Thursday, February 28, 2008

Genetic ache?

I was listenting to a PBS review of the movie Juneau tonight--it's apparently a sensitive, important film about a young teenager who gets pregnant and places the baby for adoption, then goes right back to her boyfriend and her teenage life. The reviewer most identified with the baby and the "plight" of adopted children. They always feel, she said, a "genetic ache," no matter how wonderful the family who raised them. It's the kind of talk that raises my hackles as the mother of four well-adjusted adult adoptees. My kids and I have talked about it and none of them have much interest in finding the biological parents--one fears finding "poor white trash" and another is resentful of a mother who did drugs and may have caused some problems. Only one has said he'd like to "see" his family from a distance but doesn't want to meet them. Why do people persist in believing that happily adopted children still long for that biological connection?
We did a book one time, a sort of memoir, by a man who didn't know the identity of his father and felt pushed by his mother's creeping Alzheimer's to find out before it was too late. It was as though his whole being depended on identifying that mythical, long-gone figure. I simply don't understand it, and I often wish that people who take a look at happy adoptees. I guess it's like anything else--happy people don't make good copy. Wish I could think of some way to write about those happy adoptees, but my version would come out a memoir of some wonderful kids. Oh, they weren't perfect--I can recount a lot of low points, tense moments, etc., but the good outweighed the bad. Both girls went through that teeenage "I hate my mother" phase (boys are wonderful because they don't do that) but that passed. I think we were a normal, essentially happy family--especially for a single-parent family. So, hogwash to the genetic ache.
I've decided I want to write a book about Scottish settlers in Texas--and therein lies a brick wall. There is no information. Only today I learned it might be a stone wall--the masons who built the state capitol and the Tarrant County courthouse were Scots. But who were they? Did they bring their families? How did they adjust to life in Texas? I have no idea where to look for those answers, but I'll keep trying.
I do know that Scots did not come in colonies, like, for instance, the Germans. They were far too much determined individuals. That, of course, makes them even harder to trace. But look at all the Scottish names at the Alamo. There's a story there, I know it. I just have to keep chiseling, like a stone mason.
I made chicken burgers for supper tonight. Never had them before, but both Jordan and I decided we probably like them better than turkey. The recipe called for adding fresh basil to mayonnaise; lacking fresh basil--who would have it in February?--I added a cube of pesto and some chopped dill pickle. You put a bit of that into the chicken and slather the rest on a piece of bread. It was actually sort of hard to eat but delish. Jacob did not like it, but he loves to suck on a piece of lettuce and get the dressing off. He's got a sour tooth--loves lemons and that lemony salad dressing that Jordan and I make.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thoughts of an author

I've been proofreading my mystery novel one more time--it's amazing how many typos you find even the fifth or sixth time through. And today I sent a proposal--letter, synopsis, and five pages--off to an agent. I've queried three agents already--one that I know confessed reluctantly that he liked it but he didn't love it. We agreed that he's not into cozies but likes hard edge mysteries. He wants Ellery Queen and I'm writing Murder She Wrote. The other two agents declined to look at it, and I seriously doubt they read the proposal--it's hard to break through that circle. But I sent it today to an agent recommended to me who's web site says she handles lots of mysteries. PS: the title is Dead Space and it doesn't refer to outer space. It's made clear on the first few pages--but I'd love opinions about it.
I told Jamie once that maybe the reason I'd never sold well to NY publishers is that I didn't ever believe in myself enough to believe I could be a best-selling writer. He, who's all about self confidence, agreed. But this time I believe in that novel. I think its good. When I read a mystery, I'm delighted if I get so wrapped up in the lives of the people and their world that I'm reluctant to leave when I finish the book--and that's how I feel about this one. When I came to the final, climactic scene, I felt my anticipation rising--now I wrote that scene, so I know full well what happens. But I found the tension so strong that in the middle of reading it I got up to get a glass of wine! And now I'm already plotting and planning the second novel in the series--there's some great stuff to come. I can't figure out if working on the sequel (I've got about ten pages written and it beging smashingly with a woman confessing that she just shot her husband "in his sorry ass") is a sign of great self-confidence or a waste of time. I may go ahead and work on it until some paying job comes along. Meantime, my neighbor Sue, a most literate person though not a mystery fan, has asked to read the manuscript, and I'm delighted, waiting for her opinion.
And if this agent doesn't take it? I've got a couple of ideas up my sleeve--an old acquaintance with a possible publishing house, the first agent for recommendations of other agents. I'm not giving up. So send me your positive thoughts, please.
I took my cat to the vet today. He's 17, has been eating voraciously and yet seeming to lose weight, and his coat is not as lustrous and beautiful as it once was (he's a long-hair). In fact, his tail is downright puny, and it was once full and magnificent. I suspected thyroid--he was tested last May and got an okay on diabetes and kidneys but wasn't tested for thyroid. Today he showed early signs of kidney disease, so common in older cats, particuarly males. The thyroid comes back tomorrow but if positive, as both the vet and I expect, it presents a dilemma--the most effective treatment is radiation for $1200. I'd do it easily for a young cat, but it doesn't seem practical for a 17-year-old with incipient kidney disease. Fortunately, there are medications. Still I know I won't have him for many years and I'm sad--he's the best cat I ever knew, more loving and absolutely the most beautiful. He has a host of fans among my friends, including Carol who came, cat cage in hand, this morning to help me take him to the vet.
Whoosh, full and busy day. I think I'll go read a mystery.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Food, food, food, some political thoughts, and a weird plot

