Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Blessed are those who give

I don’t think that’s one of the Beatitudes, though the idea certainly fits. So proud of my nine-year-old grandson tonight. He lost a tooth last night—not a front one but one of those edging back toward molars. Up late from excitement. He wanted money from the tooth fairy—so he could buy church clothes for one of the two boys in a homeless family his own family has adopted for Christmas. (I must say the tooth fairy’s fees have gone up from my day when a quarter sufficed—Jacob got $5.) Jordan sent me the list of the two boys’ wishes, and I nearly cried when I read that the nine-year-old boy wants a bed, a pillow, and a blanket. The twelve-year-old wants lots of sports gear, principally Nike, which of course excites Jacob. But he said his mom cried about the bed and pillow too and is thinking of an air mattress. Jacob said he knows he has so much and it’s awful to think of children who has so many needs.

Tonight at dinner with friends Subie and Phil I bragged on him—and Phil gave him twenty dollars towards his stash for the boys. I too have promised to chip in. Jacob has about $50 as his total worth and wants to spend almost all of it on these boys. Call me one proud grandmother—and he is one sweet boy.

As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, laden with food, may we all give thanks for the bounteous goods given us but also remember those less fortunate—yes, the Syrian refugees and others who flee terrorism but also the poor, hungry and homeless amongst us here at home. And may we pray for healing of our divided nation, cooling of the anger that divides us, and peace here and abroad.

I for one am one blessed woman, and I am eternally grateful.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A mishmash

I’m not sure why but tonight I have the words of the old hymn stuck in my mind: “Fast falls the eventide…Lord with me abide.” Mostly what comes to mind tonight is a lot of little trivia.

Like the fact that Jordan put happy hour food on the deck and went back to find Sophie, all four feet on the table, munching on cheddar/jalapeño popcorn. Privately later Jordan warned me to watch for tummy troubles. Soph must have a cast-iron stomach, because nothing bad happened.  She was ready to eat more of it tonight, but we caught her in time.

Christian emptied my recycle bin at ten o’clock last night and was gone so long I told Jacob I was going to check on him. Jacob said no, he’d go check. Turns out Christian had somehow fought with the lid and the bin dumped before he got it to the cart. It was also the night that Jordan and I had decided to discard all the puzzles that have been sitting around for years and for which we were sure there were missing pieces. Result? Christian had puzzle pieces all over the ground.

This morning I left home without making my bed. Many will not realize what a trauma this is, but there was a nine-year-old boy with an iPad sitting in the bed, saying to me, “I will in just a minute. This video is almost over.” How many times have I heard that? When I was young my mom had a cleaning lady who swore you should never leave home without making your bed because you never know when they might have to bring you home and lay you out in it—and heaven forbid if it wasn’t made. I think that piece of folk wisdom has stayed permanently embedded in my mind all these years. Yes, Nora, I make my bed faithfully every morning, after letting it “air” for a while as my mom taught me. Only this morning I was late for a doctor’s appointment

On a more serious note, I have friends to pray for—one couple who has lost a much-loved daughter-in-law at far too early an age, and another couple where the man is facing heart surgery. Outcome and recovery are expected to be good, but it’s still worrisome. And he’s a bit older than me—I didn’t know anyone was. There are many people on my prayer list but these two couples head it right now. Lord, fast falls the eventide…abide with all of us.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Cranberry Wars

Cranberry relish is a memory of my childhood. My mom had an old, hand-cranked grinder that she attached with a clamp to an even older wooden small ladder or stool. Then my dad would sit in front of it on the appointed night and patiently crank the raw cranberries and chunks of orange and apple (unpeeled, of course) that she handed him. It was an endless, time-consuming process. Mom would add sugar—a cup at the most I think. We all loved the relish, served only at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My children will not touch it, and my grandchildren, having never been introduced to it, probably would not either. So I don’t make it, but many holidays I long for that good old relish. This year, I am going to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving, and I will make cranberry relish. He likes it, and his brother-in-law is dippy about it. So Kevin will take home the leftovers. Of course, these days, it’s much easier to make in a food processor—you just have to catch it at the right point, when it’s chunky but not mush. No more hand-grinding, nor does it take but a few minutes.

