Monday, January 31, 2022

A reflection on pandemic


The last few afternoons have been sunny, if chilly, and in the late afternoon, just before dusk, the living area of my cottage—office and “company” couch and chairs—have been flooded with warm, bright sunshine. The room has windows on the south, west, and north, which make it bright but not always warm. But this week it cheered me just to walk into the room, filled me with gratitude for all the comforts I enjoy—a comfortable shelter, plenty of food, and, usually, plenty of companionship. I like to think of myself as a grateful person.

But re-reading some of my recent blogs startled me into the recognition that I have bee anything but grateful. Story Circle Network is having a blog competition, looking for the best blog post on the subject of growth. When I got that notice today, I thought, “Why not?” As I ate my lunch, I scrolled through some recent past entries in “Judy’s Stew.” I did not find growth, no gratitude either; I found a lot of anger and a lot about isolation. I think my blog—and me—is in a rut.

As many of you know I have been sort of quarantining since the New Year for reasons that have to do both with exposure and caution.  What I found today was that lots of my Lots of my posts were about isolation and anger. Isolation because my family is out and about, exposed at high-risk events, and my friends are cautious. For a while, patio entertaining was fine, but it turned cold and is supposed to do that again this week. We developed a transport system between the main house and my cottage. Mostly it consists of a grocery sack left on the step by my kitchen door, sort of in the same manner you raise a flag for service at a Brazilian steakhouse or at Pancho’s. Jordan makes many trips from back door to back door, especially since one or the other of us cooks dinner for everybody. Transporting dinner without spilling or letting it get cold has proved tricky. I posted about Jordan’s brief, two-minute masked visits to do this or that I needed, about wishing Sophie could talk about books and menus, about Sophie knowing something is different and acting out like a two-year-old. About gloomy, gray days when I could seem to get warm. About the day I just decided to write the world off and keep going back to bed—which left me wakeful during the night. Not a good solution.

And anger. I was angry at the Covid virus in all its mutations, angry at the rodeo (I tried not to be angry at my family because they, after all, have lives to lead and are not as much at risk as I am because of age and health), angry at a world where half the people doubt science and refuse to take precautions to protect others—those people who fuss about their rights and won’t get vaccinated or who swear masks don’t work and won’t wear one. Angry at Governor Abbott and his cavalier attitude about the pandemic while pursuing his own dreams of glory, at “the former guy” who let it get out of control (I’m always angry at him anyway). Angry at the world because I eat alone most nights instead of with my family gathered around my coffee table, angry because we didn’t have our annual Twelfth Night celebration, because … because … because

There were of course highlights—a visit from a dear friend back in Texas briefly after a move to Taos, patio visits from the neighbor ladies, lunch on the patio with my Canadian daughter; some good meals that I enjoyed cooking, despite transport difficulties. I’m grateful for some good writing sessions and a lot more reading than I usually have time for. But what re-reading these blog posts taught me, beyond that I need to change my attitude, is the Covid is re-shaping our lives and making us into people we sometimes don’t recognize. You can’t see the shift day-to-day, but pandemic has made us angry and cautious, suspicious of our neighbors. Who knows4 who might be asymptomatic and a carrier, even a super-spreader? And so we do, as I have done, hide in our houses, become lonely and angry. I’m wondering what the effects will be five years from now.

A wonderful visit tonight with old friends Phil and Subie brightened my spirits immensely. We met in the cottage, unmasked but with the patio door wide open. Conversation was lively, wine generous, and I felt more alive than I have for days. But I still say it’s true that pandemic has changed us as a society. I’d love to hear your opinions.


Sunday, January 30, 2022

Let's Rodeo


An old family picture on the Midway
not sure what year this was but
some of those kids are pretty young

Came across a blog from 2015 about rodeo and my family, and I hope you'll indulge me if I repeat it tonight. It still speaks for how I feel about rodeo, though now all our babies are teenagers with too many activities and their parents too busy--our rodeo days as a family are behind us. Lisa, my Tomball daughter-in-law, posted just today that she misses those days. So do I. Here's what I wrote seven years ago:

Let's rodeo!

It's rodeo night for my family. They arrived in bits and driblets between five and six this evening, snacked on the food I put out (including great sweet potato salad), drank a bit of wine, and were out the door a little after 6:30, leaving me a quiet house and snacks to put away. I may have said this before, but rodeo makes me nostalgic. When the kids were little, it was a rite of passage when a child was deemed old enough to go to the rodeo, though I don't remember what age. We always went with one other family, ate at the cafeteria (nothing fancy like Reata at the Rodeo in those days), watched the show, and came home exhausted. Early on, I realized I really didn't want to watch the bull riding--my heart was in my mouth the whole time, and I think it got so I waited in the hallway. Now I don't want to see man or beast hurt. When the grown children decided they wanted to come for a rodeo weekend, I politely declined. But now it's an annual affair that brings them all home, and I'm all for that.
One branch of the family--the Frisco Alters--will not arrive until tomorrow. Eleven-year-old Eden is an animal sympathizer to the point of being vegetarian and would not go to the rodeo; the rest of her family are not much interested either, so they'll arrive in time to tour the barns, etc. I still remember Eden's father, my Jamie, as a child going through the barn, holding his nose and lifting his feet high with each step  as though he could avoid the muck. Darn rain--Midway won't be much fun tomorrow. Once again, I'll stay home in a quiet house--too much walking and standing. (Gosh, I hate sounding like an old lady!)
In recent years, we've gone to Joe T.'s for dinner, but Jordan suggested a change which I welcome. We'll go to the Star Café owned by good friends Don and Betty Boles. Have a reservation for 17. I can already taste the chicken-friend steak with cream gravy.
Poor Christian has already been to the rodeo five times--tonight is six. He takes clients, plus he went with Jordan's office and took two little boys last Monday night. He's relieved that there's only one more week. I would be too.
Stock show--properly known, I think, as the Southwestern Livestock Exposition and Stock Show--really changes the character of Fort Worth for its three-week run--restaurants and roads are crowded, and there's a general air of excitement in the city. I saw a wonderful picture on Facebook last night of the darkened city with the lights of the Midway blazing in the middle of the picture--thanks to Brian Luenser. To me, that said it all about what the stock show does for Fort Worth.
I know it's a very good thing for the city and its economy, and there are days I miss walking the exposition hall and seeing the FFA animal exhibit--all those little ducks sliding down into the water and eggs hatching. I miss funnel cakes and the heavy smell of fried food and the earthy smell of the barns and the warmth emanating from the cattle. For me, a Chicago native, it's part of an acquired taste; for my Texas-born kids, it's part of their heritage.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

What a wicked day


All my tecchie troubles came back to me today with such force that I went back to bed twice to avoid facing the day. Last night, my computer did it’s no Wi-Fi thing again, and I could not fix it. That not only meant no email or internet, but I couldn’t write because the computer would not save any new copy. I wasn’t about to work really hard on writing my daily thousand words, only to have them go away when I turned it off for the night—and I’ve always been leery of leaving my computer going 24/7. I rebooted, did everything I knew, and ventured into unknown territory—the Settings page on my computer. Went to Wi-Fi, ran diagnostics, and honestly cannot tell you what else I did. But somehow it worked.