I went a bit crazy in Central Market yesterday and bought a lobster tail, a lamb shoulder chop, a pount of ground chicken, and chicken breasts (I had a coupon for those and they went right into FoodSaver bags and into the freezer). The lobster was for tonight, and I studied about how to fix it. Found recipes for deviled lobster and something called Lobster Fra Davolo--but in the end I settled for lobster salad, simply fixed with lemon, chopped celery, a bit of chives, and a tiny bit of mayo. (Christian was appalled this morning that I would cook the lobster and then wait until it was cool to eat it.) The salad was lovely and fresh, and it reminded me of the shrimp salad I used to eat with my mom as a child. On those rare occasions we'd go to downtown Chicago--to my father's office, to shop in Marshall Field's, to my uncle's dental office (how I hated that!)--she'd take me to a small restaurant hidden in the back of an office building next to my uncle's building. We always ate shrimp salad, and to the best of my memory it was made much like my lobster salad tonight, perhaps with a hardboiled egg. These days, I can't eat shrimp, and my budget can't often afford lobster, so this was a treat. I paired it with tiny asparagus tips (Central Market now sells tips so I don't have to buy a whole bunch and eat it all week) and a half ear of corn that wasn't great--corn off season should be avoided, and I know better. I'll probably succumb later to the siren call of a vanilla ice cream cup with chocolate sauce.
Tomorrow night, I'll bone the lamb chop, pound the pieces thin, and fix lamb piccata. And the ground chicken? I've never had a chicken burger. I want to try them the next time Jordan comes to supper. Meantime I froze it.
Today Jordan, Jacob, Christian and I had brunch at Joe T.'s--Christian was off, and he said it was a lovely treat to eat there instead of waiting tables. Yesterday afternoon Jordan, Jacob and I went to Frisco to celebrate Edie's fifth birthday--I can't believe she's five. The girls kept Jacob happily ammused at dinner, having straw "sword fights" with him and giving him crayons and then trying to take them away from him--he thought it was a great game. He ate ketchup and a couple of fries. He's not into eating these days. Unfortunately his grandmother is.
I've thought a lot about Letty Cottin Pogrebin's thoughts on the Obama/Clinton contest (see my last post) and lately I've heard echoes of what she said. Last night daughter-in-law Melanie said she visited her brother in New York City and got caught up in his Obama enthusiasm and that of his friends. But then she watched the Austin debate and decided Obama has no substance. Cokey Roberts, on the George Stephanopoulos show this morning, said it best: Clinton thought she was the front runner, and here comes this good-looking young man with words full of sweet nothing. I think the tide is turning against him--one overseas observer called his supporters "cult-like." But will it be in time for Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas?
I think the Lord means me to write a mystery. I've been dreaming in mysteries. When I woke up this morning the plot was very clear in my head, but of course it's not now. I know that Uncle Jack, our neighbor when I was growing up, rescued me. I was in a complex of office buildings, but all around was a forest and an occasonal private home. And someone was blackmailing me. Wow! Don't give this to a dream interpreter. But tonight I think I'll go back to that mystery I've written and done nothing with. This afternoon I did some research about the history of Scots in Texas. There's something there, but I haven't found it yet. I guess that's part of the writing process.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Politics and feminism, and some bookselling thoughts

I just watched an interview with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the outspoken feminist, and her daughter. Pogrebin is for Clinton, the daughter for Obama. Pogrebin seems to feel that we're so close to having a woman as president we must elect Hilary; the daughter sees, as I think many young people do, the emotional argument of hope and change. Pogrebin, like a lot of her sisters, has spent much of her adult life hoping to see a woman as president, and she's dismayed that it's so near and yet so far. There was a sentiment of "It's her turn; he should wait his turn." It reminds me of a friend who, with truly female logic, pointed out that he's younger, so she should go first and then he could have his turn and we Democrats would have the White House for 16 years. I told her I don't think it works that way. But Pogrebin made me think about my own stance, and I don't think the feminism angle enters into my support of the Clinton campaign. If I were thinking in terms of diversifying our government, I would be equally for either candidate (and truth be told, I will be happy with either). But my support of Clinton is based on the experience argument. I think I can say that honestly. It reminds me some of twenty years ago when a friend said you had to vote on a single issue--whether or not a candidate supported women's rights and abortion. I don't think government is that clear cut.
Hillary Clinton was in Fort Worth today, and Melinda really wanted to go see her. She said it would be impossible to park but we could take a bus downtown. I felt like a wimp who was letting her down when I said, "It's too cold to stand on a bus stop, and I don't want to be with thousands of other people." Well, of course, it turned out tragically. With the death of the Dallas policement who was part of her escort, Clinton cancelled the rally and went back to Dallas. That act--and her obvious distress--answered, to me, some of the critics who find her hard and controlled.
Yesterday, it turned so cold between the time I went to work and the time we went to lunch, that I got chilled and stayed that way all day. Today I bundled up in heavy clothes and was almost too warm. But sitting with friends from church in a restaurant, we got chilled again every time the door opened. This is Texas though--60s tomorrow and 70 by Sunday.
Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women was the lead review on the book review page of Southern Living--I picked up a copy in the grocery today. That's a real coup. The problem of marketing books is always with us. We haven't had time to post books on amazon's Search Inside the Book, and yet we all feel it's essential. Then today we got hit with a request to join Microsoft's Live Books Search program--to me, it sounds like their answer to amazon, but they're in partnership with the wholesale distributorship Ingram. So it too seems important--lots and lots of booksellers buy from Ingram. I remain baffled that the university wants us to increase sales but won't give us the personnel to do the necessary marketing.
We have an author who hand sells his book with a vigor that astounds me (especially since he's 80). But he's gone all over South Texas and also up into Oklahoma (where his memoir begins) taking the book to libraries, bookstores, and the like. When libraries say they've never heard of it or booksellers say our rep hasn't mentioned it, he thinks we not doing our part. In truth, it's not possible for us to give that kind of publicity to every book--librarians are overwhelmed with catalogs and mailings, reps have too many books to mention each one individually. The author is absolutely the best salesman. I think Ill write something on that, to be given to each author when his or her book comes out.
Enough. I'm going to see if I can play with Google Reader and figure it out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A friend needs prayers, reading, and Mexican night at the Alters

