Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cooking and cleaning

I've been cleaning again--the T-shirt drawer, the Christmas decorations, etc. I lost the things that are usually on the mantel and bookshelves--a lovely Eskimo granite mother and child and all those pictures of our large family at my brother's ranch and of my children and their spouses at Jordan's wedding. They're not that many hiding places in my house, so I was baffled--finally found the pictures on a closet shelf and the Eskimo statue hidden among winter clothes in the guest room chiffarobe. My cleaning is almost done. I still have one more drawer to do and my own closet--ouch!
Jordan and Jacob came for dinner Saturday. I realized that our Saturday night dinners, while Christian is working, give me a chance to cook for someone and yet not the big fuss of entertaining even informally. I defrosted a piece of salmon and sort of mixed a couple of recipes, so that we had baked salmon topped with a lemon zest/bread crumb/butter mixture. I had also splurged on haricots vert--$5/lb.!--and had the bright idea that I'd pan fry them, then add butter and lime zest, with just a bit of lime juice. Result? Tough green beans with great flavor. Jacob meanwhile dined elegantly on chicken nuggets, apple, avocado (he, like his cousin Sawyer, calls it go-go--don't ask. I don't have a clue) and little bits of our green salad. He generously offered me a piece of lettuce after he'd sucked the lemon/blue cheese dressing off of it. Maybe he's going to be a cosmopolitan diner--certainly he's going to be generous.
I do cook for myself, and tonight I had bay scallops in a wine/sour cream sauce (okay, not great) and fresh beets and greens, something my mother used to fix but that's rarely served these days. I forget each time what a mess beets make when you cook them--splatters of red juice and bits of red skin all over the kitchen! But they were good. And I did enough for Cox's Army.
Tonight I'm sort of working, sort of reading, and watching The Sound of Music on TV. I don't understand about that movie--most of us, having seen it a hundred times, still can't tear ourselves away.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Back at Life

I've been reading memoirs--one book and two manuscripts. The book, The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander, is a charming, gracefully written, wry account of how one man's vegetable garden--albeit a huge one--took over his life. Alexander recounts battles with fungi and his slip and slide down the hill away from his dream of organic gardening, his battles with animals, including deer and a groundhog he eventually named SuperChuck. Not content to grow beefsteak or other common varieties of tomatoes, he grew antique varieties, such as Brandywine--and you guess it, when he totalled up his expenses, he figured one tomato cost him $64. A herniated disc--and possibly just general disenchantment after years of backbreaking labor--eventually put an end to his career as a major gardener. The book is both amusing and a cautionary tale--and that's what memoirs should be.
At TCU Press, my usual reaction when a memoir is submitted is to reassure the writer that I know he or she has had an interesing life and explain as gently as possible that memoirs by persons without fame are a drug on the market. I usually suggest self-publishing on the internet for family and friends. Yet occasionally a manuscrpt rises above that, mostly because it has a special hook. The first manuscript I read was "Lost in Austin," wherein the author, a minister, uses the sense of dislocation prompted by a move from the Pacific Northwest to Austin as a metaphor for the dislocation that many of us feel in our daily lives--I dare say all of us if we're at all introspective. I had expected heavy concentration on the spiritual life, but there is none--he was at the time of writing a non-practicing minister and the book is firmly grounded in Austin. It's a good candidate for our press, because of the Texas angle and because it's cleverly written, but the author has written under a pseudonym, and I will have to convince him to change that. How can he promote a book anonymously?
The second memoir, "Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp," is by a woman minister in her fifties who, tired of being assistant minister in a large city church, answered a call to be the only minister at a small church in Dewey, Arizona. This one has much more reflection on the spiritual life as the author tries to figure out her beliefs, her relationship to God, what she believes and what she can say to her congregation. Woven into the narrative are strains of infidelity (her husband had an affair) and death (several parishoners die, and finally, her husband succumbs to leukemia).
But what struck me about this memoir has to do with adoption. The author has apparently carried through life a sense of failure because she was barren; her two children are adopted, and her relationship with her daughter, a Native American, has been anything but good. As a teen, the girl was a runaway, involved with drugs, all your nightmares. Yet late in the book they seem to have reconciled and recognized how they value each other.
As the mother of four adopted children and as a woman who also apprently could not get pregnant, I identified with this part of her story . . . sort of. I have those four wonderful children, with beautiful personalities as adults, and seven grandchildren--how could I possibly feel barren? Honestly my failure to give birth rarely gets a second thought--and when it does, it's usually gratitude that I got my kids the easy way. One of my children is of mixed race, but he, like his siblings, has never shown the desperate need to find his birth family that the memoir writer's daughter felt. Since my son travels often to Hong Kong, the city of his birth mother, I once asked if he liked to meet her and his family. His reply? He'd like to see them from a distance, but he doesn't really want to meet them
Memoir writing is a fine art--and only few can do it successfully. I've written a memoir cookbook, to be published next fall, but that didn't quite require me to come to grips with my life. Sometimes I think I should try--I have not only the story of the happy side of adoption to tell, but that of a lifelong battle with an axiety disorder, the joys and tribulations of a single parent, a career as author and publisher that while it hasn't made me rich and famous has given me great rewards other than monetary. (My friend Bobbie, whom the kids said "always told it like it was," once said to me, "Have you considered that you've had more success than most writers and you ought to be content with that?"--a good thought to ponder.) I may try that memoir--I've made notes about it--but maybe I'm afraid some publisher would say to me, "Why don't you self-publish for family and friends, dear?"

