Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stuff--including more rain

We bought this pillow for Megan thirty-five years
ago or more at a farmer's market. Its survived four children and seven grandchildren, though lately it had begun to lose its stuffing from seams that were coming apart. Such stitchery is not one of my talents, so I took it to a company called Clothes Carpenter where they fixed it for just over $20. I mentioned that its really dirty, but I don't know what to do about that. The woman at the counter said yes, she'd thought about it too, but she had no ideas. Jacob will be delighted to have it back--he likes to put it sidewise behind his head at the end of the bed while he watches TV. I think he thinks its his now--hope his Aunt Megan doesn't want it back.
This morning I got up at eight and turned on the TODAY show as I wandered into the kitchen. They were about to air Matt Lauer's interview with Elizabeth Edwards. Her book, Resilience, has just come out in paper, and she''s added a chapter to the new version about her decision to end her 32-year marriage to John Edwards. So I did what retirement allows you to do--I stopped (okay I did feed the clamoring cat) and watched. Usually the TV is sort of in the background while I go about the morning but I wanted to hear what she had to say. I have enormous admiration for the way she's handled a series of body blows--the death of a child, terminal breast cancer, and the news of her husband's affair, which she gradually figured out was not the one-night stand he'd led her to believe but a long-standing affair that produced a child.She has maintained, at least in public, a grace and dignity, and she still says she married a mrvelous man--he just changed over the years, as people do. We've all seen that in our lives. I was touched beyond words when she said she hoped for eight more years of life so she could be there for her younger children--who of us wants to face, head on, the fact that we may not be here in eight years?
As for John Edwards, she says co-parenting is going well. He is an assistant coach at one of the children's softball games, she goes to the games, and he comes over to talk to her. That they can maintain a camaraderie after all that's happened to them is remarkable, and I admire both of them for that. I'd like to think that in his own way he still loves her but has accepted the consequences of his own actions. Classy lady.
It's raining here again today, after a cool day. We can't complain--rain in the summer is wonderful. But tonight it feel steamy again, even though the temperature is relatively low (in Texas in summer, temperature is always relative--I get so tired of hearing the heat index that I wish they'd never invented or discovered it--it just makes you feel hotter!).
I had a pleasant lunch today with two friends from TCU's Human Resource Department. They both knew I was going home for a nap, so when I said, "Have a great afternoon, ladies," they chorused, "Shut up!" But I actually came home and wrote 2400 words, part of my memoir for the memoir class I teach. I meant to write about parenting but 2400 words never got me past the adoption of my four babies. Meantime my agent is encouraging about getting my short stories on Kindle and sent me some good correspondence he had with a legendary editor about my first mystery--she promises to read it soon.
As usual, life is good.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Front Porch Reflections

We've had blessed rain--the slow, steady kind which does our gardens so much good. And instead of temperatures hovering near 100, we've had low nineties, in fact just 90 today. But at mid-day it was steamy, muggy and felt very tropical--awful. And then when  you came inisde the a/c struck like an Arctic blast--I considered sweats for a brief moment. But tonight it's cool, drier, and there's a wonderful breeze. I took a book out to the porch, even though I have tons of work on my computer to get done. I'm trying so hard to learn that lesson that I'm retired, it doesn't matter what gets done today and what doesn't--but  it's hard. I enjoyed sitting out there, reading, sipping wine, but I kept thinking that I'd get up and come inside to work. Hard to do because the evening light lasts so long these days. And every time I'd think "Okay, now," a breeze would blow through and ruffle the plants. So I stayed until almost dark--oh well, I can proofread tomorrow.
My stemware holder is up over the wine rack. It holds 12 glasses, but you have no idea what a difference that makes in my glassware cupboard. Before, you opened it at your own risk--glasses were liable to jump out at you. And every time someone used a water glass, I groaned silently because I knew it would go in the dishwasher and then I'd have to juggle around and find room in the cabinet. The problem has gotten worse since grandchildren came along, because we've added all those kid-proof glasses. Now there's plenty of space in the cupboard. Such a small thing is a BIG deal for me.
I rushed around this morning doing errands, particularly buying ground chicken so I could make those good Japanese burgers for Jordan, Christian and Jacob (not sure how Jacob would like them--probably without wasabi mayo). After a pleasant lunch with Jean, I came home and made the burgers, which involve a lot of tiresome grating of fresh ginger. Then Jordan emailed to say she was sick and going home--so all my work was for naught. I cooked the burgers, froze them, and ate corn, spinach, and squash for dinner.
Now, back to all that proofreading.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So much good--and a bit of sadness