My friend Katie today emailed asking for prayers for her husband, Gayland Pool, who will have bypass surgery in the morning. Gayland is a wonderful person, a retired Episcopalian priest who happens to make the best bread ever. He and Katie have my prayers and those of all who know and love them. Sometimes I am saddened by how many people need our prayers, saddened and also grateful for the good health and good fortune my family and I enjoy.
I read about a blog today called The writer, a bookstore owner, has vowed to read 200 books in 2008, and she's keeping a page count, and a record of her reading, on her blog, along with assorted other comments. She's doing this because she's alarmed at how little most Americans read for pleasure. Hats off to her! I'm glad to say, however, that I'm one of those who reads for pleasure.
TCU Press decided today--by democratic vote of the staff and our graduate student--to give up our blog, The Bookish Frog in case anyone is reading, and send our news to the Texas A&M University Press blog ( A&M distributes our books, and their blog is linked to RSS feeds (okay, I'm still learning about this).
Tonight was Mexican night at the Alters. Jordan has been doing this for years. In fact, she started asking for taco dinners for her birthday as a very young child. As a young single person, she began inviting friends for taco dinners at my house It became Mexican night at the Alters, and the faces change a bit, but they're mostly the same young people I've known for years. I like having them around me, though tonight I admit my feet and back are more than a little tired. Jordan did most of the work, and I did most of the cleanup. We had tacos, Colin's queso (hamburger and pork sausage, 1 lb. each, a 16 oz. jar of Pace picante, a lb. of Velveeta, and a can of mushroom soup--you can vary the spice of it by choosing regular or hot sausage, mild or hot picante), leftover tamale pie (which everyone raved about), and Jordan's layered dip. Enough left over to feed Cox's army. Plus I made a pan of brownies. I'll freeze those and have them for late night snacks. In fact, excuse me a minute--I need a brownie.
Jacob was a little solemn during the evening, but I maintain he was a bit overwhelmed by being the only child among 15 tall people he didn't know. His father kept saying, "He's trying to get sick" until I told him if he said that again I'd bop him. I don't believe in planting the illness model in children's heads, even though he did have a fever this morning (teething, maybe). Christian said, "He doesn't know what I said," but I don't believe that either. Jacob's understands a whole lot more than he talks about. Tonight one of the girls asked him to show her the lions, and he took her by the hand and led her to my neighbors house where there are indeed concrete lions.
Ready for bed, but there are still a few young people on my porch enjoying themselves. It's nice that it turned out to be the warmest evening we've had in a long time, the first front porch night of spring.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Senior citizen menu, exercise, and Hal Holbrook

I took my good friend Charles to supper tonight. At 91, he's still running and plans to run the 5K in the Cowtown Marathon Saturday. I'm convinced his good health, mental and physical, is due to genetic makeup but also in part due to his diet. He's pretty careful, a light eater, says he goes and gets a salad most nights. Tonight we went to the Black-Eyed Pea for the veggie plate, and he ate a "heavy" dinner--black eyed peas, carrots, squash casserole, and corn. But when we walked in the hostess asked, "Two?" and I said "Yes, please," and she said--drum roll, please--"Would you like the senior menu?" Charles was laughing out loud, and I turned on him and said, "That's the first time I've ever been asked that!" Anyway, it was a good deal. On the senior menu you can order four veggies; on the regular it's five, and I can barely eat my way through four.
I'm back to my own exercise program--stretches (the ones I learned when I belonged to Curves, with weights added) and riding the stationary bike. I got my pulse up to 130 the other day--mine never goes very high because of hypertension medication, so I was surprised and didn't know whether to boast or be concerned. Then I discovered I'd forgotten to take my medication that morning. The next day, when I took the medication, my pulse hovered at 100 and wouldn't go any higher though I was working just as hard.
I heard tonight that Hal Holbrook died, and it saddened me. I once sat almost in the front row when he did his Mark Twain act at the university I was attending--I can see him yet sitting on the edge of the stage and dangling his feet. In a radio interview re-played tonight he said he always wanted to be an actor and was proud of new roles, but Mark Twain was always with him. He couldn't have picked a better companion. Holbrook's career, to me, illustrates someone who found--or developed--a good thing and stayed with it.
People are really reading my blog, and I'm delighted. I had two comments this morning on my trip to Meridian yesterday--one from a rancher in that area (how did he find me?) and one from a friend who said now she wants to go to Meridian. I told her I was ready to go back. Nice to think people read what I say--but kind of scary, since I have nothing more to add tonight and what I've already said isn't very significant. Either it was a not-much day or my brain has already gone to sleep. Going to take a shower and settle down with the manuscript I brought home from the office. 'Night.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A day out of the routine