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in the rearview mirror

I woke to an unpleasant surprise--a dead mouse, with either a missing or mangled head, on the family room floor. Wynona the cat has been doing his duty, but I doubt mice come in singles. I suspect it's time to have the attic treated again. It was another case of "there's no one else around to ask to do it," so I disposed of the critter. Wywy had by then totally lost interest.
I spent much of today beginning the process of getting my house back to normal--put away all the things from my trip to Houston, began taking down Christmas decorations (only began!). Then I decided to throw organizing the house into the mix--so I cleaned out the junk drawer in the bathroom, throwing away out-of-date medications. Next came the dishtowel, hand towel cupboard (a mess--threw away a lot of wrinkled paper napkins, etc.), and finally the freezer. Things look much better, but my closet is still to come--and if I can do something about the bookshelves in my office, I'll be really triumphant.
A digital camera was among my Christmas gifts, so I'm facing a steep learning curve. But I can't get the instructional CD to play--sounds like an omen that I'm electronically challenged. The camera and a lot of my other gifts, from shoes to a wallet, was special for my trip to Scotland this spring. I can always get my oldest granddaughter to help me. She understands the new technology. I emailed her and her sister today. They each have their own email address, which delights me. What five-year-old gets email? Those girls are such a mix of traditional and new. Maddie, at 8, goes easily from her American Girl dolls, which she adores, to computer games, at which she excels. What a wonderful combination.
I sense a lazy, cozy evening comiong on--scrambled eggs with that leftover bit of broccoli, the last Roma tomato, and a bit of cheese, sounds like the perfect supper. And then, maybe a mystery.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas as a memory

Where to begin? It seems Christmas becomes a memory too quickly--but such a nice memory. I had sort of staggered visits with my family. Last Sunday Jordan, Christian, Jacob, and I drove to Kingwood, north of Houston, to stay with Colin, Lisa, Morgan (28 mos.) and Kegan (8 mos.). We had a marvelous time, mostly watching Morgan and Jacob in their love/hate relationship--she being more verbal than he gave a lot of orders, some of which he took and some of which he answered in Jacobspeak. We had great food and good visits. Lisa's parents arrived for Christmas Eve and we had Norwegian hamburgers--a tradition in their family that the Alters all love! Christmas morning was so hectic that about 3/4 of the way through the packages everyone sort of gave up and forgot about them, to my great puzzlement. Lisa's brother, his wife, and two sons arrived shortly thereafter and we all had the traditional turkey dinner, which was delicious.
The kids decided to walk to "the bridge to feed the turtles." Feeling housebound I went too. Big mistakes. I went in shoes not really meant for walking, and they walked too fast. I woke in the night barely able to put weight on my right foot. It is much better by tonight, so I guess it was a sprain/strain. But I hate the creeping signs of old age--and that's one of them!
Yesterday, Megan and family and Jamie and family all arrived about 3 p.m. The kids played outside, then inside, and it was noisy and wonderful. We ate leftovers--plus a newly cooked turkey--and had another round of present openings. There's something about the Alter clan--this was much noisier and out of control, until the youngest ones were wandering about kind of dazed. Megan and her family went back to Austin last night--a fact that made me realize how much she wanted to be with her family at Christmas (they'd stayed home because Ford, their youngest one, had croup and we all learned it's contagious).
So there you have it--lots of memories of kids being goofy, silly and sweet, of adults saying and doing goofy things (did someone really have sixtuplets? or were the kids "board"?) but lots of wonderful memories. When Colin told Edie (5 years old) to smile for the camera, she ran over and hugged me tight, and I had to say, "Colin, she's over here smiling." I am amazed at my grandchldren--they are unique individuals but also carbons of their parents. Everyone kept asking if I thought Kegan at 8 mos. looks like Colin, his daddy. Of course he does. He's a mirror image, and the same sort of placid, happy disposition. Edie, lean and lank at five, mirrors her skinny, beautiful mom, and Maddie, who can play equally happily with dolls or computers, is clearly Jamie's daughter.
I really put my cares behind me this trip (though I would always tell you nothing troubles me). But I had no balance problems (except Christmas Eve when we went out in the dark to put out reindeer food) and no shoulder aches--I wasn't carrying a book bag around all the time.
Did we miss the spiritual signifcance of the holday? Yes, in a truly devout sense, we did. There was no recognition of the theology behind Christmas that is important to me. Jamie asked if we went to church--but he knew the answer. But in the sense that this holiday, more than any other, brings families together, no. We got the most out of it--and to me that's important.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Too Busy to Blog

