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Judy Alter

Author

Judy Alter has been writing fiction and nonfiction for young readers for twenty years. She has a Ph.D. in English with a special interest in the history and literature of the American West. Alter is the director of a small academic press, and writes in her spare time. She is the mother of four, and now lives with her dog, her cat, her garden, and her books.

Judy's Books

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Discovering Australia's Land, People, and Wildlife

Discovering Australia's Land, People, and Wildlife

A MyReportLinks.com Book

Judy Alter
In this new edition of the Continents of the World series, author Judy Alter uncovers the land and climate, plant and animal life, scientific discoveries, and history and exploration of Australia. This book offers fun and interesting facts about the planet’s smallest continent...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-5207-9
Binding: Library Ed.
List Price: $26.60
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Judy's Latest Blog Entries

Facebook and Forgiveness




Lovely afternoon for a nap—rain, thunder, telephone call from Jacob about using my computer (no, now now!), dog barking at the thunder. The peaceful cottage. But there I was, snug in my bed, awake, but not ready to get up. So I thought about this morning’s sermon (I promise I won’t report on the sermon every week). It was about forgiveness, and it spoke directly to me.

For much of the sermon, I listened attentively with thoughts of my ex-husband in mind, he who left me to raise four children alone because he’d “spent enough time taking care of others.” Since, as I heard this morning, forgiveness doesn’t mean approving the act or reconciliation, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of putting that anger behind me. Oh, yes, I still have flashes of it, but they’re rare. Mostly I’m grateful. Leaving turned out to be the best thing he ever did for the kids and me.

But then the minister asked us to think about who we need to forgive, and his list included “world leaders.” Bam! Even Christian said he thought of me immediately. I realized that my anger and frustration with our current government and our leaders is turning me harsh and shrill. Okay, I’ll be specific: McConnell, Ryan, 45, more recently Tom Cotton and Trey Gowdy who have surfaced again. I am appalled at the anger over the Dreamers, the people who call them alien illegals. I’m appalled that McConnell thinks he’s giving Democrats a choice between saving CHIP or the Dreamers—they are all individual souls. How do you choose?

I did not join the Women’s March yesterday. I cannot walk without a walker, and that crowd was no place for me. I can’t drive, so I haven’t gone to, for example, evenings with Beto O’Rourke when he’s in Fort Worth, though I heartily support him. I haven’t volunteered at political headquarters nor, obviously, to walk my block. I figured what I can do is make my voice heard on Facebook, and boy howdy, have I shouted! But today those two words haunt me: shrill and harsh.

I’ve tried recently not to be snarky and not to share snarky posts, though some of them are so funny and clever I can barely resist. Still, I’ve tried to stick to what seem to be well documented, factual posts with information people should know, like the fact that the Koch brothers gave Ryan $500,000 after passage of the tax bill. Or McConnell is the one who vetoed Senator McCaskill’s bill to continue military pay (done during shutdowns in Obama’s administration) and to suspend congressional pay until the shutdown is over. I think those are fair guidelines, with a nod to Snopes.

But what makes me lose my cool are tunnel-visioned Trump followers who claim Obama and Hilary should be in prison, the shutdown is all the Democrats fault, etc. That’s where I become shrill. No more. I’m practicing letting go. Facebook and forgiveness simply aren’t good bedfellows, and I know that much as I rant I convince no one. I only earn comments like, “You drank the Kool-Aid” or “You need to take your meds.”

Watch for the new, kinder, gentler me, and if I mess up, call me on it.

The minister this morning quoted Ann Lamott, her version of something I’ve heard many times and will try to live by: “Holding on to anger is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Not a Work Day




Hard for me to work today because I was enthralled by following two things on Facebook today: the Women’s March and the fallout from the shutdown.

The Women’s March, impressive last year, broke all records across the country this year, turning out thousands in all major cities. Women, children, men, some wearing pink hats, most carrying signs, all shouting positively—an amazing sight to behold. I’m so in awe of them. Locally, I was proud to see several of my friends among the marchers in Fort Worth. I wish I’d been with them, though honesty compels me to admit that even if I were mobile enough to march, I probably wouldn’t have. It takes a special kind of courage to join throngs like that. My lifelong dislike, even fear of crowds, may have kept me away, plus my age. Then again perhaps those crowds look more intimidating in aerial views than when you’re on the ground among the marchers. But I was wholeheartedly cheering for those women and their support teams who did march. The best I can do for the resistance movement is to cheer from the sidelines…and post on Facebook. Believe me I do that with vigor.

