Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Home again

Got home about 2 p.m. on Tuesday. When I left for this long visit, I thought I'd be itching to get back by the time Jordan got there, but I wasn't at all. I was reluctant. I didn't want to face my responsibilities, especially the in-depth report I have to write about the press. I wanted to stay and play with Morgan and Kegan, read, eat Lisa's delicious meals, and sleep in that comfortable bed. But now I'm home, have been to Central Market (my goodness, when did ham get so expensive!), and am settled at my desk. I'm gradually putting away this and that from Christmas but will leave the house decorated until after tomorrow.

My last day in Houston ended with a bang--a trip to the Houston Zoo, where Colin and Lisa are members so that they can take the children often. This picture is probably one of my favorites of the whole trip. Kegan wanted to hold my hand, but he also wanted to catch up with the "big" kids and tried to urge me ahead--I figured we were already going at top speed for either of us.
I've gotten out my notes on the report I have to write, answered all the Christmas mail, unpacked the suitcase and--ooops! forgot to start the washer. Yep, I'm home, but I truly hope to take the relaxation of Houston into the New Year with me. May you all have a happy, blessed, and stress-free 2009.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A rainy Sundaya turns hectic

Rainy and cold this morning. I foresaw a quiet day at home but Colin wanted to go to Target and I wanted to go to Barnes & Noble, so we set off, leaving Lisa behind with the children. Had to sit in the mall for 15 minutes, waiting for B&N to open and had a good visit,
but we got our errands done--including a cursory examination of the new touch Blackberry. Jordan made terrific time down from Fort Worth and was here about 12:30.

Still thinking it was a quiet rainy day, I went up for a nap after lunch--and came down to pandemonium. Lisa's sister-in-law, Kristi, had brought her four-year-old nephew and twin 17-month nieces to join the fray. We had five adults and six kids, and everyone was constantly counting children's heads to make sure we had them all in sight. Colin had made two gingerbread houses and turned the kids loose to decorate--I fear more candy was consumed than went on the cakes. We had supper, and about 7:15 Kristi suddenly realized the time and that her nieces should have been in bed at 7 p.m. so they left in a flurry. We're trying a big experiment--Morgan has been sleeping on a pallet in the living room, and tonight we're going to see if Jacob will sleep next to her--he's still used to a pack-and-play when he travels. The picture above shows Aunt Lisa trying to quiet them down. Colin is being rather stern about "Get back on your pallets." Don't know if this will work or not. Jacob kept proclaiming he wanted to go home NOW.
I'm savoring the end of a lovely vacation but have that sense of returning to routine and wondering if I can take the relaxation and mellow mood with me. Meantime I'm get lots of hugs and kisses--and some "No!" retorts!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another day, another "Juju" trip

Today, we went to Old Town Spring--Spring being a town slightly north and west of Kingwood where the kids live. It's one of those rejuvenated old areas turned into a tourist attraction--lots of kitsch, boutiques, sweet shoppes, small cafes, and the like. It reminds one of Kemah, or Manitou Springs in Colorado, Old Town in Albuquerque, or even, with a different flavor, Fort Worth's Stockyards area. We ate a delicious lunch in Ellen's Cafe (where the specialty is home-made ice cream), the kids found a two-story ramp that they ran up and down, and we shopped a bit. Visited an amazing doll hospital, the Spring Historical Museum where they really have some interesting artifacts--a small, apparently volunteer project, it's quality for its size. And then we visited the public restroom several times. In spite of a drizzle, the area was full of tourists. We ended our outing back at Ellen's eating ice cream cones on the porch. On the way home the drizzle turned to a violent downpour, the kind you hate to drive in, though Colin did admirably.
Jordan and Jacob arrive tomorrow, so its dawned on me that my vacation is drawing to a close. In recognition, I took an extra long nap. But I'd felt that today anyway. For a week now, I've been "Juju," a grandmother, and today, the first thoughts of the office crept it. I began a list of things to be done when I get home. I thought of something I should write tonight. The week away has done me good, but I guess I'm no good at staying away too long.
I'm barely into the P. D. James novel, The Private Patient, but already I'm intrigued by technique. She opens the novel focusing on the intended murder victim, so for the first 60 pages or so, the reader sees things through her eyes. She's not a particularly likeable or warm woman--scarred by the scar she carries on her cheek, a woman who keeps herself remote from others. Perhpas that's so that we don't abandon the book when she's murdered. But I still think it's a bit unusual to spend so much time developing the characters of the intended victim--a technique perhaps that would only work in the hands of a masterful writer like James.
Excuse me, I've got to go. The children are "helping" put up new shelves in the playroom and the opening of the Olympics, the TV "Event of the Year," is being replayed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

We did no boxing today, having thrown all the boxes away yesterday, but we treated the day like a holiday. Lisa and Colin did a Juju outing and dragged the kids to two places I wanted to go: Kenny & Ziggy's deli and Booked for Murder. I was so determined to eat ethnic food at the deli that I ordered a latke, which we shared, and chopped liver, thinking to compare it to what I usually get--I know, I know, I have to give it up. And today's serving was so big and rich that I am now through with it for a long time, definitely a good thing. But afterward, I wished I'd ordered one of their supersandwiches, like pastrami and tongue with Russian dressing. Just reading the menu is sheer delight for me.
Booked for Murder is one of the country's best murder bookstores. One of our authors suggested I go there, and I'd forgotten it but went happily, especially when I found out that all used books were 50% discounted. I got two hardbacks and two paperbacks for $11, not that I needed more reading material. Lesson learned: I bought a Phyllis Whitney novel, set in Norway--Whitney because I used to love reading her books, Norway because Lisa's mom grew up there, Lisa has visited often, and she's interested in cozies--so I thought this the perfect match. I'd read the book by Tuesday and leave it for her. Problem is the novel was written in 1972 and try as I might this afternoon, I couldn't get into it. It was too introspective, giving me all the troubles I often have with British cozies. I guess style in cozies changes--and then there's that age-old question of what authors' works will be read a hundred years from now--I don't guess Whiteny will make that cut. I gave up. I've started the newest P. D. James--it always takes me a while to get into her works too, but Mary Lu assures me it's such a wonderful book I should persevere--and besides, as Mary Lu says and I agree, she writes beautifully. Except I've already wished for a dictionary a couple of times.
I had given Lisa two books for Christmas--a Margaret Truman and a Diane Mott Davidson. Tonight we decided she should start with the Truman. All is quiet--I think the household is suffering from the "day after Christmas" letdown. Kegan slept in the car while we were out and about and so didn't get his good nap; Morgan "rested" briefly, ran and played, and then fell sound asleep on the couch for two hours. Now both are down, Colin's asleep, and Lisa and I are at our computers but ready to go to sleep.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Number Two

