Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Alamo….and kids   

Lily B. Clayton fifth graders at the Texas State Capitol
No, I have no idea where Jacob is in that sea of red shirts
What fun for them!
By a kind of cool coincidence two of my grandsons were at the Alamo today. Ford, youngest of the Austin two, was there on a fourth-grade field trip scheduled to be back in Austin by 4:00. Jacob, local grandchild, is on a fifth-grade overnight trip (with his dad as one of the chaperones), scheduled to stop at many places on the way to San Antonio, so I doubt the two boys crossed paths.It was probably later when Jacob got to the Alamo but I hope it wasn’t a rushed stop. Jacob asked if I couldn’t tell Aunt Megan and Ford to hang around a bit until he got there, but I explained they, like him, would be on a school bus. I haven’t yet heard reactions to the iconic Texas history site, but I am more than curious.

Back in the day when I was talking to every and any book-related group that would have me, I had a prepared speech called, “Please, Mom, not the Alamo again.” It had to do with my love of Texas history that was not shared by my middle-school and older kids who were into Star Wars and the like.

Jamie once seriously explained to me how much more money I could be making if I abandoned this Texas history foolishness and wrote about intergalactic space, about which I know nothing and have less interest. I think today they understand, but in their salad days they were really tired of me dragging the to this and that historical site.

Meanwhile, back in Fort Worth it was a lovely day albeit one tending towards hot. A note on Facebook pointed out that our city this weekend is hosting both the Dean and DeLuca (Colonial) National Golf Championship and the Cliburn International Piano Competition. Pretty special city we live in.

It was a good day in my own little corner of the city. I had lunch at Carshon’s Delicatessen with Sharon Corcoran and Priscilla Tate, two friends I hope to get to know better. Sharon had knee surgery in November and understands about walkers and the like, and she is terrific about making sure I’m safe and making things easy for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation—hadn’t seen Priscilla, retired from TCU as I am, in a long time, and we did some catching up. And I got a pickled herring fix.

Tonight, friends Sue and Teddy came for happy hour and were good enough to go into the house, get the Cavaliers, and bring them out to the cottage so I could feed them. Before they left, they took the girls back inside and crated them. We caught up on news of kids, jobs, and other urgent matters. Sue and her children lived next door to me for several years, and we remain close friends. When she brought Teddy around, I adopted him as family right away.

You’d think writing would be a full-time occupation, but at this point in my life I seem to do it between other things. It’s not bad. I am editing a novel, sequel to The Perfect Coed, and found myself really caught up in the story this afternoon. Now that’s a good thing.

My life is good—I hope yours is too.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mood swings—we all have them

Sophie lost her chew toy last night
Cricket and June Bug proclaim innocence, but if you look
between Juney's paws, on the right, you'll see the purloined chew
Last night I was in a funk, and I didn’t know whether to attribute it to the weather (a good possibility), a lack of major excitement in my life at the moment, or a couple of awkward social encounters. When I talked to dinner pal Betty tonight, she had the same complaint. We decided we were blessed with each other as longtime friends and we’ll keep it that way.

Betty and I went exploring to a new restaurant tonight, Tina’s on the Bluff. We turned off Weatherford too early, didn’t realize Bluff doesn’t go all the way through, and wandered aimlessly for a bit. I was astounded by all the new apartment construction—where do all these people come from? A friend told me 40 families a day move to Fort Worth—they must all move into brand new apartments, because they are going up everywhere.

After a telephone call and some scribbled notes, we finally found Tina’s. No parking lot, only on the street, so it was a bit of a rough access for me on my walker. Once in the courtyard, I was confronted by three round steps—until Betty spotted the ramp.

We ate on the patio. Typical Tex-Mex menu, but what I liked about it was that it wasn’t overwhelming with tons of dishes. Just the standards (wish they had spinach enchiladas). We each had a sour cream chicken enchilada and sides of guacamole and refried beans. All good.

We ate in the patio. Somehow, when I saw an article about restaurants with patios, I got the notion this was near that new Uptown development and had a river view. Well, it’s close to Uptown but the river is too far away, and the patio, enclosed by arched brick walls, doesn’t have much view.

