Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Star

Our trip to The Star Cafe was a success and mostly because of eight-month-old Jacob. When I told Jeannie that Jacob and his father were meeting us, she said, "Neither of my sons would want to spend the evening with two old ladies," and I replied, "Christian is special." He is, and so is Jacob, who flirted with and charmed everyone in the restaurant--he has the art of tilting his head and grinning down pat, and no adult can help but be charmed. We had a wonderful evening. When I talked to Colin (well, mainly Morgan) on Skype tonight, I said, "Both my boys would go to dinner with two old ladies, wouldn't they?" and he said, "One of them would." I didn't know if that meant him or his brother, but I told him I thought they both would.
Tonight good friends Linda and Rodger who make me laugh a lot came in from Granbury and we went out to dinner. Linda was full of the Oscars and telling me all about the movies and recounting her interest in what picture wins best film and I listened in awe--it's so far from anything I'm interested in. She did admit that by the time they named "Best Picture" she'd be in her bed asleep. As they dropped me off, she said, "Do you want me to call you?" and I assured her much as I'd like to talk to her, I'd read it in the paper in the morning.
I've worked on "Early Texas Maps" so much this weekend that I'm blue in the face, but I did go to church and did start reading a new mystery--I'm not telling the title or author, because I was horrified to discover in the early pages that there was a skeleton and a reference to Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"--just as in my novel, although handled very differently. Since I wrote mine before reading this, and since any of us are free to refer to Poe's story, I suppose there's no possibility of a plagiarism accusation (perhaps this blog will serve as evidence). I do find I'm reading much more analytically--this is an author I admire, and the novel certainly starts out with more bone-chilling terror than in mine. I think mine is what I would call an American cozy--the American version of the tried-and-true English genre. But I think the book I am now reading is slow in bringing the main character into view, and so far it seems like two separate plots, though I'm sure they'll intersect. Still I see places where I think, "I would have done this differently." I suspect that's good, though it could also just be cocky.
The work week looms.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Today is the 28th Annual Cowtown Marathon. To me, that meant I couldn't get around on my usual back-road routes to do my Saturday chores (I am well known for refusing to drive on the freeways and avoiding any major arteries if at all possible). So I haven't yet gotten to Barnes & Noble, waiting for the back of the pack to pass, and I probably won't get to Central Market, which isn't the end of the world since I'm going out to dinner the next two nights amd have a freezer full of food.
But years ago the marathon was much more than a nuisance in my life. My ex-husband was one of the founders, and I did publicity for the event. Every year the children and I would go to the North Side, and I'd turn them loose for the day. The North Side then didn't have quite the strong and relatively safe tourist reputation it has today, and when I look back on it, I'm horrified I let them go unsupervised. But to this day they assure me they were always with a crowd of other kids. Of course back then, it was much smaller. The first Cowtown brought in a sleet storm--I can still see Joel sitting in our bedroom the night before, saying, "Sleet! I don't want sleet!" Some 200 runners showed up--today there were 14,000 which leads me to suspect it's lost some of the charm it had when we all knew everybody. I think my children still remember those days among the highlights of their childhood, and I am tickled today that Jamie and Brandon are doing triathlons, and Maddie goes along as a volunteer. Of course, in this day and age, they make sure she's supervised every minute. In late May, maybe Memorial Day weekend, Jamie is planning a big familiy get-together built around the Austin Triathlon. He assures those that don't want to run that they can still enjoy all the partying, but it may be hard for the families with young babies.
I feel like I've been on a marathon myself this week--a work marathon. We were one person short in the office, due to the flu, and several books have absolute deadlines that must be met. So I worked mornings in the office, afternoons at home on office stuff, and evening rereading and cleaning up the novel one more time. The mystery is as "done" as I can make it for the time being. Monday I'm having lunch with my mentor, and he may have some suggestions, but three chapters are in the hands of an agent and I'm waiting for a reaction. At the risk of being cocky, I feel good about this.
By Monday afternoon, we should have handled the crunch at work (part of it caused by the need to print out maps, which are in huge files that slow down a computer so much you might as well redraw the maps). I'm spending some of my weekend editing cartographic remarks on the 64 maps. They were written by someone who apparently sees no use in such words as "the" and "a" and "an," giving the remarks a terse quality. I'm going back to "nicen" them up (and put commas and periods inside the quotations marks where they belong!)
Going to dinner tonight at The Star, a North Side steakhouse owned by good friends Betty and Don Boles. For about six years I ran the cash register on Saturday nights. It's a cowboys and blue-jeans kind of a place, a dramatic change from my daily academic atmosphere--and I loved doing it and still love going there. Tonight my friend Jeannie and I are going, and Christian and Jacob will meet us since Jordan is out of town. But now I'm wondering if the place will be full of runners. It certainly fills up when NASCAR is in town or Willie Nelson is at Billy Bob's. I'll have to call and find out.
It's a nicer day for a marathon than that first year, mostly sunny, with a temperature in the seventies (maybe a little too hot for most runners). But as I sit at my desk, the wind is howling around my house at 35 or 40 mph--could blow some runners off course!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Top-down (not topless!) Days

