Sunday, April 30, 2023

An ordinary Sunday with a touch of France


Well, I had hoped to take you with me on a vicarious tour of Paris, but all I got today from Jordan were a couple of selfies and this one terrific picture of her by the Eiffel Tower. She talked of a sunset cruise on the Seine, and I expected lovely pictures—maybe tomorrow. She did have lunch today in the restaurant on the third level of the Eiffel—hake (a South American light, whitefish), chocolate mousse and “flowing champagne.” How will we ever keep her down on the farm after such a lunch.

After lunch, she was headed for the sunset cruise, but we’ve had no report. I suspect after a long flight yesterday, champagne at lunch, and a sunset cruise, she was ready for bed. Perhaps more pictures tomorrow.

Not to be outdone by Jordan’s lunch, I must report I had branzino filets for supper with lime juice and sugar snap peas. Alas, no flowing champagne—just a modest glass of white wine. Branzino is a whitefish found mostly in Mediterranean waters It tickled me that Jordan, in Paris, was eating a South American fish while I, on this side of the pond, was eating one from the Mediterranean. Our modern world!

Other than that it was an unremarkable day. Christian and Jacob went to Coppell to have early dinner with Christian’s dad—at Babe’s. I thought Christian would come home and fall asleep, having eaten too much fried chicken, but he was indignant, said he didn’t even finish his chicken, and wss working on a project on the front porch—getting ready, I guess, for his usual gorgeous display of summer blooms.

Neighbor Polly Hooper, who takes magnificent pictures of all Berkeley functions, came over tonight because I was having trouble downloading her photos for the neighborhood newsletter. What she showed me was so basic and simple, I was ashamed that I did not figure it out on my own. But it gave us a good chance to visit over glasses of wine and catch up.

Polly’s visit sent me in search of a file on my computer that I can’t find and can’t figure how it disappeared. She is researching painted churches of Texas, and I told her I once wrote a short story titled “Prisoners” about the WWII Italian POWs who painted the chapel of the church at Umbarger, Texas. Blithely assuming I could find it, I promised to send her a copy of the short story. But my entire file of short stories has disappeared. It’s probably not the end of the world, because they are on file in the Southwest Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos, but I am unsure how easily they are retrievable. And It makes me beyond uneasy to realize that an entire file just disappeared. The collection is Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories, available on Amazon.

Polly did a really good thing while she was here—and taught me a lesson. Sophie has a bad habit—barking at me demandingly when there is happy hour company. I think it’s a combination of things—she’s hungry, she associates late afternoon company with food, and she wants attention. Jordan loses patience and threatens to go in the house, and I end up talking sternly to Soph about bad behavior. Neither is effective.

Sophie was particularly bad tonight, annoying, and it was hard to talk. Polly called her over, took gentle hold of her collar, told her to sit, and said, “This mean old lady is not going to put up with that.” She talked gently to her but held firm on the collar, and when Sophie tried to get up, Polly said, “This mean old lady says sit down.” Once I truly saw Sophie roll her eyes at Polly, and I almost laughed aloud. But pretty soon, Soph was lying on her back, asking for tummy rubs. And she was quiet after that—wandering in and out, lying quietly. We could talk and hear ourselves.

Sophie had one other adventure this weekend—she discovered a baby possum in the flowerbed under the window by my desk. Curious, but with no bad intentions, she jumped up and down, her bark shrill and frantic with excitement. As is my lazy habit, I sat at my desk and thought, I’ve got to do something about that. My only option is not always effective—it’s to wheel to the door, tell her to stop barking, and offer her cheese. But Christian beat me to it, and the next thing I knew he was at the open French doors with a huge shovel. He explained she had found a dead baby possum, and I asked if maybe it was playing possum. Turns out I was right. He put Sophie in the house, got the shovel, and went back only to find the possum gone.

I couldn’t resist. “What were you going to do with the shovel?” His answer, “Throw it over the fence.” I replied, “Gently, I hope. Possums are our friends.” He was astounded. “They are? I thought they were rodents.” I didn’t go into a lecture about marsupials, but I did tell him one possum can eat a thousand fleas and tick a day. I think he was impressed. I always like to enlighten that city boy.

So that’s my day. I’m reading a good mystery and going to spend the rest of the evening with it. Sweet dreams. Maybe tomorrow, more of a French tour.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Thoughts on yet another gun tragedy and on a traveling daughter


Jordan in San Miguel
just before she left for Paris.
A globetrotter

Last night, I was filled with the joy of a great week just past. Tonight, my heart is heavy, and I want nothing more than to crawl into a cave and pull a rock over the opening. I am heartsick over yet another mass shooting in Texas, this a cold-blooded execution over a simple request to cut out late-night noise so a baby could sleep. Abbott is on record as saying he is going to continue to defy federal gun laws, and his goal is to make Texas a Second Amendment safe haven. I wonder what his thoughts are tonight. So far, as of almost twenty-four hours later, the governor has not spoken out about the tragedy but has posted a picture of his dog with the caption, “All smiles for the weekend.”

How many times have you asked neighbors to tone down the music or the outdoor party? Did you ever drive into the wrong driveway? Knock on the wrong door? Mistake another car for your own and try to get in it—one of my sons did that just the other night, and I watched in horror from our car. Shooters need little provocation these days. If they didn’t have assault weapons, the outcome would be so different. I do not understand, will never understand, why our legislators are so wedded to protecting AR-15s. They are for military use, killing as many as possible as rapidly as possible. They do not belong in th hands of civilians. If legislators would interpret the second amendment as it was written, in the context of its times, they would see that. But they are blinded by greed and power.

I keep thinking of the terror these people must have felt—the eight-year-old boy, the fifteen-year-old girl, the young women who died shielding their infants with their bodies. What kind of a monster does this? And why do we have laws that allow him to have that kind of weapon?

Like much of Texas and the country at large, I am heartbroken—not for the first time and, I know, not for the last.

I have another worry on my mind tonight. Jordan left tonight to fly to Paris on a work trip She is meeting a colleague there, who had already checked into their hotel. But a corner of my heart is both frightened and full of admiration that my baby child would set off for Paris alone—she may be almost middle aged (she says I can’t call her that for two more years) but she is still my youngest child, my baby.

