Monday, September 24, 2018

Whoosh! What a day

My day started early with an appointment to be fitted for new hearing aids. I’m excited about this, especially since I have a difficult time hearing on my cell phone. I don’t even want to talk about how old the ones I have are, but the new ones will be about a third the weight and half the size. Sound quality is dramatically better, and I’m told I will be able to talk on the phone without holding it to my ear. Noisy restaurant? No problem. I’ll just put my phone in front of you, and then both the phone and my aids will transmit. Can’t wait.

And after all the fuss I made about getting my car back, I don’t get to drive it often, so it was a treat to go all by myself to the hearing clinic. Made me feel like a grown-up girl. Also made me sad, because even close to our neighborhood I discovered new houses, new condos, buildings that have sprung up overnight. Development is destroying what was a neighborhood of modest charming bungalows, particularly around the university, and replacing them with condos and the dreaded stealth dorms. I am so dedicated to preserving the inner city that this destruction hurts.

After that, the day was a mess, though mostly in a good way, I guess. The mowers who couldn’t come last week because of rain came today and plowed through about five inches of weed growth—fungus killed much of our grass. What excites me is that they leveled off the ground cover, so now it should grow thicker instead of leggier. But they were noisy folk. And then the air conditioner guy came and was here for two hours. Don’t get me wrong—I’m as grateful as can be, but it was my nap time. 
While he was working, I was struggling with computer problems, one of which I finally resolved but not to my total satisfaction. The other, an email glitch that keeps me from communicating with two groups I value, continues to plague me. Most frustrating.

A bad day too because it started with Jordan delivering the news of a neighborhood tragedy, a family who lost a grown daughter in a wreck. Later in the morning I heard her ordering a large sandwich tray, fruit bowl, tea, etc. and I asked who we were feeding. It was of course for the bereaved family. It struck me that the custom now of assigning different nights to different people to provide a full meal in such a situation is a good solution, but I was raised to believe you cooked for the bereaved. I have made and delivered a lot of casseroles in my day, and somehow the idea of “store-bought” food seems a little less personal. You used to take a ham, or a big bowl of potato salad, or a cake. I remember once taking a batch of blueberry muffins (homemade of course) in a pretty basket. The times, they are a-changing.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Could you write a sermon?

Another dreary, uninspiring day. I felt sleepy and chilly most of the day but did try to go to church on the computer. Frustrating. Partway into the service, the computer tells you the video has timed out. It has something to do with broadband width, which I don’t understand at all. Last week, it was in the middle of the pastoral prayer. This week the minister was in his sermon and had just made a profound point unknown to me. Did you realize that the “Close Doors” button in elevators Is a placebo? Most of us push it not once but seven or eight times, and then the doors magically close. Not because of all that button-pushing but because it was time for them to close. But since we’re always in a rush, pushing the button makes us feel like we’re doing something.

I didn’t get to hear the rest of the sermon, but it got me to thinking how difficult it would be to write a sermon every week. Like being in graduate school, where I had a professor who loved to command, “Discuss Shakespeare.” Where in the world to begin? With the sermon, clergy, as I understand it, are pretty much given the Scripture for the day. The challenge is to find their own profound interpretation and then write 20 minutes or so worth of copy that is instructive, interesting, even humorous. Go!

There’s a bit of moral instruction I’d like to put into words but am not sure I can articulate. It’s a mix of two of my mom’s favorite aphorisms: “You catch more flies with a teaspoon of sugar than a cup of vinegar” and “Never judge until you have walked a mile in another man’s moccasins.” I like to think of myself as Pollyanna, all sweetness and light, but the truth is I’m hard-headed, and the older I get the more determined I seem to be that my way is the right way. (I’m excluding politics here.) I need to do that mile walk. Each of us has a story that we don’t share with the world, but that story so often shapes our actions and reactions. If we knew more about an individual we’re talking to, we might tailor our response differently.

