Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Lost friendships


Lost friendships happen, for many reasons, and they are always hard, but they seem more poignant to me during pandemic. Maybe what I’m trying to say is they leave unanswered questions. This holiday season I reached out to three longtime friends—people that have at one point been a big part of my life but that I don’t see or hear from often. I have not had a response from any one of them, which leaves me wondering: have I somehow offended? Is this a matter of political differences? Did they or a family member succumb to COVID-19? Or old age?

One is an author who befriended me when I was young and green. She is several years older than me, lives in another state, and was having trouble with her eyesight. I sent a Jacquie Lawson Christmas card but never got that email that tells me she opened it. Another is an author who lives nearby but with whom I’ve lost touch, and I’m sad about it—we used to be great traveling buddies, going to various conferences in Texas. For a while there we had a dog-and-pony show—she talked about being a fifth-generation Texan, and I countered with a newcomer’s point of view. I know she’s been ill, with severe balance problems, and has a caretaker at least part time. Maybe she’s given up reading email?

Finally, there’s a woman, long divorced as I am (our husbands were colleagues), with whom I used to enjoy dinners. Somewhere along the line it developed that we had political differences, and she would chide me for bringing up my liberal views. Jordan had been particularly fond of her and worked to make her welcome in our home. Is she ignoring my email because of our political differences? Did her grandchildren, who live in her building if not her apartment, bring COVID home to her?

The problem of losing friends over the trump regime is real, and I have given up on one longtime friend who told me she and her husband voted for trump because “we had no other choice.” I almost exploded over the lunch table. I was so upset that she said, “I’m upset that you’re so upset.” And that was in 2017 before we knew how bad it would get. Occasionally we email, and she told someone blithely that we didn’t get together because her husband and I disagreed over politics. No, it’s not politics. It’s morals, honesty, kindness, justice, humanity. Later, her husband told her to tell me that Biden will take us to socialism which is the first step on the road to communism. I think he needs to study his “isms,” including fascism.

But I grieve over lost friends. They are a part of who I am today. Friendships have shaped me, and I’m uncertain what to do next. A phone call might be awkward, whether their silence is due to age or illness or politics. A repeat email may be fruitless, but I will try that. I want to know that these people are okay. And I wish for a world where these was less divisiveness.

Maybe I’m being judgmental. I hear in myself a voice that says it’s okay for me to cut off trump-supporting friends but it’s not okay for them not to respond to me. And maybe ultimately that self-contradictory place is where I am. I may well have become as zealous against trump policies as his followers are for them. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I for one am nervous about January 6.

But meantime, I’m going to email those people again. I want to be the one to reach out—and I want to know that they are okay.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Armchair travel

I have finally been to San Francisco! Of course, I didn’t really go, but I discovered one of the great benefits of reading on the computer. It’s long been understood that reading can take you places that you’ve never been—but visiting them on the computer adds new depth to the vicarious travel experience. During pandemic, when so many of us are fearful of travel, this is truly a new opportunity.

I’m reading, as I said a few days ago, a mystery series set in Virginia’s wine country. But the current volume takes the heroine, Lucie Montgomery, to San Francisco. First off, let me admit that I am not the most adventuresome traveler. I remind myself of the little old lady who went on her first airplane ride. When asked how it was, she said, “It was all right, but I never did put my full weight down.” That’s me—I never put my full weight down when traveling, an uneasiness that baffles many of my more adventuresome friends. I simply point out that my horoscope sign is Cancer and one of the characteristics is that I am a homebody.

I also want to add that I have been to Los Angeles and southern California and have no great desire to go back, although taking the local train from LA to San Diego, right along the shore, was pretty interesting. But San Francisco intrigues me more than LA. For many years before his death, my children’s father lived in the mountains above Santa Rosa, and they visited him fairly often. Because Napa Valley and the California wine country was one of the few places on my bucket list, I used to joke I’d go with them. They could stash me in a motel and visit when convenient. Somehow, they never warmed to that idea.

The book I’m reading now, The Sauvignon Secret, takes the heroine from Loudoun and Fauquier counties in Virginia to San Francisco. Last night I found myself reading about places like Oakland and the Embarcadero and the Golden Gate Bridge. I started with the Embarcadero because I’d heard the term but had no concept of what it was. A quick computer search took me not only to the Embarcadero but allowed me to expand and shrink a map so that I could get a sense of where places where in relation to each other—Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa. Places that had just been vague names in my mind suddenly became real, and I saw why my children sometimes flew into San Jose, where Oakland lies in relation to San Francisco, the route of the famed 101. An instant geography lesson, and it all made sense to me. Not only that, but it increased my comprehension of and pleasure in reading the novel.

So now when I think about books I want to read, I’ll factor in places I want to visit. Napa is still on my bucket list, as is Alaska. But I hit the jackpot with a 2011 trip to the Scottish Highlands. Number one on my bucket list would be a return trip to Scotland. I chronicled that wonderful journey in blogs, beginning with May View from the Cottage: Scotland--a retrospective ( As I searched for that link, I got caught up in the nostalgia of revisiting that trip. Guess my next geographical exploration will be the Highlands.

Instead of fretting about travel restrictions and cautions right now, open a good book, boot up your computer, and travel wherever you want to go.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Winding down

The cottage is chilly tonight. Eggnog in a crystal Christmas glass and a good book seem the perfect way to end the post-Christmas weekend, that suspended time between holidays when we’re all still recovering from Christmas. For me, it’s been a lazy weekend, with lots of naps and binge-reading on a mystery series I just discovered—Ellen Crosby’s Wine Country Mysteries, set not in California but in Virginia. The thing I love about series is that you immerse yourself in the fictional world, feel at home among the people, and it’s sometimes most pleasant to stay in that world through several books rather than venturing into the unknown of other fiction. I have several books on my to-be-read list, but for now I’m savoring wine and DC politics, a bit of romance, and a lot of intrigue.

I got myself into an unusual reading experience with the project called MysteryLovesGeorgia, supporting senatorial candidates Ralph Warnock and Jon Ossoff. I contributed an autographed copy of Saving Irene, the promise to name a character in a forthcoming book after a contributor, and a critique of thirty pages. The first two were fairly easy to handle—the book went off in the mail, and I wrote promising to name a character in Irene in Danger after the donor. But, ah! That critique! Turns out the manuscript is steampunk. Here’s a dictionary definition of steampunk: a retrofuturistic subgenre of science fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Perhaps you understand now why it’s a subgenre that I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. And I’m to give a critique?

