Monday, February 08, 2016

Are you a feminist?

I thought I’d skip the blog tonight. An ordinary day, no news. All I did mostly was work on taxes. Moved ahead a bit on the big redo—the contractor will take the plans to the city this week and the bank verbally approved the loan when I have an estimate. A tech came to fix the alarm system which has persistently insisted that the back door is open when it’s not. Turns out rats have chewed on the wires. Worst part: the wires are under the flat roof, so there’s no way to get to them. The alarm tech has it all solved and will be back to fix it. And that’s how my day went.

Except I’m intrigued about all the sudden buzz about feminism and Hillary’s campaign and Madeleine Albright and someone else telling women they must vote for Hillary. I am really sorry we’re still fighting this battle fifty or more years after Betty Freidan’s breakthrough book. And yet I know we are. Some people are upset because Albright or someone in her camp was described as “scolding” women. The cry was that men never scold—it’s a diminutive applied only to women. On the other hand, Hillary has been criticized for her shrill, harsh voice. How’s the poor girl to win anything?

I like Hillary and will probably vote for her, but I resent being told I have to vote for someone on the grounds of gender. Does that mean if I were Republican I’d have to vote for Fiorina (a horrifying thought in my mind)? I’d like to see a woman as president, especially one as capable and experienced as Hillary, but I still think it’s important to vote for the person best qualified to lead the country. Gender isn’t the great qualifier. And I don’t like that it’s raising such an ugly head in this election. I don't think being a feminist--and I probably am, means I have to vote for a woman.

If we as women want equality, we have to show ourselves as being as capable as men.  I think in many instances women have done that and more. And we’ve come a long way, baby, since the early days of my adulthood and professional life—I know I have. But being female doesn’t make me qualified to be president. Vote your conscience folks, gender aside.

I can’t resist a snarky comment here: one of the main problems I see with the Republican clown car is that they all tend to marginalize women. Not what I want in a leader either.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

What a lovely morning

 This morning, on a Sunday when I usually look forward to lounging and reading the paper, I was up at 7:00, ready to go at 8:15. Jacob was an acolyte in early church; friends were going to join us at church and then brunch. I decided it was all too important to miss by lounging in bed.

Jacob was solemn as he walked down the aisle with his—whatever you call the thing that lights the candles. But when the congregation stood for the recitation of the blessing, he looked at me, I smiled, and he smiled back. A wonderful Sunday morning gift. The rest of the service he had his solemn look on.

The friends with us were a longtime friend of Jordan’s, her fiancé, and her mother. We went to a local bistro, and I had a half order of delicious Eggs Florentine—the whole order is two eggs, but that was too much. And we had a great treat--beignets. Made me think of rice cakes I used to let “rise” with yeast on the counter overnight and then fry. I guess because they’re both New Orleans specials.

The highlight of the morning came when Julia’s fiancé said to Jacob: “I need two things. I need a cake guard, and I need an usher. Will you do those?” Jacob readily agreed, and I think he was pleased. At the June wedding, I’ll be sure my grandson escorts me down the aisle. As for guarding the cake, it struck me at first as asking the fox to guard the henhouse. But I know Jacob better than that. Given a responsibility he will do it.

Speaking of predators, there’s a lot of Facebook buzz about bobcats and coyotes in our area. I didn’t leave Sophie out long at all tonight. And may have to start standing guard when she is out. A friend lost a large feral cat to a bobcat, and I’ve been leery ever since.

Had a long nap until Soph decided it was time to wake me. She’d napped at the foot of the bed herself. But I was too warm and cozy to get up for a long time. I had planned an Italian tuna sandwich, complete with flavors I love such as pesto, anchovies, and capers—but suddenly it sounded, well, wrong. I wanted the comfort of creamed tuna. And oh my it was good. I once suggested Jordan make a white sauce and she fixed me with a withering look. But here’s how I did it for one:
Sauté a couple of scallions in one Tbsp. butter (I would have added celery but I didn’t have any). Add a Tbsp. of flour and stir to make a roux. Thin with white wine and a good dollop of sour cream. Add ½ a 7 oz. can of good white albacore tuna (maybe the other half will be that sandwich tomorrow). Salt and pepper to taste and serve on toast. I used the wonderful Parmesan bread I get from Central Market but its cheesy goodness got lost in the other flavors. An afterthought: I should have put in some frozen petite peas. But it was good.