But it was good, solid food, wait staff was pleasant, and now that we know how to find it, we’ll go back. Betty thinks it would especially be a great place for lunch.

The Colonial golf tournament has started just a mile or so from our house—it has a fancier name, for the corporate sponsor, but it changes from year to year and it’s easier just to say Colonial. For me, in past years, it has always meant avoiding the terrible traffic congestion. When the children were little and we’d drive by, I’d say, “Look at the silly men chasing a little white ball.” Golf is not my game.

For Jordan, Colonial means party time. She will be there all day every day, Christian would, but he and Jacob leave on a 5:30 a.m. bus for Jacob’s two-day fifth-grade trip to San Antonio. Jacob is excited that his dad is one of the dads on the trip, and I told Christian to treasure it because it won’t be long before Jacob will be appalled that one of his parents is going on an activity with him.

Back to Colonial—Jordan has been preparing for this as though she’s going out of town and leaving me alone for a month. I’ve had advice to stock up on groceries (well, I mostly do that anyway but Betty will shop for a few things Friday), arrange social engagements (I do that anyway, and now two happy-hour visitors are roped into helping feed dogs), lock the doors and turn on the alarm (I do that anyway). Of course, there will be something we’ve both forgotten, but bless her for taking such good care of me. I think I’ll survive quite nicely. And, no, I won’t watch it on TV.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Walking, walking, to….anywhere

I dream about walking all the time. Last night, I suddenly walked across a room, said to a friend, “Look at me!” and walked everywhere thereafter. My steps were sure and strong. In reality, I can take two faltering, shaky steps without the walker, and that’s all. My surgeons is not worried about this at all, says someday I’ll find myself in the kitchen and the walker is elsewhere and I’ll walk (I didn’t ask how I got to the kitchen if I didn’t have the walker with me.). He should know, and I suppose he’s right, but four months after surgery I’m impatient.

The surgeon also advises against a cane. He says a cane doesn’t give enough of a support base, and if you fall, you have to rely on your wrist to stop the fall. Most of us don’t have wrists that strong. I used to use a cane as a security stick before the fall, but it does no good now, so I take comfort in his advice. A friend had extensive back surgery last week and walked her cul de sac (with a walker) yesterday. I know I couldn’t do that less than a week after surgery, and it makes me feel timid, scared, inadequate. Jordan repeated the surgeon’s words, “Do not compare yourself to others. Your surgery was different from all others.” But the comparison is inevitable.

I do worry that it’s lack of confidence that keeps me tied to the walker. With it, I’m more confident than I was without it before surgery. Which to me means I could probably walk better if I’d just let go and do it. But when I do, the results are shaky, and I’ve been cautioned so often about the terrible things that will result if I fall again. It’s obviously not a case of pick yourself up and try again. There might be no second chance.

Feeling puckish tonight—love that word. I think it’s the rainy weather. Tomorrow will be better—the weather and my mood. A bright spot tonight: Jordan and I are eating leftovers—bean salad on toast and cucumber/avocado salad. But she, sweet thing, planted and nurtured some leaf lettuce for me, and I will make wilted lettuce, like Mom used to. All I had to say was “wilted lettuce,” and Christian said no thank you. Irony: he loves green beans seasoned the same way—bacon drippings and vinegar. He’s not home tonight for supper, and Jordan has promised to try it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Baseball Hero Ate Broccoli and other notes

After an uncertain season, Jacob’s Little League team won their play-off game last night. He came out to the cottage afterwards, bearing a hot dog on a plate, and I gave him the buttered broccoli I had fixed. I cooked it out here partly because he likes the way I cook it—mushy beyond belief—and partly because his dad really does not like broccoli, so I thought I’d spare Christian the cooking odor. Jacob ate the whole crown by himself. So wonderful to find a vegetable he likes. Tonight, he came out when my dinner company was just leaving. Jacob was polite and cute, and when I turned around he had disappeared. I called his phone and asked if he had something on his mind, and he said no. I guess he just came to be here, and I’m so sorry I missed that opportunity.

