happy hour by the lake. Clouds came out in the afternoon, and by five, it was almost full dark. And then we were off to Lisa’s parents house, with Morgan driving that short distance, carefully and slowly. It was fun to see the house—they just moved in last July after some family remodeling updated floors, counters, paint, and the like. Torhild, Lisa’s mom, is quite happy with it. Now, we’re home, bellies full of Norwegian hamburgers and noodles. It’s time to sleep.

‘Night all. I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with thanks for many blessings and brings you the kind of day you want—a turkey feast or a tofu turkey, a crowd or dinner for two. Make it your day!

Grandma and Grandpa's house across the field
Somehow   going there made me think of 
Over the river and through the woods
to Grandmaother's house we go

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Livin’ the High Life

As I write, there is a huge window to my left, looking out on the swimming pool and then across a field to the nearest house (where my son’s in-laws live). Through the bushes I can see grandson Kegan kicking a soccer ball in front of his grandparents’ house, while Grace, the family dog, watches. Straight ahead, I have a lovely view of the lake. Couldn’t ask for a better place to write.

I am visiting my oldest son Colin and his family in Tomball TX and they are spoiling me. The picture above shows my breakfast this morning—one of Colin’s specialties is eggs Benedict. He uses Taylor pork roll instead of Canadian bacon, and he makes the Hollandaise sauce extra lemony. So good. It’s an elegant way to begin the day.

Yesterday for lunch we had matzoh ball soup, a cheese and meat platter, a wonderful hot spinach dip—and a festive crowd. Lisa’s parents were here along with some friends of Colin and Lisa. And dinner last night? Salmon for those that eat it, steak for the others. Count me among the salmon eaters. Along with tiny smashed new potatoes and a crisp and good coleslaw/kale salad. I can hardly wait to see what’s for dinner tonight, and I know one night we’re having Norwegian hamburgers. Lisa’s mom’s specialty, they are meat patties in a rich gravy sauce. I may come home twenty pounds heavier.

The plan is that Colin will meet Jordan and Christian halfway between Tomball and Fort Worth on Saturday for the “mom” exchange, but I have warned grandson Kegan I may stay a month (as usual, I overpacked and could easily do that). Poor Kegan is the one I have displaced from his room, and while he sleeps on the couch, I’m cozy in his new Queen-size bed. His room is small, but there’s plenty of room for Sophie’s crate.

Sophie too is getting the star treatment, mostly. Colin walks her early in the morning, and after that Morgan and Kegan are at the ready when she indicates she wants to go outside. She was locked in her crate for a while yesterday when Lisa’s dad was here. Like me, he worries about his balance, and we were afraid Sophie would jump on him in her enthusiasm. Later, she mingled with him without incident. She was crated again yesterday when Colin and I went to the store. So this morning, she wouldn’t even follow me into the bedroom when I got dressed—afraid of being locked up again.

Colin is working from home, and Lisa is busy with Thanksgiving preparations (there may be as many as 18 people), so I’ve been working at my computer. But my outing yesterday was a trip to Target. I was so impressed that Colin uses the self-checkout with such aplomb—until he had to call for help with the payment part—TWICE! He says indignantly that it was my card, not his technique.

Yesterday was sunny and lovely. Today is cloudy but only a bit cooler. Tomorrow is supposed to turn cold, so I’m hoping Colin and I can sit by the lake later this afternoon. It’s my most favorite peaceful spot these days.

Signing off from Tomball. Hmmm. I wonder what’s for lunch.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A football kind of a day

Pictured above are two happy campers who drove to Waco to watch Baylor whup UT. I’m sure they won’t lord it over the Austin branch of the family—or maybe they will. Meanwhile, back in Fort Worth, Jordan and I had a nice day together—she made tuna for lunch and helped me get myself together to go to Tomball tomorrow

But she too was watching the Baylor game—some of it in my cottage. She had me so cowed that when she went to feed the neighbor’s cat with a warning she’d be back to watch the game, I was afraid to change it to the news channel. As soon as Baylor won—well, with five second left but it was clear—she was off to friends’ house to watch the TCU game. She had urged me to go, but in all honesty I’m happier at home with a book.

Watching football never did much for me. Maybe I was off to a bad start, because I came from the University of Chicago which had abandoned the game long before I arrived on campus. In fact, the football stadium was famous for something entirely different—the development of the atomic bomb. I grew up with stories of how they almost blew us in the surrounding neighborhood to smithereens, but that’s another story.

When my ex and I arrived in Fort Worth for his surgical residency, we were often invited to TCU games by physicians. In those day—the sixties—going to a TCU game was strictly a dress-up affair. Funny to think of now. I remember one of the first games I went to. It was September, but coming from Iowa, Illinois and Missouri I associated football with cold weather and dressed appropriately, lugging a full-length coat to the game. Needless to say, I was a bit over-dressed.

Later, when I was single, Toni Newton, the wonderful woman who was assistant to Chancellor Bill Tucker, befriended me and used to invite me to the pre-game parties at her apartment, which was kind of across the road from the stadium. I went for the conviviality and for the delicious array of pot-luck snacks, and then I went to the game out of politeness. After a few of those evenings, I got so I went to the pre-game party and snuck home when others went to the game.

I have never since been to a game and only watch when I cannot escape. Tonight I was completely happy to stay home with leftover meatloaf (only medium good—freezing didn’t preserve it as well as I’d hoped) and the rest of last night’s spinach, which was delicious. And two molasses cookies—I am loving them. And, of course, the mystery I’m reading.

Sophie had a spa day today in preparation for travel—a bath, a trim, nails trimmed, a fresh scarf, the whole works. Lisa, Colin’s wife, does not like dogs on furniture and I don’t blame her. That’s certainly how I was raised. They have a big dog who wouldn’t dream of getting on the couch. Sophie on the other hand thinks beds, couches, upholstered chairs were meant for her, and try as I might I cannot dissuade her. So I thought the least I could do was have her clean. I’ll take her crate, where she happily sleeps at night. I usually displace my granddaughter whose bed is so high Soph can’t begin to think of jumping on it. Shoot—I can barely get into it. It always puts me in mind of the tale of the princess and the pea. (I guess you have to be a certain age to get that reference.)

