Monday, October 31, 2022

Another Halloween in the books


Jordan and I have taken the same picture for several Halloweens now. In truth, I think I look better this year than in some previous years (well, maybe not--I just looked again), but she always makes an adorable witch. We live in an older neighborhood with sidewalks, big houses (ours is not), and generous people—which means that hordes of people come trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. There are traffic jams, cars parked end to end in every available spot, and a steady stream of children—and adults—coming to the front porch carrying everything from pumpkin shaped containers to pillowcases. Some of the tricksters are so young, they can barely toddle up the walk, and I said I think a few must be wondering, “Why are my parents doing this to me? I want to be home in my bed.” Nonetheless, it’s all festive and fun.

Christian claims Halloween as one of his favorite holidays, and he decorates inside and out lavishly. The front yard has skeletons and tombstones and scary spiders, none of which the kids pay much attention to. But he and Jordan both are in their element handing our candy to kids, and some of the kids are irresistible.

I spent some time tonight talking to one of Jordan’s high school friends—he was her very first boyfriend and is still family—and he said, “It wasn’t like this when we were kids.” But he grew up in another neighborhood. The kids and I lived in Berkeley for two years when I was first a single mom, and I don’t remember the crowds either. But when we moved back in 1992, they were here and have been every year since. After my kids were grown and gone, some years I turned out all the lights and hid in my study (the light from the computer gave me away, but most people were respectful). A few years I was in Austin for Texas Book Festival and handed out treats at Megan’s house—in those years Jordan generally came to man the front porch at my house. Other years I turned out the lights and went next door to the neighbors’, where Susan served beef stew and, artist that she is, provided grocery sack costumes for each of us. Yes, Halloween has pleasant memories even if it is not my favorite holiday.

Sophie did not like it at all tonight. She knew I was going into the big house—her instinct for that is unerring—and she is immediately insistent that she go too. Tonight, Jacob came to get me (I need help on the stairs to the deck) and locked her in the bathroom until I was safely inside. Then he let her out but kept her locked in the cottage. She’s one of the reasons I came back out early. I don’t mind leaving her alone when I go out to dinner or something, but I feel guilty when she knows I’m on the property and she’s not allowed.

Now that I’m back, she’s in the yard, but she just started barking, so I tricked her into coming inside. I am definitely over-protective of her, but Halloween is one of those nights when I feel it best to keep dogs and cats—and rabbits and whatever you have—inside. You never know. Sophie neither understands nor likes my logic and is itching to go outside.

Jordan fixed her usual delicious spread of veggies and dip, and various guests brought potato salad, dip and chips, etc. I contributed green bean salad, one of my favorite new recipes  (who needs a recipe for bean salad, but you’d be surprised by this one), and Christian grilled hamburgers. But a little after seven, he had just started the grill, and with thirteen people on the porch, plus the crowd on the street, it was getting so noisy I couldn’t hear. Jordan walked me back to the cottage and about seven-forty-five brought me a plate of supper. So good! But I was glad to be back in my quiet cottage.

By nine, nine-thirty or so, the crowds melt into the darkness, and Halloween is over for another year. And I’m always a bit glad. So the decorations will go down, and the world will return to normal. Next up, Thanksgiving, and think how fast it’s coming!


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sunday night and all is well

Veal schnitzel.

Or is all really well? I am at the point I refuse to think about the midterms, refuse to open all those “bedwetter” messages of doom and gloom. I have done my best to support the candidates I believe would best serve Texas and the nation, and I am frankly worn out. It’s not that I don’t care—I do care, passionately. Perhaps that’s why I am worn out. I can only imagine how the candidates must feel. I still have my heroes—John Fetterman, who has shown remarkable courage in staging a campaign while recovering from a stroke; Charlie Crist, who has taken on a formidable would-be dictator; Raphael Warnock, who runs against a well-funded opponent who is so openly unsuited for government that it boggles the mind. Those and others are on my wish list and in my prayers.

I get constant appeals to volunteer to be a poll watcher, which I would do in a heartbeat if I were mobile. But all those do is make me want to shout, “Stop bugging me.” When this is over and the Democrats have crested the blue wave, I have lots of suggestions for campaigning, probably all of which will be countered by more seasoned campaigners. But I will still have my say.

Meanwhile, in my own little world, it is indeed Sunday, and all is well. After a day of lollygagging, I got my act together and was quite efficient about dinner. The problem was that I had committed (to myself; Christian wouldn’t have minded if I changed my mind) to make schnitzel, with its complicated dipping required—first in flour, then in egg, and finally in panko mixed with mayonnaise and olive oil. Friends were coming for happy hour—if I’d know that days ago, I probably would have changed the menu to something easier. But I felt committed.

So mid-afternoon, after an abbreviated nap, I bustled around, put away clean dishes, got out what I’d need for supper, washed lettuce for salad, and got out cheese and crackers for happy hour. For dinner, I cancelled my plan to do oven potatoes and Brussel sprouts. Simplify was my guiding word. We would have schnitzel and salad. Jacob was not home tonight—it was Canwick, the annual dance where girls invite the guys. So supper was just Christian and me.

We had a good visit with Sue and Teddy—for some reason much of the talk centered on dogs, with each of us recounting the story of when we lost beloved pets. A bit ghoulish. But we did have other topics, and it was good to visit with them. I had scheduled happy hour earlier than they usually do because that darn schnitzel loomed over my mind.

As it was, it was a bit after eight before we had supper. But I surprised myself with the schnitzel. Once again, I followed the directions step by step—well, almost, and it turned out to be much easier than I anticipated, although it was messy. Sophie had a feast from the floor—panko seasoned with mayo and olive oil. Still, the meat was ready to go in the oven sooner than expected. While it cooked, I washed the cooking dishes—once again a huge number of things—tossed a salad and set out dinner plates. It turned out to be a lovey dinner.

And, by the by, last night’s white bean soup, good then, was superspecial for lunch today. But I realized that all that work only made four servings of soup. I think at my age it’s time for me to learn to stop thinking in terms of big-batch meals and start thinking of cooking for four.

