Sunday, January 31, 2021

The winter doldrums


January and February are, to me, the months of the winter doldrums. I love the way that word sounds like what it means—a period of calm, depression. It’s a seagoing term, from an area near the equator where the winds sometimes stop, marooning wind-powered sailboats for days, even weeks. It’s as though the world comes to a stop.

And that’s sometimes the way life feels in these winter months, even here in sunnier climes. Today for instance though chilly was sunny and pretty, enough to cheer the soul. But still I felt becalmed.

In the doldrums I sleep a lot—long winter naps that are both addictive and refreshing. Today, for instance, I got up, let Sophie out at her request, and when she came back inside, crawled back to my bed for another hour. I didn’t sleep, but I dozed. To my great joy, I had the glimmer of a few ideas.

I’ve read several posts from writers in recent days complaining about writer’s block, the inability to make themselves write—anything. The traditional cure of course is to write—anything, something, just write. It is of course easier said than done. But recently I’ve seen other advice which essentially advises “get yourself out of the way.” The more you worry about what to write, the less likely you are to have a clue. If you relax, stop fixing your mind frantically on the problem, and get out of the way, you might just find ideas coming your way. I think that’s part of the virtue of napping and dozing a lot—you kind of turn off your mind and thereby open it to ideas.

Not that I’m had a brainstorm—just a glimmer. But it’s enough to make me face the coming week with a tad more enthusiasm. Perhaps I can take that glimmer and twist and turn it into a plot—oh, oops, there I go again, getting in my own way.

In the cycle of life, I’m sure the doldrums have a purpose. They are not aimless, drifting, empty periods, but times of life designed to help us pull back, regroup, refresh. All that napping is healing, curative, ultimately stimulating.

It’s easy to feel guilt about doing nothing. I’m a past master at that. IF I’m not doing something productive what am I doing? And yet that very thought is as self-defeating as getting in your own way.

I guess it all comes back to those naps, that ability to be becalmed and accept it because it is a phase that will pass. The best advice is to get out of the way.

Friday, January 29, 2021

A recluse in pandemic

Jordan brought me these gorgeous roses today
as a reward for good medical appointments all week
Aren't they a magnificent color?

People are increasingly restless with the restrictions of pandemic. They want to go to restaurants and concerts and museums, they want to travel and see families and hug loved ones. I want to become a recluse.

The mood came upon me this week, probably because I had to leave my cottage and go somewhere every day. All I could think about was how much I wanted to stay home. With my computer and my dog. Of course, I don’t stay home alone—I have Jordan, Jacob, and Christian in and out of the cottage which makes a huge difference, one I am much appreciative of.

But I have no taste right now for dressing up, putting on make-up, and getting out in the world. I look back on all the years I did that and wonder if it was some different person.

It’s not that I have an all-consuming project on my desk. I am nearly through with the edits I’ve been reviewing, and I’m at loose ends about what I’ll take up next. But I have faith if I’m quiet and listen to myself, something will come before me that I really want to do. Meantime there are books to read, dishes to cook, naps to take.

Ah, the naps. I may still be getting my strength back, but I napped for an hour today before Sophie wanted to go out. Let her out but she came barging back in rather quickly, so I shut the door behind her and went back to bed for another long nap.

It’s not that I’m anti-social. I welcome friends, two at a time, who are also quarantining. In pleasant weather, we visit on the patio, masked and socially distanced, and I find the company refreshing. I’d soon get tired of my own voice and thoughts.

I’m reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, that in-depth exploration of Savannah that is now several years old. I decided it was time I read some of the books “everyone” has already read, and I’m enjoying it. Another plus for the recluse life.

I have a friend who says she goes nowhere, sees no one not because she’s afraid of getting the virus (though I admit I am—statistically it would not be a good thing for me) but because she doesn’t want to give it to anyone else. Valid reasoning, and yet another reason to stick to home.

So for the time being, I’m pulling up the drawbridge and letting the world go by. I’m sure this is a temporary phase. I’m too much of a people person to become a permanent recluse. It just sounds good for the nonce.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

What shall we talk about?

 Last night at a quiet supper table, Christian said something to the effect that we no longer have politics to talk about. It’s true—we had lively discussions, mostly about what was wrong with the trump administration. Jacob asked penetrating and smart questions, forcing us to articulate our beliefs clearly. And then we won an election. I have visions of dinner tables across the country falling silent.

Social media is a new world too. I used to spend far too long prowling through comments. Two things have changed: fewer people are commenting on platforms like Facebook, and I have vowed not to respond to snark and lies and conspiracy theories. And that’s what mostly remains—the alt-right cannot stop complaining, rationalizing, attacking, and lying. Not worth my time. I will never convince such people of the folly of their thinking, and I’m not going to waste my breath trying.

And yet this is probably the wrong time to remain silent. Mid-term elections are in two short years, and the right is pulling out all the stops. Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, that awful Greene woman, and others are all over the internet, and we cannot, must not allow them to dominate the conversation. It is crucial for those of us who support President Biden’s agenda to put our views out there in a rational, nonconfrontational way. And for many of us that requires some education—it is no longer enough to post from an emotional, gut-wrenching fear of or dislike of trump.