Sweet dreams, y’all.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Taking part in life

Busy days

I knew it was a busy week, but I didn’t realize quite how bad until I got up one morning and discovered the breakfast dishes from the day before still in the sink! And then there was the day I took a nap, woke with a start and wondered, “Why am I in bed? Did I forget to get up this morning?” Some weeks go by without my feeling that I am engaged with the world. This week was definitely the opposite, and I loved it.

Part of what kept me busy and distracted, of course, was the impeachment hearings. I wouldn’t say I was glued to every word—I tend to wait for summaries I trust. But I kept it on, watched the way people talked and held themselves, and listened intently only occasionally. I am in awe of the quiet, calm professionalism of the career people from the state department, and I am mightily impressed that women made such a strong showing. Maria Yovanovitch, Jennifer Williams, Laura Cooper, and Fiona Hill were unflappable, knowledgeable, self-confident, quite a contrast to the sloppy posture and presentation of their Republican antagonists. I saw a cartoon depicting Devin Nunes as Dopey, Gym Jordan (somebody buy him a jacket!) as Sleazy, and Castor, the Republican lawyer, as Sleepy—he was slouched so far down in his chair, he was almost horizontal. Not a pose that bespeaks alert intelligence. In fact, I read somewhere that he elicited damning information, on trump, from people he questioned.

The men were no less remarkable—confident, knowledgeable, unshakeable. Bill Taylor got most of the accolades, but I was impressed by David Holmes. He seemed almost amused by and a little disdainful of some of his interrogators. All in all, it was quite a show. The question is now, what next? Republicans are crowing that they will never abandon trump—they apparently recognize his guilt but don’t care. Will they hold firm when push comes to shove? Will they take into account the various signs that indicate trump and his cronies are Russian puppets, the abandonment of the Kurds being he most blatant. The Ukraine affair may easily be tied to Russia too—just listen again to Dr. Hill’s testimony.

My week beyond watching TV was one of sociability—lunches at Black Rooster and Nonna Tata, where I discovered that my favorite dish, braseola, is still available if no longer on the menu; dinner at the Tavern, where I discovered my good friend Betty does not eat artichokes, even grilled and slathered in butter and lemon. Last night, while Jordan went to a work event in Dallas, Christian and I went to a Connections Dinner at church. The point is to get members to dine and visit with new faces. At our table there was only one face new to me, but the others were people I rarely talk to more than to say “Good morning” on Sundays, so it was fun. The food was delicious, prepared by Louise Lamensdorf, formerly of Bistro Louise (there are perks to belonging to UCC and Louise’s occasional dinners are one of them). It was a beef stew kind of dish but with distinctive seasoning, a little bit sweet and sour, and a wonderful vegetable and white bean soup. I believe she said the dishes were Tuscan.

So today, chilly and wet in the morning, was a perfect day to stay home and regroup. I did odds and ends at my desk—how did I get so many of them? And began to get things together to go to Tomball for Thanksgiving. I’ll go Sunday and be gone most of the week, leaving behind Jordan and Christian to host their first big holiday meal. Oops, no—I remember that we had Alter Christmas at their house  in Hulen Bend one year, but it was a long time ago.

And tonight, it’s me, a copy of Food & Wine, and a new cozy mystery. Life is good.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Lunch is a learning experience


Delightful lunch today on campus. Students in a class in the department of nutritional sciences annually present two luncheons, open to the public. Today neighbor Mary and I went to a “Fiesta” luncheon in the Bass Hall Living Room. My first time on that part of campus in several years, and I was overwhelmed—there are new buildings where I thought we would park, and the Bass Building is now connected to sort of an indoor commons. I was almost lost.

The living room no longer had living room furniture nor the small four-top tables I remember from luncheons several years ago. About twelve long tables, decorated with bright, Mexican-themed cloths, filled the room, the tables set with charger plates, flatware, water goblets, and—yes—cloth napkins. Mexican decorations on side tables made for a fiesta atmosphere.

Service was buffet style, so I was doubly grateful that Mary came with me—she got to park the car and then carry two plates and two desserts. Like the seasoned waitress she was in college, she can hand-carry, stacking plates on her arm. If I’d tried that, back when I used to help out at the Star Cafe, we’d have had two lunches all over the floor.

The carefully selected and planned menu offered green chile chicken enchiladas, homemade guacamole, homemade salsa, cilantro-lime black beans and rice, and tres leches cake. And every bite was delicious. We sat at a table with several faculty and staff from the college of engineering, and they were outgoing, pleasant, and talkative. Mostly we talked about food. I was lucky enough to sit opposite Anne Vanbeber, chair of nutritional sciences, and she put my uneaten enchilada (two is too many) on a plastic plate with my rice and some fresh guacamole for me to take home. Plus, she was interested to hear about my cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate.

Student introductions and a welcome from the class professor were followed by a drawing for door prices—Mary won $20 gift certificate to Salsa Limon. The whole thing was a win-win event—we had good food, good conversation, and saw education in action. We left with small cookbooks that held the recipes for all we’d eaten.

This is my second experiences with innovative programs at TCU in recent weeks. I may have mentioned that I am part of a study to see if the hearing-impaired (that’s me) can be trained to block out background noise. For forty minutes a week, I play a word game on my phone, with a sort of weird, bonging music playing in my ears. After two weeks I don’t know that I’m getting better, but I like playing word games. A student at the Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic is running the study as her senior honors project.

A wry comment from an English major: so nice to see other sides of the college experience besides football!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Bright skies, old friends, and dogs

When I was in elementary school, we had to memorize a poem about October’s bright blue skies. As I went out to meet a friend for lunch today, I looked up and almost recited that poem. It was the brightest, most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen, even if it was November and not October. A beautiful day that lifted the spirits.

