Friday, December 15, 2017

Laughter at a memorial service and great plans gone awry

At our cozy happy hour tonight
Oh, there were tears, but laughter also rang out at Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon at the memorial service for Father Mart Gayland Pool, one of the kindest, most natural men I’ve ever met, a true gentleman. His good friend, Father Bruce Coggin, preached about Gayland’s generosity, curiosity, his sense of humor and his idiosyncrasies, and about the nature of life and death. A moving service, a fitting tribute, and a joyous send-off for a friend and much-respect member of the community.

Amye, the dog whisperer
with a mesmerized cricket
Tonight, I had great plans, a scene in mind that I intended to write. But two of Jordan’s close friends came for happy hour and I was easily distracted. We talked dogs and holiday traditions and memorial services—on my mind since I’ve been to two in the last six days. All this in front of the fire and Christmas tree. Lovely setting, good friends, pleasant evening.

And a pleasant day, including lunch with Carol and Lon. Memorial services are not exactly day-brighteners, but this was a true celebration of a life well lived. And once again tonight I am reminded how lucky I am that the “young” people—omigosh, they’re in their forties! —are so affectionate and open with me. Life is good, and for one day I don’t want to think about tax bills and sexual predators and fake news and what is happening to America.

Back to normal tomorrow, and I’ll write that scene. It will probably keep me awake all night. Sometimes when I have a scene in mind, I write it a hundred times in my head at night, as though I’m trying to remember it. But then when I go to actually write it, I often can’t remember the wonderful details of my nighttime version. Go figure.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A bit of local history and a fond farewell

The Book Ladies say thank you to Peter at The Old Neighborhood Grill
Photo by Carol Roark
In 1965, my then-husband and I moved to Fort Worth because he had a surgical residency at Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital, on the corner of Montgomery and Camp Bowie. That first year, I worked as secretary to the pathologist at the hospital and, informally, as a pr person. I remember being proud that I started the first in-house newsletter for staff and employees, though I’m sure in those pre-computer days, it was a pretty primitive publication.

I left the hospital when TCU awarded me an NDEA fellowship (those were the days of strong national support for higher education, now sadly gone) to work on a doctorate in English. But the hospital remained a major place in my life until our divorce in 1981 or ’82 (strange I can’t remember the exact year) and even after that. My doctor/brother had an office in the hospital, and I’d go see him occasionally. Good friends like the late Connie and Russ Jenkins kept me on the fringes of the osteopathic world by taking me to various events.

The day officials announced the closing of the hospital, I was in a doctor’s office, and we sat together and had a sad wake. I remember him saying, “I’ve never practiced in any other hospital.”

Last night a thread started on the Fort Worth Memories Facebook page with the question, “Who remembers FWOH?” Answers poured in. You’d be amazed how many people want to tell you what year they were born there and/or when their children were. Many commented on the camaraderie and care at the hospital, but inevitably there were a few people with bad memories. I saw no one else among respondents that I remembered from those days, so I became self-appointed apologist, explaining that when people have suffered the loss of a family member or undergone a severe illness or trauma, their memories are naturally colored by their experience. It’s been an interesting but time-consuming exercise, and the comments have brought back lots of memories, most of them good. In some ways, I long for those days, but then I remind myself I’ve gone on to build such a better life.

This morning, nostalgia of another sort. The Book Ladies, a group I mentioned just the other day, have met regularly at the Old Neighborhood Grill for a monthly breakfast for several years. Now we have word that Peter Schroeder has sold the Grill, new ownership to take effect In January. So this morning, we had a special breakfast to say goodbye, thank you, and God’s speed to Peter. A good turnout, and we presented Peter with a book titled, The Joys of Retirement. It’s a book of blank pages, but each book lady wrote Peter a personal message. Lots of fun.

