Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Day of Contradictory Adventures

When Jacob woke up this morning, almost the first thing he asked was, "Are we going to church?" I said yes, and he asked, "Now?" I told him it was a bit early--7:15 for an 11:00 service. Thereafter he asked constantly, and when once I said "One more hour," he threw up his hands and said, "Oh, man!" Well, we got to church, parked with the valet, and made out way to the 4-year-old Sunday school. That child, who had been so excited about church, suddenly grew shy beyond belief--he hid his face in my clothes, he clung to me, he refused to answer questions from the teacher, who was a very kind woman. We comforted and cajoled, all to no avail. I offered to take his hand and walk him into the room where other children were playing. That was okay for a minute, until the teacher swooped him up in her arms (no small feat as heavy as he is) and hugged him. I thought for a minute we were home free, but he began to sob and reach for me and cry, "I want to go home." So go home we did. I paid $2 for valet parking for ten minutes. Once at home, he said, "I want t go to church." I said no, because he had cried. He said, "I won't cry." We have worked out sort of a compromise--we'll try it next week, but I plan  to take a book and stay in the schoolroom as long as I need to. He promises he won't be shy or cry--but that was in the comfort circle of his parents and his Juju.
We came home, and I seasoned the ground lamb for burgers tonight--more about that in a minute. Then I asked if he wanted to go get a hot dog. There's a drive-up stand not too far away that sells hot dogs and frozen custards. Jacob said he wanted a milkshake when I asked, so I ordered two hot dogs and a kids shake.
Jacob: I don't want a hot dog.
Juju: You said you did.
Jacob: I said I didn't.
Juju, to the person at the window: Never mind.
Jacob: What about my milkshake?
So I ordered a kids milkshake and a hot dog for myself with kraut. On the way home, was had the following conversation:
Jacob: I want a hot dog.
Juju: No, you said you didn't, and I only got one for myself. I'll fix you chicken nuggets.
Jacob: I don't want chicken nuggets. Will you share your hot dog?
Juju: No, because you said you didn't want one. And anyway mine has sauerkraut on it, and you wouldn't like it.
When we got home he wanted to see my hot dog and, on looking at the kraut, said, "That's yucky." So when his mom called at five I reported he had three waffles with chocolate chips and a chocolate shake to eat all day. He did eat a pretty good amount of his lamburger for dinner.
The lamburgers were delicious--the recipe called for chopped fresh mint (of which I have an abundance), cayenne, cinnamon, salt and pepper. You pan fry the burgers in olive oil, and dress with lettuce, red onion, feta, and hummus. Of course, Jordan had to cook hers until it was lifeless, but mine was delicious.I ate half and saved half for tomorrow. The recipe called for melting the feta, but we decided that would make a mess and just put it beneath the burger. They were, I confess, hard to eat--so thick! But worth it.
Not a lick of work done this weekend but tomorrow it's back to the pattern I've established--work on the nonfiction project in the day and the fiction in the evening. Meanwhile, tonight, I'm going to keep reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--it really is as good as Megan said and as all the reviews I've read have said.
A technological triumph: last night while Jacob and I were at dinner, my access to Outlook disconnected--I couldn't get on through the web, through my TCU connection at home, through the desktop at TCU or the generic TCU connection they've given me. I thought the whole system was down, but I called a friend who said hers worked fine. So I unfroze my account plus changed my password, and it works again. A relief, plus I do feel a bit like a tecchie.Simple, I know but hey, I figure it out myself!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An adventure with Jacob

Since I have Jacob from about 11:30 this morning until supper time tomorrow night, I thought we should get out of the house. So proposed an adventure for us--dinner at an Italian/Lebanese restaurant down the street. At first he said he didn't want a 'venture, but then he said he wanted to go to a restaurant "in a minute." We drove there with the top down--much easier to buckle him in that way and he loved it. Once there, he turned shy and wouldn't speak to anyone; he did decide he wanted spaghetti with meat sauce, so we split that. He didn't like it because it wasn't red; then he didn't like it because it had red spots in it (go figure!). I ordered Sprite for him, which he declared he loves--when he tasted it, turns out he was right. It wasn't Sprite, it was water. Finally, since I'd eaten most of meat sauce out of my bowl, I traded with him (brought his home) and the waitress and I cajoled him into eating five bites of fairly plain noodles so he could have 'ssert. He liked the cannoli but who could eat a whole one? Too sweet and rich, so much of that came home with us.
Coming home he wanted the top up, so I buckled him in, started to back out, and he said, "Why is the top up?" I told him because he asked for that, and he said, "But I want it down." I told him it was too late.
I'm exhuasted.
Tomorrow, we're going to try church and maybe Curley's for a hot dog and frozen custard.
I have to remind myself that I used to take four children all over by myself and never thought anything about it, but I think that leads me back to the argument my children never understand--four are easier than one or two. And besides, I was thirty years or more younger.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Desserts--heaven help me!

Two of my favorite days each month are the days Bon Appetit and Southern Living arrive in my mailbox. They're usually a couple of days apart,which gives me time to savor each magazine. My habit is to read through them, either mark or tear out the recipes I know instantly I want, and then go back, leisurely, to study them again. After that, I resolutely make myself throw them away. I used to save Bon Appetit, until my collection grew out of hand, and I knew I'd never go back to any specific issue again. Now the only old issue I keep is one on Scotland and its food.
Southern Living came today, and I was astounded that all the recipes I pulled were for dessert, something I usually don't offer guests. But who could resist chocolate truffle bites (melted chocolate in small cups of pie dough baked in a muffin tin, topped with whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate shavings), or small cream puffs filled with coffee whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup, or banana puddings, individual, baked with a meringue topping. From a Kraft Kitchen magazine yesterday, I had pulled an ice cream cake--looked more like a bombe or even a baked Alaska to me. You line glass bowl with plastic wrap, put in 2 cups softened raspberry sherbet, top with crushed Oreos, 2 cups chocolate ice cream, more Oreos, 2 cups vanilla ice cream and more Oreos. Freeeze four hours, unwrap, and "ice" with cool whip and decorate with toasted cocoanut. I think many of my kids will be here on the weekend of June 11, and I'm wondering if Maddie and I would have time to freeze the dessert and have it ready for supper. Me, who will tell you I don't have a sweet tooth unless chocolate is involved!
In spite of this new obsession, I lost 2 lbs. last week. Realized going off Weight Watchers did not mean a free ticket and went back to my old, more careful eating habits. Sigh. I guess chocolate mousse is a thing of my past. And maybe dinners at Joe T.'s.
I've started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Sieg Larsson. I gave it to Megan for Christmas a couple of years ago, and she was so long in picking it up that I decided it was a poor choice of a gift. But once she got into it, she was enthralled.She ordered the second book for her Kindle, and the third, I think, in hard cover. Sadly Steig Larsson died of a heart attack at the age of fifty, just after submitting these three manuscripts. I am not far into the first one, but I'm hooked.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Power of suggestion, a lost book, and some real work