This morning, while Sophie did her business outside, I idly booted my computer and checked email. Took me two seconds to realize I had loosed the hounds from hell who lurk in computers. Without my knowing it, my computer had re-sent some old emails but dated them yesterday, so people thought they were knew. And, I’m sure, thought I had fallen into dementia. An email asking about a guest interview, when in truth that great interview ran weeks ago; a complaint that I couldn’t access the judging site for a contest when, really, I had submitted my evaluation. It was like the last month had been wiped out of my mind. So I spent the morning writing individuals and explaining. One friend sent a link to a site that essentially said that happens, no one knows why, no one knows what to do about it. If you got a crazy email from me, thanks for understanding.

Then my alarm system began to talk to me again for no reason. Having learned earlier in the week, I disarmed it and called the company. Fortunately because of last week’s episode, I now knew my password. Earlier in the week when I fixed this, the tech (and I) took a long time, lots of keypad changes, etc. So I’m leery when this woman said, “You fixed it.” The word security is still highlighted.

But some things did go well. I called my insurance company, found that vision is covered in my policy and I don’t need that extra policy that TCU Is suggesting. Phone call was again so quick and efficient, I was left in doubt. Isn’t that strange—we are so used to long waits that a quick fix makes us suspicious.

The biggest blow was that the county voter registration had rejected my vote-by-mail application. Reason given: I did not supply a personal identification number or the last four of my social number. I had sent one application which, when I called to check on it, had not been received. So I followed with a computer-generated application, which I clearly remember had that information on it. So I think they finally got the first one and rejected it. This morning I sent the requested information in an email—Monday I’ll check to make sure that makes me legal. I am concerned that seven out of ten applications are rejected, whereas before the new law, only two out of ten were rejected. I intend to follow up on that.

On the bright side, Christian, out of sympathy I think, brought me fried chicken for dinner. Looking forward to that. One thing about this isolation is that I’ve been eating well. Jordan made a delicious chicken dish last night—I’m still not sure what was in it, but it was good. And a couple of days ago I made Ina Garten’s recipe for a tuna melt. Tuna salad much as I’ve always made it but with the addition of diced celery and a bit of anchovy paste. When I added pepper, I accidentally opened the wrong end and got much. Not a problem---it was just the right amount of peppery. Used Swiss cheese and broiled it in my new toaster oven. So good I have really bee looking forward to lunch every day.

Obviously my daily writing goal went by the boards. Last night I wrote a mere hundred words, went through an elaborate procedure to save them, only to find out this morning that the computer, despite it’s warnings, had saved the new copy. So tonight I hope to write my thousand words. If the spot on the moon goes away.

Hoping you all had a better day. Enjoy this brief spell of nice weather.

Friday, January 28, 2022

A piece of history … and a book about it


If I seem obsessed with children’s/young adult literature these days, it’s because there is so much good work coming out for young readers, and as I said the other day, good books are desperately needed in a time when even school boards are limiting readers’ choices.

Yesterday an article on the online newsletter, Shelf Awareness, caught my attention. It was about Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, by Carol Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Floyd Cooper. Unspeakable was just given the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Award and named a Caldecott Honor Book. The 1921 Tulsa race massacre only came to public attention because last year was the centennial of the horror. Previously it had been dismissed as a race riot. The truth is that it was a massacre sparked by a young white girl’s accusation that a young Black shoeshine boy had assaulted her. The boy denied it and was whisked safely out of town, but the anger remained. The community paid the price for his supposed misdeed.

Tulsa at that time had one of the wealthiest Black communities in the country. The Greenwood community was sometimes known as the Black Wall Street. Somehow white citizens were deputized and armed, and when they finished sweeping through Greenwood, 35 blocks of buildings, businesses, and residences lay in ashes; anywhere from 75 to 300 people were dead, 800 hospitalized, and several thousand African Americans interned at various facilities.

Ms. Weatherford said that she learned nothing about the massacre in school—it was not taught as part of any history. Denial reigned, so that in writing the book, she had to rely on secondary resources. In a video, illustrator Cooper, who died in the summer of 2021, said the book spoke to him, echoing the stories his grandfather had told him. According to the author, the massacre has been taught this year in Oklahoma schools but because of new laws, she expects her book to be banned.

I first learned of the Tulsa massacre in 2002 when TCU Press published Pat Carr’s juvenile novel, If We Must Die. I was appalled, spellbound, and wanted to be in disbelief as I read the manuscript. An Irish girl with black hair and eyes (the true Black Irish) puts a spin on racial “passing” and passes as African American so that she can teach in a Greenwood school—and lives through the massacre. There’s a bit of romance, plenty of blind prejudice, both on a large scale and personal, a close call, and in the end a lot of brutality, all in a riveting tale. You definitely do not have to be a juvenile to be captivated by this book. I only wish I could say that it helped bring public awareness almost twenty years sooner, but it didn’t. Academic presses do not always have a wide marketing reach, and although the book did well—and is still for sale on Amazon—it did not get major attention. Still, as I’ve read about the Greenwood massacre in the last year, I’ve been proud of having been part of that book.

Oscar Wilde perhaps said it best about censorship and book banning: “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”




Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Mercury must be in retrograde


Or else there’s a spot on the moon. Something is out of whack. This morning, nothing electronic would work for me. Turned on my computer to find “No Wi-Fi connection.” Usually this isn’t a problem—I know how to reconnect in seconds. But this morning, the connection wouldn’t hold. Before I could get back to whatever I was reading, I was disconnected again. I finally rebooted, and it has, knock on wood, seemed okay all day.

In the emails I was checking, I found something I wanted to print. Printer was offline. I did everything I know to do—turning the printer off and on, checking the cache, and so on. It would print one document and then nothing. Then it began to print multiple copies of anything—including a ten-age document I printed by mistake when I thought I was getting a 1099 or whatever it is we need for tax purposes. I got so many copies of an air fryer recipe for Brussel sprouts I sent one into the house for Christian and used two others for scratch paper.