Topsy-turvy day for me. I started the day with a haircut—my stylist is so kind to come to the cottage until I get back to driving—and was still in pajamas when Carol called to say my presence was required at the Grill. She gave me ten minutes to get out of pajamas and into clothes. So I went, sans makeup but with a cute new haircut, if I do say so. Then, my lunch guest had to cancel at the last minute, so now I’m about to cook that chicken pot pie for my family. Still I got my daily words written, so I’m feeling smug.

Remind me, smug goeth before a fall😊

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Alabama and a cooking dilemma

It’s a strange world when you can’t decide whether to blog about politics or cooking, so here’s a bit of both. Like much of our country, I’m jubilant over the Alabama results. A good friend is coming for lunch tomorrow, the man who years ago shepherded me through the Ph.D. program and continues to read and critique almost everything I write. He emailed to suggest he bring champagne, so we could celebrate the Alabama election—so out of character for him and so perfect for the occasion. I told him I’d supply chardonnay—can’t quite do champagne at lunch.

We were not only spared a pedophile, we were spared a man who openly defied the Constitution, who wanted to abolish the Bill of Rights (or was it the first ten constitutional amendments—who can keep track of his radicalism?), who called some minorities “reds” and “yellows,” who thought homosexuality should be illegal. And who incidentally can’t ride a horse and shouldn’t try publicly. The list goes on and on. We were saved from the worst of the alt-right, but it’s frightening that 68% of whites who voted in Alabama voted for him. We owe the black population of that state an undying debt of gratitude.

Debate rages over the most significant aspect of this victory. I am not a political analyst and can’t begin to understand all the implications, but to me it’s a clear defeat for Mr. Trump, who had endorsed Moore and led his weak party to follow him. It’s a signal that if Mueller doesn’t get him (which I believe he will), the women of this country will. In my dreams, Trump and Moore pay for their sins behind bars and Franken is restored to the Senate—and higher office should he wish.

As for Ryan’s promise that they’re coming for Medicare and Social Security, it’s so wrong it makes me sputter, but I’ll save it for another time and move on to cooking. As I said above, my mentor Fred is coming for lunch. He doesn’t like to back out of my driveway, so I fix lunch here, and he claims to be amazed at what I can turn out without a kitchen. I decided to “amaze” him with chicken pot pie. Found a good recipe.

Then realized I couldn’t do that crescent roll braid in my oven. Decided on puff pastry. Bless Jordan—she tried; first she brought me phyllo dough, which the Albertson’s person convinced her was the same—it’s not; then on a trip to Central Market she triumphantly brought home puff pastry. When I looked at it today, it’s pastry shells that come with a strict warning against baking them in a toaster oven. I debated baking one as a test, or using the crescent rolls dough I’d bought, or asking Jordan to cook the pastry shells—or giving up and asking Fred to bring lunch.

Tonight, I made the filling—looks good though it violates my purity theories and uses Campbell’s cream of chicken soup. But tomorrow, I’ll put it in a Corningware dish, cover it with roll dough that I’ve pressed together into one piece, and bake it in the toaster oven. Cross your fingers, please. Maybe the chardonnay will be so good the pot pie won’t matter. Do I need a salad? Ah, indecision.

This is, though, exactly the kind of situation that leads me to work on that cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate. It’s about exploring what you can and can’t do in a tiny kitchen and what’s the best way to do it. Puff pastry? Crescent roll dough? Forget it?

As for Roy Moore, no sympathy. Cheers for Doug Jones. He’s got a huge task ahead of him, because the country looks to him to make an impact in what seems to me a corrupt Senate. And, of course, McConnell is rushing to push the horrendous tax bill through before Jones is sworn in. Is that legal? The trickery and deception never end.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Living the Good Life

The other night at a party a friend half my age sat down by me, and when I asked how he was, he said, “I’m living the good life.” An unusual response from a man the age of my children, so I asked him what he meant. “My family and I have our health. We have roof over our heads, a pretty nice roof, and we have more to eat than we ever possibly could. And my wife and I have good careers.” I agreed with him: the good life.

