Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Ah, to be in Hawaii


Jordan on the ferry from Maui to Lanai

Ah, to be in Hawaii

Not much to blog about tonight. All day in the cottage alone—even Sophie deserted me and spient most of the day in the main house with Christian.  She’s a fickle beast. I worked, not much to report there, and I read about what’s going on in our country. From MTG to the Supreme Court and its corruption to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his fatuous self-satisfaction, my indignation is high. But I’ll spare you the diatribe.

The trouble with ice and snow warnings in Texas is that they so often vanish into nothing that we have gotten complacent, sure that the storm will pass us by, die out, amount to nothing. So we're unprepared and surprised when a forecast turns real. Christian said tonight if he'd know how bad it was going to be, he'd have gone out and gotten dog food. Hindsight.

Tonight I fixed a queso chicken casserole—fudged with the recipe a bit, but it was still awfully good. Lots of leftovers for the rest of the week. Sometimes I’m wonder if I’m losing it—at least the cooking part of “it,” whatever that is. I try to plan so carefully so that I have all the ingredients needed for whatever I’m making, but tonight I realized I had no Velveeta, not something I keep on hand but needed for the recipe. I substituted leftover cheese from our recent dinner at Joe T’s and some of our good Tillamook sharp cheddar. Taste was still good, but the consistency was different.

The only thing I really want to share is some pictures from Hawaii where Jordan is enjoying sunshine and ferry rides and great good times while we struggle through ice and cold. She didn’t exactly pick the date—it’s a work-related trip—but it turned out to be so timely. We have sent her pictures of the snow and ice, just to keep her grounded.

View from Jordan's room at the
Four Seasons, Maui

Monday, January 30, 2023

Stock Show weather


It’s a given in For Worth that when the annual Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show hits town, late January to early February, we have “stock show weather.” A few years lately, with the weather so crazy, we have missed it, but today it rolled in, with one more week to go of the show. It may be a livestock show, crucial to ranchers, FFA kids who show their livestock in hopes of winning lucrative prizes and scholarships, and a lot of others from all over the Southwest, but to Fort Worth residents, the show means “Rodeo!” Two performances a day, and some of the best rodeo you’ll ever see.

But stock show weather brings the city to a halt, including audiences at the rodeo. And the weather hit today, though as usual we are in suspense as to what directions it will take. So far it’s been really cold for us—27 all day—and we’ve had spitting sleet and freezing rain, just enough to have fender bender accidents all over the Metroplex. In Fort Worth, I have heard of two cars that ended upside down. Schools in a wide area will be closed tomorrow as everyone buckles down.

But the news reports I heard tonight said it won’t get much colder, and we will have only occasional precip during the night. But what will it do tomorrow? A dense band of moisture is supposed to come through, but it’s one of those situations—will it or won’t it? Christian and Jacob both have rodeo plans tomorrow, and I had cancelled any plans to cook for them. Now Christian says he thinks (notice that qualifier) that he will be home but suspects Jacob will move hell and high water to get to the rodeo.

Today I was grateful to stay inside all day, but I was definitely aware that the cottage has hot spots and cold spots—and my desk is in a cold spot, probably because of the big window next to it and the French doors just two or three feet away. You think? I have kicked those heaters in the living area and bedroom (are they perhaps called mini-splits?) up to farther than I should and have also increased the fan speed. Plus put an extra insulating blanket on my bed—I had a really cozy nap today, until Sophie barked at me.

Soph doesn’t seem to mind the cold. She has been in and out all day (as Jacob would say, “So annoying!”). That would be okay but if she comes in by herself, she bangs the door open and does not, unsurprisingly, know enough to close it. If I have to go open the door, she often stands and looks at me, as if to say, “You want me to come in? I’ll take it under consideration.” Meantime, I’m freezing, so I break down and say, “Treat.” She comes right in. But then the rest of the family accuses me of spoiling her.

A couple of things stop me from enjoying this enforced stay-at-home period, not that I go out that much anyway, but with the weather like this, I am always a bit cold. And I worry about friends and family on the roads, even the back streets. This is Jacob’s first year with a driver’s license, and his car is an SUV, top heavy and no four-wheel drive. A perfect candidate for skidding, sliding, even flipping, and I don’t think he’s experienced enough to handle that. Are Texas kids taught what to do when the car starts to fishtail? I fear not. (Oh, how he would hate to hear me say these things!)

Mondays are always tough. Why is there so much news? Why do so many people send emails on Mondays? I spent most of the day catching up and only proofed two chapter of my novel. Got to do better tomorrow, and that makes me grateful for an enforced day at home.

So stay warm and safe at home, if you possibly can, and thank the gods for a roof over your head, a warm bed, food in your pantry. If you know of someone who doesn’t have those things, please reach out. And pray the damn grid holds!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

My “Megan weekend”



Me, having just unwrapped the painting of my children.

I have long maintained that when you have four children, having them all together is pure bliss, but also when you have time with one of them alone, it’s very special. I had that with Megan this weekend and enjoyed it thoroughly. When she visits, she’s always alert to taking care of me—probably more than I need, but it’s a nice, safe feeling. She’s cheerful, great company, and willing to indulge in odd requests.

After a semi-family dinner at Joe T. Garcia’s Friday night, Megan slept in at the hotel in the Stockyards where she and a friend stayed. And I spent Saturday morning working, which was fine, even good. But about noon, Megan moved here for Saturday night. She brought my belated Christmas present—a painting made from a photo of my four children. The artist is a friend of Megan and Brandon. I have met her several times and seen her work more often, including a Christmas card she did of Megan’s family. I had asked Megan to inquire about commissioning a painting of my four, but she never said much, and I sort of put it aside. So the gift was a wonderful surprise. It now hangs in my combination living area/office for everybody who comes to the cottage to see. I am beyond delighted with it and catch myself frequently turning to look at it.

Megan and me at Central Market
Thanks to a kind passerby
for taking the picture.

I got an early nap and then we went to Central Market for my weekly shopping. That’s a real treat for me, because my shopping is usually curbside pickup—Jordan doesn’t have time for my lingering shopping, and she hates the parking at either Central Market or Trader Joe’s. Megan had no deadline, so we shopped and browsed and took pictures and laughed a lot.