An email from my bank informed me that I had an inactive account and please contact them before they had to retrieve it from the State of Texas lost accounts. So I called the 24-hour number and could hear someone on the other end saying, “Hello? Hello?” while I was shouting, “I’m here! Can you hear me?” She couldn’t, and I heard her say in disgust, “No response.” Called back and began the conversation with “Can you hear me?” which no doubt confused the representative on the other end. She could, was pleasant and helpful, but it took a long time.

Next I called the alarm company because my security system was out of whack, and I forgot the password. Got a truly nice gentleman who helped me along. Without the password I had to identify the two emergency contacts, who no surprise turned out to be Jordan and Christian. But when asked Christian’s phone number, my mind went blank. I began guessing at figures. The rep suggested I look it up on my phone and assured me I would not lose his call. I lost his call. Bless him, he called me back. He asked me to go to the keypad, so I had to explain about the walker and how slow I am. He was patience personified. I went to the keypad, followed his instructions, and alI was good. At his request, I went back to my computer to schedule a routine service call—and somehow muted the volume on my hearing aids. If he hadn’t yet figured out he was dealing with a doddering old woman, he knew then. I put the phone on speaker, but everything he said was fuzzy. He finally worked it out, I have a service call on my calendar, and I have unmuted my hearing aids (I didn’t even know there was a mute function—might be good to know).

The day wasn’t over yet. I called the company that handles TCU retirees’ benefits, waited through that “We are experiencing a high volume of calls” message, and got a representative fairly quickly. But she could not help me and connected me to a licensed insurance counselor. I waited … and waited … and when I finally talked to him, he advised me to call my dentist and my insurance company. I gave up for the day.

All this on top of the fact that last night I “invented” a turkey meatloaf. It was meh. And now we have leftovers, which I had for lunch. Slathered with mayonnaise it was a bit better. Tonight I’m going to try hamburger Stroganoff. Wish me luck.

Stay safe, folks. Now there’s a new subvariant of Omicron and nobody is sure how serious it is, but they seem sure that it is even more contagious. Some days I think we can’t win. My mom taught me, however,  that tomorrow will be a better day. Mom, I hope you’re listening, and I hope you were right.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Books, bonfires, and what are your children reading?


The American Library Association just held its annual meeting, virtual this time because of omicron. During the sessions, they recognized some outstanding books  for children and young adults. The 2022 John Newbery Medal went to The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido); the Randolph Caldecott Medal was given to Watercress, illustrated by Jason Chin and written by Andrea Wang (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House); and Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Holt) won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Boulley is a registered member of the Chippewa tribe who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Notice anything about these titles? They are all about and/or written and illustrated by marginalized members of our society. Yep, people of color and LGBTQ. Exactly the kind of books that Texas Representative Matt Krause (unfortunately, Fort Worth has to claim him) wants examined for inappropriate content and removed from school libraries. So far, he has 850 titles on his list (suppose he’s read every one of them?).

The list includes books on human rights, sex education, and, of course, any books having to do with LGBTQ people. You’ve probably never heard of most of them, but there are a few classics in there, like A Clockwork Orange, The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Kite Runner, Lolita (of course! Maybe he just didn’t know about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which caused a censorship fuss when I was young). If you’re interested, you can skim the entire list here: Inappropriate Book List - School Libraries (

Some titles Krause somehow missed come to mind. A new book that has received high praise, Gender Queer, a memoir by Maia Kobabe charts a journey to self-identity and will surely lead many lists; a novel titled No Filter and Other Lies by Chrystal Maldonado is about “a fat, Puerto Rican girl” (made me laugh out loud) who steals another girl’s identity and creates a whole new online life for herself. There’s a lot of soul-searching, thought-provoking stuff being written for kids and young adults.

An editorial today caught my eye: The writer the fuss about censorship today is all diversion. Conservatives don’t want us thinking about Republicans who support Russia’s intrusion into Ukraine, abortion rights, voter suppression, gun control—those big issues that have so much impact on our daily lives and on democracy. So let’s give folks something they can really get in a fuss about while ignoring what’s going on behind the scenes. I admit I fell for it, full of outrage at the idea of burning books, let alone banning them.

Despite diversion, I find censorship just as worth fighting as racism. If a kid is ready to read a book, let him or her have it. If they have questions, they can take them to a parent or a teacher (that assumes a lot of good about the people in a child’s life). And that’s the other part of this: there’s much hue and cry about parental rights. To hear Guv Abbott talk, you’d think he invented the idea. Truth is that parents have always had access to their children’s teachers and the curricula. Through parent/teacher organizations, parents are encouraged to be part of their children’s education. These days, however, parents who ignored the open house and never met the teacher suddenly feel empowered, with the governor’s blessing, to dictate not only what their children can read but what an entire school district can read. They are suddenly more knowledgeable than the teachers and librarians who trained for years to be able to educate kids and turn them into good, productive citizens. It’s wild and crazy—and a great menace to raising a new generation of educated folks capable of critical thinking. (That’s another whole topic.)

I didn’t mean to ramble about all this. What I meant to do was praise the quality and diversity of today’s literature for children. The Newbery is awarded annually for distinguished contribution to children’s literature; the Caldecott goes to the artist of the most distinguished picture book. These are not lightweight awards but are coveted through the world of children’s literature.

And as if to buttress the importance of these books, the publishers are putting a lot of money and effort into the covers. See the illustrations above.

Monday, January 24, 2022

On cleaning refrigerators and hand washing dishes


My mom is on my mind today. I am becoming her all over again. In many ways, that would be a good thing. I’d like to have her graciousness in almost all situations, her light laughter, her intellectual curiosity, her devotion to what she thought was right. And, yes, I’d like to cook like she did. But those are not the traits I’ve apparently inherited. I got her frugality.

Mom lived through the Depression as a young wife, then a too-young war widow, and again a bride. She carried the lessons of those years with her throughout the rest of her long life. Of course we saved aluminum foil for the war effort; she used paper towels twice—once on counter or stove-top and then it went in a special cubbyhole to be re-used for a spill on the floor. We never threw anything out, and boy did I know about the clean-plate club. Mom canned her own vegetables, from the struggling produce Dad coaxed to life in a tiny Chicago back yard, and she hung her laundry on the line to dry, which meant she had really muscular shoulders and arms. When we cleaned out her refrigerator for the last time, my brother said, “She has all these petri dishes in the back.” There were jars of who-knows-what—leftovers, jam, and so on.

Mom never thought I learned those lessons of frugality quite well enough. When I was married and running a household of six, she lived down the street and dined with us most nights. She’d ask what to do with leftovers and then, before I could answer, she’d say, “I know! Just pitch it!” (I do the same to Jordan today because I think she’s too quick to throw things away.)

