Category Archives: Judy Alter

July 27 – Life with a Caregiver

by Judy Alter

Much is written about the hardships and dedication of caregivers, and I am the first to applaud them. Been there, done that with my mother who slid into dementia in her eighties, and I don’t feel I did it as gracefully or kindly as I should have. But now my daughter is my caregiver, and I thought it time to share the other side of the story, along with some of what I’ve learned, I hope, about being a gracious recipient of care.

About a year ago the pain in my left hip got to the point that I rarely walked. I lived on a Rollator, a walker with a seat and wheels, I had hip revision surgery. My hip had been deteriorating for years and had a severe deformity.

I was unable to care for myself, and the burden fell on Jordan, my youngest daughter. By the time of my surgery, I was living in a cottage behind my house, and Jordan, her husband and son were and are living in the house..

I was selfish and demanding. When you’re deep into pain, it’s hard to think about much besides yourself. I greeted her with a list of needs and wants, until she gently (well, usually) suggested that I let her sit a minute before hitting her with a list.

I’ve learned to remember I am not her only responsibility. She has a husband, a child, a career. I learned not to be critical when she came home from the store with the wrong items. And I learned that sometimes she is tired and needs comfort as much as I do.

I try to give as much as I take, to make her family glad that I’m close. A cheerful attitude requires growing beyond self-pity. I’m happy when I’m included in restaurant plans and parties, but I respect that they need some time to be a family. And I’ve learned to treasure my solitude (in reasonable doses).

These days I’m about 75% self-sufficient. I tend to my personal needs, cook my meals, dress myself, and work at my desk, keeping my writing career alive. I entertain, often for a happy hour with heavy hors d’oevres, though Jordan fixes a mean antipasto platter a lot, and I dine out with friends who are good enough to fetch me. I cannot walk unassisted, nor can I drive.

As Jordan said, we have become more like roommates than mother and daughter. But we have worked hard at it and had some spectacular squabbles along the way. For instance, we enjoy our shared shopping trips, as long as my list isn’t too long and her time not too short. Stars shine in her crown. I’m grateful for the love and continuing care of all my children, but Jordan is a rare gift.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West and now has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She blogs at

September 26 – One of Life’s Magic Moments

by Judy Alter

Recently, my four kids and I headed out to tour the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up. We turned off the Outer Drive at 47th Street where a huge sign welcome us to the Kenwood-Hyde Park Neighborhood.

Down Dorchester Avenue, past Farmer’s Field (an open field in my day, now a community park), past St. Paul Episcopal Church where the Judy who lived next door to me met and married her husband fifty-some years ago. And then we turned into Madison Park.

I grew up in a small, three-block enclave between 50th and 51st streets. The park is ringed by houses on the north side and apartments on the south, with a narrow one-way drive all the way around. 1340 is about a block into the park, a skinny tall red brick-and-stone structure. The kids were enchanted and got out to explore. Eventually the next-door neighbor came out to see what was going on–his house sits on my dad’s garden and was designed to match 1340. He obligingly took a picture of the kids on the steps of the house, and that picture is forever emblazoned on my mind. That was the magic moment for me.

As best I could I recalled who lived where. Finally, we drove a few blocks to see the Obama family’s home. I didn’t expect to drive right by it but neither did I expect the whole block to be off-limits to foot or vehicle traffic. Trees around the house have been allowed to grow up to the point you can barely tell there’s a house there.

We drove around the immediate neighborhood, dodging one-way narrow streets. Couldn’t recognize the hospital where Dad worked–it’s now condos but I couldn’t see the structure of the original building. We drove by and photographed friends’ houses, we drove down 53rd, the main drag which took us past the YMCA where I spent much of my teen years and past the church around which my social life revolved. The kids wanted to see Cunag’s, an ice cream parlor that made the best thick, old-fashioned milkshakes–alas it is gone.

Then on to the University of Chicago campus where the Gothic buildings transport you back in time. Particular favorites were the impressive Rockefeller Chapel where I graduated, Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and the Unitarian Church where my parents married–my kids are sentimentalists and insisted on pictures.

I had forgotten the grace of Madison Park. Today those wooden front porches everyone had are gone, revealing the beauty of the original houses, and property is landscaped in a way never dreamed of in my day. I was delighted with how beautiful everything was–the kids expected a neighborhood that had seen better days and were surprised. The tour gave them a new view of me, and gave me a whole new appreciation for my parents, the atmosphere in which they raised me, and their taste in neighborhoods and houses.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West and now has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She blogs at

June 14 – Writing My Way Through Depression

by Judy Alter

Usually I’m flattered when someone asks, “So what are you writing?” These days I hate to be asked, because the answer is “Nothing right now.” I don’t need to add that I’ve been too depressed to come up with a new idea that I’m enthusiastic about. I think the Lord has been sending me a message that says, “Slow down. Not now.” Seems to be the mantra of my life. My brother was just here, and as I struggled to undo all the Velcro and take off the cumbersome boot so he could look at my foot, he’d say, “Slow down. You’re retired now.”

