Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Squirrels and Mud—and a Lesson from the Lord

One of those days I’m not sorry to see end. First thing this morning, as usual, I turned on my computer. It told me it was shutting down, and proceeded to do so for an inordinate amount of time. Finally got past that, and it wouldn’t accept my password, although I knew it was the one I’ve been using for months. It gave me a helpful message about changing the password at a web site—but I couldn’t access the site to change it! This went on for about an hour and a half. I tried the web site on my iPad, but was told it couldn’t be found. Jordan said, “No you can do it that way.” Finally used the cell phone, changed the password, and got in.

Meanwhile, the TV went in and out, couldn’t decide what it wanted to do. Finally did come on. A friend came for coffee, and we visited for about an hour.

Sophie was having the time of her life, frantically chasing squirrels. I’m not sure if the squirrels were taunting her more or what was different about today, but she ran all over the yard all morning, serenading us with that shrill, excited bark, and occasionally coming in for water. When I trapped her inside at lunch time, I suddenly saw that there was mud all over the floor, rug, and my bedroom carpet. I deliberately let it dry, thinking it needs a stiff brush to loosen it and then a vacuum. I did mop the wood floor and probably need to do it again, but I’m waiting until someone—Jordan—vacuums. Neither scrubbing the dirt loose nor vacuuming are on the list of things my hip will let me do.

Of course, there was a muddy dog to deal with. Since it never did rain here, I think she came in to drink, pawed at the water, and then went out—making her own mud. I cleaned her paws as best I could and pulled up the covers so she wouldn’t crawl into my bed. When she slept on the couch, I looked away. She has a regularly scheduled bath tomorrow morning, thank goodness.

Finally after lunch I turned to my editing project. I’m sure the Lord was teaching me a lesson—I don’t have to get it all done right away just because it’s there. So today I’m more relaxed about it. What choice did I have? It’s tedious work, mostly correcting commas or so it seems to me. I’m trying to create one manuscript with corrections and suggestions from the editor and the two beta readers so I’m merging corrections. I’ve finally developed a method for working with two versions on the screen at once that works pretty well. But it’s slow. I’ve finished six chapters, hope to get two more done tonight.

Tomorrow is just bound to be a better day. Reminding myself that too many people have problems that are much more severe than muddy carpets.

Monday, June 26, 2017

 Work for the night is coming

One of my aunts, one that I adored, used to make fun of that hymn because it embodies an attitude in Christianity that she despised. But then, she was a preacher’s daughter who grew up living in near poverty in every small town in southern Ontario. I remember my dad taking us on trips through that country, and in each town he’d point out the parsonage. The memory of a child is unreliable, so I’m not sure if the houses looked dismal to me or if that’s the way I heard the story.

Life for Methodist preachers in Ontario in those days was grim. I’m sure they weren’t paid much, and they moved every two years. My grandmother had five children, one of whom died young. I’m sure feeding and raising the rest wasn’t easy, and Nana, whom I loved fiercely, was a fairly neurotic and pessimistic woman. I recognized that only from the perspective of adulthood but I think her life must have accounted for her attitude.

I remember her house in Oakville fondly—it had its own smell that welcomed me. I loved the chesterfield (that’s a British way of saying sofa) covered in chintz, and a huge sideboard in the dining room. That sideboard is now in my dining room—well not in the cottage, but in the main house It doesn’t look as big to me these days but it is a treasure.

One of my aunts lived with Nana. Doey developed rheumatoid arthritis as a young woman, a nurse, and was reduced to being a stringer for the Toronto Star. I suspect my grandmother did a lot of her work, because Doey’s hands and feet were terribly contorted and painful. In those days, probably the 1950s, they didn’t have the treatments they do today for RA.

All in all my father’s family were not a cheerful bunch, and I marvel that he came away and moved to Chicago—with a robust enjoyment of life. He brought with him many traits that I suspect were inheritances from his upbringing—a strict sense of right and wrong, a firm commitment to responsibility, a democratic sense of fairness to all people. Much of what I am today I owe to his influence. When I was fourteen I went to work in his office and eventually became his secretary. I was a darn good executive assistant and could be today. One thing that Dad hated was to call someone—he always dialed his own calls, none of that “Get so-and-so on the phone for me” nonsense—only to have a secretary say, “Please hold.”

