Sunday, December 31, 2023

2024, here we come!


The cottage is cozy enough tonight that I can almost pretend there’s a raging snowstorm outside. Candles are flickering but the Christmas lights cast a steady colorful glow. Jordan and Christian have been here for a happy hour drink and gone on to a party. Jacob has with much excitement gone to a concert with some of his friends. Sophie, having gotten locked out by mistake—how could I?—is asleep in her crate. A pot of black-eyed peas simmers on the stove, and the dinner dishes are done. I indulged in paté for an appetizer, lobster salad and creamed spinach for the main meal, and chocolate caramels for that “touch of sweet” my long-ago mother-in-law always wanted. A lovely evening that I hope forecasts a much better year ahead. Like many of us, I am ready to kick 2023 to the gutter.

Do you make resolutions? I gave that up long ago, but I have prayers and goals. My main prayer, for me, is continued good health. At my age, I think that’s a biggie, and I don’t want any surprises. For my family, it is peace and joy and safety, especially as my grandchildren continue to branch off in individual directions. This year, Jacob and Sawyer will mark five either in college or already through—the oldest has graduated, has a responsible management job, her own apartment, and is living the grown-up life, a thing that much impresses me. Only two left in high school, both juniors.

For my friends, far and wide, near and dear, for whom I am most grateful, I wish good health, peace, and joy. I hope for continued connections and sharing of all that is good in life so that we have strength, together, for that which is not so good—and there’s a lot of that going around.

What can anyone wish for the world except peace? I remain horrified at not only the two wars that hold all our attention, but the regime changes and coups in small countries especially throughout Africa and South America—each rebellion, each regime change costs lives, and we all long for a world without strife and greed for either riches or power. And I wish justice for all the innocents who are caught up in violence, particularly the people of Israel and Gaza. I read today that 1200 Jewish citizens were killed in the Hamas raid; to date, 21,000 plus have died in Israel’s bloody revenge. I cannot believe that is the path to peace, and I am horrified.

At home, I pray for common sense in government, equal justice for all our citizens, and awareness for those who wear blinders. I want to see the “former guy” convicted and imprisoned, I want to do away with book banning and teacher censoring and school vouchers and flap over critical race theory. I pray the country comes to appreciate and understand the things the Biden administration has done for our country with the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Plan, the CHIPS and Science Act. America now is in better shape, its economy booming, than it has ever been, and I am proud to be part of that. I only wish those with blinders on could see.

My daughter recently told me I talk politics too much, and I replied that the reason we have a bitter divide between our people is that no one spoke up soon enough. So that is one of my goals: to continue to speak my mind, to work toward what I see as good for the country I love and, uphill battle as it is, for Texas, my home state now for fifty-five plus years and the place that gave me its history and literature to shape into my career. I cannot let Texas go to the narrow-minds who have imposed so many restrictions on us—and yet imposed none on guns. What crazy logic.

And perhaps that brings me to my personal goal for the coming year—I have two books to see to publication. One is what I see as the final Irene in Chicago Culinary Mystery, though one should never count Irene down and out. She is a force to be reckoned with and might one day again rise up and demand another book. But the other is the cookbook/food history study which looks at how the food of the Fifties, sometimes glorious, sometimes awful, has carried on to affect the way we eat today. It’s turning out to be a tribute to my mom, who in the Fifties taught me to cook. Over Christmas, with all my family together, I realized how much we still carry on Mom’s traditions.

So that’s me and 2024. How about you?

And, if you’re interested, here are a few more Santa Fe pictures. Counterclockwise; fresh snow, me with Maddie (my oldest grand) and her boyfriend Trevor, and me with the super margarita-making bartender named Juju. Sorry for the misalignment but t's the best I can do.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Car trip thoughts


It’s a long drive from Fort Worth to Santa Fe and back, and my family was dreading the trip. Only the idea of family, Santa Fe, and skiing made them even consider it. However, I looked forward to parts of it. When you leave Amarillo, headed west on Hwy. 40, past Vega, Texas suddenly you leave prairie behind you. The land butts up in strange outcroppings, as though it were anticipating the buttes and mesas of New Mexico.

And then suddenly, you are in New Mexico where the land changes rapidly. It’s flat up close, with scrub brush dotting what look like pastures. I’m no botanist, but it looks like creosote and mesquite, though not the feathery large mesquite we get in Texas. In the distance, beyond the open land are the strange, stark shapes of mesas and buttes. The whole landscape is so different from Texas that it draws me in, perhaps in anticipation. We turn north at Klines Corner and after a bit on that road, the landscape changes again. The once-straight road twists and turns in hills, and mountains appear in the distance. I love it all, perhaps because I am always happy and “at home” in Santa Fe. It is for me, a place of many good memories

But then, too soon, comes the return trip home. Once past Amarillo, you begin that long stretch of small towns leading to Wichita Falls. If you’ve traveled that road often enough, you can click those towns off in memory. By Claude, the first town, I sort of let out a sigh and think, “We’re home. We’re back in Texas.”

For us this week, we made it to Wichita Falls in daylight, so I had a chance to study the towns. In most towns the highway bypasses the town, so you don’t really see it. Memphis for instance has town on one side and railroad tracks on the other. Once a friend and I deliberately left the highway and explored each town, sometimes stopping at junk stores, other times just imagining what life in, say Quanah, would be like. The five-hour drive took us almost ten, but it was a wonderful experience.

This time, as we barreled through, intent on making time, my first thought was that the small town in Texas is alive and well, albeit a bit shabby and in need of several coats of paint. Still, when we hear about young people leaving the small towns of their youth and the subsequent death of those towns, it was reassuring to see that life stll seems to be going forward in places like Clarendon and Chillicothe and Vernon.

By Wichita Falls, dark was closing in, and as we angled southeast to Fort Worth, I noticed how brightly lit the towns are. Some lighting is decorative (no, it was not all Christmas lights), some is for security with lots of floodlights, too much is neon advertising. All of it is bright, and as a result you can see towns glowing from miles away. Up close the effect is almost blinding in some cases. I had the same thought I often have in my own backyard: could we tone it down a little and still be safe?