Here, at last, are photos of the new chairs, below, and the "bistro set" above to show how well they match. And all are very comfortable. My porch reallyl looks great these days, but tonight, again, there was not one bit of breeze--and there were bugs. I've bought citronella candles but a fancy kind I'm not sure how to use. Filled with liquid, they're supposed to burn for 50 hours--if I can ever get them lit. I should learn to stick with simple.
This morning when I went to Central Market a guest on the Diane Rehm show was talking about his new book (sorry, but I think the title is Bottled and Sold) about the unnecessary energy used to create bottles for bottled water, the terrible waste because so few bottles are recyled, and the fact that tap water is every bit as pure and good for you and that we have a right to free, clean, pure water. (My daughters and daughters-in-law who would not dream of drinking tap water need read this book--one day, Edie came home from school and complained to her mother that she wouldn't believe what the teacher made them do that day. Alarmed, Mel asked, "What?" and Edie replied, "She made us drink sink water!"--what a comment on our culture.) Anyway opposite this man was a representative of the bottled water industry, and the conversation was lively and interesting. You would not believe how thirsty I got driving along listening to them--and I had no bottled water or other kind in the car. Went shopping and forgot all about it, but I had a short list and got out of there for under $30--when I often spend $70 or $80 and that's only half my weekly shopping--the kids are getting lamb burgers Sunday night!). So these two guys were still on talking about water when I drove home, and once again I got unbearably thirsty but forgot it when I got home. Just now, however, writing about it, I had to go get a drink of water. I truly don't drink enough water during the day and keep trying to work on that.
Last night I "lost" a book I was looking for as research for a project I'm working on. As one can imagine, after years in writing and publishing, I have a lot of books, spread in bookcases all over the house. Someone asked me recently how I arrange them, and the true answer is, "Wherever they'll fit." The books in the upper part of my mom's secretary in my bedroom are ones by good friends of mine (a lot of Elmer Kelton, Jeanne Williams, Joyce Roach and Bob Flynn); the ones in the glass-fronted bookcase in the dining rooms are ones that I consider special for one reason or another, though I noticed some ringers in there. The particular book I was looking for was published by TCU Press and is one of my favorites but I looked everywhere three times and didn't find it. Gave up for the night. Today I found it, at eye level, in the bookcase right across from my desk.
I remember a couple of years ago when Ron and Paula Tyler moved back to Fort Worth, and Paula said she promised Ron that one thing she would do for him was catalog his books.Hmm, I wonder if she's for hire.
Finding that book sort of spurred me on again, and I wrote quite a bit on this sample chapter, though I have miles to go. Now I've run out of steam and am going for a nap, but tonight I'll work on the novel. I gave Fred the first 15,000 words, and he wrote today that he's already started it and is intrigued.
Sushi tonight with Betty--I had a new dish called Tower Roll, with "spicy" salmon--I love salmon sashimi but prefer it non-spicy, and these were hard to dip into a soy/wasabi sauce, plus a pomegranite sauce gave it a vague sweetness I wasn't fond of. Not my favorite dish, but I did love the tempura crunch that went with it. When we talked into the Tokoyo Cafe it smelled like frying, and I said I smelled tempura; maybe it was this dish, which I imagine was simply fried panko, but it was good. Next time: salmon sashimi (see above where I said I should learn to stick to simple things!)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Porch time and trying to dig into a new project

Well, darn. I specifically went out tonight to take pictures of the new chairs and uploaded (downloaded?) them from the camera, saw that they were next to pictures of the new "bistro set" so I could show how they match. But now I can't find a one of them on the computer. Trust me. They're neat, comfortable stack chairs, aluminun frames (anonydized or something so they look like metal but won't rust), mesh seat and back, and they do match. Now my porch is quite sophisticated. I sat out there for a bit tonight but it was muggy (maybe because I'd just drenched all the plants and much of the porch--my sweet potato plants are my barometer; when they begin to wilt, I water everything heavily except the cactus). But the last few evenings, there's been a really nice breeze--tonight not one leaf was moving anywhere. Everything was lush and green, between all the rain and my watering, but it wasn't as pleasant as it has been, and I didn't read long.
Today I've tried hard to come to grips with my new project. Beginnings are always hard, but I've made some phone calls, arranged a couple of lunches, and decided on the format of my proposal and the chapter I'll send as part of the proposal. I've written a tentative table of contents and a sketchy introduction. The sample chapter will be one for which I've already done some research and even written a brief article, but I need to flesh it out. It might almost be easier to begin with a new subject, but that right now is my plan. Of course, I haven't written even the first line (though it's in my head!).
Had lunch today with Fred, once my mentor in graduate school and now a longtime friend. He was enthusiastic about my new project, and we talked of university presses and academia and food and had a good time. As I told him, with my new routine, lunches will be my lifeline to the world. I have plentyof work to do--though I haven't done well getting started on it today--but I need sociability.
Ah, transitions!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Psychology, sore shoulders, and a bit of oomph

This morning I decided I was tired of the doldrums--my shoulder didn't seem to hurt as badly, I didn't really have anything I wanted to dig into at my desk, and I needed to get out of my rut. So I got dressed and went to Home Depot--you have to understand this is not a place that's on my list of easy places to go. I almost never go there alone, but I gutted up and did, and it was fine. I found the patio chairs I wanted, explained to the man that I wanted four but I drive a VW bug convertible, and he said he was quite sure they could fit them into the open car. So I bought them, and a nice young man loaded them for me. I must have made quite a sight, driving along with all these chair legs sticking out of the back seat (they're stackable chairs). When I got home,my new neighbor, Brian, saw me struggling with the first chair and came to help me unload and put the old chairs in the backyard where they'll wait for my brother--Jordan wants to keep two because she thinks I can take Jacob and his trike out there to play. I think it's a pretty dismal and boring place for a child to play. But anyway, tonight, I'm pleased as punch with my chairs--and with the fact that I went and got them.
Had lunch with Katie, a good friend I don't see nearly often enough, and we chattered throughout lunch like magpies, mostly about our grandchildren. But Katie did bring up a study, done some years ago, where small children, African American and Anglo, were shown black and white dolls and asked to point to which doll was the prettiest, smartest, etc. Inevitably all the children, no matter skin color, pointed to the white doll. Asked to point to the dumbest, etc., they pointed to the black. A couple of years ago someone replicated the study on YouTube, unscientifically, but the results were the same. Then some trained sociologists repeated it recently, and the results were still the same--even though we now have an African-American president. One little Anglo girl, sitting safely in her mother's lap, pointed to the black doll as stupid and ugly, and Katie said you could see the tears start in the mother's eyes. We haven't come nearly as far as we should, and to me it points out a much larger problem--we have a population of young African Americans who have no self-esteem and so feel they can't contribute and why should they try. Awful.
My shoulder was hurting again, even as we ate lunch,and reaching don to retrieve my purse was downright painful. I came home, piddled, took aspirin, had a bit of wine, and went to asleep. When I woke up there was an email from an editor I'd queried at a local university press saying she as indeed very much interested in my idea for a book. So tonight I've begun to think about a table of contents, an introduction, and a sample chapter. And you know what? My shoulder doesn't hurt nearly as much! Ain't psychology wonderful?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Winding down the day

My son, Jamie, posts every place he goes on Facebook. I can tell you most days where he eats lunch and dinner, where he shops--yesterday it was Brookstone and Lululemon. But last night his post was "Winding down the day." Well, maybe he felt that way because it had been his wife's birthday and she had, as she said, been diva for a day. But I thought it was a strange post.
Hey, tonight, that's how I feel--at 8:45, I'm winding down the day. I don't mean to whine and throw myself into self-pity, but last night as I settled down for the evening at my desk (after doing dishes for company,etc.), winding down the day in Jamie's words, I began to feel my left should tighten up, around the shoulder blade. I have no idea what I did or what made it happen, but by the middle of the night, it really hurt, no matter how much I shifted positions. I took some aspirin, went back to sleep and slept until 8:00 a.m. But it still hurt. I took my time getting going and did some yoga, figuring I'd work the kinks out--maybe not a good idea. Went to the office to take care of a couple of small matters, came home,and by the time I was fixing lunch it really hurt again, sharply.
I accused Jordan of having my heating pad, but she assured me she didn't and reminded me that I hide things in strange places. I found it way back under the bed, covered with more dirt, dust and dog hair than I care to talk about. The cover went into the laundry, and I fashioned a new one of a towel and safety pins. When Jordan wrote that I was silly, I told her to be careful--she's the child most like me.
More aspirin, some wine, and a long nap--and I truly did feel better. Took my new neighbor down to see Charles, and we had a good visit--they talked about running, and I mostly listened, but as we left Brian said, "That's the high point of my day." I think Charles enjoyed it too, so I'm glad I got them together--Charles remembers Brian's brother, who is also a runner.
But tonight my shoulder hurts again, and I have no ambition for writing. Though I appreciate much Cindy Bonner's comment that one should stop rewriting and worrying about plot and character and all that and just put the words down to get through the first draft. That's what I did tonight, and I probably wrote between 3-1/2 to 4 pages.Tomorrow I'll see how much they sound llike drivel.
Meantime, I'm winding down the day. Thanks, Jamie, for putting me onto that phrase.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hard thoughts on writing, some memoirsand some critters

