Monday, November 29, 2021

Company for supper . . . and am I still on vacation?


Serenity, with a poinsettia

My favorite minister from our church came for supper tonight—not because she is my minister but because she is my friend. Although there are at least twenty years or more between us (gosh, guess who’s older?) we have lots in common—both having been ex-wives with all the baggage that brings, both devoted moms and grandmoms, both simply enjoying life and laughing a lot. I always look forward to her visits because she boosts my self-confidence and spirits. We have our serious moments, but we also laugh a lot. She brought me a poinsettia in an unusual vase—a woman’s head. The woman looks like she is from ancient Greece to me, and I have named her Serenity, because that’s how she looks and serenity is what I need. Serenity comes from Sellon, the goddess who fell in love with the shepherd Endymion, a mere mortal. Don’t ask me about the implications of that.

Sophie looks forward to Renee’s visits too, because she’s a dog person. Soph intuitively knows when we are expecting company. Tonight, she lay watching the door. When Renee knocked, Soph barked and looked at me as if to say, “I told you so.”

Sophie asking, "Who's coming for supper?"

I fixed Chicken Divan, which turns out to be Renee’s mother’s signature dish and a great favorite of hers. With salad, baguette slices, and those teen-ninny ice cream cones, it was a perfect weeknight dinner for ladies.

And that’s mostly what I did today—I caught up with some business matters, took care of email, and cooked the dinner. A writers’ blog I read made an impression on me—suggested how to use the three-act structure to outline a book and sent me in a whole new direction of thinking about my dormant Helen Corbett project. Another writing listserv I belong to always starts the week by asking what the plans are for each member in our small circle. When I said I planned to take the week as it comes, what with approaching holidays, dinners with friends, etc., the moderator replied that it sounds like I’m still on Thanksgiving break. I thought about that and decided it was a pretty good idea. So, I hereby declare I am on vacation until January 2. If I write during that time, fine; if I don’t, that’s okay too, though I’ll try to keep blogging daily or almost so.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Tiny houses and big barns


Yesterday was another day mostly taken up by travel. Colin, grandson Kegan, and I left Tomball about eleven-thirty, hoping to make it past Waco before the football game ended and the highways were crowded—make that, more crowded. We sailed along through the rolling countryside between Hempstead and College Station, marveling at how lovely it was. A quick stop in College Station for Chick Fil-A (goes against all my principles, but who can resist a fourteen-year-old?) and we were on our way. It seems to me from that point on, the trip is less scenic, the trees scrubby, the towns older and less vibrant.

What impressed me most though between College Station and Waco was how much land is still independently farmed. We passed small, modest houses—some with obvious deferred maintenance—tucked into clusters of trees, with huge well-kept barns and sheds, gleaming equipment. It was obvious where what money there was went, and when I remarked on it, Colin said, “OF course. It’s their livelihood.” Today an online article was about agribusiness vs. agriculture, lauding the independent farmer who cares about the quality of his product. Tracing the takeover of agribusiness back to the Nixon administration and Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, the writer stressed that farming is more than just a business. It’s a way of life. The moral, of course, is buy local, buy from independent farmers. Better food, cheaper, less reliance on the supply chain, even though, thanks to President Biden, problems with that have dramatically decreased.

Once again, Waco was the nemesis. (Christian, whose Baylor roots are strong, is offended by my attitude toward Waco). We were just barely ahead of the end of the game, but we planned to skirt around the city on the loop and be safely on I-35 before disappointed patrons left what was really a close game. Colin’s phone, though, warned him of a huge traffic jam on the loop and directed us on a tiny back road (I was sure we were lost) to a neighborhood street that was bumper to bumper with other folks following the advice we were. Once again, I saw parts of Waco that I could have easily missed. (Colin says I’m judgmental, and Christian said he looked at our route and we were in Bellmead, not Waco—this made him feel better. I said the name Bellmead conjures up visions of a southern plantation and gracious living, and we agreed Bellmead, Texas, is not that.)

My stay in Tomball, though short, was most enjoyable. I loved spending some time with two grandchildren (at sixteen and fourteen, they have busy schedules and weren’t around all the time). One thing that really impressed me is that the Tomball Alters play a lot of family games. I saw gin rummy and cribbage, and they finished a 1000-word jigsaw puzzle and started a 2000-word one. Everybody pitched in, even placing a piece or two as they walked by. Colin fixed my morning tea, saw to it I had something for breakfast, and even fixed tuna salad and cottage cheese for lunch one day. We feasted last night on leftovers, and I understand we will eat those again here tonight.

Sophie and I were glad to get home, much as we both loved being in Tomball. We got here about three-thirty, and she went right to her crate and fell asleep, despite having slept all the way in the car. She roused for dinner in the main house but wanted quickly to be in the cottage again, where we later found her asleep. A brief trip outside around eleven and she was in the crate again. When Colin and Kegan came in at six this morning to say goodbye, Sophie roused briefly and went right back to sleep. We both wakened again at nine o’clock—by then, Colin and Kegan were in Navasota already! Now, at noon, they’ve been home for two hours.

And here I am at my computer. My mums show the first sign of fading, but the oak leaf hydrangea out the French doors is a riot of fall color. Last night, strands of tiny lights festooned the railing of the deck, and my green pinpoint lights were scattered all over the neighbor’s wall. Inside, my tree was lit, my tiny virtual fireplace blazing, and colorful sparkly lights decorated my pussy willows. All festive and a warm welcome home.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Thanksgiving went to the dogs

Me and the dogs.
Note that they were reluctant to stay still
for the slow photogapher.

Since my last visit to Tomball, the family has lost Grace, the big old shepherd mix who sat on my feet while I worked, and acquired Ginger. She’s billed as an Aussie, but I think she’s got some smooth-coated collie in her. She definitely has the collie/Aussie sweet disposition. And she’s a beauty, with a coat that truly is the color of gingerbread.

We wondered how Ginger and Sophie would get along, but after about two minutes they were just fine. And I have spent the visit surrounded by dogs. Ginger is just the right height to get under the dining table and lay her head in my lap, big brown eyes looking soulfully at me. Or she literally lies at my feet, making sure that some part of her touches some part of me. Sophie has not been as jealous as I expected, but she will wander over to be petted when she sees Ginger by me. Ginger on the other hand, has radar, and if Sophie comes to me, Ginger will rouse herself from elsewhere in the house to come be petted.

This morning both dogs had a good romp—herding is as instinctive to each of them as running is, and they ran in huge circles chasing each other. One thing that’s always worried me with Sophie in Tomball is that there are no fences, and I feared if she once got loose, she’d be gone forever. If I’d been outside this morning, I’d have said no, but Colin let her off the leash, and she happily came back to him, maybe because Ginger did. I don’t go outside here and pretty much stay in the wing of the house with the kitchen, family room, and my bedroom. The house is multi-level, and getting from one end to the other is a challenge for me.