Did some taxes this afternoon and can’t bear anymore. Am reading. Taxes tomorrow. Think I’m getting lazy.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Having fun with income taxes

Well, not really. I’ve spent the last two days sorting out information for my accountant. I know some people just dump it all on the accountant and let him/her do it, but I am too Scottish for that. I figure I save money by having it organized enough to complete the tax organizer. I also figure some things need explanation, and I keep track of those as I go along.

My taxes aren’t all that complicated, but there’s enough I can’t just file a short form. I have income from several sources—mostly small checks from various publishers, though a couple of distributors were pleasant surprises this year. I keep track of business expenses having to do with my writing and household expenses, because I have for years taken a home office deduction. It’s all too much for me to figure but I can organize—though I’m sure I miss some deductions here and there.

Today I did my business account. Did I really spend $216 for supplies at Staples in one trip? Turns out it was computer repair. And there was a check to a press I’d never heard of—found the invoice showing it was for a blog tour. This year I became an indie publisher and discovered, as many have, that I simply can’t do it all—so I hired an editor, formatter, webmaster, etc. And I began to do more advertising—found I spent an inordinate amount on Facebook ads which most authors say are useless. Must change the ceiling on my ads—though then you limit the people reached. I think it’s a pay-per-click system, so if you pay more it means more people clicked on your ad.

There are puzzling questions—what do I do with royalties that are below the level where the IRS requires a payer to file a 1099? I’m reporting them, but I generally just send the 1099s to the account to figure my royalties. And then there are odd expenses that fit nowhere—why did I spend $26 with Just Answer? And how did my hearing test get in with business expenses?

I’m not done by any means but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I quit for the night. Going to read some more of The Storied Life of A . J. Fikry and go to bed early—going to first church tomorrow.

Sweet dreams, everyone.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Food and trivia

I seem to go on food kicks from time to time. There are times when nothing appeals, and I really don’t want to eat. Unfortunately, there are also times when everything appeals, and I have to watch what I choose. Lately I’ve been eating high on the hog. Tonight I sautéed three sea scallops—good big fat ones—for myself and did it better than I ever have. I got a mix of butter and olive oil really hot in the skillet, put the scallops in, and didn’t disturb them for perhaps three or four minutes. Then flipped them and turned the heat down just a bit. Result was scallops with a wonderful brown crust on either side and still soft and tender inside. Perfection. My side dish was a salad of chopped tomato, avocado, and blue cheese, dressed with just a bit of lemon juice.

Yesterday I had lunch at Nonna Tata, a tiny restaurant (six tables plus outdoor seating) specializing in country Italian. It’s one of the places where I always order the same thing—brasaola, the beef version of prosciutto. It served with greens and grated grana cheese, all dressed in a light lemony sauce. So good.

The night before I split a crab cake sandwich with dining pal Betty—wonderful though a bit hard to eat so we both resorted to knife and fork. Jacob was with us and ordered his usual noodles and cheese at the Tavern. He had complained that much as he liked it, the serving wasn’t large enough, so I ordered a side of black beans, which he usually loves. No surprise—the mac and cheese filled him up, and I have the beans in the fridge. I told my brother he must be on my mind because when I mean to say, “Let’s go to the Tavern,” I often say, “Let’s go to the ranch.”

And the day before that, Subie and I had a fancy lunch at Ellerbe’s—a gorganzola and wild mushroom quiche with a salad of I don’t know what kind of greens, but they had a great dressing.

Enough of my gastronomical tour. Today I made real progress on my taxes, which made me feel good enough to be lazy tonight. What I had anticipated as a day alone at home didn’t turn out that way—Socorro Escobar was here cleaning the house and chattering about how dirty it was after our weekend cleaning: Jordan came by and we went to Central Market.

The grandmother of one of Jordan’s longtime friends died Wednesday. Jordan and the granddaughter have been friends at least since middle school, and that family considers Jordan a part of them. So tonight she was involved in taking her friend’s sons to the visitation, then bringing them back here, then taking all the boys to the family dinner. Every time she popped in (three times I believe) we had a glass of wine. I shall have to go to bed early. She will be involved with the funeral, graveside ceremony, and family gatherings all day tomorrow, but I won’t be surprised to see her pop in. That’s how my life goes, and I couldn’t enjoy it more.

Tomorrow more income tax work, but at least I see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Family ties

My brother and sister-in-law came today to pick up the things we found that he should have from all the things we sorted out last weekend. It was another moment of family bonding. My brother is six-and-a-half years older than me, and we share the same mother but his father died when he was two. Still we grew up together. My memory of him when I was young was that he was always my protector. Woe to any kid who tried to pick on me. John went away to military school in high school, then to college and a career in the Navy. We really didn’t reconnect until he went to osteopathic medical school in Kirksville MO and declared that I, living at home and recovering from a broken heart, needed to get out of our childhood home. I went to live with him and his then-wife in Kirksville. In retrospect that says to me that he was still looking after me.