Jordan had left for a work trip to Hawaii (poor dear!) but we had happy hour with Christian and then had dinner at Don Artemio’s. We’d been there before and really toyed with the idea of one of the other interesting restaurants where we’ve not been, but we decided to go back to Don Artemio’s. Dinner was terrific—tongue tacos for me and tuna tartare for Meg, preceded by the guacamole with bits of roast beef. The staff was courteous and kind about my transport chair and our waiter friendly, chatting about wine. He introduced me to a wine from the oldest winery in North America—from Mexico, of course. A bit too acidic for me, so I settled for a chenin blanc/chardonnay blend. Back home, a late-night visit with Christian, and we all stayed up too late.

This morning, I’m ashamed to say, it came down to biscuits and gravy or church. Megan and I went to Hot Box Biscuits to pick up and came back to the cottage to attend church online. She had been pleased when our minister, Dr Russ Peterman, gave the invocation at the rodeo Friday afternoon and wanted to hear more. As for the biscuits, it was fun to drive downtown with Megan, because it’s almost like she never lived here—she is totally lost and has no sense of direction. So we drove down South Main so she could see the development, the restaurants and other small businesses. She said she really needs to come home and drive around the city, and I told her I’d love to do that. I am so settled in my cottage, that when I get out it’s sometimes a foreign world—when did they build that? And who tore down the house that was there?

Finished sandwich

Building a sandwich
Tonight I cooked for Christian and Jacob—Dagwood sandwiches. Who remembers Dagwood
and his famous sandwiches? He was a character in the long-running comic strip, “Blondie,” and he was noted for his multi-layered sandwiches with a variety of meats and condiments Tonight mine had turkey, ham, bacon, provolone, cheddar, onion, pickle, mayo, honey mustard dressing, and horseradish sauce. Delicious, and fun to build. If it looks a little lopsided in the picture, that’s because my cottage slants ever so slightly to the north, and the sandwich shifted in the oven as the cheeses melted. Tasted great nonetheless, rich, but great.

I’m pleased to report Sophie is back in almost full steam—we decided the proof came when she stole a biscuit and gravy off Megan’s plate on the coffee table this morning! But there are other signs—she’s very demanding about what she wants, and she’s been barking at squirrels. She is ravenous all the time, and we can tell she’s gained weight. Her personality has returned, and although she can be a pain, we are all delighted. She’s our favorite pain!

All is well in the cottage tonight, and I will have sweet dreams, putting aside for the time all the troubles that beset our world. My current peeve is that I am weary of people who say things will never change—guns everywhere, police brutality, etc. It will change if we make it—and we must.

I hope you have sweet dreams too.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Quintessential Fort Worth


Today was rodeo day for my daughters. Megan came in from Austin and brought a friend with her. They are staying tonight at the new Drover Hotel on Mule Alley in the Stockyards, and this afternoon Jordan and neighbor Amy Russell met them for the matinee performance at the rodeo. Then Christian, Jacob, and I joined them for supper at Joe T. Garcia’s.

We ate outdoors by the swimming pool, kept comfortable for the most part by giant heaters closely spaced on the patio. It really wasn’t that cool—probably sixty when we got there—but there was a breeze, and the heaters were welcome. Later the wind picked up, and I was glad I had followed Jordan’s rather unusual advice to bring a blanket. I took a thermal blanket that stuffs easily into a small casing—Megan gave it to me during pandemic when all my entertaining was on the patio, sometimes in quite chilly evenings. Tonight that blanket proved its worth.

With seven of us at the table, we had all the usual Joe T.’s things—fajitas, “the dinner” with enchiladas, tacos, beans, rice and guacamole. I had the small dinner, which meant I dug into everyone else’s guacamole—one of the things, along with beans, that I think they do a really good job of. And of course, we came home laden with containers of leftovers and chips and who knows what? Christian and Jacob will eat them, and I won’t miss them.

Because it’s rodeo time in Fort Worth or better, Fort Worth Exposition and Livestock Show (shhh—don’t you dare use the old name of Fat Stock Show)—you see more “western” dress than usual at Joe T.’s. I watched parades of men and women in cowboy hats and fur vests (both my daughters) and western wear. Many came to eat early so as to make the eight o’clock rodeo show.

But as I sat there in that garden setting, slightly cool but mostly warmed but heaters so oversized that they were almost outrageous, and as I watched that parade of western wear and ate Tex-Mex food, it dawned on me that this Chicago girl was having the ultimate Fort Worth experience. A smooth blend of cultures and styles that resulted in something you don’t find even anywhere else in Texas. It’s uniquely Fort Worth. Cowtown earns its name.

My reaction may have been sparked by Megan’s description of the Drover Hotel, which she said was thoroughly Fort Worth—cowboy culture, but well done.  Barn doors in the lobby, massive stonework, leather furniture, wood everywhere. And, of course, plenty of people in cowboy hats, jeans and boots. But also, impeccable service, courtesy at every turn, and good food.

Somehow all this mixed in my mind. When I was a kid in Chicago, Texas and cowboys were the farthest things from my mind. Once when my parents traveled to Texas to visit my brother, who was stationed with the Navy at Corpus Christi, I thought they might as well have visited a foreign country, and I was amazed at their report of palm trees and balmy weather. Then my ex traveled to the Panhandle and reported on a barren, born land. What kind of place was this, I wondered, with palm trees and barren land.

Now, all these years later, I have a literary career built around Texas, it’s myths and legends and its reality. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to understand my transition from northerner to Texan. I don’t wear a cowboy hat, I don’t wear boots, and I don’t ride horses, but I am thoroughly a Texan, consumed with the state’s history and mystique (not so much for its present political stance). I can talk much more intelligently about the past than the present, and as I sat there in that garden tonight, eating refried beans (what Chicago girl ever ate such a thing?) it seemed to me that past and present, for me, came together. It was a sweet, nostalgic moment.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Living in a fictional world


The Old Neighborhood Grill
a very real place in Kelly O'Connell's 
fictional world

“Life is real, life is earnest/Dust thou art, to dust returnest.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sometimes had a dour outlook on life, but his words too often ring true. Real life is sometimes earnest and complicated and difficult—and you want to find an escape a place to hide. Readers and authors have such a place—the alternate worlds created in fiction.