Jordan arrived home from Costa Rica just before ten tonight. I had thought I was making enough salad that there would be some left for her, since she had emailed that the food was good, lots of fish, but she was ready for a blue cheese salad. When I looked at the bowl after we ate it had three lonely leaves of lettuce and some dressing. I could have added more lettuce, but she really wasn’t interested, asked if we could save it for tomorrow. We’ll just have to start from scratch tomorrow.

And I’ll start again tomorrow, not from scratch, but midway in my novel-in-progress. I say that every Monday, and I let myself get distracted by too many other things. But each week my resolve is firm We’ll see what happens.

What’s your plan for the week ahead/

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A cooking weekend


Jordan hard at work in Costa Rica

Fort Worth has enjoyed a lovely, rainy, dreary weekend, although I admit the temperatures are a bit cool for my taste. But I’ve enjoyed every minute, doing the things I love to do—writing, reading, and cooking. Lots of the latter, and some experiments I’m proud of.

Last night, friends came for happy hour, one of whom needs to eat carbs on time because of diabetes. So I was concerned to have something with bread. With my order from Central Market, I included a small jar of dipping spices. When the order came, they had removed that—apparently, they no longer had it. But my whole appetizer plan was based on those spices! I was going to put out individual dipping dishes (actually some lovely china coasters), a small pitcher of olive oil, a dish of Pecorino, and the spices. Somehow, cheese and oil didn’t do it by themselves. So I went online—often my savior—and found a recipe for making your own spices. I had almost all of them on hand, and I just left out the two I didn’t have—dried parsley and dried rosemary. There were so many other spices, it was just fine. In fact, really good. I also left out the fresh garlic, because everything else was dried. I served it with a sliced baguette from Central Market. I’m not sure anyone else was as enthusiastic as I was, but I thought it was great. I also put out a crock of pub cheese from Trader Joe’s, which I thought was sharp and good. As you can tell, I was pleased with myself.

And last night after everyone was gone, I fed Christian and Jacob British baked potatoes—more about that another time.  But we loaded them with bacon (yes, real bacon, chopped), green onions, grated cheddar, sour cream, salt and pepper and called that supper. So good.

smoked salmon appetzier
Tonight Jean came, and I fixed us appetizers of garlic-rubbed sourdough topped with goat cheese, softened, halved grape tomatoes, chopped scallions, and smoked salmon. It would have made a prettier picture if I had put the tomato and green onion on top—but then
everything would have rolled off. The salmon on top kept It in place.

For the main course: white bean soup, a new-to-me recipe for which I followed every step religiously. Well, almost—I did fudge a bit on the red pepper (and it was fine, not at all noticeable), and I wish I had not put quite so much chicken broth in it, but it was good. When I told her what the garnish is she balked a bit but then declared the garnish made the soup. It was pickled celery, with the celery minced. Pickling it was easy, and we both agreed it would not have been as good an accent if it were not pickled. I will admit the soup was a bit complicated and I used every pot and pan in my kitchen--and I don't have a dishwasher.

Kitchen sink 
after cooking

And my cooking weekend is not over. Tomorrow night, I have committed to fix schnitzel for the boys and me. Jordan will be home for Costa Rica but not until later in the evening. I’ll do roast potatoes and Christian will do Brussel sprouts. And Monday, when supper will be hamburgers on the porch, so we can be ready for trick or treaters, I’ll contribute a green bean salad. I’m a bit intimidated by the schnitzel, though I have an “easy” recipe. But the green bean salad is a snap (no pun intended).

First thing every morning, with my hot tea, I read emails, and that was the closest I came to work today. I read both for messages from friends and for news reports, though I recognize you have to be careful about what you accept as truth. Still, even on a lazy Saturday, that’s part of my day, and a part I enjoy because it keeps me in touch with the world. I am not these days reading the emails of hysteria from various Democratic campaigns. If one more person assures me they’re packing it up and going home, I will scream. We know that Mark Kelly and Val Demings and John Fetterman and others are not giving up ten days before the election. I know it’s a fundraising technique, but I think it’s a poor one, as likely to turn away undecided contributors as to convince them.

Reading rounds out my day, and today I’m lingering over Big Shot, the latest in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders series. It’s a spoof on the eighties upscale, country club life as seen in Kansas City, Mo. It tickled me last week when our minister announced that our visiting preacher was from Country Club Church in Kansas City. Sometimes fiction hits close to home.

So now I’m going to read, but I leave you with a funny picture that popped up on my computer today. Two transported Texas middle-aged ladies comparing their turquoise What could be more of a stereotype?

Texas Literary Hall of Fame, 2010

Friday, October 28, 2022

Who among us is okay?


A good number of Americans were cheering this week as John Fetterman, still recovering from a stroke in the spring, took to the debate stage with TV personality Dr. Oz. Fetterman has lingering problems with speech, so he was sometimes hesitant, sometimes of the mark. Greeting the crowd, he wished them “Good night,” which Ted Cruz thought was so hysterical he mocked it at a later rally. But who listens to Ted Cruz? But then there was Dr. Oz, who instead of admiring the courage of his opponent, also mocked him, rolled his eyes in impatience, and was generally a boor. The debate revealed a lot about the rivalry between these two.

Fetterman has spent much of his life working for the people of Pennsylvania. Dr. Oz bought a house in Pennsylvania barely in time to qualify for the residency requirement to run for office—his primary residence is in New Jersey, with a mansion in Florida. The story I like best: Oz had someone build a private basketball court in one of his properties; Fetterman built a community court so underprivileged kids could play basketball. Tell me which is the better man?

Yet, Fetterman got a fair share of criticism, even from his own party where at least one person opined he probably should not have debated. And Republicans were quick to judge that he is not capable of holding such a responsible position as senator. (These same people think Herschel Walker is capable, even though every time he opens his mouth word salad comes out.)

