Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Another busy day, but with a difference

Sophie. who fiercely protects me 
from yard guys and other threats.
Who knows what lies out there in the big, bad world?

A couple of magazines are languishing on my desk—the new Bon Appetit and a copy of Garden and Gun that a friend recycled through me. This morning early, I thought I’d leaf through them today. But it was not to be. The day got away from me, and it began when I was brushing my teeth—sometimes the world doesn’t even give you enough time for that first cup of tea.

I couldn’t figure out why Sophie was so frantic, so when I finished with my teeth, I opened the door for her to go out and went into the kitchen to raise the shade. To my surprise, the driveway gate and the inside gate were both open. I yelled for her to come get a treat, but no response. Then the foreman of the yard crew came sauntering down the drive—he’s saved me and/or Sophie more than once—most of the yard guys are afraid of her, but he is not. He know she’s all bite and soft as a kitten inside.  I asked if she was in the yard, he nodded yes, and calmly closed the gate. He and a co-worker were planting gorgeous full mums where the pentas were—I only hope they last a while. After he closed the gate I looked out, and Soph was wandering around calmly as if the two men were her new best friends. The whole scene was repeated in the afternoon when the crew that trims bushes came—fortunately, in her old age, Soph is much more compliant. She came when called.

Next up to brighten my day was Jordan who was livid because the tree guy had ground the stump of our much-missed big elm, bagged the pieces, and left them on the curb. I called the city and was told they would have to be removed from the bags and neatly stacked by the curb. The tree company said they would charge an extra $85 to do that. Meantime, the city favored us with several violation notices, but since they did not come with fines I was not overly concerned. After she got over her anger, Jordan stacked the wood. We’re still not sure what to do with it, but my theory is some passersby make take it for firewood.

Meantime I was dealing unsuccessfully with CVS over a prescription mess. I spent over half an hour on the phone and never got anyone in the pharmacy to answer, had no way to call the store manager. So I decided to call corporate headquarters and complain about that particular store (Jacob ws appalled that I would do this). By gosh, I got the same recorded voice, giving me the same information about covid vaccines and delays and stuff I didn’t need and playing the same shrill, loud music in my ears. My wait time would be fifteen minutes. Tonight, I told Jordan to please bottle all that anger at the tree company and take it up to CVS. Still haven’t solved that problem.

Then my favorite-ever plumber called to say he was on his way. Hooray, my kitchen sink nozzle is fixed. I no longer have to go through the awkward business of rinsing dishes while holding the nozzle down in the sink, and I can wash my hair without spraying the entire kitchen. Hallelujah!

In spite of all this, I managed to write a guest blog about Irene in Danger, post my weekly “Where is your bookmark” query to the works-in-progress group I belong to, draft my monthly column for Lone Star Literary Life, and cook a dinner that took more time than usual. Turkey meatloaves with a mushroom sauce. The sauce was delicious, but I have not yet had the kind of success I want with ground turkey or chicken—the texture of the finished product is too hard.

The difference in my busy day today was that I got to do it all at home, much of it in my pajamas. Of course, by the time I cooked supper, I had put on leggings and a clean T-shirt, which now has spots of Worcestershire on it. So now I give myself permission to spend the rest of the evening with a comic-mystery that will make me laugh out loud.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

My busy day


In recognition of National Sons Day,
here are the two main men in my life. 
Can't believe I've known them fifty years.
With apologies to Christian, Brandon, and my four grandsons
all of whom I love dearly.

Somehow I, who has weeks with no daytime plans, overbooked myself for today. I started the day with a ten o’clock doctor’s appointment for a wellness check. I have reached this advanced age without a wellness check, though my good friend Jean proudly reported a couple of weeks ago that she had passed her cognitive test (she’s probably seven or eight years younger than I). I had the fleeting thought that I hoped no one gave me that test, and then I forgot to worry about it.

But today, in the doctor’s office, I was confronted by it. The nurse, now an old friend after many years, administered it, and we had some good laughs along the way. The test was a series of questions she asked, ranging from “Are you depressed?” to “Can you dress yourself?” and “Are you eating well?” Because of what I had just weighed, I wanted to say, “Yes, apparently too well.” But the memory part was the intimidating thing. She read off a name and address, asked me to repeat it several times, and then said she would ask me a series of questions and would then, five minutes later, ask me to repeat the name and address. For the life of me, I can’t remember what questions came in between but they were innocuous, and I passed. And then I correctly repeated the name and address. The nurse and Jordan declared I made an A+. Then came the questions about my ability to care for myself—those are always frustrating because you only get to say “yes” or “no,” and I always want to say, “Wait! Let me explain!” Anyway, I passed, and the doctor seemed to think I was doing okay too. So a flu shot and a stick for bloodwork, and we were out of there.

We were in the doctor’s office longer than expected, and I was in a yank to get home because Melinda, who worked with me at TCU, was bringing lunch. I had ordered sandwiches from a local shop, and she picked them up on her way from a dental appointment. The visit was great, the sandwiches a disappointment. The bread on her veggie sandwich was swimming in so much grease, she couldn’t eat it and only picked at the ingredients; my salmon croquette was slathered with sauce and in what I thought was a ciabatta roll—really hard to pick up. I ended up eating the croquette with a fork. Cole slaw was crisp and fresh but not particularly flavorful.

The visit on the other hand was great. It’s been well over a year since we got together, and we caught up on families and friends and almost ignored the subject of TCU Press, our common stomping grounds, except for a bit of gossip. Fun.

But I practically rushed her out the door because I needed a nap before a four o’clock taping of the radio show I mentioned yesterday. There was an equipment snafu at the beginning, but the show overall went well. I could say most of what I wanted to say, mainly that The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas, is less a history of the ranch, for which I am sure many records survive, down to the penny, but a history of the Waggoner family, for which few authentic records survive, and some of them are closed to research at the family request. They are in the Red River Vally Museum in Vernon, Texas. Beyond anecdotal evidence, many things are left to supposition, like why Electra Waggoner Biggs was so anxious to sell the ranch that she wouldn’t wait to divide it between herself and the other direct heir—Bucky Wharton, grandson of the first Electra. Lots of unanswered questions remain. But I am moving on.

