Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Winter Weather

Tonight I am reminded of that song with the lrics, "For the weather outside is frightful." We in the Metroplex are locked into dreaded anticipation--how bad will it really be? Tonight it's cold and wet but predictions are for frozen bridges and overpasses and freezing rain tomorrow. Makes me most uncertain about getting about--I am less concerned about driving (after all I grew up in the Midwest) than I am about walking. But the whole thing, like extreme heat in the summer, makes me feel trapped. The major thing I don't like about Texas--most of the time the weather is okay, but the extremes are really . . . well, inconvenient.
Thankgiving seems long behind us. We had a joyous time with all my children and grandchildren here. Jordan hosted the dinner at her house and did so with great efficiency--we arrived about 2 p.m. and stayed until 8 or later--a long celebration, but all good. A roasted turkey (which I prefer) and a fried one. Lots of good side dishes, including my pumpkin tiramisu which I thought was outstanding--not sure how many others ate it.
The next day we went to my brother's ranch for a reunion with his kids and his new grandchild and his wife's family, of whom we're very fond. To break the turkey monotony, Cindy served a marvelous beef tenderloin, and I took potato casseroles. The kids played in the barn and on the front loader (under supervision) and rode in the "mule" around the ranch. They had a high old time. In the car going home, we didn't even make it to the highway before seven-year-old Maddie was asleep on my shoulder. The next day she complimented me on the comfort of my shoulder!
And Saturday, we had Alter Alternative Christmas, with all the excitement that goes with nine adults and four kids (Ford and Jacob were too young to understand) opening gifts. All in all, it was great family togetherness. Having a group that big and diverse together is not without its stresses and strains--you can't have six kids together without some snotty noses, but we managed to come out of it with a sense of how much we love each other. And that's a blessing. Megan said she liked having alternative Christmas so early because you necessarily had half your shopping done by Thanksgiving, but I don't think I'd want to do it that early ever year. Then again, Jordan and I are planners--Meg claims she missed that gene.
So now it's on to planning my Tree Trimming party (no tree--I'm going to Jamie's family in Frisco). My gifts for friends are all wrapped and ready to go.
I'm still working on the mystery--need a good long winter's nap tonight to ponder where it's going next. Meantime I'll sit here and wonder if I'm going anywhere tomorrow or not. TCU Press has a big event Friday afternoon--but the weather is supposed to be in the mid-40s, so I suppose it will be all right. I felt more comfortable with winter when I lived up north and my balance on ice was better. But then I remember, in Missouri, how the roads rutted but the ruts didn't fit my VW and I bounced along on the ridges. I think I dislike the heat of Texas summer, but I dislike the occasonal winter more. Or maybe that's just tonight.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Writing and Cooking

I'm back to two thngs I love--writing and cooking.
It takes, so an agent tells me, about 75,000 words to make an adequate mystery. I have about 50,000 so I'm two-thirds through. But I'm afraid I'm more than two-thirds through my plot. I know how it's going to work out and I can see several really good scenes in my mind's eye (at least I think they're good), but I'm afraid of untangling it too quickly and ending up with a 60,000-word manuscript. Not good. But then, just when I think, nothing else can happen, a middle-of-the-night idea comes to me. So I keep writing. I had only shown the first chapter to a couple of people but now I've sent all eleven chapters to my "mentor," the man who years ago (I don't want to think about how many!) shepherded me through graduate school and continues to be a source of wisdom, advice,and counsel. He liked the first two chapters but said it was too early to comment. He does happen to be someone who knows a lot about mysteries and has taught a university mystery course.
Meantime I have other projects--including a 5,000-word essay on how Texas impacts my writing. That's really hard, and I decided it's hard because it's writing about something intangible. Makes me realize that I don't envy ministers who preach weekly sermons on such intangibles as faith. I'm afraid of coming up short on my 5,000 words, in fact probablywill, but I have a great title, "Notes from an Outsider."
But today is the day to give thanks--I am surrounded by family, and I'm cooking--I've made cranberry, the roll dough is rising, the pumpkin tiramisu (an experiment!) is in the fridge, cheeseball is done. Colin is busily making an apple pie, though he kept me busy as first assist until seven-year-old Maddie took over the job. And I've still got to make the pesto/cream cheese appetizer and the pistachio salad that Jamie remembers from his childhood. Some of the others are turning their noses up at it, and I'm afraid this may be like the time Jamie waxed so eloquent about how much he liked gefilte fish that I got him some one Passover/Easter seaon not too many years ago. One bite, he looked at me and said, "It doesn't taste like it did when I was a kid."