If you follow this blog at all, you probably know I am about 12,000 words into a mystery. I keep putting it aside for other things, even while I read all those posts on the Sisters in Crime and AgentQuest listservs about persistence, keeping after your writing, writing is hard work, etc. As I sit at my desk, trying to drum up free lance projects which require more research than creativity, thoughts flit through my head about that mystery--how to toughen it up, make it different from the thousands of cozies editors see every day. And then I go back and rewrite that first 12,000 words. It occurred to me yesterday that I am running away from the hard work of writing, looking for the easier, distracting chores. I used to know a historian who said, "A page a day is a book a year." Some days I'd do six or eight pages, and then coast on my laurels. But I think I'm going to go back to Don's advice--I'm going to write something new on that novel every day. You see, last night I rewrote again--the characters keep taking firmer shape in my mind, which occasions all that hard rewriting. Even now I've thought of something I didn't rewrite last night and have to, if things are going to work out the way I think they will.
Right now I'm reading a book with a wonderful title: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. The recipes are good, basic Italian, and I'm enjoying it. Author is Giulia Melucci. Just finished It is Well with My Soul, the autobiography (with a co-writer) of 106-year-old Ella Mae Cheeks Johnson, the first black woman to receive a masters from Case Western Reserve University (in social work). It's a good lesson in communication and parenting--words are everything.
Critters: Yesterday morning I glanced out the front door and saw something with a long hairless tail scooting across the porch. Having been invaded by rats a couple of years ago, I was really apprehensive. It proved to be a possum--I think that's who's (or what's) eating Scooby's food when he doesn't. Later when I went down the driveway I saw that the possum had a buddy. I'm not much on judging the size of possums, but I thought these were young. My neighbor said he had no idea either. When I was unloading groceries later, one came quite close to investigate. I shooed it away gently--what would I do if it got into the car to investigate my groceries? I know when cornered they can be mean, so I surely don't want to corner these.
I finally found a reasonable bird feeder that looked squirrel proof and hung it in the yard yesterday, but so far no birds.
But I had a cat underfoot all day. My fussy eater smelled the chicken I was cooking and would not get out of my way. Finally I put a few scraps in her dish and poured a bit of broth over it. She lapped it up, but today I was cooking vegetables--not her deal at all--and she was still underfoot. If I wanted her in the kitchen, she wouldn't deign to be seen there. "Dogs have masters, cats have staff."
Good dinner tonight with company--my successor as director of the press and his wife. We had wine and salmon tartare on the porch--hot as it's been, there's a nice breeze. But we decided dinner indoors would be better because of the noise of the traffic. My cold supper was a hit--the chicken loaf was good as was the roasted vegetable salad. Nice company, a pleasant evening.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cooking . . . and cooking some more

I spent much of today on food--grocery store trip, then home to make a chicken loaf out of the hen I'd stewed last night. It's a retro dish, and my kids had mixed opinions about it (some declaring it "gelatinous") but it's a nice cold supper, with the purest chicken flavor I've ever tasted--I love it with mayonnaise, but tomorrow for company I may dress up the mayo with a bit of lemon and some basil (my basil plants are already huge this early in the season). Plus I'll use basil leaves to decorate the platter. It's simple, though time-consuming--boil a hen, let it cool, skin and bone, cut meat into chunks. The wonderful lady who gave me this recipe insisted you had to cut the meat into small pieces with scissors (she died several years ago in her 90s, so that tells you this is retro). I think she made her husband cut the chicken. I put it in the food processor and try not to overdo it. Dump the meat into a bowl and process one cylinder of saltines, adding them to the meat. Then the tricky part. The original recipe says to dampen mixture with just enough chicken broth to make it hold together. My mom found, and I did too, it fell apart when sliced. So we added two packets of gelatin, softened in broth, and then a bit more broth. You put it in a loaf pan, cover with wax paper, top with another loaf pan, and weigh it down with two cans of whatever out of your cabinet. Chill overnight. Next day, pray it slices well. After doing all that, my back hurt, and I quit for the afternoon.
But tonight I made salmon tartare--it's not really tartare, since it's made with smoked salmon. My neighbor Jay (the handsome one) took it to the barbecue last week at Jordan's, and it was delicious. I made half a batch but my garlic paste didn't work--roasted garlic was hard as nuts. And typical of me, I left out the jalopeno. Stuck that in the fridge and sauteed mushrooms, cherub tomatoes, scallions, and smoked salmon and then threw in two eggs to scramble and hold it all together. Wonderful supper.
Tomorrow I'll make a salad of roasted asparagus, tiny new potatoes, and tomatoes with a basil/lime dressing, but I have not made nor planned dessert for my company tomorrow (my successor at TCU Press, his wife, and a mutual friend). Tonight I went through my recipe file to find a recipe for banana ice cream to add as a comment to a blog, and I forgot how many wonderful dessert recipes I've cut out over the years. I'll have to do better next time. In looking I found a recipe for really easy and low cal chocolate cupcakes: 1 box chocolate cake mix, 1 can pure pumpkin, 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips. Mix and bake at 350 in cupcake tins for 18 minutes. Makes 18 cupcakes, and you can't taste the pumpkin--the cupcakes are dense and chocolatey and moist. If you're follow Weight Watchers, one cupcake is 2 points--can't beat that!
After all that cooking, I'm tired. Time to go read on the porch.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feast or Famine

After three days in what I called nunnery solitude, I've had a hectice, people-filled day today--and enjoyed it. Had a 9:30 meeting with the incoming director of the press to review the acquisitions list--and officially turn it over to him. Before that I ran a bunch of Jacob's stuff by Jordan's office, so they can take it with them on a weekend getaway tomorrow, and bought animal food. (I truly believe the man who said the first step towards wealth is not to buy anything you have to feed!)
Got home just in time to go to lunch with friends at the Cat City Grill--having weighed this morning I swore I would have salad or something non-fattening. So I ordered a lobster po-boy--but I didn't eat the bread and only a few waffle fries. There wasn't much lobster, but it as battered and fried. Will I never learn?
Came home to 50 emails that had accumulated while I was gone all morning, so dealt with them, took a nap (so comfy I didn't want to get up). About 5:15 a friend of the press came by to pick up a manuscript he had promised to read, and we had wine on the porch and a good visit. Then I rushed to eat some supper, clean up the porch--well, dust the chairs--and get ready for tonight's "Writing Your Life" class, which is the real subject of this blog.
Two weeks ago I challenged the women to write five pages about any aspect of their lives they wanted, and tonight we talked about how they felt about the experience, what obstacles they encountered, and finally, what they wrote. Three of the women shared their writing-they had brought copies for each member of the class--and we discussed them. Then I asked them to take ten minutes to write what they remembered about something they didn't think they remembered. I do these exercises along with them,and the result was pretty interesting. A couple of women shared theirs--and I hinted at mine, saying it started out in one place and ended up somewhere totally different. What all of us as a group are finding is that tortuous twisted path, where one memory leads to another. We all agree, however, that memoir needs humor--and angst. A combination of both.
Keeping the ball rolling and the conversation going for an hour and a half is exhausting--at least that's what I decided tonight, because I'm really tired. Elizabeth opens each session with a meditation and closes each with a circle--I think the class members really appreciate this. But still it's up to me to make salient comments, encourage discussion, and so on. A lot of stress and brain work, but fun. I found the class satisfying, and several commented on how much they had learned. When Elizabeth has the closing circle, she asks each of us to say one word about how we're feeling. Mine was "intrigued"--others were "interested," "stimulated," "motivated," and the like. I think it was a success.
And thanks to Lisa Wilson who brought some delicious goodies--rolls of cream cheese with pesto or tapenade or pepper jelly, tiny brownies topped with strawberry cream cheese (now there's a great idea!), and wine, of course.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A funny day