Once in Fort Worth, granddaughter Morgan said to me, “I think I’ve got everything packed and ready to go home.” I turned to look, and she had Sophie under her arm. Told her last night turnabout is fair play, and I may have to talk Ginger home.

Our Thanksgiving table, with the two grandmothers as bookends.
Although we were very happy, something about this photo
reminds me of American Gothic.

Our Thanksgving dinner was traditional, the way we all like it, and bountiful. You know if I eat two slivers of pie, and neither of them chocolate, it’s got to be good. We had Brussel sprouts which I sometimes eat, and Colin kept talking about three bites for politeness and the eggplant of his childhood (I don’t think I really did that, but he insists). Turkey was moist and flavorful, and I look forward to leftovers tonight.

Strange thing this afternoon. I was napping and had a bad dream in which I called out for help. Apparently I really did because Colin gently shook me awake, and Sophie jumped on the bed and walked all over me. I went back to dozing, but I worried about that and wondered if I ever do that at home. I think we all have dreams, occasionally, that make us call out for help. On the other hand, I know my dreams are quite vivid—in color and with audio.

May you all sleep tight tonight, with full bellies and sweet dreams—no bad dreams.

A better view of Ginger

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Lost in Waco


Thanksgiving fifteen years ago at my brother's ranch.
All those babies are teenagers now, and we are
so many we can rarely be all together. 

Today was a travel day, though I don’t think any of us expected it to be as long as it was. Jordan and I left Fort Worth about ten-thirty and sailed along until just outside Waco when we ran into a huge traffic jam. Colin called and directed us to exit 35W and take the Waco loop to 84, then go south on 84. We did but we could not find the restaurant where we were to meet—the Health Camp, which is anything but healthy. Trying desperately to figure out where we were, Jordan gave me a geat tour of a less than desirable part of Waco. I know—or have heard—that city has lovely homes somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I’ve ever seen them. Today we saw what must be their version of Shanty Town. My thoughts about Waco did not improve.

Meanwhile Jordan was getting increasingly upset, and Colin was saying if you’ll go here, there or somewhere, I can guide you. Finally he said to go to the Loop and 84 and find a place. They would meet us. So there we were at a Subway. I don’t mean to sound negative but that’s not my favorite food either.  Colin and granddaughter Morgan did indeed find us. They opted for the Whataburger next door, and I think Colin is still longing for the greasy burger from the Health Camp. Finally, fed if not happy about it and my stuff transferred, we sent Jordan on her way and headed for Tomball. By the time Jordan was in Hillsboro, we were still skirting Waco in awful traffic.

I will say that being in the car for long hours gave me a great chance for a catch-up visit with one son and one granddaughter, and that part of the trip was delightful. Sophie was good as gold. And a highlight came when we stopped at a Dairy Queen in College Station for soft serve. But it was nearing five o’clock when we finally walked in the door.

Big chore was to introduce Sophie to Ginger, the Aussie who now reigns over the Tomball household. They get along, but Sophie is clearly like a fish out of water. Keeps me in her sight, doesn’t eat, doesn’t go in her crate which is in the bedroom where I’ll sleep. Perhaps a good night’s sleep will cheer her.

Lisa catered to us and fixed salmon and salad for supper. Fourteen-year-old Kegan, truly a growing boy, topped his off with a can of Spaghetti-Os.

It’s not late, but I feel like it is. Going to sleep soon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Traveling mercies


Since I'll spend Thanksgiving with one of my sons, 
I thought it appropriate to share this of me and my girls,
taken on a Thanksgiving about ten years ago.
We were in Frisco at Jamie's house.

A friend sent me that message, “traveling mercies,” today in response to my announcement that I would be going all the way to Tomball (honest, it’s not that far, not like I was flying cross country as many families must do). The truth is I am not an easy traveler, never have been. I have friends who itch to travel all the time, and whose lives are scheduled from one trip to the next—river cruises in Europe, theater trips to NYC, vacations on Mexican beaches. None of that tempts me, although I loved traveling vicariously with a friend who just toured the Tenement Museum in New York and then explored Staten Island. That’s my kind of travel—you can keep your art museums.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some wonderful travels in my long life. Probably the outstanding trip was to Scotland with Colin and Megan. We spent eight days in the Highlands, visiting a new castle every day. That in itself was an amazing experience—some were occupied, some were ruins, one I remember had the most amazing collection of swords and other lethal weapons. It practically bristled. But the highlight was visiting the MacBain Memorial Park in Dores, outside Inverness. (I am a registered member of Clan MacBean—MacBain, MacBean, spell it any of a thousand ways.)

Another memorable trip was to Chicago to show my four grown children where I grew up. We stayed at the Drake Hotel (in my day, the epitome of luxury) and ate at wonderful restaurants on the North Side. Spent one day exploring my Hyde Park neighborhood and the University of Chicago. If we ever go back, I’d spend more time in Hyde Park. My affection for it has grown since I’ve researched today’s neighborhood versus my memories as I wrote the Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries.

Jordan and I took a great trip to Hawaii, staying with friends on Kauai and then spending a couple of days on Maui. Mostly to attend writers’ meetings, I’ve been to Portland and Spokane, Los Angeles, Billings, and Albuquerque. I went once to New York, many years ago, and have never felt the need to go back. But I’ve made countless trips to Santa Fe and within Texas have been several times to Corpus Christi, San Antonio, the Hill Country, even Amarillo and Lubbock.

And sure I have a bucket list, though I’ll probably never take any of these trips. But I long to go back to Scotland, Santa Fe, and Chicago—see, that’s me. I don’t hunger so much after new vistas as I do returning to places I’ve loved. And you can put the Indiana Dunes high on that list. But I would also like to go to the California wine country and to Alaska for salmon. Probably I’ll never do those, and that’s okay.

I will go to Tomball to be with my oldest son, Colin, and his family. I haven’t been there in at least two years, so the glimpses I’ve had of those grandchildren have been brief, and they’ve grown so much, so fast in the last couple of years. Lisa, my DIL, and I will talk about schools and books (she teachers seventh grade math) and about cooking, because she’s a great cook. Colin ad I will talk about computer problems and my finances and my writing world. We may talk a bit about politics. And weather permitting, we’ll take wine and sit on benches on the edge of the small lake (large pond?) on his property. I’ll get to hug his mother-in-law, who is one of my favorite people and who now lives on adjacent property. They are in the country outside Tomball, and not in the city which, like many once-sleepy Texas towns, has grown into sprawl. It will be fun, a return to a place where I have many happy memories.