Now I’ve tangled via email with someone I have to work with if not weekly at least monthly. I made suggestions that he took as me telling him what to do, and he’s probably right because I’m convinced he makes an unnecessary muddle of things. But I was preaching from my high horse, and I know better. I don’t know his story, and I guess neither of us appreciate the other aspects of life pulling at us I thought, by suggesting, I was using sugar. Apparently it came across as vinegar.

There’s a fine line when you try to “make nice” after a misunderstanding like that. I will not fall all over myself with apologies because I do think he should have listened to me and others. Too much sugar. But I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel or cup of vinegar, always causing trouble and turning people away. Where is my mom when I need her? She’d help me write that sermon.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rain and football

Watching the game. Can ou tell my level of interest?

One of those days when you wake up to rain and it never really stops. Demoralizing, depressing. I fear I am tired of telling myself how grateful I am for the rain—the ground is saturated, which of course makes for muddy dogs. I watched one of the Cavaliers slip on the wet deck and nearly go tumbling down the steps. When I went into the main house, I didn’t feel much more sure-footed myself.

We were overdue for a mowing on Friday and of course it rained. The weeds are long enough that I’m worried about snakes getting the dogs. We have weeds because a fungus among us destroyed our grass in the backyard. I am really tired too of looking at the overgrown mix of weeds and surviving grass. Last year we had such a beautiful lush lawn.

Jordan and Christian had friends over to watch the TCU/Texas game, all young people I am really fond of. Young? Ouch—they’re sure approaching middle age. Hard for me to believe. At any rate it was nice to be surrounded by conversation and company, a break from the dreary day, though one girl, a Texas fan, said, “I was going to tell you that you look pretty, but since TCU is winning, I take it back.” At the end of the game, a disaster for TCU and triumph for Texas, as I was leaving, she said, “Okay, you look pretty.”

I always root for TCU, but I am not what you’d call an ardent football fan. I usually don’t watch, partly because I don’t understand. I see a jumble of men pounce on the ball and I hear people of one persuasion or another cheering or holding their breath or booing, but I really have no idea what happened. I told the group I’d brought a book just in case they got boring.

I do worry about my Megan. Although she went to UT for law school, she remains a rabid TCU fan. Her husband is equally rabid about UT, though he too only went there for law school. Theirs is a divided—and vocal—household. And their youngest son, eleven-year-old Ford, is a devoted TCU fan When I said I worried about Megan, Christian pointed out that Ford was the one who would suffer.

More rain tomorrow I suspect. Everyone get out your boots and stay safe and dry.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Chicken-fried steak and motorcycles

Friends Betty and Don own the Star Café in Fort Worth’s Stockyards National Historic District. The Star is known for steaks and for my favorite—chicken fried steak. Local food guru and restaurant critic Bud Kennedy has rated it the best CFS in town for several years now. So last night Betty and I planned to go to the Star, so I could have a CFS fix. Until word came down that between 300 and 700 members of a Southern California motorcycle gang, with a pretty tough reputation, were expected to arrive in the Stockyards last night for a weekend rally. Betty thought it the better part of wisdom not to mix me and my walker into the inevitable parking mess, and I agreed. I declined her too-kind offer to fetch my dinner in mid-afternoon—too much coming and going for her and besides, I am quite sure reheated CFS at home would not taste the same as the real deal freshly cooked in the café. So we’ll reschedule.

But I looked this gang up on the internet, and they are indeed scary. So then I began to worry. Fort Worth police promise an extra-heavy presence in the Stockyards, and some merchants have posted signs that anyone wearing gang insignias, etc., is not welcome (that seems like throwing a glove in their faces as a challenge, to me). The aura is one of tension before a storm. And of course, rumors are flying. Is it safe to go to the North Side for dinner?

Last night I sat home, ate a leftover salmon patty, and worried. My imagination conjured up scenes of violence—shattered store fronts, people injured, etc. Of course, none of that happened. Betty said this morning she saw nary a motorcycle—apparently, they didn’t arrive until later at night. But while my imagination ran wild with the worse possible scenario, the practical side of me was wondering where 700 motorcyclists sleep. Do they pitch tents? If so, where? There’s not much public land up there, and surely they would need a permit. Would motels rent to them? I think I had a primitive vision of all these men—and surely some women—sleeping out exposed to the rain (yes, it’s supposed to storm) with their motorcycles as their pillows. You know, like cowboys around the fire using their saddles as pillows. Told you I have a good imagination!

