Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy New Year


Wishing everyone a peaceful and prosperous year, with time for the little things that make life worthwhile, like cloud watching and star gazing. I am so grateful for each of you who read and comment on Judy's Stew--you light the path on my journey.

Judy A.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Totally content—well, almost


Home from the hospital.

As I write tonight, Jamie is sitting on the patio strumming his guitar to soothe Sophie, and it works—she is sound asleep. I would love to have him inside, but who would interrupt a man playing guitar for a sick and miserable dog. And for me, it’s a joy just to know he’s right there—I can hear the guitar faintly, and I can see him through the French doors.

Sophie may be home, but the news is not good. She apparently has a mass in her stomach. There is some chance that it is a foreign object she ate and has been unable to pass, but it is more likely a tumor. Colin quickly reminded me not all tumors are malignant. Sophie had the poor timing to get sick, twice now, over a long holiday weekend, so it will be Tuesday before we know what’s next. It will be a long weekend.

Meantime, Jordan is taking extraordinary care of her, doing all the things I can’t get down on the ground to do. The vet’s office gave her instructions on how to feed with a syringe (Soph is not at all interested in food, this dog who used to steal whatever she could off counters). Jordan also successfully gave an insulin shot tonight—the only agonized reaction was from Jamie. Soph didn’t seem to mind. She’s terribly lethargic, and I miss my wild, mischievous child, but we can all tell she is glad to be home. And we are glad to have her. Jordan plans to sleep on my couch tonight, so she can listen for her.

Junie among the flowers.
It's a doggie-down weekend. June Bug, one of the Burtons’ Cavalier Spaniels, outlived her life expectancy—and a heart attack and stroke—several years ago. Poor baby has been on her last legs for a long time, but today she has taken a downhill turn. Her back legs aren’t working right, and Junie, who is always ravenous and loves to steal Sophie’s food, wouldn’t eat her own dinner tonight. So Christian is on watch in the house while Jordan is out in the cottage.

Suppertime in the
It's always a joy to have Jamie come to visit. I benefited from his guitar this afternoon and thought how soothing it was to sit and listen to him. He is frustrated that I don’t recognize even songs I know and love—I have a tin ear, and I can tell him it’s Joan Baez, but I can’t tell him it’s “Diamonds and Rust” until I hear the lyrics. We had planned to go out for supper but, of course, could not leave Sophie, so we ordered in. Jamie ordered Mama’s Pizza (his favorite since high school) while Jordan, Christian, and I had dinners from Pacific Table.

We’ve talked of kids—my grandkids—and, with Christmas fresh in our minds, started planning for Christmas 2023 which will be an Alter Family Christmas. We’ve talked about food and fun times in the past, and Jamie’s disappointment that the idea of taking me for a train trip won’t work—the bedrooms, he says, are not what they appear in the pictures but are small with bunk beds. He keeps saying, “But you love trains, and I like them too.” I told him it’s true, I do love a train trip, but like many things, train trips are among the memories I treasure. It’s hard to make someone fifty years of age understand that in my eighties there are many things I know I can’t or won’t do again, but it’s okay because I have the wonderful memories. Train trips among them—and my memories start when I was a very young child, and my parents used to take me on Pullman sleepers from Chicago to Toronto to see the Canadian relatives. But I am touched by Jamie’s determination—he is now working on Plan B. He says he wants to give an experience, not material goods.

Jamie and his fire

Jamie lit a fire in the pit on my patio, and he, Jordan, and I sat out there. Jordan provided me with my insulated jacket (some forty years old), a blanket for my legs, and a heater. Jame built a fire that, as I told him, would have made Jack Boyd, his old Boy Scout leader, proud. Sophie lay on the patio, the small evergreen tree was festooned with Christmas lights, and that light system Jordan put up sprayed tiny green lights on the trees, my children’s faces, and the wall of the neighbor’s casita on the other side of my yard. It was an absolutely idyllic moment, and I kept telling myself to relax and enjoy. It doesn’t get much better. And I am still making memories.

Mellow moods don’t come easily to me, but tonight has put me in a mellow mood, grateful for the blessings of my life, for children who care so much about me and my dog and who I love so much. I am optimistic about 2023.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

A dog, a cat, and a grandson


Sophie on the mend.
She looks pretty raggedy, poor sweet baby.

Update on Sophie: as of this morning, her pancreatic enzymes are down though not yet normal. She is better but still has a long way to go, and truthfully, she looked pretty pitiful and sad when I visited her this afternoon. I think partly she just doesn’t feel good but partly she wants to be home—she headed for the door several times. The tech said she is a good patient, sweet and docile 
during baths (she had three today because of a pee problem). I did tell Sophie she had a whole internet army praying for her. I am so grateful for all the prayers, concern, and care you have sent. Christian said, “Having a sick pet is like having a sick child,” and he’s so right. Sophie’s health problems have turned my life topsy-turvy.

The diagnosis is pancreatitis, and the vet is guardedly optimistic. If I got what he said right, dogs recover from pancreatitis better than people do. There is a strong possibility she is also diabetic and may have to be on insulin—we’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it. Meantime, Soph is to stay at the vet’s clinic until Friday. As I told her today, “Only two more sleeps.”

I guess I’m pet minded today, but I discover treasures when Windows or Microsoft or whoever pops up my memories daily. Today those invisible forces sent a picture of Wynona Judley, the only cat I have ever loved. Wywy was a stray kitten on a Minnesota country road when Jamie found her—don’t ask, he was in college, selling encyclopedias door to door. He carried Wywy around in his truck all summer and brought her home—at least we assumed it was a she until the vet corrected us. Sometime during Wywy’s reign at our house, Jamie moved out, married, and moved on. I insisted on keeping the cat and had him until he was nineteen years old and had to be put down for his own sake. He was gentle, sweet in nature, beautiful, and a true gentleman. We think he had a bit of Maine Coon in him, because of his size, coat, and disposition. I might have another cat if I could be sure it would be like Wywy.

But today the vet told me Sophie does not like cats. One wandered close to her cage at the clinic, and she went ballistic. I don’t think she’s ever been around a cat that I know of. And I’ve had her since she was eight weeks old.