Otherwise, Monday was, well, Monday. Baking cookies, odds and ends at my desk, lunch with my good friend, Fred, the man who saw me through graduate school. Love I that I can talk to him about the projects that interest me—few other people get excited when you talk about George Pullman, the Pullman railroad cars, and the Pullman riots in Chicago in the 1890s. Fred gets my enthusiasm—and I get his for the early aero plane culture and particularly the women pilots. Good lunch at the Black Rooster, where it’s quiet enough you can hear each other talk.and the sandwiches are great.

Interesting and fun happy hour tonight. In grade school and middle school, Jordan and Sarah were good friends. Although they were always friends, they drifted apart with adulthood and marriage. Recent events have brought them back close to each other in the last couple of years. I remember Sarah’s parents from those early days but hadn’t seen them in years. They came for happy hour tonight. In an interesting parallel, they now live in a cottage (converted garage/guest house) behind Sarah’s house, a situation so similar to mine.

You’d think given the connection and situation we’d have spent a lot of time “catching up,” but we really didn’t. There was a bit of talk about tiny house living—theirs is almost twice as big as mine and they have a real stove—and a bit about when the girls were young. But then there was a lot of talk about politics—we are all on the same page—and a lot of talk about dogs. Sarah has three Labrador pups, and Sophie was begging for attention from anyone who would love on her. We talked of dogs past and present. It always delights me to talk to people who care as much about dogs as I do.

Got most of my molasses cookies baked—maybe two pans left to go. A good project for tomorrow, when impeachment hearings will again be on TV. I can roll balls of dough in sugar while staring at the TV. I’ve decided of late that trump is taking way too much of my time and thought, when I could be doing more constructive things. But as I said in our discussion tonight, I feel a moral obligation to keep informed on what’s going on and to share the news when appropriate, offer my own opinions less frequently but occasionally. We talked at length tonight, without actually quoting it, about the saying that’s been around for a few years: This is not your father’s Republican Party. These are wild times we live in, and I can only imagine how history fifty years from now will assess them.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The sweet cookie monster and a sour thought

The cookie monster has hit our house—not so much the one that devours cookies, but the one that bakes them. For three weeks now, I have been consumed each weekend with making cookies, primarily for Jacob’s benefit. He gets them in his school lunch every day, but I also admit that I have them after my lunch and dinner. I remind myself of my late mother-in-law, who used to say, “Judy, dear, just a little sweet with my coffee.” I don’t have the coffee, but I sure like topping  meal off with something sweet. I’ve noticed that I almost never hit my chocolate stash if I have cookies on hand.

I started, of course, with chocolate chip cookies—to me, that’s the quintessential cookie. But when those disappeared, I made oatmeal raisin, because Jacob admitted to a real liking of them. Those are almost gone now, so today I made the dough for molasses cookies. That led to an interesting exchange. Me: “Do you like molasses cookies?” Jacob: “What’s in them?” Me: “Molasses.” Jacob: “What’s molasses?” How do you explain molasses to a thirteen-year-old? I’m sure if I let him sniff it, he’d say, “No, thanks. I’m not eating that.” But the cookie batter smells and tastes so good. Yes, I confess I licked the beaters and the spatula.

So now I have to bake them, which is tricky in a toaster oven. It heats too hot and fast, and I have to adjust. Made stuffed eggplant this weekend, and the top got all crusty and dry—too hot too fast.

While it’s fun to bake cookies for a teen, I think often these days that raising a teenager—or loving grandchildren—is fraught with perils that I never thought of when my kids were teens. I know I’m inclined to be a worrier, but danger seems to lurk everywhere. It’s not unheard of for Jacob’s school to be on lockdown, and while I’m glad authorities are so cautious, I can’t help but be alarmed each time. Surely a shooting won’t happen here—but that’s what the people of Santa Clarita thought.

On Facebook I see too many notices pleading for help finding missing teens. I know a lot are runaways, and I ache for the unhappiness that must cause them to make such a dangerous decision. But we also hear too much these days about sex trafficking, and I wonder how many of those kids have been outright kidnapped and sold. A horrifying thought. If Jacob is a bit late or plays basketball on the schoolyard at dusk, I can conjure up horrible thoughts. My other grandchildren are in a way fortunate that I don’t live close enough to worry about their every move.

But as I admitted, I am a worrier. I worry a lot about my dog Sophie and almost never let her out in the yard unless I’m at my desk where I can watch her. My fear? That dogfight people will come snatch her. When I see notices on the Neighborhood News or some such of dogs needing a new home, I almost always write and recommend that people register the dog with a recognized rescue service which vets prospective owners carefully. I’ve heard that dogfight guys will send their cute girlfriend to ooh and aah over what a good pet a dog will make, only to flip it as a bait dog. (As I write this, Sophie is sitting on the deck, across the yard, watching me.)

Probably I am a person with exaggerated fears. Sometimes I blame it on my childhood on the South Side of Chicago, where I was raised to be cautious—well, yes, scared. Other times I attribute my fears to the over-active imagination of a writer. Now if I could only translate those fears into best-selling mysteries!

On the other hand, there’s that old bromide: better safe than sorry. Be cautious folks—there’s a world of meanness out there. Having said that, I have to admit I cling to my belief that there is so much more good in the world than evil, and in people. It’s just those aberrations we have to watch out for.

Friday, November 15, 2019

My world is back in order, sort of

This is one of those nights when I really miss daylight savings time. By six tonight, the world seemed dark and gloomy—and a bit lonely—to me. Maybe more so because I briefly lost contact with the outer world. My computer and my TV, my lines to life beyond the cottage, both went out. I knrw what happened, just not how to fix it. And Sophie is the culprit.