Story Circle Network has named me a Star Blogger. They praised me for blogging about life stuff that comes my way in an in-the-moment style and said I'd given myself permission to stick a piece of tape across my editor-self's mouth and ramble from idea to idea. I think that means what I've always thought--my blog is disorganized, sort of stream of consciousness, the kind of fiction I don't like to read but maybe in a blog it's okay. I hope you all think so. I will eventually get a "badge" to put on my blog but in the meantime it was featured today in the national SCN newsletter that came in my email. SCN is an international network designed to encourage women to write about their lives--and it's the basis of the most rewarding course that I teach on Thursday nights on my front porch. Teach? Shoot, the women themselves teach it by sharing. Wonderful experience. Not sure if you can read the newsletter if you're not a member of SCN, but here's the URL:
Today I was happily and busily working, mostly on compiling a file of my short storycollection so I could send it to my agent, Roger Williams of Publish or Perish, to put on Kindle. Now I'm proofreading it and finding mistakes I guess were in the printed version but I hope not. Sort of fun to read those stories again, because I still like them, egotistical though that sounds. I also sent off for printing the new stuff on my  Blue Plate Cafe mystery so I can give it to Fred Friday to read and a segment I wrote for class Thursday night on anxiety disorder. And spent a lot of time on emails--the Sisters in Crime  and Agent Quest lists are always much busier on Mondays, it seems. So even though my lunch pal got mixed up and forgot me, I had a really pleasant, busy day.
Tonight, I had dinner with good friends Kathie Allen and Carol Roark--we mostly talked about university presses (Kathie is senior editor at SMU Press, which is in a great deal of jeopardy, and we also talked about the new director of TCU Press and Carol is a frequent contributor to TCU Press, so it's an interest we all have in common). Then we talked Carol's trip to Portugal, aging parents, and other depressing topics, but we had a good visit. Ate at Piola, where we all had piccata--veal for Kathie and me, chicken for Carol--with asparagus risotto. Absolutely delicious. A pleasant evening. And it rained tonight and turned blessedly cool--when I went to water porch plants about 5:15, it was in the upper 70s and I wished I was cooking a porch dinner for the ladies.
The note of sadness: Megan had to put down her Tsi Shu--Jackson was I think sixteen or seventeen, but it seems like she's had him forever. He had gotten so his back legs wouldn't support him, and he'd fall, couldn't get up. But he was the sweetiest bad smelling dog I ever knew--he loved to be cuddled, but a day after he was bathed, he smelled bad again. Never did figure that out. But I knew the last few times that I saw him that he was pretty miserable, blind in one eye from poor vet care among other things. It's such a hard decision to make, but it's one I've made too many times in my life. My heart's with Meg tonight--but then it always is.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another good supper

