Sunday, July 29, 2007

Church attendance, writing, babies

Well, I didn't go to church again today and then spent much of the day in angst over it. I think I don't go because I don't like to go alone. I truly enjoy the service--the music in my church is rich and wonderful, the quiet moments of prayer are soothing, and the sermons often challenge me to new ways of thinking about my life. This morning I used the excuse (to myself) that I was enthusiastic about writing a piece I'd been putting off for a long time--and I did write it, plus polished up a newspaper column and sent it off. And I have an idea for a new column--just wish I knew where to go with it. But all of that could have been done this afternoon. My resolve is to get myself in gear and go to church next week--oh, not next week. All the kids will be here, and I'll be fixing a huge breakfast. But the next week for sure. And I think the following week Jordan and I are off to Houston for Morgan's second b'day.
Tonight Jordan and I took Jacob to Hoffbrau because I had a two-for-one thing for my birthday and it expired today. Jacob was not having a good day--his teeth hurt him and he hadn't napped. Halfway through dinner he decided he wasn't sitting in that high chair any longer without screaming. Jordan had her dinner put in a "to-go" box and left me to eat in solitary splendor. I soon joined her, and she explained that she knew he was about to have a meltdown. He had capped it all by throwing his sippee cup on the table where it spilled her glass of wine all over everything. For Jordan, that was the final straw. I'm still not sure which one was having the meltdown--mother or baby or maybe both--but I sympathize with her. We ran by Barnes & Noble to pick up something she wanted and then came home where she finished her dinner and Jacob turned positively cheerful, favoring me with his silliest grins. I don't remember teething or screaming in restaurants or any of those things with mine, but my kids tell me I have a selective memory. And I don't think we took them to restaurants until they were seven or eight. It's a new worled of raising children.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer evenings, personalities, and Scotland, Bonny Scotland

