Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Who let the dogs out?

One of the lost dogs
He does look a bit arrogant
Remember that song and video? Jacob was so entranced by it that we watched it a thousand times when he was still small enough to sit on my lap. I thought of it today because Jordan had a “dogs out” adventure, and I shared in it vicariously.

Our neighborhood, Berkeley Place, has an active email list, and one of its functions is to deal with lost and loose dogs. Did your dog escape? Put it on the Berkeley Buzz. Spot a loose dog? Put it on the Buzz. It works most all the time. Except today.

It’s a convoluted story, but Jordan got word that two dogs were loose in the 1900 block of Warner Road this afternoon, and they were aggressive, according to Jacob, who had been walking a neighbor’s dogs. So she jumped in my car—yippee! My car needed to be driven—and rushed to the spot.

There they were, lying in the sun—a medium-large black dog and a medium gray/brown/brindle with white markings. She called me, and I posted not one but three messages—one about the dogs, a second warning that they were aggressive, and a third with pictures. Jordan meanwhile was driving from one end of the block to the other, warning pedestrians to avoid the dogs. Her great fear was for a parent with young children. Eventually, though, with no response on the Buzz, she came home. I was reluctant to call Animal Welfare and consign the dogs to who-knows-what fate, on the off chance their owners were away for the day and would return and claim them. As far as I know, the dogs are still there. Someone else has posted a new notice that there are dogs loose on Warner Road, but no one has claimed the dogs.

Other than that, it was kind of a food day. I spent part of the late morning reading Helen Corbitt recipes and discovered some gems of ideas for appetizers. My warning: don’t read such when you’re already hungry for lunch. Today is a leftovers day: I had tuna salad, bean salad, and cottage cheese for lunch, and will have leftover casserole for supper, along with some of those fresh green beans I have discovered no one else in my family will eat.
My kind of lunch

Sunny most of the day, which can’t help but improve one’s disposition, but the temperature never quite got to what I consider comfortable. We had wine on the patio, with Jay behind his screen, but I was wrapped in a sweater. Supposed to be a bit better tomorrow and then rain for three days. It’s only been a week since our grass was mowed, and it’s already knee-high—well, not really, but it sure is long.

And so the days roll on. Thanks to Jordan for adding a bit of spice to this day. Seems like some one thing distinguishes each day (barely) from the last and the next. Wonder what it will be tomorrow?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Of Books and passing time

I can survive well enough on my own—if given the proper reading material.” – Sarah J. Maas—American fantasy author

Predictions for authors and the book industry varied from gloomy to wildly optimistic as this period of social distancing set in. It seemed only logical to me that people, robbed of other pastimes, would read more. But bookstores are closed, Amazon is making medical supplies a priority over books, and the outlook is grim. Authors report lagging to nonexistent sales.

I truly though I would read all the time, but for the first two weeks I read only sporadically. I was glued to the internet, reading every credible source I could find on pandemic news. Maybe it’s that now I am inured to predictions of death and destruction, but today I got back to serious reading.

I finished Something from the Oven, by Laura Shapiro, a study of the changing eating habits of America in the 1950s. Actually the story of change begins earlier and carries on to a climax in the ‘60s with the revolution jointly inspired by Julia Child and Betty Freidan, two seemingly opposed women who had much in common and together changed forever the American housewife’s role. I was particularly interested, however, in the ‘50s, the rise of packaged and prepared foods, and the attempts to “glamorize” them. There were some awful dishes served in those days. Just think pineapple Jello with miniature marshmallows and you’ve got the essence.

The book which really has captivated me though is Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile, about Winston Churchill and the early bombings of London in WWII. Larson is the extremely talented and thorough author of books about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the sinking of the Lusitania, among others. Churchill is, of course, a fascinating character—idiosyncratic but canny, a strong and determined leader, bound to save his country at all costs.

I see many parallels between those 1940 days in London and our situation today in the pandemic. People were, as we are, living with anticipatory dread (isn’t that a wonderful and descriptive phrase), fearing an unknown and unpredictable enemy that loomed large. They were, as Governor Cuomo said today, surrounded by death. But for many Londoners, this crisis brought out the best in them—and so it is for many in America today. The only difference is that the Brits had a strong leader and, today, we do not.

One of Larson’s skills is the ability—based on his deep and thorough research—to reveal character. So we see Churchill in his elaborate gold dressing gown, embossed with dragons, cigar clamped in his teeth, pacing in the gardens at 10 Downing Street during a night bombing. Or we see him touring London after the first devastating raid, crying with the people as he saw the destruction. We get a glimpse of his family—the daughter who wanted so badly to be part of the war effort and her parents’ determined efforts to keep her safe. Or his wife, Clemmie, who tried to keep a normal household. People make history, and the people of England are revealed here.

The narrative occasionally jumps to Germany where we get glimpses into the thinking of Goring and Goebbels and, by reflection, Hitler. These passages were harder for me to read, but I pushed through.

My dad, a Canadian who fought Germany in WWI, hero-worshipped Churchill, so reading this not only fascinates me but serves as a tribute to that wonderful, strong, honorable man who raised me. I’m still only half-way through, but I will finish this book and be the better for having read it.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Notes from the world to me, in seclusion

Hard to make the bed around a dog but she wouldn't budge
I have been trying to reach out, via email, to friends distant and near. Today I got a long email from an old and dear friend in the D.C. area. She reports that she and her husband are up at 5:00 a.m. every morning; they go for a two-mile walk, then have breakfast and dress for work, each going to their separate home offices. She fixes soup for lunch and they meet, walk another mile if he can take time from his remote meetings. And then at four they reconvene to watch Nicole Wallace, the only commentator they trust. And in the evening, they walk another mile.

Okay, they tired me out. Here I sit in the tights and T-shirt I’ve worn for two days. I sleep until at least eight each morning and am lucky to comb my hair. Some days I even wash it, but not daily like I used to. I fiddle at the computer, reading every credible news report I can find, and then it’s almost lunch time, but I squeeze in a little work. Lunch is leftovers if, praise be, I have them. I often get some serious reading done between lunch and about two o’clock—notice that narrow window—when I am compelled to take a nap.

After I nap, I either cook dinner or explore the day’s happenings online, and suddenly it’s evening, I have a glass of wine, and I’m tired. At the end of the day, I am often disappointed in the amount of work I have—or haven’t--done. Me, who used to be such an organized compulsive who prided herself on accomplishing so much each day. I am uncertain what to attribute it to—that old thing about those who have the most to do get the most done? Or I read a phrase the other day that struck home with me—anticipatory dread. Even though I feel safe and content, fear is a constant in the back of my mind. We are all afraid of a threatening but uncertain future.