On the listserv of Guppies, (stands for Going to be Published, the international electronic chapter of Sisters in Crime), a well-published author recently lamented that she was writing the last book in a series, and it made her sad because she hated to leave the people and the world she had created. Others chimed in, some saying they worried about the future of characters they’d come to love. Someone else assured that it's okay if you leave the characters in a good place with positive outcomes ahead for their lives. Even if you have to write it only for yourself, you may want to have those characters find the job they have yearned for, marry, have children, take a cruise. Whatever would make their lives happy.

I can testify to that. In my Kelly O’Connell Mysteries (my very first mystery and first series), I created a world built around the neighborhoods I know—Berkeley and Fairmount in Fort Worth—with landmarks such as Lily B. Clayton Elementary, The Old Neighborhood Grill, Lili’s Bistro, and lots of the Craftsman houses that dot Fairmount. And I peopled it with characters I could like—Kelly, whose a single mom (one of my daughters said it was a  highly autobiographical novel), Mike Shandy, her policeman love interest, Keisha, her girl Friday who has the sixth sense and is irrepressible.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I ever had as a writer is that those people were someone you would meet in your local grocery store. And one reader wrote that she thought she saw Kelly going into the Old Neighborhood Grill. Those comments meant, to me, that I had succeeded in creating a believable world.

The Kelly O’Connell series ended a few years ago. I had felt it winding down, partly because I let Kelly’s daughters, who were essential to many of the stories, age out. But still today, sometimes my mind wanders back to Kelly and I think of a plot hook that might work. The woman who “saw” Kelly going into the local restaurant still occasionally posts, “I miss Kelly.”

I’ve moved on to other series, other characters, and perhaps that part of the writing life—learning to let go when it’s time. Somehow, there are lessons there for us in daily life, though I’m not sure how to put them together—but having fictional worlds, if only in your daydreams, is not a bad thing. But there’s also a point at which you have to let them go and face reality. Maybe all of that is where the label “escape reading” came from. I admit tht a lot of time I think my mysteries are escape reading.

One of the things I keep reading about is what kind of footprint we each want to leave on the earth—not just our environmental footprint, but for what do we want to be known? I’ve long felt it important to contribute to the world in some way, but I am not a firefighter rushing into burning buildings (guess what’s on the TV in the background as I write) or a physician, saving lives, or even a teacher, helping to spread knowledge. I write for people’s amusement.

I have a friend, a much better and more popular novelist than I am, who tells me to banish such thoughts. By providing escape and entertainment and maybe a bit of enlightenment, I am improving the quality of some lives. I hope it’s true. I hope the fictional worlds of Kelly O’Connell or Kate Chamber in the Blue Plate Murders series or even wacky Irene in my current series carry readers away from the earnestness of their daily lives into a fictional world where, for some time, however short, they are free and happy and safe.

Speaking of making a contribution to the world—and of neighborhood institutions, I can’t help loudly cheering for the surgical team at Fort Worth’s Cook Children’s Hospital who today, in a first for the hospital, successfully separated cojoined twins. The baby girls are only a few months old and are tonight doing well. What a wonderful milestone. I’m in awe, but I also couldn’t help wondering if this provided a moral dilemma for the pro-lifers. If every life is God’s creation and sacrosanct, then perhaps God meant those babies to be forever joined, and surgeons were going against God’s will by separating them. I don’t for a moment believe any of that, but I can’t help wondering what the extremists among us think.[

Meantime, blessings on those babies and their parents who tonight must be enormously relieved. And thanks be to God for skilled surgeons—and fictional worlds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Living with fear


Growing up in Chicago’s Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, I lived in what was euphemistically called a “changing neighborhood (it has since changed for the better).” That meant there was a lot of crime close to us and it infiltrated into our bastion of safety. I was not allowed outside alone after dark, even to go to the neighbors house. Our neighbor was mugged in front of her house—we laughed, but nervously, that the attacker got her Bible and not her purse. I went to a high school with about 5,000 other students, and fights were common. One of the first cautions I heard was never to stop to watch  fight between two black girls because they would turn on a white girl. But there were no guns in those fights—occasionally a knife, but to my knowledge, no one died. I was close to twenty before I stayed home alone at night.

For years, Texas has been a relief. My safe place. I have always locked my doors when leaving the house untended or at night. But recently, after Jordan expressed worry about our “night walkers,” I started setting the alarm system. And more recently, I started locking the doors when I nap. (This has resulted in occasionally locking Jordan out, much to her frustration!) I am a little bit edgy all the time.

A fatal shooting near the local high school, witnessed by a friend and almost by my grandson, brings crime home to my neighborhood and larger community. While I am deeply saddened by the death of the young man—he sounds like a good kid from reports I’ve read—I am appalled by what the tragedy has revealed about gun culture in teens. And I know the local school is not an exception. (I am also upset about what it has revealed about teen pregnancy, but that’s another story.) When I said we’d be amazed to know the number of backpacks at Paschal that hid guns every day, my grandson just said, “Yeah.”

Take it beyond our local community. When I read the daily news briefs that our local paper chooses for my information, there are always two or three shootings, many domestic. And then there are mass shooting--in the twenty-four days of 2023, there have been thirty-nine mass shootings, many more than one a day and three in one recent day. We are killing our children, our families, our neighbors. And too many of us seem unable to transfer the horrifying statistics into compassion for the victims and their families, whose lives are forever disrupted.

Why and how this situation developed has been studied and studied. Seems to me there are two factors behind it: misinterpretation of the second amendment which pairs with that illogical, defensive flap about our “Freehdoms” that conservatives (read “the base”) like to rave about. The second root cause is greed—on the part of weapons manufacturers, the NRA, and federal and state legislators who take “campaign contributions.” Have you ever checked how much your senator or representative accepted from the NRA? But identifying causes is not going to fix the problem. What to do?

I doubt giving grammar lessons to most gun owners is going to be effective, no matter that a grammatically correct (and logical) reading of the second amendment as written clearly does not authorize personal possession of firearms. Yes, education helps—about proper use and storage of guns, but effective gun control has to come from our government—federal and state. Strict law that are strictly enforced—it’s a big challenge, but it could be done. Look at gun death statistics in the US and compare to those in other “civilized” countries. We need to stop throwing up our hands in despair, saying, “It will never work in the United States,” and sending our kids off to school where they might well be slaughtered. We can make it happen, but each of us must press our representatives on the state and national level.