Studies have shown that excessive light disturbs the circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) of birds and other wildlife, altering their physiology and behavior because they are no longer able to distinguish day from night. An appalling number of birds die each year because they fly into well-lit skyscrapers. Light pollution, or the excessive us of artificial light, can even effect human health and well-being, with some studies linking it to various forms of cancer. With excessive light, our eyes lose the ability to adjust to darkness. In a city, for example, we can no longer see the stars in the night sky because our vision is impaired by excessive light. All that lighting costs money and energy and contributes to climate change.

What can we do?  Use motion sensors, dimmers, and timers. Use LED lights but only in warm tones, never blue, and lower the wattage. Use fixtures that direct light downward, never up nor over a wide expanse.

I’m sure the folks in Henrietta and Bowie and Decatur are relieved that I didn’t have time to stop and educate them about light pollution, but it is a problem too few know about. At home, I struggle with it, because our neighborhood has “night visitors” and I want outdoor lights for security. But my conscience bothers me. We hope to put in some downward lighting in trees and along a walkway which will enable us to eliminate some flood lights.

It was an interesting drive, but as you can imagine, I was glad to get home.

Photo from



Friday, December 29, 2023

My Christmas secret


Spectacular view from our rental property.

Sorry I didn’t post before about a Christmas trip to Santa Fe with my family, but I never like to advertise that Sophie is home alone, except for a pet sitter. The whole family went to Santa Fe for six days and had a glorious time. Here are my notes on the highlights:

--On an overnight stop in Amarillo, seventeen-year-old Jacob offered to share a room with Juju. We got along perfectly.

Me and Jacob

Me and Susan Tweit

--On Christmas Eve, we entertained guests. I know author/botanist Susan Tweit through an online writers’ group, but it was a delight to meet her in person. Tina Miracle is an old friend from Fort Worth—lots of shared memories. Her husband Jay is a new friend we all like a lot. Proud of how the grands welcomed these guests and introduced themselves. A really great evening. Our guests brought eggnog and hot buttered rum—can’t beat that for conviviality.

White Elephant exchange

--Christmas morning pandemonium included a White Elephant gift exchange.

--Watching oldest son and his daughter laboriously make my mother’s yeast-rising rolls and realizing that much of what was being cooked Christmas Day was what Mom cooked for holidays.

Maddie, me, and Trevor

--Reconnecting in an adult way with my oldest grandchild, Maddie, and her boyfriend, who fits right into the family. 

--All seventeen of us standing in a rough, lopsided circle, holding hands, while my oldest son asked the blessing before Christmas dinner

--Christmas dinner, when all the grands came spontaneously to sit at my table, along with SIL Brandon.

Me and the grands

--Dinner at La Fonda with grown-up kids at an adjoining table eating with manners and dignity. Our upscale night out in a nostalgic and lovely setting.

--Lunch at the Tesuque Market—a four-hour experience in a funky place because we met a bartender named Juju (my grandmother name) who was a delight--and apparently made great margarita. Tuna sandwich was the best thing I ate on the whole trip, and I hadn’t had even one margarita.

--Having my grown kids take such good care of me and my walker, especially on stairs that terrified me. Santa Fe is not ADA friendly.

It was a wonderful trip that leaves me lots of memories to treasure. Yes, I’m glad to be back home. I always am. I’m not an easy traveler, and the altitude, stairs, and snow seemed united against me. But the joys far overshadowed those small nuisances. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Sophie is glad we're home, and I've told her I won't be going anywhere soon.


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

A sleepy day--and a random thought about higher educatioin


Today, close to noon, I found myself dozing off over my computer. I’ve been known to do that in the evening, a signal that I should take a little nap—or else give it up and go to sleep. But in the middle of the day? I figured out what it was. All those loose threads that have haunted me all week have tied themselves off into neat little knots—my worry over arrangements for Christmas Eve guests, the lost check for a co-pay, even my iStock dilemma is nicely solved. And the plumber was here this morning, quickly fixed the leak with the tiniest of new washers, and it didn’t cost nearly as much as I had feared. The gods are smiling on me, and I’m grateful.

I toughed it out until about one-thirty and then slept a solid two hours. It must be all the talk Jordan and I have done about food and menus and grocery lists, but I dreamt I was eating the most sumptuous, huge meal—lamb chops and salads and pate, all the things I love. I woke up full.

So, I’m feeling fairly ready for Christmas. And I’m feeling optimistic about the national scene, ever since the Colorado Supreme Court declared trump ineligible to be on the ballot. But higher education is on my mind tonight. I’ve read several articles that question the value of a college education. Some point out that the importance of having skilled craftsmen—plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.—is overlooked, and young people should be encouraged to consider trade schools. I’m all for that. College is not for everyone, and we need those skilled people. Especially today when I’m so grateful for the plumber, who by the by, had an apprentice with him. Made me curious about how plumbers are educated—by apprenticeship, classes, or both?

But an article this morning suggested that employers are dissatisfied with the quality of college graduates these days and perhaps a college degree is not worth the high cost, since it can throw graduates and their families into a long downward spiral of debt. Some of the stories of people still paying in their sixties are horrifying. We’ve seen President Biden try to release families from that burden so that they can be productive members of society, rather than held back by financial distress. But that has met conservative opposition.

It’s a given that Republicans want to dumb down America, because an uneducated populace is easier to manage, to persuade with propaganda and distortion. We see it in Texas particularly in the move to approve school vouchers, and thereby weaken public education, which has failed, so far—praise be! We see it nationally in restrictions on teachers and what they can teach, particularly what they can say about history. They are often required to teach our history as seen through rose-colored glasses. And we see it in book banning.