I am a rotten traveler, nervous to the core. I don’t like flying, I don’t like being away from my nest, although once I get where I’m going I generally “put my full weight down” and enjoy it. (An old story: an older woman was asked how she liked her first plane ride and said it was fine, but “I never did put my full weight down.”) And I have never ever traveled alone. Oh, maybe a few flights, but always there was someone at both ends of the trip. I love Santa Fe, and I loved one trip to Scotland. I have happy memories of everything from re-visiting Chicago to a stay in San Diego. Florida was not so much fun—perhaps I anticipated DeSantis—but Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho were great. Still, the older I get, the more reluctant I am to leave home.

Jordan on the other hand loves it, as well she should since she is a luxury travel consultant. She has been to Mexico more times than I can count, to Italy and Tahiti, and on countless cruises. So this trip to Paris and then by cruise ship to Reykjavik has her excited. She came out to the cottage to say goodbye, and I wish I had taken a picture—all in black, as she often is, with a black leather bomber jacket and a straw fedora. So stylish.

She’ll be home a week from tomorrow, and I will be just a big edgy all week. Oh, I know she’ll be fine. She’s cautious, among other things, and never a risk taker. I will just have to bat down the extremes to which my imagination can go. I have faith in her. But I will be glad when she’s home, and life goes back to normal. And, of course, I’m anxious for pictures and lush descriptions of French food (okay, she’s not an adventuresome eater, and I am wondering how she’ll do with the seafood-heavy diet in Iceland).

Meantime, Christian and I have plotted out some meals for the week, Christian and Jacob will go about their daily routines, and I have work to do and good books to read. Who knew that my golden years would be so golden and so interesting.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Leftovers, from happiness to food


I was too busy to remember picures this week, 
so here, for the algorithms, is one of both my boys
on a race day, somewhere, sometime.

My wonderful week has ended. For a couple of days, I had both my sons sleeping under my roof—sort of. There’s no room in the cottage, so they slept in the house. But it’s still, by my definition, under my roof, and that has always been a sign of happiness for me—having grown children back home sleeping safely under my roof. They boys would tell you they were mom-sitting, but they were also enjoying time together, with long, deep talks about the business world.

Today is a leftovers day. Jamie went back to Frisco yesterday, and Colin left for Tomball late this morning. So I am savoring leftover memories of good times and eating leftovers—corned beef has for breakfast that Jame brought me from Ol’ South, because he knows I like it. And for lunch, the last of the cottage pie.

It was a full week that took me out of my routine. We visited one night with Subie and Phil who have known the kids all their lives, and another night with Renee who is a new friend. But she and Colin were in Kingwood at the same time, although they didn’t know it—I thought they would reminisce about that city, but the evening turned into a rousing discussion of politics, movies, and I don’t know what all. We went out to dinner one night—when I ate too much rich food, drank an extra glass of wine, and could tell the difference the next day. Lesson learned--again. For Colin, no trip to Fort Worth is complete without a Rebecca sandwich from Carshon's, so I got a tongue sandwich while Jamie went to Ernesto's for his lunch, and yet another night we had Railhead. Hitting all their favorites.

Colin spent much of his time in the house at the dining table on his computer. He resigned from a company months ago but was still doing consultant work, and this week brought some kind of big financial deadline, so he was busy. As Zenaida said, he was in there on this phone, “talking, talking, talking.” Jamie is happily between positions and spent some time, like

yesterday early afternoon, picking out Joan Baez’ “Love Song to a Stranger” on the guitar. I love working at my desk—even more, napping—while listening to his soft guitar music. So there were lots of nice moments like that. Of course, both boys never miss a chance to pick on their mom, from the way I dictate text messages (Jacob says my messages make absolutely no sense) to my left-leaning tendencies. All in good fun.

Sophie was in hog heaven--she has so many favorite friends, but she instinctively knows my four children and is ecstatic when they visit, dancing around their feet, sitting on their laps, even reaching out to give a kiss.

One night she got me up four times before I was ready to get up, and I'm sure it was because she knew Colin was in the house. When he came to give her a shot, I suggested he take her inside so I could sleep. This morning, she stood and looked mournfully down the driveway as Colin disappeared. Tonight I'm glad to have her back with me, even if I am second choice. 

A highlight of the week was a visit to my brother. John has been either in hospital or rehab since the first of February after a fall and broken kneecap, followed by Covid, followed by pneumonia and various other complications. His wife and son had both, until recently, advised me not to visit, but this week we all three went. To my joy, he looked fine, sounded fine. His mind was clear and his sense of humor intact. We all laughed so much I was afraid the staff would come in and tell us to tone it down.

Tonight, the Burtons are home. I fixed lamb sliders and Texas caviar for their supper, and they regaled me with tales of San Miguel while they ate. They apparently had a wonderful time, loved the place, the architecture, all the restaurants. Christian weighed the differences, pro and con, between a beach resort in Mexico and an inner city. For me, there would be no question—I’d want the inner city, but only if it was San Miguel, which he tells me is out of my reach because it’s not handicapped accessible with cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks. That’s okay. I didn’t plan to go anyway, though it’s one of the places that has long been on my bucket list.

I am glad to have them back home, but we only get Jordan for half a day. Early afternoon tomorrow she leaves on a work trip to Paris and Reykjavik—poor thing. I will plan to cook things she doesn’t eat, so I foresee lots of pasta in our week’s menu. Life will be sort of more normal next week, but with her away, it will also be a lot different.

Meantime I have projects on my desk, and after having not gotten much done this week, I really need to pay attention to business. It’s all good.


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Color me happy


I had dinner with three wonderful gentlemen tonight at Tokyo CafĂ©—sons Colin and Jamie, with grandson Jacob in the middle. Of course, the boys recounted many tales of their misspent youth, but they interspersed sage advice on how to handle college—lessons they wish they had learned earlier. Jamie has long been a sushi fan, but I didn’t realize both Colin and Jacob would do so well on it. I was piggy—shared the cucumber salad with Jamie and then had salmon sashimi and beef and broccoli. All of it so good.

On the way home, Jamie wanted to stop at Eatzi’s and emerged with chocolate mousse, rich with whipped cream, banana pudding, and a blueberry cake of some sort. I could not even finish my portion of the mousse—so rich!