Kegan chatting with George Mitchell

My grandchildren are pretty cute too. The Tomball Alters spent a day in a nature reserve in The Woodlands (Houston suburb, a planned community, for those of you outside Texas). Along the way they came to a statue of George Mitchell, and Kegan, my youngest grand at fifteen, decided to have a chat with him. Kegan’s mom sent me the picture. Immediately I had to find out who George Mitchell was, so I went online. The first entry by that name was a two-time senator from the State of Maine who held several other government positions. Didn’t seem likely there would be a statue in Texas. But then I came across a George P. Mitchell, who had much to do with improving fracking (as an opponent of fracking, I’m not a lot impressed by that). But he was also apparently the force behind the development of The Woodlands. He had ten children, so the children on the bench with him are some of those ten. Kegan hasn’t yet commented on what they talked about.

We’re done with turkey! Oh, there’s enough in the freezer for soup, including the broth that Christian made from the carcass. Jordan is put off by the idea of cooking a carcass, so the soup will wait until late January when she travels. I’ll fix it for Christian, Jacob and me. (Not sure where she thinks the meat comes from if not the carcass, but I won’t pursue that!). Much as I love the traditional turkey holiday dinner, I am glad to move on. Last night we had a pork tenderloin that I was only medium happy with—if I could find a recipe I really liked, I’d be a happy camper. It just doesn’t have enough fat to make gravy, and yet I find sliced tenderloin dry and a bit bland.

Tonight we had sockeye salmon—the deeper orange color is a real contrast to Coho or King salmon, but then so is the price. So we had sockeye, with an herb topping, which I didn’t think was much, but Jordan and Christian raved about. Central Market didn’t have watercress which I think is the basis of a good herb sauce, so this one had too much basil. I made a cucumber salad but discovered one cucumber made a skimpy salad, so we added halved cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts, with a yogurt/lemon dressing. That was really good!

My fixation now is on caviar—but more about that in tomorrow’s Gourmet on a Hot Plate column.

Again, my deepest thanks to all who have expressed concern for my Sophiedog!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Sophie saga continues


I’m sure if she knew Sophie would be thrilled to have so many of you wishing her well. I am gratified by your thoughts, but I am also a bit teary tonight. Soph is spending the night at the vet’s, hooked to IVs. Jordan took her in this morning and left her for them to do blood work, etc. I suspect our vet, whom I adore and have complete confidence in, didn’t realize how sick she was until he saw her. When I called mid-afternoon, he gave me the news that he would keep her overnight, said he was waiting for blood work, mentioned some possible life-threatening conditions, and wouldn’t guarantee an outcome. I was floored—and teary. I called Jordan, Jordan called her siblings, and everyone rallied around by email and phone.

The blood work results came back tonight while Jordan, Christian, Mary and I were having happy hour—as Mary said, it was a melancholy happy hour without Sophie demanding attention, going in and out, asking for love. We all felt the absence. The blood work was apparently better than it could have been—her pancreatic enzymes are elevated, which means pancreatitis; her bladder is palpably painful; she has bad nasal congestion but her lungs, a sensitive area with Soph, are clear. The doctor thinks fluids will help her blood levels, and he’ll run tests again in the morning.

Jordan will be at the vet’s the minute they open in the morning to love on Sophie, and I will probably go later in the day. It’s a pain to get me in and out, but if I can reassure Sophie, I’ll be there. Part of my angst now is that I don’t want her to feel abandoned. There’s a lot more to the story, some of it guilt, some of it bad memories from another dog, but I won’t dwell on that. As Christian said tonight, having a sick dog is like having a sick child. We hope to bring her home tomorrow, and I will carry her on a silk pillow from now on.

At the moment, I’m hopeful. It sounds like she’s quite sick but not in a life-threatening situation. And I have to realize that she is eleven, medium old for a thirty-pound dog. She slept in the house with Jordan last night, and when Jordan brought her out this morning, she summoned enough energy to let a squirrel know exactly what she thought of him being in her yard. So the Soph we know and love is still in there.

Our happy hour was also melancholy because Mary is exhausted. They are packing to move out of the house she has lived in for twenty-five years and her husband, Sweet Joe, has lived in for fifty-one years. Talk about a wrench! The packers were there today, the movers come Thursday and Friday, and Friday Joe and Mary spend their first night in their new apartment. I cannot imagine the sorting and choosing, the cleaning out, the decisions involved in packing up a large, two-story, three-bedroom house after all those years. Mary is doing it in good humor, though she clearly wanted a place to sit and rest and relax, and we offered her that tonight, albeit shadowed by Sophie’s story.

Mary and Joe’s move makes me think how hard change is for all of us. It’s scary, the unknown, leaving behind the familiar and comfortable. Some people handle it better than others. Mary and Joe are doing well with it. I never did. I think that’s the reason I don’t like to travel. I’m too attached to the security of the world I live in day by day.

And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think I’m fortunate to be so content with my world. I have friends who travel all the time, can’t quiet their itchy foot, and I often wonder if they are seeking something I don’t see. Of course, part of my world that makes me happy is Sophie. So, please, cross your finger, say a prayer, whatever works. Help me will Sophie back to good health, so I can have her spoiled, stubborn, adorable self back in the cottage.

Monday, December 26, 2022

A doggie day


Sophie taking full advantage of her 
status as a sickie.

The day after Christmas, to me, usually represents a sign to buckle down and get to work. Oh sure, there’s still New Year’s, and it’s a big deal—but it’s secular, not religious, and not in the same category as Christmas. Nor is it accompanied by the same frenetic activity—shopping, wrapping presents, cooking, a huge meal on the table. New Year’s kind of slides in on the heels of a late-night celebration the night before. So, December 26 is a day to begin that trek back to reality, carrying with you, if possible, the glow and joys of the holiday.

And so it started at my house. But Sophie soon got all my attention. I have been for a couple of days nervously alternating between waiting for our vet to open on Tuesday and rushing her off to the emergency vet. The latter is always ungodly expensive and usually involves, as it would have today, a long wait.

So this morning, Christian convinced me that since Soph was drinking water and peeing, she could wait until Tuesday morning. “Just watch her,” he said, so I did—like a hawk. By noon, she hadn’t drunk any water, hadn’t gone outside to pee, and walked like a drunken sailor. A survivor of acute kidney failure myself, I was terrified of dehydration and the effect on kidneys. In short, I panicked and announced it was time to go to the emergency animal clinic.

