Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ho-hum--and a new veggie dish

Another day of being shut in. Since last Sunday (maybe Saturday) I have been out of the house twice. This is getting old. Tonight my solitude was nicely broken by my Canadian daughter and her partner who came for wine and then went on to a party. Made me feel almost social. They reported driving is easy but walking is treacherous. I'm glad I stayed home.
I discover that if I sit at my desk too long, either writing, checking email, etc., or reading, I develop a sort of inertia. So this afternoon I folded the laundry I'd left in the dryer a shamefully long time, made the first layer of a casserole for tomorrow, and made myself a new dish for supper--pea mash.
I asked my Canadian daughter if she'd ever had pea mash, thinking it sounded British. She said it sounded like bangers and mash (which I love) but no she'd never had it.
I sautéed some defrosted sweet peas in olive oil and mashed them with a fork. Lesson learned: they don't mash with an old-fashioned potato masher. The peas just roll around between the tines of the masher. I seasoned them with a bit of garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper (got a little heavy on the pepper, which is often a failing of mine), and added a chopped scallion. Really good. I'll do that again. Good thing because I have two full bags of peas in the freezer.
Not a bad day--200 emails, 1000+ words written, some reading, couldn't nap. Tomorrow it's supposed to be fifty, so the great thaw will come. By Tuesday, in the seventies but thunderstorms. I think I'll sing and dance in the rain.

Friday, February 27, 2015

An old story by now

Snow is a tired old story in the Metroplex by now. We had our share of ice and snow early in the week and some of us--count me--thought it was mostly behind us. Yesterday there was a light dusting which proved to be just that and no more. In spite of Jordan's misgivings, I went to the grocery and nothing bad happened.
So this morning when Christian said, "Hunker down. It's going to snow," and Jacob crowed, "It's snowing already," I didn't think much about  it. It was a light dusting--tiny flakes--but it kept coming all morning and into the afternoon. If you live here and watch TV at all,  you know how bad the roads were: at one point, police were working 45 accidents with 30 in the queue.
I had more social plans than usual this weekend and was looking forward to being out and about. Tonight is (was?) a preview at the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame of a special program, scheduled later, on the making of the movie, Lonesome Dove. Not sure how I got an invitation, but I did, and Carol Roark was going with me, threatening to wear those rhinestone chaps she doesn't have. Tomorrow night we were going to take friend Phil--and his seeing-eye dog--to Weatherford for the opening of a show on The Buffalo at the Museum of the Americas--cancelled. We may go to the Old Neighborhood Grill for supper. It will be good to get out of the house and among people if that happens.
I did worry about getting Jacob from school, because the TV had dire warnings about how slippery things were. The mother of one of Jacob's friends picked both boys up about 10:30 this morning. Jacob went home with them to play and was to be delivered back here. But then he was invited to spend the night. Every time I glanced out my office window today I saw parents picking children up early. The school never did officially dismiss early.
There are good things about snow days--I'm more likely to do my yoga when home alone all day, and I get a lot of work done. Dug into my novel-in-progress last night, reading from the beginning, and found lots of holes and contradictions. Then I lost track of what had happened when, so I will have to do that again. I will write more tonight and then read--not the book I'm reading for review but a mystery that I can lose myself in.
Next week doesn't look much better--freezing rain and sleet tonight, rain until midweek, but by Tuesday the predicted high is 77. Today it didn't go above 28. Want to talk about whether or not climate change exists? I have a few words, not polite, for the legislator who brought a snowball into Congress to demonstrate that the earth is not warming!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A doggy, snow week