To start with, instead of banning books and robbing women of control over their own bodies, at risk to their health and very lives, Greg Abbott might well address the problem of gun violence in his state. He seems to ignore it’s a problem, even after Uvalde. We, his constituents, know better. It comes home to our communities.

Gun control doesn't mean taking everyone's guns away. Sport hunters can relax. But it means getting guns out of the wrong hands--and there are many of those, from teens with uncontrollable tempers to the mentally disturbed who kill for who knows why? It’s simplistic, but as a friend of mine said, “If you don’t have a gun, you find another way to solve a disagreement.”


Monday, January 23, 2023

Hiding in the kitchen

Sophie as a lap dog
She is doing so much better, but with
occasional worrisome moments.
Still, I am grateful.

A writer’s group I belong to has been tossing out ideas about spirituality and following your path and reaching toward the divine—and it all leaves me feeling sort of lost in the wilderness. To aspire to closeness to the divine would be, to me, audacious. Yes, I talk to the Lord every night about what’s gone on in my day, what’s going on in the world, and so forth. That is an entirely different subject, though I’ve talked a lot about the recent fatal shooting near our high school. As the story comes out, it grows more distressing. But that’s not my subject for tonight.

One woman wrote recently that she found calm, strength, whatever from dabbling with watercolors—and that triggered something in my mind. I may not meditate—I  have never been able to quiet my busy mind enough. And sometimes, at four in the morning, I find myself obsessively concerned with one thing or another. One night recently it was a puzzling communication from the IRS (any communication from them is at the least puzzling, at the worst frightening). Last night my thoughts kept circling back to my cardiologist’s office over the matter of a $45 reimbursement—sure I want the $45 back, but in the larger scheme of things it’s not that much money. But still, try as I might, I could not divert my thoughts to something else and surely not to sleep. But in all this it has dawned on me that when I find calm, when I come the closest to meditating, is in my tiny kitchen when I’m cooking. You knew I’d get around to cooking, didn’t you?

I’ve been doing some creative cooking recently. Saturday night Jean came for supper. I’d had such a week with Sophie that I wasn’t sure I could dredge up the energy or imagination for an experimental dinner, though Jean is always open to my experiments. I intended to make tuna pasties, but it was mid-day Saturday before I got puff pastry from my family-run grocery delivery service. So I opted for something easy. I know Jean loves lamb as much as I do, and I had a pound of ground lamb in the freezer. We would have burgers with a three-bean salad. Turned out great, and I have had lamb burgers for lunch for two days. Each time I thought I’d only eat half but that proved untrue.

Last night, Christian and I collaborated on a roast chicken with chimichurri sauce. Our deal was I’d make the sauce—chopping all those herbs—and he’d spatchcock the chicken and roast it. So in the morning I measured out two packed cups of cilantro and two more of parsley (do you know how much that is? A lot!). What made it less of a chore was that I got out the food processor (I usually use the hand mini version) and used it. And I followed directions, doing things a step at a time (as opposed to my usual method of thinking I know a shortcut). Not only was it easy, but minced herbs didn’t fly all over the kitchen. I coated the chicken with chimichurri, and we let it marinate for several hours, and then served the extra sauce with it. Delicious!

Later in the evening I discovered that in their zeal to get Sophie to eat, Jordan and Christian had hand fed her a whole lot of that chicken. Thank goodness they scraped the chimichurri off first—garlic is hard on dog’s stomachs, and it was just spicy enough she didn’t need it. I now have some chicken in my fridge, but I am uncertain if it is for me or the dog. She has been ravenously eating dog food all day, so I am hoping for chicken and bean salad for lunch tomorrow.

I seem to have mostly single women as friends, no surprise at my age and single status. But, blessedly, several of them are open to eating anything. So Mary (not my Tuesday night Mary but another) came for supper tonight. When she walked in the door I asked, “Do you eat sardines?” and she said of course. So we had a hodgepodge plate: baguette slices, toasted, rubbed with garlic and buttered, layered with sliced tomato, chopped sardines, sweet onion, and drizzled with olive oil and lemon. This was accompanied by an egg mayo each (known internationally as ouefs mayo—there’s even a society devoted to preservation of the dish). It’s a hard-boiled egg, sliced in half, set cut side down on the plate, and coated with mayonnaise (in this case thinned with a bit of buttermilk and garnished with minced basil). Finally I split an avocado, sliced it, and put half on each plate. 

The sardine/egg/avocado plate
for tonight's supper

Can you tell I have fun in the kitchen? In a week or so, Jordan is going to be gone for several days on a work trip, and I will feed Christian and Jacob—mostly Jacob, because Christian has some evening work responsibilities. Watch for a dramatic change in the menus. Pigs in a blanket, anyone?

Friday, January 20, 2023

Bad days, good days, and a really good dinner


My Asian dinner

Yesterday was a tough day; today, better until an awful catastrophe hit our community; and last night I fixed one of my better dinners. What a mixed bag!

Sophie would not eat yesterday, and Jordan and Christian had to force her medication down her throat, though Christian finally discovered he could put the pill in chicken baby food, fill a syringe, and shoot it in her mouth. Not pleasant but effective. Soph was shaky on her feet, restless in the cottage, obviously not feeling well. I was tired and out of sorts from not having slept well. At three o’clock in the morning, I was convinced we were losing her and lay awake until almost time to get up.

This morning, the doogie internist called (how wonderful is that? To have a doctor call to ask how things are going, when you haven’t even called him!). When he heard the report, he took her off antibiotics and all medication except the steroids and insulin. Within a couple of hours I heard this strange noise, looked down at the foot of my desk, and she was eating kibble. She did that again mid-afternoon. Not much, but voluntarily eating. And much of the day she slept soundly, much better than the restless nights. The mother in me sees all this as healing. She’s drinking and peeing and went for a walk. It may be a long haul, but I think we’ll get my girl back. I’m so relieved I slept hard this afternoon and had a difficult time waking myself up. Sophie woke me by banging her water dish on the floor, her sign that it’s empty and I should refill it.

