Sunday, October 04, 2015

Adventures in the Night and the blessings of friends

Lots of excitement—some good, some bad—at the Alter house this weekend. Jacob spent the night in the guest apartment with our new guest and her dog and enjoyed it thoroughly.  Here he and Lulu are watching TV.

Tonight I had a pot of soup almost ready for supper but neither the energy nor physical ability to finish it. So good friend Subie stepped in, added the needed basil, cream and Parmesan, and we had lasagna soup and French bread for supper, with lemon basil cake sent by a neighbor. A feast in a household where I did nothing today—didn’t even wash my hair or make my bed.

Last night I got down on the floor to give Sophie tummy rubs—our nightly ritual. Only I couldn’t get up. My left leg simply wouldn’t support me. I tried to pull myself up for an hour and a quarter—by which time I had exhausted every muscle in my body. Called Christian and got his voicemail. Finally broke down and, with gratitude, pushed my emergency button. They called to say help was on the way. So I crawled from the bedroom to unlock the front door so they wouldn’t break it down (Christian reminded me there is a key hidden outside and I should have told them where it was). It was a difficult crawl, and I stopped and collapsed on the floor a couple of times.

When that crowd of people arrived—parameds, firemen, three police cars—I was a mass of jelly. Couldn’t stand. When he heard my story, one fireman said, “She’s gonna be so sore tomorrow”—and oh my goodness, was he right! Another one said I should have called them much sooner—but I kept thinking the next time I’d make it up—never did. I have high praise for those first responders—they were courteous, kind, gentle, and reassuring. Took me to the bathroom and then tucked me in for the night. Somewhere along the way Christian and Jacob arrived and spent the night, which I found so sweet and most reassuring. By three or four in the morning I could hobble around the house—didn’t sleep much though.

One thing this proved to me, even if I couldn’t get up, was that I had the strength to try those countless times to pull myself up and then to crawl through the house. Not bad for a woman my age.

Today I moved ever so slowly and cautiously, from wall to furniture to whatever I could hold on to. Took a three-hour nap. And that’s why Subie fixed the dinner. So many thanks to her and to Christian and Subie for doing dishes. Tonight I think my muscles are loosening up, though I’m not ready to talk far, especially without something to hold on to.

Jordan, meanwhile, is in DC on business, hobnobbing with friends of mine who are there for three months, and eating lobster pasta.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A nine-year-old caretaker

This morning I had errands to run, but increasingly since my hip/back problem developed, I’ve been reluctant to venture out of the house. I think I’m paralyzed by the fear of falling again. So today I had Jacob as backup…and he was as good as gold.

First we walked down the driveway from the front porch—I haven’t done that since I feel in the driveway last March. I’ve developed an alternative way of going to the car—out the back door and through the dog gate. Jacob held my hand the few steps until we got to the fence where I felt safe—he did say, “You’re holding on awful tight.” Then when I was walking on my own, he said, “You’re walking awfully fast.” I told him fast was better than slow.

First stop: the gas station, where I had no problem though I told Jacob to undo his seat belt. That’s an old superstition of mine, but I have heard of static electricity causing flame to follow the hose to the car. Jacob’s father scoffs at me, but I hold to it.

Then to Origins, where I buy facial products. Jacob was clearly out of his element but he dutifully held my hand though we didn’t have to walk far. I was surprised at how shaky my legs were.

Then to Central Market, where he brought a basket to me, and with that to hold on to, I was fine, though my cane kept slipping out of the end of the basket and threatened to trip bystanders. Jacob thought that was all fun. Otherwise, he kept asking how many more things were on my list. Actually I had a short list, and we were through in record time—with a record low price for me at that store.

Then home, where he glued on his iPad until time to go with Chandry, our apartment guest, to play with her big dogs at a kennel in Weatherford. I worked and slept—until Jacob rudely woke me up at 5:30. Next time he won’t wake up on a school morning, I’m going to be equally rude! Dinner of buttered noodles (I put capers on mine) and broccoli—Jacob ate prodigious amounts.

And then Chandry and a friend ate dinner on the deck, so we went out to visit. And In between all that, I was trying to make a pot of lasagna soup. No wonder my back hurts tonight, and I am more weary than I remember being in a long time.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

High lunch

People speak of high tea. Well, I had “high luncheon” today (and I so wish I’d taken a picture because the presentation was skillful). A friend brought me lunch—chicken salad made with tarragon and lemon, smoked salmon rolled around a seasoned cream cheese filling, and a salad of dark greens with roasted peaches and blue cheese. Dessert was small strawberry tarts with whipped cream—and I don’t usually eat dessert. I poured wine, and on this lovely fall-like day we lunched on the deck, with Sophie occasionally trying to snatch our food—she didn’t succeed.