In late July, the evening feels like April at its best--a lovely cool breeze. I was reading on the porch, looking up from my book occasionally just to enjoy the evening, and one time I looked up and there was a rain so soft I couldn't hear it at first but saw the streets were wet. We have, knock on wood, been blessed with an easy summer so far.
Last night my neighbor and I sat on the porch, sipping wine and madly scratching our ankles in spite of Off. She, some 30 years younger than I, said she thought there was a wider world out there for her than Fort Worth. I presume she meant after her children, about eight and eleven, are grown and on their own, but it made me think of the differences in our personalities. She drives to Dallas every day to work on the 38th floor of a downtown office building. She travels cheerfully and with anticipation on business. I would never drive to Dallas, and I marvel at people who work high in those building--I hate elevators and won't go in them alone. And I've lived in Fort Worth just over 40 years and only once thought of leaving--when I got the notion I wanted to live in Santa Fe. Of course, I soon realized that I had such a solid network of friends and such an established way of life here that I gave up that notion. And besides, more than anything else, I want to be close to my children and grandchildren. It makes me feel dull or lacking in adventure or something to compare myself with Sue, but then, I'm so very happy where I am. And it's great that Sue and I can be good friends, in spite of the differences in our ages and outlooks.
But speaking of travel, Jeannie and I decided to go to Scotland in the spring. We've talked of this for several years, but it seemed when one of us was ready to go, the other wasn't. Mostly me. But that's where my search for the sense of wonder is leading me. And when I said to her today that I was ready to go, she said great, she's ready to go anytime. And told the waiter at lunch we were going this afternoon, so he offered us Scotch with our lunch. But I laughed. To me, deciding and committing to go to Scotland is a really really big thing. To Jeannie, it's another fun trip to look forward to. I want to spend the winter studying--figuring out where we'll go. The Highlands, of course, to look for my MacBain ancestors. I asked if I could wear a badge that says, "My maiden name was MacBain," and Jeannie said no, but I could introduce myself as Judy MacBain. A name and identity I left a long time ago--the thought was strange.
The TCU provost is a native Scot and once expressed a willingness to help us plan a trip, if we'd read the reading list he laid out. I intend to do that--and to call him as soon as he gets back from Scotland.
Yeah, not being a traveler, I'm a bit nervous about it. But I also think I'll absolultely love it. And Jeannie, a world traveler, once a flight attendant, and long married to an American pilot, is a confident traveler who gives me confidence, clues me in on what to do. We'll have a wonderful time, and I'm mostly excited.
A grandchild story: after I spent the weekend in Frisco, four-year-old Edie apparently missed me. Her mom called Monday night and said, "Edie's having a bad day, and she wants her Juju. Can you talk to her?" I said of course, but when she got on the phone she was sobbing so hard I couldn't understand her. Mel said, "She wants you to come home." Talk about breaking my heart!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Today, I am officially 69 years old. It's not, to me, a significant birthday. I have friends a few years younger who moaned and carried on about turning 60, which struck me as nothing. And it occurred to me today that my mother was 69 when my first child was born. She used to tell me how sad it made her to realize she would not live to see my children grown. But she lived until the oldest, Colin, was eighteen, and the youngest, Jordan, twelve--Jordan was her special baby. But I find at this birthday, even while enjoying the present--more about that in a minute--my thoughts are a year ahead, to when I turn 70. I think, for me, the significance of 69 is that it's almost 70, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. But reading the morning paper this evening I learned that India has just elected a 72-year-old as its first woman president. Seventy is the new--what? Not even fifty, maybe.
Seventy has always sounded old to me, but I am comforted by several things. My brother, now 75, says he never expected to live this long and he couldn't be more delighted--how wonderful, compared to the people who drag through "the golden years." I intend to follow that example. And Jordan chose a card for Jacob to give me that said, "You're not a 'Grandma' Grandma!" I love it! I never wanted to be that kind of a grandma. And I am comforted by a host of younger friends who proclaim disbelief that I am nearly seventy. Perhaps most of all, I am comforted by the fact that I feel better and more confident than at any other time of my life. Okay, part of that's medication, but part of it I'm sure is a life thoroughly enjoyed.
As for that seventieth birthday . . . I had begun telling some of my children that I wanted a really big party, a kind of "Look at me, world, I'm 70!" Megan called several days ago to say how sorry she was they couldn't come up and said, "Next year in Santa Fe." She claims I once said I wanted to spend my 70th b'day in Santa Fe, which wouldn't be all bad and I probably did say that, but I told her I was thinking about a party. Meg is nothing if not flexible--she called this morning and said she and her siblings had some ideas but they weren't telling me. Jamie had said about the same thing: "Your children are talking."
So what did I do for the 69th? Jordan, Jacob and I went to stay overnight with the Frisco Alters. Last night we had a wonderful dinner--Jamie did steaks and corn on the grill, and we had baked potatoes and salad--way too much food (though I did get a wonderful bite of cold steak this morning). We debated everything from family affairs to theology, and when the evening turned pleasant and cool, we drank wine on the newly re-done and most comfortable patio, while four-year-old Edie entertained us by demanding to "repair" all the furniture.
This morning we "hung out"--Jordan and Jamie went to his spin class, Mel took the girls to the tennis court, and they almost met each other coming and going--while Maddie and I got Jacob down for a nap. He slept so long it was almost 1 before we went to lunch and 2;30 before we finished. I didn't mean to eat dessert but the waiter brought me bread pudding as a birthday gift, and it was too good to pass up. Jordan and I headed back to Fort Worth about 4, and by 5:30 we were at Joe T.'s waiting for one of Chirstian's tables. It was busy, so we didn't really get much of a visit with him, and we weren't hungry--but somehow we managed to eat.
Jordan said, "isn't that how you wanted to spend your birthday--hanging out with your grandchildren?" And of course it was. I wished for the others, but I loved the ones I was with. Have you ever seen a one-year-old get a case of the uncontrollable giggles? And you can imagine what that did to his mother and grandmother! It was a lovely weekend.
Now I'm wondering if I could get a big party AND a trip to Santa Fe--or am I pushing my luck?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Birds and fish

