Thursday, September 03, 2015

Happy Endings

Happy endings

September 3, 2015

My dog story from two days ago so far has a happy ending, though I’m waiting for the final word. My friend Gayla headed to Fort Worth from College Station Wed. afternoon, got about an hour out, and the dog’s owner called to say they’d made the decision to give up the dog in haste and she couldn’t go through with it. So Gayla headed back to CS, but half an hour later, the owner called back and said she’s talked to the vet, the trainer, and her husband, and they all agreed it was the right decision and she would just have to be brave.

So Gayla arrived in Fort Worth and headed over there a little before six, with anxiety in her mind and worry in her heart. One of her parting comments was, “What if I don’t fall in love with him?” She was gone about an hour and came back to report that all was well. She asked lots of questions, they offered lots of information, and she even walked Uno on a leash. At one point the baby was crawling toward the dog’s tail, and Gayla scooped him up. She said both parents were alarmed, and it was clear the dog and baby couldn’t co-exist easily. Everyone would be on alert, and the baby wouldn’t get to crawl and explore as he should. And, yes, Gayla fell in love with Uno.

After she came back, we headed out for a fancy dinner at Clay Pigeon. I had my usual—bone marrow—accompanied by a terrific fig and grilled plum salad. So glad I decided to make fig salad for a guest this weekend. Gayla had grilled duck breast and shared a bit with me—wonderful. After declaring it was enough food for an army, she ate the whole thing. We felt full, happy, and just a bit sophisticated.

This morning she was off before eight to pick up Uno and drive to College Station, full of thoughts about separation anxiety and escape artist dogs and all the rest. I’m sure it will all be fine, but I am anxious for a report tonight. She plans to stay home from work at least through Monday to help Uno adjust—though she insists she may call him Frankie.

Report tonight is that Uno was a good traveler though a bit nervous, likes his new home especially because of all the wildlife--deer, squirrels, and other critters that he can watch through the floor-to-ceiling windows. He may have some adjustment time, probably will, but he's off to a good start. And so is Gayla.

Small world came to hit me today: the husband in the dog family went to school with at least two of my kids--both high school and TCU. And then I was talking to an officer at my bank about the best way to finance my remodeling, and it turns out her family lived just around the corner from us when my children were little, and she graduated high school with my oldest son. There’s no six degrees of separation in Fort Worth. Gayla said to me, “You really do live in a small neighborhood, don’t you?” and I agreed. It’s one of the blessings of my life. Of course, these people wouldn’t have known me if it weren’t for my children.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Gratitudes for small successes--or maybe not so small

Today was a different kind of day. That pesky “Check Engine” light on my car had been staring at me for a week, so I finally decided it wouldn’t go away by itself and took the car in. My local car repair shop couldn’t do anything, because the VW people have the computers and equipment to check, and of course they found several niggly naggly things—a purge clamp which necessitated resetting the engine, a headlight out with the harness also burnt out, and torn air pump mounts, whatever that means.

In the meantime I drove home in a 2015 4-door Volvo—lovely and comfortable, and I could probably get very used to it. But I couldn’t change the FM station (it was on a sports station) and when I got back in it, I couldn’t figure out how to increase the a/c fan. I was glad to get back into my bug late this afternoon, even if those niggly naggly things cost over $800. Yikes!

Jacob and I came home from one excitement to another—we went to interview a dog. Years ago my friend Gayla in College Station wanted a dog, and I knew of a collie that needed a home. She asked me to interview the dog—how do you do that? She came up, got the dog, and it was a love match made in heaven. Then Gayla’s neighbor died and she took in Jake, a collie/Aussie mix, who was equally beautiful, loved, and sweet. She lost Eppi a couple of years ago and Jake in May and is finally ready for a dog.

Serendipity: on the neighborhood email this morning, a family was reluctantly giving up their dog because he growled at their infant. He is otherwise the perfect dog—trained, sweet, up to date on shots and flea and tick medication, neutered, comes complete with crate and toys. Jacob, Jay and I went to visit this afternoon and fell in love with him—absolutely a sweetheart. Upshot of all this is Gayla will come tomorrow afternoon and hope to spend some time with Uno (so named because one ear flops and the other stands straight up), then we’ll go to supper, and Thursday morning she’ll take Uno back to College Station. I love stories that work out this way.