Christian’s take on it is that he wants to learn everything he can about the Keystone Pipeline that Biden has halted. I’ve been reading about it too. Like pandemic and almost everything in our country, it comes down to the pull between the environment and humanity vs. profits and jobs. The Keystone, so I read, transports sand tar, which is dirty oil, for shipment to China, I believe. It is not destined for the U.S. but crosses our lands, including sacred native lands and those with depleted water supplies. When it leaks, it fouls water and is difficult to impossible to clean.

Constructrion of the pipeline has created jobs, lots of jobs, but the completed line will create only 35 permanent positions. Meantime the oil is transported by truck and water, which creates thousands of jobs. Once completed a pipeline would eliminate those jobs. So it’s a question of who is employed. Finally, I read a cogent article that suggested that the pipeline was an idea whose time came fifteen years ago. Today it is an anachronism.

My take on it is that we must, we absolutely must put the environment above all else. The doomsday clock is far too close to midnight, and President Biden has wisely recognized this, re-installing the many environmental regulations trump cancelled. We have to learn to live in a new world and stop looking to old models for answers. Jobs lost can and should be balanced out by creation of new jobs in a clean energy industry, but such doesn’t happen overnight, and the transition will be tough. Meantime we will have to help those citizens who are caught between.

Finally, I read the suggestion that the Keystone Pipeline is another way to enrich oil companies. You think? I’ll keep reading, but I am definitely leaning in support of Biden’s cancellation of the project. And rejoicing with the tribes who have fought against it for long, dry years.

Guess we’ve got something to talk about at dinner tonight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Fun in the kitchen


We had a fun dinner tonight—chicken wings. I found a recipe for marinating them all day in olive oil, lemon, oregano, garlic, etc. The recipe called for baking them an hour, stirring frequently—Christian did them in twenty-five minutes in the air fryer.

I have not been a fan of air fryers and InstaPots. In fact, I’ve been outspoken about not wanting such gadgets. I have no counter space for them, and frankly, I don’t need all that fast, convenient cooking. If I want to cook something all day I can. But Christian really wanted an air fryer, and so it was my Christmas present to them.

Unbeknownst to me, he uses it all the time. I think tonight though was only the second time he used it for an entrée. Worked wonderfully. The wings were tender and juicy. Served with a sauce of olive oil, lemon, a bit of cayenne, and a bit of garlic, then topped with chopped parsley and feta. Made a lovely presentation.

The recipe came from Bon Appetit, so I can’t share it, but if you cook at all, you can probably approximate it. This was one of the few recipes I’ve found lately in cooking magazines that really speak to me. Increasingly recipes are too complicated—and too unfamiliar. Friend Carol sent me an article today by a chef about the virtues of absolutely following a new recipe to the letter and not trying to impose our own cooking experience on it. I confess I am guilty in several ways—I am increasingly less interested in trying recipes, say, from the Middle East or Africa (I don’t like peanut sauces) and more interested in exploring the wide variety and depth of traditional American cooking. And when I do explore, I superimpose my own tastes on the recipe—just what the chef said not to do. But I am leery of spicy things—or should I say my stomach if leery—and if you say fiery to me, I bolt in the opposite direction.

From time to time I think about discontinuing all my subscriptions—think of the paper footprint I’d save—and relying on the web. But then I come across a recipe like our supper tonight and I weaken.

I still have a ginormous folder of recipes to try. We went through it tonight and I picked out Swedish meatballs and lamb ragu to try next week. Think I”ll serve the ragu over polenta. One night this weekend the kids have plans and so I sorted through things I want to cook for myself that they won’t eat. My choice came down to a couple of bean and tomato dishes—Christian is a meat and potatoes man and doesn’t think a bean supper is really dinner. But I decided on an old favorite that many decry—creamed chipped beef. Done right with a really rich cream sauce, it’s a delicious treat. Think I’ll accompany it with some crisp green beans.

I’m so glad to be back to having fun in the kitchen and enjoying my meals. Can’t wait for leftover chicken wings for lunch tomorrow. Trying to think of ways to make food writing more central to my career, but all I’ve come up with so far is a title for a mystery: “Helen Corbett Cooks Up a Little Murder.” No plot, no victim, no idea—just the title. I’ll keep working on it.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The frustration of Texas storms


So frustrating to get all geared up for storms…and nothing happens. Last night, forecasts were full of dire warnings about severe weather between midnight and four a.m. I went to bed much earlier than midnight—I seem to have changed my sleep patterns these days—but got Sophie all comfortable with a Benadryl so she’d sleep and not be scared during the storm.

I won’t exactly say I lay in bed awake, waiting, but I did find myself awake about one in the morning, wondering about the storm. We got rain but nothing more … and Sophie slept soundly on in her favorite chair. Not that I wanted a destructive storm, but I would have welcomed a little heavy weather. It didn’t happen.