Jordan called, found out that the wait was between three and five hours, and Christian said, “She drinks in our house. Let’s take her in.” Sure enough, the little beast drank two bowls of water, peed, had a nap with Jordan, and generally acted much better. Back in the cottage, she ate a bit of dog food and a few slivers of cheese.

Tonight she will sleep in the house with Jordan, because Jordan sweetly said it’s time I got a good night’s sleep. I was getting up with Soph two and three times a night and spending an inordinate amount of time coaxing her back into the cottage. First thing tomorrow I will call to get her in at the vet’s.

Meantime, Cricket wants you all to know that Christmas absolute exhausted he. Exhausted, I tell you!

Cricket asleep by the tree.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas sitting down


Christmas at home was everything it should be. We have traveled for the holidays for so many years—to the other kids’ homes and, more often, to B&Bs in ski locations or a few other places, like the year we went to Boerne and rented a huge house with a guest house—all seventeen had a place to sleep.

But this year we were right here in Fort Worth, and I think Jordan and Christian were so pleased to host that they went all out. We began the day opening presents, and that in itself was a break in tradition. At Alter Christmases we eat breakfast before presents, because that’s my family tradition. But this was a Burton Christmas, and their custom is different. So we opened a huge stack of presents, and I now have a new wardrobe of sweaters, jeans, and a shacket (think shirt and jacket combo). A friend told me recently that his family put a limit on the number of presents, and all I could think was that would stifle the Christmas spirit of giving. We know no such limits in my family.

While we were opening, a delicious cheese-and-sausage egg casserole was in the oven, served with poppy seed bread from a neighbor. Christian’s family arrived in the afternoon, and we began snacking on cheeseball and fruit and a dip that his family is partial to. Jordan’s table was beautiful, set with Spode Christmas china, and her dinner bountiful—two kinds of turkey (the Burtons like smoked, the Alters like fresh, and Christian did the latter in the air fryer), traditional green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes from Christian’s sister, mac and cheese (Jordan made Christian’s mom’s recipe), dressing, rolls—so much food that we will eat leftovers for days.

The dinner table

As I’m sure was the sentiment around many American tables, we were grateful for our blessings but acutely aware of those who are less fortunate—the homeless, those immigrants bussed to DC in the dark of winter last night (and a Merry Christmas to you, too, Greg Abbott!), the people of Ukraine. It is a time for outreach. We did talk at the table about how, as children, we were urged to clean our plates and think of the starving people of …. it was a different country, depending on when you grew up. I remember China, Christian remembers Ethiopia, and I think one year it was Yugoslavia.

For me, Christmas was dimmed just a bit by Sophie, who has a bladder infection or UTI (diagnosed by one Judy Alter). She wouldn’t eat her breakfast this morning but drank lots of water—until this evening. I have made her a bowl of weak chicken broth, hoping to get some liquid into her. She’s up and about but obviously doesn’t feel well and won’t come in from the cold when I call her. So the kids are going to get her for me.

Sophie guarding the house

And a lesson I learned over again—it was, for me, a sitting down holiday, and that makes a difference. At breakfast, Jordan waited patiently while I ate half a second helping. Then I was whisked out the door and helped back to the cottage. I know it was because Jordan had lots to do to clean up from breakfast and get ready for dinner. That was fine—I had some things to do, wanted a nap because neither Sophie nor I had slept well last night, etc. But the thing is, if I weren’t sitting on a walker, I’d be rushing through those dishes, helping make sense of the kitchen, feeling like I was useful. It’s a hard adjustment, even if it’s not new. For some reason, today I was particularly aware of it.

My favorite elf

We had dinner early, so Christian’s parents could get home—and by six o’clock I was whisked out the door again and found myself in the cottage. Jordan had a mess to clean in the kitchen, but I thought, “Wow! Six o’clock, and Christmas is over.” The evening loomed long before me. I played around on Facebook for a while and then got in my pajamas and took another nap—why not?

Now it’s nine-thirty, and I am back at my computer. Sophie is so disinterested in food that she won’t come in when I call her, so I had to ask Christian to get her. I made her a bowl of weak chicken broth, and she seemed a bit interested in that. I’ll ask Christian to take her out one more time and hope by morning she’ll have drunk all the broth. Our vet doesn’t open until Tuesday, but I’ll be first in line.

So an almost perfect day ends with a note of worry. Isn’t that how life always is? I’m still feeling the glow from last night’s service, now magnified by the plenty of our day and dinner table. So I’m making a new year’s resolution—to reach out more to those who need a hand up, a warm meal, a toasty blanket. There are so many worthy causes that I’ll have to explore until I find one where I think I can make a difference. But I’d like to carry the Christmas spirit of giving and caring into the new year.

Hope everyone had a blessed day. No doubt there was one thing amiss, be it big like a loved one missing or small as in I burned the turkey (it has happened), but I hope nonetheless you found the joy of the season.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The magic of Christmas Eve


Christmas Eve dinner at Joe T's

For years, when my children were growing up, we attended the midnight (really eleven o’clock) candlelight service at University Christian Church. I remember one year when we all fell asleep too early, but most years we made it, and the service was a major part of our Christmas traditions.

Time and change intervened. The children moved away, married, established their own traditions—some with church, some with not. I began to spend Christmas at their homes. Jordan figured the other day we have not been in Fort Worth for Christmas in at least ten years—I think it was longer. The last I remember, Eden was two—and she is now close to twenty. Jordan resolved we would go to the Christmas Eve service this year.

I began to waffle. For three weeks I’ve had a chest cold, a cough that lingers, and I don’t want any more. The high incidence of covid, flu, and rsv makes me want to avoid a crowd. Plus it is really cold tonight. Last year in Austin I began to watch online, and the service drew my kids like a magnet. This year, I decided I would watch online again. No problem, I told myself, to stay up until eleven—I usually do anyway. The Burtons decided they would go to the eight o’clock, not the eleven, and they assured me the candlelight singing of “Silent Night” would be part of the service. So I too chose the eight o’clock—online.

We went to dinner at Joe T.s, the four of us, and had a good time. It was festive, with serving people in sparkling, sequin-studded shirts and customers dressed up for the occasion. Enjoyed our dinner and random conversation, and then they brought me home and went to church.