Sophie will go with me, while the Burtons stay home to entertain Christian’s family at Thanksgiving and then spend the weekend decorating for Christmas. We’ll see how Sophie does—she’s usually okay in Tomball, though Lisa doesn’t like her on the couch and there’s a new dog who may not welcome her. And she won’t have the freedom to run as she does here, because there is no fenced yard, and she must be walked on a leash.

But it will be good, and I’m looking forward to it. I just have to take that first step out the door.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Monday blues


Watch for it soon on Gourmet on a Hot plate

Whining about a minor problem: I slept wrong on my left hand. Not sure what I did but this morning it felt like I had either sprained it or had a deep bruise. It hurt to wash my hands, to comb my hair, and, worst of all, to type. In my world, that’s a disaster. It wasn’t till I tried to nap—and was aware the entire time that my hand and shoulder hurt—that I had the good sense to take two Tylenol. Amazing. All better. I did read today that Buddhist practice preaches that it is more healthy to sleep on your left side—the physiological explanation was complicated, but apparently most things in the body drain to the left. I’m in with that, if I could just keep my hand from underneath my head.

But that soreness set the tone for my day. I seem to sing this song too frequently, but I did a lot of work this morning. Just none of it on the novel I keep telling myself I am writing, although scenes go through my head all the time. Want a glimpse into the life of a writer? Try the word procrastination. Right now I am kept busy following various political developments in our country. Some days I’m really optimistic; other days, like yesterday, I feel corruption is winning. It’s sort of like being on a seesaw. But it does take a lot of my time just to keep up.

And today the wonderful lady who cleans my cottage was here, so we had long conversations about whether or not the lettuce in the vegetable bin was ready for the trash—a lot of questionable stuff went out. And we spent a lot of time while she looked all around on my desk and on the floor for a tiny yellow pill that I’d dropped. I didn’t want a dog to eat it. Finally, triumphantly, she produced it from a corner of the bookcase across from my desk which is where I last saw it. I guess I brushed it off, and being light, it flew across the room. I conferred with Jordan—should I brush it off and take it or discard it? This particular pill costs like gold. Her advice: take it.

What I did accomplish today was to proof the neighborhood newsletter and get it off, plus take notes and exchange emails with a friend who has a food-related business that I will feature in an upcoming Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog. Like salsa? Just wait for this one. Thursday is my food blog day, but this week I may just wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving and hold the salsa until next week. Because no, you definitely cannot cook Thanksgiving dinner with a hot plate and a toaster oven. Jordan tells me she will cook at least one side dish in the cottage. She and Christian will be hosting his family.

I, meanwhile, will be in Tomball with Colin and his family. First time I’ve traveled since quarantine began, and while it’s not far (four hours?) it seems a major trip. Sophie will go with me, and one of my projects today was to begin to assemble clothes, etc. It’s remarkable how much stuff it takes for an old lady to travel—and for a writer who cannot go without computer, legal pad, books, etc. My packing list is extensive.

Now we have a new crisis. Jacob just came out to say that his dad disconnected the wifi to reboot it but forgot the reboot part and went with Jordan to visit neighbors. So neither Jacob nor I can do much—and they are not answering their phones. Life’s little distractions.

Ten o’clock, and no, I don’t know where my children are. But I know one grandson is safely inside, and I know the wifi is working again. My hand has stopped hurting. I haven’t solved the problem of Kevin McCarthy and his gang of outrageous Republicans, but hey! Joe Biden is working on that. All seems almost well with the world tonight. Sweet dreams, y’all.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

How soon can I go back to bed?


Do some moments from your childhood—ordinary moments, nothing of special importance—come back to you with amazing clarity? I remember one morning going to the garage with my mom. She was going to drive me someplace—not school, because I walked to elementary school and took public transportation to high school (and I’m so old that we didn’t have middle school in Chicago in my day). Out of the blue she suddenly said, “I woke up this morning wondering how soon I could go back to bed.” For her, at that time in our lives, the answer was at least ten at night. I can’t date this incident precisely but we had the pale blue Ford (I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye), so it was undoubtedly the Fifties, and I was too young to drive but old enough to understand what she was saying.

This came back to me today because that’s the way I’ve felt all weekend. I’ve said before that even though my schedule is my own, I somehow let down on weekends, move at a slower pace. And this weekend I wanted to sleep a lot. Two things kept me from it: the first is Sophie, though she slept until eight yesterday, praise be! And today her snuffling and coughing woke me at six-fifteen, but I gave her a Benadryl and talked gently to her about it not yet being daylight. She went back to bed and slept until eight.

The other thing that calls me to get out of bed is my conscience. I don’t remember it ever being said directly, but in the house of my childhood, sleeping late was a bit slothful. There is the world’s business to be up and about. This morning I finally got up for real about nine and felt terribly self-indulgent. One of the things that distinguishes weekends is that I generally don’t try to write fiction. I don’t know why Saturday and Sunday feel different, but they do. I did today read some background material and work out the genealogy of a family whose history I hope will play into the story—found I needed to slip in another generation or I would have had women having babies in their sixties.

And I had the neighborhood newsletter to get out. We will lose two working days this week, so I was anxious to get it to the designer in the hope that it could still come out about the first of December. I had done most of the work on Friday, proofread what I’d done yesterday, and waited for stragglers to send their stuff today. Frustrating. But tonight it is in the hands of the designer, and one more thing is off my conscience.

Last night, Jean came for supper. I made a chicken casserole and cooked an artichoke a neighbor gave me. The casserole is part of my current interest in retro food—used good old cream of mushroom soup, with chicken and hard-boiled eggs and a lot of diced celery for crunchiness. Made a sauce of mayonnaise, lemon, garlic, and pecorino cheese for the artichoke. Another time I’ll leave out the minced garlic—just hard little bits you don’t want to bite on. The dinner was so good, I had it all over again tonight.

But before I had my supper tonight, friends Subie and Phil came for happy hour with their son, Sean, and his girlfriend. I haven’t seen Sean in a while and as glad to meet Roni. We had a jolly time, arguing over literary figures and movies and somehow avoiding politics. Sean and I are Facebook buddies, on the same page about everything from Kyle Rittenhouse to covid vaccinations (he’s a nurse practitioner). When the Rittenhouse name came up tonight I simply said, “Don’t get me started.”

Now I’m off to read a mystery I just started: Funeral Food, by Kathleen Taylor. Set in a small-town café in South Dakota and so gritty you can smell the dust off the prairie. There’s a lot of focus on sex and inuendo, and the narrator’s tone is irreverent and wonderful to read. The story involves two Mormon missionaries adrift in this town but more than that I don’t know.

Tonight, I read; tomorrow I get back to work.

Friday, November 19, 2021

It’s a dog’s life


Golden doodle pup, 
considerably younger than Beau in my book.