The Fetterman episode, if you want to call it that, made clear the value too many in our country place on ableism. There seems to be one cookie cutter version of who is okay—the man or woman who excels at everything from public speaking to sport and beyond. Anyone who varies from that norm is different, suspect, and probably incapable. Take the way Republicans hastened to claim President Biden is senile. The fact that Biden battles a lifelong stuttering problem, which accounts for his occasionally hesitant speech, elicits not cheers for what he’s able to do despite that handicap but accusations that he belongs in a care facility and Dr. Jill Biden is really running the show. If anyone has ever demonstrated that they are in command of the situation, it’s Joe Biden whose accomplishments in two years of presidency have been nothing short of amazing—from turning the economy around, passing legislation for economic growth and renovation of the infrastructure to delicately aligning allies to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s incursion. And he’s done it all despite dig-your-heels-in opposition from conservatives.

I have felt some of this ableism myself. These days I need assistance to walk and hearing aids if I am going to hear what others say. I always have someone with me when I am out, because I do not drive any longer —fighting the walker into the car without losing my balance presented too many chances for disaster. But almost inevitably, salespeople, receptionists, and others talk to the person with me until I want to raise my hand and shout, “There’s an okay brain in here!” I am still writing, still cooking, still very much a functioning member of society.

None of us fit that cookie cutter mold of the prefect person. Fortunately many people fight to recognize and accept the differences in people. Some of us are learning to fold those with differences into our lives and world and make them welcome, to let their light shine as it will. My neighborhood has a special early trick-or treat night—this year on Saturday before Halloween. The evening is a sensory friendly event, a calm and less overwhelming experience for children with different abilities. No loud noises or scary tricks.

In addition, the city ambulance service, MedStar, brings two severely handicapped children and their families for a special night out. Ambulance drivers dress in costume, three streets are blocked off, and everyone goes all out to give these special kids a rare treat.

Somehow I’m thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his dream speech—like him, I dream of a world where all are equal, but my dream deals less with racial themes and more with welcoming the handicapped into our full society, appreciating and utilizing their specific talents and accommodating their differences. We are all different, each in our own way.

There’s a meme going around Facebook in various versions (here’s a more graceful version): In January, John Fetterman will be better; Mehmet Oz will still be a fraud and a huckster.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Sunshine, fall temperatures, lots of food, and return of the bedwetters


Today was lovely, the kind of day that makes me think of that poem I had to memorize in grade school. It began, “October’s bright blue weather,” though I don’t remember another word of it. Pretty as today was, a part of me longed for a repeat of yesterday’s long, slow and steady rain. Apparently, we are to get more rain this weekend, so I’ll be content.

I’m trying hard to be a working writer this week. Just sent my webmaster the copy for a Fall newsletter. I do an “only occasional” newsletter—if you don’t get it and would like to, please email me at Also, today I wrote about 1800 words, not my record for a day but darn close and a total that made me feel proud. I know somewhat the end of Irene’s Texas story but getting there had me baffled. Today I decided to stop thinking ahead and deal with each scene as it comes. The characters will lead me to the right direction.

Cooking has taken up a bit of my time, but my one real triumph is so unimpressive that I almost hate to brag. Still, I made the best ever salmon spread the other day and had it in sandwiches for lunch for two days. Colin and I split a case of salmon from Alaska—it really is better than the usual offering in the grocery stores. My secret trick is that I whirred the salmon in a food processor until it was finely flaked. Then I added a bit of finely minced scallion, salt and pepper, juice of a whole lemon (lots of lemon was what made it work), and just enough sour cream/mayo mixture to bind. I didn’t want a juice, sloppy mix; I wanted a spread. Terrific on sourdough bread.

Tonight, we ordered dinner from Bonnell’s. Fort Worth folk will know the place. During pandemic, Jon Bonnell utilized the location of his upscale restaurant on an access road to offer drive-by meals—a different menu five nights a week. He called his customers, “roadside warriors.” The program was so successful, he continues it to this day. We ordered once before when they had pork cutlets with gravy, potatoes, and I don’t remember what else. It was delicious, so this morning when I saw the offering was chicken marsala, soft polenta, green beans, and salad with green goddess dressing, we decided to order it. Once again delicious and so very generous. The food comes cold with clear directions for reheating. Christian was dishing up tonight and had he plates full when I asked about the green beans. He had left them in the house and thought dinner was compete with all that food, We scrunched things around to make room for buttery green beans. A worthy meal.

With mid-term elections two weeks away, I find myself reading less of the prognostications. I read somewhere that then-president Barack Obama coined the term “bedwetters.” He said about this time, in every election cycle, the bedwetters come out with their predictions of gloom and disaster. Everybody is losing, nobody has any money, this is your last chance, and so on. I find it so annoying I have given up.

This morning I read a terrific column by Gabe Fleisher on polls and their reliability or not—read it here: Let’s talk about the polls ( If you don’t know Fleisher’s daily column, “Wake Up to Politics” I urge you to subscribe immediately. It’s totally bipartisan, sometimes way too much so for my tastes. These days I sense a great gap between what the polls are saying and my intuitive sense of the mood of the country. Christian would tell me I only hear a select audience, and he may be right. I tend to hear educated voters, and there is a vast world out there, I know, of voters who accept whatever they most recently heard. They are easily misled which is exactly what those who would lead us to fascism want.

This is such a critical election that now, even two weeks out, I am finding the suspense difficult to bear, and I wonder how candidates in those tied races can maintain their calm. I’ve given a lot of thought to how I’ll spend election night. My best idea is several glasses of wine and in bed by seven, with a pillow over my head.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

Monday, October 24, 2022

What I want from my political party


It’s a lovely dark and dreary, rainy morning in North Texas. My garden is soaking up steady rainfall. A perfect day for curling up with a book and taking a nap. But, alas, I have politics on my mind.

Anyone who’s read more than two words I’ve written knows that I am a proud lifelong Democrat, prone to speaking out often and loudly. My brother compares me to a dog with a bone, and he’s probably right. This morning, I’m thinking of Michelle Obama’s classic statement, “When they go low, we go high.” She was spot on with her advice. Let me count the ways they go low—I probably can think of a thousand, but that’s not where my mind is this morning.

