Friday, January 30, 2009

Jacob and patience, and a wonderful evening

Jacob is teaching me patience. He arrived in a bad mood tonight, though his mother said a little food would brighten him up. But he simply wanted to stand by the front door and watch for Mommy. We talked, he grinned a bit, but he was essentially solemn. So there I sat for at least 20 minutes. We finally went and listened to the monitor in my office--he could hear Elmo on the family room TV--and got "Juju car" from my office, and he went back to the family room so I could reheat his supper. He ate two helpings of chicken breast and all his broccoli, so I gave him a "sprise"--a small ice cream cup. Then twice during the evening, when he alternated between watching a DVD and playing with his toys, he wanted to sit on my lap. So I put aside what I was doing, and we sat and loved for long times. Then at bedtime, he tried every stall technique he could, until I finally told him the dog, the cat, and I were all going to bed, and I was going to get his stool so he could climb into his bed. That wouldn't do, and he went and got the stool, positioned it very carefully, and climbed into the pack-and-play by himself, with me standing by with a watchful hand. This may not be the best thing I've ever taught him. But I know when my own children were little, I had far too many things on my mind to sit by the front door and wait for their mood to change or to cajole them into bed (I do, I hope, remembering sitting for long times with them on my lap). But Jacob is teaching me a much-needed kind of patience, and I'm grateful
Last night I was too wound up and too tired to blog We had the First Annual Bookish Frog dinner. The Bookish Frogs are a community group of people who support the press. For modest annual dues, they get dinner once a year, a free book (one of our spectacular ones) and a chance to participate in various press activities. We had 42 people for dinner last night, which I thought was great--and they were all warm, happy, interesting people. From all reports I've gotten they enjoyed the program--about the featured book we were giving away, which is Phil Vinson's photography book, Fort Worth: A Personal View--and they enjoyed each other's company at dinner. The food was good, the program just the right length, and all told it was a successful evening. I emceed and managed not to trip over my tongue too often. What struck me, too, was that most of the people who came into dinner were people I wanted to greet with a hug, people I've known and cared about over the years. I was so grateful for their support. As I told them, I've worked at TCU Press for 27 years and seen it go through some lean times, but I always believed that just as TCU has a community interested in sports, it has a community, maybe a bit smaller, interested in books. Those people made my dream come true last night, and I am still walking on air.
I ate lunch with Jeannie and Jim Chaffee today at a vegan restaurant where they say they sometimes eat twice a day or go for lunch and then bring home dinner. For a newcomer, it's hard to know what to order. There were salads I would have enjoyed or veggie burgers, but Jim said--and rightly--I should have something I can't get in other restaurants. So I had a chicken salad sandwich (made with seitan--sometimes called wheat meat). It was good but difficult (as in sloppy) to eat. The potato salad was great. But I don't think being a vegan is for me. I'll go back to the Spiral Diner, but not as often as Jeannie and Jim.
At the grocery yesterday, the sack lady asked if I was all set for the Super Bowl, and I said I was not much of a fan. Truth to tell, I resent that it takes over the TV schedule (not that I watch that much, but I think Meet the Press is cancelled). I have lots to do this weekend, so it will be good to stay home and accomplish things.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Make my day!

I got an e-mail today from the assistant curator at the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos. He sent a link to my very own archive page. To think that someone would want all that flotsam and jetsam of my thirty-plus years of writing is amazing. I've been clearing out files by sending them to the archive, but I was unprepared for this. They've got correspondence, manuscripts, all kinds of things. It inspire me to send more (I have three huge files at work titled "Personal"), and it also makes me feel like a real writer. Yes, I'm excited. Here's the link, if you want to check it out:
I needed something to make my day today. It's the second day we were iced in, although temperatures got up to 40 today and most things melted--except of course, my front steps, the front porch just before the side steps to the driveway, and the last few feet of the driveway before the garage. It's because I have a northern exposure. I have to go down those steps and over that driveway tomorrow morning--think I'll take some kitty litter with me, or rock salt. It will surely melt tomorrow, when the temp is supposed to go into the fifties.
I had enough to keep me busy, but little things--both household chores and desk chores, things I should do but had put off. I cleared up a few tax figures, read a lot on the computer--my newspaper didn't come until two in the afternoon, and I finally ventured out to clean the dog yard this afternoon. I offered to let Scooby stay inside--especially when it was 20 this morning--but he wanted to be outdoors. The sun was shining brightly, and I checked on him from time to time--he was fine and enjoying himself. Tonight, it's to go below freezing again, and he is in my office with me, while the cat is curled up on my bed.
I'm reading a cozy and trying to analyze why it works for me, getting some good ideas for my work in progress. I can't figure out why I keep avoiding it, but I do. When I once went back to it earlier this month, I had fun. I'm determined to finish the mystery I'm reading (which I think I've read before) and not start another one, so I can go back to writing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A theory recanted and some thoughts on indexing

Last night I whined that I wasn't liking the novel I was reading, principally because it had a male narrator, and I thought it was a gender problem. As soon as I walked away from the computer, I realized I really enjoy J. A. Jance's Beaumont series, narrated by a male police detective in Seattle. And I really don't like Stephanie Plum, even though every other reader I know is wildly enthusiastic about Janet Evanovich's series. So I've decided it's not a gender problem--it's the voice of the narrator. If the narrator is not someone I can identify with with, someone I'd like to sit and have coffee or a glass of wine with, then I'm not much interested in a whole book told in that voice. Fortunately there are a lot of cozy mysteries narrated by people I really like. I'm ready a Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse Mystery tonight, and I really like Claire Cosi, who knows way to much about fine coffee, espresso, latte, and how to make them. I gave up on The Hearse You Came In On, with apologies to the author. Maybe I'll see if my brother will read it.
We were ice-bound today. Well, it turned out it really wasn't that bad--wet in the morning and cold but not freezing, pretty dry in the afternoon, enough so that I got my garbage carts down my slanted driveway when I didn't think I could. But TCU was closed, so I slept late, fiddled around the house and finally got around to the day's chore about ten in the morning. I compiled an index of recipes for my cookbook, which turned out to be less dull than I expected and in fact a fascinating exercise. I broke the index into categories--breakfast, bread, casseroles, meat, poultry, and so on. That seemed logical to me. But where, for instance, do you put chopped liver (I got the excellent recipe from Carshon's deli)--in appetizers, well it is and it isn't; meat dishes, well not exactly that either. I've had it as an appetizer and also in a sandwich or even as the main course for lunch. And cheese sandwich souffle? Is it a casserole? I didn't have enough dishes for an egg and cheese category, so I put it in casseroles. And Jean convinced me to take some of the recipes--chili, beef and beans, and sloppy joe--out of casserole and put them in meat dishes. All in all, it was a puzzle but fun. It's done and off to the editor now. The proofed (twice) pages are ready to go back too, and I'll mail them tomorrow, if the world isn't frozen. Predictions are for a low of 27 tonight, and the streets are now wet, so the outlook isn't great. But it will get up to 44 tomorrow afternoon, and the world should go back to normal.
I spent the evening doing income tax stuff, which I really really dread. I don't have a calculator, so I use the one on the computer. Of course, there's no paper trail, so you can't trace what you've done--but when it showed I'd spent over $24,000 on utilities, I knew I needed to start over. I had already separated expenses into categories, but today the accountant's tax info form arrived, so I started on it and got most of the way through. But I know I need to go back and plug in holes, etc. But not tonight. Right now, I'm going to read some more about Claire Cosi and her coffeehouse.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Family furor, nasty weather, and a thought about books