In ordinary years, we would be in the midst of Stock Show weather. The annual stock show, formally known as the Southwestern Exposition and Stock Show, almost always brings snow, sleet, freezing rain, slick streets, and cold, cold temperatures. So this year, with no stock show, maybe we’re being spared the bad weather.

But Fort Worth misses out in a lot of other ways. The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, the oldest continuously running livestock show and rodeo in the country, has been held annually in Fort Worth since 1896. In those days, they tied the cattle on a river bank for judging—short squatty cattle, not at all like the sleek animals we see in the show ring today. Over the years the show has provided millions of dollars in grants and scholarships and continues to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to encourage and educate future leaders of agriculture and livestock management.

This year’s show would have brought over a million visitors to Fort Worth—competitors, exhibitors, tourists, vendors, and so on. But it would have been a super-spreader event, and directors reluctantly made the decision to cancel.

So what are we missing besides bad weather? Horse, cattle, and hog shows and auctions, rodeo events and entertainment, judging of everything from pigeons to rabbits, the FFA barnyard with its baby animals, and all that food—turkey wings and funnel cakes and corny dogs. The exhibition hall with its displays of everything from farm equipment to fashion remains closed and empty. The barns are silent, echoing, as are the FFA dorms above them.

So yes, the failure of the storms to materialize is frustrating. It symbolizes a bigger absence—we have no stock show this year.

Here’s to a bigger than ever event in 2022.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Suddenly ravenous—and the Spanish egg


My Spanish egg--note the lacy edges.

After missing most of December and its good holiday food, I suddenly find myself ravenously hungry. For weeks, I could barely stand the thought of food and spent long hours trying to come up with dishes that intrigued me. Nothing worked. Now everything sounds good.

Hunger began to return in the hospital. I remember telling a nurse at three a.m., as she drew blood, that I knew what I wanted for breakfast—Grape Nuts Flakes, a banana, and honey. She laughed, but that’s what I had. Now at night I go to sleep thinking about breakfast.

Yesterday on the internet I found directions for a Spanish egg. It was a fried egg cooked the way my mom used to do it, with lacy edges browned crisp and good, still soft in the middle. I just never knew it was called Spanish, nor did I know how to achieve those lacy edges. My tried-and-true method for eggs is soft-poached on a slice of heavily buttered rye bread topped with some sliced sharp cheddar. I thought that would work with the Spanish egg, so I tried it.

When most of us fry an egg, we put a minimal amount of oil or butter in the pan. For a Spanish egg, you float the egg in a generous glop of oil—I used olive oil.  Slip the egg into a ramekin, so it will slide nicely into the pan. Heat the oil but don’t let it smoke. Slide the egg gently into the hot oil and spoon a bit of oil over the top. Now watch it for a minute and a half or so—until those edges turn golden and the yolk sort of puffs up (that’s the theory—the yolk on mine never did puff up). I slid it onto my cheese and toast, cut it all up, and smooshed the yolk around, and—voila! Breakfast!

It was good. Worth the effort? Probably. And I figure I’ll get better at the technique if I keep trying. But an egg every day, snacks in the middle of the day, a hearty dinner—something’s got to give. I’m not sure if I lost weight or not but at this rate I’ll be a a tub.

Last night we ordered Italian dinners, and I had a veal dish with teeninesy pieces of artichoke scattered throughout and a wonderful lemon-butter sauce. I ate every bite of the meat and all the accompanying pasta—usually I ignore those sides of pasta, but this we so good. Tonight I think I’ll do my first real cooking. I’ve been meaning to make a quiche from the New Year’s ham, and this cold rainy day seems just right. I got out the recipe to re-read—and it calls for bacon, not ham. I figure I’ll use both and make it that much heartier.

It’s a joy to be reading and enjoying recipe, eating and tasting good food, getting back to cooking. Life seems good, and I’m on the mend.

As for the Spanish egg, the picture doesn’t do it justice. Look it up on the net for a better picture.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A touch of lipstick


Me with lipstick.

If you were in North Texas today, you know it was one of those days—so cold, damp, and dreary that it chilled to the bone. Not a day to recover good spirits. And yet I learned a lesson—over again.

A friend asked me to talk, via Zoom, to her granddaughter who wants to write fiction. I’m always glad to pay it back if I can, so I readily agreed. But with not sleeping well yet, the interview loomed on my mind during the night. This morning I decided for my own sake I would shampoo my hair, put on some makeup, and wear a decent shirt (okay in the picture above the shirt disappeared in favor of my usual T-shirt). It made a world of difference in how I felt about myself. Jordan came in and exclaimed, “You look so pretty. Let me take our picture.”

The young woman I talked to turned out to be an actress with a strong sense of presence and what she wants to do. She’ll go far. She just wasn’t sure what to do next with the manuscript she has, and I hope I was able to steer her in some right directions. My main advice to her was to become part of the community in which she wants to publish. She wants to do sci-fi, about which I know nothing. But I encouraged her to get a web page, start blogging about her writing journey, comment on other blogs, develop an online following. I truly hope she found my ideas worthwhile, and I look forward to following her as she moves into writing. But if I helped her, she helped me a whole lot, gave me a boost I needed.