Tonight as I write, Jacob is studying, and Colin and Jamie are in my cottage having some sort of impassioned discussion that I have tuned out. But it is a joy to have them in the same room—and sleeping under the same roof. Well, the adjacent roof If not really mine.

Today Colin and I took Sophie to the vet for a checkup. This was a bit of a challenge for me, because Colin drives a humongous pickup, and I couldn’t figure how he would manage me, my walker, and the dog. All he would say, as I did my usual fret and wring my hands, was, “Trust me.” He had brought a stool for me to climb up to the truck—the third time I think I mastered it. Meantime, Sophie, who hates to go to the vet with memories of her two-week-plus incarceration there, behaved beautifully. She got a clean bill of health after extensive, expensive blood work.

Sophie has not, however, been behaving as well at home. She adores having my boys here. So last night she woke me to go out at two and six, to be fed at seven, to go out at seven-thirty. When Colin finally came to give her the morning insulin shot, I begged him to take her back in the house with him, so I could get another hour of sleep. Most of her trips, I am sure, were not because she needed to go potty but because she wanted attention from Colin. Now, tonight, with both boys here, she’s liable to be more difficult than ever. I guess it’s the price I pay for having them here.

Colin has been working remotely every day. This apparently is a bad week, with heavy financial deadlines, so he is reluctant to take much time off. On the other hand, Jamie, who is between positions and not at all worried about it, is devoting his life to yoga and will go to a class tomorrow and another Thursday morning. Tomorrow I will call and see if it’s a good day for us to visit my brother in rehab.

And maybe there’s a delicatessen lunch in our future. Colin particularly loves Carshon’s, where he’s been going since before he can remember. For him, no trip home to Fort Worth is complete without a Rebecca sandwich. I think I’d like a tongue sandwich, which sends the rest of my family into rigors. But I grew up eating tongue, and I like it. Kidneys too, but we won’t go into that discussion. Jamie may however sneak off to Ernesto’s for a much-needed fix.

Visiting me, both boys are returning to the city where they grew up. I notice every time I get out that things change daily—to often, it’s an unfortunate stretch of look-alike houses that make me despair for the mid-century bungalows and their history that are now gone. Here a new building, there another gone. So if I notice these changes on a daily or weekly basis, the changes they see every six months or so are amazing. Colin today saw the new TCU Hyatt Hotel which he apparently had never noticed before, even though it’s right across the street from my old office. Fun to watch them discover the changes, and yet Colin and I agreed on the drive home from the vet that Fort Worth is, as always, a pretty city. We were driving down Hulen where it goes downhill toward Bellaire Drive, overlooking lush green treetops for a good distance.

As you can gather, these are happy days for me. I am keeping up with my office—emails and the like and making a few stabs at new connections—but this is pretty much time out for me. Meanwhile, Jordan reports from San Miguel that they are having a wonderful time. Life is good all around.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Monday all day long


A thoroughly unremarkable day, even with the presence of Colin. He worked remotely all day from the dining table in the main house, appearing only when he let Cricket out briefly. He even ate the sandwich—an Anthony?—that he brought in the grocery store while sitting at his computer. I have no idea what an Anthony sandwich is and can’t remember what he said, except that he thought they were only available in Houston. Turns out he bought two—so much for leftovers, including the salmon patty I saved for him.

And more leftovers—for some reason we had an unusual amount of leftover carnitas meat last night. We’d had a little problem with it for which I take half the blame—it just didn’t look like enough water, so I added a bit more than called for. And I should have started it earlier because it takes a long time for two cups of water or more to evaporate. That’s my part of the blame—the other goes to Jordan and Christian who tried to hurry it up by raising the heat, which brought the water to a boil. So the meat began to stick. It was tender and the flavor was great, but it didn’t have that crisp crust we all like. Lesson learned: next time I will start it earlier and not add water.

Tonight I simply put the leftover meat in a skillet with some olive oil and browned it to get the crust. So if it was good last night, it was better tonight. And I put out all the trimmings—grated Monterrey Jack, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, guac, sour cream—a veritable feat. And then I ate too much!

The day was considerably brightened by Phil and Subie who came by to visit with Colin. We had a lively, delightful happy hour. Now, Colin is back at his computer, Jacob is at the driving range, and I am getting sleepy.

One other bright note, I guess, is the firing of Tucker Carlson by Fox News. But I view that as a blessing that might backfire. Carlson will only find another platform, probably sooner rather than later, and continue to spread his evil. The comeuppance is nice but won’t last. When Jacob came in for supper tonight, he was laughing about having heard someone say Carlson would make a great candidate for vice president. Heaven help us all. It was amazing how quickly his “parting of the ways” dominated all news sources. Which only makes me think it’s a bad indicator of where we are that someone of his ilk can command so much news space.

Which also reminds me that today when I replied to a friend’s comment online that I can’t understand why some Democrats are wishy-washy in their support of President Biden, the friend replied, “Lazy news media.” I hope that’s the answer, because I think he’s done great things and his policies are making America better. I know some are afraid of his age, but that offends me. I am eight years older than Biden, and I hope no one is betting that I’ll die in the next four years. I might, but so might any of us. Have a little faith, folks. I am pleased that the Democratic Governors Associaton has declared their wholehearted support for the president.

Yawn. On that note, I’m going to bed. Yes, it was Monday all day long.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The week ahead


Colin and Lisa

I’ve been looking forward to this week for some time. Jordan and Christian are going early early tomorrow to San Miguel to celebrate a friend’s birthday—they will be there all week. Colin, my oldest, has come to mom-sit. Actually, he’ll also Jacob-sit, Cricket-sit (the dog), and plant-sit. But I think he’s mostly here because the family doesn’t think I can survive a week on my own, and I’m grateful. While I want to be indignant and shout that I am perfectly capable, I know there’s a lot I can’t do on my own these days, from taking care of the Burton dog to watering the yard plants—my walker just isn’t that adaptable and I can’t get up the steps to the house without help. We will take Sophie to the vet, and me to the podiatrist, and Colin will make sure that I wake up each morning and that Jacob goes to bed each evening. He’s up to it, because he has two teens at home and a mother-in-law who lives alone, just across the pasture.