Today I cleaned out my refrigerator—eliminated thirteen jars of various sizes that held a dab of this and a bit of that—jam, sauerkraut with mold, chutney, things I couldn’t identify. And I don’t have a dishwasher, so I hand-washed most of those jars. I declared three beyond recovery. Still I was at the sink for a long time, and I thought of Mom again.

For much of my childhood she cooked—and let me experiment—in a kitchen probably almost as old as our 1893 house. I can still see that old Roper gas stove and the scarred porcelain sink that stood in one corner. There wasn’t much money. Dad was a doctor, but was mostly in administration, not practice, and he supported his mother and sister in Canada as well as our family. But in the Fifties, money came from somewhere and Mom got her dream kitchen—the whitewashed knotty pine she loved, turquoise Formica counters, and a round picnic table with benches that curved around it. And a dishwasher! We thought that was the ultimate luxury.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Buddhist monk who just died, preached that staying in the moment should be a goal. He apparently once said, “When washing dishes, wash dishes.” It made me think of Mom and how many dishes she must have washed in that old kitchen. I thought of it again today as I was washing those jars. My writing sisters in an online group heartily embraced that philosophy this morning in our daily discussion, but I rebel. Washing dishes is one of those things you can do with your mind turned off the process. So I often plot and plan while my hands are in soapy water.

I admit I was a bit proud of myself this morning. Those jars had been staring balefully at me for a long time. Tomorrow, I’m tackling my pajama drawer because the other day, when sub-freezing temperatures were about to hit, I looked for a special pair of flannel pajamas and could only find the bottoms. I bet there are a lot of things in that deep drawer that I never wear. When you’re mostly quarantining, it’s a good time to clean out. Oops, do I sound smug?

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The simple is not always so simple


I thought of another generation of cooks today—my mother and perhaps your mother or grandmother. I thought I could remember Mom just putting a pot of stew on in the morning and letting it simmer all day while she did a myriad of other things. Oh, maybe she stirred it or checked to see that it was simmering and not boiling, but she didn’t spend the whole day working on that stew. Or at least that’s what I think I remember.

I made stew today, and it occupied the better part of the day. First, I had to cut up the stew meat. Most of the butchers at Central Market are men, and I’m making a stereotyped conclusion here, but I bet it’s their wives who make the stew at their homes. If so, why don’t those wives teach those men that for stew you want one-inch cubes, not hulking three and four inches? I always have to trim any time I order stew meat.

According to the recipe I was making, the meat had to marinate an hour—in black coffee. Trust me, I’ve done this before and it was great. What I don’t remember is that it was this labor intensive. Maybe that’s a function of age. I readily admit it takes me longer to cook a meal these days. Anyway, while it marinated, I caught up with some of my daily life online.

Then I had to drain the meat, dredge it in seasoned flour, and brown it. All of this had to be done in batches—three to be precise. That’s not exactly something you can do while multi-tasking. Finally, I got it all browned, beef broth made, and had the meat simmering in a pot of broth, a bit more coffee, and a touch of vinegar. Then I washed the dishes I’d dirtied to that point—I am fanatical about cleaning as I go, because I can’t stand a messy kitchen.

The meat simmered, I proofread the newsletter I’d been working on and ate an open-faced cream cheese/watercress/avocado sandwich. I should have toasted the bread—would have given the whole thing a touch of crispness it needed—but I hadn’t initiated the new toaster oven yet, a complicated process for which I want moral support.

I let the meat simmer for a couple of hours and then refrigerated it while I took a nap. Great debate in my own mind—could I leave it sit for an hour and a half or refrigerate it? I did the latter, but I think it was needless—when I pulled it out to put it back on the stove, it was still a bit warm.

By this time, it’s well after four, so I rough chopped a huge onion (recipe called for two medium), counted out twelve baby carrots and stirred those into the stew. Next, peeling eight small but not tiny red potatoes—take my word for it, they are hard to peel and my mother would have slapped my hands if she’d seen how much potato I wasted and all those little bits of peel I left untouched. I halved those, and they went into the pot. I tasted the beef at this point, and it was pretty chewy. Long story short, I let the whole thing simmer until seven o’clock, when I tested gain—meat was pretty tender, potatoes were nicely soft, test carrot was still pretty crunchy (when I got one for dinner it was nicely mushy, which Christian dislikes).

At seven I called Jordan to come get their dinner. Told her Christian could pick out the carrots though he might not need to, Jacob could pick out the onion because I’d left it in big pieces (so much easier for me), and she could pick out the potatoes. Me? I’m dished up a soup plate full of everything and ate it with relish. Maybe it was worth that long day. And maybe there will be leftovers for tomorrow night, and I won’t have to cook. I’m hoping the Lord will understand that I missed virtual church today because although I was not feeding the multitudes, I was feeding my family. Important to me, even if in these days of quarantine, we cannot eat together.

Two more weeks of rodeo, and then maybe we can get back into some kind of normalcy. I’m also reading that the omicron surge is about to peak and should subside by the middle of February. Fingers crossed. Warmer weather would also ease the discontent of quarantine. I could have company on the patio—including Jordan and Christian—and that would cheer me so much. The cold makes me feel trapped. It’s supposed to warm up this week, maybe enough for outdoor dining. I have a tentative lunch date if it does. The good news is that at five-thirty it was still daylight. We are headed in the right direction. In many ways.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Cooking cheers me

Ravioli dinner with
pear/radish/blue cheese salad
One of my few truly gourmet meals

A friend posted recently that after a spell of illness and no energy, she was now back to cooking again and surprised at how much better and more energetic she felt. I think that’s true for me. Cooking renews me.

A confession: I had a pity party yesterday. It had been three days since I had seen another human being, except for two minutes when Jordan, masked, whisked in to deposit grocery bags and once when she came to stand on the patio and talk across the distance, which doesn’t make for easy conversation. It’s clear to all who read my blog that I adore my dog, but her company is not the same as seeing another human, talking with someone. Plainly, I had cabin fever. I was mad at Covid, mad at the cold weather which keeps patio guests away, mad at the rodeo which exposes my family (or so I’m convinced) to omicron, mad at the world in general.

And I wasn’t cooking. I was tired of “pick up” dinners—scrambled eggs, leftover soup from the freezer, a salmon platter. Those things are okay for lunch, but I want a proper dinner. The last good dinner I cooked was meatballs and gravy for the family last Sunday—I kept a portion for me, sent most of it into the main house, and got back enough for leftovers for Monday lunch. I have to say they were extraordinarily good.

