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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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Judy's Latest Blog Entries

What are your children are reading?

 


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
Pulled from school shelves in Keller, Texas


This morning I posted my weekly cooking blog, Gourmet on a Hot Plate. Normally, that would have done it for me for the day. But the following is a continuation of yesterday’s blog and something I really wanted to say. I realized a bit of it is date-limited—the Rushdie readings—so two blogs in one day. Maybe I’ll take a vacation tomorrow, depending on what my little world and the larger world offers.

In a hangover from my publishing days, I subscribe to an online newsletter for booksellers called Shelf Awareness. Today’s edition had a large serving of irony. The opening story was about a planned reading tomorrow on the steps of the New York Public Library in support of Salman Rushdie and his continuing battle for artistic freedom, for writers to be able to speak their minds, share their thoughts. Several of his close friends, all authors, will read selections form his work. It will be livestreamed on Friday, August 19, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm ET. https://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schwarzman. The authors are all from PEN America, and most names were unfamiliar to me. Rushdie obviously moves in more elite circles than I do, but I certainly applaud the effort. Calling this a watershed moment for the freedom to write, a cause that is synonymous with Salman's life and work,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. said, “We are gathering as friends, associates and admirers to amplify Salman's words and convey our warm wishes, but also to rise in defense of principles that will not be extinguished by violence."

I have never read Rushdie though of course I have followed his career as many of us have. But since the attack on him, I’ve learned a lot more, not just about his writing but about his dedication to freedom of the arts. I’m going to try (yes, that’s the verb) to read some of his work now. I’m even fascinated that he was married to Padma Lakshmi who has many facets to her career, but who I always think of as a food writer.

So much for Rushdie. The very next article in the newsletter highlights the increasing effort to control what students in our schools read. The statistics are appalling. Educational gag orders--state legislative proposals to restrict the freedom to learn and teach—have increased by 250% compared to last year and have become law in 19 states, affecting 122 million Americans.  According to a report from PEN America, 137 gag orders have been filed in 36 states so far in 2022, compared to 54 gag orders in 22 states through all of 2021. Only a small percentage of those proposals are signed into law, but the trend is disturbing.

Racism is behind the majority of gag orders, but LGBTQ and identity issues are not far behind. And the consequences are getting more severe—fines and now even some jail time. And the move that first began in elementary schools is now moving even into higher education. To quote Nossel, PEN America CEO, again, “Lawmakers are undermining the role of our public schools as a unifying force above politics and turning them instead into a culture war battleground. By seeking to silence critical perspectives and stifle debate, they are depriving students of the tools they need to navigate a diverse and complex world."

Some incidental notes: Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin spoke last week on the Chautauqua platform where Rushdie was attacked and told the audience that one of his books is banned in Iraq—and in Texas.

Meanwhile in Keller, administration seems to be feeling the heat. The superintendent of the Keller ISD said today he expects some of the books pulled from shelves to be available again very soon. The question is: which books will be banned?

Censorship is like freedom of speech and abortion rights and a lot of other battles we thought we’d fought and won years ago, and now they are rearing their ugly heads again. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but all of us need to pick up arms—or books and words—and enter the fray again. We cannot let authoritarianism win—that means you, Ron DeSantis, and you, donald j. trump, and you, Greg Abbott.

Peace my friends. Go read a good book.

 

 

This, that, and—what was I thinking?

 


I’m just going to start this and see where it goes, because there are several things on my mind tonight, none of them earth-shattering but a few that I really want to give voice too. So here goes.

My day got off to a rocky start. I got up early (for me) and was dressed, had my tea, and was ready to go by 8:45 for a 9:00 p.m. appointment to have my teeth cleaned. The dentist’s office rejected me! I had to call Jordan and tell her to turn around and come get me. And it was all my fault: the dentist had given me a prescription for amoxycillin, which I somehow thought was in case I had a tooth flare-up. But when I got home and read the label, I saw that it clearly said to take one an hour before a dental appointment. I know they used to make patients with metal parts (like my hip) take antibiotics before teeth cleaning, but my surgeon had signed off saying I didn’t need it. Apparently five years later, the dentist has decided I do. I guess caution is best, so I rescheduled the appointment.

I’m upset about censorship these days. Sarasota County in Florida has issued strict guidelines for what teachers can and can’t do—and it’s mostly what they can’t do. Order books from Scholastic—how can they blanketly condemn one of the best publishers of children’s books? Teachers may not read to students or give them books to read without specific approval of the book. No gifts related to books. No books may be ordered, not book fairs scheduled. Remember how excited your kids were on book fair day? Gone. And the list goes on. Talk about Big Brother.