It’s a given that pets, particularly cats but almost as often dogs, sell books. Look at Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who” series or Carole Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie. On the doggie side, there’s Dog Bless You in the Golden Retriever mysteries or Olivia LImoges and her black poodle, Haviland, in the Books by the Bay series. For some time I have wondered why I, a devoted dog person, never include dogs in my mysteries.

As I got a few thousand words into my newest, Irene Keeps a Secret, I suddenly decided that narrator/protagonist Henny James needed a dog. I chose a rescue golden doodle, partly because I’m partial to doodles (if you read this blog, you know my Sophie is a bordoodle—border collie and poodle) and partly because if you’re going to acquire a dog today it should be a rescue. Because a friend has a labradoodle named Beau, I gave the dog that name. And sort of wrote him into the book, giving him cameo appearances.

Then it occurred to me that ifI there is going to be a dog in Henny and Patrick’s life, it needs to be an integral part of their lives and not just something mentioned occasionally for effect. I wouldn’t do that to a living dog, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it to a fictional dog.

So this morning I went back, writing Beau into scenes from the very first few lines. He’s seven months old, still gangly puppy, still unbridled energy, getting better about his house manners but with no idea the couch and bed aren’t his. Crate trained but not happy about it. A nuisance when Henny tries to straighten the house or even cook—though coerced into his crate he will sit and watch her in the kitchen. I’ve now given him a distinct personality.

At the end of the morning I wrote Beau’s best scene so far—with Irene and friends visiting for cocktails and appetizers, Beau breaks out of his kitchen crate, barrels through the swinging door from kitchen to living area, and streaks across the room to land in Irene’s lap, overturning her appetizer plate in her lap and spilling her rosé (thank goodness it’s not red wine). Chaos ensues, naturally. I had so much fun writing that scene and, indeed, all morning weaving the dog scenes into the text.

Such a scene is not too far from reality around my cottage. The other day a guest sat on the couch and was startled when Sophie hurtled across the room and jumped up beside her, already for some human love. The guest looked at mee questioningly, and I said it was okay with me if it was with her. There is not much stopping Sophie.

Sophie, needing a little love.

Like a lot of other pet owners, I am still having trouble adjusting to the time change. That is, Sophie isn’t adjusting, and I am not doing well with her schedule. This morning she got me up at six-forty. I let her out, cautioning her to come right back in. Of course, she did no such thing. She went up on the deck and glued herself to the back door of the main house, from where she surveyed her kingdom. My cries of “Cheese” went unheeded. Finally I gave in, as I have every morning lately, put on a sweater, put my phone in the seat of my walker (an extra precaution), and ventured out in the cold—it was in the low forties—waving my silly piece of cheese. She came slowly, reluctantly, but I soon had her captive back in the house and could go back to bed for another hour.

Tonight she could sense somehow, way ahead of the fact, that we were not eating in the cottage but were going into the main house. She danced, she pranced, she threw herself against the door. When we finally went in, she was ecstatic, running through the house. But it wasn’t long after dinner before she was antsing around, ready to go back outside. If you ask her if she wants to go home, she runs to the back door. Trouble is, she doesn’t really want to go home—with this cooler weather, she wants to be outside. As I write, she is out, and I’m wondering if I will have to use more cheese to get her inside. I just give her a tiny strip of processed American cheese—so bad for you—but at this rate, since the time change, we are almost going through a slice a day.

Dogs, God bless them. Can’t live with them, but I for one sure couldn’t live happily without one. Sophie listens in a way none of my human friends do, she follows me to the bathroom (thank goodness no friends do that), she sleeps by my bed when she’s worried about weather, and she comes early morning and late at night for a loving time, with some ear scratches and soft words. I love her to pieces.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The school book wars


The school book wars raging across the country are particularly divisive in Texas. This morning in the Star-Telegram Ryan Rusak, opinions editor, implied the controversy between parents and school boards is a fuss over nothing. I would agree it’s a fuss over nothing, but I do not think those threatening, bullying parents are merely “passionate constituents engaging with the elected officials.” They are totally out of line, and I need to put my thoughts in writing, even if in this blog I am preaching to the choir

From what I read, I gather most of those parents who are fighting are not highly educated and operate from blind belief or perhaps political affiliation. I doubt they’ve read many of the books. By contrast, library acquisition is done by educated, trained professionals with great care and awareness of the content of the books they are acquiring. They do not buy books by the cover or the jacket blurb.

Yes, parents have a right to monitor what their children read, but they have no right at all to dictate what books entire school systems can shelve. I don’t want the reading of my grandchildren restricted by someone else’s fear or religion or political stance. If a parent disapproves of a certain selection, they can discuss a specific title with the teacher and ask that their child be assigned another title. (Many of the titles, on Rep, Matt Krause’s list of 850 suspect books, for example, are not assigned but are available for free reading; on the other hand, some classics on the list are often found on SAT and other tests important to a child’s future.) If they disapprove of the entire curriculum, parents do not have the right in public education to alter the curriculum. They may withdraw their child(ren) to enroll in private school, where their demands may or may not be more effective, or they may home-school.

Threatening teachers and school board members and their families is absolutely not a choice. Anyone who issues such a threat should be immediately charged. Passion is no more acceptable in a school board meeting than it is in a murder trial—it is not an excuse.

But I worry about the children caught in the middle. What of the eight-year-old girl whose Uncle Tom, Dick, or Harry wants her to bounce on his lap. In a book she may learn that this is not okay, and it is not her fault. The fourteen-year-old boy who has strange feelings for a male classmate? He would find that a same-sex crush is a common part of the maturation journey through puberty. The seventeen-year-old girl who is being flattered online by an older man. Books can help her learn about pedophiles and grooming. Children often are reluctant to talk to their parents about sexual questions. If they find information om books, they can, in good circumstances, feel free to take the book to a parent or teacher. The book can spark a much-needed discussion. Children who are kept ignorant of life’s darker side are unprepared to deal with it. And children who are not challenged by books do not grow intellectually or emotionally.

It's an old trope that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. We are seeing that now in banning books and talk of book bonfires and in increased racism. An uneducated society is prey to authoritarian rule—was it not trump who said he loves poorly educated people? Was it not the Nazis who burned books?


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Busy day at the cottage


Front yard trees
festooned with toilet paper
Not funny.

If you asked me what my occupation was today, I would not have said retiree (I never say that because that’s not what defines me), nor would I have said author (which is the identity I mostly cling to). Today I would have said cook. A friend was coming for lunch, and I had promised “killer tuna salad.” But then I got ambitious and decided to try a recipe for chicken hand pockets that’s been in my file forever. I had it in my head the filling was chicken salad, but when I got to making it I realized it was not salad at all, but a meat filling with mushrooms, onion, broth, flour, crème fraiche, and a bit of thyme.