I get at least 200 emails a day, especially now that election day is a mere two weeks away. Most of them are whining that we’re losing, begging for money, declaring disaster if I don’t send $5 or $25, reminding me that their election is the one the nation’s entire future hinges on. This morning, one screamed in boldface that President Biden had just smashed Mitch McConnell. Now personally I think McConnell is a pretty nasty man and has done a lot of smashing of others. He probably deserves whatever he got. But that’s not what I want from my party. Yes, in some ways the goal is to beat the Republicans. But there is, and should be, a far nobler goal—and that is to govern our country for the betterment of all people. Beto talks about what he will accomplish for Texas—what a refreshing change of tone.

There is so much today that Democratic candidates should be shouting from the rooftops. Did you know that President Biden has reduced the national deficit by more than any president—in just two years. Did you realize that crime, especially murder, s uniformly higher in red states than blue? (Ask the governor of Oklahoma, who just learned that lesson the hard way in a debate with his opponent; she has statistics to prove it.) Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you know that employment is way up, unemployment down. Democrats have had lots of other victories in Biden’s two years in office, yet campaign after campaign goes on the defensive against Republican’s outrageous and untrue accusations. No, Biden didn’t cause inflation; no, Democrats didn’t open the border and say, “Ya’ll come on, now.” No, Democrats are not baby killers. No, the Democratic Party is not the party of extravagant spending, running up the national deficit (a hint: that’s Republicans with ginormous tax cuts to the rich).

The list is endless, but If you keep up with the real news you know these things. Unfortunately a lot of knee-jerk voters believe what they hear on TV and see on Facebook. I love the comment by one observer that he couldn’t believe Americans would accept a dictatorship if they could save a quarter on a gallon of gas.

I wish my party would take the high road. Stop bashing Republicans, stop accusing them (that’s their despicable game). But perhaps wiser heads know more than I do. Whereas I desperately want civility, the collegiality of Congress before Reagan, in the days of Tip O’Neil, perhaps political consultants know that chaos and drama draw attention. Democrats tend to be lower key than Republicans. Trump is of course outrageous in his flair for drama and many of hs colleagues follow. The media loves drama, so the story is too often about the Republicans. Maybe our blue candidates believe they have to compete on the turf that’s given them. If so, God Bless. But I long for a party that will go high, and an electorate who will appreciate that.

Or maybe we should go back to the days of Lincoln when it was considered unseemly for a candidate to speak publicly on his own behalf. The Lincoln/Douglas debates broke the mold, and maybe we should blame it all on them.

I just heard a touch of thunder. Time to curl up with that book.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

My dream house


Maybe something like this?

My dream house is literally that—a house that came to me in a dream. I thought I had gotten over house longing years ago, especially since I’m so happy in my cottage. But there it was, a memory so vivid it has been with me all day. Lewis Bundock and I were doing a walk-through, talking paint colors and wallpaper—yes, wallpaper. Lewis is the wonderful contractor who kept my old house updated and working well for over twenty-five years but retired during the pandemic. He’s still available to me for telephone consultation, but I doubt he’d undertake the renovations in my dream.

The house wa a red brick with a roofed front porch—not craftsman but not quite territorial either. I was focused on the interior. The front door opened into a huge entryway, much of it floored with Saltillo tile and the rest, inexplicably, in white shag carpet. The previous owner had left a few pieces of furniture, including an old sofa. From this entry, a long hall bisected the house, with countless rooms on either side—I lost count of how many, but it exceeded a reasonable number.

Several were bedrooms, and most still held antique bedsteads with elaborate Victorian headboards. One was a young girl’s room—her mother had found wall a Honduran fabric for wall cover, but Lewis pronounced it too frail and transparent. No coincidence, I had been talking late the night before to one of Jordan’s friends who has a young teen daughter.

The kitchen was my particular delight. It had lots of white cabinets, floor to ceiling, and we decided to paper it with a pattern of white background and some medium blue something—to match my Blue Willow china. There was a living room, with some furniture, a dining room which I decreed needed wainscoting painted a pale hue like celery. The hall walls would also have the wainscoting. At the back on the left side, was a room I thought would make a wonderful sitting room/library (I apparently wasn’t taking in account the fact that I live alone and have no need for a library/sitting room, although I knew several of the bedrooms were for guests.) Next to this den, was a small room, with windows—perfect for my office.

One problem, there was no bathroom, and Lewis and I differed over which room should be a bathroom. He wanted to use my sitting room/library, but I resisted. I didn’t want my office to open into the bathroom. I’m not sure we ever decided on a room but wherever it was, the walls would be tiled to chest height, with wallpaper above—this ivory, with scattered ferns (I think sister-in-law Lisa had that in her guest bath when they lived in Kingwood but I just read how only Boomers have such wallpaper—and I’m too old to be a boomer!).

The dream ends there, but I wanted to write it down while it was still so clear. I was dreaming about the house when Soph wakened me about six this morning for her breakfast. I fed her and went right back to bed and into the same dream. Last night’s dreams had me teaching again—not nearly as pleasant.

In other news of no note, about three weeks ago I lost my house keys. Went to the nursery and Trader Joe’s with Mary one morning, and when we got back to the cottage, I could not find my keys. We searched my purse several times, Mary searched her car, I spent days calling the nursery and Trader’s. No luck. I had new keys made, had to have a technician out to replace the key fob for the security system.

Yesterday Mary found the keys deep in a pocket of a purse she rarely uses. As Jordan often does, she told me to head for the car and she’d take care of locking the door—and then she inadvertently slipped the keys into her purse instead of mine! Still nice to know they’re not floating out there someplace, even though they didn’t have any identification on them.

In other inconsequential news, I had dinner with friends the other night to celebrate one’s birthday which happened September 1st. But late as we were, Kathie, the birthday girl, remembered she hadn’t given me a present for my July birthday, so she presented me with the heaviest present I’ve ever gotten: a cast iron cornbread pan which makes cornbread not in the shape of ears of corn (like my mom had) but in the shape of saguaro cactus. Getting those out of the pan intact will be a real trick. Although Kathie is an inveterate garage sale shopper, this pan appears new, and I will have to season it if I hope to get anything more than crumbs out of it. I did test today, and it fits in my toaster oven.

