Saturday, February 29, 2020

A day with my daughters

Jordan at the Jewel Charity Ball
Today was another Saturday that broke the mold of my usual Saturdays. My daughters and I had brunch at the Taste Project, with them laughing because I said I usually eat tuna salad and cottage cheese on Saturday mid-day.

Maybe you’ve been to this unique restaurant that’s part of the revitalization of South Main in Fort Worth. If not, let me tell you about it. The idea is that you pay what you can afford for the meal. Menu items have a price, and they do give you a check after you finish your meal. But if you can’t afford to pay anything, no problem—and I’m pretty sure I saw some homeless folks looking for a free meal. Perhaps some people pay what they can, to show good faith, even if they can’t afford the meal. And some, like us, overpay because we think it’s such a wonderful contribution to the community.

This was the second time I’ve been there. Jordan and I went—she thinks a year ago for her March birthday. I remember we had lamb burgers which were terrific but too much. We should have split one. Jordan wanted to take half home to Jacob, but no deal. That’s one unusual aspect of this creative restaurant: no doggie bags. Can’t eat all your meal? Too bad. You can’t take it with you. Serving the underserved as they do, you can see the logic behind this rule.
I initially started to order a meatloaf sandwich, one of my all-time favorites. I thought I'd take half home, but then I realized I couldn't do that. So I turned down the meatloaf and the chicken salad sandwich which also caught my attention, in favor of a salad, which I knew I could finish.

Today, the girls split avocado toast, which came topped with scrambled eggs, and a vegetable omelet. One of those items was topped with ricotta, but I’m not sure which, and there was an accompaniment of home-style fries. I had a blood orange salad with blood orange dressing and roasted beets. All of it was delicious.

The décor is industrial modern—clean and neat, open and airy. Many of the workers are volunteers. In fact, one young man wore a TCOM T-shirt, and I couldn’t resist telling him I’d been part of the osteopathic college when it first opened, gasp! fifty years ago.

All in all, it was a lovely experience, and I’m anxious to go back. Parking is a problem, especially for me with my walker, but we were able to get a place close to the front door.

Megan took a one o’clock bus back to Austin, Jordan went hunting for a ball gown, and I had a nap. Tonight, I had that tuna and cottage cheese they teased me about. Jordan and Christian are off to the Jewel Charity Ball, dining and dancing in high cotton. She looks lovely in her sparkly black gown. I am ready to settle down and finish the novel I’m reading, but I’m waiting for Jacob to decide he wants the burrito I have for his dinner. Back to routine tonight, after a nice break.                                                                                           

Friday, February 28, 2020

This, that, and a sunny moment in the day


A gorgeous day in North Texas—sunny and bright and clear, and after a coldish start to the day, pleasant temperatures in the afternoon. In fact, so pleasant that Megan, my Austin daughter, complained about how hot it was in the cottage. I do wish the girls could understand that my metabolism is not what theirs is with me at eighty and they in their forties, and when I sit all day at my desk, I easily get cold. As it was Megan threw open the patio door and went outside to cool herself.

Still, her arrival was a bright spot in an otherwise ordinary day. She’s in town just overnight to get together tonight with some of her high school friends. Worried about missing too much work time, she took the Vonlane bus from Austin and got in almost three solid hours of work, in addition to a good lunch. Had everything good to say about Vonlane. I’ve taken it twice before and really liked it—will take it again next weekend to San Antonio.

Meantime, Megan arrived about 2:15 and by 4:30 we had dropped her off at a friend’s house, not expecting to see her again tonight. We will visit tomorrow until one o’clock when her bus departs for Austin. She needs to get home because Sawyer, her guitar-playing son and his band, have a gig tomorrow night.

We did visit while Jordan, Megan, and I did errands—Eatzi’s to get their tuna salad, which I have newly discovered is wonderful. Also got a salmon cake for my supper—very good—and some cheeses for our everlasting happy hours.

Otherwise, the day has not been remarkable. I could not tell you what I did this morning, but the morning disappeared. I did try to figure out how to clear the cache on my computer. I know, I know—it’s something everyone does. Except me. I also tried to rid my computer of some malware, and called Colin, who was with the IT guy from his company. He advised a hard disconnect, so I tried it. No idea if it worked, except the computer refused to stay off and kept rebooting itself. I usually think for a woman of my years I’m pretty computer savvy—this was not one of those days.

Random thoughts: After several years of thinking I was being pure by drinking almond milk, I began to hear that drinking it was destroying the environment. Hard to see that connection, but I finally saw an article that made it clear—sort of: Almond milk has become such a popular health fad that growers are putting in huge orchards of almond trees and contracting with beekeepers to send hives in to pollinate the trees. The trouble is that the bees keep dying—for no reason that science can figure out. Whole colonies are destroyed; in other instances, colonies produce deformed offspring. It’s still a mystery to the almond growers, the beekeepers, and scientists, but be aware that if you drink almond milk you are consigning bees to death. And we need all the bees we can foster.

My other incidental information is that someone has published a book, an entire book, from one of the five remaining major publishers, on the semicolon—when to use it, when not to, what it means. Subtitled The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, it is billed by Amazon as a  page-turning, existential romp through the life and times of the world’s most polarizing punctuation mark. The blurb suggested that Stephen King, Hemingway, Vonnegut, and Orwell detest it. Herman Melville, Henry James, and Rebecca Solnit love it. But why? When is it effective? Have we been misusing it? Should we even care? My question: who is Rebecca Solnit?

Reminds me of the flap over the Oxford comma, of which I am a big believer (see how adroitly I avoided ending a sentence with a preposition, with a nod to Winston Churchill). I’ll venture an opinion, not having struggled through the delightful romp: the semicolon does not belong in fiction. No one talks that way.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Waking up to a bright new world

It’s a fairly well-known fact that I take a nap every afternoon. I’m religious about it. Friends and family know not to call or come by between two and four. I’ve read a lot about research supporting the healthful aspects of napping, and I’m certainly not one of those who claim to feel worse after a nap then before. It’s a lifelong habit, inherited from my father, and now that I’m retired, I’m free to indulge every afternoon.

By the time two o’clock rolled around today, I was more than ready to sleep. The plumbing saga continued, with a crew of professional diggers who belied the heritage of the gravedigger in Hamlet. These were cheerful fellows—at least four of them—who pushed countless wheelbarrows filled with rock to a waiting truck. But they seemed to laugh and joke among themselves  while they worked. They were not impressed by Sophie, though, and I had to keep her in the house, despite her protests.