Meantime, I wish for everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and filled with whatever good food you particularly love. For us, always traditional, it will be turkey and green bean casserole.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The walking stick

I have my walking stick. It's cherry, about five feet tall, and fancifully turned toward the bottom. Now that I have it, I don't need it--which is just what I expected. I carry it up and down the driveway, walking with assurance, and never put it to the ground. But that's because I know I have it. I had it in the car this morning when I went to the office (don't need it there), two groceries stores, and the bookstore. I was a little embarrassed about it, not being used to it yet, so devised other ways to cope. I'm an old master at finding ways to get around my fears, but I hope some day I'll be comfortable enough to take it to the grocery, the bookstore, restaurants, etc. I think it's kind of interesting looking. Maybe it sort of goes with the daisies on my VW convertible.
I came home and cooked, which is always a pleasure. Tonight I'm entertaining my neighbor, Sue, and her parents who are visiting from Canada. I warned her it would be a "down-home" meal but I don't know if she's prepared for meatloaf. Still, it's a recipe I found in Texas Co-op Power, a magazine I write for sometimes, and I've been wanting to try it. You cook the meatloaf, in the oven, in your iron skillet--and it has more seasonings than I usually put in meatloaf (okay, okay, I left out the bell peppers!). I also saw a recipe for mashed potatoes topped with sauteed mushrooms, which sounds terrific to me, so I'll do that--only serve them separately since others may not think it sounds as good as I do. I made homemade tomato sauce for the meatloaf--was easy and smells like it will be really good. And I'll do Christian's bacon-and-vinegar green beans--shhh! don't tell I'm doing them for someone else. For an appetizer, I'll do the pesto-cream cheese in a crescent roll shell that Jordan had commanded for Thanksgiving, and since I'm firmly told these are not dessert people, we'll have cheese and fruit. I sort of like my menu, if I do say so myself.
I've also made and frozen two potato casseroles to take to my brother's the day after Thanksgiving--and Thanksgiving lists from all the children have sent me back to the store three times after I did my "big" shopping. The other nght I dreamt I spent $1470 in the grocery store--it wasn't quite that bad, but bad enough (no wonder grocery stores are one place where I feel off balance!). And I still have to get the turkeys on Wednesday. We'll roast one--I have to have it all ready for Jordan to pop into the oven, as she's squeamish about touching raw turkey--and Brandon will fry the other.
I'm looking forward to a very happy holiday. Jordan thinks my recent attacks of anxiety may be related to the approaching holiday--she may be right--so her advice is to sit down, enjoy my family, and quit washing dishes. I'm going to try.
Meantime I've made a pass at a rough draft of an article that was just assigned (yes, Texas Co-op Power) and am loving the Deborah Crombie mystery I'm reading. Wish I'd read them in order. This is one of the earlier ones, I think. And I know my mystery is percolating in the back of my mind. It's just that having killed off that one character . . . well, where do I go next?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Off Balance

Well, I'm having what I call one of my anxious spells. They come on me for what reason I don't know, and they take various forms--beeen happening all my adult life. Each time of course I think it's the worst, but I also know it will pass. This time it has to do with my sense of balance--I frequently feel that I can't walk from here to there without falling (agoraphobia is traditionally defined as a fear of open space and that probaby enters into it). But as I have done in the past, I figure it's best to say to those close to me, "I'm having a problem and I need help." If I hide it and fight it, it gets worse. So I'm saying, "I need to hold your arm when I go down that step" or, as I did in Austin going to the guest house, "the ground is uneven, Brandon, and I need to hold on to you." It doesn't take much--just a touch and the sense that someone is next to me. (I am very aware that it would not be good for a 68-year-old woman to fall.)
Well today I decided I absolutely could not walk across the open part of my driveway (once I'm next to the fence, it's ok). So I took the broom, figuring I could put it down to steady myself if necessary (which of course it wasn't). But in an email exchange with Fran--who rescued me the night of the cat bite--I recounted the broom story. She thought I could get away with the broom in my own driveway--if anyone came along, I could start sweeping--but I'd look darn strange taking a broom into Central Market or some such place. So tomorrow I think I'll go buy myself a walking stick. I saw some wonderful natural wood ones in the hardware store and considered getting one for Brandon, who likes odd gifts, but now I'll get one for myself. Fran referred to it as a cane, and I said, "No, no" a cane has no elan, no class, this will be a walking stick. And the nice thing? I know this spell too will pass. They always do.