I have long been aware that by his standards I too live the good life, but I’ve often taken the thought further in my mind. Why am I living this blessed life when people are losing their homes to horrendous wildfires? When people in Syria are dying, caught between warring armies? When people in Africa are starving to death? Did I go through those trials in a previous existence and work my way up to the good life? I don’t exactly believe that the Lord chooses some of us to live in almost luxurious comfort while other endure endless privation and hardship. Sometimes it makes me feel more than a little guilty, and it spurs me on to give—what I can financially and in service and goods. But none of us can ever do enough. The thought is in the foreground of my thinking as we prepare for yet another family Christmas.

I certainly was living the good life today. Went to a breakfast potluck for the Book Ladies, a group I’ve belonged to for at least thirty years. Usually we meet once a month at the Old Neighborhood Grill, but today we were invited to a member’s home. We had our meal in a wonderful solarium that was festively decorated for the season, and we dined on wonderful dishes—green chile egg casserole, cheese grits, a cake, sausages, fruit—and we had a book exchange, one of those were you could “steal” a book someone had already chosen.

I went from that wonder almost directly to a Christmas luncheon with two friends. We went to Rise, the restaurant new to Fort Worth but known in North Dallas for its souffles (and for being a favorite of George and Laura Bush). The Fort Worth incarnation is almost a carbon copy of the Dallas restaurant and, I suspect, the one in Houston—heavy, ornate wooden doors, a massive centerpiece that tables are gathered around, and glassed-in porches (quieter and my choice for a meal).

Ordering soufflĂ© leaves you lots of time to talk while the souffles cook. The menu says, “You may wait on your soufflĂ©, but your soufflĂ© won’t wait on you.” Betty and I had creamed spinach soufflĂ©, while Jean had a southwestern chicken. We split a sweet raspberry soufflĂ© for dessert—two sweet for me, and too much soufflĂ© in one meal. But we had a wonderful time.

I came home besotted and sluggish—a nap cured me, but I resolved for the umpteenth time to eat modestly over the holidays.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday, oh Monday

Today seemed like an ordinary day—stay home and work. Mondays are often my most productive days, and today was no exception. I wrote the scene that was on my mind and figured out the bare bones of the next scene—always lovely to know where you’re going when you return to a manuscript. I did some business work, catching up on things from the neighborhood newsletter to defrosting sausages and cooking them for a potluck breakfast in the morning.

A bit of good news—the Poohbah, newsletter for the Berkeley Place Association, which I edit, is a finalist in the newsletter for the mayor’s neighborhood awards. I’ll go to a luncheon in January and see if we won. Nice to have your work recognized.

Beyond that, it was an ordinary day, and I had no blog ideas. I didn’t want to get heavy again about our country’s dismal situation, sexual predators (okay, I’m breathless about the Alabama special election), the Russian intervention investigation (say that fast three times) which seems to be heating up. There’s so much to mull and worry about, but I wanted to find something light hearted and new.

And then Jordan reminded me. Thirteen years ago today, she and Christian married in a truly beautiful ceremony at University Christian Church—full choir and everything. I remember being so nervous about lighting the unity candle, but Colin walked me up to the chancel and stood by me every minute. And Jordan had decreed she wanted both her brothers to walk her down the aisle—her father was there but in a wheelchair. When they got even with where he sat, both boys leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Even one of my most non-sentimental friends said, “Be still, my heart.” Then Christian walked down the aisle to get her.
To my surprise, I don't have any pictures on my computer from that momentous occasion. Shows you how far I've come in technology--or even, maybe, how far technology has come. I snatched the one above from Christian's Facebook post.

Tonight they celebrated with steak and lobster, at home, and Jacob and I were exiled to the cottage—except he went to Young Life and I didn’t see him until they all came out here at ten to share chocolate pie. Meanwhile I had leftovers for dinner--but Rob Seume, your meatballs were great the next day.

So it was, like every day, a special day. There’s always a golden lining when you look for it. Every day is special in some way. Oops, I sound too Pollyanna-ish.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas spirit and a gleeful dog

When my ex-husband and I moved to Fort Worth in 1965, we had few friends by Christmas and the holiday loomed as a little bleak, though I think that my brother and his family came down from Missouri in a converted bus that year. Still, to make Christmas joyful, I threw a small tree trimming party. Our friends were then like us—physicians in training and pretty much broke. It was a modest party.