The wonderful woman who twice a month cleans my cottage texted to say she had to wait for repairmen at her own home. Jordan and I sort of gave up hope, but a little after one she showed up. I asked for a quick cleaning—laundry, bed linen, vacuum, etc.—but she was two steps ahead of me. She was going to do those things and clean the bedroom, then close me in the bedroom to nap while she cleaned the rest of the cottage. She took it in stride when I said she could not flush the commode but was undone when the plumbers cut off the water. “I can’t clean bathrooms,” she complained.

So that was the state of things when I went to sleep—a dirty house, an unflushed, stopped up commode, and no water. By then, the diggers had finished, and the plumbers had started their repair, which they promised me they could get done today. Sophie was wandering around, still wanting to go outside, a bit bewildered by all that was going on.

I woke up to a new world. Zenaida was gone, but the cottage sparkled and smelled clean and good. The bathroom was clean, the commode had been flushed and cleaned, and the plumbers were gone. I texted my thanks to Zenaida and called the plumbing company, where they said they weren’t quite through—all the dirt they took out has to be replaced and the area cleaned up. But the important repair was done, and Sophie was happily surveying her kingdom in the back yard. I felt like a new person.

Tonight at happy hour we celebrated Mary’s birthday—it’s one of the big ones, and she will  be in New York on the actual day, so we partied a bit ahead with a spread of cheese, pickled herring, blue cheese dip, and hummus. Prudence made chocolate dipped strawberries and strawberry buttercream frosting, which Jordan put on chocolate cupcakes. Can you guess that the birthday girl’s favorites are chocolate and strawberry?

A happy day, though it ended with Jordan and me searching Amazon for the N95 masks recommended when—not if, according to the CDC—the corona virus erupts here. Many affordable versions are “currently not available,” which tells you we are late to the party. But we did order four masks. I have this twisted logic, that I hope is true—if we spend money on the masks, we won’t need them. Still I worry ahead about quarantines and our country’s lack of preparedness.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Two plumbers and a dog—not an easy combination

Several years ago a bookstore set an old manual typewriter on a desk, put a stack of clean white paper next to it, and left it. The predictable happened—people came by, stuck a sheet of paper in, and wrote whatever was on their minds, from poetry to predictions, and maybe even a few curses. Someone with an even better idea collected those tidbits and compiled them into a book. My son-in-law Brandon is a bibliophile and likes odd, offbeat books, so of course I got this one for him one Christmas.

I was reminded of that book recently when I saw a picture of a battered, old metal desk someone has set out on a rise in the desert outside Alpine, Texas. The desk has a chair, some paper, and I guess a few pens or pencils. Hikers are invited to stop, enjoy a magnificent desert scene laid out before them, and jot down their thoughts. They say there is never a waiting line, because even if the desk is occupied when you arrive, no one stays long. Seems to me it might be worth a trip to Alpine, just to sit at that desk.

But you have no idea how I longed for the solitude of that lonely desk as I sat at my desk this morning. I’ve recounted my plumbing saga recently, but today was a new chapter. Keith, the plumber who has done all the work on my house for years arrived, with his helper, Adam,. ready to roll up their sleeves and attack the blockage.

First the camera, which involved such high-pitched whining noises that I took my hearing aids out and worried about Sophie’s sensitive ears. Then, from the sound, they snaked a roto-rooter kind of thing down into the pipe—and Sophie went crazy, sure that there was an animal in the bathroom that she had to frighten away with her barking, which was so frantic it was almost as high-pitched as the machinery had been. Sophie is technically a medium-sized dog, neither big nor miniature, but when she gets carried away, she sounds for all the world like yippy tiny dog—not pleasant.

By the time, Keith and Adam were both working outside, so she was free to go in the bathroom. But when she gets in the bathroom and barks, it acts like an echo chamber. A bit cowed by the noise, she spent some time under my desk, which was preferable—I could reach down and calm her with a loving hand. But then some noise outside, some small change, would send her charging into the bathroom to bark or up on the couch where she could look out at the area where the men were working. She barked so much she ran herself dry and drank an entire bowl of water. Then, of course, her frantic took a new direction—she need to go outside. I was hesitant to let her out because I thought she’d bother them, but I had no choice. Luckily, I got her back inside fairly easily.

Through all this noise, I managed to knock out almost 900 words of a proposal for a new project. In the quiet of the evening, I’ll re-read and see if it makes any sense at all—I have my doubts. When Keith and Adam went to lunch, and I tried to sneak in a nap. They never returned, but as soon as I settled in the bed, the yard guys came with their noisy equipment, which also drives Sophie into a barking frenzy. Lesson learned: if I confine her in the bedroom with me, with both doors closed, she suddenly goes quiet. What a great thing to learn.

The plumbers will be back tomorrow, but first there will be professional diggers. That sends a bit of a chill through me.  The broken pipe—probably original to the house—is buried deep in the caliché rock on which all the houses on our hill sit. It’s not easy or quick digging. But Keith assures me once the digging is done, he can fix it pretty quickly. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Not my usual Saturday lunch

Saturday lunch is almost a ritual for me—tuna fish salad and cottage cheese. But today was really different. I went to the Fort Worth Neighborhood Community Awards Luncheon. The Poohbah, the neighborhood newsletter I edit, was a finalist for an award. Stars in Subie’s crown for going with me.

The event was at the Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex, a sprawling, multi-building thing on the far south side of the city that serves as headquarters for the police and fire departments and training grounds for both. I should have known about that when I was writing mysteries set in Fort Worth. Might  have made a huge difference and even spawned a new novel.

We were surprised that we had to check in through a scanning station just like the airport. Of course my walker set off all kinds of alarms, and the attendant made a huge joke of it. But then we found the luncheon was in the next building—not a huge distance away but a daunting walk for me. A kind gentleman whose official duties I never figured out asked if we’d like to ride in a golf cart, and we—at least I—eagerly said yes. We waited almost forever but were finally whisked down to the luncheon.

Found out there was a table from our neighborhood, with our names on seats and food delivered without Subie having to stand in the long line. So we settled in, had lunch, visited with those at the table, and finally at one o’clock, the program began. The usual introductions and acknowledgments and a speaker, blessedly brief, on the importance of changing your health habits and eating a plant-based diet—as we were served chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

Then the awards. The newsletter category was first, but there were apparently two sub-categories, and we were not mentioned in the first. By this time one of my hearing aids had gone out, and I wasn’t hearing all that was going on. But I sat there and thought, “Oh, swell. These people at this table have come to see us win, and we didn’t.” But then in the second category, we were first mentioned. I asked Steve Scanlon, Berkeley Place Association president, to accept for me—no way I was going to hold up the program while we fetched my walker and struggled me up to the stage, though the past president kindly said, “We’ll help you.” Steve came back with a nice certificate.

