Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Halloween shock


Note the parked cars and traffic

Real Halloween, as distinct from last night’s neighborhood festival, was predictably crowded. The best estimates I’ve heard are that we routinely get about 1400 kids, almost all from other neighborhoods, because local kids did their trick-or-treating last night. These kids arrive by the carload, and our streets are lined with parked cars. General routine is for parents to wait at the sidewalk, while the kids come up for their treats. Little ones however are carried and often look bewildered. Costumes range from a black T-shirt to an elaborate (and huge) dinosaur with ghosts, goblins, brides (one so pretty), skeletons, robots—you name it, many very inventive.
Can you find the baby in the basket?

We sat on the porch while Jordan was the main dispenser of candy—she really enjoys it and has a great greeting for each child. The children, in turn, are polite and say thank you, except for one kid who muttered, “More.” Christian had made a pot of tortilla soup, and the plan was everyone was to eat when hungry. I opted to come back to the cottage a little after seven—it was getting chilly—and reheat the leftover vegetable soup I had. But Christian scooped up two of Jordan’s chocolate chip cookies and one brownie for me. No, I didn’t eat it all. The brownie is in a baggie, waiting for tomorrow.

Jordan waiting for the kids

Sophie is a problem on porch party nights. She has an unerring sense of when there’s going to be a party in the house and she, by gosh, is not going to be left out of it. One notable night recently, she snapped at Jordan when she reached for her collar. Tonight, Christian and Jacob both came to get me—one to help me negotiate the stairs and the other to corral Sophie. She knew what was happening. They lured her inside, but she tried to bolt, and Christian was like a football player, dancing to run interference before she escaped. Jacob was reluctant to grab her but did, and we made a not-so-smooth getaway. When Christian walked me back out, she still wanted to go in the house—note she didn’t care where I was. She managed to bolt inside this time, but Jordan brought her back fairly soon. After a few minutes, if you ask her if she wants to go home, she goes to the back door. Now, she’s sleeping peacefully at my feet. Having a spoiled dog is one thing; having one control my behavior to that extent is another, and she’s about to get pulled up short.

Halloween was almost overshadowed on our porch, in the TCU community, and I suspect in the national football community by the sudden announcement this evening of the resignation of Coach Gary Patterson, who has led the football program for twenty-one years, built it to national prominence, been influential on the TCU campus and in campus life in so many other ways, but suffered three bad seasons in a row. To say it’s controversial is an understatement. I am neither a big football fan nor an expert on the politics of football, but I think this will turn out badly for TCU, with a loss of respect and prestige. But maybe not money.

And that’s what I have been hearing over the weekend—winning football teams bring in money and recruit new players. Christian says that’s the way of the world but agrees with me it’s morally wrong. TCU did not fire Patterson; official word is he resigned. But I read somewhere that the AG, a man faceless to me who is named Donati, did not like Patterson’s plans for offseason. They apparently asked him to continue to the end of the season and then take a new role—effectively either a dismissal or demotion. He declined, said it was best for the team if he left now, and met with the players to announce his departure. Good for him. For years, I tired of hearing how financially strapped TCU was, how they would close the press, cut this corner and that, couldn’t afford to have the trees trimmed. This buyout means they owe Patterson and his team a sum so large you can’t even think about it—I only hope it doesn’t come out of funds meant for academic programs.

That’s really more than I know about the matter for sure, so I am, repeat, not qualified to comment. But I do know about loyalty and gratitude, and beyond finances, TCU owes those great debts to Patterson. Somehow, I don’t think they took the high road.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

A lovely night I the neighborhood


Halloween is a big deal for Christian
and he decorates accordingly

Makes me think of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood, but it was that kind of evening in Berkeley tonight, even if we did only have a couple of parties of trick-or-treaters. It was the Berkeley Fall Festival, a pre-Halloween event especially for kids in the neighborhood. But more than that, it was for kids with various disabilities, physical and social. It was the night MedStar brings two kids, either on stretchers or in wheelchairs, to trick-or-treat on a specially chosen block—a real thrill for kids who wouldn’t otherwise get the be part of the fun. And for the families, who are included and treated like royalty.

It was also a night for children who might be overwhelmed by the crush and confusion of real Halloween in our neighborhood—the autistic child who is frightened by crowds yet wants to be part of the fun, the child with severe food allergies who must pick carefully from any candy offered, the child who is just plain shy.

Sophie wanted to be part of the fun too

For me, it was also a bit of a nostalgic night. The trick-or-treating was advertised from five to seven, so Jordan, Christian, Jean, and I gathered on the porch. But the Berkeley map sent out ahead of time showed only two other houses on our block that were participating. In the inner neighborhood (we are on the fringe), there were clusters of houses passing out treats. So we got only one family—good friends—while we sat there. But then Christian grilled, and Jordan served dinner on the porch—kofta, tzatziki, hummus, and a green salad. With brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and gingersnap—such a wealth of sweets.

And then, about seven, Jordan’s friends, all people I’m fond of, began to arrive. I got lots of good hugs and saw people I’d missed for a long time. I’m tempted to call them young people, as that’s how I always think of them, but they are now nearing fifty. Not so young but still lively.

Twenty years ago when Jordan and Christian first got together, Jordan and I were in a

Jordan makes such a cute witch!

phase of giving porch parties. They were potluck, generally Mexican themed, and BYOB. And they were happy, warm occasions, part of the fond memories that I carry with me today. Some of the people who came in those days have drifted away—we watched some romances flame and then sputter out and others take hold and burn with a steady flame. But there were many there tonight who had been at those long-ago parties, so it was like a reunion, and it made my heart glad.

Being the old lady in the crowd, I left before eight—too many conversations confused my hearing aids, and I couldn’t hear anyone. Sophie was by then out in the cottage alone, and I used the excuse that she was lonely. The truth is I enjoy those parties a great deal, but the time comes early when I am ready to sneak back to my own quiet place of comfort.

Tomorrow night will be a madhouse if history holds true. Our streets will be packed with cars, our sidewalks crowded with families with young kids. It’s always nice to notice that politeness and good manners prevail—in many cases, as a child takes a treat, a parent says, “Did you say thank you?” It’s reassuring that not everything in this world or this country has gone amuck these days.