Flash forward maybe fifteen years and we were both in Fort Worth TX, both married, and both heavily involved in the osteopathic community. Then he divorced, followed by me, and our lives took different paths, and we had what I would call a testy relationship for a few years—close but with undercurrents. Now, in our “golden” years (he says we’re fragile), we are close. We don’t see each other often but we talk. Today was a special occasion—they came to visit in my house, drink wine, and prowl through our memories.

We had put aside Blue Willow china for him—he ended up taking it for my niece and for himself the heavy Appalachian pottery my kids didn’t want. He took, at my suggestion, a painting that hung over the fireplace in our childhood home, a couple of cookbooks Cindy wanted, and a framed quote from Owen Wister: “The West is dead, my friend. . . .” I think the things he most treasured were battered small photos of our maternal grandparents—he remembers them and I don’t, a small journal our mother kept when he was a toddler and his father died. He kept saying, “I’m very pleased” and “Thank you.” If I’d known how happy these things would make him, I would have given them earlier—then again I didn’t even know that Mom’s journal was in the attic.

Two articles remain in limbo—the tea table given to my folks when they married and a wonderful small wooden footstool. My kids love the sit on the low stool in front of the fire, and the tea table is an occasional table in my living room. Mom used to roll it into the living room, in front of the fire, for casual Sunday suppers.

We had a lovely visit. Jacob is in awe of Uncle John and even let him treat his injured wrist—must have worked because Jacob left the brace behind when he went home.

I am glad to share these things with family who will treasure them, but I am going to live with gaping holes on my walls where art work has disappeared. If I entertain, it will be with my everyday china, because other sets of china are gone. I am ready to move into my new quarters and let the Burton branch of the family move into the main house. We are making progress-got the architect’s elevations two days ago. It’s exciting to be moving ahead, bit by tiny bit.

But still, it’s all an emotional time.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Parenting and the cozy mystery

Several reviewers have questioned my choice of a single mother of two as the heroine of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. Kelly, a realtor/renovator, has two daughters, ages four and six, in the first book of the series, Skeleton in a Dead Space. By book six, Desperate for Death, the girls are a teen and pre-teen. Traditionally heroines of cozies are single women, often involved in a romance which provides a subplot. And they don’t have children. Some reviewers who objected to this change in the status quo found themselves liking the books, for which I am grateful.

Putting those girls in the novels was not a conscious decision. It just seemed to come naturally, perhaps because I was the single parent of four—and now am, though they’re all in the forties. My oldest daughter explained the book to her mother-in-law ass ‘highly autobiographical.”

This morning I sort of figured out why—parenting is what I’ve been doing my whole life and still am. Nine-year-old Jacob wasn’t awake five minutes before he complained that his stomach really hurt. I told him to move around and eat a banana. He did, but called his mother and said he felt worse than the time he had to cancel being an acolyte at church. She told him to lie on the couch for a bit.

All this on a day when I had gotten up extraordinarily early to get both of us out the door at eight o’clock. I had visions of cancelling my PT appointment and lunch date—the first of which would have relieved me and the second disappointed me. After lying not on the couch but on the big chair in my room, he declared he didn’t feel any better.

Me: Jacob, if you can’t go to school, no TV or iPad.

Jacob: I’m grounded from the iPad anyway.

After a pause, he asked: What would I do?

Me: I guess lie on the couch, read a book, and sleep.

Jacob, after another pause: Juju, I am going to school. I just may be a little late.

Me: No, darling. I have to leave at eight for an appointment.

Jacob, startled: I guess I better go get dressed.

He was soon dressed and out the door, probably ten minutes earlier than he’s ever gotten to school before. And with a cheerful disposition.

Tonight he’s sure he fractured his wrist. I told him probably not and gave him an ice pack.

