Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Warm and Wonderful Reunion



Life is funny. Friends come and go in your life. I read somewhere—maybe Anne Lamott—that when a friend disappears from your life it’s because their part in your life story is done. I had a wonderful brunch today with three friends whose part in my life story is definitely not over, much to my joy.

Gayla Christiansen, marketing manager at Texas A&M University Press, Frank Vick, former director of UNT Press, author, past president of Texas State Historical and Texas Institute of Letters, and Fran’s daughter, Karen, were in Fort Worth for a meeting yesterday, came to see my cottage and take me to brunch.

When I was at TCU Press, I was in almost daily contact with Fran and Gayla. They were my “go to” people in publishing, and when I turned seventy they presented me with a certificate about the three world-problem-solving publishing women of Texas. Retirement and life in general has taken us in different directions, though we are sporadically in touch.

Today, over a marvelous lunch of eggs Benedict and roast brisket hash, we picked right up where we left off—catching up with publishing, health, gossip, families, you name it. We lingered over a long brunch—well over two hours. And we’d still be there probably if Gayla, our hostess, hadn’t announced she needed to head for College Station.

I came home on wings of air, much buoyed up to still be a part of the Texas publishing scene. The rest of my day has been a lazy Saturday. Spent much of the afternoon exploring Scotland—how I wish it was in person, but, alas, it was on the internet. Found I had sent a “blatant self-promotion” article to my clan newsletter, The MacBean Clan Register (after all, if you don’t toot your own horn, who will?). In the early early stages of exploring the possibility of a novel set in Scotland. Of course, I’m sure it would require in-person research.

I’ve set myself a goal tonight of finishing a book I’m reading for evaluation for an organization I belong to, so I’m off to bury my nose in the book.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Dancing Shoes





I bought dancing shoes last night. Okay, they’re not—they’re shoes to start me on the road to dancing again, good, serviceable shoes that support my ankles, lessen my tendency to walk on the side of my left foot, and help my feet heal, particularly the swollen left one. They are, forgive me, plain, ugly shoes. Serviceable. That word keeps going through my mind.

They come from a store recommended long ago by the podiatrist I see and known for their serviceable (there’s that word again) shoes. I resisted when the doctor first mentioned, but now I find that tendency to walk on the side of my foot increasing (it’s called pronating). The saleslady, Nita, was skilled, knew what she as talking about. Subie, the friend who drove me there, kept finding cuter shoes, but Nita nixed them—they didn’t offer the right support, they weren’t deep enough for my foot, etc. The ones she showed me were the only ones in the store that she recommended for me at this time, and no, they weren’t the most expensive. Nita held out hope that in six months I can get a cuter pair. She even intimated I might gradually work my way up to sandals.

“You aren’t going to wear these without socks, are you?”

My answer: “Yes.”

She launched into a discussion of how dangerous blisters, etc., are, especially when you have neuropathy and can’t feel them. Dire visions of infection and worse danced in my head.  I succumbed and bought two pairs of diabetic socks (no, I’m not diabetic), which she said would help the swelling because of the way they’re woven. To cheer me she threw in a pair of turquoise laces and a multicolor pair.

Subie meanwhile launched a full pr campaign about how sturdy the shoes are, how much cuter they looked with socks, how much steadier I already was walking while wearing them. All this was good until we were headed home and her car phone rang. It was on speaker, and Subie said “I just took Judy to SAS to get shoes.”

“Oh, sorry,” was the reaction. All Subie’s pr campaign vanished into thin air.

Today going to lunch, Betty laughed heartily and then said how glad she was I’m being so sensible, etc. It was too late.

The best comment came from a young female physician whose birthday we celebrated with happy hour and dinner tonight. “I wear those every day,” she said. “They’re the only thing my feet can stand.”

Another food day: lunch at the relatively new Heim Barbecue, now that the lines have dwindled. I found the chopped beef good, the potato salad and cole slaw outstanding. Still have half a sandwich in the fridge. Then tonight we had happy hour at the Wine Haus (with slices of a decadent mousse cake), followed by dinner at Chadra. Still full from lunch, I had tomato/basil soup and a salad and couldn’t finish either one.

Now I’m toddling off to bed, much work left undone.






Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sophie and the chicken bone: a tale of gluttony


Last night I gnawed on a chicken leg for supper. Left the bone, the rest of my pasta, and some napkins on the plate next to me as I finished a piece of computer work. When I went to scrape the remains into the garbage, there was no bone. The only possible culprit? Sophie, who is a practiced and successful food snatcher. Honest, it was right by me, and I never saw her execute that little half jump by which she grabs food, but it was all I could think of.

Of course, I was semi-frantic! Mt dog had a chicken bone! I once watched a puppy stagger down a hall, fall over and die because it had chewed on a basket and gotten a sliver in its lungs. You can imagine the visions that were going through my head. Sophie seemed fine and gave me a bland look when I asked if she had stolen the chicken bone. I warned Jordan so that her dogs wouldn’t find it in the yard, and much later I saw her outside with a flashlight looking for that blasted bone.

Sophie apparently has not learned a lesson, because she’s had no ill effects. On the other hand, I am the one who suffered. We’re all familiar with three o’clock in the morning worries. This morning mine were all about Sophie. I thought sure if she was in distress I’d hear her throwing up or laboring to breathe, but the cottage was still and quiet. I got up and thumped around with my walker—couldn’t find Sophie. Pretty hard to lose a dog in 600 square feet but there is one chair she gets behind. I opened the refrigerator and called,”Cheese.” It brought her running, and she seemed fine. This morning she sought me out because it was thundering—I’m never sure if she’s scared or protecting me.

Vet says this morning to watch her for vomiting, but I believe we dodged a bullet. And I learned a lesson about keeping scraps well away from the edge of the desk or table of whatever.

On another food note, I had a delightful lunch with an old friend I reconnected with on Facebook in recent years—one of the great benefits of Facebook. Ellen came to tell me the stories of her visits with elderly Scottish women when she was there in the 1970s and walked from village to village. I was enthralled, and, of course, both she and I are hoping this is material for the book I’ve always wanted to write about Scotland. She gave me a great feel for it, though there’s lots of research ahead of me. An exciting prospect.

I thought a good old Scottish girl would appreciate salmon for lunch, so I did a dish of spinach fettucine, asparagus, smoked salmon, dill, and lemon. The recipe called for whole cream but I decided to make it my own recipe and left the cream out, added much more lemon. It was great, if I do say so.

Ellen and I will talk about Scotland again, with me taking copious notes. We met over Carin terriers—a nice tie to Scotland—and had Western Writers of America in common after that. So nice to reconnect after all these years.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bologna sandwiches and corporate mazes


Did your kids crave bologna sandwiches? I think one of mine did, and I was scornful, even though they’re a standard on the local deli menu. To me, bologna was scraps of leftover meat pressed into a roll and sliced. Guess what I had for lunch today? A bologna club sandwich on a kolache bun.

Fixture, a local trendy restaurant (translate: lots of kale), has offered the sandwich since its opening, and I routinely passed it by. But today the qualifier, “all beef bologna,” got me, and I ordered it. The sandwich was bologna-heavy to say the least—a generous portion. But it was good—Havarti, thinly sliced turkey, lettuce and tomato, no bacon. I was over-served and so full after lunch.

We ate on the patio and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Windy today but pleasant. The gravel path about did me in. At one point, I thought I was going to pitch forward on my walker because the wheels caught in the gravel, but I caught myself. Carol, who was with me, said she thought she hadn’t been watching carefully, but at this point I can’t expect my friends to watch my back every minute. Still, I may not try gravel again. Jordan’s comment, “I don’t think that was very smart.”

I fought the corporate bear today and would like to give a shout-out to the corporations who were easy to deal with, their telephone reps pleasant and polite: Van’s shoes (they will track down the pair I returned and see about getting me a refund); Target (they sent me a new gift certificate for the one that went astray); OpenSky promised to track down my order and get back to me; same thing with Heathen’s Hoard (don’t you love the name?) where I ordered a “perfect” gift for a grandson whose birthday is coming up; Frost Bank helped me figure out why South Side Rotary hadn’t gotten my check for the flags they put at the driveway on national holidays. The kinds of phone calls that usually take hours and involve lots of “Please hold” didn’t happen. What a great day.

And I wrote over 800 words on the revised novella—not much but baby steps; read 100 pages in the novel I’ve been avoiding; had a lively email discussion with my writing group and got lots of advice about memoir. I discovered I was again doing something I do too often—apologizing for myself. Some of those ladies have written memoirs about the death of a loved one, a bitter divorce, and other traumatic events—I thought my surgery paled in comparison, but they assured me that surviving severe pain is in itself an accomplishment, and many women my age will want to hear about my journey through pain, hallucinations, and surgery plus my lifelong battle with anxiety. The other bit of repeated advice was a memoir takes time. It needs to simmer and sit in your brain, and your understanding of events changes as you write and gain distance So I’m making notes and going on with other projects.