The furor in the family over the cookbook cover continues. Yesterday Colin doctored the cover to insert Kegan's face, only Kegan is wearing monster teeth (he's apparently fond of running around the house in them) and his head is too small under the hat and the whole things is too ugly--when my darling Kegan is so beautiful. Then Brandon took Colin's photo and furthered doctored it. And finally Jamie wrote that my publisher had sent him the real cover, which is titled "My Favorite Boy! How the love of one son can inspire an entire family . . . " I'm truly sorry that I couldn't get it to upload. I wrote a Marcia Daudistel, who follows my blog, about all this, and she suggested that small families don't have nearly as much fun as large ones. Jordan did tell me seriously that many of her girlfriends want to buy the book, always a good sign.
Tonight is one of those North Texas nights when you live in apprehension--will it really be icy in the morning? They're predicting freezing rain, subfreezing temperatures, and ice from early tomorrow morning through mid-day Wednesday. I have plenty of food and today did those errands that make you feel self-satisfied--the vet for dog and cat food, filled the car with gas, and picked up a prescription. Then, because it was already wet and nasty, I came home and hunkered down. I'm warm and cozy and prepared to stay home for a day or more if I have to. Of course, a power outage would change the whole story completely--and leave me without eat since my gas furnace has an electric starter.
I've been thinking a lot about point of view in fiction the last few days. I have most often written in first person, putting myself inside a female head--it's the voice that seems to come naturally to me and at which my writing is better. I think I mentioned recently my fear that you were supposed to graduate and I might never, along with the fact that my current mystery started out in third person and got much better when I rewrote in first.
But now I'm reading a mystery written in first person from a male point of view--and I don't mean to sound gender biased or anything like that, but I'm having a hard time with it. It's told by a man who's an undertaker--well, there's a bit of a problem in itself, still sleeps with his ex-wife, engages in pummeling with friends when they meet (He even says, "We men love that sort of pummeling."), drinks a bit too much, etc. I have a hard time identifying, whereas I quickly identify with the narrators of my cozies I read. There's no law that says cozies must be written by women, but they usually are. This has all the makings of a good plot, but I'm just not sure I'll hang in to the end--it's a fairly long mystery. Thank goodness I paid a dollar for it, used and on sale.
Just in case of ice, I ordered a couple of new books for my Kindle tonight (not that I don't have plenty of work to do, but this is the new, slower, lazier me). The beauty of the Kindle is that you can order the books and have them almost instantly.
An interest statistic: sales of e-books jumped 108% in the last--well, now, I don't know if it's quarter or year, but that's still an amazing jump.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Nice, Long Weekend

A nice long weekend. I've been realizing lately that somehow when I worry about being faced with an empty weekend with no plans, things start to come up. I also think I'm beginning to be better about relaxing and going with the flow. Of courses this weekend, I've been proofing pages, which has kept me busy. Found some real errors in a couple of recipes, so am going back over it again, although I'm not quite through the first round.
Yesterday Texas showed its variable weather sides. What had been sunny and in the low 80s on Friday turned bitterly cold and windy Saturday, never out of the thirties. I went to two grocery stores and the hardware and came in and holed up for the day. Today it still qualifies as quite cool but its sunny and a definite improvement.
I spent part of the weekend feeding Christian. Jordan had made plans contingent on his working, and yet he didn't get a shift, so he came and had supper with me--with due warning in the morning so I could fix something he likes. We had chopped sirloin (with a sauce of red wine, beef broth and goat cheese) and salad, with a baked potato for him. We also had a long visit, a tad too much wine, and a thoroughly pleasant evening--I'd lit a fire in the fireplace and served dinner in the dining room instead of the family room since we didn't have to watch Jacob. I sent him home with a bag full of the ingredients for brunch today--and woke up this morning worrying about whether they had unpacked the bag and refrigerated as necessary. They did but confessed they forgot about it in the car until they began discussing what I was going to fix them for brunch today and Christian suddenly bolted for the car.
I fixed a new dish and altered it (no pun) to get around the tomatoes called for in the original recipe but one of the items on Christian's "do not eat" list.
I put three-and-a-quarter cups or water, a cup of corn meal, and a thawed 12 oz. pkg. of corn in a 9x13 dish, stirred it thoroughly, and baked it at 425 for 30 minutes (it came out soft polenta, but might have hardened if we'd let it cool completely). While it baked Jordan chopped a half cup cilantro, crumbled almost two cups of feta, and mixed them. I slit the casings on three bacon-and-onion sausages from Central Market's extensive lineup of homemade sausage--really debated over what flavor--and browned the meat in a skillet, breaking clumps with a wooden spon as it cooked. When it was no longer pink (a point about which Jordan is fanatical) I added some chicken broth and white wine (I had sent what I call a "travel" bottle of chardonnay, one of those little one-serving deals like you get on airplanes, and Jordan chilled it thinking I intended to drink it with brunch; I told her 11 a.m. was a bit early). When the polenta was done, we let it cool a bit, then topped it as evenly as possible with the broken up sausage meat and the feta/cilantro mixture. It was really really good. We had mini-blueberry muffins with it and needed no eggs. Jacob, who loves blueberries, thought there was something "yucky" in the muffins.
Tonight I'm fixing myself a dish that calls for an eggplant salad (made and in the refrigerator) with tuna in olive oil, grape tomatoes and mint. Sounds weird, I know, but then I'm the one who had a bit of egg salad on smoked salmon this morning before I went to brunch--I can't wait until 11 a.m. to eat. And I still have half of my sirloin patty waiting for me--maybe lunch tomorrow.
Someone left a comment on my last blog about whether or not I, as a small press director and owner of a Kindle, think digital reading machines are responsible for a downturn in publishing. Certainly there has been a downturn--a recent AAUP survey revealed something like 6-9% over the first six months of 2008, and that was before things began to go really bad. TCU Press isn't thriving like it did last year, although our sales are respectable. But, no, I don't think it's digital reading devices--someone still has to write the books and someone else publish them (I'm not sure but I don't think you can simply post your own book on Kindle). The thing that worries me about e-publishing is that it is often unvetted. TCU Press manuscripts go through two readers and then scrutiny (and I do mean scrutiny) by an editorial board. Some of the stories and books you see in the web have been read by no one but the author. Yet others come from reputable publishers who have chosen to print in newly developing forms, including e-books and Print to Order or Print on Demand. I think pubishing is changing at a rate that's almost scary, just because technology is changing that fast--but I believe there will always be hard copy books. People like to feel, hold, smell and read a real book--in spite of my Kindle, I'm doing that now, one called The Hearse You Came In On by Tim Cockey. It's a used book I got for a song at Booked for Murder in Houston, but the title sounded familiar and I thought I'd explore it. Nope, I think publishing is alive and well, maybe even a little bit "more well" than much of the economy, because one of the things I keep hearing is that in tough times, when they can't afford other entertainment, people stay home and read books.
My daughter, Megan, got a Kindle for Christmas and reports she loves it. She's rereading Pillars of the Earth and says the Kindle is so much easier to read than the big thick book. I find I like it because if I'm out of reading material, I can order a new book with a click and have it in minutes. My friend Mary Lu also got a Kindle for Christmas, and I'll have to ask how she's doing with it. Megan and Mary Lu both read in bed at night, something I simply can't do, so it may be especially great there.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A day of mishaps with a happy ending