I've been having a Christmas whirl. Doesn't seem to me that has happened in years, but it has this year. My Christmas party was followed by dinner for neighbors--8 adults and 4 children. They only ate half the huge casserole I made--someone described it as Mexican lasagne, and maybe that's what it is. So I sent everyone home with doggy bags and will serve the casserole again for lunch on Saturday to four of us. The next night my good friends Betty and Jeannie and I had our annual Christmas gift exchange and dinner--hors d'oevres at my house, though the presentatio of a dab of this and a bit of that leftover was abyssmal. Still it tasted pretty good; dinner was appetizers at a wonderful upscale restaurant that we save for special occasions, and dessert--homemade chocolate chiffon pie--at Betty's . A lovely evening. Tonight my neighbor's parents took us to dinner at a local bistro that I really like, and I had two of my favorite foods--pate and white anchovies. Can't live much higher on the hog than that. Now my whirl is over, and I must get myself together for a trip to Houston that could be six or seven days. But this week has really impressed me with the blessings of friendship, and I am most grateful. Now I'm looking forward to time with family.
Work? What's that? I've been going to the office and accomplishing things there, but at home I haven't the concentration for all the projects on my desk--even though my conscience prods at me. I figure it's good to put things aside. Today I made a couple of phone calls to move one project ahead, looked at notes about another, and resorted to reading my mystery. Maybe I will learn, after all, to do nothing for 40 seconds (that's a joke now with Melinda and Susan) but probably it's just the season. After I get back from Houston I know I'll hit the ground running and feel I have way too much to do. I have three projects on my desk--rewrites on passenger ships, finishing the Great Texas Chefs manuscript, and beginning from scratch on the young-adult book on surgery. Sometimes January brings the blahs--but I don't see that in my future this year.
Is it just me, or is there more of an atmosphere of hope in the air this holiday season? I am encouraged that there is so much emphasis on going green and on changing the political climate in this country. This week, there was a Democratic victory in our state district that has sent a Republican to Austin for 30 years--to me, it's less about which party wins than about changing the rigidity of the current administration, state and national. I follow the national campaigns fairly closely and today read the first editorial that made me think possibly Obama might be the right candidate (I've been fairly convinced about Hillary). This editorial suggested that people without a political background are less vulnerable to the slings and arrows a president must endure and that Obama does not ratchet up hostilities but restrains them. He detests anger as a motivating force, and that alone is enough to make me think twice.
How did I get into talking about politics? I'm going bck to my mystery--it's P.D.James, slow to get into but then quite absorbing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Courage, Longevity, and the end of the rosy glow