Now we’re seeing a move to question college education. I wonder if this questioning of higher education is not part of that whole campaign. Granted, some college costs are exorbitant these days, but college is where people learn critical thinking. It’s not so much that college prepares you for a career—really, how many of us have a career related to our college major? But it’s that college classes teach you to think. An educated populace, especially one that knows history, is not as likely to fall for the blandishments of a demagogue.

Just a random thought for Christmas week when my mind should be on the meaning of Christmas, the why and wherefore of how we celebrate, the blessing of families gathering, and the food which binds us in thankfulness and companionship.

It’s not late, but I can feel sleepiness creeping up on me again, so I’ll sign off. Tomorrow, I think ‘ll blog about black-eyed peas, a much more seasonal topic.


Tuesday, December 19, 2023

More Christmas confusion


Charlie discovers Christmas wrappings

We all know kittens have a magical attraction to Christmas trees. Charlie, Jordan’s kitten, not yet six months old, found the tree this week. Because he’s young and not quite civilized, Charlie has his own suite in the house—what really amounts to the family room and Jacob’s bedroom. But he gets frequent forays into the rest of the house, and that’s how he found the tree. Charlie is destined to be an indoor cat—in fact, Jordan rescued him when he was about to be turned out to the wide wild world at too young an age. But sometimes he feels his confinement severely. This morning I watched him march along the windowsills in the family room—the back wall is all window—watching intently as Sophie went about her morning business. He’s a pretty cat and, so Jordan tells me, affectionate though playful as kittens are. I have barely met him. To say I’m not a cat fan without explanation is not fair to me—I have adored one cat, my beloved Wynona Judley (affectionately known as Wywy), who crossed the bridge several years ago. But Jordan got a kitten in middle school that lived to nineteen and was, to my mind, the cat from hell. She peed everywhere, including on furniture, and I had to have a couch and chair reupholstered at great cost because of her. She’d stand right in front of me and pee on the floor. Graffiti soured me on cat ownership, though if I could have another Maine Coon like Wywy I would (she was not purebred, but we’re sure the strain was in there—thick, fluffy coat, pointed ears, sweet disposition).

For some reason, the gods of internet fraud have decided to pick on me this week. I’m not over the iStock disaster when today I get, in rapid succession, two messages from Norton Life Lock, the first informing me that my subscription was about to renew for $467 and would be charged to my account unless I called the cancellation line within 24 hours. So I called and ended up talking to a heavily accented gentleman who told me I’d have to file a cancellation report. The more he talked, the less I understood him, but I was fairly sure the report would want my banking info. I hung up. Within in hour, I got another email—different address, different amount—saying that the renewal had been charged to my Norton prime account. Good luck with that. I don’t have such an account. But they said I could still call the cancellation line. Just to be sure there was a flag on my account, I called my bank after both emails. They were tremendously helpful, but it took a chunk out of my morning.

In a similar vein, I recently fell for a free trial offer, and I am here to warn others against it. It was from iStock. iStock is images controlled by the Getty Foundation and those images are high priced.  I never consider them for my blog. But I thought, a free trial? Why not? I can tell you why not—it’s hidden in the fine print. If you don’t cancel in the first month, you are locked into a year-long contract. And it’s not small change. Many offers like that remind you when your trial period is ending or allow you to cancel at any time. Not iStock, and they play hardball. So I will make substantial monthly payments for a year. All my fault. I didn’t read the fine print. Even my lawyer daughter says I’m stuck. If I don’t pay, they’ll send it to a collection agency and damage my credit rating. I know it’s my fault, but I am still angry and still feel I‘ve been tricked.

Before all this I also signed up for a trial offer from the Washington Post—a reasonable $4 a month for something like three months and then no higher than $12. Still, I cancelled it—a lot of little subscription fees add up. No problem. Easy as pie. Not many of you reading this would have occasion to even think about iStock, but this is my warning to prevent anyone else from being taken by their free trial.

Otherwise, the event of the day was making our traditional cheeseball, which I wrote about recently on my food blog. Cheeseballs may be considered dated, but my family still loves this one which traces back to my childhood. In recent years, the girls in the family have made it, so tonight was my first time in a long time. I’d forgotten how messy it is to work with all those soft cheeses—blue, cream, Velveeta. I had the brilliant idea to grate the Velveeta—don’t try that! What a mess. And parsley all over the place.

But the cheeseball is in the freezer, Sophie is contentedly sleeping in her crate, and I am sipping a glass of wine as I write this. The neighborhood newsletter is off to the designer, the kitchen sink leak is still not fixed (plumber comes tomorrow), and life goes on. I feel like a hundred loose ends are dancing around me, but I know, with Jordan’s super organizational skills, all will be in order on Christmas Day. Counting my blessings.

Monday, December 18, 2023

That edgy period before the holidays


Porter, content in my closet

Subie and Phil came for happy hour tonight, bringing Porter, his seeing-eye dog. Porter usually goes out in the backyard and ignores us, a behavior that puzzles Sophie who laps up company attention all she can. Today, however, the yard guys, with noisy lawnmowers and blowers, arrived about the same time the Greens did. The difference in dog reactions was remarkable. Sophie, as she always does, turned tail for the house and once safely inside, barked ferociously. Porter, on the other hand, was not going to let some guys with stupid equipment force him out of the yard, and Subie had to go out and almost literally shove hm into the cottage. Then he wandered down the hall to my closet and spent the entire time there. I was glad Subie got him inside, because some of the crew seem to be afraid of dogs, and I thought a dog his size would really keep them out of the yard.

Meanwhile, Sophie is barking in fits and stops but especially when they come close to the cottage with their blowers. So Phil decides he has to leave because of the barking. It took three of us to convince him it wouldn’t last long, and, no, he couldn’t get down the driveway right now, because they had blown the leaves into big piles—an obstacle course. Our oak trees are shedding heavily and yet still have an abundance of leaves. The pecan by the patio is through, but now the oak leaves migrate to the patio, so Sophie brings them in. I sweep every day. Phil stayed, Sophie quieted, and we had a jolly visit. Except for Porter, who remained in the closet.