A good day. I’ll forgive the friend who completely messed up her calendar and our dinner plans.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Odds, Ends, and Leftovers





Sophie guarding her sleeping boy
My Saturday night sleepover guest was not really talkative. He came in from playing with a friend about 8:45 and did not say three words to me—just got in his bed and on his I-pad. Next time I looked at him, he was sound asleep. He had made me promise earlier to make the room as cold as I could so when I went to bed, I turned on the a/c. In the morning when he woke up, he complained, “Juju, it’s so cold in here.” Today he is down with a sinus infection, and even though I know rationally that a chill doesn't cause that, I'm feeling a tad guilty.

It’s been that kind of weather though, where you want a/c one minute and heat the next. I turn everything off at night but often use a little heat in the morning. Bless my super-duper heat/cooling units up at the ceiling. They are efficient and apparently low energy. Plus they’re out of the way. Yet when I have the a/c on, I can feel it blow down the hallway by the bathroom.

Today I got up ready to edit my novella. Just a few chores first. Hah! Have you ever tried to track down a bank transfer that didn’t make it, a merchandise return for which you don’t have credit, an order that has not been received? Plus just a couple of emails that I had to make—yeah, sure. That stuff can take all morning—and practically did. Plus I had last-minute things to deal with on the neighborhood newsletter before I got it off to the designer. Finally did edit one chapter of the novella, but odds and ends still hang heavy on my desk—a return with the wrong tracking number, another pair of shoes I need to return. Tomorrow is another day.

Food on my mind: last night, Christian made miso chicken. As I’ve written before, I’m fascinated by miso, especially since I had some wonderful miso salmon at a local restaurant. Christian’s chicken was delicious, though he confessed that it was swimming in butter. I fixed an orzo side dish with directions from a friend who is a chef—but I deviated. My grocery shoppers didn’t find crème fraiche and my attempt at homemade failed. So at the suggestion of my chef/friend I tried cream cheese—worked like a charm. I left the artichoke hearts out of the original dish because Christian really doesn’t like them, but I included the chiffonier spinach. And the feta. I thought it was good, but today for lunch I added more feta—and it went from good to great.

Now Christian wants to grill salmon with miso. I’ve found two recipes for him to consider.

Saturday night I had fixed myself some creamed chicken on toast—some will turn their nose up at that, but I like it. Toast however gets kind of tough and hard to cut. Tonight I put it over a medium-sized boiled potato—really good. I just make a cream sauce of butter and flour. Add milk and wine to get it to the right thickness; dump in chopped scallions, frozen green peas, and diced leftover chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Can’t beat it.

Tomorrow is another day to track down those missing shoes I returned and edit the last chapter of the novella. Who am I fooling? Edit, as in totally rewrite.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Living in a Book’s World




Do you ever finish a book and find you’re not only sad to leave it but you’re reluctant to leave the world created in the book? That has happened to me tonight. I just finished Ruth Reichl’s Delicious, her first and as far as I know only novel.

I meant to work all weekend. I had a lot I was going to get done, mostly editing a novella. If I had applied myself I might be almost through with it tonight. But yesterday, seduced by Saturday’s delicious laziness, I spent most of the day reading the novel. Today I went to church and did some household chores, a bit of cooking, but every other minute, I read Delicious.

Confession: at first I wasn’t drawn into this book. Through most of Book One, which details a young girl coming to New York looking for a writing job and lucking into an interview with an old and revered food magazine. The editor sends her on a deliberate wild goose chase, during which she discovers many wonderful tastes, the unique small food places of New York, some unusual and distinctive characters—and demonstrates that she has a remarkable palate, able to distinguish subtle flavors in almost any food. Okay, so much so good but where is it going in the rest of the novel?

In Book Two, she discovers a cache of correspondence during WWII from a thirteen-year-old girl in Akron, Ohio, to iconic American chef James Beard.  Clearly Beard held up his part of the correspondence, because his suggestions, recipes, and ideas are referred to. The letters are lively, and the readers comes to believe Lulu is a real person, her mother and boyfriend only a little less so, and then there’s the father, missing in action. You can’t help but be embroiled in the story.

