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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 Ed.
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Judy's Latest Blog Entries

Lots of nothing—and maybe a lesson in political reconciliation

That’s the kind of week it’s been. Seems like there’s nothing going on, but really there’s been a lot.

Jacob went off to eighth grade Monday morning without notable enthusiasm for the prospect—he looked cute though. Temperature was forecast to be 102, so he wore his hoodie. Just in  case, I suppose. In Austin, grandsons Sawyer and Ford went back to school—eighth and seventh grades—and in Tomball, Kegan went to seventh and Morgan started her first year in high school. I tried to grab their first-day pictures from Facebook but couldn’t. In Frisco, Eden started her junior year in high school, while Maddie is junior at Colorado in Boulder. They’re growing so fast! I laughed at the friend who confessed she still thinks of Megan as a TCU student—only about twenty-eight years behind, but that friend moved away years ago and until recently didn’t keep in close touch. Nice to have her back in the fold.

School also started at Lily B. Clayton Elementary across the street from us and brought complications—the city has put up No Parking signs in front of our house, effective from 7:00-9:00 in the morning and 2:00-4:00 in the afternoon. For a three-car family, with a skinny 1920s driveway, that’s a real hardship. We also have new Stop signs, though thank goodness they are not in front of us. I don’t see how the No Parking is going to help—it should be down the street where the crossing guard is. An engineer from the city will meet with us “in the field” next week. Perhaps he’ll explain the logic.

Monday was much taken up by Jordan’s bad back and a doctor’s appointment. She has been referred to a specialist but won’t been seen until August 29. When you’re in the kind of pain she is, I’m sure that seems an eternity. There’s not much I can do to help, but I’m trying. Made Frito pie for everyone one night, and helped put together a big salad last night.

Tuesday I managed to get a whole lot done. Finished edits on my ranching history novel, and it has now gone back to the formatter for finishing touches. I’m excited about publishing it in September. And I put together what I think will be a huge issue of the Poohbah, Berkeley neighborhood newsletter. Lots of good stuff about who did what over the summer, back-to-school pictures, and marvelous photographs of the painted churches around Schulenburg plus the usual monthly features. Still tying up loose ends.

My former student, now a chef, came for lunch today and declared I had fixed the perfect light lunch. Always pleases me to get her culinary approval. Recipes will be on my cooking blog, http://www.gourmetonahotplate.blogspot.com, tomorrow. After lunch we had our own mini meeting of Better Angels, the group that tries to bring together people of opposing political views. I asked why she supports trump, and she said the economy is doing well. I fear that my protests that it’s not really healthy at all fell on deaf ears.

But on a lot of issues she agreed with me—the hilarious folly of this kerfuffle over buying Greenland, the unbelievable promise to the NRA’s LaPierre that background checks are off the table despite trump’s words at the times of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. She’s not sure climate change is real and says there are two sides, doesn’t believe we could lose the earth, while I think it is desperate. We agree that we need health care reform and immigration reform—pre-existing conditions might be a deal-breaker for her, and she says trump is not the kind of person she’d ever sit down and have a beer with.  It astounds me that given that she still thinks he’s the person to run the country. We kept it light, but that is hard for me because I feel so intensely about the earth’s current situation. I did find that she was unaware of several things I mentioned—one of the reasons I keep posting on Facebook. We need an informed voting populace.

I have one other friend that I haven’t seen since trump took office because I can’t bear her support for him. I don’t know if I have the strength for reconciliation there, but today was a lesson for me.

Tonight, a relaxing dinner with Betty at the Tavern.
How much things have changed

And so, another year begins….

It was “Back to Church Sunday” at our church today, and at the end of the service, an invasion of young children poured into the sanctuary, each wearing a backpack. They crowded together on the steps of the chancel for the blessings of the backpacks. A truly wonderful sight. If you feel cynical about our old world, the sight of those bright, hopeful faces would soften your heart.

Jacob, going into eighth grade this week, is of course too old and too sophisticated to get his backpack blessed, but we all went to a Sunday-school hour program to hear about the offerings coming up this year for students from middle school through high school—bell choir, missionary trips, Sunday night snacks, day trips. Someone—children’s minister Jamie Plunkett and his assistants—had worked hard on some complicated programing.