For some months now, the crate that she appears to adore and that is too big for my tiny space has blocked her access to her favorite chair—my mom’s old wing chair. Yesterday, Sophie somehow figured out how to weasel her way up into it (Mom would not approve), but in so doing she disrupted the tangle of cords behind my desk. Last night, my computer screen told me to check the cable connection. I found an unattached cord but after much stewing and studying couldn’t find where it goes. Took a quick nap and figured it out—it had nothing to do with the wall power sources but connected my computer to my remote and much bigger monitor. Problem solved.

This morning, just a few minutes after I turned things on, both the computer and TV quit. I had to move the crate, leave my walker behind. and hold on to the desk to get back there, but I did it. Checked every connection, and they seemed fine. Jordan checked, said she thought the plug was just a bit loose from the wall, and fixed it. Computer came on; TV did not. Via distance, Christian said it needed rebooting. Jordan tried—nothing. She tried again—nothing. She came out this evening and tried—still nothing. Christian came out when he got home, turned it on, and there was a live picture. He had a good laugh, and we decided Jordan is an unrecognized genius.

So now I’m connected to the world, and what a day, a week it has been. I watched the impeachment hearings sporadically but was much impressed by George Kent and Bill Taylor and loved the standing ovation Marie Yovanovitch got today after her amazing testimony. It’s not been a good week for trump—in addition to the hearings, Federal courts have ordered the release of his tax records and the records of his International Trump Hotels, plus Roger Stone was convicted on all seven counts of perjury, and Giuliani’s buddy, Parnas, has apparently flipped. Giuliani himself is under study by Federal authorities I watched it all with glee.

On a different note, I’m struck by the innovations in technology, from various countries, that speak to replacing plastics with biodegradable materials—people are using lots of things in creative ways: clamshell containers made of coconut husks, vegetables wrapped in banana leaves rather than plastic, a biodegradable plastic made of fish scales, bamboo architectural elements that are apparently as strong as steel, disposable flatware made from avocado pits. All those point to ways to save our planet. Will they catch on? Probably not. The inventors have no money to develop their inventions, and, at least in America, the plastic industry is too entrenched and profitable. Just look at trump’s brief campaign for plastic straws. Discouraging.

But overall tonight, with my TV on “Washington Week,” I feel encouraged—by advances in world-saving technology, by triumphs of justice. It’s not just my world that is in order, but I really believe that the larger world is working its way back to sanity. A good friend tells me I’m dreaming, but sometimes dreams come true. Keep the faith, everyone.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

On becoming a recluse


I went out to dinner with a good friend tonight and enjoyed it thoroughly. We went to the Tavern, had chicken sliders, deviled eggs, and a bottle of wine. It was the first time I’ve poked my nose out of the cottage since last Saturday night. There are, of course, extenuating circumstances, like the extreme cold snap we’ve suffered through the last few days. In the low twenties in the mornings, never higher than the forties. The cottage is not as cozy as I’d wish, but it’s warm if I wear layers. Who wants to go out in that extreme cold?

Still, I’ve been pondering the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a recluse, because much as I enjoy people and being out in the world, I find it increasingly easy to stay home. I don’t have to dress, don’t have to put on a public face, am not obligated to do anything but I want. At home I can lounge in comfortable clothes and do what I want. I have work at my desk, plus reading, recipe reading (a great time suck), the internet—I can easily keep happily busy all day.

As a young child and even a teen, I was almost painfully shy, something I’ve pretty much overcome over the years of a professional career. I made myself be social and learned to enjoy it, so much so that I often say I feed on the company of other people. Still that shy girl emerges every once in a while, and maybe that keeps me home from some occasions. I never was one to go alone to art openings or lectures or receptions. The best receptions,  to me, were the ones my work dictated that I organize. Then I was at work and in charge. Turn me loose in a large crowd, and I tend to be los.

There’s the complication of my walker. Increasingly, I follow Jordan’s dictate and don’t go places by myself where I would have to get out of the car and get the walker out alone, then reverse the process to get back into the car. And, tonight, when Betty asked if I wanted to go to a church supper, I said yes, but it’s a pain to take me to a buffet because I can’t go through the line for myself. I am forever grateful for the mobility that my walker gives me, but I recognize that it is a handicap. I’m grateful for the friends who willingly put up with loading and unloading the walker, letting me out at restaurant doors, etc. But if no one wants to go to a church dinner, for instance, I will choose to stay home.

Finally, there’s the possibility that my lack of ambition to get up and go is simply a symptom of aging—maybe it’s true subconsciously that I simply don’t have the energy that I did fifteen or twenty years ago, but I’d like to reject that as a way of thinking. I truly believe we’re only as old as we think we are—and I sure don’t think of myself in my eighties.

So there are all the excuses for my increasing tendency toward reclusiveness, but that’s just what they are—excuses. And I’m going to reject them all, because I think the life of a recluse is neither happy nor healthy. And I do recognize that is not healthy. Doctors tell us we need the Vitamin D from being out in the sunshine daily, and I know that I don’t get that, even though I spend most of my day by a big window.

There is a caveat to all this, and maybe it’s part of what’s spoils me. I am blessed with family and friends who visit often enough to keep the cottage from being a lonely place of solitude. I have happy hour guests two or three nights a week, and Jordan usually comes out in the morning—I look for her to start my day—and a couple of times during the day. Jacob tells me these days he’s too busy, and Christian is indeed too busy—I often don’t see him during the week. But I know they’re close by.

Here’s my resolve: I’m going to get out and about more—but only if it warms up.
PS: As I often do, I did an internet search for free images to liven this post. When I typed in "recluse," I was rewarded with multiple images of spiders. There's a moral there someplace, but I'm too tired to pursue it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Something’s awry in the world

Oh, I don’t mean the big stuff that has obviously gone wrong in our world—impeachment, DACA, Jimmy Carter having brains surgery, all the corruption being revealed, climate change is destroying the planet. It’s enough to boggle the mind, but little things are amiss, I blame it on the cold front.