It all changed today. In the early afternoon, Jordan and Jacob, masked, brought out the toaster oven/air fryer the children gave me for Christmas. While they unpacked and installed, Jordan made me sit far across the room. The Breville (that’s the brand)  now sits in splendid glory on my counter, unused, because I haven’t had time to read the directions. But the first thing I will fix is lemony chicken drumettes. I can hardly wait. But first I have to read and digest the directions.

My new toaster oven/air fryer
Hoping it ups my cooking game

Tonight, Jean came for dinner, and I got to cook. For some reason I had a dozen wild mushroom/truffle ravioli in the freezer—Christian won’t eat mushrooms, and Jordan’s diet doesn’t allow pasta. Jean got the brunt of my experimenting again. After much online exploration, I decided to serve them with brown butter, something I’d never made before. My report is that if you brown it slowly, as I did, it takes a long time and a lot of stirring, but I was leery of burning it. My big mistake: I added the garlic, didn’t have the tiny bit of spinach suggested, though it would have been good, didn’t want the chopped walnuts (to me they would have been the wrong texture), and—big goof! —forgot the rubbed sage that should have gone in the butter. Still, it was really good, although I could have cooked the ravioli just a tad longer. We ate six, so I have six to cook another time and add the sage.

I accompanied this with a salad of sliced pears, sliced radishes, and blue cheese in a lemon/olive oil dressing and garnished with watercress. I did that particularly for Christian because he loves radishes. I thought it was terrific. Waiting for Christian’s verdict, since I sent some into the house for them.

But I was energized, enjoyed Jean’s company, felt good about the evening.

I have set myself a goal of a thousand words a day on the third Irene story that I’m working on. That, of course, depends on whether or not I have a thousand words worth of inspiration. Today, with having to proof the 28-page neighborhood newsletter and keep up with emails, I managed 991 words. I don’t think I’ll agonize over those last nine words. Maybe tomorrow I can do 1009. Then again, I have set myself another goal—clean out those two out-of-control drawers in my closet. And sometime, I have to do my tax stuff.

Tomorrow, per request, I’m going to cook a beef stew. I am now a convert to an air fryer, but don’t talk to me about InstaPot. I have no room for it, and no patience for the learning curve. I will cook the stew the old-fashioned way—long and slow, all day. I’ll use a recipe I adapted from a popular mystery series set in a coffee house. Yes, it calls for marinating the beef in coffee. Since I don’t drink or make coffee these days, I’ll have to have the Burtons run two cups out to me. But I made this last year and remember that it was good.

I wouldn’t say the world looks better to me tonight. I have a lot of loud opinions on the political scene in America—and the crimes. I may feel I need to rant someday soon but meantime I suggest all of you who are on Facebook read the columns of Heather Cox Richardson, a historian from Boston University. Her last three columns will make you realize how close we came to a coup, how extensive the planning for that was (no, it was not at all spontaneous), and—wait for it—what a roaring success Biden’s first year has been. I can’t repeat that too often!

And me? I’ll be making stew. Long and slow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A day out of sorts


This morning was gray and dull, the kind of morning that makes you feel gray and dull, so I attributed my out-of-sorts feeling to the weather. When the sun would briefly come out, I’d think, “Okay, now I can talk myself into a better mood.” But the truth is, I was just off. After toast for breakfast and cottage cheese with vegetables in it for lunch, I decided bed was the best place for me.

And—a huge step, so unlike me—I called Jean and told her not to come for supper. I was going to make the ravioli with brown butter and sage that I’ve been talking about, but I decided I didn’t want to do experimental cooking when I wasn’t enthusiastic about eating.

Taking a day out reminds me of my mother. When I was young, she had severe migraines, and she would spend a day in bed. But she was always okay the next day. So I early learned when someone asked about her to say, “Oh, she’ll be all right tomorrow.” That’s sort of how I feel—I’ll be all right tomorrow.

After a two-hour nap, I felt better but decided I was going to take the rest of the day off. I would go back to bed whenever I wanted, look at my computer occasionally, and read. Mostly what I accomplished was the back-to-bed part, though Sophie had a fit once when I did that. Kept throwing herself at the bed and barking so hard, she made herself sick and spit up right by the bed where I could step on it when I got up. Thank you, Sophie. I fed a very subdued dog and crawled back in bed.

Twice now she’s gone out and stayed, which worries me because it’s so cold. Supposed to go to 22 tonight and feel like 10 in the morning because of winds. I think that’s part of my malaise—I absolutely hate to be cold. When I got up a few minutes ago, she antsed around like she wanted to go to, and I fixed her with a stern, “Absolutely not.” She is sleeping by my desk now, and I hope to sneak back to bed without disturbing her.

I did write my thousand words for the day, though I’m nervous about re-reading them. They may be pure junk—or they may need bolstering. And I fixed myself scrambled eggs for supper. And now, oh luxury, I’m sitting with my feet in the foot massager I got for Christmas.

Tomorrow is another day, and I’ll be fine. You all take care, stay safe and warm. It’s going to be nasty for a few days.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The best-laid plans


My social life got in the way of my creative goals today, but it made it a good day. The weather was perfect for patio entertaining, which made it even better.

My day began with a message from Linda, a dear friend who moved to Taos last year—from Granbury, so it’s not like I saw her frequently, but still I knew she was fairly close and would occasionally come by. She’s only a medium communicator, so there are long stretches when we’re not in touch, and I was delighted today to have a chance to catch up. Moving is always hard, and she’s feeling that—three major real estate transactions in one year. Her first winter in Taos, although she’s spent many summers there. I expect after a year, she’ll be totally happy and acclimated, but the change is hard. She misses her Texas friends, and we miss her.

Linda’s covid report was most interesting. She is appalled at the absence of masking in Texas. In Taos, she cannot make a dinner reservation without including proof of vaccination. She also has to show that at most public events, and she says you never ever go to church or the grocery without your mask. She keeps one on her wrist most of the time and says it is off and on several times a day. From the start of pandemic, New Mexico has always been stricter than Texas. But then, so have many states. Our county alone had over 7,000 new cases (it doesn’t say what period that covers, but the spread level is a red alert high).

Linda came at three when the patio was warm and sunny. In fact, the sun was so strong I had to look the other way or shield my eyes. By happy hour when Mary and Prudence came, the sun had sunk below the neighbor’s garage, but the evening did not bring on as much chill as I expected. We were quite comfortable sitting out there and had a wide-ranging discussion on everything from omicron, schools, politics, and books. Love it when we talk about ideas and not always things or people.