And that, friends, is the extent of my news on this sleepy Sunday evening. Jean just came for supper, and we dined in the main house, so she could see Christian’s all-out Halloween decorations. A pleasant evening.

And a nostalgic picture just because I thought it was so cute when it popped up onmy computer today. 

A boy and my dog

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Thoughts on fiction and fictional thoughts


There’s a new website,, where authors are encouraged to post about their favorite books in categories of their own choosing. Some choose books by topic, others by author. There’s a page, for instance, for the best five books with quirky detectives from around the world, and another for novels that get you inside the minds of historical figures. How about a page for books on good and evil? Or the best books for yoga teachers who feel stuck in a rut? Something for everyone, and a great site for browsing.

I submitted a page (five books plus one of my own, per the rules) on outrageous cozies, and it went live this week. Traditional mysteries have many sub-genres--the sci-fi mystery, the thriller, the hard-boiled/noir, the police procedural, the historical, and of course the cozy. Even within the cozy, there are subdivisions, like the noir cozy which is a real contradiction in terms. So why now the outrageous cozy?  I don’t know that it is yet a recognized sub-genre, but I’m working to make it so. The graphic above is for my page, and the link is I hope you find some outrageously good reading in those books. Of course, I included the first of my own outrageous series, Saving Irene.

A friend in a small, online writer’s group recently commented that it amused her that I speak of my characters are though they are real people—sort of like they’re in the same room with me. It’s true, I feel that way about them. Irene and Henny, the narrator, live with me all the time when I’m working on one of their books.

Currently, Irene and her French entourage—Chance, Jean Claude, and daughter Gabrielle—are in Fort Worth for Christmas, visiting Henny’s family. The mere idea of putting the diva chef, with her faux French ways, in the middle of Cowtown is alive with possibilities, and I’m having fun. In line with my political beliefs, I supported a fund-raising campaign titled, “Mystery Loves Democracy.” (Two years ago, “Mystery Loves Georgia” contributed a hefty amount to the campaigns of senators Joel Osoff and Raphael Warnock.) As part of my commitment, I auctioned the right to name a character in my work-in-progress. The woman who bought the right chose to name the character after a friend, and so Kathy Fenton entered my story.

I was about to introduce Kathy as a character when I realized her backstory had already been told. All I had to do was go back and change her name. Once that was done, Kathy added yet another complication to the plot and another name on the list of possible murder suspects. (For me, that’s sort of how writing goes--as I write, ideas pop into my head, and they generally work better than if I had planned them ahead.)

But honest to gosh, when I renamed that earlier character, I thought to myself, “I must remember to tell Henny that I’ve made that change.” I had to slap myself upside the head to remember Henny is a fictional character and only knows what’s on the page. She won’t remember that first name at all. But that’s how real Henny had become to me.

This morning Jean sent me a link to an article about the reading habits of Ken Burns. His reading is so wide and so deep that it’s humbling. I realized once again it’s a tiny, tiny corner of the book world that I inhabit. Burns has a great familiarity with the Russian writers, refers casually to people I’ve never heard of, and cited a long list of those that I have never read but should have, such as Gabriel García Márquez. I was more comfortable with his admiration for Mark Twain and Willa Cather—he was getting closer to my comfort zone. I can’t help recalling that my first adult novel, Mattie, was panned by one reviewer because Cather had told the story better. I didn’t know enough to know my work was derivative, but I still think any comparison to Cather is a compliment.

And speaking of American greats in the literary field, this is a bonus week, with new books due from Cormac McCarthy (The Border Trilogy, No Country for Old Men--it’s been a long time since he had a new book), mystery writer Lee Child (the Jack Reacher books), Jude Deveraux (historical romance, including the many volumes about the Montgomery/Taggert family), and Patricia Cornwell (crime writer best known for books featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta). Surely something for every taste from these literary lions.



Friday, October 21, 2022

Feeling literary and social

Occasionally I get a real longing to be in the world of books and among book people. I scratched that itch this week by attending the banquet of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. My history with that movement, group, whatever, is long but spotty. I was on the first committee to choose the inductees—in 2004 the committee honored J. Frank Dobie, Elmer Kelton, John Graves, Katherine Anne Porter, Shelby Hearon, Horton Foote, Larry McMurtry, and Walter Prescott Webb. An impressive class of inductees, some of whom were honored posthumously. Since then, the Hall has honored a new class every other year, though the ceremony got off schedule in 2018, postponed until 2019, and then, because of pandemic, not held again until this year. I blush—but not much—to mention that I was in the 2010 class with my good friend Jim Lee.

I chose to attend the dinner and invited Jean to go with me, partly because I thought she might find the people interesting and partly because I needed a shepherd. I went with some trepidation—I have been retired for eleven years and for the last two virtually a recluse. Would I know anybody? Would anybody know me? I was pleasantly surprised—I saw many people I knew and received lots of virtual hugs, had lots of good conversations. Jean did a masterful job of shepherding me through the crowd in my transport chair, so I could linger and visit with several. I was indeed back in the world of books.

The Hall, founded at the Fort Worth Public Library, had moved in recent years to TCU. Apparently leaving the library was not happy, but it has found a good new home at TCU under the direction of Mary Couts Burnett Library and its dean Tracy Hull. Tracy worked hard to make this dinner special so that Bunny Gardner, who started the whole thing way back when, would be glad of the move. And from what Bunny said to me, she was.

There were seven inductees—one of whom I knew from having worked with him on several books, though we did not that evening get a chance to talk, a couple of whom I knew by slight acquaintance, and one I knew by name. Jean said their acceptance speeches gave her new insight into writers, their passions, and their frustrations. If you’re interested in books, particularly Texas books, I would urge you to watch for the 2024 dinner.

My interest in the Hall of Fame is renewed so that I’m thinking of people to nominate and have three in mind. A friend on the selection committee tells me that those who nominate must submit a summary of the reasons an author is worthy, so there’s another project for me.

