Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A cooking milestone


Obviously not a professional job
but, hey!, it was so good!

Color me proud. This is my first attempt at working with phyllo. It is not, I don’t think, my first attempt at spanakopita—I remember making it for Jordan and me (the boys in the household won’t eat cooked spinach), but I think I used puff pastry (I just found a picture and, yes, I did use puff pastry before--and may again). This was a lot more work, and obviously it’s not as pretty as the original—a New York Times recipe. But it tasted delicious.

I told Jordan this morning she’d better enjoy it, and before I could finish the sentence, she did: “Because we’re never ever having it again because it’s too much work.” Almost true—it will be a while before I make it again. Last night I dreamt about making the dish, and this morning I got up and did it, so you know it’s filled my day. And there were roadblocks—I put 1.5 lbs spinach on the shopping list, and Jordan brought home 5 oz. So I had to add to my open order at Central Market and wait till late afternoon for Jordan to pick it up Then I incorporated the seasoned spinach, which had been cooked with leeks (yes, leeks—I did not, as is my habit, substitute green onions) and garlic, etc. with the newly cooked spinach, while trying to preserve the large chunks of feta—cooking is not always easy!

I really wanted moral support when I tried to “work quickly,” as the directions said, with the phyllo—but Jordan had gone to a neighbor’s for happy hour. And despite her promise to be home at six, it was almost seven before she got here. Meanwhile, I was fighting (well, almost literally) with the phyllo—and once I got it put together, I realized it’s a time-sensitive dish. So there are all my excuses, but clearly I need more practice with the dough. And I have at least half a box left—so I’m watching for other recipes. Suggestions welcome. Still it was delicious—we will have company for breakfast on Friday, and leftover spanakopita just got added to the menu.

The TV was on while I puttered in the kitchen most of the morning—and did my PT exercises. I find it agonizing to hear the witnesses at the trial of Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd, to hear people describe watching a man die, hearing him call for his mother and plead, “I can’t breathe.” I’m glad I’m not on that jury, because I could not be impartial.

Another thing that distresses me—there was a Facebook picture today of a big game hunter with a high-powered rifle who had killed an elephant in the wild. I am so angered by these “brave” hunters that I share the pictures on Facebook to spread their shame (doubt they feel it, but still…..) Trouble is, when I share it, other people share it and each time they do it shows up again on my timeline. And I can hardly bear to see that damn picture again. I’m afraid I have a not-good fate in mind for that hunter.

Splurge for the day—a bunch of tulips for my coffee table, which is the only table in the cottage. My friend Phil was having trouble eating on a tray table the other night and said maybe he should eat at the table. Phil is visually challenged and didn’t realize there is no dining table out here, but I will say it is one thing I miss. I’d love to once again give a dinner party at a real table. Meantime, tray tables are a better solution than hunching over the coffee table. I generally eat at my desk, even when there’s company, which doesn’t do a lot for ambiance. Tomorrow, for the great tuna casserole dinner, we will dine on tray tables on the patio, providing it’s warm enough.

But I do think my Easter table looks pretty, and I love having flowers in the cottage. I talked to the lawn guy today, and he is going to cut back the rosemary (dead at the tips but green near the ground), cut back the iron plants (same problem), and pull out the fountain grass, which has been a sort of lovely tan arrangement all winter. It’s time to repace it with living grass, and I prefer the purple. The oak-leaf hydrangea have come back nicely, but the Turk’s cap is iffy (gone, I think) and I need to have someone check the lantana. But the redbud is blooming—that’s an essential part of spring for me.

Easter and rebirth and the greening of the world—it makes me cheerful. Even as I fight with phyllo.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Distracting myself


Balsamic pork with rice noodles

Today I realized that physical therapy takes time—oh, not the exercises so much but all the extraneous involvement. The therapist who works with me, Dan, came this morning, earlier than I expected—yikes!—and was gone in half an hour. We did lots of small foot and arm exercises plus my walking route and checked my oxygen level every time. So far, the results are better than I thought, though I haven’t tested this out in the real world beyond my cottage.

But then the case manager called “just to check” and see if I had questions, etc. I assured her I didn’t, but I was on the phone longer than I liked as she repeated apparently mandatory warnings, including what to do in case of tornado, which struck me as wildly unrelated to my shortness of breath. Then the intake person called and wanted to come check my “vitals” between one and three. Proud of myself that I stood up and said that wouldn’t work because I sleep every day about two o’clock. So she said she’d come early—and arrived at 12:15 just as I finished making myself a BLT. I wanted to tell her Dan had just taken my blood pressure and pulse but figured it would do no good—she had to do what she was assigned to do which included asking personal questions about other bodily functions. She assured me she will be back every Tuesday, which I guess is okay because from what Dan told me we won’t do this for long and then I’ll be on my own.

All of that was great distraction, but I did start a second read-through of my Waggoner ranch manuscript and its edits and was heartless about cutting out repetitions. But I am still limiting the amount of time I spend on these edits, figuring that a short time with narrow focus is better than long sessions with perhaps wandering attention. Never fear, I have other distractions.

Somehow, I have committed to a lot of cooking this week—not a situation that makes me unhappy. Tonight, we had pork tenderloins in a balsamic sauce that I’d cooked all day in the slow cooker—except I goofed and had it on high too long. Nonetheless, it was good. Jordan fixed Asian noodles (rice) and green beans to go with it, and there will be good pork sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.

Tomorrow I have promised to make skillet spanakopita for Jordan and me. We ordered all the ingredients, but I realized tonight, reviewing the recipe that it is not what I did before and what seemed so easy. Now I am committed to working with phyllo, which I’ve successfully avoided all my cooking years. I figure I’ll make the filling in the morning and assemble the dish in the afternoon. Still, I am a bit intimidated.

Tomorrow I also must work with the salmon I am curing for Easter—again intimidating just because I have never done it before. Come Saturday I’ll make a Russian potato salad (potatoes, peas, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and cornichons with lots of brine and a bit of mayo) and matzoh crack (kind of matzoh with a toffee topping—don’t judge until you’ve tasted it!).

Thursday Christian’s good friend Gary is coming for tuna noodle casserole—that’s an easy cooking chore, and Jordan will make salad. She and Christian will order in because neither will touch tuna casserole. Jordan invited our good friend Amye to join us and explained she too could order in. Amye, bless her, said actually she’d probably rather have the tuna! Gary will spend the night, so I have put hot cross buns on the Central Market list for tomorrow—my annual fix and our Friday breakfast.

So there’s my cooking week. Next week I may want to eat out or order in every night. Probably not. Have you planned a special Easter, Passover, Ramadan meal? Share the menu with us, please.



Monday, March 29, 2021

Lessons in gratitude


Sophie and me with new haircuts

Each day I am more convinced that we make our own happiness. It’s up to us to decide if we’re going to be happy or sad, full of joy or full of regrets and “what if” dreams. Oh, sure, everybody has down days, but I’m talking about overall general attitude.