I was late for work today. It's because I was watching the TODAY show, and Ann Curry was about to take a 120-ft. bungee leap off a 170-ft. bridge, and I wanted to see her do it. Partly this is because Colin once did a bungee jump off a bridge--I didn't know about it until afterward, for which I remain eternally grateful. But there was more than that. During the first hour, Curry was interviewed several times--getting ready, up on the bridge, being put into the necessary safety equipment. She never missed a beat. She was calm, clever, laughing, and yet serious about thanking the people who'd donated to this jump--proceeds would go to United Way. She also admitted to a little apprehension when she approached the edge off which she'd jump. Apprehension? I'd have been terrified out of my mind. I admit I'm phobic about heights, but the sight of her up that high, making jokes, knowing she was about to take a swan dive--literally, that's what she did--off the open end of a walkway really made me think about courage. I've always admired Curry--she seems to have a sense of adventure and daring that carries her through some wild assignments, like a trip to the South Pole or I think I remember her in a high-speed jet and other things (okay, Meredith Viera does some brave things, like rolling around in that plastic ball, and Matt Lauer takes real risks, but, hey, he's a guy!). Somehow I am drawn to Curry's sense of herself and her ease in the face of challenge. She did the jump with what was called "beautiful form"--a real swan dive, and then they left her hanging upside down for so long I would have been screaming, "Get me out of here," but she was laughing and talking into the mike she had on. And when she was finally in the rescue boat, she was completely together albeit a little windblown. I'd like to think I have some kinds of bravery--maybe emotional, maybe moral--but I sure don't have physical bravery, and I truly admire it when I see it. Ann Curry is one of my heroes.
Susan reminded me today that 2007 marks my 20th year as director of the press, and I added that it is also then my 25th year with the press. That got me to thinking about my salad days in publishing. If you want to read my thoughts, please go to
The rosy glow that lingered after tree trimming has been replaced by compulsiveness--I was up early this morning to put away clean dishes and generally recover the house from the party (I haven't run the vacuum yet, which was one of Jordan's instructions, but maybe I'll get to it tomorrow). I spent three hours today getting ready to entertain my near neighbors tomorrow--made a huge Mexican casserole, something I used to make when I regularly cooked Sunday dinner for 10-15 people--and a bean salad, which I'm terrified won't be enough. I'll fluff it out with lettuce, even though the lettuce gets soggy in leftovers. I have several friends--most of them single women--who have said to me that they have no energy, can't do this or that because they can't work up the energy; they blame it on the season, and I want to shake them. Somehow the Christmas season seems to fill me with energy--my theory is the more I do, the more I enjoy it. (I may collapse tomorrow, but so far that's a viable theory). Tomorrow night's dinner will be so casual as to be almost embarrassing--leftover appetizers and desserts. My neighbor, Jay, thought that was all I was going to serve and said helpfully, "I make a terrific lasagne." But I really do have a plan. It's just not very fancy.
I hope you all are enjoying the season as much as I am.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In a rosy glow

I'm in a rosy glow of happiness tonight, because my annual Tree Trimming party was lovely. About 60 people, who lingered and talked. It's fun to have people meet at my house, because they always discover connections--and some come to me with the curous question, "How do you know so and so?" I thought I would have too much food, but it was just about right--brie with an apricot/red pepper topping disappeared, as did queso and almost but not quite every bit of a hot corn dip and a caviar spread. I've a few meatballs left, about half a cheeseball, and some artichoke dip. And a very few desserts. Everyone seemed to feel festive, and although I usually don't get to visit much, I did visit with a few people. Every year there are one or two new people, and that makes it fun. A good friend called this morning to say she couldn't be here and said sadly, "It's the first one I've missed in 42 years." Well, she exaggerates a bit.
My family was here: four of my children (well, actually two I raised and two who married into the clan but they are all my children), three of my seven grandchildren, my brother and sister-in-law, my niece and her three-month-old (dressed up in a plaid dress, she looked like a porcelain doll!) and my nephew and his wife and their baby, Kate, who is the age of of Jacob. There were other children--neighbors--and the playroom was busy and happy, though Jacob spent a lot of time plowing through the crowd, favoring people with his grins, and running his truck into their feet. By the time he went home, he was staggering with exhaustion, and when I asked for a goodnight kiss, he shook his head to say "no."
Now it's almost 9:30. The kitchen is clean, the dishes are clean and waiting to be put away in the morning, the cat has been released from captivity in the office bathroom, and I'm having a glass of wine and some of the food I didn't eat during the party. I'll read a little and then nod off, because tomorrow is a working day.
And it's also another cooking day. Tuesday night I'm having the neighbors in for a VERY casual supper to meet Sue's parents, who live in Canada but always summer in Rockport. There'll be eight adults and four kids, I think, and I've enough appetizers and desserts left over. I'll make a big Mexican casserole and a bean salad, and Jay next door said he'd bring guacamole. After that, I'm going to rest on my laurels until we go to Houston.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lessons from Calvin Trillin