A bright note today: my oldest son’s best buddy of almost thirty years ago—they waited tables and bartended together at Uncle Julio’s—sent me eggs Benedict, sausage gravy and biscuits, and a hamburger from a local restaurant. Out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Alirio does this from time to time—when my kids and I were in Chicago, he sent a gift certificate to a pub right across from our hotel. He lives in the Valley, so I’m not sure how he ferrets these places out. But it was a real day-brightener to get his gift today.

When Jordan came out to announce it, I called the restaurant and said I was sure this was a mistake. They said no, but the name was difficult, and they would spell it for me—and I knew instantly. Alirio (pronounced Alidio), a native of Columbia, went on from their bartending days to join the Border Patrol and had a good career there until his retirement last year. He and his Rosie have two almost-grown sons. I last saw them, probably within the year, when we all landed at Colin’s house at the same time. The two boys, now men, and I spent two hours reminiscing and laughing and sharing—a wonderful time, and a lesson for me in the value of keeping up with friendships. That’s something that’s always been important to me. Alirio is the icing on the cake that proves my theory. What’s the saying? “Old friendships are gold….”

So tonight I’m going to sleep resolved to be more productive tomorrow, to stick to business. But, ah, there are three food magazines calling for my attention. That’s sort of work, isn’t it?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

That alternate reality

Words and phrases that seem bandied about a lot in these critical times are “alternate reality” and “distanced.” I was acutely aware of the alternate realities in my world today. Woke to yet another thunderstorm, though it did “fair off” nicely and was sunny and warming up by noon.

But what got me was the distance between my reality and our world. I am isolated here in my cottage, reminding myself uncomfortably of that young boy who lived in a bubble back—when was it?—the ‘70s? I am quite comfortable, feel safe, have the company of my family, and am fairly content. My fear is that complacency will overcome me, though when Jordan brought in ground meat from the grocery tonight, I did chastise her for not separating touching the wrapping and touching the meat. But in general, I feel safe. She is inordinately careful and takes good care of me—and I am blessed.

Still, there’s always a bit of guilt with the feeling of being so comfortable when others are suffering. That feeling spurred me to make my annual contribution to my church last night, even though this is a difficult time for all of us financially.

On the other hand, I turn to my computer and realize the horror in the world around us. The number of cases of COVID-19 rises exponentially, as do the deaths. People are in desperate circumstances, hospitals are stressed beyond endurance, and the world is in a general mess. Suffering and loss and heartbreak that I cannot wrap my mind around. And here I sit, like a little princess. I am acutely aware of that distance.

I am also acutely aware of my temporary inability to concentrate on my work. There is a lot I could be doing, but in this time when the ordinary world is suspended, I don’t feel the urgency that I usually do. I can fiddle away the day, listening to videos that as Jordan points out only tell me what I already know about the disease. But the idea of doing research, picking up the threads of my professional life sometimes seems daunting. Shoot! I had to make myself clean off my desk-top greenhouse and clean my desk. Ulterior motive: we will go to church—or at least I will—in my cottage tomorrow. Jordan last week took a picture of my computer with the service, and I realized what a mess my desk was. So I have resolved to clean it before tomorrow’s remote service. And tonight I did do a bit of research reading.

Back to reality: Jordan and I made grocery lists tonight. In an uncharacteristic burst of planning, we listed meals for the coming week and then planned what we needed. Then, with computers at the ready, we crafted orders for Central Market (mine) and Tom Thumb (hers). But it was a discouraging experience—ordinary things were not offered, like Monterrey Jack cheese or a Boston butt pork roast. How can we make carnitas?

And when I went to submit my Central Market order, I got the message that no time slots are available. I’m a big CM fan, and I have sensed that HEB was doing a better job than most, but Central Market really disappointed me.

Besides, Jordan and I had anticipated a holiday dinner all week. We ordered a turkey breast and were going to make turkey and gravy, dressing, green bean casserole—the whole nine yards. When we picked up groceries today—ordered ten days ago—there was no turkey breast, no substitution.  Hard times for all of us.

And yet I hate to whine. See where I’m coming from? I am so much more comfortable and safer than most, that I have no right to complain. Something that came into the conversation last night as we enjoyed happy hour led Jordan to say, “Those are such first world problems.” And that’s where my conscience is. With a lot of prayers.

And no, I don’t believe the pastor who says this is God’s wrathful vengeance. My God is not that harsh and unloving.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A dull day and some nice moments

Today was another basically cloudy day, and I felt it in my mood—no enthusiasm for anything on my desk, just a desire to get through the day and a longing to go back to my bed. But the day did get better as it went along. And there were nice moments, starting last night.

I made smothered chicken and fresh green beans, which, yes, I had to trim and snap. Jordan was my sous chef and a huge help. But having a sous chef in my tiny kitchen area means we trip over each other. Nonetheless we created a credible meal—chicken thighs in gravy. Jordan and Christian liked it, but I thought the gravy had a raw flour taste—I didn’t cook it long enough. Of course, cooking was accompanied by a bit of wine and some time on the patio.

Tonight we sat on the patio again. Our neighbor, Jay, is quarantined in his guest house, having just come home from Florida. So he sits in his window, and we sit on the patio, and we talk. More neighborly than we’ve been in months. We got to reminiscing about Jacob’s childhood—he was in the driveway shooting baskets. Sparked by a Facebook memory picture of him at five in his baseball uniform, we recalled the time he hid in the house. I called and called and couldn’t find him. So I called Jay next door. He came and called and called and finally said, “Call 911. He’s not here.”

I was standing at the kitchen phone—still had a wall phone, no cell phone—and noticed Jacob under the dining room table. He didn’t come out because he was afraid that he was in trouble. There was a mixed chorus of “We love you” and “Do you know how worried we were?” It embarrasses him when we tell stories like that.

The dogs got in for their share of attention, and June Bug was particularly cute under the basil. I’ve been a nag about wanting to get the basil off my desk, out of the tiny greenhouse container and into a real pot. Finally tonight Christian put the basil plants in a chair to remember to take to the front porch to plant. Juney hid under the chair. Must have known she made a good photo op.

I did some good reading today, getting background on my next, food-related project, reading about the food landscape in the 1950s and the rise of packaged food and the idea of “glamorizing” prepared food. Interesting stuff. Tonight I’m reading more of The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson—an in-depth look at Churchill and the early, bombing-dominated years of WWII in England. Fascinating stuff.

So my mood is better, and I hope to carry it on to tomorrow. I think this isolation is hard on all of us, and an occasional blue spell is neither unusual nor a reason for guilt. I am blessed to have Jordan, who guards me so carefully, and Christian and Jacob, my cottage, my dog, my writing. So many people are facing such hardship during this crisis, that I feel almost self-indulgent. I worry, for instance, about my niece who is an R.N. in a COVIC-19 hospital unit in New York City.