And I think that starts with the daily-ness of life. So here are the things I’m grateful for today: A beautiful spring day, with lots of sunshine and lovely temperatures, plants showing their spring glory all around. The ground cover in the back yard went so suddenly from dull brown to brilliant green, and the big oak trees that make my driveway a known hazard seemed to leaf out in less than a week. I’m particularly glad to see the oak-leaf hydrangea coming back, and the bed is cleared for this season’s crop of pentas to be planted. Some questions remain—like most of the shrubs on the north-facing front of the house, including the big rosemary bushes. And I don’t get up to the front daily so I’m not sure what the lantana is doing but my understanding is you can’t kill that stuff if you want to so it should survive a freeze. And like trees all over town, my redbud is blooming.

Sophie and I both have new haircuts, though I must say she wears hers better than I do. I’m working on getting her to look directly at me for a good picture—do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph a black dog?

Jordan and I got some errands done today—mailed some give-away books, went to the pharmacy and to the delicatessen to get matzoh so I can make matzoh crack for Easter. I thought it only fitting to have a Passover dessert with what will be a rather odd menu for friends Subie and Phil and me—home-cured gravlax, Russian potato salad, egg butter that Subie learned to make in Finland, and asparagus. A midsummer’s feast.

My cottage is shining clean. Zenaida got into all the nooks and crannies this morning, and I have clean clothes, a sparkling kitchen, wooden floors without puppy tracks on them. And the whole place smells so good.

Things I’m a little less grateful for: it is impossible to reach the county tax office. You must appear in person, notarized form in hand, to renew a handicapped parking tag. So we went out there today only to find it locked tight—apparently they closed for lunch without advance notice. But I am uncertain if we need an appointment and if I have to appear or Jordan can go in and get it. Their phone messages is left over from February. Tried to call the main office, mis-dialed and got the weather forecast. Most frustrating! Anybody remember when you could call an 844 # and get the weather? Well, the tax office is 884, and I mixed the two up and was indignant when I got a weather forecast.

Just got the email receipt for Sophie’s new haircut. She looks gorgeous, but I am going to be a dog groomer in my next life—costs way more for her to get a haircut than it does me, and I’m fairly sure she’s as well behaved as I am. This writing business is fun and challenging, but it does not quite make one rich.

And today I read that whatever you spent on hand sanitizers and masks is a tax deductible medical expense. Since thanks to trump’s great tax cut for the rich, all medical deductions were disallowed for 2020, who thought to save those receipts? Surely not me. Now they tell us!

On the whole just for today, I’d say the things I’m grateful for outweigh those I’m a bit hesitant about. I’ve known several people with various ways of recording their gratitude—one friend had a gratitude month, where she posted each day one thing for which she was grateful. Another friend kept a joy jar—every time something good happened she jotted it down on a piece of paper and stuck it in the jar. Said at the end of the year it was enlightening to read all those bits and scraps of paper. I haven’t gotten so organized as to follow either of those suggestions yet, but it seems to me stopping every once and a while to count your blessings moves you ahead on the road to joy.

Have a happy evening everyone.


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Waste not, want not and some matters of perspective.


A little politics, a little literature, some good happy hour talk
with Carol Roark and Lon Burnam

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. Thursday night I fixed a really good, ersatz Mexican casserole—a layer of refried beans, the next layer a mixture of chicken, Rotel, Velveeta (shhh! Sometimes nothing else will do—or melt—as well), corn, onion, and cilantro. Top that with generous grated cheddar and bake. (See “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog for February 25, ) Christian was at a work event, Jacob asleep, so Jordan and I ate huge helpings and talked about how good leftovers would be the next night, when we again expected it to be just the two of us. I really had my mouth all set for it.

Friday late afternoon Jordan came to the cottage and said she had good news, bad news and which did I want first. I chose bad, figuring I would get whatever out of the way. The casserole had been left on the kitchen counter all night. We didn’t want to risk it, so it went in the trash, and we ordered Tex-Mex which—sorry!—wasn’t nearly as good as what I’d made at home.

That wasted food made me think of my Depression-survivor mom who abhorred waste. How many remember being told to clear your plate because children in China were starving? After a while, those children were in Hungary, but there were always children somewhere who would welcome the food I didn’t want to eat. I never could see that my eating liver and onions did them any good, but ….  Mom saved the tiniest bits of food. When we cleaned her fridge for the last time, my brother was horrified at all the jars with tiny bits of something, each growing mold. Depression perspective stayed with her all her long life. Waste not, want not.

And speaking of food, did you read about the police who poured bleach on food intended for the homeless? It’s an old story now—2018—but somehow made its way into the news again today. In Kansas City, I believe. What is wrong with people? How inhumane can they be? Reminds me of the meme going around that says it should never, ever be illegal to give a fellow human being a drink of water. In Georgia now, to give someone in a voting line a gun is legal; to give that same potential voter a drink of water is a felony.

I think Georgia has bought itself a whole world of grief. I‘ve lost count of people who’ve posted such things as, “I guess I’m going to jail for the first time ever, because I sure am going to be passing out water to those in voting lines in Georgia.” One woman, whose page title indicates she cooks professionally, said she guessed she’d be catering the voting lines in Georgia come 2022. Love it!

And, finally, speaking of perspective, there’s the former friend who wrote today that in the matter of the shooting spree in Boulder, we must keep things in perspective. I told him my oldest granddaughter goes to school in Boulder and shops at the store where the shooting occurred. There is no such thing as perspective for me. He did not acknowledge that but replied about the horrors of gun violence in Chicago which he blames on leaders—and yet he would hamper those leaders and not give them the authority they need to deal with guns: better background checks and a ban on assault weapons. He and I once worked together and respected each other, but from my perspective today, he is a former friend. I can only stomach so much.

On a lighter note, I’m expecting friends for happy hour. Hope the rain holds off, but the sky is looking gray, and the air is eerily still.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Searching for a recipe, PT, and a celebratory supper


I can’t believe I really did this, but I scrolled through the entire page of the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page looking for a specific recipe. The backstory: we debate every year what to do about Easter so that I get a celebratory meal with the family and they also get to Coppell to see Christian’s family. Brunch or dinner? If we do dinner and they want a roast or leg of lamb, I’m out of it because I can’t do those in my toaster oven. Brunch is okay, but hey, they have scrambled eggs and bacon every Sunday. Quiche? Maybe. I did find a biscuit recipe called Butter Swim Biscuits—who could resist?

Then I found a recipe I thought perfect—pork tenderloin cooked in a slow cooker and a sauce of soy/sesame. Supposedly makes rich gravy. That I could do while the Burtons go to Coppell and I get a Sunday nap. But when I looked for it, I couldn’t find the recipe, although I was sure I saved it. So I scrolled through that long page—took me a while and gave me several other ideas, but I tried to stay focused. No luck. Then I paged, recipe by recipe, through the appalling collection that I want to try one day—and there, near the bottom of the pile, was what I was looking for. Now to sell it to the family.