Colin has of course been here many times since I moved to the cottage, but the time he came when I was first here, seven years ago, was the last time he came specifically to mom-sit. Here’s what he wrote in December 2017:

“It’s been almost three days since I drove up the narrow driveway and parked in front of what had, up until now, been pleasantly known as “The Cottage.” As I watched the automatic gate shut in my rear-view mirror, I was unaware, but later amused, by the prison sentence that it foreshadowed.

“I should tell you about my cellmate. She is a 78-year-old uber-left leaning mystery author with a broken right ankle and destroyed left hip who scoots around backwards like a cross between a pinball and a dog with an itchy bottom – sometimes wearing an Obama shirt/nightie.

“Confined to close quarters, we have been within twenty feet of each other for sixty-eight hours now……and counting. Our arrangement is that of caregiver and ward, but it is actually much more than that. You see, over four decades ago the roles were reversed.  She is my mother.”

This will be a much happier day. Tonight, when I showed him the above passage, he said, “I’ve been looking for that.” And then, bless him, he said the difference between me then and today was night and day. It’s hard for me to realize how out of touch with reality I was then and how scared my children were.

Now, Colin and I will enjoy each other’s company, each of us working during the day at our desks but getting together for supper and visiting and solving the problems of both the world and our family. We have already had one deep discussion on religion and Christian nationalism—the kind of discussion I enjoy. It was prompted in part by the fact that there was a baptism in my church this morning—and both the parents of this darling boy were women. It was the first time I’d seen that in my church, but I was glad, and I wish this couple all happiness with their baby. When Dr Peterman held the baby in his arms and walked down the center aisle of the church, there were many smiles and not one frown.

Of course I have been menu planning in advance for Colin’s visit, but already that’s gone awry. We had carnitas tonight—so good—with possibly enough leftovers for supper tomorrow if Jacob wants Chipotle or something else. So we’ll see how it all works out. I had lamb on the menu twice because both Colin and I like it, and I know his Lisa doesn’t like to cook it. Jamie may come over one night, in which case we’ll probably go out to dinner or they’ll bring in barbecue. And I thought one night it would be fun to “walk the market” with Colin and pick out supper—a vegetable we both wanted and probably fresh fish because I don’t get enough of it. You can see I have more dinners planned than nights Colin will be here.

And no surprise I have a chore list for Colin, from fixing my toilet which sometimes willy-nilly decides not to flush to checking on why our electric gate sometimes bounces back open after you close it. Colin and Jamie are my computer gurus, and Colin has promised to look at several glitches in my computer while he’s here. It’s not as though he will be twiddling his thumbs—I don’t understand it exactly, but this week is a big financial reporting deadline for the company from which he recently resigned but for which he still does consulting. I can’t figure out either of my son’s professional lives, but I know that Colin will be on the phone a lot this week. Which is okay. I have plenty to do.

So that’s my week ahead, a nice break from routine. And I am excited for Jordan and Christian to go to San Miguel—my own bucket list is rather short, but that’s one of the places on it. They are excited to go, among other places, to the most famous rooftop bar in the world. Quince. I’m looking forward to a vicarious visit through them.

Hope you all have a good week.


Saturday, April 22, 2023

Milestone day for the Burtons


Tonight, as I write, Jacob is at his first prom—the Nolan High School Junior/Senior prom. He and two friends left for Keller (a northern suburb) at 3:30, which I found astounding. I had thought they were leaving at 5:30, so about four I reminded Christian pictures would be nice, but I’d like a quick, in-person glimpse. He replied that I was already too late—they left while I was napping. Doubt I can get Jacob to model the tux again, so I will settle for the pictures.

But I guess there was picture taking in Keller, followed by a dinner, followed by the prom which was somewhere in Keller rather than at the school in East Fort Worth. Then there was to be an after-party back in Fort Worth, not far from here. Big excitement, several trips to the tux rental store, etc. I asked his parents and finally Jacob about the girl who invited him and was rewarded with “She’s a girl I know.” Glad it’s not a stranger! The only other comment he offered was, “I’m really excited about it.” I’m anxious to hear a

report tomorrow, though I don’t know that he’ll be any more loquacious.

By serendipity I was reading some old blogs tonight and of course Jacob was prominent in many of them—the New Year’s Eves we shared, dinners that were memorable and/or disasters, storms we weathered. In one, I came across this picture of him ready for his first Cotillion. If he ever sees I’ve posted it, he will undoubtedly not be pleased. It’s easier for me to accept that my other grands have grown and changed, because I didn’t see as much of them when they were younger. Jacob I saw every day, so the change was gradual but when I contrast today with six, seven or eight years ago, it’s pretty dramatic—and calls up a bit of nostalgia.

Otherwise, it’s been a quiet day—I wrote a book review of All Stirred Up, by Brianne Moore, a culinary novel set in Edinburgh and involving a tangled romantic relationship but much more—Edinburgh daily life, the high-end restaurant scene, and lots of food. A really good read. I answered emails, sent some out, corresponded with an editor—nothing remarkable.

Tonight, I was planning to have a leftover salmon burger for supper, having already had one for lunch. Then I decided I really had a taste for barbecue, but Jordan and Christian were going out. So then I decided I wanted spinach and scrambled eggs—in the interest of efficiency, I tried to bake them together. An awful experiment. One of my worst—and I’d put so much good butter into it. My dinner, after a few bites of that, was cheese toast and salted caramels.

My new word for the day: frumious. It means very angry and when I saw it online it was used in the context of someone who is always frumious. Comes, not unexpectedly, from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” I can’t wait to ask someone, “Why are you always so frumious?”

Happy Saturday night. I’m off to read Mastering the Art of French Murder.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Friends, dogs, and a momentous decision


Sophie with her guilty look.
Yes, she ate a basket of zucchini crisps.

A lovely couple of evenings with friends for happy hour last night and supper tonight. Last night Phil and Subie came. I experimented on what was supposed to be zucchini crisps—one of those recipes that sound too easy and good to be true. Just sliced zucchini topped with Parmesan and cooked in the air fryer. First time I ever tried my air fryer so I’m not sure if that was the problem or not. First, Subie announced she didn’t really like zucchini. At the time I thought these would come out crisp, like potato chips, so I assured her this would be different. It wasn’t. What we got were soggy pieces of zucchini with Parmesan on top. To add to my embarrassment, Sophie managed to grab the entire basket and devour the contents after we’d each had maybe two slices apiece and had voted against keeping the recipe. Subie asked if that would be a problem with Sophie’s stomach, but I assure her it wouldn’t. And it wasn’t.