Dinner at the Old Neighborhood Grill with neighbors was almost anticlimactic, except Jacob forswore the grilled cheese for the first time ever in favor of a cheese quesadilla.

I read somewhere that having a positive attitude relies on gratitude, and we should practice a month of gratitude for the little things in our lives. I may try it—no I won’t burden you with each gratitude—but tonight I’m grateful for the story of Uno.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Lake Michigan, sand dunes, and nostalgia

Whenever I feel the need for a place of retreat, I go in my mind to a certain spot in the Indiana Dunes. It was about halfway between the shore of Lake Michigan and our cabin on the top of the ridge. At twilight, you could watch the sun sink behind the skyscrapers of Chicago. Sometimes you could listen to the lake gently push small waves ashore; other times you could hear louder sounds of waves crashing. When storms came, you could watch them roll the length of the lake, to end with whitecaps thundering on shore and sometimes reaching dangerously close to the first level of cabins. I used to go to my favorite spot often with our female collie mix, inappropriately named Timmy,

Our cabin was rough to say the least. No plumbing, no electricity. The front of the house faced the lake; the back, a lovely deep woods—except the outhouse was down the hill in the woods. I hated to go at night, even when my mom went with me. The refrigerator was a box on a pulley, so it sank deep in the ground; once a week, the iceman cometh—literally, to drop a huge block of ice down the hole. You always put the milk in the bottom shelf where it would stay coolest. For lamps we had kerosene or Aladdin, though my dad worried constantly about turning them too high, so we never had enough light to read by at night. But the nighttime smell of the woods and the lake was so tranquilizing—I’m sure I never slept that soundly since.

We had to hike a mile, through the woods, from where we could park our car to the cabin, carrying in clothes, groceries, etc. I think I could find my way through those trails even now, though it was another thing I didn’t like to do at night. The family with whom we shared the cottage walked the beach, but we weren’t really beach people except for swims and baths in the lake. I sunburned easily and after a bout of sunstroke was never again comfortable in the sun. But I loved the woods.

Those days were magic to me, and I am often overcome with longing for them. Sweet corn fresh from the field, buckets full of raspberries for 50 cents—everything tasted better. Today, the state of Indiana has torn down all the cottages—yes, Thomas Wolfe, you really can’t go home again. And I’m not sure I’d feel safe in those woods. But I think everyone needs a retreat to which they can go in their mind. And that’s mine—my spot of refuge and renewal.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Happy Sunday

Woke up in a weird mood this morning--don't mean to whine, but I felt anxious and my hip hurt. Got up and going, while Jacob slept soundly on--got the newspaper, which is a mental challenge for me these days, and darn near tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. Way to go, Judith! But for some reason, the words to that old hymn, "This is My Father's World," kept echoing in my mind. A reassuring thought.
Got both Jacob and me ready for church, though the last minute preparations seem to take forever with Jacob. When I'm ready to walk out the door, he has to brush his teeth, brush his hair, put on his shoes--an endless process. Still we were a bit early for church, and I resolved to let the peace of the Lord wash over me. Not so easy with a nine-year-old who was fretting about finding his good buddy who was supposed to be in church for the first time. "This is My Father's World" was replaced in my mind by one of the hymns we sang, another favorite--"Have Thine Own Way, Lord." The sermon was on Moses and how we have to fail to succeed--which simply made me think, rather cynically, that it was my turn to succeed. And then I remembered the dear old friend, now gone, who asked bluntly, "Did you ever consider you've had as much success as you're supposed to have?" It's true. I've been so much more successful, with books published, recognitions and awards, than most writers dream of, even if I'm not rich and famous. And it also applies to my walking, balance, aching hips problems--many others have much worse things to contend with. I should just shut up and go on my merry way.
I do get comfort from church but I hope it won't offend the Lord that I get as much comfort from friends. Tonight two couples came for supper--people I rely on a lot. It was a non-Christian dinner, not in a religious sense but because son-in-law Christian took Jacob to meet his parents for his father's birthday--one of those biggies that is a mid-milestone birthday. So I cooked some foods Christian won't eat--a broccoli/chicken casserole, which everyone seemed to enjoy, and a salmon spread for an appetizer. Christian eats neither broccoli nor salmon. The rest of us enjoyed the meal.
And I felt comforted and relaxed to have these good friends around me.
Evenings are pleasant; mornings are often rough. Sometimes I have a hard time transitioning from the world of whatever dream I've had--usually pleasant--to the real world. Tomorrow I'm going to start a new habit (I hope) and that is to lie in bed for a minute and catalog in my mind all the blessings of my life. They far outweigh anxiety, aches and pains. I'm a lucky woman.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Whoopee, Saturday!