Perhaps you’ve heard that the NYTimes is “ditching” its Cooking Community Facebook page. That’s not quite the whole story, though there’s been a lot of flap and snark about it. The official word is that they want to replace NYTimes moderators with qualified volunteer moderators, with the goal of eventually turning the page over to the members. I can see the Times point—in one year, the page went from 8,000 subscribers to 77,000, and the Times found it was not driving subscriptions to the paper. So they were paying moderators and not getting a return.

Besides that, an unbelievable number of people were downright unpleasant—some wanted straight recipes, others enjoyed (as I do) the story behind the recipes. They sniped at each other. And there were lots of off-topic posts and, inevitably, some political posts which were absolutely out of place. Now people are busily accusing the Times of abandoning us and are fishing for new names for the page. Me? I just want everyone to play nicely. I really like the page, and I think those who cry “Foul!” are jumping to negative conclusions. This is an ongoing story—we’ll see what happens. No firm date has been set for the big shift, though many talk as though it is tomorrow.

Cooking aside for a minute, I met with the PT person today, and he turned out to be the one who had worked with me five years ago before I had hip surgery. We had a mini-reunion, though I did remind him he had thought I was lazy. He denied that and said he knew I was in pain. But he was the one who insisted I should have an x-ray, so he did a really good thing. Today we moved on to the present and agreed that walking unassisted is not my goal—but increasing my stamina is. Dan gave me an assignment and said we can work on such things as walking slowly and taking deep breaths as I walk. Did you know many people hold their breath, unconsciously, when they exercise?

Tonight Jordan’s girlfriends are taking her for a belated birthday dinner at the Japanese Palace (now that makes me jealous!), and I will have a solitary but splendid dinner. I had to go on another search, but I found the lone loin lamb (say that fast!) chop in the freezer and will cook it with anchovy butter—because I have anchovies left from last night’s salmon. Asparagus with Aunt Reva’s good sour cream sauce, and a bit of leftover vinegar potato salad Jordan made the other night. Sometimes a solitary meal can be a celebration.

I was going to post a lovely picture of my solitary, celebratory dinner--until I flipped most of the asparagus onto the floor. Sophie did a good clean-up job--she isn't crazy about asparagus but sure liked the sour cream topping. Christian happened along just in time to finish the clean-up and point out that I had also showered Soph with a spray of sour cream. Not the evening I envisioned.

Excuse me, I have to go walk the small, circular route in my cottage three times—about sixty feet—and practice breathing. Take care in the storms tonight. Right now I hear thunder in the distance every once in a while, but mostly there's that eerie, still silence that often precedes a storm. Take care.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

My lost day


Do you ever have a day that is simply lost? That was me today. For all the good I did the world—or myself—I should have stayed in bed. And in a way, that’s what I did. At the risk of sounding like a neurotic old lady, I’ll blame it on—wait for it!—foot pain. Yesterday afternoon, I started having intermittent, sharp pains in my left foot. To my dismay, they continued all night.

By three a.m., that dark hour when your imagination can run away with you, I had convinced myself that my hip revision/replacement/whatever had gone south, that was why my whole left leg ached, and I would have to be hospitalized to have it repaired—probable/possible surgery. I was a mess. To add to the atmosphere, a thunderstorm was raging outside, and Sophie was clinging to me, following me each time I went to the bathroom, which I did a lot because walking made my foot and leg feel better.

As things often do, they looked better in the morning—but not a whole lot, because I was exhausted. The pain in my foot was not gone but was less. Jordan suggested I go back to bed, which I thought was a brilliant idea. So I did. And that set the pattern for the day—I had no ambition for any of the several things on my desk, so I got up, went back to bed, got up, took another nap, etc. In between those naps, I managed to make Reuben dip for Jordan’s late birthday dinner tonight (her request), go get blood work done (something I dread—and no, it’s not the needle; it’s the whole depressing place, even though the people are polite and friendly—not sure why I’ve developed a “thing” about it).

Tonight, our regular Tuesday night happy hour ladies came to celebrate Jordan—they brought flowers and cheese and crackers and wonderful mini-grasshopper pies for our dessert. And a gift certificate for Jordan to Saint Emilion, which I had strongly suggested was too extravagant (is this where I can use the Henny Youngman line about getting no respect?). They ignored my request.

And poor Jordan cooked her own b’day dinner, though I helped some. At one point, she moaned, “I’m in the weeds, and it’s my birthday dinner!” We had oven-roasted salmon with anchovy/garlic butter—delicious—and a big salad.

It ended being a festive day, but I had the nagging feeling of not having accomplished much. Do not ask me why in retirement I feel I must “accomplish” something every day. I think that compulsion was coded into me at birth. I have never been able to putter well. One of my good friends used to say she could happily watch paint dry—I would go stark, raving mad.

So Sophie and I are settled down for the night. My foot is no longer zinging me, but I am still sleepy. It’s early to bed (fits in with my day). I plan to get up tomorrow ready to conquer the world—or at least finish organizing my tax stuff. Usually, when I go to bed with that resolve, it works, so we’ll see.

Stay safe, all. North Texas is supposed to see more storms in the afternoon, some possibly heavy.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Paying the piper.


Not that quarantine was kind to any of us, but it sort of did a double whammy on me. Living in 600 square feet and rarely going out, my walking was from desk to bathroom to bedroom and back to desk, with maybe a stopover in the kitchen where, inevitably, I used the seat on my walker to get around while I cooked. Many of my friends got their usual exercise by walking blocks, but that wasn’t an option for me. And then I topped it off with six days in a hospital bed. To say I lost strength and stamina is an understatement.

My cardiologist casually suggested physical therapy—not an order, just a suggestion. But when I brought the subject up, my family doctor agreed and made the arrangements for some in-home therapy. I mentioned this to my Canadian daughter the other day, she who is a work-out fanatic.

“They’ll make you do exercises,” she warned.

“I know that.”

“You’ll hate it,” she continued.

“I know that too.” But I wanted some credit for pursuing what I know needed to be done. It would have been easy to go on my merry way and ignore the advice, but I am keenly aware that on the least venture out—to a restaurant for supper, to a doctor’s office, wherever—I have to stop and rest several times. Before I was in the hospital, I could swing myself up into Jordan’s SUV—now I use a wimpy stepstool.

So now I’ve had the initial consultation, and someone will be calling to set up my first PT appt. Apparently, it’s a four-week prescription, but I’m told if I need more they will simply ask the doctor to write a new prescription. I think what I need is discipline—and an idea of the exercises to do. After the period of PT, I bet Jordan will provide the discipline. She can be a taskmaster!

Some days I have little work on my desk. Today is not one of those days. My accountant called and will take my tax info any time, so I need to finish getting it together. I’m waiting for the second proofs on my neighborhood newsletter and apparently tomorrow I will get proofs on my September book on the Waggoners of Texas. And today I committed to write another entry for the Handbook of Texas online, this for a husband-and-wife team of local historians.