In a strange way, a week before the holiday, I seem to get over the sociability part of the holiday. Tonight was not a holiday celebration—no gift exchange, no fancy appetizers nor special holiday drinks. I had warned them: leftover appetizers, which turned out to be ends of this cheese and that. Jordan cut them up and made a nice display. Just good friends getting together in a relaxed visit. At least for me.

This is the edgy time, when I’ve pretty much done all I can for the holidays, and I think, “Now, what?” Some wrapping and cooking details require Jordan’s attention, but for her it’s the busy time. She is, however, a dedicated list maker and has long lists of groceries from various stores. And truth to tell, she has a lot more responsibilities than I do. I remember those days. In fact, I remember when we celebrated Hannukah and Christmas—with four children. I had spread sheets of who got what on what day.

I have been beset by enough “business” problems to distract me from the holiday planning. Not the business of being a writer, but that of daily living. It’s the time of year for quarterly taxes and property taxes, and I need to have the trees trimmed by a real arborist (I’m already signed on for that). Now I need to wait for the plumber to fix the kitchen sink and pray that he doesn’t have to wait for a part—that suspicion lingers in my mind, but then I am given to worrying. I need to make a couple of doctor appointments, not for anything urgent but for check-ups. I figure a woman my age who spends as much time at the computer as I do ought to have her eyes checked regularly. And then, for a blue-eyed blonde, there are always skin checks. But those are the things you put off until “after the holidays” so that now they just hover in my mind. I must pursue that free offer I signed up for which suddenly committed me to a year-long, expensive contract, but I did find out today the reason the nephrologist didn’t get my check is that it never cleared the bank. So I had to stop payment and issue a new check. It’s all little stuff, details, but a pain. It’s perhaps like weaving with many strands and constantly feeling you’ve lost one or two.

With family gathering looming, I don’t feel I can dig into the Irene manuscript I’m working on nor the food of the fifties book that is turning out to be a tribute to my mom. So far, each day has kept me busy with those little details, but I figure the closer we get to Christmas the edgier I’ll get, and I am giving myself stern lectures about anticipation anxiety and all that kind of gobbledy-gook.

The plain truth of it is that I love Christmas, love the lights and the music and the fellowship and the food, but I get all keyed up waiting for it. This year, I resolve to stay calm and live in each moment, enjoying it for what it is. And then, there will come that blessed moment when all my family is together. And we can watch the midnight candlelight service and welcome the hope that the idea of the holy baby brings, whether  you believe in him or not. He brings hope for all of us.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

It’s always something


This morning  I was washing up a few dishes, but when I stepped away from the sink, I realized I was standing in wet socks in a puddle of water. Foot neuropathy is why I didn’t realize my feet were wet, but that was the least of my problems. There was standing water on my hardwood floor and water dripping from the cabinet under the sink, where everything was wet. I got lots of bath towels, soaked up what I could, and called for help. There was no way I could get on hands and knees and drag all that wet stuff out. Christian, as usual, was sweet about it, mopping up towels, moving racks of things and boxes—you’d be amazed at how much I can cram under a sink.  Finally, it was all cleaned up, the cabinet just damp but we left the doors open for air. At suppertime, Christian replaced the things that were sitting outside drying. I marked my calendar for first thing tomorrow morning to call the plumber.

It was the spray nozzle, which was leaking back down the cord into the cabinet. The nozzle is a Delta product, which is supposed to be good, but this is the third time I have had this problem. Delta must have recognized the problem, because it has given up free replacement and now charges—last time it was $10, but with inflation who knows? I am less concerned with cost than I am with inconvenience. Trying to use the sink while keeping the sprayer down in the sink is inconvenient at best and offers a free shower at the worst. I soldiered through fixing a pot of soup for supper. But then, would you believe it, I lost all common sense, forgot about it, washed the soup bowls, and flooded the cabinet again. It’s late evening, and I didn’t dare call Christian again, so I got the one remaining bath towel, sopped it all up with my feet—a mobility handicap is teaching me to have ambidextrous feet—and looped the towel onto the cabinet so it would, I hoped, stop dripping onto the floor. Tomorrow, the wonderful Zenaida will be here and I’ll ask her to deal with the mess. Makes me feel bad, because the whole reason I did the dishes—after Jordan and Christian decided to rinse and leave for Zenaida, was that I have several extra-duty chores on her list for tomorrow. Oh well, I’m sure she’ll appreciate good intentions.

Most of today was spent going to livestream church—I went to the Ten:10 alternative service out of curiosity. It’s informal, casual, and yet very welcoming. I could see that people were milling around, greeting each other. There was a baby dedication, much like the ones at the traditional service, and a word from a new outreach minister--but his mic was either not on or so low I couldn’t hear it, even with my hearing aids turned up. I am looking forward to getting to know him, especially because I hear he once trained as a chef. Yes, I’m not too proud to live vicariously through the experience of others. The Ten:10 has a remarkable young woman who plays guitar and sings with more gusto than I am used to in church. She is a force for good, and I may go back again just to hear her. But I admit, for a traditionalist like me, the service lacked something, so I tuned in to the first part of the traditional service at eleven. I am well churched today.

Jordan did a lot of grocery planning for Christmas—several days with lots of hungry teenagers—and the only other thing I did today was to make a pot of chicken/wild rice soup. So good. All the family liked it, which is a good thing because I think they’ll get it again tomorrow night, perhaps with a salad. This was a new recipe for me, and I followed it carefully because I haven’t cooked much with wild rice. But as part of my ongoing effort to eat out of the freezer, it did clear out a one lb. package of skinless, boneless chicken thighs—and it was pretty good.