May God smile on you and yours and keep you safe and healthy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Another sunny day

happy hour, 
Jacob's new activity center
Kind of hard to see the basketball hoop, but it's there
That’s the weather, not my disposition. Sunny and gorgeous all day, even venturing toward hot. I had the a/c on in the afternoon, and it was comfortable. Discovered last night the a/c in the bedroom is not working. I called today, and the repairman I’ve known for twenty years called back. Missed him so will call tomorrow, but I hope it’s something he can talk me through over the phone. Otherwise, it will have to wait. Much as I like and trust him, I am not ready to have a repairman in the house. Yesterday, we should have had Zenaida, who we are all crazy about, but as Jordan says, she’s been cleaning other houses and who knows what she’s been exposed to. I expect to pay her though for days missed.

The big news here today is that Jordan created an activities space in the driveway—moved the cars out and pulled Jacob’s basketball hoop and tetherball into the space left. Much consternation about weighting the basketball hoop down so it would be stable, but a trip to the hardware for sandbags was averted by using various pots and a couple of concrete blocks we had. Jacob has been out there several times today—I hear the “Thump, thump, thump,” and it makes me happy because I know he’s moving around and keeping busy. He’s strictly limited in activities away from the house and must observe the six-foot guideline, which most of his buddies are ignoring.

We had happy hour tonight on the patio, with our neighbor who is quarantined in his guest house just opposite the patio. He’s been traveling, and I guess he has to wait out fifteen days since his arrival back home. Nice to visit with Jay again, though it’s sometimes hard for me to hear him.

Otherwise, days are falling into a pattern. I remember years ago I knew a doctor’s wife who bred Cairn terriers—we had a couple of her dogs—and had a busy life. So I was astounded one day when she announced she was covering the switchboard at her husband’s hospital in a small town from three to eleven. When I asked why, she said, “I just find the more you have to do, the more you get done.”  I am now finding the reverse of that—with no deadlines and not much pressing me, I get very little done. I have lots of reading to do—some for pleasure, some for research—but every day I manage to fritter away the day without much reading.

Part of it is I am glued to news—on the TV and the computer both—keeping up with both politics and the pandemic. It becomes like an addiction. I am dismayed that the local news interrupts the daily White House press briefings—not because I want to hear trump but because I want to hear Fauci and even Pence. These days Dr. Fauci and Governor Cuomo are my heroes (I love the latter’s line, “My mother is not expendable, and neither is your mother.”) I also have increasing respect for Secretary Mnuchin because it sounds as if he really tried hard to reach a workable, negotiated settlement in Congress. Pooh on the Republicans who are now quibbling over minor details.

We have relatives in New York—the Bronx to be specific, though one daughter lives in Manhattan—and I am worried about them. Emailed with them today, and they are well, pretty much quarantined. But the Manhattan daughter, who has had to rethink her wedding plans, is an R.N. and her orthopedic unit has been converted to care for COVID-19 patients. That worries me a lot. My nephew, a physical therapist in Baltimore, has been cut back to half time with a corresponding cut in pay—and they have three young children. Hard times all around, and I am hiding away here in my cottage, grateful for my many blessings and especially for my Jordan.

Stay safe and well, my friends.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Finally! A sunny day in North Texas

Amazing what a bit of sunshine does for  your disposition! I woke up to sunshine, and it stayed all day. This evening it was positively balmy—80+ degrees—and we sat on the patio with wine and talked to our neighbor, who is self-quarantining in their guest house. He sat in his window, and we sat on the patio. A jolly visit, except of course I could only hear half of what he said, even with my hearing aids on.

And I had a terrific supper. Our neighbor Margaret, across the street, sent over a care package of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes—they had a belated St. Patrick’s Day dinner. She has her hands full these days of quarantine with both her sons home, one a recent A&M graduate whose job the quarantine has put on hold and the other a college junior who has been sent home because of the pandemic. But Margaret appears to be coping well and cooked the best corned beef I have ever had—tender, flavorful, better than the local deli. Vegetables were also done just right.

Another bonus to the evening: Jacob came out to visit. We talked about the pandemic, of course, but also about neighborhoods. He recognizes the community spirit in our wonderful neighborhood but is bothered that everyone knows if he screws up. I tried to explain how much I value the community support of our close-knit neighborhood, but he kept saying he valued his privacy.

We also talked about school. Today he and his mom got his school-issued computer, but so far, he has no lesson plans to go with it. I asked what he was doing in English—actually called English Language Arts—and got the answer of basically nothing. I’m trying to be helpful here—after all, I have an advanced English degree—but it’s hard, because I don’t know where he is. He says he knows grammar and he knows about the beginning, middle, and end of an essay—I’d sure like to see an example. My suggestion that he read Catcher in the Rye has fallen on resistant ears. Apparently, literature is not part of the local ELA curriculum, and Jacob is not a natural reader, as I was and some of my children were. Yikes! I may tear my hair out, which is okay because it needs cutting anyway.

I find these days settling into a routine. I get up about eight and make myself tea, doing whatever else it takes to get my day going, from washing my hair to putting away dinner dishes. Pretty much I work during the morning, and it’s a blessing that I have plenty to keep me busy. Though I confess that catching up with the news takes a chunk out of my morning—I tell myself when the pandemic is over and trump is out of office, I won’t spend so much time on Facebook and related sites. Morning is also the time I pay bills and do whatever business-related tasks are on my desk. With time out for lunch, eaten at my desk, I work  until about two. And then I nap—sometimes for two hours, which sounds like more sleep than it is. Napping for me often unleashes my mind for creative work, and I come up with lots of ideas.

In the late afternoon I piddle at my desk with whatever has come up during the day and, with a fierce dedication, I watch the news. I am of mixed emotions about the fact that the local news now pre-empts the corona task force briefing. Today I was glad to see Dr. Fauci back but chagrined not to hear what he had to say.

Jordan comes out for happy hour, dinner follows, and I write my blog and read in the evening. It’s a comfortable routine, and so far, I’m okay with it. I don’t want to spend my life this way, but I have faith life will get back to normal. Not as soon as trump promises, but some day.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A day of minor annoyances

MY shaggy grass

My first glance out the window by my desk this morning was a tad discouraging—wet sidewalks, cloudy skies, and long, long grass. The grass in the front lawn is okay, a mix of Bermuda and St. Augustine that has gone dormant for winter, but in the back, we have winter rye, lush and green and lovely up to a point. The yard service owner said last week he thought it was growing an inch a day in this rain. Ours hadn’t been mowed in three weeks, because it rained every time our turn to be mowed came up. It occurred to me that three things at my house were shaggy—the grass, the dog, and me. Tonight, the grass is short. Sophie and I are still shaggy.

