Thursday, April 26, 2007

Weather alerts and non-events

A noneventful week, unless you count the storms we had last Tuesday. The weather alerts were dire all day long, and about mid-afternoon there was word of a "rotation" headed toward the southern suburbs--exactly where a group of us were supposed to go that night. One author called me, and I could tell from his tone that he was not going to the presentation, no matter what. So I called the director of the library where we were to speak and she said they had all just been herded into a windowless conference room, and she was hoping they'd be sent home. "Nobody would come if you did make it," she said. As it turned out we could comfortably have gone to the 6:30 program and been home again by the next storm, but it was such a day of uncertainty no one thought about it. In all that I felt a sense of relief that the storm was south of me--until Jordan called and pointed out that's where she lives! She and Jacob had shared some together time in the closet in her bathroom.
That night about nine they began to talk about another bad storm, with rotation, approaching from the west. I was fascinated as I watched the TV and literally watched the storm making its way down I-30 in my direction, that highway being about a mile from my house. Jordan called to ask if I was in the closet and I said no, but my computer was off and I could go in an instant, taking the dog with me--the cat would have to fend for himself since I couldn't imagine making him stay in the closet. The storm turned, apparently less than a mile from me. I called Jordan and said it was alright, the storm had gone north. "But that's where Christian is," she wailed. And of course he was on the North Side at his second job. I simply forgot all day to worry about anyone but myself! More storms predicted tomorrow night but not as severe. In Texas, one never knows.
I had a nice dinner with my good friend Betty last night--we needed to catch up--and that was a pleasant event, but otherwise the week has been without much to mark it except that I've been overwhelmed at work and had my nose in page proofs at home. I've been proofreading a book about five centuries of Texas maps--text is interesting but proofing the map legends against late-received corrections, many in Spanish and German, is about to make me cross-eyed. I've quit for the night and will pick up a novel soon for a little relaxation.
I thought an empty weekend loomed, but Jordan and Jacob are coming for supper tomorrow; I'm going to dinner with a good friend Saturday night; and a dear friend from Granbury is coming for supper Sunday, so it's shaping up to be a pleasant weekend. I found a recipe for braised chicken that sounds good--white wine, chicken broth and lemon, and you put it in the oven without a lid so it gets crisp and brown rather than soggy and pale. Also think I'll cook a medley of brussel sprouts and cauliflower--two vegetables long out of style but now making a comeback.
I have somehow messed up my computer so that it has no sound and, for some things such as skype, no picture. Tried to watch the Democratic candidates debate tonight and couldn't get a picture. But the skype bothers me more--can't talk to Morgan and her family in Houston. I need one of the technologically smart boys in the family to come fix things. Oh well, they'll be here for Mothers' Day.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weight training, grandchildren

Well, I've had m comeuppance. Every morning (well, I try to make it every morning) I do a series of stretches before my ride on the stationary bike, and for some I use small hand weights. I've known for some time my 2 lb. weights were too light, and I need 5 lb. ones. Tonight Jordan brought Jacob for supper. I walked into the family room and there stood my 10-month-old grandson, holding one of my weights in each hand. (He stands very well, can get to a standing position without pulling himself up, and walks with shaky steps.) That was too much! I've been bested by a toddler! I'm ordering 5 lb. weights immediately!
And as to my uncertainties about me as a grandmother this weekend, Jamie emailed that they were barely to the highway last night when Edie said, "I miss Juju already--do you, Dad?" It made my day, as he knew it would.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Confessions of a grandmother

I live across the street from an elementary school, which can be frustrating at 8:00 a.m. when the parents park across my driveway, stop in the middle of the street to let their children out, and do other foolish and inconsiderate things in their haste to get on with the day. But every year when notices go out about the annual carnival, I say a prayer of thanks that my elementary school carnival days are behind me. So what did I do this weekend? You guessed it--I went to second-grader Maddie's carnival with her, her younger sister, and her daddy.
Melanie, the girls mother, was in California on a girls getaway (much deserved), and Jamie needed someone to watch the girls while he did a sprint triathlon Saturday and again this morning while he biked and ran. So he came and got me, much to my delight. He told me in the car that Edie, the four-year-old, was very excited when she heard I was coming, but Maddie held back. When pressed, she said to her father, "It's kind of lame to walk about the carnival with your grandmother." I knew the day was coming, though maybe not so soon!
