Saturday, May 31, 2008

In the kitchen

I'm trying hard to get pictures of the grandchildren cooking. I think they'd make a great last page for my forthcoming cookbook, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, due out next spring I believe. At two Jacob is a bit young to take an interest in cooking--well, some kids do but he hasn't. So tonight we tried to stage some pictures. The above is the best we could do. He was curious, but I wouldn't say interested. And he really wanted that cookie I was giving him. Then when I had a brownie (one of those with chile powder and cinnamon) and a bit of white wine, he wanted that too--though I said "Not for Jacob" several times.

We had a good dinner tonight if I do say so. I sauteed two pieces of grouper in olive oil and butter, steamed them in a bit of white wine to be sure they were done, then dressed them with lemon butter and cilantro. I took two huge mushroom caps and stuffed them with a cheese/onion/ Worcestershire/dry mustard/mayo mix of my mom's invention, and made a salad of fresh tomatoes (Jacob loved that) with cucumber and avocado.
Tomorrow I'm making Salisbury steak and risotto for Jeannie and Jim plus some stir-fried veggies. Jordan says Christian is working at night, so she'll come again--we'll share one steak and eat a lot of veggies. I'm also going to make some pimiento cheese. I don't eat it often and I always buy it, but I found a recipe with jalopenos that I thought sounded good (okay, I'm leaving out the roasted red bell peppers!). I want tangy pimiento, not the sweet kind. Jordan says she can't eat it. I never fixed it when they were kids, and too many of her friends parents tried to get her to eat it.

I now have a large database of agents--courtesy someone on the Agent Query list of Sisters in Crime--and I'm resolving to send out one query a day. The ladies on that list have made a science--no, an art--of querying, but sometimes I wonder when they write. Querying and tracking their queries seems to take so much of their time. Clearly, I'm too casual about this and cannot hope to compete in the competitive market. Mystery writers also spend a lot of their time marketing--writing libraries and bookstores, blogging (okay, I can do that), upgrading their website (I'm in the process of building one, an alternative to my TCU Press staff page), and traveling to conferences. It really is a multi-faceted business, and I'm not sure I'm up for all aspects. I just wanted to write a mystery!

My Scottish enthusiasm is rising again. We're talking about fall vs. sping, I'm reading a Scottish mysteries and also reading a book about castles--of course, they're all haunted. Jordan says to fly direct to Edinburgh is prohibitively expensive (American goes through London) so it's better to fly to London and take the train, which sounds like fun to me. I'm getting excited all over again--but this time I'll buy trip insurance.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday again

Here it is Friday, and I think I've talked myself into a Friday Funk. I had lunch with a dear friend today but was almost put out that he was a bit late--because much as I wanted to visit, I also wanted to get the grocery behind me and go home to do nothing, well not much. Of course, once we got to lunch I enjoyed it a lot and forgot about being in a rush. My friend's daughter is getting married in July, and he thinks it's maybe the most difficult thing he's ever done--of course, his wife is doing it, not him! The grocery was a fairly quick trip, and I meandered home to lounge. Kept thinking I'd get back to my Scottish novel but a new issue of Southern Living and a lot of little details to tend to at my desk got in the way. So now it's evening, and I have to go water my flowers--the sprinkler is broken and the sprinkler guy is sick and can't fix it. I may never get to that novel!
Yesterday was the same way--I'm not sure where the day went, but I know I didn't get much done, didn't even do my yoga. Before I knew it the time was ten at night, and I was sleepy.
I think I've been a bit frightened off the mystery by the dedicated professionalism of the bloggers on Sisters in Crime and various subsites--Senior Sleuths and AgentQuery. They know more websites than I can imagine, and they seem to spend hours researching, querying, etc. I realize these days writing isn't enough, but I can't wrap my mind around all that they do. I feel like I'm taking baby steps in a whole new world. Meantime I haven't written anythhing in several days--got distracted by page proofs and other things. But the second novel is rattling around in my head, and even some ideas for improving the first. I really should make myself read the first novel again (and send out more queries) but an author wrote to me today to say he'd worked so long on his current manuscript he no longer knows if it makes sense or not and would I read it. He's published two books with us, so it's not like a blind query, and I told him of course I would. But I told him I also know how he feels. I'm not sure I have the fortitude to go through the first novel again, though when I do read bits and pieces of it, I say to myself, "This really is pretty good." A funny thing I wonder is if my age is against me in the competitive world of mysteries--publishers are looking for authors whose career they can build. Well, they might build mine for ten years but realistically probably not more. Still, if I found a publisher I could turn out two books a year--and I think then I'd retire from my day job. I almost retired today anyway, suddenly, because of some accounting procedures (I have a hard time understanding the right-brain obsession with budgets!) and a really huge conflict with an author. But of course I didn't.
Okay, out to water those flowers and then on to Scotland--or maybe to my mystery. Who knows?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The holiday weekend