I am on my second read-through of the thirty-page sample, making meticulous notes mostly of questions that I think the writer must consider. I have no idea about the conventions of steampunk, so all I can do is suggest things to be considered. And insert a lot of missing commas, suggest some rewording in places, and hope that I can give the writer her money’s worth. Fortunately, my price was low.

Tomorrow being Monday, I have every intention of getting up, getting on with the day (washing my hair), and getting to work. No more frequent naps and long reading indulgences. I intend to be all businesslike. We’ll see how that works out.

Jordan and I did a long—and difficult—session of meal planning tonight. Who’s hungry, after all the food of this past week? And yet we have a lot of smoked turkey to deal with, so we landed on tortilla soup and a casserole with cornbread. I used to make a good leftover turkey casserole with white wine and noodles, but I somehow can’t see it with smoked turkey. And come New Year’s Day, we’ll eat ham and black-eyed peas. I have been amused by memes on Facebook which show a “mess” of black-eyed peas, with the plea, “For the love of God, eat two helpings, even if you don’t like them.” They are not something I grew up with, and I came to them slowly by way of making Hoppin’ John—which my kids instantly christened Hoppin’ Uncle John after my brother. But now I’m really fond of the peas—a second helping won’t be a problem. And pray God it will bring us good luck.

The weather is supposed to go downhill all week—a cold front tonight, rain all day Tuesday, and storms Wednesday and Thursday. Pray too that is not an omen for the New Year. New Year’s Day, so far, is to be clear, sunny but cold. I’ll take that any day.

And I’ll go to sleep tonight grateful that trump has signed the omnibus bills that were on his desk—or in his pocket. I’m not sure of his motivation, and I’m always leery of what con he has up his sleeve, but I am oh so grateful for those who were about to lose their unemployment insurance or have their evictions postponed. And shutting down the government? I’m not even sure what all that would entail. I know it’s happened, briefly, in recent memory, but I think everyone feared a prolonged period this time. So perhaps the entire country breathed a sigh of relief.

And now, on to 2021.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Day after Christmas


The best-laid plans of mice and man

Gang oft agley

                             --Robert Burns

That was me last night, with the best intentions of posting that I hoped everyone had as marvelous a Christmas as we did. Here at the Alter/Burton compound, Jordan worked tirelessly for days to make sure we had a great holiday—she baked, she decorated, she wrapped, she set a fine table. We truly owe her a shower of blessings for helping us keep the meaning of Christmas in this odd and strange year.

Our festivities truly began with Christmas Eve supper—a table set with red chargers, the gold-and-white china, and bright red wine goblets. We had my splurge—lobster pot pies. They were tinier than I expected but rich and good with chunks of claw meat, not the shredded you might have expected. After dinner, we took a break—I took a nap!—and we converged again at the cottage a little before eleven to be part of the candlelight service from University Christian Church.

"Attending" the candlelight service
in the cottage

Jordan lined the walk from the house to the cottage with luminaries, turned out the outdoor lights, and gave us our very own touch of Santa Fe. For several years, we used to walk Canyon Road in Santa Fe, admiring the luminaries, partaking of cider and chocolate offered by some residents, and singing heartily. I remember getting really cross with my almost-grown children once because they made a buffoonery of the carols which, to me, are so special. When I was a child, we sang traditional carols at every service during December. Not so much anymore, and I missed some—until UCC sent a 15-minute video with wonderful renditions of “The First Noel,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and even the Wassail song.


Christmas morning began early—Jacob may be a sophisticated fourteen-year-old, but he’s still anxious for presents. We opened stockings and some gifts while a breakfast casserole cooked, took a break for breakfast (with eggnog with real nog in it) and then returned to the tree, all in front of a nice, comforting fire. For Jacob, it was a golf and clothing Christmas—as he said, he now has a more-than-adequate supply of golf balls. Santa was good to me bringing me many of the things I wanted—comfortable clothes and warm pajamas, footlets that stray on my feet. My brother, who announced I had enough ponchos, gave me a dental WaterPik because he swears by them. Jordan’s big surprise for Christian was a sushi maker (which hasn’t arrived) and all the “fixings”—sticky rice, soy wrappers, etc.

We had Christmas happy hour on the patio with Jean—a beautiful day. And then Christmas dinner brought another of Jordan’s lovely place settings—this time green chargers and the Christmas Spode china. She cooked much of the day, fixing twice baked potatoes, corn casserole, mac and cheese. We had a smoked turkey, and more of the eggnog—and I

found I was really tired. Don’t you feel that way after a big holiday? A post-Christmas letdown.

As I write this, I am acutely aware of the people in our country and the world who are not as blessed as we are—those whose jobless benefits run out today, those who cannot make both the grocery bill and the rent, those living in refugee camps and war-torn areas throughout the world. Now, as the poem by Howard Thurman says, begins the work of Christmas: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.

I am also aware I’ve been on vacation for a bit. I’m used to “losing” most of November and December as far as any meaningful writing goes. Somehow the anticipation of Christmas and the work involved—the cooking, the wrapping, and so forth—messes with my work ethic. This year, since we were having a pared-down Christmas should have lessened the pre-holiday tension, but somehow it didn’t. It was different but still distracting. So now, for me, a couple of days to straighten the cottage, hang up the new clothes, and write the thank-you notes, and then it’s back to work.

Today, I’m counting my blessings—family, faith, the comfort of my home, the company of my dog, the blessing of meaningful work. I pray for all of us that the promise of a new administration and the hope of a vaccine bring a new year that will enable us to move beyond the trials of 2020.

God bless us, everyone!


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A wintry afternoon—and a big little thing


Jordan's basket of lap robes.

Ah, Texas! It’s 71 degrees out, but the late afternoon sun has a definite wintry glow to it. Golden and lovely, but it speaks to me of colder temperatures. And the trees which last week still had lots of leaves are tonight almost bare. Tonight the low is 56 and tomorrow a cold front, with cold to continue through the weekend and a storm predicted for Christmas Eve. Tonight, we’ll take advantage of the sort-of-balmy weather and have a fire on the patio. It’s Tuesday night and our regular Tuesday-night neighbors are coming for wine by the fire. Jordan now has a colorful basket of blankets that she brings out to cover chilly laps. It may be 71 now, but it cools so rapidly once the sun goes down.

The big news around here today is that the free-standing basketball hoop and the tetherball, both of which Jacob has outgrown, are gone from the driveway. The tetherball went to a neighbor with young kids, and I think he just walked it home. But loading the heavy and awkward hoop on a pickup was a major production. I watched from my window as Jordan, Jacob, and the gentleman who came for it struggled to situate it in the truck so it would stay. From what I could see, the guy ultimately decided that bungee cords would be superfluous, so they worked hard to balance it. I hope he drove slowly and carefully to wherever he was going.