I watched the service at my “comfort” spot, my desk—to my joy the church incorporated all the familiar hymns in the service, the ones I remember from my young years and can still sing all verses from memory—well, if I could sing these days. Mostly I mouth the words. But “Silent Night” with the sea of candles in that darkened sanctuary once again brought tears to my eyes. I thought hard about the message— “Christ the Savior is born.” I know these days a lot of people disparage religion in general and Christianity in particular, and there are branches of Christianity that seem to have forgotten the message, “And of these, love is the greatest.” They give faith a bad name.

But it struck me what a great message for our troubled world lies in the words of those old hymns. For those of us who believe, who practice the faith, Christmas every year is a reliving, a reaffirmation of the gifts of God. (Sorry, I don’t usually branch off into religion in this blog, but I still have tears in my eyes from that candlelit moment.) Every faith has its message of hope and love—I can’t think of one that preaches hate. Banning books and shunning certain people because of race of sexual preference is not religion, it is not love—it’s hate. We need to all of us preach the Christmas message, no matter our personal calling. Maybe that’s the idealistic part of me talking. I’m kind of wandering here, finding it hard to put into words what I want to say. For those who don’t practice Christianity, what I hope they hear is not the divine message about Christ, but the message of love and peace that he brought to the world.

Dinner at Joe T.’s was also affirming tonight. Certainly a departure from our tradition—the one year, maybe thirty years ago, we had dinner out was also the year we missed Christmas Eve church because we fell asleep. But Joe T.’s is familiar—Christian used to work there, and he and Jordan know the owners, eat there often. It is Christian’s parents’ favorite restaurant. My seventieth birthday blowout was there. So I may not have had all my chicken together this year, but I had the local family in a familiar setting. Tomorrow we will welcome Christian’s parents, his sister, brother-in-law, and their two daughters. Setting new traditions, for I think this is the first Christmas I have shared with his family. For years, for Burton Christmas, they went to his parents’ home in Coppell, and I went to Tomball to be with Colin and his family. New ways of doing things while keeping the spirit.

Merry Christmas to all, and God Bless us, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2022

Survival Mode

Phil in his all black splendor, with his coat on his lap

The first hint of bad weather sends everyone in Texas frantically scrambling to prepare—stocking up on groceries, getting out the ski clothes, setting faucets to drip. And when the cold hits, at first it’s almost an adventure. There is a sort of “I’m tough, I can do this” mentality about it. And then reality hits.

Realty hit at my cottage Thursday morning. When I got to my computer, about nine o’clock, Sophie wanted to go outside. I checked the weather, told her it was 27o and too cold. As a demonstration of my authority, it should be noted that she went anyway. Within an hour the temperature had dropped eleven degrees and it kept dropping. Sophie was back inside. And every remaining leaf on our big trees had blown off, so the yard, once almost clean, was now ankle deep in leaves again.

Still, for most of yesterday, everything was pretty much okay. I kicked up the heat, and my two wall hung heaters are blowing their hearts away. It’s a bit chilly but not really uncomfortable. Sophie decided staying out for long periods of time wasn’t wise, and she’d retreat to her crate to sleep. I read, worked, napped and the day went along as usual.

In the early evening, neighbors Greg and Jaimie came for happy hour, bringing many good things—the result of Jaimie’s creative cooking—especially a wonderful goat cheese dip. We visited, laughed, gossiped, and ate a ton of that goat cheese, which proved to be my supper. When I asked if they wanted lap robes, they said the temperature was fine. Though, they did drive the one short block from their house to the cottage, and Greg joked about bundling up to go a few houses to see a neighbor.

Late at night I read, with a glass of eggnog to help me sleep. Soph was up once about four because her water dish was empty. When she gave a half-hearted bark that she wanted to go outside, I said, “No, ma’am”—and she forgot about it and went back to sleep until seven. After I fed her, we both slept until almost nine. No artic freeze was going to bother us!

But this morning I discovered I have no hot water. And it was definitely chilly in the cottage. I worked at my desk, wrapped in a blanket that tripped me every time I got up to do anything. I couldn’t—or wouldn’t—wash my hair in cold water. And probably the worst of it is that washing dishes in cold water (I have no dishwasher) is one of the least pleasant things I’ve done in a long time. (As I write, the dinner dishes are in the sink.)

Subie and Phil arrived for happy hour, Phil wearing a black great coat and Fedora and looking for all the world like a Mafioso don, although I tried to cast him as Father Christmas. When I offered lap robes, he draped his coat over his knees, and his seeing-eye dog, Porter, settled at his feet and began to snore—loudly. We had jolly discussions about a lot of things and then ended on politics—it is a delight for me to talk with people who are knowledgeable about current issues and challenges. Of course, it helps that we’re on the same page politically.

Porter, content to sleep and snore at Phil's feet

We talked too about the current upsurge in flu, rsv, and covid. I have for some time now kept my distance from people who travel and fly a lot because everyone I know who has come down with Covid—including Subie and Phil—has brought it back from a trip. Sue, my “adopted” Canadian daughter, and her husband Teddy are just back from NYC and I started to invite them for drinks this week. Then I caught myself, and we have a date on the calendar for next week. We cancelled our weekly happy hour with Mary because her husband had Covid—even though she tested negative, I didn’t want to take a chance. I hate living with this caution, but I think at my age, with a couple of chronic conditions, it’s better to be safe.

Tomorrow the temperature is to be a bit above freezing, and by Sunday into the forties. So perhaps my tankless water heater will defrost, and life can return to normal. We’ll look back on this cold spell and say, “It wasn’t as bad as 2021,” and that will be the truth. But it’s bad enough. I want to go back ten years when we rarely if ever had cold like this. I think in all my years in Texas, I remember one year when the temperature got to 14o. I lost half of the grass on my large front yard and all the Indian Hawthorns across the front, and I will never plant them again.

But, hey, we survived, didn’t we?

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

It’s Christmastime in the city


Lovely evening tonight. Jean picked me up and we went to Trinity Terrace, the high-rise retirement community where she lives. In the formal dining room, we met longtime special friend, Jeannie Chaffee, and the three of us gabbed and gossiped hrough dinner, covering everything from TCU’s football record to Harry and Meghan’s documentary. Nice that we are all pretty much on the same page on these subjects—TCU priorities are out of whack for a university and higher echelons salaries are an embarrassment compared to faculty and staff salaries at all levels. Meghan and Harry should be ashamed of themselves for dishing on the monarchy—they seem to want the privileges without the obligations, and they need to be told firmly they can’t have it both ways. Telling dirty secrets is really low life.