Have you noticed that when you go back to work or out in the world after a holiday weekend, everyone asks, "How was your weekend?" I've thought about that, and my answer this time is that it was busy, but it was busyness of my own making. One of the women in my office said, "That's a really good thing," and I agreed. Last night my neighbors and some other friends came for a potluck barbecue--there were six of us and we had enough food for 15. But it was a lovely, convivial evening on the porch--casual, interesting conversation, good food, a tad too hot but who cared. I thought once again how blessed I am by friends and neighbors. And with everyone taking their serving dishes home and having used paper plates, cleanup was a snap. (Okay, I do try to save the environment and not use disposables, but there are some times when it surely is a blessing!).
One thing I learned this weekend, a lesson learned over and over, is that both cooking and yoga are hard work. I cooked for two hours yesterday morning--puttered really, but I did some freezer work (and need to do more), made a black bean salsa (soooo good!), brownies with chile powder and cinnamon added to the Ghiardelli mix (that mix is very moist and maybe the best I've ever had--and the spices were pretty good), and a baguette stuffed with pesto cream cheese, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, and chopped spinach--good but messy and hard to deal with. When I got through I was really tired and ready to sit down. And then in the afternoon I did some of the yoga exercises Elizabeth is teaching me--and I was tired again. Today, as so often happens after a weekend of cooking, I had aches and pains that I usually don't have--but my feet didn't hurt.
The weekend was made even better because I really got into a P. D. James mystery--Devices & Desires. British mysteries are hard for me--they're slow to engage when I went the quick action and drawing into the scene of an American cozy. But when I force myself to persevere and stick with James or Martha Grimes, I find I really am hooked and want to keep reading. But, always, my own mystery--number two in my great series of unpublished--rattles around in my brain, and I have what seems like absolutely great ideas. I wrote some today and will do some more tonight. The plot that I thought was minor seems to be taking over, while what I thought was going to be the main story, is moving more into the background. Fun to see how it develops. I'm thinking of calling it No Neighborhood for Old Women, with a bow to Cormac McCarthy, because if it comes out as I envision, there will be a serial killer stalking old ladies. I doubt that, should I find a publisher, I'd get away with that title, but I think it's fun for now. I'm trying to keep a careful list of what agent and when I query, so I can follow up. They're pretty rude about not answering if they're not interested.
Meanwhile, the idea has come up that maybe Colin and I should go to Scotland this fall. My good friends from Omaha were planning for us to take a Santa Fe trip, but maybe Scotland will over-ride that. It's just a vague thought at this point, but I'm going to email him some places to google tonight.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Holiday Weekend

What I dreaded as a long empty holiday weekend has turned busy. Today, Bino from the Star Cafe came and cleaned out my flower beds--he used to work for a landscaper. He carried away bags and bags of weeds and dead leaves, and he split my iris, which badly needed it. While he worked, Betty and I went to brunch, and then I came home to cook dinner for Jeannie (and kept some for myself).

I've also been reading lots of emails from Sisters-in-Crime and subgroups, like Senior Sleuths. I joined the Guppies group--Great Unpublished authors--where I reside with mixed feelings. I'm not unpublished, but I am in as a mystery writer. And I'm finding mystery writing is 70% promotion and 30% writing, if I'm to believe the emails I read. You can spend a full day following up on the emails and never have to put another word on the computer screen.

Yet the process of writing is going well. I'm into the second chapter of the second novel and have some ideas I like about where it will unfold--ideas that will I hope surprise a reader. I feel sort of --well, silly, maybe presumptuous writing a second novel when the first is unpublished (I never ever did that in the days of historical fiction) but on the other hand if I'm not confident about my writing, nothing will come of it (yes, Jamie, I hear you).

And I haven't once, as I feared, thought "Yikes! What am I going to do with the rest of the day?" Saturday night Jan said it didn't bother her if she didn't have anything to do. Charles and I both agreed we like to keep busy, and he said, "I'm good at manufacturing things if I don't have anything to do" Oh boy, is that me! Once again this morning I woke up with a head full of things I "should" do--laundry, cooking, linger over the paper (notice how I fit an unnecessary but pleasureable activity into a list of chores!) and I almost bounded out of bed. But I didn't.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Something about Fridays

Something about Fridays makes me tired. I would not try to tell you I work that hard--I have a desk job but I'm only there half days or a little more, and then I come home to my desk. But somehow on Fridays I'm tired and ready to relax and loaf. Maybe today it was because I went shopping at noon and lugged in six bags of groceries. It ws a hot day--well, 95, but the humidity was high and it felt hotter, and I was sweaty and tired when I got the groceries in. And now I feel a bit as though I haven't yet woken up from a nice long nap--which I did take.
My good news is that I'm writing. I decided to quit dithering and move ahead, so I'm working on the sequel to my first mystery. And tonight I sent out two more queries--I know stories of people who have been rejected by fifty agents, so this is sort of like a needle in a haystack, but I'm learning something about it everday. I've now joined Guppies (Great Unpublished authors), a branch of Sisters in Crime. I'm not exactly unpublished, but I'm a novice in the mystery business--and it is a field all unto itself. I've written one chapter of what is now called "Kelly Jones Novel Two," and I like it so far. I think I'll join a critique group.
What I thought would be a long, empty weekend will not be at all. Tomorrow morning I have to go pick up page proofs of my book on Great Texas Chefs, then go to Barnes & Noble, if I can find a parking spot (it's the weekend of the PGA tournament at Colonial Country Club and the bookstore is not that far from the golf course--I resent the tournament because it really messes up traffic in my part of town), and then on to Central Market. At noon, I have a yoga lesson, and then I'm going to the neighborhood Lebanese restaurant with Charles and Jan, a friend now retired from TCU. And, of course, I've got to read those pages and index the recipes, work on my novel, and keep reading the manuscript on Sacred Harp music that I brought home from the office. It all sounds pleasant.
American Airlines sent me a voucher for my ticket to Scotland--not the refund I'd hoped for. Jeannie doesn't think she'll be able to go in the allotted year, but Colin, my oldest child, has said he'll go. I don't know if that was a spontaneous offer or if he's serious, but I'll explore. I know I must go to Scotland--a magnet is drawing me. Meantime, tomorrow, I'm going to buy the three Scottish mysteries by Lillian Stewart Carl.
The garage renovation is moving ahead--I've ordered bunk beds and a futon, bought "unimaginative" light fixtures, and washed the sheets that had been on a shelf out there forever--whew, they smelled musty!
Back to writing. Have a good holiday weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