It’s not so much that Jacob has outgrown the hoop but that his focus now is so totally on golf. I would guess he manages some golf four or five days a week. His Austin cousin, Ford, on the other hand, is totally focused on basketball and has just made a city-wide team. So nice to see these boys find activities at which they can excel and which hold their interest. Ford’s older brother, Sawyer, has chosen bike riding (the gymnastic kind where he shattered an elbow) but his main love is really his guitar. And Kegan in Tomball is an extraordinary soccer player—he now has a kick coach.

I’m glad to have the driveway free and clear once again. With the basketball hoop lying on its side, it always looked slightly like a disaster area to me. Now a car picking me up can drive much closer to the cottage, and I don’t have to struggle with the holes and dips in our ancient driveway. We are notorious for having the worst driveway in town—built for skinny 1920s cars. Those of us who drive it daily (or did) can do it automatically, knowing just where to cut the wheel, but I have friends who refuse to try it and a couple who have given up in the middle of backing out and asked Jordan to do it for them.

Sophie misbehaved this morning, and that’s putting it mildly. The minute she was out the door, at seven-thirty, I knew we were in trouble. She exited barking. Apparently the squirrel network sent out word she was in the yard, and they gathered to taunt her. She runs frantically, yipping all the while, and she gets so excited her bark turns into a squeak. I’m fairly useless at going after her when she’s so excited, so there I was sitting in the doorway with a piece of cheese in my hand, futilely calling out “Cheese!” every time she came anywhere close to me. She didn’t care. She was in another zone. So Jordan came out and announced, “If I was you neighbor, I’d shoot your dog.” She got her in, and when Sophie, having not learned the lesson of the morning, wanted to go out again, I yelled. Yes I did. And then Sophie and I had to make up. And Jordan and I had to start the day over again. And I kept thinking that love conquers all—sometimes not at seven-thirty in the morning.

Barbecue tonight for supper, from Railhead. But from now on, we’re eating slim. Getting read for big feasts on Thursday and Friday. If you can’t celebrate with family, eating well is the next best revenge. Doesn’t exactly sound like one of Jesus’ teachings, but for this year it must do.

Monday, December 21, 2020

A clean sweep


My favorite Christmas elf

Nothing like starting out Christmas week all clean and sparkly. We had a cleaning trifecta today—the house and the cottage got a thorough cleaning, Sophie and one of the Cavaliers got baths, and the yard guys cleaned up the leaves. I noticed last week not many leaves had fallen, although the oak trees still had lots of brown leaves on their branches. Then this weekend, all of a sudden, they came swirling down in a torrent. So it was good to get them all blown away (yes, they do bag them and don’t just blow them into the street) and to have the lawn mowed so that some leaves turned into mulch. Tomorrow is supposed to be the nicest day all week, and we will have neighbors for happy hour around the fire pit.

We haven’t had our houses cleaned regularly since pandemic started, in spite of our absolute love for Zenaida Martinez who cleans them. At first during that strict lockdown we were afraid; then Jacob was at home weekdays doing virtual school—hard for Zenaida to clean around him. And she didn’t often have Saturdays free. But today, Jacob had no school, and she was free by late morning, so we juggled and adjusted. Since Jordan keeps me in strict isolation, I can no longer work at my desk while Zenaida cleans, though we both used to much enjoy the visit. Now I am exiled to the house, where I finally wailed, “I want to go home,” echoing Sophie’s perpetual wish to go home. She is always excited to get in the main house but then pretty soon she gets antsy, and if Jordan asks, “Do you want to go home?” she bolts to the back door.

I do my best to keep the cottage clean, but it had been a long time between deep cleanings this time, and it really needed Zenaida’s fine touch. When she was through, we passed like ships in the night, with masked wishes for happy holidays, and I opened my door to a cottage that smelled wonderful, so fresh and clean. The shower, which had temporarily served as a greenhouse, was once again sparkling white; I had fresh linen on my bed, and all the furniture glowed with new polish. Sophie, who adores Zenaida, had been out here while she cleaned and seemed to take pride in showing off our clean quarters.

Sophie’s bath was the final part of our cleanup. We have recently switched to a new grooming service, and none of us can say enough good bout Aussie Westoplex Mobile Groomers. They do an outstanding job. Soph didn’t get a haircut this time, but she came back smelling sweet and her coat all fluffy and soft, her nails trimmed, etc. The groomer, whom I’ve not met and don’t know her name, also bathed June Bug, for whom bathing is a traumatic experience, and managed to tease all the mats out of Cricket’s ears.

Sophie patiently waiting her turn

Sophie was third in line for her turn with the groomer, and Jordan took her in the house a bit early. She seemed to know what was going on and sat patiently staring at the front door, waiting for her turn. Bathing may be traumatic to some dogs, but Soph apparently loves it.

Somehow it seems a good omen to me to start the holiday week so cleaned up, as though we’re all ready and waiting for the arrival of Baby Jesus. May your holidays be merry and bright--and clean! 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Warm memories and chilly evenings


This morning I went to a Zoom memorial service for two people who were at one time a huge part of my life. I met Nancy and Ray in Fort Worth, though Ray attended the osteopathic college in Chicago where I worked. We could have run into each other but didn’t. They were close friends from the mid-sixties until whenever they retired to Santa Fe, and after that I visited them often, sometimes staying in their home. Once I went to a week-long writing workshop there, lived in their guest room, and rented a sporty convertible. Boy, did I think I was big stuff.

Nancy and Ray were married for sixty-three years, and while I loved them both, Nancy and I particularly shared a lot—life’s ups and downs with doctors/husbands, children, careers, my divorce, some family trauma with them. Today it was so satisfying to see their three children, now in at least their late fifties and beyond, well settled in life. They did an outstanding job of remembering their parents and sharing those warm memories with us. I’m almost beginning to think Zoom is a great way to do a funeral, though I guess I still prefer, when possible, the traditional service in the church. Certainly in quarantine times Zoom allows us to find the closure that we all need after a loss.

One of the memories shared today was of a place called the Public House, a restaurant/meeting area that Nancy started in Fort Worth with a friend. Nancy did all the cooking, and it was hearty, good food. But it was so much more. Groups met there, people came to drink coffee and see who was there to visit with. A bookstore started in one corner of the huge space. It was innovative and forward-thinking, and I was glad to be reminded today of how special it was.

