Friday, July 31, 2009

Sushi and friends

Had dinner with good friends Elizabeth (Beth to the rest of the world but it's a long story) and Weldon at the Tokyo Cafe tonight. It's always too long between our visits. Elizabeth was a work-study student in my office some fifteen years ago, and we have remained friends ever since. When she began dating Weldon, I admitted him cautiously but a now as fond of him as of her, and they make each othe very happy. Elizabeth has developed a great careeer in specialized publishing (for accountants) and is now teaching yoga, including to me.We had a great visit, and I thank them for yet another after-the-fact birthday dinner. I tried to post the sushi on Weight Watchers and of couse the kind I had--Seattle Sunrise, with cucumber, cream cheese and smoked salmon in a soy wrap--wasn't listed. So I fudged.

Today was a top-down day--haircut, grocery, dinner--I put the top down on all my small trips, delighted that it now seems to work fine. (Please keep your fingers crossed.) I hate to leave it with the top down when it malfunctions because I'm afraid someone will steal my handicapped tag. Tonight when I got in the car, the temperature thing read 101--now I know that wasn't true! By the time I got home it was 89. A few minutes ago I started hearing a strange noise--looked out the window and it's raining, fairly hard. No thunder, no lightning, just plain steady rain. We have been blessed with first light rains early in the week and then an apparently violent storm that I slept through a couple of nights ago, complete with a tornado warning. We need it and welcome it, but Central Texas needs it worse. They're comparing this to the 1950s drought which prompted Elmer Kelton's award-winning novel, The Time It Never Rained.

Haven't down much constructive today, so I'm going to finish the cookbook chapter I stopped in the middle of.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whew--retirement! And food, books, and friendship

Yesterday I was so busy I had no time for my daily workout or for blogging. I had to get up at 6:30--a real pain since I'm not used to sleeping until about 7:45. Went to the office, after hurried stops at grocery and pharmacy, for a 2-1/2 hour staff meeting--still can't believe it! Then I had to rush around to get things done so I wouldn't have to come in another day, took a lot of work home with me. Went to lunch with a visiting author who happens to be married to someone I knew a long time ago--delightful. I took them to Ellerbee's, my new favorite spot, and I had a tomato, lemon aioli, basil sandwich on bread that had some kind of cheese and flecks of prosciutto in it--delicious. Maybe my new favorite. Came home to emails that I hadn't looked at all day--Sisters in Crime, and their sub-group, AgentQuest, are most helpful sites but they can absolutely drown you in emails. It was four o'clock before I took care of all that--and a few business emails--and took a quick nap, waking up at five to realize I had company coming at 6:30. Fortunately dinner was easy--leftover chicken loaf, asparagus I would roast in the oven, and a salad.
Jeannie and Jim came because I had questions for Jim, my financial advisor--and he reassured me I'd done the right thing getting out of a money market fund. They loved the salad, which is so easy: you rub a good wooden bowl with garlic, then with salt and dry mustard. Put some blue cheese (I like quite a bit) in the bowl. When ready to serve, mash the blue cheese in vinegar, plain old apple cider viengar, with a fork and then stir in olive oil, sort of according to the traditional wisdom of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. (Sometimes when Jordan does this, because she loves it too, she gets it so tart you sort of pucker when you eat it!) Then just tear up lettuce in the bowl and toss. I should have made twice the amount I did last night.
By the time I got the dishes done, it was too late for serious work, so I finished re-reading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society--I rarely re-read books but I found this as delightful as the first time. Next week I will also talk briefly to a TCU book group of The School of Essential Ingredients and Comfort and Mirth, a TCU Press title that I just adore, set in the early twentieth century in Austin, with a newlywed central character who is a herb gardener. There are threads in it of women's rights, racial discrimination, treatment of the mentally ill. Some of the story is told by a narrator but lots of it is in letters Camille writes back home to her mother. in Seattle The ending is truly a surprise.
Today was much less hectic--I cleaned out files in the morning, because when I got my TIAA-CREF (retirement) files out to talk to Jim, I discovered I had papers going back to 1985, clearly not needed now; then I cleaned out a file of Colins' early medical bills, etc. --when his Crohn's was diagnosed. But there were a couple of priceless letters from him, including a postcard when he first moved to Grand Cayman, in which he wrote, "I'm sorry I haven't written sooner but I've been busy with the ladies. I miss you. I miss my dog. Please give Cisco a hug for me. I'd send for him, but I spend all my money on booze." How to push your mother's buttons!
Lunch with a good friend was a delight and I spent the rest of the day napping and working. Now going to give up and read.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rain and other good things

Most of Texas is stuck in a 50-year drought which is calling up memories of the drought of the 1950s and, for me at least, of Elmer Kelton's classic novel, The Time It Never Rained--if you haven't read it, you should. But in Fort Worth yesterday and today we've had intermittent slow drizzle and, nicest of all, low temperatures. Not enough rain to make a difference, but as I write I can hear it raining again. Granted, it's awfully humid, but tonight there was a nice breeze on the porch. I had dinner guests and one of them is a self-confessed "weather wuss," so we didn't even have wine and appetizers on the porch. But last night I sat out for a while--no wine, no book--and just enjoyed the drizzle.
Today I took an umbrella with me but only used it on the way to my garage--when it was raining pretty hard. Went by the office to pick up some files Melinda had put on a disk, and then Jeannie and I had lunch at a restaurant where we don't go often enough. I splurged on a half a pimiento sandwich. Oh, my big good news--I lost the weight I had gained when the kids were here and can now boast again of a 10-lb. weight loss. But it's taken lots of weeks to do it. Slow, they say, is best. Anyway, Jeannie and I went on to Origins so I could buy some cosmetics with my birthday discount and then to DSW where neither of us saw shoes we couldn't live without.
Tonight, friends Kathie and Carol came for supper to celebrate the July birthdays Carol and I share, albeit a little late for both birthdays. I fixed the seasoned hummus I did when the kids were here, chicken loaf (I loved it so the last time), roasted asparagus with goat cheese and panko (a waste--plain asparagus would have been better), and a fruit salad. It was a fun evening.
But what they say about retirement is true--you're just too busy to get anything done. I have several projects on my desk and just committed to another one--a contribution to a history of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine/University of North Texas Health Sciences Center. I'm to write about "The Beginning," which believe me, I was there for. So 3500-4000 words shouldn't be too hard, but first I have to finish this cookbook I'm editing.
And best of all, I can still sleep late, digress when I want, go to lunch (my social calendar is very full!), and I'm actually learning to slow down. When I get emails that would have required a director's decision, I gleefully pass them on to my boss, the interim director.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mysteries and food, Jacob