See? That’s why I include children. I know how to weave them into a story. I hope you like Maggie and Em of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. I think they’re pretty darn cute and fun for their ages.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Iowa and politics

 I didn’t sleep well last night. I was in the midst of the Iowa caucus all night, though I have no idea what I was doing. But I have been fascinated by the rhetoric and conflict leading up to this evening’s vote…and just now I saw on TV that Hillary is ahead of Bernie by a close one point, too close to call, but Cruz, with much lower numbers, leads Trump by three points and is the projected Republican winner. Marco Rubio is in a close third. Those are the “big name” candidates, the competitions that matter. And while I’m scared to death of Ted Cruz, I’m not displeased with the Democratic numbers. I was prepared to support either one of the two leading candidates. And I really like Martin O’Malley, who only got 1% of the vote. He’s made a lot of sense in the debates. He is expected to end his campaign tonight.

I read posts on Facebook today from people who were sick to death of hearing about Iowa and some who said, boastfully, that they hadn’t watched a single debate or caucus. I find that sad, because I think it’s the duty of every responsible citizen to keep informed and vote. The person who hadn’t watched a single caucus obviously doesn’t understand that Iowa is the only state that caucuses and it’s not something you watch, like a debate. An uninformed, uninterested citizenry is why we have most of the inept people in government that we do—no names mentioned, but I have strong personal opinions. I don’t care however how you vote—please just vote. (Okay, I care, but that’s not the point here.)

I went to college in a small (read really small) town in Iowa for two years and went back to the University of Chicago and home because insularity and 3.2 beer were too much for me. The only good thing I took away from Iowa was the notion of turkey sandwiches and blue cheese. It strikes me as strange, after fifty years or so, that Iowa, with its rural culture, looms so large on the political scene. But maybe that’s the reason—Iowans still tend to be close to the earth people with simple needs. I like the farmer I heard saying on TV that Hillary’s emails didn’t matter one bit to him—he was interested in what she would do for the ordinary citizen like himself.

So here we go, folks, into a campaign that’s liable to be as bitter and vitriolic as any in memory. Keep your hats on and your judgment clear. And, please vote! In the last presidential election, almost two-thirds of the eligible population didn’t vote because “my vote doesn’t matter.” It does.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Of children, dogs and fear

Having spent all of yesterday outside playing with grandchildren and an aging but still agile chocolate lab, Sophie is strangely quiet today and not interested in her food. But she reminds me of the things I fear these days. I guess I have always had fears. Lord knows, anxiety has been a constant companion. But these days I fear two things and both have to do with the extreme cruelty some people can show to the most helpless among us—children and animals.

Sex traffickers: I’m going to become a helicopter grandmom, just as my grands are at the age to be developing independence. I read a truly frightening account of an incident at one of our malls where, from the report, I truly believe that mom saved her children from traffickers stalking them. An older man, a woman, and a young Hispanic man sat near their table in the food court and kept staring at the children. The mom’s intuition kicked in and escalated when the threesome left when she and her sister and the children did. They called for security to escort them out but no security personnel were available; finally she went to her car alone, planning to pick the others up at the loading zone. In the parking lot she saw the three people in a van, with the sliding door open. When she drove away, they sped off. I’d call that a narrow escape.

Jordan has told me of other incidents at other malls, even one in which kidnappers were apparently after an infant but the mom managed to escape with the baby. Apparently human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes, driven by Mexican cartels and national gangs. Main targets are teenage girls in their early teens—oh good, that fits two of my grands. But I worry about the younger ones and the boys too. I cannot bear the thought of them yanked from their safe and comfortable homes and subjected to things I don’t even want to think about.

Dog fighters: I’m active on Facebook posting pictures of lost and found dogs, but I hear too many stories about bait dogs. I used to think Sophiedoodle was safe because she’s only 30 lbs. but now I now that dog fight people will use small dogs and even cats as bait. That cruelty is beyond my comprehension. Facebook recovery stories only intensify my fear (maybe I should get off FB?). Now I hesitate to post pictures of found animals because men in dog fighting often send their innocent-looking girlfriends to claim animals. I do post lost dogs but I shudder when I hear of one stolen—who took it? Did it really just escape to explore? I understand dog fighters send people out to snatch dogs out of back yards; they leave the gate open so the owner will think the dog escaped.

My Sophie spends her days inside, which she prefers. When I let her out I watch her like a hawk. I have two locked gates. Unfortunately, she loves all people, and if she gets a chance to escape she runs like the wind. She doesn’t know my fear; all she knows is love.

Call me paranoid but these things truly frighten me. What is wrong with some people?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

One attic, twenty years

People say, often in extreme circumstances, that their whole life flashed before them. Today, my life paraded slowly by me, nostalgic bit by bit. The kids cleaned out the attic--to the right is the clean, empty attic. It's a remarkable change. Getting boxes and things out of the attic turned out to be the least of it, though everything was so dusty the kids put scarves over their faces. But it was the sorting that was most difficult.