My lesson for the day beyond that dab of lipstick is that I am learning to keep my opinions to myself. For four years or more I’ve spoken out about the betrayal of our country, the perversion of everything we hold true about ourselves as Americans. Now, many people are speaking out about the sense of relief they feel that we have an active and open administration. It is, as many have said, the first time in four years many of us sleep soundly and wake without apprehension. But many others are saying those things, and I don’t need to add to the chatter.

There are still of course detractors, from wild conspiracy theories that have trump still in charge to milder but nonetheless devastating comments from some who seem waiting to gloat, poised for Biden to miss-step. The temptation to jump in is strong—for instance, no Antifa did not burn down a Federal building—but nothing is to be gained by arguing with such people. I am going to be among the watchful waiting, because I firmly believe Biden will get results that will discredit the naysayers.

I am more disturbed by some freshmen in Congress—Senator Hawley (who is being played like a puppet by Ted Cruz) along with representatives Boebertt and Greene and a few others. Those newcomers need to learn to work with others and not grab their futile five minutes of fame (or fund-raising). But I leave it to the wheels of Congress to deal with obstreperous newbies.

Me? I’m going to enjoy pictures of babies and dogs and news of my friends and maybe a good book or two I’ve read. And recipes. Always recipes. At least that’s my plan. And those snarky comments? I’ll try to let them roll off my back like water off a duck. Don’t hold me to it, but I’ll try.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The wisdom of dogs

Sophie and her dog sitter.

When I went to the hospital, I worried about Sophie being alone and lonely in the cottage, but I need not have fretted. When Jamie or Megan were not with me, they were in the cottage, working remotely, sleeping, or playing with Sophie. She got more attention than she usually does when I’m here with her. When they decided it was time to head for their homes, Jacob announced he would “dog ////sit” Soph.

He spent the nights with her—I think he liked my sleep numbers bed—and did his remote schoolwork at my desk during the day. I was pleased that he was comfortable enough in my space to want to do that. Turns out he was more than comfortable. When I came home, he announced he would have to boot me out of my desk. He likes sitting and looking out the window while he works, though today the cold, damp air comes through these frail old glass panes and makes my window on the world too cold for comfort. I have spent much of the day curled in my bed for warmth, but I figure that’s okay. I’m gathering my strength.

The kids kept assuring me Sophie was content but missed me, went around looking for me. Still, I didn’t quite get butt-wriggling, jumping-around happiness when she saw me. She was cautious, approaching slowly, as though uncertain who I was. I wondered if with a dog’s strong sense of smell she picked up the hospital odor about me, even though I’d completely changed clothes. Then too maybe she thought I’d deserted her, and it took her a bit of time to forgive me.

Now, twenty-four hours later, she comes up to put her head on my knee and ask for love. She has been good and quiet all day, letting me mostly rest. Right now it is dull but not rainy, and she is happily standing outside at the back door of the main house, convinced apparently that something more interesting is going on inside than in the cottage. She’s always anxious to get into the big house, but if I’m in there and ask, “Do you want to go home?” she makes a beeline for the cottage.

Dogs are often smarter than people. I think Sophie is telling me it will take a day or two to get back into our routine, and I shouldn’t rush it. I’m listening. And, meantime, I’m grateful to Jacob for taking good care of her. In an hour or so, we’ll all gather for supper in the cottage, and she will once again make herself the center of attention by begging for her food and treats, wanting to go in and then out, going from person to person for love. It’s a dog’s life, and she’s got it whipped. I’m learning from her.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Home again, and glad of it


Feeling vulnerable as I leave the hospital

Wow. Just wow! What an amazing week for our nation and for me and my family. Personally I am reminded of the time Jamie, quite young, said to a family friend, “Laster night I did get scared, and I did sleep with my mommy and daddy. And tonight, I am going to get scared all over again.” Unlike Jamie, I don’t want to repeat either the trauma of the last four years or of the week of my hospitalization, but there were some high points.

One was a chance to visit with two of my out-of-town children (the third was kept away by Covid exposure). I was fortunate enough to be in a facility where I could have one caretaker every twenty-four hours. Jamie and Megan each did two shifts and then Jordan took the last two nights and one full day. We watched CNN endlessly during the roll-up to inauguration, half with anxiety, more with pride. We talked politics, we reminisced, we even laughed and took silly pictures of the mom in the hospital. We agonized over meals—hospital dietary restrictions are no fun. And in the dark of the night, I was oh so grateful for their presence.

If Jordan and I had been home Wednesday going about our daily routine, I know we would have watched the celebration, but probably not with the intensity we gave it as a captive audience. As it was, we hung on every minute, beginning with the impressive memorial Tuesday night for the victims of COVID. Vice-president Harris put it just right when she said we have grieved separately and now we come together, although still apart, to mourn our great losses. To me, that ceremony demonstrated that America can do pageants right—not meaningless pomp and circumstance but occasions that remind us of who we are: a nation of caring, compassionate people (for the most part).