I had long-standing plans today to go with former dean Mary Volcansek to talk to an artist about a book in Meridian, almost two hours from Fort Worth. In anticipation, I chafed at the idea--I had work on my desk, etc. But it was a lovely experience. On a sunny bright day we drove down back roads and saw Central Texas at its best--rolling green hills, animals in the fields (lots of goats), small towns with occasional wonderful gingerbread houses. Oh, yes, we missed the road a couple of times, mostly because we got confused around courthouses and squares. But we arrived at our destination two minutes early of the appointed time.
Our destination was the home of artist George Hallmark and his wife, Lisa, just outside Meridian. It boasted one of the most spectacular views of a Texas valley that I've ever seen. The house, though small, was so delightfully designed and decorated that you just wanted to sit there and take it all in. I begged off the tour of his studio--it was up a steep, open staircase, with that valley falling away to the side. But then we all gathered in the living room where talk was plentiful and cheery--and finally turned to his project of painting the missions and presidios of Texas. (Mary and I weren't sure exactly what the difference is, but a presidio was the garrisoned fort built to protect a mission.) Talk turned to plans of a possible exhibition and accompanying catalog, which TCU Press would publish. And we roughed out ideas to be explored.
And then we went to lunch. Meridian is one of those small towns experiencing a resurgence. Many movers and shakers from the Metroplex have retired there and things are happening--a magnificent art center for Bosque County, interesting shops, and a small restaurant called Cactus Cafe, run by a classically trained Hispanic man. That's where we had lunch--I had a delicious open-faced chicken salad sandwich with homemade potato chips. I tried to resist them, really I did, but I ended eating about half of them. We were back at my office about 3:15, feeling we had had a most pleasant and productive day.
Of course, then I had to deal with 48 emails etc. and play catch-up, but I came home, put on my sweats, and got to work.
Last night I had old friends for dinner and fixed a tamale pie, made with polenta. It's one of my favorite new recipes, because the meat sauce has a wonderful spiciness. It include a jar of salsa, a can of refried beans, and some chicken broth along with the ground beef--I used beef broth instad of chicken because that's what I had. And then you use lots of cheese--I mean lots--with sliced rounds of ready-made polenta. I thought I'd begin with a guacamole appetizer and bought ready-made--but then I thought I ought to spark it up. So I added lime juice. Not quite right. Chopped tomato (which dissolved right into the guac) and chopped scalliions (which I never saw again). Still not right. Chili powder. Getting better but not right. Some salsa. Still weird to me and by now it was a weird gray-green color, spotted with the red of the chili powder. I served it apologetically, but they raved over it--beyond, I like to think, what politeness would have required. I told them they didn't have to eat it, but I wasn't giving them cheese as an appetizer because there was so much in the cassrole. We had expected a third person who was unable to come, so I have a lot of casserole left. But Jordan has arranged a Mexican night here for Wednesday, so I'll get out my leftovers. I imagine between 17 people, the tamale pie will disappear.
Tomorrow is a blessedly quiet day in which I can--I hope--spend the entire morning at my desk at the office and get lots done.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Rainy Day

I used to dread rainy days with no outside connection, but I've had a lovely day today. Yesterday Sue, my neighbor, asked if I wanted to go to lunch at the deli but I assured her the weather was going to be so awful that I wasn't venturing outside. Well, I had envisioned one of those days where rain comes down in sheets all day long. Not so. We had thunderstorms during the night and another in the early afternoon, but otherwise it was just dull, wet, and cold. I called Sue but she had already made a hair appt., so we settled on a visit over a glass of wine in the evening, and I ate tuna for lunch--very good. I had kind of played with some expensive tuna in olive oil, and it made good salad. I piddled in the kitchen, cleaning the fridge, steaming some carrots for Jacob's supper, making the meat sauce for tomorrow's tamale pie. I did the laundry and lingered in the shower, answered emails, read comments on the blog, just generally piddled, which for years I was no good at. After lunch, I read the Martha Grimes novel I'm reading and had a long nap. Got up, rushed around and put make-up and a better pair of sweats on, lit the fire, and made ready for company. Sue, Jordan, and Jacob all arrived about five, and we visited until Jacob's displeasure made it clear it was time to feed him. Sue went home to a veal stew she'd made from shanks, and I cooked us a meal of salmon and salad. Put a sort of green goddess sauce on the salmon--mixed mayo with pesto and added horseradish. Honestly I could barely taste it, but the salmon was, to me, just right. Jordan, as usual, declared hers undercooked and put it in the microwave.
Jacob was alternately charming and fussy--the privilege of an almost two-year-old. He has learned "no, no" and goes up to something, touches it, looks at me, and says, "No, no" with a question mark in his voice and eyes. I was loading the dishwasher, and he rushed up with "No, no" and started to close it (without pushing the tray in so that the dishes all clattered together!). I had not remembered to put up the cat's bowl of water so Jacob won't play in it, and he stood there and pointed, saying "No, no" as though he were reminding me I'd been lax. No kisses as he left but he did consent to rub noses. (Rubbing noses is something Sawyer and I do when he says "No kisses!")
Martha Grimes--I'm working my way through a series of British mysteries that a friend lent me. Once I get into them, sometimes halfway, I want to read through, but they don't send me the irresistible siren call that keeps me at a good domestic cozy while ignoring work that needs to be done. A friend who recently had chemo wrote that she was feeling better all the time and in the meantime "mushing through." I like the phrase. That's what I'm doing with the British novels--mushing through, and trying to figure out the differences, what makes some people love them so. The friend who lent them is a low-key, slow-paced person who thinks I rush through everything, whereas I think she dawdles through everything. So maybe that difference in pacing explains the difference in reading taste.
I also spent time today reading manuscript proposals--three down out of four, and so far I requested one, rejected two. (Someone asked me the other day how many manuscripts we accept out of a hundred proposals, and I couldn't really say!) I still have a home schooling magazine to study, a librarians survey to puzzle out the meaning of, and one manuscript to go--plus that Martha Grimes novel (Jerusalem Inn). Excuse me, I've got to go read now.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Food, weather, a bit of politics, and a blog