It was a good weekend--I went to Maddie's volleyball game (volleyball at that level is NOT an aerobic sport--lots of standing and waiting). We ate out all weekend (though I would have cooked)--Italian, barbecue, Mexican (I came home tonight and had cottage cheese and fresh raspberries for supper).
Saturday was the school carnival, from 3-7 p.m. I paled at the thought of four hours, but we didn't actually get there until 4:30 p.m. Jamie had said it was all outside--another reason for apprehension. I'm not good at hanging out in the sun, even when its only in the 80s. But we spent a good while inside--looking at silent auction gifts, watching while Jamie and Maddie did the cake walk, listening to a wildlife exhibit (really interesting--the speaker had a possum, a vulture,which he said should be the national bird, and a small alligator). Then we went to eat. When I declined anything, Jamie said, "You're no fun." So, in an effort to be fun, I ate a hot dog--and then wished I hadn't. About 6, we went outside to the games--and I opted to sit on a bench, with the book I'd surreptiously stuck in my purse. Two reasons: I don't like walking around on a field, standing while the girls do bouncy houses, etc., and besides, I wanted to spare Maddie the embarrassment. So I was quite content--I'm always content with a book.
Today, we had a lazy Jamie-style day. Just when Jamie got home from his run and ride, the girls were putting on a show for me--Edie dancing with her guitar like a rock star, and Maddie singing from the balcony above (she explained that way Edie would look forward at her and not sideways). I heard they were preparing another show--which delayed our grocery trip--but never saw it and soon they changed out of their costumes. Then we went to lunch and the grocery store (spent two hours there--it's a family tradition for them). We had hyper giggles, followed by the tears that always follow such high jinks--"she bit my finger" and "she stepped on my toe." They finally dropped me off at home at 5:15, and I was glad to be home but reluctant to let go of the weekend, of being with them.
Can I draw significant conclusions from all this trivia? No, except that grandmothering is like everything else--five parts joy to one part frustration. And how do I rate as a grandmother? Sometimes I'm fun, and sometimes I'm a drag. But that's me.
Balance has been a big part of my recent anxiety problem, but I'm glad to report that I walked much more self confidently this weekend, even over the rough and uneven ground between Jamie's house and the school, in the grocery parking lot, up and down curbs. I'm feeling so much better about the world.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tough week

After threatening storms Tuesday night and a mostly gray day yesterday, the sun is out and the world looks bright and new. I decided it did that to reflect my mood. I've had a rough week. Don't know if it's the new medication or the lack of the old, self-administered medication, but I have not felt well--sleepless nights, constant slight feeling of nausea. And completely unrelated, my left hip decided to remind me it was there, going into a spasm Monday and subsiding Tuesday and Wednesday into a dull but pretty strong ache. But last night I slept well, my hip didn't bother me (amazing what aspirin and a hot pad will do), and I awoke hungry, was eager for lunch, and am thinking about that leftover meatloaf and an ear of corn I'll have for supper. I realize the bad days may come again for a while, but I am much encouraged.
In spite of feeling rocky (I am not one of those people who can squeak by on two hours sleep) I've had a busy week--the TCU Texas Book Award banquet Tuesday night (despite those dark dark clouds that could have held hail and tornados but didn't), breakfast with a colleague Wednesday, and lunch with good friends. Last night I had dinner with Jordan, Christian, and Jacob, which is always a delight. Jacob is so happy and so proud of his newfound though shaky walking skills. That was, until he got tired, and then he had a complete meltdown--when his dad set him down on the floor for a minute, he cried like his heart would break, and I had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing. He recovered enough to play "Come and get me" every time Dad approached with pjs in his hands. I told Jordan her family made me feel better.