There is not a lot left to be said about Wednesday’s events that has not already been said. Yes, it was inspiring; yes, it was repetitious, with messages of challenge and opportunity and unity; yes, it was traditional, from speeches to music to fireworks which were, to my memory, some of the grandest televised fireworks I’ve seen. But it was what we needed to hear. As American as potato salad and hot dogs on the Fourth of July. We need those reminders of who we can be.

President Biden—doesn’t that sound solid and good? —obviously recognizes his many challenges and got right to work on them. He knows—and we do too—that restoring our national unity won’t be easy, but he also knows that doing nothing is not an option. He has wanted the presidency for thirty-four years, I think because he truly thinks he can do something for the country he loves. I’ve heard that he decided to make one final run at the presidency because he was so horrified by the events of the 2017 Charlottesville riot and the “good people on both sides.” I know there are many who are already criticizing him, but in my opinion, he is a truly sincere man who has, as he said, put his whole soul into the work of making America what it was meant to be.

As for me, I am home, battered, bruised, but better, with some lifestyle changes to think about. I need to learn that I am not invincible, that it’s not crying “Wolf,” to admit to health problems, that I can’t solve everything by sheer willpower. I am not twenty-four anymore, and I need to recognize it. I am, however, so grateful for good care at Harris Southwest—amazing personnel who were so kind and pleasant. And most of all grateful for my family, who inevitably fly to my side when I need them. Life is good, and I’ll bounce back.

Want to do your part? Wear your mask, social distance, and wash your hands. And try not to criticize for these first hundred days—give the new administration a chance.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Grateful thanks and an update

Megan and dogs

 My radio silence is apparently noticeable because I have received many inquires and lots of good wishes. And I am profoundly grateful. So here's an update: I am in the hospital having too many tests. So far results are headed in the right direction--looking better each day. I feel much better, although a bit sluggish. And food has no appeal--I am trying to make myself eat. I will be here several more days.

My kids have been tremendous. Jordan took me to the ER per doctor's orders Friday and stayed with me until evening. I am allowed one visitor per 24 hours so Megan and Jamie have been alternating staying with me and are godsends.

Sophie meanwhile is well cared for. They tell me she misses me but I think she may be getting such extra attention she's reveling in it.

Again, my thanks. I hope to be back to blogging about cheerful daily events sometime soon. Until then, God bless!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A day of good things


Getting my first vaccination shot

Sometimes good things seem to happen all at once, That’s what happened to me yesterday. A welcome change of pace from what days have been like lately.

First my doctor called, himself, in person, to ask if I wanted the first vaccine shot today. I said of course, and we made an appointment for 11:30 this morning.

Then Priscilla Leder who does a book review radio program out of San Marcos, sent me the questions she planned to ask in today’s interview about the book, The Second Battle of the Alamo.

And then I got an email from my editor at TwoDot Books with the edited version of my forthcoming (September) book, The Most Land, the Best Cattle: the Waggoners of Texas.

All this meant that today was a full day. Jordan drove me to the doctor’s office this morning, where an efficient procedure waited for us. We sat in the waiting room for just a few minutes and then went into a room where someone asked lots of questions about my health and, “Which arm?” We decided right because I sleep on the left. My one question was which vaccine, though it made no difference to me. I got Moderna. The shot is quick and painless—just a tiny prick—and then we had to wait in another waiting room for fifteen minutes to be sure I had no reaction. That was it. We were there at most half an hour.

Came home, took one of my frequent naps, and did the radio interview in my pjs. Priscilla does a thorough reading of the book and had prepared three single-spaced pages of questions. I in turn scribbled lots of notes on those three pages—principally minor characters names that I didn’t want to forget. A big worry for me was how much of the detail I would remember about the book—after all, it’s now been two years since I wrote the text and a year since the book was published. I’m happy that it all came back as we talked about it.

One big point, for me, was to acknowledge the late Debra Winegarten, who had the contract on the book and who asked me to write it once she was diagnosed with overwhelming terminal malignancy. I was pleased to be able to describe her as perhaps the most energetic writer I’ve ever met. Her partner wrote me late today to say how much she’d enjoyed the interview, and that made me feel good.

I haven’t yet even looked at the edits for the Waggoner book. That will probably be a weeks-long project, but I am eager to dig into it. One thing that bothered me as we went through the holidays was that I had no solid project to work on. So now I do.

This morning I was full of energy and minus the nausea I’d been feeling in recent weeks. I told the doctor I’d write tomorrow with a good report. That all went south, however, this evening when the nausea returned, and my energy drifted away. Since about six tonight I’ve had two short naps and will probably go to bed soon for the night. In the morning, I’ll send the doctor a long email. This is a terrible malady for someone like me who loves cooking, writes a food blog, and has compiled two cookbooks.