This has been a good cooking weekend for me. Tonight, my longtime good friend Linda came for supper on her way from market in Dallas to her home in Granbury--Rodger, her husband, had gone back earlier to "tend the store," so while we missed him Linda and I had a good girls' visit. She has long told me how much she loves anchovies, and I promised to make her an anchovy spaghetti sauce. Actually I had some wild mushroom fettucine in the cupboard, so that's what I cooked. But the sauce has lots of anchovies (six), lots more fried capers, lemon zest and juice, flat parsley, garlic and olive oil You fry the capers in olive oil, drain them and discard the oil only to add more oil to the sauce. It dawned on me--too late--that I should have saved that oil and used it again. It makes a zesty, pungent sauce but not one too heavy for a summer night, as Linda pointed out. We had a simple lettuce and crouton salad with a lemon dressing--I made the dressing in a small jar this morning and when I shook it to mix I realized I hadn't gotten the lid screwed on straight--salad dressing all over my nightshirt and the kitchen! What a mess. When Linda said what a good dressing it was, I said, "Yeah, my nightshirt liked it too."
Otherwise a nice, lazy Sunday--I had to rush around to fix supper, because I took too long a nap in the afternoon, but I got it done. Went to visit Charles this morning, did a little work in the afternoon, and otherwise the day just went by. Sort of nice.
Jean, Jim, and I laughed last night that now that we're retired, we don't always know what day of the week it is--that's one of the questions they ask when they do Alzheimer's profiles. Especially when I wake in the morning, I'm confused--but I can usually figure out Sundays and Tuesdays (the day to take the trash carts down to the curb). 
I think I'll spend the rest of the evening with a book--sounds lovely and lazy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A really good dinner, if I do say so

Tonight friends Jean Walbridge and Jim Clark came for supper, and I made a recipe from the Star-Telegram series of burger recipes. I used to get great recipes from the newspaper until it cut back dramatically on its food section, so this was a special find. The recipe was for Japanese chicken burgers, which led Jean to say she'd never had a chicken burger. I have several other recipes for them, but this was really unusual and turned out to be terrific. Obviously I can't give the exact recipe for copyright reasons, but I'll say that the burgers had, along with ground chicken, grated fresh ginger (I thought that was going the extra mile--I needed two teaspoons but you can't find small pieces of ginger, so now I have a large piece left in the fridge), garlic and soy sauce. You pan fry them in vegetable oil and serve with cucumber-shallot pickles, made with picked ginger, rice vinegar (okay, I got home with rice wine instead of vinegar so used the chardonnay vinegar I had in the cupboard and will return the rice wine), sugar, water, peppercorns--an English (seedless) cucumber and a shallot. Great with the burger, but the cukes still tasted a lot to me like the ones my mom used to make in cider vinegr and water. The burgers were also served with wasabi mayonnaise--mayo mixed with wasabi powder, which turned out to be white (even though the powder was white I somehow expected it to magically turn green when I mixed it with the mayo; it didn't, so now I'm wondering why wasabi in sushi places is so green). Great combination of tastes. That, with some corn on the cob and a terrific salad Jean brought, was dinner--with hummus and pita chips for an appetizer. Okay, I was mixing cultures, but it worked. Also a good visit. Jim prowls through my books and ignores Jean and me, while we visit. I'm afraid someday he'll have run the gamut of my books--he likes illustrated books of the American West--and won't want to come to dinner any more! But a pleasant evening.
Nice email correspondence with my agent today, mostly about how to get my old books on Kindle, especially since I have no digital copy of the ones fro the '90s--who back then thought to save digital copies once the book was in print. He asked me for my last emails with the editors and again I said, "Duh. I don't have them." Clearly I've cleaned my mailbox out many times since then, and my files on those books have gone to the archive at the Southwest Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos. I do have digital files of my short story collection and permission to turn them into ebooks from the publisher, so maybe that's the place to start. I hear if you sell books for 99 cents to $1.99 on Kindle, you get a lot of orders. What fun! My goal is to have all my older novels, about women of the American West, in Kindle format. Meantime, I'm working away on the new novel--and having fun with it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blessed with a rainy day and the life of a writer

