Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nothin' much

I have a new favorite Dorothy Parker poem courtesy Jim Lee who recited it for me--in particularly meaningful circumstances. I have now committed it to memory.

If you be innocent,
Never trouble to deny.
But if you be guilty,
Weep and storm and swear they lie!

And I have a new Winston Churchill story, courtesy of Steve Munday. Seems a lady sailed up to Churchill and said, "If I were married to you, I'd poison you." Churchill replied, "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

That I'm reciting poetry and jokes may reflect the fact that I haven't had much to post on my blog, although I've been acutely aware all week that if you have a blog and want people to read it regularly, you need to post regularly. Melinda, my web guru in the office, remarked that I haven't posted in over a week, and I said, "I haven't had much to say." And it's the truth.

My week has seen a good trip to Abilene to appear on a panel about our colalborative novel, Noah's Ride, and attend a luncheon honoring my friend, novelist Jane Roberts Wood, for lifetime achievement--Jane is one of the nicest people I know, and I was glad to be there to honor her. But it was a long day.

I've had business lunches--to discuss a series of books on ranching in Texas, another to talk about the history of Fort Worth women's contribution to the city, tomorrow one to talk about a possible book on the artist as Christian. Today, though, a wonderful lazy lunch with Jordan, Jacob and Jean Walbridge, who hadn't seen Jacob since the day he was born. He screamed--and then he smiled charmingly--and then . . . . well, you know how three-month-olds do. But his grin is irresistible--he grins with his eyes as well as his mouth.

My novel has languished for two weeks, put on a back burner by the rejection of the cookbook. I'm adding a little to the cookbook, proofing--since one accusation was sloppy editing--and getting it ready to submit. Another publisher has agreed to look at it but stresses that everything they do has to have a historical aspect. Okay, I'm old enough that some of my recipes are historical!

And that's it, no deep thoughts--unless I talked about things about President Clinton's marvelous performance on Fox TV and politics and the state of the world, which Charles tells me is really in awful shape. I reminded him it has gone through periods like that for centuries. And he said, "Yes, and something wonderful usually comes out of it." Keep your fingers crossed.

It's Wednesday. I notice that on Mondays my motor really runs fast--I go to work with a long list of things to be done, and I work like mad. By Wednesday, much of it is done, and I'm more mellow. Looking forward to a lazy dinner on the porch with Jeannie Chaffee. Life is still good.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I just finished reading Marley & Me, by John Grogan. It's about the Grogan family's life with Marley, a golden lab who crashed through screen doors, gouged through drywall, flung drool on guests, stole women's undergarments, and ate nearly everything he could gets his mouth around, including fine jewelry. But he was also lovable, gentle, and loyal, and the family adored him. It's a good read, and I recommend it.
Marley was an extreme version of Scooby, my Australian shepherd. Fortunately Scoob and I have come to a better accommodation with each other. But it took time. When I got him from the Humane Society, he jumped on me all the time, stole food from wherever he found it, pottied in the house whenever out of my sight. Like Marley, he was paranoid about storms. During our first thunderstorm together, he hid under my desk and pawed my legs nervously until I had great bruises. Nowadays, three and a half years later, he feels secure enough that he only hides in the closet during storms.
But most of our accommodation has been on my part--I've taught him not to jump by stern use of a leash to pull him down. I've learned to keep food out of his reach, to keep him beside me whenever he's in the house. He sleeps leashed to a leg of my bed, which he seems to thoroughly enjoy. When I say "Go to your bed" he runs to his pallet and stands there until I come to hook the leash. He also knows "Go to the office." I can't cure him of everything--he still eats soiled tissues out of the wastebasket inches from me and, when given a chance, raids the cat box. And I don't walk him because twice, in his urge to herd strollers, motorcycles, bicyclists, school buses, etc., he pulled me down--now he gets his exercise chasing squirrels in the backyard.
Scooby has done his part. Once a nervous and scared abused dog, he has calmed down and now lies peacefully at my feet for long periods of time, rising occasionally to nose my elbow and let me know it's time to love him. At night he puts his nose on the edge of the bed and stares at me with huge, adoring eyes.
And protective? Terrorists will not get me if Scooby has anything to do with it--nor will the mail carrier, the UPS driver, and a few hundred other people that he thinks need to be warned off. If you're inside the house, he's your best friend; step outside on the porch and you're his enemy (but not me or the family).
My friends and family are not as wild about Scooby as I am--he gets excited when there are other people in the house, and once in his early days he jumped up to love a friend, hit a tooth against her lip, and caused bleeding. She swore he was trying to bite her and no amount of talking could convince her he is not a threat to my grandchildren.
In a lifetime full of dogs, I've only had one other, 35 years ago, that I bonded with the way I have with Scooby. With my comfortable house, my one dog, and my one cat, I'm one happy camper. The cat? That's another story for another time.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