Well, Calvin Trillin stumped me. I'm reading his Messages from My Father, a charming book. But I came across the phrase "Schachtmanite deviation." Schachtman is not in my dictionary, let alone Schachtmanite. Google was not a lot more helpful--none of the sites that came up referred directly to it. I gathered--or guessed--that it has to do with communistic liberal leanings among some European immigrants in the early 20th century. Beyond that I'm stumped. Anybody know? I'm hoping Jim Lee will read this and tell me; and maybe I'll email Fred Erisman and ask him. Both of them always know that odd bit of information.
Trillin is a graceful writer. In this slim book, he tells the story of his father--and his relationship with his father--in just over a hundred pages. My own father was a pretty interesting and unusual man, but I doubt that I could write more than five pages about him that might hold anyone's attention. I read Trillin's book almost in one sitting.
Two favorite stories: Trillin once gave a speech entitled "Making Chopped Liver with Miracle Whip." Afterward, someone came up to him and said the title was an interesting metaphor. He replied that it wasn't a metaphor; that's how his mother made chopped liver. He supposed she thought schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) was declasse. (Well, Miracle Whip does less damage to your system than schmalz or so I would presume.) His father had been brought to this country as a very young child and had only one memory of Russia--of having his foot stuck in the mud. When Trillin's mother first began to suggest a trip to Europe his father, "speaking as one who had once got his foot stuck in the mud in Russia, said 'I've been.'"
As I predicted, I'm ready for Christmas way ahead of time. My party is tomorrow--everything is cooked that can be done ahead of time. Dishes are on the table with little pieces of paper telling what goes in each. I may have told this story before, but Jordan does the same thing, which once led Christian to say, "You and your mother have a screw loose." But he said it with affection.
But that's why I spent the afternoon reading Calvin Trillin and think now I'll start another of the many books Mary Lu has loaned me. It's bitter cold tonight--the chill factor to be down to 2 degrees, so Scooby is inside earlier than usual. The wine is out of my car, so it won't freeze, and the heat is turned up just a bit. I'll drip the faucets outside and leave the doors to the kitchen sink open. Tomorrow of course, this being Texas, it will be into the fifties and by Tuesday into the sixties.
A week from today we leave for Houston and Alter Family Christmas. Time flies, as they say--and, yeah, I'm having fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rainy weather

I have two cases of wine in the trunk of my car, plus a case that has soft drinks, plastic plates, napkins--all for my Christmas party Sunday. But it's been so rainy, and my yard guy hasn't come to get rid of leaves for three weeks, so the path from the car to the front door is strewn with slickery wet leaves, and I'm not about to carry wine in. Yesterday I ran into my neighbor at the local barbecue place and--never one to miss an opportunity--I asked if he'd help me. He treats me like a sweet little old lady (in some ways I love it) and he said of course, he'd be by later in the day. But he apparently forgot. And today, he appears to be out of town--he travels for business a lot, and his wife is also out of town right now. So I'm driving around with all this wine in my trunk. I really don't want to carry it in a bottle at a time, and when I told Jay that was how I'd have to do it, he said, 'Yeah, and the last bottle would never make it!"
Somehow my anxiety has been a little higher the last few days--not unbearable but enough that among other things I'm not sure of my footing. Maybe it's the rain and those slickery leaves; maybe the antibiotics--I just took the last one today. I worry about walking, though I do fine when I actually do it. Okay, I needed a hand up a curb today but that was all.
Tonight I'm feeling really good--I'd ignored the passenger ships manuscript for a week or more and sort of totally lost my place in it, but today I got back to it and have a complete rough draft, have proofed it once, and feel pretty good about it. If I can get it sent off, I can turn my attention to the book on Texas chefs.
But Christmas, always Christmas--my packages are wrapped, my party pretty much in order (but I do have to cook in the next few days). But it's hard to think about writing books in the holiday season. My house is festive--with lights on the mantel and buffet, a small live tree on the coffee table, and a wonderful huge poinsettia, present from my beloved Uncle Charles, on the library table. I've started lighting a fire in the fireplace at night because it's soooo cold outside, and the fire is cheering. I love this season.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Egg-less meals and Christmas trees

My egg-less meal turned out to be just fine and my guest less allergic than I had thought. He said eggs cooked into things don't seem to bother him, but since he mentioned mayonnaise I thought it was best not to use egg nooodles. Here's how I amended the recipe.
I cooked a cup of raw rice in 2-1/2 cups chicken bouillion with a pat of butter and put that in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole. Then I cooked 16 oz. chopped broccoli and layered it next. I baked five chicken breast halves--I always put them in a roasting pan, sprinkle salt and pepper and sliced onion rings, cover the whole thing with foil, and bake at 350 for about an hour. Cubed, the chicken made the next layer. The sauce consisted of 8 oz. Velveeta, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, and 1/2 cup white wine--cooked in a double boiler until smooth and poured evenly over the layers. Then I topped it with grated Parmigiano Reggio and baked for 1/2 hour at 350. It was really good if I do say so. And my guests liked it.
I planned this meeting for home because it was a more relaxed and congenial atmosphere, we could all hear each other without worrying about restaurant noise, and we could linger at the table--which we did. Plus my guests were so pleased to come into a warm house, brightly decorated for Christmas and with a fire in the fireplace, on a cold and wintry day. As they left, I said I thought it worked out better than a restaurant, and one said, "Yeah, and we ate a lot better."
For years I used to have a tree trimming party. It's an old tradition that goes back to the fact that trimming the tree in my family was no fun. We all went to buy it, my father and brother put up the lights and disappeared, and mom and I decorated. It was not the festive togetherness time that I thought putting up a tree should be. So when I had my own home I decided to make it fesetive--and guests did pretty much decorate the tree. But as my kids married and moved away the party became Judy Alter's almost-annual sometimes-there's-a-tree party. And there never was a tree because Christmas Day always found me in someone else's home. But this year I have a live tree! Okay, it's only two feet tall, and it came pre-decorated from Harry & David--with Santas with plaid trim and tiny reindeer and plaid-wrapped packages--appropriate for my year of Scotland. It's really cute. It's also pre-decorated with lights, but I have it on the coffee table and may forget the lights rather than tape an extensio cord down--haven't decided that yet.
After Christmas, the tree can be planted, so I planned to give it to a friend who has a huge and beautiful garden. Jordan said, "Oh, good, we can plant it." My worries about that are that they aren't gardeners and they won't live in their current house forever. The gardening friend was here today when I unwrapped it, and I kept referring to it as her tree. We'll see.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A lesson in allergies, parties, Santa, and a dog's close call