The reaction to the shutdown has also captivated me. I expected no less than blame flung on both sides, and I know I have a one-sided view, but I cannot get past the point that the Republicans control Senate, House, and White House—they can stop this any time they want. The other thing that sticks in my craw is that when bills were proposed to guarantee military pay and to suspend congressional pay during the shutdown, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans, was quick to object. So the military may forfeit pay, though they usually don’t, while the do-nothing Congress gets full pay, no matter how long they diddle around with this.

Many blame the Democrats for this shutdown: please remember the Republicans defunded CHIP a year ago and have delayed considering it for months—now, they attach it to a controversial bill. Similarly, they have refused to come to grips with the DACA problem and a solution. Now McConnell claims it’s not urgent—they have until early March to deal with it. What makes anyone think they could deal with it by then, when they haven’t been able to for the past year.

Sorry I got started on a rant, but I hate to see my country being railroaded by a man whose ties to Russia get deeper every day. I’m going to distract myself and read a novel,

Rodeo, Memories, and a Lesson in Aging


Tonight is rodeo night at 6th grade Cotillion, and Jacob and his friends dressed appropriately. I don’t know why Jacob doesn’t have a hat, but praise the Lord his new boots arrived just in time this afternoon.

Jacob’s actually gotten himself in a spot of trouble, but I’ve promised not to blog about it. Still it got me thinking about childhood and discipline, and maybe because it’s rodeo time, I thought about me and horses. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, the only horse I saw regularly was an old one that, when I was very young, pulled a milk wagon down the alley behind our house. I have a vague memory of a man and a horse who looked much alike—old and grey, but the man was very pleasant and cheerful as he left glass bottles of milk in the icebox (literally) on our back porch.

Someone, maybe even me, decided it would be good if I took horseback riding lessons. I was maybe about twelve. We rode English style around an arena in a barn, horses nose to tail they were so crowded. I did all right at it, until some transgression made my mother decree that I would miss two or three of my lessons. I truly don’t remember what I did, but it must have been awful because such severe punishment was not like my mom. When I finally went back to the stables, I was terrified of the horses, and to this day I am uncomfortable around them.

The memory makes me think how important it is to be judicious and loving in disciplining children. They are frail young minds, easily damaged, and I am convinced discipline must come with lots of love and an understanding of why it is being meted out, how it can be avoided another time. I read the stories about the California couple and their thirteen abused children with horror. Today I read they used food to control those starving children. How can anyone be so cruel?

I had an unpleasant lesson in aging today, one I think I’ve had before and apparently refuse to learn. Lovely lunch with Jordan, the woman from the bank who has helped me so much with financing the cottage and such, and a mutual friend. We met at Pappadeaux, early to avoid the rodeo crowd. At first, I could hear the entire conversation, but as the restaurant grew more crowded, I was barely able to follow the thread. Jordan and I split the wonderful Greek salad for one, and I ordered fried oysters, since I can’t eat shrimp. I mentioned the shrimp allergy to the waiter, and oh my, were they on top of it. He asked if he had to redo the accompaniments platter for the salad, since one lonely shrimp was touching the tomatoes. I told him to give the shrimp to Jordan and it would be fine. Then a manager type came to make sure I understand oysters were fried in the same grease as shrimp, and I thanked him but assured him it would be okay. It’s an ingestion allergy, not contact.

But the fried oysters did me in. I felt dull and loggy and just unwell all afternoon, even with a nice nap. Tonight I can’t bear the thought of food, even that leftover spaghetti in the fridge. I had a single small piece of cinnamon toast for dinner. Once again, I’m swearing off heavy fried foods. When will I ever learn?

Happy weekend, everyone.




Everything but the kitchen sink


This cold spell has had me housebound, which means I’ve been in my little kitchen more than usual. One of the best things I fixed was what I call kitchen sink soup. You can guess why—yes, it has everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. I “build” it with leftovers, carrying on my mother’s lifelong habit of saving a dab of this and a dash of that. Leftover chili but not enough for another serving? Put it in the soup pot. The same with casseroles, bits of meat, whatever. When there’s enough to consider it soup, I usually add some broth, either chicken or beef, and a can of diced tomatoes. Depending on what’s already there, I may add frozen corn or peas, some potatoes cut up or pasta of one kind of another. I don’t add rice, because it absorbs the liquid and swells up until you have stew rather than soup.