Closer to home, the Keller school district has pulled from school shelves every book to which there was even one objection last year. That includes the Bible, Ann Frank’s Diary (the graphic version), Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and a long list of, I’d say, fifty titles. Many were unfamiliar to me, but some not. I can see (but not approve) where small, closed minds would want to ban a book titled Gender Queer, but school authorities, charged with educating our young people, should understand that many teens are struggling with their sexual identity right now. They would find comfort and help in reading the thoughts and experiences of others. One woman posted that she questioned banning all the books except the Bible—she could understand that. I told her that meant she supported censorship, and maybe if it bothered her, she should just not read the Bible. But what bothers me most is that these insane objections to good books are robbing children of the richness of life lived through books. Books have been my whole life, my career, my comfort. I am appalled. Small comfort: kids with inquiring minds will rush to read the books on the published lists.

I’m a proud Texan (transplant), but I think Texas and Florida may be the worst states in which to live, let alone raise children these days. One post online said we can’t let them read the Bible (where the worst line is probably “Abraham knew his wife”) but we can subject them to shooter drills and expect ten-year-olds to carry and deliver babies. What kind of a world have we stumbled into?

While I’m on a rant: I saw a TV ad last night for some magic cure for erectile dysfunction. The ad was full of hype—buy now, this sale ends soon, end your worry, etc. And it made me instantly angry. Women cannot have the protection of abortion in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency, but let’s enhance men’s sexual ability. I call on Governor Abbott to immediately ban all medications for erectile dysfunction. Let’s see how that sits with his base. (I tried to post my comment on Mothers Against Greg Abbott and Facebook rejected it--at least they didn't put me in Facebook jail.)

It is actually raining as I write! Glory be, Hallelujah! The temperature is down to  90 and falling, thunder is crashing all around (and Sophie is cowering on my feet under my desk). The air smells like rain. It’s wonderful! I know one rain won’t restore our decimated gardens, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I can’t remember all the other things that were on my mind. Maybe they had to do with what a good run President Biden has had in the last week and a half or what a bad week it was for trump. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that people like Beto and John Fetterman and Val Demings and Liz Cheney make me optimistic. If anything I had to say seems significant, surely it will come back to me.

Meantime, if you’re in North Texas, enjoy the rain. How lovely to go to sleep with thunder rolling overhead. The gods are bowling again!

Moving slowly

 


Yes, that's Jacob in an outfit his preschool put on him. 
My other kids were pretty upset, and I got lots of message to the effect that,
"Your other grandchildren are pretty cute too!"

Moved slowly this morning. Nothing wrong with me except that I felt sluggish, unwilling to face the day. Perhaps it was that unsettling dream I had between feeding Sophie and getting up for the day. I have that technique down to six minutes at my best (I remind myself of a barrel racer). I can let her out, dish out her food, rinse the spoon so it doesn’t stick, feed her, go to the bathroom, and be back in bed in six minutes. Some mornings I time myself—racing against my record. Usually this is about five-thirty, still hard dark.

Or maybe I didn’t sleep as well as usual. Sometimes about three in the morning my brain gets caught in a semi-awake, semi-asleep cycle in which I repeat a scene or plan over and over—it maybe a scene I plan to write, a recipe I want to cook. This morning it was a recipe.

But maybe I was unwilling to face a world that seems increasing loud and noisy. This week, I’m quite sure it’s all the loud noise trump is creating with his multiple, self-contradictory lies and excuses about the classified documents. In a week when the nation should be celebrating several significant victories of President Joe Biden, we’re being drown out by trump, while Biden goes quietly about the business of making America better.

Along political lines, in case you missed it, I can’t resist telling you about a campaign video by Dr. Oz that has recently resurfaced—to the great hilarity of his opponent, John Fetterman. Oz is in a grocery store—with Wegman’s in mind and the real name of the store, he comes out with Wegner’s, which is wrong. He’s shopping for crudities for his wife—as Fetterman points out, a lot of us call that a veggie tray. Trying to skewer Biden for inflation, Oz choses a head of broccoli, a package of asparagus, a ginormous bag of large carrots, a container of guacamole and one of salsa. Then he points out that a crudities tray costs $20. A store employee posted that employees repeatedly tried to tell him they had vegetable trays, with guac, available for $7.95. He said his wife likes salsa. Do you suppose she dips raw asparagus in it?