There were lots of awards following, and what Subie and I were impressed by was the way neighborhoods are reaching out to each other and neighborhood associations are doing such wonderful work to bind their people together and to help those who need assistance in their neighborhoods. They have all kinds of projects and events to benefit their neighbors. Truly impressive. There were also individual awards—Neighborhood Police Officer, volunteer of the year, and neighborhood of the year—which Berkeley won last year.

After the ceremony, Subie snagged the mayor as she was leaving, and she willingly agreed to pose for a picture. When she sat down next to me, I said, “You know my grandson,” and she of course asked who. When I named  him, she said, “Of course. He’s such a doll.” We had a moment together about 13-year-old grandsons, because she too has one.

The golf cart was waiting after the lunch, and we were whisked back to our car, thankful to be out of an increasingly cold wind. All in all, it was a good experience, and I’m really glad we went.

But I came home and slept for an hour and a half. And tonight—yep, you guessed it. I had tuna salad and cottage cheese  And a half an individual piece of chocolate mousse cake. Oh, my!
Mayor Betsy Price, BPA president Steve Scanlon, and me

Friday, February 21, 2020

Catching up and reaching out

One of the first things I read this morning was a short blog by an author friend about how she’d devoted a day to doing the odd details that often slipped through the cracks of her life. She must have read my mind, because I’d decided to take care of odds and ends—that stack of papers on the corner of the desk needs sorting, and there are odd bits of paper and notes scattered everywhere with things for me to do.

So I called my accountant, called the supervisor of the yard guys and then watched with bated breath while two went on the roof to cut a tree branch that had worked it’s way around a live power wire. Filed some papers for a possible project on down the road and wrote a note to an old acquaintance who’d written after she found me on the Women Writing the West listserv. I had promised to give my suggestions on another author’s query letter—I was pretty drastic and hope she took it well. She used way too many adjectives, and I kept thinking, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” A synopsis isn’t the place to showcase your writing style—that can come in the actual manuscript.

I sent several emails to friends about everything from last night’s supper to an upcoming gathering to remember a friend who died a couple of months ago. Supper last night came from Eatzi’s—a sort of cafeteria of prepared foods. Upscale and very good. Linda came in from Granbury, and we shopped together for supper. But when I said, “I’ll have a crab cake,” she said, “I will too.” And when I said, “Green beans, please,” she said, “For me too.” We laughed at what they must have thought about us. I also bought a Cotswold cheese with chives—new to me and delicious. The three of us—Jordan joined us—almost ate the whole hunk, so we’ll have to go back from more. The crab cake was almost pure crab, low on filling, and that made it delicious.

But a big thing I did today was to wade through a podcast and a rather long book review friends had said I “must” read and/or hear. In addition, I found a lengthy excerpt from a new book on the online weekday newsletter, Wake Up to Politics. If you don’t know it, do look it up. The excerpt is from The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For, by Charlotte Alter (no relation, but I’d sure claim her). The book appears to be about the changes millennials will bring to our culture and our politics, but in the quoted section, called “The Last Dinosaurs,” she makes some amazing points: Google only launched in 1998; Wikipedia came along in 2001, and the iPhone in 2007. Those social media changes have had an enormous impact on us in a relatively short time. By contrast, the telephone was not in common use until almost seventy-five years after its introduction, and both radio and TV were slow to be found in most households. Millennials are the first generation who never knew anything but this digital world.

The other book that impressed me was Why We Are So Polarized by Ezra Klein. Klein points out that these days few people vote a split ticket—we are less tied to a candidate than to the party. And criticism of our party’s positions doesn’t sway us—we just look for ways to validate our opinions. I confess that I keep thinking that if I can just present the inescapable facts, trumpers will see that he is a thug and a criminal without knowledge and in mental health trouble. I know it really just makes them dig their heels in deeper, but I can’t give it up. The other thing he says is that as our country grows more diverse, representation will grow even less inclusive. Thirty per cent of the population, in certain states with heavy electoral count, will elect the president. It’s a lesson trump learned well in 2016. And what, to me, Klein was basically saying, is that the Constitution as written may not work in this bright new world. He made me re-examine a position that I had denounced as heresy, especially when it came from trump.

All this was heavy reading, but it sure made for an interesting day. Oh, and there was a podcast from “Pod Save America,” which pointed out that Tuesday evening, after the debate, some wag edited the Wikipedia entry on Mike Bloomberg to show his date of death as 02/18/2020. Cause of death? Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Sleep well in these troubled times.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Podiatrists, Plumbers, and Pals

            Boy, it was hard to get that alliteration.

Started the day with a podiatry appointment. If I hoped for a magic solution to the shooting pains in my right foot, I was disappointed. The doctor said I am not unique—most people have my problems, and as a matter of fact, my feet look better than a lot he sees. The problem actually comes from my low back, which didn’t really surprise me. Cold comfort, but I trust this man and appreciate the recommendation of a cream that might help.

I’m not driving much these days. Just don’t feel comfortable doing it, so I had asked a neighbor to go with me on this 20-30 minutes’ drive (if you go by my back roads). At the last moment, she had a family emergency. I went alone and did just fine. Left with my feet feeling better and harboring a feeling of pride in my driving.

The plumbing saga is ongoing. Today my longstanding plumbing company sent two guys, and they, sigh, pretty much confirmed what the roto-rooter firm had said yesterday. It’s a big problem, with several things to consider. Fixing it will require digging behind my cottage, where the soil is more rock than dirt and it will also require temporarily moving my a/c condenser. The a/c guy told me today that moving it is not such a big deal, but I will be without heat. And I’m sure this is not a one-day deal. So it’s a question of coordinating people and the weather—can’t wait for spring because that commode is temperamental and even though I’m babying it, it could stop up and overflow any time.

So this is an ongoing problem, and I’m tired of it. But I did have to eat crow today. Early in the day I filled out a questionnaire about the roto-rooter people who came yesterday, and I was not kind. I thought their quote was outrageous, and I felt pressured to sign immediately. But when “my” plumbers came today, they confirmed the other guy’s analysis of the problem and said his quote was reasonable. Give me credit—I called the company and explained, and they sent me a new questionnaire.

So now my plumbers will run a camera again and the coordinate with the various people. Pray for spring, people.

A side note: The Democratic presidential candidates are on fire tonight in their debate. Showing a lot of passion. Buttegieg and Sanders seem to be having a private argument in public.