Every morning in my life I get up, brush my teeth, and wash my hair. Even if I'm not going anywhere and don't put on makeup, I wash and blow dry my hair. This morning, I didn't, because I had an 8:30 haircut appt. and it was just going to get washed again. So I crept out to the salon, looking scruffy. Rosa didn't show up. I finally got out my cell phone and found she'd been leaving me messages all week--she had to cancel. So I went to work looking scruffy. When I went to wash my hands in the bathroom, I was startled by the person who looked back at me. Pretty much, as the morning wore on, I forgot about it, but it wasn't good for my ego.
Jordan and I met for lunch at Hofbrau, a favorite of hers (she used to work there). She had saved up her splurge all week so she could have a cheeseburger and steak fries. I had a baked potato (the sour cream and bacon were not good additions but I enjoyed them) and salad. Jordan commented, and I agreed, it was nice to have a meal together, just the two of us, and not have to watch Jacob. But I apparently left my wallet on the table. I remember returning the credit card and charge slip to it, but after that it was a blank.
I didn't discover this until I went to a church dinner (by this time I had washed my hair) and had no wallet, no money to pay for the dinner. Called Hofbrau and the manager had it in his office. So after the Mexican fiesta at church--complete with a fascinating demonstration of Mayan dance, with dancers wearing the most elaborate costumes--Jean, Jim and I went to Hofbrau and retrieved my wallet, complete with charge cards, drivers license, and cash. I am so grateful. I told Jordan tonight if she's going to be a caretaker of the elderly (that's me), she needs to do better.
So now I'm home, settled down, and think I'll finish my mystery before I go back to page proofs of the cookbook. A long weekend that loomed once again doesn't seem so long. Every week we wait to see if Christian will work on the weekend, but he doesn't get a shift at Joe T.'s. Winter is a bad time to be a part-time waiter there since they rely in pleasant weather on a huge patio crowd. He's not working again this weekend, but Jordan had scheduled a play date for Jacob. So Christian's coming for supper with me. Sunday I'm gong there for brunch, and Jay mentioned something about feedling me this weekend. Too bad it's all about food, but that's how my social life is.

Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books

Here's the picture I couldn't post last night. Melinda has solved my technical problems once again.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cookbook, a political rant, and sushi

You never know what day will turn out to be exciting. This morning I thought the day ahead looked fairly dull, except for dinner with Betty, but email brought the page proofs and cover of my cookbook/memoir, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. I couldn't get it to upload tonight, but the cover features Jacob's school photo in which, for some reason, they dressed him in a tocque and chef's jacket, and put a whisk and wooden spoon in his hand. He has an uncharacteristically solemn expression, but it's a wonderful photo. When the editor told me the designer wanted to use it, I said my youngest daughter would be thrilled and the rest of my kids would be pissed. Jamie has written, "Don't talk to me," and Brandon wrote, "Ah, well. Life is never easy. We'll have to sit Sawyer and Ford down and explain to them that their grandmother loves another grandson better." I told him I'd hit him upside the head if he did that.
Reading the page proofs is fun, although I am notoriously poor as a proofreader, but I'm trying to be careful. I guess one trouble is I've read this stuff soooo many times. Still sounds good to me, though, and I'm excited about having the book in print. The press that is publishing it operates under a historical grant and told me quite some time ago everything they publish has to have an historical slant. I told them I'm old enough that some of my recipes are history.
I know this is not a political blog, although sometimes my opinons creep in, like my exhaltation on inauguration day. But tonight I really want to rant about Texas' own Senator John Cornyn. He's always distressed me, because he votes the party line without question, and I think that fake ad of him in a cow pasture was ridiculous. But someone really needs to tell him that Bush is no longer president and the Republicans aren't in power. First he held up Hillary Clinton's nomination because of concerns about Bill Clinton's foundation, concerns which the Obama people had worked out some time ago. Now he's holding up Eric Holder's nomination as attorney general for fear Holder will prosecute some of the Bush administration who sanctioned torture. If I'm not mistaken, justice is a big part of the American way. If those people broke laws (and the Geneva Convention) with their atrocious interrogation methods, they must stand by what they did. I think Cornyn is trying to engage in payback politics, and he's going to lose face--and maybe his next election. We can only hope. It's always frustrating to me to live in Texas when I was urged to write my senators on matters of liberal concern. It's like writing to a stone, and when I did get an answer, it spouted the party line.
Meantime, I applaud President Obama for the speed with which he's moved, especially toward transparency of government. It can't all be done in one day or two, but he sure has moved ahead in rapid and reassuring ways. For the Obama girls' sake, I hope the media gets over fascination with them, so they can lead normal lives. They are adorable.
I've had other frustrations--today I had a list of people to call about business matters--the mail-order pharmacy, TIAA-CREF about my minimum withdrawal distribution (which I didn't realize I don't have to do this year), Citicard about the time I paid double and what happened to the money, my accountant. Inauguration day, when my lunch guests left and I settled down at my desk to work and watch TV, the TV wouldn't work--thank goodness, one quick call to AT&T solved that. And then last night when I decided to allow myself a few minutes of relaxation reading, my Kindle wouldn't turn pages--once again, I'm grateful for instant tech support. It was easily fixed, and I was soon happily reading. But many of my calls involved navigating automated phone systems, which are really awful, especially when you follow directions, punch in this, that, and the other, only to be told, "Our offices are presently closed."
But all my frustrations disolved in soy with wasabi tonight. Betty and I went to our favorite sushi place, and I had something called the Russian--white tuna, California roll, smoked salmon, and topped with just a dab of caviar (I actually couldn't taste the caviar). Me, who can't eat spicy southwestern food, can take a good bit of wasabi in my soy sauce--I love it. Betty had something with shrimp in it and declared it the best she'd ever had. It had a spicy red sauce, so I couldn't have eaten it for two reasons--shrimp (to which I'm allergic) and spice.
Back to proofreading my own recipes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration reflections

What's to say? It's all been said on TV, but it was truly an inspirational day, an inspirational speech--and even a prayer that made everyone laugh. I'm sure God laughed too. After early morning meetings and cleaning up some odds and ends at the office, I stayed glued to the TV much of the day. Susan and Melinda and Charles arrived about 10:30; the girls left right after lunch--about 12:30--to go back to work. Charles stayed a bit longer, but then I got to work even though I still had the TV on. I was amazed but delighted to see the Obamas get out of their safe car and walk in the streets, greeting the crowds. I was even impressed to see all the dignitaries file into the special seating, and I watched the Obama girls with delight. No sense saying this has been a historic day--everyone knows that, and everyone knows the hard work begins tomorrow.
Some have criticized the expense of this inauguration, but I thought the pomp and circumstance had its place. It's comforting to know that these rituals go on from inauguration to inauguration--sort of like a sign the United States will survive its current multiple crises. And it was fitting to mark this particular transition with ritual. I thought the day well planned and appropriate, and I vicariously enjoyed every minute of it--wouldn't, however, have given a plugged nickel to be on that mall in the midst of all those people.
I felt a tad sorry for George Bush. He has been protesting too much about leaving with his head held high, but if he really listened to what President Obama said, he would have at least squirmed in his seat--so would Dick Cheney. It's always a bit sentimental to see the outgoing president fly away in the helicopter. This time the crowd below waved--but only some of them. And it must be cold comfort to leave, saying that history would justify his presidency--because current public opinion sure hasn't. I felt sorry, years ago, for Mrs. Nixon--I remember watchng that departure with a very young Colin who says he remembers it--and now I feel sorry for the Bushes. Not forgiving, but compassion.
My boss told me her niece who is a freshman at George Washington thought the National Mall was a shopping mall. When her aunt and mother expressed concern about the cold, she assured them it would be all right because malls are enclosed. They had to do a quick bit of educating. In a way, it shows me how much many of us need to learn about our government and our capitol.
Now I'm waiting for the final NBC roundup--maybe they'll finally show what Michelle Obama is wearing, though she looked stunning this morning.
I hope all of you are savoring the day--and praying in your own way for the new president, his administration, and his family.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A sense of anticipation