And speaking of food, I’ve noticed lately that the food memoir is a new thing. People are taking classes in exploring their deepest inner lives by focusing on what they eat/ate, particularly as children. It’s always nice to be on the cutting edge, so I’d like to point out that I wrote a food memoir, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, way back in 2009, before it was trendy. I belong to a small online writing group where many write memoir, and I’ve always felt slightly deficient because I can’t seem to wrap my head around a traditional memoir. It’s not that I’m afraid of confronting some truths in my life, but it’s that I never can get the peg on which to hang it. In 2009 food was the peg. It’s kind of hard to find on Amazon, so if you’re interested, here’s the link:  Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books (Stars of Texas Series): Alter PhD, Dr. Judy: 9781933337333: Amazon.com: Books  You’ll not only find out more than you want to know about me, but you’ll get most of my family’s favorite recipes. Then again, a lot of water under the bridge since 2009.

As I write this, it’s six o’clock, and I think I’ve got my groove back. Everyone’s gone elsewhere for supper, so I’m thinking scrambled eggs sound good. My mom used to dump a spoonful of cottage cheese in them, and I think I’ll do that. Haven’t done it in a long time.

I read an anecdote today about a woman who was being shown to her room in a nursing room. “I know I shall be very happy there,” she said, and the attendant protested, “You haven’t even seen the room yet.” “No, but I know I’ll be happy there. Because I choose to be happy.” It’s a choice we each make daily—we can be happy or we can be miserable. Tomorrow I’ll get my happy back on. Tonight, I’ll read a mystery.

Go West, young—er—lady!

 


Frances Perkins (and all those men) watching 
President Franklin D Roosevelt sign the social security act, 1935

Remember Horace Greeley from when you studied American history in school? He was a nineteenth-century newspaperman, served briefly in the House of Representatives, and was a utopian reformer who believed the American West was the land of opportunity. He’s best remembered for the advice, “Go West, young man!” It became the slogan that expressed the American belief in individualism—a man can pull himself up by the bootstraps, care for his family, make living, and do anything he wants if he is only strong and brave and works hard. It’s an idea that many Americans still take patriotic pride in. But it’s a myth.

During the Depression, along came Frances Perkins, a reformer who fought for workers' rights, became the first woman to serve in the presidential cabinet as Secretary of Labor, and is genuinely considered responsible for social security as we know it. (She was also an ardent feminist.) A witness to the 1911 Triangle fire in which 146 women and girls died, trapped inside a locked factory, Perkins determined that America had to take care of all its citizens, and in contrast to Greeley, she touted another American tradition: communities take care of their own, people look out for each other. Compassion and caring are the American way. She persuaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to implement a social security program, but his first response was, “Nothing like this has ever been done before.” So if you want to talk about a uniquely American tradition, talk about the tradition of caring for all our citizens.

As originally written, Social Security did not just mean old-age assistance. It was an attempt to use government taxes to take care of all in our society—the poor, the homeless, neglected children, the disabled, the unemployed, the mentally and/or physically ill--all those who could not follow Horace Greeley’s idealistic and unreal advice. She said, “People are what matter to a government, and a government should strive to give the very best life to the people under its jurisdiction.”

Perkins saw social security as a permanent part of our government. “It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.” Of course, for a few generations now, we have known it is not safe. Conservatives first target is often social security, and now Lindsey Graham has confirmed that should the party take Congress in November, the Republicans will be coming after social security and Medicare.

I’m no politician nor one to advise them, but that seems like a foolish, shortsighted vision to me. For one thing, so much of the country depends on government aid in one way or another, Republicans would lose a lot of votes. Perhaps they think that would be okay because some among them on planning on rigging elections ( see Trump loyalists form alliance in bid to take over election process in key states | US politics | The Guardian ). But beyond that, withdrawing government aid to many segments of our society would further increase the already dramatic division between the haves and the have-nots. We might return to Depression days (which was when social security started) with throngs of hungry Americans in the street while the rich sat in their penthouses and ate caviar. Far-fetched? Maybe, but too darn close.

America under trump was downgraded in the international order (for example, Trump's Foreign Policy Has Destroyed America's International Standing - Rolling Stone). If we were truly to become a country of hungry, homeless, sick people, neglected children, etc. America would quickly lose its standing in the world. Perhaps that seems far-fetched, but as of now, without congressional interference, social security is set to "run out" in 1934 unless Congress takes action. That doesn't mean all payments will suddenly stop, but it does mean recipients will take a twenty-five percent cut.