To my chagrin, my busy day ended with a whimper and not a bang. I had signed up to register voters, via my computer, from 5:30 to 8:30. I admit I was dreading it a bit—I don’t like working phone banks, but this seemed different, urging people to vote without treading on the delicate subject of who they would vote for. I logged on to the site but the brief training session was complicated enough that it went by me in a flash, and I gave up. It is, however, a cool program that offers you a script. For instance, if you ask if a person is registered, the screen flashes a panel of buttons for you to choose from to reflect the answer: Not registered, yes registered, not sure, want to register, etc. You click the appropriate answer and move on to the next segment of conversation. I’m sure once you knew what you were doing, it would be fine.

But, tonight, I didn’t know. I think a huge part of the blame—and, yes, I feel guilty—is that I am really tired after a long, intense day. As I write this, I feel myself starting to doze off. So maybe it’s best I backed out, but I really wanted to be part of the effort for fair elections, and I saw this as a much better opportunity than the redistricting the Republicans want to do. So I wrote and apologized. Don’t know if I’ll try again on a calmer night or not.

And that was my busy day. As I’m falling asleep over the keyboard, I’m off to bed.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Monday's child


Tonight's light supper
copying my mom's salmon supper

Monday’s child may be fair of face, as the nursery rhyme tells us, but she also is hard at work, at least this one was. At least that’s the way it was around my cottage today. The wonderful Zenaida came to clean, do my laundry, and change the sheets; the yard guys came, and Sophie worked hard barking to warn them that she had their number and was on guard dog duty; and I spent most of the day working.

My main task today was marketing chores for Irene in Danger—getting the ISBN (international standard book number) for print and digital editions, writing a blurb, and writing a news release. I had fun with the blurb and came up with two versions—I’d love to know which one you like best for the back of the print edition and for the page listing on Amazon and other sites. Here are the two:

Want a French recipe? Irene will teach you to make salad niçoise. Want murder and mayhem? Irene seems to attract both. With one week until her wedding, Henny James is convinced Irene’s arrival from France will ruin the biggest day of her life. One week to save Irene from the trouble she brings with her and save the wedding. Recipes included.


Irene Foxglove is back in Chicago, Henny and Patrick are getting married in a week, there’s cocaine floating around, and someone wants to kill the diva chef. Once again, Irene brings murder and mayhem to those around her, and Henny must save her. Good thing she has Patrick for help.

I’m thinking the first will go on the back of the book and the second on a news release, but I’d love some reader input here.

Writing the news release, I got caught up in reading review of the first book, Saving Irene, and found a coupe of people for whom that was the first book of mine they’d read but they said it would not be the last. Music to my ears. And I found one reviewer who made me laugh:

Saving Irene was my first introduction to the work of Judy Alter and the fact that I found myself talking back to the characters (Sorry, Henny, but no legit Italian cook adds oil to pasta unless they're making aglia e olio) says a lot for how real they felt to me.

Since I am into book news this evening, here’s the big event of the week: after what seems like years, my book on the Waggoner ranch, The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas, will launch this Friday. I was thrilled to get an endorsement from cowboy singer and entertainer par excellence Red Steagall. Here’s what he said,

The majesty and intrigue of a ranch is of course invested in the land and livestock. But the true soul of a ranching property rests with the humans involved, both staff and owners. Judy Alter has done a magnificent job of explaining and describing the amazing family of the world-famous Waggoner Ranch, all under one fence

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Priscilla Leder will do an hour-long interview with me at 4:00 o'clock about the book on Radio Station KZSM out of San Marcos TX. To tune in, click on and then click play. I hope I won’t stumble over my words.

Thanks for letting me quote and brag and get carried away with myself and my books. I promise to be more circumspect in future posts. Meantime, this evening, a nice surprise. My longtime friend, Subie, called and was at loose ends for supper. I thought, with a slight sinking, she wanted to go out whereas after a day at work in my pjs, I had decided against getting dressed and intended to fix myself a light supper. I offered her three choices—creamed tuna on toast (no groans, please), salmon croquettes, or a cold salmon platter. She said any of those sounded great—my kind of dinner guest! —and I fixed two small salmon platters with pickled cucumber, hearts of palm, avocado, tomato, and hard-boiled egg. After I talked to Subie, I quickly put the salmon in the fridge to chill, put two eggs on to boil, and, yes, I put on cargo pants and a T-shirt. Not much of an improvement but better than pjs.

We had a lovely evening, lots of girl talk that ranged from family and food to politics. I’m ready for an early bedtime. Tomorrow is shaping up to be twice as busy as today.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

A truly lazy day—or was it


A sweet picture of Colin
even if it is our backsides.

By early afternoon I would have told you today was a truly lazy day. I was thinking about clever lines for the blog, like what I used to say my kids would put on my tombstone: either “Hurry on, now” or “Go on now, I’m busy.” But times have changed, and I have learned to putz (Yiddish for piddling and doing nothing). I once wrote an article entitled, “Learning to Putz,” but the word also denotes a part of the male anatomy in Yiddish, and the editor changed it to piddling. Nonetheless I didn’t learn the lesson until the last few years.

But today I would have told you my accomplishments for the day were:

--sleeping late and getting going slowly

--going to church remotely

--reheating last night’s polenta for lunch

--refilling the soap containers in the kitchen and the bathroom

--lingering over Facebook, reading posts I would normally ignore

           But then in the late afternoon, everything happened at once. To begin with, Colin called, took remote control of my computer, and walked me through storing my passwords in a password protection program. After my recent scare about the dark web and compromised passwords, I was delighted to finally get this done. Jamie and I had installed it but neither of us knew what to do once it was installed. As I suspected, it’s like any other computer program—once you do it, it’s straightforward. So now, bit by bit, I have to load my passwords. Besides, it was a bonus to see my child on Zoom and talk to his face rather than the phone—I dislike Facetime because I always look like an old hag, but Zoom is not quite so bad.