With my ongoing interest in food and mysteries or the use of food in mysteries, I'm reading Virginia Rich's The Cooking School Murders, which is said to be one of the pioneers in this particular sub-genre (of course, Nero Wolfe precedes her, but . . .) It's a good, if slow paced novel, perhaps reflecting its 1982 pub date. After the first night of a cooking school class, three people die--one by obvious murder, a brutal stabbing; the second of carbon monoxide poisoining in his garage with his car running, and everyone assumes it's suicide; the third of drunkenly plunging into a lake and drowning. Mrs. Potter, the amateur sleuth, sometimes called 'Genia,' doesn't believe either of the last two deaths were suicide or accidental. But what I find most interesting is that she writes up scenarios of what she thinks could have happened if various people, some lifelong friends, were the culprits, including her own nephew who is living with her. I can't tell you what happens--and wouldn't--because I haven't quite finished the book. But the cooking school disappears after one session--cancelled because of the deaths. And food appears throughout--the menus people eat, etc., but it it used to create atmosphere, not as an essential part of the mystery. I'm learning that's the difference in many food-related myseries, but I still have a lot of mysteries to read. Not a chore I mind at all.

I did work today on editing Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook. I am hampered by not having electronic files at home, although I should soon have access to the press files. Meantime I think I'll ask them to send me the individual files Monday. But one of the hazards of retirement hit me Friday when a woman called and wanted me to come help edit a book that either she or her husband had written--I couldn't understand her clearly but it was about Shakespeare, perhaps local productions of the plays. When I said I was retired, she replied, "All the more reason for you to come help me," as if I didn't have a desk full of work in front of me--the cookbook, and three books to review for a presentation August 5, plus planning a recipe for a cable TV live demonstration on July 31. No, folks, so far I'm not finding retirement boring.

Jacob is here tonight, having arrived in tears because his arm hurt--we had no clue what was wrong with it, and it was soon better. Then as Jordan left, her friend Addie came in, and Jacob once again dissolved in tears because he wanted Mama and Addie. After a bit, he deicded Juju was okay. It took him a long time to get to his dinner and he ate, I think, one piece of a chicken hot dog (the cat got two pieces), and a quarter of a banana. I ate his blueberries (no points on Weight Watchers if you eat a small amount). I was a softie and gave him strawberry ice cream even though he hadn't eaten much dinner (he really wanted a waffle but I knew he'd get that in the morning). He was cheerful and funny the rest of the evening, and we're making progress on potty training. Now at 10:15, I can still hear him moving about in his crib.

Last night I had a lovely dinner with Jay and Susan, my neighbors, at Chadra a local Lebanese-Italian resturant we all like. Susan says they only eat there occasionally, but the staff all greet Jay like a long-lost friend, with hugs, etc. It's his salesman's personality, the same thing I see in Jamie. Anyway, it was a pleasant evening and a good dinner, and I am feeling spoiled--my birthday lasted for an entire enjoyable week. Today is Susan's birthday, so it was a double celebration.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting the Big Head

After a "photo shoot" Tuesday, today I made southwestern tuna salad this morning for a video for the TCU alumni magazine and online program. I had originally said I'd make Colin's queso, but it has 1 lb. hamburger, 1 lb. sausage, 1 lb. Velveeta, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, and 1 jar picante sauce. Delicious, but my goodness look at all those calories. So I switched to the tuna, which is a great variation on standard tuna. Here's the recipe:

7-1/2 oz. can albacore tuna in water
Juice of one good, juicy lime
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. capers
1/4 c. chopped celery
1.4 c. chopped red onion
pinch of cumin (I used more)
either canned chopped chillies (1 can) or a jalopeno (I much prefer the canned chillies)
Mayonnaise to bind (but don't make it soupy)

The recipe is in Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books.

I was very much like Martha Stewart--had the cilantro, celery, and onion cut up ahead of time and all the ingredients out on the counter. When it's online, I'll be sure to post a link here. Later it dawned on me that I'd worn my Med-Alert medallion the whole time. I think the segment should be titled "Old Lady Cooks!"
Then Melinda came at lunchtime to install Microsoft Office 2007 and Filemaker so I can do my TCU work from home. We had tuna, fresh tomato (from her garden--there is no beating the taste of fresh garden tomatoes!), and hearts of palm for lunch. And it was such a lovely cool day we ate on the porch. She had to uninstall my old Microsoft program to install the new one, and while she and the tech person at TCU were laughing over the phone I was worrying about my files--but they all made it intact. Installing Filemaker was much easier and quicker.
Tonight Betty and I went to Winslow's, a fashionable and crowded wine bar--we had salmon cakes with gorgonzola remoulade and grape tomato salad--delicious! A lovely pleasant evening, so it's been another good retirement day.
My email has been down for hours--most frustrating!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A low-key birthday

This is me in the infamous DKNY pajamas Jordan and Megan gave me for my birthday, which I am forbidden to wear out of the house. It's okay, Megan, we had dinner at home. I think they're really cute and great lounging pjs for entertaining. I will probably wear them on the porch, but maybe I won't tell Megan. You'll notice I have a glass of wine handy.