My dinner guest, a colleague from TCU, brought me a chopped sandwich and potato salad from Heim’s Barbecue, a relative newcomer to town. I had been there once really liked the bbq and was overboard about the potato salad. It’s twice roasted potatoes, far superior to the potato salad usually offered in barbecue joints. Good dinner tonight.

I had an intimidating lunch guest today. She didn’t mean to be, but Heather is a lunch-time lead cook at Café Modern in the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art. (I’ve been mistakenly promoting her to sous chef.) She’s also an old friend, who brought lunches and conversation to me when I couldn’t get out. I figured it was my turn to cook, but what do you fix for someone who daily cooks in an upscale restaurant? I settled on bean salad on toast, a recipe I’d found in Bon Appetit, I think.

Dishes on toast are quite the thing these days, and it makes me smile. When I was a child, my mom frequently served asparagus on toast or mushrooms on toast. She would not, I admit, have thought of beans on toast. I wanted cannellini beans but settled for pintos. I doubt my thoroughly midwestern mom even knew what a pinto was. But I made an oil and vinegar dressing, with lots of assorted herbs, mostly what I had on hand or in planter boxes, and soaked the beans overnight. Today I salted them, which made a huge difference. They were delicious. Served with a tangy avocado and cucumber and feta salad. Quite good.

The result of all this food activity is that I have more scrumptious leftovers than I can deal with, and I will be out for several meals in the next couple of days. Jordan and I thought we’d have a girls’ dinner tomorrow and make a dent in some of it, but Christian has a church meeting and Jacob has another play-off game. I’ll be eating leftovers alone. That’s okay.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A blog out of thin air

I was chastised, gently, today for no blog last night, though I explained it was not laziness but lack of anything significant to say. So tonight I find myself in the same position but feeling obliged to write. It was a pleasant day but not one that brought any remarkable events or even things to comment on.

I wanted to go to church, mostly because the anthem was the Lord’s Prayer, but my chauffeurs were out late last night and slept in. This morning I heard the anthem was not sung by our choir but a visiting group, so I don’t feel so bad. I intended to listen, got busy with something else, and forgot to turn it on. My day was working—reading a novel for a competition, working on the neighborhood newsletter, and stealing a bit of time for the mystery I started last night.

And cooking. My weekends lately are my special cooking times. This week we decided to do a pork chop dish in the crockpot for Sunday dinner. I have neither the crockpot nor a convenient place to plug it in, so I gave Jordan the meat, soup, and instructions. We planned dinner for seven, but then Jacob’s baseball game of yesterday, cancelled due to rain, was called for seven tonight. Jordan stayed home, and she and I ate in the cottage. The meat was flavorful but dry—not an experiment I’ll try again. I’m leery of pork chops just because they are usually dry. Don’t like a baked chicken breast for that reason either. But our asparagus tonight was wonderful—I’ve been following an old friend’s recipe and topping it with a mixture of sour cream, a bit of mayo, and lemon juice, then finished with buttered bread crumbs.

Jacob is just back from an overnight trip with his grandparents and cousins to Dinosaur Valley in Glen Rose. He said it was interesting, fun, and he wants to go back. Score! It’s hard to impress a ten-year-old. Tonight, we’re waiting to hear if his team won—if so, they have another game; if not, praise be, the season is over. Talk about mixed wishes.

I could rant about state politics, as if national doings are not bad enough. But I saw a suggestion tonight that Abbot, Patrick, and others are using the focus on Washington to slip through odious legislation as the Texas legislature ends its session—principally LGBT amendments to existing bills, a sneaky way to pass laws. They have now cancelled health care assistance for disabled children and passed new, restrictive anti-abortion laws despite a slap-down by SCOTUS for the legislation that closed most of the women’s health care clinics in the state. And then there’s Daniel Patrick’s ridiculous bathroom bill. I like the slogan that says, “Flush Daniel Patrick.”