Not sure how to describe today. It began to go south when I discovered that my printer was shooting out blank sheets of paper. After much tearing of hair, prowling on settings and devices and troubleshooting and finally calling my computer genius son-in-law, I discovered it was the black ink cartridge. And it’s all my fault. Somehow when I last changed the cartridge, I re-installed the old one and threw away the new one. Yikes! A $50 mistake! I have ordered a new one from Amazon, and it is to come Friday.

I actually broke quarantine this morning and went to Carshon’s deli to pick up an order. It was like driving in a ghost town, so little traffic. At the deli, we got curbside service, but Stephanie , who brought the order out, says they have no business. I am so sorry. Hope it doesn’t crater the business. I’ve been eating there over fifty years. My oldest son thinks no trip home is complete without a stop at Carshon’s. It’s a fixture in our lives.

Jacob went with me, but he was pretty monosyllabic, in spite of my attempts to start bright  conversations. His excuse was that at ten o’clock, he’d just woken up. Tomorrow they are supposed to get schoolwork.

Spent a lot of time checking authors for my monthly column in Lone Star Literary Life, only to have the editor tell me I’d somehow missed several newer books when I reported that several authors only had much older books. So tomorrow I have to backtrack and re-do what I did today. Only bright spot was that I got in touch with an old friend who has new books coming out.

To add to my day of minor annoyances, Sophie, who is almost nine and should know better, has suddenly taken to retrieving used Kleenex from the bathroom wastebasket and strewing it about the living room. It’s not a huge problem, as I have a grabber to pick it up—but it is, to repeat myself, an annoyance. And she knows it. When I start to pick one up, she’ll grab it and run, with a furtive look at me. Sometimes I think this and some of her other behaviors are her way of acting out the underlying tension she feels in all of us. I would tell you I’m not anxious and on the surface I’m not, but the virus is always there in the back of my mind. Yours too?

I’m having fun using up leftovers. For way too long, one giant baking potato has been staring at me in my bowl of onions and potatoes. It even started to grow little green sprouts, as if to remind me it needed attention. Tonight I baked it, mixed it with plenty of butter and grated cheddar, those last tiny slices of bacon in the freezer, some rapidly wilting scallions that I had to trim way back to find usable onion. Bound the whole thing together with sour cream and had a feast. The other half of the stuffed potato is in the fridge. One day I’ll run out of leftovers, but for now cleaning out my stash is an enjoyable challenge.

Enough prattling. Sweet dreams and pray for sunshine tomorrow. It’s supposed to go into the eighties.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Online church on a dreary Sunday

With the combination of social isolation and dreary weather, I’m realizing how much weather affects my mood. Kind of down today, because it’s been a dull, rainy day—not particularly chilly but not warm and comfy either.

I thought it would be lovely if we went to church as a family this morning, even in our pajamas. I guess I had a vision of us gathered around my computer screen, devoutly praying, listening intently to the sermon. Didn’t quite work out that way. Jordan did not sleep well—until eight o’clock in the morning, and so was asleep. Christian pulled up Facebook on the big TV in the back room—I have no idea how to do that—but kept getting the end of the nine o’clock service, so he came out to ask me how to get the start of the eleven o’clock. Right in the middle of Todd Prickett’s amazing rendition of the Our Father. Now I have to go back and listen to that again.

Long story short, I pretty much went to church by myself, although Jordan came out about halfway through and watched the rest. The church has changed its website, and I couldn’t figure how to get to live streaming, so I pulled it up on Facebook. I don’t think it was Facebook—the problem is on the church’s end and has something that I don’t understand at all to do with band width, but the visual freezes for brief periods and then the audio disappears, so lovely as the service was, it was sort of disjointed. Sometimes when the video freezes, it captures people in the most unflattering poses—like Russ Peterman with his eyes at half-mast this morning.

At the end, there were dramatic and beautiful shots of the interior of our sanctuary. We are so privileged to worship is such a beautiful setting.

At the suggestion of Dr. Peterman, Jordan took a picture of our worship site—my desk. I am not sharing that. Next week, before church, I will “landscape” my desk and take the picture myself from a better angle.

I laughed at a childhood friend in Michigan who posted that she had showered and dressed to go to online church. She’s married to a retired Episcopalian priest, so I guess that makes a difference. I was in a T-shirt and sweats.

The City of Dallas tonight has issued a shelter-in-place order, which is pretty much what we’ve been doing, but I know a whole lot of the world hasn’t. I’m waiting for a similar order for Fort Worth—it can’t come too soon. Christian still has to go to work which, to me, is a double-edged sword—because he has an autoimmune disease, he shouldn’t be exposed, and I don’t want him to bring the virus home to the rest of us. I do think Jordan practically hoses anyone down before they come in the house.

I have now been in the cottage eleven days without seeing anyone but family. Yes, I get a little down sometimes, but generally I’m content. I’ve spent several days working on the neighborhood newsletter—for some reason information came to me in a much more scattered manner, and it was hard to pull together. But today I’ve proofread it and turned my attention back to my next project, a food-oriented book. Made some notes and read a bit in a book on the food revolution of the Fifties—think TV dinners.

As I write tonight, I’m waiting for a gourmet dinner from  Christian—a Mexican chicken casserole of some kind. Getting hungry.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The ongoing saga of my car

Thidaughter, s was when I first started to drive again
after two years away from the wheel
As many of you may know, I drive a 2004 VW Beetle convertible that I adore. It’s my “I’m-not-your-typical-grandmother” car, and I adore zipping around in it—or I did. For almost two years, when I had so much trouble with my hip and the surgery, the car sat—first outside my cottage and then outside my son’s house in Tomball, where I thought they would drive it. They didn’t, and when I finally was able to drive again, I had to do a lot of expensive repairs.

I had such a sense of release and freedom. I drove with a joy and confidence I never had before. Lately though that confidence has been replaced by uncertainty and a slight tendency toward panic. Long story short, I’m not enjoying driving much, and it’s a real dilemma for me. For one thing, it’s a pain when I am alone to get the walker and then me into the car and reverse the procedure whenever I get where I am going. And Jordan doesn’t want me to get in or out alone. She’s afraid I’ll fall or get mugged. So lately it’s been easier just not to drive.

But cars don’t do well just sitting. I’ve had to have the battery jumped twice, mostly because I didn’t park it in such a way that Christian could get a car next to it to use jumper cables. Garages have those handy little things they carry around and don’t need cables. Jacob has been good about going out to start it, but it still doesn’t last long. So today, Christian jumped it—we had parked deliberately the last time we started it—and Jordan and I drove to get gas and to get eggs and milk at Braum’s.