Another sweet picture of Colin
even if I do look like that glass of wine
wasn't my first
Note his T-shirt

Then when I settled back to scrolling through Facebook notifications, I got an email from the reviewer who will interview me Tuesday about The Most Land, The Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas, which launches this coming Friday. She had lots of good questions, and I jotted down some answers, hoping as we talk, I’ll expand on some. The key point to me is that the book is not so much a ranch history as the story of a family. The reviewer, Priscilla Leder, out of San Marcos, Texas said she found the story fascinating but sad. That’s kind of how I feel about it too. Way back when, I had a bit of a personal connection to the Waggoners or at least to sculptor Electra Waggoner Biggs, and that story is woven into this book.

Then Jordan came home from her weekend away and we visited and kind of caught up.

So there went my laziness. It’s going to be a busy week.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Saturday House


My chocolate stash
uncovered when I  cleaned the junk drawer

That’s my name for the guest house/cabana that is being built directly behind my cottage. It seems to me the workmen only appear at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday. By nine, they are gone for the day, and weekdays I really see any sign of activity. I know the owners are frustrated by the delay—they’ve explained it’s the supply chain—but I am frustrated by the timing. Fortunately, I can joke about it, because I am not sleep deprived, and by seven in the morning I’m just dozing and waiting for Sophie to come scratch at the side of my bed. Last week they installed the equipment necessary for a pool—large, complicated pipes, lots of them, and big objects that I have no idea how to identify—all smack outside my bathroom window. Jordan has a solution: we’re going to buy one of those panels of fake ivy you can clip to a fence. Real ivy won’t grow there—there is struggling honeysuckle right now, which tells you something. Honeysuckle rarely struggles unless it doesn’t get enough water, which is the case with this. But our water pressure is low, so I can’t see extending the sprinkler system, which would be expensive.

I keep referring people to the O. Henry story, “The Last Leaf” in which a young girl is dying a lingering death from pneumonia. She stares at the tree outside her window and declares she will die when the last leaf falls. An artist neighbor paints a leaf on the brick wall, The young woman recovers her will to live, but the artist, old and infirm, dies of pneumonia. Well, I don’t anticipate dying any time soon, but I wouldn’t mind a few leaves painted on that brick wall—above the pool equipment, of course.

I followed through and cleaned my junk drawer today and have now decided to open a candy-bar store. In all that junk I found an amazing number and variety of chocolate bars. Once when I said I wasn’t really addicted to chocolate, Colin went to that drawer, pulled out all the chocolate bars and fanned them to amuse whoever was with us. Remember “The Days of Wine and Roses”? I have always with trepidation remembered what Jack Lemmon said—he could have predicted that Lee Remick’s character would become an alcoholic, because if you can become addicted to one thing, you can become addicted to another. From chocolate to wine, a path too easy.

Enough of that. This was a satisfying day. I finished reading a good book today—Bitterroot Lake, by Alicia Beckman. It’s a braided story with deaths from the past woven into the mystery of today. Set in a Montana lake resort town, it involves family history, friendship, heritage, a new widow, estranged sisters—and so much more. It will draw you in. I gave it five stars.

This morning I experimented in the kitchen—nothing unusual about that. This time I made a batch of polenta with chicken broth, spinach, herbs, corn kernels, green onions, and cheese. It’s destined to be a one-dish supper and meant to have wells dug into it into which you break eggs. Then you bake until the eggs are the desired degree of done—like shakshuka but with polenta instead of tomato sauce. Jaimie Smith, a neighbor, is coming to eat with me and bringing a green salad. I’ll see how she feels about eggs. I’m okay with or without.

We decided on eggs, but it took forever for them to bake, and we finally turned on the broiler. I think that was a mistake. Jaimie said her egg was fine, but mine, runny underneath, had a hard crust on the top. What was fun about the whole thing was that Jaimie got as involved in the cooking as I did—we both watched those eggs all the time. This time it wasn’t the watched pot that never boils, it was the watched egg that never cooks. I loved the polenta but could do without the egg. And I don’t think I followed the recipe precisely. Maybe I’ll write about that later.

Jaimie brought a wonderful salad with strawberries and goat cheese and browned almonds (I passed on those) and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. So good. I served mini-ice cream sandwiches for dessert. We were well fed and had a good visit.

Settling down with a good book for the evening. What book? I don’t know. I have an array to choose from.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Cleaning the junk drawer


My junk drawer

Cleaning the junk drawer for the sake of my soul

A friend recently wrote about how important journaling is to centering her in her world—overcoming the writer’s block (which she says doesn’t exist and is really fear), getting her in touch with her inner self. Okay, I get that, sort of. I’m not much one for getting in touch with my inner self—I sort of think it’s all one package, and what you see is what you get. I frequently say that blogging is my form of journaling, and yes, someday I may do the cheater’s method of a memoir, by assembling a selection of blogs. Then again, I may be fooling myself about what blogging does for me.

But I do recognize every once in a while, the soul needs a boost. Last night, I sent off to the editor my final version of Irene in Danger. Of course, it won’t be the final version when I get it back with comments, but still, getting there was a big accomplishment. This is the manuscript I started, stopped, started, put aside again, and then all of a sudden was on fire about finishing it, with ideas and scenes coming quickly (I hope not too easily). In addition, ten days ago it was really short, somewhere in that no man’s land between a novella and a novel. By last night, with my last read-through and plugging up some holes, adding recipes, it had picked up a whopping ten thousand words. Almost a respectable length. And as I read it through for the last time, I thought, “I really like this.” I hope others will too.