Tonight Betty and I went to Sapristi's for dinner and had our favorite--the tapas platter for two. It had  spicy quail with a something-tomato sauce (not spicy and absolutely delicious), beef skewers, bacon-wrapped scallops, feta bruschetta, and a tart with peppers and onions. Since I hadn't been out of the house in three days I felt downrightcelebratory. I had a chocolate mousse dessert and reveled in stories of Betty's trip to Paris and Germany (which she loved, though it was rainy and cold most of the time). We had a good visit,and I was so glad to be out in the world. After I got home I called Jay and Susan to come get the strawberries I had left over from the weekend, and we had a visit on the porch, so I feel I've had some sociability for the evening.
Day three of my new life didn't go as well as the previous two. I piddled and did small things to pass the time, although not all of them were useless. Doing yoga on a floor mat in the family room can sure make you realize that you haven't vacummed since the grandkids were here, so I vacummed, scrubbed up the sticky tape from the living room floor (it used to anchor the rug but was now just a sticky mess), showered, read a bit, played on the web, but put off working. Finally in the afternoon I wrote 1,000 words on my mystery and felt pretty good about them. I had a couple of scenes in my head that had to be written, so I finished one partially--still have to complete it and move on to the next. But I'm feeling optimistic. And since I finished reading the mystery that had me riveted, maybe I'll be more likely to concentrate on writing. Anyway, I'm hopeful. I think my new life will take some adjusting. But I'm working at it with a cheerful heart.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two days in a nunnery

This is the second day of the rest of my life, and I do feel like I've had two days in a nunnery--although the routine hasn't been quite that rigorous. I've had good food, a bit of wine, naps, and of course I slept late. But still I've stayed home alone, no makeup, working. Today no phone calls, though Lewis Bundock came by because I had a small list of little things that were broken around the house--like the screen door to the guest apartment, the commode in my office bathroom, etc. Our puzzle for the day--I found a piece of oak that looked to me like it had come off the round oak table in the family room--and I found it under that table. Lewis examed it thoroughly and announced everything that was supposed to be on the table was there. We cannot for the life of us figure out what piece of furniture it came from, but he warned me to keep it. My "junk" drawer is full to overflowing.
Tonight I added a bit of excitement to the day by setting off my alarm. I heard my new neighbor take garbage carts down. Several days ago he gave me a book he's written, signed to me, and I told him I'd give him one of my cookbooks, Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, in return. Tonight when I went out to give it to him and stood and chatted a bit, I forgot that I'd already set the alarm. When I came in, it was going full blast. I called, assured the service I was okay, and asked them to cancel the police call. A few minutes later I heard a pounding on the door and thought, "Oh, gosh, it's the police, and there comes another $50 fine for a false alarm." It was Jay. He was out in his driveway, heard the alarm, called and I didn't answer (of course not, I was out on the porch), then called both Jordan and Christian, neither of whom answered. So armed with his cell phone, he came charging over. I truly appreciate the concern. But while we were talking at the door, the blasted alarm went off again, because I'd reset it. With some embarrassment, I called the service again.
Otherwise it was a satisfying day of work. I spent a lot of it with the manuscript I'm reading for a friend, did some reading in a novel, and then worked on my own novel. I keep rewriting those first 10,000 words and now have them up to 12,500--but it's time to move the story forward. I have some notes and some general ideas, but I'm not one to outline in detail. I write as it occurs to me. So that will be my challenge tomorrow.
When I first retired, one of my panicky thoughts was of waking up in the morning and thinking, "Omigosh, what will I do today." A day without companionship of some kind loomed long and lonely before me. But I think I've mellowed into it. I knew what I was going to do today and did it.
One more day at home, but with dinner with Betty tomorrow night; then a meeting and a lunch Thursday, grocery shopping and lunch Friday. Usually I have more lunch plans than this week, so it's been sort of an aberration. But I'm doing well--and enjoying my tuna fish sandwiches. I think moving away from TCU Press is a positive step in the long run.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weaning myself from the office

I'm still posting pictures from the weekend--on the top is the whole crew (though you can't quite see all of them). Do you wonder I'm tired with that bunch around? Below are Jamie and Dylan, our guest of honor for the weekend. My kids and their California sister don't see each other often, and they are always glad to be together. I'm still savoring the memories.
But today it has hit me that it's really time to sever my ties to TCU Press. I'd been most content working about ten hours a week, which meant several trips to the office. But there's a new director coming in, who is taking over acquisitions (my main responsibility) and for me to remain around would be intrusive. It was nice to be gradually separated from the press--going from 3/4 time to the ten hours or so a week. But now that's over. So I woke up, quite cheerfully, this morning, thinking this is the first day of the rest of my life. I've worked at home all day, no social contact, which is something I will fix. I know I need contact with the world to remain sane. But today has been a good day. The morning melted away with phone calls, emails, riding my bike, cleaning up this and that from the weekend. After lunch I began reading a manuscript--yes, it's for the press, but I'm doing it as a favor to the author, whom I like a lot. I'm reading edits before she turns it back in and making some minor corrections and a few smaller ones. Tomorrow, I'll go back over it again.
Tonight in my favorite distraction--I cooked. Made tuna cakes and boiled an ear of corn. A truly good meal. And I started a mystery. But I think I'll do a bit on my own mystery. My horoscope read that I would accomplish a lot this week if I would stay holed up, and I know the self-discipline of working on the manuscript without distraction is what I need.
Oh, I'll still go out--I have lunch plans Thursday and Friday, will probably meet with the incoming director Wed. to go over the acquisitions list, meet with the author of this manuscript on Thursday, and I teach my class Thursday night. But it's a different feeling--and I'm proud of myself for the attitude I have going in.
I read a blog today about the Law of Attraction--no, it doesn't have anything to do with love and sex. It's about how we attract to ourselves the things we want--or the things we don't. It's about the way we think--I for instance should not concentrate on the fact that I don't have a published mystery but instead the fact that I will one day be published as a mystery writer. People with money troubles shouldn't focus on their troubles but think about handling money wisely so they don't repeat old patterns. It's the kind of stuff I believe in, though it takes a different slant--some of the ways I thought were positive thinking apparently really were not. There are even LOA-trained counselors. Nice idea. Look it up on Google.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More family fun--and a lesson about teenage reading habits

This morning I decided trying to organize my family was like herding cats, and I wasn't going there. So I let them figure things out at their own pace (age has brought remarkable wisdom) and they got it all done, albeit a bit later than they meant to, but . . .  . the grown girls had partied a bit much last night and weren't exactly feeling up to par. But they got the cars sorted out and delivered Jordan's to her, along with groceries for tonight.
While they did that, Maddie (the oldest who just turned eleven) and I went to Barnes & Noble to shop since I had given her a gift certificate. I put the top down on the convertible, thinking that would be a treat, but I couldn't see that she was much impressed. She turned out to be a careful shopper, finally bought one small book that would complete a Rick Riordan series she has, but she balked at the price for a small book ($12.95). I assured her TCU Press couldn't produce a book like that for that price, and she finally succumbed because she wanted it and Riordan is one of her favorite writers--she was thrilled when I gave her his e-mail address. She looked at the Stephanie Meyer's books (her mom has deckared the last one inappropriate, which doesn't seem to bother Maddie at all). She's read two, but there are a couple in the series she hasn't read that her mom thinks are okay. Trade paperbacks were $12.99, and she decided she'd wait for the mass market edition. (Is this a lesson for those of us in publishing?) I was amazed at the offerings in the teen section--all vampires, paranormal, fantasy, etc. (I can't sort the genres in my mind). Maddie had extensive knowledge of them and explained to me which series she read and liked, a series she liked the first two books but not the third, etc. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that she reads so much. We came home, she announced she was hungry, and I offered frozen Doris' casserole. "Do I like that?" Yes, I assured her, she always had. And then she settled down with a book, until her mom came to pick her up, whisk her out to Jordan's for a quick visit with visiting Dylan, and then home to Frisco.
I was sad to see them go and to know Megan wasn't coming back for a goobye hug, but a part of me was relieved--I caught up on emails, read a bit, and took a long nap. Barely woke in time to go to the bbq at Jordan's in honor of Dylan. I went with Jay and Susan--food was appetizers (Jay brought a wonderful salmon carpaccio) and hot dogs, of which I'm sure Jordan has a bunch left over. I even ate two plus too much of Jay's salmon, some artichoke dip, and a sour cream dip with potato chips. Glad I'm not doing Weight Watchers.
The guests at the party were mostly Jordan's young friends, but I always enjoy seeing them, and Jay, Susan and I sat back and watched and had a good visit. Jay and Dylan had a long talk--let's call that liberal meets conservative, but Dylan (the liberal) held her own and Jay said it was an enlightening discussion. I think the highlight of the party was when Jacob pulled down his britches in the backyard and peed--when Christian hollered at him, he just looked at his dad and continued about his business, then matter-of-factly pulled his pants up and went about eating his hot dog. Jay and I suggested he should wash his hands, but he replied that he hadn't used the bathroom (literally true!). Christian moaned, "Where did I go wrong?"
It's been a lovely weekend, filled with family and friends. Tomorrow, back to the real world and settling in to my new routine--writing daily. I have much to do and need the will power to stick with it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Family times

