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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 Bound Book
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Judy's Latest Blog Entries

Do you have a safe place?

 



Several days ago, I read a blog post by a writer show said that when she was stressed, she went for a drive on small country roads and found solace in familiar places. Easy enough for her to do—she lives in a small town in Maine. But for those of us who are city dwellers, such oases maybe hard to find. So, I close my eyes and go in my mind.

My longtime safe place is an outcrop about halfway up a tall dune in the Indiana States Dunes Park. When I was a child my family had a cabin at the top of that dune, up two very long flights of stairs from the beach. The cabin was primitive—no electricity, no running water. To the front of the living area, great windows looked out over Lake Michigan. The cabin was at the very foot of the lake, and I loved to watch storms roll down the lake and stir up the waters on our beach. My mom taught us to enjoy a storm, never to fear it, a habit I carry to this day (if there are no tornadoes). To the back of the house, windows looked out on a lovely, dense woods. The hitch was that the outhouse was down a small hill in those woods—a perilous journey in the night.

For refrigeration, we had a cold box on a pulley. Once a week, the iceman cometh—bringing a great block of ice which went down the hole first and then the box was lowered on top of it. Mom knew to put milk on the bottom shelf, closest to the ice. I can’t even remember what Mom cooked on before we got bottled gas. I do remember that she washed dishes in cistern water and then rinsed them in scalding water she’d boiled on some sort of stove. There was a pot-bellied stove in the living area for warmth. At night, we read by kerosene lamps, with Dad always warning us to turn the light down lest we burn the mantel. The dim light was hard to read by, and we went to bed early. I should also mention that the closest we could drive to the cabin was about a mile. We had to pack food and groceries in on our backs, often in old army duffle bags. You could go down the beach—and for the first trip when we arrived each summer, we sometimes had so much to carry we hired the park Jeep to drive that mile. But we preferred the woods—we parked at a shelter house, under a tree, and hiked in over a long bridge across the swamp and then up and down sandy paths. The woods were always cool.  That hike was also perilous at night, and at least once Dad stopped us while a skunk made its leisurely way across the path.

I usually took a friend with me when we went there. We thought it was heaven—days spent on the beach, hiking through the woods, playing Monopoly. Food tasted better there than anywhere else. We came back to Chicago tanned and healthy and happy.

My safe place, where I go now, was a crop-out on the path to friends’ cabin, below the second set of stairs. I can remember sitting there, staring out over the lake, my dog—a wild collie mix named Timmy—by my side. I could pull up a blade of dune grass and pull it through my teeth. There was usually at least a small breeze, though I always enjoyed the strong wind of a storm. I could angle my vision to the right and look across the lake at sunset to see Chicago with the setting sun behind it. The sun would be a bright orange globe, and the tall buildings of Chicago, not even toothpick size. Behind me, sometimes, my dad would be taking sunset pictures. When he died, he had a closet full of those old-fashioned slides, mostly sunsets or flowers from his gardens.

I have a new safe place, and it’s a fine one, though it doesn’t come with the same memories. My son Colin and his family live on either the smallest lake or biggest tank in Tomball, Texas. There is a patio, with benches and chairs looking out over the water and an arboretum overhead (that could easily drop bugs in your wine). We go there sometimes in the evening, with an after-dinner wine and sit in quiet peace.

So maybe it’s water that makes a safe place for me. I am not a swimmer, though I swam when young. Still I was never completely comfortable in the water. I’ve always said I do not want to be in it or on it, but I love to look at it.

How about your safe place?

A sociable day—and a mind-boggling one

 


A gorgeous salmon filet ready for the oven.


My resolve to focus on the Helen Corbitt project went all to hell today. The day began with a brief trip to a medical laboratory for instructions on a test. Then home to make tuna salad for a lunch guest. I had jammed in some work before the 9:15 appointment, including checking corrections on the last pass of Finding Irene proofs. Home again, with an hour between the tuna salad and arrival of good friend Melinda for lunch, I wrote exactly one paragraph and then did odds and ends.

Melinda was as anxious as I was to watch the January 6 committee special hearing, so while we munched on tuna, we stared at the TV screen. So much for catching up with a friend I haven’t seen for six months. But we were both mesmerized, and she more reactive than I. When something extraordinary would come out, Melinda pumped her fist in the air and yelled, “Yes.” At one point, when it was revealed that trump wanted the magnetometers removed even though they were detecting scary arms among the protestors, Melinda said, “He’s toast.” I hope she’s right.