A generally good reflective Sunday. But watch out, world, at least those of us who celebrate Christmas. It’s about to get frantic time! And that’s all part of the fun. For me, it has to balance with a deep recognition of what we celebrate. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Cooking and gardening, from scratch


Christian's gardening on the front porch

In many households across the nation you’ll see a big ham on the Christmas table. Not in my house. I can’t even get the family to eat a ham slice. I ordered one from Central Market, expecting a small slice I could turn into ham salad for lunch, Instead I got a large piece—one lb., pre-cooked, for just over five dollars. A bargain! I remembered my mom cooking ham slice with pineapple and brown sugar, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. But what to do? I looked online and finally came up for a recipe with a Madeira sauce. Right away I ran into trouble: Jordan declared unequivocally she does not like him (I’ve known her for forty-eight years—what did I not know this?); Christian declared he would try it, but he didn’t want the mushrooms in the sauce; I didn’t even ask Jacob because now that he’s a senior, with golf, work, and his buddies, he rarely eats dinner with us. So I decided I’d cook it, without mushrooms, on a night Jordan was out, and Christian and I would eat alone.

We tried several times—and each time, Christian had a business meeting (read that as happy hour) come up. Fortunately I hadn’t defrosted the ham, but I was getting tired of having it taking up space in my freezer. And now that it’s December, I’m trying to be just a bit frugal and use what’s in the freezer rather than buying more. So tonight, Jean and I had ham with madeira sauce and mushrooms. It wasn’t very good, after all that. The flavor of the mushrooms was great, but the sauce was runny and by the time it sat in the sauce during the cooking time, the pre-cooked ham was overcooked. The flavor was great but not much else. I threw the recipe in the trash, but after some thought I retrieved it because I think I could do it right.

I’d sauté the mushrooms and then make the sauce around them—madeira, chicken broth, shallot—and thicken it with a cornstarch mixture. And I’d cut down on the amount of broth. Only then would I add the pre-cooked ham (the recipe probably was meant for an uncooked slice if there is such a thing). Not sure I’ll ever try that, but I might. Meantime I only used half the ham steak, so the other half will go into ham salad for my lunches.

Tonight I also served butter roasted sweet potatoes—another failure. You peel the potatoes and cut into rounds. If you’ve ever tried to peel a raw sweet potato, you know the difficulty. And while the rounds were good, it’s a lot easier to just bake a sweet potato and serve it with lots of butter. These got a bit dry, but that’s probably because my odd cooking arrangement means I have to cook, let sit while I cook something else, and then re-heat. We also had sauteed spinach—so good, but one bunch of spinach gives two people tiny servings each—and a salad with homemade croutons and buttermilk dressing. It was the best part of the dinner, and Jean, having turned down a second helping, stood at the sink to finish what was left in the salad bowl. The meal was, at best, a mixed success.

Now it’s on to Christmas. No more experimental cooking as we get ready for the big meal. Except tomorrow, I’m going to use those skinless, boneless chicken thighs in the freezer that have also been challenging me for a chicken/wild rice soup. The rest of the week it’s peanut butter.

If I am a dedicated if not always successful cook, I am definitely not a gardener. Now, with a mobility challenge, I couldn’t get down in the dirt if I wanted to, but the truth is I never wanted to. My dad gardened to relax—weekends, on hands and knees, wearing the oldest, scruffiest clothes he could find. Mom was always afraid one of his students would come by and catch him in the garden. But it was the place where he was most happy. Christian, too, is a gardener--a pot gardener mostly, who fills the front porch with a lavish display in the summer But he also runs a plant nursery and can revive plants, like orchids that die in my care or a kalanchoe. I have always sort of envied those who find joy working in the garden.

So I saw a blanket-type thing with holes that you spread over dirt in a large planter and—voila! Plants. It seems the blanket is weed and insect resistant, and the holes have the seeds which germinate without your help. You never have to do anything but watch your plants grow. I may be old-fashioned, but I think for many that would rob gardening of much of its benefit. I know my dad would disapprove, and I think so would my botanist friend Susan Tweit who strongly believes in a visceral connection to Mother Earth.

Those instant gardens are like convenience foods—they take away something elemental about the process, and in so doing they rob us of the satisfaction that older generations felt. I may not garden, but I will darn sure keep scratch cooking.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Feeling pensive

Image by

It rained in Texas today! Not the downpours that residents feel in the Northwest or the storms that sometimes deluge the eastern coast, but it was wet, and in Texas we are grateful. But it was also dark and dreary, the kind of day that can encourage deep thoughts.

My church recently was rocked by the tragic deaths of a prominent member, active in church affairs and the city of Fort Worth, known and admired by many, and his two children. They were killed in a horrendous accident on Thanksgiving Eve. The mother, badly injured, survived. The funeral was today, and the church expected an overflow crowd. I zoomed from home. I did not know this family—I know the older generation by sight and reputation, had never heard of the branch of the family involved in the accident. But I went because I know they are good people—it makes you think of the now-old book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner. I went because even without knowing them I felt surrounded by grief, by the impact of this tragedy on our community. As a now-retired minister once said to me when I asked about a tsunami, “Shit happens.” Faith helps us sort out that shit, and that’s part of why I went today—call it curiosity. And finally, I went because at my age I need reassurance about life and death. Like many people, I am still trying to sort out my belief, even as I feel the time for doing that is shortening. Was it John Donne who wrote, “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”? At the polar opposite of that thought is the fact that two children died in this accident, and our minister acknowledged that there is something particularly heartbreaking when we lose children with so much of their life ahead of them.

The service brought tears, no doubt about it. I grieved for the brother who gave the eulogy and had an obviously difficult time getting through it, though he managed occasional bits of humor. And I grieved for the visiting minister, the father’s college roommate, who continually wiped his eyes as our minister spoke words of comfort. I grieved for our minister, who had been close friends with this family and had loving stories to tell about all three. I grieved for the surviving widow/mother, who sat in the front row, flanked by the two grandmothers and holding hands with them.