A friend called last night, just to check in, and in the course of the conversation said, "We haven't talked about the shootings yet." It was as though we have to talk to all those we're close to about our reaction--and maybe we do. But how can you put it into words? How do you even know what you feel? We did agree that it isn't fair to hold the school responsible--they had identified the student and done everything they legally could. Their hands were tied, which in itself is a scary thought. It scares me to think of sending my grandchildren to grade school, let alone a university. Even with the magnitude of the tragedy and a recognition that we should be appropriately marking it, I am tired of seeing the videos of the young shooter and his posed pictures. It's almost as bad as the overdone coverage of the Don Imus affair or Anna Nicole Smith's death. Something has happened to taste in this country, and news coverage doesn't help. Speaking of which, Bill Moyers will have a PBS special Wednesday night detailing how the White House lied to get us into war and how culpable the media is in having gone along with the great deception. Should be interesting, even if it comes as no surprise at this point.
Guess I wandered a bit in this one.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Joy and Sadness

There's joy and sadness tonight. The joy is that Jacob, just shy of ten months, has begun to take those first shaky steps. He's very proud of himself as he totters along. Yesterday he took eight steps. Today I begged Jordan to bring him over for lunch to show me. Bribed her with turkey meatloaf sandwiches--so good. If he's walking that early, I fear she'll have her hands full--or her feet busy--chasing him.
I've been having trouble with anxiety lately, that demon that has haunted me for more than thirty years. Usually, with a mild medication, I have it under control but it's been getting worse. Trying to figure out why is a useless exercise, but it got really bad on the trip to the King Ranch where I should have been relaxed and having the time of my life. Poor Jeannie no doubt got tired of hearing, "Jeannie! Wait! I lost my balance." She was, however, wonderful about it and confessed later that she was worried about me. I worried that my hand would get a tremor and I wouldn't be able to sign books--of course, anticipation is worse than the actual. I signed eighty books or more if not with a flourish at least with a decent handwriting. Friday I went to the doctor and said I didn't seem to be able to control it. Bless him. He said, what I really knew but am never sure others believe, it's chemical--it's not a weakness in me. He prescribed a
24-hour medication and warned against self-medicating with wine, which I know I'd been doing. So I've given that up for all but a smidgen, which he said was okay as long as I wasn't using it to control my symptoms, and I'm feeling much better, even though the medication won't take effect for about two weeks. Haven't given up my walking stick, but I've lost that sense of dread. Sometimes I think I ought to write about this to help the many who suffer the same demons and feel the guilt. It cheered me just to know there was help out there, outside of giving myself stern lectures.
Of course my minor problems pale in the face of the tragedy that is gripping the nation today. The shootings at Virginia Tech are so tragic, so awful that it's hard to wrap your mind around it, at least for me. And yet, like many others, I am carefully watching the news coverage, even while horrified. John and Elizabeth Edwards, who have suffered their own tragedy, sent out a message--and while I'm not necessarily supporting his candidacy--I appreciated his candor. He said that it's hard to feel anything but the grief but he hoped that the families and the Virginia Tech community would know that they have the support of an entire nation. And he added that thought we all have at times, though thankfully not as serious times as this--that he wished that the day could start all over again, a day filled with promise and a future for those that died only a bit later.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Babies and ranches

I am full of news tonight. My seventh grandchild, Kegan David Alter, was born this morning. He weighed 8 lbs. and was 19 inches long. When I saw pictures tonight I thought what a solid looking little boy he was. Actually I cried a bit when I saw the pictures. Of course his father, my son Colin, assures me that he's much cuter than in the pictures--and he has sort of reddish hair. Mom Lisa is doing well and looked terrific in the picture I saw. In one picture, big sister Morgan was not at all interested in her new brother--but then, she's only twenty months old. What can we expect? They'll bring both babies to Fort Worth on Mothers Day for dedicaton at my church, and that will be my first chance to meet Kegan. But I'm attached to him already.
My other news is that I'm just back from visiting the King Ranch and doing a program/signing at the Henrietta King Memorial Center. The children's book I wrote on John Barclay Armstrong was sort of piggy-backed onto a serious adult bio of Armstrong by Chuck Parsons, but we were both featured at a signing at the Memorial Center. There were maybe 150 people present, and I managed to speak briefly (always makes me nervous), saying I had not much to add to what Chuck had said except there were some differences in writing for children. I signed about 80 books--if I ever had a TCU Press author sign that many I'd jump for joy.
But the big part of the trip was the King Ranch itself. My friend Jeannie and I were given a private tour by car (along with Chuck and his wife) of about two hours, going twelve miles around the main house in what was obviously a small part of that huge ranch. But Dusty, our tour guide, lives and breathes King Ranch history. We learned so much that I can't keep it all in my mind, but it was fascinating.