I am 71 today--hard to believe. My brother called today and said that made me six years younger than he is, but when he has his birthday in March, I'll only be five years younger. I explained to him that he had it backward. We are six-and-a-half years apart. Today was a low-key birthday. I was at the office by 8:15, after a hurried trip to the grocery and then home to drop off the groceries. Staff meeting and then I worked all morning. It felt different--I have been so relaxed, and I didn't truly feel that way this morning. But Jim, Susan and Melinda took me to Cafe Aspen for lunch, which was delightful. Came home, worked a bit, napped (I swear I'm sleeping off years of work), and Jordan and Christian and Jacob came for supper. We ate leftovers from the weekend, and I sent the rest home with them. I am not making tamale pie again for six years! I had ordered a size 10 pair of pants that came today and they are just an inch from buttoning--I'm not going to return them. My goal is to fit into them. Jacob arrived in the bad mood he often is after day care, but he brightened very soon. It was fun, they went home early, and I am at my desk with a world of work to do, so much so that I don't know where to begin.

In early August I am to briefly review three books for the TCU "What's On YOur Bookshelf" group, so I need to bone up on the three. Those I've chosen are: The School of Essential Ingredients, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (that book has done so well I can't believe there's anyone who hasn't read it), and Comfort and Mirth, pubished by TCU Press. Lori Swick, the author of the latter, was here this weekend, and we had a brief visit on Friday before all my family arrived. She did some signings, and there was a Bookish Frog potluck supper on Sunday night which everyone apparently enjoyed a great deal. I wasn't there, because I still had kids in town. But I love that book and recommend it--set in Austin, Texas, in the early 20th century, it is a gentle novel, sometims epistolary, that deals with women's rights, racial discrimination, treatment of the mentally ill, and through it runs a thread of herb gardening. I absolutely loved it.. And I found the author to be outgoing, a delight to visit with. Read it, please.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thoughts on Retirement

I know one week is a little soon to comment on retirement, but so far I am so enjoying it. I had lunch with an old friend today (like 50 years) and she said I seemed so much more relaxed than I did the last time we had lunch. And I feel that way--sort of like I'm floating through my days, and yet my calendar for the next week and a half or so is full. Today was pretty much what retirement should be, except with one unusual incident. A photographer sent by the Star-Telegram came to take pictures of me (do I dare call this a photo shoot) for a piece they'll do on my cookbook, probably for Panache, the once-a-month insert for middle income families (I found out recently there's a high class insert called I think Insight for people whose homes value at over a certain price--talk about distrimination!). Anyway the photographer was a nice guy who, it turns out, knows my neighbor Sue. Then I had lunch with my friend Georgia and spent the rest of the day at the computer and editing recipes for Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook. Some sound delicious and some are really weird like a "Japanese Bean Pie" made with mashed pinto beans but sweetened with sugar and meant for dessert. Or mock chicken croquettes made with ground veal and oyster--wouldn't it be easier to use chicken?
I did do laundry loads five and six today--only have the kids beds in the playroom to strip and wash, have put the linen back on the guest room, and have the linens all clean for the guest house--a chore I dread. Maybe I can talk Jordan into helping me. I also mopped the kitchen floor and feel quite righteous about having reclaimed my house.
Tomorrow I actually have to go to work--bummer. They moved staff meeting from 10 a.m. to 8:30, which means I'll have to get up--plus I need to do a grocery run first. But tomorrow is my birthday, though I feel I've already had the celebration this weekend. Jordan and Christian will come for leftover flank steak, and one of the items on my grocery list is a potato to bake for Christian and Jacob to share. I'm back big-time on Weight Watchers--plain meat or fish and a vegetable, with no butter, etc. But after staff meeting we're all going to lunch for my birthday--I feel very feted since I thought lunch last week was a combined birthday/retirement lunch.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Peace and quiet, and alone--a mixed bag

Everyone's gone. Megan and family left at 7:15 this morning--I barely dragged myself out of bed to say goodbye. Colin spent the morning doing chores--tacking my rugs down with double-stick carpet tape (so I don't fall again), hanging pictures, and cleaning out the air return duct on my furnace--enormous amounts of cat hair. I do change the filter regularly, but this is before the air hits the filter. We had an early lunch, meeting Jordan, at Carshon's Deli--no trip home is complete for Colin unless he goes to Carshon's. We made an earlier run to the local hardware store, and he said in a kind of dazed manner, "I grew up here." It was a rainy, cool morning, and Lisa and the children and I sat outside a lot. Really nice slow, easy rain, after some early thunder which amounted to nothing more than to scare Scooby.
After they left I caught up on emails, paid some bills and generally piddled, though I will say I have done four loads of laundry today--folded all the linens to go back out to the guest house, folded and put away my personal load of pastel clothes and underwear, probably won't make the guest bed tonight, though the linens are in the dryer. I have two more sets of bed clothes to do, plus kitchen towels, dinner napkins, etc. For some reason one of the chores in life I don't like is making beds! I have to grit my teeth and do it.
Tonight Jay and Susan came to help me eat leftover tamale pie--it costs such enormous points on Weight Watchers, I want it all out of my house. Susan took some, but I still have almost a whole casserole full--will send it home with Jordan and Christian Wed. night. We also finished the bean salad and Black Forest cake, though I ate small modest amounts. I had thought at noon we could eat outside but Jay vetoed that saying it ws really humid. The downside of this weekend is that I gained over two lbs. Fun, but . . . .
And, yes, I'm tired. Going to read one cooking essay and call it a night.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A truly happy weekend

My truly happy weekend continues. Usually when the kids are all here, I let them go off wherever in the afternoon while I read, nap and fix supper. Yesterday Colin woke me from a sound sleep to say, "Your house will be full of people in 30 minutes." Luckily we were going to the Star Cafe--all 16 of us. That's a nostalgia trip for us--good friends Betty and Don own it, Colin worked there once for about three months, Lisa pitched in a few evenings, and all of us ate there a lot. And I used to work the cash register every Saturday night for six or seven years--they paid me in steak and wine and I had a good time. But I quit my Saturday night routine and haven't been back in a while--the food is delicious but not for one on a diet (I had 3/4 of a bacon cheeseburger along with guilty conscience), and the kids had gotten my favorite Black Forest cake for dessert. We had a noisy happy dinner--luckily the other patrons in the back were an equally noisy party about as large as ours, though they didn't have little kids running around. The grown children gave me a memory book--they had solicited letters, comments, etc. from as many of my friends as they could think of and said I'll have to help them think of others. I had a stash of letters and printed out emails to add to it, and today was going through deleting emails and found more I should print out. It's truly a treasure, and I am flattered by many of the things people have, near and dear, long-distance friends, and casual acquaintances, have said about me and my professional career. I will be writing thank-you notes but it may take me a while.