The story behind this lunch is as interesting as the food was good. Heather Hogan (now Heather Hogan Holt—since last Saturday, but that’s another story) was an intern in the TCU Press office at least 15 years ago. She went on to work at Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich when they opened a branch downtown, and when they began to eliminate positions and people she was one of eight survivors—but she could see the future. To stay with Harcourt, she’d have to relocate to some unappealing places…and she didn’t want to leave Texas. Publishing didn’t have much future for her—low pay, precious little chance of advancement.

But she had a cooking history. As early as the age of ten, she’d been attempting Julia Child’s recipes. She says the results were probably fairly awful, but her parents were tolerant. So looking for a new future, she turned to food. Even in bad times, she figured, people would go out to eat. She went to the Cordon Bleu School in Austin and then worked in a winery in the Hill Country. Great place for tourists, not much social life for a single girl in her late twenties. She came back to Fort Worth.

Melinda, from TCU Press, and I met her for lunch, early after her return, at Lili’s Bistro, one of my favorites—and Heather loved it. Next thing I knew she was cooking on the line there. Then to Live Oak, where they serve good food and better music. Next her dream job: kitchen manager at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. She loved helping the homeless people, meeting the challenges of creating a meal out of donated food, etc. But to her great disappointment, it didn’t work out. Now she’s on the line lunch time at the Modern Art Museum.

The homeless remain a cause dear to her heart. For a long time she had a friend she knew only as “Old School,” but she met him only on the street and tried to help him turn his life around. Today she said there’s a vacant, dilapidated building on Hemphill that would make a great halfway house. She can see asking men to use their skills to repair it against their rent in the future.

So there are two passions in her life—food and the homeless. And the third is her new husband, Morgan Holt. They were married Saturday, Sept. 26 at a small chapel in the mountains near Jackson Hole. I wish them every happiness. Heather is a remarkable person, and she deserves the best life can give her.

And thanks, Heather, for the elegant lunch.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reading faces

TCU’s Office of Extended Education used to offer a non-credit course in face reading—I’m not sure what it was really titled, but as I recall the idea was to cram into one two-hour session as much as you need to know about deciphering a person’s personality, honesty, integrity—all those things—from looking at the face.

It put me in mind of my mother who, in her later years, used to scream every time Richard Nixon came on the TV: “Look at that face! Look at those eyes! You can tell how dishonest he is!” Well, turned out Mom was once again right.

I got to thinking about that the other idea when I saw Carly Fiorina on the TV. I abhor Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments on her appearance. Not only were they generally out of line, they have no place in the political arena. But I got to watching Fiorina’s face during interviews—yes, she smiles sometimes, but the smile never reaches her eyes (and so I’m convinced, it never reaches her soul). Based on that highly subjective impression, regardless of the negative things I’ve heard about her, I wouldn’t vote for her. Her face shows no compassion, no human soul within. I suspect she’s an ambitious machine.

Then I got to looking at other candidates, mostly Democratic: Hillary is a puzzle, because sometimes she looks warm and human, she smiles, her eyes sparkle; but other times she has a hard, calculating look about her. Frequently I think media photographers do their best to catch her in a down moment, a not always flattering time. I would vote for her because I think she’s competent, capable, and knowledgeable—and no more or less corrupt than most people in our government. But her face doesn’t always convince me.

On the other hand, both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden (is he or isn’t he running?) have wide open happy faces. They are people I’d like to sit and visit with. I have great admiration for and faith in both of them. That says nothing about whether or not they could win the nomination.

I didn’t look much at the Republican candidates because to me they all run into a blur of bland—except Donald Trump, whose face always looks angry. What we don’t need is an angry leader. Other than that, the only Republican leader I can single out for my amateur face reading is Mitch McConnell, and thank heavens he’s not a candidate. But to me he always looks like a prissy, disapproving old maid, his mouth drawn into a moue. an expression of distaste. Oh, of course, there’s always John Boehner, who usually looked grim and sad and was on the edge of tears.

Don’t confine yourself to politics—take a close look at your friends. How open are their expressions? How genuine? How welcoming. After the Pope’s visit, which was to me all about compassion, I’m tempted to ask, “How compassionate are your friends?”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More happiness?

Not sure I can measure up to another happy post, though it was a great day. Beautiful weather in North Texas, a day when I mostly had the house to myself—no workmen. I could work, fix myself lunch, nap (except somebody came to measure just when I was about to nap). I got a lot of work done, had a happy day.