And tonight is the memoir Zoom class that I signed up for. I’m still puzzling over memoir. What I gained from last week was that memoir is about a goal and the obstacles you overcome to get there—but I’m not sure what my goal was, let alone what obstacles I overcame. Really? Was my eye always on an ivy-covered cottage with a rose bush on the picket fence and children playing in the yard? IF so, that’s sure not how life worked out.

Life is rarely dull around here!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The week that was


Granddaughter Morgan with Sophie
She once tried to sneak Sophie to Houston, so
I keep an eye on both of them.

Spring break turned life topsy-turvy for me last week, and I almost felt like I was raising teenagers again, trying to keep track of where everyone was. Two families skiing in far-apart places in Colorado, another on an Alabama beach and then living it up in New Orleans (and making me jealous with meals at Antoine’s and Commander’s Palace). And Jamie here with me most of the week. A different but very happy week.

Jamie said he was going home Thursday after supper. At midnight, I told him I had to go to bed and said goodbye. Next morning, his car was in my driveway, but he came out at 8:30 and said he was leaving—we did our goodbyes again. He reappeared at 11:00, having gone to Ol’ South for breakfast, taken his computer, and sat there and worked—brought me corned-beef hash for my lunch, and we said our goodbyes again. This time I checked a couple of hours later, and he was indeed back home in Frisco.

I loved having him here. We both worked all day—he in the house, me in the cottage—but came together in the evenings. One lovely evening, he played his acoustic guitar while I fiddled on my computer, and another night, of course, we met sweet Eden for supper. I got to cook things he will eat that the Burtons won’t—our St. Patrick’s Day dinner with corned beef, potatoes, carrots, and sauteed cabbage was the big hit, but eggplant Parmigiana and chicken Divan weren’t too shabby. All in all it was a great visit.

Sophie enjoyed the visit too—wanted so badly to play with Kosmo, his Pomeranian. She did that growl-y thing with her butt in the air and her face down on her paws, and he’d just bat her away. She is, after all, about twice his size, and he is most fixated on Jamie. Still, Sophie had lots of extra attention all week.

My pasta concoction

I kept up the cooking after Jamie left—Friday I fixed Jean my “clean out the fridge” version of pasta primavera—artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, chopped green onions, a small can of salmon (the good stuff), and pasta with olive oil, lemon, and Parmesan. Saturday, Colin and his family stopped on their way home, brought lunch from Carshon’s Deli, and Colin gave me long lectures on Sophie's weight. Linda came for supper. I served her more of the eggplant, and she said it might be the best meal I’d ever served her. I wanted to protest—over the years I’ve served her a lot of meals. Surely some others stood out!

By last night, life was back on track—Megan and family in Midland where they will spend a couple of nights, Colin and family home in Tomball (where they had a water pressure problem), Jamie back in Frisco, and the Burtons safely back on Park Place Avenue. I’m ready to get down to serious work, more cooking, and a routine. Such topsy-turvy times are nice breaks, but I’m pretty much a routine person.

Beautiful sunny day today with just faint wispy clouds in the sky. Sophie has been sunning herself on the patio, looking so content. She makes me sleepy. I’m off to eat leftovers for lunch, take a nap, and tackle, once again, that neighborhood newsletter. Feeling so blessed by life.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A St. Patrick’s Day surprise

With Jamie and Eden

This is yesterday's blog today because we thought my phone had died. It didn't--I guess it just needed a vacation. Anyway today I could get to the picture Jamie texted me of our supper last night, which involved a lovely surprise—Jamie’s younger daughter, Eden, my second grandchild now a high school senior, met us at Pacific Table. Drove all the way from Frisco to surprise her grandmother. She had told me a week or two ago that she could now hug me since she had covid in January and had lots of antibodies, but I didn’t expect her to put it into action. I was so glad to see her and hear about all that’s going on—she got her acceptance today to UC Santa Barbara, so she has been accepted several prestigious places but is still waiting on a couple of others. Meantime she, once a shy kid, now sparkles with self-confidence—and long, light lilac fingernails. I simply adore her.

Eden is a vegetarian, has been for years, so Pacific Table was perfect—she had a grilled artichoke, sushi, and cucumber salad; I had the fried oysters with Caesar salad; and Jamie—frown—had a hamburger. Who goes to a fish place and orders hamburger? He said it was good though—and half of it came home, along with his jalapeno cole slaw. Best part: we had a wonderful visit.

So that was why we had our St. Patrick’s Day dinner a day early, because Jamie knew that Eden was planning to “surprise” me tonight. Last night we were Irish to the core with a delicious and bountiful supper—corned beef, potatoes, and carrots, the meat simmered most of the day and the vegetables added judiciously throughout (it doesn’t take baby carrots long to cook but oh, my, did they soak up flavor!). Jamie proved to be masterful at sautéing cabbage. I chopped up what I thought was a goodly amount, and he scoffed, “That will cook down to nothing.” Though I swear I remember adding sour cream, he wanted nothing but butter, a lot of it, and salt and pepper. The result was cabbage sweet and good beyond imagining! I thought my plate looked over-filled, but I ate every bite and am looking forward to leftovers.

We did have the predicted storms last night, about three a.m. Lots of rolling thunder, a bit of lightning, a bit of rain, and, thank goodness, no hail. The wind blew and blew, and I sat for a few minutes watching the patio umbrella—it was unfurled, but still wobbling in the wind. My spray of green pinpoint lights, a Christmas holdover, is still on at three in the morning, and sometimes I get mesmerized just looking at it in my half-sleep state. Spooked by the weather, Sophie parked herself right by the bed and stayed there, except when I went to the bathroom, in which case she followed me so closely I was in danger of tripping.

The wind is still blowing tonight and the temperature falling—not cold, but with the wind a bit brisk. A good workday for me: I sent off the Handbook of Texas entry on socialite/sculptor Electra Waggoner Biggs and I did some semi-coherent writing about Helen Corbitt, of Neiman-Marcus fame. Also reviewed the publicly available images on Corbitt through the Texas History Portal—lots of good recipes. How can I ever cook them all? That project may yet take shape in my mind.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Houseguest, dogs, spills, and happy days


Nothing better than a houseguest who sends me flowers, especially when that guest is one of my sons. I’m enjoying a couple days’ visit from Jamie, and today when I woke up from a nap, there was an arrangement of spring flowers on my desk with a note he thought I’d enjoy them in the cottage. When he comes out for supper, I’ll tell him I like the flowers but what I really enjoy is him in the cottage.

Jamie makes these visits periodically, and I treasure them. We cross paths briefly in the morning and then each go our own way. He is international sales manager for a large toy manufacturer (talk about a guy who found his niche—he’s a natural at both toys and sales!) and works from home. When he’s here, he finds a quiet corner in the house to work, and I work at my desk.