Then we came home--Megan and Jordan gave me a DKNY pair of lounging pajamas. I thought it was a really cute outfit that I could wear to the office when I run by or to Central Market or to have a porch drink with the neighbors (I'll definitely do that anyway) but Megan had giggling fits trying to explain to me they were pajamas and were to be treated as such. (Maybe I'll get one of them to take a picture of me in my new pajamas.) If we had gone to Jordan's house today, I would deliberately have worn them (Megan said, "You are so bad!") but instead that crew came here combining their leftovers with mine. Yes, I was still wearing the pajamas and probably will at dinner tonight.

Now they're off to ride the zoo train, meeting their father's brother-in-law (of whom we're all fond) for ice cream and then to go to the community swimming pool. I am quietly at home doing a load of dishes, followed by a laundry, reading, napping, and finishing the dinner that I started this a.m. They'll all be back for supper, except, I think, the Frisco Alters will head for home. Mel didn't realize they weren't leaving when Jamie got back from his run this a.m., so she had left their dog in. Poor thing made an 80-mile round trip to let him out. I wouldn't be surprised if they stay for supper--two tamale pie casseroles with polenta instead of tamales. The Austin branch will leave after dinner, but the Houston Alters are staying another night. Morgan, almost four, said when she arrived, "We're staying three whole nights!"

10:30 Sunday night: You can never count on the Alters to be predictable. Today they were talking about a plan for our family trip to Breckenridge at Christmas, and I finally said I didn't want to hear a plan until it was the final one. Megan agreed that was good. Tonight Mel never came back from Frisco, so Jamie and the girls left just before dinner. Megan and her family were staying for supper and then heading out; but after supper, she announced they were spending the night. So I have two families tonight--the Austin Hudgeons and the Houston Alters. I am not worrying about cleaning the house, any of that. The Hudgeons are leaving very early in the morning, but the Houston Alters are staying for lunch--and Colin is going to hang some pictures, replace an air filter, etc. for me. We'll lunch early at Carshon's and then they'll be on their way. Tomorrow night the neighbors will come for leftover tamale pie--a whole casserole of it!

It's been a great weekend--and I am bone weary!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Family weekend

No post last night because I had half my family here for supper--here's what happy kids look like drinking milkshakes that Uncle Colin (on the right, with Uncle Christian on the left) made, trying out my yoga mat, and snuggling to watch TV. They are all so adorable together and so close in age that they have a great time. They run through the house screaming and yelling but there is little if any fighting. Since we just saw Kegan, the youngest, last weekend, he was quicker to warm up to Jordan and me and we got hugs, kisses, and a chance to hold him on our laps.
We had a Greek meal--flank steak seasoned with Cavender's, hummus and pita chips, Greek salad, cucumber sauce, and dolma--but half the Greek side of the family didn't get here until ten o'clock, by which time others had either gone home or to bed. Jamie and Maddie snacked on dolmas dipped in hummus. I had "doctored" the hummus with a little bit of oregano, lots of lemon juice, and a tad of olive oil. Makes it, as Lisa said, addictive.
Today my horoscope said to do whatever I wanted to with loved ones, so I didn't worry about straightening the house or any of those things--okay, I did empty the dishwasher, put away last nights bigger things from the drying rack, and make my bed. But by 9:30 we were all headed to Jordan's house. It was such a wonderful morning, I drove with the top down and loved it. The children were all playing so happily, if noisily inside--joined now by Megan and Brandon's two, Sawyer and Ford, that we never went outside. Melanie and Edie also arrived a little after ten. Jamie had gotten up early to put pork loins in the oven, and that, along with a cole slaw based on the idea of the slaw from Austin's Salt Lick, was a delicious lunch. He seasoned two pork loins heavily with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and roasted them slowly all morning. Then, at serving, he shredded the meat and put barbecause sauce on most of it--some really hot habernero, some medium hot, and left some plain. I ate the plain and loved it. Megan complained that I had tricked her because the recipe I found online wasn't exactly Salt Lick's--it was someone's approximation, but it was delicious. She likes it because it has no mayonnaise.
Aftre lunch at least two kiddoes were headed for naps, and I came home for a nap and some computer, desk, quiet time. Tonight we will go out to dinner and no doubt end up back here to sit on the porch. The little kids love to ride the concrete lions in front of Jay and Susan's house, and all of a sudden the weather is so pleasant that it's nice to sit out at night. I think as part of retirement, I've learned to relax and enjoy my family more--and I did that today.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Retirement, recipes, and cooking