That Feeling of Being at Loose Ends

I am truly feeling rejected. Jordan announced that she and Jacob don't have time to come for supper this week--I've sort of gotten used to our weekly suppers. Then I told Jamie I'd like to ride to Austin with them for the weekend, and he said the logistics wouldn't work out. Then my sister-in-law asked when I was going to come for a visit, and since I now had nothing scheduled for the weekend, I suggested that. But my brother called today and said that wouldn't work for them, they're too busy. In truth, I can see the reasoning behind each of these things and I know, deep in my heart, they're not personal--but it does make a person feel sort of pitiful. I called Charles, told him my story, and asked if he wanted to go to dinner Saturday night, and he said he didn't know--he felt like second fiddle. So here I am, spreading the joy. And I admit I shouldn't feel rejected--after all, I talked with three of my children and the wife of the fourth today. Jamie called about 9 this morning and wanted to discuss the state of the world--I felt bad that I had to cut him off but there was someone waiting who had a nine o'clock appointment with me.
Betty and I went to dinner last night, and when I told her I felt pitiful and rejected, she laughed and laughed. My self-pity melted in the face of wonderful food--an amuse bouche (I love saying that) that was goat cheese wrapped in smoked salmon and then a paper thin long slice of cucumber, a butter lettuce salad with a delicate vinaigrette (okay, it was supposed to have blue cheese but didn't, but it had these mild good little flans) and scallops on a bed of cous cous with a vanilla sauce. I thought I'd just eat the scallops and forget the cous cous which I ordinarily don't care much for--but the texture of this felt more like orzo and the sauce was delicious. I was sorely tempted to pick up the stray bits with my fingers.
But good dinner and some weekend plans aside, I'm at loose ends. I can't settle on a writing project, and I can't find a book I like, one that truly absorbs me. I see a Barnes & Noble trip in my immediate future. When I feel this way I often drive away the whatever-it-is with cooking, so I've been diving into recipes. One familiy favorite is Doris' casserole, named for the woman who served it to me 35 years ago--our husbands were in medical training together. Yesterday several of us met with her for lunch--she's been ill, and it was a long-postponed reunion, but we had a wonderful time. And we talked about Doris' casserole. I came home and decided that was what I'd take to Jeannie and Jim for their Sunday night supper. And Monday we'll have a neighbors pot-luck on the porch--I'm thinking I'll suggest bring your own hamburgers and I'll make a black bean salsa, an antipasto sandwich loaf, and maybe some cole slaw. Everyone will bring something.
What I've learned from yoga that helps right now: I won't be critical of myself for not settling on a writing project, not even for not getting absorbed in a book--there's a purpose behind that. Writing ideas are simmering in the back of my brain, and they'll come forward at the appropriate time. What I have to learn is patience. And fearing the weekend will be long, and I'll be bored? I actually have quite a bit planned, I have really good friends with whom I'll spend time, and I'm blessed. Not many people are as fortunate as I am.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A stalking cat and the dilemma of publishers, booksellers, and authors

My cat, at age 17, has become a stalker. He's always been affectionate and used to get on my desk and rub on my arm until he got a little love, but now he stalks. He sits on the end of the desk and stares intently at my dinner while I'm eating--as though willing the food to jump off the plate and to him. Tonight I locked him out of the study and enjoyed my supper in peace. When I'm in the kitchen he stares at me accusingly. He skulks around under the kitchen cabinets, looking for crumbs. The whole thing is he's hungry. His teeth are so rotten that he can no longer eat the dry food I used to leave out all the time. Now he eats the special kidney-diet canned food from the vet--read expensive there. Now I would give this aging friend all the food he wants--he deserves it at his ripe old age--but he wants fresh food every time. It's a delicate balance to give him enough but not too much--if it's left in his dish, even for an hour or two, he scorns it. My Scottish genes are too strong. I'm not going to throw out a perfectly good hunk of expensive food. So we're at war. I've won the early morning battle, I think by kicking visciously when he started to stalk me in the bed. Now he waits until the dog gets me up, and his dish is always cleaned of every little bit. So I know he can do it. Meantime, I alternate between feeling angry and guilty.
The Sisters in Crime blog is very informative and educational, and it's gotten me to thinking it's hard for both publishers and authors. Something I read last night made me think it's not wise to publish with the first independent small press that shows an interest--just when I was thinking okay, if a press likes my mystery and will do a decent job, I just want to see it in print. Agents don't want to look at you after you do that, and bookstores likely won't carry your book because it's probably nonreturnable. Ah, returns, there's the rub.
Bookselling is the only business I know where retailers can return unsold stock. My son Jamie is in the toy business, and the man who mentored him in that business, married to a publisher, used to rant, "Returnable! That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Once something is sold, it's sold." But it isn't. Returns are a long-standing tradition in publishing, and since "big chain" stores rely on them, we're not likely to get it to change. But the blog mentor today, a bookseller, pointed out that if a publisher tries to push a book on non-returnable terms, he reads that as a signal that the publisher doesn't have real faith in his title. But for publishers, returns are a nightmare, especially in January or February and midsummer when stores clean out their shelves to prepare for a new season.
And what does this mean to an author? Well, a publisher may be reluctant to take on a new author, envisioning cartons of returns. And if you publish with a small, independent press, your book will probably be sold nonreturnable and bookstores won't be anxious to carry it because who knows if they can sell it
Writing the book is the least of the problems, but it's where I'm stuck. I have one mystery ready to go, featuring a real estate agent who renovates old houses. It's out right now to one agent and one indie publisher. Should I work on the sequel? Should I start a new book--maybe I could achieve more depth, and it seems logical with my background and interests that I write about cooking--but there are so many mysteries about cookiing, what can I do to make mine stand out. A dilemma.
I'm reading a lot of fiction right now.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I bought a new broomstick today. Not a broom, just the stick. This may not sound like a big deal to many people, but it is to me. I had the stick to an old mop that had come apart. I kept that stick on the porch, and it was my gardening stick--it gave me balance when I went into the yard. Last weekend, it disappeared, and I accused Jordan and Christian of pirating it away so Jacob wouldn't get it. They deny it vehemently, but I don't know who would take an old plastic stick with a broken and sharp end. But now, for a mere $4, I have a neat new wooden "garden stick." I am completely happy--and have little excuse for not doing my ten minutes of gardening a day. That's the kind of gardener I am, mostly because the bending and stooping makes my back hurt. Fortuntely mine is a small yard.
Had my third yoga lesson today and did things I didn't think I could. Elizabeth says I did very well, and I sure felt a lot of those postures pull at my muscles--in a good way. As everyone has always told me, yoga is hard work. In several poses, such as down dog, my muscles quiver from the exertion. But I feel a real sense of accomplishment from it and intend to keep at it. It was a great lift to have Elizabeth say that my confidence and balance are better than three weeks ago when I started.
I've had mysteries rattling around in my brain again today. I thought maybe if I hadn't heard from that agent, I should a) send a proposal to more agents, and b) start work on a new book. The latter puzzles me. I think, Okay, I'll write about a senior sleuth. But I like the two little girls in the book that's out and hate to abandon them. And there's that ditzy old aunt from another manuscript--could I incorporate her? This morning I resolved that you had to have the murder first--people kill for love or money. Which would it be? I know it's good that these ideas are floating around in my brain. Some day I'll have an "Aha!" moment. Hope it's soon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Remodeling, Mealoaf, and Mysteries, Always Mysteries