One interesting note: yesterday the yard crew came with their usual noisy equipment. Sophie was safely in the cottage, and I was napping—no surprise there. What worried me was that she never barked, not once. She usually goes ballistic, beyond control, unfazed by my reassurance that it’s all right and deaf to my pleas for quiet. I called Jordan and said I was afraid she was sick. Jordan suggested she knew I didn’t feel well and was watching out for me. Then it dawned on me—she has been sleeping by my bed instead of in her beloved crate. Dogs know. I’m wondering if with her acute sense of smell she sense illness in me that we, as people, can’t smell (thank goodness). I am so grateful for her company.

Tomorrow will be a better day. I just know it.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Our snow day was a bust


This is NOT what inner-city Fort Worth looked like,
at least at my house

After a lot of hype from weather forecasters, I woke up this morning expecting a white-covered world. At 6:30, when Sophie decided she had to go out, we had nothing, only dry sidewalks. For some unknown reason, in that cold, she decided to stay out for an hour and a half. I did what I never do when she’s outside—went back to bed. But I kept popping up to try and at least see her. No luck, until she came in and woke me. Then she wanted to go right back out. I declined that suggestion and spoke rather harshly to her.

Fast forward to nine o’clock, when I finally got up—to a still-dry world. Snow finally began about 9:30—fat, lovely flakes that melted as soon as they hit the ground. I began to see pictures online of lovely, snowy scenes—from Glen Rose and Sweetwater and even south Fort Worth. My brother called from about an hour southwest to report six inches. We remained gray and wet—and pretty soon, even those large flakes stopped. Now, as I write, it is damp and dismal. Oh well, the snow was supposed to melt tomorrow anyway.

Twice today when Sophie was out, I caught her grazing like a cow. I’ve always heard that when a dog eats grass, it’s a sign their stomach is bothering them. Oh, good! Something else to worry about. She didn’t eat her dinner last night, but I watched her eat every bite tonight. So I’ll watch over the next day or two before I call the vet.

Maybe one of us is having sympathy pains, because my stomach has been a bit upset too. I’ve temporarily cut out some of the things I love—wine and chocolate—and am trying to eat bland foods. Makes for a dull day with no energy for much except napping, certainly not for working.

It’s been five days since the Capitol invasion—some right-wing media and even Republicans are calling the event the Freedom of Speech Protests, of all innocuous things. Still, it’s about all that’s on the news besides Covid, though as Jordan pointed out little of it is news by today. We see the same pictures on TV, and one more Breaking News text that announces calls for Josh Hawley’s resignation may just send me over the edge. Still there are dribbles and bits of news, like the fact that newly elected Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert, she who swears to bring her Glock into Congress, was inside the Capital texting about Nancy Pelosi’s whereabouts. Talk about a needed resignation. And trump, watching the invasion with “apparent enthusiasm,” commented that he just wished the invaders weren’t so “low class.” Have they heard those words from the lips of the man for whom many of them have ruined their careers and lives?

There are much bigger questions about security preparedness or lack of it, and those answers may come out in the next days. I think for security purposes we will hear little about the inauguration or the predicted January 17th invasion as Washington prepares. If you want to keep up with the latest, accurate analysis, I heartily suggest you read the daily column by Heather Cox Richardson—you can google her or find her on Facebook. Well worth reading every darn day.

Maybe all this is why my stomach is upset. Think I’ll go eat my applesauce.

Friday, January 08, 2021

A dog day


Sophie slept so late this morning that I finally woke her up to make sure she was okay. She does that occasionally and, like this morning, most often on a day when I have to be up and about. This morning I was more rushed than usual because of a medical appointment. Sophie did not feel my haste. And once awake she didn’t immediately want to go outside—lay on the bedroom floor and watched me put away dinner dishes and start the day.

My favorite kind of morning is when she wakes me about seven so she can go outside. I can usually lure her back inside within five minutes using a small strip of American cheese—sometimes with a Benadryl wrapped in it if she’s coughing badly because of allergies. Then I can go back to bed and sleep for another hour.

Sometimes in those morning hours I sleep soundly, but other times I doze and do some of my most productive thinking. Yesterday, for instance, I barely dozed because my mind was still racing with thoughts of Wednesday’s attempted coup at the Capitol. I finally got up so I could turn on the TV and see what had happened overnight. Not much except the final confirmation of the electoral vote, but yesterday’s revelation was the extent of the vandalism in the Capitol Building. Files scattered, furniture smashed, even human waste in the hallways. What kind of people do that? I am completely befuddled and very angry.

Internet postings are getting repetitive, calling for instant impeachment—next week is too late. What people don’t stop to realize—or read carefully—is that the House was today preparing impeachment documents, consolidating several versions into one. And next week is not too late because there is an expedited procedure they can follow. I do believe there has to be some swift action, and I think the wheels of government are turning as fast as they can. Nancy Pelosi knows what she’s doing.

I also see people bemoaning that Pence won’t activate the 25th amendment. He has his reasons, and they may be political and futile, but two things I didn’t realize about his defiance of trump on Wednesday were that he was a specific target of the mob. If they could have, they would have used that noose on him. His life was in danger, and cheers to the much-maligned capitol police for keeping him safe. And, finally, he had his wife and daughter with him—they’d been spectators in the gallery. So not only was he worried about himself but about his family.