Today was the first spring day that made me want to put the convertible top down on my VW bug. As I came home from the office about 1:30, I thought what a glorious day it was--but it's only a five-minute drive, and I didn't bother. No more than got in my driveway than I realized I'd left my groceries at the office. So this time, I put the top down and had a lovely drive. I was tempted just to ride around TCU for a while. The temperature is 79; a week ago today it was 19. Ah, Texas.
Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, it was warm but not like today. Still I got out and cleaned out the porch planters, getting rid of leaves and dead plants. It made me feel spring was only a day or two away, which is of course over-optimistic in Texas in February. My porch plants need watering today, but that's sort of problematic these days. The Bundocks, wonderful contractors who keep my house in order, put in new railings for me because I've had some balance problems. I discovered this weekend that in so doing, they had cut off access to the outside water faucet. So now I have to do this acrobatic thing to get under the railing, turn the water on, then sit on the step, duck under the railing, and pull myself up. I told Lewis Bundock it's okay for now, but check with me in ten years. Lewis suggested I just leave the hose on and let the nozzle keep it turned off, but even Jordan chided me for that last summer, because when she was a child I taught her that was a bad thing to do to the hose and the nozzle both. I think tonight, since there are only a few survivors of winter to be watered, I'll use an old milk jug. In another month, it will be time to think about fresh herbs and plants for the rest of the planters--I always grow basil, which flourishes, but somehow I'm one of the few people who can kill mint. This year I want a new start on sage--what I have has gotten stringy and ugly. But the thyme and oregano are indestructible! And my big pot of chives comes back every year. In the spring, with lavender blossoms, it's really lovely. Then I'll have to turn my attention to the flower beds, but I think my days of hands-and-knees gardening are over. I may mostly tell Jim Sharratt, who keeps my yard in good shape, what I want done. Jordan and Christian gave me a gardening bench, and I can weed using that. My trouble is once I get down, I can't get up unless I have something to hold on to. Oh well, if that's the worst of my complaints, I'm okay.
The cat has settled comfortably on the manuscript I was going to edit. Maybe that means it's nap time!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