You can't tell much from this picture, but it's the best I could do for a closet that's no longer a closet. Andit gives you a picture of the rather wild color scheme in my garage appt.We've gotten serious about rennovating the apt. It hasn't been updated in 15 years, and during that time it had two boys--one a neat freak and the other a mess--and then a single girl addicted to candles (it's a wonder she didn't burn it down)--hard use. The plan is to put down hardwoods, paint, upgrade the plumbing a bit, check the electrical system, replace the gas wall furnace which sometimes makes me wake late sleepers to be sure they're alive, and get rid of furniture, adding instead a full-over-full bunk bed and a futon. That will make space for eight to sleep. Last night Jordan and I let Jacob play in the driveway (protected by a gate) while we stripped beds, packed up throw pillows, took down pictures and small shelves, and generally cleared out the place. It is now a mess. Lewis, the contractor, has already broken out the section of closet we want removed because it made the bathroom too small.

The kids have all had input into this remodeling, because they're the ones I'm doing it for. Jamie was most alramed when I said I might keep the current color scheme and also concerned that the bathroom was too small for more than one person and couldn't we take out that bit of closet that extended into the room (it was basically an L-shaped closet, and the extension was an add-on). I had to bite my tongue--he has always been THE most private person in the bathroom, and now he wants a crowd in there? Jordan wanted sleeping lofts but we nixed that--too expensive and not possible structurally unless they were shallow enough to give even children claustrophobia. I polled them all to be sure before I spent all this money that they would stay there and they all said they would, except Jamie who said he would "If it's cute enough"! I looked around the room tonight, stripped as it is, and saw how really shabby it looks. I'm glad to be doing this.

Tonight I made a big "Italian-style" meatloaf--new recipe. It smells--well, different--but I just nibbled on a bite and it's pretty good. Topped with mozarella which turned crusty and brown--I put it in for the last 15 minutes. I had a salad last week with lots and lots of mozarella on it and decided I don't like mozarella--but this brown version was good--and crisp. Tomorrow I'll make cheese grits and saute some summer squash and zucchini with a bit of fresh basil and take half of all of it to Jeannie and Jim. Jordan will probably come eat the other half with me.

I've been thinking a lot about mysteries (while not reading one). The agent has not replied about my manuscript, but I am not encouraged since he said it sounded familiar and hadn't I queried him before? I think I should start yet another new story--this will be my third mystery with none published. Only my determination to publish a mystery keeps me going--but I am determined. I've joined a chat group or whatever about senior sleuths, which are increasingly popular--the AARP Bulletin recently had an article about the popularity of mysteries with senior sleuths (think "Murder, She Wrote" or some such). I'd had one in mind, but I decided my senior citizen was a stereotype of the dithery old maiden aunt. Strike that. There are too many cooking-related mysteries, but I still think that's what I should do--it seems a natural for me. Of course, there's the matter of plotting . . . . haven't come up with that (Jamie once said the reason I wrote historical fiction was that I was so poor at coming up with my own plots--and that's a polite way of putting what he really said!). Think I could do a mystery that involves cooking and grandchildren? Some ideas rattle around in my brain but they sure haven't settled down yet.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