Yesterday Jordan brought her morning tea out to sit for a minute in the cottage, as she often does. I can tell you precisely when the cold front hit. When she came in and saw me bundled in a sweater and lap robe, in anticipation, she said, “Mom, it’s not cold yet.” When she left my patio doors it still wasn’t cold, but by the time she got to her back door—and, folks, this is not a big back yard—the wind was ferocious, her hair was blowing in all directions, leaves were swirling around her, and she could barely get the big sun umbrella down. For those who haven’t lived in Texas, the answer is yes, that’s how quickly our weather can change when a blue norther blows in.

Last night we were to have happy hour company—parents of a girl Jordan was close friends with in grade school and has re-hooked with in the last couple of years. I always liked the parents, and when Jordan suggested we invite them, I happily agreed. Jordan came out to straighten, as she always does when I’m having “special” company, and then left to get Jacob, asking me to put out some appetizers (we keep a drawer full of cheese, sausage, etc. for happy hour visitors). A little before they were due, I put out crackers in a basket, got out the cheese board, and was just unwrapping sausage and cranberry-coated goat cheese (does that not sound wonderful?), when she called to say they were re-scheduling. So there I was—wrapping cheese and sausage up, storing crackers and hoping they didn’t go stale. And I was all dressed up with no place to go, no one to impress. Christian saved the evening with  pot of chili, so good on a cold night, and the four of us had a happy supper in the cottage.

This morning Sophie began to dance round at, heaven help me! 6:30. I could hear her nails clicking on the wood floor. She was also coughing quite a bit, not unusual for her in the morning. I ignored it for a bit, because the house was chilly—it was 24 outside—and I was cozy in my blankets. Then I decided I’d give her a Benadryl and she’d sleep—wrong! At 7:20, she made it clear she had to go outside. She came right back in, but by eight she wanted to go again, and I gave up, got up.

This morning, when I should have been working, I had to fight with bill collectors. The security system sent me a dunning email, even though I had given them updated automatic deduction information last week. Got that straightened out with a cheerful representative, but it was the long wait until I got to her that frustrated me. Then I had to check the automatic deduction for my household/automobile insurance because the premium has gone up (of course).

All that out of the way, the world looks a little better tonight. It’s still cold, but the sun shone bravely today, and the future of DACA recipients is still uncertain—can you imagine living with that cloud over you?—but Jimmy Carter is recovering, public impeachment hearings begin tomorrow, and we had our usual Tuesday happy hour with neighbor Mary tonight. I told her I hoped she saw it as a compliment that we called it, “It’s just Mary,” and served leftovers—a bit of this piece of cheese and that, some herring left in the jar, a few Parmesan crisps—gosh, they are so good!

And to my credit, I baked the last of the oatmeal cookies, got all the dishes washed, and went through two cooking magazines to pull out the recipes I wanted and throw out the magazines. I need a clear and clean desk. Writing? What’s that?

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Veterans’ Day primer

Veterans’ Day originally began as Armistice Day, intended to honor veterans, living and dead, of World War I. On November 11, 1918, at five in the morning, a treaty was signed between the Allies in Europe and Germany. The treaty was to take effect at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”—11 a.m. November 11, although it was breeched all that day and shooting stopped only when darkness fell. Over the next year, the treaty was violated several times, and peace did not reign until the Treaty of Versailles, negotiated in 1919.

My father fought in WWI (makes me seem awfully old) for the Canadian army. He survived mostly unscathed, though he was gassed and ever after was subject to bronchial difficulties. When jet planes first whined over our Chicago home (right in the path of Midway Airport), if he was outside, Dad would instinctively duck and head for the garage. To him, it was the sound of incoming. But he never talked about his war experiences.

During WWII, the name of the day was changed to Veterans’ Day to honor all who had served, living and dead, in all wars fought by this nation. When I was young, the world almost came to standstill at eleven in the morning, as people stopped in their tracks to stand and face east for one minute, in honor of the veterans. It is almost an unknown custom these days, but this morning at eleven I stood in the cottage and faced east for one minute.

Another custom once associated with the day is the wearing of red poppies, inspired by the poem written by John McCrae when he saw the blood-red poppies, in reality a weed, blooming on a ravaged battlefield. A French woman, Anne Guérin, is generally hailed as the originator of the poppy custom, although an American woman, Moina Michael, a volunteer for the New York YWCA, was simultaneously inspired by the poem and worked to promote fabric poppies. Europeans still wear the red poppy on Armistice Day but in America, the custom has become associated with Memorial Day, which more specifically honors those who lost their lives. Fabric poppies are sold to raise money for servicemen.

World War I inspired literature—especially poetry—that, little known today, is both intensely terrible and beautiful. It is not the literature of patriotism, but rather works that portray and capture the horror of battle. McCrae’s poem is probably one of the best known.

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“. .. . the torch; be yours to hold it high”—words to remember and treasure in these trouble times in our country. On Veterans Day, let us honor and make proud the men and women who died to protect our freedom and our democracy.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

That kind of a Sunday

It was that kind of a Sunday

Sophie’s pose illustrates perfectly how I felt about today—it was that kind of Sunday. Once again, it took me a while to get going, though I did get my hair washed so as to be ready for church. But Christian pleaded exhaustion, and I went to church on the computer. Apparently, the national habit of turning everything into a designated holiday has reached the churches. Today was Higher Education Sunday, a special day I don’t remember ever hearing of before. But the sermon hit home with me—it was about how TCU and my church, University Christian, need and support each other. The community formed by those two institutions has been the center of my adult public life, and I was glad to hear the relationship affirmed, in spite of past occasions when the two took separate paths.

I would much prefer to be physically in church, but when that isn’t possible, I am grateful for the live streaming. Today neither the audio nor the video cut out, which happens too frequently and is so frustrating. The music, of course, is not as grand and glorious, but I still get a sense of a part of the week set aside for worship and inspiration.

Once the early service was over, I alternated between baking oatmeal/raisin cookies and a chicken casserole for supper. Not sure the casserole was a hit—personally I thought it needed salt, which is easily added. But I didn’t taste the wine/herb base I used. It’s a technique I used to do all the time with leftover turkey. Somehow it wasn’t quite the same. Jordan’s blue cheese salad was good.