So there I was this morning: what should I do? Too soon to jump quickly into one of the other projects waiting on my desk. I don’t know if it was what a counselor calls my executive mind or what I call my soul, but I needed a bit of space. So I cleaned and sorted and straightened. I began with computer files—managed the payees on my bank account and deleted a whole lot that I will never use again; then I went through the pictures for my blog—a lot were stock pictures; others were ones that were clearly dated or had no long-term significance. I kept all the family pictures, and I’ll have to go back another time to delete all those food pictures I’m not sure about.

From the computer I moved on to the bookcase. A good friend dropped off a copy of Rodham, a novel based on the fantasy that Hilary did not marry Bill. My friend  recommended it, but right now I am deep into other books. Rodham is a thick book, and I literally did not have a space for it on my bookshelves. (And no, my cottage has no room for additional bookshelves.) So I sorted a stack of books and found enough to donate that I could fit the new one in. Now I burn to sort more books.

Finally—and this was a big chore—I turned to the two top drawers in my office file cabinet. They are not file drawers but flat, for papers and the like. If nothing else, I am the queen of that American institution, the junk drawer. The one I tackled today held thick stacks of really old manuscripts—I always thought I’d be environmentally conscious and use the blank sides, but since the computer has taken over my life I don’t do that anymore. And my notetaking is on legal pads So I discarded at least two reams of paper, destined for recylcing. The drawer also held batteries, and a couple of things I couldn’t identify but looked like computer accessories.

And an appalling mismatched, disorganized collection of assorted greeting cards. My big problem was I took them out and piled them on the worktable in the kitchen, but they kept falling on the floor. It is a royal pain to pick flat papers up off the floor when you cannot stoop or bed down to get them. I was breathless by the time I got them to my desk for sorting.

But sort I did, and discard heartlessly. If a card didn’t have an envelope or an envelope didn’t have a card, it went in with those reams of paper. For the time being, the drawer is neat, sparsely filled. I can’t wait to show it to Jordan. But the real work lies ahead tomorrow—the top junk drawer is an awful mess.

I feel sort of righteous tonight, having done all this. But as I took a picture of my junk drawer, I realized I should also sort and delete the photos on my phone. It’s like unravelling a knot on a ball of yarn—there is no end.

What about you? Do you have one or more junk drawers?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

I found my dream vacation!


Julia Child's French kitchen
Photo by Airbnb

I hope you noticed I’ve been absent, silent, gone for a couple of days. I plead an avalanche that hit my desk plus lots of company. By evening, which is the time I usually write my blog posts, I was too tired. No functioning brain. But now I’m ready to chuck it all and take a vacation I never dreamed was possible. Me, who doesn’t really like to fly and never felt as drawn to France as I do to Scotland.

What changed it? A chance to rent Julia Child’s cottage, La Pitchoune, (the little one) in the south of France. Julia’s kitchen with its famous pegboard is intact and functioning—you can cook dinner if you want. The three-bedroom, three-bath cottage also comes with an outdoor kitchen, a charming patio, a saltwater pool, and lush gardens.

Of course, this Airbnb is a bit expensive: $703 a night is within reason (after all, it sleep six), but if you want an all-day cooking class—shopping, wine pairing, and instructions for preparing one of her legendary, multi-course dinners—add $1500 to the bill. If you’d rather watch than cook, you can hire a personal chef for $500 (not including ingredients and wine). And then there’s airfare to France.

Would you all please buy a lot of books so I can go. Maybe I’d take my daughters. For the nonce, I have something wonderful to dream about.

Meantime back in Fort Worth where my feet are firmly planted on the ground, it has been a busy but happy few days. A load of work landed on my desk, starting with the neighborhood newsletter. I always encourage people to submit before the deadline, and this month they did, with the result that a lot of copy landed on my computer late Sunday night, which was technically before Monday’s deadline. Today I sent a whopping 28-page issue to the printer. Sunday also brought a critique of Irene in Danger from my mentor/friend that sent me off on some rewriting, and now I’m giving it one last proof before putting it into production. Hope to publish early in November. I may be fooling myself, but reading it again this time, I like it better than I ever thought I would.

Being busy makes me happy, but so does visiting with friends, new and old, and I have had some treats along that line. Saturday night Linda, a friend I’ve known for at least thirty-five years, came for supper. For most of those years, we have lived at least thirty miles apart, and when we did live in the same city briefly, early on when we were, ahem, much younger, we weren’t really that close. It’s been a friendship that has strengthened and grown over the years. Now, she’s about to move to Taos, though she assures me she will keep a presence in Texas. I hope so.

Linda has long been a person who appreciates both my mysteries—she says I have a devious mind—and my cooking experiments. I fixed a 1905 Columbia Salad for us. It’s the signature salad, tossed at tableside, of the Columbia restaurant in Tampa that opened in 1905. The dressing is hearty, to say the least—next time I may cut back on the oregano a bit. But the salad is rich with ham, Swiss cheese, head lettuce, Parmesan, and grated Romano—I used pecorino, as I always do. And I left out the pimiento-stuffed Kalamata olives—catering to my own taste (or dislikes). For dessert, I broiled nectarine halves with brown sugar (too much), blueberries, and a pat of butter. As she fought to separate the fruit from its stone, Linda muttered, “My grandmother would say these are not cling free.” We didn’t have halves—we had sort of hash. Linda said she loved it; I thought it too sweet. Another time I’d cut way back on the sugar.

Last night I went from old to new—a relatively new friend came for happy hour and stayed for supper, because I enticed her with a composed salad of canned salmon, pickled cucumbers, hearts of palm, hard-boiled egg, and tomato (darn! I forgot the avocado languishing in the fridge). It’s a salad that my mom and I used to make, and it carried me back to my childhood. My guest enjoyed it. She and I can go in a nanosecond from “So how’s your world” to some really involved discussions, which we both enjoy and which involve lots of laughter. A thoroughly pleasant evening.

Tonight was happy hour with the neighbors, which is always fun, and then Christian grilled us lamb burgers that we had with tzatziki sauce I had in the fridge and a salad dressed with a mixture of the dressings in the fridge, including the 1905 salad one. The meal was heavy with oregano but so good.