My bit of trivia for the day—which turned out not to be so trivial. Someone posted on Facebook about the dark ages’ custom of two sleeps. Apparently until the Middle Ages, people had two sleeps—one in the evening, and one in the morning. The custom stems, according to the poster, from the days of cave dwellers when someone always had to be awake to tend the fires and to ward of any predatory beasts that might be after food, animals, or even humans. I thought the fact was interesting if irrelevant in today’s world until I read some responses. People wrote to say they were relieved to find that they were not insomniacs but were simply following ancient body clocks when they were awake from 2:00 to 4:00 am or thereabouts. Pru said tonight she is usually awake form 2:00 until almost 5:00, just gets back to sleep when it’s time for her husband to get up—I remember that from the days I too was married to a surgeon. I generally sleep soundly until 5:00, even 6:00 but then I am semi-alert for Sophie to need to go outside. After she does and I entice her back in with a bit of cheese, I can go back to sleep for an hour or so, and I find myself really looking forward to that second sleep.

When we talked about this tonight, Mary said she sleeps about five hours a night (I would be a walking zombie) and cannot nap during the day. It makes her fuzzy headed. I on the other hand can sleep a solid two hours in the afternoon, and often do. Linda and I talked touched on napping when we talked about routine. She said that was one of the things she had to learn. She thinks I have long known it in my career, whereas she was in retail for what? Thirty or forty years. Whatever, the reason, we found that these days our routines are similar: in the mornings, she paints, and I hope to write; afternoons, we rest, though I suspect I am more devoted to a daily nap than she is. She often uses afternoons to read. But evenings we part company—she says dark comes so early in New Mexico, she has to force herself to stay awake until nine, and she is up early. I find myself at my computer often until midnight, but I am sleeping later and later in the mornings. My routine also includes regular meals—something for breakfast but not much, usually around nine-thirty; lunch near twelve-thirty, and supper at seven or seven-thirty. The late evening hour is an accommodation to the Burtons’ schedule that I have learned to make—sometimes I get a bit hungry and snack.

But I am a big believer in routine—and today, mine got thrown off, which is why now, at eight-thirty, I am about to start my thousand words for today on Irene Keeps a Secret. Wish me luck--or unexpected inspiration.

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Meatball Mess


Yesterday I learned two lessons that I think I already knew: you cannot put two lbs. of ground meat out to thaw at two in the afternoon and expect to make meatballs out of it at five; meatballs are often a whole lot of work—and time-consuming. At the rate I was going, we could have had meatballs for Monday breakfast. We had take-out sandwiches from the Great Outdoors for supper last night.

So I vowed to make the blasted meatballs today when I had all day to work on them—well, not really. I had hoped to write a thousand words today, but I do believe, at almost 8:30, that ship sailed without me. I made an executive decision: we do not need thirty good-sized meatballs (not those little one you get frozen), so I would cut the recipe in half. Still, it called for mixing the ground beef, bread soaked in milk and then squeezed dry (I hope no kosher readers are following this), parsley, egg, seasonings, diced onion, and then putting the whole thing in the food processor for uniformity of texture. Good thing it was a holiday and Christian was home, because I had to call him to get the processor off a shelf in my closet. It is far too heavy for me to stand, balance and get it down.

He hooked it up in the kitchen and confessed he didn’t know how to lock it and make it start. I figured that out but tripped a circuit breaker in the process. Had to call
Christian to come out and fix it—I don’t know why but when others can just poke at the little yellow light in the midst of the plug fixture and it goes out, I poke and nada. After all that, it took two minutes to process the meat, so before Christian could leave the cottage, he put most of the processor stuff back in the closet. He was, as he almost always is, good-natured about it.

I decided to streamline the recipe. You are supposed to bake the meatballs and then brown in a skillet. That would have meant doing it in batches. I baked them a little extra long and decided they were firm enough. You were to make a gravy of butter, tomato paste, red wine, and beef broth and let it cook down. Recipes tell you that happens within fifteen minutes, but they lie. It can take hours. I shortened it by making a roux and then simmering the meatballs in the thin but flavorful gravy that resulted.

The verdict from the family is that they were marvelous, gravy was excellent. I opted to let Jordan cook noodles, which I don’t think she did, and I used a couple of baguette slices to sop up my gravy. But I warned them it will be a long time before that recipe appears in the rotation again. Whoosh! It’s 8:30, and I’m tired. And no writing done, except this blog.

Last night I had some company—Jordan came out, masked, intending to sit on the patio, but it was chilly so she sat across the room, and we left the door open for circulation (this may be an example of how we fool ourselves). Then Christian came out, but we sent him back in for a mask. And then we had sort of a happy hour. I was glad to visit with them, and I guess I felt about as safe as I can be. But tomorrow, apparently all three are going to “Bulls’ Night Out” so we start the quarantine all over again. But now we’ve made one more step toward normalcy—my Christmas decorations are down.

When my children were young, getting to go to the rodeo was a rite of passage. Each one waited for the year they were deemed old enough to go. We went with friends who also had four children, ate barbecue at the Coburn’s dining hall, wandered the barns, and had a grand time. Then when the grandchildren were young, they would all come to FW for rodeo and a big family get-together. Those were the days! Gradually I became disenchanted, which was a bit odd since I was studying the history and literature of the American West and rodeo events speak to that. But I found I didn’t want to watch the bull riding, for fear I’d see someone killed. Then it spread to not wanting to watch calf roping, out of sympathy for the poor, terrified calves. Today, you couldn’t pay me to go to a rodeo performance, and Bulls’ Night Out is the last thing I would ever want to see. When I said that to Jordan last night, she said, “I may get there too, but now I enjoy it.” I thought it was an interesting comment.

So tomorrow Mary and Prudence will come for happy hour—since it is to be 75, we can meet on the patio, I think. And then I’ll fix myself a salmon bowl for supper. I’m looking forward to it already. And tomorrow I will write those thousand words.

Stay safe, please. Wear your masks. Every little bit helps.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

A gloomy good day

As I typed the word gloomy just now, the term “Gloomy Gus” came into my mind, so I went down that online rabbit hole to find the origin. What I found was fifteen or twenty entries about crossword puzzle clues. Not being a puzzle fan, I moved on and finally came to a Merriam-Webster definition. No surprise: a person who is habitually gloomy. I wanted some fascinating story about a guy named Gus!

Anyway, yesterday was a gloomy day, with a wintry gray sky, not a bit of sunlight, and a wicked cold wind. A day to stay inside, wrapped in blankets. I took my own advice and spent much of the day at my desk with a woolly sweater over my pajamas and my beloved but tattered prayer shawl on my legs. Sometime during the night I had turned off the bedroom heater, which heats half the cottage; come morning, I couldn’t figure out why I was so cold. Turning on that second heater (one of those that hangs from the ceiling, sometimes called ductless or mini-splits) made all the difference. This morning, the temperature outside is all the way up to 37o, the sun is bright, and Sophie and I are cozy.