Both my daughters-in-law prefer that jellied stuff that comes out of a can—an abomination to me. They chill it, slice it, serve it, and most of it is still on the plate at the end of the meal. I think it had to do with what you grew up eating.

Here’s my version:

1 apple, fairly tart, cored and seeded, cut in small chunks

1 small orange, seedless if possible (I blew that one), cut in small chunks

12 oz. raw cranberries, rinsed and picked over for bad ones

Mix all ingredients in food processor. Watch carefully so as not to blend into mush.

Add 1 cup sugar or more to taste, but you don’t want it too sweet.

Refrigerate up to five days in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.

Enjoy. I’ve always thought of this as something you just put a spoonful on your plate and ate along with the turkey, especially leftovers the next day. But I read recently of someone who made it as a sauce to go on pound cake. Now there’s an idea!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A house divided against itself...

I assume everyone recognizes the famous line from President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War: A house divided against itself cannot stand. Today our nation is again divided against itself…or as we say in modern terminology, polarized. It’s all over the question of welcoming Syrian refugees. Many remind us that we are a country of immigrants, we have a history of welcoming refugees. Others fear that Syrians will bring terrorists that will attack us. Some even say that President Obama is a Muslim, bent on bring terrorists in to destroy the country.

I’ve been involved in a Facebook discussions of a different nature. A friend of mine, a man whose mind and thinking I admire much, is opposed to helping refugees for a different reason. A disabled veteran from the Vietnam War, he thinks we should not help refugees if we don’t take care of our veterans first. He has a valid point—we have something like 50,000 homeless veterans, many others who need medical care and don’t easily get it from VA centers and hospitals. Apparently the charge to veterans depends on the degree of disability, so for many VA care is not free. Congress constantly threatens to cut veteran benefits in the name of saving the budget. Makes you want to ask how many of those Congressmen served in the armed forces. I fully agree with presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders: if we can afford to send men and women to war, we can afford to take care of them when they come home.

On the other hand, there are the thousands who are fleeing Syria in fear of their lives and the lives of their children. Far from being terrorists, they are trying to escape the very kind of terror that hit Paris last week. They have seen men, women and children beheaded in the name of Islam. They are giving up their homeland, family ties, security, all that we take for granted, to flee to safety. Shall we turn them away from the Statue of Liberty which says, “Give me your tired, your poor….”

The discussion got pretty heated on Facebook. One woman, who apparently believes that Obama is a Muslim and all Syrians are terrorists, elevated the discussion by calling me a moron. I will not respond in kind, though the temptation is strong. If you want to know more truth about the refugee situation, please read http://www.fortworthtrinity.org/about/news/blog/seven-things-to-know-about-refugee-resettlement

I don’t understand why it has to be an either/or situation. Ten thousand refugees are not that many to absorb into the fabric of this country, and as the Web site above tells you, the mechanics for doing it, including strong vetting, are in place. In a country with resources as rich as ours, can we not take care of both problems? (Aside: someone pointed out to me that many of the homeless don’t want homes and confinement—but they still need medical care; with good care they might once again become productive citizens). It’s an easy cop-out but I blame the polarized politics of our nation for this dilemma.

I don’t know what I want to urge my fellow citizens to do—I’ve never had much faith in writing your Congressmen, because I believe their minds are already made up. But do what you can—volunteer at veterans’ shelters and VA hospitals, be informed about the truth of Syrian refugees and don’t give in to fear-mongering techniques. Keep an open mind.


Friday, November 20, 2015

A big step forward

Tonight for the first time since my back, leg and balance began bothering me so badly I cooked a family dinner, even tried a new recipe. Granted, I had a lot of help from Jordan, but I got the greens washed for salad, broccoli washed and in the steamer, and made the entrée—chicken breasts in an herbed cheese sauce.