My new bird feeder is wonderful! I can stand at the kitchen window and watch forever. The wrens line up on the fence, waiting their turn. If one flies at a wren who's feeding, a fight ensues. They are scrappy little birds. I frequently see a dove on the fence, and tonight I saw a cardinal. Jay, my neighbor, greased the pole to his feeder, but I watched a squirrel slide down it the other day and then determinedly claw his way back up. I have not yet seen a squirrel on my feeder, which hangs from a tree, but Jay said not to brag too soon--and he's probably right. But still, the little narrow passageway between our two houses is filled with birds and chirping, and it's just great. When I went out to refill the feeder tonight, I gave Scooby a stern lecture that it's alright for him to chase squirrels, but he must not chase birds.
I haven't seen any hummingbirds on the feeder that I put on the front porch. I also got one for Susan, next door, and Jay hung it outside their back door, in that narrow passageway, hoping that maybe by the time Susan comes home from a trip next week there would be birds. But so far no luck. The feeders are glass, with red flowers for the birds to feed through--so much prettier than those gaudy plastic things. Unfortunately Jeannie tells me that the birds like those plastic ones much better--she has a pretty one and a plastic one--and you can guess which one the birds go to.
Kind of an off day. I had a difficult situation at the office and though I was fairly confident of the way I handled it, it left me unsettled. Maybe my blue mood was aggravated by a falling barometer or whatever, but rain threatened all afternoon. We got barely a sprinkle though. But tonight I fixed myself a filet of Dover sole, sauteed sort of piccata-style, fresh broccoli with hollandaise--I used to make great hollandaise and am puzzled about why it curdles now--and a bowl of fresh raspberries. My mood is now much better. I've finished next week's reading assignment for my class and am making real progress on the manuscript I brought home. So tomorrow I can go to visit the Frisco Alters with a clear conscience--and take one of those junk mysteries I like. Jordan, Jacob and I will go over in the early afternoon and come back about the same time Sunday. I'm looking forward to sitting on the newly redone patio in the newly redone backyard--hope the weather cooperates.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

HP7 and the sense of wonder

Having said that I've found Harry Potter in too many places, sure enough this morning it was the topic of our senior minister's weekly online newsletter. He was arguing against a columnist who asked the buzz question, "Who dies in HP7" (see? I've learned the shorthand in spite of myself) with one word--"God." Tim argued that, on the contrary, the Harry Potter books are very spiritual, if not in traditional terms of any major religion. They reflect mankind's craving for assurance of something larger outside ourselves, some higher power or being. "The world is starving for wonder," Tim wrote, and I stopped dead in my tracks. We hear that all about us--from sermons in church to corny email chains on recapturing the wonder of childhood and innocence.
For me, personally, the question made me think about what I'm writing or trying to write. There's little sense of wonder in cozy mysteries, which I keep trying to write, or even in biographies of famous people, meant for youngsters to read. Sometimes there may be wonder in a book colum, as in "I wonder why THAT ever got published!" or there's wonder in gossip, "Wonder what ever happened to so and so . . . ." But of course that's not the same thing. But I began to think about how that might apply to me. I have a friend who is always having epiphanies, those little life-changing moments. In truth, I think any of us have them only rarely--but maybe this was one for me. Maybe it was a message about my writing.
Yesterday I returned a reader's report to an author, with suggestions for rewriting. By late afternoon, he was emailing me with questions about the rewrite--should he have this character do this or that, should this happen that way. Reluctantly I put him in touch with the reader, but I also told him that I am a great believer in letting things simmer on the back burner of your brain. So that's what I'm going to do with this thought about wonder and writing--let is simmer while I clear out all the ordinary writing chores on my desk.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