I did find the proceedings riveting and Cassy Hutchinson one of the most admirable young persons I’ve seen in many a year. I applaud her bravery, even in the face of death threats. And I am, like many Americans, appalled at the things that came out—like the former guy throwing a plate of food against the wall or attempting to strangle a security aide who wouldn’t follow his wishes. There’s been some fallout, but I am anxiously awaiting various news analyses to, I hope, confirm my reaction to today’s explosive revelations.

While watching the hearing, I was also trying to watch the memorial service for Bob Lyon, father of my friend Sue Springfield. Bob was a Canadian law enforcement officer, serving with the Provincial Police for over thirty-four years. He was also a genial man who enjoyed a glass of wine and loved to tell a good story. I thoroughly enjoyed his annual visits stateside, and I will miss knowing he is not among us.

Somehow, I snuck in a nap in mid-afternoon and then was up and ready when our regular Tuesday night happy hour neighbors arrived at five o’clock. Talk ranged from what children were doing to real estate and preparations for moving out of an older home, long loved. Then about six, my niece Jennifer arrived.

I haven’t seen Jenn, I don’t think, in over a year. She is a busy single mother of two daughters, fifteen and twelve—not quite driving and requiring a lot of chauffeuring for their various activities. We had a lovely visit—caught up on her, the girls, her dad (my brother), her stepmom—just sharing old times. I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of a renewed relationship. I have told her all along that I wanted her girls to know me, but her busy schedule didn’t allow for much leeway.

We had salmon for dinner—not unusual in this house. But the way I cooked it was different. Slow roasted, which I never thought of. I rubbed a 1.5 lb. filet with olive oil on the surface, skin side down, and then seasoned it with salt and pepper, minced parsley, and assorted herbs from my garden. Cooked it at 250 for twenty-five minutes. Perfectly cooked. No need for lemon or anything else. It was delicious. Christian made asparagus with Parmesan and smashed wee potatoes—and I do mean wee--to go with it. A good dinner. I hope Jenn didn’t get the idea that we eat that way every night.

Now it’s nine o’clock—not late, but later than I want to do any extensive writing or research, so I will probably read and prepare for what I hope will be a heavy workday tomorrow. Even without rain these cooler days have been a blessing. May they continue, although the weatherman tells us they will not.

Christian tells me everything in the garden is in survival mode because of the heat and the drought. I believe it because I too am in survival mode. Because of weather, the January 6 committee revelations, the ongoing outrageous decisions spewing out of SCOTUS. Some days, it’s hard to keep the faith, but I am trying. You try too, please.

 

 

Thoughts on pregnancy and motherhood

 


My family, albeit thirteen years ago.
Those babies are teens and older now.

It’s late, and I am tired. I was not going to post on my blog tonight because it’s been a long day. Long, but a good day. I actually began to come to grips with my new project—a biography of Helen Corbitt, doyenne of food service at Neiman Marcus. I hope to fit her into the dramatically changing foodways of America in the fifties and sixties, the years she was at Neiman’s. But writing such stuff is slow and hard going, and my brain is tired.

So, tonight I read a bit on a novel I’m currently intrigued by—more about that another time—and I scrolled through Facebook, partly because you can do that without truly engaging your brain, but also because I want to read everything I can about the decisions coming out of our rogue SCOTUS. I am alarmed that they dismissed charges against two physicians convicted of pushing opioids, that they upheld a coach’s right to pray at the sidelines in a decision which is being widely heralded as giving teachers the right to encourage students (Christian, of course) to pray in class, that the court will probably issue a decision limiting the EPA’s power to enforce environmental protections on the states. Are they rushing—for they do seem in a hurry—to destroy every facet of American life? Rumors are rife that they will next take on contraception and gay marriage. And of course, somewhere along the line, I’m sure they will enforce book banning and governmental dictation of school curriculum? Slavery? No, no, you can’t teach about that. The Greenwood Massacre? Never mention it.

But the abortion ruling is much on my mind. I have thought about what I have to contribute to the discussion, and I don’t know that it’s that much. But here I go. I am pro-life in that I am opposed to abortion, but I firmly believe that’s me, and I do not have the right to force that opinion on anyone else, not even my daughters. When I married, I had never given any thought to whether I would have children. But my then-husband, a physician, desperately wanted babies. After five years of marriage, endless tests, and more than a few embarrassing moments—the hospital nurses who asked, “When are you two going to put a baby in our nursery?”—it was clear that I wasn’t going to conceive. One completely unexpected miscarriage sealed that conclusion. I had been given fertility drugs, and I have always thought since that God knew what he was doing. That fetus was not meant to come into this world. But that experience speaks to me as I read of women accused of infanticide because they miscarried. And it also left me with the profound belief that being able to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a healthy baby was a gift from God.