I just had a wonderful supper. Friday night seems to be the night I often fix myself a special dinner. Tonight it was scallops Provencale--I usually cook sea scallops, but Central Market only had the small bay scallops, and they were wonderful. I sauteed them in butter and olive oil until they were lightly brown and just cooked. Put them on a plate, added a bit more butter to the skillet, a dash of white wine, sliced garlic, a bit of chopped tomato, and a pinch of thyme and then put that over the scallops. Central Market had asparagus tips today--usually they only have bundles, and I have to either forego or decide to eat asparagus all week (which isn't all bad) but today I bought just enough tips for one serving. Yes, they were expensive, but one serving was a bit over a dollar. I sauteed those in butter and olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper. It was all delicious.
Tomorrow Jordan is coming for salmon (I had a coupon today). I think I'll fix a green goddess sauce for it with tarragon--oh, I don't remember what all, but I have a recipe. Sunday night friends are coming, and I'll fix a tamale pie with polenta and a huge tossed salad. Dessert will be my new favorite--ice cream cups with chocolate sauce. Talk about the casual hostess!
We're in for Texas weather. This morning it was in the upper 40s, a bit breezy and very gray, but not bad. During the morning it got progressively colder. Tomorrow they predict heavy cold rain, so I rushed to two groceries at noon, got everything I need (I surely hope!), and plan not to stick my nose out all weekend. Since I'll have company both nights, it's night like I'm being a hermit, which I don't like.
My neighbor, Susan, came over today to help me put all the Christmas decorations in the attic. I'm ashamed that it's almost March and my decoratons, in boxes, paper bags, and black plastic bags, still decorated the guest room. Susan and I made short work of it, though she wouldn't let me do the attic part--I handed her things from the ground. Good neighbors are like gold, and I am most grateful to her. She and her husband also sent me flowers yesterday, which was a lovely Valentine surprise. The flowers are on my desk--a nice bright spot in a cluttered, messy office.
I'm watching all this politics with great interest. A friend said to me that it irritated her and she just wished it was over with, but I'm enjoying the process. I'm only interested, of course, in the Democratic side. McCain has the Republican tied up (I really was interested in the verbal battles between him and Romney, and it's politics as usual that Romney has now endorsed him). I'm not much of a fan of Senator McCain--on a few issues, yes, and I admire what I always thought was his honesty, though I'm now told I may be misled. But his stance on military matters and international relationships (or non-relationships) frightens me, and I don't like his abortion stand either. But I like both the Democrats, and I watch them battle with mixed feelings--each wants it so badly, has so much at stake, that I worry about the loser. For our country, I hope they can collaborate, because I think they truly speak of the future. Funny, but lately two staunchly Republican friends--one my son-in-law--have confessed to me that they'll vote Democratic in the March 4 primary. Of course, they had different candidates, but hey! Two for our side!
If you're reading this on Saturday morning, go to I'm the guest blogger for the week. Interesting experience, since it's a romance writers blog, and I'm not a romance writer. Still, tonight, I read a recap of It Happened One Night on that blog and realized that it has the bare bones of romance writing. I could do that too, without the bodice busting scenes.
If you're in Texas, I hope you stay warm and cozy this weekend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Getting Things Done at Home

Today was one of those days that knock away several small chores and problems that niggle at you. I took the dog to the vet for his annual check-up and dental cleaning (there goes my life savings!). Since Scooby is a rambunctious Australian shepherd who doesn't realize he's aging, I don't try to handle him on the leash--I park outside, call, and someone from the vet's office comes to get him. Then when I go back, they put him in the car. I love it. Scooby pulled me down twice several years ago and I figure I'm too close to osteoporosis for that, so he gets his exercise chasing squirrels in the back yard. Now, glad to be home, he's sleeping at my feet.
The exterminator came. The house is rat free, and all those flies had nothing to do with a dead rat. They're just a seasonl phenomenon. He offered to spray--it's kind of embarrassing to tell an exterminator that I don't like sprays and I'd just as soon going on swatting flies like Jack the Giant Killer. Besides, their life span is waning, and they're "dying like flies." (Oooh, sorry, couldn't resist!)
And Jim Sharratt, who watches over my lawn and garden and, most of all, sprinkler system came to work on the sprinkler system. He can't get one head to work (right by the redbud tree that looks puny last fall and now I guess we know why). But he's got eveything else about my yard in great shape. And he's calling in reinforcements for that stubborn head. He thinks the roots of a tree we just cut down had grown into the pipe.
I put away laundry and groceries, hung up clothes, unloaded the dishwasher, all those tiny chores that if you don't do them daily pile up into a mess. I kind of came home and dumped things because I was determined to ride the exercise bike. So then I had to clean up behind myself.
A new book arrived today--one that I wrote. The author's copies of Women's Rights in the Global Perspectives Series from Cherry Lake Publishing were by the front door as I left for supper. It's always fun to see the book that was, to me, just typed pages, turn into something with colorful pictures, fancy design, etc. This one was really hard to write--they are issues in international women's rights that are not appropriate for discussion with fourth graders--and I am pleased with the way it came out. I got six copies--shall have to hoard the two I have left after giving one to each child. It pleases me that each of my children has a library of my work, although I suspect many of those libraries are incomplete.
It was almost balmy today but by Friday it will be cold, and I find myself dreading that. Even went to the grocery just in case it snows or ices or something. Ah, Texas!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Books are like Children