It’s rainy and cold again tonight. I was supposed to go to supper with my Wednesday evening pals, but the weather didn’t inspire. They were to come get me after they left a concert at church, so I couldn’t call and cancel. When they called to say they were on their way, I suggested wine, cheese, and crackers in the cottage and home early. They both thought that sounded like a fine idea. I rushed a cheese tray together, chilled another bottle of wine, and welcomed them. We talked politics, church matters, animals, all good things—and they were here an hour and a half. So much for scurrying home early.

Sophie has been, ah, difficult lately, to say the least. She lies on the deck and looks at me as if to say, “I know you want me to come inside, but I am not going to do it.” Today, however, with the cold, wet weather, I thought she would come in more quickly. She didn’t, but then all of a sudden, she ran inside as if being chased. So we are cozy and inside for the night—cross your fingers, please.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Dodging a bullet, or, the plumbing saga continues

Mother and son--who's taller?
Jordan wins by a hair but not for long.
After a day that was just a beat off, it was a delight to have happy hour with Jordan and Mary tonight. Prudence couldn’t join us because her husband was still doing surgery, so she had no babysitter. But she breezed by with crème brulee and individual chocolate mousse cakes. If that girl ever walks into my cottage empty-handed, I will probably fall over in a faint.

We had a jolly time. Mary is on a kick of doing one fun thing every day for a month leading ujp to a decade-changing birthday—you can guess which decade because I’m not going to tell. Tonight, we were her fun thing, which put a burden on us to be extra bright and gay. But I guess we managed because she seemed quite happy about the evening.

A highlight was when Jacob came out, and we had a measuring contest to see who was taller—Jacob or his mom. We did that last night too—he’s even with his dad and almost even with me (I have shrunk with age, which happens to most people).

When Mary left and Jordan went inside, I had salmon salad (salmon left from Sunday night supper) for dinner, followed by half a crème brulee. Just couldn’t do the whole thing. For the salmon, I simply broke it up with a fork, added diced cucumber and green onion, a healthy squeeze of lemon, and some mayonnaise. So good.

But the day was not so good. I couldn’t settle down and get any real work done while first waiting for the roto-rooter guy and then waiting for them to leave. They arrived about ten-thirty—two men. One was the clean-out guy, the one who actually broke up whatever was stopping up the commode; the other was the camera guy and estimator, Now the presence of an estimator alerted me to the fact that they expected, hoped, to find a major problem to repair, and I was wary from the start. The clean-out visit, for which I was to pay today, was high, I thought (later confirmed by my regular plumber). But with heavy, whining, loud equipment, they cleared whatever was blocking the line and ran a camera through to find the problem.

The estimator showed me the video of what they found, but hey! My degree is in literature, not plumbing. He could have told me that was the moon, and I’d probably have believed him. When he quoted the repair price, I was in danger of fainting, except that I knew all along I wasn’t doing repairs without calling Woodie Woods, the company I’ve used for years. So I calmly said, “Do you mind if I get a second opinion?” He was affable about it, said not at all, but I heard him talking to his boss and repeating what I’d said,  which was “I’m a doctor’s wife, and I always want a second opinion.” Okay, it’s been forty years since I was a doctor’s wife, so maybe I fudged a little.

The cleanout guy was responsible for today’s bill, and when I paid him, he began to talk about a chemical that would make my drains flow more smoothly and I really needed it and was I interested in it today? After what I’d spent with him, I was not, but I had to initial a place to show that he’d offered it. A second thought; I avoid chemicals whenever possible. Our planet earth, you know. Both men stressed the urgency of the situation and what peril awaited me if I didn’t act immediately. I think they meant if I didn’t sign right now. I can easily see how this company makes money.

After they left, I called the dispatcher at Woodie Woods When I told him what I paid today, he said, “Ouch!” And when I told him the estimate for repair, he said, “Don’t touch it.” My regular plumber is on a big remodel job, but they hope to shake him loose to come here tomorrow. I hope so too. It’s one thing to have Keith in the house working. He’s been fixing my plumbing for at least twenty years and through two major remodelings, and I feel like he’s a friend. Having two strangers here this morning was discombobulating. I will be so glad to have a fully functioning commode back.

Meantime, Jordan says, “Let’s not talk about plumbing problems anymore.” Why not? It was almost my whole day.

Monday, February 17, 2020

A semi-cooking weekend and some—uh—problems

I didn’t cook as much as usual this past weekend, mostly because I was invited to Saturday supper with a longtime friend and her companion. Another friend and I joined them at his apartment, and while Morris gave Jean the grand tour of his art collection—and it is amazing! Gallery hung, even in the bathrooms!—Kathie and I had an overdue visit. I enjoyed the art from an easy chair in the living area of his small but spectacular apartment. Kathie fixed us one of the gourmet meals I’ve come to expect from her—ending with a made-from-scratch pound cake with real whipped cream (I was so impressed by that!) and berries. Lovely evening, and I think both Kathie and I agreed that we need to get together more often. She and Morris travel a lot, and she keeps a packed schedule when in town. But I told her I have a special recipe with her name on it, so I’m hoping we can fit in another visit soon.

Jordan was in Frisco Saturday night and much of Sunday to visit with her brother, Jamie, and her half-sister, Dylan, who was in from California. But Sunday morning, Christian, Jacob, and I went to church. Jordan was home mid-afternoon, and I fixed us Sunday supper—baked salmon and smashed potatoes. They’ll show up on the Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog on Thursday, but I will say in advance they were really good.

And so here we are at Monday. It was supposed to be 80 today, and I guess it was, but it was not bright and sunny, so I still felt a chill. Shh—a neighbor whose name I shall never reveal came for happy hour. She was supposed to be home cooking dinner for her family. We sat on my patio and had a high old time discussing recipes we’ve tried. My kind of conversation. I am amazed at the conversational settings where I have nothing to contribute—Saturday night’s discussion of people in the Pentecostal religion—and I sit like a lump. But tonight, talking about cooking, I could hardly wait to get my two cents in, politely of course.

I finally excused myself to cook supper. Chicken thighs with red onion and artichoke hearts, braised in white wine. Made the cottage smell wonderful and tasted just as good. The recipe called for a cup and a half of wine, but Jordan and I hated to part with that much of the chardonnay that is our house wine. She had a pinot grigio that she said was awful---for one thing, it had bubbles like Prosecco. So I ignored that dictum that says never cook with a wine you won’t drink and used it. Result was good. Artichoke hearts and red onion slices soaked in white wine are wonderful. It’s a New York Times recipe, if you’re a subscriber.