The message of hope that our minister delivered was that God is always with us, in good times and in tragedy—perhaps you must be of my Protestant faith to accept that. But what I came away with today is that we must live with vitality, with a positive attitude. Grief doesn’t go away. It is always there, waiting to overwhelm, to trip us up. I think the same is true of doubt. But it is up to us to live past it and through it. Both the brother who gave the eulogy and the minister talked about grief being with us every day, if we let it in. It’s up to us to shut that gate.

What I’m trying to talk about in these meandering thoughts is the importance of a positive attitude. And that’s what was reinforced for me today in the memorial service. I know it will be a long time before that extended family can move through and beyond grief, but it is up to us to surround them with love and encourage them as they move forward. And it is up to us to live beyond and through our doubts and temporary problems. I am a big believer in the power of positive thinking. Who wrote that book? Norman Vincent Peale, of course.

I had other deep thoughts today, probably about rain or maybe about list-making, but somehow now, after a glass of wine and an offbeat but good dinner—smoked salmon, cream cheese, and some frozen spanakopita—they don’t seem so dark to me. I have been making lists for a couple of weeks—I am not one to let Christmas sneak up on me, and this year I will have my whole family around me. So you can tell lists are needed—food, gifts, things to do. Perhaps attending today’s service, which had sort of loomed over me much of the week, reaffirmed my faith and freed me to move on to holiday planning. I hope it will help me too to remember the true nature of the holiday I celebrate as a Christian and not get lost in the lists and the gifts and the food.

How does the holiday season affect you? Have you made lists? Have you looked at your darkest thoughts? It’s a tough time of the year, despite it being the season of hope and joy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The virtues of Texas, some book news, and a new word for the day


Downtown Fort Worth, taken from a country road about twenty-two miles away.
Photo by Mason Scott
Texas has been getting a bad rap lately, thanks to Ken Paxton and his barbaric handling of the case of Kate Cox, the young Dallas mother of two who was pregnant with a fetus that would not live and would endanger her future fertility and possibly her life. Paxton ruled that she had not shown sufficient evidence of danger to her life to warrant an abortion and threatened any hospitals and physicians who performed the procedure. His horrific judgment, which he was in no way qualified to make, was backed up by the Texas Supreme Court. All this is known not only to most Texans but across the country, where Texas is being scorned as the armpit of the world, a place most would never move, etc.

As someone whose whole career has revolved around the history and literature of Texas, I feel compelled to jump to my state’s defense. Yes, I’m a transplant, but I’ve lived here over fifty-five years and feel pretty much at home, have no desire to go elsewhere. The picture above shows just one fascinating aspect of the Texas landscape—the flat open space. But I thought it spoke of Texas as a special place. Texas people are friendly and good, the history is rich, the landscape varied and sometimes spectacular, and the food terrific, whether you want beans and barbecue or a Michelin-rated upscale experience

We have several new high-end restaurants in Fort Worth, from French to Italian to seafood, and yet we treasure our hole-in-the-wall places where you can get the best chicken-fried steak or chili in the world. Our Stockyards National Historic District attracts tourists from all over the world, and it’s not unusual to hear the babble of foreign voices on the brick-paved streets.

What’s not to love about Texas? The politicians, and we’re working on that.

Kate Cox’s tragic circumstances have held much of my attention in the last days, but today a new bookish threat grabbed my mind. It’s called review-bombing. A debut author, first book, a sci-fi novel, scheduled for release next spring, began leaving one-star reviews of competitors on Goodreads, Amazon’s book review web site. Not only did this author trash other debut others, particularly people of color, but in each review, she praised her own forthcoming book. Dumb, dumber, and dumbest. What a giveaway. The guilty author was found out, of course, and her contract with Penguin/Random House cancelled. So her book will not be coming out in the spring. She did apologize, blaming it all on addiction and now declaring she is sober. I’m not sure that’s enough.

Do you check reviews when considering a book? If you do, I’d advise ignoring one-star reviews. They are most often revenge-motivated or written by someone who has not read the book. Some people delight in being negative and destructive. My philosophy is that if I can’t leave at least three stars, I simply don’t review. Why ruin an author’s hopes? On Goodreads daily emails, I’ve noticed one author who gets on a run of reading a particular author’s works—recently, it was Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries—but she almost never gives more than three stars. And I want to scream, “If you don’t like the books any better than that, quit reading them. Choose a new author. Quit damaging this author, though Rex Stout probably won’t suffer much from his posthumous reviews.

Still I wish readers would be a bit more sensitive to the author’s feelings and reputations. If you like a book, say so on or A review doesn’t have to be long and deep. Two or three sentences that say, “I liked this book” will thrill most authors. And it doesn’t take that many positive reviews to boost an author’s ratings. If you can’t find much good to say about it, leave it alone. Readers will assess their own and reach their own ratings.

And my new word for the day: elitch, which means ghostly or weird. I read it in a review of a WWI novel titled, The Warm Hands of Ghosts—a very favorable review, by the bye. But I thought it an odd word. It doesn’t even sound like an adjective.

Okay. Lesson over for the day!

Monday, December 11, 2023

Losing track of the individual

Mother and children
My oldest daughter, Megan, and her boys

Everyone and their brother has voiced an opinion about the appalling case of Dallasite Kate Cox, pregnant with a badly deformed fetus that will probably not survive the pregnancy and could conceivably cause severe illness, infertility, and possible death for the mother. I have tried in my nightly blog to stay away from hot-button political issues and to ruminate on other aspects of life, without sinking to boring accounts of my day. But tonight, I feel compelled to speak out about this case.

I have yet to hear an opinion that supports Ken Paxton’s cruel challenge of the lower court order. It’s apparent that he, newly having scraped by an impeachment hearing, is glorying in his newly affirmed power, appealing to what he thinks is his base (he may have misjudged that one), and perhaps inadvertently displaying contempt for women. Today’s Supreme Court decision denying permission for an abortion was a surprise to me, as I’m sure to many, and perhaps it’s too soon to hear national reaction. I am relieved to hear that Mrs. Cox will seek treatment outside Texas, and I am hoping against hope that Paxton, relishing his iron sword, does not go after her or whoever drove her to the airport. That would add unthinkable cruelty to a situation that is already outrageous.