Photos courtesy Dylan Alter. Most of the Alter clan gathered today to welcome Dylan, the kids' half-sister from California who was here for a weekend. We were missing the Houston Alters, and felt that sorely, but othrwise we had a a good time. These pictures are from lunch at Joe T. Garcia's and demonstrate that the cousins love each other. At the top Maddie (our mother hen) is showing Jacob something on her phone; bottom left, Megan ahd her two boys, Sawyer and Ford; and bottom right, Jacob and Sayer hugging each other. After lunch (about 4:00)  they went to ride the zoo train, and I went thankfully for a nap, though I was so out of my routine and so wound up I didn't sleep. Still it was good to lie down.
Tonight my house was uncontrolled chaos, with two naked three-year-olds running through the house screaming like banshees (I figured out, much too late, that taking my hearing aids out made it much better). We had a hastily put together supper of spaghetti and salad, and it was nine before we thought about moving on. The blessing is that Mel, who had taken Maddie back to Frisco for a soccer game (only to find it forfeited) came back with both girls. So I am relieved of babysitting--Maddie and Edie delight in putting their young cousins to bed and right now I do not hear a sound coming from the back of the house. I am so blessed.
Dylan found out today that she had passed the bar in California, so there was double rejoicing. She kept pulling up the list tomake sure her name really was on it and that she really had passed. But she did, and we're all proud of her. She doesn't see her siblings often, but they all enjoy being together, and she enjoyed the children. At one point she said to me, "I can't wait to see them all as teen-agers." I think I shudder at the thought.
Jamie, Megan and I, with Ford, Sawyer and Edie, had gone to visit Uncle Charles tonight--and though he was on his way out to dinner, he was delighted to see the kids and grandkids. As we left the parking lot, we found a snail which, of course, we had to bring home. HIs name is Gary, and tonight, before our late dinner, we sat on the porch, drinking wine and watching Gary. Jay came over, and the new neighbor on the other side stopped by. I love having a porch where people gather, and I love having a bunch of people around--especially my children and grandchildren.
Now, at ten, the grown girls have gone out on the town, Jamie has gone back to Frisco to get ready for a sprint triathlon tomorrow, and the children are going to sleep. Me? I'm going to read a bit and fall into bed. Having family around is wonderful but hectic and tiring.
Life is surely sweet.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Weather, books, memoirs and food--and poison

When I set out for errands this morning, it was cloudy but fairly warm, delightful top-down day. So, I kept putting the top up and down--I don't leave it down for fear someone will steal my handicap tag, my booster seat, or my pretty felt flower. But it's so easy to put the top down and up, now that it's finally repaired, that I don't mind. But once I was safely home, about noon, the sky grew ominously dark and the wind picked up at a great rate. Greg was in the driveway, and I asked if we could switch places, since I wanted to get my car in the garage if it hailed. We did but then he went back to trimming bushes--I was terrified he would be electrocuted and relieved when he called it a day. It rained hard for a  long time, but then we had a sunny respite--the porch was too wet to sit on and the weather too cool. More rain about midnight and all weekend. There goes lunch on the patio at Joe T.'s, and Jordan's barbecue Sunday night is going to be indoors and crowded. But we'll manage.
One of my errands was to Barnes & Noble. I had a gift card with about $20 left on it, and I decided I would buy one signifcant book, not my usual mystery, that I wanted to read. I spent something like $43 and bought Pat Conroy's South of Broad (I've always enjoyed his books), It Is Well with My Soul: The Extraordinary Life of a 106-Year-Od Woman by Ella Mae Cheeks Johnson with Patricial Mulcahy--Johnson is the oldest living black graduate of Case Western Reserve University; I thought it appropriate because I'm teaching that class on memoir. The third book I bought, on impulse, was I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. Okay, that's a case where the title got me, and I may yet regret buying another "young chick" memoir of loves and cooking, but I'll try it. I'm increasingly interested in memoir. I'm currently rereading a manuscript I acquired for the press some time ago--The Legacy of the Sacred Harp--a memoir through which Sacred Harp or shape-note singing forms the unifying thread. Fascinating. So I look forward to reading these three books, though first I must finish the mystery I'm in the mdst of. Despite my determination to write successful mysteries and the lessons I've earned from reading others, I do feel the need to read more broadly.
Tonight Elizabeth came for happy hour, so we could plan the next class meeting,which is this coming Thursday. It was my turn to make snacks, so I used those six big mushrooms I'd bought for Jordan that she never came to eat. Stuffed them with my mom's concoction--grated cheese, dry mustard, Worcestershire, and mayonnaise to bind. Because I'd made good pimiento cheese lately, I added a sprinkle of cayenne. It occurred to me this mixture (which Jordan loves) is a lot like pimiento cheese without the pimientos (which Jordan hates). You have to bake the mushrooms slowly; otherwise the cheese melts while the mushrooms are still raw.
We planned the class easily, since it's mostly class participation, but then we sat and visited and realized how much more we told each other, compared to what we wrote down. Idea for an exercise for a future class.
After Elizabeth left, I scrambled myself two eggs--I haven't done this in a long time--but I added chopped tomato, diced scallions, and cut up smoked salmon. So good. Now I'm wondering if I could put smoked salmon on my morning cottage cheese in the morning!
I talked to a friend the other night about cottage cheese. His baby is just beginning to eat table food, and I suggested cottage cheese; he and his wife both made horrible faces,but I said I had raised all my babies on it. Then I suggested scrambling eggs with cottage cheese instead of milk, and he, a gourmet cook, was interested. I don't know if he'll try it or not.
Meantime, I'm investigating ways to poison people. I called my brother last night to talk about digitalis and strychnine, until he finally said, "I don't know, Judith. I never poisoned anyone." Well, I need to find a way for a fictional character to die suddenly, no symptoms, from tasting food. I've been all over the internet, still working on it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New projects--and a day with Jacob

My work at TCU Press, even in retirement, is winding down. The new director starts June 1. He's someone I've known, respected, and liked a lot, and I'm pleased as punch. It was nice to be weaned from the press, rather than abruptly separated, but now I'll have to turn my attention to other projects, although I still expect to have minimal involvement with the press. Tonight I finally outlined that mystery I've been working on (most English teachers wouldn't call it an outline--it'sless than half a page, but I know what's going to happen and whodunit), and I'm ready to go back to it. I also have what I think is a cool idea for a nonfiction Texas book, but I need to do some exploration before I'm ready to present a proposal. It's a book that I don't think has been done before--but, shoot, I'm not sharing the idea with anyone, even on this blog.
I'm also going to have to work harder at building my social schedule--I don't like days without any social contact, and I don't have many of them. But if I'm to stay at home and write all day, I need to make sure I have human contact as many days as possible. I'm not cut out to be a recluse.
In the last months of my discontent, when I've been voraciously reading instead of writing, I have I think absorbed a lot about the structure of mysteries--and the things I like about some, don't like about others. I'm hoping that will send me back to the Blue Plate Cafe series with renewed enthusiasm, although probably not until Monday. This weekend will be occupied with grocery shopping, cooking, family, etc. Already I'm wondering how to fit it all in, but Megan wants to take her boys to visit Uncle Charles, which I think is a swell idea. So it will be hectic--gosh, I might even have to give up my afternoon nap!
Jacob didn't feel well today, had a slight fever, and Jordan was hesitant to send him to school where he'd run, play and get all tired out, so after I went to the store, I had him for the rest of the day. He was cheerful, mostly wanted to watch a DVD,ate a good lunch but did nap for two hours. I went in to tell him it was time to turn off the TV and sleep, but he was already sound asleep. Later, he insisted, "I didn't shut my eyes." Sure, Jacob. When his mom came, a little after five, we were outside. Jacob has been following a particular small spider in my garden, and today he announced it's still there. Some bugs scare him,and others fascinate him--he was frantic when he thought I was going to hurt the spider when all I was reaching to do was dead-head a coreopsis.
After Jacob and Jordan left, Sue, my former neighbor, arrived for a glass of wine on the porch like old times, and we had a good visit. There was just the slightest hint of cool in the breeze. We're predicted to have storms this evening, but so far none. They're in the air, though, because Scooby overturned his dinner dish and didn't eat the food--a desperate sign on his part.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Food--for animals and me

