Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I've been too busy to post on my blog. Came to Austin Friday, spent Saturday at the Texas Book Festival, where TCU Press had an exhibit--made some good contacts, saw old friends, met new people, did some good for the press I hope. That night Rue Judd of Bright Sky Press hosted a lovely dinner--more fun, more new people.
But since then I've been really busy--holding a newborn, trying to interpret the constant flow of chatter from a two-year-old, folding laundry, washing endless dishes, and cooking. Megan wants a double batch of everything, which makes it complicated. Ford, one week today, is as his father said, "absolutely perfect." He's also sweet and, so far, an easy baby. At first he cried for me--I didn't smell or feel or sound like his mom--but now he'll burrow in on my shoulder and sleep. And Sawyer requests to "rub noses with Gaga" though he's sort of a passive recipient of nose rubbing. He is, however, busy from morning to night. My days have already settled into a pattern--I'm up fairly early and in the main house from my guest quarters by 8, check emails (I'm running my office with my left hand), have some breakfast, and do what chores need to be done. Then maybe it's the grocery store and sometime during the day it's a cooking project--last night we had Norwegian hamburgers (recipe courtesy Lisa's Norwegian-born and raised mother); tonight it will be beef and bean, an old favorite of Megan's. She's also asked for salmon croquettes and beef stew.
But somewhere in the day I fit in computer time to keep up with those emails and yesterday I did some good work on the novel. The second night I was here--after the long day at the festival and the lovely dinner--I was once again too wound up to sleep well, so I soothed myself by plotting and came up with amazingly good ideas. I had to rush into the house and write them down next morning.
By 8:30, I'm exhausted and ready for Brandon to walk me out to my hideaway over the garage--the footing is uncertain, especially at night and he is sweet about letting me hold on to him. I was uncertain about the whole apartment experience--it seems far from the house, the stairs are steep, and I worried about the uncertain footing. But I've come to think of it as a hideaway, and I've mastered the stairs. I am settling in.
A friend emailed me a warning not to get too settled. "You have to come home, you know," she said. I'll take the train home Friday and no doubt be glad to be back in my routine. Meantime I'm enjoying.--and I hope I'm helping Megan.

Onstage at Bass Hall

I should have posted this last week when the event was fresh in my mind. The only excuse is that I left a day later for Austin and have been out of my routine ever since. But on Wednesday evening, October 25, all thirteen contributors to the collaborative novel appeared onstage at Bass Hall, Fort Worth's premiere and very classy performance hall.
Background: I think I've mentioned it before, in connecton with promotional travels around the state, but TCU Press has published a collaborative novel, just like Naked Came the Stranger, which appeared in the '80s--well, no, not just like. Ours is a western, called Noah's Ride. Thirteen authors contributed twelve chapters to what turned out to be an amazingly coherent story and a pretty darn good read. And Wednesday we had our moment in the stars.
First there was a small reception--to my great joy, Jamie, Jordan and Christian were there, and I was able to introduce everyone to my kids. And there was an old friend from long-ago who hadn't seen them since they were little. When he hugged Jamie, Jame looked at me with some alarm as though to say "Who is this man and why is he hugging me?" But then, from his always-impressive memory, he pulled up the name. When I pointed out Jordan, the old friend said, "You're kidding me!" Fun!
I was, I admit, a basket case in advance of this event--I am not the onstage type. I worried most about unsure footing walking out, because when I'm nervous my footing falls apart. I am afraid I made a stink about the issue but everyone was overly solicitous, Susan from my office walked me out and handed me over to Jeff Guinn, former book editor of the Star-Telegram and a contributor to the novel, who was host for the evening. And once I got talking with Jeff and good friend Jim Lee, I was completely comfortable. (A friend who goes to a lot of such programs praised my poise and my voice--I'll get the big head!) We were onstage in groups, then all came back from a q&a, and it was over almost too soon. Then we signed books for nearly two hours--180 books (that delights the publisher side of me!)
To my everlasting delight, Jamie hung around, was almost last in line buying three books, and took me home. On the way we rehashed the evening, which was fun. And I got an email still the other day about my "drop-dead handsome" son.
No, I didn't sleep well that night. Too wound up. But it's a night that will live in my memory.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My grandchildren are so different from my children, yet very much alike. Their
laughter and smiles blend together into a palette of memories I shall cherish forever.
--from a cheap picture frame I bought someplace