I'm having a business lunch at my houses tomorrow--originally six people, but now only five can make it. I decided to do this at home instead of a restaurant for two reasons--I figure it's easier on the press budget, and we can talk more easily and not feel pressured to "turn the table" the minute we finished. I decided on a beef noodle casserole that my family has always loved--oops, Melinda, production manager, is coming, and she doesn't eat red meat. So chicken it would be--I found a recipe that I'd never tried but sounded good. The out-of-town important person visiting wrote that it was kind of me to offer to cook but I should know that he had a severe allergy to eggs, including mayonnaise. Oops again--the recipe had mayonnaise. So I found another recipe. I was telling Jordan last night she could expect leftovers and reciting the ingredients when I said noodles, and she said, 'You know I can't eat that on my diet," and I said, "Oops. They're egg noodles." So I went to the store this morning looking for whole wheat noodles. None. I read the label on garden twists--no eggs, but a little box that said "allergy information" and warned that this product contains wheat and was cooked in a facility that uses egg products. Shades of my mother, who used to grind her own hamburger, because she knew butchers used the same grinders on pork and beef. She liked her beef rare but not her pork. Egg residue, I figured, could linger in equipment and this sounds like a severe allergy--the kind that causes immediate anaphylactic shock or whatever. So I'm using rice in the casserole. At this point, I've got the rice and chopped broccoli in the casserole dish--and it's full! No room for the chicken and sauce. Once again, I have to rethink--but I'm taking time off from it.
Jamie and Mel's dessert party last night was lovely and creative--they had cards with recipes for various champagne drinks and all the makings lined up; one called for stout and champagne in equal parts, which sounded pretty wild to me. I stuck to chardonnay. For dessert, they had a decadent cake, a chocolate bundt cake, cream puffs, cheesecake squares--all delish, as Megan would say.
The Santa Claus trip wasn't quite so satisfactory. Jacob, like most babies his age, wanted nothing to do with that old man with the white beard, cried piteously and held out his arms to be rescued. A priceless picture resulted from his discomfort, poor darling. But we all enjoyed a huge breakfast, and he perked up enough to mug for the camera.
Before I got back to my chicken casserole, my neighbors were at the door. Truth be told, they woke me from a sound nap, so I was a little stunned by what they said. Yesterday they told me they'd had rats in the bird feeder and had put out poison. "Can Scooby get it?" I asked. "Aboslutely not," Jay said. Today they said they were fairly sure he'd gotten a small piece within the hour--they'd been watching--so they were taking him to the vet ER. I was so stunned I just watched them go. They called and reported, but Scooby didn' get home for about 4 hours--the vet made him vomit and sure enough, there was the rat poison. So they gave him vitamin K, and I have to give him a pill twice a day for two or three weeks. But he shows no ill effects and is going to be fine. Jay and Susan are much more upset than I am--because I was still sort of stunned by the whole thing.
Tonight my casserole is done, greens for a salad are washed, all is ready. And my dog is healthy and happy.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tis the season