We had a long happy hour before supper—Subie, Phil, Jay, and Jordan’s two friends from Lily B. Elementary, mothers of Jacob’s “besties.” Amy, one of the mothers, brought me a gift of three packages of Boursin, which was just what I needed for the sauce. I had been going to use herbed goat cheese, but this Boursin with garlic and herbs was perfect. Lemon juice, chicken broth, oregano, basil, tarragon and a bit of flour also went into the sauce. My sous chef (Jordan) misunderstood and dumped the flour into the skillet before I was ready but I just hurried and put the broth in—worked fine. Sauce was divine. I really don’t like chicken much unless it has some kind of sauce because it tends to be so dry. Jacob, predictably, didn’t like it at all.

I had to stop and sit for a while several times, but it felt good to cook a meal, instead of the thrown-together things I’ve been fixing myself. And I did some housework today—principally laundry, which taught me I cannot fold towels as neatly as Jordan does. A lot of things that we do without thinking to keep house become complicated when you have a cane in one hand—it takes me two trips to get my breakfast banana and tea from the kitchen to my office.

Next on my list: a big pot of chili. The chili book is doing well, getting lots of attention, and it inspires me to fix some of my own “Mild and Tentative Chili.” Of course, it has beans in it, and chili-heads will tell you real chili does not have beans. At the sanctioned cook-offs, no beans or any kind of filler is allowed. There goes chili mac and a Shanghai Jimmy’s chili on rice.

But first I have to make a cheeseball and cranberry relish for Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s. Project for my lazy Saturday tomorrow.

Sophie apparently enjoyed happy hour too much. Jordan urged us all outside because it’s going to get very cold tonight and was still pleasant at five. We should enjoy the pleasant evening while we could. She made a couple of trips to put food on the deck table and found Sophie, totally on the table, eating cheddar/jalapeño popcorn. She thinks she got to her before she ate much, but quietly, after others had left, she warned me to be alert to digestive problems on Sophie’s part. Oh good, something to look forward to. So far, however, she is exhausted from playing with three other dogs and is sleeping peacefully at my feet.

Sweet dreams, y’all. Don’t even think about cheddar/jalapeño popcorn!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Whirlwind day

I swear a whirlwind went through my house today. I got up early—6:30, thank you very much—for an 8:40 dentist appointment. Dentist appointments always make me anxious, even though I really like the hygienist. So I geared myself up for the appointment, got in my car, and realized that Christian’s car was still behind mine. He took Jacob to school at 8 but usually was gone within five minutes. He came back, after his reading group with the kids that I didn’t know he had, at 8:30. My appointment was at 8:40, at least 20 minutes away. I had already called and they wanted to reschedule because my favorite hygienist had a full schedule. So now my teeth won’t be cleaned until the end of December.

It worked well though because I had been worried about being back in time for the TCU retirees’ luncheon. Obviously I was ready when friend Jeannie came to pick me up—and I’d gotten a lot of work done. The luncheon was fun—always nice to see old friends—and I gave out name tags, which I liked. I would always prefer to have a job at events like that. Bud Kennedy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was the speaker, talking about his TCU days and his early—and sometimes amazing—experiences in journalism. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Went home to a peaceful house until four, when Jacob, Jordan and Jay arrived. Jordan made another start on my closet, then moved her organizational skills to my pantry, where the disorganization bothers her a great deal. Jay installed the new monitor box on my kitchen TV which had just arrived.

And then it was all flurry to get Jacob and Jordan off to the school for his fourth-grade program. This is the first one I’ve missed, and I felt bad about it but just didn’t want to stumble around in the dark to get there. I promised him I’ll go next year, for his final performance at this school.