This morning we had what you would call insignifcant rain--I came home from Central Market with the top down on my car, even though it was sprinkling and I finally had to use the windshield wipers. When you're moving, the raindrops don't seem to hit you; at stoplights, you do get a bit wet. But it was cloudy and much cooler than it has been. Rain in June is unusual for us, but this afternoon we had what I'm sure weather people would call an "appreciable" amoiunt of rain--it certainly soaked my porch plants for me. And it made for great napping. If it was a quarter of an inch, I'll be surprised. This evening, even though it's not hot, it's terribly muggy and still. Yet I'm grateful for the rain. Just wish my new grass had gotten in before it came.
On Sisters in Crime  you read a lot about  the importance of close communication with your agent, and yet I never hear from mine, so yesterday I started a campaign to get in touch with him. Today I've had emails, which  report that two editors have passed on my manuscript and it's still out to five other editors.  Somewhat reassuring. I fired back a list of questions and haven't heard yet. A bit frustrating.
Even more frustrating, I think I like the novel I'm currently writing better than the first two--shh! should I say that aloud? Maybe you always like the one in progress best, like the newest baby in the family gets the most attention. But I had a great idea for a plot twist today and am going to work on that tonight. What do I do with it? Tell the agent to save some editors for this new one that is completely unconnected to the other two? Sometimes I have the feeling that I'm just beginning to learn the ropes of this business, and at my age, I don't have a lot of time left to learn.
I had a brief visit with the new director of the press this morning, and he said writing is a release for him. I agreed. I can't imagine not writing. But it would be nice to see some of it in print. I've said this before, but I've read cozies that I don't think are as well written or as interesting as mine--yet they're published, and, mostly, I enjoyed them. Conundrum!
I haven't had a response to my proposal for a nonfiction book, though I got three CDs in the mail today relating to it--I'd paid for them, so I hope I get to use them. And I occasionally spot an article in the newspaper that is relevant, so I'm always on the prowl.
These days, writing is what I do, though I've thought about Jean Walbridge--what she does is weave, which is pretty much a solitary occupation, like writing, but she's also active in the local weaver's guild and goes to the Monday Book at the Women's Club. She's joined groups and gets out of the house. I need to do that, because sometimes I enjoy too much of my own company.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thunder and Rainbows and the Indiana Dunes

Stealing a "westernism" from friend Katie Sherrod's recent blog: There are two ways to argue with a woman. Neither one works.

It's been one of the hottest Junes on record in Fort Worth, and we've had no appreciable rain since mid-May. But tonight, I heard thunder rumble, although in the distance, and went out on the porch to look. I didn't see any particularly promising clouds, but there was a gorgeous rainbow in the eastern sky and, later, a faint double rainbow. I came back in to get a glass of wine and a book and went out to enjoy the thunder and wonderful breeze that had blown up.
When I was a kid, we had a cabin in the Indiana Dunes, right at the foot of Lake Michigan, and I can remember watching storms roll down the lake toward us, churning up whitecaps. Dad would rush to put the windows in--they were the kind you took completely out and left the screens--but I'd sometimes sneak out to the screened porch and enjoy the wind. It was really a primitive cabin--we had to walk a mile, either through the woods or down the beach, to get there, carrying all our supplies. We always chose the woods, and I hated it when we arrived after dark, because the woods scared me. There was no running water (a cistern, which meant dishes had to be scalded after they were washed). The bathroom was an outhouse down the hill in the woods--hated that at night too. No electricity, so we read by Aladdin lamps, but Dad was always cautioning us not to turn them so high or we'd scorch the mantle; the result was little incentive to read because it was dark. Our "refrigerator" was a hole in the ground, with a box that could be raised and lowered by--I guess you'd call it a pulley. Every so often the ice man came, and we pulled up the box, so he could drop a big cube of ice--I mean really big--in the hole. Then you had to keep the milk in the bottom shelf, closest to the ice. Drinking water had to be carried up three flights of stairs from the beach, where it came clean, filtered by the sand, from a hand pump.I remember one night when we heard this strange "plop" and discovered a mouse had drowned in one of the pails of drinking water. For all its primitive aspects, I loved that cabin, and storms always make me think of it and life in the Dunes. It was there that I told my mom one night that if I woke up and said, "Ho, ho" it meant that I wanted summer sausage; she said if she said, "Ho, ho" back, it meant, "Go get it yourself." My kids somehow got hold of that story and still come up with it from time to time.
I love thunder and breezes and even rain--though tonight we so far have gotten only a sprinkle--but I have a healthy respect for lightning, and so I came in when I began to see a few streaks. My rainbow was still there. I read on Facebook that it's raining cats, dogs, and possums on the east side of the city--hope some of that comes over here, but I doubt it.
Today I spent much of the day waiting for the plumber because my bathroom commode had overflowed last night and again this morning, when I thought I'd just try it again--dumb idea. It's one that needs to be rebuilt, but right now it's flushing better than it has in a long time. Anyway, there went my trip to the grocery, and I ended spending the whole day with my own company, except for the plumber and a neighbor who asked to use my phone.
Scooby has been behaving strangely--he's afraid to come in the house and then afraid to come into my office, where he's spent evenings for the last six and a half years. I can't imagine what happened to scare him, but now I put a leash on him and "escort" him to the office. He no longer sleeps in the shower stall, which had become his special lair, but lies right by my feet. Tonight, however, he rushed into the house--thunder scares him to pieces. Poor thing--he's afraid of so many things.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reading habits