The Alters and Griesbachs ate Christmas dinner in their pajamas. When I think back to my childhood and the formal dinners--Dad in a starched white shirt, ceremonioiusly carving the turkey at the table, I know he is twirling in his grave. But we were all cooking and working in the kitchen and saw no reason to change into "good" clothes. So we happily ate in our pjs--and won't get out of them all day. Dinner was delicious. Instead of brining the turkey, we salted it last night with a lot of kosher salt, a variety of herbs, and some grated lemon peel. The gravy, made with shallots and white wine plus turkey drippings and canned broth, was delicious--and plentiful. I hate running out of gravy! Everything else was great, and we--being the grandparents--and cleaned the kitchen fairly quickly. Then everyone watched mesmerized as Lisa tried out the new WiiFit exerciser. Getting yourself established in it is a complicated program, but she did it and found her weight and body mass index were right on target. Offered a chance to try, I declined. I'll stick to my yoga. The directions to this suggest doing yoga on it. Now why would I want to do yoga on a balance board when I sometimes have enough trouble keeping my balance on a mat on the floor?
Now Lisa's parents, John and Torhild, have headed for Sugar Land--far south Houston--and the kids are playing. I thought both Colin and Kegan were down and out for the count (see picture above) but they both have revived.
I hope everyone had as blessed and happy a Christmas as we did. There's nothing like family.

Christmas Day

I kind of quit my Christmas Eve post in the middle and never got back to it, but Brandon told me this morning they were reading my blog to keep up with us, so this is for family and friends who want to know about Christmas in the Kingwood Alter household. I hope the others will reciprocate with pictures and emails.
This morning the children slept till almost 7:30--unprecedented in a household where they get up at five. When I wandered down about 7:15, thinking I had missed it all, Colin and Lisa were pacing the floor in anticipation--and disappointed that it was just me.
We had a traditional Alter Christmas--gifts from Santa and stockings opened, then a big breakfast, and only then opening gifts. Others who have married into the clan rebel at this tradition--B., I can hear you gritting your teeth. We had a chili releno casserole, a rich and very fattening but oh so good potato casserole, and bacon, orange juice and much coffee. Then came gifts, the highlight of which was a box of excelsior Colin gave to Morgan with a coupon saying her mother would clean it up. Morgan threw excelsior into the air by the handsful (Mel, I hope you read this spelling) and an excelsior fight ensued. We did all pitch in to clean it up. We opened gifts until the kids' eyes glazed over and then put a stack of children's presents aside to be opened later. Now we're getting ready to fix a traditional dinner--turkey, ham, green bean casserole, corn, stuffing, etc.
Morgan, just four months into being a three-year-old, is at the perfect age for Christmas, all agog about all of it. Last night she tried to rush me to bed, explaining she had heard Santa's sleigh nearby and he wouldn't come if I was sitting in the living room reading. I promised to hurry on to bed. This morning she was excited by everything, her eyes glowing--her daddy sent her on a treasure hunt to find the pink scooter she had wanted so badly, and she was even allowed to eat candy before breakfast. A great day.
Maybe more later--check back.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve and all the preparations

Christmas Eve and all the preparations are undeer way, including the making, from scratch, of a gingerbread house. Morgan wants to sleep on the couch, but she can't stay in the living room, because after all, Santa will be coming. Still to be baked, the Krispie Orange cookies that are Colin's favorite and what must be always laid out for Santa.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Relaxing with the holidays

In thinking about going to Houston, I was prepared to devote time to getting back to my mystery, but it hasn't happened--and I can see the holidays sliding by without it happening. My fellow members in Sisters in Crime would accuse me of not being dedicated enough, but . . . . Yesterday Lisa and I did what must have been at least two hours at SuperTarget, going from one end of the store to the other. I didn't have on good shoes for all that walking, even with arch supports, and today my right foot is paying the penalty. We also ran a couple of other errands, and in the afternoon went to Colin's office party--which was for children and adults both. In the evening, we looked at really elaborate hristmas lights.
This morning Lisa has gone to get a haircut. I slept until almost 8:30 and "putzed" around, reading email, eating breakfast, etc., and finally got my bed made and got dressed. It's not too cold but rainy, and I don't care if I stay indoors all day. I have good books to read. Tonight Colin says we're going to look at more lights.
Two interesting things tell me I'm really relaxed. My balance and self-confidence are so much better. I don't have to be sure I'm right next to somebody, and I negotiate parking lots and curbs better than usual--still need a hand on some curbs, but . . . .
Know that dream we all have about being enrolled in classes and when it's time for finals we discover we have been attending? I may have put it to rest last night, because in my dream I went to the faculty--it was my former professor and now colleague, Bob Frye, and said, "Look, we all know this is silly. I don't need an undergraduate degree. I have a Ph.D. and I'm seventy years old. I was just doing it because I liked the people I was running around with. I don't need paleontology 101 or first year French." They agreed, though one person suggeseted it was frivolous of me. I thought if I didn't have classes I could sleep late every morning (see how I'm enjoying not having to get up?) but then I realized I'd have to go back to my office, which I'd neglected all semester. When I went back, new people had taken over--a fund-raiser had appropriated my office and my personnel had all changed. I didn't know if there was room for me or not (oops! insecurities arising from another quarter!). It was all very interesting--but I'm curious now if the finals dream will return.
Morgan and Kegan are at daycare, and the house is quiet. I'm going to read before we get caught up in a round of cooking and errands.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Safely in Houston