So far, after one day, retirement is great. I slept late (well, 7:30 is late for me), went to the grocery, came home and answered emails, piddled, etc., and went to Neiman's for lunch with Jeannie and Jean. They asked what I was going to do with my afternoon, and I said I had a couple of difficult contracts to work on, and they asked, "This is retirement?" But it is. I worked on those contracts in my new comfy nightshirt with a glass of wine and then had a good nap. I still, of course, get a great deal of emails that I need to forward to one person or another, and the Sisters in Crime emails are enough to keep a person busy all day--yet I'm afraid I'll miss some nugget of valuable information if I don't read them all.
Tonight I've been editing recipes in Grace & Gumption: The Cookbok. Almost two years ago we published the original Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Woth Women, with fourteen contributors. Most of them were enthusiastic when I suggested a cookbook with recipes from women in the first book--we did have to recruit a couple of new writers. Katie Sherrod, who edited the first book, agreed to edit if I would edit recipes, which I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. Now I'm on the lookout for recipes we could cook for our Bookish Frogs group for a social function next summer--some are good, some are appalling, and way too many are for desserts. I'm almost through going over chapters for the first time. When I go back I'll list those we could use for an event. As you can tell, I have not at all separated myself from TCU Press, except that I no longer have the burden of decisions, running things, and keeping regular office hours, etc. It's a really good feeling, and yet I'm still doing work I enjoy.
Tomorrow all the children and grandchildren arrive, and I will be busy cooking much of the weekend. I look forward to it and to the visit. I'm liable to be really spoiled with two family weekends in a row. We will have dinner at my house Friday and Sunday, go out for Saturday supper. Tomorrow I'll get the boys to grill flank steak and I'll fix a Greek meal with hummus, Greek salad (Jordan's contribution), dolmas and pita bread. Sunday I think I'll do an enchilada casserole using polenta instead of tortillas (I may share some of those recipes in coming blogs). Saturday noon Jamie is cooking his pulled pork about which he is very enthusiastic, and Megan will fix cole slaw following the recipe from Austin's Salt Lick--it has no mayonnaise, which Megan does not like.
I'm excited about another family weekend and feeling good about retirement--my lunch calendar is full for the next two weeks. What could be better? I think my ideal day is to sleep late, linger over the paper and coffe (slim as the paper is these days), piddle, answer emails, etc., go to lunch, then come home, do some work, nap, dinner, do lots more work, and finish the day with a book. How lucky am I?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My last day in the office

Retirement doesn't feel good or bad--it's just weird. This morning I overslept and thought I had to rush in to the office because I had so much to do before a 9 am meeting. Well, I did most of it in 15 minutes, but then began to look around the office and realize how much stuff I still had to take home or throw away. We were in meetings from 9-11:30, and lots of times I had to resist the urge to say, "I'll call so and so," or "I'll take care of that"--truth is, I won't and shouldn't. So I suggested who to call, what to do, etc. (I'll keep going to staff meetings for a while as part of my contract work.) After the meetings, Susan, Melinda, and June (our boss) took me to my new favorite restaurant, Ellerbee's. Good lunch, good visit, fun. Then back to the office for double chocolate cake (shhh! don't tell Weight Watchers) and punch with the ladies in the building--again, much light banter and lots of fun. I packed up and finally went home about 2:30, to let in an overheated dog--it was at least 103 again today. Kept busy answering emails until 4:30 and took a late, late nap, realizing how tired I was.

Tonight I've been fighting through piles on my desk, trying to sort out all the stuff I brought home from the office and figure out where to put it in the house. Fortunately I can send a lot of files to the archive at Texas State University in San Marcos, where they have the Southwestern Writers Collection. But I really really need to sort my bookshelves--next project.

Throughout the day I got wonderful emails from people I've worked with over the years--almost gave me the big head. And just after I got home, Jordan arrived with a wonderful vase of roses; then Sue came over tonight with sunflowers and a bottle of good French chardonnay. So I am feeling very feted--but very tired.

I said on Facebook it might take me a couple of days to adjust, and one friend said it took her a couple of years. (I also got lots of nice comments when I posted that I'd retired on Facebook!) But I have so many projects facing me that I don't think it will be a problem. Meantime, my concentration is now on getting ready for the kids visit this weekend and preparing to cook quite a bit. After what--six-and-a-half hours, retirement is anything but dull.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Looming Retirement

Actually, retirement is not looming any more--it's here. Tomorrow is my last day--okay, half day--in the office, and I'm feeling good about it. I think I've gotten over worrying about what I'll do. My desk is loaded with projects, I have a list of people I want to lunch with, the kids are coming this weekend, and I think life is going to be pretty wonderful. Of course, in this my last week, all sorts of problems have cropped up, including authors and agents who amend contracts in ways that we cannot live with, the need to reconcile individual book accounts in our office with what the controller's office has, and similar things. Yikes! Tomorrow will be a full morning of meetings, so I won't get to deal with any of the problems. Even though I'll be doing contract work, I have resolved not to go by the office the rest of this week--except to pick up a disk that Technology Resources is leaving for me so Brandon can install Word 2007 on my home computer this weekend. I am excited that TR is giving me access to the press common drive and to regular outlook email instead of the very non-flexible web outlook.
I find myself already "practicing" retirement--not feeling I have to dive into work on my desk, though there's plenty of it, but lingering over other people's blogs, visiting with a neighbor, piddling--something I've never been good at.
Meanwhile Texas heat continues--104 today and the same for the next two days. But Friday is predicted to be 94 and Saturday 92 with the possibility of rain--let's hope the forecasters are correct. This early spell of August-like heat has been really depressing, making you feel trapped inside. I bring Scooby in as soon as I get home in the afternoon and this evening I had a hard time persuading him to go out to eat his dinner. I worry about my lawn, my plants, and my porch pots--which I think I forgot to water last night, because the mint is really withered. The sweet potato vines are usually my signal but they aren't bad. Anyway, relief of a sort is due Friday--who would think 94 could sound so wonderful?
Yesterday when I used the automatic opener to open my driveway gate, nothing happened. Tried another opener. Still nothing. Went out and tried the hidden button on the gate mechanism--I could feel the electricity and hear it trying to work, but nada. So I called Melinda to come pick me up (good thing I live close to the office). In the afternoon the electrician came and said it wasn't electric--the weight of the gate had pulled it away from its hinges. Lewis Bundock, who keeps my house in good shape, says he'll fix it first thing tomorrow. Meanwhile, the electrician manually opened the gate so I could get my car out. One of life's little frustrating problems.
Maybe I'll get back to discussing deep matters on this blog someday soon but for now everything feels trivial--a good sign, I think, of relaxation.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Family fun, pandemonium, and the long road home