Republicans will argue we cannot afford social security, but my understanding is that is gaslighting. We pay into social security, and the money we receive is ours, not the governments. Trump’s tax cuts increased the national debt more than social security ever will, but Biden’s administration has already decreased the debt and the Inflation Reduction Bill is set to effect additional substantial decrease.

I don’t mean to preach, but I think these are things that each of us should study and keep in mind when we go to vote in less than ninety days. If you want to read more about social security and its history, please read Heather Cox Richardson’s column of last night, Letters from an American August 13, 2022 - by Heather Cox Richardson (substack.com)

 


On becoming my mother

 


The Chicago house of my childhood.

Several years ago, when my oldest granddaughter, Maddie, was five or six, she and I were in the guest room giggling about something, the rest of the family was in the living room, and the dogs were in the back yard barking continually.

“Colin really must do something about those dogs,” I said, getting up off the bed and heading for the living room. Maddie darted ahead of me, stormed into the room, and hands on hips said, “Colin, you really must do something about those dogs.” She mimicked me perfectly—tone, inflection, even the semi-angry stance. I clearly heard myself. Everyone laughed, and Colin went to quiet the dogs.

That incident came to mind because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the conventional wisdom that every woman turns into her mother. In my case, that would be a very good thing. But it’s not her laughter or her wisdom, her passion for learning and food, its not even her enveloping love that I’m thinking of. It’s little things.

In Chicago summers, in an old house without air conditioning, Mom would throw the house open in the early morning to bring in cool, fresh air; by noon she had it closed up tight, shades drawn against the sun, and it stayed that way at least until dark set in. I do the same with my cottage, turning off the a/c and opening the French door so Sophie can come and go, and I can get the feel of being outdoors, even at my desk.

For her children, Mom was a one-woman clipping service, often sending us news pieces that she thought we would or should enjoy. I’m afraid Christian gets the brunt of that from me because I’m always sending him links to stuff about garden and lawn care (I did just this morning) or recipes I think he’ll like. I did send all the kids a note yesterday that their favorite greasy spoon in Waco is for sale and I wondered if they wanted to make it a family business. Only a million and a half.

Mom lived through the Depression as a young wife and mother, and the rest of her long life she wasted nothing. When we cleaned out her refrigerator that last time, we found baby food jars with unidentifiable bits of food in them, some of it moldy. She used paper towels twice—once on a counter spill and the second time on a floor spill—and she had a special place she kept them in between. She saved bits of string, used gum wrappers (they were aluminum back in the day), and rubber bands. She canned her own tomatoes, made her own applesauce and soups, and cooked from scratch. I’m not as frugal, a fact she often pointed out to me once I had my own home, but I save leftovers in the freezer, and I do a lot of scratch cooking. I thought of Mom the other night when I made salmon croquettes, one of the dishes she regularly rotated though in retrospect I can’t imagine how she got my meat-and-potatoes father to eat them.

I’ve got a long way to go to be as kind and gracious as my mom, let alone as good a cook and as good a mom, but sometimes I hear her in my voice or recognize her in my attitude. It makes me smile.

On another note, I slept so hard and dreamt so vividly this morning that I woke thinking if I could write like I dream I’d have best-selling novels and box-office hits to my name. My dreams were jumbled but somewhere in there was a sit com about New York fashionistas enduring the hardships of camping for the sake of the men in their lives—it was all slapstick humor, and, by the end, there was not much love to be lost. And then there was a movie about what a wonderful life on the lam a runaway girl had, and I remember thinking what an awful, unrealistic role model that was for young girls. No, it had nothing to do with the movie by that name or the band. It probably came from a book I was reading last night where a young girl is kidnapped, and some officers insist that she was probably just another runaway.

Here's my cheer for the day: to Jou Joubert, barbecue pitmaster who was delivering the wedding dinner to a party at a private home, only to learn that the minister hadn’t shown up and the bride was in tears. Asked if he was an ordained minister, he told them yes and married the couple in a ten-minute ceremony.

And here’s my boo-hiss for the day: to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a headline proclaiming that Beto swore at an Abbott supporter. Beto’s got too much class for that kind of cheap political stunt. Swear he did, but who the man would vote for wasn’t the issue. Beto swore out of passionate, deep-down anger at a man who would try to make a joke out of AR-15s and the massacre at Uvalde. I might not have used the same word, but I’d have sworn too. Go, Beto!

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