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Judy Alter


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 Bound Book
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Judy's Latest Blog Entries

Little excitements

We had little excitements last night, little that is if you weren’t the visiting possum. I was at my desk, reading, about 8:30 when Sophie tore out the door and began barking frantically. Not a squirrel bark but something much more intense. I finally looked up just in time to see a possum scurry across the patio. I hurried to take my phone to the door for a picture but didn’t make it. The possum had taken shelter under a small table, and Sophie was gleefully dancing around the table, almost sticking her nose under it, barking all the while. If that possum had an ounce of courage, it would have taken a swipe at her nose.
What to do? I didn’t think it wise for me and my walker to charge out there, and I knew Jordan had gone with Jacob to the neighbors’ pool, because he wanted a swim. I called Christian, who sounded a tad reluctant, saying, “I’ll come, but I don’t know what I can do.” He came after several minutes, armed with—wait for it!—his phone.
By that time, Sophie had miraculously come bounding into the cottage, and I slammed the door. Sophie then was jumping around, wanting me to open the door, which I refused. Christian was taking pictures of the possum, and it beat a hasty retreat.
After a few minutes, Jordan came out, armed with—wait for it again!—a broom. I asked what she intended to do with it, and she replied she was just going to encourage the critter away. Fortunately, it was gone. We opened the door and Sophie bolted out to search the yard fruitlessly.
I had to explain to my two nature-loving protectors that possums are neither harmful nor vicious. They eat tons of all those bugs we want to get rid of—mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks. They are our friends, although I doubt if that particular friend will ever venture back into my yard.
I’d had a moment of excitement earlier, when Christian stood by my desk and said, “I can’t believe Jacob all of a sudden wants to go swimming.” I promise, I had my hearing aids in but what I heard was, “I can’t believe Jacob all of a sudden lost his sense of smell.” Panic! I managed to say it calmly, “I hope he doesn’t have the virus.” Christian looked at me as though he thought I had clearly gone round the bend this time.
I even had little excitements this morning. Either my computer or I have been saving files under the wrong name—this morning, when I opened a short biography I’d written for an essay submission, it turned out to be last night’s blog. Yesterday, I “lost” the entire text of my new novel—what popped up was the header and one sentence from a column in the neighborhood newsletter—both in Dropbox and on the pc. Fortunately I had sent it to the formatter, and she supplied a copy which I saved very carefully.  Lesson learned—I think I get in a rush and don’t notice that the computer is saving things under the title of whatever was last saved. Scared me though.
One other bit of bad excitement—my car wouldn’t start for Jacob last night. He is tasked with starting it occasionally and asked last night if he could back it up just a bit. It was dead, though it had been started last weekend. Jordan was all for selling it immediately, but with Christian’s advice, I ordered a car battery starter. It’s not parked so that we can put another car next to it and jump it.
That’s enough excitement for one day. Peace, y’all, and be safe and well.

Meal planning—not what you think

Cashew Chicken - dinner last night
thanks to Christian
In the “to do” stack on my desk—and in the back of my mind—is an essay on the temptations of quarantine. You see, I am sort of enjoying quarantine, even while I’m horrified at the illness and death ravaging our country (don’t let me digress). Of course I miss restaurant meals with my friends and the like, but now I have an excuse to sink into the bubble that my wonderful daughter, Jordan, has created for me. I can write, read, nap, and cook—a purely self-indulgent life. And I do see friends—a few, who we know are also quarantining, come by for a BYOB, distanced, masked happy hour occasionally. And I don’t have to do the few things in this world that I really don’t want to do, although I did go to the dentist.
But last night I discovered another plus to quarantine, and I think it will have to go in that essay, should I ever finish it. Jordan and I spent a companionable hour and a half going over recipes and choosing our dinners for the week to come. Yes, we had glasses of wine at our elbows.
When we first started this communal living—Jordan and family (the boys, as we call the father and son) in the house and me in the cottage—we gathered for family dinner on Sunday nights in the house. Other than that, we were on our own. All of us frequently had outside dinner plans; sometimes Christian’s work happy hours kept him out late; Jordan had happy hours for work and pleasure; I had weekly dinners with friends. it was just easier to each cook for ourselves. Sometimes when Jordan would come to the cottage about five-thirty in the evening, I’d ask what they were having for dinner, and she’d shrug and say, “I have no idea.”
But with quarantine, all that changed and the meal planning sessions gradually developed. None of us went anywhere—no more restaurant meals or happy hours. With grocery delivery, it was easiest to pool our lists and place one or two orders a week. These days, masked and gloved, Jordan ventures to the grocery, but we pretty much order from Central Market and pick it up at curbside delivery. A friend goes to Trader Joe’s and always checks with Jordan to see what we need. We do order take-out occasionally, but with a few exceptions we find what we cook at home tastes so much better.
Most evenings we eat in the cottage. Christian and I do most of the cooking, while Jordan does clean-up—and Jacob gets the garbage detail. We’ve all had to make some adjustments—the Burtons don’t like some things that I enjoy. Cold summer soups and squash come immediately to mind. Christian has been slow to come to some things, but is now enthusiastic about salmon, and he liked the Dover sole we did one night recently. I’m not responsible for shaping his palate, but I do sometimes wonder where I went amuck raising Jordan. I, on the other hand, have learned to appreciate more Asian dishes—Christian’s specialty—and I am indebted to him for leaving bell pepper and hot spices out of everything he cooks.
So what took us an hour and a half last night? First of all, my gigantic folder of things I want to try—every time I go through it, I eliminate a few that I know I won’t cook. But it’s still bulging. Then a recipe for red beans and rice (I know—who needs a recipe?) reminded me of a beef and bean dish I cooked when the kids were little, and Jordan immediately wanted that. Luckily, it’s in my first cookbook—Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, so I still have it on the computer. We’ll have it one night this week.
After our planning, we’ll also have Mongolian beef (Christian does a superb job on that), chicken with pesto and noodles, family favorite Doris’ casserole, Asian dishes so Christian can play with his new work. Tonight it’s hamburger Stroganoff, because I need a picture for a guest blog pushing Saving Grace. And Jordan and I will cook together--from my seated walker, it's hard for me to use two hands to scrape a bowl or skillet, and she happily does such for me. It's a good system, and it will be a good week.