I have never felt threatened in a public restroom, but I imagine if I were born a male, identified and dressed as a female, and was forced to use a men’s bathroom, I’d rather pee my pants. And all these bills are in the name of Christianity. So wrong.

I read an interesting open letter from the pastor of a small church to Franklin Graham, yes, Billy’s son. The gist was that the pastor didn’t know what Bible Graham was reading, but it wasn’t the one he read—and he quoted chapter and verse. The distortions that pass a Christianity these days horrify me. And Jesus weeps

There, I’ve rambled enough for a non-eventful day.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

No blog tonight

No blog, nothing to ponder or ruminate on. An ordinary but nice lazy day, cooking (corned beef hash and deboning a half leftover chicken to make salad), reading, lots of reading, and dinner with a good friend.

I had read a piece about new places with patios, so we set out for one—reservations needed, nothing available until 8:15; next one, 45 minute wait, no seats at the bar, and I didn’t want to stand for that long. We had good hamburgers at The Tavern, a perpetual favorite of mine.

Finished Killer Characters by Ellery Adams and thoroughly enjoyed it, recommend it. I decided to check on Amazon for earlier titles in the Baywriters series. One thing I like is that if you’ve already ordered the book—casual reading does run together in one’s mind—they’ll tell you. I had read several of the first titles in the series but ordered one I hadn’t read. And I’m still reading the book to report on for a competition—it’s slow going, because it’s a beautifully done book about a subject I avoid if I can. ‘Nough said.

Looking forward to Monday, when I resolve to start editing, rewriting the book I have in very rough draft. In the meantime, I’m piddling. That’s what one should do on the weekend.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Sophie in her favorite position
showing off her new haircut
A friend of mine belongs to a writers’ group that took on the subject of happiness. She posted one response on her blog, where I read it. I was immediately intimidated. The writer found happiness in places that made sense to me—nature and serving causes other than oneself are two I identified with.

But he also listed music, big ideas, and books. The music is classical, the big ideas come from books on science, philosophy, spirituality, psychology, etc. I enjoy classical music, especially the romanticists, but my real joy is in the folk music of the’60s and ‘70s. Books? I am never happier than when I am caught up in a good mystery. Reading Jung was painful in college—I’d never do it today. In short, I felt like a shallow person who never stretches her mind. My college professor to this day describes me as a “closet intellectual.”

But then I had an epiphany: I was doing what I do too frequently—comparing myself to others and coming up short. I need to recognize that we are all different, not better or worse, but just different. And I, by gosh, need to stand up and be proud of who I am.

No, I don’t find joy in classical music except occasionally being swept away by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, or Rachmaninoff. I don’t go to concerts—neither my ear nor my musical education have taught me enough to appreciate the music fully, and I get fidgety. I find joy in Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, Joan Collins. I don’t read nonfiction except when something catches my eye—a memoir, an exploration of faith, etc. I’m pretty much a folk music and mystery gal.

One thing he didn’t mention was food. I find great joy in food—cooking it and eating it. I had a food day yesterday: my love of kosher food came out when I had herring with sour cream for lunch, a rare treat I haven’t enjoyed in a long time. For dinner I had a buttered, boiled potato, sautéed zucchini, and a lamb chop with a sauce of olive oil, scallions, minced garlic, a good squeeze of anchovy paste, and a bit of white wine. So good I had to defrost a couple of baguette slices to sop up the rest of the juice. Yes, I had a recipe, but also yes, I fiddled with it and simplified it, leaving out chicken broth and a couple of other things. The recipe served four, and I was doing one lonely but succulent loin lamb chop. Living alone and often eating alone in the evening, I think it’s important not to grab a bowl of cereal but to have a full, balanced, enjoyable meal.

One thing he mentioned that is beyond my reach—his joy in his partner, his wife one presumes from the context. I have built a happy, fulfilling, wonderful life, but a small corner of me regrets that I am sailing into old age without an emotional and physical partner. My four children and I are close and loving, but they are each married and their first loyalty is to their spouses. I reflect on Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”: “Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be/The last of life for which the first was made.” That’s the vision I had as a young, starry-eyed girl. Life taught me otherwise. I do not regret any decision in my life, but that lingering regret remains. If I ever write a memoir, I’ll have to come to grips with it. (I might defend my lack of intellectuality by pointing out that quoting Browning suggests my English Ph.D. was not totally wasted.)