I used to make this for my kids when they were in high school. We called it “Soup of the Week,” and laughed because it always came out brown. But it was good, and they liked it. I told Christian I had homemade soup and asked if he wanted some. “I’d have to know what’s in it first,” he replied. I told him that was an impossible question to answer. Actually, the soup I ate the last two days was definitely tomato based, and I detected shredded chicken, pinto beans, corn, and two meatballs. The rich soup had a hint of lamb, and I think that was from the meatballs. Yesterday I did as I would do with chili and stirred in a dab of sour cream just before eating. So good.

I also experimented with chicken thighs recently, but I think I reported that—some success both with a recipe for garlicky thighs with lime and soy and a version of smothered chicken—delicious but didn’t keep well for the next day. And my other accomplishment in the kitchen was to cobble together several versions of the classic salmon dip that everyone makes and come up with the version I like best. Simple ingredients—cream cheese, sour cream, scallions (why bother grating onion?), canned salmon, a bit of lemon, maybe a dash of Worcestershire. finely chopped parsley for color, dried dill if you like it.

While I was in a kitchen mood, I tackled the stack of magazines that accumulated on my desk, mostly Bon Appetit and Southern Living. The arrival of Bon Appetit used to be a red-letter day for me, but lately I find fewer recipes that interest me. I’m not sure if it’s me, not moving ahead as cooking trends change and grow, or if it’s a change in focus by the magazine. Probably a bit of both. But I’m not interested in putting kale in everything I cook, and many contemporary health-food trends leave me cold. Southern Living has remained more traditional, and I cut out such recipes as a warm apple compote with cheddar, or Capitol Hill Ham and Bean Soup (Now, see, the leftovers could go in the soup pot), or an herbed sour cream and smoked salmon topping for the latkes I never did make this holiday season.

A recipe I found and really liked was for Rigatoni with Silenced Smartphones. Now if I could get hats off the head and elbows off the table, I’d feel it was a civilized dinner table. Call me old-fashioned, go ahead. I think I’m proud of it.

Cold mornings and warm thoughts

My childhood home

It’s not surprising that these cold mornings remind me of my childhood in Chicago. When I was young, we lived in a duplex built in 1893—of course they didn’t have that name for them, but it was a tall (2-1/2 stories), skinny (16 feet wide) house that shared a common wall with its neighbor. Ours was one of a string of them in our block. Story I always heard was that they were built to house people coming to Chicago for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Our house was heated by a coal furnace. There was a ground-level window that opened directly into the coal chute in the basement. Whoever delivered coal would just shoot in down into the chute (yes, I did that on purpose). My father, however, had the dirty jobs—he had to shovel coal into the furnace, bank the fire at night, and stoke it in the morning.

I suppose one didn’t let the furnace burn all night for fear of fire and/or asphyxiation. At any rate, if you woke up before Dad stoked the fire or, heaven forbid, you had to use the bathroom in the night, you were treated to icy cold wood floors and a house that was chilly to say the least.

The heat from the furnace came up through registers in the floor—not the rectangular grates we in Texas see with floor furnaces in older houses, but heavy registers, about a foot square. If memory serves, they were wrought iron in a design. The big deal was to lie over the register to get warm, though when the air was blowing you didn’t stay long, because it got way too hot. There was a register in the dining room, right in the path from kitchen to living room, that my brother and I both preferred. We’d take a pillow and book and try to capture the spot. This register was also close to the only downstairs phone, located in a tiny closet off the dining room, so small even I had to stop to go in there--no locking yourself in for a long, private conversation. For the life of me, I cannot remember where the other registers were, but there must have been some.

Most of the houses in Chicago in the forties were heated with coal, and oh! How my mother hated it. I imagine she was joined by almost every other housewife. Mom had dainty dotted Swiss curtains in the bank of windows in their bedroom that looked out on the park in front of our house. Before we were very far into heating season, those curtains would be dirty gray. Washing and ironing them was a major chore—no permanent press in those days. Mom used to gleefully cut out small newspaper articles that cited statistics on how many tons of soot (black coal dust) fell per square mile in a given time period.

It was probably the early fifties when Dad installed a gas furnace and boarded up the coal window. We thought we were really uptown—it was all automatic.

No wonder I laugh when Mr. Trump says he’s bringing back the coal industry.
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