The whole thing took me back to my high school days. I think in part the course of my adult life was determined by my close involvement with a church group. The United Church of Hyde Park, and its neighbor, the Hyde Park YMCA, were the center of my social world. We all went to church together and afterward to hang out at Thomas’ Drugstore across the street—the drugstore owners were not always thrilled but we usually had fries and cokes; sometimes we sang in the choir; we met every Sunday night, though now I’m a little vague about what we did. My first boyfriends and all my close girlfriends came from that group. The group was called something that sounded like “Tuxus”—I never saw it written out and am quite sure I have gotten it wrong. An internet search turns up no such word.

When we weren’t at the church, we were, as a group, at someone’s house. There was usually a chess game going on and lots of pizza ordered. To this day, I avoid pizza with the excuse the I overdosed on it in high school—that includes cold, leftover pizza for breakfast.

This was not my family church. That was in another neighborhood, where I knew no one. A close friend introduced me to the United church when we were young enough to be in a Brownie troop. We graduated not into Girl Scouts (though I was a Scout for a while) but into the high-school church group (there was no middle school in Chicago in those days). My parents, familiar with the opportunities for youngsters to go astray on the South side of Chicago, sanctioned my attending another church, though Dad, son of a Methodist preacher, remained loyal to the Methodist Church. I occasionally went to football games or “hung out’ with kids they deemed inappropriate, and I think they saw the church as a safe haven.

Our dances were at the YMCA— those were the days of the jitterbug, but I was too self-conscious to learn to do it –and my high-school “sorority” was a YMCA group called “Calliope,” probably after the Greek goddess who presides over poetry and eloquence. I’m not sure I can see a connection, but I had the sweatshirt to prove it.

I was in the middle of a group of what today we would call nice young people. They were by no means goody-two-shoes, but they knew where and when to draw the line. And at that age, group acceptance is so important—especially for someone with my shy, wallflower tendencies. I was part of the group, though strangely one of the youngest and shortest, and I was happy. I had no need to look beyond my world for thrills or new experiences.

Jacob has his own group, a bunch of good boys from elementary school. In middle school, he’s branched out a bit in friendship but some of those boys are still the core of his social life. He is not as comfortable with the church kids, because he only knows a few of them, and as I looked at a gaggle of girls and boys today, I realized that I didn’t recognize any of them. A few others, like Jacob, sat quietly with their parents.

I wish for Jacob, and for all my grandchildren, as rich a high school experience as I had. It’s served me in good stead over the years. I’ve been saddened as word came of a death here and there of someone who remained forever young in my mind, and I occasionally wonder the familiar, “Whatever happened to….” But I am still in touch with two of the girls and what they say about old friendships is true—they are gold.
I drove by the church a few years ago when my children and I were in Chicago, and I was surprised at how small it looked. I wonder if the Fellowship Hall still has that wavy floor and the balcony around the edge with Sunday school rooms off it. ah, the memories.

A day in the country

Confession: I am a workaholic, a conclusion I probably reached years ago but am acutely aware of again today. For the second day in a row, I did not a lick of work. Jordan and I went today to visit my brother at his ranch outside Tolar—for those not in the know, Tolar s a small town mostly of deserted stone buildings beyond Granbury, between Fort Worth and Stephenville. Okay if  you’re not from North Texas, it won’t make sense.

Tolar does have a fine-looking bank and an all-purpose quick-stop store and the Methodist church which is our signal of where to turn off the highway. But the stone buildings have taken root in my mind—several are shells, roofless, windows gone, yet standing strong and straight. Someday I want to know the story of Tolar when it was a vibrant community, when those stone buildings were filled with people and activity. Today, I want to see someone move in and put clever gift shops and restaurants in those structures, but I suppose the problem is that Granbury is too close. Everyone goes there for shopping, dining, whatever. Granbury has the historic square and a new, supper HEB grocery—what else could one want? 
When you turn at the Methodist church in Tolar you go through a small residential area—so people really do live there—and worship there, because there are a couple of good-sized, solid-looking churches. But when you turn you still have nine miles to go to my brother’s ranch. 
We went because John, a retired osteopathic physician, has inherited the family ability for osteopathic treatment. In short, he has magic hands. And Jordan has been, as we say in the vernacular, down in the back. So while John treated her, I had a good visit with sister-in-law Cindy, and then we all had a wonderful lunch of chicken salad and fruit salad—delicious peach from a tree in their yard and wonderful large sweet blueberries from Costco.