Meantime I'm busily getting done all the things I've put off--such efficiency helps me feel less like an incapable person. This morning I tore up to the service station to get my car inspected, only to learn they don't do inspections--so tomorrow I'll go where I know they do them. And this afternoon I got a flu shot (okay, I asked the pharmacist to hold my hand while I went down his curb--but getting the shot made me extra nervous). I've been to have my echocardiogram and to the dermatologist and I'm going to a new podiatrist and I have appts. with the cardiologist, a new primary care physician, my gynecologist, and the eye doctor. Lord, will I be healthy. Maybe all that is what's making me nervous.
Other things are good. I've done some really good work at the press, acquiring manuscripts, consulting my board, etc. And I've written quite a bit more on the mystery--its wonderful how new ideas develop as I write, almost like magical writing where someone else is guiding my thoughts. I really hope this mystery is salable, but I find myself resisting sending sample chapters to the agent who said he'd read them.
This Wednesday the kids and their families will arrive for Thanksgiving. We'll also have a famiy reunion at my brother's ranch and we'll have Alter Alternative Christmas, so it will be a big weekend. Colin's family and Jamie's will stay with me, while Megan and her bunch stay with Jordan. Jordan will host Thanksgiving, which doesn't excuse me from cooking at all. And meantime I have my neighbor, Sue, and her parents for dinner Saturday and Jordan Sunday so she can pass on my holiday decorations. I am as always ahead of the game--my house is in Christmas mode, but only because I wanted it to be festive when the kids come because it's our Christmas celebration. Most of my presents are wrapped, and I've planned my annual Tree Trimming (no tree again) party. Now tell me why someone with all that good going on should be nervous about walking down a driveway! Beats me! but I figure it's better to share and laugh.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For Melinda

Melinda, the production and web guru in my office, has just announced that she'll be a new grandmother in the spring. She's so excited she's dancing at her desk, but I heard her tell someone, "I don't know a thing about being a grandmother!" At the time, I thought, "What's to know? They're your grandbabies and you love them--and you cook and clean for their mothers when you can." But this weekend, with four of my six at my house, I reflected that it's not that simple. So this is unsolicited advice for Melinda.
I've only seen fifteen-month-old Morgan four times now in her life--she's lived those months in Colorado, too far to travel easily. Her parents have been wonderful about talking to her about me, showing her my picture (which she sometimes carries around and kisses), and calling me on the Skype so she can see me. But in the flesh, she doesn't know me. Friday night she brushed me away if I tried to hold her hand or rub her little leg, and when her father said, "Here, hold her for me a minute," she cried. (She did the same thing for Uncle Jamie who thought he had the magic touch!). A year ago at Thanksgiving, we were great friends but now she knows about "separation anxiety," that phrase I never heard when my babies were little and one I've come to dislike. (To be fair, Morgan had been in the car for two days and was missing her mom who was still back in Colorado.)
Maddie never really rejected me. As an infant, she knew my voice and she smiled at me. There were times I was a favorite, like the night she cried halfway to Dallas when she figured out I wasn't going home with them. Or the times she'd run around chanting, "Night, night, darlin'" because that's what I said to her. But sometimes when she was two or three, she wouldn't have a thing to do with me--it hurt my feelings, but when I mentioned it to Jamie, he said, "Mom, she's only three!" Nowadays we're friends all the time, and if I ask for a hug and she refuses, it's a tease. Her sister, on the other hand, eyed me with suspicion almost from the first. Edie was a momma's girl, and she would not let me touch her or hold her until, I swear, she was half grown. She's close to four now, and we're good friends, but it hasn't been too long since she'd still occasionally tell me in determined tones, "No! Mama!"
I didn't see Sawyer enough to know that he was more than shy with me, but one day when he was just beginning to talk, he pointed to a picture of me and said, "Gaga!" The name has stuck, in spite of the fact that the other famlies call me Juju, and Sawyer seems to like me, like being at my house. Once at the way home, he said, "Go home," and his parents assured him they were going home. He said, "No, Gaga's home!" And when I last saw him he gave me a big kiss and said, "Make Gaga happy!"