And now, dear friends, I’m back to proof reading. But I expect my dreams tonight to be of cooking a gibelotte in Julia’s kitchen.




Saturday, September 18, 2021

Family fun, work and play


The Frisco Alters at Santa Monice Pier.

A mixed bag today. The Frisco Alters are in LA, settling Eden into her first year at UCLA. All pictures indicate they are having a wonderful time visiting Santa Monica Pier, Catalina Island, Hollywood studios, etc. This will be the first empty-nest year for Jamie and Mel, with Eden in LA and Maddie in Colorado pursuing her plan to add a nursing degree to her brand new, shiny bachelor’s, so I’m doubly glad they can have this time together.

Jacob is in the very middle.

Meanwhile, Jacob was playing in the second day of the Bart Granger Memorial Golf Tournament. Thirty-six holes yesterday and eighteen today. He shot 78 and 79 yesterday, though I didn’t hear today’s score. And, no surprise, he came home exhausted. His mom was pretty tired too, having gotten him to the course at 6:15 yesterday and 7:15 today. 

While they were all playing, it turned out to be a workday for me. A marketing webinar sponsored by the Buckeye Crime Writers kind of attracted me, but webinars don’t always hold my attention (may be my problem and not the presenter’s). Anyway, I tuned in sort of idly, and—wow! I learned so much that I was definitely in information overload. I usually find later that the hour and a half of information boils down to two or three useful things that I take away for keeps. And so it was today. The presenter was a real go-getter, a former publicist who makes her living teaching authors how to market their books. Her website is filled with helpful information and forms—the latter for sale, of course. But she was engaging and interesting.

The session was obviously geared to authors who are traditionally published and are building their careers. Neither of those things apply to me. While I’m still, I hope, writing strongly, I realize I’m at the tag end of my career. Some days I wonder how many more books I have in me. But it made me a little sad—one of the first times I came even close to regretting my age, because I wished I had known all this twenty or thirty years ago. Then, slap! I had to tell myself twenty or thirty years ago social media was unheard of, independent publishing was frowned upon, and the publishing landscape was totally different. So, I guess what I do is take advantage of what I can and not worry about the rest. So now I belong to a new Facebook group (more time spent) and get a weekly bulletin (do I really need that?), and I know that some things, like an Amazon imprint, are beyond me as an unagented author. But I have some useful tips—like boldly ask readers for reviews and make it easy for them by giving them a link and a template. And what I’ve always suspected is confirmed—Amazon is where the action is. Comforting that I am already doing some of what she suggests. My scorecard isn’t too bad.

Tonight, was the annual dinner for my Berkeley Place Association. Over a hundred neighbors wandered and visited and then dined at tables in Joe and Mary Dulle’s spacious backyard. There was an occasional breeze, and toward the end of the evening, a bright moon. Tables were tastefully decorated—who needs much in that setting?—and dinner was good Mexican food from local restaurant Enchiladas Olé. Because I can’t move around freely and schmooze, I didn’t meet that many new people but some. Several good friends came and visited with me at the table where the Burtons parked me. And because I edit the neighborhood newsletter, people I know by email but don’t recognize in person came by to say hello. I was glad to put faces to names. Music was skewed toward folk songs—“Blowin’ the wind”—and I liked the selections, but it was so loud I couldn’t hear conversations—always a problem. All in all, a lovely evening.

Me with host Mary Dulle

And an amazing day. I’m sleepy. Sweet dreams, everyone.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Tangling with bureaucracy

    Turkey burger with souvlaki flavorings
Really good, a keeper recipe

It wasn’t as bad as I feared. I had to go today to get an official identification card from the State of Texas. My driver’s license expired over a year ago on my 82nd birthday. At that age, you cannot renew online but are required to appear in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles and either convince them that you are cognizant enough to drive or take a driver’s test.

Before online renewal was possible, going in person to renew my license always gave me the willies (I get them too easily). I felt like a kid going for a test I was about to fail. The eyesight test became a particular hurdle for me, partly I think as I developed cataracts, and I’d get so nervous I’d botch it. I let the whole driver’s license thing become a “big thing” in my mind.

With that history, I approached that significant birthday. We were in the midst of pandemic, and I was not driving because I was not going anywhere—we quarantined. So, masked or not, I did not want to go to the DMV and sit in a crowded waiting room for who knows how long. I simply ignored the whole thing. My kids were all okay with my not driving—maybe even relieved. Jordan was always afraid when I went places alone that I would be so preoccupied getting my walker in or out of the car that I wouldn’t be aware of my surroundings and would get mugged.

But with vaccination and the relative safety of moving about in the world, it began to occur to me I’d like to have some identification—to vote, if nothing else. I’d heard you can vote with your passport, but I wasn’t sure I trusted it. So I went online, waded through the complicated DMV web site, found the directions, and made an appointment. Every time they gave me a date and time, I’d check with Jordan to see if she could take me, and by the time I went back to the web site, that slot had been filled. Finally, I made a morning appointment—at an office at least twenty minutes and twenty miles away—for today, 10:20. That was months ago, and I put it out of my mind.

This week it dawned on me that Jacob has a golf tournament today. Jordan had to have him at the course, twenty minutes in the other direction, at 6:15 a.m. I thought perhaps she would stay or be too harried to take me. I think a part of me was secretly hoping we could reschedule the DMV for another three or four months away. No such luck: with too much enthusiasm, she said, “I can take you!”

The day was sunny and not too hot, and the trip was pleasant. We took crossed Lake Worth on Loop 820 and marveled at the view—the blue lake up close and way in the distance the now-tiny tall buildings of downtown. It was like seeing two disparate worlds at once. With one “Oops,” we found the office and arrived ten minutes early.