Texas novelist Bob Flynn, a good friend of mine, says that if someone asks you which is the favorite of your books, it's like asking you which is your favorite child (that's a big bone of contention among my children since they all claim to be the favorite and of course they are!). Which of mine (books, not children)? Various books for various reasons. After Pa Was Shot because I suddenly learned I can write fiction; Luke and the Van Zandt County War because I think it's the best y-a novel I ever wrote; probably Libbie because it was the most complicated story I tried to tell in adult fiction and it broke me into a new field of writing.
But two books have a special place in my heart. One is Sue Ellen Learns to Dance, my collection of short stories. It's special because it's darn hard these days to get anyone to publish short stories, and yet I really like those stories (okay, egotistcal, but I do!). They're stories of women in the American West, both of the past and a few contemporary. They're women who love and lose, women on the frontier, women during the Depression, women being women no matter the circumstances. I sent the collecition to two university presses. The reader at the first press said they should all be novels. Wrong! They are what they are--stories with one twist and, according to Poet's theory, suitable for reading at one sitting. The second press was very enthusiastic about them but then after a year or so decided they could no longer afford to publish short stores. I understand that. We don't publish them at TCU because they don't sell enough to justify the cost of publication.
But I wasn't ready to give up. An agent once told me never to publish a short story collection unless with a university press, because the next time a book of mine was presented to a New York publisher, they'd check sales numbers and shake their heads. But I'm past courting a New York publisher or two, so I sent it to a tiny tiny press in the Houston area--and they liked it. I will always be grateful to Guida Jackson and her Spring Creek Publishing for putting my stories into print--and using the cover art I wanted, a Dorothea Lange photo taken in 1936 of what appears to be a sharecropper's wife standing by an old Ford truck inside which her children sit. They are all worn down--by poverty, by dust, by despair. To me, she is Sue Ellen and she needs to learn to dance. "Sue Ellean Learns to Dance" is the story of mine that has been the most anthologized, even on audio tape.
The other book? It's not published yet, but it's the cookbook I've referred to from time to time in this column. (See how subtle I was in leading up to this?) It now has a title--Cooking My Way through Life: Kids and Books in the Kitchen--and it has a cover. (I hope tomorrow, at the office, I can insert the cover here--another learning lesson!) I sent the publisher all kinds of adorable pictures of my kids and pictures of family birthday parties, etc., because I thought they showed what a good time we had. None of them worked for her, and she came up with this burned mitt, which led each of my children to ask, "Is it yours?" and one to say, "We have some of those at our house." I love it.
Speaking of cooking, which I often do, I cooked a rib-eye tonight for Christian and Jordan--mostly for Christian because he loves his steak and he's so busy these days I rarely get to see him. It was a pound and a half, a good-sized steak to feed the three of us. I put the iron skillet in a 500-degree oven and got it really hot. Then, carefully, I took it from oven to stovetop, where the electric burner was set on high (how I long for a gas stove!). I had rubbed the steak with vegetable oil (maybe I should have used olive oil?) and sprinkled it with Kosher salt and pepper. I plopped that steak into a dry, sizzling hot pan and cooked it for 30 seconds (I made Christian time it), turned it with tongs (not a fork which breaks the skin and releases juices) and cooked it for another 30 seconds. Then the whole thing went back into that hot oven for 3 minutes on each side. The result was a wonderful medium rare steak. When I did it on the stovetop it turned gray, not brown, and I despaired, but in the oven it got a nice brown crust.
I love my iron skillet. Let me count the ways that I can cook with it . . . .

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A food day

It's a good thing cooking is part of this blog, because today has been a food day. I started at about 8 a.m. with my Sunday scrambled egg with tomato, smoked salmon and scallion, ate it while I read the paper. These days it doesn't take long to read our newspaper! It occurred to me that in Bon Appetit they do those celebrity profiles in which they ask, "What is always in your refrigerator?" My answer would be "smoked salmon and cream cheese."
Then about 11:30 Betty and I went downtown to La Madeleine for brunch, and I had crepes Romanoff (with strawberries and a brandied cream sauce). They were good but Betty made a better choice--crepes filled with scrambled eggs and covered with a wonderful mushroom sauce. I was tempted but I'd already had my eggs for the day. But I did envy that mushroom sauce. The dinner menu looked so good we decided to go back one night this week.
In the afternoon, doing some work that didn't require fine attention, I had the food channel on in the background. By the time Valentines Day arrives, I will be thoroughly sick of chocolate--which for me is quite a statement. I think it will be "Death by Chocolate." Can't remember if that's a book title or a kind of chocolate candy!
Tonight my neighbors, Jay and Susan, came for dinner, and I fixed sauerkraut and brats with apples and onions. I love the sauerkraut mix, not so crazy about the brats--they were too dry. I had a brat the day before at a sandwich shop that I liked a lot better. Between the two I've had my sauerkraut and brat fix for a while. For dessert, I had those individual ice cream cups (not elegrant service but very practical) with a rich chocolate-mint sauce (see! there it is again--chocolate!). We laughed a lot and had a great time. For some reason I was in a storytelling mood, and Jay finally said I should forget about writing a cooking column and start telling stories about the years I was raising children.
I did some real work today too. Sent a guest post to the Petticoats & Pistols blog--it's due up on Friday, but I'll post a reminder here. And I finally sorted through all the papers from the sales meeting. Lots on my plate for tomorrow, but I have to start the day by rushing somewhere to get valentines for all the grandchildren--where was my brain when I was shopping this weekend?
Colin and Lisa sent new pictures for my revolving picture screen today. Kegan, who will be one in April, has changed so much since Christmas and is such a happy guy. And his sister, Morgan, is good to him and very happy herself. It's time for a trip to Houston!
Now I'm watching them make chocolate chip cookies on the food channel. sounds like they're following my mom's recipe! Yummm!
I think I succeeded admirably in avoiding a weekend of my own company--and had a great time doing it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wineries, meetings, gardens, and a bit of sad news