Sophie at her most adorable, saying, "Notice how cute I am." The week has been much absorbed with dogs. One of Jordan's two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels developed pancreatitis--during a snow day when the vet didn't open until noon. She was in the vet's overnight and the subject of much concern . Since it was a snow day, Jacob was here and Jordan brought Cricket, the other dog, because the two are not used to being separated. Sophie thought that was delightful--a playmate. Cricket, and her sister Juney, are quiet, reserved dogs who prefer to sit on your lap and not move. Sophie made overtures to Crickey, which Jacob interpreted as bullying, causing him to lock her in the office which drove her frantic. I explained we couldn't lock her up in her own house when we were all here and if he'd calm down, Sophie would too. And that's just what happened. Juney is now happily at home with her sister and feeling better.
But Sophie loves happy hour, when it seems there's almost always someone here for a glass of wine. First of all it's her signal to become desperately hungry. After she's fed, she wants attention and shows us how cute she is.
Sometimes I think about living alone, which mostly I like, and think I couldn't do it without a dog. Yes, I talk to her, and she responds. Yes, she gives me comfort in the cool of the night--if someone threatened the house, she'd sound the alert. Though pretty much when she's in her crate, she considers herself "off duty" and doesn't bark until she wants to go outside--usually about four in the morning, thank you very much. But then it's not a bark but a sort of soft "Ruff." She's crated because she seems to have forgotten that she can wake me up to go out and has left puddle marks on my kilim rugs. I don't think I've ever in my life had a perfectly house-trained dog, and I consider it a deficiency on my part.
Other than that it's been a snow week--two days of school closed and then yesterday was a gorgeous day, sunny, not too cold. Today the prediction was for a light dusting of snow in the morning, though Jordan looked at the radar--which looked like a huge something was going to hit us--and announced I should not go to the grocery. I protested it's liable to be much worse the next two mornings, and I should go when I can. The light dusting was barely even that--tiny flakes that disappeared before they hit the ground. At her urging I went to the store so early that I was home by 9:30 and can stay home the next two days, although I have evening plans both nights that I hope the weather doesn't cancel.
Saturday is the Cowtown Marathon, an event for which planning began in my living room many many years ago. I well remember the first marathon--it began to sleet about ten the night before, and my ex, Joel, one of the founders, sat in our bedroom and said, "Shit! I don't want to hear sleet." Next morning I drove four young children to the North Side (I was doing publicity for the marathon) and we stayed all day.  Now when I think of having turned them loose on East Exchange I am horrified but they assure me they were always with a bunch of kids.
This Saturday it's supposed to be freezing rain. Jordan and Jacob are scheduled to run, Christian to walk. We'll see what happens, but the weather forecast does bring back memories.
The trouble with snow days, for me, is that I get too comfortable staying home and then have to remind myself I am perfectly capable of moving about in the world. Felt a bit of that this morning.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Legal tangles and an exploding computer

For about ten years, I held power of attorney for a cousin in Canada. I hadn't seen her since I was twelve--which, believe me, was a long time ago. But she was incapable of handling her own affairs, and I was the only close relative. I remember my father years ago saying, "If anything happens to us, you will take care of Jenny, won't you." It was like a legacy.
Jenny died last May, intestate. I don't think she ever had a happy life, but she was perhaps the happiest she'd ever been in the provincial home where she lived the last few years. I grieve for all that she missed in life, but I'm glad she was comfortable, well cared for, and had a sense of being cared about.
Finally this month the Canadian courts named me as executor and sole heir. I had meantime arranged a funeral, burial, headstone--all the details that go with death. And I thought I was through. Today my computer exploded with emails from the Toronto lawyer and the trust company tax preparer. It's complicated enough when a person dies in this country  with a will--take away the will (I never would have asked her--it would have scared her) and put the only relative in another country, and it gets complicated beyond measure.
I apparently have to file two returns--one with the Canadian Revenue whatever (the trust company will do that--for a fee, I'm sure) and one to meet a new requirement of the Ontario judicial system (the lawyer will do that). We're not talking about much money here, and I can see it rapidly diminishing with legal fees. We had some discussion about filing under the new requirement--the lawyer said she didn't think I was required to but it was a risk. Seemed like a small risk until she mentioned the minimal fine is $1000 (okay, not the end of the world) and/or two years in jail (oops! the end of the world). We're filing.
But I got so I hated to check my email--and each time I heard from either of these wonderful people (they really are most helpful) I saw dollar signs spin before my eyes.
Meantime I got into another computer dither, trying to apply for a Twitter widget for my newly designed website--Twitter refused to accept my URL as valid. The web designer finally said she'd do it herself, and of course it worked the first time--after I'd tried ten times. At least I was glad to have that chore taken off my hands.
By the end of the afternoon, I needed a break desperately. The morning's snow had melted and the day turned gorgeous. My dining adventurer friend Betty and I went to the Tavern...and ended up across the aisle from my son-in-law who was having a drink with a client. We split an odd combination for dinner--the appetizer of deviled eggs (love them) and a bowl of rigatoni Bolognese. The Bolognese was neither the rich red sauce I expected nor the cream-added sauce I sometimes encounter, but it was meaty and good and I suspect pretty authentic. Good food is always a solace.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Yep, it's my zoo and my monkies