Sorry. I got sidetracked and carried away, but I thought of the hymn and then my family background because today was a real workday for me. My work ethic came to the forefront even though I am my own boss these days. I had edits on a manuscript to do but didn’t want to lose momentum on the work-in-progress. The result was that I had my nose to the computer all day, except about two o’clock, usually my nap time, my brain said, “I need a rest” and I took a nap.

Friends came for happy hour, people I hadn’t visited with for a while, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But then I was back at my desk. Now it’s late, and I’m going to crawl into bed and read a good mystery.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Testing My Faith

Church this morning was a test of my faith. I attend an established, traditional church, a Disciples of Christ congregation. I like to think our theology is liberal, even if our congregation is fairly gray-haired, older, and conservative. This morning, we sat toward the front, in front of the pulpit. A young, Middle Eastern man slipped into the pew directly in front of us. He was cleanshaven but wildly curling black hair poked out from an unusual knitted wool cap that was a cross between a beret and a sac and totally inappropriate on a June day. Thin and a bit rumpled, he carried a backpack that he set on the floor and immediately rummaged in, pulling out what appeared to be a worn Bible. Was it my imagination or was he breathing hard? Was his cotton shirt sweat-soaked as it looked? My nose thought it answered the last question, but maybe he’d ridden a bike to church. When he turned a bit, I saw huge dark eyes, wide open.

I am not happy to confess that my radar went up. Throughout the service, he read his Bible, ignoring what was going on in worship. He didn’t pray; he didn’t take communion. Why was he amongst us?

A bigger question I asked myself was if I’d have had the same reaction were he blonde with pale skin. I think the answer is that I would still be concerned, but perhaps to a lesser degree. My thoughts raged from faith to instinctive caution. As a liberal progressive, I despise racial profiling and like to think I accept people individually based on who they are. But this young man set off something instinctive in me, a fear I could not deny. In our church, all are welcome at the table, and we believe God teaches us to love all his children, no matter skin color, clothing, whatever. And the other hand, as a woman, I’ve been carefully taught to pay attention to my instincts. If I sense something is wrong, I’m urged to take action to protect myself.

Nothing happened in church, of course. The young man may well have been lost, lonely, and afraid. When the hour of greeting arrived, I shook his hand and welcomed him, and he nodded appreciatively, those wild (honest, they were) eyes looking directly at me.

I’m left wondering what God thought of my dilemma, and, more importantly, what I think about it. Conscience or caution? I still don’t know the answer. I do know that for a moment there I was reminded of the first lines of a novel I just finished writing, “Susan Hogan thought she was going to meet her maker that March day. Her first thought was irreverent. ‘Really, God? In a grocery store in Oak Grove? Haven’t you got this wrong somehow?’” My thought was, “Really, God? In church on Sunday morning?” But I also felt strangely safe, as though I knew it would all be all right.. Perhaps our lives are going to be filled with that dichotomy in these fear-ridden, uncertain times. Fear certainly is a catching disease.

The day didn’t get immediately better. Washing dishes and my favorite cup, the one I drink tea from every morning, slipped out of my soapy hands; the handle broke off, so now it’s relegated to being a small vase. It was given to me by a close friend who has since died, so it has sentimental value, making the loss that much worse.

Dinner with friends tonight soothed my troubled soul. One of my wimpy friends and her gentleman friend ate on a patio, because it’s in the 80s with a nice breeze. Not sure I would have prevailed, but apparently, he gets cold easily too. Eggplant parmigiana that was delicious. And I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. Thanks to Kathie and Morris for a lovely evening.