The tree trimming idea actually traces back to my childhood. We would go as a family to pick out a tree; my father and brother would put on the lights and retire; my mother and I were left to put on the ornaments. The process had none of the joy that I thought trimming the tree should have, so a party was my attempt to create that joy.

Over the years since then I have hosted a tree trimming party almost every year. Those parties grew until there were sometimes fifty or sixty people, and I began cooking and freezing in late November. The week of the party I’d lay out the serving dishes, each with a tiny slip of paper to remind what was to go in what dish. It was a lot of work, but the kind of work—and anticipation—that was fun for me.

Alas, those days are over. Last year, my first year in the cottage and the kids first year in the house, we were all too frazzled with moving and my health problems. This year, I couldn’t face all that cooking. I had neither the facilities for doing it nor the ambition, the latter an admission I hate to make.

Tonight, with the tree already trimmed, we had a small potluck gathering for neighbors, a group we’ve been close to. The beauty of potluck is that you get a wonderful array of treats, and we had a bountiful table. The downside is that Jordan wanted to use china and silver and got out all the good stuff, which now must be washed. Still, it was a lovely warm fun party, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Who knows what next year will bring?

One of life’s joys, to me, is to be greeted by a joyous dog. Sophie got left in the cottage—she just gets too excited with even a small crowd of people, and with people coming and going I was afraid she’d slip out the door. The look on her face when I left was pure devastation. During the evening, which ended nicely early, someone let her into the back yard, so she greeted me when I came out the door. That little black dog wriggled all over with joy, jumping here and there, running to the cottage as if to lead the way, and then looking back to make sure Jordan and I were following.

Now, Sophie and I are settled in, and after a warm day, I’ve turned the heat back on because it turned chilly outside. I have happy memories of a lovely evening to keep me cozy. And I can look out on my backyard which Jordan has made bright with Christmas lights. Such joy!

See? I told you I’d be more cheerful than last night. Sweet holiday dreams, y’all.


Saturday, December 09, 2017

A downer night

No blog tonight, or at least I intend none. Who knows? My brain may run away with my typing fingers. But my thoughts tonight are gray, and I figure this is the season of joy, so it’s not appropriate to spread gray thoughts.

Then again, maybe I’ll tell you that the novel I’ve just begun writing is about racial prejudice or bigotry, and it occurred to me that a few months ago our country was consumed with the racially charged issue of tearing down statues of Confederate heroes. No thoughtful consideration. They all had to come down right now! Instant action.

Now our country is consumed with sexual predators. We rush to judgement, forgetting that the American way is innocent until proven guilty. I suspect even honest and upright men are quaking in their shoes. In fact, I’ve read such about Congress these days. In our haste, we’re about to destroy the legislative branch of our government. And maybe the reputations of a few good men.

It’s well known I’m no fan of 45, so it will be no surprise that I lay all this turmoil at the feet of our faux president. He has promoted bigotry from day one, with immigration policies, support for Nazi protestors, a cold shoulder to Puerto Rico, a wall between us and Mexico. He has also leapt to the defense of Republican sexual predators—note that it’s a party-line thing. He quickly condemned Al Franken but supports Roy Moore, because we “need” that Republican seat in the Senate. Like hell we do! But of course 45 supports someone like Roy Moore, because there are now 16 accusations against him for sexual violations. And no one—not one single voice in the House or Senate—has called for an ethics investigation.

I’ve read and hesitate to believe that the destruction of America is his goal, and he will accomplish it much as Hitler tried to destroy Germany—divide and conquer. 45 is doing a good job of dividing, but I’m not sure he’s clever enough to have it as a long-range goal. I think his divisiveness comes from his personal prejudices and impulsiveness.