Jamie comes accompanied by Kosmo, his two-and-a-half-year-old Pomeranian who, I must say,


is a bit spoiled. He seems to eat only what Jame hand feeds him, but Jamie points out that tiny dog can run 15 miles with him. Jamie went from a big, old chocolate lab, perhaps the sweetest dog I’ve ever known, a dog that practically raised Jamie and Mel’s daughters for them, to this little feisty dog. When I asked why, he explained it was the closest he could come to a cat without the litter box. Go figure! Sophie takes it well, because Kosmo seems to recognize that she rules this corner of the world. So now, she has three dogs to keep in line—the two Cavaliers and Kosmo. She is up to the responsibility.

For me, one of the benefits of having Jamie visit is I get to cook some things that he will eat with me and the resident family will not. Last night, we had Chicken Divan, a recipe I haven’t made in years—while Jacob loves broccoli, his parents have an aversion. But that rich wine sauce—bon appetit! Tonight, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re having corned beef and cabbage, though we will chop the cabbage and sauté it in butter and sour cream rather than boil it. If you’re Irish and offended by that, please try to look away. I think tomorrow night Jame wants to go out to supper, so I am thinking about safe places with large patios. Will call about safety restrictions before we go.

Meantime, I am a mess. I have twice knocked over wine on the credenza where I keep the files I refer to often—finally figured out that if I swing my desk chair around, the arms can catch a wine glass just right. I banished wine from the desk because I ruined my last computer buy letting it sit in an undiscovered pool of wine.

As if wine isn’t enough, there’s a meat juice problem. I dislike meat encased in cryovac—which the corned beef was. Naturally, I dripped juice on my pants. I sponged it off with wet paper towels, but Jamie was quick to tell me that if he had done that as a kid, I’d have sent him to change immediately. Then I had a nosebleed on my clean T-shirt. So now, I’m “dressed” for supper, and I plan to ask him to carve the corner beef. Like too many other things, it was a curbside misunderstanding—I was delighted to find a one-lb. corned beef for $9.99, perfect for two people, and ordered it. What I got was three lbs. for $30, but just now when I chunked some potatoes into it, I noticed it had shrunk remarkably.

I think Mother Nature is fooling us into thinking Spring has arrived. For the past few days I’ve kept the French doors open—Sophie can come and go as she pleases. Of course, June Bug does too, which is a problem because her house manners are not reliable, and she ignores me, with a befuddled look, when I tell her to go home. She constantly looks like Winston Churchill, asking, “What fresh hell is this?” Only maybe she’s saying, “Why is that old woman yelling at me?”

Anyway, I know March 15 is the traditional Texas date beyond which you don’t expect a freeze, but I never trust it. And while the days are pleasant, a chill creeps into the air once the sun is gone. Nope, it’s not true Spring yet. But the kale in the garden has grown long and leggy, the dried grasses need something (not sure what), and I’m waiting for the ground cover to perk up. As someone said, it’s still a brown season. Storms possible tonight. Stay safe, my friends.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday—some good, some not so good


My Tomball family on the way to the slopes at Wolf Creek
Colin driving, Lisa, with Kegan peeking around his mom, and Morgan

A Sunday omen that I thought was good—this morning I saw a cardinal and a blue jay in my yard. The blue jay is only an occasional visitor, but all Fall we had a mama and a papa cardinal. They tend to choose one locale and stay there, and I was so pleased that these chose our yard. They also mate for life, apparently doing a lot better at it than many humans. But then came that terrible spell of sub-freezing weather, and I hadn’t seen them since. Today it was papa, but mama must be nearby. You do know the legend, don’t you—if a cardinal visits, it means someone from Heaven is thinking of you.

My church is gearing up to return to in-person services, starting with Palm Sunday. I have about decided I will continue to attend virtually, especially on Easter when all the once-a-year visitors attend. (I have a friend whose husband calls it Amateur Sunday.) I just don’t think I’m ready for the combination of a crowd, even well-spaced out, and my walker. So this morning I went to virtual church alone because Jordan was busy. The minister touched on the Church’s (as he said, “Big C, the over-arching church) obsession with things that don’t really matter and the attempts to force decisions on those things on church members. Okay, he used sex as an example—the church is overly interested in who’s sleeping with who, and where, and how, and when. Such obsessions, he claimed, are driving people, especially young people, away from the Church.

But I digress because what I really wanted to mention was my fascination with the organist. For these virtual services, the camera shows us what we would never see sitting in a pew—including the organist’s intricate footwork on those myriad pedals, even while playing the keyboard. I once took pottery classes, and while I could work on an electric wheel, I never mastered working on a manual. I had to focus either on what my feet were doing or my hands, but I couldn’t do both. Sort of like patting your head while rubbing your stomach—try it. And yet our organists make it seem so effortless, even when you know there are years of study and hours of practice behind the performance. Fascinates me every Sunday.

The bad part of this Sunday is that everything in the cottage is broken—well, not everything but some essential things. You know they say trouble comes in threes—my Apple watch was acting wonky (seems to have fixed itself), my Windows program has lost all the quick access icons and I have no idea how to get them back plus it won’t keep programs open so I can go back and forth, and my TV screen has a snowstorm with the message, “Weak or no signal.” Now I go hours without looking at the TV, but I like to have it on—and without it today, the cottage is so quiet. I can’t get to the reset button—a problem of furniture in the way of my walker—so am waiting for some helpful soul to come along. Fortunately, my Jamie is coming tomorrow—he can fix the computer. But for a bit there this morning, it seemed all my communication methods were out of order. Fortunately, the cell phone still works.

And how did everyone fare losing an hour of sleep? I didn’t sleep well last night, partly I guess because I was aware of that different time pattern, though I always welcome Daylight Savings Time. Love that extra daylight in the evening. I had seen a Facebook post last night, on my wall, about how Biden could never have rolled out the vaccine if trump hadn’t had the Warp Speed program and pushed to get the vaccine invented—that is so wrong that I lay awake framing my reply to the sender, who is the son of old friends. We have an ongoing political discussion, approaching the subject from opposite ends of the spectrum, and it baffles me how he can believe what he does. Finally, Sophie didn’t sleep well because of her doggie version of post-nasal drip—I gave her Benadryl about six in the morning, and we both finally slept until almost nine the new time. Still, I’m sleepy and ready for an afternoon nap. How about you? Needing that nap today?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

A moment of nostalgia, a visit, and a workday


Awful Waffles

Indulge me a moment, please. Jordan came across this picture of Jacob, and I couldn’t resist posting it. He will probably not be pleased, but….He loved waffles at that age, and when he asked for them, I jokingly asked if he wanted an “awful waffle.” He translated that into “waffle waffle,” and his parents couldn’t understand why he repeated the word twice. He was such a darn cute toddler—I told Jordan tonight we should have put a brick on his head. As it is, he is now a lanky teenager, taller than his dad and still growing, with this astoundingly deep voice.