I gave myself a holiday from writing today. Piddled at my desk with this, that and the other, even made notes for the novel, but didn’t actively work on it. Pleasant, but I didn’t get as much reading done as I expected. Tomorrow, back to work. And another week begins.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Storms and a Eureka Moment

I seem to be always celebrating one of my grandchildren, which just proves that they all take after their grandmother and are exceptional. This is my Tomball granddaughter Morgan Helene who just earned her black belt. She’s been studying karate long and hard for several years, and I’m proud of her accomplishment and her perseverance. Morgan will be 12 in August. Why are they all growing up so fast?

Rolling, rumbling thunder woke me about one o’clock this morning and went on off and on the rest of night, often but not always keeping me awake. In one of those awake spells I had a eureka moment about the new novel I’m working on. I have about 10,000 words written, but I have no idea who the murder victim is, nor the killer. Not sure about motivation. Last night I got bits and pieces that mean going back and planting some info, plus an overall idea about who did what why. I did something I never, ever do—got out of bed and made notes. Usually I rely on my memory, but this was really good stuff, and I was afraid to trust it to morning’s recollection. So first thing this morning I was transcribing those notes, hoping they made a modicum of sense. I’m still far away from putting much of that new information to use, but now I have a clearer picture of the road ahead. This rainy, dark day is a good one to spend at the computer.

My children used to have nanny/housekeeper who would say the weather was “fairing off.” That’s what it did, and as it brightened so once again did my disposition. Lovely to have it cool all day.

Dinner tonight at the lovely home of friends in Weatherford. They are collectors who actually own a small museum, but their house is also a museum. Being in it is a treat, as was the delicious dinner. But conversation was central to the evening. I like to think I have intellectual friends, but I don’t usually go to dinner parties where the conversation is this passionate, learned, and lively. Many opinion, some different. The topic was politics and current events and the mix of the two , and I found it fascinating. Another reason to feel fortunate.

Out past my bedtime. Night all.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Parties and birthdays and oh the fun!

Today is a happy birthday for the oldest of my boy grandchildren—Sawyer Hudgeons (if I could remember all four of his names, I’d use them). My Austin hard-rock kid is thirteen today. Sawyer definitely marches to his own drummer….er, guitar. He’s been going to the Austin School of Rock for at least two years now, and shows real talent both on the guitar and singing, performs easily and happily. Besides that, he’s a happy, sweet boy. I can hardly believe it’s thirteen years since we all rushed to Austin to celebrate his arrival.

And today was Jacob’s belated—adult—party. In truth, Jordan used his birthday as the occasion for her first big party in my house. The house has a happy party record and over the last twenty-five years has been the scene of cocktail parties, baby showers, humongous birthday celebrations, and most of all—tree trimming parties. In recent years, they’ve been strictly no-tree tree-trimming parties, but they were as full of laughter and love and food and wine as ever.

Jordan once again showed herself the mistress of party giving. Tonight was potluck, with some really good contributions. Jordan and Christian provided beer and wine—we’re stocked for months to come—along with meatballs. And a sheet cake. Everyone gathered round to sing happy birthday to Jacob, and I looked at the people—a happy mix of people of all ages. Two of Jordan’s friends who are special to me brought significant others I’d not met before and was glad to meet tonight, though they need to come back when it’s a little quieter and we can visit. One of those longtime friends, David, has been like family since he was fifteen. As he left the cottage tonight he said, “Tell the blog world hello for me.” So there you have his greetings.

Some people drifted out to the cottage, and I had a separate party there but went inside for the cake-cutting. Lots of fun. Now there’s a group on the patio outside my door, and I’ll join them in a few minutes.
A bit of trivia: I wrote Jacob a note and gave it to him this morning--long, funny story but my point here is that he handed me the note and said, "I can't read cursive, Juju." I had to read it to him. I am horrified--and a bit angry--that this child completed fifth grade without reading cursive. I vaguely remember they studied it, maybe third grade, and practiced but apparently not long enough nor hard enough. How will he function in the world? How will he sign a check. Someone pointed out to me that today they don't sign checks. Cursive is irrelevant, but I read somewhere learning cursive fine tunes the brain, just as music does. I'm on the prowl for workbooks with the Palmer method.