Sophie was, however, a problem in another way. She got into one of her incessant barking phrases, so much so that Phil threatened to go home. I fed her a small bone treat, and she was quiet—but that goes against all my child-raising and dog-raising theories. I guess it’s a bit late with Sophie. She knows very well when she’s been naughty and won’t look any of us in the eye.

Tonight, Jean came for supper. She, Jordan, and I sat on the patio with wine—a perfectly lovely evening. Mostly the talk was about Jordan’s upcoming trips to San Miguel, Paris, and Iceland (talk about a weird itinerary!). After we went inside, I put together salmon burgers, for once following a recipe because when I do it off the top of my head they are never the right consistency. Recipe or no, these weren’t either—way too dry to hold together, so I added mayonnaise, perhaps too much. Three of the five fell apart when I flipped them. We ate the two that held together in buns loaded with lettuce, tomato, and onion. Good, but you’d never want to eat it in public. Salmon burgers are one of those things for which I have yet to find the perfect recipe, but I will do it! Jean and I sat long after supper, solving the problems not of the world but of being in your seventies and eighties—uncharted territory. It’s good to have someone to have those discussions with.

It has been a rushed twenty-four hours for me. Somehow, I forgot that yesterday was the deadline for submissions to the May issue of the neighborhood newsletter I edit. So there I was—a deadline and no articles. I sent out an urgent plea on the neighborhood email, taking full responsibility, and was overwhelmed with the response. I got so many articles and photos that I was up until midnight editing, and it was noon today before I sent the issue to the designer. I am so grateful for neighbors who have my back when I make such a mistake. I think this may be one of the best issues ever. But gosh, it was a lot of work, all with the pressure of a deadline. Tonight I am glad to have the mundane—a grocery order and a blog. Then I get to read the novel I’m enjoying—All Stirred Up! a culinary novel, love story of sorts, set in Edinburgh. Lots of Scottish life, lots of recipes. My cup of tea.

I reached a big decision the last couple of days. Many of you know that I have, for years now, been working off and on to write a book about Neiman Marcus doyenne of food service, Helen Corbitt, and how she fit into the changing foodways of America in mid-century, particularly her enormous impact on the way Texans ate and viewed food. I find the material fascinating. But when it came to writing the book, I came up short. Corbitt left behind cookbooks and articles galore but almost no record of herself a an individual. What was her childhood like? Why did she never marry? What’s the story behind those three times she was supposedly engaged? What was she like as a person? What we have is all surface stuff. I came up with a 30K-word manuscript, about half what’s needed for even a short book.

I even tried telling the story as fiction from the first-person point of view. But I couldn’t get the voice right—because I didn’t know enough about her. I was getting depressed and sending myself all sorts of negative messages. I have put this project aside and come back to it many times. Now I have decided to put it aside probably forever. And I feel a sense of freedom.

So, once again, I have an optimistic outlook on life and what I’m doing. I’m sure there will be further bulletins, if you are interested.

Happy Fridy night, everyone. Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

An ordinary day with a few light spots

Nothing on my calendar today, just a day at my desk—which I like. But there were a few lighthearted moments—and of course a big reveal!

This morning my computer was agonizingly slow. I needed every ounce of that patience Jordan talks to me about. And the TV wouldn’t come on at all, Finally I turned off the TV and rebooted the computer. Computer had speeded up. Then I turned the TV on—nothing. Jordan tells me to wait patiently, so I went about my business, spent a frustrating hour trying to get into the Origin’s (skin care) website (I am sorry, but I truly cannot understand people in India or the Philippines whose English is heavily accented and I resent companies that farm out their telephone help lines). In all that time I forgot about the TV. But when I got up to get supper out of the freezer, all of the sudden the cottage was filled with loud voices. For a nanosecond I wondered who had come in—and then I realized the TV had finally come on, though I’d missed the news segments I like to watch! I’m sure some mystery writers would make a scene out of that—I just turned off the TV. But it did startle me—and Sophie.

If any of you have grown children, you know how old you feel when they begin to go back to the college reunions. Now, my dog has been invited to a reunion! Sophie will be twelve on May 18, but I don’t think they’re celebrating her birthday or the day she came home with us—in July. Apparently, Safari Doodles has a new kennel in Aubrey, a small town (suburb if you will) north of Dallas. I think it would be fun to go, but there’s no way—the Burtons will just have gotten home from San Miguel, Colin will have left the day before for Tomball, and Jordan leaves that day for an extended work trip. It’s probably a good thing—I might have lost all my resolve and come home with another dog, though with regret I know that I am not capable of ever again training a pup. I think Sophie would have enjoyed all the other dogs, but then again, you never know.

Jordan and I planned a light supper of subway-style sandwiches tonight, and Christian requested a three-bean salad, which I made. A meal they all like. Only Christian and Jacob both came home and fell asleep. Finally at seven-thirty, Jordan and I ate lonely sandwiches. I ended up with two helpings of salad, because I snuck one when I began to get hungry.

Nice surprise that made my day—a reader I don’t know at all wrote that she really enjoys my newsletters and recently used my shepherd’s pie recipe to serve lunch to two friends, each of whom went home clutching a copy of the recipe. Of course, it would have been nice if they’d been clutching copies of my books, but I’ll take whatever attention I can get. The writer asked if an old book, Libbie, was mine, and I assured her it was. She was getting ready to order the new Irene, and said she really likes the Irene books. So all that boosted my spirits.

And speaking of faux French chef Irene, the latest adventure will publish this coming Saturday. Today I have an advance sales link. If you want to order Kindle or paperback, you can go here: Irene Deep in Texas Trouble: An Irene in Chicago Culinary Mystery - Kindle edition by Alter, Judy. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ My longtime friend/mentor/critique expert, Fred Erisman, says it’s the best of the Irene series so far. I hope you’ll check it out and see what you think.

Happy trails, everyone. I’m going to spend the evening with a Scottish culinary mystery. What joy!

Monday, April 17, 2023

Sometimes dinner is just jinxed.