Pandemonium reigned at the Hudgeons' household in Austin when about 55 adults and children gathered to celebrate Sawyer's fifth birthday. They were in and out of the pool, traipsing through the house to the potty (I was impressed that so many used the potty and didn't pee in the pool), and grabbing pizza and drinks. I confess I spent much of the time inside--Austin ws miserably hot like most of Texas--visiting some with Sawyer's other grandmother, some with friends who wandered by, and some with people I'd never met. At pizza time, most of the Alter clan--15 of us, missing only Christian--seemed to end up inside, which was fun. And then after everyone left, Sawyer shed his swimsuit and in the buff began to open presents. Then again it was pandemoniuim, and I commented to Jamie that our family sure was noisy when they get together. "Are you just now noticing?" he asked. By 9:45 I thought it was midnight and went upstairs to my lair in the trees (about which all the kids are curious), read e-mails, finished a mystery, and had another glass of wine. But the other grownups stayed up by the pool until almost 2 a.m.--and some showed it this morning.
There were quiet moments. Austin's mornings are cool and blessedly bug-free (mosquitoes soon come out in full force), and I sat on the porch by the pool with a book and coffee, watching my younger grandchildren play--they were exiled outside so they wouldn't wake sleeping adults. Sure, they squabbled, but for the most part they shared, laughed, and played well together. Eventually everyone but a couple of adults, including me, ended back in the pool, eating pizza for lunch while they swam. Melanie, bless her, had made a run to Starbucks and stopped for ham and bread, so I had a sandwich--pizza is not on my diet. I sat on the porch and thought how blessed I am with children and grandchildren. I seem to have a pretty good relationship with all of them, though some of the younger grandchildren that I see less often are a bit uncertain. Kegan, 2, from Houston, will come up and talk to me and give me things to hold but he won't sit on my lap, and his three-year-old sister turns shy when I ask for a kiss, though she gave me a nice going-away hug. I can't imagine how one woman can get so lucky to have four wonderful children, all of whom married wonderful people, and produced beautiful and sweet children. Me, prejudiced? Naw, it's all true.
Jordan, Jaob and I left about 1:15 for what proved to be the long road home. We had to pull off a couple of times, once in Temple because Jordan and Jacob needed hamburgers. When we pulled back on, traffic was suddenly bumper to bumper and stayed that way until we turned west at Hillsboro. And Jordan had to stop at West for sausage. The traffic would be bumper to bumper, 20 mph, and then for no reason pick up to 60 mph and move along nicely, then back to creeping. I told Jordan I felt like I was on Amtrak--slow down, start up, slow down, stop. It took us over 5 hours to get to my house--should be 3 hours on a good day. Fortunately Jordan and I travel well together (Jacob did well until the last hour of the trip when he was pretty much replaced by this whiny child I didn't recognize--though sometimes the Jacob I knew came back briefly). Jordan put my bags on the porch and headed home--no time for even bringing them inside. We were all exhausted, but it was a wonderful weekend.
And we'll do it all over again next weekend when they'll all be in Fort Worth, celebrating my retirement and birthday.
I went quite a bit over my Weight Watchers daily points this weekend (didn't use up all my weekly bous points though) needless to say but I noticed that I ate a lot differently than I would have before I started the program--this morning when others were having cereal, etc. I had a small thing of yogurt. Yesterday I had about 2 Tbsp. of eggs instead of a big helping. And surely my ham sandwich was less points that two pizzas. Saturday night I ate one piece of Margarita pizza which I figured I could count as thin-crust cheese and only about 1/4 of a small piece of cake. The proof will come tomorrow when I weigh.
Three days of work this week, and then I'm retired. I think I feel great about it but of course there's lingering doubt. And it may not hit me until next Tuesday when I wake up and the kids are all gone and I really have to plan the rest of my life. But I do have a lot of irons in the fire, and I'm hopeful. Plus closets and files and bookshelves that really are over-run and need sorting. And friends to have lunch with. It may be what they way is true, retirement can be the busiest time of your life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hot in Texas!

I'm afraid after last year's cool summer, we are in for a summer of heat. We've had days and days of 100 degrees and today is to be 104, then back to plain old 100 for the foreseeable future. Jordan, Jacob and I are leaving around 4 (the hottest part of the day) for Austin where the whole family, except Christian, will gather for Sawyer's 5th birthday. Christian will stay here and work Saturday and Sunday, and we'll come home mid-day Sunday. I had thought I could feed Scooby at 4 and he'd be all right, but it will be so hot. He's lying at my feet now, getting a break from the heat, but I'll have to put him out, with fresh water, at 4 and Moksha will come feed him later and play with him (inside!). I'm excited about two family get-togethers in a row, but a part of me hates leaving home. Got to get over that if I'm to enjoy retirement. I've got sandwiches made for the trip, water bottles chilling, suitcase packed. Went to the grocery about 7;30 this morning and put refrigerator items in the fridge at work; came home about 10:30 because my desk is really pretty clean and I have more TCU work--editing the cookbook recipes--to do at home than at the office. But in anticipation of a trip, I can't put my mind to it and will read.

I'm reading the first Diane Mott Davidson mystery, Catering to Nobody, in which her newly written preface gives a brief history of the growth of cuisine mysteries, a topic in which I'm much interested. Some authors sort of seem to stick the cooking element on top, like icing on a cake, but with Davidson's mysteries food is an integral part of the story, almost a character in the events--and the recipes are good. My friend Fred says he and his wife have tried some and liked them. In my suitcase is a novel by Virginia Rich, who apparently started the cozy cuisine trend in the 1980s--preceded of course by that gourmand, Nero Wolfe, but he can't be classed with cozies. The whole reason of why we like combining food with mysteries intrigues me--is it because mysteries are scary (a word Jacob uses often) and food is comfort? Maybe because interesting people cook? (I love a line I read recently and may have already repeated, "Only people with no imagination are bored.") I sometimes wonder that when I created a cozy heroine, she's a lousy cook but struggling to improve. Maybe I'll have to work on a second series.