What a day this has been! When my phone rang at 7:15 a.m., I knew it was Brandon to announce that they had a baby boy--a day and half before the C-section scheduled for tomorrow. Ford Wright Winston Hudgeons is, according to his dad, "absolutely perfect." And I'm sure he is. Although I haven't talked to her, Megan is doing well. I would love to go to Austin today, but it will be Friday before I get there--which is okay because they'll all still be in the hospital. Megan and Brandon's first son is Sawyer Wright MacBain Hudgeons--the MacBain being my maiden name. Now this one has the Winston in his name after the beloved uncle who, now gone from us, helped me raise the children, including teaching them to drive and ride horses--and a few things I wish he hadn't taught them! He would be so pleased we'd have to tie him down to the ground.
And then this afternoon's mail brought a wonderful letter from the man who hand carried me through graduate school and whose book TCU Press has just published. He quoted Walt Whitman, "he most honors me who spreads a broader breast than my own," and said that I've made him proud. Made my day.
To the mundane (well, not really): Jordan, Jacob and Christian are coming for supper. Jordan and I will make pesto--the basil really is looking droopy and needs to be harvested, even though there's been no hint of frost. And Christian will get down the Christmas bags, because Thanksgiving--the Alter Christmas--will be upon us soon after I get back from Austin.
Life is really rich, and it's a good time of the year.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wind and sun

I had a great weekend! Went to the book signing in Granbury. The panel was on a terrace outside the City Hall building--a wonderful rock building with stamped tin ceilings. The terrace overlooks a small branch off the Brazos that has now been landscaped and rocked and is really pretty. There was a breeze but the temperature was good and it was pleasant. Not a huge crowd, but a nice, responsive group. And I thought the panel worked well, everyone was pleasant, some even funny. The audience seemed to laugh a lot, which is my sign of a good program.
Then I went home with my brother, had a really good visit, a great steak dinner, and a good night's sleep. Turned down an offer this morning to go while they moved cattle because it was cold and I didn't really have the right clothes--so I sat and read my mystery, watched political shows, and thoroughly enjoyed it all. But later today I regretted not spending the time outdoors. John dropped me in Granbury at friend Linda's store and we went to a Jazz on the Green outdoor concert--it was cooler, the breeze was stiff but the sun on our backs was warm and the music was great. I loved it. We came back to Fort Worth, bought a take-out dinner at Central Market, intending to eat it with a civilized glass ofwine on the front porch, but the sun had gone down, the wind had come up, and it was too cold. Still, in retrospect I think of it as a weekend spent outside, and being outside made me feel great. Yeah, I tool around town with the top on my car down on nice days but it's not the same. I think this raised my spirits and made me think I need to spend more time outside. My sister-in-law, Cindy, spends most of her days outside, tending gardens and animals, and she's one of the healthiest, happiest people I know. Lesson learned though, unfortunatley, not necessarily put into practice.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Onward and Upward

I reread some of my recent blogs tonight and decided that I sound down, depressed, all those negative things. Wrong impression! The cat bite got me on the wrong track, but it's not the only thing going on. There's lots of good. In fact, the time between now and New Year's looks so busy that I feel like my motor will run overtime for two months or more. This weekend we do a signing in Granbury for the collaborative novel--have I mentioned that? If not, it's a whole different story. But I will stay, go on to Tolar and spend the night with brother John and his wife Cindy, his daughter Jenn and her husband Carlton. A nice family get-together. Then Sunday I'll come home with a good friend from Granbury and we'll have dinner and a visit. All good stuff.
And then next Wednesday all the authors of the collaborative novel will be onstage at Fort Worth's prestigious Bass Hall. We'll go on in groups of two, three or four, and I'm in the first group with good friend Jim Lee. I told him if I could walk out holding his hand, I'd be fine, but Jeff Guinn who emcees these evenings said no, I had to come out by myself. We'll see. Jeff doesn't understand how the antibiotics destroyed my fragile sense of balance. But once out there, I expect to have fun. And then two days later I'm off to Austin for the Texas Book Festival and, more importantly, to celebrate the arrival of Ford Wright Winston Hudgeons, Meg and Brandon's second little boy. He's scheduled to arrive Oct. 25--wonderful when you can schedule ahead. Meg said, "Mom, I'm so glad we can do this at your convenienece." Was there a touch of sarcasm there? Not my Megan. Never. I'll stay a week with them.
Who said I was retired and bored? Yes, I'm working on the novel, and I am convinced that it percolates on the back burner when you're not actively working on it. But I'll take a computer to Austin.
And today I got to go to Bed Bath & Beyond with Jordan and Jacob. Pushing a baby in a shopping cart is a great way to visit with him. Every time we stopped for his mom to browse (I'm a rotten browser--I got for what I want and get out of there), I'd talk to him, poke him on the nose or cheeks, and finally got some smiles from him. Besides, he was hearing my voice--and at 4 months, that's important.
This is me sounding more upbeat.
Oh, yes, the collaborative novel. TCU Press published it, 13 authors contributed (well it has twelve chapters but one contributor enlisted a buddy), and I edited--as best I could. It's a traditional western, about a runaway slave in the 1860s, just before the Civil War ended. Title? Noah's Ride. Noah eventually makes it to Fort Concho, Texas, and joins the army but boy, oh, boy, did we go through trauma getting him there. The good news? It's gotten good reviews, including one that called it the best novel by a Texas author in 2006 even while saying that a novel with 13 authors ought to be the worst novel of the year. Others have called it "rollicking good fun." And best of all for TCU Press, sales have soared beyond what we ordinarily see with new books. At various times, various contributors have been all over the state promoting it. It's been fun.
Yeah, life is more good than the other way.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Night Thoughts