My beloved daughter turned into a back-seat driver. “The gas station is on the left”—I know that. I’ve lived in this neighborhood over fifty years. “Slow down. There are people walking in the street”—I see them and am being careful. As I drove in the driveway, “Wait for the gate to open”—I’ve been driving in this driveway with that gate for about twenty years. “Why won’t your windows go all the way up?” Because the door is still open. Sheesh! I can see the handwriting on the wall, the point at which my kids will think I should no longer drive, though after my two-year hiatus, each one had to drive with me to check me out, and each one had different objections. Truth is, I’m a  pretty good side-street driver, not so much on busy streets, and not at all on freeways..

Christian was quite stern with me: I will have to drive it frequently; we can’t keep jumping it. And I can do that, albeit it’s a bit of a pain. Next dilemma: my driver‘s license comes up in July, and at my age I will have to appear in person and take the test, the thought of which gives me the nervous willies. Sometimes they require that you wear your hearing aids and not drive after dark—I’m okay with that. I would like to keep my license, if for no other reason than in another year Jacob will have his learner’s permit, and I can let him drive as long as I am in the car as a licensed driver. I’d probably give him the car, but he doesn’t much like it, and Christian supported him by saying, “It’s not a very masculine car.” What kind of nonsense is that? When I drove it a lot, women came up to me to say, “My husband would kill for that car.”

So here I sit, pondering all these variables. At least, it’s not a decision I have to make tomorrow, and it’s a good distraction from worrying about the corona virus.

Friday, March 20, 2020

What are you eating in times of quarantine?

Because I’m a frustrated food writer and wannabe chef, I’m interested in what people are eating in these days of isolation and empty grocery shelves. As I mentioned last night, we ordered from Central Market and were told it would be Saturday, March 28. Today I called and asked since that is so far out and our needs will change, could I add to the order. Nope. It’s apparently carved in stone.

A friend went grocery shopping today and looked for two items for me: Ritz crackers (so good in meatloaf and salmon croquettes) and diced tomatoes. Good on the Ritz, no go on the tomatoes. We are making do with what we have.

I am becoming reacquainted with the contents of my freezer and pantry, a friendship that is long overdue. Tonight I gave Jordan a box of black bean soup I bought without realizing it had chipotles in it—I am not a pepper girl! And a pre-cooked lamb shank in gravy which, if I remember right, I got from Central Market. It was my third try, and the verdict is that much as gourmands rave about shanks, I don’t like the texture.

This morning I told Jordan I thought I’d make freezer soup for supper. Did her family want some? “What’s in it?” she asked. My reply: “I don’t know. I haven’t made it yet.” It ended up with chicken broth, a can of San Marzano tomatoes (surely if I’d had it,plain old Hunt’s would have done), some orzo that’s been in the pantry forever, peas and corn from the freezer, some of the cannelloni beans I baked with tomato and cheese last night, a few slices of a kielbasa I found in the freezer. Pretty darn good.

But I have now eaten the last slice of Jewish rye (I prefer Orowheat seedless for sandwiches) from the freezer and am hoarding the last few Girl Scout thin mints. Why oh why didn’t I buy more? Jacob tired of them rather quickly, but I doubt I ever will. And I’m in danger of running out of chocolate.

I’m not old enough to have more than the sketchiest memory of WWII. I remember when margarine was new—a great white block, with a yellow color packet you mixed in to make it look like butter. Mom said food is half eaten with the eye, so I guess the yellow color was important. And I remember hearing about rationing—sugar for baking was hard to come by. Today reminds me of all that. And if you don’t get groceries for a week, how do you plan ahead? I want to bake cookies for Jacob—everyone seems to be doing comfort baking. But I can’t wrap my head around planning the supplies. I suppose I should just sit down with the recipe and make a list.

Once a doctor asked me to keep a food journal—everything I ate for a week. I don’t think that’s an unusual request from a physician. When I turned it in, he asked if I could eat a club sandwich without the bacon. Duh! But I digress. I think these days a food journal would be interesting. What are you eating?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Ho hum! Day number seven.

Jacob, eating Ramen on the patio
By shopping at several stores, his mom managed to get
enough Ramen to keep him happy for a couple of weeks;
it's apparently a high-demand item.
No, I don’t intend to number every day or consciously count them. That way lies madness, I am sure. But today it strikes me that a week ago today I spoke at a women’s luncheon and had supper with a good friend—and I haven’t been away from the house since. Our world has changed remarkably in the short space of seven days.

Rain and thunder again in the night, only I slept through them. My only clues were that the sidewalks were wet and Sophie didn’t want to leave my side. I woke to a dull morning and a temporary bit of the doldrums, which didn’t improve when the sun came out in the late morning. By noon, I was unbearably sleepy and not interested in doing much except either sitting at my desk or crawling back into bed.

I worked—and did some piddly things—but didn’t accomplish as much as I would have liked. I am torn between my natural inclination toward being a compulsive and an underlying sense that there’s no hurry about anything I do—I will have months and months to accomplish it. Add to all that an acute awareness of the danger of lethargy, and I didn’t much like myself this morning. I took a nap about two and swore to wake up a new person.

One of the things I like about myself is that with stern talking to, I can almost always pull myself out of the doldrums. It’s how I got through the long, difficult post-operative period after my hip surgery, and that same attitude stood me in good stead today. I woke up refreshed—dealt with a few things on the computer (my 10-minute census form and cancelling a disputed credit card charge) and swore to fix myself a good supper.

By 4:30 rain was threatening again, and Jordan came out to ask if I wanted to sit on the patio a big before the storm hit. She is determined that I get some vitamin D every day. I did like the idea. (Our patio is growing green algae from all this rain!) Jacob joined us, and we probably stayed 15 minutes before the thunder and threatening skies drove us inside.

I fixed a cheesy/tomato/white bean baked recipe from the NYTimes—glad I cut it in half because it was okay but not great. To go with it, I fixed salmon croquettes, a favorite since childhood—only I make them as patties, rather than the log-shape my mom used to do. While I was cooking, Jordan sat at my desk and compiled a Central Market order, thinking maybe it would be Saturday before it would be ready. Yep—it will be a week from Saturday!

After dinner, despite the reading I already have on my desk, I started a new book: Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile. I am a Larson fan, from reading The Devil in the White City, about the Columbian Exposition, set practically in the Chicago neighborhood in which I grew up, and Isaac’s Storm, about the 1900 hurricane that nearly wiped out the entire coastal city of Galveston. Larson’s new  book is about Churchill and the early days of WWII in England, the days some refer to as “the Gathering Storm.” I am particularly drawn to British history in that time and to Winston Churchill as a historic figure—an interest that makes me feel closer to my father, who was an inordinate fan of  Churchill.