Finished a cozy mystery that I really enjoyed—By Book or by Crook, a Lighthouse Library Mystery—and started an Alexander McCall Smith title, The Second Worst Restaurant in France. Despite the great popularity of his #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, I never could hook into those books and so have not been among Smith’s legion of fans, which always gives me the feeling I’m missing something. But I liked the title of this one, and novels about food always draw me in. Not far enough in yet to have an opinion.

Still basking in the loveliness of last night’s birthday dinner. Sue took this picture of Jordan, Christian, and me. As usual, they photograph wonderfully—I think that was a gene I missed, but this is a better picture of me than many. My dear late friend Bobbie used to tell me she didn’t know why or what it was but I really never did look good in pictures—Megan always said, “Bobbie tells it like it is.” And my mother told me that her father once said she took such a poor picture that the only place he’d hang it was in the barn. I think Mom passed that gene on to me.

Hard freeze tonight, but who needs a greenhouse? I have a shower stall.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

A lazy morning, a lovely evening

Saturday morning, and I was reluctant to get up. Let Sophie out early and headed back to bed, but she is ever quicker than I am, and we disagreed about who should get the warm spot I’d just vacated. I won, and she pouted off to the living room. By 8:30 I was browsing the news but reluctant to face the chores I’d laid out last night—cooking chicken for tomorrow night’s casserole and making a batch of oatmeal/raisin cookie dough, since Jacob said he loves those cookies.

About ten-thirty, I took Jordan to meet a friend to watch the TCU/Baylor game—managed to avoid the traffic jam by going back streets. Some will tell you I’m the queen of back streets in south and west Fort Worth—my preferred routes, which always makes me think of an older friend, many years ago, who tut-tutted at me that a straight line was the shortest distance between two points. She didn’t think about traffic jams and stoplights.

Back home I dug in and spent the rest of the morning doing those chores—by one o’clock I had the kitchen clean, cookie dough and cooked chicken in the fridge, and lunch eaten. Prowled the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page—what do you say to a woman who begins a post with “I hate hamburger. So bland and tasteless,” and then asks for recipes. I wouldn’t dare make a suggestion. Printed off a full color picture of a charcuterie platter with all  the ingredients labeled—good guide for us sometime, since Jordan and I loved to do those platters. And I even jotted down some good Christmas ideas and found a bright red outfit I think I want. I reluctantly parted this fall with the red plaid velvet shirt I’ve worn every Christmas Eve for years. Nap time!

Tonight, Jordan, Christian, and  I went to a lovely dinner party to celebrate the seventieth birthday of the husband of my Canadian daughter (explanation for those who don’t know: Sue and her two children, now well grown but young then, lived next door to me for several years; she moved on, bought a house, fell in love with a guy from California and enticed him to Fort Worth; she calls me her Fort Worth mom because her mom is far away in Ottawa, Ontario). We absolutely adore Teddy and were honored to be able to celebrate with him. I'm only sorry we didn't get a picture of him. He did single me out as the only person in the room a year older than him, and I reminded him it's a bit more than one year.
Dinner was at Nonna Tata, a tiny charming restaurant that serves country Italian food and seats at most 22—that’s how many there were tonight.  Wonderful food—antipasto, two pasta dishes, salad, rosemary bread, chicken and capers in what seemed like a yogurt sauce and was absolutely delicious, and an apple something for dessert. Great food, twice as much as I needed, and that much wine too. Good company, and a happy atmosphere. Lovely evening.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Remember taking tests?

I went to the audiologist at TCU’s Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic today. Not because I was having unusual problems, but because I volunteered to be part of a clinical study. Turns out the study is the honors project of a senior student—sort of like an undergraduate thesis. And it’s really complicated, so hats off to her and to TCU (and audiologist Tracy Burger) for providing this great learning experience.

I’ve been seeing Tracy for four or five years and consider her a friend, though I never see her outside the clinic. But she’s helpful, knowledgeable, and lots of fun. Still I went with trepidation. Do you remember taking tests in high school and college and fearing you’d failed? That’s how I feel about the audiologist and the ophthalmologist.

Today I was hooked up to some machines and had to listen to a series of beeps, raising my hand whenever I heard the beep. Okay, except that sometimes I thought maybe I was imagining the beep, and Tracy and Sarah would think I was foolish for raising my hand. My other problem was that it was a tad boring, and my mind tended to wander, so then with a start I’d come back to the present and think, “Was that a beep?” Maybe you remember trying to psych out the pattern on machine-generated tests—didn’t we call them bubble tests? Anyway I tried the same thing, looking through the mirror at Sarah, watching her reactions, noting when she stopped to write something. I don’t think it helped one bit. I was sure I failed.

We progressed to listening for what Tracy called “Shush” sounds—I told her I missed some, because I didn’t recognize that they were a “shush”—one sounded more like low-key trilling to me. That made Tracy self-conscious about the words she used to describe the sounds, and I in turn apologized. Some adjustment of my hearing aids followed and then we did the shush sounds again. By now, pleasant company aside, I was getting antsy. I never said I’m a patient person.

The last exercise was repeating words. A disembodied voice said, “You will say dog,” and I was to say “dog.” I think it would be easier if he just said, “Dog,” and omitted the “You will say.” There were a bunch of words that I felt fairly confident about, but then a static background came in, and my confidence disappeared. The test revealed what I already know—background noise dramatically wipes out my hearing. Without the static, I scored 76% (truly I thought I did 100%); with the static it dropped to 50-something. One reason I am uncomfortable in many restaurants.

Hearing difficulties can’t be solved by just turning up the volume. Somehow the brain is linked in there. In many instances, I hear a word clearly, but it just doesn’t register with my brain. It’s like it’s a foreign language—and then I’ll find out it’s a simple word like “vacation.” I miss a lot in sermons and lectures because of this. If I don’t “plug in” at the beginning of a talk, I’m liable to be lost all the way through.