I didn't sleep well last night, mostly I think because I'd slept too much over the weekend and by 4 a.m. my body said, "Okay, enough!" Even so I did give two successful dinners Friday and Sunday--one a casual and simple supper for a couple who are good friends, the other a more diverse group to welcome a friend whose employment needs exiled her temporarily to Anchorage. She was back for a visit, and we let talk of literary Texas swirl around her. To her great pleasure, I fixed a Tex-Mex meal--chicken/tomatillo enchiladas, salsa and chips, fruit, and ice cream. It was a good visit, with great and interesting conversation, and I was very glad to see her.
I think I slept too much over the weekend because I felt crummy. The cat bite is healing, though ugly, but I am still on antibiotics. They have made me tired, stolen my appetite, increased my anxiety level to the zenith (with me, that doesn't always take much), and destroyed my already fragile sense of physical balance. Thank goodness tomorrow is the last day on them.
But when I wokeI didn't have those bleak, four-in-the-morning thoughts that almost propel you out of bed. I was writing my novel, and, my goodness, the things I figured out that will happen in the life of Kelly, my central character. I'd spent some time over the weekend rereading the first chapters and decided they weren't nearly as bad as I imagined. So in my mind I forged ahead with complications. The big trouble is I already know all the solutions--who committed the murder, who is trying to scare Kelly away from trying to figure it out. But if I start dragging in solutions in Chapter 8, I won't have much of a novel. Have to keep piling on complications until, in true Shakespearean terms, things can get no worse--and I get at least 60,000 words (this is not going to be an 800-age doorstop). Then I start bringing in the answers. But I am once again excited.
The dark thoughts did come after I must have drifted off again about 6:30. I was sure I would be forever clumsy, unable to walk across open spaces in a confident and even manner. Of course when I got up and got going, all was well. But I do wish the newspaper carrier would stop throwing the paper on the grass, where there are lots of roots to stumble over in the dark.
As I write this, the cat that bit me is sitting right next to me, watchng me type, occasionally trying to rub noses with me, sometimes rubbing his head on my shoulder--the most loving, affectionate thing you've ever seen!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Cat Bite Chronicles Continue

I am getting better. Last night I stepped into the shower for the first time--with a plastic bag over my right hand and arm. But French baths just don't do it. This morning I went to work without the bandage--my two coworkers both winced and grimaced but they were relatively calm. When we went to a luncheon, I bandaged it but I think tonight I'll go out to dinner with it unbandaged--it needs the air, they tell me. And when I got home from work just now, I dismantled the first-aid station on the dining room table.
But it's my head that has to get better too. I who, as friends and family will tell you, harbor all kinds of fears and anxieties, have been realtively calm and strong about this, at least I think I have. I didn't panic that night and haven't since, though sometimes I'd wake at 3 a.m. with scary thoughts of how bad it could have been. But I find myself acting as if I were fragile, which I'm really not. I haven't worked out since, though I could easily ride my stationary bike and just not do the stretches. Instead I'm sleeping a little later in the mornings. I cancelled a business trip today, but the man who had arranged for the program I was to be part of was incredibly kind--he told me how sorry he was about the bite, not to worry about the programs because others would fill in. And then he said he'd be in town next weekend and could he run any errands for me! The neighbor's children, whose cat so enraged Wywy, feel that they must help me because it was their cat--and last night Alex, who's 9, rolled my garbage cart down the drivewayfor me and rewarded me with a shy smile when I thanked her. Six-year-old Hunter has come over with his mom to change the bandage, though now I can do it alone. Word has spread, and I get calls from friends who heard from friends. It's like "let a cat bite you and become an instant celebrity, if however briefly."
Maybe I'm still off center because I've heard so many stories about people who had to be hospitalized for a cat bite and I am afraid to trust that mine is healing and now infection free, or maybe it's the thought that it's my own adored cat that bit me--I can't tell you how many people have been incredulous when I say yes, I still have the cat. But it wasn't his fault. I was dumb to try to pick him up. Maybe a little of it--the disinterest in food especially--is the result of antibiotics, which I presume are fairly heavy and strong. Or maybe it's just that sense that things can go so suddenly wrong.
This weekend I'll have good friends over for a very casual supper on Friday and then a more diverse group of six for Sunday supper to celebrate the brief visit of an old friend who now lives in Alaska. Last weekend I couldn't have entertained. I didn't have the energy or enthusiasm. Yeah, I'm getting better.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another lesson learned