And an odd new imaginative exercise: designing niche literature courses. For some reason last night, in that twilight between sleep and full wakefulness, I was designing a lit course around the theme of old men. I decided to start with King Lear and include Tuesdays with Morrie. Didn’t get much further, but the idea has great possibilities. Is it an indication I want to teach again? No way. I love my retirement life and my writing life.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Live and Learn—a Cooking Failure

A dismal morning made it hard for me to get going. I was sluggish. No rain, and as the day slowly brightened, so did I.

I’m still in lost in Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year. Her description of a grilled cheese sandwich and how to do it is sublime, so I tried today at lunch. You butter the bread, grate the cheese and pile it on as thick as you can. Spread a thin layer of mayo on the outside of the sandwich to prevent scorching and press more grated cheese into the bread. In theory, that will give a crisp crust. I worried about keeping that grated cheese on the bread while I flipped.

Turned out that was the least of my worries. I settled the first side in the pan easily, but the cheese stuck to the pan, not the sandwich, and when I tried to take it up, I came away with a soggy sandwich and the crisp cheese crust remained in the pan. Flipping it did no good—now I had two soggy sides. The cheese did form that crisp crust in the pan, but I had to scrape it up and eat separately. I’m quite sure this is not what Reichl intended, and I have tweeted to ask for directions. Should you cook at high heat or low (I did low, envisioning a long, slow browning). Should you put oil or butter in the pan? I put olive oil, but maybe that was wrong.

Grilled cheese is always problematical to me. It’s like the little girl with the curl: when it is good, it’s so very good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid. I too often burn the bread before the cheese melts. At least now I’ll always grate the cheese—makes it melt faster and better.

I tried to recover my cooking skills by making a layered salad for the Jacob adult birthday Jordan is having tomorrow night. Layered salads require a lot of chopping—eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, green onions, cutting up bacon, etc. While I chopped and cut, I kept thinking how much Ruth Reichl enjoys that part of cooking and wishing I enjoyed it half as much. The salad was a big problem in terms of a container too—I discovered the glass dish I’ve always used has gone to some child’s house, and I had no appropriate dish. Friend Subie finally came up with one that although not glass will work. And tonight Betty said of course she has a trifle dish! Aarghh!

Betty and I took Jacob out to dinner tonight while his parents went to some event connected to Christian’s work. Jacob declared he wasn’t hungry, picked at his mac and cheese, but ordered two root beers and left the second sitting on the table. Conspicuous consumption! Betty and I split miso salmon on a bed of spicy vinaigrette noodles—absolutely delicious.

So now I’m home, settled, and anticipating the first big party to be held in the house since we made the big move. I used to host parties a lot, particularly at Christmas when I had a no-tree tree-trimming party. When December came around last year, none of us had the energy or the will—it was a low point for me. So now I’m delighted to anticipate a party in the house and yard. Jordan has worked hard getting it all perfect.

To my hot-blooded friends who couldn’t sit outside: I sat on the patio tonight for a long time and loved it. Just perfect.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dinner with wimpy friends    

Every month or so, I have dinner with three ladies I’ve known a long time. Tonight, we had reservations at a restaurant that has a lovely, shaded patio with lots of fans. I love patio dining and had lobbied for that tonight. I lost. One has bad allergies and doesn’t like the heat; another is adamant to the extreme about heat (I think 70 is her cutoff); the third agreed the temperature on the patio was fine but the whirring of the fans bothered her. Honestly, ladies! Really?

We ate inside, but the patio was a great joke. I had emailed them earlier to suggest that I am as uncomfortable in air conditioning as some of them are in heat. They sort of got the message, enough that when I ostentatiously draped a wrap around my shoulder they laughed. And made jokes about patio dining and the like. Finally, one said, “I can tell we’re going to end up in the blog tonight.” So here you are my wimpy friends. Note that I am kind enough to omit your names.