Tonight as a bonus from the memorial, I had a long talk with an old friend in New York City. She too was at the memorial service—we had shared these mutual friends. We caught up with each other’s families and goings on. She loves living in the city, while to me Fort Worth is already too big, and I can’t imagine living in New York City. We also talked about mutual friends from our TCU days. It’s interesting to me that my connections to friends are so multi-layered. I’ve noticed over the years that when I introduce friends to each other they then become good friends. A nice compliment, I think.

Today was one of those balmy days that can fool you in North Texas—temperature probably in the sixties and sunny most of the day. But when the sun goes down, the air chills quickly. Subie and Phil came for happy hour, and Christian built a fire in the fire pit while Jordan turned on the outdoor heater. I wore a cozy jacket and had an afghan over my knees—pretty comfortable, though I wouldn’t have wanted to stay much longer than we did. Cold weather puts a real crimp in our quarantine socializing plans, though even on the patio we only socialize with those we know have also been quarantining. As Subie said tonight, we are in a pod.

my Christmas front door

Now, it’s late, and we’re waiting on the cook who got a late start on supper. Marinated chicken breasts and salad—sounds yummy.

Warmer weather coming this week—until Christmas Eve when a cold front will hit. Enjoy the sunny days while you can.



Friday, December 18, 2020

Learning the lessons of aging—again!

Some of us seem destined to learn the same lessons over and over again. That was my story this week, as I learned the unvarnished truth that I no longer have the digestive system of a thirty-year-old. Saturday night, the family wanted take-out from a Mexican chain which shall remain anonymous but shouldn’t—some of us need to be forewarned. Not feeling like enchiladas or fajitas, I chose a taco salad, usually a safe and tasty alternative for me. Not this time!

The salad was huge, the price high, and the meat spicy. I ate about half and put the rest away for Sunday’s lunch. Whoa! The meat had gotten much spicier overnight. I remember once making salpicon with chilies in adobo sauce. Too spicy for me the first time around, but the spiciness intensified with each passing day. I gave it to friends with a stiffer palate than mine but even they found it too strong. I was afraid of salpicon after that for years, until I had a mild and good version in El Paso. This leftover taco salad tasted like it had been in adobo sauce for a long time, and the wilted greens were no longer appetizing.

For the next couple of days my stomach felt pretty uncertain, but it was just beginning to improve when Christian made a pot of chili for our supper. Ordinarily I am a devotee of his chili, though he keeps changing the recipe. Still, this would have been fine, if it weren’t adding insult to injury. By yesterday I felt really miserable. I managed to work all morning, on an empty stomach, but gave it up in the early afternoon and took a three-hour nap. Dinner was a solitary bowl of chicken noodle soup. I decided I might possibly survive.

Last night I went to bed at nine o’clock. Nothing unusual about that—I often lie down about nine, but I get up about ten and work for a couple of hours. Not last night. I explained to Sophie we were going to bed early, turned out all the lights, brushed my teeth, and went to bed for the night. The thing about going to sleep at nine is that by four you’ve had eight hours sleep, and you may find yourself, as I did, sitting on the edge of the bed, wondering what you’re doing there, awake, at four in the morning. Not a problem. I went back to sleep and slept until eight when Soph woke me.

Am I a new person today? Not quite but headed that way. I’m beginning to think the smoked salmon in my fridge sounds good, but I’ll wait another day and stick to bland foods today. Yesterday Jordan started me on the BRAT diet—banana, rice, applesauce, and toast—but I don’t like rice particularly and we have no applesauce. A diet of bananas and toast sounded pretty limited to me.

For now, lesson learned. But it’s not a new lesson. Rather, one I keep learning over and over. Maybe it’s timely, as Jordan and I have planned lots of good food, some of it rich, for Christmas Eve and Christmas—lobster pot pie, a corn pudding with so many calories her eyes rolled. I will eat judiciously—no more dietary indiscretions.

The other day I managed to make molasses cookies. Later this afternoon, I’ll try to get the bourbon balls and a cranberry cake made. All that Christmas baking to do!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sara Paretsky and me


Seems cheeky of me to even put myself in the same breath as the doyenne of today’s female crime fiction authors, doesn’t it? (She was also one of the founders and the first president of Sisters in Crime.) But let me explain. I watched an absorbing Zoom interview with Paretsky today and learned a lot—something that people have told me all my life. Other people have the same insecurities that I do. It’s not just me!

I was not maliciously happy to learn that this famous author harbors some of my doubts. Indeed, I’m sorry—I thought maybe when you reach a pinnacle of success, you get beyond that. But she confessed today that there is little disconnect between what’s on her mind and what comes out in her writing. Reminded me of the man who once scornfully asked me, “Can’t you write about something besides what you know?” I guess the answer is “No, I can’t.” Though I can’t remember exactly how she stated it, Paretsky confessed to a tendency toward verbosity. Sometimes she wants to tell herself, “Close it down and get out of here.” She also admitted that the novel she’s working on now is about to bury her—but don’t most all of us feel like that, especially in the murky middle?

That she is a Chicago author and was speaking for the Hyde Park Historical Society further endeared here to me. Hyde Park is, in case you somehow missed it as I shouted it everywhere, the neighborhood where I grew up and the setting of my latest novel, Saving Irene. Paretsky talked knowledgeably about the neighborhood and the opportunities it offers, at least one of them she implied a safe place to grow old and cherish your idiosyncrasies (none of this is a direct quote).

Paretsky, who holds a degree in history from the University of Chicago, has a strong grasp of the history of both her city and the country. She talked knowledgeably about the optimism of the eighties, reflected in her early novels, and the sadness of the later ones when she sees that our government is pretty much run by men of wealth, though she applauded the emerging voices of both women and young people these days. Still, most leaders in our Senate count their personal wealth as at least ten million dollars, and the top leaders approach half a billion.

I am about the same age as Paretsky, and yet I felt I was way behind her understanding of the sweep of history in our lifetime. She became active in the sixties, first published in the eighties. I may have been a bit before her, but I couldn’t speak as knowingly about the protests of the sixties as compared to those of today. Then it occurred to me if the subject was the American West of the nineteenth century, particularly the history of women, I could probably hold my own. All reassuring.

I’m realistic enough to understand that I am not and never will be the writer that Sara Paretsky is. She crafts more complicated, more realistic novels than I ever will—and more popular and, surely, more profitable. But it reassures me to know that, after years of writing and at our age, we share some insecurities.