Tonight, still being social, I went to dinner with Carol, Kathie, and Subie for a belated celebration of Kathie’s September birthday and an early celebration of Subie’s December date. We went to Pacific Table, one of my favorites, but it is being remodeled, and the indoor space available was small and all hard slick surfaces—so noisy. I still say they have the best Caesar salad in town, and the fried oysters I had with it were wonderful. It was good to be together with these dear friends—obviously if we were late for a September birthday, we hadn’t seen much of each other for a while. But it was so noisy I missed much of the conversation. I did come home with a belated birthday present for my July birthday—remember those muffin tins your mom had that made cornbread in the shape of ears of corn? I know have one that makes it in the shape of saguaro cactus. Can’t wait to try it.

Came home to a houseful. Jordan and Christian were entertaining their nearest and dearest for supper. Most of the guests are people I’ve known since their high school days, so it was a delight to visit with them and catch up. Sophie of course won’t miss out on a minute of sociability, and many of the guests were her friends and fans. She went from person to person getting love. But now, she and I, the old folks, are settled in the cottage.

This social life is too exhausting for me. No, not really. I enjoyed it

Me and Christian 
at theier dinner party

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Another day of frustrations


My feelings exactly.

My battle with the world at the other end of my telephone continues. Yesterday, my new best friend at Central Market said that her IT guy said they do a web update at night, and after that I should be able to access the site. So this morning when Sophie dragged me out of bed at seven-fifteen, I tried the site—sure enough I could get in. Relieved I went back to bed. At about ten o’clock, when I wanted to check product availability, I got that old error message again. I emailed the tech, she said she’d get IT working on it, and I heard no more. But tonight when I tried—twice—I could log on. So I want to place an order tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.

Meantime, first email I saw this morning informed me that my security account was overdue—the people that monitor my household alarm. I thought that was pretty much impossible because that payment is automatically withdrawn from my bank account—a process I resist whenever I can because I like to have control of where my money is going. (I resist automatic payments direct to my bank account for the same reason—I want to know the money has come in; a few places, like Kindle Direct Publishing, don’t offer any other options, and I find it frustrating.) Turns out the protection company had “updated” my account and reverted to an out of date credit card. Got that one straightened out fairly simply.

This one wasn’t directly about the phone, though I ended up on the phone. About noon I turned on the faucet in the kitchen sink—and nothing happened, absolutely nothing. I tried calling neighbors, who either weren’t home or yes, they had water. So I called the water department to ask if they’d turned it off—no, they didn’t how any work in my area. So I called Christian to ask if he was coming home to let the dogs out and could see if there was water in the main house. Turns out he had already called the water department—it was just us, and they were coming out to investigate. Long story short, about an hour later, it was fixed, though I never heard what the problem was. Christian said the hoses worked the whole time, and their dishwasher was sloshing water inside, but I think that was probably stored water. To me, it was just another glitch in the day.

In church our minister frequently says the question we must ask is “What do you want me to do with my life, God? How can I help?” My question today is, “What am I supposed to be learning from all this?” One thing I’ve learned is that you cannot write the great American mystery while dealing with insurance and online grocery stores and security systems and the like. The other lesson I’ve tried to learn is patience, but that is hard for a compulsive like me. I don’t wait patiently on hold on the phone. And when something needs doing, fixing, clearing up, I see no sense in putting in off for another time, another day.  

That attitude gets me in trouble in a household of procrastinators. I just called Jacob and asked him to come talk to me. His answer was so typical, “In a sec.” My new walker/transport chair arrived today, unassembled of course, and Jordan said it probably wouldn’t get put together until the weekend. After a hard day of work, she explained, everyone is too tired. (Truly I kind of wanted it for an event tomorrow night.) The last time I watched TV in the evening was so long ago I’ve forgotten—maybe when “Mash” was on. What do I do in the evening? Read, write, what I consider constructive things. Now I have to admit, I get an afternoon nap which makes a difference. I’m probably not as tired as they are. But somewhere in all this mix, there should be compromise. I need to let go of some compulsiveness, but maybe the rest of the world needs a little dose of it.

Meanwhile, compulsively, I wrote a couple of new scenes today, and the most astonishing thing happened that I had no idea about. The plot took a whole new twist, because this new character told me I’d underestimated her importance in the story. More about that another day.

Sweet dreams. I turned the heat on last night, did you? Down almost to the thirties tonight. (Jacob just came out to the cottage, in a hoodie and short pants and barefoot, complaining about how cold it is!)

Monday, October 17, 2022

Battling corporate America


That’s what I did today. I spent most of the time when I should have been working on my novel-in-progress fighting with corporate America. I’m quite sure I didn’t win.

The worst call of the day was to Cigna Dental. Quick recap: TCU cancelled their program covering employee dental policies, so in April I took out an individual policy. Sent them checks faithfully. Like clockwork they returned the checks to my bank. Each month I called for better instruction, sent another check. In September, I received a letter telling me they had cancelled my policy July 31 due to nonpayment. For two months I was uninsured, though I didn’t know it. Fortunately no dental catastrophes. In October, I received late payment notices, which I ignored because they had cancelled my insurance. But finally, frustrated, I called, they said it was still an open policy, and I said close it. I wanted nothing to do with them. Last week they sent more overdue notices, along with i.d. cards. Today I was on hold for 45 long minutes. A woman listened to my story and sent me to another woman who said she would review my records. I lost it. I informed her, not politely I fear, there was no need. I knew the record. I just wanted them to stop harassing me! She offered to send me to someone else. I told her to take me out of their records and hung up, my patience absolutely gone.

State Farm was better. I am trying to straighten out giving my car to the Burtons and rearranging my property and liability insurance. Turns out if I take the car out of the policy it gets more expensive instead of cheaper—go figure. The ways of insurance are inscrutable. And I as an individual, have no leverage despite the fact I have been a State Farm customer for at least fifty years.