The upshot of today’s testing is that my hearing is no better, no worse. And I left with instructions to play a mind game (with a musical background) on my phone for 40 minutes a week for the next two months and email a screen shot of the results to Sarah every week. (I had to be taught about screen shots too—such a Luddite.) I can do this, and I’m glad to be part of an educational experiment.

Next week: an ophthalmologist’s appointment. Now that one really makes me nervous. When they say, “Which is better, one or two?” I always want to ask, “Who’s grading this test?” Yikes.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

A day gone awry

Sometimes life hands you lemons instead of lemonade. Today I had planned to cook supper for the two friends I usually go out to eat with on Wednesday night. The menu was to be
“crispy” eggplant with lamb meatballs, chickpeas, a garnish of cilantro and lemon—recipe courtesy the New York Times cooking column. Part of the reason I was going to do this was that the recipe sounded intriguing to me but none of my local family will touch eggplant, and one of these friends said of course she’d eat it with me.

 I was so fixated on spending the major portion of the day cooking this meal that I even cooked it in my sleep last night. And before I slept, I put the chickpeas to soak and defrosted the ground lamb. I was all set for a cooking day.

This morning I had just put the chickpeas on to cook, when one of the two called to say apologetically that she hated to cancel but she had a sore throat and thought she should stay in today. I wished her well but agreed with her assessment—I really didn’t want her to bring her sore throat over here and share it. The other friend, when she heard this, said, “Let’s just cancel until next week.”

So there I was, chickpeas cooking, defrosted meat, and an eggplant in the fridge. Besides, I wasn’t at all sure I’d want to gear myself up to cook a big meal again next week. But on the theory of making lemonade out of lemons, I proceeded. Cooked the chickpeas—a whole new experience for me since I wanted to order canned ones and was a bit astounded to end up with dried. That’s a digression and will be part of my “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” column tomorrow. But they turned out okay.

I went ahead and made the meatballs, and I have to say they smelled wonderful when they were cooking. You have to love lamb to appreciate that aroma, but I do love it. I figured I’d eat a couple tonight, maybe a couple tomorrow, and freeze the rest.

So far so good—chickpeas cooked and ready to be frozen. Meatballs, the same. But then there was that eggplant that suddenly didn’t sound so good to me. I’m not fond of baba ganoush, the traditional Mediterranean eggplant dip. The heavy garlic in it often makes it taste bitter to me. But I remembered that long ago my ex used to fix sort of an eggplant salad, a memory from his Jewish mother’s kitchen. It’s like the sardine salad he used to make—something I could easily do from scratch.

So in the next day or two, I’ll make eggplant salad. Warning to those coming to the cottage for happy hour—you may be faced with eggplant salad/dip but you are not required to eat it. Hmmm—maybe I could stir some chickpeas into it. Or another new thought—roasted chickpeas. Stand by for a report.

Meantime, relieved of cooking the whole meal, I did get some work done today and am now well into a cozy mystery I’m enjoying. The day was far from a loss.

Tonight as I write I can feel a chill creeping into the air. It was seventy today but is supposed to be in the mid-forties by morning. With rain tonight. Stay warm and dry everyone.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Satisfying job on an unsatisfying day

See Clifford the leopard in the foreground?
He's keeping watch over my books
The weather gods ae playing tricks on us. They give us a couple of sunny, bright days so that we think fall is here in all its glory—and then they turn the world drizzly and gray. I swear this weekend I looked at the extended forecast and it was for seventies Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But if today got to 70 it was in some other state. Here, it was drizzly and gray, not really cool but the kind of damp that makes you feel a chill. I had turned the heat off but turned it on again this evening. Rain forecast for the morning—my new winter rye grass will appreciate that.

It was the kind of day that it’s good to have a project or else one (this one anyway) might mope and grouse the day around. Mary Dulle came to help me finish sorting my bookcase. Saying “help me” is a misnomer, because Mary does all the work and I sit and pass judgement on titles like some sort of authority. She can do all the bending, standing, reaching that I can’t, and she graciously includes dusting shelves and tops of books. Today she even asked for a broom and swept up some spider eggs. Above and beyond.

We divided books into those that I want on my shelves, those that can go to the storage locker (extras of books I’ve written and by far the biggest category we had—anybody wants to buy a book just let me know; I can probably open a store), and books that I will give to the library’s used-book store. What I kept on the shelves we roughly organized into books I had written or had chapters, essays, etc., in, books by good friends of mine, and books that I cared about. I was delighted to find some treasures—a few cookbooks that I thought had been lost in the great deluge that ruined most of my cookbooks, a book of William Barney’s poetry—the Fort Worth postman who became a Texas poet laureate, two copies of Bartlett’s Quotations (who needs two?). and other treasures.

One half-shelf holds old books of sentimental value—hymnals from my childhood and  a copy of the songbook that my dad and I used to sing out of on Sunday nights—he’d play the piano and we’d both sing, though neither of us could carry a tune in a bushel basket. There’s a copy of Get Thee Behind Me, a preacher’s kid’s (pk) account of trying to counter sin—a book that made me laugh when I was a kid with a dad who was a pk—and a terribly worn copy of Foster-Harris’ invaluable guide, The Look of the Old West. I used that research tool a lot when I was writing westerns. Lots of treasures.

We were dusty and dirty by the time we went to the Black Rooster for sandwiches. I’m a fan of that bakery, and it puzzles me that some of my friends aren’t. Chicken salad on a croissant—what’s not to like?

But the upshot of the day is that I have neatly arranged bookshelves with some room to display family photos and the like, and an accessible shelf for office supplies. Well, it will be accessible when we get one box and two shopping bags of books to storage. Then even I can get to printer paper and book mailers.

Doing this massive undertaking with Mary made it fun instead of a chore, and she was the one who pointed out it was better to be busy than to mope. There’s nothing like a good neighbor and friend.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The beauty of an afternoon nap

If you know me at all, you know that I nap every afternoon about two o’clock. It’s almost a religious ritual, and very few things can keep me from my nap. Tell me there’s an event at two o’clock, and I’m likely to send my regrets. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about it or self-indulgent, but I have decided to conquer those feelings.