I learned something else today. The Zoom program was to begin at noon, but I was involved in something and a bit slow in tuning in. When I did, I got a message that the meeting had reached capacity of participants. If someone dropped out, I might be admitted. Disappointed, I kept trying and finally did get in. Much later I learned from an email that there was no limit but a Zoom glitch. Guess, though, it will taste me to be a bit more prompt.

I’m still in the phase of thinking I look like an old and not very attractive on Zoom—today I was terribly aware of the stretched-out sweater that keeps me warm, my lack of makeup (I really could remedy that), and the unflattering angle of the camera. I looked furtively at the other participants and decided that they all looked better than I did. But I bravely left the camera on.

Yay for me!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Tis the season


You know how I know? This happens every year. I put my work aside to prepare for Christmas and then find myself, a week or so before Christmas, all ready for the holiday and even more ready to get on with my daily work. This year is no exception. I’d been feeling a bit down—my first time in this long slog of quarantine—and I attributed it to no work on my desk. Then I realized it may well have been the spicy beef on my taco salad from a local Mexican chain over the weekend.

At any rate, today I am feeling brighter—and I have lots of my desk—Christmas cards from cherished friends which I will answer by email because my handwriting has gone too far south for cards and, besides, today Jordan discovered the local post office is sold out of stamps—which may be why the stamps I ordered three weeks ago haven’t arrived yet.

And then there’s a new assignment from the Handbook of Texas: a profile of Electra Waggoner Biggs. I’ve studied Mrs. Biggs—Texas ranch heiress, international celebrity, and sculptor of note—off and on for years and have a forthcoming book (due next fall) on the Waggoner family. So that one should be a fairly easy project, but it will take some time. But now, my entry on Helen Corbitt, doyenne of food at Neiman Marcus, is one of the newer entries in the ongoing online Handbook project.

I’m particularly pleased to have been part of a project titled MysteryLovesGeorgia in which mystery writers pooled their talents to raise money to support the election of Reverend Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Georgia senatorial runoff. As I mentioned before, I lowballed my prices for what I offered, but I was still pleased that I had takers on a signed copy of Saving Irene, a critique of a thirty-page sample of a manuscript, and the naming of a character in a forthcoming novel. I have sent off the autographed copy and made notes for the named character, but I will have to settle down and study the sample for critique.

And then there’s that ongoing novel, Irene in Danger. Perhaps it’s because I am now committed to naming a character for a reader, but I did move ahead on it today—wrote a thousand words for the first time in a couple of weeks and felt fairly good about them. Feeling really good will depend on tomorrow’s re-reading. I now have a whopping two-and-a half chapters. Long way to go.

Meantime, Jordan and I are making Christmas plans. Most of my Christmas gift-giving this year is either online or by mail, and Jordan mailed off a bunch of things for me today. But still, we’re deep in menu planning. Since we’re having a smoked turkey and not fresh for Christmas, we’re trying to come up with different sides. Today Jordan suggested Paula Deen’s corn casserole but was astounded when she looked at the calorie count—something like 208 per serving. I said, “Hey, it’s Christmas, and we’ll have small servings.” She is counting all the dishes we’ll have with cheese in them. And I’ve ordered something special for Christmas Eve, but it too is rich. We shall roll our way into 2021 and diet thereafter.

Why not? 2020 has been a real bitch of a year, and we can only hope for better in 2021. At least, we can see 2020 out with some really good food. In lieu of sharing the holiday with family, an absence which still makes me sad. Still, I like Jordan’s attitude—when I asked tonight If she missed the excitement of Christmas that she knew as a child, she said thoughtfully, “Well, we all have to grow up. It’s just different. We’ve tried to recreate that excitement for Jacob, and now he’s too big for Santa, so we’ll wait for grandchildren. We just have to make the best of what we have.”

When she turned the tables and asked me what I missed, I confessed I miss the days of shared Hanukkah and Christmas when my four were young and excited. But I am grateful for the love and sharing we have today.

Happy Holidays. Stay safe, healthy, and warm—it is really cold out there tonight. Jordan wanted to have our regular Tuesday neighbors for wine by firelight, but I said I refused to sit out and freeze. Next Tuesday will be in the sixties—we’re looking forward to it.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Finding lost treasures


My mom's bean pot.

Jordan went up in the attic today to look for baskets for Christmas decorations and came down with a huge storage box that she proudly presented to me. Labeled, “Juju’s Kitchen,” it had somehow been shoved aside when I downsized from the house to the cottage.

Since then I’ve asked such things as “Where is my soup ladle?” or that metal spatula that gets a good crust on things like salmon patties. One thing I asked for a lot was the casserole carrier my mom used to bring from her house to ours. Christian has one I gave him several years ago and swears he has used it a lot, not just to bring food to the cottage but to take breakfast to clients, etc. Every time I saw it, I asked, “What ever happened to Grandmother’s?” Jacob said so happily tonight, “We found your carrier, Juju.”

There was my mom’s classic bean pot, one of my favorite large wooden salad bowls, carved with an adze in the mountains of North Carolina, a round wooden tray with a maple leaf on it that Canadian relatives gave me when I married, all those years go. The Nambé dishes I served food from most nights when the kids were growing up—now scratched and dull (the dishes, not the kids). I’ve heard you can restore their luster with double-ought steel wool, but I just wrote Nambé International to inquire about a product. In past years, a visit to the Nambé outlet store was a highlight of an annual trip to Santa Fe. So many memories came tumbling out of that basket—a wooden spoon on which Colin had laboriously burned, “Good for dinner at Del Frisco’s.” He really did take me.

There were lots and lots of place mats—harvest gold, which dates me. But also some that match my mom’s Suzy Cooper china that Megan has, tons of blue because we ate off Blue Willow plates. We will give those away—my kids don’t use place mats anymore. Lovely reminders of a life well lived.

Today, the present is not so lovely. I tangled with online everything, one of those days when I despise computers. Jordan goes into a rage every time she tries to pay the AT&T bill—they never recognize any of our possible usernames, not even the ones they send us. I said I would take it over, but soon was so overpowered with frustration I gave it up. Then Jamie sent me a link to what Melanie wants and a hint for him; tried to order Mel’s gift, and they don’t take Discover or PayPal. So I asked Jame to order it—he uses sophisticated payment methods like Venmo or something that I don’t. Then I went online to order him a gift certificate for the new Xbox he seems fairly confident he’s getting—they had a problem with my payment, and it would take two to three hours to deal with it. No thank you, I was out of there. So Jamie had to do his own Christmas shopping this year. Christmas can get so complicated.