So proud of Kegan, my youngest grandchild, the Tomball kid. At eight, he was asked to try out for the 11-year-old soccer team and made it. His mom sent this picture, saying Kegan, on the left, doesn’t even realize he’s half the size of #6. He may be physically, but he’s twice the size in spirit.

Today was what every Saturday should be—lazy, no commitments, a genuinely nice day. Jacob is here a lot the next week, because his mom is on a business trip to Alaska—poor thing, a week on a Holland America cruise line. Have a hankering to go to Alaska? Just call Jordan—she will tell you all about it. Being a travel agent isn’t all bad.

Today Jacob and I slept late, and it was well after ten before I got myself in gear to do mundane house chores like make the bed, water plants, do a load of laundry. Jacob’s dad came to get him for lunch, and then they took a buddy to play at their house. I worked—learning to format manuscripts for print and digital production. Steep learning curve, but I’ve been keeping after it. And, yes, I had to have a good nap.

Tonight, I’m still alternating time at my desk with household chores—cutting up chicken for tomorrow night’s casserole, setting the table. I pan roasted the chicken as I usually do—sprinkle with salt, pepper and onion, cover with foil, and let it cook an hour or so.. It produces the most wonderfully flavored gelatin—at least one of my children hates “gelatinous” things. I know it’s not good for us, it’s not good for the dog (who sniffed with utmost curiosity), and I’d probably never make soup out of it. But, gosh, it hurt me to throw it away. The Scotsman in me, I guess. I once asked the owner of a Scottish B&B why they served blood pudding—which is nothing more than oatmeal with blood added and I didn’t think it was much of an addition. He shrugged, “I guess it was part of using everything about the animal.” Sometimes I wish I were that kind of cook.

Unfortunately, tomorrow probably won’t be that lazy. Maybe I got all the laziness out of my system today.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Getting back in shape

I've realized, with regret, that I was really sedentary this summer. It was hot, I didn't have much reason to get out, and I sat at my desk a whole lot. At first going the block to get Jacob and back left me winded, and that trip to the lower levels of his school absolutely undid me. Today, carrying in groceries about finished me--but I have to add that I had a lot of heavy items, too many packed in each bag. I gratefully put the frozen things away and then took a time out at my desk before unpacking the rest. The words of a friend echoed in my mind, "Move it or lose it." So now I have to move it.
I used to do yoga almost every day but a combination of things has made me lazy about it, beginning with physical therapy. I figured I worked hard enough there that I didn't have to do much else. Faulty reasoning on my part. And then there was that episode with my swollen foot--my left ankle is still half again as big as my right, and I have dropfoot in that foot--barefoot, the whole foot comes down at once instead of heel and toe in a nice rhythm. With shoes I do a bit better but the front end of my foot tends to slap down. Instead of dropfoot, I call it slapfoot. Too much information, but it was a convenient excuse not to exercise. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to explore the problem.
And early in September Jordan has arranged for a good friend of hers to bring a yoga coach and check my routines and give me a new regime.
I've been happy eliminating exercise from my daily schedule because I always have work on my desk, and I often resent the time exercises takes. But I realize that's a foolish excuse at my age--move it or lose it, and I'm going to move it.
I've also gained weight this summer, though I'm fairly careful about what I eat, trying to avoid sandwiches so I don't eat the bread, never having more than a half, always eating small portions. But then something tempts me. Yesterday I had the best hamburger I've had in forever--a thick, juicy patty (hate thin dry ones) with pimiento cheese, a slice of green tomato, and grilled onions. Ate half for lunch and the other half for supper. The problem is I really enjoy cooking good food, eating in restaurants, and entertaining. I'm torn between the philosophy of staying thin (long ago out of my reach) and saying, "What the heck! At your age, enjoy the things you like to eat." Life is full of choices.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Rant, Rave, and Dismay

I am so dismayed by the ignorance of the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the gullibility of those who swallow the false information they are being fed that I feel I must speak out. Today was the final straw when I read that PP had sliced through a dead baby’s face to retrieve its brain. I am neither anatomist nor pathologist (I did work for one for a while) but I feel quite sure that’s not the path to the brain. It’s one more outrageous fabricated lie that Pro-Life people are falling for, like photo-shopped and staged videos.