So we called it a good day, until four o’clock, when word came of a shooting at a nearby Whataburger. Two teenagers were shot, and one has subsequently died; the other is in critical condition. The shooting came way to close to home: the Whataburger is catty corner from Jacob’s high school, and he was in his car, at the stoplight, when it happened. One of our good friends was in the pick-up line, getting food for her kids. We don’t have the full story, may not get it for days, but I cannot stop thinking of the mother who sent her son off to school this morning and will never see him again. Jacob told us recently that he was at a post-game party where a girl got shot in the leg. As I said, it’s all coming too close to home, and I have no idea what we can do about it.

Texas, it seems to me, is a cruel state, indifferent to the individual human life, especially as long as it is someone else. For the mother of that boy, it wasn’t someone else. Gun advocates are strongly entrenched, and it will take a national law to change the lack of gun control in Texas. I applauded, still do, Clinton’s ban on assault weapons, but it would have done no good in today’s shooting, which I am sure was with smaller weapons, probably easily concealed in a backpack.

And while I’m decrying public policy in the state that I love and hate, I heard today that maternal death rates in childbirth are markedly higher in states with strict anti-abortion laws. There is a meme on Facebook proclaiming if bacteria on the moon is considered life, why isn’t a fetus—which is such spurious reasoning I can’t even think about it.

The whole angry movement—enthusiasm for guns, hate for abortion, hate for anyone who is different—seems a religious right perversion of Christianity, a religion that is supposed to preach love. I persist in the belief, maybe a fantasy, that such hidebound, rigid, hate-filled people are a minority, but then why are they in charge?

On a brighter note, yesterday morning I was so tired and down I told Jordan I couldn’t cook the meal we planned. Christian usually cooks the Asian meals around here, but I was going to tackle something called Three-Cup Chicken. I had ordered bok choy but the grocery substituted Napa cabbage, and I was left defending cabbage to two adults who dislike it intensely. By late afternoon, I had gotten myself together and fixed dinner—and we all thought it was a fine meal. The chicken was marinated and then simmered in a mix of soy, some dry sherry, and a bit of brown sugar, seasoned by ginger, lots of garlic (I cut it in half) and red pepper flakes. Served over rice. Good last night, good for lunch today.
I worried over the cabbage but decided on salad. Shredded it, tossed it with salt and let it sit 30 minutes, rinsed, spun dry, and dressed with lime juice, olive oil, and a bit of honey. Both cabbage haters ate it and pronounced it good. They didn’t exactly rave, but they liked it, and Jordan and I had leftovers for lunch.

Tonight I am ready to curl up in bed much earlier than usual. I have not gotten out of my pajamas from last night, haven’t made my bed beyond pulling it together. The family is fixing beef bowls tonight, but I have opted for cream cheese and smoked salmon in the cottage. It’s been that kind of a couple of days.




Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Sophie’s home—yay!


We picked Soph up about two this afternoon. She is definitely mad at me, as the vet predicted. I’d hold my hand out for her to come to me, long a signal between us, and she’d very deliberately turn her head the other way and then go to Jordan or Christian. But she is much better, and the vet says he feels good about sending her home. He didn’t last week when he gave her to us but wanted so badly for her to be home that he went against his better judgment. This week, he feels it’s okay.

But she needs regular medication, after she eats. And therein is the rub. She’s not eating. They sent home some of the prescription kibble (of course!) that they’ve been feeding her, but she is not one bit interested. Since her insulin (essential) and other meds depend on eating, this is a major problem. If it weren’t for the insulin, I wouldn’t be upset. Coming home from the hospital is terribly hard for any of us, and I think it will take a while for her to settle in. Jordan has now taken her into the main house, to see if she’ll eat if she thinks the other dogs might get her food. I guess we are not above trickery. PS It didn’t work.

We did get a bark out of her this afternoon—I was roasting kielbasa, having hasselbacked it and basted with a mix of mustard and honey. It set off the smoke alarm, which has always alarmed Sophie. She barked furiously, and we thought that was a good sign. First bark I’ve heard since Christmas, when she first showed signs of illness. Yes, it’s been a long haul.

I feel a sense of letdown a bit. It is of course wonderful to have her home, but it isn’t. I’m well aware of the adjustment period but wanting normalcy back immediately. I guess that’s a human reaction. And we have to remember that she, like me, is an old lady.

This afternoon Sophie came to me, while I was sitting on the edge of my bed talking on the phone. We have long had a ritual of loving and visiting at my bedside first thing in the morning, when I just swing my legs out of bed, and last thing in the evening when I am ready to swing those legs back into the bed. So this afternoon I was sure it was a good sign. Turns out she was only trying to tell me she wanted to go outside. But just now, she came to my desk, waited for me to push my walker aside, and then moved in close for some loving. I told her how much I love her and explained she needs to eat to get better. The latter feel on deaf ears, I’m sure, but we had a nice visit.

I’m sure Sophie and I will both be happier campers tomorrow. Thanks to all for prayers and good wishes.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Long day, cozy evening


It’s cozy in the cottage—the Christmas tree and its lights are at last gone, but my electric candles burn bravely on the coffee table, my tiny fake fireplace offers an orange glow. The bulb in the one lamp that burns night and day was once harsh white, but I have replaced it with one with a soft, rosy glow. With the overhead lights off, the feeling is one of coziness, as though I’m snug in my comfort place.

The family is out for the night. Jacob doing whatever sixteen-year-old boys do when they’re not doing homework—I don’t ask anymore—and his parents gone to the rodeo for Bulls Night Out. When my children were little and then later when the grands were little, going to the rodeo was a family annual big event. We’d tour the barns in the day and then go to the carnival grounds for the kids to ride the rides. I can still see Jacob bravely coming down a huge slide all alone, while the others had a parent with them. Dinner at the sort of mess hall place that Coulter’s Catering always offered, and then the rodeo. And late at night we’d take home sleepy children.

I loved those days, but somewhere along the way I lost my taste for rodeo. First it was the bull riding. I heard one too many stories about young men killed or permanently disabled by riding a bull, and I just flat did not want to see it. With the rest of the family happily in their bleacher seats, I’d slip out and wait in the concourse. But that aversion to bull riding gradually spread and became an aversion to all the rodeo contests, while I decided the inter-act entertainment wasn’t really that entertaining. By then, the family schedules were too busy for them to come to Fort Worth for the weekend, and the tradition sort of fell apart.