The first couple of times I held tiny Ford, he cried--I didn't feel, smell or sound like Mama--but he quickly got to where he'd cuddle on my shoulder to sleep or if I put him in my lap he'd stare intently at me as though he was trying to figure out the world and me. I can't help but wonder how he'll change, and I'm grateful I'll see him again in two weeks--and Sawyer.
And then there's four-month-old Jacob, who once he got beyond a couple of weeks cried every time I held him. I gave up and loved him from a distance, pecking kisses at his nose, talking to him in his car seat, but not trying to hold him. All of a sudden, after I was in Austin for a week, he's decided I'm okay. He grins when he sees me and kicks his feet and waves hs arms in excitement, and he sits happily on my lap, turning to crane his neck so he can see me.
So my whole point is it's not uncomplicated love--you're not the parent, you're the grandparent, and though each child is different, each will occasionally break your heart with rejection--something we never knew from our own children, at least until they were teenagers!
Another lesson learned: much as your kids love you, they don't want you around all the time. They need lots of time together to become a family--once again, you're the grandparent, and it's not the same as being the parent. They are a unit and while close, you're not part of that unit. And you're not the first person the babies turn to. In some ways, having grandchildren has made me nostalgic for the days when mine were babies and I was the center of their universe.
Of course raising babies--and the gadgets available--has changed so much in twenty or thirty years, that your ways of doing things won't work. You have to listen, watch and learn. I've yet to see a bottle sterilizer (how I hated that thing!) or a playpen (don't hamper their development!) or the homemade baby food I used to whip up in the blender.
Seems to me I had one more sage observation, but I've lost it. And there is the other side, grandchildren bring great rewards and wonderful love. Maddie said to me once recenty, "Juju, I just love being at your house. I'm never bored here!" I wouldn't trade anything for a minute or two with any of my six grandchildren--and I look forward to the seventh, due in April.
Melinda will make a fine grandmother, and she'll love it every bit as much as I do.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

More Grandmothering

Okay, okay, I'm going to get back to writing. But last night I had almost 3/4 of my gang for dinner and most of those overnight. (This morning at the local deli for lox and bagels, I felt like the matriarch of a huge clan and a friend who came in said, "You are!") Once, months ago, when I complained (yeah, I really did!) that the house gets so messy when they're all here, Mel put it in perspective for me by saying, "Of course we're messy. We're home." I've never forgotten those words, and last night I saw that in action, and not just that it was messy.
Colin and Morgan were on their way to Houston so stopped for the night; the Frisco Alters and the Burtons came to visit. All afternoon and through dinner, it was rowdy, noisy, everyone talking at once, but after dinner everyone was tired, and the house became quiet quickly. Everyone sort of peeled off to do his or her own thing, and that was what made me think, "Yeah, they're home!" Christian took Jacob home to his own bed, Jordan left for Austin, Colin and Jamie settled down for a discussion of computers and hi-tech telephones that I didn't even want to think about--like strangers talking in tongues, Morgan said "Night, night" and went down in the crib. I caught Maddie softly singing "Rockabye Baby" to her--sweetest thing I've seen in a long time. And Mel, exhausted from three days of traveling, got into pjs, cleaned her face, and took off for the guest house with her book.
Not that it was all quiet and peaceful after that. The neighbors' dog was baying at the moon right behind the guest house, so Jame went to ask them to bring him inside. No one home. Then when everyone was asleep, the entire Frisco clan trooped back into the house--and Jamie either forgot or didnt' know the new alarm code, so that alarm went off. Sleepy as I was I remember Maddie saying in awestruck tones, "Morgan didn't even wake up." After that, it was hard to go back to sleep.
Now it's 2 p.m. Saturday and they've all left. Colin did a good job of cleaning up his part, and Mel and Jamie are always good about seeing that the girls put up toys and everything is returned to its place. I didn't have to do much--and last night I wouldn't have given you two cents for this messy house. I think I'm still learning to be a grandmother gracefully. But one big lesson I've about got down is "Don't worry about the mess. It's not permanent, and it's more important to enjoy their company." Hard stuff for a compulsive like me.