Today I rode to Houston with people I didn't know--the driver works with Jordan and was a delightful young woman. She and family (two cars caravaned) were headed for Galveston and a cruise to Mexico. They were kind enough to bring me as far as Spring (north of Houston) where by pre-arrangement Colin met us at a Coney Island restaurant. So here I am settled in with two grandchildren who didn't take as long to remember me as I was afraid they would. It will be a busy week--cooking, shopping, Colin's office party (children and grandparents invited apparently). But it will also be a lazy week of reading and napping. And somehow I intend to get back to my mystery. But for ten days, I'm going to think as little as I can about my office.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I'm not a graceful traveler. My horoscope sign is Cancer, and that means I'm a homebody. But I certainly don't want to be home alone on Christmas, so this year I'm going to Houston to be with Colin and his family. It will be a great chance to get to know Morgan (3) and Kegan (1-1/2) better--usually when we meet, it's among throngs of family. I'm leaving in the morning, at 9 a.m., riding with one of Jordan's colleagues who is going to Galveston for a cruise. Jordan said they could just let me out on I-45, which gave me visions of being shoved out the door of a car. Then Lisa said to tell them to take me to I-45 and 1960, but I complained I did not want to be left at an intersection--I wanted a McDonald's or something, a Stop 'n Go, some definite place. So they came up with a hot dog place--the name is in my purse--and Lisa said Colin will no doubt want to eat there. But, per orders from Jordan, I am taking a sandwich in the car--and some cookies.
I have spent today doing all those last-minute things you do when you're about to turn your house over to someone else for ten days--laundry, watering plants, dishwasher, cleaning the cat box thoroughly, sorting out what to give Jordan from the fridge. A former student will stay here Sunday and Monday since it will be very cold and Scooby can't stay outside; then Sue will take over. Her parents arrive Tuesday, so it works well for her to sleep either in the main house or in the apt.--her choice, unless it gets bitterly cold again. I told her she might find it more trouble to sleep with my animals than in a crowded small house with her parents and kids.
Tonight Jacob is spending the night. We had a jolly evening--periods of watching a DVD followed by periods of play and conversation I didn't quite get all of. Just now, at my desk, I heard this other-worldly voice calling, "Juju, Juju." I looked out the window, even went to the door, wondering if Sue's kids were out there. But Scooby didn't bark, and then of course I realized it was Jacob on the monitor. So I went in and loved him and told him he'd have a good sleep and Mommy and Daddy would come in the morning. He said, "Okay" and appeared to settle down. Earlier we watched a movie about "Do Claus" (Santa) and he commented on the "shew lights"--Christmas lights. Jacob is nothing if not imaginative.
I'm going to write some Christmas thank-you notes and go to sleep early. It will be a hectic morning, trying to juggle Jacob and last-minute packing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More 'tis the season

Well, I have had two days filled with Christmas and enjoyed them thoroughly. Yesterday I had lunch with my good friend Jean, and we exchanged gifts--of course, we knew we had each gotten the other the same thing--a ceritifcate for flowers of the month at a local florist. And we had a laughingly happy lunch. Then Mary Lu came by--I had given her the same certificate, but she brought me the most elaborate measuring spoons. Embossed with Laugh, Love, Live on the back and a rooster in the bowl of each spoon. I don't know how she finds such unusual gifts, but she always does.
I fixed supper for Jeannie and Betty last night, and we exchanged gifts. We've gotten into the habit of two of us buying a gift for the third--my gift was two more Reidel O glasses (they had given me four for my birthday) plus Terry Thompson-Anderson's new book, The Texas Hill Country: A Food and Wine Lover's Paradise, which I had made plain I wanted. Now I think the three of us need to explore the Hill Country.
Today we had a TCU Press "staff luncheon." Jim Lee had a gift certificate to Cafe Aspen which was, he declared, burning a hole in his brief case, so he treated us. It's what I have always considered my family restaurant--Jamie worked there forever, and Jordan and Colin both briefly. Wonderful lunch, another gift exchange, and lots of laughter.
In the afternoon, my brother and Cindy came by--a truly rare event, because they never tell me when they're in town, and I know John doesn't like to linger. But we traded Christmas presents--he did NOT want to open them until Christmas--and sat and talked for over a half hour. I considered it a loving, brotherly gesture on his part and was delighted to see them.
Then this evening Sue came over to talk about keeping the house and animals, and Jay wandered in to drink a beer--he says if you leave cheap beer in my refrigerator, you can be sure no one else will drink it. So we had another good visit. Tonight I am filled with the happy sense of how many friends I have and how many people to share the holidays spirit with. It's a very good feeling.
Tomorrow is my last day at work for two weeks. I am truly looking forward to being away, though I have a major report to write by February 1. I think tomorrow morning I'll collect info for it, bring it all home, and work on it late in my vacation--but not in Houston.
I am going to spend the holidays with Colin and his family. Since it is supposed to be 20 Sunday night, I am delighted that I have found people to stay in the house and bring Scooby in at night. I'm looking forward to time with three-year-old Morgan and Kegan, 1-1/2 years--and their parents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Cold Evening--and Jacob

Today was North Texas in winter--in the 20s when I went to work, thinking only of how quickly I could come home and hibernate. When I left the office at noon, it was 29. Maybe hit 32 for a high. Tomorrow is supposed to be better, and by Saturday and Sunday we'll be at 70. Then back to the upper 30s Sunday when I'm going to Houston and in a dither whether to take winter or fall clothes. Houston is a lot south, but I've been there at Christmas when it snowed.
Jacob brought warmth to the house tonight. His parents had a party to attend, and he and I spent the evening together in great good spirits. He ate his pbj and applesauce and watched a DVD for a while but then he wanted to wander all over the house, which meant I wandered with him. He went with me to the bathroom, and applauded "Yeah, Juju" when I used the potty--obviously we're into toilet training here. And once when I tried to lure him back to the playroom I promised to show him the lights on "B's" house (B being his name for Jay, my handsome neighbor). He saw the lights, and then he saw Jay in his kitchen and kept rapping on the window. Needless to say, Jay didn't hear and didn't respond. By 8:30, he was back on the daybed, watching his DVD. But he came to life again when his folks arrived about 9:30. Christian, carrying Jacob and a huge bag of Jacob's clothes, Jordan's clothes, and who knows what else, got stuck between a chair and the couch, and I couldn't figure out why he couldn't move. All three adults got the uncontrollable giggles--okay, you had to be there to see it.
So now I'm settled at my desk and reading the first Rhys Bowen novel I've ever read--her characters are delightful, and I'm liking it a lot. I feel the winding down for the holidays--have cleared my office desk of major projects (except a complicated report that has to be written, maybe over Christmas break) and have nothing pressing on my personal desk. It's both a good and an uneasy feeling.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another good day