I had Caesar salad with salmon for supper—we haven’t had salads lately at home, for whatever reason. Perhaps we are all busy, perhaps there’s always a catastrophe, like the leaning Christmas tree, but I was all set for a huge salad tonight—and that’s what I had. Enough in the fridge for my lunch tomorrow.

After supper, Jean drove me on a tour of Christmas lights. We went through my neighborhood where displays were spotty—there were some over-the-top displays, some totally dark houses, and some sort of halfway efforts. I pointed out to Jean that we have some elderly residents who have lived here for decades and are now probably without the energy to string lights. I remember past years when the lights were more uniform and much more imaginative—or am I just getting old and letting nostalgia distort my memory? Proud to say that Christian’s efforts on our house are the best and stand out on a mostly dark street. (Plus tonight when I came home, I saw that he had covered some of the plants, including my herb garden).

But the prize for spectacular light displays goes to Cook Children’s Hospital with the most lavish lighting I’ve seen—trees are bathed in rotating red, green, and gold, teddy bears and rabbits and hobby horses sparkle with lights, and Santa himself is there with a pair of the oddest spectacles. The display covers the roundabout in front of the hospital and one block to the west of the main building. There is seating (if you’re brave enough in these chilly temperatures) and stations that offer photo ops. It’s extravagant, gorgeous, beyond imagining, and it really brings out the Christmas spirit, almost making me, still coughing and never able to carry a tune, want to break out in a Christmas carol

Thanks to Jean for a lovely evening, and a chance to get out of the cottage before the arctic blast hits.

Even Christmas displays bring out the worst. There’s a camera shot of the scum who stole the Baby Jesus from a nativity scene in Sundance Square downtown. The camera even caught him handing the baby off to a cohort, and then they disappeared in a vehicle, also caught on camera. They apparently haven’t been caught, but what in heaven’s name do they intend to do with the (probably plastic) Baby Jesus? I doubt ransom is a possibility. And then there was an ad for over-size all-white nativity scene figures made of interlocking pieces, so you just snap them together. Somehow that strikes me as crassly commercial.

Meanwhile, our resident big coyote must be feeling the Berkeley spirit. He was back today, boldly napping in the same yard where he was caught on camera a couple of days ago. I applaud the homeowner who said she doesn’t want to cause his demise but does wish Fort Worth Animal Control would trap him and take him for a good long ride. I lamented in a small online group that I didn’t know what I’d do if a coyote attacked Sophie in the night, and a friend suggested an airhorn but said she guessed I couldn’t do that in the city. Of course I can if necessary to save my dog’s life—I just need the air horn. Her second suggestion was a wooden spoon and a pot—when I tried that tonight, Sophie came running as though offered a treat.

The weather forecast is grim, starting at nine o’clock tomorrow morning. Temperatures may get as low as 10o F. Even though it was in the fifties tonight, the forecasts had us all thinking cold and bundling up. When we came out of Trinity Terrace tonight, we did note that the wind had picked up—it’s supposed to be strong for the next three days, driving the chill factor even lower. Texans remember shivering through the power outages of 2021 amid the horrifically cold temps, and we are on alert to see if the grid will hold.

I for one plan to stay in the cottage, as safe and warm as I can be. And it’s not just Texas—the cold is to hit all over the country except, as one friend pointed out, southern California where she expects temperatures in the seventies. The rest of you stay warm and safe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Big bad critters, a leaning tree, and some baking


The bold coyote in a neighbor's yard.
Photo by Allison Bradford.

The coyote that was sighted two nights ago has become much more real today. There have been several sightings of it in our neighborhood, including one in someone’s back yard where it had the audacity to take a long nap in the afternoon sunshine. It is indeed a big guy. I have tried and tried to explain to Sophie that there is a big, bad coyote out there and no, she doesn’t want to go outside. She remains unconvinced, though she did come in rather quickly when I just let her out. I am vigilante by the window or door when she’s out, but I worry about the Burton dogs because they don’t watch them every minute—and the Cavaliers are smaller, frailer, and much easier pretty. The most recent sighting I heard of was only blocks away, so I feel a bit on edge. Our yard is pretty much fenced with six-foot fencing, but there is one four-foot section I’m sure a coyote could sail over if it wished. Apparently, animal control has been unresponsive to the reports.

And another catastrophe—Jordan was hanging ornaments outside and came into the house for just a minute when out of the corner of her eye, she saw their elaborately decorated Christmas tree listing at a dangerous angle. It had come loose from the moorings that were supposed to hold it up straight. She propped it up with a chair (good thinking, Jordan!) and called Christian but had to wait for him to come home because it was, she said, a three-person job. Last report I had was that tempers were short, and the atmosphere was not Christmas-like. I’m not sure about the status of the tree. I guess this is not the time to ask Christian to reboot the router to see if that will help with my problem accessing the Central Market website.

For supper, we were going to have the great subway-style sandwiches Jordan makes with French dressing, oregano, Parmesan, etc. I ended up with a bit of salami and a slice of provolone and some mayo on a slider bun—not quite the same. And Sophie gnawed on the one slider bun I’d put out to defrost—my fault for leaving it to close to the edge of the work surface. She didn’t actually get it down, but she got in some good licks, and I decided on a fresh bun. I gave her another lecture on love the dog but not the behavior—she was unmoved and, I’m sure, regretted missing the bun.

The Christmas cooking bug has hit me belatedly. In days gone by, I started baking in November. In recent years, it’s been more of a last-minute thing, but I did plan ahead. Somehow this year, I dropped the ball completely—I think I told myself I was too busy writing. But then I decided, for various reasons beyond explaining, that I was going to put all my writing, except blogs, on hold and suddenly I had time to fix some Christmas gifts. I must add to this that baking is not my forte—I make pretty good main dishes and sides, but I usually forget desserts and fruit-like things.