I come from a family of nappers. My dad, a physician and hospital administrator, walked a mile home for lunch every day and then took a twenty-minute power nap. When my brother, also a physician, first retired he took three or four naps a day, and I still hesitate to call him between one and five, because his nap time is more fluid than mine.

When my kids were little, I required afternoon naps almost until they went to school. Some were good nappers and slept soundly; others not so much, but they were required to take a “body rest.” Sometimes they fell asleep in spite of themselves.

When I worked full time, my naps were confined to weekends, but I was still faithful about them. In the eleven years I’ve been retired, I’ve missed very few naps. I work hard in the mornings—it’s my best time—and about two I begin to get unbearably sleepy.

Sleep researchers generally agree on the importance of naps, though several various reasons are offered. One study shows that a nap restores alertness, prevents burnout, heightens sensory perception, reduces the risk of heart disease, and makes you more productive. Another suggests it increases your patience and lowers blood pressure. For me, I know that I often just drowse and do some of my best thinking when I’m napping. Ideas come, and when I get up, I’m refreshed and ready to write.

How long should you nap? Some experts suggest that there are four kinds of naps—the short power nap that my dad took. The half hour nap that leaves you groggy. The hour-long “short” nap, and the ninety-minute one, where you get some good REM sleep and go from deep sleep to dreams. On a good day, I do sleep an hour and a half and dream wildly—but then I dream at night and remember those dreams. And if I sleep soundly in the afternoon, I don’t always leap right out of bed—I lie there and contemplate, unless Sophie insists she’s ready to go out.

All this is on my mind because I didn’t get a good nap today. The yard guys came right at two, which involves the noise of their machines plus Sophie’s indignant barking that they dare invade our property. So it was maybe two-thirty before I lay down. Then it sounded to me like planes at Carswell (okay I guess I mean LTV) were revving their engines. That was followed by the neighbors’ yard crew who always come early on Tuesday morning but broke their routine today. Their appearance requires more indignant barking from Sophie.

So a little after four I dragged myself out of bed—yes, I get in the bed, under the covers—knowing I hadn’t slept. The funny thing is that maybe I had slept and didn’t know it. I remember as a child telling my mom I lay awake all night, and she assured me that I slept and didn’t realize it. I also used to tell her I itched all over, and she’d tell me that was a sign I was about to fall asleep. Clever woman, my mom.

Back to this afternoon, I got up feeling tired and have had no ambition this evening. Good thing I had leftovers for dinner. I truly think that nap makes a difference. There’s a possibility though that it’s better not to try to nap than to try and get up frustrated. But I’ll keep trying.

Please don’t call me between two and four in the afternoon.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Hello, winter and dark dinners


Change is always hard on us humans, and no one ever said it was easy to go from Daylight Savings Time to Central Standard. I for one am among those who would like to have Daylight Savings all the time. I feel a little less joyful when it gets dark at five o’clock in the evening, and I wish for the long twilights of summer. But change we did, as we must, and I think everyone was a little off today.

In fact, Sophie was the only one unaffected. Listening to her biological clock, she awoke promptly at seven this morning, which yesterday would have been eight. Fortunately, she is inclined to go out first thing in the morning, do her business, and come right back in, at which point she heads for the warm bed I have just vacated. But this morning, I didn’t vacate—I went back to doze and linger.

Time change is always hard too because of clocks. We are fortunate today that all our internet-connected clocks change automatically—computer, watch, telephone—but I have a digital bedside clock and a wall-hung thermometer/clock that have to be changed manually. And from season to season, we all forget how we did it last time. Tonight, Jacob and Christian worked long and hard and finally got it done, though we have not been able, since last spring, to restore the part of the thermometer/clock that tells the outside temperature. The clock in my car remains to be changed, but I can do that easily.

With all this change, church this morning was soothing. It being All Saints Sunday, the traditional parts of the service—prayer, offertory, communion, and scripture reading—were fit into the nine parts of the Duruflé Requiem. It was a service of music, no sermon, and, as usual at my church, the music was magnificent. As I sat there, surrounded by glorious sound, I felt the words of that old hymn, “It is well with my soul.” The musical petition for eternal rest everlasting was reassuring, somehow diminishing the fear of that great unknown.

Of course Christian and I got our wires crossed even about church. Jordan was out of town, but I had told him the service was all music. He somehow thought I meant we shouldn’t go, whereas I told him because I was really looking forward to it. We somehow got that straightened out but not until nine this morning.

My big accomplishment this weekend: baking homemade chocolate chip cookies. My friend Carol asked at least twice if I did then “from scratch,” and I assured her I did. I used the stand-by Nestles recipe and, ironically, read yesterday that Nestles has had to recall their ready-to-bake chocolate chip dough. Great timing. But everything went wrong—I didn’t have quite enough white sugar, so I eye-balled increasing the brown; having measured out the dry ingredients into a bowl, I turned to unpacking groceries, and cavalierly flung an orange toward the fruit bowl—knocking over the dry ingredients, part of which landed on the floor. Aside from cleaning the mess, I was left with the dilemma of figuring out how much flour, salt, and baking soda I’d dumped. I finally decided to ignore the salt and soda and judge the flour by the stiffness of the dough. I ended up not adding any more, and the cookies got the ultimate compliment tonight: Unasked, Jacob volunteered, “Juju, the cookies were good.” When I quizzed, he admitted to liking oatmeal/raisin, so that’s next on my list.

Last night, Carol and I had dinner at La Madeleine—beef in gravy with Parmesan potatoes—and tonight I made carnitas—pork roast cubed and boiled with seasonings, served with cilantro, onion, sour cream, avocado. Once again, a bountiful weekend.

And I have my work on my desk all in order in my mind for tomorrow. Going to sleep feeling blessed. Hope you are tool