Now I'm a matchmaker. One night at a TCU dinner, my neighbor and a prof from school crossed paths and later expressed interest. I didn't know he was single and was a bit alarmed until he told he he's recently divorced. Then they crossed paths--from a distance--at a bar or music club or something. So I decided it was time to get them together and invited both to wine and cheese on the porch tonight. It was funny to me to watch two people in their early forties both nervous, but they were. Still, it was a pleasant amiable evening. I have no idea what if anything will come of it.
At the last minute I'm adding two chefs to my book, because otherwise we'll have extra pages which would look awful. And in the process I learned a new word: minardise. It's the funny little something sweet that a chef serves at the end of a multi-course meal--maybe a mini tart shell filled with choclate mousse or something like that.
And my Scottish Texans project got new energy the other day when I had lunch with an English faculty member. Someone had told me she grew up in a Scottish community--her name's Blackwell--and I envisioned a small town where most everyone was Scottish. Maybe I was thinking of Brigadoon? She grew up in Amarillo, but she said there was a community of Scots, several organizations, etc., and they followed some but not all of the old customs, ate some of the food, etc. She remember some songs and having to recite Robert Burns, but she didn't remember much of the language. The funniest thing she said was that the Scots were lumped with the Mexicans, because they were the only ones who ate organ meat--she solved that by becoming a vegetarian! She drew me a careful genealogy of her family. I've tucked my notes away and will call her to repeat and enlarge when I get back to that project, but she gave me hope I really can find the stories of everyday people, not just the heroes of Alamo.
Started reading a new book, The Red Leather Diary. A young, maybe apprentice reporter for the New York Times found in a dumpster an old red leather diary that chronicled five years in a young girls life, beginning in 1929 I think--from the ages of 14 to 19. Then she found the owner of the diary, now in her nineties and living in Florida. With a diary as her guide, the editor/author reconstructed not only the life but the ambience and atmosphere of the times. It's really good reading, and I'm enjoying it, but I'm surprised at the sophistication of this fourteen-year-old who wanders about Manhatter by herself, talks about literature (Dorian Gray among others), attends the theater, and refers to necking and open-mouthed kisses. It would seem unduly sophisticated, to me, in a girl that age today, but maybe it's true that I'm a dinosaur

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Joys of Being Compulsive

I'm laughing at myself today. Yesterday and Friday were both sort of busy days, and I promised myself that Sunday would be a lazy day, no "have to," no schedule. I'd sleep late, read the paper with coffee, fix a good breakfast, and do what I wanted. Of course as I contemplated this, I began to think of things I'd do--laundry, clean the back yard, pot the dill plant I bought Saturday and work with the porch plants, water and tend the house plants, season some antipasto vegetables (a new recipe I found that sits in the fridge for a week). I do this to myself all the time--schedule so many things that I want to do in free time that I end up feeling pressured. And, yep, this morning, when I could sleep late, I popped out of bed at 7:15. Still, it was fun. I wasn't rushed, and some of the things on my list didn't have to be done and I knew it. About 11:30 I had a bit of lunch and tried to finish Eat, Pray, Love--close but it was this evening before I finished it. After lunch, had a good nap and was ready to go visit Christian's parents when Jordan arrived. We had a delicious meal--fajitas and trimmings--and watched Jacob's antics.
I've been having weird dreams lately, but the funny thing is I can trace most of the stuff to something that happened in my life. In one I was entertaining the people I actually did entertain last night, but they were freezing cold and I had to turn off the a/c and turn on the heat (translate: it was the first day warm enough to force me to turn on the a/c). Then I discovered I was keeping the Hunter and Alex from next door and needed to feed them (translate: their mom has been looking for a summer nanny, and I posted some neighborhood notices for her). In another I was suddenly charged with planning a seminar on writing mysteries--not question there! I've been immersed in those Sisters in crime emails, and learning to write mysteries is on my mind. Somehwere in Eat, Pray, Love I read something about that higher consciousness we all aspire to and actually experience when we dream--we just don't know it. I wish I'd figured out how to bookmark before I read that book, because a lot of passages, like that one, deserve savoring. I may read it again--something I never do with books.
All in all, it was a nice Mother's Day. I talked to all my children (and a couple of grandchildren), went to a nice family gathering, got flowers from Jordan and from my friend Charles, and even got Mother's Day wishes from one of our authors.
Now it's almost ten, and I'm thinking how I'd love a snack. But I'm also thinking that I know snacking late at night does more damage than eating during the day and I'm being tough. I'll distract myself by starting The Red Leather Diary and watching for pictures of "the" wedding on the news--yeah, I'm interested.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Food, writing, yoga--my preoccupations

If you're read this blog much, you know I'm not a George Bush fan (I can hear my brother hooting at that understatement), but I really think we should all give Jenna Bush (now Hager) a big hand. She and her mom did everything they could to keep the wedding low key and out of the public eye--and all in all, they had pretty good success. Forget the tacky coffee cups and stuff for sale in Crawford. We didn't catch a glimpse of the prinicipals on TV today. Jenna and her mom gave a few low-key interviews this week, and Vogue magazine apparently had an interview, but that's about all. I was curious to see, for the first time, pictures of the actual Crawford White House--and I thought it looked lovely. The country may, as one commentator said, be all wrapped up in the wedding, but it wasn't the Bush famliy's doing. One friend of mine said indignantly, "I'm not all wrapped up in it," and I don't think any of us really were in the way we've followed major events, both joyful and tragic, in other celebrity families. So, a round of applause, please.

What started out as unbearably muggy day--90 felt like 110--ended up with a slight breeze and drier air when a front came through today. Friends and I had dinner on the porch--green pea soup (to use the kids word, "Awesome!"), a chicken fruit salad that was really different but oh so good, deviled eggs in which I departed from the usual and used coarse mustard, added minced capers and sherry vinegar--came out much heartier than most deviled eggs, and a loaf of sunflower bread that Jean brought. A nice relaxed evening.