But last year I made some cranberry/apricot chutney, and Jean liked it so well I thought I should make her some again this year. And of course, you don’t just make one jar of chutney, so I have several small jars of chutney. I tasted it, and it’s pretty good. But I have a whole lot of dried apricots left over—I guess I neglected to tell Jordan the smallest bit she could buy, so she got almost a lb. I hate to think what that cost. But I went online and prowled—guess what, there aren’t a lot of recipes that use small amounts of dried apricots. But I found one for jam—and that is tomorrow’s project.

Tonight, I made a cranberry cake—the recipe came from a neighbor a couple of years ago for publication in the newsletter I edit. Turned out the neighbor is an old friend from way back, but that’s another story. The cake was delicious, so tonight I dug out the recipe and made it again. I think I’ll make another in a day or two, so I can send bits home with folks who come for a drink. I’m kind of enjoying this bit of Christmas cooking. It's all I’ll do until Christmas day when I’ll be responsible for dressing and green bean casserole.

It feels a lot like Christmas to me these days. And I suppose it will even more so in a couple of days when the big freeze hits us. Shades of my Chicago childhood, except we won’t have snow. Meantime, today Megan posted a picture of her (well actually just her foot and a beach drink) lounging on a beach in Belize with that blue, blue water beyond. That wouldn’t feel so much like Christmas to me.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Wild critters, cold weather, latkes, and a moment in history


The gorgeous, lush poinsettia given me by a neighbor.
It occupies a place of honor on the bookcase.

Gosh, what a lot has gone on in the last twenty-four hours! For me, it started last night about eight when I read a post by someone who had seen a “large” coyote heading into our neighborhood. Truth be told, I think we have coyotes all the time, situated as we are above the zoo and the river. But when someone sends out an alert, you feel obligated—or at least I did—to take it more seriously. And what did the poster mean by “large”? How many coyotes had she seen for reference. I worry not only about Sophie, but about the little dogs in the house—and that stray yellow cat that I keep spotting in the back yard. I kept Sophie in as much as I could, much to her disgust, and was on high alert when she was out. What would I do? Not much I could, except to push my walker outside and charge the animal, yelling and screaming. I go on the theory that they are more scared of us than we are of them. Glad that so far, I haven’t had to put it to a test.

We are living with threats of sub-freezing weather and extreme wind chill. In Texas, bad weather doesn’t just happen—we like to worry over its approach for days and milk it for all its worth. But Thursday, the high is to be 35, with strong wind chill. That’s the day Jordan and Christian are going to the Baylor bowl game in the TCU stadium, but Christian tells me they will have access to indoor seating. Not sure how that works, but I have my fingers crossed. It’s supposed to be bitterly cold through Christmas Day. A test to see if the grid really will work or not. Memories of Snowmaggedon are still strong with Texans.

When my kids were little and we celebrated Hannukah, we had an annual latkes dinner with a family I knew from graduate school. I remember that making latkes was a complicated, labor-intensive thing, but I didn’t worry much about it because the men took over. We served egg and tuna salad on the side, which strikes me as strange now. The other thing I remember was that my friend’s father and mother were always in town for the holiday, and he kept a roll of dollar bills in his pocket—held together by Scotch tape, I presume. He would peel them off one at a time and distribute to the children, who were in awe. I know they remember it to this day.

So the other day I found a recipe for latkes done in the air fryer, and Jordan and I decided to try it. I’m sure my Jewish friends, past and present, are scornful—and it turns out they would be right. First, I worried about what to serve. Tuna and egg salad wouldn’t do it with Christian and Jacob, so I settled on meatloaf—which Jacob doesn’t like, so his mom made him a turkey sandwich.

Christian, being the resident air fryer expert, did the latkes, after I grated the potatoes (remind me not to volunteer for that again) and mixed the potato and onion with matzo meal, eggs, salt, and pepper. They were good—and not greasy, which was to me the advantage of the air fryer. Jordan really appreciated the absence of grease, but I missed the greasy, hot, flat cakes of the traditional method. These were potato cakes. I’ll brown a couple in a skillet in the morning and see if I can get a good crust on them. But I consider tonight’s experiment a modest fail.

I’m always struck that my children know so little about JFK’s assassination. It was almost ten years before their birth. So now I’m wondering what my great-grandchildren, as yet unborn, will know and remember about trump. But this country made history today—the first time a congressional committee has ever referred criminal charges against a former president to the Justice Department. When you think about it, that’s an earth-shattering precedent, one that could only be inspired by overwhelming evidence. Now of course it’s up to the DOJ.

And now we will get the armchair experts and the funding appeals. I’ve already gotten those emails pleading for my opinion on whether or not trump should be prosecuted. And I know they will segue into a funding appeal, as though funding a Democratic PAC could influence the DOJ. Last week, when Brittney Griner came home, we suddenly had a nation of armchair hostage negotiators who knew what Biden did wrong, what he could have done better, including bringing Paul Whelan home. Now we’ll have armchair prosecutors who know what and how Merrick Garland should be doing. I’ve already seen an opinion piece titled, “Garland is a failure.” I wish those armchair experts would shut up and let the wheels of justice grind, however slowly. The one thing we know about Garland is that he is slow, careful, and meticulous—and he doesn’t act until he’s sure he has a case. I’m sure, with the special counsel, he’s building an air-tight case. Meantime, I wish the media would pay a little more attention to what a significant moment this is: it shows, once again, that democracy works.

As I said, a day full of interesting stuff. I’m ready for peaceful sleep, with no coyotes.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

A cozy Sunday evening


Roast sweet potatoes and spinach

Oh, the weather outside is frightful—well, not really, but it’s darn chilly. So here it is, Sunday evening, and I am warm and cozy in my cottage, with The Sound of Music on the TV. A bit of salmon salad on Ritz crackers for supper, followed by some chocolate truffles from Central Market. What could be more blissful?

Today I had a lovely visit with friend Linda, who left Texas a year or so ago for Taos. Linda and I have known each other for close to fifty years—a history and friendship that encompasses divorce and death, lots of struggles and lots of joy. We have children the exact same age—if Jamie turned fifty this year, I knew her Melanie did too. She has wonderful stories about when the children were little, like Megan walking into her house and making a beeline for her make-up dresser. Apparently, I was deficient in such matters.