Night before last as my cat lay on my desk, I saw a flea crawl across her head--where the fur is sparse. A flea? On my desk? Next morning I was off to the vet to buy a flea pill for cats, though it only kills all the fleas on her for 18 hours. I figure that's enough since she's an indoor cat and the indoor/outdoor dog is on preventive medication. But how to give her the pill? With the vet's sanction, I crushed it up in part of a small can of tuna--man, did she wolf that down. So then I had to feed her the rest of the tuna by bits, and I'm afraid she's now spoiled. Tuna is the worst thing you can give an older cat with kidney disease (hers is mild) but oh, how I wish I could give it to her every day. I'm truly afraid now she'll turn up her nose at that kidney diet cat food.
Meantime I realized I was past due giving Scooby his flea and heartworm meds. I handed him one pill last night when hecame in and he threw it on the floor contemptuously, so this morning I crushed it up and spread it on a "sandwich" of saltines and peanut butter. He sniffed and ignored, and I truly thought he wasn't going to eat it,but eventually it was gone, there was a wet spot where it had been, and I found no trace of it in the yard. So tonight,, I crushed the other pill and spread it over a slice of liver cheese (like braunschweiger--one of my many indulgences) and hand fed it to him, sitting on the steps by the back door. He loved it. I'm going to have to figure out a better way of doing all this, but it still beats putting liquid flea medication between his shoulder blades, which always took two people.
Food for me: today was what I call a real retirement day--no obligations, no lunch dates, a blank slate. So one of the things I did was to boil the fresh beets that I had been given earlier (I'd boiled the greens much earlier before they wilted). Then I baked four chicken thighs (they come four to a packet--what is one to do?), seasoned them with soy, lemon pepper, and garlic powder (it's important to put the soy on first--otherwise it will rinse off the seasonings). Baked them mid-day and then refrigerated--I love cold chicken.
Other than that, I did piddly things around the house, putting away this and that, things I'd left lying around, did three loads of wash and still have one to do (how can one person have so much laundry?some of it was cleaning rags--Socorro cleaned yesterday--and some was napkins, etc., from having company).
Tonight I went to see my friend Charles and had a good, if brief, visit with him. He was a bit confused--when I called to ask if this was a good time, he asked what time it was and I said a little after four. He said, "In the morning?" Now why would I call him at four in the morning? Colin called just before I left and said, "Tell Uncle Charles to look out the window!" Then Charles had it in his head that I had ordered food for tonight (we'd been talking about going to lunch though now that he's pretty much in a wheelchair, I can't take him places since I can't fit the chair into my car). But I couldn't convince him I hadn't ordered food--I hope his dinner was good, since he thinks I ordered it. But I hate to see him confused like that.
No, I haven't written, but ideas are whirling in my brain, and I think I'll do a bit of internet research tonight. Now that my involvement with TCU Press is winding down--a new director starts June 1--it's time for me to get serious. And it would be a perfect time for my agent to tell me he's got a publisher interested in one of my manuscripts, but that hasn't happened yet. Oh, well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Learning to tweet

It's not as easy as some seem to think. I can post a tweet--if I can think of something that's significant enough for 140 characters. But I read some advice about, where you can control the tweets you get and eliminate those not of interest to you. My hashtags (note how I use that term so casually) would be writers, food, mysteries, write, and I'm sure I'd add others. So I signed up for Tweetdeck, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to choose my columns, which I think means the hashtags I want to see as opposed to all those hundreds that I don't care about. My friend Sue was, I thought, a pioneer in social media, since she told me how to put my blog posts on Facebook. But she bowed out at the mention of Tweetdeck.
Twitter is supposed to be really helpful if you have a new book to promote, which I don't, so maybe it's not crucial that I learn it right now. But once I get the idea in my head, I'm determined. I hope to get some of my older fiction on Kindle and other reading devices, and I guess Twitter would be good for promoting that.
Meantime I just learned that some of my grandchildren will be here this weekend--the Frisco girls briefly for lunch, the Austin boys and Jacob in my care for Saturday night while their parents party. So I'm making groceery lists and planning ahead. I love it.
Hot in Fort Worth tonight and humid--I sat on the porch to read for a while, and there was sort of a semi-breeze but when I came in, for only the second time this spring, I turned on the air conditioner. Won't leave it on long but want it to cool the house. Two days ago it was, as a friend said on Facebook, "right airish" in Cowtown but today it's right humid.
Last night I saved a gecko--little critter had found it's way into the hall by the bathroom, and I thought I'd better rescue it before the cat discovered it. Do you know how fast those things move? I had a hard time but finally got him onto a paper towel, fortunately upside down so that he couldn't scamper off. I kept telling him gently that I'd put him outside, but I'm not at all sure he was reassured. I put him out the back door (the closest) but hope his family wasn't on the front porch (where I see lots of geckos) or if they were he'd find his way back to them. I also see them on the windows by the back door where the outdoor lights make their tiny bodies translucent. They are such fascinating little things and, as I keep telling Jacob, they are our friends.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I am known for wild dreams that stay with me after I wake. I used to go to the office and recount them. Melinda has never forgotten the time I dreamt that someone had brought a possum to the office, and she went to pick it up and oust it,and it peed on her. She'll still say, "I sure hated being peed on by that possum." I dream often of my parents, more often than I'd like of my ex-husband but almost always in the good days when we were happy. Sometimes generations are juxtaposed in my dreams, and reality intrudes--something that I know is true of the present moment or the day ahead appears in my dream. I remember them for a day or two and then forget.
Once I told Melinda I wrote a complete novel in my dreams. She said, "Quick! Write it down," and I replied, "It wasn't any good." She laughed. "You not only wrote it, you critiqued it!"
All of us have recurring dreams, whether we remember them or not--some of mine are so common as to be boring, such as not knowing where to go for an exam when I haven't been to class all semester. Another one for me is climbing a staircase. I get to the top and can barely push myself over the edge--somehow I never walk up to the top. I've looked these up and decided almost any recurring dream you have relates to childhood insecurity--I don't remember feeling insecure as a child. That came later. So I've lost a bit of faith in dream interpretation sites on the Web.
But last night--or rather this morning--I dreamt that I was climbing a staircase that was very icy. The best I could do was get a foothold, grab the railing, and then push myself up with all my strength, gaining a few feet each time. I looked up and the top was still far away. The friend I was with was way behind me, and strangers were in between, but my friend kept calling, "Sorry, Judy." Well, I woke myself up, because I was really struggling up that staircase in my bed in my sleep. Good thing I sleep alone--anyone in bed with me would have been alarmed, as I was. Scooby, however, didn't seem to notice.
If you saw my post of yesterday on the web and looked for it, I apologize. I woke at 5 a.m. and rushed to delete it. I don't like self-pity, and I had indulged myself in a bit of Mother's Day self-pity. As it turned  out, I had a wonderful evening. Went to Jordan's to share the holiday with the entire Burton family and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The other kids all called, and we had good conversations, so I feel loved as a mother and happy with my lot in the world.And I thought a lot about my own mother and what a strong influence she was on me--teaching me to cook and to laugh, which she often did better than anyone I know. I can see her now with tears of laughter rolling down her cheeks as she recounted stories of her early married life, when all of my uncles were in osteopathic medical school and hijinx seemed the order of the day. I should have gone to the cemetery, but I need Jordan to show me the gravesite--I always get lost.
This morning, before I fell into that climbing dream, I was awake for a while, writing in my mind a chapter in my memoir--I have to keep up with my memoir-writing class. I chose the chapter I titled "Loves, Loving and Lovers" and wrote all I had to say. I may post some of it here, but not all! I'm even uncertain about sharing it with the class--and my kids, oh that's another matter!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bookish Frogs enjoy a Dan Jenkins evening