Like most Americans, I await tomorrow with anticipation--and a little apprehension. This is such a momentous inauguration in the history of our country that I pray no violence will mar it. I feel sort of like I did while we waited for the turn of the century eight years ago (seems like yesterday!). But maybe this time it's with a bit more apprehension. My friend Jean has a friend who is a ham radio operator, and he told her they have their emergency network set up and ready to go. "You mean they expect trouble?" Jean asked, and he said, "Oh, yeah!" Jean said she felt better than if he had just shrugged. But I realize that you can't put three million more people into a city without some trouble. Colin called tonight and said if anyone was after Obama, they wouldn't do anything tomorrow. Of course, we all know there are people out there, from racist bigots to terrorists, who would like to get rid of him but I guess we should be comforted that security is so high. I look at pictures of him with his family and almost wonder why he's willing to risk his safety, in a sense putting country before family. It makes me admire him all the more. But he and his wife and those two charming daughters are on my daily prayer list.
Today being MLK Day, I was home all day--so I saw a lot about the inauguration. The news media is of course playing it for all its worth, but I was fascinated. The TODAY Show was a three-hour special edition, Martha Stewart featured tomorrow's dinner menu (or was it lunch?), and the NBC nightly news seemed to indicate almost nothing had happened elsewhere in the world, except perhaps the ceasefire in Gaza.
I talked to Charles today and he said, "You know, you just don't want to watch it alone." I said a dumb thing: "Well, Charles, I'd invite you over but I don't have enough lunch." I was thinking of those three large tomatoes I bought to stuff with tuna. To my shame, Charles said, "I don't have to eat." Of course I realized I could eat a smaller tomato and called him back to say, "Of course you'll eat," to which he replied, "Only a dainty portion." I''ll also serve tomato/basil soup--I have some tomato/basil sauce left from last night's chicken and will add it to some purchased organic tomato soup. The table is set in the family room--I keep walking by it and thinking, "Oh, I have to clear that table" but I don't.
Tonight Jeannie and Jim came for a one-dish meal. Jim was giving me financial advice. I fixed what the kids used to call green noodles--usually I use spinach egg noddles but I discovered spinach penne in my cupboard and used that. The sauce is butter, olive oil, lemon, mushrooms, scallions, artichoke hearts, pesto, and Parmesan.. If I do say so, it's really good. It began as a simple recipe--lemon butter on egg noodles, but I began using the spinach noodles and then gradually added ingredients. Jim ate two helpings, just as Jeannie said, "We're trying to cut down on the portions we eat." I was glad he liked it because when they arrived she said, "He's really hungry," and I worried about my one-dish meal. I did serve cheese (saga and havarti) and grapes for dessert.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A cooking weekend

Sometimes, much as I welcome a three-day weekend, I look forward to it with apprehension, the same kind I felt about ten days away at Christmas. Will I get itchy for company? Will I be bored. I should learn not to worry--so far this has been a pleasand and lovely weekend. Having Jacob spend the night Friday started it off, and he woke Saturday in a delightful mood. We"hung out" in the living room talking for a long time--well, it was a one-way discussion on his part, though I tried valiantly to participate. When he watched me dress, he pointed to my breasts and said something about bumps. I thought at first he was talking about some large but nondangerous moles but it turns out he meant nipples. So I said, "You have nipples too" and pointed. He nodded, "I have apples."
After his parents came to get him, I went to the grocery (later than usual), came home and did two chores on my "must do" list--bagged up the pile of droppings in the backyard (I clean every night but just make a pile to the side of the yard) and it was past due time to get rid of it, and I crawled under the railing to turn the porch hose back on and give the plants a good watering--had to turn it off when it froze and yesterday was the first day nice enough to be out there. After lunch Jean came--she has been without internet for two weeks and, by her own admission, cranky about it. I fully understandd--I get cranky even I'm without it for a day. It did get me to thinking how it's changed our world and our habits. She worked at my computer for almost two hours while I read that novel I started while watching Jacob. Then last night I had eggplant parmegiana with Jay and Susan--I'm always serving them leftovers so they invited me to share theirs, and it was delicious. A pleasant, comfortable evening--good food and very good company, including the new dog Rio who wants so badly to get in everyone's lap. I finally said at almost nine that I had to come home to work, but of course I didn't--I read.
Today I've been cooking. Texas Monthly somehow has me on their list to send weekly recipes too. Sometimes I delete, sometimes I forward, and occasionally I cook one. This week it was lemon/garlic chicken with tomato basil sauce. Jordan and Christian are coming for dinner, with Jacob of course. I've made the marinade--soy, lemon, sugar, etc.--and the sauce--called for roasting Roma tomatoes on the grill. Washed the lettuce for dinner and did some other chores, and then decided it's time to sit for a while before I do my yoga and make some cheese grits for Jacob and Christian (Jordan and I probably will steal bit but it's not on the recommended eating list).
Things I did not do: go to church (I had good intentions but as I often do on Sunday mornings, I got busy cooking). I also didn't journal, although Susan sent me home with a blank notebook last night. Years ago, she read The Artist's Way, and it recommended jounraling for 30 minutes every morning first thing, writing without planning, whatever comes into your mind, whether it makes sense or not. To me, it sounds like a good plan, supposed to free your creativity from everyday worries. Jay maintained just thinking those random unorganized thoughts wouldn't do it--it's the act of putting them on paper. There ensued a discussion about creativity, because he said Susan and I (she's an artist) were creative, whereas he was not, and we argued that what he does--sales--is an art form at which he's very good and neither of us could do. Susan's been writing her journal entries for twenty years, and it's second nature to her now, but she admitted you have to do it for a while before you begin to feel any effect. Once again, I had good intentions, but I got into my morning routine almost without knowing it--and on Sundays, that's a cup of coffee, the morning paper, and the news. And I know at this point I'd never get up 30 minutes early on a work morning.
Tomorrow I'll make green noodles with mushrooms, scallions, artichoke hearts, lemon, pesto and Parmesan for Jeannie and Jim. He's going to take a look at my finances and tell me where he thinks I am. I also fix some tuna salad and tomato basil soup, combining some organic packaged soup with the leftover sauce from tonight. I'm going to unofficially close my office for a couple of hours and invite Susan and Melinda to lunch to watch the inauguration. So it's a cooking weekend--the kind I like. And I bet I finish that novel today!

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Jacob evening

Jacob is spending the night tonight, and oh boy, was he in high spirits. He wanted to get into everything. He'd pick up knitting needles and look at me to see my reaction. I said, "Not for Jacob." Then he'd try something else and watch my reaction. But he's good about amusing himself and played endlessly with the dollhouse in the playroom, the stick horse, the trike (which he can't quite master). Only occasoinally he'd settle onto the bed to watch his DVD. When I told him to get the stool so he could climb into his pack-and-play, he made no objection, but then with my back turned he crawled into it by himself. Almost fell, but I caught him. At least he can't get out of it unassisted--at least I don't think he can.
The evening made me think about the issue of playing with children. A recent Ann Landers column (okay, I read them in the morning paper) dealt with mothers who complained they were tired to death of "playing" with their children, much as they loved them. The two--playing and loving--aren't necessarily the same. I don't remember actually playing with my children a lot--for most of the time there were four and they played with each other. But I clearly remember one morning when Maddie (then about two and now almost ten) said, "Come on, Juju, play with me!" I was a bit at a loss. And I don't really play with Jacob, as in getting down on the floor and moving his trucks or the dollhouse people or whatever. But we've worked out a routine that is comfortable for both of us--I sit with a book, and he plays, and I sometimes tease him about what he's doing or talk about it, and he grins. He had a smelly diaper tonight and that became a great game--he hid behind the hobby horse and anywhere else he thought I couldn't get him, so I finally ignored him and he emerged. Diaper changed and pajamas on, but not without a struggle. When he announced he'd go home now, I said no, he was spending the night with Juju and his mommy and dada would come in the morning. He seemed quite philosophical about it.
Because I was watching Jacob, I let myself get distracted from my chores. Started a J. A. Jance novel I'd just ordred for my Kindle and now of course I'll spend the rest of the evening on it instead of reading my own second mystery, reading the proposed manuscript I brought home, finishing my taxes--all those chores that loom. I have a long weekend to do them--our office is closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An up and down day