The sectional couch in all its glories is put together--after 18 cartons and untold hours of work, mostly by Jordan, Christian and Jay. Note one pillow doesn't match--missing a slipcover. It's not quite finished, because we will link the pieces together after we get the TV in place, and also decide what to do about the hassock (nobody seems to know that word) and the coffee table, which is an antique munitions chest and I really want to keep. But it's done, we can sit on it, and it changes the character of the once-playroom completely. I'm excited about it. No red wine can be drunk on it--house rules. One of my daughters (I'm not naming names) will remember a recent disaster with red wine and a couch!
Other than that, it's been a day. You know the phrase, "Not my zoo, not my monkeys"? Today they were all mine. We were iced in this morning and Jacob was to spend the day. He didn't arrive until eleven and then came accompanied by a dog and a flustered mother. They have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and one was desperately ill--turns out she has pancreatitis and is in the vet's overnight, maybe for two nights. Meantime they didn't want to leave the other dog, Cricky, home alone because the two are very attached and sort of insecure.
Sophie thought it  was fine, even exciting to have Crickey, but Jacob gets upset when Soph jumps on poor passive Crickey, so I have to tell him to chill. He wants to lock Sophie in the office, which she won't stand for. Eventually everyone calmed down, and Jacob did his studies with his dog curled next to him. Sophie gave it up and retreated to her chair.
Friend Carol called wanting to go to lunch to beat off cabin fever, and I explained I couldn't leave two dogs alone, so we had tuna sandwiches here, and Carol swept me a path to the side steps off the porch--by tonight it had all melted anyway and was fine.
Jordan and Christian arrived about five, Christian left Jordan, Jacob and Crickey here, and I eventually left them to go to dinner with friends--Tuesday night at the Neighborhood Grill. With, I must add, a sense of relief. No ice, good dinner, nice companionship, and I came home to a quiet peaceful house.
No idea what tomorrow will bring--except snow. Supposed to melt by ten or so. This has been the week that was for weather and isn't really supposed to get better until the weekend. Yuck.
Who, me? Write? Not a chance. But I did get some work done. Going to sleep early with a clear conscience.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Memories of an old friend