Let me say up front that I am not in favor of abortion. I was unable to bear a child, but through God’s grace I have four wonderful children, all adopted. They are the foundation of my life, and raising them was pure joy (well, most of the time). I would have been heartbroken (but silent) if either of my two daughters or two daughters-in-law wanted an abortion. But I know there are circumstances where that is the wisest course—a defective embryo that would have a short, miserable life; a pregnancy that endangers the mother’s life; even a baby with no one to care for or love it once it enters this world. The big point is that’s an individual woman’s decision—it’s not one to be made by men who will never know the trauma of abortion, the heart ache. Pro-life advocates seem to think it’s a birth control method; I assure you that for mothers who make that decision it is much more of a life changer than that. I bless the women who gave birth to my children, and each year on each child’s birthday I saw a prayer for that birth mother who must remember and wonder and long for her child. I want to tell her how well he or she is doing. But those women were fortunate to have an alternative—a reputable maternity home, few of which exist today. Poor women in that day often resorted to back alley, coat-hanger abortions which often rendered them sterile and sometimes robbed them of their lives.

Back to Planned Parenthood, abortion is only 3% of their mission. Most of it is providing preventive health care to indigent women and contraceptive and other counseling. By so doing, they have prevented thousands upon thousands of abortions—that’s their main mission. If a woman comes to them determined to have an abortion, they make sure she has the safest procedure possible. And only if the woman voluntarily releases the fetus, do they donate fetal tissue, from which they make no profit. But you and I and our families and friends profit immensely from the research that results.

Those stories about live fetuses, selling body parts, all those exaggerated stories are propaganda and those who fall for it should be embarrassed. If you really want every fetus to be born, even defective ones, then step forward, say you’ll raise and care for and love and provide medical attention for each and every baby. Otherwise, please educate yourselves on the distinction between reality and scare techniques.

Rant over. May be resumed at a later date.

School daze continues

Yesterday Jacob and five other boys went to play at one boy’s house—first day of school, no homework, back together again. Needless to say, they had a blast—and one result was one of the cutest pictures I’ve seen in a long time. Oh to be nine and carefree again.

Today three of those boys came home with Jacob. I thought, “Well, I’ve raised four. I can handle this.” What I didn’t figure was my four were never all boys and all nine years old at the same time. The energy is astounding and a bit intimidating. They played in the front yard, voices at the top of their lungs, and then trooped through the house to the backyard. I asked Jacob to use the pooper scooper first but I have no guarantee that he did that. He and Hayes did take my garbage carts to the curb for me, which was great. Then I corralled them for snacks, which were noisily consumed.

I mentioned that what I had been told was they would do homework—they disappeared into the back room, where it was relatively quiet for a bit, and then they solemnly told me they’d done a spelling test. See my skeptical expression.  Then it was outside, inside, noisy, suspiciously quiet. Fortunately Jordan arrived about 4:10 to take charge.

After a bit two of the boys were picked up, and Jordan went home, so I was left for our usual Tuesday night supper at the Grill with Jacob and Hayes. We first went and picked up suppers for Subie and Phil—he had eyelid surgery today, felt medium, apparently looked worse, and wasn’t going out. Then we went back to the Grill met a couple of neighbors and had a good dinner. Cheese quesadilla for me. I’d been urging Jacob to try one and he refused; when he saw mine he said, “I’m getting that next time.” I shared with him.

Now we’re quietly at home, almost ready to settle down. In some ways, I’m glad to have the school year started, but I’m also glad Jacob has been told no play dates tomorrow. Straight home and to homework. Fourth grade may be a long year.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Back to school

Today was back to school for most schools across the country, a day for sharing those memorable back to school pictures. Like any proud grandparent, I’m pleased to show the gallery.