Tonight the Bookish Frogs, a community support group for TCU Press, had a wonderful evening with Dan Jenkins to celebrate the press' reprint edition of Baja Oklahoma. It was a potluck supper at the home of--okay, I met the host and hostess, chatted amiably with them and liked them a  lot, but never got their names. But it was in a new, gated community and was probably the most spectacular modern house I've ever been in. We walked in an open door and were immediately in the living area--only we weren't. It turns out we walked into the patio, but glass sectioned doors that separate the patio from the living area had been opened so that it was all one huge open space. With wonderful artwork, a superb library that left my tongue hanging out, and a beautiful master bedroom--in which a tiny Pappillon begged for attention. He could hear the crowd and wanted to be amongst us. I live in a house built in 1922 and love it, so I wouldn't want to live in that open glass and steel space--but I sure did admire it.
There were about 30 people and there was so much food for the potluck supper that I came home with at least half the sandwiches I had made. Jeff Guinn, now a noted author and once book editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, interviewed Dan and both were jovial, funny and entertaining--yet it was an evening with insights into the art of writing. I'm impressed that TCU Press can put on such an affair--in that setting, with those people, and with an author of Dan's star quality. Truly a triumph--and hats off to Susan Petty who put it all together.
At noon today Linda, my friend from Granbury, brought her mother for lunch, and Connie, the widow of my ex-husband's partner and a longtime friend of mine, came down from Keller for lunch. We meant to go out, but Connie got lost and by the time she got here all restaurants would be crowded. So we left the two older ladies, whose friendship goes back to the late '40s, to visit on the porch and went to get lunch from Nonna Tata--salads for them and braseola (the beef versionof proscuitto, dressed with lemon, olive oil, arugula, and grana cheese) for me. We had lunch on the porch where there was a delightful breeze--but Billie, Linda's mom, is always cold, and I brought her my prayer shawl which she wrapped around her shoulders. It was fascinating to hear them talk about being in Kirksville, Missouri in the late '40s--Linda was four and probably doesn't remember much; I was there for four years in the early '60s, when it was already a much different town. Recently fund-raisers from Truman State University visited me (it used to be Kirksville State Teachers College) and we talked about the town--some of my favorite restaurants are still there, but both the state university and the osteopathic medical school campuses have changed so that I would not recognize them. I haven't been back since 1976. But back to lunch with Billie Connie, and Linda--it was a delight. And bringing lunch to the porch proved to be just the right touch.
What a nice day.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Writing class and bad publishing news

Tonight was the first meeting of the Writing Your Life class that I'm facilitating, and Elizabeth (known to the rest of the world as Beth) is helping me with it. Ten ladies joined us on my front porch, and they were a wonderful group--responsive, talkative, interested, some writers, some who had never written a word. Some have such strong backgrounds I'm going to be challenged to make this a rewarding experience for them, but I plan to work at it and work hard. They all have interesting stories to tell and many of us will have to confront the "elephant in the room." My brother once said to me that he has three-oclock-in-the-morning thoughts of, "Oh, I wish I hadn't done that one." We all do, but those are the things we have to look at squarely in order to come to terms with ourselves. The premise of the group is that each member share only as much as she wants, and nothing shared goes beyond the group. But I encouraged each member to be as honest as possible with herself--otherwise, the exploration of self ends up being less than satisfying. I think each of us can learn a lot about ourself if we look at our life honestly. A definition I like: memoir is a record of how we got where we are. They have an assignment to write five pages in the next two weeks, and many moaned they can't do it. I am going to do the assignments myself, but I'm not sure where to begin. It requires some thought--and some time. Like others in the class, I'll have to force myself to do the assignment and not be diverted by other things. But I am on the whole excited about it.
Otherwise the world seemed topsy-turvy today. SMU announced the "suspension" of publishing activities for its press--do they have any idea at all of how hard it is to pick up and rebuild a pubishing program that has been suspended, however briefly? Good friends of mine form the staff at SMU, and I grieve for my friends, for the authors who will be left in limbo--both those published (who will market their books?) and those waiting to be published. But must of all I grieve that a university is so short-sighted as to measure the value of its academic press in dollars and cents. Huge presses like Columbia and Oxford can probably support themselves from income; a small press, publishing eight to ten titles a year can never do so. Yet a press does so much more for a university--bringing it prestige, spreading its name into communities that don't care about football. Who measures athletic programs by dollars and cents?
The groundswell of support for SMU from all over the country has been tremendous. The SMU Faculty Senate passed two resolutions supporting them, and their editorial board is actively up at arms. There's a glimmer of hope that, as editor Kathie Lang says, David will beat Goliath. I cling to that glimmer--it affects not just SMU Press but all of us in academic publishing and all of us who value a good, well-written, beautifully produced book. New York publishing just isn't going to do for the book world what small, academic presses do. Pray with me, folks.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cats and senior citizens and a gorgeous day

Cats are notorious for going in "spells"--for weeks or months, they will have a favorite spot; then, for no known reason, they will change spots and never again go near the first one. My cat's current favorite is the middle of the fireplace mantle, but he used to curl up at the foot my bed at night, which I liked. He still likes to sleep on my desk while I'm working, but he has forsworn the living room couch he loved and the back of the upholstered chair in my bedroom which, early on, was a favorite spot.
Now, he's 18, almost 19, though quite spry. But whereas he always ignored dry food and couldn't wait for canned meat--which always had to be fresh, so I learned some tricks. After all, throwing out that expensive kidney diet food gets a bit costly. He would watch me spoon it back into the can, mush it around, dish out new, and then he'd eat heartily. For the last few days, he's refused to eat canned food but goes through almost two cuPs of dry food a day.
I keep his food on a high counter in the bathroom to keep it away from the dog. The cat has always jumped on the seat between the two counters, then up to his food. But in the last months, he's sat patiently on the seat waiting for me to lift him up. Taking pity on his age, I did so, but I knew he got up there by himself in the night, and when I came home from lunch today I caught him up there eating. Tonight I was using the commode (okay, not pleasant for eating, even if it's a cat) and he looked at me, calculated his jump several times, and made it up there. I told him, "See? I knew you could do it."
There's no relation between these two subjects, but I had lunch with two favorite senior citizens today, both past their mid-eighties. We ate at a Mexican restaurant where we all like the spinach enchiladas--although I changed the usual lunch order to have only one enchilada and beans, no rice. Delicious. But I was struck by the difference in attitudes: the younger one (86) is all embroiled in trying to arrange a trust for her nephew and a power of attorney to administer it, if something happens to her. She's fully enjoying life. But the other one, 88 years old, said sometimes she thinks Dr.Kevorkian has it right, and it would be so wonderful just to go to sleep and let others worry about such things. I said, "Not me. I'm enjoying life too much," and they said in unison, "Wait until you hit your eighties." I know I'm barely into my seventies, but I hope to prove them wrong. I'm not ready to get old or world-weary!
I took a break from writing this post to sit on the porch with a glass of wine and read Laughed Till He Died: A Death on Demand Mystery by Carolyn Hart. I love Hart's mystery bookstore series and always buy the newest one as soon as it is available on Kindle.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Electronically challenged