West Texas up close

Yesterday was a long day but a good one. My friend Mary, an experienced and talented journalist, and I left at 7:30 to drive to San Angelo for a signing. Both of us are contributors to Noah's Ride, a collaborative novel just published by TCU Press. We were going to San Angelo because it's the home of Texas' most beloved novelist, Elmer Kelton. He wrote the first chapter of the novel, and we wanted to thank him and honor him by having a signing at the bookstore in his town, where he has a large following.
The drive, both there and back, was long--about four hours--but on a cloudy day it was most pleasant. Mary drove and I knit--got to finish that baby blanket by late October. We yakked about everything from family to writing to West Texas. The land of West Texas can offer surprisingly breathtaking views--no, it's not all brown and dry. I was in the hands of a native, because Mary grew up in San Angelo--she knew the back roads, though I have to say we got lost when we got to San Angelo itself! They had, she explained, built new roads. Anyway soon we saw a sign saying we were headed to El Dorado, and Mary said, "El Dorado! I don't want to go there! Where am I?" Then she looked at me and said, "You didn't want to hear that, did you?"
The signing started off slowly--at most such events everyone who's going to come is there at the opening minute. This time, people drifted in all afternoon in twos and threes. They came to buy the book, but mostly ranchers, dressed in jeans, really came to jaw with Elmer. They talked about the drought (Elmer would spell it drouth), and they talked about hard economic times--I heard someone say they figured San Angelo was about a "ten-dollar-an-hour" town. Women talked about how the small towns were losing people--one person from Sterling City said the number of schools had shrunk, because there were not enough students for, say, two elementary schools. Mary's brother-in-law talked about having to sell off all the cattle because there was no water and no graze.
Mary reverted right back to small-town Texas ways, holding out her hand and saying, "Hi, I'm Mary Rogers," which prompted the rest of us to introduce ourselves to each visitor. Mary got each person's name, and when they left, she thanked them for coming. If the visitor was a woman, she addressed her respectfully as "Miz Jones" or whatever the name was. I wasn't certain, but I thought she developed a bit of a drawl that I never noticed in Fort Worth.
I didn't get to see much of San Angelo but enough to show me that it was yet another town that was trying to develop something to attract tourists--it boasts the Concho River winding through the middle of town, and now on Concho Street they have interesting boutiques--we only got a pass-through on the largest, but I would have welcomed more time. And of course there's Fort Concho, one of the best preserved western forts--it's where the 9th and 10th Cavalry, buffalo soldiers, were stationed.
A word about the bookstore--it was fascinating. Except for Elmer's work and a few other new titles, the wooden shelves were loaded with rare, out-of-print books of Western Americana. The Cactus Bookstore, owner Felton Cochran told me, does a big mail-order business from catalogs he sends out monthly. No, he doesn't have a web page. If you want his catalog, you'll have to write hm at 6 Concho Street, San Angelo. But his knowledge is amazing--Elmer and I were talking about ranch histories, and Felton immediately produced two or three helpful references. He's a bookseller with a passion, and he's found his niche.
We went home by another back route so we could go through Brownwood and eat at the legendary Underwood's Cafeteria. Mary insisted that we had to have the barbecued steak, even thoughI protested and ordered fried chicken (Jeff, who was with us, told me I'd hear about that for so long I'd regret it). The chicken--a huge helping of three pieces--was good, and so were the usual sides--pinto beans, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. And of course there was cobbler. All too much for me. Two huge pieces of chicken are still in my fridge in a to-go-box.
About thirty minutes out of Fort Worth, Mary and I looked at each other and acknowledged that we were tired. But it was a good tired. And when I got home I felt that I, an outsider, had seen West Texas up close and personal, even briefly. Fort Worth may be "Where the West Begins," but San Angelo is a different world.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts on Flight 93