Is Jordan cured? Not by a long shot—to both their disappointment. But she and her uncle now have a better handle on what’s going on in her back. And if someone comes at her saying “surgery,” she knows her response.

And it was a fine day for a drive in the country—hot but sunny and the land looks partly green, partly brown—it is, after all, August in Texas. We went the Chisholm Trail Tollway, which is empty and fast, but we saw a horrendous accident. On the way out, the entire north-bound side of the tollway was shut down; on the way home, it was open with one lane only. An eighteen-wheeler had apparently hit the guard rail, flipped, and caught fire. Makes you worry about the driver—and is a sobering moment.

Scallops, which look belter than they tasted
Home, with most of the day gone, I fixed scallops for supper. I ordered a quarter lb. from Central Market and was tickled that they called to say that would only give me two—how many did I want? I said, just for me, three. Tried a new recipe and was disappointed—it called for brining them, and maybe I did it wrong, but they were way too salty. I’m going back to my tried-and-true and much simpler method.

A long but happy day.

Let’s reboot this day

tuna salad and squash casserole
an odd pairing but really good

No kidding. About noon today, I thought, “Judy Alter wants to recall this day,” so I could start over. It wasn’t anything really bad, just a lot of stuff.

My oldest daughter had surgery in Austin this morning. Routine stuff, all went textbook well, she is doing fine, her husband is taking good care of her and keeping us informed. Despite all that, there’s that maternal feeling that I should be there. I was there when both her boys were born, and I should be there now. And I’m not.

Then there’s the fact that I have not gotten one lick of work done, not read one word of the manuscript I’m editing. Spent a whole lot of the morning working on meal plans and grocery shopping—there seems to be a general sense of “We’re heading back into the school year, and we have to get organized.” And we got our family schedule mixed up. Jacob was going to the store with me, since Jordan wants someone on hand when I get in and out of the car and since there are grocery items it’s awkward for me to reach. But when Jacob would be available—he’s dog-sitting—was problematic.

I finally tried something I’ve been meaning to: ordered from Tom Thumb through Instacart. But then that bound me to the cottage to await delivery. All worked out, and delivery by a nice young man was fairly prompt. But they left out the Fritos I’ve tried three times to get—can’t make Frito pie without.

Then, in a rush, Jacob had to be driven up to the school to pick up his spirit shirts—only he couldn’t find the right person, said there was no spirit store, and returned to the car empty handed. This did not please his mother, who thought he hadn’t listened to her instructions, and he countered that she had it wrong—and there I was in the middle. Everyone lived happily ever after.

By the time lunch (sardine salad) had come and gone, I needed a nap. But refreshed, I went to pick up more groceries at Central Market. I remind myself of my mom—she used to get somethings at one store and others at another. I remain committed to Central Market for meat, fish, and produce but won’t buy household staples like toilet paper there. So I went to get my weekly order from Curbside Pickup.

And on the way home I went by our local mechanic, and he put a new light bulb in my right turn signal. That rapid clicking that indicates a burnt-out bulb is so annoying, and besides, I think it leaves you liable for a ticket, if not being rear-ended.

So those are three good things today, despite the negative atmosphere—Megan is doing fine, I found I can use Instacart successfully, and I got that darn right-turn signal fixed.

Tonight, after a pleasant happy hour with Jordan and Christian, I fixed a squash casserole and paired it with tuna salad from Central Market. Maybe tomorrow the world will be back in order.