North Texas was like early fall today--up into the upper 70s, sunny and gorgeous. Tonight the temperature is to drop and tomorrow the forecast high is 39 with rain. If you don't like the weather, wait a minute and it will change. Mid-60s by Wednesday. Meantime I have gotten out warm fuzzies for tomorrow.
This morning I went to early church--8:45--something I maybe have done once or twice before. But today, my good friends Jean Walbridge and Jim Clark joined the church, and Jeannie and I were there as their cheering team. I haven't, as I've mentioned, been going to church, and it was good to be there--I always enjoy the ritual, the music, and today I enjoyed the sermon. The church at 8:30 is a far different place than it is at 10:45, and I was astounded--no traffic on the streets, empty places close up in the parking lot but no valet, no people in the halls on the way to the sanctuary--or at least very few. Still there was a fairly big crowd at the service. I didn't find it so hard to get up at 7 and be ready to leave at 8:30--still read the paper and had my breakfast. What I did find funny was that at 10 when I got home, I was hungry. Usually when I get home from church it's lunch time. So I said what the heck and ate the half leftover gorgonzola burger I had in the fridge while finishing the newspaper. Jean and Jim were warmly welcomed into the church, and I was really glad I had gone.
The sermon took its theme from "Jubilee," the Hebrew celebration every 50 years where fields lie fallow, land is returned to the original owners, and the enslaved are freed. Congregation Beth El, the local reformed Jewish temple, sent a representative with a shofar, the ram's horn symbolic of the ram that was sacrificed in place of Abraham's son. I thought it interesting that they sent a woman, for I think of Judaism still as a religion where men predominate. But this was a lovely attractive woman who wore a shawl I wanted to rip right off her and steal. She blew the shofar and reminded me I'd forgotten how shrill the sound is. When I was young my parents went to a church in a "changing" neighborhood, far from where my friends attended. But Dad had attended St. James since the 1920s, and he wasn't about to change. I went to the United Church of Hyde Park (Congregational and Presbyterian) and next door was a small orthodox Jewish temple. The grandmother of my good friend Eleanor Lee lived on the other side of the temple, so one way or another, I heard the shofar quite a bit. So hearing it this morning was a bit of nostalgia for me.
The rest of the day was spent mostly proofreading--and I finished the project this evening, though there are problems I have to work out tomorrow. I put a pot roast on about noon and added potatoes just before I napped about two; when I went to add carrots in the late afternoon, I feared I had let it cook too long. But Jordan, Christian, and I agreed it was delicious--I really would prefer just to do the potatoes and carrots and forget the meat. The cooking liquid is a can of mushroom soup, a pkg. of Lipton's beefy onion soup, and a half cup of red wine--makes delicious gravy.
Jacob had been sick last night, slept way too late and long this afternoon, and couldn't decide if he was happy (sometimes) or whiney (sometimes). I commented that the whiney doesn't happen much if at all when he's here with me alone. But we gave him his Christmas present from me--an Elmo sleeping bag. He was much excited by Elmo but didn't get the sleeping bag idea at all. Jordan says we'll take it to Houston and maybe Morgan will show him. Nonetheless he gave me a sweet kiss and hug and left with, "Thank you, Juju." He talks about "Do Claus" and cannot be persuaded to say Santa Claus.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A pleasant day

What I thought would be a long empty day--because of my cancelled trip--turned out to be very pleasant. I slept late--8:30!--and was just settling down with the paper when Carol Roark called. She had voluntarily run a signing party at the Dallas Public Library (she is curator of the Texas Collection) for Fran Vick's Literary Dallas. Carol rounded up contributors and cajoled someone at the library into contributing sandwiches (it was lunchtime)--Buy a book, get a sandwich. They sold 35 books, which is really good. Now Carol wanted to bring back leftover books and settle up checks, charge slips, and money. And did I want to go to lunch? So I went to the grocery, came home and did some chores, and Carol picked me up. We got several other small pieces of business accomplished at my office and had a cheering lunch at Carshon's Deli (I have got to stop eating chopped liver--so good and so bad for you!). I've spent most of the rest of the day proofreading and making good progress. Of course, there was a long nap and leftover spaghetti from the place down the street for dinner. Chadra is a Lebanese/Italian restaurant (odd combination to me) but I love their meat sauce--good, old-fashioned, full of tomatoes, and not too spicy.
Proofreading is hard for me. Melinda says it's because I'm creative and not mechanical (right brain or left? I never can remember), but I'm trying hard. These proofs are of a novel by a good friend, and he was not happy with some of the edits, so I'm trying to get it just right for him. He's a seasoned writer with his own very deliberate style and having worked with him on several projects, I understand that style and what he's doing. But that doesn't mean I can't miss typos, etc., while I'm protecting his style. Fortunately it's been read in final mss. by a professional proof reader and will be read again just before it goes to the printer. Meantime I'm enjoying doing it.
It's a Wonderful Life is on TV and I'm keeping it on, muted, just so I can look up every once in a while and see Jimmy Stewart. I don't really need sound at this point--I pretty much know where the story is going.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A cancelled trip