So I salvaged what started out as a lost day and am feeling better about tomorrow. After all, we’ve got a long haul ahead of us—as did the Brits in 1940.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Keeping busy

A post from the senior minister at our church this morning asked each of us to think about what we are grateful for in this time of stress. It hit home with me, because I have been thinking how blessed I am, so grateful for family, a safe and cozy cottage, plenty of food and wine, a dog to listen to me rant.

But there’s one more thing: I am, as I long have been, grateful that I’ve built my life around books and reading. That focus means that I am never alone in my cottage. I always have something to do, something to write.

I’ve read some memes lately about introverts and extroverts, suggestions that while introverts are doing well with social isolation, extroverts are not. Introverts should reach out and check on them, just as we should check on elderly neighbors alone. I worry about people whose whole life is built around the social contacts of work, eating out, going to the bar, etc. If they are following the guidelines, they must be very frustrated and lonely.

I meantime am a happy camper. I am reading several books and websites for a proposed project—it hasn’t been officially approved yet, but I have strong indications that it will be. The reading, which has to do with food and mid-20th century American culture, is interesting to me.

But better than that: I have a new project. Several years ago a university press director asked if I would be interested in editing my blogs into a book. Flattered, I made a stab at it, but it seemed an overwhelming task. I have been blogging since 2006, so it wasn’t simply a matter of compiling—it meant picking and choosing, and it meant settling on a theme. Writing is an obvious one—but I began to write almost thirty years before I began to blog—if this was going to turn into a memoir, there was a huge gap.

My brother urged me to collect the family-oriented blogs, and I still may do that. I would hope someday the next two generations would treasure such collections.

But for now I’ve decided on a collection of my thoughts as I tentatively journeyed toward writing mystery. I had already compiled a few blogs, and I’ve spent the last two days excerpting more—I am now through 2007, so you can see it will be a big project. And I realize once I get them together, I’ll have to edit and provide some running commentary. Will it work? Will it be publishable? I don’t know, but for now, it’s keeping me busy and happy.

The blog’s beginning in 2006 coincides with Jacob’s birth, and as I read, I find lots about what a happy, cheerful, sometimes rebellious kid he was. And there are darling passages about other grandkids, like Edie, who at the age of four called one morning, just to say, “I hope you have a lovely day.”. Or Sawyer, who was told to put on sunscreen and replied, “I’m going in the garage. There’s no sun in there.” Morgan who kept inching away in a family picture after the grandchildren were dedicated in church—she finally ended in a corner all by herself, and she has that independent spirit to this day. I may have to go back and do this culling all over again with a different criterion.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, says this epidemic could last eighteen months. I wonder if that is long enough for me to sort out my blogs. Maybe, like all of us, I shouldn’t look that far ahead but should take each day as it comes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A birthday some dilemmas, and a puzzle

Today is my baby daughter’s birthday—Jordan, the youngest of my four. I won’t tell you how old she is because she’s a mite touchy about that, but I will say that it’s not a decade-changing birthday but still one that she considers significant. I cannot believe my kids are as old as they are.

Jordan loves to celebrate birthdays and is known for stretching hers out to two weeks or more. This year, it’s a rather subdued celebration. We reluctantly cancelled a birthday luncheon Subie was to host yesterday, and the Bass Hall performance, featuring our church choir and an original composition, scheduled for tonight, has been rescheduled for September. Jordan was excited that she and Christian were going to take Jacob. I suppose they’ll go in September, but that’s cold compensation for a birthday night on the town.

Today, as far as I know, she floated through the day, doing whatever struck her, but all at home. Tonight they are welcoming a very few close friends to the front porch. I was invited, but I won’t go it—I am convinced the fewer people I see, the better. I understand I will eventually get dinner from that gathering, but it’s almost seven and I have fortified myself with pimiento cheese on Ritz crackers—and wine, of course.

Current dilemmas: can I have the dog groomer come to the house? I can just hand the leash out the door and spray it when I get it back. Poor Sophie hasn’t had a haircut since late January—how did I do that?—and she’s shaggy and smells a bit doggy. One good note: she jumped up on a chair today and on the couch at Jacob’s urging. I have been worried because she hasn’t slept in her favorite chairs since she developed the urinary tract infection. Vet thinks it’s unrelated, and she probably has some arthritis—oh swell, another pill to give her.

My other dilemma: I will get shaggy myself and need a haircut soon. Can I have my much-loved Rosa come to the house? I have infinite faith in her cleanliness—she’s a protective mom of two boys—but who knows whose hair she’s been cutting. Jordan’s advice about everything is wait two weeks.

My pet peeve on this fifth day of social distancing—really social isolation—is people who say they don’t want to stay home. They want to eat in restaurants and go out as they please. What in heaven’s name do they think is going on? One woman posted that Queen Elizabeth is still going about her subjects, and she wanted to be just like the Queen. I replied that is all well and good for the Queen, but does this woman not realize that by disregarding all the strong recommendations that come from national, state, and local officials, she is endangering all of us. I told her as an at-risk citizen, I resented her attitude, and three people backed me up. It’s one thing to  have to explain this to Jacob, but we should have to spell it out for adults.

And a puzzle: A few days ago I shared a post from The Atlantic titled “The Trump Presidency is Over.” I said in the comment that we can’t blame trump for the pandemic, but this was a balanced review of the subject and his handling of it. It’s been since shared several times by others. Tonight I get an email that it violates Facebook’s community standards and I have the option to withdraw it or be unable to tag others or something—it was a bit confusing. I withdrew it, figuring it had already had quite a nice audience, but it’s left me mulling over the prevailing feeling that Facebook is politically motivated in its censorship judgments. I have seen blatant outright lies from the right. I guess someone on the right objected, and that’s why they took action. Now I have to learn to protest untrue postings. I have a Facebook friend (never met him) who says he reported several today.

I said it last night, and I’ll say it again: nerves are fraught and tense these days, and one thing we all most do it maintain our emotional equilibrium.

Sweet dreams, my friends.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Trying hard to find a laugh

My blog posts may get shorter and less frequent. Hard to find things to write about when the days blend one into another. Today I was looking for laughs and found two on Facebook.

The first was a post about the folly of putting Mike Pence in charge of a fight against a communicable disease, since he’s a man, the writer said, who won’t have dinner alone with a woman not his wife because “he’s afraid of catching lust.” Made me laugh out loud, which I figured was good. We all need a laugh these days.