Three more days to work. I pointed out to Susan this morning how empty and clean my desk is, and she asked, "How does that make you feel?" I said "Okay," but I pointed out I'll be wasting a whole lot of business cards that say director. I've even denuded the walls of the paintings that were personal property--Susan really hated to see an original woodcut by Barbara Whitehead go. Yesterday someone from Technology Resources helped me consolidate and save all my document files--apparently they wipe out your page the day you leave. But because I will be doing contract work, I will be able to access our press common page and the outlook email instead of the fairly awkward web email I use now. I'm sure the transition doesn't end when I walk out the door, but I think eventually it will be all fine. Melinda asked when I wanted them all to celebrate my retirement/birthday, so I suggested my last day of work. Somehow I don't want to just go home quietly.

Scooby and I have to get a nap in before four o'clock!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Weight Loss and Retirement

Wow! There are two big subjects for you!

Today I had lunch with a friend at a new restaurant, Ellerbee's. When the waiter explained that the burger was a special low-fat kind of venison (I thought it all was) I ordered it and ate half--with a bit of mayo, lettuce and tomato and on a sesame seed bun. Venison may be low fat, but Weight Watchers still counts it as 1 pt. per oz. Then I ate six--count them, six!--French fries. They were seasoned, thin, and crispy golden brown, almost like French frites. There went three points, throw in a little wine, my breakfast, and I was down to 5 pts. left for dinner, which wasn't going to do it at all. The chicken loaf I ate is worth 5 pts., but the spinach is free. A glass of wine (or two) is not. I don't even want to talk about my point total. Jeannie tells me that exercise points balance out food points, but I haven't seen that they've made any difference, and I earn 1 exercise point (riding 4.5 miles on a stationary bike at a good resisitance and speed ought to be worth more than that!) at least four and usually five times a week. Yet I know that today I ate differently than I would have before I joined Weight Watchers--I would have eaten the whole burger (it was really good!) and more of the fries. And tonight I would have put butter on my spinach. So I guess it's a good thing. It puzzles me how all the people who eat normal meals but eat the whole thing--fries, etc.--don't weigh 450 lbs. I have this superstitious feeling that every little transgression will add a lb.
I'm deep into the process of retirement and never realized it could be so complicated. I have consolidated all the files on the C drive of my computer and a tech is coming tomorrow to save them for me and show me how to access our common office drive from home, since I will be doing contract work. I began cleaning out my junk drawer in my desk today--amazing how many rubber bands a person can throw in a drawer over the years. I have already taken home pictures, etc., though I have two still to take. And tonight I got in an email a "separation" form--sounds fatalistically final to me, but it includes most things I don't think I have to give up since I'll still be working--phone card, i.d. card, office key, etc. Then, on the heels of that, came a request to fill out a proposal for contract work--something I'll need a little guidance on. Who knew that retiring was so comlicated? Certainly not me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Good things happening

Good things have been happening to me in recent days, but my biggest, proudest news today is that I lost 2.9 lbs. last week and have reached what Weight Watchers says is my goal--I actually want to lose a little more. But I'm excited--by my calculations, not theirs, I've lost 10 lbs. I can't always figure out their calculations.

I've posted some of the other good news--the invitation to participate in the activities of a women's memoir Web site and the news that the publisher is still considering my manuscript. But today I talked to the editor of a monthly county magazine, and it looks like I might get to do a monthly food writing column--what I've really been wanting to do--plus some book reviews and maybe some local interest pieces. So suddenly I feel better about retirement--I have a lot of work to do. First thing on my agenda is to edit recipes for Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook. I've already had fun with one or two.

Tonight I invited a neighbor down for a drink. She's very recently widowed, and her children are heading out to college--one already at summer school and the other going tomorrow. I had always been told she was very shy but at a party about a week ago I found her very outgoing and interesting. So she came tonight bearing her glass of red wine--my porch is generally BYOB and I don't drink red--and we had a lovely visit. I think I've made a new friend, and I'm delighted.

Someone asked today if I'm counting the days until retirement and I am--seven working days, though I may take Friday morning off to do my Saturday chores since Jordan, Jacob and I are leaving about 4 for Austin. Life looks pretty good.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

911 call, a nice day, and some good news

Life is never dull. A friend a bit older than me with a bum knee (well, she just had a replacement) had been nagging me to get a medical emergency alert device because she knew I'd fallen several times in the last six months--all, as Colin says, because I don't look at where I'm going. The last time was last Sunday morning when I was alone with Jacob. So now I wear the laveliere religiously when I'm alone (except for the two days I couldn't find it--Jordan found it under my bed, and I suspect the cat!). Tonight I was brushing my teeth, walked too close to the drawers in the bathroom, which stand chest high, hit the button, and it went off. The "home station" began dialing people, and I began frantically trying to hang up (now I have discovered the stop button). Jordan called in a panic, and while I was talking to her a policement appeared at the front door. I had to get the key and unlock the deadbolt, then disarm the alarm system (see how safe I am?) and finally opened the door. He took one look at me, wearing the lavaliere and immediately knew what happened. But he was really nice about it, warned me about keeping the key away from the deadbolt (in case of fire I'd never find it) and left with a cheerful, "Well at least you know the button works." I'd been wondering how to find out and so, yes, now I know. And I'll have to be careful.
Nice day. Jacob was full of spit and vinegar this morning, wearing a Superman cape and running around the house yelling, "I'm Superman." He likes to work in my office, which means he explores a junk tray which has some things he really doesn't need to touch--I left for two minutes to go to the bathroom, and when I came back he had the most guilty look on his face! But I saw no damage, either to him or anything in the room. Then when I settled at my computer, he decided he had to sit on my lap and watch the Disney channel--made it hard to work. He went off with his mom about eleven, and I got ready for company, read, napped, caught up on e-mail.
I thought my dinner tonight was one of my better. Jean brought a good healthy green salad (having asked before, she omitted bell peppers), and my chicken loaf was the best I've ever done, really good. They liked it a lot. Instead of the fruit salad I'd promised, I grilled nectarine halves and fiilled them with feta and put foil over them so the feta would soften and melt--really good. Sometimes my indoor Jenn-Air grill is really wonderful, though tonight I had to soak and scrub the whole thing--a pain!
About six months ago I sent my mystery to a publisher who knew me and my work and asked to see the full manuscript when I queried; having heard nothing, I emailed a couple of weeks ago, but I thought somehow from the web that the woman I knew was no longer doing acquisitiions, and I sent it to someone I'd never heard of. Tonight, just when I was thinking of emailing again, I got a nice e-mail from her asking if she could keep it a little longer. She is waiting, she said, for the green light to acquire for 2011. I happily agreed, explained that as a publisher I knew all about overcrowded schedules. Sounded like a good omen to me. I did send a PS saying I had the sequel written. all that encouraged me.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A full of food blog post

The nicest opportunities come to me with Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. Today I had an email from a woman in Maine, who with a business partner in California, sponsors a Web site for women writing memoirs. They've asked me to be a guest blogger, for review copies, and for a telephone interview. Of course I happily agreed to all and have the guest blog half written in my mind. I don't know how big their audience is--I should probably ask--but check out If you've ever thought about writing a memoir, here's the site that will encourage you.