Oh, I was so close to being smug today! The new Toshiba TV I ordered from amazon (after the old never-=hear-of-brand died suddenly in the midst of one of Jacob's TVs) arrived today. My first instinct of course was to leave it in the box and call for help--Christian, Jamie, Jay, someone, anyone! But then I thought, "Hey, you can figure this out!" So I unhooked the old one (no small trick), unpacked the new one (another challenge), and set it up. Lo and behold, I got it right, and it worked, offered me set-up options. I was sailing along--chose English (duh!), air connection (for U-Verse), and then auto selection for channels. That's when it all went amuck--got a fuzzy gray screen and an announcement that I could view analog channel 2 (I had seen it recognize no analog channels and search for digital). So I emailed Christian, who was "bonding" with Jacob tonight while Jordan was at an office happy hour. I offered them a quick dinner if he'd come fix it, and by the time he arrived at 6:45, I had it all ready. Took three minutes to put it on the table--French dip sandwiches and salad, chicken nuggets for Jacob who spent most of the dinner eating blueberries out of the conainer--he was distressed that I insisted on washing them, didn't want the container on a plate but we held firm that it would drip. So he got a lot of whatever good stuff is in blueberries, plus ate almost six chicken nuggets, a lot of ketchup (eventually smearing his hand in it, which brought down his father's wrath), and maybe two green beans.
Christian denied knowing how to fix the TV but played with it, and lo and behold! I have reception. He even discovered that it does have a built-in DVD player (I thought it did but couldn't find it) so my care in hooking up the old DVD player was for naught. The screen on this one is 3 inches bigger than the old one, but you sure can't tell it--still big enough for where it is. I am gratefulf or his help--and sorry it got too late for the haircut that Jacob had been promised. But then again, I love his curls and hate to see them cut off.
Other than that, a working day--worked at the office taking care of odds and ends and doing some research on sales for a reprint possibility, went to a real working lunch with an author and ended up with the seven edited chapters of her book to review. A pleasant day.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Porch weather,old friends, and good food

This is the new "bistro set" I purchased today for my front porch--at guess where? My local Albertson's  grocery store. They even delivered it for free. Gives me more table space and replaces two old scarred faded green plastic Aidirondack chairs. I think it's time to move beyond the green plastic I've had for years. John is going to put the old chairs down by a stock tank under a grove of  trees on his ranch--there's already a worn picnic table there, and it's a quiet, wonderful place to sit. This week it's supposed to hit 90--ouch! I hope that doesn't mean and early and hot summer. But Elizabeth and I are thinking we might hold our first Writing from Life class on the fronbt porch this Thursday.
I had lunch with a friend I talk to fairly frequently on the phone but don't often see today. We were supposed to take Charles ( he was Charles landlord before nursing care came into the picture) for barbecue, but Charles has taken yet another fall. This time he was in his wheelchair and apparently couldn't stop it before he got to some stairs. A friend caught him and avoided total catastrophe, but it was still a scary experience. I went to see Charles tonight, and he was obviously not feeling well. After a few minutes, he "dismissed" me. But back to Bill--our families have been friends since our kids,, now in their 30s and 40s, were infants. We used to be neighbors, and they remain among the people I consider my permanent and longtime friends. Sharon was at school--she's chair of drama at the University of North Texas--but Bill and I had a good visit and a good lunch at Carshon's.
And tonight--here I go on food again--I fixed myself a wonderful dinner. I'm not someone who orders French dip sandwiches often (if at all) but the recipe for the roast I cooked this weekend had a French dip recipe for using leftovers. I had found something called sandwich rounds by Nature's Own and bought some--whole wheat of course. Minimal bread, which I like, because I'm not addicted to bread as so many people are--unless it's slathered in butter and I've learned to avoid that. Anyway I toasted both pieces, piled the bottom one with thin slices of roast beef (not as much as the recipe suggested), sauteed onions, and a slice of provolone. Broiled it and then put the top on. The recipe  recommended dipping in au jus and I thought, "Oh, I just won't bother with that!" But I had the au jus and I dipped, and it made the sandwich. Really really good.
I'mn reading a mystery in which the method of murder is the one I had thought of using in my current work-on-progress--that's a joke. It hasn't been in progress for quite a while. But I'm going to do some research on digitalis/foxglove poisoning--and now I'm going to finish reading the mystery. If I didn't read so much, I might write more! But then, I'm happy and as Bill said today there are a lot worse things than being a "swinger of birches."

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Roast beef and four-year-olds and a couple of food notes

So there I was last night with a four-lb. top sirloin roast (very garlicky) and a four-year-old (well, almost) who wanted chicken nuggets. I had bought myself two ears of corn, because they're so sweet and good at this time of the year, so I thought I'd cook them and maybe Jacob would eat half an ear. He ate an ear and a half, leaving me only a half and depleting my supply for the rest of the week. But he refused the roast beef--and refused it again tonight even when his mom put ketchup on his plate--he doused his sweet peas in ketchup and was perfectly happy, though he liked the roasted new potatoes done with salt, pepper, rosemary and olive oil.
Jacob and I were together from 1 p.m. yesterday until 5:30 tonight when his parents arrived. I have never been told "I love you" and "I don't love you any more" so often in 24 hours in my life! He fell out of bed during his nap and seemed to think that was my fault. He got upset because I toasted his frozen waffle--he wanted it cold (well, he did decide he loved it because it had chocolate chips in it!). We were on a roller coaster all weekend, and once again he sat up in his bed, quietly, until 11:45 last night. But when he woke up at 7:15 this morning, he said, "Juju, I love you!" When I went in to tell him last chance to go to sleep last night, he said, "Sweet dreams, Juju" and this evening as he left he gave me sweet kisses.
We had a major disaster this morning as the TV in the family room died--that's where he watches his DVDs (and I watch the news while riding the bike). Gone, dead, no rescue. I immediately ordered a new TV from amazon, but Jamie told me I should have waited so he could research. Too late to cancel, so I'm getting a Toshiba 15-inch TV sometime this week. Meantime, Jacob can watch cartoons in my office, but he is convinced he has to sit on my lap when he's in there, which makes it a bit hard for me to work or use the computer.
We did have some adventures. It was the first time I felt comfortable enough to take him out front to play. (The back yard is a dog yard and is off limits becaue of what he might step in.) In the front I have to watch that he doesn't run into the street (mine is a busy street with cars, trucks and motorcylces that travel too fast), and I won't leave him out there alone for a minute--paranoid about child snatchers. So I sit out there with him. Too bad our children have to be raised that way these days.
Our other first was our maiden ride together, with no one else, in my car and with the top down. He liked it but found it a little cold. We only went a few blocks to 7-11 on an emergency milk run. Today he wanted to go in the car again, but without a destination I declined. I think he and I were both glad to see his folks arrive tonight. We all had dinner on the porch, because it was such a lovely night. Supposed to be 90 by Wednesday. Who's ready for that?
A couple of food notes: I saw on the food channel today that several prominent chefs were to be interviewed about the best thing they'd ever eaten. Made me think about the question for myself, and I'm not sure of the answer. Often the best food is comfort food--shepherd's pie, or mashed potatoes and gravy, or squash casserole. But one appetizer stands out in my mind, from a now defunct restaurant: it was one large sea scallop, perfectly seared so that it was brown on the outside and soft on the inside but not chewy. It was set on a bed of pureed cauliflower (I'm not wild about cauliflower) and topped with a small piece of seared foie gras. Absolutely delicious. I later had a larger serving of foie gras and learned my lesson--just a dab will do you.
The other food thing I've noticed is that in cooking magazines people are making pesto of everything these days. It's no longer just basil, though the ingredients remain pretty much the same--oil, lemon, pine nuts, garlic, and whatever green. I have made cilantro pesto and liked it a lot, though I have one daughter-in-law who doesn't like cilantro so have to be careful if she'll be present.  But recently I saw a recipe for mustard green pesto--I'm not sure. Could be awful or could be really great--I love the tang of mustard greens. The one I really won't try is asparagus pesto. I'm sure it would be good, but as costly as asparagus is, I'm not going to use it in pesto. I can often make one bunch last a week, stir-frying a bit at a time for my supper.
Meantime I have good roast beef and au jus in my fridge. I just might make a French dip sandwich--or my version of such--with provolone for supper tomorrow night. And there's nothing better than a sandwich of rare roast beef with mayonnaise and a tomato slice--and maybe a bit of red onion.
Sometimes I think food is all I think about.