I ordered an Amazon gift for Brandon sent directly to their house in Austin—and got word that it was delivered yesterday, which made me think it came here—only it didn’t. Jordan said maybe it came to their house in Austin, but they were out of town until tonight. Hope porch thieves didn’t get it.

And thanks to Mr. DeJoy or whatever—he who caused a postal uproar and mess and has now disappeared. Was he fired? Even if so, he managed to screw up the postal service. I ordered stamps three weeks ago at least, finally got a message they’ve shipped, but they have not appeared. And on my desk is a whole stack of Christmas gifts and cards that should have been mailed Friday.

Sometimes I wish for simpler times—and this is one of those days. But as I listened to the sermon about the gift of joy this morning, I thought how much we have to be joyful for—a vaccine that is rolling out quickly, a new president. The world may right itself yet. And we shall have a Merry Ho-ho-ho Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

My good news and a weather-challenged dog


Sophie watching for happy hour company. 

Friday, my editor at Rowman and Littlefield wrote me about catalog copy for my forthcoming book, The Most Land, The Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas, due out in September. I had been a little uncertain about it because I had not heard a word from the new editor. The entire operation got behind when they closed for six months at the beginning of pandemic, and though I had been assured all was back on schedule, I was nervous. We exchanged emails for over an hour, tweaking this detail and that, until we were finally pleased with what we had done. I wrote her that it was fun to work it out with her, and she replied with “Ditto.” I felt I had established a good relationship with her.

That sent me on a search or the Rowman and Littlefield Two Dot catalog for Spring—and there they were! Two reprints of my historical novels written and published in the 1990s—Libbie, a fictional biography of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of George Armstrong of Little Big Horn fame—or infamy. I toyed for years with writing a sequel, detailing the thirty-some years Libbie was a widow. She spent every one of those years cementing her husband’s role as a martyr/hero. It was only after her death that the truth about Custer began to be revealed. But I never could make a compelling story out of it.

Less is probably known about Jessie Benton Frémont, the daughter of longtime Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a spokesman for western expansion, and the wife of John Charles Frémont, explorer, mining entrepreneur, the failed military leader who tried to upstage President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and failed governor of the Arizona Territory. Frémont is mostly remembered for the Bear Flag Revolt in California. Theirs’ was a passionate love story but also the story of a man whose reach exceeded his grasp.

I found both these women fascinating, loved studying them, though I realized what I was writing about were strong women married to men with less resilience than their wives possessed. These two novels will be out in June and are in the current Rowman and Littlefield/Globe Pequot catalog. Other reprints will follow in 2022.

No bookstore signings, unless the pandemic goes away a lot quicker than most of us believe, but you can be sure that I will bombard you with links and the like when the books are back in print.

Last night, when it was damp but not too cold, Sophie was earnestly trying to tell me something. She didn’t bark, but she made a lot of guttural sounds with great feeling, all the while staring intently at me. She had food, water, a treat, and the outside door was open—I couldn’t imagine what else she wanted, but I desperately wished I spoke dog. Jordan asked if I wanted to take our wine outside, and I said no, it was too chilly—the temperature was then dropping fairly rapidly as it can here in Texas. Jordan nodded at Sophie and suggested, “It may help with that.”

Well, magic solution. She ran out, then ran back to check that I was coming, and then settled down on the patio to watch the gate for company. How to tell her no company was coming. She just really wanted happy hour on the patio.

Tonight she tried the same thing again, but I told her with certainty that it was too cold. We weren’t going out. Then neighbors Mary and Joe came bringing firewood they thought would fit in our fire pit. Sophie ran out the door ecstatically, so happy to see company, however brief their stay. We are hoping the firewood will keep us warm on Tuesday night when we gather for ladies’ night on the patio. Sophie is included as one of the ladies.

There is good news tonight, what with the vaccine and the SCOTUS dismissal of Ken Paxton’s frivolous lawsuit—I wish the media would call it Paxton’s lawsuit and not Texas’. Most of us in Texas want no part of it. But anyway, the good news is tempered by the difficulty of delivering the vaccine and by the fact that there was a big rally in support of trump tonight, though I am pleased it barely made a blip on the network news. It’s easy to wonder if this upheaval will ever end, but be of good faith, my friends. It will. We will get to a new and different normal.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas is blooming at the Burtons.

The Burton Christmas tree is done! Huzzah! Every year, Christian spends days and nights meticulously putting lights on each and every branch. No casual flinging of strands for him. Only when it is done to his satisfaction can Jordan and Jacob come in and decorate the tree. The bows, including the big one at the top, are saved from their wedding.

Those wedding bows are particularly fitting as they celebrate their sixteenth wedding anniversary tonight. A romantic evening, with filets done on the grill, twice-baked potatoes, lobster tail. Jacob and I ate hot dogs and beans in the cottage. But, the disparity in dinners aside, it made me teary—happy tears—to remember that wonderful evening sixteen years ago. A large wedding at our church with the full choir singing. For me, the shining moment was when both Jordan’s brothers walked her down the aisle and, just before handing her to their father who was mobility impaired, kissed her on each cheek. As one of my more cynical friends said, “Be still my heart.”

But then it was dancing and dining at the Fort Worth Club, with almost all the people we care about, including most of the New York Alters. Uncle Mark managed to lead a late-night version of havah niglia, and Maddie, then only six or seven, was the belle of the ball. Such good memories.

But on to Christmas. Jordan has done a mighty job on the front of the house. She doesn’t like this picture—says it’s not clear enough—but I think it shows how spectacular the lights are. She learned some unforgettable lessons about holly bushes in the process of lighting up the house.

I stay in the back in my cottage, where inside and out, it is festively lit, but it’s a joy for me to see these “front of the house” decorations. I will, of course, get into the main house several times between now and Christmas. Jordan has even suggested one night soon we sip eggnog (yep, the kind with nog in it) in front of the fire while enjoying the glow of the tree. And at least one night we’re going to go chasing Christmas lights in the city, something I did years ago with the children.

It goes without saying that this has been a hard year for everyone, between pandemic and the worst, drawn-out election battle that none of us ever imagined would happen. There is good news on the latter front tonight in that the Supreme Court has refused to hear Ken Paxton’s frivolous suit against the major states that went for Biden. But still, trump will keep appealing wherever he can, stirring up trouble among his most rabid followers, and the threat of violence lingers. And our friends, neighbors, relatives are dying at an alarming rate.

In the face of all that, it would be easy to give up, throw our hands up in the air, and cancel the holiday season. I can’t speak for Hanukkah and Kwanza and other seasonal holidays, but I can say that is strictly counter to the meaning of Christmas, which brings us hope in the darkest of winters. And this year there is hope—a vaccine, a new presidential administration.