The attic work crew standing in front of
the trash pile
My role was to sit and sort, which may have been the most tiring. How do you decide what to keep, what to donate? Some of it was easy—Jamie for instance put aside a whole collection of T-shirts, sizes 2-6 or so, one of which said “Kiss me, I’m Greek” and another, “Alter’s Cherub.” He was sentimental about almost everything he found. Colin, the accountant in the family, sorted out records carefully and, I think took some home to be shredded. Melanie it seems is fascinated by genealogy, particularly since we both share Scottish heritage, and she sorted out two bins of papers, etc. that gave hints of my family background. She left with those plus two family Bibles for their genealogy—she will bring them back after sifting out the information.

They found everything from my baby doll—which we plan to send to a doll hospital—to my MacBain plaid kilt, which probably fit me when I was eighteen. I think we were all surprised by what an emotional and nostalgic day it turned out to be. In the process of sorting, we relived my childhood and theirs—it made Jamie sad for times gone by but it gave me the sense of a life richly lived. Colin is less likely to talk about his feelings, but I said to him tonight that today reassured me they had a wonderful childhood (left unsaid were the words in spite of adoption and divorce), and he replied, “Oh, yeah, we’ve had a terrific life.” I also realized as they sorted file folder after file folder, that I have research and written an awful lot in my life. Deciding what to do with the multitude of magazines I had articles in was one problem.

It’s been a day of accomplishment—they all kept looking at each other and saying, “I can’t believe we got it all done.” But also a day of looking back with gratitude, especially to my parents and the life they created for us, the memories they left us with. And most of all a day of realizing how close we all really are, how much we love each other. I am a rich woman.
Tomorrow I'll start reclaiming my house.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Remembering my father

 My father’s been gone since 1977, but I never fail to mark his birthday which is today. I hesitate to tell you how old he would be but will say he was born at the tail end of the 19th Century and fought, for Canada, in WWI. Obviously I was a late in life baby. Dad was a dignified, disciplined man with a firm sense of right and wrong and a deep love for his family, though I don’t remember that he often played with us. He loved to tell the story of taking me sledding in the park in front of our Chicago house when I was probably three or so. Another man happened along and said, “I guess I’ll go get my granddaughter too.” Dad was crushed. In my teen years I worked for Dad—he was director of a hospital and president of an osteopathic college, though the former took most of his time. I eventually became his executive secretary before I went off to graduate school. What I learned from him has stood me in good stead through the years, and I could still be the best executive secretary you ever saw.
Dad’s avocation was his garden. On weekends he’d be out on his hands and knees, working in his garden as shabby as any homeless man. His appearance never bothered him, even when neighbors, friends or students came by. In retirement he had a lavish garden in the foothills of North Carolina. And he adored his grandchildren, laughing at their antics, taking them walking in the snow, showing them flowers. He always said Megan brushed her teeth with such enthusiasm she was going to brush them right out of her head. Jordan was six months old his last summer—none of us knew then about the aortic aneurysm that would kill him. He would sit on the porch in North Carolina and watch her on her blanket on the floor for hours—he seemed to think she was created for his amusement.
He would be proud of my children today though there are some aspects of their lives that would worry him, and he’d probably sneak me off in a corner to tell me what they should do, as though they were still children. I try to talk to my grandchildren about him to keep his memory alive. He was a proud member of the MacBean clan (actually we spelled it MacBain) and I feel that Highland heritage strongly. My two oldest children took me to Scotland a few years ago, and we visited the MacBain Memorial Park, high above Lochness. Nope, no sighting of Nessie. But my house has many Scottish things, and my oldest son is the keeper of the tradition. Grandfather would be proud of that. My youngest son is a devotee of good Scotch, and his grandfather would approve that too.
Dad was also a newshound and devoted Democrat—we dared not talk during the news. I often think of what his reaction would be to today’s politics, but I know he would applaud President Obama. His heroes were FDR and Winston Churchill. To me, that speaks to the character of the man.
I was always in a bit of awe of him, I admired him, I laughed at his foibles—once when he thought it was time for guests to go home, he began to run the vacuum. But above all I loved him, and I miss him. I often wish he was here so I could consult him. I remember when he died thinking “There goes the last man who will take care of me.” (I was supposedly happily married at the time.) I will say my brother has stepped into that role nicely, not that I necessarily need a man to take care of me.

Wow! I started out to write about a day split between work and family and ended up with a paean to my father. He’s worth it.