My less than beautiful chicken roll-ups

I think it started with the grocery store. Jordan went Sunday, came home without the crescent rolls I needed for supper for a guest Monday. She swore that wasn’t on the list, I wore it was. No matter, I would use puff pastry. I asked for spinach—my bad for not specifying a bag of frozen. She knows I like canned spinach (I think I am the only person left in the world who does, especially since my childhood friend Eleanor Lee who used to eat it with me has left us.) But I couldn’t quite imagine making creamed spinach with the canned.

All things work to some good. Mary V., my dinner guest, just happened to have a bag of frozen chopped spinach which she obligingly brought to dinner. By the time she arrived, I had the cream sauce—butter, sauteed onions, cream cheese, and Parmesan—ready to go. She left with the recipe clutched in her hand.

The chicken roll-ups were another matter. I made the mixture of shredded chicken, cream cheese, grated cheddar and Monterrey Jack, all the while thinking it was heavy on the cheese. When I pulled the puff pastry out of the freezer, I discovered to my horror it was not puff pastry at all but phyllo. I have never ever been adept enough to work with phyllo and all that butter. I prefer to buy my spanakopita once a year when the Greek Orthodox Church has its annual festival. When I do make spanakopita, I use puff pastry—traditional Greek cooks would be horrified. Besides, the phyllo had apparently been in the freezer so long, it was dry (a no-no) and flaking. I threw it away.

Clearly, this dinner was not going well.

I just knew I had puff pastry, so I dug into an entire shelf in the freezer, puling everything out, and sure enough—at the very back of the shelf, buried under everything, was a box of puff pastry. Frozen solid. I left it out to defrost and took a nap.

When I woke up I made the cream sauce for the spinach and then tested the pastry. It was workable. So a huge question: how should I portion this out? With crescent rolls, there’s no question: you get eight little triangles. It did occur to me that the triangles were indeed little, and I had a whole lot of filling by this time. I settled on separating the puff pastry into three pieces into which it is naturally folded.

One at a time, I rolled a piece out as wide and long as I could and then figured I could get two roll-ups out of each third of pastry. But unlike the triangles, I didn’t know what to do with these almost square pieces of dough. So the first two, I flattened the filling and dough—most unattractive. So with the next, I mounded the filling and pulled the dough corners over the filling as you would with a puff package. Better, but far from neat. When I pinched the corners to be sure none of the cheese filling oozed out, the packages took on weird shapes. I kept remembering my mom’s words: Food is half eaten with the eye. This food, I thought, would best be eaten blindfolded. But I persevered, and my last two efforts were—well, medium at best.

I put the pastries in the oven before Mary arrived, because as I’ve said I can’t cook two things at once—that trips a circuit, and the entire cottage goes dark. So they came out soon after Mary arrived, and her first words were, “Those look gorgeous.” Well, pick me up off the floor!

I squeezed the spinach dry (absolutely the worst part of making creamed spinach) and tossed it with the now-cooled sauce (the now-cooled part meant it was a lot harder to blend, but it finally worked). Somehow, I served a reasonable supper—chicken roll-ups and creamed spinach. It didn’t look too bad, and Mary raved about the taste of both. Of course, now I had a lot of filling left over in the fridge—chicken roll-ups, anyone?

Would I ever do this again? (So many of my experiments are one-time things). The spinach is a recipe I’ve used before with great success, so the question doesn’t apply. But the roll-ups? Yes, and I’d use puff pastry instead of crescent rolls—lighter, fluffier crust. And I’d cut down on the three cheeses—too much fillin. What I’d need to do is figure out a better way of making the roll-ups or pockets or whatever you want to call them. And it occurs to me the filling recipe I have for tuna pasties would be great in puff pastry pockets. Obviously, there’s more experimenting ahead.

Want to know the best part? Besides doing this today and getting a good afternoon nap, I wrote a thousand words on a project I’m playing with Not a bad Monday at all.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

What Sunday should be—with a minor crisis


My chicken dinner from Drew's Place

I looked forward to Sunday for several days. It was shaping up to be the kind of day I love—no pressure, and I could float through the day. I could sleep late, I had leftovers for lunch, and I’d worry about supper when the time came. I had a book to read, and a friend gave me an idea about something I wanted to write. To top it off, I finally ended with fried chicken leftovers—perfect supper.

Last night, we took fried chicken from Drew’s Place to Joe and Mary Dulle. They’ve had a meal train feeding them while Mary recovers from surgery, but the meal train had made its final stop. Jordan and I always said when that happened, we’d go to a restaurant near their new apartment famed for the fried chicken and take it to them; as it turned out, the classic lunch place, Drew’s, was much more reasonable. So, chicken in hand, we arrived for a tour of the apartment, a glass of wine, and a good visit. Great to see Mary looking so well, and now I can visualize them in their apartment. We came home, each nibbled on our chicken—of course we bought some for ourselves!—and gathered on the patio when the Burtons’ friends Sarah and Jay came over. Lovely evening, but it eventually got too chilly for me.

Yesterday morning Jordan, Sarah, and I had gone plant shopping. I know it’s a pain for Jordan, but it’s delight for me to be rolled through all those aisles in a transport chair instead of having to concentrate on my walker and my footing. This way I could focus on the plants. We bought things I’d never heard of, like optic grass, and old familiars like sweet potato vine, coleus—not sure why I can’t think of the others, but it was a hefty bill, so we got lots more.

Going to the nursery and then to visit the Dulles meant I was off the property twice in one day—as Christian said, a wild day for me. I don’t think it’s age so much as it is the breaking of my routine that tires me, but I was tired last night. When we came home from the Dulles, we found that Sophie doesn’t like her routine disturbed either—kt was a bit late for her dinner, and she had strewn dinner bowls on my bedroom floor, water bowl in the kitchen, and Pill Pockets (she couldn’t open it) in the living room. Sweet spoiled baby!

The back yard is beginning to look like summer. Jordan has most of the pots filled, but we need new grass—the winter rye was really awful this year and has huge, ugly bare patches. Somehow the lawn guys took out my mums a couple of months ago—I had wanted them left until time for spring flowers, but now there’s unslightly barren ground in front of the deck. Instead of pentas, which were a disaster last year, I’m going to put in native plants. Lots of bright yellow with black-eyed susans, gallardia, coreopsis, and the like.