I am proud of Jordan for her determination to keep the spirit of Christmas, to make it festive for all of us. And I am doing my darndest to keep up with her spirit. I hear people all around me say they just can’t quite get the spirit this year, and, even though I was known to say it myself, I think how wrong that is. We need Christmas this year more than most years. Rejoice!


Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Get over it!


A Christmas plate with real nostalgic memories

I’ve turned my attention to Christmas this week—taking a vacation from writing in the hope that when I go back to it, the novel will begin to take more shape in my mind. And, besides, Christmas was nudging at me.

It is going to be a different Christmas this year, there’s no denying it. I have read several posts on several lists from people who just can’t seem to get in the Christmas spirit lately. Whether it’s the pandemic or the divisive political situation, this year is just definitely different. But when I begin to moan about not seeing three of my four children and six of my seven grandchildren, no parties to plan, few festive foods to prepare, I give myself a mental slap and tell myself to “Get over it!” Christmas always is—and will be this year—what we make of it.

In truth, I think I gave my last big “tree trimming” party in 2015, five whole years ago. After that health interfered—in 2016 my disintegrated hip was giving me fits and I was told not to walk on it in anticipation of January surgery. You can’t host fifty-to-sixty people at a party if you can’t walk, let alone fix the food. Some of my favorite recipes got pushed to the side. By 2017 I was in the cottage, which can’t hold ten people, let alone fifty. I did manage small semi-parties, but this year we can’t even do that. If I fixed a caviar dip for the immediate family, I’d be the only one who would eat it. Same with the pate that my brother thought was one of the best things he’d ever eaten.

We can still entertain one or two couples on the patio if the weather cooperates—the last few days have been a lovely reprieve after that cold spell. Tonight I am expecting two neighbors who usually come every Tuesday—I call them the Tuesday Night Ladies. But even when we can have people on the patio, we don’t serve dips and charcuterie boards and all the appetizers that we used to love to prepare. It’s strictly things you can give people in single servings—no communal dishes, so we usually just don’t serve any food. I keep a big bag of sesame treats for one friend—I call it Phil’s bag of treats.

With Jordan’s determination, we are going to make it a festive Christmas. Christian has spent a couple of late nights meticulously putting lights on their tree, and she has put up lots of lights on the front of the house, discovering just how unpleasant holly bushes can be. Jordan has my cottage quite festive with a table-top artificial tree (next year I’m going to order in time to get a live tree!), light sticks mixed into the vase of pussy willows, a glass block with Christmas lights in it that I’ve had for years. Adding to the warmth is the small, artificial fireplace Jamie gave me.

Then there’s the matter remembering those who are special to you with gifts. For me part of not getting in the spirit was that I just stared blankly at my Christmas gift list. I can’t blame it on not being out in the stores, because I never am. I’m a dedicated online shopper. But this year I had no idea what to give anyone. Grandchildren are always a problem for me. I’ve resisted the gift card route for years, claiming I wanted them to have things that they could say, years from now, my grandmother gave me this. That principle is going out the window this year. Many of my adult friends will find that I have made a contribution to their favorite charity in their name. It’s just the way this different year is.

For us, not being able to gather at church has made a difference too. I want to join with others in singing hymns, I want to hear the familiar scriptures in a beautifully decorated sanctuary, I want to pray along with others. We had a near-catastrophe when I got an email that did not list our traditional eleven o’clock at night service. We had planned our Christmas Eve around it. A call to the church elicited a “Oops!” on their part, so at least we will have the virtual service.

No, it’s not going to be the same. But it will be whatever you make of it. Get over those holiday blues!

Sunday, December 06, 2020

I’ve found the cure!


A masked Jordan at the cookie echange

No, not the cure to Covid-19, though I was very interested to read that questions asked by the director of our own John Peter Smith hospital made a difference in the way Covid patients are treated. But no, I can’t claim having found a cure—someday I’m sure scientists will, but for now what I’ve found is a temporary cure for quarantine blues. Take a four-hour nap.

Today about lunchtime I had the strangest sinking spell. Suddenly, everything seemed like too much effort. I had made tuna salad for lunch but didn’t really want it. Sitting on the edge of my bed for a minute, I realized I wanted nothing more than to sink down in my bed and sleep. Jordan, who was fixing us salad plates was surprised and then alarmed.

Backstory: I stayed up until one in the morning last night, and Sophie wakened me at seven-thirty in the morning. Not enough sleep! I tried for the first hour I was up to go back to bed, but Sophie was having none of it. She was outside, chasing squirrels, and having a high old time. So I settled at my computer, where I can keep an eye on her.

I didn’t feel bad until I started to make that tuna. Then everything seemed like an enormous chore. Jordan came out for lunch, and I announced I was going to bed. At that point I wondered if I was having a heart attack or a stroke, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to sleep. I did call out to Jordan that I thought I might throw up. She rushed to put something by the bedside. Only two hours later when I briefly sat up, did I realize that she had not put a bowl but the whole stinking (literally) garbage container from the kitchen—with the lid conveniently off. I went back to sleep for another two hours and woke up a new person.

Yes, I was tired and needed the sleep, but I think I was also escaping—from quarantine, from a life that isn’t like I want it. Me, who has been content in quarantine—until I wasn’t. I’m not sure how to analyze it, but that long nap sure made me feel better. Jordan said the suddenness of it scared her, and she came out every ten minutes at fist to check on me.

Meanwhile, Christmas festivities, such as they are this year, go on. Jordan and several of her friends annually do a Christmas cookie exchange—this year it had to be a drive-by exchange, but it still had an air of festivity. Meanwhile, at home it was the first day warm enough for happy hour on the patio. We moved happy hour up an hour to catch the last of the sun, and Phil and Subie came at four o’clock. After being shut down again, it was so good to visit with them, and we sat until the evening chill forced us apart.

And today if the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Those who celebrate St. Nick’s day go around leaving goodies for others. We had a hint to leave our shoes on the front porch last night, and this morning we found a bountiful treasure—wine, chocolate, fruit, poinsettias. As my neighbor said, St. Nick must have thought we’ve been awfully good. I replied that 2020 hasn’t brought many opportunities for being naughty, even though it’s been such an awful year itself.

I am encouraged by the ongoing Christmas traditions in the midst of the most awful political disruption in our country’s history. These traditions tell me that most of us are still good people, who respect our constitution, who want to live in democracy at its best. Social democracy? Don’t be scared by the term. It’s how we already live, and how we can go about building back our country after the orange man is out of office.