We've had a day, two days really, of immersion in 9/11. And last week we had the same with Katrina. Anniversaries are tough, and those of us who were relatively untouched by these monumental tragedies still feel the horror even if we can't begin to comprehend the grief of the victims, survivors, those left behind. I am reminded though of seeing a TV segment of children of 9/11 victims who asked why it had to be on TV all the time--good question. It's not as though without the rehashing we'll forget.
But tonight I watched a tasteful segment on NBC's Dateline that chronicled the last minutes, hour, whatever of Flight 93, including those phone calls--varying in tone from bravado to desperation--back to family. We've all praised the passengers on that flight--as did the president tonight--for their bravery, for refusing to die like cattle led to slaughter. But there's an aspect I haven't heard much mentioned: have you thought about what would have happened if that plane had crashed into the Capitol, taking out most of the Congress? Where would our country have gone? Would the surviving administration set martial law in order, which might well still be in effect today? Would the government simply have disappeared, leaving us rudderless and then really vulnerable to attack? It's beyond imagination to think of the ramifications, and yet I'm surprised we don't hear that, even in the president's heart-rending speeches about patriotism. Do I think the people on flight 93 thought about that? No, I don't. I think they thought about thwarting the terrorists--their focus was on the immediate. But we owe them such a huge debt of gratitude that one can hardly speak of it. And when President Bush speaks of American's determination and courage--okay, I'm no fan of his--I don't think he comprehends that the action of those people on that plane were the ultimate in American spirit.
Sometimes these days it's hard for me to be proud to be an American--I'm so proud of my country and so loyal to it, but the current administration gets in my way. (And I vowed my blog would never be political!) But the people on #93 make me really proud. And they make me wonder if I could possibly have had their courage. A sobering thought.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Artist as a Christian

I'm a churchgoer. I was raised in the church, fell away from it during my marriage to a Jewish man who resented Christianity, went back to it and am now fairly heavily involved at University Christian Church. But I don't go to Sunday school for a variety of reasons, mostly that I'm drawn to the politicl programs on Sunday morning. I watch Meet the Press, the last half of George Stephanopoulus, and a few minutes of the McLaughlin Group before I dash out the door to church. Besides, when I was a kid, adults didn't go to Sunday school.
But today I went. The speaker was Harry Parker, chair of TCU's theater department and a man I know casually from a church committee. More important, his topic was "The Artist as a Christian." He talked about how many people think the two are incompatible and how perfectly he thought they fit together. (He also praised our church for understanding that in a way many congregations do not.) I was particularly interested in his distinction between craft and art, and my interpretation may be loose and mostly my own, but it seems that crafts make something out of "things"--cooking, gardening, woodworking, sewing, etc. Art makes something out of ideas. The artist, like the believer, has to have faith--faith when they face that blank canvas or empty computer screen or first rehearsal for a play, faith that something will come out of it. Harry believes that you can't judge art as good or bad, it's all art though some may not appeal to you--having seen a lot of bad writing, really bad, I'm not sure about that. But he pointed out that the artist creates for the same reason believers believe--because they can't not, because they are compelled to it. And he believes that by directing theater productions he is doing holy work. I think that too about writing, maybe particularly about writing for young minds. But I also feel that I have been blessed with a talent for putting ideas into words and, sometimes, significant ideas to put into those words.
Thanks, Harry, for a lot of food for thought.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Cookbook's Been Rejected!