I had made a new dish for supper last night and fed Linda leftovers because I had them, but more than that it was the kind of food she likes—roast sweet potatoes and spinach with green onions and feta. Oops, forgot the jalapenos. The recipe called for sprinkling juice from a jar of preserved jalapenos over the sweet potatoes. Last night I did that—cautiously—and added a bit more today. But it also called for sprinkling the finished dish minced jalapenos. Last night, Jean took one bite of the minced to see if she wanted them on her dinner and madly reached for the baguette slices I had put out, followed by a glass of water. When at last she could speak, she managed to say, “Too hot!” Linda said she ate one slice today, but, yes, they were hot! Otherwise, the dish was a keeper. Jean thought maybe it needed a grain element, and I wondered about something crisp.

A friend gave me a package of Tours mix, and I thought that might be good, though I didn’t try it today. You have to have lived in Fort Worth for years to know Tours mix—Tours was a lovely restaurant at Seventh and Monticello, and their signature salad was sprinkled with this crunch mix of seeds and nuts. You can buy it now at Vending Nut Company. And if you go down the street to Michael’s Restaurant, you can buy a jar of the original Mac’s Salad Dressing, from now long-gone Mac’s House. It’s great with Tours mix.

Anyway back to my visit with Linda. I’ve used to not seeing her often, because she has lived in Granbury almost her entire life, but now that she has pulled up stakes for Taos, I feel the distance. So today we caught up on each other, families, friends, all the things we share. At one time, we were both married to osteopathic surgeons (they were briefly partners) so that’s a whole world, now mostly lost to us, that we talk about. But today it never came up—have we let go of that part of the past? I thought Linda moved to Taos principally because she had an art teacher there that she really liked, but she told me today the pervasive MAGA politics drove her from her hometown. She’s not the first person I know who has moved out of Texas because of politics. Texas has a great and glorious history—well, with some myth-busting—and I hate to see the rigid ideology of Abbott and his cohorts drive my friends away.

Politics aside—and how I wish we could just brush it away—the holidays are a great time to catch up with old friends, reach out to new, share the sense of hope that the season brings. I’m hoping for a couple more visits like that, though it’s a busy season for all of us. One friend has already reluctantly cancelled a planned girls visit in favor of an unexpected chance to see her son and his family, and I certainly applaud that. This morning the sermon at church was about the importance of friendship, of having someone with whom we can share our deepest secrets, our hopes, our triumphs and our disappointments. I am blessed in that respect.

So what does Christmas week hold for you? I’ve got cranberries on my mind—some chutney and a cranberry cake. And friends and visiting and happy times. Hope you do too.

I just have to add, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, The Sound of Music is a tearjerker. And even now I cannot watch the cemetery scene!

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Christmas isn’t what it was

The Alter grands with gingerbread houses,
Several years ago, apparently in Austin.

The other day I read a blog about memories of Christmas with four little ones and the logistics of figuring out equal presents and stocking gifts. I wanted to say, “Hold my wine!” When my four were little, their Jewish father was still part of our household, so we celebrated Hannukah and Christmas both. Do the math—that meant eight days of gifts for four children for Hanukkah, plus stocking stuffers for Christmas morning, plus “out” gifts (something big and showy that Santa left, unwrapped, under the tree—or beside it or at least in the same room), and then individual, wrapped gifts under the tree. In that day, before spread sheets, I made my own flow charts.

For some reason I remember particularly the year that the “out” gift was oversize (I mean huge) Tinker Toys out of which Joel built a life-size playhouse for the kids. And then, of course there was the year they discovered their unwrapped gifts in the guest room closet—it ruined Christmas, they confessed, but I guess every kid does that once. My memories of those Christmases are of hectic confusion, gleeful noise, lots of planning, a frantic Christmas morning, a huge turkey dinner—and sweet exhaustion at the end of the day. Nothing will ever be quite the same again, although when all sixteen Alters celebrated together when the grands were little, it was joyful, mass confusion.

Jean said to me tonight at supper, “Christmas just isn’t what it used to be,” and I replied, “Of course it isn’t. Things change. Life moves on.” This is the season when a lot of us, particularly those of us who are in our golden years, look back on the past with longing. I have several widowed friends who are lonely, missing their spouses. One wrote of the difficulty of filling time right now, and finally confessed, “I miss my soulmate.” Of course, she does, and it must be a bitter, deep down missing that I cannot fathom. I resisted the urge to say, “You have memories of a lifetime with your soulmate. I, long divorced, have no such treasure to call on at this season.” But I have a large family of children and grands—that is my joy. My point is that each of us comes at this Christmas memory business from our unique history. The memories I treasure are not the same as the days you may miss.

But my rather harsh message to Jean and others is, “Get over it!” Of course, Christmas isn’t the same. The world isn’t the same. Everything changes, grows, moves on. Life isn’t static. Part of growing old gracefully (and yes, Jean, you really do a beautiful job of it--sorry to use you as an example) is that things aren’t like they were twenty or thirty years ago. One of the compensations of aging, to me, is calling up memories and, yes, dwelling on them. Live in the past for a few moments. Treasure those times.

But also look around you. Count the blessings you have now. This year, I will not spend Christmas surrounded by Alters—it is what we call in the family an “off year” and my four and their families will spend the holiday with their in-laws: Colin and his family will be in Tomball with Lisa’s mom, our beloved Torhild; Megan and group are flying to Belize with Brandon’s father for some scuba diving and who know what else; Jamie and Mel will welcome Mel’s parents and Eden, home from school, but will spend their first Christmas without Maddie, who is going home with her boyfriend, Trevor—they were with us last year in Austin. Maddie’s family will be sad and miss her (and I know she’ll miss them) but that’s another example of things change: Maddie is building her own life. And next year we’ll have another Alter Christmas. (Why does that make me hear in my mind, “Next year in Jerusalem!”)

Jordan and Christian will welcome his family on Christmas Day, and instead of going to Tomball as I usually do on “off” years I’ll stay here. Jordan is determined to go to midnight candlelight service at University Christian—I am still waffling, but to do that would be to recapture a bit of Christmases past. We haven’t been here at Christmas for ten years, so this is important. But with flu, covid, bitter cold weather, and late hours, I may opt to watch it on my computer. That’s okay. That’s one of the choices I can make about my own celebration of Christmas this year.