And tonight was sort of like a return to kinder, gentler times. I loved it, and I applaud Jordan and Christian for hosting.


Friday, October 29, 2021

How lucky am I!


That’s sort of my theme these days—how lucky I am. Jordan came home from the grocery yesterday with a lovely bouquet or yellow roses. They were so upright and straight that when I watched her walk from her back door to my cottage, I thought they were tulips. I said something like “Tulips in October?” and she was a bit affronted. “They’re roses,” she said. And so they are—beautiful, bright yellow roses.

I love yellow flowers because they speak to me of sunshine and happiness. The roses are matched by wonderful, lush mums in front of the deck outside my window—five big full bush-like plants. When John, who owns the lawn service, said he was ordering pansies, I quickly said, “No, not yet. I haven’t had time to enjoy the mums!”

As for being lucky, blessed, I recently had two wonderful dinners. One night, Jean took me to The Blue Spire, the fine dining facility on the thirteenth floor of Trinity Terrace. We looked north over the city—a marvelous view. I’m not much on height, but it’s like water, as long as I’m safely inside, I love to look at it. Jean invited me specially because roast marrow bones were on the menu, and she knows I love them. Also, I think, because we made her part of our family during quarantine when she was alone, and we have followed every minute of her move from lovely semi-suburban home to sophisticated apartment. Also, I hope, the invitation was because she enjoys my company, as I do hers.

After dinner, we went up to her apartment on the seventeenth floor. Huge windows with that same north-facing view over the city, spectacular at night when the cit is lit (don’t think about light pollution just for a moment). There’s still unpacking to be done, but I can see the bones of what it will look like. Her bedroom and kitchen are complete, and in the living room she has long, lighted bookshelves, many of which display her late husband’s folk art. Lots of antiques. I’m sure her apartment is distinctive among the retirement apartments around her.

Last night was different—on my own, so I had the first “freezer soup” night. The day was extraordinarily windy—gusts up to 60 mph—a great soup night. Everything came out of the freezer except one can of diced tomatoes.—Cream of celery soup opened by mistake (It’s hard to find in the store, and we have a favorite recipe that uses it so we stock up, but more than once I’ve reached blindly for cream of mushroom and gotten cream of celery). There was a bit of tomato sauce and something that looked like chicken broth with maybe a tiny bit of chicken. But my freezer holds lots of frozen vegetables, so the soup was thick with chopped spinach, peas, and corn. If I ever ask Jordan to buy frozen corn, she has permission to slap me. I have two and a half bags left, even after the soup. May be a corn pudding in our future.

My how lucky I am mantra was tested today. Jacob brought out an armful of packages that took me a long time to open. One puzzled me—a nice enough looking shirt but not something I ordered. I spent a lot of time prowling through Amazon orders to see if I’d ordered something and forgotten it. Finally read the enclosed material, and it was something Christian ordered. It will look great on him.

More serious to me was a missed Central Market order. Jordan meant to pick it up at noon when she left her office—except I didn’t remind her, and she forgot it until it was too late. It had the Dover sole I intended for dinner and the broccoflower I meant to brine tonight for dinner tomorrow night. She’ll get it tomorrow, and we’ll adjust. But I’ll have to freeze the fish, which dismays me a bit. I had scrambled eggs for dinner, but I brightened them with cream cheese, diced smoked salmon, and a sliced green onion.

Life is still good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Food, dogs, weather—and a serious thought


Big Mac Salad

Food, dogs, weather—and a serious thought

No one will be surprised that I devour food web pages, including the New York Times. Frequently the NYT column is full of recipes and ingredients that don’t reach out to me. It’s not that I’m not willing to experiment, but I most often cook for a family of four with conservative tastes, and I find myself leaning more and more into exploring American cooking, which is of course a hodge podge of dishes from other countries, But there is a core menu of dishes that have been adapted, become part of our tradition, and typify American cooking. In the Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries, that’s the kind of food that Henny cooks on her “Recipes from my mom’s kitchen” TV show. Yes, tuna casserole, and Sloppy Joe, potato salad and green chili rice casserole.

So imagine my surprise when prowling through the NYT column and then the Kitchn web site (more about that in another post) when I found the following: fried catfish with spaghetti, chicken with pears, and sausage and grapes. I like to think I have some sense about pairing of foods, and, truthfully, these pairings sound awful. Not everyone likes fried catfish, but I do—wth a healthy bit of lemon and maybe a dab of tartar sauce. But with spaghetti with a traditional red sauce (that was what the illustration showed)? Or take the chicken and pears—take them somewhere, because I can’t cook that here. Some of us don’t like cooked fruit; I like it in many circumstances, but this pairing seems odd. Maybe it’s because I am never sure what to do with pears anywhere. And sausage and grapes? Just plain no. Grapes belong in chicken salad, and sausages should get sauerkraut or at the very least mustard. Call me traditional.

Fortunately, tonight we had a truly American dish: Big Mac salad. Take all the ingredients of a Big Mac—ground beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion, pickle, dressing—and toss them together in a salad. We had a heavy dinner last night—pork chops, potatoes, and asparagus—so we were ready for this lighter meal tonight. Jordan made the salad, but I have to add that I made the Thousand Island dressing from scratch. Bottled dressings generally have a taste I don’t like—maybe the preservatives? Anyway, it was a good dinner.

We had a bit of excitement tonight. Mary came for happy hour. No, wait, that’s not the excitement! We had left the driveway gate partially open for her, and she thought she slammed the inner gate when she came in. But all of a sudden, she, who was sitting facing that gate, got a horrible look on her face and said that the wind had blown it open and she didn’t know where Sophie was. We called, but she didn’t respond. Of course, my heart jumped right up into my throat, though the rational side of me said she hadn’t gotten far, and they would find her. When Soph was young, she was an escape artist, always ready to explore. We had to ease out of doors, etc., and there were several chases throughout the neighborhood where we learned to drive a car, because if you opened the door, she’d jump right in.

Tonight, Jordan ran, came back for her phone, but didn’t stop for a leash or car keys. Fortunately, Sophie was across the street in the neighbor’s yard, and Jordan corralled her without trouble. Jordan may have been tired, but Sophie was unfazed by her adventure.