Then we went to the main house to "freshen up." We were given 45 minute for that, and then we met in the salon or something, had a tad of wine, and toured the first floor of the house, hearing the history as we went along--it is 32,000 square feet and has 17 bedrooms. No one lives there now, but it is used for guests like us. We had cocktails and dinner in the pool house--too many of us for the main dining room. The food was wonderful--enchiladas, beans, tacos, rice, and guacamole, with nachos passed beforehand. Then on to the program and signing.
We spent the night at the main house. Jeannie's room wa near the peacocks, and she said they wakened her at 3 a.m. My room was right by a huge grandfather clock that chimed the hour and half hour, but I didn't even hear it until about 5 a.m. In the morning we gathered for breakfast in the formal dining room. White-coated waiters asked what each of us would like--migas, huevos rancheros, omelets, etc. I was the chicken and asked for plain scrambled eggs.
We left reluctantly for the long drive--a bit over 500 miles--home to Fort Worth. But a fun stop was at a French bisto in LaGrange--who would have thought to find a bistro there? Food was delicious.
Jeannie and I arrived back in Fort Worth bone tired but we had memories we'll cherish for a long time. We were treated like VIPs and loved every minute of it.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Easter is a wonderful family holiday. I am fully aware of the easy road to losing the spiritual significance of the greatest day of the year in Christianity, and I'm chagrined that I didn't go to church today. Tried to get it on the radio, and they apparently had technical difficulties. The music is always so wonderful, and I missed that greatly. But I've been having anxiety problems lately and going to church alone is hard for me and would be particularly so on Easter. So I settled down (not really--had a bad morning but no one knew but me) and enjoyed having my two oldest granddaughters. Maddie insisted for a while on being alone out in front alone--I live on a through street--and I was astounded at how nervous that made me. I looked every two seconds, afraid that someone would spirit her away. When my kids were little I didn't fear that, but it's a different world.
At almost 8, Maddie still believes in Santa and the Easter bunny--and I find that really really touching. At Christmas, every time she opened a present, she raised her eyes heavenward and said, "Thank you, Santa," which made me think she had a little theological confusion.
Last night, she wrote a note to the Easter bunny, with a place for him to check that he'd read it. (Jamie went to bed without writing a note, but I was pleased that he pulled himself up before the girls awoke and checked the box on the note that he'd read it and wrote a reply note.) Maddie brought it to me: "See, the Easter bunny was here." We convinced her that he had asked Mommy and Daddy to hide the eggs so we could wait for Aunt Jordan and Uncle Christian(when I said maybe he was coming back, she asked skeptically, "Why would the bunny go to the same house twice? He has a lot of houses to visit!). So the girls stayed in "their" room a little before noon, while the adults hid eggs, and then we had a frantic egg hunt. Followed by a big dinner with Uncle Charles, my longtime friend Mary Lu, and my neighbor Sue, whose children were with their father and were sorely missed by Maddie and Edie. Jacob charmed everyone. The girls want to carry him everywhere and love on him all the time, till I'm afraid he'll cry out in frustration, but he remains ever cheerful and flirts with everyone. It was a happy Easter.
And, no, I haven't forgotten the real meaning of the day.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Deletion, seders, Easter and cold weather

Here's a first: last night I came home from church and wrote a post. I was in a good mood and thought once I logged on the words would come. What came was dull drivel, but I forged on and posted it. This morning I thought about it--in the grocery store of all places!--and decided to delete it, which I did. In its entirety. For those few of you who might have read it, apologies.
But lots more interesting things are going on than I seemed to have on my mind last night.
For one thing I was at church for the annual Maundy Thursday supper, which this year we made into a seder-like supper. (Not being Jews, we could not in good faith do a real seder--and besides they take about four hours, and we had to cram everything into 45 minutes!). But we served food that would be traditional at a seder--roast brisket, oven roasted potatoes, green beans, and salad. No bread, no croutons. Matzoh on the table, and macaroons for dessert. A plate on each table held the traditional things of the seder plate--bitter root (horseradish), hard-boiled egg, salt water, parsley, charoset, and a bone. A minister explained the meaning of the things on the plate and the parts of the seder, including leaving the door open for Elijah.