I'm almost buried in postings on the Sister in Crime blog but some are so interesting, and sometimes they feature an author on a blog and there's a link. I read one by a woman who was doing unsatisfying work--I can't remember what--and said she "followed the artist's way and went back to the dream" of her childhood. That rang a bell--I remember the book, which was about removing the blocks to creativity, and I think following your childhood dream was part of it. It occurred to me how lucky I am--I've been following my childhood dream of writing for about 30 years now. So maybe it doesn't matter that I never made The New York Times bestseller list. I've been happy with what I've been doing--and I have every intention of keeping on doing it and getting better, looking for new avenues to explore.
Maybe all this optimism comes from having had another yoga lesson. One of the things I am learning (not that two lessons make me an expert) is that yoga encourages you to listen to your body. Today I was more tired, my muscles tending to quiver on exertion. We talked about it, and I realized I'd made a made dash through Central Market--miles of walking, I swear; okay, one mile?--and then had been in the kitchen cooking for two hours. Still I worked hard in the lesson and could easily balance to do Warrior One and Warrior Two, which I couldn't do the week before. And I did a side kneeling plank, which I found very hard so I was proud of myself. But I couldn't do Standing Dog, which I'd done the week before. I figured after all that cooking and the work at yoga, I had earned a nap--and had a nice, lazy one. But then that Standing Dog business was making me mad--went back and did it once, up in position and right back down to crash, literally, on the floor. So I went to feed the living dog in the back yard, came back and tried again. Held the pose for ten seconds twice, and "walked" myself back to a standing position. Pretty proud! Of course, one of the things Elizabeth repeats during the lesson is not to judge yourself, to accept yourself, and be proud of what you're doing. And there I am, Miss Compuslive striving for goals!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Life is Good

I'm almost afraid to say it, but I'm on a roll. This morning I gathered my courage and called the publisher who is supposed to do my cookbook. They'd had a change in personnel and a couple of months ago when I inquired I was asked to please let them sort things out. So today I half expected to hear they couldn't publish it--they don't have any new books for the fall season. But the director apologized for not getting back to me, asked if Iliked the cover, the illustrations, etc., and by afternoon I had an email detailing who was to edit, who was to supervise production, what I was to do. The ball is rolling.

And then, just before I left for lunch, we got a shipment of what happens to be my newest book but is also the first of our Texas Small Books that I'm so excited about. It looks wonderful! Feels good in the hand, is just a beautiful book. Betty and I went to dinner tonight, and when I showed her she said, "That's the most beautiful book I've ever seen!" She said she wants to buy several, and when I took lunch to Jeannie and Jim, she said they were perfect gifts for her daughters. I have a feeling these will be good. There are 505 backorders for Extraordinary Texas Women, which is really good for us.

I've been really afraid to talk about this, but with so much good happening, why not? When I turned on my computer yesterday morning, there was an email from an agent I queried. He said he'd read the entire manuscript of my mystery, and I emailed it promptly. Of course, today he wrote and said it sounded familiar and had I queried him before. I assured him I hadn't. Cross your fingers, please, that it doesn't read just like someone else's book.

And, I made an appointment with a designer who will come to the office to discuss web pages--we need to revamp our press webpage and add some sites, and I want my own web page to promote the mystery that isn't published yet but in which I have growing faith (hope I don't crash and burn tomorrow!). All this activity about the mystery is really generated by my having joined Sisters in Crime and signed up for two blogs or discussion groups or whatever. There's never an "aha!" moment but I've picked up lots of tidbits here and there, the names of agents, etc. I'm sort of a hesitant part of a community--not contributing often yet, but listening and learning.

And the final bit of the new me is that I had my first yoga lesson. Elizabeth, who worked in our office for three years as a non-traditional student at TCU, now gives private lessons in your home. She has remained a friend long after she was out of school--maybe ten years?--so I feel very comfortable with her, and she moved me into yoga slowly and with much encouragement. We had a hour-long session in which I did some things I told her I positively couldn't do. I've never been flexible, so I thought she would say I was beyond hope, but she said, "You're not a pretzel, but you're pretty flexible," and she praises me for taking good care of myself, etc. The boost in ego probably did as much for me as the yoga, but I did find it relaxing and tried a few poses myself tonight. Another lesson Saturday. I think it's like joining Sisters in Crime--no "aha!" moment but one day I'll discover I feel different--and better.

Yeah, life is good.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Cookbooks, Retirement or not, and Babysitting

This is Morgan (three in August) in a picture that her folks captioned "Who needs a bunny if you've got a garden hose?"

The Grace & Gumption ladies are going to do a cookbook--and then Grace & Gumption II. That book may have become a cottage industry, all its own. The contributors met tonight--on my porch, of course, with wine--and someone said they were told it should be called Grace & Consumption, and I suggested Grace & Conspicious Consumption with a nod to Thorstein Veblen about whom the main thing I remember is he thought sheep should be grazing on the White House lawn. Not a bad idea. Sheep on a cowboy's lawn--makes me giggle.
I sort of engineered the cookbook, because I'm so interested in cooking and cookbooks, but what fun to find the recipes and kitchen habits of the women we wrote about. We figure we can write about household hints--adoption agency founder Edna Gladney had a lot of them, and Ninnie Baird of Mrs. Baird's Bakery has some too, like putting out cucumber peel to get rid of ants, which I recently tried and reported on. Electra Waggoner Wharton, the heiress who entertained lavishly in her mansion in the first decades of the 19th century, probably didn't cook much, but she sure decorated with smilax. And I found a recipe for Hollandaise by a more recent woman in my chapter--she made it with mayonnaise, mustard, soy and one other ingredient. It's not like any Hollandaise I ever heard of! So the cookbook project will be fun.

And then there's Grace & Gumption II: The Unsung Heroines. That's just my working title, but we had a brief article in the newspaper asking people to send stories of their female relatives. I haven't gotten much response, but I intend to pursue it and the ladies tonight were generally interested. G&G takes a lot of our time and lives, but it's fun--and we're such a good group.

Book projects like that are the reason I don't retire. I have so much fun doing what I do, working on these projects--and I can't imagine waking up and wondering what I was going to do that day. I hope, of course, to interest someone in that first mystery, but I think I'll go ahead and work on the second one. And I've been reading a lot about "boomer lit" and older heroines, and I have a start on a novel about a 70-something amateur sleuth. So many project, so little time.