Next came the company that makes my walker. I want to upgrade, but the sweet young thing on the other end didn’t know anymore than I did. She fed me answers I‘d already found on the online listings. Obviously, she was lookin for answers on the same page I had open in front of me. So I called a local dealer. He was helpful sort of—said my problem with an earlier walker that broke was that I ordered from a big online chain (obviously I should have ordered from him was the message). But it turns out he can’t get them—supply chain problems—so he advised me to order online, although this time I am looking at a much sturdier (and expensive) model. He didn’t seem to notice he was contradicting himself. Wish I knew an individual craftsman who could fashion a walker/transport chair to my specifications, but I am again caught in the corporate world.

Then there was Central Market. Every time I try to log in to the website to order for curbside pickup, I get a page that tells me access is denied for security reasons. The representative was really pleasant, concerned—and baffled. She turned the problem over to IT where they were also baffled but had other similar complaints. Tonight I still have no access, but I’ve had three messages from the rep, Lisa keeping me posted. That’s the personal touch I lon for in dealing with companies.

My takeaway advice from all this is avoid Cigna like the plague. Seriously, Central Market and State Farm confirmed my faith in people, but increasingly I am disturbed by trying to deal with corporate America. I’m a big advocate of shopping locally and patronizing mom-and-pop stores when you can.

Most folks don’t recognize this, but the main cause of inflation is greedy corporations. We may be paying more at the gas pump or the grocery store of the pharmacy, but it’s because corporations are raking in huge profits. When President Biden talks of restoring America from the ground up he means to better the life of those of us who don’t earn millions a month. His program supports unions, because they fight for the average worker, and he support the legislation which will allow bargaining with drug companies rather than being victims of either pay their high prices or be sick.

My frustrating calls today made me realize again that we’ve lost the voice of the individual. I talked but the hired voices repeating what they were taught to say to one and all, didn’t hear me. I was not an individual but part of the crowd. I don’t like that, and I’ll fight against it. I doubt Cigna is much impressed that I told them off, but I am!

Saturday, October 15, 2022

A good/bad day for TCU and some voting news


There was much joy among TCU fans today as the Frogs pulled off an amazing victory in double overtime to beat Oklahoma State 43-40. A capacity crowd in Amon Carter Stadium cheered the victory, many rushing onto the field. On Facebook, ecstatic fans reported exhaustion, hoarseness, bliss, surprise, all kinds of joy. Some confessed they had reservations about the hiring of Sonny Dykes but now they are fans. For the Frogs, so beleaguered in the last couple of seasons, it was truly a triumphant day.

But there was sadness—Dr William E. Tucker, chancellor from 1979 until 1998, passed away today. For many of us it was an unexpected shock. This kind and gentle man felt like a personal friend to any who had met him even once. When I first went to work on the administration side of things (TCU Press), coming from the classroom first as a graduate student and then an occasional adjunct, I had no idea who this slight but friendly man was that I kept meeting in the stairwell. Soon enough, I learned it was the chancellor. Thereafter, I saw him and his lovely wife, Jean, at church. They always knew exactly who I was and greeted me as though I were a close friend. When Jean’s health failed, Bill often came to church alone. I had retired and suffered some health problems, and he would stop to ask how I was doing. He was that kind of a good man.

In the next few days, obituaries will praise his many accomplishments as an ordained minister, the dean of Brite Divinity School, president of Bethany College, and, finally, chancellor of the university, the position from which he retired. There’s no need for me to list his record, but as one who worked for the university during his leadership, I just want to say the world is a little bit less bright tonight.

And it’s Saturday night. So what does a grandmother, single and in her eighties, do on a Saturday night? Why, address envelopes for those Beto letters I so carefully formatted on my computer, of course. My handwriting has not improved with age, so addressing the envelopes loomed as a great chore. Writing by hand is like a lot of other things—if I can do it automatically without thinking about it, I’m pretty much okay; but if I think about trying to write perfectly, I mess up. Today I only had to scrap one envelope—it was a complicated Polish name, and my first attempt was a disaster. And I had to reprint one letter because I had made the salutation part of the recipient’s name in the address. I looked at it and thought “Dear” was a strange first name, but you know people have a lot of unusual first names. Then I realized what I’d done. Tonight, I’m relieved and a bit proud to have finished.

I still get those emails begging for money, telling me I’ve been chosen, implying that my vote is the one thing that the entire election hinges on, and why won’t I say how I’m voting. But I am also getting pleas to help—specifically to be a poll watcher. Lord knows, with the rumors about voter intimidation going around, we need poll watchers. So, these emails make me feel a bit guilty, but I can’t respond to a form letter and point out that I am mobility challenged and cannot possibly do that.

The Act Blue donation site has been down again—at least it won’t talk to my computer (several sites won’t, and friend Mary thinks it’s me). Anyway, not that I am able to contribute that much but there’s another reason for my guilt. Tonight, it appeared to be working so I sent modest checks to the DCCC and to John Fetterman, because I hate that Dr. Oz and Tucker Carlson and others are broadcasting disinformation about his stroke recovery. Fetterman, admitting recovery is hard, said it best: In January, he’ll be better, and Oz will still be a fraud.

And I filled out my mail-in ballot today, being careful to meet all the new requirements. My ballot was rejected in the primaries, and I by gosh want to be sure it’s counted this time. Straight blue ticket, but I noted that the ballot no long offers you the option to vote a straight ticket. You must go through and laboriously mark each box.

Hooray! I get to read the rest of the evening. I’m reading a manuscript sent me with a request for comments. It’s a PI thriller, not my usual reading, but I’m hooked and biting my nails a lot. When it’s published, I’ll alert you all.

Sweet dreams and positive thoughts!

Friday, October 14, 2022

The week that was

Cleopatra and Mark Antony (???) on their way to Monster Bash

 This was not my finest week. Appointments with the hand surgeon, the dentist, and the podiatrist, followed by trips to Trader Joe’s and Westcliff Hardware, took a huge chunk of my work time and left me tired and a bit grumpy. The final insult was that I was awakened at seven this morning, far earlier than I intended to get up, by the rat-tat-tat of drums.