Christmas this year, any year, may not be what it was, but for each of us, it is what we make of it. I wish you all the blessings of the season, the joys of the Christmas message, and lots of sweet memories and warm dreams. Hey, maybe a bit of eggnog too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Feeling fragile


Not to worry. I’m fine and not feeling fragile, but I’ve had some thoughts this week about fragility and aging. My brother, who is a physician and six years older than I am, has been telling me for several years that we are both fragile. As a lifelong proponent of positive thinking (seriously, I do believe in it), I have refused to accept that thought, let alone live by it. In fact, I’ve been known to err on the far other side.

In recent years, through bouts with kidney disease, a disintegrated hip joint, and atrial fibrillation, both family and doctor have suggested, not so gently, that I should be quicker to admit that I am not feeling well. My defense goes back to my mom, who taught us over and over about the little boy who cried, “Wolf!” A doctor’s wife, Mom well knew about doctors’ attitudes toward women who whined and cried about pain. And she warned us. She was definitely of the stiff upper lip school. I was never tested by the pain of childbirth, but with the pain of my disintegrated hip joint I apparently proved that I was my mom’s daughter, because I didn’t complain a lot, earning me a reputation for a high tolerance of pain (not sure that’s true). All of this is a long way of saying, I don’t think you make a fuss about being sick.

This week, as many of you know, I’ve had a chest cold. I cannot tell you how many chest colds I’ve had in my long life, but as a child I was “subject” to them. I have memories of spending long days in bed with a huge bottle of ginger ale, my mom rubbing my throat with Ben Gay or Vick’s and tying an old sock around it, my dad, an osteopathic physician, coming home to treat me and saying, “Hush. People pay me good money to do this.” (John confesses he used to lie very still under the covers and pray that Dad would think he was asleep—it never worked). A cold was just one of those things that happened—you got over it and went your merry way.

Out of deference to my family, this past week, I emailed my doctor to ask if I needed to be tested for Covid, rsv, or some other devastating disease I haven’t yet heard of (life—and sickness—was a lot simpler when I was young). He said no, not in view of my symptoms or lack thereof. The treatment for rsv is the same as for the cold, unless it gets suddenly worse. And that was where he got me.

I realized that at my age, the common cold, that annoyance I was dealing with, could suddenly turn worse and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Ginger ale, Vicks, and Ben Gay weren’t going to help. And suddenly, there for a bit, I did indeed feel fragile.

Tonight, I am much better—almost “back at myself” as a friend used to say, but with a new realization. If I am not fragile, at my age I am more vulnerable. Which leads to two things: I need to be ever so much more grateful for every day of good health, and I need to be cautious. Many of my friends, who lead much more active social lives than I do, chide me for being reclusive, for being content in the cottage. I don’t seclude myself out of fear, and yet caution is a good reason for my lifestyle. A friend whose wife I see often has just come down with Covid—it would never have occurred to me to avoid her because her husband is not feeling well. And yet that’s the truth. I should be tonight at a festive dinner with three friends, so the four of us could exchange holiday gifts and catch up on visiting. I’m home, not because I don’t feel well enough to go, but because I still have occasional coughing spells that should send you running to the next county, and I didn’t think it right to inflict that cough on my friends, let alone unknown patrons I a restaurant.

Maybe life was simpler when I was a kid or maybe there were all those diseases out there, and we just didn’t know it. But this week I realized that I am vulnerable, and I vowed to continue being cautious.

Jordan sent me this chart to compare Covid, flu, rsv, and the cold. It is a public service announcement but was published by Cook Children’s Hospital. Perhaps some of you will find it useful—and reassuring.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A wild start to the day


Everyone in the Metroplex has a similar story, except maybe for the complication of the dog. My security system began sending off shrill messages at 7:45 this morning, waking me from a sound sleep. Lest you think I’m a slug abed, I was up at 4:30 and 6:30 with Sophie, the latter for half an hour. The system so rarely goes off that at first I thought it was an Amber Alert. Gradually though I realized what it was. Still, it took me three or four trips to figure out how to silence it, and then the thing went off twice more. Sophie stuck so close I nearly tripped over her.

I wasn’t inspired to stay up, especially not in the closet, but Jordan urged me to at least give it half an hour—sirens were going off, the sky was that ominous yellow/green, and to the west I could see clouds boiling in the kind of sky that can spit out a tornado. Still I could see that the storm causing the concern was a good bit north of us. Then I lost signals to the TV and computer. Rain pelted down, and the wind was wild, blowing most of the last leaves off the trees. About 8:30 the color of the sky changed, the rain slowed just a bit, and I went back to sleep. It was too dark, and I was too sleepy to stay up.

By mid-afternoon, the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day. Ah, Texas. But for me, the day was off to a slow start—and late. I never did get as much done as I intended. The wind blew so many leaves down that the yard guys, who had blown the yard clean yesterday, were back this afternoon. Most of the trees are bare enough but the two big oaks have some leaves that are stubbornly clinging. When they blew yesterday, a whole green lawn emerged—they had seeded winter rye a couple of weeks ago. Such a beautiful green.

The storms, however, were no laughing matter. There was severe damage in several small towns to the north. Some homes are probably beyond repair, which is an awful thing just before Christmas. To think of having your life ripped apart in that way is to horrible. I have not heard of serious injuries or fatalities, which is a blessing.

Now it’s evening. Jordan is wrapping Christmas gifts at my coffee table, Jacob is studying for finals (he had pre-calculus today which he says is his worst subject and would be worse than that for me), and Christian is lingering on the couch—I fear I have given him my cold. At his request, I’m cooking onions and kielbasa for supper—I’ll augment mine with a bit of sauerkraut. Had a nice dinner invitation tonight—a chance to see Mary and Joe’s new apartment and have fried chicken at a favorite restaurant--but I still don’t have the energy, and Jordan feels she should be home in case Jacob needs something. Joe also has come down with a cold—I’m beginning to feel like Typhoid Mary, except that I know the cold is widespread and they are out in the world more than I am, so they caught it somewhere else.

Congratulations to Sue Lyon Springfield, “my Canadian daughter,” who was sworn in as a U.S. citizen today. She studied hard and passed the test a couple of weeks ago, though she, usually so composed, confessed to nerves. It was an oral exam, and she answered all ten questions correctly. She had to study a hundred questions and tripped me up on one or two. No one was allowed into the ceremony, so husband Teddy took this picture outside.

Apparently, our storms are over, but cold weather is scheduled fo this weekend, with possibly our first freeze.