There was a dark side to my weekend—a plumbing problem. I didn’t quite want to put that in the headline to this blog. How do you combine cooking and plumbing problems—that’s an instant yuck! But on Saturday my commode stopped up for no apparent reason. Christian plunged, waited, plunged again. It got better, but clearly there was a problem. I found I could use it with discretion, but by today it was obvious I needed my favorite plumber. The dispatcher said he might could squeeze me in this afternoon in Keith’s schedule. I had no hope, but Keith, bless him, came by on his way home, thinking he could knock it out quickly.

It was not to be—there is something stalled deep in the pipes. At his advice, I called a roto-rooter company, who said they would schedule it between seven and eleven tonight. I was not looking forward to a night-time vigil and the exorbitant after-hours costs. When the commode showed signs of being amenable to careful use, I reschedule for tomorrow.

Pray for me tonight that I don’t have a plumbing emergency. Jordan offered, jokingly, to get down the potty chair I had just after hip surgery. No thanks.

Otherwise, today was a good day—I edited my speech for the book club of the Arlington Women’s Club and wrote a column for Lone Star Literary Life. Lots of projects on my desk for the week ahead, and that makes me happy. Jacob tonight teased his father by saying he had the day off but still went to work. I told Jacob I understand that completely. Work makes me happy and, I hope, keeps me young.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Things I am weary of

            There some general, apparently widespread beliefs going around that I am increasingly weary of. I disagree with them, but you may disagree with me. Mostly these ideas are found on Facebook, and while many may dismiss that particular social medium as a font of misinformation, I find, read judiciously, it’s informative and helpful. Certainly, it helped me see these trends in thinking, but maybe that’s a negative.

The general public doesn’t care about the shenanigans going on in our government these days. I don’t find this true at all. Republican senators turn a blind eye to quid pro quo, witness tampering, and other unlawful acts by the administration, and trump’s supporters applaud his every move. But polls show that more than half the nation wants him removed from office. I quote from a meme I saw today:

“I am so tired of him. Truly, so incredibly tired. I’m tired of people pretending that he’s not a hateful, lecherous, narcissistic, megalomaniacal, despotic, rapacious, compulsively lying, lifelong common man. I’m tired of his lies. I’m tired of his sickening moral bankruptcy. I’m tired of his face, his voice, his smirk, his family. I’m tired of his complete inability to say even one thing that is kind, or humble, or appropriate, or TRUE, ever. So. Damn. Tired.”

I think pushing the idea of an apathetic nation is a propaganda tool. If we believe that nobody else cares, maybe we’ll shrug and think, “I can’t do it by myself.” It’s our country trump and his enablers are ruining, and we’ve got to band together and resist. Such groups as Indivisible are doing that every day, along with several splinter Republican groups.

Democrats are hopelessly disorganized and don’t have a single strong candidate. Look at the Iowa caucuses. The debacle of the Iowa caucuses was a state problem and does not reflect on the national party, which had nothing to do with it. As for strong candidates, we have a diverse field of them, so diverse that it’s hard to choose. That’s how it should be during primaries. Primaries are a chance for each candidate to showcase his or her policies, and they certainly are not meant to be a lovefest. Each of the remaining candidates would lead an administration a thousand times better than what we have now. Of course, trump demeans them with derogatory nicknames—Sleepy Joe, Pocahontas, Mini Mike. It’s another propaganda tool—he believes if you hear that often enough it will stick in your mind and taint the person.

Religion is the whole problem. This usually comes from the progressive or liberal side, but the answer is no, it’s not. Alt-right religion or what is called evangelistic Christianity is a huge part of the problem. Some of those folks are so focused on one issue—abortion—that they  can’t see the forest for the trees, or maybe it’s the trees for the forest. I also think victimhood plays a part in binding his follows to trump in a cult. They are mostly but not all people who are angry at the system, think they never get a break, think the government is out to get them. Trump promised to fight the government, and they’re all for it. Blind loyalty keeps them from seeing that he’s destroying the government.

Religion can be a good thing. Answer churches that tell you the answers to questions you haven’t even asked and tell you exactly what to believe and how to act scare me. What we call journey churches, those that believe each one’s journey toward faith is an individual experience to be respected, can foster hope and a sense of community. No, you’ll not convince me churches in general are the problem—or mosques or temples.

A Democratic president will lead us right down the road to socialism. Republicans use socialism as the big, bad, fear-inspiring word. They’re going to take all your wealth and use it for the state (I think that’s communism, folks). What Bernie Sanders preaches is Democratic socialism. (I’m not shilling for Bernie here).There are a lot  of  definitions floating around, but I think one meme this morning put the simplest is that often it is more economical to band together for services than to have each individual have to secure their own. Hence we have police and fire protection, public schools, postal service, public museums and libraries, highway maintenance, and a hundred other things that make our lives better.

Lecture over. But these things have been on my mind. I’d be delighted to hear other opinions.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Learning to adjust

It’s hard for me to believe, but I have now lived in the cottage for three and a half years. I still love it, am so glad my family made this move possible. But I’ve had to learn to make some adjustments. One of them is that I am now pretty much dependent on other people’s schedules, mostly Jordan.

Jordan doesn’t like me to go to public places—i.e., the grocery store—alone, because she’s afraid I’ll fall getting in and out of the car or that my attention will be so much on getting the walker out and set up that I won’t be aware of my surroundings—and I’ll be mugged. Add to that, the fact that I am not much liking to drive these days. It’s an old fear that I thought I had conquered but has now come back to haunt me, and it’s complicated by the fact that I know my reactions at my age are not what they were twenty years ago. That pretty much means that Jordan takes me to the grocery, although I do curbside pickup at Central Market alone.

We try to make Friday morning our grocery shopping morning, but her business as a luxury travel assistant has gotten busier, and she often has appointments that we work around. One problem, for me, with such indefinite timing is that if I know I’m going to be interrupted sometime but don’t know when, it’s hard for me to settle down to work. Before I can get serious about research or writing I need to know I have a block of time. So on “waiting” mornings, I spend way too much time on Facebook.
Today though it was a momentous occasion—she had to register Jacob for his first year of high school. High school? That kid who used to crawl into my bed to keep me safe from storms? He’s now almost as tall as I am and has this deep voice that I’m still learning to recognize. Yep, he’s going to high school.

As I expected, the process took longer than anticipated. So I waited patiently, knowing she’d come get me when she was through. Oops—she went out to eat, where I thought we’d go  to Local Foods and get tuna for our lunch. (If my kids are smart, they will disable “Find your friends” on my phone—for me, it’s “Find your kids.”) I ate cottage cheese.

We went to Local Foods about 12:30, height of  the lunch rush. Got something for dinner tonight and headed to Central Market, where she realized she had forgotten to get chicken for Jacob’s supper. Got my groceries from curbside pickup and came home.