Hmmm. The imagination and the practical side. See why I write fiction?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A New Book—and Some Nostalgia

Today is the publication date for my eighth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Contract for Chaos. I published the first in that series, Skeleton in a Dead Space, in 2011, so that makes fourteen mysteries in seven years—not quite two a year, a record that makes me look back.

I have always been a mystery fan. Like so many young girls, I grew up on Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, R.N., and whoever else. I can’t trace the progression, but as the years went by my heroes were Carolyn Hart, Susan Wittig Albert, Cleo Coyle, and all their sisters in crime. I, meanwhile, was writing about women in the American West.

My writing career came about in a strange way. Academically trained, I was taught to support, defend, footnote ad infinitum, and do everything but give in to my imagination. Fiction was over there on another shelf, written by those with more freedom and imagination than I brought to the typewriter (yes, in the early days) and then the computer.

A friend gave me her mother’s memoir, and I was fascinated but I didn’t know what to do with it except annotate, criticize, dissect, and rob it of every bit of life it had. By serendipity I read some children’s books--Dust of the Earth and Where the Red Fern Grows come to mind—and it dawned on me I could turn that memoir into a children’s book. It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d thought, but one day (1978) I had a novel, After Pa Was Shot, published by a prominent New York publishing house. I envisioned movie contracts and great wealth.

What followed instead was a career low on the mid-list, writing about women of the19th Century American West—Elizabeth Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall (first Wild West roping queen), even Etta Place of the Hole in the Wall Gang, Cissie Palmer of Chicago’s Palmer House. I wrote non-fiction for school libraries and almost anything else I could get an assignment for. But, always, the mystery shelf called to me.

I didn’t know enough about the genre to realize there was a term for the mysteries I liked—cozies. No blood and guts, little if any nail-biting suspense, no sex or profanity. Usually a female amateur sleuth, a bit of romance, a bit of danger, and a happy ening—Nancy Drew all grown up. Joining Sisters in Crime was an education in a whole new writing world, and I ate it up, learning everything I could, reaching out to people, networking. Newly retired, I had a whole new career—and I loved it.

I’m realistic these days. Gone are dreams of even specials for the small screen. But I like the few dedicated readers I have, and it makes me happy they enjoy my stories. No, I don’t expect people to read my work a hundred years from now (a criterion I learned in graduate school), but I’m living—and writing--in the here and now. I hope you’ll keep reading. And I’m proud to offer you Contract for Chaos.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pinch me-I’m dreaming

Wouldn’t you think you were dreaming if you crawled into bed in the late afternoon for an overdue nap and fell asleep while someone softly played acoustic guitar at your bedside? Son Jamie came over today, and we did have a long afternoon—lunch at Ol’ South, our favorite. That child of mine ate a chicken-fried steak dinner and a Dutch pancake! I contented myself with an order of corned beef hash, no egg—our order was so distinctive the server remembered us from a previous visit.

Then it was a long but satisfying time spent in a doctor’s office and home to figure out some computer problems and other things. By five, I who am used to a one o’clock nap was falling asleep on my feet. I never go to sleep when one of my out-of-town kids is visiting, but I went to change clothes and absolutely fell into bed. Jamie always has his guitar, and he came and played soft music. I have a tin ear, and he’s disappointed when I don’t recognize a tune—but I love the sound. Went soundly asleep and only wakened to say goodbye when he left. Thought it was all a dream—a nice one.

The other highlight of the day—Jacob’s middle school team won their game tonight. He, bless him, is a linebacker on the A team—not sure I know what all that means. I fought tooth and nail to keep him off the football field but to no avail. It still scares me, but I see changes in him to the good—maybe self-confidence, maybe physical from working out at, heaven help us, 6:20 in the morning.