So many of you have left comments or spoken to me personally about anxiety, that I am really comforted. Tonight, at a major event, I said to no one in particular, "I'm nervous that the cheese trays haven't gotten here." A friend standing nearby said, "Don't be anxioius." I guess I looked at her quizically, because she explained, "I read your blog." My anxiety is better, but I'm still fighting with my incision--it's puffy and red, and yesterday the nurse practitioner declined to take out the stitches--said they weren't ready. And I can tell they aren't. I'm hoping and praying that the new antibiotic makes things better.
Tonight was the TCU Press Annual Autograph Extravaganza--every year I worry about this event, feeling sure I've forgotten to do something. And every year it's fine. There are always glitches--like the authors who didn't get nametags--but everyone has a good time, and it all seems to go well. This morning I was sure it would be a disaster, mostly because it was one of those mornings when I had to drag myself out of bed and felt lethargic (a mild description) most of the morning. Maybe it was the muggy weather. But once I got to the event and involved myself in it--distributing nametags, welcoming people, worrying about those cheese trays--I was just fine and enjoyed myself. The program was a real hit--five contributors to our book, Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, portrayed characters from their chapters, and the audience laughed a lot and clapped. They were, as one of our guests said, "five hamettees." Then the provost, Nowell Donovan, presented a certificate of appreciation to Elmer Kelton, one of our longstanding and best-selling authors. Everyone commented on what a successful event it was, and I went home to a tunafish supper feeling very content. The campus bookstore, which handled sales, was ecstatic--sold more books than in two or three previous years put together!
Tomorrow is a Christmas-y day. I'm going to a pancake breakfast at the Fort Worth Club so Jacob can tell Santa Claus his wish list--of course Santa won't understand, but Jacob will no doubt talk a lot. He is very conversational, his voice full of inflection--but it's just not a language any of us understand. He is getting more and more words into his vocabulary--including, to my delight, "Juju."
Then tomorrow night Jordan, Jacob and I (Christian has to work unfortunatley) are going to Jamie and Mel's Christmas party. They have always given a Chinese New Year's party but decided to change it this year. It's a dessert and champagne party, and we're much looking forward to it. My neighbor Sue and her children, good friends of Jamie's daughters, are also going, so it will be fun. Over the years I've met several of Jamie and Mel's neighbors, and I look forward to seeing them.
Passenger ships? I've put that off my list for a while. But I did finish the new Dick Francis novel I was reading tonight. I hate to finish a novel I'm enjoying--it's like leaving a world in which I've immersed myself and characters who've become so familiar. Of course, with Dick Francis, the exit is always so nail-biting that I sometimes skip a few paragraphs. Now I'm going to read a paper by one of the three middle-school children I'm tutoring, including a young boy from London.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Anxiety and Other Facts of Life

A quote I found that I really like: "Things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustle."--A. Lincoln.
Anxiety, which I had pretty much conquered, came back to hit me full force yesterday and today. I started out each day feeling great, crashed about noon. I think it's because I'm on antibiotics--I had a skin cancer removed from my arm last week, and the incision looked red and angry, so the doctor prescribed a sulfa antibiotic. I intend to call first thing in the morning and ask if I can quit taking it. Today at lunch with two of my best friends--people with whom I should feel totally relaxed--I could hardly function, hardly walk or sign my name. I had to hold on to Jeannie, and when I did she said, "Your hand is shaking." An absolutely rotten feeling not to be able to control your body. I came home and did what the doctor dislikes--drank a glass of wine. Hey, it works! Tomorrow I'll call the office again and take an anti-anxiety pill. But the whole thing did put a damper on my lunch out--we went to a fancy new restaurant none of us had been to, and it was really good. Betty and Jeannie had shrimp and grits, and I, being allergic to shrimp, had a smoked trout Cobb salad. I enjoyed it, but the whole time I was thinking, "Can I walk out of this restaurant?"
Tonight I'm being extra good to myself. Fixed really good creamed tuna (okay, I know that doesn't appeal to a lot of people, but it was delish, as Megan would say) and will probably let myself read that Dick Francis novel instead of plowing ahead with passenger ships. And I may wrap a couple of Christmas gifts that I got today. I'm almost in danger of being smug about the good handle I have on Christmas.
All the bags and boxes that decorations were in have been piled in the hall, to go back up to the attic until time to repack things. Christian suggested that we put them in the garage apt.--easier than getting them up to the attic. Then Jordan suggested I could do that without them. So tonight, in sort of defiant anger, I put most but not all in the apartment. I'll do the rest night by night, have them gone before I have a business lunch here next Monday.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Learning Experience