I have a bit of an ordering problem with Central Market. The website says, for instance, lemons are two for $1, so I thought hitting “Add to cart” put two in my basket. Not so—more than once I’ve gotten one lemon. So today, ordering four chicken thighs for a family dinner, I hit it four times. And ended up with four four-packs of chicken thighs—sixteen thighs is a bit much for an elderly woman who lives alone! Guess what Jacob is getting for dinner tonight while we have turkey burgers with pesto. Central Market was gracious when I called, handled it to my complete satisfaction, and gave me a hint about using the notes section to specify quantity.

Tonight we had a festive Valentine’s supper in the house with a proper table setting, as opposed to eating off the coffee table in the cottage. Jordan used red chargers and water goblets and added a bouquet of red, white, and pink daisies that Christian had brought her. Lots of chocolate for each of us, and Christian and Jacob had a great time guessing what was in various pieces. We found out Jordan does not like coconut!

I’m learning to adjust, and in the long run it was a good Valentines day. And, hey, the sun was shining today. Pretty cold, but it’s sunny.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Chilly day, heart-warming book

Today was another gray, chilly one. Yes, it stopped raining mid-day as the wetness moved east of us, but everything remained soggy. Apparently, parts of North Texas had bad flooding, which tells you how much rain we had. For me, it was another day to hunker down and stay at home.

I made a good start on a talk I will give next month to a woman’s club, and I dealt with some odds and ends. One of the luxuries of my retirement life is that when the weather is uninviting, I can simply elect to stay in. I did that tonight. My Wednesday night dinner pal, Betty, didn’t check in until four o’clock, by which time I had talked myself out of going to dinner. She sounded equally reluctant, mentioning more than once how cold it is outside. So we decided to wait until next week and then try a specific restaurant noted for reasonable and good appetizers. That’s all we need for dinner.

But today I lingered over a small, slim book that I’d been hearing about. Notices on various places, like an online newsletter for booksellers, had intrigued me about a book called,
The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse.
Then a writer friend raved about it, and I was hooked. Not that it swayed me, but Amazon shows over 2300 reviews, 93% of them five stars. What I wouldn’t give for ratings like that!

I have so little bookshelf space, and friend Mary and I had only recently cleaned, sorted, straightened—and, yes, sigh, eliminated some books. So I tell myself I read online to save trees and to save space in the cottage. But there are some books you just need to have on the shelf so that you can revisit them from time to time. I sensed this would be one of them and ordered it from Amazon.

Created by Charles Mackery and dedicated to his mum and his dog, the book has text all in script, written with a thick point so that sometimes it’s hard to decipher. But the script is an accompaniment to wonderful line drawings that are open, free, and expressive. In many ways, including its folk wisdom, this book took me back to Winnie the Pooh.

The Boy is lonely, the mole thinks mostly about cake, the fox doesn’t speak, and the Horse is wise and kind.

When the boy first finds the mole, the mole says, “I am so small,” and the boy assures him, “But you make a huge difference.” When the boy asks him if he has a favorite saying, the mole says, “Yes. If at first you don’t succeed, have some cake.”

They meet fox, whose foot is caught in a trap. He immediately tells mole that if he weren’t caught, he would eat him. But mole chews through the trap to free him. They become a threesome. Lots of wisdom comes from the mole: “Being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses.”

“Sometimes I feel lost,” said the boy. “Me too,” said the mole, “but we love you and love brings you home.”... “I think everyone is just trying to get home,” said the mole.

They meet the horse, who says, “Everyone is a bit scared. But we are less scared together.”

I could go on and on quoting passages from this book, but I want you to discover it for yourself. Aside from the charm of the text, it is a beautifully put together book—years in publishing have taught me to appreciate a finely crafted book, and this is one. Good quality paper, careful reproduction, a solid binding, and endsheets of a musical score with the boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse racing through the lines. A note says it is to be “lively and in strict time.”.

If I ever could meet Charles Mackery, I’d shake his hand and tell him I agree about the importance of kindness. It’s a timely message for our country these days. But until that fictional meeting, I’m going to sleep soundly tonight and hear the wise words of the mole in my dreams.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Kind,” the boy answers.

“What do you think success is?” asked the boy. “To love,” the mole replied.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The tease of Texas weather

In February, Texas teases us with bright, glorious days, maybe a bit brisk but sunny with clear skies, and then wallops us with cold, wet days. Today is one of the cold, gray wet ones that chills you to the bone. Yesterday was the same, and it gives me a great case of the blahs. I sit and my desk and freeze, partly because I’m cold-natured and partly because my small office-living area has three large windows, one small one, and French doors. That’s a whole lot of glass, and on sunny days it’s wonderful. Not so much today.

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s my mood, but I foresee scant accomplishment for today. Yesterday I was on fire and got so much done that I was smug and a bit self-satisfied. So maybe today is payback by the gods.

Sorting receipts and bills for the accountant is an annual chore that I dread. But being a compulsive rather than a procrastinator, I get it done so that it’s not weighing on my mind. Throughout the year I keep relevant paperwork in two folders—one for general tax matters and one for professional writing expenses and income. Yesterday I vowed I would sort one folder—but I actually sorted both, categorized expenses, and came up with questions for the accountant. Plus I discovered an automobile insurance deduction I’m eligible for.

And I had lunch with a good friend, talked out a project, and elicited her support. If it comes to fruition, she’ll assist me with research, so I’m doing the happy dance. And in the evening, we entertained friends we haven’t seen in too long. So it was a good day, and I guess I had a right to be smug. Maybe I can rest on my laurels today.

Lately I’ve decided that the two most overused words in the English language are “inappropriate” and “offensive.” Too many of us decide if it’s not exactly as we would do it—from apparel to music to whatever—it’s inappropriate. I am struck by the number of teen girls being sent home from school (particularly in Texas) for “inappropriate” dress or hair. I’m all for modesty and occasionally appalled by skimpy outfits on teens at church, but who really sets the standard? Too many young girls are getting an awful message when they are sent home for inappropriate dress, particularly when, as in one instance I read about, the explanation was that their outfit (and dancing) would cause impure thoughts in young boys. A friend insists that the only ones who have impure thoughts are the male teachers. But it’s that old blaming the rape victim—“she asked for it.” No! It’s a masculine problem.

But boys have their problems too, particularly teenage boys with dreadlocks. They are sent home and/or told they can’t walk across the stage unless they cut their hair. What authority says dreadlocks are wrong? Who says we all have to wear our hair the same way? With the dreadlocks, it’s white men who have no idea of working with curly, kinky hair. I heard of a different instance today—a sixteen-year-old boy who was growing his hair out for Locks of Love to support his sister, who had lost hair during treatment for a severe auto-immune condition. Ordered by the school to cut his hair, the boy chose to drop out of school. Tragic.