So tonight storms are predicted from three to six in the morning—the kind of storms with heavy wind, hail, and possible tornadoes. We get a lot of such predictions, and it’s easy to get complacent, but we stay on alert. Jordan has brought in the fragile plants, sheltered my herb garden and a few others under the eaves, taken down the patio umbrellas. I often sleep through such storms, but then again, I’m a fitful sleeper and will likely waken. Sophie, so blasé about storms as a pup, is now terrified, and will be by my side in the night. She hasn’t sensed storm yet and is lounging on the patio.

I try for a variety of reasons to avoid politics in this blog, but I have some thoughts I can’t avoid, mostly about when trump and his cohorts will be charged with treason. He apparently said that he has no choice but to run for president in 2024—God help us all. Meantime, we are hearing increasingly solid evidence that he and several Republican Congresspeople were heavily involved in what was supposed to look like a spontaneous insurrection. I am so confused about where the American people weigh in on this. Maybe by tomorrow, I’ll collect my thoughts.

Stay safe, all of you, especially those in the storm’s path, whether here, in California, or the East Coast. Mother Nature s on a rampage tonight. Is she trying to tell us something?


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Weird weekend


Jordan and Christian at the Cattleman's Ball in Dalls

Weird. No other term for it. The Burtons have had major social engagements, and after a busy week, I have had none. So I’ve been sort of isolated out here in my cottage. Good thing I have Sophie to talk to, though she’s sometimes puzzled. In truth, I don’t mind the isolation. All week I felt pushed and rushed by deadlines—the neighborhood newsletter, the lessons for the online writing class I’m taking, blogs, etc. Now, momentarily, I’m caught up and can look ahead to some of the things that aren’t quite so pressing.

Highlight of my week: the launch of The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas. With the kind permission of some administrators, I’ve posted an announcement on several web pages, plus my own, and have so far gotten close to 300 hits. Color me happy. I welcome any chance to talk about the content with anyone.

Tonight’s dinner was good—another one where I learned a lesson. It was a salmon bowl, adapted from a New York Times recipe. I think it will be the subject of next week’s post on the “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog, so watch for it on Thursday. The adaptations a tiny kitchen requires have been much on my mind lately, along with some lessons learned.

Salmon bowl

Last night’s dinner was a comedy of errors. Sometimes I get a notion in my head and there’s no talking me out of it—until I do that myself. Having posted the recipe for Sloppy Joe on Thursday, I decided yesterday I would make a batch for myself, even if no one else wants it. No problem, because Jordan was picking up groceries at Central Market, and I ordered a lb. of hamburger. Only when I unpacked the groceries, there was no hamburger. I called, they were sorry, did I want to come pick it up? No, I didn’t—at this point I have neither car nor driver’s license, and Jordan and Christian were busily putting on outrageous costumes for Monster Mash. I joked, asking the curbside person I was talking to what I should eat for supper. She talked to her manager, and they agreed to deliver it between six and seven. I was prepared to write a huge shout-out of gratitude for their outstanding service.

Meanwhile, I had begged the quarter cup of red wine that goes in my recipe from Christian but forgot to get the ketchup which had migrated into the house. Texted Jacob, who said he’d be home soon. His idea of soon is not mine, but he did eventually appear with the ketchup. And I had all the ingredients laid out, the seasonings in the wine, the beans (yes, pinto beans) rinsed and ready.

But by 7:45 the hamburger meat had not arrived. I was suddenly, instantly ravenous and didn’t care a fig about Sloppy Joe. I ate a ham sandwich on a slider bun.  Then I looked at a text. Despite clear directions about the back house and an open gate, the delivery person had merely dropped it on the front porch. Jacob was still home and retrieved it for me—and that’s how I came to make Sloppy Joe at nine o’clock last night. Not my usual hour for cooking, but it sure was good for lunch today. And I had to bother Jacob one more time for an icebox dish to store it in. I’m sure he went out just to get away from my requests.

If I want to give a shot-out to Central Market for service (delivery person aside), I want to send a big raspberry to the USPS. We’ve heard for a long time that trump put DeJoy in charge to de-stabilize the service, make it bankrupt, and privatize it. (Why do Republicans want to privatize everything? Look at how well that worked with the Texas energy grid!). Back to the postal service, I ordered stamps at the beginning of the month and have never gotten them. Today I got mail from the USPS. My first thought was better late than never, but how did they fit stamps into that #11 business envelope? It was not stamps but a letter informing me that I had been specially chosen to fill out a questionnaire about my recent transaction with the post office. You can bet I gave them a blistering answer. My understanding is that Biden cannot replace DeJoy without board approval, and he’s waiting for the term of some trump appointees to run out. The trump effect will continue to haunt us in a myriad of small ways for decades.

And there, that’s it, my rant. Unless you want me to start in on anti-vaxxers, Steve Bannon and the congressional members compliant in the insurrection, the paring down of Biden’s Build Back Better plan instead of going bold, and the apparent backing away from redoing trump’s enormous and foolish tax cut for the rich. Other than all those things, life is hunky-dory, and I’m a happy camper. Hope you are too.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Losing another little bit of the Texas heritage

The Turkey Track Ranch in the Panhandle is for sale. That announcement got me thinking of the sale of large ranches, family-owned for generations. By my standards and probably yours, the Turkey Track is huge—80,000 acres, under one fence, near Borger, with twenty-six miles fronting on the Canadian River. For well over a century, the land has been worked by the Coble/Whittenburg families, who have now announced the sale. Whoever buys this property will get wind and solar rights and a percentage of oil and mineral rights. They will also get a piece of history because the land was the site of the two Battles of Adobe Walls (1864 and 1874), the first pitting Native Americans against the U. S. Army, the second forcing hunters to shelter in the old fort and hold off an Indian attack. A fenced area and markers protect the site today.

It makes me, who has always been a city dweller, a little sad that we are losing these legendary ranches. Two of the largest in the state, the Four Sixes and the Waggoner Three D, have recently sold. With the publication just yesterday of my book, The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas, the Waggoners are much on my mind. Their story almost parallels the story of the Four Sixes. Both were founded by men now legends in ranch history—W. T Waggoner followed in the steps of his father, Dan Waggoner, to build the Three D into an empire, and Burk Burnett, also the son of ranching, followed his father, Jeremiah, into the business. Both Burk Burnett and W. T. were full-fledged ranchers by the time they were twenty. Each built an empire that proudly boasted award winning cattle and Quarter Horses, yet their empires depended on oil. Both men eventually became what you might call “city ranchers,” moving their families to Fort Worth where they built cattle baron mansions.