Inside/outside controversies aside, we had a lovely evening. They are interesting ladies—two are docents and one is knowledgeable about museum quality art, which sometimes leaves me in the dust in the conversation. I went armed tonight with a report on the Netherlands art investigator who thinks he can solve the Gardner Museum thefts and return the art work undamaged. Never had a chance to throw my knowledge into the discussion, but we talked about cruises—one had just been on a cruise and was at best medium enthusiastic; the other is getting ready to go and taking lots of books. I, who have never cruised and hope not to, recommended sitting on her private deck or patio, watching the ocean go by, and reading. Of course, I’d have my computer with me.

Lunch today was a different story but equally lovely. One of the joys of my work at TCU Press was that I often made friends with authors. Chloe Webb is one of those. Her book, The Sacred Harp Legacy, was one that touched my soul, and she and I became good friends, occasionally going to lunch at the deli where we both ordered egg salad sandwiches. Chloe’s husband is in iffy health, though doing well right now. But she has suffered a great loss and been in a dark tunnel of her own, probably darker than the one I’ve just emerged from. I hadn’t seen her in a while so it was good to connect when she came to the cottage for lunch today. I had lunch at the deli earlier in the week and brought home egg salad for her as a surprise. With sliced fruit and a pickle (odd combination but it worked), it made a delightful lunch. And the conversation was interesting, reassuring, thoughtful. We share a strong faith that has carried us through our tunnels.

So tonight I am grateful for friends who sustain me—old friends and new, those who share my tribulations and my joys. Thanks, y’all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Jacob is Eleven   

I think we all have a tendency on a child’s birthday to think back on the life, however short, calling up those golden memories. Today I remembered the first time in the hospital when I held Jacob. And the way we used to put him, in his Bumbo or whatever that early seat was, in the middle of the dining table as a centerpiece. He was always so happy, it made for happy dinner hours.

He walked early but didn’t talk for a while. Not that he didn’t have anything to say. He spoke volumes in gibberish. I used to talk back to him as though we were carrying on a conversation. His Aunt Betty thought it was hysterical when we’d go to dinner because Jacob got all the inflections of conversation right, just not the words. In Houston once, a distant cousin asked me seriously if Jacob spoke Chinese. Of course, the day came when we couldn’t shut him up.

The nights he slept on his bed in the family room, got scared, and came to sleep with me. Or the night, when he was about three, when he crawled into my bed and said, “My bed is wet.” Eventually he gave up his bed and slept with me. These days he wouldn’t dream of sleeping with me, and I miss that closeness.

There was the time he made up a tune and sang to me, “I’m uphappy today.” He broke the chorus with, “Juju made a booboo.” I had gotten hummus on something I shouldn’t have, and he thought it was so funny he worked it into his song. I still treasure the video, a selfie he did.

He and I shared many happy days—a New Year’s Eve when we toasted in the coming year with kid wine. Jordan worried that I’d post the picture, and people would think I’d given him wine. The nights when he used to think it was fun to go to dinner with Betty and me. Now he thinks we’re boring.

He came out to the cottage this this morning to open his gift—a new grip for his putter—and asked plaintively if we’d have family supper tonight. We did—but we three adults were at the dining table, and he and his overnight guest ate in the family room. Such togetherness. A childhood friend is spending the night, a girl a head taller than he is. She couldn’t go to the swimming party today because it was all boys. Right now, they’re giggling on my couch, fishing for something they’ve apparently dropped, and I’m suspicious.

Jordan had a trying day—16 boys playing basketball and then swimming. I meantime had a peaceful day working in the cottage and by evening was craving company. And so the day ends. Happy birthday, Jacob.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cooking, Cookbooks, and Writing

I am a firm believer that the Lord works in mysterious ways to make his will known. I’m beginning to believe he wants my writing to turn more toward food writing, just when I have several mysteries in mind to write.

My reading choices make me think this for one thing. I am reading Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes, that Saved My Life. It’s a chronicle of her life the year after Gourmet Magazine, of which she was editor, abruptly went out of publication. When your career is pretty much the source of your identity, as hers was, that’s one of life’s major blows. She dealt with it by cooking. Only Ruth Reichl can get away with prose recipes, but she does and makes them so appealing and generally simple that the reader is drawn in, as though to a novel.