Nice if brief visit from Colin, Lisa, Morgan, and Kegan at lunch today. They were on their way to ski in Colorado. Colin always, always wants lunch from the local deli where he’s been eating since he was a baby, but since we’re not ready yet to go into restaurants I suggested carry-out from Great Outdoors, our favorite sub shop. There was a mix-up in the order—they gave us five sandwiches when we ordered eight, but it was straightened out. Colin’s verdict was that it was good but not as good as the deli; my opinion is he ordered wrong—who orders a hot meatball sandwich from a sub shop? Should be meat and cheese and all the trimmings.

We have not seen them since July—thank you, pandemic—so it was a bonus to have even this brief visit. They are none of them vaccinated, though Lisa has had covid. They hugged us with masks on and assured me I didn’t need my mask—I put it on anyway, and we ate on the patio. They’ll come back through next Saturday—and we’ll get deli food.

Spent the rest of the day making notes to update my web page, something I should do more often—haven’t done it in a year. Many authors do their own pages, but I’m not that smart and have a wonderful young woman who does mine and can follow my squiggly notes of put this here and that there. This year, because of pandemic, there was slim pickings among new pictures to post—it seems we only take pictures when there’s company. I maybe need to deliberately take pictures of me at my desk, etc., but that would mean cleaning up the entire area. Next chore on my list: itemize my tax receipts etc. In Texas, we have an extension because of snowmageddon—until June 15. Still I am a little nervous I haven’t gotten the forms from my accountant yet.

Leftovers in the oven—last night’s dinner all over again tonight, even down to the blue cheese salad dressing. I didn’t think either the chicken casserole or the salad was that good—too bland—but Jordan has requested them again, so I tried to perk the salad dressing up with more vinegar and mustard. The chicken casserole simply needs salt and pepper. Win some, lose some. Lisa brought me a book titled Texas Tables, which I mistook for a book about table settings. Exploration proved it to be a Junior League Cookbook from Harris and Montgomery counties—lots of wonderful recipes for veal, lobster, lamb. Now I need the budget to go with it, but I did see some chicken recipes that looked good. I’ll be experimenting.

Busy week looms. Looking forward for a visit from Jamie and some happy hours with friends. Plus a desk full of chores. Life is good.

Friday, March 12, 2021

One woman's Texas ranch story--probably not what you expect


Into the Sunset

Spent much of the day working on an entry on Electra Waggoner Biggs for the Handbook of Texas Online Special Project on Women. Electra has long interested me. Born to wealth as one of the heirs of the largest ranch under one fence in this country, she could have spent her days reading Silver Screen and eating bonbons, but she chose instead to develop her skills and talent as a sculptor. Not that she eschewed the debutante life—in her twenties and thirties, she was frequently seen at at “21,” El Morocco, and the Stork Club, as well as the Waldorf Astoria, the Biltmore, the Roosevelt, the Plaza, the Ritz. She partied with people named Rockefeller, Bouvier, and Chrysler among others. But by the early 1940s she had found her routine—she partied at night, slept in the mornings, and devoted afternoons to her art.

In 1943 she married a young Army officer named John Biggs (after a disastrous and brief first marriage) and, from a family noted for multiple divorces, she stayed married to him until his death in the 1970s. About the time of her marriage, she was commissioned by Fort Worth Star-Telegram owner Amon Carter to do a life-size statue of comedian, humorist, and philosopher Will Rogers, seated on his horse, Soapsuds. Rogers, a close friend of both Carter and Electra’s grandfather, W.T.Waggoner, had died in a plane crash in Alaska, along with pilot Wiley Post. The statue was titled “Into the Sunset.”

Although she did busts of many famous people—John Nance Garner, Harry S. Truman, Knute Rockne, actor Victor McLaglen, and others—the Rogers statue was the high point of her career. After it was dedicated in 1947, with General Dwight D. Eisenhower doing the unveiling, she and John settled at the Waggoner Three D Ranch near Vernon, Texas where he was assistant manager for many years. They raised two daughters, and Electra seemed content with life on the ranch, although she traveled frequently and brought celebrities from all over to North Texas for lavish parties.

In the early 1980s I spent a couple of days at her home, the Santa Rosa, on the ranch. I don’t remember how I wrangled the invitation, but I know I went because I was interested in her as a sculptor and expected to find an artist, an heiress, and an international celebrity. I found instead an international celebrity, an heiress, and a sculptor—in that order of priorities—not to mention that she was a widow and the mother of two daughters, grandmother of four.

My memories of the visit have grown foggy over the years. Mrs. Biggs was preparing for a big dinner party, which meant she and her cook did a trial run, preparing a test of every dish they would serve. I had a few talks with her, and she showed me the portrait miniature medallions she was currently working on—she had a small studio/workshop that was neater and tidier than you think of most working artists’ studios.

Mostly I spent the days prowling through oversize scrapbooks into which someone—Electra herself?—had pasted (that no-no in scrapbooking) articles and clippings, in random order, often with no source. After two days, she announced it was time for me to leave. I took the bus from Vernon back to Fort Worth. Thereafter, for some time, whenever the ranch plane flew into Fort Worth’s Meacham Field, it would bring me more scrapbooks, and I would exchange the ones I had. Today those scrapbooks are held by the Red River Valley Museum in Vernon, Texas for safekeeping. The museum was given instructions that no one be allowed to view these caches of history, so they are today unavailable to the researcher.

What I wrote from that experience was unsatisfactory. Mrs. Biggs and I saw the world differently—I was interested in her artistic accomplishments. She was most interested in all the men who had whirled around her all her life. I wrote up a bland fifty pages or so and gave them to her. This was long before computers, so I have no digital record and, to my great regret, no copy. Nor do I have any idea what happened to it. I was left with a lot of history and anecdotes jumbling around in my mind.

But I remained fascinated by the whole Waggoner story. As a Sesquicentennial project, the Star-Telegram commissioned me to write a serialized novel, So Far from Paradise, available as an ebook today, based loosely on the story of Dan Waggoner and his son and partner, W. T. Waggoner. And then there was Electra’s aunt, Electra Waggoner Wharton, who set a standard for extravagant living that has rarely been matched even today. And brothers and nephews who divorced more times than I can count. A couple of years ago I proposed a nonfiction project to be titled, The Most Land, the Best Cattle: the Waggoners of Texas to TwoDot Books at Rowman & Littlefield. That book will launch in September 2021.

So it was fun for me today to revisit Electra and her colorful family, to read again about dedication to the land and cowboys who lived all their lives on the ranch, prize horses and cattle, oil that was, she said, all played out and land with no water supply. It’s a Texas story at its best. And yet it’s also a woman’s story, perfect for Woman’s History Month.



Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Happy days

Big Mac Salad.

Every Tuesday night two of our neighbors come for happy hour with Jordan and me—except this week, we got our schedules all mixed up. I went out to supper on Tuesday, so they came tonight—but Jordan had already made plans to entertain someone from her work for happy hour. But still the three of us sat on the patio and visited for a quick hour. Afterward, Prudence email enthusiastically about how great it was to see everyone so happy.