The other was a post I shared—Morning Joe in a rant about the foolishness of some government leaders who are still unrealistic about the nature of the beast we are all fighting—Devin Nunes who is advising people to go to pubs, for instance, and a southern governor who has refused to take precautionary steps for his state. I shared it because I thought it made an impact.

A man, who shall remain anonymous, responded that he was so struck by my beautiful profile that he wanted us to be friends, but he didn’t want to intrude. Would I just click on his profile and friend him and then we could get to know each other better? Well, that ain’t happening, my non-friend. No one has ever been “struck dumb” by my profile, even in my younger, better days. I resisted the urge to look at his profile.

Not so funny: trying to explain to a thirteen-year-old why he can’t hang out with his friends and go anywhere he wants. He sort of understands the danger but finds it annoying. We explained he has three grandparents, a father, and an uncle in the high-risk category, and it’s not that we’re afraid he’ll get sick—we don’t want him to bring it home to us. He, who generally does not like school, has decided school wouldn’t be cancelled if the teachers weren’t all so old. How to make him get the concept that all those children coming together and sharing germs is the problem, not the age of his teachers. And, honest, Jacob, most of them are not old enough to be in the high-risk category.

Also not funny: trying to give Sophie her antibiotic pill. When my family was out of town and had a pet-sitter for their dog, she did the pill chore for me. Jessica had a smooth talent for getting it into Sophie—something that involved a bit of wet dog food and a spoon. She tipped a couple of spoons into Sophie’s mouth and then hid the pill, tipped it in, and voila—success! Tonight, everyone left me without wet dog food or chicken lunch meat which had once worked for Christian, so I tried Velveeta and the old-fashioned, hard-line way I learned as a kid—forced it into her mouth and held her muzzle shut forever, while she stared at me with accusing eyes. She seemed to swallow several times, so after an eternity I let go—and out came the pill onto the floor. I am bummed and disgusted with me, with my kids who didn’t do it before they left, with Sophie who thinks I am trying to kill her. I have lost all credibility with my dog.

As I see it, one of the dangers of this crisis is losing your good disposition, let alone your sense of humor.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Notes from the quarantine

I went to church on the computer this morning, not necessarily unusual for me, except today there was only the ministerial staff and an eerily large, empty church—no choir, no congregation. Knowing the circumstances made the service even more inspirational. Music was provided by two soloists; the senior minister welcomed the distanced audience and preached, appropriately, on the subject of breathing and the breath of God. Other ministerial staff read scripture, led us in prayer and communion. Russ Peterman suggested juice and a cracker for communion but said coffee and bagel would do. For all that it was a bit casual and a lot removed from the usual, the service was reverent and spiritual. And the staff is being creative about ways to bring us together, as a church, as we remain socially isolated. Tonight, I am proud to be a member of Fort Worth’s University Christian Church.

UCC’s distance programming would not have been possible of course even ten years ago. The question lingers—how much does social media help flatten the curve of disease spread, or does it help spread the disease by spreading panic and anxiety? Food for thought.

I saw a church on TV this morning that had used police yellow caution tape creatively to block pews so that parishioners were forced to sit several feet apart.

I am continually impressed by messages on many lists—my neighborhood newsletter, writing groups I belong to, even Facebook—of offers to help others. People are jumping to look out for elderly neighbors and others who perhaps cannot get groceries or other needed supplies. A good friend, only slightly younger than me, said today her physician neighbor checks on her almost daily and has offered to bring groceries. It’s a gesture being repeated on a wide scale across the country.

Of course, there are jerks. There is a man—in Tennessee, I believe—who has stockpiled 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer. He intended to mark them up ten times or more and sell online. But Amazon and then eBay cut him off. Now he doesn’t know what to do with what he once thought was his nest egg. I say he’s a despicable man, taking advantage of a health crisis, and the least he could do to redeem himself is to donate every one of those to the homeless and various shelters.

Reaction around the world is intense, but I love that in Florence, Italy, people are singing patriotic songs from their balconies. In London, the government is considering ordering the elderly to stay inside for four months.

Here reaction varies from “Get on with your life,” once a philosophy espoused by the president, to strict self-isolation. The president has gone from a January 22 statement that all is under control to the recent declaration of a national emergency.

It’s interesting—and a bit frightening—to think how this health crisis is changing the way we live. We will probably never go back to the old normal. We will find out that working remotely works, we will perhaps worship more online, distance living may become more common. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for grabs—only time will tell.

Me? I’m a happy camper, doing some research on a book. And I have a list of things to cook. I’m staying in, not welcoming anyone but my family.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The perils of anticipation

This morning I was out of bed by eight—okay, it is Saturday, and I am retired—and in short order had my hair washed, bed made, clothes changed, ready for the day. All this haste was in anticipation of the late-morning arrival of Colin and his family. But somehow, I had a nagging feeling that they weren’t coming. They were driving from skiing in Colorado home to Tomball, outside Houston and would stop for a brief visit.

Sure enough, he called. He was coughing and has red eyes (probably allergies) and fourteen-year-old Morgan did not feel well. He left it up to me, and I reluctantly told them to skip the visit. I’m pretty much staying in and not taking chances.

So all my anticipation collapsed like a punctured balloon.

Still, that was joyful anticipation. I’ve had a couple of bouts lately with anticipation that was more like dread or, at the least, apprehension. In other words, I can work myself into a snit because I’m anticipating an event. It’s called chronic anxiety.

Much as I loved my recent  weekend in San Antonio, I suffered agonies of anticipation. Would I have to speak in public? How would the book signing go? Would Jordan be able to disinfect everything on the Vonlane bus and in the hotel? Would we be exposed to the novel corona virus? If nothing presents itself, I can dredge up bizarre possibilities to worry about—like bus accidents and hotel fires. Even as those things go through my mind, I know I’m being ridiculous.

Of course, once Jordan, Jacob, and I were on the bus, I was at ease. And in San Antonio, I loved the life was going on as usual (it may not be now), people were crowding the streets, laughing and singing. The neon-lit carriages  paraded through the streets. Jacob said it reminded him of New Orleans. We ate in wonderful restaurants, the meeting went well, my book was a success. The hotel was interesting and comfortable. And as usual, I wondered why I had worried.

But I came home and did it all over again, anticipating the talk I was to give Thursday morning at the Arlington Women’s Club. I invented excuses why I couldn’t go, I rehearsed my talk and convinced myself I would freeze in the middle of it. I was sure I’d talk too fast, too slow, too loud, too soft. In the car, I told Subie if she saw me panic, she should distract me with a question. She asked what question, and I said I didn’t care, just break the spell.

Once I was onstage and into my talk, I actually enjoyed myself. Theladies laughed and clapped and responded. Every once in a while I’d look at Subie, and her grin reassured me. I lost my train of thought for one brief nanosecond but got right back on track. And instead of seeming interminable, my talk seemed short—I was at the end almost before I knew it.