Well, bummer. I was half packed to go to Frisco tomorrow for Christmas with Jamie, Mel and the girls. Jordan and Christian are going to celebrate their anniversary in Dallas, and I would ride back and forth with them, though there was a lot of controversy about where and when Jamie would have to pick me up and drop me off. He is frantically busy and finally called tonight to say, "This just isn't going to work." Maddie has a basketball game in the morning, Edie has a b'day party in the evening, he's still trying to get out of his old office and into the new one, the girls are asking him about putting up their tree, and he sounds like a pressure cooker, so I perfectly understand. But, yes, I'm disappointed. I don't guess I'll get the girls' Christmas presents to them before Christmas, and that's a disappointment. I called Jordan to tell her the wouldn't have to worry about me tomorrow. She called back in five minutes and asked if I wanted to go bar hopping with them--just kidding. But she said they would like to come for Sunday supper. A sweet, sweet gesture to make up for my disappointment, and I am grateful. My good friends, Jean Walbridge and Jim Clark, will join my church on Sunday, so now I can be there for them which is also a bonus. And I have page proofs of a novel to read, so I'll be busy. I decided tonight to leave unpacking the suitcase, washing up the final dinner pan, and all that until tomorrow when I'll have a lazy, lazy day.
Tonight I had a holiday supper for Mary Lu and Charles so that I could give them both their gifts. Fixed a sort of elaborate version of beets and greens and Dover sole, with orange dill gremolata. They both taught at the original Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (now the UNT Health Science Center) where there is now a move afoot to grant the MD degree as well as the DO, so that gave us plenty of fodder for discussion. I am a child of osteopathic medicine--father, brother, ex-husband, countless uncles and quite a few cousins plus for years I worked in osteopathic colleges doing secretarial and pr work. It's a hard thing for all of us to hear, but tonight just before they came one of my former physicians who remains a friend (and who reads this blog) called to talk about it, and he said the most important thing to me: Fort Worth and Texas have to decide if they want to have the premiere osteopathic college in the country, producing fine family physicians who are desperately needed in Texas and elsewhere or an MD school producing specialists. In my mind I add a second-tier MD school, although I'm sure that's not what the current president believes. It made me think of TCU Press--I know we're never going to rival Oxford or Chicago or some of the other major presses, so I've worked to develop us into a big splash in a little pond and to develop areas of specialization where we can be outstanding. I think that's what UNTHSC should do. It will be interesting to watch this work out.
So here I am with a lazy weekend. I hope to make the laziest possible use of it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dogs, food, and I don't know what else

Jeannie sent me an email early this morning (or late last night) forwarding a message that there was a year-old Australian Shepherd male at the local PetSmart, sweet and responsive (aren't they all?), and about to be euthanized if he didn't find a home in a week. I did note it didn't mention manners, training, or housebreaking, and I don't think PetSmart euthanizes but I guess they keep dogs for the Humane Society or something. Anyway I called a friend who has talked about getting another dog and got voice mail, which she never answers; I emailed Colin and got no reply; I emailed the DFW Aussie Rescue Group and got no reply. Finally tonight, I called the store--they didn't know a thing about such a dog, though the guy I talked to didn't sound particularly sharp--asked me if an Aussie was a cat. I swear if I thought the dog was still out there and if I wasn't getting ready to be gone for ten days, I'd have gotten him myself and then worried about how Scooby would feel about a companion. Actually I think he'd like the company--he is happy when his "cousin" Mozby, Jamie's chocolate lab, comes to visit, though Mozby, much younger, lets Scoob be the alpha dog, something I can't imagine since Scooby is so sweet and sort of mild.
Speaking of emails, I guess the flood from that contest I foolishly entered is over--the deadline was 4 p.m. Pacific Time today, which has now passed. Best I can figure from the agent's blog, he got over 1400 responses--and I got every last one of them. One good thing: I learned how to delete permanently from the inbox without having to go to the deleted items box and delete all over again. You hold down the shift key when you hit delete. Everyone one in the world probably knows this except me. Jeannie had tried to tell me once, and I thought it had something to do with clicking twice, which only opened the offending email. Got an email today about a company I'd never heard of that didn't want query letters, only first chapters. I decided I'd had enough of that kind of thing and held the shift key while I deleted.
I overserved myself today. Had lunch with friends at a place where I can't resist the gorgonzola burger, although I almost never eat a burger--ate half, but the big sin was I ate a bunch of waffle fries with ketchup. I know better than that. Took the other half of the burger with me and of course left it in the office fridge. A weekend lunch though. Tonight Betty and I went down the street to Chadra. She had chicken in a vodka sauce--it did look lovely and she raved over it. I had spaghetti with meat sauce--I love their red sauce and, contrary to some places, they're generous with it. So I brought over half of it home for another weekend
Rushed into work early this morning because I had so much to do. Found I'd already done one of the big projects--getting estimates on a book, communicating with the editorial board for approval, and drawing up a contract. So that put me ahead of the game, and I finished the other big project by ten, managed to collate the corrections on a manuscript so Melinda could get it off to the designer. Went to lunch fairly early and came back for the meeting, which was about a project that looks very promising. A productive day.
Now I'm going to finish that mystery!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I said last night this blog had veered away from its origins--writing, cooking, and grandchildren (well, not the latter). Tonight it's purely cooking, and its bragging on myself. It was one of those days that I didn't know what I wanted--nothing struck me as right. So when I came home I defrosted two boneless chicken thighs and decided I'd figure what to do with them later. About six, I snapped some green beans and put them on to steam, and then looked at the chicken, remembered I had a recipe Jordan and I had liked. Got it out and it called for browning, making a sauce and reducing it, and then roasting for 45 minutes. Sorry, it was six and I wanted my supper. So I pounded the thighs flat, floured them, browned them, and took them out of the skillet. Added some garlic to brown, then some chardonnay--not quite half a cup--and cooked it down a bit, added a half cup chicken broth, a bay leaf, and some thyme, and simmer the whole thing util it thickened. Put the chicken back in to warm, rewarmed a few of the beans with butter and salt, and had the most delicious dinner. I was tempted to lick the pan that sauce was so good--okay, when I got it back in the kitchen, I really did lick it. And I have one thigh left for when I eat lunch at home Friday.
I've been eating out more than usual this week--lunch Tuesday with a colleague and friend, breakfast today with an author from Arizona, lunch with an old friend from TCU administration, lunch and dinner out tomorrow. Tis the season.
Tis also the season when I feel things piling up but don't know what to do in advance--can't pack now for a trip ten days from now. Can't eve pack tonight for my one-night visit to Frisco this weekend. Packages are all wrapped, and I'm figuring about getting them to people. Can't get serious about writing with the holidays looming. So I guess I'll read. Am in the midst of Carolyn Hart's Death of the Party and enjoying it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cold weather, a writing story, and thanks