My third lesson in as many days: Just when you think things are going well, they aren't. Yesterday was Saturday. The cat bite was a day-and-a-half old, and I thought I was better, though I was enormously draggy in the morning. I attributed it to too much sleep (trying to compensate for lost sleep) and maybe a tad too much wine the night before. Did the grocery/hardware/etc. trip, ate lunch, worked, had a nap, and then geared myself up and went back to the ER alone. (Jordan later demanded, "Why didn't you wait for me?" and has made me promise she can go next time, for which I am most grateful.) What had been a not-too-bad hour-and-a-half visit the night of the bite turned into a five-and-a-half-hour ordeal (I read an entire Robert Parker mystery cover to cover). Mosstly I sat and waited, but there was the moment the doctor said, "Hmmm. [Why do even the young ones say that?] I thought so. It's infected. We'll do blood work, and if your white count is high, we'll keep you." I wanted to shout, "No, no, I have other things to do, other places to go." They gave me an IV drip, and finally I had to call to a nurse walking by and tell her the IV was done and could someone please unhook me. She did, the doctor said I was free to go but come back Monday, and I got home at 9 p.m. So much for the lovely piece of salmon I'd bought for supper--I scrambled a couple of eggs, answered a few phone calls and went to bed.
Today, Sunday, I'm in low gear. I think the infection is better--hand is swollen but not as much and not as hot as yesterday. I feel ok but the actual wound is still VERY ugly. And the directons they sent home with me gave me my first real scare. So I did a few things around the house--and discovered that made my hand swell, so I've been at my desk. My mom used to say everything has a silver lining--this one has been thatI've worked on the novel. Made drastic changes that set me back some in terms of chapers finished but are, in the long run, for the better.
And now for a nap. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Up and Down

Yesterday was really an up and down day. All four of us from the office went to the Tokyo Cafe--I love Japanese food, and this is my favorite place. Then last night the Friends of the TCU Library hosted "An Evening with Judy Alter," where my good friend Jim Lee interviewed me about my short story collection and my career. I was worried about it but needn't have been--there was a nice crowd, in spite of the fact that some of my nearest had to cancel at the last minute. And Jim makes it so easy to be clever and amusing (because he is to the extreme)--everyone laughed a lot, which is always to me a sign of a good program. One friend said later that just when she thinks she knows everything about me, she learns more--as she did last night. I was extremely proud to have Jordan and Christian sitting in the front row, smiling, and taking a bit of a part in the geniality. And there were others there--too many to mention--that I felt gratified to see.
Fran Vick, my good, longtime friend, came from Dallas for the occasion, and afterward we sat on the porch and had a good visit--over wine, of course. Early to bed, but Scoob barked about 11:00 and I got up to investigate and found the neighbor's cat was harassing Wywy through the front door. I picked him up--that adorable, sweet, over-affectionate cat I've had for 14 years--and he bit a huge chunk out of my right forearm. I ran screaming through the house to the kitchen sink to wash it with water--later I discovered I had flung blood everywhere. Meantime I was screaming for Fran, who slept peacefully on. Finally, I turned on the light in her room and yelled at her. We went to an Emergency Room just blocks from my house where the wound was appropriately treated (it didn't hurt at that point). At least two nurse/techs looked at it and went, "Omigosh!" I asked them please not to have that reaction. By 12:30 we were home in bed again, but of course sleep would not come, and by morning the arm hurt like hell.
I was not a happy camper today--exhausted from no sleep, my arm throbbing, a brief stint in the office almost unbearable. But tonight, after a good solid nap, I think I'll be back to normal or close tomorrow. Sue, owner of the cat, came and dressed the wound, and we agree it's healing well. And Alex, her nine-year-old daughter, made my bed, because I could not struggle fitted sheets on to corners, pillows into pillowcases (I had washed out the blood). And while it's still sensitive, the arm doesn't hurt so much. Wywy appears contrite and anxious to be in my good graces again. I've put cayenne out to discourage the neighbor cat and have my hose armed and ready, should I be outside and catch her. The shutters on the windows have been secured, so Wywy can't bust through, and the door is beveled glass--he'll never get through it. But picking Wywy up last might remains one of those moments you wish you could roll back in time just 20 seconds and do differently.
Life's lessons: Don't pick up a crazed cat, no matter how well you think you know the animal; and even the best of days can end badly. But I'm still savoring memories of "An Evening with Judy Alter."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A New Day and a New Person