And a final note while I’m clearing out my brain: I’ve read good advice (I think from the Bloomberg campaign) for talking with Trump supporters: stick to his policies and the issues and avoid commenting on his orange-ness or his mental state. I am working hard these days to avoid being snarky, especially on Facebook, but darn, it’s hard! Both his orange-ness and his mental state are such tempting targets.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

A terrific weekend

Megan, the queen of stirring
What a terrific weekend. Daughter Megan came up from Austin with her two sons, Sawyer and Ford, for the rodeo. I got a quick visit Friday night before they left for Dickies Arena, but my rodeo days are long over. I don’t feel too sad about that. When I had young children and again when I had young grandchildren, the Fort Worth Stock Show (I know that’s not the proper name) and Rodeo were annual highlights. But I don’t think these days I could bear to see man or beast injured—despite the arguments that the men (and women) are there by choice. The beasts, of course, are not. And the bleachers are beyond me. I stayed home, took a nap, and got another visit when they came home.

Saturday morning the three young boys (one fifteen and two thirteen) went to the TCU basketball game, and my daughters and I had a ladies’ lunch at Lili’s—treated ourselves to lunchtime wine. So decadent.

I came home—another nap—and the girls took their sons to the midway. Another annual trip I’m glad to give up. I think I now appreciate rodeo mostly because it brings my family to town.

Saturday night we had a mini-family reunion—younger son Jamie and Mel came for supper; Megan’s law school roommate dropped in for an overdue visit, and some neighbors joined us. We had snacks aplenty, barbecue for supper, and a good time. I excused myself about nine, and Jamie came out to the cottage with me. So I had a good thirty-minute visit with him. Although he lives close, he’s so busy I don’t see him often. I had intended to take a quick nap, but never did. (I know—it sounds like I take a lot of naps, but Sophie lately has been getting me up in the night and again early in the morning, though I explain to her that I need my sleep!). The girls came out for a quick glass wine and a rehash of the evening.

Lazy day today. After Sophie got me up at eight, I put together my supper for company tonight—a casserole and chocolate mousse for dessert. The mousse was an experiment out of the New York Times—just melted bittersweet chocolate with water that you beat by hand until it forms mousse consistency. My daughters were both skeptics, so they came to “watch,” but it ended up with Megan making it. Since she was a little kid, she has liked to stir things. She used to drive me wild when I’d put rice on with a lid to steam, and she’d take the lid off and stir. Today she admitted she still does that and then said, “I’m not very good at cooking rice.”

So this recipe was right up her alley. She stirred as the chocolate melted into the water, and then when we whisked it to a ice water bath, she stirred vigorously—for a long time. Her bulletins went from “It’s not working” to “It’s beginning to thicken” to “It’s mousse.” But she admitted her arm was tired, and I’m not sure I have the arm strength to do it. Anyway, it was good, though it hardened when refrigerated and might have been better served at room temperature.

Otherwise, my dinner was good—almost. A chicken/artichoke heart/mushroom casserole that had too much liquid, though I think I know how to fix it another time; a salad, a good loaf of artisan bread; herbed goat cheese and crackers for appetizer. My guests were one of the ministers from my church with whom I’ve formed a friendship and her mother who was in town. Really interesting and lively company and I thought it a lovely evening. Now, at a little after eight, the dishes are done, and I am sleepy.

And tomorrow I face a desk piled high. Life is good, and I am blessed.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Leaving a Writing Legacy

Note: This first appeared today, Friday February 7, 2020, as a guest post on the Mysteristas blog. It is reprinted with their kind permission.

I was surprised to see Debra Winegarten’s name come up  on my phone that morning in the summer of 2018. I knew her but not well, though if you were lucky enough to be Debra’s fiend, it was a binding relationship. We knew each other online through the Story Circle Network Work-in-Progress group, a small and close-knit writing circle. We met only once.

I was drawn to Deb because she was openly and enthusiastically Texan, Jewish, and gay. She had written books about people I knew about—Oveta Culp Hobby and Katherine Stinson, “the flying schoolgirl.” She was a tireless promoter not only of her own work but that of others. She spoke to every group that invited her and invariably sold a lot of books. She taught the rest of us to make “outrageous requests” when negotiating with publishers. She was insanely happy with her partner, poet Cindy Huyser, and their two cats. And she didn’t laugh when I wrote about my fondness of Jewish food, a hangover from a marriage gone wrong. We shared that liking.

When she called, I knew the Debster, only 60 years old, had been hospitalized with what appeared to be bone cancer in both hips, and I knew that months earlier she had developed a strange hoarseness. That morning, in her whispery voice, she asked, “Will you write my book?”

She was under contract with Roman & Littlefield (a subsidiary of Globe Pequot) to write a Two Dot book about the second battle of the Alamo, when two determined women saved the mission from demolition to make way for a hotel and parking lot. I had encouraged Deb to focus on it. She was so energetic and enthusiastic that she was distracted by everything from speaking engagements and school appearances to the memoir she wanted to write about her mother, Ruthe Winegarten, activist, author, and historian.

Asking me if I would write the book was like giving me an immense gift. I had secretly envied her the project, even while applauding.  Of course I would do it. By September, when Deb died, her partner had given me two boxes of research and a carton of books on the Alamo. Her editor, Erin Turner, had issued a new contract, and we had worked out the details of the change in authors. My deadline was May 2019. I never spoke to Deb after that first phone call.      

I dug into those boxes which I’m sure made sense to Debra but were utter chaos to me. It was a giant puzzle that, once pieced together, told a fascinating story. Together, Adina De Zavala and Clara Driscoll represent two qualities that Texans prize: heritage and money. Adina, granddaughter of the first vice president of the Republic of Texas, had the passion for historical accuracy; Clara had the money. Theirs was a natural union but hard headedness—sometimes also a Texas trait—turned what was once a friendship into bitter rivalry.

I lost myself in Alamo material and produced a manuscript by March. The Second Battle of the Alamo: How Two Women Saved Texas’ Most Important Landmark shipped January 10, 2020, two months ahead of schedule. The title page reads, “By Judy Alter, based on the research of Debra Winegarten.” It’s still Deb’s book, and our writing circle was sure Deb was doing the happy dance in heaven.

I owe Debra Winegarten an enormous debt. In 2019 I signed contracts with Rowman & Littlefield for another book on Texas history and for reprints of five of my historical novels. Debra opened a whole new career door for me. In turn, I like to think her mind was at ease those last days about a project to which she had dedicated so much time and effort.