HP7, fireplaces, and technology

Okay. I am bored to tears with Harry Potter. This morning I was reading Shelf Awareness, an online daily column for booksellers, and it was almost all devoted to Harry Potter, which is now familiarly called HP7. Being slow, it took me a moment to catch on to that one. And Harry Potter replaced the book section in Sunday's paper, has dominated the lifestyle section every day for two weeks, and is simply everywhere you turn. I'm not a Harry Potter fan, never will be, so my resentment is even greater. But one item on Shelf Awareness was sort of the final straw: next month visitors to the Iowa State Fair can see a lifesize HP made out of butter and kept in the refrigerated case in the dairy exhibit, right next to the cow made of butter. What desperate mind linked butter, dairy exhibits, and Harry Potter? As an author, I am pleased for J.K. Rowling's success and not envious, though I'd like 1/24th as much siccess or even less. But I think the world, particulary media, has taken her brilliant idea and gone mad with it.
Independent booksellers aren't too happy with the way marketing is being handled either, but that's another story. One very good thing has come of HP: more kids are reading. I talked recently with Rick Riordan, who has his own highly successful fantasy series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, amd he freely admits that he is happily riding on Rowling's coattails.
Jeannie picked out a fireplace screen for me--surely I've mentioned Jacob's proclivity for eating the gravel out of the fireplace. I pointed out that he would pull a screen over on himself, and his mother was rather blase about that--it would hurt him and he wouldn't do it again, she said, but he wouldn't be choking on asbestos gravel. Jay, next door, pointed out a way to attach the screen to the ring holder for the damper chain. So Jeannie came by with the screen, and it looks great in the living room--she, Jamie, and I stood there and appraised it. The more I survey the room, though, the more Victorian it looks to me--all cluttered with pictures, statuettes (okay, they're awards won and I won't hide them!), and various geegaws. The fireplace screen is the final touch. No more! From now on, I'm simplifying (famous last words!).
My internet problems were solved today by the technician who came to make a housecall. After I worried about shorts, etc., it seems I had plugged my new phone into the DSL line instead of the phone line, thereby diluting the signal. Sorry, but I can't get more technical than that. Thanks, though, to Mike Long for responding to my troubles with indexing by pointing out that InDesign has a function that automatically corrects the index--now, if I only could get out designers to change to InDesign.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Computer troubles, index problems--and good friends

I've decided that computers are my enemy. I'm sure it's only a temporary decision, but wow! Sunday morning, my computer had turned itself off and wouldn't turn back on. I finally babied, coaxed, and did everything I knew--and it booted, albeit with a message that my battery was low and I should plug it immediately into a power source. Of course it stays plugged in, so that made no sense. Then my internet kept dropping off, coming back on mysteriously. My son-in-law Brandon, the computer guru, gave me a vague, "I don't know what's wrong. Don't worry as long as it's working." Well, the internet went down again today, then up, then down--I ran diagnostics on it, and kept getting told it's a network problem. Of course calls to my service provider involve lengthy stays on the phone that make me long for a speaker phone at home like I have at work--30 minutes last night. But tonight I got a helpful man who spoke clear good English and offered to call me back rather than make me wait. He did, there's a short in my wiring--the good news is I have "inside line insurance"--and a repairman will be out tomorrow. It's sort of hard to take an online course when you're internet connection keeps dropping out.
To add to my list of non-serious complaints, I spent the weekend checking final proofs of a book, which wouldn't have been a bad chore, except that the pages re-flowed and threw the index all off. So I had to check lots of index entries individually. Took me all weekend, and as I worked I thought about Carol, the indexer, who was off for some "R&R" at a cabin somewhere, and Melinda, our production manager, who was partying in San Marcos. I rained unpleasant thoughts on their heads.
But there were bright spots that proved to me that friends always save the day. Saturday night Jeannie and I went to the Star, the restaurant where I used to work, to celebrate Betty's birthday (she and her husband own it). About ten of us gathered around the back table and had a jolly time. It was good to eat that food again. But I missed some of the familiar faces from when I was there. The restaurant is much busier these days and I was not sorry I'm no longer helping out.
Sunday night my neighbors and Jordan and Jacob came for supper. I had made a large batch of crockpot barbecue--an experiment which came out well--and some homemade "northern-style" beans. I've been lazy lately, buying Bush's Original because they taste so good. But these, with bacon and molasses in them, reminded me how good they are when you make them from scratch. My neighbor Jay, whose wife is out of town, made a double fudge chocolate cake with Dove bars melted in the middle of it--talk about rich! We had a good jolly time, and Jacob was sure we'd all gathered for his amusement and to entertain him--we did. Sue's son, Hunter, at seven, was cute with him and so thrilled that he thought Jacob was glad to see him.
As always, life is good.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Front porches and porch parties