Next on my list is Give a Girl a Knife! by cookbook author and James Beard winner Amy Thielen. It starts with her life in the kitchens of upscale New York restaurants, with dishes I’ve never imagined let alone heard of, and follows her move back to the basic food of her Midwestern roots. I’m looking forward to reading it.

And then there’s the fact that I’ve been cooking more and more lately, sometimes for myself—scallops for supper last night the way I like them, sautéed in butter, nothing fancy—and figs stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in prosciutto for company. I’ve made Welsh Rarebit, fettucine with smoked salmon, guacamole with feta, southwestern tuna with cumin and chilies, beans on toast (an old dish now elevated to trendy status and new to me), lamb chops with garlic, capers and anchovy, from scratch tomato sauces, orzo with spinach and feta, a new cucumber and avocado salad with a tang to it (and the feta I added), stuffed zucchini, a sardine pate,

The list of things I want to cook is as long as that of the dishes I’ve made in recent weeks. So maybe the Lord is telling me something about that memoir I keep talking about writing. Maybe food, along with writing and child-rearing, has been a staple of my life. Witness Judy’s Stew which was designed to be a mix of writing, cooking, and grandmothering—and that was eleven years ago.

I’ve done one memoir cooking, Cooking My Way Through Life With Kids and Books, but that was eight years ago. Perhaps today I would bring more depth and insight to such a project, making it less a chronicle of what happened when and more a memoir that explores, if you’ll pardon a dramatic phrase, the depths of my soul. I have lots of new recipes from those eight years to share.

The idea is rolling around in my mind. I had intended to write about my year out of life, due to deteriorating physical and mental things, but maybe one of the most significant things is that I didn’t cook during that year. And now I’m cooking again—with gusto.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father’s Day

In addition to the good looking boy and his dad,
note the colorful and beautiful altar cloths
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. My own father has been gone over forty years. He walks on in my dreams and lives in my heart, a proud Scot. I wish I had a digital picture. I am now just a month shy of the age he was when he died of heart failure a couple of days after surgery. Weird thought. But I owe him for many things—faith, a work ethic, a tin ear, the love of reading, and that Scottish heritage of which I’m so proud. As I age I look more and more like him and his sisters. Were she living, one of his sisters would tell you that’s not a good thing.

In recent years, I’ve enjoyed watching my sons and sons-in-law grow into their roles as fathers. Each has his own style and parents in his own way, but they are kind and loving and are raising great kids. I’m a big fan of fathers.

We celebrated Father’s Day by going to early church because Jacob was an acolyte. I’d forgotten how few people attend the nine o’clock in the summer. The church was still empty, so I stood to see if I could spot Betty and her family in the back. To my astonishment, the acolytes were coming down the aisle to start the service. I quickly sat back down—wouldn’t do to embarrass Jacob.

I carried a can of corned beef in my purse to church. No, I didn’t expect a hunger crisis. I adore corned beef hash (it’s a great vehicle for ketchup), so I asked Jordan to bring some from the grocery. She couldn’t find it, brought canned corn beef which came in a can suspiciously shaped like the cans of Spam from my childhood. I took it to church to put in one of the bins of donated food, but we never saw one. Long story short, I came home with my corned beef which takes up precious space in my pantry drawer. That’s right—a deep drawer is the only pantry I have.

We celebrated Christian with brunch at The Tavern, a favorite of all of us. Jacob likes the mac and cheese. I had migas because I’ve never in my life had them and thought I should try. Won’t try again—I’m not that fond of corn tortillas. It was okay—I had peanut butter toast when I woke up (at 6:30 thank you) this morning.

Busy week ahead. I want to keep writing my thousand words a day; have lunch and happy hour plans tomorrow—for the latter, Subie and I are running away from home, just the two of us. Dinner plans two nights, a lunch guest one day, and Jacob’s birthday. The actual birthday is Tuesday, and Jordan will oversee a party that will include baseball or basketball in the school yard across the street, followed by swimming and, I think, pizza. Friday night there will be a potluck for adults in Jacob’s social circle—don’t laugh. It’s a bunch of people.

So blessed to have such a full life.