When North Texas turns cold, it can be really bitter. Today the predicted high was something like 63, but that was early in the morning. By 9:30, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and by 4:00 p.m. I hated to go outside to take care of the dog and take my garbage carts to the street. Tonight I'm glad to be cozily inside. Tomorrow's high is to be 46, and I'm debating what the warmest clothes I own are. Today it was the wind that did us in and made it feel twice as cold as it actually was, and tomorrow is to be the same way. But 70 by Sunday. North Texas is also unpredictable.
This was meant to be a blog about writing, cooking, and grandchildren. Well, I've kept up with the third subject, but I often feel like it's degenerated into a daily journal. Want to know what I did today? Spent from 8-9:30 in the dentist chair getting a new crown (he said I now have my own 401K in my moth), rushed into work like a mad woman trying to get everything done before an 11:15 lunch/business appt. Did have a great lunch at a small Italian restaurant that serves country food from the north of Italy--and we did get some business done. Then I had to go back to the office because I hadn't nearly accomplished everything.
But I do have a writing story to tell. I have favorite blogs that I check almost daily--some of them are pretty thought-provoking and some are pretty surface. But there came a notice that a young agent was sponsoring a contest--send him the first paragraph of a work-in-progress and if you win, he'd critique your query letter or do some other wonderful thing for you. I thought why not (the same agent had rejected my first mystery, though he did request three chapters before rejecting) and sent the opening paragraph of the second one. You were asked for your e-mail, presumably so you could be notified if you won. Not so--I've gotten every submission sent to him (at last count 765). Last night, not realizing the deluge to come, I read most of them--maybe 30. This morning my email had 98 new entries, and I've since spent the day deleting. Last time I try something like that, though I am curious about what he will finally choose. Some of the ones I read were pretty good, but a lot were inane. Maybe I don't want to be a mystery writer, in competition with all those 765 plus wannabees who are out there. No wonder it's hard to place a novel.
A couple of new people--Jeannie and Susan--have posted that they've recently fund my blog and are enjoying it, so to them I say thanks and welcome. It's always frustrating not to know who they are and not to be able to answer their comments. And I had a wonderful email today from my former physician who said he was enjoying my blog--and made some flattering observations about me from reading it. You're right, Steve, I am a very lucky person.

Monday, December 08, 2008

An ordinary day and some thoughts on TV

No miracles today. It was the kind of day I went to the drugstore, the grocery store, the hardware. I folded the laundry that had been in the dryer for two days and ran the dishwasher--finally. I replaced the light bulb that has been out in the panel in the bathroom forever--very embarrassing when I had company, but I didn't notice it until that day. It was a globe light in a panel of them over the long mirror and built-in cabinets that Jamie thinks I should take out and I refuse because they're so characteristic of a 1920s house. I napped, I read a manuscript, I wrapped Christmas presents and answered e-mails. Ho, hum!
You know how when you have a cold no food really appeals? That's how I felt all day, so I thought I'd do a grilled cheese for lunch. Burned it again! This time so badly it couldn't be scraped and saved, so I ended with a sort of open-faced melted cheese and cooked tomato sandwich. Not my idea of comfort food. Besides, I've heard once you burn a pan, it will always burn in the same spot--I hope not because this was a severe burn in my iron skillet. I cooked chopped sirloin in it tonight and it seemed okay.
Last night I said I was going to watch junk TV while wrapping presents. Even junk TV is so worthless I'm better off with my own thoughts. There was football, the Simpsons (which I despise) and I can't remember what else, but Desperate Housewives seemed the best choice and it was so awful I turned it off. Tonight I was going to wrap again and remembered that I used to watch Two-and-a-Half Men, but even the thought seemed so silly I wrapped packages in silence. Have I suddenly grown up at the age of 70 or has my taste matured? I love watching news programs, documentaries, etc., but the rest of it is not worth the money I spent having AT&T wire the house. Oh, well, there's the food channel, but still, give me a good book any time.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Day of Miracles

Well, actually it was a pretty quiet day. I let myself go into my slowest gear (people who know me will tell you that's not too slow). But I lingered over the paper and coffee, puttered around finishing cleaning up after last night, finished reading the parts of a manuscript I'd brought home--it ended abruptly and I found I was missing four chapters. No wonder it was abrupt! The kind of day where you never put on make-up and take a long nap. For lunch and dinner I had leftover cheese ball and caviar dip, though I tried to make dinner a bit healthier by adding some stir-fried zucchini and mushrooms.
The first miracle: after I did my yoga, I thought I would just try that washing machine one more time. It worked fine. I did a load of laundry that I'd meant to take out to Jordan's house and cancelled the repair appointment. Lesson learned--the machine does not like one heavy rug. Throws it off balance.
Second (maybe) miracle: Jamie called from meetings in Las Vegas where he thinks he made a contact for some writing assignments for me. Can't say more at the time but it would put me back to writing for young adults, which may be where I belong. Dang! Is that mystery going to go to waste?
Third miracle: While Jamie was on the phone, call waiting beeped--it was a distant cousin from Canada (her mother was my grandmother's sister--what does that make her to me?). She called to wish me Happy Holidays. She's 90, will be 91 on January 29 which is my father's birthday. She was born on his 21st b'day while he was away at WWI in Europe. Told me that's why she's named Norma--it was Dad's middle name but what all his family called him (his friends called him "Mac' and the students at the osteopathic college where he was president apparently called him "Black Mac," or at least some of them did.) Norma sounded sharp and clear, wanted to know about my family. She lives in the house she's lived in for 50 years. We had a delightful visit.
Later I had an email from Jamie and when I replied and explained about the call that caused me to cut him off, I told him to beware: I come from a line of women who live a long time.
I'm going to have a lazy evening watching junk TV and wrapping Christmas presents.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Tree Trimming