Season’s Greetings. Let us all be jolly—and get enough sleep!


Friday, December 04, 2020

My quarantine funk


I, who haven’t minded quarantine and indeed sometimes enjoyed it, woke up yesterday in a funk for no good reason. It just seemed to me that yet another long day stretched before me, with nothing different than the day before or the day to come. One of my sons always answers my calls with, “What’s up?” and lately my reply is “Nothin’.” That’s how I felt.

Things didn’t get better. I locked myself out of a computer account and had to call for help. That was an omen for a day when I got nothing done. Oh, I posted to my cooking blog and I sent an Angelo’s roast to our Jewish brother-in-law/uncle as a Hanukah present from all the Texas Alters. But it seemed like I got nothing done and spent to much time putzing around on the computer.

I tried a recipe I’ve been saving—actually it was a non-recipe, posted on the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page by a chef/friend of mine. It’s one of those that seemed complicated because I’d never done it before. And because I should have had the ingredients all ready before I started. The result was creamed spinach with flavors of onion, garlic, and chicken broth. I’ll do it again.

And late last night I wrote 500 words on my novel. A prolific and famous writer recently confessed that 500 words a day is her goal. If she makes that, she’s happy; if she makes a thousand, it’s a bonus and she rejoices.

Today dawned a much brighter day—until I tried to give Sophie a Benadryl for her coughing (allergies). The drawer was stuck. The drawer which only incidentally holds Benadryl but also cooking utensils, baggies and the like, and all the everyday dishes. I went back to bed to contemplate this problem. Color me proud—I opened it the half inch it would go, kind of poked around with a spatula, and then gave a good tug. It opened! I think the culprit was an Oxo tool that’s supposed to open jars but doesn’t—I put it in the bottom drawer where it can do almost no harm.

Things didn’t get better. My son sent me some money through a payment service called Zelle, which I knew nothing about. Mind you, this son banks at a branch of the same bank I do, so he could have just transferred funds. Dutifully I tried to register, but it seemed to me I was opening an account with the bank—and I already have several. So I called the bank, and a consultant patiently walked me through the process until we got to where they needed to send me a verification code. It didn’t come, so I tried again. It didn’t come. The consultant consulted her boss and finally decided I should have Jamie cancel it and use PayPal or a direct transfer. It was a whole lot of work and time for forty-two dollars that I didn’t get.

I guess my story isn’t as bad as my friend who had a rat in her house—her first clue was a big bite out of a banana and another out of a sweet potato. Then she actually saw the critter. So she bought a new, modern trap—and caught her finger in it. Had to go to the doctor for antibiotics. Then she called an exterminator. The report this morning is the rat is dead and the finger is better.

The news didn’t add to my day. When my kids were at “that” age I did everything I knew to squelch bathroom humor. And I know today we’re a bitterly divided nation with many of our cultural norms—like common courtesy and good manners—thrown aside. But have we sunk so low that the fact that a lawyer passed gas (you may supply the f-word) in court is a news headline? I am not a fan of Rudy Giuliani, and I think it’s sad that a man who was once admired as a leader has debased himself, but if that happened, I’m sure it was something he couldn’t help and an embarrassment. Ten years ago, everyone would have just looked tactfully away and never mentioned it.

And one final bit of absurdity: I was reading a cooking magazine and came across directions for making a hyper-realistic eggplant cake. Who wants a cake that looks like an eggplant? I want my chocolate cake to look like cake! If I want eggplant, that’s a whole different thing.

I think I should go take a nap and start this day over. Stay warm and safe.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Cooking fun


Holiday view from my window

As I write, Jordan is making Christian’s request for dinner: taco salad with Catalina dressing. A bit ago, she asked if I would pull up a recipe. I told her we didn’t need a recipe. You just make some taco meat, dice tomatoes, grate cheese, drain beans, chop lettuce and mix it all together. She wanted something printed in her hand that would give her quantities. So she went to Pinterest, but when she was following the recipe, she complained it didn’t tell her how much lettuce. I said you just add it until you have enough. Cooking styles clash.
Taco salad

Since we’re quarantining and trying hard to make the holidays special and festive, I suggested we should have Beef Wellington on Christmas Eve. Jordan’s response was that it’s really hard to do. But I set off on an internet search for recipes. Found one I really liked, hit the wrong thing, and never could find it again. But I found recipes for hamburger Beef Wellington, a vegetarian version, and several that were close but not quite Cooking funright. Some called for paté, but I knew even the thought of paté would not sit well with either Jordan or Christian; most called for duxelles, that combination of mushrooms, shallots, thyme, and whatever—I like the idea of adding a bit of sherry.

Most recipes called for searing the meat, which sounded good to me. One or two suggested then rubbing it with mustard, such as Dijon. And the ones I liked called for laying out overlapping pieces of prosciutto on plastic wrap, putting the duxelles on that, and then wrapping it around the meat. Sounds good to me. I announced that I could put together a recipe from what I’d found. That scared Jordan. One recipe said 25 minutes prep time, 20 minutes cooking. I doubt that would happen here.

When Christian heard all this, he agreed it might be just as cheap to buy it already prepared. Jury’s still out, but the entire evening has suggested to me the difference in the way Jordan and I approach cooking. She wants a recipe; I’m willing to wing it. I must add that her taco salad, sort of made with a recipe, was delicious.

And last night she made a crescent-roll ring filled with pesto chicken. It was not a recipe I would have tried, but she followed the instructions and came out with a dish that was attractive and flavorful. We agreed to put it on what she calls the rotation list.

Pesto chicken in a 
crescent-roll ring

What I do think is that we’re lucky that we can eat so well with such a variety during pandemic. It’s one thing that has kept us from staring mindlessly at the TV and given us an occupation that interests us. I’m learning a lot more about food as we go, and I’m sure Jordan is too. Christian, who sometimes cooks for us, is also the beneficiary of what we fix. Jacob would just as soon have mac and cheese, but I hope that’s a passing phase.

Aside from cooking, life goes on in our little compound. As the picture above shows, Jordan has us all decorated for Christmas. Jacob has virtual school until early afternoon, and today he had a golf lesson. Jordan keeps after her travel business, does all our errands including grocery shopping, and keeps the household running. And I sit at my computer and write—some days it goes better than others, but today was a good day, and I think I nailed the first chapter of Irene in Danger, sequel to Saving Irene.

I’m hopeful as 2020 draws to a close about the vaccine and about a new presidential administration. 2021 is bound to be better if we can all just hang on until then.