The facility was clean, most people were masked, chairs in the waiting room were distanced—I thought it would all be okay. The online directions were so intimidating—if you’re ten minutes late, you lose your slot—that I hoped they’d take us on time. Not so. But the wait was less than thirty minutes. Jordan and I thought masks were a requirement for both staff and the public, but as we waited, I saw more and more unmasked people, and I found myself resenting them, angry even. We’ve had such high controversy in Fort Worth over masks, while our numbers of new cases and deaths have skyrocketed, that I really am alert to who cares about others and who doesn’t.

The representative who talked to us was young, relatively new to the job, and thrilled to meet an author—that part made my day. But she spoke softly and rapidly, and Jordan had to take over the session. I recognized an old feeling—people see an elderly woman with a walker, and they don’t talk to her but talk around her to whoever is with her. It’s a little like being invisible. Jordan had to sign an affidavit confirming my address because utility bills no longer come in my name. She even signed my name, which she does a lot, until the young woman said no, I had to sign in person. And then Jordan insisted I had to put on lipstick for the picture. I worried all along that the voluminouos documentation we brought would not satisfy their strict requirements, but all was well. By 11:30 we were headed home, greatly relieved to have this behind us. In two weeks, I should once again be official in the State of Texas.

Tonight, relaxation. Jean came for supper, and I fixed souvlaki-flavored turkey burgers with tzatziki, broccoli, and leftover potato cakes. Jean and I loved them; Jordan missed eating with us and ate an hour later because she got caught at the golf tournament. No matter because Jacob is doing well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A birthday and my week that wasn’t


Blatant self promotion to lead off a post about cozy mysteries
with the cover of one of my own, but Dame Agatha
doesn't need the sales, and I do.

Happy Birthday today to Dame Agatha Christie, the queen of cozy mysteries. Christie, who was born in 1890, died in 1976 at the age of 85, having published sixty-six mysteries, fourteen short story collections, six novels under a pseudonym, and the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which played in London from 1952 until 2020. In my world of mysteries, she’s like a mother figure, with a major award named after her.

For many mystery authors, the occasion of Christie’s birthday sparks a nostalgic look back at the books that drew us to the genre. No surprise that many cite Nancy Drew as their inspiration, but there was also Cherry Ames, the nurse, and Trixie Belden, detective. I remember, before that, the Bobbsey Twins and the Little Colonel Stories—no, they’re not mysteries but they were books that fed my early interest in reading. And after Nancy Drew, I was drawn to the New Orleans/Mississippi River/plantation life novels of Francis Parkinson Keyes.

Confession: I never have read much of Agatha Christie. I am not as much drawn to the British mysteries as some readers are. Sometimes, because of my love of Scotland, I try to read some of the better-known Scottish mystery authors, but they tend to be gloomy—must be all that dark and dreary weather in the Highlands. There are a few cozy mysteries with a Scottish background that I have enjoyed—the Paislee Shaw mysteries by Traci Hall (a single mom eking out a living with a yarn shop) and Paige Shelton’s Scottish Bookshop Mysteries.

What I have read and thoroughly enjoyed is a book about Dame Agatha—and the time she disappeared for two weeks. I recommend The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, by Marie Benedict.

Pretty much though, I’m a fan of American cozy series. Although some authors, more likely thriller than cozy, are finding success with stand-alone novels, the conventional wisdom in mystery circles is that you draw readers to the characters in your series so that they want to read more about them. I have read and enjoyed most of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, several of Margaret Truman’s mysteries, and most of Ellery Adams’ Book Retreat Mysteries. Some of my favorite series have ended—Julie Hyzy’s White House chef mysteries and her Manor House Series were both work-for-hire, and then the publisher shut them down, Hyzy did not own the rights to the characters—a blow to many readers. These days I jump with delight if I discover a Goldy Schultz book I haven’t read or a culinary mystery by Diane Mott Davidson. My current favorite series are Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles herbal mysteries and Ellen Crosby’s Wine Country Mysteries.  

I have some mysteries on my to-be-read (commonly known as TBR) list—Leslie Budewitz’s Bitterroot Lake, her venture into thrillers (I like her Spice Shop Mysteries and Food Lovers Village Mysteries) and Vicki Delany’s new Deadly Summer Nights, set in a Catskill resort.

 I’ll need those books because this was to be a busy week, but I am wondering if I’ve offended the gods of calendars or something. All the fun things I had scheduled have cancelled, even my neighbors’ weekly Tuesday happy hour fell through. Tonight, I was to go to a birthday celebration with three longtime and dear friends, but one thinks she was exposed to Covid and cancelled, so we postponed until we could all be together. Tomorrow I was to have lunch with Melinda, who worked with me at TCU Press and who is a special person, but her elderly mom fell and broke some bones. What was not cancelled? A trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get an official identification card now that I no longer have a driver’s license. Sort of like going to the dentist.

How’s your week going?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Today is National Live Creative Day


A day, so the article I read this morning said, to set aside to dream, discover, or invent. But by the time I left my desk and computer for a nap, about two-thirty, I realized I hadn’t been very creative. And that set me to thinking about my daily routine.p

Each morning, with a cup of hot tea at hand, I check my emails. Sometimes that takes quite a while—I have two accounts, one I’ve had for almost forty years (through TCU) and a new one that I try to keep for writing organizations. I belong to two groups that I get daily communications from, both organizational and members’ voices, and both use the relatively new network, io groups. TCU does not like the security certificate that io has and therefore won’t talk to them. I missed a lot of emails before I figured that out, and my son Jamie opened a gmail account for me. I get between ten and twenty emails each morning on each, and some require answers right then, others involve me in reading—including a few political posts.

Maybe my favorite is Wake Up to Politics, which Gabe Fleisher started when he was nine. He’s now a sophomore in D.C., studying I believe at George Mason University. Over the years he has acquired good journalism credentials, so he’s on top of what’s happening, and he presents a fairly balanced view. If your politics tend in the direction of mine, look it up and consider subscribing.