I've beenr reading The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway. When I first picked it up, I thought to my dismay that it was going to be one of those "Look at me, how clever I am to have given up restaurant eating for two years" things. Sort of in the vein of Julia and Julie.  I was dismayed, especially because I'd given it as a gift to Elizabeth, but she reported she loved it. So after I finished Steig Larsson (wow, did I have a funny dream last night, Larsson inspired, I'm sure), I picked it up again. In for a surprise. I found myself reading with great interest about her evening trip with freegans to dumpster dive--they don't so much dive as they sort through black plastic bags of trash. Bakeries especially throw out day-old food, but some people found other treasures--cold cuts, vegetables, etc. I don't think I could ever do that (besides not wanting to be out at night like that) because I'd worry about contamination. And it seems to me we should have a more efficient way of recycling that food to the homeless and needy.
Of more interest to me was a trip she took with a group led by a naturalist through a NYC park, in which he pointed out edible greens--Cathy picked wild onions and garlic, dandelion greens, and other goodies, while the naturalist clearly warned them about poisonous plants. She figured she could make a summer's worth of salads on what she could forage and never buy garlic again. I could so much more see doing that. The next chapter was on waste--and she had amazing statistics on how much waste we all create by eating out and ordering in. But the book is heavy going, and I decided I needed fiction.
I turned to Pat Controy's South of Broad. I've loved reading Conroy before and in reading this prologue I reveled in the beauty of his prose. But I was ready for escapism, not beautiful prose. I turned on my Kindle and began a sample of a mystery that I'd ordered--never heard of the author or title, but I'll probably order it. I'll get back to The Art of Eating In and South of Broad, just not today.
A book I reviewed lately that fascinated me, all 152 small pages of it. It's Bothered by My Green Conscience, by Canadian artist Franke James. James opens with four questions: 1) Do you feel guilty if you throw paper in the trash, instead of recycling it? 2) Do you turn off lights to save energy? 3) Do you apologize for driving a gas guzzler? 4) Do you worry about climate change? If you answer yes to two or more, you have a green conscience; I answered yes to all but the third, because I drive a VW bug. Written in her own hand and whimsically illustrated by her,  James' book chronicles her experience with going green, including a decision to get rid of her SUV and turn her driveway into a garden. The borough of North York (in Toronto) had objections: driveways must be asphalt, concrete or interlock and you can only grow one tree. What? When we all know the more trees, the more pure the air? Eventually she got her garden driveway.
Something you should know: the book was printed on chlorine free paper made with 100% post-consumer waste, which saved 32 fully grown tress, 11,787 gallons of water, 23 million BTUs, 1,514 pounds of solid waste, and 2,840 pounds of greenhouse gases. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Shows what we can do. I recommend you read this book--and then go back to it when your green conscience needs a jog.
Aside from reading and the nearly 900 words I wrote today, I had dinner with Betty at Lamberts--I had quail, and she had wild boar ribs, which I intended to order  until the waitress said they were spicy. I ate a bit of one, and it was good--but the spiciness of four or five would have been too much. My quail was delicious, though I wished for another one, and we split a side of green chili grits--a huge side. We each brought some home. Nice day, but hotter than  you know what outside. Is this our repeat of the summer of 1980?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A shaky day

I really like something President Obama said on the day after Father's Day: "To have a child is to know that your heart is walking around outside your body!" True, no matter how old they get!