An obituary in yesterday's paper alerted me to the death of an old friend, a man I hadn't seen in years and years, and it brought back some happy memories and some musings on life. The man's wife, S., was and is a good friend of mine for over forty years. Young, with infant children, we all hung out together a lot--we were neighbors in a small, upscale neighborhood (hey, I was married to a doctor), and we were involved in liberal causes. We partied. We had great lives.
But things change. Joel and I divorced and then a few years later so did S. and her husband--though they later remarried briefly and then finally terminated their relationship. S. worked at TCU as I did, but many years ago she moved to NYC to be near most of her children. We've kept in sporadic contact, had rare visits, but I think we both knew in the back of our minds that we were old friends with deep roots. I've emailed her since her ex's death and had warm replies.
I got to thinking about the two of us today, and the similarities struck me with force. Not just that we lived in the same neighborhood and worked at TCU. We were both married to men who, each in his own way was larger than life and lived outside what would be called the norms of society. I can't truly speak for her, but I suspect I know that when their marriage was good, it was very good. I know I have happy memories of my own life at that time. Four children, the happy domestic life. In a lot of ways I loved it; sometimes I chafed against it.
My ex and hers both were an enormous part of our lives and left indelible impressions, things that shaped us for the rest of our lives. But we each went on to build satisfying lives for ourselves--she as an artist and me as a writer. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say those men gave us the strength to do that--I'd like to believe it came from our inner selves. But whatever, we did forge ahead, and we're both happy campers, close to our children, pleased with our lives. The parallels interest me.
S. wrote that she hoped she would now be free, and I wanted to tell her no, she'll never be free. My ex is still in my thoughts--and sometimes my dreams--a lot. Oh, yes, there were other men--some good, some disappointing--but none had the same impact on my life. I still don't know whether to damn him or thank him--but I think it's the latter.
Here's to the good old days, to all those golden memories softened by time. And to long-lasting friendships.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Oscars Baffle Me

I'll admit it right off the bat--I'm not a movie fan. Watching a movie makes me itchy, thinking of all the other things I could be doing. Commercial movie theaters strike me as greasy, dirty, and smelling of popcorn--not a smell I particularly like. I'd go to showings at our local Museum of Modern Art but somehow that has never worked out. There are movies I wish I'd seen--Midnight in Paris comes to mind, and so does Still Alice, which showed recently at the museum and scheduling just didn't work out. But the average, run-of-the-mill violent movie? I have no desire to see it. Even when I was a kid, I can remember hiding my eyes a lot during Captains from Castile and when I was older and dating, I studied a lot of theater ceilings with great intensity. Nope, I'm not a movie fan.
So it baffles me that people are so caught up with the Oscars. A couple of weeks ago friends came fro Sunday dinner and one said suddenly, "I've got to go. It's time for Downton Abbey." Something else I have no interest in.
This week, I knew it was the Oscars--Jordan insisted they were staying home--so my usual pack of friends came early, five o'clock, ostensibly to work on the couch. Jay worked, everyone else watched and quizzed him about his new job. When sleet was beginning outside and at least half of North Texas was cooking chili, I put out a platter of cold cuts and cheese, bread, sliced tomatoes, and condiments plus a hearty salad. We loved it.
But 6:45, and they were all out the door, saying they couldn't miss the red carpet. As they left, Susan said,, "You'll watch it, Judy. You know you will." No, I won't. I have a new book I've just started and I'll read. Sounds so much more rewarding to me.
I don't care about fashion failures and successes; I don't know 90% of the current movie stars. Y'all enjoy--just don't rehash it with me tomorrow.
Since we'll be iced in tomorrow, I probably can enjoy a vacation. By Tuesday, when the world melts, the Oscars will be old news, and I'll still have my book.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Anticipatory anxiety