Oh those bones! I'm chair of fellowship at the church so the seder was my responsbility but I delegated to good friends Dick and Kristi Hoban who did a terrific job of organizing. My responsibility: charoset and bones. Charoset (spelled a variety of ways but I always thought pronounced haroses) is a mixture of ground nuts, diced apple, sweet red wine (yes, Mogen David), and cinnamon. Unfortunately, I made enough for the entire tribe of Israel, and we threw bunches away. The bones were worse--every seder I've ever been to had a small clean and dry bone on the plate. So I called Central Market, ordered 12 shank bones (we figured on that many tables). When I picked them up, they were huge bones from legs of lamb, with red raw meat still clinging to them. I brought them home, roasted them, cleaned off what meat I could (I probably could have made lamb stew!), and roasted them again. They still looked awful, and Jeffrey, the Hobans' 14-year-old son, thought they were dinner. "Is the church having financial trouble?" he asked. We had lots of wonderful volunteer help in cleaning up, and I'd call the evening a success.
My ex-husband is Jewish, and the evening brought back many funny memories of seders--like the half-Jewish man who came to our house one year and said, "I've never been to a seder before. I have the feeling I still haven't been to one." And then there was the night my brother pointed out the cat was eating the gefilte fish I'd carefully laid out on serving plates. Jamie used to love gefilte fish, so one year recently I got some for him. He tasted it, looked at me, and said, "It doesn't taste like it did when I was a kid."
At Central Market, I laughed at myself. I was buying bones for a seder and ham for Easter, surely a contradiction in terms. But today it's all about Easter. I've boiled two dozen eggs--one for dyeing and one for deviling, made a marinated veggie salad and am trying to soften butter to make mustard butter. Tomorrow I'll make southwestern twice-baked potatoes, a fruit dessert that sounds so easy it's sinful, and the deviled eggs (always sounds like a pain to me to devil a dozen eggs!). The Frisco Alters will come in the afternoon, and I expect the girls to dye eggs.
And Easter Day, though it makes me a bit sad, I'll miss church. Going to church alone has been hard for me lately, and I particularly don't want to do it on Easter. Between that and having family here and preparing a big meal, I'm just not going to try. I'll listen on the radio, particularly when our church choir does the "Hallelujah Chorus." We'll have nine adults, two children, and Jacob, who will crow his way through dinner, which is set for noon.
It's going to be a cold Easter. I was used to that in my childhood in Chicago--I can remember having frilly, summery Easter gowns and having to wear my winter coat over them. But not in Texas ! It is however supposed to come close to freezing tomorrow night, with the possibility of snow flakes. I called a neighbor to ask him to bring in my basil--it was drooping, and I decided it did not like the cold. He wasn't home, and I struggled it inside myself, along with the hanging basket of impatiens--don't know that I can get that back up myself on Sunday. We'll hunt eggs inside, but I had thought to send the girls and one adult to the schoolyard to play while the Easter bunny hid the eggs--may not work.
I hope the blessings and messge of love of Easter reach everyone, those who believe in it and those who don't. The love is still there.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Storms, Stress and Hanging Out

I just walked outside, and the sky has that luminous sort-of-yellow look it gets after a storm has passed. There was no storm--just a few big drops of rain and distant thunder that caused me to turn off the computer for a while. But now, while it should be twilight, the light is very different. When the first hint of a storm came, Jordan, Jacob and I were in the family room and suddenly my dog, Scooby, began jumping at the door, frantic to get in. It was my first hint. I told Jordan it was going to storm, and she said to let him in, but I hesitate to do that with Jacob. Scoob is the world's sweetest dog and would never hurt anyone (except maybe if he caught a squirrel or that darn black cat next door), but he's over-enthusiastic. At almost eight, he thinks he's still a pup (he's an Australian shepherd and they're noted for being "lively" to say the least) and bulls his way through life until he settles down at my feet in the evenings. So Jordan went home to escape the rain, and I brought Scooby in, much to his relief. He's terrified of storms.