Cattle from both these ranches were pastured in Oklahoma, at what they called the Big Pasture, land on the Kowa reservations which they leased through an arrangement with Quanah Parker, son of the most famous Indian captive, Cynthia Ann Parker. W. T. and Burk Burnett were among the hosts when President Theodore Roosevelt was taken on a hunting expedition in the Big Pasture. TR later wrote exultantly about Jack Abernethy, the wolf hunter who caught his prey by hand.

Interestingly enough, both men had daughters of note. Burnett, twice divorced, left his land to his daughter, Anne Valiant Burnett Tandy, known for her expertise and knowledge of the horse and cattle world as well as collectible art. What few people know is that, briefly, Anne, then young, was married to W.T.’s son, Guy. Her leave-taking was spectacular—she drove through something like thirteen gates without stopping to open them. Known as Big Anne, she left the empire to her daughter, Anne Burnett Windfohr Marion, also an expert horsewoman and authority in the livestock world as well as the art world; she and her husband founded the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. Little Anne, as she was known, held offices in the American Quarter Horse Association and the Texas Southwestrn Cattle Raisers Association.

W.T.’s daughter, Electra, was an international socialite who lived an extravagant life and died young, perhaps because of over-indulgence. W.T.s granddaughter, from son E. Paul, was also a socialite and celebrity, but Electra II was a sculptor of some reputation, and she lived almost all of her adult life on the ranch, married to one man.

Now both those iconic ranches have been sold to investors. The Four Sixes was sold last year to a group fronted by Taylor Sheridan, creator of “Yellowstone.” The Waggoner Three D went to investor and sport magnate Stan Kroenke in 2016. Both sales so far have not resulted in drastic changes in the operation of the land. Kroenke, who owns several other ranches, sports teams, a winery, and a luxury resort, has said he will not divide the ranch. Nor does Sheridan seem likely to divide the land; he owns smaller ranchers in Weatherford, where he raises horses, and Jacksboro where he raises cattle. He has set one season of “Yellowstone” on the Four Sixes.

When I wrote the line that for the first time in 167 years, no Waggoner occupied the land, I felt a certain sadness. The Burnett family had a passion for their land and with the ranch in the hands of an investment group, some of the glory and glamor seems gone. So too Dan and W. T. had a passion or their land and their cattle and horses; admittedly younger members of the family didn’t seem to share that, though Electra I loved to take guests there and Electra II seemed tied to the land. Yet is was she who in the end wanted to sell, a switch in attitude that I puzzle over to this day.

We have the history and the legend, and cowboys still work the range, from horseback and helicopter, but it all seems a bit different. And a bit sad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A topsy-turvey day


Not sure I saw this exact display, 
but something close.
A wonderland of fresh fruit and vegetables,
meat and seafood

This morning, for the first time since the beginning of quarantine, I went to a grocery store. I cannot tell you how much fun that was. Lots of people moan and groan about grocery shopping, but I love it. I am sorely tempted to put about half the store in my basket, and I love browsing the shelves, studying the possibilities. This morning, Mary Dulle took me—it was a belated birthday present—and we went to Whole Foods because I have never been there since the store opened in Fort Worth. Had been once to the downtown Whole Foods in Austin, but it was so big it seemed a jumble. The Fort Worth store was just right.

Because I had a gift certificate, I was determined to splurge—and I did. On a boneless, butterflied leg of lamb. Brought it home and froze it, but some Sunday night when we want to have a special family dinner, I’ll either marinate and ask Christian to grill it or stuff and roll it. Either way sounds wonderful.

Other than that, I bought chicken and pork chops for our dinners this week, vegetables—and buttermilk. Can’t remember now what I plan to cook with it, but I got a quart because I love to drink it.

Bonus was that Mary and I had fun talking groceries and food. I drove one of those handicapped carts and had a ball—been so long since I’d done that, I was afraid I’d lost me skills, but I’m still a good driver.

The downside of the day has to do with printers and computers. My printer has been printing four-color in all yellow. So I called the chat thing at Hewlett Packard and they connected me with a service technician. Obviously outsourced, heavy accent, hard for me to understand. After taking over my computer and doing a bunch of exploring (all of which I was watching most carefully), he announced my printer is fine, but the problem was with my computer. I had a trojan that took control of my computer, and I needed network security—i.e. a firewall, which this guy would install. At that point, I became really wary—I wanted him to fix my printer, not mess with my computer. And I couldn’t ever be sure what he was saying, because of his accent and my poor hearing.

I discontinued the call and called Brandon, the son-in-law who is a software consultant. He said bluntly the computer tech was either a scammer or a moron—the more I told him, the more he leaned toward the latter. I do not need a firewall; I have an active one. There is no way a computer problem would make a printer go yellow.

Big problem, the “moron” had uninstalled the printer with assurances he would re-install, which he didn’t do. So Brandon took control of my computer, and we worked an hour and a half. He finally said, re-boot the computer and see if it works. It didn’t. So tomorrow we start all over again. The printer is obviously functional, it just doesn’t talk to the computer.

By the time we called it quits, Mary and Prudence were here for our regular happy hour, and I was more than ready for a glass of wine. We had a lavish spread—I particulary enjoyed some smoky Swiss Mary brought me and some marinated goat cheese she’d done for a continuing education class on drinks and front-porch snacks.

And then I cooked chicken thighs for supper—a garlicky lime version which took longer to prepare than I thought. It was eight o’clock before we ate supper. Pardon me if I’m worn out tonight.

A good day but a difficult one. Topsy-turvey indeed. Hope yours was right-side-up all day!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Some thoughts about schools--and parents


When I was in eighth grade, I had a math teacher who for whatever reason did not like me. Admittedly, math has never been one of my best subjects, but I was not disruptive or a troublemaker. I talked to my mom, and she agreed that for some reason Miss Evans did not like me. I can still see her in my mind’s eye—an “ample,” older spinster lady with “styled” white hair and sensible black shoes that laced. My mom supported me, and my dad tried harder to help me with math, which was painful for both of us. What they did not do was rush up to the school and demand that Miss Evans be fired, or that I be assigned another math teacher—there wasn’t another one anyway. They taught me, instead, that life wasn’t always going to go my way, and I would survive.