Today I had what I call a shaky day, though not for any good reason. I was determined to go to PetSmart, not an easy place for me because of walking across the parking lot--open spaces make me anxious. I want something to hold on to, if needed. But I had a plan--I'd park by a cart rack, wheel one in, and be fine. (All this for three plastic lids for open cat food!). I did, all went well, and I bought a bird feeder (the squirrels destroyed the last one) and some fresh seed, and came home, but without the triumphant feeling of "Good job, Judith" that I usually feel when I do something like that. At home I made an absolute mess of filling the bird feeder--tonight I even found seed on my yoga mat! It will never again be filled inside! Besides, I haven't noticed any birds partaking of the feast I went to such great lengths to provide.
After that mess and talking to the plumber who is going to have to "rebuild" two of my commodes, I went to Swiss Pastry to get lunch for Jeannie and me--1 bratwurst apiece, kraut and potato salad. And discovered I didn't have my debit card. I dropped off Jacob's favorite life-size stuffed doll (very primitive) to be repaired and high-tailed it to Jeannie's, where I dumped out my purse and went through everything--no debit card. Called PetSmart and some kind soul had found it in the parking lot (as Jordan said, there are still good people in this world). By this time I was really shaky, so Jeannie offered to ride out there with me. The store manager was nice but he asked for i.d., and I'd left my purse in the car, for which Jeannie scolded me severely. While she went to get it, I had an idea and recited the card's 16 numbers to the manager. He grinned and said, "It's yours."
I was glad to get home, piddle at my computer, nap and have a good long yoga session. I'd heard a segment on meditation on NPR this morning, and I really tried to concentrate on what was going on with my body, what muscles felt stretched, strained, where I felt comfortable, and all that--to clear my mind of everything but the poses I was doing. It was more successful than usual--my mind still tends to wander, but I'll keep working on it.
Now I've had supper, hung the bird feeder and cleaned up the mess, taken the garbage carts to the street, fed the dog, and am generally feeling in control of my world. Tomorrow will be a better day. All of us have off-days, for one reason or another--anxiety is just my reason, as opposed to stomach trouble, asthma, migraines, etc. Each of us probably think we'd trade our "problem" for the others--ah, if they only knew!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Being crabby and staying home

Sometimes I find myself being crabby and then I'm ashamed, but tonight a strange red SUV drove into my driveway as if it had every right to be there--and the driver trotted off to the house next door. When she came back and began to maneuver like she was going to jump the curb, I became alarmed. If she manuevered back and forth, she could easily decimate my decades-old crape myrtle trees. I went out on the porch and said, as politely as I could, "Pardon me, but this is a private driveway." If Jordan had been bringing Jacob over and found another car in the driveway, she'd have been incensed to say the least. The woman looked up in amazement and explained she was just jumping the battery of the car in the next driveway. It belongs to the owner, who is trying to sell the house and with whom I've tangled about upkeep before. (Now that she's trying to sell, she keeps it the lawn and outside in great shape, and we have begun to speak to each other again.) Still, I think the woman in the red car should have knocked on my door and asked if it was okay!
Today was a stay-at-home day--the sprinkler repair people came and fixed my stubborn sprinkler so fast they said there would be no bill; Lewis Bundock, for whom I had a list of small things, came by--the biggie is replacing the bathroom sink, and he promised to be back tomorrow, with a plumber in tow. I've about decided to put a picket fence around the front yard--a grandchild barrier, and we talked about that, my difficult commodes, the piece that does indeed belong on the round oak table (thank you, Colin, for finding that)--and he took away the computer keyboard I'd ruined, smelling it for Chardonnay as he went.
I actually wrote almost 1400 words today and may yet write more tonight. I had the heroine experience a flat tire on the highway because someone stuck a lot of small nails in her tire. Jay suggested that I have the brake line cut, and I rewrote the whole section--which led to an unexpected new scene. When I sent it to Jay for technical approval, he wrote, "Unfair teaser. I want to read the whole book!" Neighbors are great.
In the last week or so I've wanted tuna cakes for dinner--I make them like my mom's salmon croquettes but using that good tuna ordered from Oregon. But each time dinner rolls around I'm too lazy to fix them, so this morning I made tuna cakes and summer squash casserole. Had myself a great dinner, with cooked fresh spinach added.
Since our heat spell continues and it was 100 today, it was good to stay home. I watered my porch plants once and will give them a drink again tonight. I do hope this won't last all summer!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