We adopted—four beautiful children. I, the one who wasn’t sure about parenthood, turned out to be the parent. My husband moved on, out of the marriage, and I, more than a little frightened, raised four babies by myself, from the time they were ages twelve to six. Today, they are four wonderful adults—good gravy, can you believe three of the four have passed fifty? They make me proud every day, they have given me seven beautiful grandchildren, and we are a huge, rowdy happy family.

If one of those girls—my two daughters and my two in-law daughters—had ever wanted to abort a pregnancy, barring a severe threat to their health, I would have been heartbroken. But I would have kept that to myself, and that never happened. We all rejoiced in the arrival of every baby. I often think that we live a life of privilege—and I sometimes ask God “Why me?” because I know the circumstances of my life could be so much harder. But we were blessed—each of my four were able to provide for their babies without hardship (yeah, there was a bit of careful budgeting early on) and they have been able to give their children comfortable and happy childhoods. (Ask me about family get-togethers sometime.)

So that’s where I am: pro-life and opposed to what I might call casual abortion, but a firm advocate of abortion in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother, or a severely deformed infant. And an advocate of every woman's right of sovereignty over her own body. What I find frightening in the states’ trigger laws that the Dobbs decision enacted is the inflexibility, that “one size fits all” mentality, the refusal to listen to medical science but instead to follow what passes for scriptural law.

If anti-abortionists want to follow God’s word, they need to realize that the Talmud, that source of Jewish wisdom, advocates abortion in the case of the mother’s health. And the Bible, the ultimate source for so many Christians, never mentions it. What the Christian Bible emphasizes is love.

Whether saving babies or keeping women out of power is the real purpose is another subject for another time. But I am a worried woman tonight.

Sometimes it’s all about food

     

Jacob's going away dinner
Wonder what we'll get when he goes to college.

It seemed that way this weekend. Last night we had a big “celebration” dinner for Jacob’s last night at home before two weeks at Sky Ranch in Colorado. He’s been going to that camp since he was seven or so every summer—for years he went to the main camp near Van in East Texas, but last year and this year he goes to a remote site near Colorado Springs. Yep, he’ll be on a bus all night tonight. He loves it and was excited to go. So Christian cooked a really wonderful dinner—excellent filets and oven roasted potatoes, and Jordan fixed a blue cheese salad. And sneaky me had the last piece of chocolate mousse cake, from Jacob’s birthday, in my fridge (no, I wasn’t hogging—they have some inside, but I don’t think they are eating it).

Friday night I fixed myself a bowl—hummus, cucumber, thinly sliced radish, and smoked salmon, seasoned by Everything But the Bagel. It was things I thought I would like but no one else would—a strange combination. I decided I liked all of it except the Everything But the Bagel (I’m not a fan of that seasoning anyway), and I wasn’t sure that the smoked salmon didn’t get lost. But my liking for hummus was reawakened and now I’m sorry I forot to order more with this week’s list.

Tonight Jean came for supper, and we had the rest of the package of smoked salmon, with rice crackers, for an appetizer. Then I fixed the imitation crab salad that I wrote about a few days ago—and speaking of seasonings, I think what distinguishes that salad is the Old Bay seasoning. So good! And I cooked my first Bok Choy—braised it in garlicky olive oil and then finished with lemon. Jean, who is more knowledgeable about that vegetable than I am, said it was perfectly cooked.

But Bok Choy is in a class of foods that a gastroenterologist told me I should avoid this week. I thought the stomach troubles were due to a return of my lactose intolerance, but he said dairy is only the main offender, and I should be wary of fruit (I really don’t eat much except bananas and occasional blueberries) and of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, etc. We eat a lot of broccoli because Jacob likes it, and I adore spinach, so those are hard for me. Kale I can easily do without. It occurs to me that I have eaten bananas without the Lactaid. Oops.

But the one thing I heard from the doctor is something I am really weary of hearing. It’s the phrase, “As we age ….” And you can imagine what follows. The gastroenterologist explained to me that as we age, we are more like to exhaust our supply of lact-whatever or other enzymes that help us digest foods. So that’s probably what has happened to me.

Not too long ago an ophthalmologist said to me, “As we age . . . .” explaining why one of my eyes leaks. I will be talking to someone in a perfectly normal, fine conversation, not emotional, and this big teardrop rolls down my left cheek. The doctor said as we age, the lower eye lid sags and releases more liquid. Thank you so much for that. Actually he was a nice and very competent physician—I trusted what he said. I just didn’t like it.