An online writers’ group I belong to asks us each Monday to outline our plans and goals for the week. For at least two weeks, I’ve brightly said I was going to work on my Irene story-in-progress. But then I always found other, small chores to distract me. I can’t even blame it on being semi-isolated: it was me as a writer not knowing where I was going and not wanting to do the hard work involved in finding out. Can you spell procrastination? The good things is eventually I get so disgusted with myself, that I jump in and work on it. And that’s what I did yesterday.

I began the day with about 5,000 words written some time ago; I ended the day with maybe 5,600, so not a big gain in words. But a big gain in attitude on my part and, I hope, a good redirection of the story. There is a good side to writerly procrastination. Sometimes at night as I wait for sleep, I try to think about whatever I’m working on, or if I wake in the night and want to redirect my mind away from an unpleasant dream. So Irene has been getting some subconscious work but nothing committed to paper. Yesterday I made the one big plot change my subconscious told me was needed and then moved on to make the rest of what I’d written fit in with that. I only got two chapters done, but I think it was because that was slow, concentrated, almost word-for-word work.

So today I hope to do at least one more chapter. But household chores get in the way. I have emptied all the trash and set it out for my private trash man—poor Jacob! In a very few minutes, I will stop this and go to online church…..

As always, especially on weekends, food is a major topic. Last night we had a wonderful dinner—I sent the ingredients into the house and got back a plated dinner. Green salad with blue cheese dressing, asparagus, and crab cake with remoulade sauce. Christian did the crab cake in the air fryer (Yes, Mary D.,I am becoming a fan) and it was perfect. MY contribution was to make the remoulade sauce. My next thought is that burgers done in the air fryer might be good on days like this when it is really too cold to grill.

But today there is uncertainty. I have sent in a list of what meats I have in the freezer and am waiting to hear. Wondering if anything will defrost in time. I can always be happy with a can of salmon, if it comes to that. Hmmm…I do have some remoulade left.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Observations from isolation

On a Zoom call the other day, someone reminded me of the distance between anecdotal evidence and proven scientific fact. It’s one of those things you know but so easily forget about. So when someone says, “Masks don’t work because my second cousin once removed wore one all the time, and he got Covid,” or “Every rich person I know will vote for trump for president again … my ex-husband’s mother’s third husband said so,” you believe it, at least on some level. Now that it’s been brought to the front of my sometimes-illogical mind, I am seeing anecdotal evidence in every little thing—like a dog who just discovered how good bones are! I find this both encouraging and discouraging, but it helps me discount some scary posts. I’ve decided anecdotal evidence and extremism go hand in hand.

Meantime, when I’m not leaping on obscure facts, life in semi-isolation is getting a bit better. I can, after all, see most folks, just not my family who’ve been to the rodeo. So Tuesday night Mary came for happy hour and brought crackers, cheese, and fig jam—so good. As I write, I’m having the rest of the jam on what I think was meant to be a slider for breakfast.

Wednesday evening Jean came so I could fix her a birthday supper—can you believe she is thirty-eight😊 I fixed Tuna Florentine—I’ve decided it’s one of my signature dishes, which would send my kids off into gales of laughter. After all, who fixes tuna as a signature dish? But it is one of my favorite recipes. We had mini chocolate-dipped ice cream cones for dessert and felt very festive.

Thursday Sue brought lunch from Carshon’s, and we ate on the patio on that gloriously beautiful day (with me still in pajamas). She set a precedent, and Jordan ate lunch with me on the patio yesterday. Unfortunately the cold front put an end to patio days for a while—and blew over one of the patio umbrellas as well as Jacob’s practice screen for golf.

One thing that has made life seem a bit more normal is that I am cooking again. We have a transport system between the house and the cottage—it mostly involves Jordan coming and going, but it works. One night recently Christian fixed chicken piccata—one of his best, with plenty of sauce—and another night I fixed German potato salad, one of Christian’s favorites. It’s based on a recipe that over the years I’ve altered and made my own, but it was originally called Polka Dot Salad because you chunked up hot dogs with the potatoes and made it a one-dish meal. I don’t do that for the family—traditionalists to the core, they want their hot dogs in buns. But I did mine that way—made it a whole different dish, but still very good. Last night I fixed a pork sausage/hash browns/egg/cheese casserole and found it meh, but that’s probably because I didn’t follow the directions on the hash browns. Tonight, crab cakes (on sale at Central Market), asparagus, and salad.

Yesterday it had been five days since the Burtons went to the rodeo, so they could come out here masked—and Jordan did. But then she went to the rodeo with her girlfriends last night—an annual outing—so we start the five days all over again. Meantime maybe Christian will come have a drink with me—he says he’s not going to the rodeo again until Wednesday. I need to report—this is a bit of self-justification because I know some think I’m being too strict about this and missing life--my doctor says five days isolation after high-risk events (that would be a crowded, dusty rodeo) and then five days masked. So if the Burtons aren’t isolating, I am. They do self-test frequently.

I’ve been lollygagging somewhat. Some of you will have noticed I’ve not blogged quite as regularly as usual. I have done other work—answering interview questions, answering lots of emails, etc.—but I haven’t touched the Irene novel I claim to be working on. And that finally has hit my conscience. I woke up this morning determined to write last night’s blog and then move on to Irene Keeps a Secret. I’m so out of touch I’m not sure what her secret is or if it’s worth a whole book, but I will persevere.

Stay safe and warm—it’s wicked windy out there today!


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

It’s not Monday anymore, is it?



Yesterday I had every intention of writing a blog but somehow the evening got away from me. But I would have begun by saying that I love Mondays. They always seem like a bright new beginning to me, and I am curious to see what good news they will bring. Mondays are almost always busy email days too, and I sometimes get 200 messages. It’s as though everyone else, like me, discovers that there’s a whole world of work out there to be done. Since I like being busy, following up on things, responding, etc. I am a happy camper.

I have a morning ritual. I start the day with emails, which include some columns I subscribe to—some writerly, some politic, a few about food—and I read those, plus personal emails and click through all those that pretend to be personal. I especially dislike the ones that pose as polls when all they want is your money. These days I get a lot from the Republican National Party asking how I like Biden and Harris—I know exactly what they hope for, but I always say I like them a lot. Then I get some that ask if I’m leaving the Republican party, and when I answer Yes—no need to tell them I can’t leave what I never joined—it flips me right to their fund-raising site, with pictures of trump all over.