Tonight was my annual no-tree tree trimming party. Above you see my Christmas tree (it had a bow on it but Jordan took it back home) and the mantel--that's the kind of decorating I do these days. For years when the children were growing up, we had large and grand Christmas trees, but I always had a party to decorate them. I remember decorating the tree when I was a child was not festive at all, so I decided to turn it into a party. I'd put out all the ornaments and by the end of the evening, the tree was pretty well decorated. Of course, there was the year the tree fell over . . . . These days I'm never at home for Christmas--at one child's house or another--so I don't have a tree, although I put up all the other decorations, and the house looks festive. And I still have the party. This year I changed my routine, had it on Saturday instead of Sunday, and early rather than late. A true cocktail hour party at 5 p.m. About half the invited people couldn't come for one reason or another--illness, other obligations, etc. So there were maybe 35 people, but they ate almost all the food, so it's a good thing the others didn't come. Jacob came in shy, got his self confidence back and raced around the house, charming everyone, and then within two minutes turned sour and tired.
I have a pretty standard menu--every year I fix a caviar spread that I adore and the cheeseball that I remember from my childhood, and then I branch out from there. This year I had a refried bean and cheese dip (forgot to add the Tabasco but no one seemed to mind), a spinach-artichoke-cheese dip, crab and chili sauce on a block of cream cheese, and sausage balls. I have very few leftovers, though I'm glad there's some caviar and cream cheese for lunch tomorrow. For the sweet tooths, I had chocolate squares (all the ingredients of chocolate chip cookies, just put together in an entirely different manner), peanut butter cookies, and a chocolate Bundt cake that is a favorite. Jordan is having a ladies party next week and went home with lots of leftovers, including cookies and cake.
But I am tired tonight. I spent the morning cleaning house--something I rarely do myself. It wears me out and tears up my back, so that I have to sit every once in a while. Jordan came about four, helped me put things out, and did a major portion of the clean-up afterwards, with Christian's help. There are still about three dishes soaking, but I think I'll leave them overnight--something I almost never do. But I'm tired after two big events in two nights, and I'm fighting this cold. I think I've been staving it off by sheer will power all week. I decided I might collapse tomorrow, but then thought that was a bad attitude. I'll be fine after a good night's sleep.
Oh, and the washing machine quit today. With a wet rug in it. I opened the back door to wring it out (which I couldn't--it was a shag bathroom rug and too heavy to wring), and the dog ran in, the cat ran out, and I had a mess on my hands. The repairman is due Tuesday--I am so tired of servicemen who are to appear between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
I'm reading a manuscript, a memoir really but structured around the houses the writer has lived in. Since I'm a real house person, the idea fascinates me. I know I am defined by my house--built in 1922, decorated as my mother would have done (no decorator for me, although a good friend did the original planning), filled with old furniture and things I love but not, I hope, overcrowded.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The holiday season

I thought I'd post a couple more Thanksgiving pictures, since they were all such fun. One is what a hayride looks like with everyone piled on the flatbed, another is just a funny one of Jacob. I may post one of each branch of my family over the next few days.
Bone-weary is how I'd describe myself tonight. Our TCU Press Annual Autograph Party was tonight--I suspect we had 150 people at the Botanic Garden to buy books and hear a program where Jeff Guinn, famed for his "Evening with" programs, interviewed his friend and our author Michael Barson about his new book, True West: An Illustrated Guide to the Heyday of the Western. About 15 other authors were also there to sign their books. Book sales were brisk, I'm told, and the bookstore provided scrumptious trays of cheese and fruit; we provided wine. Everyone had a good time, even authors who didn't sign many books. For me it's about two hours on my feet, and my feet hurt when I got home--those same black shoes again! But it's also a time to greet lots of people I know and some I don't', like the lady who came up to me and said, "I'm a real fan of yours!" Made my day! I do know the authors, and each of them was someone I was glad to see again. Everyone went away in a happy mood--a bit of early Christmas cheer.
So tomorrow I'll get up and prepare for my annual Christmas party--the freezer is full of cookies and cake, which I'll take out tonight; last night I put the cheeseball and sausage balls in the fridge to defrost; the wine is bought; the dips are in the fridge, with only one easy one to put together at the last minute. I think I have everything under control so I can be semi-lazy tomorrow, make sure bathrooms are clean and all that. The party is extraordinarily early--5 p.m., which I did so folks could go on to other parties. Seems like half the people I invited can't come, but no problem--we'll have a good time and more chance to visit. Then the pressure is off, though I still have packages to wrap and so on.
I read an interesting line today in a manuscript I'm evaluating, written by a woman who recently retired. She viewed retirement as answering the question, "Who am I if I'm not working?" It's the question that haunts me. Sure I'll tell you that being a mom and grandmom are my most important roles, but I don't think it would be fair to the children and grandchildren involved to rely on them to define my life. And I like my work (most of the time--and especially times like tonight), so I continue to work. I have this vague fear that the first day of retirement I would wake up and thinkg, "Omigosh, what am I going to do today?" I'm getting better at piddling, but I sure haven't mastered it yet. Nope, bone-weary or not, I'm not ready for retirement.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thanksgiving memories

It's a little after the fact but today I received the disc with the photos of our Thanksgiving. Patty, my sister-in-law's sister, is our official family photographer, and she took 194 photos that day! I'm just attaching the one of all of us in front of the house. Sorry but I can't begin to figure out how to tell who is who, but my brother is the blue-jeaned one at the far right. Hmm--the pictures looks bit-mapped but you get the idea. It was a happy day. John twitted me for saying we're all loosely related, but that's the truth of it. Everyone there is related to someone else there but for some of us it's a distant relationship. Still it was a happy, congenial crowd. I was particularly glad to get to know Carlton's parents--he's married to my niece Jenn. And it was good to see my former sister-in-law and her new husband.
Last night I was down in the dumps, no energy, no nothing. Picked up a mystery that was too cozy, even for me. Then I picked up a Catherine Coulter novel, Tail Spin, that Mary Lu had loaned me. Coulter's books, billed as "FBI Thrillers" are anything but cozy. But she's a terrific storyteller, and makes you overlook coincidence--there really is at least one--and the fact that the two main characters are obviously headed for romance. Yes, there's violence, but the good guys win, and this one had me reading far into the night.
This morning I had that "I'm not sick but I sure don't feel good" feeling--coughing, blowing, lethargic--but it's always been my theory that if you get up and get going you'll feel better. It took till mid-morning, but then I was fine. Had lunch with my boss and a consultant and hope I held up my end of the conversation with some intelligence.
Tonight I've made one dip for Saturday--a start--and narrowed the menu since lots of people have called with regrets. I do hope there will be someone here! Bought wine today, and by luck Jim, the man who does my yard, was here. He carried it in for me, saving me endless trips with two bottles at a time.
Thought I would run to the grocery first thing tomorrow--but oops! I have an 8:30 meeting with my boss! Guess the grocery run is postponed.
Now I have to get back to Catherine Coulter! If you haven't read any of her books, I recommend them--and they're not for women only (for some reason, I'm thinking of John as I say that!). My trouble is that I've read several of her books and never know when I'm going to buy one I've already read. I wish I were very organized about keeping a database of the mysteries I read!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Odd facts you didn't know you didn't know