I was truly leery of rolling out the puff pastry. As you can imagine, I don’t have a lot of rolling out space in the cottage. But it worked well, and my hand pockets went together easily. And they tasted good. I was proud of myself. Enjoyed the visit with a TCU colleague I hadn’t seen since way before covid. And now I’ll try some more things with puff pastry—a great learning lesson.

My first chicken hand pies.
Hopefully, they will get prettier, 
but they tasted delicious

Just before four, Jordan wakened me from a sound nap to tell me a church friend was here, with copies of The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas in hand for me to sign so she could give them for Christmas gifts. It took me a couple of minutes to get myself together, but then we had a delightful visit, and I signed four books. “This,” she said, “is Texas history, and my family needs to read it.” I applauded. My kind of Christmas gift.

She had barely left when Pru and Mary came for our usual Tuesday happy hour. Good, relaxing time. Mary brought tiny mincemeat tartlets from a Zoom class she taught today, along with tomatoes she couldn’t resist buying because they were on sale and the promise of artichokes tomorrow because they too were on sale. I am encouraging her to keep shopping sales!

We had a slight dinner crisis. We had planned to have fish in a piccata sauce. I ordered cod from Central Market, and Jordan picked it up. But she said, “There’s something wrong with the fish.” I thought perhaps it smelled too fishy, a sign it was old. Nope It was one small piece weighing 0.25 lbs. I thought I ordered a lb. Central Market’s online order got me again. It said the fish was sold by the lb. and, thinking Jacob wouldn’t eat it, I ordered a lb. Or thought I did. Apparently is it actually sold by quarter increments of a lb. So what to have for supper? Christian to the rescue: he grilled burgers, Jordan pulled some slider buns out of my freezer, and I washed and snapped the asparagus that really needed to be eaten.

But the day wasn’t done with us yet. While Christian was grilling, Jordan sat on the porch to keep him company. They turned off the bright overhead light, and sat in the dark, with Christian using his phone light to check the burgers. As they sat there, some of Jacob’s friends came by, clearly intent on toilet-papering the trees. They had done this a week or so ago, and Jordan was clearly not ready for a repeat. The boys drove by slowly several times, apparently put off by the presence of parents. When the hamburgers were ready, Jordan and Christian left Jacob on the porch, hiding, with the hose in his hands. 

All for naught. Jacob came out to the cottage to say they were back—I don’t know what happened to the hose—and by the time Jordan and Christian got out there, the front yard was festooned. I know it’s a prank, but frankly I’m angry. It’s not harmless because—it’s bad for the environment, especially our new, delicate tree, and toilet paper is apparently in short supply right now. Plus what are these kids doing out on a school night? And doesn’t it cost them a lot to buy all that toilet paper? Jacob has another cleaning chore ahead of him when he really should be doing homework. A conundrum. For the sake of his social standing, his parents can’t tattle on the boys, but it is a frustration. And me, being old school, would like to box their ears and explain to them why it’s not cute. It’s wrong on so many levels. Besides, I thought it went out of fashion once kids got out of middle school. 

I am going to spend the rest of the evening with a good mystery. And I guess tomorrow I’ll order more fish from Central Market and pay closer attention.                                                                                    

Monday, November 15, 2021

False alarm and other matters

Thanks to all for good wishes, but my dental emergency disappeared—does that happen to emergencies? I am crediting it to either the power of prayer or magic—take your pick. This morning, there was no tenderness, no sign of all the unusual stuff going on in my mouth yesterday. Dutifully, being an obedient girl remembering the dentistry of my young years, I called the dentist office. The assistant who answered didn’t seem too interested in making me an appointment. “Well, if you really think . . .” I decided I didn’t really think I needed to see the doctor immediately. I am not fooling myself. I know that it could flare again, but for now, it’s okay.

When I was young, twelve or thirteen, I had a lot of cavities, for which I credit my father. Like him, I  had poor enamel on my teeth. Dentistry then was not what it is today, and the drill was a slow, cumbersome, excruciating thing. My family dentist was a family friend—outside the office he was Uncle Walt—but he was taciturn, which didn’t help my discomfort during many many procedures. Later, I learned to appreciate him with some affection, but to this day I remain sort of dental phobic. Today, at least temporarily, was a huge relief.

So I stayed home, worked, and in a fit of energy, prepared the chicken filling for pocket sandwiches for a lunch guest tomorrow. I’ve had this recipe in my untried repertoire forever, always wanted to try it, decided this was the time. But all the while I thought it was chicken salad in a puff pastry dough. Not until I got into making the filling did I realize it was not salad—it’s a meat filling, like an empanada, only chicken and with more Anglo spicing. By that I mean butter, onion, garlic, mushroom, and thyme. It made the cottage smell incredible, and when Jordan came out hours later, her first words were, “It smells good in here.” So tomorrow I fight with the puff pastry. More wishes of good luck are appreciated.

Tonight, I went to dinner with Jean and good friend Betty Boles. We haven’t seen Betty in a while—she fell, had hip replacement surgery, and various other things, including covid precautions, have kept us apart. But it was good to be back together again. We ate at the newly redesigned Tavern. I’m still not sure about some aspects of the redo, but I love the tile floor—a hostess told us it is marble, which made my mind boggle at the cost. As usual, the food was really good—I had been wanting their meatloaf, and it didn’t disappoint. Besides the mashed potatoes, with a reduction sauce from the meatloaf, were delicious. I ordered knowing I wouldn’t eat it all and came home with a generous doggie bag.

Talk at the dinner table ranged over many subjects. For some reason, Jean and I reminisced about our childhood homes. We moved on, of course, to politics and Beto O’Rourke’s announcement today that he is in the governor’s race. I’ve been waiting months for that word, fearing Abbott was getting the drop on him in campaigning. But I think Beto is wily, knew what he was doing. All evidence now suggests he has a well-thought-out campaign planned and is jumping right into it. An Austin columnist I read tonight quoted an Abbott press-release with fear rhetoric about how all Texans must fight against the dangerous liberalism that Beto represents. No specifics, no policy talk, just vague generalities about threats. Beto on the other hand is already talking about the missed opportunities for expanded medical care for our citizens because Abbott would not accept increased Federal help, the dangers of ignoring the grid and the possibility of another power failure this winter, the danger of having an unlicensed, untrained population carrying  guns anywhere and everywhere, the failure of Abbott to deal efficiently with the pandemic which has resulted in the loss of thousands of Texas lives. Beto has specific talking points; Abbott has vague looming threats of “dangerous liberalism.”

A confession: I took a Pew Research Council survey, and the results showed that six percent of the American population is more liberal than I am. That, of course, leaves ninety-four percent on the other side of the line. Christian said, “That’s about right.” But I think there must have been a mistake. As I rant and rave about injustices and blind stupidity in this world, I think there must be more people who agree with me. If not, please don’t burst my little bubble.