Neighbor Jay went to get Jacob for me, and Jacob and I sat outside with dogs for a bit. Then he came in and buried himself in his iPad, in spite of my suggestions that he do his homework. So now, at 8:30, he’s reading and we’ve already done spelling.

My back is much better since my brother worked on it, though I still have to overcome the hesitation. Was all geared up for a trip out of the house tonight—I’ve stayed home too long and needed to get out. But my car wouldn’t start. I’d like to believe it’s the battery which is an easy fix with my roadside service policy. But I fear it’s the starter. I will worry about that tomorrow.

Friend Subie picked Jacob and me up for supper at the Old Neighborhood Grill, which was pleasant and interesting—though Jacob got bored and wandered off to watch the baseball game. The crowning blow of the evening came when he dumped a half a big to-go cup of Sprite on the kitchen floor. I gave him towels to clean it up, but I fear my shoes will stick to the floor when I walk in there.

Nice thing about the evening: Jacob is to read 30 minutes every night. It’s happened more than once: “Juju, I don’t have a book in my backpack.” I gave him a y/a book I did about Audie Murphy, and he seems to be enjoying it, asks me questions, wants to talk about it. Thought just now he had found a typo, but I explained the sentence to him—the reference was to small game, and he thought game should be came (which wouldn’t have made any sense at all). One of life’s treasure moments.

Guess it was a good day after all but the car and spilled Sprite make me suspect there’s still a spot on the moon.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cultivating Cheerfulness

A good friend told me today that my blogs of late have all been downers, complaints of one sort or another. Jordan chimed in with “I’ve tried to talk her out of her depression.” I have mixed feelings about this. Quite honestly, I admit I have whined a bit—my back hurt, my house is in chaos, I got a rejection—and I shared those things. I think each of us have periods of depression and discouragement, and if I’m going to do a personal blog—which mine is, particularly for this year that I’m hoping to compile them—then I think I should be honest about my feelings. Pollyanna isn’t always at home. 

On the other hand, a friend and I were going into a restaurant for lunch the other day, and I saw a woman with multiple physical handicaps pushing a small grocery cart (no matter she was pushing it away from the drive-in window of a liquor store). I looked at my friend and said, “I’m never going to complain again.” Guess I haven’t been good about keeping that resolution, though I know some of my posts have been thoughtful—i.e., the pope’s visit—and some joyful, like last night’s reunion with old friends.

Still, maybe being sure I post positively will help me improve my disposition as I go, and truthfully I’m a happier camper tonight. I think mainly it’s due to the ministrations of my brother, who did a lot of spasm relaxation techniques (lay person’s description) on my low back today—for an hour and a half or so. When he’s working to release your back, his hands may well be on your head, but it’s magic, to me, that he can say, “Yeah, it all goes to that one spot” and point to the place in my low back I knew hurt. I won’t fool—even his low impact techniques sometimes hurt like fury, but by the time I got off the treatment table my back was ever so much improved—pain free. John and Cindy, my sister-in-law, do a two-man technique that involves pushing legs straight in the air and gradually back toward my head. John said I tolerated it well, and Cindy said she couldn’t believe how flexible I was. Music to my ears.

We went to Carshon’s for lunch—best Reuben ever—and as we left, John observed that I was walking pretty well and that the fact I didn’t hurt so soon after treatment was a good sign. Tonight I do feel better than I have in a long time. A bonus; both during treatment and at lunch, I had a great visit with both of them. John asked about my tremor and I said I’d had it for a long time—it’s the reason I don’t take the juice in communion, because I can see grape juice all down the front of whatever I’m wearing. He laughed and laughed, but it’s true. I’ve always had shaky hands. It was that kind of a visit—we caught up on kids and other things.

It was a hectic day at my house with all kinds of workmen, loud saws, and noxious fumes. I can’t tell any progress in the bathroom, except they were under the house and there’s a big hole where the shower will be. But my kitchen counter went in, and I am thrilled with it—it’s going to make my kitchen looks so much lighter and brighter—and speckled as it is, it won’t show every spilled drop of everything like the old counter Formica, a dead, dull gray, did. I stop every time I go in there and admire it. No pictures—I don’t think pictures of vast empty counters tell you much. Lesson learned as I cleared the counters for this work—I have way too much junk in my kitchen. I will be judicious about what I put back.

So here I am, back to being a happy camper. Bear with me, please.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Remembering when....