Sometimes emails lead me to articles I’m interested in. This morning it was a longish piece in The New Yorker, cited by Andy Borowitz, about Derrick Bell, whose thinking on racism spawned the critical race theory that is so misunderstood by so many. As a young lawyer Bell was with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He went on to be the first tenured Black law professor at Harvard but eventually left that school, over a matter of principle that involved faculty hiring and people of color,  to be a visiting law professor at NYU. The lengthy article traced the development of Bell’s thinking to the point that he decided what most of us saw as advances in demolishing racism really set us back and hardened attitudes. It’s complicated stuff, hard for me with a non-legal mind and education, to understand. But my thought was that if all those idiots who yell about take CRT out of our schools would try to understand what it is, they’d be surprised at how it supports them. The difference, as I see it, being that they don’t want history taught, and he did. But the absurdity of thinking a theory I can’t understand is taught in kindergarten made me giggle and reminded me of the elementary school teacher who said, “If I can get them to read, write, and do basic math, I’m happy.” Who needs CRT is grade school or even high school?

After email, I read the msn news briefs, mostly because they are the ones that flash across my screen. I used to move on to Facebook, but that really is a time killer—the morning had dwindled down to a few minutes by the time I tried to get creative. But even without Facebook, and maybe because of the Derrick Bell article, it was almost noon today before I settled down to my own work.

Often evenings are kind of lazy for me—that’s the time for Facebook and reading whatever is currently on my reading list. Not so tonight, maybe because I had creativity on my mind. But I was almost relieved when our weekly neighborhood happy hour cancelled and the Burtons’ schedule dictated we would not have family dinner. I can stay in my nightshirt and read some more Dorothy Johnson letters.

What about you? Creative today? There are lots of ways to live a creative life, and I probably should branch out to more of them.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Catastrophe followed by good times


Isn't that a great cover?
Read on to see why it's at the head of my blog post

This morning was the usual day for the wonderful Zenaida to clean my cottage as she does every other week, but when she texted that she had a doctor’s appointment at two she needed to be here at 7 a.m., we all balked. Even I do not want my sheets changed and my laundry done badly enough to get up at six. Thank goodness, a compromise was reached—she came at nine and only cleaned the cottage, leaving the Burtons’ house for another day.

And what a blessing that turned out to be. With time to spare, she dug into some corners—and discovered a huge leak under the kitchen sink. Jordan is quite sure it was not there two or three days ago when we emptied the recyclables and she put the bucket back. Zenaida, who has an amazingly logical mind, found that it was the spray nozzle and not the actual faucet. Still there seemed to be no way to use the faucet except the nozzle. Aha, but there was! Zenaida figured out if we pulled the nozzle into the sink, the leak went down the drain instead of back down the nozzle cord to the space beneath. Just in case we have a bucket down there, and everything from under the sink is now under the butcher block. Took me five minutes, a call to Jordan, and the help of my dinner guest to retrieve Sophie’s dinner bowl.

I called my favorite plumber—what a luxury to have a favorite plumber—and he diagnosed a broken nozzle beyond repair. I would have to order another one. It would be under warranty, so cost is not a problem, but time delay is. They allow ten days for delivery. Meantime, I will be washing dishes with the nozzle hanging in the sink—more awkward than you would think. Keith also fixed the leak in my bathroom sink which turned out to be more significant—water was creeping out from the base of the faucets to the extent that it dripped over the edge of the counter onto the floor. It’s been that way ever since I’ve been in the cottage, but for a long time I attributed it to wet hands turning the faucet on and off. Only recently figured out it was more than that. Also only recently figured out it accounted for the five or six ants who visited me daily.

I thought between Zenaida stuck under the sink and Keith coming to fix things, my usual routine was shot—not good on a day when I was cooking for a guest and really wanted a nap. Not so, by noon they were both gone, my casserole was made, and I had pickled a bunch of cucumber slices.

So tonight, my friend Babette Hale, short story writer and author of the new book A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers, came for supper. She was on her way back to Winedale from Santa Fe, and I was flattered that she arranged her trip so that she’d have a night in Fort Worth and we could visit. I dismissed her offer of dinner, saying it’s easier for me to cook than for her to wrangle my walker. I served an appetizer of smoked Swiss, a chicken and hard-boiled egg casserole which was delicious if I do say so (I ate two helpings—she only ate one), and broccoli. Watch for this Thurday’s “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog entry for the casserole recipe—it’s definitely a keeper.

We had lots of good laughs, talked a lot about writing, much about her late husband Leon Hale, the legendary Houston columnist who died last spring at the age of ninety-nine, some about food, more about dogs, some about Santa Fe which holds a special place in the affections of both of us. I may have said this before, and I don’t mean to sound elitist or snobbish, but there’s something so refreshing when two writers can have a serious talk—I mean writers who consider writing their profession and sometimes their reason for being. A thoroughly lovely evening—and she gave me an idea for a book. As if I didn’t have enough projects on my desk.

For a Monday, it was a really good day.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Another family day


Jacob and his mom

Totally out of my routine today—no church, no work, no cooking. Usually, the weekend finds me deep in a new recipe to try for an unsuspecting guest. Not so today, and, truly, it was nice to take a break.

After a leisurely cup of tea and a scroll through emails, my daughters both came out with coffee cups. We visited for a while, they picked out “go to brunch” clothes for me (sure way to forestall wardrobe criticisms), and we finished planting herbs in the raised garden—mostly

Gardening with Megan

I shook them out of their little containers, and Megan dug the holes for them But it looked pretty good when we were through. Jordan supervised. She will get the chore of keeping them watered.

Poor Meg. When she’s here, she’s kind of torn between being in the house with her sister or in the cottage with me, but she does an admirable job of balancing, so I had her company for much of the morning. But by noon we were dressed and ready to go to brunch. Jacob even went with us, which was a treat. We went to Pacific Table, sat in that way-back, hidden table they have.

Christian, who is careful about what he eats, finally confessed that he had tried an artichoke and liked it, after years of scorning them. So nothing would do but we had the charred artichokes! So good but so greasy and messy to eat. At one point, Christian seemed puzzled about what to do about the heart, so Jordan reached over to cut it for him. I couldn’t resist taking a picture. I’m in a rut at Pacific Table and had the Caesar again, though this time with scallops instead of oysters. Megan and Jordan had sea bass, and Jacob had sushi and French fries—an odd combination to me. Christian stuck to his hamburger.