I am really weary of a handful of today’s crop of parents, who think they can dictate school policy and curriculum. The furor in Carrollton/Southlake over teaching “alternative” theories of the Holocaust is but one example. That school district now has an open seat on its board and will have a non-partisan election—only it’s gotten quite partisan. When I hear a candidate say that we must protect children from radical ideas, my hackles go way up.

Parents have always been charged with protecting their children, but the nature of the perceived enemy has changed. Anything that makes children uncomfortable is now deemed unsuitable, so students are being taught a white-washed version of American history, from witch hunts to slavery to LGBTQ issues. The Critical Race Theory threat looms large and is purely a problem created by Republicans (thank you, Governor Abbott) to distract from their other problems. Those of us who pay attention know that CRT is a complicated discipline that is taught at the graduate level, primarily in law schools, and never in elementary or high schools. I have read articles about it, including some about the former Harvard faculty member generally credited with its origin, and frankly, it’s tough stuff. I can’t quite wrap my brain around it, and I am fairly well educated. I love the anonymous grade school teacher who said if she can teach her kids to read, write, and do elementary math, she’s happy. CRT is the farthest thing from her mind.

This attitude that parents can dictate to schools is not new when it comes to books, but it seems to have escalated—or maybe we have new issues. Race has always been contentious (banning To Kill a Mockingbird is insane), but I don’t remember LGBTQ issues being a topic when my kids were in school—today’s openness is a positive improvement, except for small-minded bigots. Unknowingly, these folks have given a great sales boost to Jerry Craft’s New Kid. It reminds me of the spurt in sales of Forget the Alamo! after Dan Patrick banned the book from the Bullock Museum. I read recently of a parent who objected to several books which were summarily removed from a teacher’s classroom, which led the teacher to complain that one woman had taken those books from all 142 of her students.

The mask controversy is the worst. In Fort Worth, four parents objected to masking and so far, their order carries the day. Masking is not mandated in Fort Worth schools. (Don’t pay attention to the governor’s anti-mandate mandate—more schools are ignoring it than complying and he can’t enforce it; in Florida DeSantis’ efforts at enforcement have simply weakened school programs by costing schools money). The worst about the anti-masking idiots, other than that they get their science from Facebook, is that they threaten violence. While most incidents have involved yelling, “We know where you live” and other threats, there have been a few violent outbursts.

At the risk of being accused of elitism I would suggest that these parents who fear so much for their children have one thing in common: a lack of education or intellectual curiosity (okay, make that two things). And now they are passing that on not only to their children but to all of ours because they are dictating policy and curriculum.

Think of it: one mother removes books from 142 children; four parents put an end to masking in an entire big-city school district; a governor says teach the Alamo but not the story of Greenwood, OK. It is similar to what’s happening in our county—the minority has grabbed the reins of power and are dictating, against the wishes of the general public.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Cold weather, a new toy, and homecoming—oh, homecoming


Shea, my new dog

You know how people says “it’s going around” meaning a stomach bug or a sore throat? I want to know if a laziness bug is going around, but I won’t be surprised if the answer is yes. The first cool, really cool morning (45 degrees here) does not inspire to energetic action. I did not want to get out of my cozy, comfortable bed this morning, despite the persistent poking of paws as Sophie tried to tell me it was time to get up and stay up! She’d been out half an hour before, but she sometimes just doesn’t want me to sleep. I think she wants company.

I have a new dog. His name is Shea, after one of the most memorable dogs in my life. When my ex and I moved to Texas, we brought with us a magnificent male mahogany tri-color collie (wish I had a picture) named Shea. Truly a beautiful dog and such a gentleman. A friend in Missouri was going on a year-long sabbatical in Europe and asked us to keep the dog. We readily agreed, and so did Shea—when the friend returned, Shea refused to stay at his house and kept coming back to us. As the time for our departure neared, we worried, but finally the owner came to us and said, “I’m hoping you’ll take him with you to Texas.” Huge sigh of relief.

My new Shea is a wooden pull toy made by the late folk artist Jim Clark. When I saw it in his studio, I knew I had to have it as a memory of Jim, a memory of Shea, and a wonderful object that I’ll enjoy having in the cottage. Thanks to Jean Walbridge for parting with it and with a pig-shaped cutting board that reminds me of one my mom had. I will put the cutting board to work in the kitchen—the one we sometimes use is glass, and I don’t think it’s good for the knife blades (which are already too dull).

Big doings this weekend—homecoming at Paschal High School. Unfortunately, Paschal did not win the game against Haltom City, but that didn’t dim any spirits for the dance as far as I could tell. Jacob escorted Violet, who had asked him to the Canwick dance. They dined with a group at a country club and danced, I suppose, somewhere on the TCU campus.

Morgan and her beau with their mums
Jordan and Christian had friends in for a potluck supper, and we were all sitting around the living room when in came this parade of five boys, each wearing a blue jacket and sporting a boutonniere. They made a beeline for Jacob’s room and soon marched back out, wordlessly, carrying athletic shoes and other things to “dress down” for the afterparty. Bunch of good-looking young men. It’s noon on Sunday as I write, so of course I haven’t had a report on how the evening went. I don’t have particularly happy memories of high school dances and the like, so I’m delighted to see Jacob having such a wonderful experience. It was also homecoming for the Tomball two, and here’s a picture of Morgan with her mum—haven’t gotten a report on that one either, but the pre-pictures were pretty handsome.
Kegan, ready for the dance

And my final bit of news is that I start a class tomorrow on writing the culinary mystery. My four Blue Plate Café mysteries sort of count as culinary—Kate Chambers runs her grandmother’s small-town café, serving chicken fried steak, fried chicken, fried catfish, and the like. The Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries are more clearly food writing, with a diva chef and her protégé—well at least Irene likes to think Henny is her protégé. I prefer to put Henny in charge.

Anyway I’m about to start a third Irene mystery, so what better time to take a class and sharpen my skills. The class is offered through the Guppy online chapter of Sisters in Crime. Who knows? At the end of two weeks, I may really have a handle on “Irene Saves the Day.”