It's been a busy few days. Melinda, TCU Press production manager, and I spent two days in College Station at sales meeting. The meetings were productive, and I came away with a pile of papers to plow through, ideas to sort out, lots of challenges. Now, two days later, I've been so busy I haven't gotten to them. But we had fun too--had lunch at the Messina Hof winery in Bryan on the way down--good food, pretty good wine, fascinating place. And on-the-spot entertainment as we watched two young wait staff try to get an empty cask up a very steep staircase. They tried each carrying an end, then rolling it, then a dolly. Finally the guy flexed his muscles and carried it up. We clapped when he came back inside, but we really laughed at their antics. That night a whole bunch of us had a good dinner and great visit. Then Melinda and I spent the night with my good friend Gayla, marketing manager for A&M and conductor of the meetings. We sat up drinking wine, and then in the morning had oatmeal looking out over Gayla's lovely wooded property. Of course we visited with Eppi, the collie I found for Gayla and on whom she dotes.
Friday four of us did a walk-through at Katie Sherrod and Gayland Pool's lovely garden, where TCU Press will present "Books and Music in the Garden" on April 6. Sorted out where to put authors, wine stations, food stations, etc. And went to lunch, of course.
Today I did grocery stores and then had a "photo shoot" of me cooking. I love to say that--makes me feel like some sort of TV chef. Texas Coop magazine will do a bit piece about cooking with canned soups which I wrote and they altered a good bit, but they wanted pictures and a cover of my cookbook--which will now be rushed into design. So that was sort of exciting--and much easier than I anticipated.
Last weekend I had way too much of my own company, so I made sure that didn't happen this weekend. Had lunch with Jeannie today, and we made more plans about Scotland. Tomorrow I'll have brunch with Betty, and my neighbors Jay and Susan will come for supper. Meantime I have lots of work to do.
My 96-year-old aunt in Canada died last night. I am sad but mostly relieved. Her neighbor, who called me, said she's been "gone" for a year but was astute enough for the first six months to know she was losing her mind. Recently she broke her hip, and she never left the hospital after that, was on morphine. I have fond, fond memories, especially of the two weeks I spent at her lake cabin as a young teenager. When my children were little, she came to visit once or twice--she used to go to Florida every year. But then she declared her hip was so bad she couldn't travel, and we kept in touch by phone. Most recently, she didn't answer the phone or didn't know who I was when I called. So it was time. And her grandson tells me she was ready.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Restaurant choices, candidates, a funny day, and Scotland

Betty and I had our weekly dinner tonight and once again--second time in two weeks--I chose Pappadeaux, which was mistake. Last week, the stock show was still in town and there was a wait. Tonight there were even more cars in the parking lot, and we couldn't figure out what was going on. Duh! Mardi gras. We stood and waited for about 30 minutes--and all I wanted was a baked potato! My stomach was a little off today--I think it was that blasted chili. I'm too Scottish to throw it out, so I froze it, will probably throw it out later. We had a good visit and enjoyed supper--for a seafood place they serve huge and fluffy baked potatoes, which was exactly what my stomach felt like.
I came home to a veritble flock of flies in the kitchen. Got in a couple of good air shots and probably killed three or four but they seemed to multiply before my eyes. Good news of the day is that I found my sunglasses--in the rosemary bush! I had them on Sunday when I was weeding and come Monday morning I went all over the house wondering where I had absent-mindedly set them down. Finally today, I took a broomstick out to the rosemary bushes, and there they were! So I was one for one on good/bad news but then tonight I missed a phone call I was expecting because dinner took longer than I thought. And then in the flurry of trying to juggle two lines, I accidently erased the message. Nolanda, apologies and please do try again. I think this just wasn't my day.
Like a lot of the country I'm watching election returns, though it's often hard to decipher what's really happening from a string of seemingly disconnected numbers. The general impression I'm getting is that McCain will win for the Republicans but not enough to declare victory and Mike Huckabee is doing better than anyone expected. Not sure, but it looks to me like Hillary is doing better than Obama. (Is it a holdover from earlier days that everyone calls her Hillary but him by his last name, Obama? I wonder if feminists are upset about that?) I guess I'll wait till morning to have my guesses confirmed. If I'm right, our Texas primary will have some significance. I've already voted--one of the advantages of growing older is that you can now vote by mail.
Scotland plans are proceeding. We picked a London hotel today and asked Jordan to find out about the cost of first class railway reservations. We'll go directly from London to Inverness in the heart of the Highlands. I've had only one answer from the B&Bs I emailed, so I tried again tonight. On another front, I've arranged to board my animals. Wynona will go to the cat room at the vet's--she won't be confined to a cage all the time, and she'll have people to love her (plus figure out her new weird eating habits). But Scooby is going to Granbury (about 30 miles away) to Canine Fitness Camp--they pick up and deliver. What a deal. I doubt he'll want to come home.
I've also begun a list (I'm a chronic list-maker) of things to be sure I have enough of for the trip--medications, makeup, etc. And a list of questions for Jeannie--what clothes should I really take, what do we do about currency, etc. I'm thinking ahead about comfortable shoes and am relucantly getting into buying "old lady" shoes that will protect my hammer toe. Clothes are a big concern to me because everyone talks about how cold it will be but it's hard to pack many warm clothes in a suitcase! And a biggie--I who never go anywhere these days without my walking stick have ordered a collapsible wallking stick (it's really a cane but I hate that word). This one has dogwood blossoms on it--none of that black-and-aluminum stuff for me! This trip is really becoming a reality, and I'm terribly excited--and a wee bit trepidatious. (is that a word?)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Rescued chili