Christian's artichoke

After brunch/lunch we split—the girls to Trader Joe’s and who know where else, Jacob and Christian to shop for jeans for Jacob, and me to spend some computer time and then nap.

But today was a big deal (shh! Don’t say I put it that way) in the Burton family. Jacob had been invited to a Canwick dance by a girl he went through grade school with—Canwick is a girls’ dance/social club. I don’t remember as much about it as I do Cotillion, which I think my kids attended. Anyway, since this was a girl-invite-boy affair I asked if it was Daisy Mae and Jacob said blankly, “I don’t know what that is.” Of course, I got Lil Abner mixed up—I meant a Sadie Hawkins dance. Jacob still wouldn’t have known. Anyway, it was apparently as big a deal in other households as well because an army of boys and girls gathered on the lawn of Colonial Country Club for a photo shoot. Of course, Jordan, Christian, and Megan had to be there to watch and take photos. Then the kids were off to dinner and the dance.

Jacob and his buddies
ready to dance
my, how times have changed

The weary adults in my family went to get take-out at Joe T.’s and brought it home. By the time they got here—after 7:00 p.m.—everyone was tired. We sort of sat around looking at each other, until I was reminded of that old joke, “Must be twenty minutes after.” (Did I just give my age away?)

Now it’s nine, and they’ve all gone to bed, except Jordan who will sit up and wait for Jacob to come home. The first, I’m sure, of many such nights. I remember them well. I laughed to myself because tonight it seemed such a big deal that the boy-child had a date with a  girl, but in a year it will be routine. And gradually he’ll be out later, and eventually Jordan will stop waiting up, though if she’s like me, she'll never sleep soundly until he comes in.

And so another week begins, for me a busy one with something planned every evening. All good stuff. And work to do during the day. Life is good. I hope for you too.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A memorable day in many ways


A trio of back patio pictures.

As Jordan and I drove out of the driveway early this morning, I was pleased to see the American flag flying at the curb of many homes. People on our street remember—as if we could forget this day. (The flags are a subscription service provided on patriotic holidays by our South Side Rotary—I have been a subscriber for years.) The internet is full of memories and images and lots of “Where were you when you first heard?” or “How did you spend the day?” We each have our memories.

This year, because of the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, this day of memory is even more poignant than usual. It has led many to speculate on why we were at war in that country for twenty years. Should we have withdrawn once Osama Bin Laden was dead? Some called it the endless war. We apparently made life easier for the Afghan people, especially the women who were heavily oppressed, but when the time for the Afghan military and government to take over came, they buckled, as though the manpower, equipment, and time put in had been for naught. Not to mention the American lives lost nor, in greater numbers, the loss of Afghan life which was astronomical. Instead of uniting us, as the original terrorism act did, this newest direction has led to further division. Sadly, like the pandemic, the withdrawal has divided us into liberals and conservatives. It is not, to my mind, a way to honor those who died. Instead of calm discussion, we have reduced ourselves to shouting and anger and blame.

Still it was a moving day. I lost myself first in the special digital edition the Fort Worth Star-Telegram issued, featuring survivors’ stories, along with features about Muslim citizens and their treatment since, and children not yet born who lost parents in the devastation. It was I thought a particularly well-done tribute. And then on the internet, I ran across a video with graphic images flashed across the screen while “The Sound of Silence” played. I was mesmerized and you may be too. It’s on YouTube somewhere if you know how to find those things.

Jordan and I went to Calloway’s for fall plants—each of us had a list She wanted to brighten up the back yard (I think in preparation for her sister’s mid-day arrival) and I wanted additional herbs for my garden. I worried of course—would we walk farther than I was comfortable with? Would I be left in the car while she shopped, a situation that makes me uneasy. None of that happened, and we had a happy good time picking out plants. I do have to say Calloway’s is not an inexpensive place to shop—but it’s convenient, and it was easily accessible for me. When I got winded, I sat in my walker, and a couple of times she said, “Feet up!” and whisked me through the aisles. As my concern diminished, my walking strength improved. We had fun.

Once home, I became a armchair expert while Jordan planted and I suggested what plant should go in what pot. She blew the leaves off the patio and the yard really does look pretty. The new herbs are still in their containers in the wooden garden—Jordan left them for Megan and me to plant.

Megan arrived from Austin barely in time to give me a quick hug and head out to the TCU football game. The game was pretty much a nail-biter. TCU triumphed in the end—but barely, 34-32. And everybody came back to the house for dinner, where Christian had been marinating steaks and shredding Brussel sprouts. Jordan had made some super Parmesan/green onion potato cakes (wiped out our rather generous supply of Parmesan), and with Megan’s help I fried bacon and we made a wilted lettuce salad, using butter lettuce which for me is a treat and a splurge. When I said to Megan that it was expensive—something like $4 for a small head, she replied, “You pay more than that for a margarita,” and expounded that honey crisp apples are so delicious but three for $12. She tells herself she’d pay more than that for a margarita too. I did not point out that I don’t drink margaritas, but I am wondering about the scales against which she balances things.

dinner with happy people

We had a jolly, happy dinner, joined by David who was in high school with Jordan and has pretty much been family ever since. I don’t see him much these days, so it was a real treat to have him with us. We sat around talking about everything from gossip to anti-vaxxers, and eventually I announced it was time for me and Sophie to go home. When I ask, “Do you want to go home?” she is always so delighted and bolts for the door. Megan walked me out and came in and visited –I cannot tell you how much I treasure those mother/daughter moments.  

So today I’ve had two outstanding mother/daughter times—at the nursery and in the back yard with Jordan and tonight in the cottage with Megan. I am so blessed. Looking forward to tomorrow—Megan will be here all day. We have a date to plant herbs in the morning.