I wrote a memoir cookbook, figuring if Maya Angelou and Pat Conroy could do it, so could I. I've always loved to cook and entertain, and those who eat at my table are very very complimentary about what I serve (even my kids). Tonight I served friends homemade pesto on cream cheese as an appetizer, linguine avgolemena and braseola with a chopped egg, caper, pickle relish, dressed in vinaigrette. They had never eaten either and seemed to enjoy them greatly, asked for recipes, which I always am glad to share.
So it's ironic that this is the day a local academic publisher with a line of cookbooks rejected my cookbook--after having it in their shop for about sixteen months (a time lag I, as a publisher, considered unpardonable). That does include about three months when I was rewriting, according to the first reader's report. That report was a tremendous map of what needed to be done, and I was grateful and glad to revise. But then in early spring it went to another reader--and just came back now. The report was harsh, though it unintentionally said some good things. The editor sent it to me, unabridged, again something I wouldn't have done--when we get harsh reviews, I summarize, etc., for the author. The reader said that the recipes were unusable in most households--I don't know why, since I've cooked with most of them all my adult life (maybe he/she doesn't cook?), and that it consisted not of recipes but recounting people I'd eaten with--which seems a clear contradiction of the first statement. There are lots of recipes in there. The reader did praise the originality of combining memoir and cookbook, so I guess he/she doesn't know about Pat Conroy and Maya Angelou and a bunch of others--should I clue that person in? Of course I bristled, as any author would, at the accusation of sloppy editing--I'm an editor for Pete's sake! My impression? The reader knew he/she had kept it too long and dashed off a report without due consideration and study. And my other impression? The acquiring editor didn't care enough about the project to move it along in a timely fashion or to fight for it. She would have done me an enormous favor to have returned the manuscript a year ago if she didn't really feel good about it. Hey, I'm an editor--and I know that a lot of the business is about instinct, about fighting for what you believe is good, getting rid of what you don't tactfully and fairly efficiently. So, yeah, I'm bummed.
I know it's easy to blame the messenger and/or reader when you're rejected. It's a trap I try not to fall into, and my work has been rejected many times. But this doesn't sit well with me. So what will I do? I don't know. Maybe I'll finish the novel and then reconsider the cookbook--in the sixteen months it's been gone, I've cooked lots of new things, like linguine avgolemena and braseola, and I may need to include them.
All in all, it was a great day--a good meeting, a pleasant dinner with old friends. Who minds a little rejection? Well, okay, me--at least a little bit. Besides, the first chapter was all about my mom and what she taught me about food.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I got a copy today of an article, "On Learning to Putter," that I wrote for Texas Co-op Power (that goes to a cool million people, thank you). It's about the fact that I've been compulsive all my life, always busy, always something to do, and now, in late middle age, I want to learn to putter. (Actually I used the yiddish word "putz" when I originally wrote the article, but the editors were afraid, and rightly so, of the sexual and derogatory connotations.) I want to go to the zoo with my grandchildren and not worry about what's for dinner; I want to sit on the porch and not rush to my desk. When I re-read the article, written some months ago now, I realized that I've made progress. This weekend, when the Frisco Alters were here and we went to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, I had not a clue what was for dinner and didn't worry about it. At five o'clock, we toyed with going out, but it was Sunday, and too many places were closed. We ended up at Central Market--always a lifesaver--where we cobbled together a Mediterranean meal. Jamie said, "This was a terrific idea, Mom." And not much work.
Monday morning, they were going to get up and go home--which they did, but it wasn't accomplished until 11:30. I sat and watched the adults roughhouse with the children, we nibbled on breakfast, sat on the porch and talked--there wasn't anything urgent that needed to be done. When they left they were only going about three blocks to a Mexican restaurant--in spite of Maddie's plea (which pleased me immensely), I chose not to go--no make-up, no shower, and a feeling of complete contentment. I spent the rest of the day puttering, with a good nap thrown in.
Tonight there was a lovely breeze on the porch, so I put aside the mystery and sat outside to read someone else's mystery--always telling myself that I'm learning techniques.
I may master the art of puttering--or putzing.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Grandmothering and a bit of writing

It's Labor Day weekend, and Jamie and Mel brought the girls for the weekend. They came Sat. early afternoon and we did not much--a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, a thwarted visit to Jacob (he was indisposed and not receiving company). Saturday night the parents went out to dinner with friends, and I served pigs in a blanket, corn on the cob, beans, and peanut butter cookies the girls and I had made that afternoon (cooking with the girls is always a little problematic, because they get into turf wars, but we got it done). Maddie put herself into pjs at 7 even though I pointed out it was early and still daylight; Edie put on pjs but was not at all ready for bed at 9 when Maddie was. She said "Mommy?" I explained that Mommy was having dinner, and she asked, "Is she eating fast?" I said no, when you went out for dinner, you ate slowly and savored the meal. Later when she kept calling for Mommy, I said, "Aren't you glad Mommy's having nice night out and enjoying herself?" Her answer? "No!" I altrenated cuddling and leaving, and she went to sleep about 10:50.
When Jamie and Mel came home, they reported that the first restaurant they went to--for tapas--was weird. Well, it was the same one where Betty and I had received such condescending treatment and the bonus of wine not billed. I was glad to have my opinion confirmed.
Today we did breakfast (brunch really) at the Ol' South, a Fort Worth favorite that really is a greasy spoon dive but beloved by everyone. Then on to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, which the girls loved--they constantly had to be told to walk not run and lower their voices, but it was such fun to see them so excited. A short stay at the very noisy KidsSpace at the Museum of Science and History, and I was the first to bail, admit to exhaustion. We came home, the parents both went to sleep, and I, who had been the first to claim tired, was the one who napped with one ear and one eye open! Tonight we went to my wonderful Central Market and cobbled together a great Greek dinner, complete with dolma, hummus, tabouli, tsatsiki (homemade by Mel), artichoke salad, and grilled flank steak. Tonight we are all tired. They'll go home in the morning--after Jamie hangs pictures for me, though he asks how I know he wants to do that (I know, he's a good son, just cantakerous occasionally), and I'll settle back into my routine.
I'd left the novel behind last week--an all-day out-of-town office meeting and other deadlines sent me home to do work-related things in the evenings, but Saturday morning I dipped back into it and got new ideas, new excitement. I hope to move ahead in the next few days. And tomorrow? It's funny how a few days away makes you see the whole thing in a new perspective--I could see major changes that had to be made and did most of them. Tomorrow? A good nap and a lot of writing, plus maybe some reading. A perfectly lazy Labor Day.
But what can I say about how wonderful it was to have the girls here? It's beyond words.