It would be a spoiler to reveal too much about Book Three, but it brings together wonderfully intriguing threads—not only food. The Underground Railroad, WWII, romance, architecture, transformation, forgiveness and acceptance. All those things floating through the book are made clear in surprising ways.

So tonight I find myself reluctant to start another book, though the stack on my desk is high. Editing my own work? I’ll dig into that tomorrow, but tonight I’m still floating in Lulu’s world.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl—find it, read it, and then try some of her nonfiction food books. She’s addictive.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Ode to Saturday and to my oldest child


Colin and his family
probably four years ago at least


Why are Saturdays so delightfully lazy? There’s something about the nature of the day. My schedule isn’t much different on a Saturday than any other day of the week, except for Sunday and church. I get up when I want, spend the day at my computer, reading, cooking, and napping—all on my own schedule.

But somehow, emotionally, I feel a difference. This morning I slept late, stayed in those magic pajamas, scrambled some eggs instead of wolfing down a bowl of cereal, decided my hair doesn’t really need washing nor do I need make-up. Some Saturdays I have social somethings planned but not today.

I don’t even feel compelled to work, though I’m sure before the day is over I’ll edit that third chapter, maybe explore those blogs I want to mine for a possible memoir about my journey of the last year. The great thing about my work is that it’s all things I want to do, goals I set for myself. The world will not stop in its orbit if I never do any of it.

I spent way too long on Facebook this morning, following this lead, clicking on that bit of information. Facebook rarely returns you to where you clicked away, but starts you all over again at the beginning and the posts are always different—tells you how many posts we never see. I feel compelled to keep reading because I never know what gem I’ll miss.

For instance, a colleague mentioned her short story, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” (featured in the current edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine—Debra Goldstein is the author). That reminded me of the Joan Baez song I loved, “That Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and sent me in search of the history of the song. I could fiddle my day away following trails like that.

Today my oldest child, Colin, turns forty-eight. I can’t believe it. Poor boy suffered from all I didn’t know about babies, and raising children, and being a single parent. He survived it all, explored life on his own terms (sojourns to California and the Caribbean) and turned into one of the loveliest adults I know. A good citizen, a hard worker, a loving husband and firm but loving father, a caring son, a man still close to his siblings (not all are so lucky and loyal). The Lord blessed me the day the adoption agency called and said those magic words, “You have a son.” They said he might have red hair and did we mind? What? We were going to say, “No, thank you,” because of red hair? His hair is brown but his beard, when he lets it grow, has a touch of red—and now gray. I love you so much, Colin David Alter.

Tonight, Jacob is spending the night. His sleepover makes a shambles of my comfortable living area, but he’s worth it. On the other hand, I have to consider that he shushes me if I turn on the TV or talk on the phone, though he talks freely on the phone.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Good luck pajamas—and a lovely evening


Do you have a good luck piece of clothing? I’ve decided my pajamas are mine. (No, no picture.) They’re cotton, long-sleeved, plain-Jane pajamas except that they have books all over them. I remember how proud my brother was when he and my sister-in-law found them. I don’t sleep in them because I get too hot—sleep in a T-shirt and panties (TMI?) but take the pajamas off last thing and put them on first thing in the morning. Jordan washes, dries and returns all in one day so they are my only jammies.

Some days I never get out of my pajamas until late afternoon. If I’m not going out and no one is coming over, why bother? Those are the days, like today, that I get a tremendous amount done. I’ve decided there’s a connection between the pajamas and the amount of work I get done. I may get downright superstitious about this.

Today, I deviled eggs, made tuna salad, all in my jammies, and then got to my desk where I dealt with emails, edited two chapters of a novel, and made copious notes and even an opening page on a memoir I may or may not write. Plus read the novel I’m in the midst of. It was a good day’s work.

Tonight, old friends from TCU came for happy hour. I’ve known Dick for at least twenty-six or seven years, lunched with him frequently, known his wife Kristi less well but enjoy her thoroughly. It was a pleasure to have them on my patio tonight. Jordan knows them but they had not met Christian. It was an instant match with lots to talk about.  I made an antipasto platter—deviled eggs, cheese, salami, asparagus, carrots, and cherry tomatoes, plus a tuna dip and hummus. It almost all disappeared.