There was a column in the newspaper this morning about porch parties--it mentioned two or three U. S. presidents who liked their porches, then some well-known society figures in Fort Worth--and then my front porch. It came about because a friend who does marketing for the newspaper commented on my porch, and when I said I often had parties, large and small there, she said, "That's a good story--porch parties. Tell . . . "and she named a mutual friend who is a columnist. As it happened I was having breakfast with the columnist the next morning and did mention it, but she brushed it off, saying, 'I don't get to do that kind of story any more." But just before we parted to go our ways to work, she asked me some questions about my porch . . . and then there came a whole column on porch parties, all of them porches in sheltered back yards, except mine which is a partially roofed front porch.
Mine is an old house--built in 1922, in the days before pools and patios in fenced back yards walled neighbors off from each other. People sat on their porches of an evening, and neighbors taking a stroll often stopped to visit. It was one of the points I made that showed up in the column. But I thought about it again tonight. We had a rainy day--after a series of terribly humid hot days--and the rain must have brought a breeze, because it was lovely on the porch. I took a book, a bit of wine, and went out to enjoy it. Pretty soon my neighbor to the east came by, walking her dog, and came up to visit. Then her children joined her. They were on their way to visit friends, and we chatted a bit. They left, and I went back to the book--but not for long. My neighbor from the other side came up carrying a beer--his wife is out of town and he was at loose ends. So we sat and had a lovely visit. I promised to call him if I really do cook the pot of barbecue I intend to this weekend. It was after eight when I went inside to get to work, but when I did it was a nice, happy feeling.
The thing about front porches is that they give you a sense of community. I would not know either of these neighbors except to wave if it weren't for my front porch where I sit so often. And yes, I do give dinner parties, large and small, whenever the weather's good enough Sometimes I've had people for a porch dinner in December, and when a cool breeze bloows in the summer--aided by the ceilng fan the kids gave me--it's a wonderful place to be. My neighborhood has lots of huge old trees, and sitting there I feel like I'm in a world of green. Sometimes, alone, it's hard to concentrate on my book, because I want to look around at the trees and enjoy the sight.
Yeah, I didn't get a lot done tonight. But I'm reading Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches for the online class--and I'd forgotten how witty Alcott is.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Random thoughts on birthdays and mysteries

I've been trying to read a Tami Hoag mystery. I read one before and thought I liked it, but I'm about to give up on this one--something I never do with books. I just don't like the people. It's the racehorse crowd in Florida, and they're smarmy. And the heroine is so ful of angst I tire of reading her inner thoughts--talk about self-hate! I may flip through to make sure the missing girl, apparently kidnapped, is found alive, but then I'm done. Okay, I already did flip to the end, and the heroine has suddenly softened and decided she and the world are both worthwhile. I don't think I have the patience to make that journey with her. When my neighbor came over the other night and noticed the book, he said something that made me think he reads Tami Hoag. So I'm giving it to him. My time will be better spent reading Louisa May Alcott for the online class--I'd forgotten how wry Alcott can be. Meantime I'm about to undertake a new line of research--not really talking about it yet, but it has to do with Scottish settlement in Texas, and Ill see where, if anywhere, it takes me.
All day today I kept thinking it was my birthday, which it's not. But I had plans to go to dinner with Betty and Jeannie to celebrates our mutual birthdays, so I felt special. And then I came home and found a b'day card apparently dropped in the mailbox by a friend who was on her way out of town. So I think I've begun celebrating over a week early. We had a lovely evening tonight--wine, cheese, and presents at my house, followed by dinner at a new restaurant that's been serving lunch for a couple of months but only opened for dinner tonight. Nice menu, good food, good service--just fun to explore.
This morning was one of those mornings when I couldn't decide what to wear. Finally ended up in a turquoise outfit that taught me a lesson when I bought it--much as I love Coldwater Creek clothes, I can't buy pants without trying them on. These are--surprise!--way too big and baggy. I topped the outfit with a sheer, brightly flowered, ruffle blouse and added a turquoise necklace. All day long, people said what pretty colors I was wearing and some even said how pretty I looked--but you know what, no one said, "Your pants are too big!" Lesson learned.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Back in school