What a delightful evening. Carole Tayman and Bill Sheridan, friends from the ‘80s, were in town and came for Sunday supper. In the years when they lived two blocks or so from me, they came for Sunday supper every week. Those were the days when I sometimes had twenty people on Sunday night—my family (you had to have a really good excuse to miss Sunday supper), my brother’s family, and assorted friends. I look back and wonder that I had the energy and imagination to cook all those meals, but at the time I loved it, loved presiding over a full table. I can’t even remember many of the things I served, though I know one night when TCU Press was working on a cookbook of Texas recipes, I fixed a cornbread/hamburger/black-eyed pea dish, and my brother looked at me and asked, “Sis, is the budget the problem?”

One of the dishes I cooked was King Ranch Chicken, and when I asked Carole if there was any particular dish they remembered and wanted, that was it. She had apparently tried to follow my recipe, and it hadn’t come out right (not sure how you can go wrong with that casserole, but ….). It makes a good-sized dish, and I was looking forward to leftovers but there were none—we ended up sharing with some girls helping a friend move into my guest house for a temporary stay. Another story for another time.

But Carole, Bill, and I had the most wonderful time remembering days gone by, catching up on family and friends, nudging each other’s memories—the way Bill used to stand bouncing their daughter when she was an infant (we thought he’d have St. Vitus dance forever), the funny phone message Jamie used to leave on my phone—they called just to hear what he’d said, trips to friends’ ranch in East Texas, Sunday dinners when my brother required each of us to report on our week or tell what we were thankful for,  tree trimming parties and holiday dinners. It made me realize that we had woven our lives together but now that they’ve been away for almost twenty years, we are still family.

Side note: their daughter, my goddaughter, now twenty-seven, was the first to call me Juju, the name that has stuck with most but not all of my grandchildren.

I am blessed with family and extended family and feel so fortunate.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sometimes Life Rushes at You—or is there a spot on the moon?

            Life surely rushed at me yesterday. Thursday, after some steroids, my hip felt so much better that I thought I was Wonder Woman. Walking the aisles of the grocery stores disabused me of that idea, and I came home with a sore hip and a discouraged soul. Yesterday a good friend (she calls me her Fort Worth mom because her mom is in Canada) took my list and did my Central Market shopping for me. I was grateful for the chance to stay off my feet pretty much.

But early that morning, Lewis Bundock, one of the two brothers doing my remodeling, stuck his head in my office door to say the kitchen counter would go in next Wednesday. My understanding was they wouldn’t even think about the kitchen until the bathroom was complete, but I don’t guess the tile man got that message. I blanched at the idea of having to clean off the counter, but Lewis pointed out I had Monday and Tuesday. Then in a bit he stuck his head in to say change in plans: the counter would go in Monday morning.

I have a longstanding date to cook dinner for friends who will only be in town this weekend. We’ll have supper Sunday night on the deck, since this house is a dirty, dusty mess, and the Bundocks tell me not to think about cleaning it until they’re out of here. It’s so bad I think even the dog is dusty, though neighbor Jay says she’s just graying more. Between the hip and the kitchen counter, Sunday’s dinner looms large—though we do what we have to do and somehow it all gets done.

Then a doctor’s office called to tell me I will have an MRI next Friday. And an agent wrote to decline reading my entire Chicago historical manuscript because she didn’t find the characters came off the page in the sample (a problem to think about much later). My email went crazy. I had planned to write a thousand words that morning—between all that was going on and the never-ending email, I wrote maybe five sentences.

Around 5:30, looking forward to dinner with a friend, I began to worry about why she was so late—perhaps she meant me to meet her instead of picking me up. Turns out someone had pulled out in front of her so sharply that she hit him, had to chase him down though when she got him to stop he was apologetic and said it was all his fault. Let’s hope he sticks to that story with his insurance people. Meantime, she arrived at my house shaken and frustrated and angry at the rigmarole she would now face. We were so late getting to the restaurant that the owner called to make sure I was all right.

Good things about the day: I had a delightful lunch with Melinda at our favorite small Italian place where we always take small bottles of wine—she orders chicken piccata and I always have bresaola served with grana, greens, and a lemony vinaigrette. So good. After I told Melinda all my troubles, they didn’t seem so bad—that’s what friends are for.

Kathie and I had a good dinner and a good visit in spite of her accident. We agreed it was a bad day for both of us—she had other things going on in addition to the accident. She was worried about a museum presentation she’ll give Monday and was worrying ahead to next weekend when she’ll have her son’s family and will, for the first time, babysit a six-year-old girl and three-year-old boy by herself. I told her she’d be fine.