Yesterday was one of those days! I describe it as a day I'm just not wrapped right. Felt just awful in the morning--allergies, draining, symptoms you don't want to hear about. In fact, I felt so bad I "flunked" the audiologist's hearing test to see how much improvement my hearing aids are giving me. I told him my brain was simply to foggy to play, "Repeat this word." Things got a little better as the morning wore on, and by noon I was anticipating a nice lunch with two old friends. Until I lost my keys. They simply vanished into thin air. I had to call Jordan to bring me a house key so I could go get a spare car key, and she said she'd foist that chore off on Christian. Before all that happened, the keys turned up--in one friend's car where I'd sat for two minutes just to chat. He brought them to lunch. I was finally able to sneak home about 3:30, but when I got there the electric gate wouldn't open--again. Fed the cat, got into comfortable clothes, and turned on the computer--only to find that I was due back on campus for a meeting in seven minutes. I skpped that meeting--and the church Assembly that night to stay home and lick my wounds. Lisa called me on our Skype program (wonderful, if you don't have it) and I could see and hear her and adorable Morgan; they could see me but couldn't hear me, so they hung up. Then my computer told me I didn't have an A drive, when I know perfectly well I do. I took a glass of wine to the porch and sat and tried to empty my mind, think about nothing, watch the trees sway in the breeze, listen to the cars going by. I kept telling myself I should go inside, I had phone calls to make, things to do--but I just at there. It was wonderful.
And today I'm a new person. My gate works. My computer works (rebooting fixes all things, even the sound device), and the world looks petty good to me.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hello again

Well, maybe as the saying goes, I've got my groove back. I've had a wonderful weekend, with Megan, Brandon and two-year-old Sawyer arriving Saturday. We all went to Frisco for dinner with those Alters--Jamie, Mel, and my two granddaughters. (I took Norwegian hamburgers, a recipe from daughter-in-law Lisa's mom--don't family connections get involved?). We left Brandon in Frisco to do a triathlon this morning with Jamie. Megan, Sawyer and I had a lazy morning on the porch--he was happiest opening and closing the lid of the trash can, while I read the paper and commented frequently to Megan--I'm not sure she was always interested in my interpretation of the news. Then we met Jordan, Christian and Jacob for brunch. Jacob (three months) proved true to form and cried the minute I held him. But it was wonderful to be with all of them.
Meantime, back at my desk, the cookbook has gone off for consideration by another publisher, and I feel good about it. I've sent off a couple of ideas for the Dallas Morning News column, and the new editor seems receptive to continuing the column, for which I am grateful
The coming week promises to be busy capped by a Thursday night event wherein the Friends of the TCU Library will host, "An Evening with Judy Alter," and my good friend Jim Lee will interview me about my newest book, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories and about my career. An ego trip, but a small one amongst people I know and love.
But maybe the best news is that I've gotten back to the novel. I had ignored it for almost a month because other things pressed--and I don't know if that's good or bad. You lose momentum no doubt about it, but I am always a believer in the subconcious--and maybe my back-of-the-burner brain was working on it. At any rate now, tonight, since I've read over the opening pages, my brain is definitely tuned into it again and I hope to work away, though the fall promises to be busy.
My new crusade: buy those flourescent light bulbs that take the place of everyday incandescent bulbs. Yeah, they're more expensive. But they last 5-7 years, and if you read the statistics about what you save in electric bills and, much more important, what the world saves in fossil fuel, you'll be converted. It's as much a global responsibliity thing with me as it is cost-saving, and I intend to start buying one or two bulbs a week until all the light bulbs in my house are replaced. I hope you'll join me.