This reaction to speaking is nothing new. I spent many years talking to groups, conferences, workshops, and each time I suffered agonies of anticipation over a speech that went fine. I had a good friend who was a natural, entertaining, off-the-cuff speaker, and when I complained, he always said, “But you do it so well.”

It seems I can’t convince my mind to quit anticipating and accept that the event will go fine. I think I’m doing a bit of that right now with this virus threat. No sense wringing my hands as long as we’re all well and taking precautions.

Yes, I am pretty much cottage-bound, and it’s a strange feeling. Sometimes, unconsciously, I think of myself as ill or fragile and then I have to remind myself that I am perfectly fine—it’s the world around me that’s fragile.

The mind, at least mine, is a strange thing, capable of playing all kinds of tricks on us.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Standing on shifting ground

I think many of us feel we are standing on shifting ground, the earth beneath our feet so uncertain that we have quite lost our balance. Schools and churches are closed, sports events and conferences cancelled, travelled advised against. Even grocery shopping sounds a bit perilous for some of us.

My mom always told me some good comes out of all bad situations, and we are seeing that today. Someone online pointed out that the closings show that we are coming together, as communities, as a nation, to protect each other. When my church announced a two-week closing, the minister wrote that it did so “prayerfully and carefully” because the health of the congregation was most important. When Left Coast Crime, a California writer’s conference, was cancelled at the end of the first day by order of the county, many attendees turned down their registration refund and donated it to the sponsoring group that had worked hard for three years and incurred many debts to sponsor the meeting.

Of course, there are the price gougers out there. I have heard of $20,000 airline tickets from Europe and $150 bottles of Purrell. Those folks are always among us, but most Americans are rising to the occasion and meeting this crisis with common sense and caring for others.

And still life goes on. I spoke at a luncheon yesterday for the Arlington Woman’s Club, a lovely bunch of women who apparently like to read and talk about books. The mood was upbeat, and you’d almost not have known there was national panic about COVID-19. But there was an undertone. The president of the group said to me, “We may have to quit meeting. Most of us are of the at-risk age.”

One of the things I worry about is whether or not I am making a contribution to the common good. Over the years people have tried to reassure me that my young-adult books foster the habit of reading in children, and my adult books bring much-needed pleasure and distraction from reality and its frequent difficulties. Still I often feel a bit frivolous.

Yesterday I unknowingly gave these women a gift. I told them school children always ask, “How much money do you make?” and “How old are you?” I said the answer to the first is “Not as much as you think,” but for the second question, I said, “I’m proud to tell you that I am eighty-one and still writing.” My audience cheered, clapped, and laughed. Afterward. Sue Hogg, president of the group and a wonderful woman with a great sense of the joy of life, said to me, “You gave them hope. You told them that they too can do something at our age.” Her words really encouraged me.

I am not an easy speaker—I work myself into a tizzy beforehand, sure that I will embarrass if not disgrace myself. But usually, with good preparation, I’m okay once I get going. But I was a bit dismayed yesterday to come away with four new invitations to speak. Not sure I can screw up my courage that many times.

Friend Subie and her lovely sister, Diana, went with me to the lunch, and an old friend among the listeners made me laugh by referring to them as my “staff.” When I told Subie I had four new invitations, her response echoed my thought: “I’m not sure I can do that many.” Subie and Diana hauled books for me and sold them, and several women said now they were going to read more of my books. I left in a glow.

But I have the feeling that’s my last public appearance for some time. That ground has shifted, and I’ll be pretty much staying in my cottage. How about you? How is the virus impacting your life?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A trip in a time warp

On our way in the Vonlane bus
With all the talk about travel bans and meeting cancellations, I’m glad I went to San Antonio just before it got scarier to travel. Don’t think I was exposed—my hands are raw from sanitizing—but two weeks will tell the time.

I went for a meeting of the Alamo Society and stayed at the historic Menger Hotel. Talk about a trip back in time. There were maybe 150 people at the meeting, many of them dedicated to the past—coonskin caps, period costumes, Bowie knives and short muskets. These folks take their history seriously, and they are knowledgeable and dedicated about it. The society had 22 copies of my book and sold them out in the first 15 minutes of the first break, thanks to the hyping by Brian Gibson, society president. As I signed, I chatted with many of them and found we shared a love of Texas history, but they were more
Signing a book for Mike from Crane
who is, like me, an Elmer Kelton fan
knowledgeable than me about many aspects of Alamo history. Especially true for renowned Alamo historian Jack Edmondson, who bought my book and told me I had once rejected a manuscript of his when he submitted it to TCU Press. Blush, gulp, embarrassment.

The Menger was also a step back in time. Built in the late 1850s, it is the second oldest hotel in Texas, beaten by only months by the Excelsior in Jefferson. The hotel has been modernized up to a point. We stayed in the Babe Ruth Suite—a living room and bedroom, all painted a deep avocado green, with flowered, swag draperies and brocade furniture, most of it antique and lovely. It was clearly a suite decorated in the fifties and meant for someone intending a long stay—or permanent residence, as some, particularly widow ladies, used to do back in the day. The kitchen was bigger than mine but without  a single utensil.

The bathroom was up a step, which meant I could not access the facilities without the help of one of my daughters who were with me. There were no grab bars, etc., and they decided the risk was not worth my trying to do it alone. A true inconvenience at three o’clock in the morning.

The Menger seems to be on several levels, with stairs that lead who knows where. It took us a bit to get to the right part of the third floor where our room was. The elevators were small—we could not fit all five of us (two grandsons), my transport chair, and my Rollator in one elevator at the same time. So we traveled in shifts.

We breakfasted in the dining room and found it classically good—white linen tablecloths, a menu that included eggs Sardou (like Benedict but with spinach and artichoke hearts), a genial wait staff—and really slow service.

The hotel wraps around an absolutely charming patio that is surrounded by long, tall windows and small balconies with iron railings that I would not venture out on. It looks like something out of New Orleans. It was too cold for us to enjoy it the two nights we were there, and I was sad about that. A separate patio boasts an inviting swimming pool, which you know was not original to the hotel.

Daughter Megan said we were in San Antonio to experience the entire history thing, and the Menger was part of that, and I’m glad we did it. I’ve heard about the Menger for years, never been there, not sure I’d stay another time although every single staff member we came in contact with was pleasant and helpful. It was that raised bathroom. If you haven’t been, you should go.

Tomorrow: my tour of the Alamo grounds and two fabulous restaurants. San Antonio is a great destination.
with my grandsons at the 
Alamo Society meeting
Aren't they adorable?