But not for Christian and Jordan—Christian often entertains clients at the rodeo, and Jordan goes with him some of the time.

For me, it’s been a long day of intense work on my Helen Corbitt manuscript. I am re-reading, chapter by chapter, looking for errors and places to expand. I’m actually enjoying the process a great deal, and I hope the enthusiasm continues. Last night, working late into the night, I uncovered the names, birth and death dates of her parents, and death date and lifetime residence of her only brother. The State of New York has an odd way of classifying communities according to the governmental body that administers social services—so they have hamlets, villages, towns, etc. I discovered that some of the places the Corbitt family lived were unincorporated hamlets within villages or towns, so that accounts for confusing information about that town they were in. I am now up to a chapter that moves temporarily away from Helen to the food trends of the fifties and sixties—material I find fascinating, because I still like to cook those dishes.

I’ve also been collecting trivia as I go through the day. This morning, a banner on the TV screen alerted me that the TODAY show was featuring dinners with five simple ingredients. I was all prepared to be excited, but the first meal began with a ribeye steak. Well, shoot! I could cook five-ingredient gourmet meals every night of the week if my budget allowed for ribeye steaks for four. As it is, I ordered cube steak for four today and was blown away by the price. Hesitated, but finally purchased it. Central Market disappointed however by sending me phyllo for puff pastry—I do not want to mess with buttering layers of phyllo dough—and a huge Napa cabbage instead of bok choy. I’ll split the cabbage with a friend.

When I wrote a few days ago about the Missouri Legislature passing a bill requiring women to wear long sleeves and blazers or cardigans or some other kind of second layers, a friend in Missouri wrote that he was quite sure it wouldn’t pass. His senator was, he said, doing a good job of controlling the extreme right. Oops! They passed it buried in their rules bill. It’s an affront to women and an early step toward the kind of authoritarian control of women that is being so bravely confronted in Iran.

For cozy mystery readers, another outrageous note: I saw a mystery with an intriguing title: Of Mushrooms and Matrimony, featuring sleuth Tish Tarragon. Okay, the sleuth’s name is a bit too clever, but I thought I’d order sample pages—until I saw that the Kindle version of the book is $25.00. What is that author thinking?

Finally, my favorite online columnist wrote last night that it was a quiet day and she was going to sign off without a column in order to gather strength for whatever is coming. That was the way I felt last night too and also tonight, so I’m signing off. These dedicated workdays don’t provide a lot to chat about. Know that when I don’t post, I miss talking to you.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Books and good food


Really, what more could anyone want than books to read and good food to eat. I had both today. It was another slow and lazy day for me. I slept to an unheard of nine o’clock, and when I finally got to my desk I did some quick email work and read some online news but then it was time for church—on the computer. I loved a couple of things about the service: in the invitation to worship, the congregational response, twice, was “We do not worship alone.” Sitting alone in my cottage, I found that comforting. The hymn of fellowship after the sermon was “Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God.” Our wonderful organist, Janet Pummill, played a rousing, lively version and what I could see on my screen but those in the congregation or the chancel couldn’t, was that Janet was bouncing around on her bench, rocking to the music! And during the invitation to communion, the Reverend Renee Hoke quoted her granddaughter’s idea of a proper toast: “Cheers to God!” Loved all that.

Otherwise the day was quiet. I meant to read some more of When Everything Changed, The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by journalist Gail Collins. I’ve only read the first part which details the status of women in 1960, but it’s interesting to me because I remember much of those days. In 1960, I was twenty-two years old and not aware enough to feel discrimination, plus I think as a student I was spared some of it. My ex was in those day supportive, and I never had to ask permission for anything. I find some of the tales of women who did have to ask horrifying. I was also pretty much unaware that I wasn’t supposed to have opinions—I had quite a few, as I do today, and I think I was vocal about them. I remember a powerful woman in our city who said, “I don’t mind bringing the potato salad, if I am guaranteed a seat at the table.” That’s always sort of been my mantra. But I am also aware that through my career I was paid less than a man in a comparable position would have been. And in the sixties, when I was in grad school on an NDEA Fellowship, there was talk that I and a couple of other married women should not be filling a slot that a man could have. We had husbands to support us—never mind that my fellowship paid more than his surgical residency.

But this afternoon, by happenstance, I clicked on an unread book in my Kindle library, Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses, by Meredith Mileti, and I was hooked. The first-person narrator, full of anger, recounts her life—and one awful episode—after she caught her husband with another woman. Now, she’s forced into anger management classes, with the prospect of jail for assault if she doesn’t show improvement. She’s also raising her eight-month old daughter alone. But as you can imagine, what drew me in is that she and the almost-ex own and operate a Manhattan restaurant, so there’s lots of food. But there’s also lots of anger. Not sure how long I’ll last with the anger, but for now I’m interested.

And speaking of food, some days I feel my blog is nothing more than a chronicle of “What I Ate Today.” But tonight, we had one of my favorite meals: marinated, air-fried chicken wings and drumettes. Some time ago I found a recipe for marinating the chicken in an olive oil/lemon/spice mixture and serving with another olive oil/lemon sauce, though I think the second sauce is redundant. It’s a team effort—I make the marinade and soak the chicken pieces in a large baggie; Christian cooks them in his air fryer, because I’ve never yet tried mine. They are delicious. Chistian fixed shaved Brussel sprouts with extra lemon to go with them.

Tomorrow is another holiday—this year it seems like every Monday is a holiday. That doesn’t make much difference in my world, although this week it means one day longer that Sophie is in the clinic and before we get the latest test results. But tonight, she ate a half cup of kibble and gave the vet tech kisses—a good sign. So tomorrow will find me at my computer, while the wonderful Zenaida puts my house back in order. The world goes on in its merry path, beset as we are with problems big and little. Despite politics and war and climate change, I feel good about life tonight. Hope you do too.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Gas stove and bare arms




Jordan, ready for a girls night at the rodeo.
Her elegant fur vest doesn't show well in the photo, 
but trust me, she's well dressed for the occasion.

Honestly, conservatives can be such fun. It’s so easy to punch their buttons and set them off in a twitter. Remember when there was that big flap about Jade Helm, a 2015 government military exercise that took place in several states? Conservatives (read Republicans if you want) went bonkers and claimed that the government was coming to confiscate civilian guns. Governor Abbott, in his infinite wisdom, designated an operation to monitor what Jade Helm participants were doing. Of course, it all came to nothing—except a special forces training exercise—and everybody had their guns.