The good news is that I took Lactaid and then ate cottage cheese for the first time in weeks. I adore cottage cheese, and it tasted so good. I added some of the batch of marinated cucumber and sweet onion I made to keep in the fridge. Delicious. Honest, I don’t mind aging if I can eat cottage cheese—and keep my wits about me.

So now we’re headed into another week. Jordan and Christian tell me they will be home several nights for dinner, so I’ve got my thinking cap on. I feel we should eat the things Jacob wouldn’t like, while saving those he would for his return. So maybe chicken stir fry, and salmon one night, and poor boy sandwiches—oops the teenager loves those!

As I write I hear distant thunder teasing us into thinking we’ll get some rain. The forecast said “possible” and “early evening” so maybe we’ve aged out of any possible rain. It’s so hot and so dry. I mentioned that the flowers weren’t blooming, and Christian replied, “They are in survival mode.”

These days, I think that’s all of us. We’re in survival mode. Pulling our heads into our houses, like turtles, and hoping to keep evil away from ourselves and our families.

Feeling invisible

 



The Supreme Court ruling doing away with Roe v. Wade essentially made women second-class citizens, without the autonomy that men enjoy. For some reason that reminded me of a feeling that I have experienced lately especially with medical personnel. Because I no longer drive, Jordan accompanies me to most medical appointments, and too often, the doctor, nurse, whoever talks to Jordan about me, as if I were invisible or, at the least, addled. I’m not sure if it is the wheelchair (if a long walk is involved, we take my transport chair instead of the walker) or if it is just age.

One day last week, I had an appointment with a physician I’ve seen off and on for maybe thirty years. He talked directly to me. Jordan occasionally offered an opinion, and he acknowledged that. But his focus was on me. But when an aide came in with the follow-up paperwork, the aide completely ignored me and talked to Jordan. Some time ago, when I had a root canal, the oral surgeon explained carefully to Jordan what he had done, showing her illustrations. I was still in the dental chair, but he could have turned me around to see the illustration. He didn’t, and he told her in careful detail what post-op procedures I should follow. I was a second-class citizen. And now I am permanently—or until the ruling is reversed.

I’ve been wondering today about checks on the Supreme Court, because so much of what I’ve read indicates that was a flawed and heavily biased decision that follows personal agendas of the justices. Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett apparently lied under oath in their confirmation hearings, saying that Roe was established precedent and would not be touched. Justices Thomas and Barrett are obviously compromised and should have recused themselves, he because of his wife who was involved in plotting to overthrow our democracy, and she because she is associated with a restrictive organization from the religious right that does not promote women’s rights. Can they be impeached?

Scholars have been quick to point out problems with Justice Alito’s written decision, from his reliance on an eighteenth-century jurist who prosecuted witches to his focus on nineteenth-century thinking on abortion, influenced as it was by the status of women in the pre-Civil War days—they could not own property or vote and were essentially chattel owned by their husbands. Like the refusal to ban assault weapons, it applies historically out-of-date thinking to twenty-first century problems. Historian Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her “Letter from an American” last night that Alito’s decision relies on inaccurate history. Other sources point out that the decision flies in the face of established precedent and is the first time the court, which usually grants rights, has taken away an established right. What the heck is going on?

And where is Justice Roberts in all of this? I read that he wanted a slower approach to the abortion problem (and problem it is!) but didn’t prevail. Exactly what are the responsibilities of a chief justice? What authority does he hold? He seems to be just letting the court run rogue without any direction. Should he resign?

Where does the will of the people come in? Quite obviously the majority of Americans want abortion laws relaxed, even if not entirely written out of the books. What if any is the court’s responsibility to the people of the U.S.?

And why are so many men pushing for rigid abortion laws? I understand the position of some Christians, ranging from orthodox to evangelical, that abortion is murder of a living being. But when it threatens the life of the mother or gives life to a badly deformed fetus, I don’t understand the rationale. I respect others’ beliefs, but I want them to respect mine, which is that an established life takes precedence over an unborn fetus when a choice is necessary. Interestingly enough, that is written into the Talmud where abortion is explicitly called for if the mother is in danger. Although the Bible, as Christians know it, praises God as the creator of life, it does not explicitly mention abortion.

So why are these men so rabid on the subject? I hate to believe that greed for money and power would lead them to run roughshod over lives, but what else, besides a prurient interest in intimacy, could it be? Are they so threatened by the increasing power of women in business, the arts, and life in general that they must subjugate us, take us back in history instead of forward to the future?

I don’t think this is the last word, and it will be interesting to see it play out. Meantime, though, some women are caught in the moment. More than one clinic waiting room was full of patients with procedures scheduled for that day when the decision was announced. The would-be patients had to go home. And not many of them can afford to fly to California.

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