The important thing is that I do find joy and happiness in life almost all the time, and I’m grateful for that. And I think in some small way I make the world a better place—through my children, if not my writing.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Launch Day for a New Book

Oh, happy day! Kelly O’Connell is back. Well, sort of. Keisha tells the story in my new novella, The Color of Fear. You can find it as an ebook on a wide variety of digital platforms—Kindle, Kobo, B&N, Sony, Apple and others. In print, it’s available from Amazon.

The Color of Fear marks my return to mystery fiction and the Kelly O’Connell series after an absence of more than a year. Some of you know that two major, traumatic events kept me from my computer: complicated hip surgery, which followed several months of undiagnosed but excruciating pain, and the move from my three-bedroom house to a 600 square-foot cottage. Surgery in January took away the pain, and I am feeling strong and healthy, but I can’t yet walk without a walker and am not allowed to drive a car. I remain highly optimistic that those things get a little closer every day.

The move to the cottage was my choice and remains my delight. I love my little hideaway and am almost perfectly comfortable with everything I need—living area, office, fancy bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen area. Only the kitchen leaves me wanting more. Because of zoning restrictions, I have neither stove nor oven, but I am learning to make do with an amazing magnetic hot plate—and the oven in the main house where my daughter and her husband and son now live.

As I told the doctor recently, I’m writing, I’m cooking, and I’m wearing make-up again. All sure signs of recovery. The Color of Fear is the first thing I’ve written from start to finish since the surgery, except for blogs.

The Color of Fear also marks a return for Kelly O’Connell, who took a year or more out to have a baby—Cynthia Grace Shandy. Keisha kept the real estate office running, so it’s only fitting that this time Keisha narrates the short tale wherein Kelly and her family live under the threat of infant Gracie’s kidnapping. The story serves as a reprise of many of the previous novels in the series, as Keisha, in her search for the kidnapper, recalls Kelly’s earlier adventures.

Keisha remains outspoken and independent and her voice is clear and strong as she balances her need to protect Kelly and her family with her love for new husband, José Thornberry. Some but not all of Kelly’s friends and foes from previous stories appear here, along with such new characters as Clyde, the guard dog, and Cowboy, the homeless guy with a soft heart.

I hope you’ll all welcome Kelly and her clan back into your hearts.

Next on my agenda? A sequel to The Perfect Coed. First draft is written, and I’m about to begin editing, aiming for publication in September.

To those of you who are my readers, thanks for sticking with me for my year out, probably one of the most difficult years of my life. I’m so glad to be back with you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Garden of Friendship

Hibiscus Jordan planted by my cottage
She had to trim a tree to get them enough sun for blooms
Several women have said things to me in recent months that amounted to, “You have so many friends. I don’t have friends like you do.” I think they don’t realize you must be a friend to have friends, and you must work at friendships.

They really are like plants in a garden. You cultivate them, from planting the seed—or idea—to nourishing and feeding often. One woman (she’ll recognize herself, so please know you are not alone in this) said a new widow near her mentioned going out to dinner, but it hadn’t happened. I pointed out it wouldn’t unless she took herself over to the woman’s house, knocked on the door, and said, “Let’s go to dinner.”

Over the years, I have had countless dinner parties in my home, mostly small but always people I wanted to spend time with. One friend said something about my guests reciprocating—that old, “If I entertain you, then you owe me.” No, they don’t always reciprocate, but it takes a lot of rudeness to get yourself off my friend/guest list. I persevere, and I’ve decided most people appreciate it. They may not have time to entertain, or interest in cooking, or it may just not occur to them. I don’t take it as a personal affront.