Well now they’re all riled up over confiscation of gas stoves. Let me back up and say that for years I hungered for a gas stove. I was sure it would improve my cooking a hundredfold, and I argued to my contractor that the gas hot water heater was only feet from the stove, and it would be easy to run a gas line under the house—it’s an old pier-and-beam house with a crawl space. Each time, he patiently explained that the gas company would inspect all the lines on the property and might easily find infinitesimal leaks due to age Ultimately my gas stove could cost me upwards of $10,000.

Lately I’ve been reading that gas stoves are not in favor because they omit fumes, even when turned off. These fumes are expected of aggravating childhood asthma, other respiratory conditions, and contributing to the pollution of our air, with ultimate damage to the ozone layer. And suddenly in the last week or two that has become a conservative cause. If I had a gas stove and an asthmatic child, I know what my choice would be, but I saw a post from a woman saying they would only take her stove over her dead body.

Conservative anger-mongers have stirred the base until, apparently, they envision uniformed men invading households, ripping out gas stoves, and leaving gaping holes. Not so. Whatever government agency is investigating this is considering restrictions and safeguards on new installations. Calm down, everyone. And investigate induction cooktops, which seem to be the coming thing. I cook on an induction hot plate and like it a lot, but I understand a whole cooktop is a vast improvement.

On a similar foolish note, conservatives in the Missouri legislature have passed a rule requiring women to wear long sleeves. I guess they feel those bare arms will be so titillating as to render men incapable of governing (note my restraint in not commenting further on that). It’s hysterically funny if it weren’t so scary, harking back to the sixties and beyond when women weren’t allowed in legislatures—except maybe as clerks. It also echoes the Taliban to a frightening degree—if men can pass rules about what women wear, who’s to say face coverings or even full burkas aren’t next. Fear of sex and women is a powerful thing. Men have already dictated what we can do with our bodies, and now they want to tell us how to dress.

Aside from my angry amazement at the issues above, this was a pleasant, slow day. I finished a manuscript and sent it off to beta readers. And I played in the kitchen, using up leftovers which pleases my Scottish soul. The other night I served eggplant sauté over polenta, so for the last two days I’ve had grits with butter and cheese for breakfast—this morning I even skipped grating cheese and added a spoonful from the crock of pub cheese. And for lunch? Sauteed eggplant. So good.

Cut salmon en croute
showing the layers
Salmon en croute
Not real pretty but so good

But the pièce de resistance was salmon en croute, made from things I had on hand. I had puff pastry in the freezer, though I feared it was old and freezer burnt. No such thing, but I forgot to defrost it which delayed dinner a bit. But I spread a sheet out and pressed a round flat circle of baked goat cheese spread, left from a couple of nights ago, in the center of the pastry sheet. Then I topped it with small chunks of the good canned Alaskan salmon I keep on hand, and I topped that with thoroughly drained canned spinach—yes, fresh would have been better, but remember I was using what I had. It made enough for four people, but Christian, who is also home alone tonight, declined—he doesn’t eat cooked spinach. I thought it was so delicious I had two helpings and am now overfed. A thoroughly satisfying food day.

A note upgrading Sophie news: she is back in the clinic. Was home one night, but clearly wasn’t doing well. When we took her back, I was quite sure it was farewell, but the doctor said no, he would let us know if he felt that was the case. Later, he called with a new possible diagnosis and a new treatment plan. He will keep her through the weekend. So please cross your fingers and say prayers for my sweet Soph.

Thanks, all. I’m off to spend the rest of the evening with a good book.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Sophie update, a birthday, and a scam



Sophie is home and seems glad to be here,
but she's not a happy camper yet.

We brought Sophie home this afternoon. She is not exactly jumping hoops, but I didn’t expect her to. If you’ve ever been in the hospital, you know how exhausted you feel when you get home. The doctor warned us she would feel that way. He also told me that Sophie would be mad at me, for leaving her at the vet’s. Both things, he says, will take a day or so to get over. He is most interested in her eating, but tonight she is refusing food although she did take a treat from me after she went outside and pooped and peed (yay, Sophie!). She has also been slowly warming toward me, coming to me for petting and loving. I think she needs to get over her exhaustion before we worry a lot about the food. When Jean came in tonight, Soph got up and walked over to see who had come in—it wasn’t her usual tearing through the cottage to get to the door first, but it was a step in the right direction. And she was delighted to see Jacob, went right to him for petting. I think we have to take slow baby steps.Today is Jean’s birthday, and I spent most of the morning cooking her a birthday dinner—eggplant sauteed with tomatoes and served over polenta, along with a green salad. I also made a goat cheese baked dip for an appetizer, and we all ate way too much of that—it is addictively good. Plus I made egg salad for my lunch. I had contemplated a chocolate pudding cake but thought it was folly to make for two people. Ended up my morning didn’t have enough time for another dish anyway. A morning of cooking was good for my soul, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I think maybe it’s my form of meditation. Stirring and simmering are slow-motion activities, leaving the mind free to wander.

Jean and her cake

Sophie sort of stole the show from Jean’s b’day dinner. We were all focused on her every move, loving on her, trying to get her to eat, tempting her with treats. Still we had a good visit and laughed a lot. Jean had a good birthday, with lots of good wishes, flowers and cake from the management at the retirement community, early morning calls from family across the country. Tonight Christian brought her a chocolate Bundt cake, so I think she felt well celebrated.

I had an email from a friend in Canada today, asking if I shopped with Amazon. I thought it a strange request but couldn’t see any harm in telling her that yes, I do. When she wrote back that she was trying to send an e-gift but Amazon could not process her card and could I place the order, my antenna went up. Since my connection to her is really through her daughter, I suggested she contact her daughter or call Amazon directly. She wrote back one more time, sounding more desperate to get this to a friend’s daughter who is battling cancer and whose birthday was today and she was expecting the gift. By then I said just plain “Sorry, no” and forwarded the mail to my friend’s daughter (the tale gets tangled with friends and daughters). Sue wrote me to say her mom had definitely been hacked—they had just talked. So this is a warning, friends—that’s a new scam that’s out there.