And then, when they came back, it was another flurry of showing videos of the performance, eating celebratory ice cream, and getting out the door for home. Fun and lovely to have them here, but it tires me out. I’m ready for bed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Totaling up the day—or being compulsive

Do you ever feel the need to sum up your day, figure out what you’ve accomplished? I feel that way all the time. Today would get a medium—I’d been calling a doctor’s office for days with no answer, so today I went out there. Seems they’d changed their phone number but had not notified any patients. Cancelled my upcoming appointment—but that’s another subject. Did a fairly big grocery shopping and got new ink cartridges to have on hand since I replaced them all last night. I’d been fighting with my printer—and losing. It told me low ink, then it told me damaged cartridge, counterfeit cartridge, and previously used cartridge. Finally when I got them all replaced, it seemed content and purred away, but I want to have more on hand for the next time it pitches a fit. Ink cartridges are not cheap…and my printer requires five or six.

Came home and sorted out all the papers from the signing last night—my dining table was lined with different piles of paper. Fortunately that was easy to deal with. Tonight I have to tally up. And then it’s a quiet, early evening with a book—I am so sleepy and tired. Had an early dinner with a friend—but neither of us had much appetite nor much to talk about.  Can’t blame it on the weather—it was a beautiful day, though I could feel the cool in the air.

I wonder about this compulsion to feel I’ve accomplished something every day. What would happen if there was a day I did nothing but watch TV (not my style—it would bore me) or read a book or frittered away the day with lunch with friends and a long nap? (I’m not a good shopper, so that too would bore me.) I doubt the world would end. Hey, I’m retired. I should do those things. And yet, I always feel the need to have meaningful work—mostly on my desk, as I ignore that laundry that should be done and the like.

I think I lovingly blame my father, who early on instilled a work ethic in me. Thanks, Dad, but now I’m trying to overcome it. At the same time I find myself wanting to instill it in grandchildren—homework before TV, etc. My oldest son got the work ethic so strongly that it worries me—he’s a workaholic; some of the other can fritter away hours. Reminds me of the time I was visiting my oldest daughter and at eight o’clock I asked what was for dinner. “I haven’t the foggiest idea,” she replied, which sent me scurrying to the cupboard and freezer to cobble together spaghetti sauce. I’d have had the menu in my mind for days.

Some habits die hard, but I’m trying.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sometimes the gods smle on you

Linda, one of two whom Murder at Peacock Mansion is dedicated
Yesterday was a rainy, depressingly dark kind of day—one where the weather affected your mood and, if you’re my age, your achy bones. I dreaded the thought of tonight’s book signing and sent out cheerful “Don’t let the rain stop you” messages. During the night we had severe storms—thank you, I slept through them. Jordan promised to call if I was in danger but I guess I wasn’t. Today dawned dark and wet.

But by noon the sun was shining and the world was drying out. Tonight for the launch of my two news books—Texas is Chili Country and Murder at Peacock Mansion—the weather was pleasant if a bit brisk. I had an entourage—Jordan and good friend Linda. We set up a table at the Old Neighborhood Grill, just inside the door. Didn’t get much walk-by traffic but lots of friends came—the Grill was busier than usual on a Tuesday night, and I take some small credit. I sold a fair number of books—not as many people came as I expected but those that did bought several books. The chili book in particular sold in multiple copies, which didn’t surprise me. It’s a perfect Christmas gift. So it was a profitable evening.

More than that, it was a pleasant evening. Unexpected guests, people I loved to visit with, lots of sociability. Some of Jordan’s close friends came, and she spent a lot of time with them; good friends sat at the next table, and when Jordan wasn’t by my side Linda was so I didn’t ever have that awkward moment of an author sitting alone staring at the ceiling. My grandson, however, breezed in with friends and acted like he’d never seen me until I finally went over and introduced myself.

Of course talking up the chili book made me hungry for a pot of chili, and I half promised to do it Sunday night, only to realize I can’t because I am booked into a two-hour chat room that night. Some night soon.

Tonight I’m happily tired. Going to sleep early to face a busy week. And then Thanksgiving, which disrupts everyone’s schedule, will be upon us. My inclination to be a recluse is blown!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A book show-off instead of signing

We played 52-pick-up this morning. Had the day all planned, and it went awry. Jacob, who usually sleeps until at least nine on weekend mornings, was up at seven, watching TV. He finally admitted his stomach hurt. I fed him the chicken soup he requested, which didn’t stay down and, briefly, he thought he was better. But then he said he didn’t think he could go to church. So Christian went to church, while Jordan and I ate a light lunch. Traded books for the child, Christian took him home and put him to bed, and Jordan (my ever-efficient assistant) and I headed for the Author! Author! Event at church.