First up, Morgan and Kegan Alter of Tomball, Texas, with their beautiful mom, Lisa, who teaches in the Tomball ISD. I haven’t seen them in a while, and Kegan particularly has grown.

Then the Austin boys, Sawyer on the left, and Ford on the right. A real contrast in types. Sawyer is a dedicated guitar player—note the long hair—and Ford is all about sports. They look like twins, but Sawyer is a year and a half older than his brother.

Then the Frisco girls—Eden, going into seventh grade; missing is big sister Maddie, who will be a junior in high school and had some off-campus program this morning. Who can keep up with teenagers?

And finally Jacob, going into fourth grade and quite happy about it. He started off the school year by going to play with friends and declared it a good day. He too looks so much older, though I see him most every day.
Am I a proud grandma? With this crew, you betcha!

For me, it was a day back into routine. I had to be up early to go with Jacob and his parents to meet the teacher, since I am the pick-up person. His classroom is on the lower level and in the corner farthest possible from my house. I’m hoping to work up some rainy day pick-up plans so I don’t have to trek down those staircases. Today, a sunny day so humid it felt like the Caribbean, I met him outside only to learn he wanted to go home with friends. From now on, we’re making those arrangements a day ahead! He had minimal homework but I know that’s coming next. They tell me fourth grade is not as bad as third, and I surely hope that’s true.

On the bright side, I’m looking forward to this year getting me out of my lazy summer doldrums when I stayed inside so much.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cookin’ up a storm

I’m in a cooking spell lately. For one thing, I keep finding recipes that I want to try. My “Entrees Not Tried” file includes several dishes in which eggs are poached in a tomato base, each a little different that the others. Today I chose one that had a mostly kale base with cherry tomatoes sprinkled over it.

Begins with three pieces of thick-cut bacon, diced and then crisped in a Tbsp. of butter. Add one medium onion sliced thin and sauté until soft. Add about a third cup of wine and washed, stemmed kale—I used one really large bunch. Salt and pepper the kale, cover the pan, and let it cook down. Then sprinkle with a generous pinch of nutmeg and a cup of cream (my conscience got me, and I used half and half—which meant it took longer to thicken). When thickened, remove from burner and scatter with cherry tomatoes halved.

I made it to that point in the morning and then refrigerated. Before serving I made pockets in the kale mixture and broke raw eggs into each pocket. Two eggs for men, one for me. (I was cooking for two good friends whose wives were out of town.) Sprinkled the whole thing with Parmesan. Baked for 25 minutes or until eggs were set. Actually, for me they were too set—I like my eggs runny. The guys liked them hard. Echoes a running battle in my family, as I’m the only one who likes easy-over, soft-scrambled, etc. Still this was a one-dish meal—protein (eggs and bacon), dairy (cream and cheese), vegetables—kale, onions, and tomatoes.

Served with crusty Parmesan bread and a fruit salad. Got raves and they ate the whole thing!

Another dish I made recently was pure self-indulgence—rich but so good. Calls for brushing melted butter on both side of Texas toast (I used a good deli rye). Top with crab salad—I used a can of flaked because it was so much cheaper (lump crab, while wonderful, is really expensive, even canned—and at the market you have to buy a lb. of frozen). I made the salad with not too much mayo, a touch of Dijon, and a bit of lemon juice—the Dijon really gave it a spark. Top with shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, stalks of asparagus and sliced Jack cheese. Run under the broiler. So good. And can be fixed for one, maybe two, in your toaster oven without heating up the whole kitchen.

Next on my agenda? Well, I have my eye on a mushroom stroganoff recipe I found. Jordan, ever conventional, said, “Well, if you add some beef.” I don’t think so. The mushrooms will be enough.

In late September friends from D.C. are coming for Sunday supper. Way back when I cooked for twenty or so on Sundays (was I really that young and energetic?) they were at the table every week. I think I’ll ask and see what dishes they remember particularly liking.

This morning as I tackled the laborious chore of dicing bacon and slicing onions, I was grateful for my back brace. Even so, had to sit after the bacon—hate that worse than the onion. Finished dish was worth it.