Well, I'm back in school again. I've signed up for an online graduate course in Women Writing in the U.S. that has a definite medical bent--so it interests me for the medical angle and the literature angle. I also signed up, as a guest observer, because I wanted to see how online or distance teaching works, and it's fascinating though a bit confusing. Requirements are that you make three original posts to the bulletin board and one reply, or something like that, (substitutes for participation in class discussion) and you get points for each one. Papers are submitted online, and everything is independent. The class never meets.
The course also forces me to put aside my mysteries and read serious literature. I never paid much attention to Henry James in graduate school--can't remember if I even had a class that included him. But now I've read Daisy Miller (sorry, but I still find James ponderous) and I'm about to tackle the short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All this, of course, has a strong feminist twist to it, but the articles about attitudes toward women and health in the 19th century were fascinating. And this afternoon I found myself really exhilarated by the new stuff I was reading, the new information I was gaining.
In truth, I came home today thinking I didn't have much on my plate--but then, with the course and a topic I thought of independently that I want to investigate--too soon to talk about it--I had a busy afternoon. So the truth comes home to me once more--I need to have projects to keep my busy--and happy. I'd like it, of course, if they were all paying projects, but if not, as long as they engage me intellectually, I'm content.
My neighbors, Jay and Susan, brought over a bottle of wine last night along with a bird feeder, a garbage can full of seed, and a measuring scoop. They know how much I enjoy the birds at their feeder--okay, I once semi-complained because it went empty when they were out of town, and I offered to fill it because the birds quit coming. Anyway, they wanted me to have one outside my kitchen window. I quick called Jim who does my yard, but he came today, mowed, and forgot about the feeder! I called and whined. My next project is going to be to learn to recognize more than robins, cardinals, and dove. I may also hang a hummingbird feeder on the porch.
Meantime, while Jay and Susan were here Jordan and Jacob arrived for dinner, and we all had a jolly happy hour, with Jacob clearly the center of attention. Then Jacob got hungry, and all bets were off.
Life is good.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Art and Entertainment

A friend sent me a copy of the commencement speech given by Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, at Stanford University this June. Gioia's basic point had to do with the distinction between entertainment and art--and, of course, the importance of art. Claiming that almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, Gioia said entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure--humor, thrills, emotional titllation, or even the "odd delight of being vicariously terrified." Saying that art challenges us to grow and learn, Gioia suggested entertainment exploits and manipulates who we are.
Somehow it made me think of mysteries--doesn't everything these days? But I'm reading Harlan Coben's Promise Me, a real page turner. I'm glad every time I get a chance to go back to it, and I'm grateful it's a thick book that I won't finish too quickly. But even before I read Gioia's distinction, I was aware that Coben's book is a surface read. It's full of violence and improbable characters--a sports and entertainment agents who's also an investigator and darn good at fighting, a rich boy turned master of ALL the martial arts after years of study, a pair of mob-connected twins whose methods of torture are too gruesome to repeat. And there's coincidence at every turn. But not a lot of character development.
Some may wonder at making the case that mystery can be art, but in masterful hands it can. Some of the best English mysteries are art, from Sherlock Holmes, to Agatha Christie and P. D. James, and so are some from the American masters, from Edgar Allan Poe tp Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett and right on up to those of today--Deborah Crombie, Tony Hillerman, Loren Estleman. They write of complex believable characters who act out of deep and complex motivation rather than on instinct from single-cause motives such as jealousy, revenge, and so on. They don't shock with gratuitous violence nor titillate with unbelievable plots. The mysteries could happen in real life, to you and me, and that makes them compelling.
So where do I fit in to this art of writing mysteries? A bit above the titillating entertainment, I hope, but nowhere near the masters. I sometimes worry that my story is surface, that my characters have no depth, though I've worked hard to mold them as believable individuals, not stereotypes. And maybe that's part of art--it makes you keep trying to be better.
That makes me think of mystery writer Rick Riordan who now has a children's series that is the latest fantasy rage (next to Harry Potter): Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Riordan is also the author of the Tres Navarre mystery series--he's written eight books, I think, plans another two and then says essentially that Navarre's story will be told. He's walking away from the series, while he's still enthusiastic about it and before it gets stale. Maybe that's a bit of art--knowing when to quit.
Too philosophical--I'm going to go finish that Harlan Coben novel. And my hat's off to him for the success he's built, step by careful step.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Weekend Away--Working