I know the classic signs of depression and recognize them in myself—I want to sleep all the time, and I have no interest in food. What has been a life raft to hold on to (besides my loving daughter and supportive family) is that I’m a writer. I am always happy at my desk and computer, and I will always have something to draw me out of myself so that I don’t focus on how miserable I feel.

If you think I’m going to write about how cathartic writing is, letting me release pent-up emotions, that’s not where I’m going. My career as a writer help me in a different way. It gave me things to do—writing my almost-daily blog, writing guest blogs, marketing for my new book, The Gilded Cage.

I belong to professional writing groups—Sisters in Crime, their subgroup the Guppies, Story Circle network—and have computer duties in two of them that I must keep up with. In addition, those groups have given me a whole circle of contacts—keeping up with email probably takes me a minimum of an hour a day—but I love the exchanges of information, news, and, yes, gossip. I read blogs that interest me, and follow two mystery lists—Dorothy L. and Murder Must Advertise.

And then there’s Facebook. I am not, as is so fashionable, one who dismisses Facebook at worthless. I enjoy it and get both amusement and education from it. No, I don’t read every word of every post that it shows me, nor do I seek out the timelines of individual friends. But I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Depression brings with it a certain inertia, and I found it increasingly hard to pull myself from Facebook—or my computer.

And finally there is reading. Susan Wittig Albert, good friend and well know author, insists that reading is part of our work. I think a lot of people, including writers, tend to feel a bit guilty when they read. I do—but I have a built-in guilt factor. In fact, I’ve kept so busy with all the details of my career—and all that sleeping—that I haven’t done much reading. I have two books to read for a competition and one 30-page manuscript to critique.

I’m still rolling around the house on my walker and sleeping in that clumsy boot, but I’m working hard to pull myself out of depression—and writing helps. If I had retired without anything to do, I think this might have pushed me over the edge. Many retirees I know have some passion—one weaves, a couple garden, another cooks. Writing is my passion, and I’m fortunate.

A native of CAboutJudyhicago, Judy Alter lives in Texas but never lost her love for the Windy City and its lake, and that love led her to write The Gilded Cage, a historical novel set in Chicago’s Gilded Age, the late nineteenth century.

Alter is the author of over 70 books, fiction and nonfiction, adult and young-adult, including fictional biographies Libbie (Elizabeth Bacon Custer); Jessie (Jessie Benton Frémont); Cherokee Rose (Lucille Mulhall, first rodeo girl roper); and Sundance, Butch and Me (Etta Place). Today she writes contemporary cozy mysteries in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; she is also the author the stand-alone, The Perfect Coed. Judy’s books are available through Amazon.

Retired as director of TCU Press, she is the single parent of four children and the grandmother of seven. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her Bordoodle Sophie.


November 3 – A Day in the Life of a Retired (?) Writer

By Judy Alter

Before I retired as director of a small academic press, I worried a lot about waking up in the morning, retired, and thinking, “What am I going to do all day?” As everyone told me, it has proven to be absolutely no problem. Some days I meet myself coming and going.

November 3 was an ordinary day after an extraordinary weekend with all sixteen of my family members and a lovely banquet one night. I slept until about eight, an indulgence I now allow myself. And mostly in the morning, I piddled–something as a compulsive, work-driven person I’d never learned to do or enjoy. I read the newspaper over a leisurely cup of coffee and a low-fat yogurt, then read e-mails. Because I belong to Story Circle Network and several branches of Sisters in Crime, I get a lot of e-mails–some I can read and delete, some are amusing, many informative, and I’ve learned a lot about the world of writing and publishing mysteries, a far different world from academic publishing I’ve done for most of my career. Household chores and yoga, and it was time for lunch with a friend. We talked politics after yesterday’s election (a big disappointment to both of us) and grandchildren and then we talked about her book recently published by TCU Press. We laughed over a “Congratulations” cookie she’d brought me, and I saw some good friends to stop and give a hug to.

Afternoon is my time to work–write, read, whatever needs to be done. In fact, I’m writing this in the afternoon. I often don’t write my blog until evening but today I knew what I wanted to write about–making and using pesto–so I did that. And had a nap–another retirement indulgence.

This evening: sushi with a friend. We go to dinner once a week, only occasionally talk in between, but we have the best time and more laughs at our dinners. And we choose upscale, down-home, whatever we feel like that evening. Tonight it will be our favorite sushi place, and I already think I’ll have a double order of salmon sashimi and a house salad–slightly sweet, which I usually don’t like, but I do like this one. Then I’ll come home and get a start on dinner for a friend who comes every Thursday for supper before the memoir class I teach; she’s a class member. The class will bring snacks and wine.

The remainder of the evening is wind-down time–check emails, read Facebook, read whatever I’m currently working on. Sometimes if I have a whole evening clear I write.
My days are full as I teach two memoir classes, until yesterday volunteered at a political campaign office, usually have lunch and sometimes dinner plans, and try to write the great American mystery in between, in addition to blogging and trying to establish my internet platform. Retirement is anything but boring.

Judy Alter is an award-winning author and retired publisher. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and is currently working on a cozy mystery. She is also the single parent of four and grandmother of seven.