So there are my two heroes for the day—Jacob and Jamie.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A happy meal—no, not McDonald’s

I went to a cool dinner party recently—all done with class and style. About 30 guests, seated places but buffet platters, host and hostess perfectly relaxed as though they did that every night of the week.

But what struck me most was a talk with the host who elaborated on their plans for the house. I should say here that though they are newlyweds, she has lived in the house ten years and transformed an ordinary sixties bungalow into a thoroughly modern house with a floor plan that flows easily and naturally.

In telling me the plans for continuing upgrade, the host told me how happy he was, how much this house felt like home to him. I was happy for him but also happy for myself, for having heard that. It struck me how uplifting it is to be around happy people.

I have known people in my life, too many of them, whose approach to life is to moan and complain. They are over-worked, under-appreciated, they never get a break; they always have something to find fault with—if it’s not their life, they’ll find something in yours to criticize. Such people drag you down.

Last night, because of that discussion, I went home on a cloud of happiness that lasted all day, and I realized how important it is to be around happy people. It’s contagious.

Having sounded so Pollyanna-like, here are a couple of downer notes. Last night as I was going to bed, I started to refill my ice water. The refrigerator had no power—so no icemaker, no water spigot, no interior light. It had been fine an hour earlier, and nothing catastrophic had happened. Jordan and Jacob, bless them, came out with flashlights and checked the breakers—all okay, and everything else in the cottage worked. We put towels out to catch the drips, and I resolved to call the repair service first thing today.

Here’s the lesson learned and the reason I’m telling this story. This morning I remembered about computers and suggested we unplug it and plug it back in. The plug was difficult to access—Jordan got down on the floor in a position I could never duplicate, reache way back in a cupboard, unplugged and plugged—there was a small beep, and voila! It was up and running. I’ve kept a watchful eye on it all day.

Today I learned that an old friend died, in a nearby nursing home, at the age of 97. We used to be part of the same social group, at least twenty-five years ago, and I knew his wife had died, thought he had too. Now I am overcome with remorse for not visiting him. Object lesson: keep track of your friends. Joe Schott was a good man, and I am sorry I missed years of knowing and listening to his stories about life in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Joe was the author of the book No Left Turns, which detailed a trip in which Hoover did not allow the car to make a left turn—ever!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Losing our heroes

If certain “volunteers” have their way, we Texans are going to lose all our heroes. A volunteer committee has been making recommendations to the State Board of Education on “streamlining” teaching. A red flag shot up in my mind—who are these volunteers and why are they qualified to make recommendations?

They did not start quietly. Their first suggestion was that seventh-grade teachers should omit the word “heroic” in referring to the defenders who died at the Alamo. Talk about jumping on a Texas icon! I know they say politics makes strange bedfellows, but I never thought I’d find myself in bed with Greg Abbott and George P. Bush. But they are apparently as outraged as I am.

The explanation was that heroic is a value-oriented word. I’m not sure I understand the concept of value-oriented marketing completely, but it has to do with a customer’s perceived value of an item vs. its real value. All that says to me in this case is that the customer (student?) perceives value in describing the men at the Alamo as heroic. I do—I “perceive” courage and loyalty and determination, all kind of qualities we want our children to learn about.

I think I know part of the thinking—and it’s sort of appropriate in this day and age when harsh immigration policies have demonized our neighbors to the South even more than usual. It’s an effort to counter the stereotype that all Mexicans are evil, and all Anglos are pure and white. But instead of attacking our heroes, why doesn’t the committee teach the whole story—many Mexicanos fought alongside Travis, not against him.

The committee also recommended teachers mention but not teach Travis’ famous “Victory or Death” letter. Where, pray tell, does one draw that line in the sand distinguishing between teaching and mentioning? The board of education apparently didn’t accept that recommendation.

Also on this committee’s hit list: Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller. There is apparently some kind of point system by which candidates are judged. In spite of being the first woman to lead a major political party in a presidential campaign, Hillary fell short. Keller came closer, but she too missed the mark.