For me, this experience has reaffirmed a lesson about writing groups. I never would have written historical fiction about women of the American West if I hadn’t joined Western Writers of America; I never would have written cozy mysteries without joining Sisters in Crime and the Guppy online chapter; and I never would have had my writing take this new direction without the Story Circle Work-in-Program group. It’s what writers do—we support each other.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Chili on a chilly night

Jordan has it firmly fixed in her mind that there’s a connection between wintry weather and chili. Let there be the slightest forecast of snow, ice, sleet, even freezing rain, and she issues a call for chili. So far, today’s predicted storm has missed us, though it’s darn cold and damp. In the TCU area, we had a sudden burst of rain early this morning and a slight brush with sleet in the late afternoon. But storm or no, all the chili fixin’s are on my worktable.

Christian usually makes our chili. He’s an excellent cook and, unlike me, studiously follows a recipe. He likes to experiment to the point that I’m not sure he’s used the same chili recipe twice. But Christian is entertaining clients at the rodeo every night this week, so I am the default chili maker.

Me? I just make it the way I always have. No recipe—just onion, garlic, ground meat (I’d love to have chili-grind venison but that is not to be), diced tomatoes, beer, and chili powder. If we need more, I’ll just add some more tomatoes or tomato sauce. Oh, and beans, added just before serving but given enough time to heat.  We like to garnish it with chopped red onion, grated cheddar, and sour cream. Terlingua folks would shake their heads in despair at my chili which violates all kinds of rules.

I do know about Terlingua chili. My neighbor goes to the Original Chili Cookoff every year, even judges some events, and is a chili purist. He has criticized my chili mercilessly, calling it “stew, not chili.” But I can one-up him, because I have written a whole book about chili.

Texas is Chili Country explores the origin of chili—no, it’s not Mexican. In fact, food scholars in Mexico are fairly disparaging of it. Truth is it probably traces back to Native American cooking and the pemmican they made using what they could forage. Today’s Texas chili probably originated at some trail drive chuck wagon where the cook or cousie, as he was called, threw some peppers into the stew. The first public appearance of chili came in the 1880s when the chili queens of San Antonio sold their wares on various plazas in that city.

Chili was sold in solid bricks in the early twentieth century and was popular because it was filling and inexpensive. But it was also damned as the devil’s food in some areas, specifically McKinney, Texas. Then came canned chili. True aficionados denounce canned chili but even chili guru the late Frank Tolbert found a few brands acceptable. The most famous of them all is Wolf Brand, and the fascinating story behind it includes real wolves and the fact that a Spanish-speaking grocer saw the wolf on the label and thought it was dog food.

Chili really came into prominence in this country with the development of cook-offs, a development directly credited to Tolbert, although there had been low-key cookoffs before he planned the 1967 event at Terlingua. You see, Tolbert had a new book, A Bowl of Red, and the first cookoff was a publicity stunt for the book. It was also a circus, with outrageous characters in costume and debatable judging. It's gotten better over the years.

Cookoffs are now big business nationally, with strict entry qualifications—participants must win local contests to qualify. Two rival organizations sponsor annual events—the Chili Appreciation Society International and the International Chili Society. For fifty-four years, the Tolbert family has organized the “Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cook-off.” The other one, they claim, is a johnny-0come-lately. 

But fully half the book is taken up with recipes that I collected from sources far and wide, and if the Terlingua folks are upset about the beans in my chili, I hope they don’t read these. Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti; Skyline, an eastern brand that markets several prepared packages, incorporates cream cheese; one recipe includes three kinds of chiles, espresso, dark chocolate, and anchovy fillets among other ingredients. Greaseless chili is for those watching their cholesterol, and Zen chili is for those… uh, with Zen inclinations. You can make white chili, lamb chili, low-cal, vegetarian. And there are recipes for related dishes like chili pie and Coney dogs. There’s no end to the possibilities.

But you know what? Our plain and basic chili tonight was darn good.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Creativity at three o’clock in the morning

One of the blessings of my life is that I usually sleep well at night—and frequently in the daytime too. But last night about three o’clock, I woke and then my busy mind kept me from falling back to sleep. I’ve been known to write great fiction at such times, but the story line either disappears or falls apart when I try to reconstruct it in the morning. Last night I wanted to remember everything.

For years I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a memoir, but I never could wrap my mind around it. The closest I came was my first cookbook, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. I divided my life into four cooking phases, although now I’d add a fifth. But ten years ago, the phases were childhood in Chicago with a British menu of meat and potatoes, Texas and two new foods—Mexican and Jewish, the casserole years when I raised four children as a single parent with little money to spare, and the years of the empty nest, when cooking really became prominent in my life as I experimented and entertained often. Today I’d add the years of the hot plate, because as most know, I cook on a hot plate or in a toaster oven these days. But that really was a book about food, not my life.

I’m not convinced my life is interesting enough to recount, though others seem to think it is, with raising those four children alone as the central adventure. And maybe it was interesting, and I just didn’t recognize it as I lived it day to day. There were of course gray days but there were many more filled with laughter and even silliness. Warm memories. 

I’m in a small, close-knit online writers’ group where the women mostly write memoir, and one thing I’ve noticed is that most memoirs deal with overcoming a serious problem—frequently addiction or the addiction of a child. We have one woman writing about losing her husband too early to a brain tumor, and another whose ex-husband stole her children. I look forward to those books, both of which are headed to print. But my life pales in comparison. I just haven’t had any big major problems.

So last night I hit on an idea: My Life with Dogs. For too long I lay awake, creating a list in order of the dogs who have meant something in my life. I came up with close to twenty—a pretty good record for eighty years. Oops, I just thought of one more and added him to the list, a dog I had less than a month but one I will never forget. And then I had to memorize the list, so it didn’t get away from me in the morning. That of course might well end up a book more about dogs than me, but it’s worth exploring.

My mind progressed to blog topics and came up with two—you’re reading one now, and the Lord willing you’ll read the second tomorrow night. There was a list of emails I should make today, and again I had to memorize it so that it didn’t get away from me. I am pleased to report that I have committed the list of dogs to a computer file, put the blog topics on my calendar, and sent the emails.

All of this deep thinking took until well after four, but I have a trick for those rare nights when sleep eludes me. I get up and go to the bathroom, whether I need to or not, come back and take two Tylenol. That somehow seems to break the cycle of sleeplessness. True enough, this morning it was 6:40 before I knew it and then I only knew it because Sophie wanted to go out. I got her safely back in the cottage, and next thing I knew it was 8:15—more than time to get up and write down all my three o’clock thoughts.

Excuse me—I think I’ll go take a nap.