She was happy  because she has reconciled herself to staying in an online  graduate program with which she is not entirely satisfied because she can finish more quickly and go on to specialized studies. Mary was happy because she felt she finally made progress in “gentling” the feral kitty they’ve been housing for several weeks—she can now do a bit of petting and was rewarded with the first real, deep purr. And I was happy because I’d had that nice dinner out with friends—although I have to say I looked at that picture and realized I can tell (maybe no one else can) that I am still on steroids from the hospital stay. My face is puffy—surely I don’t look that way all the time. Supposedly we are tapering me off them—I thought we did that a while ago, but apparently not.

My “be still my heart” moment of the week: 18-year-old granddaughter Eden texted from Kansas City where she is with friends to say she was eating a salad of hearts of palm, and it made her think of my because she used to eat them out of the jar from my refrigerator. I asked about the salad and she said it also had artichoke hearts and Parmesan—I’m about ready to head to Kansas City just to get that. She also wrote that now she has had covid and recovered—I didn’t know that—she can hug me because she has antibodies and hopes to do so soon.

Good day for me because I took a step to reactivate my study of Helen Corbitt, the diva of food service at Neiman’s in the 1960s, and also explored writing another biographical entry in the Handbook of Texas, this on some people I knew years ago which would make it more fun. More on that later. And there’s a mystery floating around in my mind, though it sure hasn’t surfaced except for stray ideas. Still, it’s nice to have projects on my desk and on my mind.

Balmy days, so much so that we had a salad dinner. Big Mac Salad—all the ingredients of a Big Mac at McDonald’s except in a salad and with homemade Thousand Island dressing—lettuce, tomato, pickle, ground beef, grated cheese. Good and refreshing. Jacob had a golf tournament today which means he got up at 5:30 a.m., so he slept through dinner, and Christian was at a late meeting, so Jordan and I dined together and enjoyed it. She fed them salad later.

All in all, I agree with Prudence. There is happiness—and spring—in the air. We don’t have to find a reason—just enjoy! Hope everyone else feels it.


Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Breaking quarantine


Kathie and I, with Carol taking the picture

Last week many pointed out that a year ago was the last “normal” week, although we didn’t know it. This week is the week of “We went out to dinner for the first time in a year!” Of course, in Texas for many of us, that dinner window isn’t open very far. Tonight, the mask and distancing requirements expire, so it’s the last night to go safely for a while, unless until we reach that vague goal of “herd immunity.”

I remember the events of a year go quite clearly, and, yes, I sensed the huge change that was coming in all our lives. That last weekend—it would have been about the 7th or 8th of March—both my daughters and two grandsons accompanied me to San Antonio for a meeting of the Alamo Society and the launch of my then-new book, The Second Battle of the Alamo. San Antonio had actually been one of the first cities to declare a health emergency, and we knew it, debated whether or not we should make the trip. Hearty encouragement from the president of the society finally won us over. Jordan, Jacob, and I took a Vonlane bus to Austin, picked up Megan and Ford, and went the rest of the way by car.

It was a memorable, if expensive, weekend. We stayed at the historic Menger Hotel where both history and age were obvious. Our suite was straight out of the Fifties, with avocado green kitchen appliances and walls and drapes and who knows what all. But we had wonderful dinners both Friday and Saturday in restaurants with nary a mask in sight, visited with a good friend, the kids did the River Walk, and it was great. We gave only fleeting thought to that strange virus, though I was surprised two weeks later when Megan expressed relief that we were all still healthy. When I asked if she worried, she said she thought about it.

But for me, Thursday March 12 was the last “normal” day. I spoke to the book club group of the Arlington Women’s Club at a lunch meeting—a talk that went well if I can judge by audience laughter. Subie and her sister, Diana, went with me and also gave favorable reports. That evening, Carol and I had dinner at Lucille’s and remarked that it was quite empty. It was the last dinner in a restaurant for either of us—until tonight.

I remember the next morning I almost called neighbor Mary to see if she wanted to go wander aisles of Central Market—something I love to do and Jordan does not. Suddenly I remembered: we couldn’t do that safely anymore. And for us, that’s when curbside ordering kicked in—remember what a mess it was at first?

So tonight, Carol and I went to Lucille’s and met Kathie Allen. I had called ahead to confirm their mask and distancing requirements and was told what I expected—they are in effect tonight but will be gone tomorrow. I was a bit apprehensive. As I told Carol, it felt a bit like a first date. But it turned out to be a lovely evening. We went early—5:30—wore our masks and found a restaurant with maybe half the tables marked “closed.” There were few people there, but all came in with masks and removed them to eat. Serendipity: it was Lobsterama, so I had lobster cakes with spinach; Carol, allergic to shellfish, had cedar-planked salmon with spinach; and Kathie, strongly opposed to cooked spinach, had fried shrimp and sweet potato fries. We talked and laughed and shared stories. We had seen each other during the year but not often enough, and it was good just to be together—and to be out in the world.

Will I do it again? Depends. With Texas tomorrow open one hundred percent, no masking, no distancing—no, I won’t go willy-nilly to a restaurant. But occasionally I may call ahead to ask about covid protocols, and if the answer are satisfactory, I’ll go. Many restaurants are caught in a bind—they’ll lose business either way, if they require masks or if they don’t. I don’t think Governor Abbott thought through the implications of his order for first responders and people in the service industry. But, hey, we’re wide open for spring break. Think of all those crowds of young people at the beaches, spending all that money. What’s your priority? At least tonight I am encouraged that there is an end in sight to quarantine.



Sunday, March 07, 2021

The flap on Mulberry Street

A confession: it took Dr. Seuss to make me understand what the phrase “cancel culture” meant. Oh, sure, I’ve seen it a lot, but I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it. Given my not-so-secret political leanings, it should be no surprise that I thought maybe it had to do with Republicans cancelling literature, art, and music. After all, they never want to fund the arts. But with the current flap about the Seuss books, I understand now that they are whining that we’re doing away with all that makes our culture great. That would be Dr. Seuss and Potato Head.

I was sad when Little Black Sambo disappeared from children’s bookshelves. If you’re older than the hills, as I am, you may remember that Sambo was a young black boy who lived with his parents, Black Jumbo and Black Mumbo, in the South of India. One day out for a walk, Sambo encounters four tigers and, one by one, outwits them so that they don’t eat him. The book was so much a part of my growing up that when my mom hooked bedside rugs for my children, Jamie got one depicting the tiger from Little Black Sambo. (She ran out of steam by the time Jordan came along, and poor Jordan has no rug). But, primarily because of the stereotypical names of the characters, the book, written by a Scottish woman, eventually disappeared. In its day, it was hailed as the first children’s book to feature a black character.

Dr. Seuss books were similarly basic to my childhood. When my brother was little, my family lived on 50th Street in Chicago, and my mom would read And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street to John, only she changed Mulberry Street to 50th Street. When I came along, she kept it 50th Street even though we had by then moved to Madison Park. And that’s one of the books I grew up with: And To Think That I Saw It On 50th Street! A friend wrote me that he learned to read from the Seuss books and still, now in middle age, has the original books a relative gave him and used to teach him to read. Politics aside, we all treasure those books and the childhood memories they evoke.