One fun touch: I bought magnetic flowers and happy faces to put on my VW bug convertible, and the girls and the kids from next door had a high old time decorating the car. Jamie predicted the flowers would begin to disappear one by one, and I was appalled. What lowlife would steal my flowers?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What direction is this blog going?

When I started this blog, I meant to write about three things--writing, cooking, and grandmothering, in that order. It hasn't exactly worked out that way--I've written a whole lot about grandmothering but maybe that's because my children are reproducing like rabbits, to my great joy. I've written very little about cooking, which makes me think I need to entertain and start experimenting with some of the many new recipes I've clipped. I'm always a happier person when I cook, so there's a hint for me.
I've written some but not a lot about writing--those who follow the blog may know that I'm now into chapter ten of the mystery, but it comes in fits and spurts. I had some middle-of-the-night great inspriation in Austin, as I reported, and then on the train coming home I had lots of ideas which I scribbled down--including the fact that a skeleton isn't enough and someone has to be killed, so now I've killed off one of the least likeable characters But those moments of inspiration don't come too often--and I'm sort of stalled right now. Sometimes when I'm stalled, I take refuge in small writing projects--my column for the Dallas Morning News, a piece on how Texas impacts me as a writer (I think I'm stalled there too). I don't know that this is writer's block, though it could be. I rather think it's maybe too much else going on, especially in anticipation of the holidays. But I find myself reading a Deborah Crombie mystery in the evenings rather than writing, and I'm sure that's not how "real" writers discipline themselves.
I also vowed that this blog would not be about politics but I can't help expressing my great relief over the outcome of Tuesday's elections. And my great joy at Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, though the President would have done a lot of Republicans a huge favor to have done that a month ago. I get a lot of middle-of-the-road to outright left-leaning blogs, but one yesterday said something important: that the real winner in the election was the environment. I hope it's true. I hope the election was a victory for the environment, for human rights (including gays and suspected terrorists who are incarcerated without counsel or trial), for the very young and the very elderly in our society, for the have-nots and not the have-a-lots, and, most of all, a victory for peace. I hope it was a victory for all of us, but now we have to see what can be done in two years. There's a Gordian knot that will not be as easily untied as it was tangled.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Grandchildren change so fast, especially infants. When I went to Austin, I hadn't really connected with Jacob. He tended to cry when I picked him up, and so I was content to love him from a distance, kiss him when he was in his car seat, talk to him so he'd know my voice. But yesterday and today, Jacob, now four months plus, has come to see me in the afternoon. Today we went for a long walk (and fast--his mother about wore me out!). And at the house, Jordan tried to feed Jacob--but all he wanted to do was turn and look at me. And when I'd talk nonsense to him, his face crinkled into a huge grin. Sometimes he stiffens his little body and waves his feet and hands with excitement. It's like he has suddenly discovered that I'm fun and to be trusted. I love it! I can sing to him (in my notably offkey voice), chatter, peck kisses at his nose, and all the while he's as happy as can be. When he sits in my lap, he twists around to look at me. And when he leans back until we're both upside down, he thinks that's the funniest thing ever. I said tentatively to Jordan that his disposition had changed suddenly, and she agreed. So now I wonder what tiny Ford will be like when I see him again in three weeks.
This Friday night I'll have Colin and Morgan (15 mos.), on their way to Houston. They'll live with Lisa's parents while Lisa stays behind to finish the school semester and sell the house. I worry about her being alone, but I know she's tired and maybe she'll get the rest she needs. Friday night for supper Jamie and family will join us as will Christian and Jacob--and Jordan briefly. I am so blessed that my family gets together so often and so happily.
Tonight I had dinner with my neighbor Sue, who shares my rather firm political views. We watched the election results with suspense and measured joy. Finally we decided we'll have to wait until tomorrow to know how much to rejoice. Having been disappointed so many times in recent years, I'm leery of getting my hopes up.
As the holidays approach, I think of my various roles in life--writer, press director, mother, grandmother, a woman blessed with friends--and I think the personal relationships begin to dominate. It's the season to be close to those you love.
Oh, yes, my Christmas presents are wwrapped--we'll have Alter Christmas at Thanksgiving--and I'm planning my annual Chirstmas party, thinking about getting Christmas cards done. I'm halfway to Christmas and it's only early November. And Thanksgiving does loom--Jordan will host at her house, but she doesn't do turkeys. I do. Once a mother, always a mother. And ain't it great!