Jordan and Jacob had come over because they'd been home all day and were bored and wanted to "hang out," something Jordan has pointed out I do not do gracefully. I often bow out of invitations to her in-laws because you go for a two o'clock dinner and it's served at five and meantime you hang out--too many things in this world that I want to do. I don't sit and make small talk for three hours--at least not easily. But I hang out with Jacob--he's standing by himself, and he crows all the time. When that baby found his voice, he really found it bigtime. I fixed an impromptu supper of a dab each of leftover pasta from a restaurant dinner last night and a large salad with blue cheese dressing. My favorite new recipe: rub a garlic clove over the wooden salad bowl, then rub in salt and dry mustard. Put in a generous amount of blue cheese and a Tbsp. of vinegar. Mash and blend. Then add two Tbsp. olive oil and whip it up. Put in the greens and toss--you don't need croutons, tomatoes, onions, anything else. If you want a bigger salad, just increase the amounts but keep it two oil to one vinegar.
A lesson in stress reduction: today I found myself getting really anxious at work, to the point that I got all hot and could feel that my motor was running too fast. It was because lots of things landed on my desk, and I had one big project I wanted to get to and never did. Jordan lectured me tonight on not needing to get everything done at once. She says I gave her that particular flaw too, and we both need to get over it. I did bring the big project home tonight and got almost all of it done--some has mysteriously disappeared, so I couldn't go any farther. But none of it was as big a deal as I made it, and I'll go to work more relaxed tomorrow.
Meantime I had a wonderful lunch with my boss, June, and my good friend Jeannie, to thank Jeannie for hosting a TCU Press party at her fabulous old house. We went to an upscale innovative Mexican restaurant--no enchiladas. I had carpaccio and a blue cheese salad (twice in one day!). Then Jeannie took me to pick up my car at the dealership where it had some repair work. She knew I was feeling stressed and, bless her, went in with me, stayed until I got my car and then drove around to her car to get my stuff out of it.
Just as we were doing that, my cell phone rang. It was Lisa from the King Ranch--where we're going next week and most excited about staying at the main ranch house. She said a man whose name I didn't recognize at all had called and said he was an old friend of mine and I'd invited him to dinner at the ranch. I assured her I would never invite anyone to someone else's dinner party without asking and besides I had no idea who he was. Puzzling and kind of scary.
All in all it's been quite a day. But storms, stress, and all, I feel a curious kind of calm tonight. So now I'm going to finish that mystery I'm reading, which will probably destroy my calm but what fun!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Gift of a Book

Our rain is gone and though it was chilly this morning it was a marvelous day. I went to church with a friend and watched all the children parade in waving their palms. Then we had lunch, and when I got home about two I found that my neighbor had returned a catalog I'd loaned her and with it left a copy of Calvin Trillin's new book, About Alice. It was a lovely surprise. I hadn't known what I wanted to do this afternoon, so I immediately sat down and read the book--it's only 78 pages, smaller than the usual size, with lots of leading (or space) between the lines--so it's an easy hour, hour and a half read. But as I'd read it's an absolutely charming book--Trillin adored his wife and makes the reader adore her. She was charming, predictable but in an offbeat way, and I think that the line I liked best had to do with children: it was something about if they're the center of your life, that's what it's all about. Amen!
A busy week looms. My "to do" list for tomorrow is full--and then taking the car in, going to the podiatrist, grocery shopping at least twice, a semi-business lunch. Thursday night our church is having its traditional Maundy Thursday supper, only they'll have the foods of a seder and explain the traditions to those gathered. As Fellowship Chair, I responsible, though I have enthusiastic co-chairs--still I have to get shank bones, makes haroseth, and bring macaroons. Then Friday and Saturday I'll cook for Easter--it's not really that much, but I like to get a head start. Easter morning I'll go to mid-morning church and come home to have an egg hunt with my oldest granddaughters, followed by lunch with about nine of us. I thought I'd get a head start tonight and bake the sweet potato biscuits I read about. Total failure--they came out like flat cookies. The recipe called for baking mix, and I looked at the Bisquick I'd used--two years out of date. I tasted one of the flat cookies and decided it wasn't worth the trouble. I'll get Hungry Jack biscuits. I seem to keep learning that out of date lesson over and over again, from medications to cooking supplies. I know half or more of the spices in my cabinet are old and stale and useless.