For those of us with no living father, the day brings inevitable memories of the past. I thought a lot about my own dad today. He was Canadian, an Anglophile in many of his tastes, particularly food--he put on a clean starched shirt for dinner every night, and we ate on a linen tablecloth with cloth napkins and that relic of the past--napkin rings. And we ate meat and potatoes--period. We had to mind our manners--that was drummed into my brother and me, and I've watched us both pass it on to our children. Dad was the president of an osteopathic medical college and administrator of the associated hospital, a leader in his profession. Students called him "Black Mac"--his name was R. N. MacBain, but friends and colleagues called him Mac. I went to work for him in high school, and I attribute whatever success I've had to that training--I could still be a heck of an executive secretary today. A pillar of the Methodist church, Dad had certain expectations for John and me, and to some extent we both disappointed him. But after he and Mom retired to the foothills of the Smokies in North Carolina and he relaxed a bit, all those tensions seemed to disappear. We were close, all of us, including my husband, even though Dad thought my marriage was a huge mistake--well, it turned out he was right, but who knew! The last summer of his life, we took my children for our annual two-week visit. Jordan, my youngest, was four or five months old, and Dad thought she was invented for his own private amusement. He adored that child, as he did all my chldren.
Dad was a gardener. As cooking is my avocation, gardening was his. He had a huge garden in Chicago and spent weekends working in it, wearing clothes that were embarrassingly dirty and shabby. It never bothered him, even when students wandered by to say hello. In North Carolina, he had a magnificent garden, and Mom always had roses on her dining table. I wish I'd inherited that gene, but I'm afraid I want it to look as wonderful as Dad's garden, but I don't want to do the work.
I remember Dad with a lot of mixed emotions--he was a strict disciplinarian, and I lived in fear, I think, of disappointing him. But I can't forget the life lessons I learned from him, and I know I am who I am because of his influence. And with great certainty, I know that he loved me, the only child of his later life. And I loved him a lot. I frequently wish that my dad--and my mom--were here to see their grandchldren and great-grandchildren. They would not always have approved of my parenting, but they'd be proud of the way they all turned out. And they'd be proud of me as a mom and of my career. Yeah, I miss them both--and dream about them a lot.
Today I don't know where my dad is buried, though a distant relative has given me a clue to finding out. I do know that he and my sister who died in infancy are buried in the family plot in a cemetery in Oakville, Ontario. I'll find them someday.
For Father's Day this year, I went to see Charles, who seemed frail but alert and was waiting for his son, Brian, to come visit. I stayed briefly, then left so he could rest before Brian arrived. And late this afternoon I went to Jordan's house to celebrate Father's Day and Jacob's birthday with the Burton family. (Of course, I managed to leave Jacob's birthday present at home on the dining table--good going, Judith). Good brisket, beans (I brought Bush's in a can, but they can't be beat), potato salad that Jordan's cooking-minded brother-in-law made (his first, he said) and banana pudding (I swore off that). With three little ones splashing in the pool and a nice breeze outside, it was a lovely evening.
I keep my car radio on NPR but for some reason, on summer evenings when it stays light later and I come from Jordan's in the cool (well, comparative cool--we are having a prolonged above average heat spell) I put the top down, pop in my tape of Alex Beaton's Scottish singing, and sing my fool head off along with Alex. I love it, from songs about Glenco and what the Scotsman wears under his kilt to Bonny Dundee and Scotland the Brave. A perfect end to a nice day and a great weekend and maybe a nice tribute to my dad, who was very much a Scot.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Food writing

Well, my friends, what you have here is a bunch of cookbook covers--some twice or more for reasons I don't understand. I finally did drag them to the appropriate places, but I can't figure out how to get rid of the extra jackets at the bottom. It's very late, and I've been to a party, had a bit of wine, and am too tired to deal with it. So please ignore the extra jackets at the bottom. I'll figure this out another day.