After long silence

My brother called this morning to ask where my blog has been. "I look for it every morning," he said. Flattered? Of course I was. I admitted I was aware I hadn't posted anything in a while because I didn't know what I have to say--a few family secrets, mostly good news but not ready for public announcement. (Bless him, he didn't point out that silence is uncharacteristic of me.) I promised to think about it and turned back to the newspaper--and there it was in an editorial by a man who found himself alone for a weekend with his six-year-old daughter. To comfort the child, he grasped for what the girl and her mother often did together--they baked cookies. His point in the editorial was that we turn to the comfort of such familiar rituals when we can do nothing but watch in helpless horror the chaos around us in the world. I'd just remarked to friends last night that I, who hadn't baked cookies since my children left home, have recently baked two batches--those double chocolate ones I mentioned in an earlier blog and, more recently, oatmeal/raisin cookies (next time I'll put in more raisins, more cinnamon, and a bit more allspice but they're good as they are!). That's what I've been doing--cooking for comfort and surrounding myself with people who comfort me. It's not just because I'm horrified at the situation in Iraq, the way the government seems to be feeding us the same story now about Iran, the partisan politics that still rule in the midst of a horrible war--but that may be part of it. (My brother, who does not agree with me politically, also tactfully did not mention my letter to the editor, published earlier this week in the newspaper.)
Last night Mary Lu and I took Charles to a restaurant specializing in mussels--having spent childhood summers on Long Island Sound, he has fond memories of mussels. Confronted with about eight choices on the menu--white mussels, green mussels, dependant on the sauce--he had to ask the waitress for help. "They didn't come in colors when I was a kid," he said. Then he regaled us with the story of the electric company woman who called wanting to lock him into a guaranteed two-year rate. "I'm 90 years old," he told her. "I may not need two years. Do you have an escape clause?" They didn't.
It's been a busy week--my novel is finished, and I've reworked it once, sent a proposal to the agent who agreed to look at it, and am still stewing over changes that must be made. This weekend I've spent every minute editing essays for a TCU Press book on early Texas maps--it will accompany ten museum exhibitions, so the book can't be late. I am suddenly aware we have several books with such deadlines, and I'm afraid we're not setting our priorities right and forcing them through the publication process, so I've become the office nag. But I do my part by editing on my own time--fortunately, it's material that I find interesting and about which I know enough to catch one or two errors.
This morning I'm going to church. I made a pact with Mary Lu last night that we would meet there--neither of us have been regular in our attendance lately. For me, I haven't figured out what that's about, but it bothers me a bit that I can always find something else to do on Sunday morning. I did, however, find a lovely prayer in one of the mysteries I recently read. I called a friend, wife of an Episcopalian priest, and she confirmed that it is an evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. And then she said if I liked that language so well, I should read A New Zealand Prayer Book, in which prayers are beautifully translated from the Maori. I have been picking at it, and there is some beautiful language there. Katie assured me the Book of Common Prayer is copyrighted but no one in the Episcopalian Church would come after me if I used it, so here's the prayer:
"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night; and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen."
And a grandchildren P.S.: When 18-month Morgan sees her mom's computer screen, she says, "Juju." So they Skype me, and she blows me kisses, brings her toys to show me, and shouts "Wow" a lot! What a wonderful thing! Some of the new technology baggles and frustrates me, but I love this one because it brings me close to a grandchild I don't see enough of.
There, John, that enough?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Moving Beyond Blogging

I discovered YouTube tonight. Okay, I know everyone younger than me--and maybe some older--know about it, but I'd just vaguely heard of it. But then I read an article by Julie Powell about her experiments with it. She's the author of Julia and Julie: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen, about the year in which she decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I realy like food writing, and I enjoyed the book--although her language sometimes made me cringe. It's that F-word. Anyway I was intrigued enough by her that I went to YouTube, typed her name in the search spot, and watched a couple of videos. The skirt steak salad looked good, and the critics who said she's a little fat for TV are probably right, but somehow it just didn't do much for me. So I'm not moving on to YouTube, and I'm not going to check out MySpace, though I hear people are even selling houses there. Nope. Blogging embarrasses me enough--seems just a bit egotistic, but then, aren't writers known for ego?
Meantime, waiting for me on my bookshelf is Julia Child's My Life in France, written with her husband's grandnephew, Alex Prud'homme. I just finished a "food" mystery by Diane Mott Davidson, so I'm in a happy streak of food reading. My own memoir/cookbook languishes in the hands of a publisher with no word, and I don't want to spook her by asking about it.
It strikes me as funny that the central figure in my mystery, a realtor/single mother of two, is not much of a cook and more often than not grabs pizza or takes her girls out to the local grill. But then, that's who she is. Just because she's my fictional creation doesn't mean she has to like to cook as much as I do. It wouldn't fit her personality.
My new cooking hint: throw a bunch of good Parmagiano rinds into the soup pot. I'm going to cook a big pot of canellini bean soup Sunday for friends, and the recipe calls for that. But I told Megan I bet it would be great in her impressive minestrone. You can actually buy rinds at Central Market. I'm also going to make oatmeal/raisin cookies--found a wonderful recipe with cinnamon and allspice from a local spice vendor (surprised it doesn't have chile powder in it). And that's dinner--with a cheese appetizer, bread from one guest, salad from another. A lovely lazy winter evening. And, oh boy, does it feel like winter here today--a damp cold.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