Nonetheless, I am sad about America tonight. And I’m sad because I went to the memorial service for a friend of at least forty years. It was in a funeral home instead of in the church she’d attended almost all of her adult life. The service was poorly attended and highly impersonal, until her oldest son got up and made remarks about his mom. Even then I’m not sure he’d paid enough attention to her professional accomplishments, which were stellar. She was the founding chair of the department of anatomy at an osteopathic school that now, almost fifty years later, has flourished and become a major health science center. It has flourished because of her early efforts and those of her colleagues, many now gone. My friend was there for 36 years, serving as dean of students among other capacities. Her students adored her, and I feel sure if they’d known some would have been at the service. All in all, it made me sad.

And America makes me sad.

Tune in tomorrow. I promise to be more cheerful, more in keeping with the season. It is, for all religions, a time of hope and joy and new beginnings. Let us rejoice and look to the future.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Scary Moments and Placid Gardens

Scary moments this morning. McLean Middle School, where Jacob is in sixth grade, was locked down. Although we were late for a doctor’s appointment, Jordan insisted we’d drive by the school (it was on the way). About three blocks away, we saw a cluster of police cars, an ambulance, and a TV van, along with a group of people held back by barricades. A helicopter circled overhead. But at the school all seemed quiet. Still, a police car was stationed at every intersection nearby.

Jacob texted and was, understandably, scared. The morning dissolved into an onslaught of texts and emails. While waiting for Jordan to come back and pick me up, I got an email from TCU: two people had been shot, one survived. The shooter was on the loose. He’d been sighted near the middle school and then near Albertson’s Grocery—right where we were headed. Apparently, the incident was a disagreement between three adult roommates, none of them connected to TCU.

We got the grocery to find business as usual and one lone officer standing in the parking lot. Jordan speculated on whether the shooter could be hiding in the back of the store. Unlikely. She finally decided we should live on the edge and shop. We did, uneventfully, and on the way home got word that the lockdown was lifted.

Still haven’t heard tonight if the shooter was found, taken into custody, whatever. It didn’t seem to be on the local news I watched. I did hear they didn’t believe he was still in the area, a “belief” that is not much comfort.

Came home to my yard, where ground cover has been installed in a large portion of the yard. It looks great, and Christian, who is enthusiastic about the whole thing, says the biggest plus is that they carted off all the rocks which were in the yard—we live in an area of extremely rocky soil. 

Shout out to John Filarowicz and his Five Star Landscape Company.They did an excellent job, left a clean site behind them, were polite when they were here. With a nice neighborhood twist, both John and his wife, Sara, grew up in our Berkeley neighborhood and Sara was Jacob’s first-grade teacher at Lily B. Clayton Elementary, across the street from our house. I couldn’t remember her first name this morning, and Jordan said that was because we always heard Jacob call her, “Mrs. Filarowicz.” Keeping it in the neighborhood is sort of like keeping it in the family.

Sophie of course could not resist this morning. She did not tiptoe through the tulips—she romped and ran through the ground cover, merrily chasing squirrels. Both the squirrels and the dog were energized by the cold weather.

I am delighted by the ground cover, which is protected with a heavy layer of mulch, because when it takes hold we won’t have a mudhole in the half of the yard where it’s too shady for grass. Sophie has been bringing in mud, too often depositing it in my bed. I suppose now I’ll get mulch in the bed, but it seems less objectionable.

Tonight, the Christmas lights blaze, the yard is peaceful, and I suppose the shooter no longer lurks in local streets. We’re locked in, just in case. Stay safe and warm, folks. It’s another nice wintry night.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Winter at last…or is it?

December 7, 2017

Predictably all us Texans who complained about 80o in December were moaning today about how cold it was and how cold it’s going to be tonight. The temperature wasn’t bad today—in the 40s—but the wind was fierce. I had an appt. in west Fort Worth and Jordan remarked it was colder there than at home. Of course it is—the wind blows more freely the farther west you go and the farther away from tall buildings.