I did a bit of searching, spurred on by my indignation. To my surprise, three of the nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court are women. Perhaps it is old-fashioned thinking on my part, but I would have thought women would  have more sympathy for Mrs. Cox as an individual, would understand the heartache of a pregnancy gone bad, the fear of losing your fertility—and possibly your life, with two young children at home. But alas, the women either did not have the compassion I expected or were not able to prevail over six white men. (I say white, because I think that is part of the Texas problem—and maybe the U.S.—we are ruled by mostly old white men). Significantly I found no way for us to contact these exalted beings to express our concern, so they are isolated in their ivory tower, free to interpret the law however. They are all Republicans.

It seems to me Kate Cox is lost in this whole mess, although she has been a vocal and sympathetic presence. Still in their rush to—what? Judgment? Discipline? Punishment? —neither Ken Paxton nor apparently the justices considered Kate Cox as a living breathing human being, an individual who loves and hopes and grieves, who has two children at home undoubtedly affected by this trauma. Nope. They forged ahead following a bizarre set of laws that most of us resent.

My question is what happens when the letter of the law clashes with the wellbeing of an individual? We all know that if you hear of a thousand deaths in a bombing, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the horror. But give us a close-up story of one individual, and it suddenly all becomes real. To me, Kate Cox made this whole abortion mess seem up close and personal. I instantly decided I do not want any of my three granddaughters to settle in Texas, much as I would love to have them all next door to me.

In a way I see Kate Cox as part of a bigger and most unfortunate trend in America. We have lost the individual in a maze of laws and rules and restrictions. I had occasion today to call my bank with a problem where I thought if they looked at the record, they would see that maybe they could bend their rules. I have been a customer/client at this bank at least since the early eighties. I may not have a lot of money, but I have been steady, never bounced checks, kept a good balance in checking and savings. When we remodeled the house and renovated the cottage, a personal banker saw me through the process. But today when I called to ask for reasonable reconsideration of a banking decision, I was met with first a run-around, from one person to another, and ultimately someone who gave me a lot of corporate-speak. I understand that banks have rigid rules, that they depend on credit ratings, etc., but I thought they could take background and record into consideration. Not so.

And that’s what I see as a problem in our society—rules dominate over individuals. I’m not asking for the day when a handshake was good for a deal, but I am saying not all cases or situations fit into one rigid mold. Somewhere there has to be room for compassion, empathy, concern for the individual.

That’s what is missing from the Kate Cox case. I wish her Godspeed. May she have a successful abortion, come home (I wouldn’t be surprised if her family leaves Texas), and have as many more healthy babies as she wants. Texas has done itself no favors in this case, but it has given us all something to think about.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Silence and simplicity


Such a lovely evening last night. I thought it would be colder than it was, so I made a pot of chili. A good friend came to share it—plenty left over for tonight. She is the kind of friend who lets me dump about what’s on my mind, from personal problems I know won’t travel any farther to the political thoughts—and outrage today about the Texas abortion case—that we both share. She brought the gorgeous poinsettia above. I’ve never seen one like it and am particularly fascinated by the one white leaf with the red splotch in the middle.

But late last night, when all was still, Sophie was asleep in her crate by my desk (her favorite place) and I could hear her gently breathing, the Christmas lights still on, I sat with a glass of wine reading the Truman book that has me so interested. And I thought to myself it was one of life’s rare moments of real contentment.

I haven’t been writing lately, except blogs and business letters to take care of all kinds of loose financial ends, but it occurred to me this morning that I was being lazy, and I really should get back to the work-in-progress, another Irene episode. Just when I was scolding myself for slacking off, I went to virtual church, and our minister, Russ Peterman, preached about silence and simplicity and how we get so frantic at this holiday season that we miss the real meaning of whatever holiday we celebrate. We need, he said, to create space in our lives to pause and take a breath, space for stillness. And I thought, “Wow! That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s okay.”

I had originally thought, when I backed off from keeping a compulsive schedule, that I’d pick things back up after the holidays. Now I’m back to that thought. My family will all be together—between fifteen and eighteen of us—and there are things I need to do, lists I need to make. But there are also a world of things I want to read, including that Truman book, and now I feel at ease to do them. This morning I slept late, really late, and about the only thing I did that might be called constructive was to make a batch of chutney, which is not turning out as it should. Otherwise, I’m reheating the chili and going to spend the evening with good old Harry.

This may be the new me. But so far, I’m liking it. Have you taken time to create a space in you life?

Friday, December 08, 2023

A history lesson—and an absorbing book


From time to time, someone on Facebook asks about everyone’s earliest memory of a public event. I am not quite old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, but I’ve been told about the moment my family knew so often that I almost feel I remember. I would have been three, and I was playing on the kitchen floor while Mom worked in the kitchen. Dad, a veteran of WWI, stuck his head in the door and said, “We are at war.” It was a momentous thing, and my parents told the story over and over.

The first public memory I have is of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We lived on a park, and I was outside playing, probably with neighbor children. I had been raised in a household where FDR was a minor god, and I assumed everyone loved him as much as my parents did. Not so. This day a woman jumped out of her car and shouted, “Hooray! Hooray! Roosevelt is dead.” I went home and told my mom, who said, “Don’t talk like that.” Soon enough, she found out it was true.

Now a book recommended by a friend is bringing back all those memories and more. The book is The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World, by A. J. Baime. From the blurb to the book: “The first four months of Truman’s administration saw the founding of the United Nations, the fall of Berlin, victory at Okinawa, firebombings in Tokyo, the first atomic explosion, the Nazi surrender, the liberation of concentration camps, the mass starvation in Europe, the Potsdam Conference, the controversial decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the surrender of imperial Japan, and finally, the end of World War II and the rise of the Cold War. No other president had ever faced so much in such a short period of time.”