My newest yard art
Courtesy the Tomball Alters

Nasty doings continue

Sophie trying so hard to be still
as she waits for a daredevil squirrel to reappear
This is not a peaceful weekend in our calm and lovely neighborhood. The wrap-up from last night’s excitement with a kidnapper hiding by the creek is pretty much what you’d expect—he was caught and that’s all we know. We probably never will get the whole truth of it. I did see a clip of him and the girl running down the street—he should try out for sprint races! That guy can run, though I guess he had some incentive. The girl couldn’t keep up, and he clearly never looked back to see what was happening to her. The video shows her veering off the street and heading for a house. Originally the rumor was that there were two or three people in addition to the supposed kidnap-victim, but that clearly was hype. The police, however, did arrest the girl. Apparently, she was an “acquaintance” of the man. And they began their flight in a stolen vehicle in San Antonio, not Waco. A picture shows a car that is pretty much totaled.
And the neighborhood has moved on. This morning we learned that the plate glass on two Park Place businesses was shattered in an act of senseless vandalism. Winehaus, a cozy wine bar scheduled to close at the end of the month, had the windows shattered, and next to it, the front door of Chadra Mezza was smashed. As someone pointed out on the neighborhood listserv, it’s hard to believe that anyone could get away with this on a main street and an evening when police presence in the neighborhood was extraordinarily heavy.
We are unhappily accustomed in my neighborhood to what I call night walkers—people, mostly young men and often wearing backpacks, who walk the driveways, checking all car doors for an unlocked one. Some take whatever they find—like loose coins, a cell telephone, whatever, and others just resort to messing up the interior, strewing papers around, etc. Woe to the person who leaves a laptop in the car. Most of us are now pretty good about locking our cars, but I have heard there is a magnetic device that can pop the lock on some cars—I imagine older cars, which would fit my 2004 VW.  A lot of households now have Ring or other cameras that cover the driveweay, so our listserv gets pictures of these intruders. It’s petty theft and vandalism, but willful destruction of  business windows seems to raise nasty activity to a new pay grade.
And as a final insult, the patio umbrella in our yard crashed into the ground cover. No serious damage, but we are bumfuzzled how it crashed on a calm, stll morning. It was upright until about ten o’clock this morning, but when I looked out it had suddenly gone down. I did have a bizarre thought last night as I sat locked in my cottage with the umbrella casting strange shadows and red and green scatter lights playing on the neighbor’s outside wall that I was probably perfectly safe. If the fugitive did make it into our yard, he would think he’d wandered into an alternate universe and prefer to take his chances outside with the law on his tail. The umbrella is righted now and all seems in order.
May your world stay in as much order as possible in the coming week, and may you stay safe and healthy.