One of the joys of writing nonfiction for third- and fourth-graders is that I learn a lot about subjects I would otherwise never explore. My current project is to write 3500 words on passenger ships. My first few forays into the library catalog online and google convinced me that I would never find enough matieral (I almost always start out that way, convinced I won't have enough to say and I'll have to pad with fluff; then I overwrite and am reluctant to cut any golden word; somehow I usually end up on target). One requirement of the series for this book is to do brief biographies of influential people who made difference in whatever area--for vaccines, I did Dr. Edward Jenner, first to vaccinate someone for smallpox, Dr. Louis Pasteur, first to vaccinate anyone for rabies, and Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, co-inventors of the polio vaccine. But ships and people? I emailed the editor plaintively: couldn't I do important ships, like the Titanic, instead of people? The answer was negative: the goal of the series is to teach kids about creative and innovative thinking. I despaired. I would never get this book written.
Yesterday I got a book from interlibrary loan (minimally helpful, but it started me on a web search), did a lot of web exploring (being careful of the sites I used), and suddenly I had handle on passenger ships. A wonderful feeling. There's Robert Fulton, who didn't really invent the steamboat, as most people think, but made it a successful commercial venture, and Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of the line that bears his name, and J. Bruce Ismay, owner of the Titanic. And suddenly the linear history of passenger ships began to take shape in my mind--particularly at 4:30 this morning. So now I've written 650 words--a great beginning. And I sure know a lot more about shps than I did a week ago when I was stumbling in the darkness.
A story to demonstrate the perils--and funny mistakes--of multi-tasking. In the mornings I often take a swig of mouthwash, and while swishing it aound in my mouth (who wants to stand still for 40 seconds without doing anything?) I go get a cup of dry food for the cat, fill her bowl, spit out the mouthwash, and return the extra cat food to the container. Only this morning, I filled the bowl, stood over the sink, and instead of spitting mouthwash into it, I dumped in the cat food!

Saturday, December 01, 2007


For six years, give or take a bit, I went every Saturday night to run the cash register at the Star Cafe, a steak, hamburger, and chicken-fried place owned by my good friends Betty and Don. I rolled silverware, seated people, poured water and tea, and generally made myself helpful. At the end of the evening I enjoyed a quiet glass of wine and dinner with Betty and Don. When there was talk of selling the restaurant, I almost panicked--what would I do with my Saturday nights? And then a couple of years ago, almost suddenly, I'd had enough. I had plenty to do at home, friends to go to dinner with, etc., and I was tired of it, which makes me sound frivolous or something, but . . . . Tonight I went back. Don has been bitten by the fly-fishing bug and is in Oklahoma for a class. Betty was afraid they'd be busy and overwhelmed and asked me to go, which of course I willingly did. She called about 5 p.m. and said she was coming to get me earlier because they were slammed and just seated a party of 30. So I jumped into jeans and tenners and was ready and waiting when she pulled up. But the Star had calmed down. I poured some tea and water, sold two beers (and earned a dollar, which come to think of it is still in my jeans), and rolled one tray of silverware. But mostly I sat around staring into space while Betty seated people and visited with guests. I talked a bit with a couple of the wait staff and greeted a guest I used to visit with, but bottom line is I was bored. Betty asked jokingly, "Do you feel superflous?" and I did. I couldn't remember how to run the cash register--it's a new one since my days, wasn't sure which beer was where, couldn't find the right glasses for sweetened tea and plain tea. In short I was a fish out of water. About 7:15 Betty asked if I wanted her to run me home, and I said yes, if she could spare me. She could. So I took a half order of chicken fingers and a bit of mashed potatoes and came home--gratefully. I think part of it was that I have been sort of out of sorts all day--one of those days when you don't feel wrapped right. Nothing in particular, just didn't have that sense of well being. But part of it was that I was superfluous.
Sometimes communication with grandchildren is difficult. When I called Houston tonight, two-year-old Morgan answered with "Hi, Juju!"
Me: Hi, Morgan. How are you?
Morgan: I have a rash, Juju.
Me: That's nice, darlin'. What did you do today?
Morgan: It's ringworm.
Me: Oh, you did? Was it fun?
Her mother was laughing a lot when she got on the phone, but in my own defense, it's only partly my hearing. Morgan is a precocious child but she doesn't exactly speak clearly on the phone.
Jacob and his dad came for dinner last night, and I splurged and got a gorgeous ribeye steak from Central Market, along with two twice-baked potatoes. Jacob, the little glutton, ate a whole lot of mine. We had green beans with bacon (Christian's favorite) and a blue cheese salad. Jacob managed to say Juju once. But when he was told, "No, Jacob, don't throw your food on the floor," he took the next bite, held it in the air away from his chair, and studied me to see how serious I was abut this. Of course, he had a huge grin on his face. Jordan and Christian have interesting times ahead with that child!
Jordan is back tonight from a four-day "fam" trip (familiarizing travel agents with resort properties in Mexico) and she reports that Jacob was very glad to see her, and it was most mutual!
I started the new Dick Francis novel last night, and now it's calling to me.