It’s looking like a great week ahead. I hope for you also.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Putting out brush fires


My day started with a bang—literally. The bang of drums. Sophie woke me about seven-thirty, and as I let her out, I heard this strange, rhythmic noise. Finally dawned on me this morning was the annual walkathon to raise funds for the elementary school across the street. The children walk a little over a mile to raise money for special programs and supplies for the school. The marching band from Paschal High School plays—yes, beginning with seven-thirty warm-ups, the Fort Worth Mounted Police come out along with officers in patrol cars to direct traffic, and neighbors line the sidewalks to cheer for the kids.

Talk about a nostalgia moment. It’s been eleven years since Jacob did his first walkathon. For all the years he was at sweet Lily B., his dad walked with him, and I sat on the front porch where I had a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings.

After that the day dissolved into a lot of fighting brush fires. I have a friend who used to say his day kept him busy putting out brush fires. Tonight, I really know what he meant. Among the problems I dealt with today were finding a seasoned professional pet sitter for a possible brief trip out of town when I cannot take Sophie, ordering some Christmas presents, finding out why my computer doesn’t print full color but only yellow, determining why one of my books is on Chirp, an audio book site, when I’ve never authorized an audio version of that particular book, calling the yard guy to please again do something about the decorative grasses which are no longer decorative. It’s called dealing with the stuff of life. I think some folks assume that since Jordan takes such good care of me, she manages my life, but that’s not true. I do it, from finances on—and some days it’s overwhelming.

Tonight, I can report some successful Christmas shopping and an arrangement with a pet sitter, but otherwise I’m swimming upstream. I went through the self-help online steps for my printer, but it’s no better. I have “chatted” with Chirp, Audible, and ACX about the surprise online book—each refers me to the other until I feel like a tennis ball being bounced about. And the yard guy hasn’t called—I told him I’d pay my bill when he solves my problem. Actually, he’s a friend and he’ll know that’s a bluff.

So tomorrow Jordan and Christian are entertaining friends for a potluck in the evening, and I am bringing the salmon dip she has always loved and the Reuben dip Christian loves despite its sauerkraut. So there goes a chunk of the morning. Another chunk will go to visit a friend who is moving out of her house and wants us to look at some items before she disposes of them. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to read a bit.

But it has been a good week: I held the first copy of The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas, and I must say TwoDot (Globe Pequot) did a great job of production. It’s a book that feels good in your hands, slim but well done. And I sent Irene in Danger to the formatter, so it’s essentially out of my hands. I submitted an article about Berkely to the Fort Worth Report for their “Where I Live” series, and I blogged daily. I worked some with that collection of Dorothy Johnson’s letters—I hope to get an article about her ideas on the craft of writing and her acerbic comments on some of her contemporaries. And in the middle of one night, I had some great ideas about another Irene in Chicago Culinary Mystery. It hasn’t all been a week of brush fires.

Now I’m ready to curl up with a book. I have lots of thoughts about politics, particularly our current governor, but I’ll save them for another time. I’ve been trying to avoid politics in this blog, but I may get to the point I’ll burst if I don’t vent. Meantime, sweet dreams, y’all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Dark sky at night

A dark-sky map

We have what I call night visitors in our neighborhood—people who try car doors looking for anything to steal. Sometimes they take porch furniture or plants. Because of this constant threat, we have motion sensitive lights in the driveway, Ring on the front door, floodlights in the back yard outside my door and illuminating the deck. We’ve accepted it as part of urban living. But now I’m rethinking our lighting because I read an article about Pittsburgh.   

That is the first major U.S. city to pass ordinances designed to deal with light pollution, a concept I’d never thought of. Pittsburg officials announced that new, dark-sky policies were enacted to cut down on energy costs, restore as much as possible the day/night cycle for animals, bird, and plants—and I would add humans, reduce glare and restore better night vision. The city will replace all streetlights with lower wattage lights and enact other measures to reduce light pollution. Whe I read this I realized I’d never thought about light pollution. I’ve just always known and accepted that it’s quieter and darker in the country, like at my brother’s ranch where the stars really do seem closer. When I was a kid you could go outside, look up at the sky, and on a clear night and pick out the Big Dipper. Not now in my backyard. Not now in our cities.

Light pollution is so widely recognized that there is an International Dark-Sky Association (International Dark Sky Association - International Dark-Sky Association). They recommend five criteria for judging when lights are needed:

1.     Is it useful? How will it impact the area? Could reflective or luminous paint be used on curbs, signs, steps etc., to reduce the need for permanent outdoor lighting?

2.     Is it targeted? Is the source of the light shielded so that it focuses where needed and doesn’t spill not adjacent areas?

3.     Is the light the lowest possible level to do what is needed? Some surfaces may reflect more light into the sky than others, and that reflection should be taken into account.

4.     Is it controlled? Dimmers, automatic timers, and motion sensors can be installed to turn lights on only when needed.

5.     Are you using warm lights? Warm colors are recommended opposed to shorter wave-length ultra-blue violet lights which are brighter.

Jordan and Christian turn their outdoor lights off in the morning, but my patio light switch is in a place where I cannot easily get to it with my walker, so I’ve been letting those lights burn 24/7. I’m re-thinking that.

There’s the matter of safety. I feel safer with a well-lit yard and a low lamp light in the cottage at night. Studies in Great Britain have shown that lighting does not deter crime. I find that hard to believe, but I am convinced about the importance of cutting down light pollution. We will be buying warmer, low-wattage light bulbs, and I’ll find a way to turn off my patio lights.

Want to visit some dark-sky areas? The international association maintains a list of communities, parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and even urban dark sky sites. Texas maintains its own list of dark-sky sites in the state (Stargazing — Texas Parks & Wildlife Department). No surprise that Big Bend leads thelist.


Monday, October 11, 2021

The Food Wars


Smoky salmon spread

Me: have you ever had chowder?

Christian: Clam chowder? I think so, but a long time ago. I don’t much like clams.

Me: I was thinking of fish chowder.

Howls from both of them. No fish chowder. Later I learned that they joked about it after they left my cottage.

So tonight Jordan and I had a menu planning session. One night is a potluck for some of their friends. I said I’d bring two appetizers and settled on Reuben dip, which Christian loves, and the salmon dip she’s eaten all her life and loves.