One more thought, and then I’ll get back to dogs. I’m hearing conspiracy theories from the left—people who are convinced the mob had inside help, the police let them in, the poor law enforcement planning indicates collusion for a coup or something equally sinister. All of that may well be true, but conspiracy theories belong to the alt-right. I like to think we on the left wait for proof—and that will be a while coming as authorities unravel what happened. Our world is too anxious for instant answers, instant action.

Cricket on the left

Even being a dog wasn’t that easy today. Around noon Jordan was in the cottage unpacking groceries, and Christian stuck his head in to say the front door was standing wide open and Cricket was out. She goes neither far nor fast, and I could picture her with a waddle as distinctive as Churchill’s as she explored the great outdoors. Jordan and Christian both ran out, and Jordan found she had made it all the way to the next door neighbor’s yard. Jordan picked her up, however, because she seemed reluctant to come home. Maybe she was enjoying her adventure.

It was cold today—what a friend described as “bone chilling,” but it was sunny. In the early afternoon, Sophie went outside and lay in a patch of gravel that is one of her favorite spots. It gets full sun, and once again she lay on her side, so still. This time though I didn’t worry—she was soaking up that warmth, and I thought how nice her life is. No worry for her about attempted coups and politics and renegade Congress members. When she came in and came up to me for some love, her coat was warm to the touch.

Snow predicted for Sunday! It’s been almost five years since we had an inch of snow, but the record may be broken Sunday. Not enough for a good snowman but just enough to make it miserable outside.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Another day of infamy


This morning I remarked to a friend that we have had three days of infamy in my lifetime—December 7, September 11, and now January 6. She reminded me I had made an awful omission—November 22, the day of the Kennedy assassination. Still, it’s remarkable to me that my lifetime has seen such catastrophic events in our history. A slight qualifier: I was one year old when Pearl Harbor was hit and have no memory of the event. Still make me old!

If you’re on social media or the internet news at all, there is not much new to be said about yesterday’s attempted coup. But there are questions, a big one being why the Capitol police were not more prepared. Increasingly, talk on the net attributes that to the underlying racism in our society. Law enforcement simply did not expect violence from a bunch of white guys, though they were armed to the teeth and in riot gear for a BLM rally in recent months. My question though is why, since Capitol police basically handled the rioters with kid gloves until the day got away from them, why did they shoot one woman? Granted, she probably knew the risk, and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it still puzzles me that she was the only apparent victim. Three others are said to have died of medical emergencies.

Today I am in reluctant praise of Vice-president Mike Pence and Leader of the House Mitch McConnell. After sanctioning trump’s antics for four years with their silent complicity, each stood up yesterday and did what they had to do. They probably did more than anything else to defuse the situation. On the other hand, I think Cruz, Hawley and their co-conspirators should not be allowed to help govern our country. The thought of Steve Scalise moaning about violence turns my stomach.

 We’ll be chewing on yesterday’s events for a long time, and we may get some answers. But there are, to me, some good signs—for instance, the Democratic victory in Georgia over two trump supporters. And I bet some trump supporters saw the folly of what they’ve been supporting—too little too late but better than nothing.

Yesterday was sort of a bad day at Black Rock for me even without the national turmoil, though I admit I was glued to the TV all day. I woke in the morning feeling slightly sick to my stomach, a feeling that has bothered me in recent weeks. Never could pinpoint anything I ate and even wondered if it was due to the holidays, covid, and/or the turmoil in our country. Yesterday I contacted my doctor, and he said we would treat it as dyspepsia. The very word conjured up a vision of the gluttonous Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century. But I got a prescription—something not available to Johnson—and expect to feel better from now on.

Then, yesterday, in the midst of the turmoil in Washington, my computer quit. Cold. A black, blank screen. If you know me at all, you know the computer is where I spend my days. I write, I read, I follow some social media, I send and get lots of emails. Without the computer I was at loose ends—seriously considered going back to bed. The plugs and connections for the computer are where my walker and I cannot get to them, so I had to wait for Jordan to finish an extraordinarily long business call. But when she came out to the cottage, she found the problem right away—the monitor had come unplugged. I was back in business.

We had take-out food from our favorite Japanese restaurant last night and then followed our twelfth-night ritual, which we’d almost forgotten in the hectic atmosphere of the day. Jacob was the one who reminded us when he asked at supper, “Isn’t tonight Twelfth night?” Since my childhood, it’s been a family custom for each person to burn a twig from the Christmas tree on Twelfth Night and make a wish for the coming year. Of course, you cannot tell anyone else your wish. So mine was—oh, never mind! Some years we share this custom with neighbors, but this year, because of quarantine, it was just the four of us. At the end of that awful day, I found this custom and a short prayer for Epiphany comforting. It was as a sign that all will be well in the world.

Still, I was grateful last night to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

A homecoming, a moment of panic, and a birthday celebration

I’ve been silent for a few days mostly because there has been nothing going on, and I do mean nothing. My family took a three-night vacation to a friend’s lake house and, though I was cordially invited, I elected to stay home, sleep in my own bed, work on my large remote monitor, and even cook a couple of meals I like and they don’t. But I l admit Sophie and I get a bit lonely when they’re all gone. We happily welcomed them home yesterday in the late afternoon.