This was the kind of day that wears me out. I started it with a mammogram at 8 a.m. which meant I had to get out the door earlier than usual and was feeling pushed. I have to say this for new technology--getting a mammogram is the most efficient, painless procedure in the whole spectrum. They really get you in and out, the people are cheerful and kind, it's just all a smooth operation. But at this particular facility I had to park across the street and walk up a curving driveway. I worried about the open space problem a bit but needlessly--I breezed in and out.
Stole a couple of hours in the office, then went to sell books at a luncheon with an author who is also a personal friend. Mary Rogers (Dancing Naked) was speaking to a ladies group at Colonial Country Club, and while it was all fun, it was still a long experience--three hours from the time I left the office till I got back. And then I was late for a meeting, which I kind of flitted in and out of and finally left before they were through, having put my two cents in. Late this afternoon, I took a nap and slept so soundly that when I woke up I was convinced I'd already gotten up, fed the dog, and fixed my dinner--a shock to find I'd done none of that.
If I'm going to follow Mark Bittman's advice about vegan until six, I didn't do very well today. I had low-fat cottage cheese for breakfast. I always thought that was a healthy choice. Once, when I was eating regular cottage cheese and tons of it--not only for breakfast but throughout the day, I cut it out and lost so much weight that my brother was concerned. Now I'm more conservative about quantity. But then for lunch, the first course of a cream of mushroom soup--absolutely delicious but probably full of cream, followed by a flank steak salad which was beautiful in presentation and good, though too generous with the steak. I consoled myself that I wouldn't eat the brownie promised for dessert--but, gosh, it had a scoop of ice cream, lots of chocolate sauce, a bit of whipped cream with blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. Who could resist? I ate more than I meant to. Tonight I paid penance and had a one-dish dinner of a small can of white tuna, a small bit of tiny pastas, capers, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. Gosh it was good. But I don't think I lost weight today!
Tonight, my friends Gayla and Fran called me. Gayla is the marketing manager at Texas A&M University Press, someone I rely on almost daily, and a good friend besides; Fran is the retired director of the University of North Texas Press. The three of us have "pajama parties," often on my front porch, where I cook dinner and we sit and drink wine and solve the problems of the publishing world. But lately, they've been getting together a lot without me--not deliberately but because business occasions dictated or Gala joined Fran for holidays when I as with family. I have cried unfair. Tonight Gayla, on her way to Missouri, stopped at Fran's in Dallas, so they called me and we must have talked 45 minutes. The conversation ranged from serious matters to hilarity and was a real mood-raiser for me. Nice end to an up and down day.
Now I'm going back to my second mystery and see what's to be done. But I'm sleepy again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Indulgent dinner--and how to eat more healthily

Betty and I went to Cafe Aspen tonight--an old favorite--and indulged in chicken fried lobster with grilled asparagus and basil mashed potatoes--only a demi plate, and I didn't eat much of the potatoes. But the lobster was soooo good. It came with a bell pepper sauce that I asked them to leave off and when the waiter offered cocktail sauce, I almost laughed--who would ruin the delicacy of lobster with strong cocktail sauce? But still, I know chicken fried is not good and this was a one time thing.
Sue next door sent me a review of a book called Food Matters by Mark Bittman, New York columnist who writes "The Minimalist." It's essentially an application of the theories of Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food). Bittman offers theory, followed by recipes. His idea is the same as Pollan's--eat less and eat more plants. Bittman adds eat less meat, less complex carbohydrates (processed white bread, white flour, rice, etc.), and no junk food. But Bittman lost 35 pounds in a remarkably short time by a new approach: eat vegan until six, then eat your normal food. I wondered where fish fit into this because I eat a lot of seafood--tuna salad is a favorite--and I thought I was well on the way to his diet. After all, I eat low fat cottage cheese for breakfast--but oops, a vegan wouldn't eat cheese, nor the single egg I enjoyed for breakfast out earlier this week. And a vegan wouldn't eat fish. Vegan may finally take me to the Spiral Diner, a vegan/vegetarian place I've been afraid to try. I don't eat junk food, I don't eat a lot of red meat, though occasionally I crave it--which I guess is okay after six, and I've made a point of avoiding white breads, etc., usually eat rye for sandwiches as a matter of taste. I think I'll have to buy Bittman's book--if I were truly eating as he recommends, I wouldn't keep seeing the scales register higher (though they were three pounds less at my lasst doctor's appt). My current interest in healthy food reminds me of my mom's adherence in the'60s to the theories of Adele Davis, a nutritionist who advocated eating natural foods. Maybe Mom and Adele were both ahead of their times.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What are you eating?

Last night I finished the really dark mystery I was reading with some relief, Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know. It haunted me during the night, even showing up in my dreams, and now I know why I want to write cozies. This one was grim--about two young sisters who had disappeared and one who surfaced twenty-some years later. I didn't enjoy it, but it was so well done I didn't want to put it down and read the end with mixed emotions--obviously I got caught up in the story, which is every author's dream for readers.. But then I moved on to In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma. I didn't get far into the book, because it was late, but his thesis is that so much of what we eat isn't food--it's synthetic. I'm probably less gulty than many in that category, but I'm still interested in reading his theories. I read somewhere recently that there are some vegetables that hold pesticides, etc., more than others and you should always buy organic--apples, pears, lettuce, and spinach were among the most common that I buy. So last week I bought organic lettuce--it's only thirty cents more a bunch. Think I'll keep doing that.
Ever since the holidays my desk at the office has been piled high--I never seem to catch up, and I know Susan and Melinda feel the same way. We need twice as many people. Tomorrow we have staff meeting and our three graduate students, doing directed studies, will attend the meeting as their introduction to the press. And we have a lot on our plate for the fall list, so they'll be busy--and a big help.
Meantime I've sent off Skeleton in a Dead Space to the publisher I'd been correspnding with and put it out of my mind as much as possible. The submission instructions were very explicit about getting permission for places you mention, etc., so this morning when I had breakfast at the Olde Neighborhood Grill I asked Peter if I had his permission to mention the Grill, and he signed his name in the air. I told him I'd be back for a signature on paper if they accept the manuscript. And tonight I started reading the sequel, which is about half finished. I made notes about what I thought was wrong with it as it is and am digging in. Figure once I'm in Kelly Jones' world (the protagonist) I might best stay there.
On the other hand, I'm distracted. I had a harebrained idea today. Our fall list has been shrinking--two books dropped out, one of them a small book that just won't be ready that soon and the other a reprint where the author hasn't yet gotten the rights back. I decided we should have a holiday book for our small book series, and then I got to thinking about how to do 15,000 words quickly. I am leaning toward ethnic Christmas celebrations in Texas, with recipes--we would include British and Celtic, Hispanic, Greek, Eastern European, and Scandinavian, if I can find enough about them. But then maybe we should do holiday celebrations, including Channukah and Kwanza (about which I know nothing but would like to learn)--and there was one other I saw somewhere, maybe on a Christmas card. I'll bring it up at staff meeting tomorrow.
Jacob was supposed to come for the evening tonight while his parents went to a meeting, but his school rejected him about 3 p.m. He had a 102 temp and what they called RSV--some kind of a respiratory virus (I can't spell what the S stands for). Jordan called while on her way to pick him up, and since I was at my computer I googled it. It's most dangerous to infants under one year and the elderly (is that really me?). She called tonight to say the doctor wanted to see him immediately, and she had taken him in. In my day, we would have said he has a cold, fed him fluids and a soft diet, and waited it out. Now they have all these complicated syndromes and diseases--I'm not sure if that's an advancement or not. Of course, when I was a child, if I'd had these symptoms--fever, cough, etc.--as the daughter of an osteopathic physician, I'd have been given an osteopathic treatment (no, not chiropractic)--not a bad thing at all.
Jordan said Jacob came home saying, "Mama's bed, Dada's bed, millk" and she told him he had to drink water befor ehe could have milk. When I talked to her, I said to tell him Juju loves him, and he said, "No Juju now." He wanted Mama and bed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Goodbye, Christmas!