A friendship I cultivated: a young woman (from my perspective) who was once a work-study student in my office. She went to work in a writing-related field, but then moved away. Suddenly she was back, having gone to cooking school and worked in a vineyard. Voila! We had two things of interest in common: books and food. She’s a sous chef at a major restaurant in town. We met occasionally for lunch, and she kindly brought me lunch more than once when I was housebound. Now that I’m cooking, I’ve invited her for lunch—a bit intimidating, but I think I can handle it. Just an example of the two-sided work that goes into a friendship.

When I meet someone I think is interesting or has interests like mine, I’m not shy about inviting them over, maybe first for coffee or wine on the patio. I do cook dinner for friends some, but it’s limited in the cottage with sparse cooking facilities. But entertaining is a great way to make and keep friends.

Letter-writing has become almost obsolete in this day of social media, and I’m the first to admit that I communicate by email and Facebook. Using those tools, I’ve re-connected with friends from my childhood, including the girls who grew up next door. They live in northern Michigan, but one visits me when she’s in Texas—what a rare treat! I also have a couple of friends I’ve kept in constant touch with for fifty years or more. Some are not the frequent communicators I am, and I have to realize that silence doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve forgotten me…nor I them.

Tonight I had dinner at Press Café with Betty, my longtime dinner pal. For years now, we have made it a habit to go out to dinner on Wed. nights. When I was housebound, she brought me dinner. But now we’re exploring new restaurants and having a ball. Press Café is not new, but we both love the fish sandwich—except that it’s hard to eat and I got half down my shirt. But Betty is yet another example of a friend—we work at it, we make sure to keep up with each other. And I know she’s there if I need someone.

Tend to your friends, folks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Gratitude for a marriage gone awry

Fifty-three years ago today I stood in a garden on Osteopathy Avenue in Kirksville, Missouri and exchanged vows with the late Joel Alter. We didn’t care that only a thin line of bushes separated us from the goat pens nor that the music was a rented tiny organ—I don’t even remember what was played. A friend had made my dress, and I kept it for many years before giving it away. We honeymooned, with good friends, one night at the local Holiday Inn.

We were happy for fifteen years. He built his career as a surgeon, bought us my “doctor’s wife” house, drove fancy cars, and, best of all, adopted four children. I often think of those as my golden years. They were followed by two miserable years while the marriage was crumbling. A failed marriage is never a one-way street, and I’m not writing tonight about recriminations (oh, yes, I have a long list but, probably, so did he). We divorced in 1982.

This is not a letter about blame. It’s about gratitude. If I hadn’t married Joel, I wouldn’t have the four wonderful children I have. I wouldn’t be in Texas, where I’ve been for 52 years. And I wouldn’t be eating kosher food, which I love. Joel taught me a lot of things but probably none more important than an exuberant joy in life. He loved to dance; I was a lousy dancer, but I could dance with him. He loved animals, and I caught his love, particularly of dogs. He cared about people, and I am more open and concerned about others than I might have been if he were not in my life.

A friend looked at me today and said in pure astonishment, “If he hadn’t brought you to Texas, we never would have known each other”

But the biggest thing Joel ever did for me was to leave me after 17 years of marriage, 20 years together. He reduced me to tears one night shortly before by telling me he’d take the kids, the house, everything but me. Of course, I wouldn’t give up my children. At the time, I didn’t see his leaving as a gift. I was in my early 40s, with four children ages 12-6, and I was scared, no terrified, about the future. It turned out just fine, thank you.

I have come to appreciate that great gift. If he had stayed, my children probably wouldn’t be the well-balanced, happy people they are, family people, contributing to their world. I wouldn’t have had the career I did nor would I have become the writer I call myself today. And I wouldn’t have built the wonderful life I have—friends, church, a secure home, great memories of the last thirty-plus years.

So thanks to Joel, though he didn’t intend his leaving as a gift, and his life didn’t turn out to be the happy days he expected. I have carried Joel with me, all these years, in a small place in my heart, in too many dreams, in some of the better ways I react to people and the world.

When people moan about divorce or how hard it is on the children or some such nonsense, I just smile and say, “Not always.”

Thanks, Joel.