We’re under a storm watch tonight There are apparently severe storms to the north of us and tornados possible in our area. The air feels heavy, but before the sun went down the sky didn’t look particularly threatening. We were glad to sit on the patio with a watchful eye on the sky. Now, Jordan has taken all the blooming plants inside for protection. A good rain would be welcome; a pounding, blowing storm, not so much.

Stay safe if you’re in the storms’ path.


Thursday, April 20, 2017


A grown-up lunch

April 20, 2017

Today I had a lunch experience—not just the food, but the whole experience—that made me feel like a grown-up. My friend Subie has known Fred, my mentor, for years since their children, now fifty or more, were in kindergarten together and later through TCU. The three of us had lunch at Ellerbe’s, one of Fort Worth’s upscale restaurants with an emphasis on local foods.

I had a spring hash—smashed potatoes, asparagus, greens, all topped by a poached egg. I’m really intrigued by the fairly new trend of eggs on top of dishes, particularly salads. Subie and Fred both had the Louisiana chopped salad topped with grilled chicken. They declared it delicious but without a trace of Louisiana seasonings about it.

We talked about grown-up things—books and art, the manuscripts Fred and I are separately at work on, the subjects that interest us. An interesting instance of what goes around comes around—in the late ‘60s, I did a lot of the research for my dissertation at the Amon Carter Museum of Art, then still using the adjective “Western” to describe its art. My study focused on Remington, Russell, some minor artists, and issues of Leslie’s Illustrated and Leslie’s Monthly, both on microfilm at the museum. Today, Subie is a docent at the museum and Fred volunteers in the library weekly.

A note about Fred: he was my major professor and dissertation supervisor at TCU. Since, he has read and critiqued almost everything I’ve written. I told him today I wouldn’t have a career without him. When I was housebound, he faithfully brought lunch for two and we visited in my cottage. I have tried to think of a term to describe our relationship since he doesn’t like the term mentor. I’ve taken to calling him my beta reader, a term trendy in writing circles, but today when Subie asked about his relationship with me, he said, “Guru.” And then laughed.

Tonight my Canadian daughter came for wine, an appetizer, and as she said, sage advice--I don't think she got much of the latter, but I tried. She and her kids lived next door to me for several years, and we became close friends, sharing glasses of wine late at night on my front porch. She called me her Fort Worth mother because I am about the same age as her mom, but her mom is far away in Ottawa, Ontario. Ours is a relationship I treasure, and I now include in that circle of love her partner, Teddy. A wonderful, kind and caring man.

What a good day! In between I managed to do most of the editing for the neighborhood newsletter, so I’m ahead of the game and can start first edits on my novella in the morning.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reading your own works, writing about food, and a new taste





One of those days where I didn’t get out of my pajamas until late afternoon. I get so much done on such days! Today I finished proofing the last of my mysteries to post to several ebook platforms, wrote a guest blog, planned an antipasto platter for guests.

I don’t know if it’s a good sign or not but proofing the final chapters of Murder at the Tremont House I found myself tearing up this morning. Those chapters contain one of the most suspenseful climactic scenes I’ve written—I’m not long on suspense, which is probably why I write mostly cozies. But this one involves superficial injuries to a child and a car chase, with the protagonist forced to drive, probably to her own death. (No spoilers there.) And there I was, dabbing at my eyes with a Kleenex. The novel also has an epilogue. I know that, like prologues, they’re out of fashion now, but I think readers want to know how the loose ends tied up. I do when I read mysteries.

Right after lunch I wrote a guest post for a blog on learning to cook again—neat way of calling attention to my three foodie books—Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, Texas is Chili Country, and Extraordinary Texas Chefs. With the move to the cottage and my confinement to a walker or wheelchair, my cooking really had to change. The cottage has no stove or oven—just my super-duper hot plate on which at first I burned everything. And I blame the wheelchair for the fact that I’m the messiest cook in five counties. But I am gradually getting better. And as I feel better, my interest in food increases. If I hadn’t had an established career as a writer, I’d have become a chef somewhere along the way. As it is, writing about food gives me an outlet for my interest in all things culinary.

And I had a new culinary experience today, a new taste: shark. My neighbor had a sharkfest last night, and Jordan brought some to me. There were fried pieces, chunks cooked in milk, and some grilled plus ceviche. I particularly liked the grilled. Tasted like chicken with a bit of sweetness to it. Nice firm texture.

Tonight we’ll go to Macaluso’s just down the street—dinner tonight supports our local Lily B. Clayton elementary school. Sweet Lily B. Sad this is Jacob’s last year there.