Jordan, Christian and Jacob came for supper tonight--I traded them for supper if the adults would put all my Christmas bags and boxes back up in the attic--I do not like to go in the attic and don't do it at all when I'm home alone. Jacob wanted so badly to climb the pull-down ladder, but his mother remained firmly at the bottom, handing things to Christian. The staircase is right next to the bathroom, and Jacob kept pushing her toward the bathroom, telling her to "go potty." At one point she let him push her in there, and he tried to close the door on her. Christian promised him next year he could help, and Jordan told him it would soon be his chore to put up Juju's Christmas. Jacob has new shoes--the kind with lights in them--and he is delighted, stomping around the house to be sure they light up. When they left he gave me a sweet kiss and leaned into me--his version of a hug. I've noticed that several of my grandchildren don't actively hug--they passively allow you to hug them.
I fixed chicken piccata, which Christian said was delicious but I didn't feel it was my greatest--the chicken breasts were way too thick, pound as I might. And the green beans had been in the fridge long enough to be a little tough. I made a new salad dressing (a recipe published in the paper from a now-gone landmark restaurant) using blue cheese powder that I had to order online. Delicious.
What started out as a dull weekend ended up being very pleasant--Saturday I went to Central Market, where a minimal list soon grew to an over $40 purchase--easy to do there. Then I had a yoga lesson, and Elizabeth taught me two new poses--for those in the know, they are standing cat/cow and boat, both designed to strengthen abs, in keeping with my desire to lose weight and slim my genetically thick middle. Last night, Charles, Mary Lu and I went to Sapristi's, the local restaurant where he can get his beloved mussels. It was a really pleasant evening.
Last week, maybe Thursday, I followed online instructions and sent my mystery to a company that had previously asked me for anthology contributions, which I happily wrote and supplied. Saturday I got back a letter of instructions for submitting my manuscript to the submissions editor. Not sure if this means a step forward or is routine. One of the requirements is an author tip sheet, all concerned about liability. I answered no to most of the questions--quotes from books, speeches, songs, the Bible, etc.--but yes to this is a book set in a real city and mentions real places. You have to show written permission for everything but casual mention, so I did what I needed to do anyway--started going back through the manuscript. I thought maybe I'd mentioned only three restaurants, but reading I was amazed at the specific places and some brand names I'd included. In some cases I wrote around it--particularly the line where I walked about the cardboard pizza at Chucky Cheese (I said tonight if Jacob has a b'day party there, I am NOT going!). None of that is in my manuscript now. Their carefulness is a good lesson for me as an editor, and I plan to share it at the office tomorrow.
The good thing about rereading one more time, in addition to catching a few typos, is that I'm putting myself back into the world of Kelly Jones and her family and friend. You know what? I missed them!

Friday, January 09, 2009

A day of blahs, writer anxiety, and the Kindle

Today was a day of blahs. Yesterday and today I woke up blowing my nose and blew and blew--well you get the picture. By noon it ws better, but I didn't have much enthusiasm for anything. And when I napped I kept waking myself up by coughing. I already had a head cold in December, so this is definitely not fair. Tonight I felt full of the blahs, but I got into revising a self-study report for the press, studying and analyzing a low stock report, and fixing my mind on other things than the blahs. Before I knew it, it was ten o'clock. And I've filled my day for tomorrow--Central Market in the morning, a yoga lesson at noon, and dinner with Charles and Mary Lu at Sapristi's. They serve mussels, which Charles loves, and tapas, which I love.
I have sent my first mystery novel off to a small publisher that asks for an exclusive--there are a few unanswered queries out there, but I figure they'll remain unanswered. So now I wait. There's been a lot on the AgentQuest listserv about the advantages of querying small presses instead of trying to hook an agent who will sell your manuscript to a big New York publisher and make you rich and famous. There are thousands of wannabees querying those agents, and your chances seem to be nil. Beside, since I'm still running a small press, this makes sense to me--more personal attention, etc. I don't every expect to hit the PW or NYT bestseller list. But having sent that first mystery off, I find I'm reluctant to go back to the second--I think I've ignored it for three months now. I think this definitely falls under the umbrella of writer anxiety--I like the first one, am not at all sure the second had the unity force, etc. This is the weekend that I'm going to go back to it--no excuses. Except that I think I'll clean closets on Sunday.Reminds me of Erma Bombeck who used to say that she would scrub floors or wash windows instead of facing that empty page in the typewriter--that was before the days of computers.
Meantime I'm reading Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know on my Kindle. Megan wrote tonight that she got a Kindle for Christmas and really likes it. I like mine a lot too. I have been buying so many papaerbacks that I don't relaly have shelf room for and yet am reluctant to discard. Kindle solves that problem--you can buy them cheaper and not take up shelf space. And if you delete them, they are stored at some mysterious Kindle digital archive, and you can always retrieve them. And yes, it's as easy to read as a regular book. I'm a convinced fan, but I wonder where they came up with the name Kindle.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The kind of date I hate

I had to stay home today to wait for the AT&T person to install U-Verse on the kitchen TV. All the other TVs in the house are on the system, but the original installation guy ran out of time, so he said, for that last one. So the man was scheduled to be here between 8 and 10--he arrived at 11, after I called to check, and worked until 4. He was really nice, polite, helpful, and all those good things--sincere about doing it right. But he spent a long time trying to take the cable across the attic and down the kitchen wall (and drilled a huge hole in the wall). Then he discovered because the way the house is built, he couldn't get the cable down, so he had to come in through the outside, which leaves a sort of ugly cable wandering around on one end of the counter. But the TV works.
Meantime, I was sort of trapped, juggling work, dog and cat. At one point I had both animals locked in my study with me, and they decided to spat. I think Scoob was playing, but Wywy was serious--good thing he doesn't have front claws. And Scoob got very needy about wanting attention from me, nosing my elbow until I couldn't write on the computer. I actually did get a lot done--mostly writing rejection letters or, as Jim Lee used to say, breaking hearts. I reviewed the month's financial reports and carefully read a short manuscript that I hadn't yet had to time to look at. Working at home gives me time for such things, whereas in the office I'm often distracted by phone calls, questions, emails etc. The result, however, is that I have a book bag full of copies, manuscripts, memos, etc. to be sorted, filed, letters to be mailed, etc. tomorrow. Probably take me all morning.
The evening ended better. Betty and I tried a new restaurant, Buttons. I wasn't crazy about it--struck me as a thirty-ish pick-up bar, and there was a stage where something was going on but I'm darned if I know what. Betty thinks they were giving cowboy boots and maybe a key to the city (I have one of those) to the chef. The dinner we both had was delicious--an appetizer portion of fried oysters on creamed spinach and then on thick, crusty bread. There was something just a tad spicy, probably in the batter for the oysters. One of the restaurant's signature dishes, brought from the chef's previous venue, is chicken and waffles. I can't quite bring myself to try it, but Betty wants to. As she said, you don't put syrup on the waffle.
Tomorrow is another busy day, starts with a meeting, then sorting all that stuff in my book bag, and trying to get some other work done. I guess the first week back after vacation is always hectic, but this has seemed worse than ever, probably due to doctors' appointments and today's work-at-home. I'm glad tomorrow is Friday.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Being a writer again