Jordan missed my moment of panic, although I recounted it to her later. One of the things about being a writer is that sometimes you need to talk to another writer because no one else will really understand what’s you’re saying. And so it was yesterday just before noon. About a year ago I submitted all the materials for my next book—still as far as I know titled The Most Land, the Best Cattle: the Waggoners of Texas and due out in September. In the meantime, the editor I had worked with took a position with another company, and a new editor took her place. So what’s the trauma? The new editor emailed that she couldn’t find any of the files and would I send everything again—text, pictures, permissions. It would have been one thing if I’d had one lovely file with all that, but I didn’t. Text was no problem, but it would have taken days to reassemble the pictures and permissions. As primarily an author of fiction, I have neither the technical expertise nor the computer programs to deal efficiently with high res images. I sent them to the previous editor piecemeal as I received them. For safekeeping! Hah!

After much gnashing of teeth, I hatched a plan. Fortunately, I remembered where the original editor had gone. Looked her up online, shot off an email, and got an instant reply. She had kept a “just in case” set of files. She sent them to the new editor, and last I heard all is well. Still holding my breath, but I should get edited copy to read next week. Who says the life of an author is dull?  

We ended the day with a happy hour celebration for neighbor Prudence’s birthday—our regular Tuesday night patio gathering with a special twist. Fortunately, the weather cooperated beautifully, and both Jordan and Mary brought charcuteries, Mary brought a wonderful cake, and the birthday girl brought champagne. Most festive.



Sunday, January 03, 2021

Creeping into 2021

The woods are lovely, deep and dark--Robert Frost

The world looks a whole lot brighter to me on January 3rd than it did January 1. I see sunshine and blue sky and bare branches—the leaves have all, finally, come down. Still I have the feeling of creeping into the new year instead of bounding joyously. Maybe it’s the internet meme advising going in “real slowly. Don’t. Touch. Anything.”

On New Year’s Day, the internet was full of the usual joyous wishes, this time made more poignant by a lot of gleeful farewells to 2020, the worst year in modern memory. But I am not at all sure we have put the problems of 2020 behind us—the pandemic is infecting and killing record numbers of our families, friends, and neighbors, and trump is protesting he will not leave the White House, even as he continues to try for a coup on January 6 when the electoral ballots are officially counted. And he is openly calling for violence in our nation’s capital on that day. I read one account that the Proud Boys or some of similar inclination would target the halls of Congress in an effort to attack congressmen who don’t back trump’s delusional campaign. It’s enough to scare anyone, and I, safely removed in Texas, am scared—for our country and our democracy, let alone our worldwide reputation.

An email from a small online writers’ group yesterday suggested that I sum up what I’ve learned from almost a year of quarantining. I had to think long and hard about that because I’m not sure I’ve learned anything except that old bromide, “Life isn’t necessarily fair.” The COVID-19 virus is whimsical in who it affects, who it kills. Many who have been infected followed every single caution from the CDC on prevention—and yet caught it. Others, seemingly indifferent or unbelieving, went about unmasked, gathered in large groups, and did not, so far as we know, contract the virus.

And the sense of fairness or collegiality has totally disappeared from politics. Joe Biden won a landslide, and yet he’s having the most difficult transition into power in the history of our country. At every turn, trump and his followers are working to thwart Biden’s solid plans for the future, for a return to government as most of us would like to see and know it.

My biggest fear is that president-elect Biden will not be able to work miracles, and the country will turn optimism into anger. He cannot work miracles—what’s been done to our country will require long, slow rebuilding. I think Biden is going into the new term with clear vision and solid plans, but he can only do so much. A lot will depend on the outcome of the runoff in Georgia on Tuesday. But either way I think “real slowly. Don’t. Touch. Anything,” is good advice.

What I personally have learned is that I’m okay with quarantine and isolation, as long as I have work to keep me busy and occupied and a few people in my pod. But right now, I am between projects and don’t seem to be able to focus on a new one. I find it frustrating, mostly because I think I came into this world with an ingrained work ethic, and I’m not comfortable not working. To top it off today my internet connection is down, and “unable to connect.”  This too shall pass if I can only muster a bit of patience.

As I reread what I’ve just written, it seems pessimistic to me, even reflecting a bit of depression. I hope that’s not true. I hope it is realistic. I also firmly believe there are things each of us can do to make the future better—find meaningful activity, continue to stay as safe as possible and follow health guidelines, write to your politicians or call them—tell them when you think they’re right and why you think they’re wrong (in Texas that opens a whole new can of worms!).

I’m not giving up on 2021. We are in a time of great change, and we have a lot to look forward to—the vaccine (if we every figure out who can get it and where) and a new administration. I expect good things—I just don’t expect instant miracles, and I don’t want anyone else to either. On Facebook someone commented, “We aren’t out of the woods yet,” and someone else replied, “We’re not even all the way into the words yet.”