You know all those Confederate statues torn down in a frantic effort to erase history rather than learn from it? This is just another way of tearing down statues. I for one think those volunteers need to get a life.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Some doggy memories

Do you remember the dogs of your childhood? I do—a wild and lovable female collie mix inappropriately named Timmy, an English cocker with a less-than-sweet disposition, a gentle and genteel collie called “Sister” for some reason.

A recent thread on Facebook is bringing back bittersweet memories of my years with Cairn terriers—and giving me new memories to savor. The oldest daughter of old friends posted a picture of the house her dad lived in as a child. The house later became the first osteopathic hospital in Fort Worth—the ground floor was the hospital, and a surgeon and his family lived on the second floor.

For the family who initially posted, the thread led to an online reunion with the descendants of the two Hispanic women who had cared for their father when he was a child and whom he loved very much. Talk about bittersweet memories.

But another part of the thread led to a discussion of the several buildings occupied by Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital until its demise in 2004. By then I had worked at the hospital, been married to a surgeon, divorced, and moved on with my life. But the thread connected with a friend who also worked there and then morphed into a thread about Cairn terriers because Ellen, the woman, and I met when she bought a Cairn from me.

And then, as these things do, the thread twisted back to the original family of kids—because they too had one of my Cairns—named Jody, because it combined my name with that of my then-husband, Joel. And then the memories of Cairns came flooding back.

As I child I read the book Greyfriars Bobby, about the Edinburgh dog so attached to its master that he refused to leave his grave. Mistakenly all those years I thought Greyfriars Bobby was a Carin—he was a Skye terrier. But I determined to have a Cairn—and we ended up raising and showing them, not that we were ever great successes at either. But we had one champion, and I recall someone telling me outright that the judge was interested in the dog’s legs not mine. I remember Jemima and Bitsy and the cute male with the bent tail who died from chewing on a wicker basket (always a cautionary tale for me).

I guess I had forgotten though how I spread my Cairn joy, until the son of my friends posted, “You spread a lot of joy with your doggies.” Funny the way that networks form, and the way that memories come and go. For  Facebook doubters, this was an example of the good that network can do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Storms, horses and squirrels

                Evacuations for Hurricane Florence are massive, and predictions frightening. I have good friends whose relatives are in the hospitality industry in the Outer Banks, and my friends are biting their nails, worried to the point of distraction. I too am worried about the thousands of people who will have to be moved. Every year these mass evacuations cause accidents and problems not directly related to the storms. And the storm damage—it can take years for an area to recover. So please join me in praying for those in the storm’s path.

And that includes animals Did you read the Misty of Chincoteague books as a child, about the wonderful wild horses of the Outer Banks? Things has changed since that day, and the horses have moved and changed, but they’re still there. I read today that they will be turned loose on their island—most are still so wild they would harm themselves if confined to a stall or barn during a wild storm. The horse caretakers all live on a farm near the horses favored habitat—a skeleton crew will stay, and the animals will have shelter but will also be free to roam. One person familiar with them said the horses know the places to go to be safe. One hopes—for the horses and for their caretakers.

If horses know about nature and weather changes, why not squirrels? A Facebook friend wrote that his facial hair always grows thicker as fall approaches. Someone else compared him to the squirrels, whose coats thicken. I have noticed bushier tails on squirrels lately. One afternoon I looked out at a tree and saw this strange creature hanging from a tree—like a hairy snake. Turns out it was an unusually long and furry tail on a squirrel—the actual critter was on the other side of the tree trunk and all I could see was that long tail.

I admit to being a bit like the squirrels. A sweater has felt good the last few mornings. It does help when the plumber tells you how good you look. My cottage obviously only has one commode, so when it isn’t usable, it’s a crisis of sorts. I called the plumbing company this morning, and they sent the man who has taken care of my house for years. I was not quite ready for company—no makeup, hair pretty rough—and he insisted I looked good. Then he confirmed it: ”There was a time or two there where I was really worried about you.” That elevated his compliment beyond mere words and made my day.