So back to today, Christian and I collaborated on matzo brei (I had sold it to him as like migas, but he pointed out migas have pico and seasonings). The matzo brei tasted like matzo (big surprise) and was good, maybe a bit bland and a lot heavy.

Jordan went to the grocery but was gone an extraordinarily long time. She came home to tell us she had a flat, had to go get Fix-a-Flat and fix it herself. That left a quandary: they couldn’t drive to Coppell on that tire, they couldn’t drive Jacob’s SUV because it goes in tomorrow for brake pads, and they wouldn’t drive the VW. Jordan saw it as yet another sign the gods are picking on them; I saw it as an unfortunate incident. They ended not going to have dinner with Christian’s dad but going to a friends’ fiftieth birthday party.

So now I’m about to heat the potatoes and green beans that came with my chicken and have a lovely dinner—still have fried chicken. And a book I’m enjoying. Can life get any better?

Hope everyone has a great week.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The elusive memoir


For some time now, as in years not months, I’ve been stewing over writing a memoir. There are several memoirists in my favorite small, online writing group, and I think if they can do it, so can I. Some friends tell me I’ve had such an interesting life, that I should chronicle it.

A couple of roadblocks: one is the distinction between memoir and autobiography. The latter covers your entire life, from birth to the moment of writing and, as someone said, is like an unfinished symphony. How will it end? Unfortunately you (or I) won’t be around to add that ending. And unless you’re a brilliant stylist, autobiography can get boring.

Memoir on the other hand either recounts a specific time or event in your life or traces a theme that has been present for your whole life. I’ve toyed with all those ideas and come up empty. Sometimes I think these blogs will provide material—and they might if, for instance, I ever took the time to weed out all the ones about writing. Or all the ones about family. I’ve started several times and gotten bogged down each time.

Today, I happened across a review of a book titled Fast-Draft Your Memoir. At this point in my life, with over a hundred books on my list, both fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults, and with several nice awards won, I have long ago left “how-to” write books behind. If I don’t know how to do it by this point, I better quit—and there are days I feel that way. But today it was the fast draft part of the title that caught my attention—the book was cheap, so I ordered it.

And the author’s captivating style drew me in. She clarified that distinction between autobiography and memoir. Clearly, she favors the latter (and teaches courses on it at Stanford, not a tiny recommendation). I devoured her examples and then sat at thought about my life and what theme I would craft a memoir around.

I’ve often thought of writing a book about dogs I have loved, and that still might work, but is that really the part of my life I want folks to remember? If you ask me what the most important thing I have done in my life is, I would without hesitation answer raising four beautiful, wonderful people as a single parent. But another theme that grows increasingly important in my life is cooking.

That’s when it hit me: I have already written a memoir. Wrote it back in 2009. Title? Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. It’s a cookbook/memoir, not an unusual combination these days. I divided my life into four periods (I’d add a fifth now, but that’s another story):  A Meat-and-Potatoes Household; Marriage and Two New Worlds of Food; The Casserole Years; Living Alone and Liking It—Well, Most of the Time.

The first section chronicles my Chicago childhood in a meat-and-potatoes household, where my dad’s British tastes set the tone for the daily menus, though Mom slipped in some of her German heritage (she hated sauerkraut and I never tasted it until I was grown). That section is also a tribute to Mom who was a patient guide in the kitchen and let me make messes because she saw that as part of the learning process. To this day I clean the kitchen as I go along. I can’t stand a messy kitchen with piles of dirty dishes. Whatever joy my cooking brings me and others is due to my mom.

When I married and moved to Texas, I was introduced to two new food cultures: the Jewish food of my new husband’s background and the Mexican foods and barbecue of Texas. For this section and the next one, I queried my four children for dishes that they particularly remembered and got responses of everything from green noodles to my signature recipe for Doris’ Casserole. The casserole years were when the kids were teens with voracious appetites and the budget was short. But all four knew that if you weren’t working (and they all had after-school jobs by the time they were sixteen), you’d better be home and at the dinner table by six. And you never missed Sunday dinner when there were often fifteen or more at the table. And finally there were the years of living alone, when I entertained with frequent dinner parties and an annual big Christmas parties for seventy or more and loved every minute of it.

The book was published by State House Press. When it came out, it had a picture of Jacob on the cover, because his nursery school had put him in a chef’s toque and jacket for some occasion, and it was too cute to resist. It caused a furor among the parents of my other grands and had an unfortunate marketing consequence—people thought it was a children’s cookbook—it is not. Want to check it out? It’s on Amazon: Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books (Stars of Texas Series): Alter PhD, Dr. Judy: 9781933337333: Books

So there you have it: the memoir I forgot I’d written. It’s about cooking, but it’s also so much about raising my family. Should I do another? I don’t know. I’m debating about themes. Any suggestions are welcome.


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

How does your garden grow?


My herb garden at a funny angle

In the spring at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.—Margaret Atwood


My dad was a hobby gardener. Weekdays, he was an osteopathic physician, president of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, and administrator of the associated hospital. But weekends found him in grubby clothes on his knees in the garden. Mom always worried that students would come by and find him in those dirty, torn clothes with the ridiculous knee pads, but he didn’t care. When he bought the house in Chicago (1937, I think) he also bought the vacant lot next door, and it became his garden—a vast expanse, to my childish eyes, of green grass and flower beds, with a tiny, struggling vegetable garden.

I did not inherit that gene, though I envy those who find renewal digging in the earth. A friend recently wrote that he would not be grounded if he did not have his hands literally in dirt every day. Oh, I’ve gardened over the years, mostly pot plants. I used to have a flourishing short-lived lettuce bed in a long planter on the front porch, and I nursed the same pot of chives for years until snowmageddon did it in. But a dedicated gardener I am not. I love having beautiful flower beds, but I want someone else to do the work, especially now that I am somewhat mobility challenged.

We have a division of gardening labor at the Alter/Burton compound. Christian is an avid pot gardener (he is also an amazing cook—how lucky are we?). By early summer, he has the front porch alive with all kind of blooming plants, clustered everywhere. He also takes responsibility for the front yard where, this year, we have had a great loss. For almost thirty years, I had two huge rosemary bushes on either side of the steps to the porch. Age, plus snowmageddon plus a hard freeze early this past winter did them in, and they are no more. Christian says it looks pretty bare. I want to replace them, but not with small five-gallon plants. As I explained to him this morning, at my age I’m not enthusiastic about something that will look great in ten years. That’s not pessimism, just reality. Big rosemary bushes, however, are expensive, so I am thinking.