I had packed a few copies of each of my two new books, long with a very few older titles—plus a list of titles, flyer for the chili book, newsletter sign-up list, all the things authors take to such events. When the first person asked where to get my books, I said, “You can get them from me right here today.” Someone quickly told me we were not allowed to sell books, only display them. Honest, it didn’t say that in the instruction sheet, and I certainly would not have packed a heavy carton of books.

Still I think I did good marketing work—gathered names for my mailing list, passed out copies of the list of all my books, talked with lots of people, showed off the two new titles, and as much as I could talked up the signing coming up this Tuesday evening. Jordan is ever charming, introducing herself to people she doesn’t know, hugging those she does—someone once said she gives you the feeling she’s been waiting all day just to see you. She was as always a big marketing asset, this time freed of her money-taking chores. So it wasn’t wasted time. Another year, if they do it, I’ll make a case for selling books—one of the ministers said several people wanted authors to be able to sell, so there will be some support.

Good marketing lesson: that list of all my current books. I’ll amend it tonight with a note about my publisher going out of business and my need to put more books up in digital form. I have about decided not to do print on most of the mysteries since digital outsells print ten to one.

And the sick child is better tonight, well enough to go to school tomorrow. Don’t know what it was but sure hope I didn’t catch it.

Busy week ahead—that’s good. Book signing (with sales) Tuesday 5:00-8:00 at the Old Neighborhood Grill. Sweet dreams, everyone.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pray for Paris

 I have tremendous admiration for the French people—some opened their homes to those who could not get to their own homes, a bookstore hid people among its stacks, taxi drivers turned off their meters to get people safely home. I even heard that as soccer fans exited the soccer stadium, they defiantly sang “La Marseillaise!” They have been our allies for a long time, and I’m sure the United States will stand beside them.

At home, though, reactions have been mixed (granted, I see most of this on Facebook). Prayers for the victims, for Paris, for France and for mankind abound. Some feared for their own safety—not an unreasonable fear since ISIS reportedly said France was being punished for cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition that bombed ISIS sites (why are we always the leader?). Some suggested—and I suspect this is true—that once again, like after Sandy Hook, the world has changed forever.

There were however more knee-jerk reactions. We should condemn all Muslims—there are millions of Muslims throughout the world who have been vocal in their condemnation of this and other acts of terrorism. ISIS is estimated to be about 50,000 strong. Others raised an immediate outcry against President Obama’s plan to accept Syrian refugees into this country. I agree it would take serious vetting, but don’t our citizens realize that those people are fleeing the very same terrorism that hit Paris? ISIS has killed an incredible number of Muslims—these people seek refuge for their families. It’s a dilemma for the human brotherhood. (Okay, sisterhood too)

A Facebook post praising President Obama’s deliberative response rather than rushing into action immediately brought criticism from those who thought we should strike back immediately. And of course, there were those who blamed President Obama for the attacks—I don’t quite understand that because it is generally accepted that President George W. Bush and Veep Dick Cheney exacerbated the instability of the Middle East with the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq—when history should have taught them were not winnable wars.

And finally there were the gun advocates who boasted if they’d been there, they’d have prevented the bloodbath. Mark Greene, once a candidate for Congress, put it best when he said they probably wouldn’t have to put their beers down to take care of “bidness.”

What is effective reaction to this awful massacre? I read one post that it will never come from an American/European coalition—the Middle East already resents us. Countries in the area need to do their own policing the region. If the Saudis and others suffer economic consequences, they’ll act to control ISIS.

What’s the answer? I don’t know, and I’m glad I don’t have to decide. But the people of France give me hope. We must not live in fear; that’s what terrorists want. What we can do is sing “La Marseillaise” in their faces.