Jordan: “Christian won’t eat that.”

Me: “Why not? He eats salmon these days.” (Something he learned to like after I began cooking for them.)

Jordan: “A filet, grilled or roasted. He doesn’t want it mixed with a lot of other things.”

Then she said the problem is that they are perfectly happy with grilled meat and a salad, whereas I want to add thirty-five other ingredients. I like grilled meat and salad, but every night? Boring! Yes, I want casseroles and sauces and lots of different tastes. To complicate things, the other night Jacob said, “Meat, meat, meat. Why do we have to have it so often?” When Christian said chicken is meat, Jacob said it’s not the same. What he doesn’t want is lots of beef and the lamb that I sometimes crave. So tonight, my suggestion of Mongolian beef, which Christian does to perfection, was shot down because Jacob doesn’t like beef. A good old-fashioned vegetable soup was shot down because Christian wants meat and doesn’t really think soup is a meal. We are clearly all mismatched.

Christian looked at the appetizer recipes I’d chosen for the potluck and said he would eat lots of the Reuben dip and maybe a bit of the salmon. So I guess that’s what I’m making. The sherry/cheese paté which I love was a no go, as was the marinated goat cheese with rosemary and the sardine spread, which I didn’t even mean to include. When I ran across the recipe, I set it aside to make for myself.

My options here are limited. If I don’t want to cater to their tastes, I can cook for myself—but cooking for one quickly gets boring. I’d eat a lot of tuna and baked eggs. And in my semi-reclusive state, after a day alone at my computer, I really look forward to their company in the evening. Life, I have decided, is a series of compromises.

My friend Jean was eating with me on average once a week and welcomed my experimental cooking, but she has moved this week to Trinity Terrace and has lots on her mind and her daily calendar, like moving and getting settled. I fear she will get so wrapped up in the social life there—and the really excellent food that is part of her contract—that she will not be easily lured to my coffee table. But I am ever hopeful and have recipes waiting: cream of chicken soup from scratch (soup is a no-go around here) and the one I really like—a salmon bowl with vinegar rice and cole slaw veggies with sesame. I’m already modifying the recipe in my mind. Or I bet she’d each fish chowder.

So tonight we had wine-braised chicken thighs with artichokes and onion. Christian has not wanted thighs because there’s not enough meat, whereas I find one good-sized thigh more than satisfying. But we planned it carefully: Jacob had a golf tournament today and would be hungry at five, asleep by six, so Christian could have two of the thighs in the package. Life never goes as you plan: there were only three thighs in the package (I never can master the amount of chicken I’m ordering from Central Market, and it’s a great source of frustration), and Jacob was wide awake and ready to eat. Jordan and I split a thigh and admittedly that’s not much meat. I thought it was a great meal—I browned the chicken slowly so the skin was good and crisp; then in the same pan I sautéed the onions and canned artichokes, added a whole bunch of dry white wine, and simmered until liquid was reduced. This is one of those recipes which I wish I could cook in an iron skillet and whisk into the oven. But I scraped the vegetables into a flat oven dish, topped them with the chicken, and baked them in my toaster oven. The vegetables were soft and delicious and the chicken skin (which I love) the crispest, best I’ve had in a long while. I loved it. I asked Christian, who has only lately come to artichokes, and he said, “Well, I didn’t know how to eat them. I’ve only had grilled artichokes where you only eat the tip of the leaf.” You see what culinary educational work I have ahead of me?

How about you? How experimental are you in cooking? And eating?


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Winter must be around the corner


Christian made us our first pot of chili of the Fall tonight. Yes, it’s been hot and muggy all day, not chili weather. But last week, when I first asked for it, the weather was much cooler, so much so that I had a sweater over my shoulders in the early mornings. And tonight, as I write, I hear bursts of wind followed by that calm that precedes a storm. We are under a tornado watch until two a.m., with the storms about to reach here any minute. Just heard the first thunder. As long as there are no tornados—and they should be north of us—I enjoy a good storm. Sophie not so much.

A lazy day. I took a vacation and spent much of the reading Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delaney. Set in a resort in the Catskills in the 1950s heyday of those resorts, this cozy mystery mixes a murder with a hint of a Communist cell, an aging diva and her daughter, an obsessed fan, a blustering sheriff, and a whiff of romance. Elizabeth Grady’s mother, the aging but still proud and glamorous diva, Olivia, inherited a resort and convinces her daughter to manage it. When a reclusive guest is murdered, it’s discovered that he was writing a book and had the Communist Manifesto on his desk. The local sheriff leaps on the idea of communists and calls in the FBI. It’s all here—the ‘50s scare of reds under the beds, the lifestyle from egg creams, cigarettes, and martinis to pantyhose and girdles, the whole atmosphere of the families who came to Catskills resorts, most of them with eastern European backgrounds and newfound wealth. Yet amidst the slightly mocking recreation of times gone, there’s a well-plotted murder mystery and just the slightest hint of romance. Along with likeable characters. I thoroughly enjoyed my lazy day.

Elizabeth Grady, the no-nonsense protagonist and narrator of this book, particularly drew me, because she is one of a school of feisty, young heroines we find in mysteries these days. She doesn’t play games, romantic or otherwise, and she’s honest with herself and with others. She has a way of cutting through the folderol to get to the heart of the matter. When she orders dinner from the dining room, she describes a dish of tender fish on a bed of greens bathed in a scrumptious sauce and then says bluntly: “I hate fish.” It’s just one time I laughed aloud.

I think maybe I like Elizabeth because in a way she reminds me of Henny of my Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries. One thing I tried for was to make Henny honest, outspoken, and not always tactful. A friend who read an early version of the manuscript of Irene in Danger said she wasn’t feisty enough, and I tried to ramp it up. I think, too, I owe some credit for inspiration to Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murder Series where widowed socialite/artist Ellison Russell trips over bodies all the time and is open about her verbal wars with her mother who still, in the eighties, always wears pearls, a hat, and gloves. Such was country club life in the day. I remember it.

The thunder and rain have come and gone quickly, but maybe there will be more during the night. Praise be if we have no hail—I worry about my herb garden, though Jordan has tried to shelter it under the eaves of the cottage.

Stay safe, everyone.