I have sadly neglected the writing part of my life in the last few months. I can give all kinds of excuses beyond the holidays (though that was a factor too)--but I got tired of querying and getting no response, not even a polite "no thank you." I was quite comfortable with my first mystery but not really sure where the second was going, etc., etc. etc. I read an interesting response to an online question about writer anxiety. The mentor of the day was an experienced editor and she suggested that many writers fear that the truth will out--I'm a fake, not a good writer. I'm full of cliches and don't have any original thoughts. Or, maybe, as has occurred to me, I've written my one best book--I think I know which one it is--and will never equal that again. Sometimes anxiety is ambivalence--should I continue to "polish" that first book or should I work on the second. For heaven's sake, you can polish forever, even over-polish.
The suggested ways of dealing with this anxiety were to acknowledge that every writer feels that way (a big plus, because I didn't think it was true), that fear is based on a "what if," which means you're borrowing trouble. Recognizing the fear is good, but as most of us know in the back of our minds the way to conquer it is to act. Writer's block? Write your way through it. As J.A.Jance once said to me in a mostly forgettablel meeting, "We all know the way to write a mystery is to put your seat in the chair at the computer." Easier said than done.
Belonging to Sisters in Crime and the Guppie (Going to be Published) group has taught me so much about the business of writing mysteries, but it has in some ways intimidated me--those ladies (and a few gentlemen) are so intense about marketing, the ins and outs of the business, that I think, with some 60 books or more to my credit, I'm a novice. I liked it when I could wirte, send the mss. to my agent, and she'd send it off to a publisher who liked my work. I didn't expect the business side of writing to be so all-consuming that you almost lose heart for the writing.
Tonight I took a big step in getting past the fear and the block: I sent my first mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, off to a small publisher, along with the requested bio, writing history and synopsis. They said either send the first three chapters or the entire manuscript, so I opted for the latter. I chose this company because getting an agent when you're unknown in the field seems nigh impossible, and I've contributed to anthologies produced by this same company, so I thought that gave me some credibility. Besides, because I work daily at a small press, I think I would prefer to deal with one. It will never make me rich, but it won't put the sales pressure on me that a major house would, nor the publicity pressure. I will of course be crushed if I get a rejection, but then I'll go back to plan B, whatever that it.
Meantime, tomorrow, I'm going back to the second novel, No Neighborhood for Old Women. It's mushy in my mind and maybe after having left it sit this long, I can sharpen it.
Meantime, I'm working at home tomorrow, once again waiting for an AT&T person, but I brought a stack of proposals with me, in addition to a new manuscript to read. Two weeks out of the office makes me fall really behind, and a lot of things have kept me away from the busineses at hand this week. Every doctor's appt. I canceled in December is catching up with me in January! I guess it's good to have a lot of work to do--I can avoid the January, post-holiday blahs.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Twelfh Night

Tonight being Twelfth Night, Jordan, Christian, Jacob and I held our usual pine-burning ceremony. I'm sure Jacob didn't know to make a wish, but he loved throwing the pine into the fire and wanted all of them Wrong! It goes from youngest to oldest, so naturally he was first. Then Jordan, Jacob, Jay from next door, and me--naturally mine sort of simmered but didn't burn until Christian kicked it into the flames. Jacob was full of himself--talking, running, throwing himself at people and occsionally throwing things--which is a definite no-no. But we had a good time--I had, over two days, fixed the best meatball recipe I know. It involves mixing all the ingredients by hand, then putting them in the blender, then shaping bigger meatballs then usual and baking them. Yesterday I quit at that point, but tonight I floured and browned them, made a sauce of wine and a bit of tomato paste and let it boil down a bit, then added beef broth and the meatballs. They were really good, and I'm glad to report I have leftovers.
It was a busy day--went to work and struggled like mad to get as much done as possible before 9:45 when I had to leave for a doctor's appt. Came back in time to go to a library lunch. Then did a little more work and came home. I've been working on pieces for my submission of my mystery to a publisher, and I'm going back to that right now.
Happy Twelfth Night to everyone--you can take your decorations down now, if you haven't already done so.

Monday, January 05, 2009


I don't know about Robert Frost's line about "Good fences make good neighbors." Between my neighbors to the west and me, there's a hurricane fence in the back and an open iron one in the front--neither are what you'd call privacy fences. To the east, my neighbor and I share adjoining driveways with no fence until you get pretty well down my driveway where I put in a fence to control dogs. But the fences don't seem to matter--we are all good neighbors, and I'm lucky to have these folks around me. Believe me, for years I endured much less desirable neighbors but that's a long story and I won't go there.
Jay and Susan live on the east in a wonderful, charming stucco house that they've redone with grace. They're there to stay. On the west is Sue, in a small brick rental that fits her and her two children perfectly. Except for deferred maintenance, she's very comfortable there, and I hope she stays a long time. Last night, Sue didn't have her kids, so we four adults had supper at my house. I am beginning to fear that when I invite them to supper, they'll wonder what leftovers I have to get rid of this time. Last night I fix scalloped potatoes with ham and melted cheese on the top. When I took it out of the oven, Jay said he recognized the aroma from his childhood--I sent all the leftovers home with him. But I really had to use that leftover ham from New Year's. Maybe next year I'll make Hoppin' John--my kids always called it Hoppin' Uncle John.
Jay is a good cook who enjoys it, and today he made beef stew, so I joined them and one of Susan's sisters, Cathy, who tried to teach Colin and Megan to swim some thirty-seven years ago. We had a great reunion and a lively dinnertime conversation--plus the stew was excellent. So I'm in the glow of good neighbors and grateful for them.
Today was the first day back at work after a two-week vacation. I admit I slept fitfully last night, probably aware of all that was on my plate and the fact that I had to get up at 6:30 instead of 8:30. I worried about getting Scoob up early and out but turned on the light about 7 a.m. so he'd know what's coming. Actually the day would have been fine if it weren't so cold and rainy. I got a lot done at the office and a lot more at home, but no, I didn't work on mysteries.
My next goal is to submit my first mystery to a small publisher that I've chosen, but tonight after dinner I came home to 35 emails, which took most of the evening. One day I'll get caught up.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Books, taxes, and naps