Meanwhile, Jordan and I have responsibility for the back yard, although Christian puts blooming plants on the deck. Every year we hold our breath to see if the bougainvillea will be as magnificent as the last year. This spring, he has successfully grown a pot of yellow Gerber daisies—I never could get them to grow for me.

The back yard is the scene I look out on every day from my desk, the patio where I entertain, the view from my cottage. Last week, I went to TJ’s Greenery, a backyard nursery in Haltom City and got lovely plants, still small but strong, and plenty of herbs for my moveable herb garden. Jordan has now planted them, but we still have a list of things to get—sweet potato vine to put around the basil, fountain grass for the big planters, a couple of planters that didn’t make my first list.

But for the heavy stuff for both yards, I have for several years now used a landscaping company owned by a local “boy.” Okay, John Filarowicz is probably not ten years younger than my youngest child, but he grew up in the neighborhood, as did his wife, and he will probably always be a boy to many of us. He has, however, a horticulture degree from Texas A&M and a thriving business, with at least two crews. He will take care of things like replacing the lantana that died by the front sidewalk (I didn’t know you could kill the stuff, but we’ve had two awful winters and an extreme drought in between). He will replace the back yard grass--we try something new every year, none of it works well, and we’ll go back to Bermuda this year. And John and his crew have put in a small native plant garden for me, which I find exciting.

For the past few years we’ve had pentas in a bed in front of the deck, but last year they were

Pitiful pentas

pitiful, so bad that John said he felt like an oncologist delivering bad news. So this year I’ve talked to him about filling that space with yellow native plants—coreopsis, gallardia, black-eyed Susan. We have yellow going in the marigolds I bought for pots by my kitchen door and in the new native plant garden. I’m a fan of yellow plants so that idea appeals to me.

Jordan is convinced the marigolds by the kitchen door are too small, and I am having to remind her it’s early April. They will grow and fill out as summer comes on. Then I have to convince myself of the same thing about the new beds.

Even though I don’t garden, I find spring, the season of new growth, incredibly exciting. How about you? How does your garden grow/

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Everybody’s an expert these days


Friend Sandi Kennedy is an expert at picking lilies. 
She brought this to me when the blooms were tight buds, 
so that I could watch them open.
Isn't the plant spectacular?

You hear a lot about “leveling the playing field” which essentially means giving everybody an equal chance—levelling the playing field in politics, in education, in business opportunities. But it seems to me there’s one way that we’ve leveled the playing field with dismal consequences. No experts stand out today—everybody’s an expert or feels as empowered as the experts. I may not be saying what I mean clearly, but let me give you some examples.

A judge in Texas has just ruled against mifepristone, the most extensively used abortion pill in America. It has been approved by the FDA for twenty-three years and used without apparent bad effects. Yet this judge, with no medical background, ruled it out, talking about such vagaries as emotional damage to women. Never mind that his arguments were specious, the point is that he didn’t listen to the experts.

In states across the nation, politicians are assuming the role that until recently doctors filled—they have become experts on health concerns. They ignore doctors’ findings about abortion as health care in many cases and pass Draconian measures which force women into possibly fatal situations. Why can they cancel out medical training and research for the sake of votes? They will tell you it’s moral concerns, which are none of their business anyway, but I think it’s to win votes (which is not happening)

In Texas, Governor Abbott has promised to pardon a convicted murderer, judged guilty by a unanimous vote of twelve of his peers. That’s how the system is supposed to work. The convicted criminal is entitled to appeal the verdict, a process that might take years. But according to our laws, he is not entitled to an almost instant pardon from the governor. Abbott is tossing aside the jury’s verdict for his own benefit. As a lawyer and former prosecutor, he knows better. He knows he should respect the law, but he has put himself above it (not the first time).

And then there are school boards and the thorny question of book banning. Again, this levelling of the playing field is something we are seeing in many states. Parents object to a book or a lesson plan, and school boards ignore the training and expertise of teachers, school librarians, and administrators. The result is one person can complain, and lists of books—over 800 in Texas—are banned, many of them classics. If a person doesn’t want their child to read a specific book, they should quietly make arrangements with the teacher or librarian. But more and more today we see books banned from an entire school district because one person complained. No one seems to recognize that trained educators and librarians have shaped each school’s acquisitions list.

The same is true of curriculum. Over-sensitive parents are whining about the teaching of CRT in elementary schools—which is so totally false that it is almost laughable. And they accuse teachers of “grooming” young children. The line about corrupting young children that makes me want to holler “Yes!” is that teachers in the first three or so grades are grateful if they can produce students who can read on grade level, write their names in cursive, and do some basic math. They have no time for CRT or grooming. And yet parents are shaping curricula with their complaints and fears.

In eighth grade, I had a math teacher that did not like me She was one of those maiden lady schoolteachers with a big chest and a prominent derriere (shaped rather like a pigeon) who wore flowered dresses and “sensible” shoes. I have no idea what I did to offend her, but it was so clear that even my mom recognized it and talked to me about it. But she would never have gone to the teacher or to the PTA or to the school board. She reasoned it was a good lesson for me to learn to deal with that pretentious woman.

In Texas, there is now a bill being proposed to the legislature called the “Parent Empowerment Act.” The very words give me the shakes. What we need is parents empowered with enough common sense to listen to teachers and other trained personnel.

Even in medicine, some patients are inclined to disagree with the doctors and dictate their care. Cheers for the physicians who holds fast to his expertise and does not let himself be bullied.

I have an advanced degree in English with a special interest in literature of the American West. That does not mean that I can tell teachers how and what to teach every teen in my local grandson’s class. Nor does it mean I can do more than suggest books to him. I would never decree that he should not read a book he shows interest in. I am much more likely to suggest something that I think he might like to read (I was devastated when one grand several years ago read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and said she found it boring!)

I  guess what I’m trying to say is the country would be better off if people would stay in their own lane and not try to “own” the experts. We educate doctors and lawyers and teachers so they can fill in the gaps of what we don’t know. We don’t need empowerment—we need cooperation.