I've just had one of those weekends that make me realize what an interesting life I lead. Saturday night I stood on a large brick patio in a beautifully landscaped backyard in Albany, Texas, and thought, "Who would believe I'm here, having a drink with all these ranch people I've never met before." Well, I knew a few of them but not a lot. Jeannie and I had gone to Albany for a book signing, and I spent three hours at the Lynch Line, a small but charming bookstore where I sold 12 books and signed another 84 for future use. The book is John Barclay Armstrong, Texas Ranger, and also present for some of the signing--and to sign all those 84 books--were John Barclay Armstrong III (great-grandson) and JBA IV (great-great grandson, age ten, who diligently signed the books alongside his father). The publisher, my friend Rue Judd of Bright Sky Books, had arranged it all. Jeannie spent the signing time touring the world-famous Old Jail Art Gallery and Museum and then going to an organ concert at the gem of a small Presbyterian church they have in Albany (I envied her that particularly). Before the signing, we'd done some serious Christmas shopping. Albany has lovely stores, fun to browse in, particularly stores with kitchen stuff.
Albany may be small, but it's a picturesque town--and not all Texas small towns fit that category. Whereas many have boarded-up storefronts and rundown homes, Albany is full of neatly kept, attractive homes--some quite sizeable--and tastefully redone buildings on the square. I'm sure we missed a lot of it, like the place that's supposed to have the best meringue pies ever (something Hico residents would debate!).
From the signing, we went by our borrowed quarters--the home of Rue's neighbors who were out of town--changed into jeans, and went to Rue's for the patio cocktail hour. Then off to the courthouse lawn for beans & barbecue. We ran into the former chancellor of TCU and his wife, for whom Jeannie had worked and both of whom I had always liked a lot. Hugs and greetings of surprise were exchanged--small world, although we knew that they have a home near Albany. Then we were off to Fandangle, the outdoor pageant detailing the history of Fort Griffin and really all of West Texas. The pageant was closing its 69th season last night, and it's amazing that this tiny town--pop. 1,961--can gather the enormous cast and elaborate staging (including a train and a herd of Longhorns) that it does every year. And the show changes every year, so that you can't say, "Been there, done that." We want to go back next year--and I'm glad I have another book in the works with Rue. Got to bed at 12:30, bone-tired--way past my bedtime.
This morning we were at Rue's house by a little after 7:30, for a quiet, leisurely and delicious breakfast on the patio, and then home to Fort Worth by 11 a.m.
Rue and I did do a little "shop talking" during the weekend, and I did a quick inventory check at the bookstore to see what TCU Press titles they had and which ones they should have, so it was a true combination of work and pleasure--and that, I guess, is the story of my life.
We had wonderful weather for the trip, though we could see creeks and rivers--the Brazos particularly--out of their banks and in places, side or access roads under water. The rain held off and we sailed home under blue skies on an empty highway. But now, early afternoon, it's thundering again.
As always I'm glad to be home. I always am in a state of anxiety as I begin a trip, even a short one, and then come home feeling exhilarated--which is exactly what happened this time. Jeannie is a great traveling companion, and I always enjoy trips with her. As I said to her, we've had some interesting experiences--Albany, King Ranch, etc. But my trip to San Angelo for the Keltons' anniversary is apparently off--Fran's knee is not up to another long drive. Maybe one trip, even short, is all I need in a week, but already I'm wondering how to fill the holiday. Then again, knowing how my life goes, I'll find something.
Now to work. I ran by the office this morning after I got home and picked up a file I need to work on. But I do have that mystery to finish. And Jordan and Christian are coming for supper.