I finished the new P.D.James novel, The Private Patient, and while I know James is THE mistress of the British detective story, all I can say is it sure did end far away from where it began, although James connected it all neatly in the end. The first 40 or so pages, as I've mentioned, were devoted to exploring the character of the victim. But after she died, she became almost a minor player and we readers became enmshed in the lives of other characters. By the last third of the novel, it was fairly clear who was the murderer (although there was one other possibly credible suspect), but the way it worked out was a surprise. Would I recommend the novel? I don't know. I'm not a fan of British mysteries, and as Mary Lu said, it's not a book you can't put down. On the other hand, it wasn't a book I wanted to leave before finishing it (I have a real thing against doing that and only succumb on rare occasionas!).
I have started work on my 2008 taxes and separated everthing into categories, etc. Have done all my accounts, except my everyday checking account and, sorry, I just can't face that tonight. Another time, another day. After all, all those 1099s or whatever won't come in before the end of the month. And I've also made great progress on preparing to query a small press about my mystery--but I need some files from my office computer to do that and didn't want to go up there today.
I spent the morning finishing up taking down Christmas decorations, packaging them, etc. In the process I found tax stuff for '01, '04, '05, and '06. I can only hope '02, '03, and '07 are already in the attic where they belong. And of course I can never remember where I hid all the non-Christmas objects or where they go. Am still missing one black stoneware pitcher that has sentimental value. And I was afraid to take my grandmother's tureen down from the top of the wardrobe where I'd hidden it. Will wait for someone more sure of foot and hand to do that for me.
Charles and I had lunch at the Black-Eyed Pea--I love their veggie plates, though I think he cheated. He had baked potato (think of all the calories in the bacon and sour cream) and turnip greens, which I really don't like. I had carrots, corn, squash casserole, and green beans. I thought you had to choose five but when I hesitated over the fifth, the waitress said, "Seniors only have to order four!" I demanded indignantly how she knew I was a senior, and Charles laughed and said, "Because you are with one!" Then we went to Central Market, which always interests him though he doesn't buy anything.
And then I came home and had what I felt was a much-deserved nap. When I woke up I couldn't remember if it was Sunday morning or not and I'd just had my last sleep-in morning. Then I realized it was afternoon. I was so deliciously comfortable, with my feet wrapped around the very warm cat who was curled at the foot of the bed, that I hated to get up. But I did, fed the dog, and rode my bike. Fixed one of the dinners that makes Christian say I have odd tastes--pickled herring for appetizer, followed by braseola (the Italian beef version of prosciutto) dressed with lemon and olive oil, shaved parmesan, and watercross. Sooo good.
Which reminds me of a recipe Lisa taught me and I've been meaning to share: enchilada casserole that's the easiest I've ever heard of. For each person, take a corn tortilla and cover one side with green enchilada sauce (okay, you could use red), put it sauce side down in a casserole, top with cubed chicken, green chillies, and more enchilada sauce. Add a second tortilla, covered with more enchilada sauce and grated cheese. Bake until heated and cheese is melted. I can't eat a whole one--still have half in the fridge.
Gotta go. Sleepless in Seattle is on the TV.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A busy day and some odd thoughts

This is what my dining table looked like at 5 p.m. tonight. I figured if I got all the decorations together in one spot, it would be easier to pack them. Then for some reason between 5 and 6 I got inspired and packaged almost all of them--there are still odds and ends to be dealt with. I also went to the grocery store, did a laundry, sent off an office report to my boss, and started on the tax stuff, rearranging to make room for 2009 financial records. And then of all days, the February Bon Appetit arrived--that always takes at least an hour of my time. And doesn't January 2 seems awfully early for a February issue? It was just a few days ago that I got the January Southern Living--no wonder I can't keep up.
I have a new pet language peeve--people who are "looking to" as in "I'm looking to buy a car." What's wrong with "I want to buy a car." And from the TCU business school on the internet announcements came "Are you looking to have an internship this semester?" Yikes!
Some time ago I read an internet story about a man who had been in a concentration camp as a young man, always starving, untl a girl appeared at the fence one day and handed him an apple. Thereafter she appeared daily with an apple. When he survived and lived in New York, a friend asked him to go on a blind date and, you guessed it, it was the girl with the apple. They married and lived happily ever after. Sue and I discussed it and said, nice a story as it was, it sounded like an urban myth. But, hey, even Oprah was taken in and had the man on her show. The book, The Girl with the Apple, was scheduled for publication by a major publishing house when the author revealed that it was a made-up story. Yes, he had been in a concentration camp, and yes, he had met his wife later on a blind date--but there was no girl with an apple. Why didn't he just write fiction? Or why didn't he write the girl with the apple in as a fantasy during his concentration camp years. His explanation? He wanted to tell a story that would make people happy. I guess now it has a lot of people smirking. Holacaust scholars are worried that it will cast doubt on other holocaust memoirs. Reminds me of what my mom used to quote, "Oh what a tangled we we weave/When first we begin to deceive."
Thanks to Barack Obama for making mothers-in-law okay. He's actually hoping that his will move into the White House with his family, though he says he's too smart to tell his mother-in-law what to do. When I was in Houston, Lisa mentioned to her hairdresser that I was visiting. The hairdresser asked if Colin was taking me around, and Lisa said no, she and I were shopping and doing errands and going to lunch. In a most cynical tone, the hairdresser asked, "So how's THAT going?" Lisa told her great. I am lucky to have a great relationship with all my children-in-law, and I'm glad Obama has that too.
Some words I read today that meant something to me: "It shows wisdom to know what you want in life and then to direct all your energies to getting it." I think that means I should go back to directing all my energies to getting that mystery published.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reflections on the year past and that to come

I started the new year with half my family present for ham and black-eyed peas. I had not been able to give the Frisco Alters their Christmas gifts until today so that was fun--I apparently scored with Maddie with a book that I thought was really sophisticated for her age but she badly wanted. It's a beautifully designed, partly graphic novel titled The Invention of Henry Cabrolet. Edie got a huge map of the world puzzle and had it all put together right after dinner. When she decided it was time to go home, she began organizing everyone's belongings. Both girls got small secondary gifts--things that had come my way one way or another but not through purchase--and Edie was almost more intrigued with her SPCA fuzzy blanket than she was the puzzle. We had a happy evening, and Jacob loved playing with his cousins, though Maddie snuck off some to the back room to read her book. A little after eight, Jacob made it plain he was ready to go home, drink his milk, and go to sleep, so now they are all gone. Mel had done most of the dishes for me, which was a boon, and I finished up the few left and am settled at my desk.
Last night I didn't exactly welcome the new year in. As I have for many years, I stayed home and treated it as an ordinary night, so by midnight I was sound asleep. But staying home on New Year's Eve, plus having to write a self evaluation for my boss, are both good occasions to reflect on the year past. I think one of the big lessons I learned is that in my office I am the boss, and I need to be less conciliatory and more of a decision maker. Recently, when I was faced with a difficult decision, Melinda said to me, "Make it a business decision." And although it may be late in the game, I'm learning to do that. For most of the year, my resolution to succeed at writing mysteries was strong, but it sort of went by the wayside the last couple of months. Certainly I have learned a whole lot, some of it most disconcerting, about the mystery publishing world--so different from the academic atmosphere in which I spend my days. In 2008 I shared some wonderful times with family and friends, even if my trip to Scotland didn't happen. And turning 70 was a major milestone for me--good because I feel I don't look or act seventy (okay, if my kids are reading this there are some major exceptions) but still I am aware that 70 puts you clearly into the senior citizen category. It's hard for me to believe that I am 70 and have a son who will be 40 this year. Good heavens! Where did those years go?
2008 was of course an unsettling year for people everywhere--wars, high gas prices, then falling gas prices with a failing economy, bizarre weather, you name it. But like most of the country, I look to 2009 with optimism. Poor President-elect Obama--I think we all expect him to work magic that cannot be worked. But I do believe he'll set us on the right path, and I hope Americans will realize that our various crises cannot be solved in an instant. What do I want for myself? More good time with family and friends (the family is already talking about a ski trip next Christmas). Success for TCU Press and opportunities to take advantage of challenges we're now missing because we're overworked. And, yes, I want to see my mystery accepted and published. And, a biggie for me, I want to lose 20 lbs. If Lisa could do it, so can I. I don't feel fat but the numbers on the scale horrify me. Having been so skinny for much of my early life ("Judy, dear, can you eat a little more"), I find it hard to see myself as overweight--but I am. So like every new year, 2009 brings challenges, hopes, wishes, and maybe something unexpected and wonderful.
I wish that for all of you.