Y’all have a good night. As my mom always said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Crying Wolf!


Me in the dentist's chair

Years ago, when I was young and green, I dated a man who used to tell me he was “trying to take a cold.” I always wanted to tell him not to try so hard, and maybe he wouldn’t get that cold. Today I have to eat those words: I am trying to develop a toothache, or maybe what I want to say is I’m hoping a toothache won’t develop.

I woke this morning with a swollen jaw in the lower part of the left side of my face. Nothing hurt, but it felt stiff. Over the morning the stiffness went away but I have a tender spot on my jawbone, and if I make a moue just right, I feel a twinge or tightness (see, I’ve spent too much time with Irene, and I’m now sprinkling my language with French). So the dentist is on my list for tomorrow, first thing in the morning.

For one who was raised to take a positive attitude toward health, I have in recent years suffered more than my share of the joys of aging—a hip joint that simply disappeared, atrial fibrillation, an implanted lens that broke loose and wandered around my eye, kidney failure. In each instance, I waited so long to say I thought something was wrong that the problem became much worse, and my Stoic attitude became the subject of concern from my doctor and my family. My brother spoke to me about it, said my kids had spoken to him.

“But you know why I’m that way,” I said. “Mom raised us not to complain over little things.” He agreed it was true but faulted my failure to distinguish little things from major problems. She taught us the story of the little boy who cried “Wolf!” so often that when he did spy a wolf, no one believed him. As a doctor’s wife, Mom knew how impatient doctors get with people who take every small pain as a reason to run to the doctor. Being doctors’ kids, we were expected to do better. Mom’s philosophy was, “It will be better in the morning,” and I grew up believing that.

Today, we are torn by two contradictory philosophies: the school that advocates patient responsibility urges us to question our physicians, not to accept treatment or prognosis blindly, seek a second opinion when necessary. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own health. Ah, but then, today we have the folks—particularly politicians—who think they know as much as doctors, most of whom have had a minimum of eight years medical training.

This is of course particularly evident with the anti-vaxx people who distrust the vaccine despite lengthy lab trials followed by clinical trials and now by apparently successful use in a huge segment of the population. These same people, with what some call a Facebook medical degree, believe in hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin. Some believe in the medial impossibility of the implantation of tracking devices, cameras, etc. through that tiny needle. But there are also those who deny the medical realities of the abortion debate and, presumably, believe all pregnancies left to complete the nine-month term naturally result in a happy baby and a healthy mother. They brush aside medical complications that are too frequent and of great concern.

We all know people who seem to “doctor up,” spending much of their lives in doctor’s offices. Where do you draw that line? When can you treat yourself and when do you need medical advice? How do you know when the doctor is right? Is your questioning based on an intellectual need to know or a blind belief from your childhood, your church, your uncle who always knew best?

I’ll be darned if I know, but I do know I’m calling the dentist in the morning.


Saturday, November 13, 2021

A day of off timing


Ever have days when it seems you’re either early or late for everything you do? That was me today. Yesterday Jordan raised a glass and toasted, “Happy Friday.” I replied, curmudgeon-like, that Friday didn’t seem any different than any other day to me, and she replied, “It should. I’m a different person on Friday than I am on Monday.” So I took that lesson to heart and vowed Saturday would be a lazy, slow day\

It wasn’t. Sophie got me up before seven. She came right back in after taking care of business, and I harbored a hope that she’s learning she’ll get a treat if she comes right back. But she got me up again a bit after eight, and I reluctantly gave up and put aside thoughts of going back to bed. Still, I lazed through the morning, waiting for an 11:30 Zoom meeting. But about eleven several things landed on my desk at once—choose the newsletter issues to submit for competition, finish the half-written guest post on the food wars in Irene in Danger, and deal with the frozen spanakopita Jordan fetched from Mary who had brought it from the Greek Festival for me.

I connected to the Zoom session. Sponsored by the Grand Canyon Writers chapter of Sisters in Crime, it featured Delia Pitts talking about the importance of setting in mysteries. Delia, who has an interesting background as a journalist, a diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service, and an educational administrator, is a former colleague. She served at TCU for several years, and we were friends, so it was fun a while back to discover she is now writing mysteries. We also have Hyde Park in Chicago in common—Delia also grew up there, and earned degrees at the University of Chicago, ending with a doctorate in African history. Check her out at

A lifelong reader who dabbled in writing since second grade, she has taken up the mystery genre and made it her own. Her 90-minutes presentation today was spot on—knowledgeable, lively, fun. She made me see some things about my writing—I too write short and always have to go back and add words, and I tend to write long dialogue scenes that float in space without trying the participants to a time and place. So now I’ll go back to the few words I have on Irene Keeps a Secret and read them again with Delia’s advice in mind.

I had tried to call Colin all day because he was to help me with a computer problem. I have that secure new password storage system, 1Password, so secure that it locked me out of paying my ATT bill and retweeting on Twitter. The latter not serious, but the former forced me to change the password on our joint account which always frustrates Jordan. So, when Sophie woke me early from my nap, I called Colin—no answer, so I gratefully called back into bed. Colin called about ten minutes later, and then I was glued to my computer. The fix took longer than I thought, and I began to look at the clock. I had company coming at five-thirty, and I was still in my pajamas.

‘Finally, I told Colin I’d have to leave him to the computer but would take my phone to the bedroom while I changed clothes. He had access to my computer, but he’d still ask me questions and I’d have to say, “I can’t look right now I don’t have any pants on.” I was sure Mary Volcansek was going to arrive while I was half-dressed.

She didn’t, put it was close. Colin got the computer fixed just before she walked up the driveway. I had made pan bagnat sandwiches (fancy French tuna sandwiches that you put in the fridge and weight down overnight) so fixing dinner was simply a matter of unwrapping the foil and serving the delicious salad Mary bought. We had a good visit, and she was on her way by seven-thirty. I felt like it was midnight and I had to go to bed.

I think there’s a sleep virus in the air, because I have been so ready to go back to bed all day. And I am again. Sweet dreams, everyone.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Kind of a nothing day but an evening of nostalgia


The Madison Park Apartments
Hyde Park Boulevard at Dorchester Avenue

All work and no play, they say, makes you dull. Sort of how I feel today. I read emails, caught up on odds and ends, did a bit on the novel but not a lot, and the day just sort off went by. Jacob and Jordan were up at five this morning so that he could be at Farrington Field by six to go to a golf tournament. He came home and went right back to bed. Christian had an event tonight, so there Jordan and I were staring at each other. “What’s for dinner?” She has mapped out meals from now until Thanksgiving and we’ve done grocery lists—so organized. Only there was no plan for tonight.