Today was Walkathon for Lily B. Clayton Elementary, and the band performs directly across the street from our house. They played continuously until 8:30 when the parade took off around the neighborhood. I would never be curmudgeonly about Walkathon—it’s a highlight for the kids, and it raises a lot of money for extra programming for the school. Jacob loved it for his seven years at Sweet Lily B. and Jordan and Christian walked with him most years. I rather miss sitting on the front porch and watching—these days I am back in the cottage, out of sight of the street. But I really didn’t want to get up that early. Neither did Sophie, who already been fed and gone out and was back asleep.

Jean pointed out something interesting to me about our visit to the hand surgeon with my swollen finger. There was not one place in that waiting room to park a transport chair or a walker, nor were there any tables to set a purse or drink (maybe the latter was intentional). The waiting room was huge, and every wall lined with chairs right up next to each other, plus an island of chairs in the middle of the largest part of the area. I truly wondered how many patients they expected at any one time. There were a goodly number of people coming and going, but the big majority of the chairs were empty. Must have been close to a hundred chairs.

When we were called back, the attendant ushered us into a small room with a desk and two chairs, barely big enough for Jean to maneuver my transport chair. In fact I thought I was stuck under the desk at one point and might not get out.

After she brought this to my attention, I paid attention at the dentist’s office and the podiatrist’s. In both cases, the treatment rooms were so small, my walker was a problem. At the dentist they had to leave it in the hall where it was an obstacle for anyone using the hall. Clearly the medical community has not thought enough about handicaps.

Handicaps were on my mind this week anyway. My church is planning a much-needed renovation, and I watched a video about the new look. Inside one entrance, visitors will find a coffee bar and lounge area with a sweeping open staircase to the second floor. Wonderful, clean, welcoming space. Except: the curved staircase and the openness is an invitation to most people, but if you are phobic about height and space, as I have been most of my life, the staircase will strike fear in your heart. I wrote to one of the ministers to say I hope there is an alternate staircase, pointing out that one old, narrow one, with a landing and walls around it, is my favorite. There are always elevators, but some people prefer stairs. My point was that not all handicaps are as visible as my walker.

Jordan has occasionally ranted about this ever since I became dependent on a walker. There are often too few handicapped spaces and ramps that are ridiculous. At one of my favorite restaurants, the ramp is short and so steep I feel like I am skiing. At another it is a two-part ramp—of herringbone patterned brick. Granted it provides traction but try bumping over it with a walker!

The Americans with Disability Act has made so much progress in so many areas, but there is still much to be done to raise awareness. For one thing, I think specialty offices need to think beyond their own specialty—apparently an office that focuses on hand and shoulder does not expect a person with mobility problems.

Enough ranting. Jean came for supper, and I fixed a good, down-home dinner with one twist. We began the meal with a mini-butter board (see last night’s Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog) on a plate instead of a board. I wasn’t as blown away by it as I expected to be. It was the kind of thing I might crave late at night, but it was a bit heavy before dinner.

Butter board on a plate

We had meatloaf, tiny roasted potatoes, and a wilted lettuce salad like my mom used to make. The salad had a slight sweetness, almost a bit of brown sugar taste. I can’t figure out where it came from, except maybe the bacon. I should have used more vinegar—that salad is one of those things you never measure, but just do. It was a good meal, though, and for dessert we had mini-ice-cream cones from Trader Joe’s. Color me overfed.

‘Night all. I think this will be an early night followed by a late morning for me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

What’s your idea of adventure?


Kudos to Jean Walbridge for shepherding me yesterday. First we went to my appointment with the hand surgeon. Because I’d never been there before, we took the transport chair, and it was a good thing. We whipped into the first open handicapped spot and proceeded to the doors only to find we were at the locked service entrance and had to go halfway around the large square building to get to the main entrance with its fancy porte cochere. Why aren’t entrances marked more plainly or, better yet, in the front of the building where they belong?

Then we found ourselves in an enormous medical office and we, of course, chose the exact wrong end of the waiting room. When they called us, we had to travel the whole long length. If I’d been using the walker, it would have taken me forever, and I’d arrived winded. So bless Jean for pushing me. She wasn’t used to it and commented that she seemed to be trying to amputate my feet. At one point I was sort of wedged under a desk and wondered how I’d get out of there.

From the doctor’s office we went to Trader Joe’s which has quite possibly the world’s worst parking lot in town—too small, too crowded, two-way traffic when there isn’t room. Not good for an impatient person like myself. If Jean had been alone, there were any number of spots she could have whipped into, but we had to wait—and wait we did—for a handicapped with space on the passenger side for the motorized cart for handicapped shoppers. At long last we got one. Jean went into the store to ask someone on staff to drive the cart out for me—no way she was going to try that herself.

Shopping was smooth except when Jean said, “You’re on your own,” I had to point out that I couldn’t reach most of the things I wanted. So we shopped in tandem. I did not hit any customers nor take down any displays, but I sure was nervous in the wine section. Trader Joe’s is like Central Market in that you can’t do all your shopping there—not toilet paper, etc.—but it’s great for unusual items. And I had a list, from ice cream cones to white chicken chili (which I didn’t find).

Jean went to a checkout station right by the exit, which was great because I could just wheel straight out. A couple of times before I had nearly come to grief trying to turn a tight corner from the checkout stand to the door.

At last we were in the car, headed home, having safely handed the cart over to a staff member. Jean sighed and said, “I’ve had quite an adventure. Thank you.” My first thought was maybe her life lacks adventure, despite the fact that I know she’s busy, but my better thought was, “Wow! If it’s that much of an adventure, it much be that much trouble, and I am really really grateful to her for having spent her morning with me, pushing my wheelchair, hauling my mobility devices in and out of the car, reaching for groceries for me. I am so blessed with friends and so grateful.

Today was a catch-up day and therefore I have nothing much to post about, unless I lapse into one of my rants about the state of our country. So I’ll just quit while I’m sort of ahead. I did get a lot done today, and I’m going to sleep early because I have to be up way too early for a dental appointment.

I will say, it’s a bit of a thrill to find an email in my box from Martin Sheen that begins, “Hi, Judy.” Yes, I know it’s computer generated, but I can still hardly resist replying to say, “Hi, Martin. Thanks for writing.”

Night, y’all.