Tonight Jordan and Jacob came for dinner. I reconstituted the chili--added more chili powder and cumin, salt and pepper, and another can of diced tomatoes. It truth, I had left out the serrano and jalapneo chilies, and I guess I needed to double the other seasonings to compensate. It was good, but Jordan declared she couldn't eat a whole bowl, and I forced my way through a smaller bowl. It was good, but as my colleague who doesn't eat red meat would say, it was "meat intensive." I threw the recipe away. But we had that delicious blue cheese salad and all was well with the world. I'm even too full for that last sliver of Toll House pie.
I'm practing using my new Sony Cybershot, a Christmas present, and so I sent Jordan and Jamie pictures of Jacob that I took tonight . I'd post them here if I knew how. Maybe Melinda will do it for me tomorrow and show me how.
A satisfying but unremarkable day, filled with budget and that sort of drudgery. The only bright spot was that Jordan brought Jacob to dinner--he was alternately charming and fussy. His Aunt Doodah (his father's sister) joined us for a glass of wine, and he brightened considerably at her presence.
I'm as curious as can be about Super Tuesday. From the emails and blogs I get, I think Obama is going to be the nominee. I will be happy with either of the Democratic candidates, and I'm glad they seem to have mended their fences somewhat.
I wish I had more to say, but that would be a puff. So I'll go back to finishing the P.D.James novel I'm wading through.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Cooking Failure

Well, everyone has them. Today I had this elaborate chili recipe, including black coffee and Dr. Pepper (I used beer) that I thought sounded really good. I worked on it this morning, carefully following the recipe, though I admit I doctored it a bit, in ways I thought would be an improvement. Somehow the house wasn't flooded with wafts of chili cooking, which I thought was strange. I let it simmer, put it in the fridge, and tasted just a bit tonight. It was bland, though it had an afterbite. I guess I'll have to "doctor" it further tomorrow--more spices, more tomato sauce, definitely more salt. Meantime for dinner I had the last half of yesterday's trout, salad, sauteed zucchini, and those delicious fresh raspberries on which I'd splurged.
This morning, so confident of my new recipe, I was lingering over the paper, coffee, and my favorite weekend breakfast--eggs soft-scrambled with diced tomato, sliced scallions, and diced smoked salmon. So good. But the TODAY show had a Superbowl cookoff--weekend host Lester Holt and one of his co-hosts had three minutes to prepare competing dishes. She prepared a dip, but I didn't pay much attention, because I was appalled by Holt's version of chili--it had kidney beans and tomato soup! He needs to come to Texas, and I emailed to tell him so. I got a standard email response that held out the possibility of a personal response, but I doubt it.
It was a beautiful day for February--in the 70s and sunny. I got my gardening stool and cut back those blasted Mexican petunias that grow everywhere. A landscape gardener put them in a few years ago when she redid my garden--and I wish she hadn't. They do have pale purple blooms that are pretty, but they pop up everywhere, and when they freeze back they look awful. I also got most of the dead leaves out of the lambs ear. I'll probably leave the rest of the clean-up to Jim Sharratt, who keeps my yard in good shape.
It's been a weekend of my own company, and I'm ready to go back to work in the morning. But I've also done some good things--finished reading the cookbook one more time and after I clear up the truth about one recipe, given me by a friend, I'll send it off. I'm plowing through that P. D. James novel, though tempted to give it up. I'm just reluctant to quit a book midway through. Next on my desk--do something about that mystery. Then I'll have to look for a new project.
A friend recently said she thought I had a bit of ADD. Astounded I asked why. "Because you rush through everything," replied she, who can happily watch paint dry. Actually, I thought my energy was one of my good points.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Superbowl Sunday

I always kind of disliked Superbowl Sunday, mostly because I have zero interest in football. Years ago, when I was married (seems like another life and I guess it was), we used to go to Superbowl parties. I remember one year a physician/friend rented an entire restaurant and everyone had too much to eat and drink and no one cared a hoot what was happening on the screen. I think it was one of those times I refused to risk life and limb by driving home with my clearly inebriated husband and called a friend to come get me--but that's another story. Anyway these days most people I know go to Superbowl parties--and I sit home and watch the Souper Bowl on PBS, or used to.
This is one of those long empty weekends anyway--younger, I used to call them divorcees' damn dull weekends. This time I decided I could either make the most of it and enjoy it, or I could be bored and unhappy all weekend. I chose the former. This morning I did all those chores that are such a nuisance--getting the jeweler to put a new battery in my watch (I haven't a clue how to get to it), dropping old clothes off at a charity resale shop, getting the oil in the car changed, going to the vet for dog food. But I also wandered slowly through Central Market--and used the coupon I forgot last week and the one for this week.
The result of that shopping trip is I had a lovely dinner tonight. Puttered in the kitchen over making a salad and grilling a ruby red trout--I discovered that half a trout is plenty for me, but it was so good! I used my George Forman grill with lemon butter touched with a bit of tarragon and dried garden mint. The salad was the blue cheese one that my family is currently all crazy about. And I topped it all off with the fresh raspberries I splurged on. I've been reading a P.D.James novel--slow going for me--but tonight I think I'll read through the cookbook one more time and then ship it off. To my disappointment, it won't be in the fall catalog but spring'09.
Tomorrow is supposed to be in the '70s, and I'm determined to do some weeding. And, I guess in the spirit of Superbowl, I'm determined to make a bit pot of chili, even though no one's coming to eat it with me. Jordan and Christian are supposedly coming early in the week for dinner and then to put Christmas in the attic. But back to the chili--I've always made what I called "Judy's mild and simple chili" but I found a new recipe I want to try (with a few alterations, of course) and I bought ground bison today for it. I may never buy ground beef again now that I've discovered bison!
Y'all enjoy that game. Now, who's playing?