New Mexico—wildflowers and hot food

I was unprepared for the gorgeous wildflowers in the mountains. Our friends’ cabin sits in a meadow that is literally a sea of flowers, mostly daisies but some black-eyed Susan and an occasional Queen Anne’s lace. It’s impossible to capture the glory of the wide sweep of grass and flowers on a cell phone camera, but a close-up gives you some idea.

In Holy Ghost Canyon, we saw a delicate pink flower that does not grow anywhere else in the world. Botanists have tried unsuccessfully to cultivate it, but the soil in the canyon must have just the right conditions for it.

Lower down, roads are often lined with feathery silver-green chamisa, so lovely to look at. Subie tells me however that many people are allergic to it, and I remember suggesting it for table flowers for my oldest daughter’s wedding—she was married at Bishops Lodge in Santa Fe. I thought the native plant touch would be nice, but the florist said that once cut, chamisa stinks.

Roads are also lined with larger willow bushes, and this year, because of heavier than usual rains, everything was green. So much for New Mexico as an arid state—at least not in this part.

While I loved the flowers, I had, as usual, a problem with food. I do not, cannot eat spicy food—neither my tongue nor my gut tolerate it. And hot pepper spice is everywhere in New Mexico. I have had some of the best meals of my life in Santa Fe but always in restaurants that offered alternatives. I remember a wonderful lobster dish at the Pink Adobe, for instance, or a trout hash at Pasquales. This trip, we had lunch the first day at Casa de Herreras in Pecos where the waitress steered me away from Frito Pie—it’s ubiquitous in New Mexico—and toward the chalupa cups, which I loved. Heavy with guacamole and no chili unless I wanted it, which I didn’t—so good. Chili in New Mexico is not chili in Texas—it’s a thin sauce, either red or green. On the theory that green peppers are milder than red, I always thought I should choose green. But even it is too hot.

With Jacob at Frankie's
With Jacob at Frankie's
In Santa Fe, at lunch one day, I almost reduced the waiter to tears. Having not seen much on the menu that appealed I decided on cheese enchiladas with chili. My Tex-Mex orientation was dominating, because I was envisioning a rolled enchilada stuffed with cheese and topped with chili con carne. Not so. I asked if the chili was hot, and the waiter said he’d bring both green and red. Did I want beans or posole? Refried. They only had charro. What kind of tortilla did I want? No tortilla. “Not under the cheese?” he asked incredulously—well I was thinking of the side tortilla that accompanies everything and not the enchilada. We finally sorted it out, with the waiter shaking his head, and I got a flat enchilada—tortilla and cheese, with two flavors of chili that were both too hot. And I know the waiter thought he’d met a dumb blonde gringo from Texas.

Another day we went to Frankie’s, a popular restaurant in Pecos—only brunch was being served. I was afraid to try most of the selections—huevos rancheros, migas, a casserole with chili and beef or chicken—if the chili had been mild, that would have been good. But it  wasn’t. I ended up with the basic breakfast—eggs over easy, sausage (despite my trepidation, it was really good), and seasoned potatoes, which were also delicious. The honey toast was sort of pitiful—ordinary toast with a slight drizzle of honey in the middle of each slice. I would have loved a traditional sopapilla, one of the small ones that you can cut a corner off and pour honey in. Clearly, Frankie’s was not catering to the mild palate.

But it was an interesting place, especially with a formal table set for the missing soldier. The décor was pure New Mexico and charming.

In Las Vegas, I had a terrific chef salad. And the menu in the old hotel where we had drinks had some wonderful things—oysters Rockefeller, liver pate, crab cocktail—I was sorry we had a big lunch and weren’t hungry. It struck me that the menu was simulating the dishes that railroad travelers in the twenties would have ordered. Similarly, the bar at La Fonda, Santa Fe’s classic old hotel, had several appealing choices.

Clearly, I can eat happily in New Mexico. I just have to pick and choose. I’m working on my bucket list for a return trip. And meantime I’m about to fix Frito pie, the Texas way.
Some pictures I can't resist adding. Our host, Phil, has a service dog, Porter, and Jacob and Porter had a grand times together. Here they are playing and in  sweet moment. 

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