Of course today I had another project and that was Jacob. His mom had a telephone interview, so I kept him while Jordan locked herself in the study and talked on the phone--for a loooong time. Of course this was at the time I was trying to get ready for the ladies--so I was half in the playroom, half in the kitchen. But I didn't want Jacob to wander to the front and scream for his mama, so every time he came into the kitchen, I took his hand and steered him back to the playroom. Pretty soon, he was coming to me, holding out his hand, and walking me back there. Then he'd pat the chair or daybed or wherever he wanted me to sit--when he patted the dollhouse floor I tried to explain that I really couldn't do that! In between I did make a good spread of blue cheese, cream cheese, onion, lemon juice and lemon zest. The lemon somehow softened the blue cheese, and one friend who said she didn't like blue cheese really liked it.

Now it's blessedly quiet, and the kitchen is clean. Scooby and Wywy and I are settled for the evening, and I'm going back to the last part of Eat, Pray, Love.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Rude Hostess and Other Tales of a Busy Weekend

I was too tired to do much last night but scramble through some emails and fall in bed. About 9:00 I sent my dinner guests home, for which I still have a guilty conscience, because they looked like they would be content to sit on the porch all night. I think maybe they went to Sue's patio. They are younger and can drink more wine than I can. I hosted a potluck for the neighbors on either side, and we ate royally. I made a spinach/cheese/Rotel dip but Jay couldn't resist bringing avocado-stuffed smoked salmon rolls (I ate too many and spoiled my dinner). Julia brought bruschetta with a cucumber sauce and a tomato topping, and, for dinner, she made pesto pasta with artichoke hearts (except for the appetizers, it was an Italian menu). Jay's entree was veal meatballs, stuffed with fontina, in a chunky, light but absolutely delicious red sauce--I've asked for the recipe and am prepared to beg if necessary. Jordan made her Greek salad, which is always wonderful. Julia brought tiramisu for dessert, but by then the only ones who could eat it were herself and Jay. Jacob said no to everything we tried to offer him. So here's Jay, trying to encourage Jacob to eat, and here are the rest of them at the table. Fun evening, and I am so grateful to have such warm-hearted neighbors.

Yesterday afternoon, four of us did a program on Grace & Gumption at my church and were enthusiastically received by about 70 women, twenty of whom bought books--a good record. We didn't have books, so as the others spoke I raced to the office and got books only to remember that on Friday I had stashed some in the mail room at the church--but not enough so my speed trip was worthwhile.

And before all that, in the morning, I scrubbed the porch--company, you know!, made my dip, made a bison meatloaf, taking great liberties with the recipe. Jeannie cautioned against the dryness of bison, so at her suggestion I added a quarter lb. ground sirloin. But the recipe had a half pound chopped musrooms, which I'm sure kept it moist, and I added the leftover half can of Rotel (from the cheese dip) in place of the tomato sauce and then added a half a small can of tomato sauce. By then I was afraid I had it too moist and used my mom's old trick of throwing in some instant tapioca. I'll take half the meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and aspargus to Jeannie and Jim Wednesday and feed the rest to Jordan and Christian if they want it. Christian has started a new job--praise be--and is now waiting tables only on weekends, so he's around for supper some and I'll get to see more of him.

The ladies of G&G, as we refer to the book, have become a small community, and we've demonstrated it lately as a support groups for two women whose the husbands were ill with life-threatening conditions. The first was Katie's husband, Gayland, who spent four weeks in the hospital, first for a bypass and then following emergency surgery for a bleeding ulcer. He's doing well. Now, Ruth K.'s husband is in the hospital with acute leukemia and was nearly gone a week ago but has rallied to the point that they're again talking about getting him well enough for stem cell therapy. Susan, Ruth, Katie and I had lunch today, and Katie and Ruth were able to share each other's experiences. Ruth had some hair-raising medical stories to tell, but she said to us, "Who knew when we thought of this book that you all would turn out to be my main support system?" Funny how life works. I feel like I know three "miracle men" now--Gayland, Ruth's Armin, and of course Jeannie's Jim.

Jacob is pictured and discussed often in this blog, because he's the child I see most often (once a week or better), but the others are just as cute. Here's my youngest grandson, Kegan, helping himself to a drink of water. His mother said in the email with the picture, "So self-sufficient and gets his own drinks." I wrote back and asked if she meant Kegan or his father, and she said she's still working on Colin. She meant Kegan.