Moving on to junk mail—I check it daily, usually 30-some emails, many I can click right through but some I move to my inbox—National Memo, Wake Up to Politics (written by a college sophomore who’s been doing this for ten years and is an impressive, mostly impartial, common-sense voice), and my very favorite, Kitchn, where I mine a treasure trove of recipes.

Then comes the separate email account I keep for writing organizations. Having two accounts is confusing, and sometimes I goof and write to family or a close friend on this account and they write back in alarm to ask if that’s a new address. I don’t respond to every email in this account, naturally, but enough that I keep my voice active. It’s good for me image as a writer and for my ego.

Yesterday it took me until noon to get this far, although in all fairness I admit some new “brush fires” came up, especially dealing with my neighborhood newsletter. But the last thing on my morning list—and really sometimes I am through it by ten—is Facebook. I don’t read new postings until late in the day, but I do check notifications and respond where appropriate. See why I don’t have time for the great American novel?

Tonight, I just meant to throw in a few comments about Monday mornings and move on to quarantine, but I got carried away (as I too often do). Quarantine is much on my mind. A close friend wrote to say she hated to see me spend the rest of my natural-born days in isolation. I responded that I’d hate to cut my natural-born days short by risking infection. And there you have it—those who will risk and those who won’t. I have discovered that the ones who will go on about life as usual are middle-aged (my kids' generation) or my grandchildren’s age. My contemporaries are like me—cautious, quarantining, sheltering in place. We’re too old to risk it—we don’t have as much time to recover, and statistics are not in our favor. Many of us have chronic conditions which would complicate an infection. And perhaps we’re a bit more susceptible, though I have a great deal of confidence in the vaccines. I did contact my doctor, and he advised me to follow the program I am. Which means I don’t see family except glimpses through the window or masked talks across an open patio as long as they attend high-risk events (the stock show).

So when I whine about isolation, bear with me and know that it is my own choice. I’d rather be safe than sorry. Tonight, friend Mary, who has not been any place except the optometrist, came for happy hour. We masked but gave it up in favor of eating and sipping wine. In a few days, my Canadian daughter (the one who was concerned about my natural-born days) will bring me lunch and we’ll eat on the patio. A friend is coming for supper tomorrow, but I know she too has been quarantining. I will continue to pick and choose who I see.

Would I love to have you come whisk me away to Wishbone and Flynt or the new Fitzgerald (in the old Café Aspen spot I loved so much)? You bet! Am I tired of my own cooking? Yeah, that too, a bit. But I’m okay, almost content, and optimistic enough to think this surge will pass, and I can get out again. Thanks for understanding. And I think I speak for a lot of old folks.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

A bright (if dreary) new day

Someone lit a fire under me today. I have no idea who or why, but I suddenly got down to business with a vigor, despite the fact that I’m still isolated, it was another dreary dull day, and I find the sight of frostbitten plants outside my window particularly depressing. All that aside, I got to work.

A writer friend had put out a call for blog posts about writing process, wanting to hear from different people how they go about writing. I put it aside, as I did most things in the last few weeks, but I did recently rough out some answers. Today I buckled down, edited it, re-read it twice, and sent it off. My punishment for dillydallying was that she wrote a most apologetic note saying she had been flooded with responses, and at this point mine is scheduled for Summer 2023. Unless there’s a cancellation, in which case I’d be on the waiting list. But I assume many others are also on the waiting list. It’s a good lesson to act while—what’s the saying—the fire is hot? Not procrastinating. It’s also a good illustration of what I’ve often said: a writer’s life involves a lot of waiting.

But then I got busy and pretty much roughed out a newsletter. Discovered that I hadn’t done one since September, which maybe isn’t too bad since I try to do them quarterly. So September was Fall, and this is Winter, and I do promise readers that they are only occasionally—I don’t want them to fear I’ll show up in their inbox monthly. But still in that hiatus I published two books—you’d think I’d want to tell readers about that. My newsletter has fallen into a pretty standard form—news about my writing, a glance ahead (provided I know anything to glance ahead about), an annotated listing of books I’ve read that I think might interest others, some recipes, and maybe a personal picture or two. This time I will also offer a give-away—I have a nice piece of swag that I will offer. More details later, because I’m hoping some of my blog readers will want to sign up for my “Only Occasional” newsletter.

And I seemed to get more emails than usual that required somewhat lengthy attention—some about my neighborhood association, one from a friend who is having a really hard time personally, one from a man who has begun writing me about his family history—it’s fascinating and good historical stuff, but I am hard put knowing what to tell him to do with it. He would like me to write it, but I have two big projects on my desk that won’t be put aside.

I am still in isolation though tonight I sent my doctor a query, explaining all the real and possible exposures and asked for his advice. I expect I’ll hear tomorrow. Meantime, it was another solitary day, and I was at a loss about what to cook. Yesterday I washed a large head of leaf lettuce, and then had so much else in my salad that I used only one big leaf. So I asked Jordan to make a big salad tonight, and she did. But I had to put out a grocery sack with the lettuce, apple cider vinegar, dry mustard, and garlic, because those are all the things she didn’t have in her kitchen. She usually makes the salad in my kitchen and had initially said she’d come out and make a salad. But I told her I wasn’t sure we were quite ready for that. I made salmon cakes to go with my salad and experimented a bit—put some mayonnaise and a dab of mustard in them. The flavor was good, but they were a bit loose because of the mayo—guess I needed more cracker crumbs. Earlier today I made egg salad for my lunch—finally after all these years, I have found a recipe I love. It doesn’t have onion or celery or any of that in it. Just mayo, mustard, pickle relish—and eggs of course.

And Sophie must have sensed my frustration because she was very demanding tonight—which only made me more frustrated until I spoke harshly to her, and then I felt guilty. She wanted her dinner at 4:30, and I figured if I fed her that early, she’d keep wanting it earlier and earlier. My explanation about it being too early fell on deaf ears. When I finally fed her and gave her a treat, she then demanded a second helping and a second treat. And then fresh water. And then she wanted to go outside. The one time my tirade got her attention was when she pawed at my arm—it hurt, and I yelled, and she slunk away. More guilt. Now, she’s in her crate, but I will have to make amends.

See how this works? The dog misbehaves, and I make amends. The Burtons go to crowded functions, and I isolate. Something is out of whack here. Oh well, tomorrow I’ll finish the newsletter and then maybe write some more on Irene Keeps a Secret or Irene Stumbles into Trouble or whatever I decide to call it.

Sweet dreams, everyone. Stay safe and mask up!