My neighbor, Sue, writes a blog called "The Replete Life." Google it, you'll enjoy, because she talks about living the good life without spending a lot of money. She is, like me, a cook, and often when I invite her for supper, she'll say she has a stew on the stove or fresh fish waiting to be cooked. But her recent blog was about all the staples in her pantry out of which she can make a meal. (Sue shares custody of two children, 13 and 8, with her ex-husband, so some weeks she's cooking for herself and like me, she still fixes a real meal.) It got me to thinking about what's always in my pantry--tuna, of course, and canned tomatoes, and canned veggies, which I ignore in this bountiful season. But my stash is in my freezer. Years ago, my brother, who often gives me generous and useful gifts, gave me a Tilia Food Saver (no, this is not an infomercial). It allows me to vacuum seal foods for the freezer--I use it mostly for meat and fish. When Megan and Brandon got one, he tried to vacuum seal everything in the fridge, which was a disaster with green onions. It also doesn't work with breads because it draws all the air out and reduces them to nothing. Like computers and cell phones, I underuse my food saver--you can extract the air from a half-drunk bottle of red wine, seal glass jars of things, etc., but I've never learned to do that. I get a roll of the pastic saver, cut it into the size I need, and seal meat. I always have chicken, ground sirloin, maybe a piece of salmon, leftover stew etc., and some days I come home and think what shall I defrost today? I keep a very few frozen vegetables, and too many tail ends of bread products which I use from crumbs when necessary. Bread keeps wonderfully in the freezer, whereas it turns hard and dry in the refrigerator. Of course, with my Weight Watchers diet, my cooking has changed dramatically and I have little use for the bread, etc. But I do use the meats.
Tonight, I'm cooking a half a leftover hamburger in a piece of bread for Jacob--and a trout fillet for myself. (OK, I just bought the trout this morning--it's not from a food saver bag.) I'll give him a bite to see if he likes it.
And while I'm at it talking about cooking, here's a recipe from my cookbook that I always loved and my kids didn't because they say it's gelatinous (a bad adjective from them). I got this from Carolyn Burk, an old friend, a real estate agent Joel and I met when he wanted to look at a house we could no more afford than Buckingham Palace. We ended up renting a red brick bungalow her son owned, and she and I remained friends until she died a few years ago.
Chicken Loaf
1 hen or two fryers
1 cylinder saltines
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Stew chicken until cooked thoroughly. Reserve the stock. Cool chicken and pull meat off bones. Chop finely. (Carolyn did it with scissors, but I use the food processor, being careful not to over-process). Grind one clind of saltines in food process and add to chicken.
Soften gelatin in 1/2 c. of reserved stock. Add to chicken with enough stock to bind it together--it should be moist but not soupy. Sometimes I add a chicken boullion cube to give more flavor. I know Caroly never added gelatin--that was my mom's idea. But it holds the loaf together.
Pack into a loaf pan. Cover with clear wrap, put another loaf pan on top, and weigh it down with canned goods. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with mayonniase.
This will freeze, but will not keep after freezing. Still, it's the purest chicken flavor I've ever tasted. I love it and am going to try it on guests tomorrow night, along with a green salad and grilled nectarines filled with feta.
That's my holiday weekend. Hope yours is happy!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Dreams, holidays

You know that school dream that everyone has? It's finals time, and you haven't been going to class, haven't studied? In that dream, I'm often not sure when or where the class meets. (Honest, I was a good student, got good grades, and never missed a class--still I'm always relieved to wake up and realize I'm no longer in school). They say it's a reflection of childhood insecurities--but then, so is almost every dream you research on google. But last night I had the retirement version of the dream. I knew I had to get dressed and go to work, but I didn't know for sure where my office was nor what I was supposed to do when I got there. It troubled me and kept me awake a bit in the wee hours because I saw it as an indication of uncertainties about retirement.
This morning I lingered in bed. I'm reading a novel (a submission to the press) in which the main character forces herself to stay in bed longer so the day won't be so long, and I sometimes feel that way. Did this morning. Thought about the long weekend as a practice for retirement but wasn't encouraged by the thought. But once I got up and going, I was fine, took myself in hand and went to Barnes & Noble for "cowboy" books for Sawyer and Ford. Actually I got them two books in the Hank the Cowdog series which was written by a friend of mine. When Jamie was--oh, eight, nine, or so--he thought they were wonderful, and he still has a personally autographed poster that I had framed for him one Christmas. Now that Sawyer and Ford have been to Wyoming, they reportedly love all things cowboy, so I hope they like the books. Then I did one of my two weekly grocery runs, came home and told Jordan I'd love to accept her invitation to go to lunch with them--only it turned out to be a dinner invitation, not lunch. So we went to the Purple Cow tonight, which is billed as "kid friendly" and is the weirdest place for people watching that I've ever been. I had a BLT which Weight Watchers counts as an astounding 15 pts.--and I only get 19 points a day. But I broke it down into component parts--bread, mayo, bacon (lettuce and tomatoes are free) and it wasn't nearly that bad. Sometimes their point system baffles me.
Anyway what loomed as a big long holiday weekend is now busy and full of things and how will I ever get it all done?