I just finished reading a China Bayles mystery by Susan Wittig Albert--it's a great series. The one I just read is Chile Death and like all of Albert's herbalist mysteries it contains a lot of herbal information. In this one she opens every chapter with a discussion of some aspect of chile. The one that really caught my attention is about supertasters and nontasters. Those of us who can't eat the hot stuff--that's definitely me--have more taste buds than others. About a quarter of the population are supertasters and can't take the heat. Another quarter of the population are nontasters and can eat whole peppers, even habaneros, without blinking. I sort of like the explanation. Being a supertaster may give me a sense of superiority. Maybe it's why I'm so interested in flavors and cooking.
Tonight I mixed a can of Campbell's pepper pot soup with a can of tomatoes--my mom's old trick--and had a delicious dinner. Then it occurred to me to look it up on the web, and I found, as I knew, that the original version and Campbell's contains tripe, but you can make it with everything from chicken to venison to shrimp. Many recipes refer to it as native to Philadelphia, but there were a couple of Jamaican recipes. On a site called, I found that the Campbell's kind is hard to find and many people think they've stopped making it. Not so! There was a good supply in my newly opened, independent City Market in Fort Worth. Making it from scratch looks like a lot of trouble.
And then there's Gail Halvorsen. I had never heard of him, but we got a query about supposed event on the TCU campus where this WWII hero will speak, so naturally I went back to google. Halvorsen, author of two books, was known as "the candy bomber" because he used small parachutes to drop candy to the children of Berlin. He was also called (in German) Uncle Wiggle Wings because he told the children he would wiggle his wings so they could distinguish his plane from others. I'm kind of sorry he's not coing to TCU--he sounds like an interesting guy.
Oh, one more bit of trivia: did you know you should count on guests eating 10-14 appetizers (is that bites, actual appetizers, what?) and 5 cups of dip serves 8-10--if they're hungry gorillas, I guess. Not the guidelines I've gone by!
Enough trivia. Today I emerged from my 2-1/2 days at home alone. It was like coming out of a cocoon, but I burst forth, went to the doctor and got a flu shot, went to the office where my desk was awash in mail and "stuff," and did a large and expensive grocery shopping. Now I'm home, party planning and reading, and plan to write my annual Christmas letter. I know people get tired of Christmas letters, but my handwriting is so bad these days, this is easier for me. I'll try to be brief.
And a sad note. Shocked as we all were at the tragedy in Mumbai, my heart ached today when I saw pictures of Moshe, the little boy orphaned when his Jewish missionary parents were killed. He apparently kept crying for "Mommy, Mommy" during a memorial service and one picture showed him with eyes swollen from crying. He's just the age of Ford or Jacob, and I know how they cry when they want their mommies and no one else will do. The gunmen were apparently so ruthless and heartless it's a wonder and a blessing they left little Moshe untouched by the bodies of his parents. I wonder how the child will fare in life and send my prayers for him.

A gift from a fan

I had a wonderful suprise today (sorry, don't know how to fix that strange layout). I was working from home when the postman came, about eleven, with a package from a high school friend--actually she is the older sister of my best friend, and I spent many days and nights at their house, the one that is less than two blocks from the current Obama residence. The package contained this pillow, which Liz's granddaughter had made and her daughter-in-law wanted me to have it. I don't know Sue's age, the granddaughter, but she had apparently read my middle-school novel, Maggie and a Horse Named Devildust. The front of the pillow, as you can see, has the title and a picture; the back has comments about the funniest part, the saddest part, etc. It's a thrill to know youngsters are still reading that book, which was published in the 1980s. There's a funny story behind it--my agent asked if I could do a novel about a young girl who wanted to be a cowgirl, but her mother wanted her to be a lady: he had a publisher who asked for such a book. I wrote it, sent it, and it was returned with a rejection that said, "Frankly, we find Ms. Alter's writing pedestrian." Oh well, as one of our authors found out yesterday, you don't always get good reviews.
Our book, Literary Dallas, edited by my good friend Fran Vick, got a "mixed" review in the Dallas paper. Fran saw it as purely negative, bit it really wasn't. It did have an unfortunate headline, "Big Diss," but in spite of that I think it will sell the book, and the folks at A&M agree. But when a reviewer doesn't love your work, it's kind of like someone not thinking your grandchild isn't as beautiful as you do. But it's part of the writing world, and you have to stand up and take your licks. I've heard funny and horrifying stories about authors who complained about negative books.
One of my pet peeves is to wait for that repairman who's due between 8 and 10 and he hasn't come by noon. Today I was still "taking care of myself," getting rid of this tiny cold, so I called and cancelled the AT&T installation--I wanted a nap. It was a semi-lazy day; I dealt with business matters most of the morning, via email, but found time this afternoon to lay out dishes for my Saturday night tree trimming party. Ever since I've been entertaining, I've put out dishes way in advance, each with a slip of paper telling what goes into the dish. I look at my menu, make the slips, and choose the bowls, etc. accordingly. Jordan now does the same thing, and one night, when she was preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner, she had the table all set days before. Christian commented, "You and your mother have a screw loose."
After two and a half days at home, feeling sorry for myself because I was sniffling and coughing, I'm ready to get back into the world tomorrow. and believe me, I have a lot to do out there in the world. Today I did my yoga routine for the first time in almost a week. Felt good, and I did better than I expected.