Truman was the most unlikely man—accidental is a good term—to deal with such challenges. Small, bespectacled, from a poor family, and until he was in his thirties and assumed a military command, a failure at almost everything he tried. The only thing he didn’t fail at was his courtship of Bess Wallace, and it took him years to convince her to marry him--and then more years before he felt he could support her. Even then, he moved into her family’s home and lived under the disapproving eye of his mother-in-law. He lost the first election he tried, but won later ones, and with the help of Kansas City political boss Tom Prendergast, found himself vice-president of the United States.

Roosevelt almost didn’t know who he was, never involved him in the policies and problems of government. He had little to do, as vice president, besides preside over Senate meetings. All that changed on April 12, 1945, when FDR died. It was a sudden death but should not have been a surprise—the president had been in failing health for some time.

For Truman it all happened in a whirl—the call to the White House, the swearing in, and then he went back to the modest apartment he shared with his wife and daughter, Margaret (he called her Margie, with a hard “g”). The telling of all this is full of names that now I remember, whether from the actual time or from the history books-- Alben Barkley, Dwight Eisenhower as a general and not a president, General George C. Marshall, Frances Perkins, the labor secretary and first female member of the Cabinet, Generals Omar Bradley and George Patton. And it fills in m knowledge of those crucial days—the apparent collapse of the Nazi regime, the discovery of the first concentration camp, the conference between Stalin, Churchill, and FDR at Yalta.

There is one object lesson here that I wish today’s Republicans could take to heart as they resist funding Ukraine in its efforts to stop Russia from greedily absorbing more and more territory, as it has done with Crimea. After the agreement at Yalta, Stalin backtracked on all that he had promised, such as access for international troops to Poland and other Russian-occupied territories. Russia could not be trusted then, and it cannot be trusted today.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson writes an amazing daily column, “Letters from an American,” in which she uses history to help readers understand today’s world, with all its conflicts, and the importance of our democracy. Her work is a living embodiment of the familiar caution that he who does not know history is doomed to repeat its mistakes. Another reason to fear the rampant censorship of what is taught in our schools today. Baime, in this book, also uses history to help us understand leadership and international relations—and, yes, that endangered concept known as democracy. And he gives us an intimate portrait of a period in the life and presidency of a man some have named among our greatest presidents and others among our worst. You read it and decide.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

A silly dog dream, a couple of politic laughs, and a nice happy hour


This morning, Sophie woke with the devil in her. She wanted to run and bark at squirrels and generally be out of control. A little after seven, I fed her, let her out, had to call her name and offer “Cheese!” several times before she came back in. But she did, and I went back to bed. That was my valued time for an hour of “second sleep.” Usually it works; this morning it did not. I barely got scrunched down in the covers, all comfy and warm, when she began that little dance by my bed, clicking her nails on the hardwood floor. I explained gently; didn’t work. So then I got a bit more stern; still made no impression. Finally—I am ashamed to admit this—I yelled at her. She went to her crate, and I was left with guilt—what if she really needed to pee or there was some compelling reason for her to be outside? 

I have heard and read that dogs abandoned in shelters cry, great tears running down their faces. So when I went back to sleep, I dreamt that Sophie was not just crying, but lying on the floor sobbing. Like a two-year-old when Mom has hurt the feelings. And then I was on the floor, holding her, reassuring her that I loved her, and so on. About that time, she came happily bouncing up to the bed and began her little dance again. We’ve had a frosty relationship all day, though I think it’s beginning to mend. Dogs do not forget, but then, neither do I.

Most mornings, I am dismayed by the news, these days particularly the genocide taking place in Gaza. But the Republicans, bless their hearts, are always good for a bit of a laugh, even if it is a bitter one. Texas’ impeached AG, Ken Paxton, has sued Pfizer for misleading the public about their COVID vaccine. His complaint: It didn’t end the pandemic as quickly as they promised it would. Even I can see the hole in this argument: wasn’t it Paxton and his good pal, the guv, who loosened restrictions on masks and vaccination requirements. Of course, the pandemic didn’t end. And it may well come again, since there is now a state law that businesses cannot require masks and vaccinations.

And then there’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is complaining about low unemployment in the country. What? Low unemployment is one of the signature accomplishments of the Biden administration as it avoided a recession. It’s a good thing. People are back at work after the pandemic. That’s democracy functioning as it should. Yes, it’s harder for employers to find good help, because not everyone is desperate for a job these days. But Greene, in her own benighted way, knows what the problem is: not enough women are spitting out enough babies to fill those jobs. Never mind that there’s at least an eighteen-year gap before those babies could fill the jobs. Or that Republican reproductive restrictions have made the idea of pregnancy scary for most women. Or that just maybe population growth is one of the world’s major problems. Greene marches to a drummer the rest of us hope never to hear.

Finally there’s the Florida couple, he the GOP chairman for the state and she, a co-founder of the extremist Moms for Liberty who fight against LGBTQ and sexual content of any kind in schools. They ban books with abandonment. Except, oops, on the side, out of sight, they have engaged in a little menage a trois activity, and he has now been accused of rape. Yep, those, good, upright, morally responsible Republicans. Maybe we should just assume everyone has their little peccadilloes? I don’t think so.

Nice happy hour tonight with a relatively new friend. We talked about publishing and the Texas Book Festival and book people we know in Texas—and the state of the world. Then Jordan and I made a supper of Hassebrock kielbasa and green bean casserole. A lovely, relaxing evening. And I think I’m beginning to get a handle on Christmas. Today I got the new Discover card I needed after my account was closed because of possible fraud. I am still bothered by that and want to be assured that iStock really understands I am cancelling a $700 contract I had no idea I signed. But at least I can finish my online shopping. And then there’s the text telling me I have a ticket on the North Tollway Express—since I haven’t driven in over three years, that’s a bit impossible. I think the text is phishing, but Christian has promised to help me sort it out. I hate loose ends, unsolved problems.

Still, this is the season of great good will and lots of hope. I hope you feel that.