And last night? I wrote a thousand words.

All my troubles shall pass. I know that. Guess I’m just whining.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Pope and Congress--a first-person account

 As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Carol Roark is in Washington, DC, for three months while her husband, former Texas Congressman Lon Burnam, does some work for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Here’s Carol’s account of the morning with the Pope at the Capitol, reprinted with her permission. I like the sense of immediacy.

Some of you may think it strange that I would make an effort (getting up at 5 a.m. and arriving at the Capitol by 6 a.m. and then waiting for three hours) to see a Pope. I think I even surprised myself with my degree of interest. Call me perpetually curious -- think that sums it up. The interest that he has sparked by being willing to speak about issues like the Syrian refugee crisis and climate change gives me hope. I don't agree with all of his positions, but I do respect him.

The crowd was very congenial, and I had a great time chatting with my nearby seatmates. Lon and I will likely get together with an attorney who works with the federal court system. She and I had a great time talking, and she is very interested in knowing about what Lon is doing with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Security was so tight that I could walk off and leave my purse on the chair without worrying that anyone would bother it (or snag my seat). They even had border patrol agents from El Paso as part of the security detail - every uniform and flavor of "officer" that you can imagine. I was very lucky that Congressman Marc Veasey's office offered me the one "seated" ticket they had for the lower terrace of the Capitol. It meant that I didn't have to stand for five hours.

The Jumbotron and the crowd fired up with a scene of the Pope greeting well wishers outside the Vatican Embassy. One little kid dropped a piece of paper, and the Pope bent down, picked it up, and handed it back to him. Class act. We watched (much laughter and appreciative head nods) as the entourage made up of huge SUVs escorted the tiny Fiat on its way to the Capitol -- a great visual statement if there ever was one. The Vatican press corps was quite chic -- tailored suits and leather backpacks.

 The Pope gave his speech in English, which meant that he spoke slowly and deliberately. The crowd seemed to hang on every word -- as if waiting for him to mention their favorite issue so they could cheer. At one point, both Boehner and Biden (sitting behind the Pope) were twiddling their thumbs, but someone obviously sent them a message to stop -- because they both stopped at about the same time. As you'll hear in all the news reports, Pope Francis framed his message around the lives and work of four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton and the values they advocated.

Lon told Anna Tinsley, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, that I had been to the speech, so she was eager to talk to me to get a "local" angle. I'm not sure if I'll make the cut for tomorrow's story, but will be interested to see how she interprets what I said -- which was basically that the Pope has an important message to share whether you agree with him or not, and I think it is important to listen to what he has to say.

Photos by Carol Roark

Thursday, September 24, 2015

All hail Papa Francesco

Here I sit, freshly showered, full of the half hamburger I brought home from lunch at the Swiss Pastry Shop (they have the best hamburgers), ready to write a thousand words—my goal for tonight. But instead my mind is on the Pope.

A friend who is in DC for three months wrote that she had been sitting on the steps of the Capitol since 5:30, met many interesting people from all over the country who talked about their reasons for being there, expected to have a good view of the Pope when he arrived. I could almost sense the awe of the occasion from her pictures and text. Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. is a momentous, attitude-changing event.

I missed most of the Pope’s address today. I heard some in the car—I’ve been told he’s self-conscious about his English, although commentators say he speaks it better than he realizes. I understood individual words (not always easy for the hearing impaired) but I couldn’t put it all together into a continuous thread. I missed the evening news recap—company for happy hour—but found a website that gives valuable insight into many aspects of the Pope’s visit and its impact. If you’re interested, go to  It’s an admittedly liberal site but I think it gives a clear and unbiased look at the Pope and his recent encyclical. Read “The Pope hits a triple hitter.”

I like the Holy Father because he articulates much of what I’ve thought—his concern for humanity over the rules of the church (telling leaders to forget about abortion gay marriage, etc.) and concentrate on helping the poor of God’s people. I have long believed that we are indeed our brother’s keeper—only regret that I don’t act on that enough. And he called today for abolishing the death penalty, which I think is barbaric and a terrible blot on our country’s reputation—especially in Texas. I love that he rides around in the back seat of a Fiat and refuses to wear the traditional red shoes. This is a man whose concern for humanity outweighs his sense of self-importance—rare, I suspect, even in popes.

Sure, I disagree with him on some points, but sometimes I wish he could run for president. I think he outshines our current candidates. And I’m sorry I’m a spectator for this event. I, who hate crowds, would have loved to be in front of the Jumbotron this morning.