Christian says if you check the originating email, the spelling is usually one letter off—my Canadian friend is Cathy, but in the email it was caathy. Also the English phrasing is just a bit awkward. He read an article or saw something on TV that indicates there are office buildings in several countries with three or four floors of people who are part of organized scams. That’s the job they are hired for—to scam people nine to five every day. Appalling! We can’t be too careful.

Here's a prayer that Soph and I both have a restful night, and that she wakes in the night and eats her dinner.


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Healthy dogs and ailing friends


Jordan and Sophie, the day we brought her home eleven years ago.
She has always been at least part Jordan's dog.

Praise be! Sophie is coming home tomorrow. Jordan and I can pick her up sometime after three. This means the clinic has her insulin regulated, and they feel she will be okay to be home. The doctor stressed this morning he didn’t want us to get her home and have to bring her right back. She will have a checkup one week from tomorrow, but we are excited to have her home.

Jordan wants Christian to go with us, so she can hold Sophie. My repeated reminder that I am perfectly capable of holding my dog on my lap fall on deaf ears—Jordan will feel better doing it, and since the brunt of care (insulin shots) is mostly going to fall to Jordan, I will acquiesce. Jordan also says she’ll spend the night in the cottage at least the first night.

I am hoping Sophie’s transition from clinic to cottage will be smooth, but I know that’s not a given. I remember once, having had surgery, when I thought if I could just get home I’d be fine. On the way home, Colin stopped and got a to-go order of chocolate bread pudding with raspberry sauce, my favorite from a favorite restaurant. When I got home, I suddenly felt as if a truck had run over me, backed up, and done it again. I collapsed into the bed, and it was days before I ate that bread pudding.

For one thing, Soph may have her days and nights mixed up—she’s been eating at midnight. And I’m not sure she’s got her house manners back. So it may be an interesting few days. But my cottage will once again be happy when she’s back. I’ve had several friends come in and remark on the fact they didn’t have to watch for Soph as they opened the door. They uniformly wilt in disappointment.

Not to be disloyal to Soph, but I’ve been enchanted by two dogs lately. Saturday, when I had supper with friends Sue and Teddy, I met their year-old Bernedoodle, Mina. She reminds a bit of an English sheepdog—shaggy, big, goofy, and full of love and high spirits. I was immediately taken by her, and it was mutual—with her muzzle dripping from drinking, she’d come to me for love. Yesterday neighbors Jay and Susan brought over their houseguest who had just picked up her eight-week-old Aussie pup, and as a softie for Aussies, I was immediately captivated. He was loveable and sweet and cuddly and wanted to chew on everything, including my fingers and clothes. The owner hadn’t named him yet, though I have been unable to suggest a good name. But some days I want an Aussie to keep Sophie young. Do not tell Jordan and Christian I said that, for they would descend on me with the wrath of the furies.

I had dinner with good friend Carol tonight and was struck again, as we talked, by how many people have had a holiday or post-holiday season with a spot of some kind on their moon. Four of my good friends are facing surgery, most of it pretty major, in the next month. Carol said she had said to someone it is ironic when Judy (that’s me) is the healthiest one among us. But it seems to me so many people have said their holidays were okay, but … and that “but” includes things major and minor. Ours, of course, was Sophie’s illness, and the sudden decline and recovery of June Bug, the only dog I know with a cat’s nine lives.

I don’t think the troubles people are experiencing are a bad omen for the year, nor do I think the chaos in the House of Representatives signals bad things to come. Call me Pollyanna, but I think many of us are getting our troubles behind us. And the House? They’re revealing their pettiness daily—I think (hope) they’ll flare and fizz out.

My crossed-fingers prediction? 2023 is going to be a good year!

Monday, January 09, 2023

Game Day and other things




Megan and grandson Ford at the game

I suspect that almost anyone who reads my blog is watching the TCU/Georgia championship game at this moment. As I write, it’s halftime and not looking good for TCU. On the other hand, they have pulled off some amazing second-half recoveries this season, and it’s not over until it’s over. Jordan and Christian are at a watch party, Megan and grandson Ford are actually at the game, and Colin said he’d be watching. Jamie is like me—it’s on in the background.

I forgot to ask what channel it would be on, so I texted Jordan just before the game began. She gave me directions which did not work at all. So she said Christian was coming home at half-time to feed the dogs and would show me. Meantime, I pulled up what the Star-Telegram said would be streaming coverage. It was just that, full of yards and downs and passes and things this lukewarm fan has never learned to master. So occasionally I pull up a page that says simply, “TCU football” and check the score.

A former TCU football team member, years ago, recalled on Facebook the time he played, when paying football players got you in big trouble with the NCAA, when there weren’t so many bowls and a bowl invitation had meaning, before schools realized the financial benefits of a winning team, and football was a Saturday afternoon thing. Yes, I remember those days at TCU too, and our win record was abysmal, but still I cling to the idea that that is the way college football should be. Color me a curmudgeon.

On to other things. I wrote 1200 words in a flurry this morning, because it was something I’d been writing in my head for days—came quickly and easily. Then tonight, I struggled to get not quite 800 words on a blog possibility that just came my way today and has to be in by Saturday. Whole different process. I’ve now put the blog away for tonight and will revisit it tomorrow. Maybe it will sound better then.

Sophie is still improving but not quite ready to come home yet. Jordan is right that we don’t want to bring her home, only to have to take her back. But the cottage has a hollow feeling to it, an emptiness. And sometimes I hear noises that if she were here, I would attribute to her rooting around in the rug or turning in her crate or something. Without her I have no explanation for things that go bump in the night. It’s both lonely and unnerving.

My good news for the day is that I went to the cardiologist for a routine appointment, and he said they don’t need to see me for a year. Jordan thinks it’s because life in the cottage agrees with me, and I think she may well be right. Which means I have a big debt of gratitude to all my children but especially to Jordan and Christian who get twenty-four-hour responsibility. I try to be as independent as I can, but there’s no longer the possibility of driving myself to doctors’ appointments. So Jordan and I had a bit of together time today.

Christian has gotten the game on my TV or me—he pressed the same buttons I did, but for him it worked. I will never understand why that happens with phones, TV, computer, etc. My touch is sometimes electronic death.

Do I really want to watch this?