When I send my kids emails about a lot of things, I always put "stuff" in the tagline, and that's what this email is about--stuff.
First, amaryllis. Two friends sent me amaryllis bulbs for Christmas, and both have bloomed beautifully. Jordan took pictures of one before we went to Houston, and I was so glad, because by the time we came back, the blooms had drooped. Every year I tell myself I'm going to plant the bulbs, but I never do. One year I put them in the refrigerator, and then read that you should never put them in a fridge with apples, because apples do something bad to them. Too late--they were already in there with the apples that I almost never keep on hand. Maybe this is the year to plant them.
Jordan, Jacob, and I had a delightful weekend in Kingwood, outside Houston. I'm so lucky that she and I like to travel together and giggle a lot. Jacob proved to be a good traveler, except one time when he got way too hot in the back seat and was furious. And about a mile from home he decided he was ravenous, so I was leaning over the back of my seat, shoving a bottle in his little face.
The Houston Alters are flourishing--their house is spacious and comfortable, the suburb charming because it has lots of those pine trees you find north of Houston, and their baby, Morgan, a pistol. She was sweet with Jacob, petting him and sharing things--and then Sunday morning, it was like it all fell apart and she dissolved in tears. I think she was saying, "Enough already! I've shared. How long does this go on?" It was good training for her in anticipation of the baby brother expected in April. Morgan is really well behaved and every morning about ten takes herself off to nap--most of us would have done flips to have a baby do that. We went to a real Kosher deli (my request, and I loved the chopped liver), visited with Lisa's family, giggled our way through an amazing diaper disaster, and generally had a marvelous time. Colin and Lisa are great hosts, and Lisa wore herself out fixing a wonderful fajita dinner for ten of us Saturday night. On the way down and back, Jordan and I stopped at Sam's in Fairfield, a restaurant that I swear is one of the biggest buffets ever--good food, clean restrooms, a clean changing table. Who could want more?
But Monday morning I was back in the world of books and publishing. Monday night, Susan, the press editor, and I co-taught a class called "The World of Publishing." Actually it's four sessions, and last night, the third, was on New York publishing. We had author Carlton Stowers and his agent, who shall remain nameless for his own protections. They painted a realistic but grim picture--New York is where the money is, but it's so much a business now and not an art. If you've published before, a publisher will look up your sales at Barnes & Noble and Border's; not good? You haven't a chance. If you're unpublished, you have a better chance--but if that first book fails, forget it. I began to see my mystery fading into the woodwork. But today, the agent, said in an email that he thought quality still matters. If you can write really well, he said, there's someone out there to help you. Not necessariliy him, because he's busy out the kazoo, but he has agreed to look at a proposal for my mystery.
And that's my big accomplishment: I finished the first draft of the mystery tonight. I had been avoiding it, even to the point that I wrote the first pages of a second volume before I wrote the end of the first one. I knew where it was going, but I was literally scared of it. It involved a physical fight between two women, and having never been in a fight I wasn't sure how to handle it. Jordan suggested taekwando, but I decided that was too pat and eventually gave the heroine great strength from doing pilates. I don't really know many women who do martial arts, but I know a lot who do pilates. Anyway, the novel is done and is 69,920 words--close to the magic 70,000, which it will surpass with rewrites. I feel a great sense of relief. though I have no idea if the fight scene works. I really tried not to rush through it but instead to linger on the emotions, the feelings, the fear. Tomorrow, I'll print the whole thing out and begin the rewrite process. You know what, it's fun!

Friday, February 02, 2007


In the library the other day I picked up Dark Tort by Diane Mott Davidson. I like her books because she combines two of my interests--mysteries and cooking. I also know that my own writing benefits from the more I read of other people's mysteries--a great excuse for buying lots of paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. The only trouble is, they do stack up and have to be culled through and dealt with occasionally, though I'm always hard put to get rid of a book.
This time I figured that a caterer/amateur sleuth was sort of akin to a realtor/amateur sleuth--both what I call American cozies. I started the book last night, mostly because the Julia Chilid memoir I planned to take to Houston for the weekend was already in my suitcase. And right there in the first chapter--when Gouldy discovers a body--I had a great lesson in what my friend and mentor Fred Erisman has been trying to tell me. I rush through everything at a great clip--he means in the novel, but I know I do it in everything I do in life. (I once sold an article called "On Learning to Putter" in which I had to confess that I keep thinking about puttering, but I haven't mastered it. Now that I'm semi-retired, I seem busier than ever!) Anyway that scene made me really think about the climactic scene coming up in my novel (I think Im on the last chapter). Of course, now I'm hooked on Dark Tort and have to finish it before I can start on the Julia Child book.
Jordan, 7-month old Jacob, and I are off to Houston for a couple of days to see Colin, Lisa, and Morgan--at 18 months Morgan is apparently excited about seeing her younger cousin. We woke up to snow and dire forecasts, but we've decided it's north of us and the roads should be clear. So now I'm waiting--impatiently, of course--for Jordan and Jacob to get here!