My neighbor Jay (you remember, the handsome one) came to look at the new ground cover tonight (he approved! Whew!) and his wife called from the stables where she rides to warn about taking in the plants. He told her it would be 27 for two hours—not long enough to freeze plants but she wasn’t convinced. He also told her it would be colder at the stables because she was in the country without concrete and tall buildings to hold the heat. She still wasn’t convinced, He left muttering about marital discord—or was it accord?

The ground cover is in and looks great. They covered some areas I didn’t know they would, and we may have to put other things over a bit, but I am pleased. The landscape company did a good job, prepared the soil (took out several wheelbarrows full of rocks), tilled it, spread potting soil of some sort, and mulched thoroughly. They assure me the plants will be fine with tonight’s short freeze. And, hey, by Sunday or Monday it will be in the sixties again.

Writing lesson: if it bores you when you’re writing, it will bore readers. I was slogging around today, when I suddenly decided to discard close to 500 words and substitute action for conversation. Magic! The words flowed, and I wrote quickly, took a nap, and wrote more for daily total of about 1300 words, not counting what I pulled out. I saved those for possible later use, though I doubt it. Good feeling.

I’m also making good progress on the book I am reading to evaluate for a contest, so I’m feeling sort of smug tonight. May sneak in a bit of a novel tonight. Jacob has just finished his required 30 minutes of reading which to my delight he does in the cottage. Tonight, he was quite enthusiastic about the book he’s reading—about a young boy in love with baseball who loses a hand in an industrial accident and is learning sports again. Jacob says when his parents tell him to read, he groans inwardly, but then when he’s reading, he really likes it. I’m going to work on that. Question is how to pick books that are not necessarily what I’d like but what he’ll like.

Perfect night to curl up with a book. Stay warm, y’all!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Some things that made me happy today

Here’s something that made me happy today: did you know there is a fellowship in the name of Erma Bombeck and Anna Lefler? It annually awards two recipients with a two-week retreat at the hotel of the University of Dayton and a slot at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. The university sponsors the program. Dayton is the late humorist’s hometown.

It’s particularly fitting to remember Bombeck at this time of year because of her essay, “Where did Christmas go?” The humorist, who once said only a thin line separates laughter and pain, began that piece with, “There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child,” and ended it with, “Time, self-pity, apathy, bitterness and exhaustion can take the Christmas out of the child, but you cannot take the child out of Christmas.

In these troubled times in our country, we need all we can get of Erma Bombeck—and of he spirit of Christmas, no matter the faith you follow.

Something else that made me happy today: lunch with an old friend. I can’t tell you how long I’ve known Jim Lee, but it’s a long time. When he was chair of English at the University of North Texas, he’d call me to announce he’d had a million-dollar idea, and I’d cringe because I knew it meant work for me. Later, he moved to Fort Worth and became a regular volunteer at TCU Press, serving, as the provost so clearly specified, “without compensation.” We worked together, we edited books together (Literary Fort Worth, Elmer Kelton: Essays and Memories, and probably others), he wrote at least one book under my tenure (Adventures of a Texas Humanist). We were partners in crime, frequent guests together at literary events, and constant lunch companions. When I retired and he tired of his unpaid position, we drifted apart, and I hadn’t seen him in several years

We do email occasionally, and recently I wrote and told him I didn’t like to let people who’d mattered to me slip out of my life. Would he come to lunch at the cottage? He would and did. We had a good time, catching up on people (how neat that he remembers all my kids and asked about them) and sharing stories old and new, commiserating about age and friends now gone. I hope we do it again.

And more happiness: Betty and I went to Pacific Table for our weekly dinner and split Trout Amandine. It came with a choice of zucchini or root vegetables. She wanted the root vegetables, but I hesitated when I heard parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga. Then I threw caution to the winds and deferred to her taste. The vegetables were good, the trout was wonderful, and it was a pleasant if quick dinner.

Too much happiness in my world to let Roy Moore and the likes dim it, though I will continue to speak out That’s how outraged I am about what is being done to our country. Oops, I forgot—happiness is the word of the day.