In a way, I almost understand the “cancel culture” movement—not that we can cancel our heritage, but I sometimes think at this late date we’re trying to rewrite history when we might do better to look our history full in the face, admit its shortcomings, and strive to do better. Yes, racism is a strong and regrettable thread throughout American history, but is banning Little Black Sambo or tearing down Confederate statues going to change where we are today? Not to my mind. We are where we are, it isn’t good, and we must work to eliminate racism in all its forms. With Black Lives Matter, attention to outrageous black brutality, efforts to eliminate voter suppression, and other movements, we are chipping away at the major social problem in America, probably not fast enough for some but social change is never rapid. Preserving books and statues and other relics simply reminds us of errors we don’t want to repeat. Of course, there are those who see those things as shrines rather than errors, but I firmly believe they are in the minority. And little we do will reason with them.

Back to the present, I find the Republican response nothing short of ludicrous. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has posted a video of himself reading Green Eggs and Ham. Our country faces several major crises right now—the pandemic (though we’re slowly gaining on it), an economic crisis where too many people go to bed hungry, can’t pay the rent, and have no medical care; a crisis of racism, with everything from justice to vaccines unfairly allotted; an environmental crisis, with the doomsday clock ticking. As McCarthy was reading, Congress was considering the American Rescue Act, which would give major aid to those who need it, along with some important reforms. And he has nothing better to occupy his mind than reading Dr. Seuss on a video?

I have seen some posts that seem to blame President Biden directly for the withdrawal of six Seuss titles. After all, his remarks on National Reading Day did not mention Seuss, as both Obama and trump had done in previous years. Obviously, therefore, Biden was behind pulling the titles. Wrong! Overlooking the fact that President Biden is an extraordinarily busy man with weighty matters on his mind and desk, there is the truth that pulling the six titles was a marketing decision made by Seuss Enterprises, now a part of Random House. Apparently, it was a wise decision, because sales of Seuss titles have skyrocketed.

Making a conservative hero of Theodor Seuss Geisel is as ludicrous as McCarthy’s video. Geisel was a lifelong Democrat and left-leaning liberal who published dozens of cartoons vilifying Republicans. He despised racism, anti-Semitism, and Fascism and would, so students of his work say, despise the trumpians who are now trying to “defend” his honor. He apparently regretted the racist images in some of his books and dedicated Horton Hears A Who! to a Japanese friend, because he had earlier mocked the Japanese in resettlement camps. He was not afraid to admit his errors, and he would want as much for his work today.

The Republican Party, badly divided as it is, has no policy, no constructive suggestions and is reduced to talking about children’s books, albeit some of the best children’s lit ever written. Anyone want to take on The Wind in the Willows? Surely there’s something subversive in those pages.

As for Mr. Potato Head, I still haven’t figured that one out. And have you heard of the new plural—womxn? Use Google. I can’t bear to go into it here.

Friday, March 05, 2021

The gradual disappearance of quarantine


Quarantine seems to be slowly disappearing at our house, and it has nothing to do with Governor Abbott’s ill-advised announcement, though I predict, unhappily, that is what will happen in Texas--gradually we'll just move away from any and all social distancing and mask wearing. And it's a damn shame that our governor is so determined to go counter to science and all the best advice out there. I admire those businesses that say they will stick to the CDC protocols, but I wonder how long that will last. IF you're in Fort Worth, you might want to look at a Facebook group titled Fort Worth Save Food and Shopping.

Closer to home, I've noticed that we have fewer family dinners in the cottage and more “leftovers” or “dinner on your own” nights. Several things account for this: Jordan’s allergies have really been bothering her and tonight, for instance, she said she had no interest in the Norwegian hamburgers I had said I’d make (leaves me with a chore for morning, since the hamburger is defrosted and needs to be cooked); Christian seems to have a few more evening events as part of his work than he did in the early days when he scheduled absolutely no social events; some nights, when we’ve cooked for several days, we really do need to eat leftovers and clear the decks.

Tonight was not one of those nights of plentiful leftovers, and I was getting ready to fix myself creamed tuna when Jordan called to say Christian would pick up dinner. He brought sandwiches from our favorite place—Great Outdoors—and guess what? I ate that whole big chocolate chip cookie.

But I miss the company when we don’t have family dinner, miss catching up with what’s going on, talking about current events—yes, we do that a lot, and Abbott’s ears should have been burning this week. After a longish day of working at my computer, I look forward to the companionship, so I’m going to work to see that family dinners don’t go away completely. One tool in my arsenal is recipes. Tonight I found a Tater Tot casserole, and I think I heard Jordan say that Christian was interested in such.

On the flip side, I did get a lot done this week—finished proofing Libbie and wrote a blurb for a book I’d earlier critiqued for the publisher. The book was an interesting study of a loosely organized group of Houston housewives who were artists and sold their work from members gardens in the 1970s. They were part of the Silent Generation (@1924 – 1942) as am I. These women, caught between the traditions of the past and the imminent onslaught of feminism, found their voices through art, which was especially remarkable because in that day women and art were not thought to mix. If a woman painted, it was a hobby to keep her busy and produce craft-y things for her house—nothing to be taken seriously as art. Yet in one remarkable day, these women sold $10 thousand worth of paintings. I found their individual stories particularly fascinating, and I labored a bit over getting the blurb just right.

Today I wrote my monthly column for Lone Star Literary Life, the online newsletter with everything about Texas books. My column is technically about mysteries, but I can sometimes push the boundaries a bit. Today I included a shout-out to Gabrielle and Leon Hale. It’s not every day that a husband and wife publish simultaneously. Leon’s book, See You on Down the Road, chronicles his retirement from his long-running column in the Houston Chronicle, begun in 2014 when he was ninety-three. It’s full of his wry observations on life as he approaches his hundredth birthday this spring. Babette’s A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers is a collection of short stories about ordinary people caught in transformative moments in life. And it has one of the most spectacular covers I’ve seen on a book in recent memory.

One might think at my age and with a solid list of publications, if not bestsellers, to my credit, I would be beyond needing writing classes. But I have signed up for a class on memoir. For several years—a good number really—I’ve danced up close to the idea of memoir and then backed away. I can’t seem to wrap my head around it, despite several folders of notes and excerpts squirreled away on my computer. So I thought this class might help me organize my thoughts, figure out what I want to say, find some way to assess the meaning of my long career. I have been so blessed to work with books—writing them, publishing those by others—and I somehow want to tie it all together. Now I have to read some more memoir, though when I went through the titles on my Kindle, I found there were quite a few. Not surprisingly, many were culinary memoirs, with maybe Ruth Reichl as my favorite author.

One benefit of my long evenings alone is that I get to do a lot more reading. I’m reading and enjoying a culinary mystery (no surprise) titled Hummus and Homicide, by Tina Kashian, set in a Mediterranean restaurant in a tourist town on the Jersey shore. Excuse me, but I’m going back to my book.