She had said a big green salad with chicken, so as she came and went between the cottage and the house I thought surely she’d start to make a salad any minute. Finally, when she came in around seven, I said, “Starving.” (I confess for once I’d been enjoying not cooking.) Then it came out that she was not at all hungry, and Jacob had gone back to bed—they have to repeat the five o’cock thing tomorrow. She was full of apologies, said to eat the chicken, but by then I just wanted something quick and easy. So for the second night this week, I had scrambled eggs. And a bit of last night’s German potato salad.

So there I was, after a nothing day, looking at a nothing evening. But I began a little research for the current Irene novel. If Henny and Patrick are now happily married, they need to move out of two, small but adjacent apartments. I wanted to give them an old cottage in Hyde Park, but the more I looked, the scarcer cottages were and the higher real estate. It’s not at all uncommon for a modest house to be a million and up. Henny and Patrick can’t afford that. So I prowled around and gathered enough information to invent a house for them. I’m rather captivated by it

Built in the twenties, it’s a tall and skinny wood frame structure, with bay windows downstairs and up, dark, natural woodwork and wainscoting, hardwood floors, and pocket doors. Somebody kept all the good features of an older home—it’s hard to find original wainscoting these days. The kitchen however was maybe updated in the fifties, certainly not suited for a chef on the brink of her career. They have a lot of renovation to do, bit by bit.

This is sort of like playing with paper dolls when you were a kid. You get to make up houses, clothing, food, all aspects of life. A lot of fun. It occurs to me that traditionally the main character in a cozy is a single woman, in her twenties or thirties a the most, often with a love/hate romantic entanglement, though those parameters are branching out all the time. Still, I seem to keep marrying off my protagonists. So far, I’ve sustained series with married couples, and I’m counting on it to be true with Henny and Patrick. As she says early on, they are deliriously happily married.

Of course, Irene will be returning from France, this time drawn back by a murder. This time she announces that since she visits so often, she is thinking of taking a small apartment in a residential hotel. (No need to dwell on Henny’s reaction to that.) So I went back online to check residential hotels—and there are none under that classification. I guess I was thinking of the grand old hotels of my youth, where aging widows and spinsters lived and took their meals in quietly elegant dining rooms. The woman I worked for, as a gofer/typist, when I was I high school used to take me to such hotels for lunch. Once, wanting me to impress someone we were with, she suggested I have the calavo pear with tuna salad. I replied that I would if it were avocado, but I didn’t much like pears. She kicked me under the table. How was I to know calavo was another name for avocado? At any rate, those hotels are gone.

On an impulse I searched for the Madison Park Hotel—I grew up in Madison Park—and lo! It’s still there, in all its grand glory, but now called the Madison Park Apartments. No restaurant, but a breakfast bar and they’ve gotten modern with an exercise facility. The blurb says it still has its grandly luxurious lobby and all the amenities. I guess that’s where Irene will land.

Such fun to wander around my old neighborhood, even if only online. And fun to play with paper dolls.

Have a good sleep, everyone.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

MAGA (no, not that one!) and a new book


The first thing I do in the morning, once I settle at my desk with a cup of tea, is to read emails. I have two addresses—one at TCU that I have had for forty years and prefer to use; the other with When Yahoo Groups disappeared, two writers’ groups I belong to—and treasure—switched to, but TCU did not like their security certificate (who am I to understand what that means?) and would not talk to them. So son Jamie opened a gmail account for me to communicate with those groups. This morning the TCU site was out of control.

There were thirty-five Facebook messages from the Mothers Against Greg Abbott page. The thread was about the firing of James Whitfield as Heritage High School (Colleyville) principal on the grounds he taught CRT, which the school board admits he didn’t. A conservative, right-wing gentleman, formerly on the school board, Stetson Clark, accused Whitfield of disrupting and destroying the districts by encouraging systemic racism. It’s no coincidence that Whitfield is black and married to a white woman.

The posts this morning were in support of Whitfield. Earlier students staged a walk-out in support of his leadership. At the board meeting, many parents spoke out in support of him. The Grapevine/Colleyville Independent School District board voted unanimously to fire him—they put him on administrative leave through August 2023; he gets paid but forfeits the pay if he accepts another job. I expect he’ll get many job offers—probably not so much from Texas—and has a good future ahead of him.

But what struck me this morning was the outpouring of support from across the state. In spite of our reputation as a deep red state, there are good, sane people in Texas, people who are outraged by much of what is going on. Representative Matt Krause, running a deep red campaign to replace Ken Paxton as Attorney General (which might be out of the frying pan and into the fire), announced he is examining over 800 books in school libraries to see if they are inappropriate. Not to be outdone, our governor announced he is investigating “criminal pornography” in our schools. Let those words sink in—criminal pornography. To me, that means administrators, teachers, and librarians deliberately introduced salacious literature with the intent of corrupting our students. I am appalled, scared, and worried about my grandchildren. And I am a strong supporter of Mothers Against Greg Abbott (after all, banning books is just one of his attacks on freedom which include women’s rights, voter suppression, etc. while he supports threats to the general welfare—open carry for guns and liquor, but hey, we cannot infringe on people’s rights by requiring vaccines).

Sorry about the rant, especially after I promised to modify my speech, but I feel strongly about this. And I hope each of you do too.

Meantime in my own little world, there was a highlight today. I opened a blank page and typed those fateful words, “Chapter One.” And then I wrote a thousand words of what I hope someday will be Irene Keeps a Secret. Felt kind of good about that.

About four, when I was sound asleep, Jordan woke me to say that Matt, who does some odd repairs for us, was here to look at my kitchen drawers. The problem is that I have so little space we overload these two drawers with dishes, pots and pans, and things like oil and vinegar. The sheer weight is too much for the bottom of the drawers. Matt reglued them, added some nails, said to let it dry, and said if I don’t rearrange it will happen again. Rearranging is a real problem.

So when an old friend arrived for happy hour, half my kitchen or more was spread out everywhere. No matter. We had a good visit. She lost her husband last spring, and I was glad to see that she’s doing well, if not back to normal—who would be? Still, we had a lively discussion about books (she’s a bookseller, and a part of me envies her that) and about mutual friends. A pleasant visit. After she left, I cleared enough of a spot to scramble a couple of eggs for my supper and gave up on the kitchen until Jordan can help tomorrow. She’s much better at organizing than I am. I did send a 5 lb. sack of flour into the house with her. I figure that will help the weight problem in one drawer. I think this is called it’s always something.

Sweet dreams.


Tuesday, November 09, 2021

An ongoing and difficult lesson

Fall mums for the coffee table
Sorry about that glass
not sure how it got into the picture

A friend sent me an article on intellectual humility. I asked her if it was a gentle hint about my adamant political postings, but she denied that. Still is made me think about something that comes to the front of my mind every so often—humility, especially online.