Saturday, October 09, 2021

Going to school on Saturday


Saturdays are supposed to be a mini-vacation from work and responsibilities, but I went to school today. Specifically, I want to a webinar on the importance of first lines taught by Hank Phillippi Ryan and sponsored by the Grand Canyon Writers chapter of Sisters in Crime. If you haven’t read any of Hank’s books, you should immediately seek them out. They’re thrillers, and she’s really good, over and above the fact that she’s won several major awards in the mystery world. Her newest title is Her Perfect World.

Today she talked about what the first line of a book should tell the reader. I’ve always known, or thought, that the first line should hook a reader in, and that’s been m goal. But Hank says it must do much more, and she traced the scenario of an average customer considering a book in a bookstore. Our Jane Q. Pubic considers the cover—the first selling point—and then flips to the back cover to study the author’s bio and look at the photo. Believe it or not, readers want to know what the author looks like. But then, Jane Q. will open the book and read that first line—and right there, in a few seconds, she decides whether or not she’ll buy that book. Ideally, the first line will so grab her that ten minutes later she’ll still be standing there, reading the first page.

Hank says the first line must set the tone for the book—is it action adventure, spy thriller, sweet romance, cozy? It sets the book in time and indicates forward motion because the plot of a mystery always must be moving forward. We know from that first line that something has happened, something significant, and that the story will develop to tell us what that something was, how it affects the main characters. And the first line must introduce the main characters—that is, to use Hank’s phrase, “who we’ll be on the train with.”

She used several examples. One that sticks in my mind comes from Ken Follett (not being a Follett fan, I can’t tell you which one): “The last camel collapsed at noon.” So what do you know? The narrator is almost certainly in the desert, there have been several camels, but this is the last one, and it doesn’t just die—it collapses. It’s noon, and you can almost feel the desert heat. And undoubtedly the narrator is with a party, if there were several camels. So now they are in a bad place—the story has to go forward. How will they survive? What will they do?

The program sent me scurrying back to look at some of my own first lines, and I decided the best one I ever wrote came from The Perfect Coed: “Susan Hogan drove around Oak Grove, Texas, for two days before she realized there was a dead body in the trunk of her car.” What does that tell you? The narrator is not part of the story but a detached observer. Susan is in a small town in Texas. She’s not very careful about her car. This is a serious murder mystery, though with a light touch—it’s almost laughable that she wouldn’t know there’s a body in her car. And we as readers know we’re going to hear whose body it is and how it got there—and the story is on! I don’t know what Hank would say about that line, but I think it still needs improvement. Now I’m going to look at the first line of the forthcoming Irene in Danger.

Aside from the webinar, the highlight of the day was coffee on the patio with a new neighbor, a former teacher who founded a non-profit to help with the education of military children who are frequently transferred from school to school. Mary was CEO for twenty years, traveled extensively during those years, and has lots of stories to tell. It was a lovely morning, with a cool breeze, my friend Subie was with us, and we told our own stories about children and grandchildren and growing old.

A satisfying Saturday



Friday, October 08, 2021

A little self-indulgence and a lesson learned all over again


Stuffed chicken
It was better than it looks here.
I wasn't able to get neat slices out of that netting.

Tonight, I treated myself to a stuffed chicken breast from Central Market and my favorite salad. The chicken stuffing was a bread/herb/spinach mixture and really good. But to my dismay, the breast was skinless and rolled into that mesh netting which it takes five strong me to remove. And removing it from the hot meat is nearly impossible. I carved off enough to get dinner tonight and put the rest in the fridge. I will say it was a generous portion, and I’ll probably be eating it for days. But I wanted good crisp skin that I could brush with butter.

Because I am always leery of dry chicken or pork, I made a quick sauce—a roux of butter and flour to which I added chicken broth and a good pour of white wine. Pepper but not salt since the broth is sometimes salty. The sauce was delicious and made a big difference, so I’ll file that away.

But lesson learned for another time—and it’s a lesson I keep learning over and over but apparently don’t ever make my own. Do it yourself! I’m perfectly capable of making a good, old-fashioned stuffing and putting it into a boneless, skin-on breast, fastening it with toothpicks, and roasting it.

My favorite salad: chopped tomato (about half a good big Roma), half a nicely ripe avocado, chunked, blue cheese crumbled, a green onion diced. Dress it with a splash of olive oil and a good dose of lemon juice. Pretty acidic, but I love it

And for dessert? Mary Dulle’s OMG pie—chocolate pecan with bourbon. I asked why she and Joe weren’t keeping any of it (she’d done it for a class demonstration), and she said it’s too rich for them. I see why! I’m so stuffed I’m almost somnambulant.

And of course, a dinner like that took a while to prepare and made lots of dirty dishes. I don’t have a dishwasher, so dishes are always a big thing with me. Now all but one pan are done, and it’s soaking. I’ll go back to it if I don’t forget before I go to bed.

Last night I went to a meeting of the Tarrant County Historical Society to hear a program by former Fort Worth Star-Telegram photographer Rodger Mallison. Fascinating. He emphasized that in professional photography timing is everything and brought the point home with a shot of a baseball almost in a catcher’s mitt but not quite. Some of his other photos, particularly the sports photos, were equally dependent on timing. The other thing I hadn’t realized is that photography is a dangerous, scary profession. Rodger had photos taken from atop tall cranes, through the hatch of a plane as a parachutist jumped, in battle zones. He also had human interest photos, including one of a death row inmate who, he said, was a really nice guy. The experiences Rodger had during his forty-some years with the newspaper are amazing, colorful, and varied. Great program.

Not too unusual that I am thinking up projects for myself to divert me from projects that I should be doing. Podcasts seem to be a coming thing, though I am not much attracted to them unless they are video podcasts—and even then, I’m not head over heels. Terrible to say, but I need the visual to keep my mind focused.

But since podcasts seem so popular, I’ve wondered if I should explore further. At first, I thought maybe I should do my blog as a podcast, but the blog is doing really well on its own, and I’m not sure about the one audio book I have (Saving Irene is available in audio with a great narrator). So maybe I don’t have an audio audience. I could simply investigate some podcasts run by others and pitch for a guest appearance, much like trying for a guest blog spot. Lot less work, but sort of a one-time shot.

What about you? Do you list to podcasts? Audio books? I’d love some feedback.

And now, that big dinner has made me sleepy. Night all.