This winter may be the worst I remember--oh, not here in Texas though for what we're used to it's been worse than usual. I read somewhere today that Texas has two seasons--winter and summer. And they take turns appearing in the same week. But across the country, particularly the Northeast, the pictures of snowdrifts are appalling. I grew up in Chicago, and I remember bad winters, but nothing like what we're seeing. My prayers go out to those stuck in this snowy winter land. A little snow is pretty--but this is beyond belief.
But tonight, in Texas, we're hearing bad forecasts, and I admit to a little anticipatory anxiety. Tomorrow it is to rain; Sunday night in the wee hours it will turn to sleet, and Monday the high will be 32--won't do much to get rid of that sleet. I am preparing to hunker down for two or three days. Invited friends for a quick and light sandwich supper tomorrow--so we could discuss the couch and finish one part--but send them home in time for the Oscars/Downton Abbey, whichever they choose. One wrote me, "We'll see you tomorrow night, before winter hits us again." And I'll be grateful for their company in what I anticipate will be a time of seclusion.
I have already made up my mind that Jacob won't have school Monday--I don't know why it takes the school board so long to decide this when it's already clear to me. If that happens, and if his dad's office is closed, he'll stay home; if school is closed and his dad's office isn't, he'll spend a long day with me. If he has school, I already have a neighbor in mind to ask to bring him home. I don't want to venture even across the street on sleet-covered streets. Oh, my, how I dislike that kind of weather.
But the funny thing is that sometimes the forecasters get us all in a snit, like my anticipatory anxiety, and then it turns out not to be nearly as bad as predicted. It may not sleet, or it may warm up enough to melt--or who really knows what can happen?
I liked the old days of weather forecasting, when it wasn't such a precise science, when they didn't tell us a week ahead what weather to dread, when they didn't tell us the cold index or the heat. Tell me it's 32--I don't need to know the chill factor.
You all stay warm and safe and pray for the rain we need so much but not for sleet. Please.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Great Couch Caper

The couch--in progress
When my children were all here in January for rodeo, we came to a collective decision: I do not need a playroom any more. The grandchildren are all--sob!--too old. I need a "hang out" room. Accordingly, after much web searching, debates, etc. Jamie ordered a 45 inch TV--back-ordered--and a LoveSac sectional couch. Six sections.
It arrived this week in 18 boxes, some of which had an oh-so-appropriate puzzle piece on the box. The first shipment was six large heavy boxes which I found sitting on the porch--apparently the Fed Ex guy didn't ring the doorbell, etc. I was napping but didn't even hear Sophie throw a fit--and she always does that. I managed to get three or four in the house by turning them end for end and then once they were inside, sliding them--which involved picking each up enough to get it started sliding on the rug. Neighbors Jay and Susan arrived to help bring the rest in and open one to look at what we had. Gray cushions, base, etc.--I had ordered beige, but this was an okay color--a little dull, but okay. Jordan arrived, and we did a tandem operation--I opened the cartons (carefully) and she moved them to the former playroom, now to be called the sunroom because it is all windows and has the most delightful light.
By that evening there were five adults (including me), four dogs, and Jacob helping to assemble the couch. We got it into a rough position and quit. I ordered hamburgers.
The next day 12 boxes arrived. Fortunately I caught the Fed Ex man as he was delivering, and he cheerfully brought them all inside for me. I opened four square smaller boxes and found slipcovers--the beige I'd ordered in a nice durable, washable fabric. Put those carefully aside, because each bag is labeled as to what part it fits. The other eight boxes were big and unwieldy. I opened four and gave up. Christian arrived, unboxed them all and carried them into the sunroom. I defrosted frozen spaghetti sauce (homemade and very good, if I do say so). Meanwhile all the empty boxes are stacked in my dining room. Christian said, "I hope you're not having a dinner party soon." Words of encouragement.
This morning, Jordan looked at what remains to be done and said, "Let's take a vacation." But by this afternoon, she suggested I cook supper tomorrow and they work on the couch. Jay said he'd come over on the weekend if he had help. It will get done, and it will be wonderful--I know it will. Meantime I'm exhausted.
Wonder if I could order BBQ for tomorrow night?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How I Became a Writer

Please welcome, Gloria Alden, my Wednesday guest blogger. Gloria writes the Catherine Jewell Mystery series: The Blue Rose, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, Ladies of the Garden Club. The Body in the Goldenrod, as well as a middle-grade book, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club. Her published short stories include “Cheating on Your Wife Can Get You Killed” winner of the Love is Murder contest, “Mincemeat is for Murder” andThe Body in the Red Silk Dressin Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, “The Professor’s Books” in Fish Tales, “The Lure of the Rainbow in Fish Nets, “Once Upon a Gnome” in Strangely Funny and “Norman’s Skeleton’s” in All Hallows Evil. She lives on a small farm in NE Ohio with assorted critters: her collie, Maggie, two house cats, a canary, two old African ring-necked doves, two ponies, and six rather old hens, plus one loud guinea fowl. She blogs with Writers Who Kill on Thursdays. Website:

 I am a writer. I write poetry and mysteries. Although I’ve been writing for over thirty years – not counting my teen years – I only started calling myself a writer when my first story. “The Professor’s Books, was published in the first Guppy Anthology, Fish Tales. Before that I labeled myself wife, mother, Girl Scout leader, teacher, etc., but not a writer.

The first time I had something published was the year I started college as a non-traditional student. My first English professor encouraged me to submit an essay I’d written in class to the ICON, a twice-a-year Trumbull Campus literary magazine of Kent State University. It was an emotional piece, “Saying Good-bye,” about the death of John, my eighteen-year-old son, from cancer the year before. I received many positive comments about it which encouraged me to start submitting poetry.

From then until I graduated, I had at least one if not more poems in each issue of ICON, and I won The Virginia Perryman award for freshman writers covering all of KSU for a short story I entered, but I still did not call myself a writer.

When I entered college as an older student, I was unsure how I’d do. It had been twenty-five years since I’d graduated from high school. However, I thrived. I loved the academic world and was that eager student at the front of the class. Well, maybe not so much in the math and physics classes I took. After that first semester, I always took extra classes, and almost all of them were literature, poetry or writing classes. I was that odd student who loved writing; term papers, poetry, research papers, whatever. Even though my professors liked what I wrote, it didn’t necessarily mean I was a writer.

When I graduated, I became a third-grade teacher. I loved it but missed the academic life so I went on to get a Masters. Fortunately at that time, I was able to get it in English and didn’t have to pursue something relating to elementary education. Again I was in my element; reading, researching and writing. I’m still not sure how I did it because as a teacher, I always went above and beyond what was necessary. It was probably on very little sleep. In those years I was a teacher, and that was the only way I saw myself, not as a writer.

Sometime after I got my Masters, I started my first book, a cozy mystery with a gardening theme since gardening is one of my other passions. I’d planned to write a mystery for some years, but I procrastinated, until my sister, Elaine, came up with the idea that together we should write a book. We worked on it as a team in the beginning. However, since we don’t live near each other, before more than a few chapters were written, I took over the writing. It took several years, but I finished The Blue Rose. But since it wasn’t published, I still didn’t consider myself a writer, only a wanna-be.

Off and on for the next ten years or so, I sent out query letters, and with each rejection, I’d stop sending out query letters for several months or longer before starting up again. But I didn’t stop writing. I finished a second book in the series, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, a middle-grade mystery, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club, and went on to write two more books in my Catherine Jewell Mystery Series: Ladies of the Garden Club and The Body in the Goldenrod. I’m now working on my fifth in this series, Murder in the Corn Maze, and have lots of ideas for more books.

Those small successes of having short stories accepted encouraged me finally to self-publish that first book. I felt even more like a real writer at the launch of The Blue Rose when I sold and signed copies. Being asked to join the Writers Who Kill blog several years ago was also a validation that I was a writer.

Many people think about becoming writers without pursuing it. We’ve all heard people say “I could write a book if . . .” and then come the excuses. I think many writers need some catalyst to actually get them started down that path. For me, it was the death of my oldest son. Only those who have lost a child can understand the pain. Over the years I’ve written well over thirty poems for John. I plan on putting them together with a few essays I’ve written into a book. There are several ways to deal with that kind of death; one is to spend your whole live grieving and another that I chose: to do something positive that makes a difference not only in my life, but others. I chose to become a teacher, and it was one of the best choices I could have made to help the healing. The writing just kind of worked its way into my healing process. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think of him often, but I’m content and happy in my life as a writer.