More busy days ahead.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Sometimes Saturday seems long and dull to me, but not today. I thought most of the day that by now I would have a sleeping (well, I hoped he woudl be) two-year-old in the portacrib, but the babysitter surfaced late in the day, and I am relieved. That's somewhat of a disappointment. I love having him in the evening and don't have a problem putting him to bed. But in the morning, he's like the dog and cat--wakes me early and wants to pee and be fed. I am able to take care of the animals needs rather quickly and go back to bed for another hour or so. But with Jacob, there's no back to bed.
This morning I ran errands all over the place. Sometimes I'm sort of intimidated by doing that. My anxiety makes me afraid I'll encounter steps I can't handle or whatever. But I took myself in hand, told me I could do this in good spirits, and did it (actually Eat, Pray, Love gave me some helpful thought patterns). But I got a long overdue present for my new great-nephew, a hook to hold my new bird feeder, browsed the show warehouse but found nothing I wanted that wouldn't hurt my toe, got some b'day presents (which involved walking all around a huge shopping center), and went to the grocery. Pretty proud of myself.
Ever have a hungry day? I'm having one, maybe because I didn't eat much lunch--but I had two scrambled eggs with salmon for breakfast. Tonight I fixed halibut on roasted beets and greens with an orange/dill gremolata. Took most of it to Jeannie and Jim but kept a helping for myself. It never occurred to me that once Jeannie got Jim home she would be tired to the point of exhaustion and no cooking, but she is--Jim needs medication and help around the clock, and she was most grateful when I offered dinner. I ate my portion and was still hungry--so I heated half the twice-baked potato I got with a coupon at Central Market (I got two for Jeannie and Jim too). And after a bit I was still hungry, so I had ice cream with chocolate sauce. I am going to weigh 200 lbs. if I don't watch out! I did exercise today so that makes so far a steady week. I'm still not doing the arm stretches because my shoulder hurts--sometimes it feels almost okay but then, last night, trimming green beans hurt. Go figure!
Tonight I've sent queries to two agents about my mystery and done some research on a company that publishes for the library market and reads unagented material--with some pretty stringent guidelines, like no sexual tension. Not sure I'm ready to try that. I'll try agents first. Having joined Sisters in Crime and then signed up for the Senior Sleuths Forum (refers to the age of the protagonist and not the author, though I find most of them are senior like me), I find they're lots of help.
But now I'm going to take a vacation from Liz and Eat, Pray, Love--she just left India and arrived in Indonesia, with no contacts, no idea where she was going, etc.--aiyee! a sense of adventure that I both admire and am scared by. But anyway, a friend sent me her latest mystery and that's my book for the evening. A nice, cozy Saturday night with a cozy.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Belief, devotion, things spiritual

I'm still reading Eat, Pray, Love. Truth is it's not a book you can read in big gulps, and I'm sometimes tempted to take a break and go back to a mystery, but I'm drawn to this and yet, ambivalent about it. Sometimes I applaud Liz Gilbert and sometimes I not sure I even like her--but so much of what she says hits home, like the section about belief being a leap of faith. To be truly devout, you have to take that leap of faith. You have to believe that you can feel God in you, a step way beyond talking to God in prayer. I liked her definition that prayer is talking to God, while meditation is listening to God. But last night instead of praying I tried meditation--of course I fell asleep and then didn't sleep well all night.
But then I'm impressed at her perseverance. Life in an ashram is not easy, and there are times she hates it or hates specific practices or songs or whatever. But she stuck with it, and eventually she saw the difference in herself. It really was like an enlightenment, and it makes me jealous.
There's the business about devotion requiring sacrifice and discipline, which she surely showed at the ashram. True devotees, she claims, get up early to get at their devotions--and I can't even drag myself out of bed to exercise. I wonder if that's the point where she stuck with it, and I don't. She also says to be truly spiritual we have to conquer our cravings. Tonight I couldn't help myself--I wanted chocolate, so I had the ice cream with chocolate sauce on it that I really want every night (okay, it's only a small helping). Am I to be kept from the ranks of the truly spiritual because I can't resist chocolate and white wine? I did compensate with a delicious but healthy dinner--stir-fried a bit of leftover roast pork tenderloin, haricot verts, broccoli, mushrooms, and onion. Tried to add a half a zucchini, but it turned out to be half a cucumber which I didn't think would stir-fry well. Maybe I'm too rooted in foot to ever be truly spiritual.
And there's this question--does God want us to be truly spiritual and meditate or go out in the world and do good works.
Okay, I've gone on too long, but it's really neat to find a book that makes you think. Mysteries, I'm the first to admit, rarely do that.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I'm always sending friends and family emails with the subject line, "Stuff." I suppose it's frustrating but I so often have a potpourri of things to say, and tonight's that way.
First food: I was watching Paula Deen while I rode my stationary recumbent bicycle this afternoon. Now I'm a fan of hers, but good heavens! The amount of butter and sugar that woman uses! And she made coconut cookies, iced with white chocolate, and sprinkled with toasted coconut--does she realize what that does to your cholesterol? Okay, I'm particularly conscious of it because I'm really trying to watch what I eat (and drink) and today my lab work came back with an "Excellent" written in next to the cholesterol number.
Betty and I ate at the nearby Lebanese Restaurant, Chadra, again tonight, and I had spaghettini with meat sauce--really good but a serving for three people. They don't have a big menu, but we really like the food--and Betty loves the dense bread garlic knots they serve. I had the front matter and first pages of my Great Texas Chefs and showed it to her--of course she skimmed right over the dedication, which is what I wanted her to see because it's dededicated to "Betty, who explores restaurants with me."
I've been reading novels for the press, and I've found two or three that I think have real promise. This is a problem for us, because we barely break even publishing them--and sometimes don't, if the author isn't VERY energetic about promotion. So I'm thinking we should do them paper print-to-order. I'd love some opinions--would you buy a paperback novel as quickly as a hardback?
Meantime I'm also trying hard to study the market and discover what to do with my mystery, Dead Space. One of the things all the books say is that you have to demonstrate you're a professional writer. Surely, I can do that. And I have confidence in both the book I've written and my ability to craft and tell a story. So I guess now it's a matter of perserverance--and I intend to hang in there. And I might just show that confidence by starting on the second novel in my proposed series--that's another selling point, a series.
Nice weekend ahead. Tomorrow night I'll take my friend Charles to a local restaurant where they serve mussels, which he loves. Saturday I'll cook dinner for Jeannie and Jim--he's home from the hospital but needs so much care that she's exhausted and cooking is the last thing she wants to do. I'm waiting for her to tell me what's on his diet. Sunday, a few of the Grace & Gumption ladies are giving a program at my church and then I'm hosting a potluck supper for the neighbors and Jordan, Christian, and Jacob. I'm only making the appetizer, and I can set the table Saturday morning. Eating outside while trying to corral Jacob is too much trouble!