A gentleman posted against Build Back Better, and in disagreeing with him, I said “Go ahead. Bury your head in the sand.” Snarky of me, and I knew it. His response also told me so. He said my words said all he needed to know about me as a person. I apologized, we were friends, and then I did it again. I can’t even remember what he said, but I responded, and he replied, “You just can’t let it alone, can you?” That’s the truth. When I see some of the right-wing comments—they don’t even have to be outrageous, just wrong in my opinion—I can’t help countering. I am one of those who believes so firmly that I’m right about everything from national politics to TCU ex-Coach Gary Patterson, that I leap into discussions when I don’t need to.

For some time now when scrolling through Facebook, I’ve been asking myself, when tempted to comment, “Do you really need to insert yourself into that discussion?” Posting your opinion and taking your licks is one thing; jumping on to someone else’s page is altogether another.

I’m trying to teach myself to apologize. Recently a woman posted about Massey’s Restaurant on Lake Worth (I think that’s where it was) and I of course jumped in with, “No. It was on Eighth Avenue.” She replied that it was a different restaurant, and I hastily apologized.

But then today there was a woman who said 1.7 million refugees have been flown to various cities in the dark of the night, without covid testing or vaccination. I asked her for documentation and got in reply, “You’re a fool. Read the news.” I didn’t think that was much documentation, so I asked her why Biden would allow unvaccinated immigrants when vaccination has been one of his biggest priorities. And I sent her a graph that showed the 1.7 million figure was for sixty years. No response.

Some of the conspiracy theories are so ridiculous that it’s hard to keep your tongue—or your fingers from the keyboard. But of course, those are the very people we shouldn’t argue with, because it’s a waste of breath and in some sense reduces us to their level. So I’m trying not to spout off at the ridiculous people, but to engage politely with those I think might be open to discussion. It’s a hard line to draw and a hard lesson to learn.

A little part of my obsession traces to my faith. We are taught to testify for our faith. I feel a moral obligation to testify for social and political welfare. If the recipient is not moved, perhaps others will be. Remember the poem by Martin Niemöller, “First they came for the Communists….” It vividly makes the point about not remaining silent in the face of outrages. I’d welcome any thoughts and responses.

On a much lighter note, I had a bone density test today and, if I’m reading the results right, I passed. Whoopee! I didn’t want to have to do those nose drops. And I went to the grocery store with Jordan, driving the cart behind her. Fun—she’d pick something up, and I’d point out we have three in the fridge/freezer, or she’d tell me, “You’re out of this. You just don’t know it.” Came home with a lovely bunch of mums for the coffee table.

Tonight a fancy happy hour celebrating neighbor Prudence’s completion of her MBA degree. How she did that while parenting four children, home-schooling two or three of them, running the house for a surgeon/husband (been there, done that, and it ain’t easy) is beyond me. Kudos to her. We had roses for her and champagne for everyone.

Jordan's charcuterie for Prudence

A good day.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Out and about, and the story behind a novel


A banner day—I went to the hardware store with Jordan and then to lunch with Subie and Phil. Our neighborhood is blessed with an Ace Hardware store—good-sized with a fairly recent huge expansion but still so much smaller than Home Depot or Loew’s. At Westcliff Hardware, you’re liable to have an older gentleman, retired from who knows what career, help you, and oh my, are they knowledgeable. Today one of them replaced the inoperative pull chain on the bankers’ light on my desk and replaced the batteries in our key fobs. We bought Christmas lights, canning jars (I swear I’m making cranberry for friends), mailed a book (yes, there’s a USPS substation), and impulsively bought an artificial table-top Christmas tree to replace the beaten, raggedy one that I’ve had for several years. We left untouched a huge department of kitchen and cooking goods, including every gadget you can think of for a Big Green Egg. I am so grateful to have this friendly, welcoming store near us The son of a friend worked there in high school and learned an amazing amount. I suggested it to Jacob, but he said no thank you!

We barely got home in time for Subie and Phil to pick me up for lunch. We went to a favorite spot, recently redecorated. My choice because the place Subie recommended apparently doesn’t serve lunch anymore. The Tavern was good, but….in redecorating they have paid no attention to acoustics, and sound bounces off hard surfaces everywhere, from a wonderfully old-fashioned tile floor to wooden ceilings. Phil declared this was his second time, and he’s never going back again. Usually, Phil can hear better than I can, but not today. I liked some things about the décor, others not so much. I suggested the noise level was partly deliberate to turn tables, and Phil said data shows (we loved that phrase) that people drink more in a noisy environment. Having had lamb last night and knowing I’d have leftovers tonight, I chose a small bowl of tomato/basil soup and a small Caesar salad. Both excellent. They serve a wonderful meatloaf which, with redecorating, migrated from a once-a-week special to the regular menu, and I will go back for that, noise and all.

Sophie is still having a hard go of it with the time change. She seems to have an accurate inner clock that has not adjusted, so whereas she was sleeping until 8:30, she now gets me up at 7:30. And promptly at four she begins to ask for her dinner. I try to explain that we’re all going to have to adjust to this new time, but she’s having none of it. Consequently, the change is as hard on me as it is on her. Left to myself, I’d adjust pretty quickly.

My funny story for the day. I read that a small California town, Oroville, has declared itself a “constitutional republic,” no longer subject to the rules of the federal or state government. It reminded me of the novel I wrote way back in the eighties, Luke and the Van Zandt War. Post-Civil War, when Sherman oversaw Texas, Van Zandt County in East Texas withdrew from the state and the country. Sherman would not stand for it and sent troops marching up the road to quell the rebellion. But they marched in proper military fashion, two abreast, in the middle of the road. The farmers of Van Zandt County hid in the trees—East Texas had not yet been plowed and planted and was pretty much untamed forest. Anyway, the farmers took potshots at the soldiers, who were forced to retreat.

The farmers went into the county seat, Canton, and celebrated with a huge bonfire and much passing of the little brown jug. As the evening wore on, the soldiers slipped through the trees, surrounded the town, and arrested most of the men. Those arrested spent a long, cold winter in a hastily-built stockade. When spring came, the rains loosened the logs of the stockade enough that they could be parted, and one by one the men of Van Zandt County slipped into the night.

I loved that story and put two teenagers in the middle of it for the novel. It was named Best Juvenile of the Year by the Texas Institute of Letters. At the awards ceremony, the emcee said something to the effect that the person who always won this award wasn’t eligible that year and so the award went to me. The literary life has its little ironies. Fun to recall the novel, the story behind it, and the half-hearted award.

I wish the people of Oroville a better outcome. The rebellion apparently has to do with Covid restrictions, so I'm not terribly sympathetic. 

Sweet dreams, everyone.