A little Saturday night excitement

Helicopters circling overhead, police SUV vehicles racing down our street—and me oblivious to all of it until a breathless Jordan came to the cottage to alarm me. The story was vague at first—a kidnapping and a car wreck, with the assumption the car wreck freed the kidnap victim, billed as a girl (could be anywhere from seven or so to 20).
Then more details trickled in, though I doubt any of it is official. The car was stolen in Waco and wrecked in the creek east of Lily B. Elementary—where those desperadoes thought they were going is a mystery since all streets in that area dead end at the creek. So the next report was that state troopers with machine guns were searching the creek, looking for three people.
Jordan and I sat on the patio but when the helicopters began circling overhead again, she rushed me inside, told me to lock the door, and said she be back with her key. So now she’s back, with a report they are still looking for the suspects, including a Black man with an Afro.
In the midst of all this, Christian has gone to Tokyo Café to pick up our dinners.
This is the stuff of a thriller—too bad I write cozies. I asked Jordan what she would do if the kidnap victim came to her door. She said, and I applaud this, she would step outside, lock the door, and call 911. She would do that to protect her family. It occurred to me, since so much is unknown, that the girl who came to someone’s front door could well be one of the criminals deciding to cover herself with the story of a kidnapping. Hard-hearted as it may sound, we have to consider all possibilities these days.
Meantime I am locked in my cottage, wishing for fresh air.
Bulletin: one person still at large (no word on how many in custody). Girl claims she was kidnapped in Waco, and troopers have been pursuing them since Waco. If all that pans out, it was a terrifying experience for the girl. The possibilities are endless—darn, maybe I should try my hand at a thriller. I don’t mean to sound insensitive. It’s just hard to process that this goes down in your own quiet, lovely neighborhood.
We’ve had a string of happy hour nights, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I was looking forward to a low-key, calm night tonight. Because the Burtons were to be gone for several nights, I had lined up guests every night. Between cooking myself dinners and happy hours at night, I was kind of tired.
The Burtons meanwhile turned their unexpected stay at home into parties and had two, small, distanced happy hours on the front porch to celebrate Christian’s birthday. No, I won’t say which one, but I will say it’s not decade changing although he, like my younger son and other son-in-law are approaching that milestone—they were  all born in the same year.
Last night was a special treat. Jordan had a surprise guest for Christian—his friend Gary from Dallas, with whom he went to college (a few years ago, ahem!). I knew Gary but not well until one day Christian said, “You ought to friend Gary on Facebook.” I replied I wasn’t sure he even knew who I was, but Christian said, “Oh, he knows.” Since then, Gary and I have become fast friends, sharing everything from simpatico politics to a love of dogs and some thoughts on food. I promised him next time he came to Fort Worth, I’d make tuna casserole, but that didn’t seem fair on Christian’s birthday—he hates tuna. Anyway, we visited late last night on the patio, after the other guests had gone, and this morning, again on the patio, over coffee. Such a pleasure! And he has promised to come back. In spite of huge differences, including age, I feel like I’ve found a brother under the skin.
Apparently, all is quiet on the western—or wait, eastern—front right now, so I have my patio door open and am enjoying a pleasant, if slightly hot night. First sound of helicopters, I’m locking the doors. Hope to read more in the morning and untangle this neighborhood thriller.

Blogging woes

Way back in 2006, my daughter-in-law Melanie looked at me and announced, “You should start a blog.” Blogs were pretty new back then, and I had never even thought about it. “I don’t have anything to say,” I protested. “Sure you do,” she said. “You can talk about grandmothering and cooking and writing. Call it Judy’s Stew, because it will be a mix of all those things.” And that’s how Judy’s Stew began.
I should add that Melanie, who works in the health care insurance industry, is a talented writer herself. She started a blog some time later, called The Raggedy Edge, if I remember, and the post she wrote when my oldest granddaughter turned into a teen—a loveable teen, if you can imagine—blew me away. I hope I have it saved someplace.
Ever since Mel’s suggestion, I have written on my blog more nights than not. It’s been a joy for me—let me keep sharpening my writing skills, kept me alert to things around me that I wanted to talk about, made me lots of new friends.
Somewhere along the way I added a food blog once a week, Potluck with Judy, and solicited recipes from others. It worked and it didn’t, was a hassle, and I let it drop. When I published the cookbook, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, after my move to a 600-square foot cottage where zoning laws forbid a stove (can’t have two kitchens on one property), I started a new blog, picking up where the cookbook left off. That too has been a joy, forcing me to think creatively about cooking and to try new recipes and techniques.
Now it’s all threatened, and I’m bummed. I’ve always posted my blogs through Blogger.com (Wordpress seemed too complicated). Blogger has done the unforgiveable and “upgraded.” It’s called fixing what ain’t broke. I cannot figure out the new system—my attempts have led to disaster. The other day I posted a picture smack dab in the middle of the carefully-designed header to the blog and couldn’t get it out. Last night’s, Gourmet post suddenly had a sidebar of gigantic pictures of my Tomball family when they were here last weekend.
I sent an SOS to the computer guru who designs my web page. She fixed the first problem, but today, due to Isaias, she has no power, promises to fix delete those pictures as soon as the power comes on and to maybe figure a way to lead me through the new Blogger. They are threatening to take down the old version—they call it the legacy version—August 24, but I don’t really want to write a farewell blog on August 23.
I’m not alone in this unhappiness. There have been lots of complaints on the Guppies listserv (Going to be Published—a sub-group of Sisters in Crime) and on Facebook. I’m going to lodge a complaint, although I’ve queried for help twice and heard nothing.
And my fingers are crossed for what this one looks like tonight. Life does not have to be complicated by “upgrades” which make things worse.

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