As I said yesterday it was time to update my web page. Since my writing career is pretty static now, except for projects in process, I don't have much  reason to update--but I figure I can at least change the recipe page. This time I didn't write recipes--I wrote about books on food I've enjoyed lately. And I'm being lazy and copying the update here for a blog post. Maybe this will send some of you to my web page-- I'd love your comments.

Right now, I’m reading The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway (New York: Penguin, 2009). A youngish career woman in Manhattan decides to give up eating in restaurants or buying takeout for two years—this in a city where eating out is the lifestyle. She began with a blog, “Not Eating Out in New York” that is still up and running and offers all kinds of sub-sites to explore. The book is not just a collection of blogs, but a chronological following of the development of her experiment. When she first started a friend sent her a recipe for squash biscuit. It called for yeast. She didn’t know what yeast was. I can’t tell you much more than that, because I haven’t gotten very far into it. But the narrative is charming and honest, and there are enough recipes scattered throughout to keep cooks happy.
A book I bought for the title: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, by Giulia Melucci ((New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010). Giulia takes us through several of her romances—she too is in Manhattan—and the things she cooked for the men in her life. Lots of recipes here, some from her Italian background, some even garnered from boyfriends’ families, some from friends. I photocopied a lot for my own recipe collection, from simple tomato sauce and pasta for two to angel hair pasta with asparagus and her father’s rather unusual minestrone. But it’s not all Italian—there are recipes for meat loaf, pumpkin bread, “unforgettable halibut,” “frugal frittata,” farfelle with zucchini and egg, pork teriyaki, a cosmopolitan collection. Along the way the reader follows Giulia’s unsuccessful relationships with guys that will make most of you want to say, “Ditch that loser!” In the final chapter, after the departure of the last boyfriend, she turns to pasta, confessing that she never made pasta from scratch—and she delves into that subject. Giulia Melucci may not be much at romantic relationships (I’m still crossing my fingers for her), but she’s a great cook and a good writer.

A book that made a lasting impact on me was Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got, by Tod Davies (Exterminating Angel Press, 2009). I must have flagged at least fifteen pages with cooking ideas (there are few recipes, just descriptions) and given ten copies of the book as Christmas presents last year. Davies has an undeniable advantage over most of us: her vegetarian husband has a bountiful vegetable garden, so she can simply walk into the garden and see what looks good that night. She’ll mix whole wheat pasta with butter and shredded cheese and then add bits of whatever cheese she has on hand—Morbier (fat and creamy), Gorgonzola, Parmesan, some Salem Blue. On the side that night she had a sliced tomato that she salted, covered with rocket (a leafy green with a strong flavor) and spritzed with lemon—she let that marinate while she fixed the pasta. How about a meal of eggs poached in a roast tomato/chipotle chili sauce, black beans refried, and avocado/jalapeno/cilantro/scallion lime salad? She describes how to cook one of my favorites: beets with greens, served with vinaigrette. Eggs scrambled with cheese and white wine, put on baguettes, and baked in a skillet till the cheese melts. You get the idea—simple, no-fuss cooking.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Front porches

Until the mid- or late-twentieth century, people sat on their front porches. Neighbors visited, they howdied the people who walked by with strollers and dogs, and it was all very friendly. Then came the era of the patios and six-foot privacy fences. People moved into their back yards, cut off from the neighbors. And it's hard to be neighborly over a six-foot fence. As people who read this blog know, my 1922 house has a commodious front porch, and this year I've worked hard at making it green and lush with herbs, hanging baskets, a prolific plumbago, sweet potato vines, and impatiens. It's a lovely place to sit in the evening and watch the world go by. My writing class prefers to meet on the porch, even when it's a bit hot, and I often sit out there at night reading.
Tonight my porch was host to what porches were meant for--a gathering of neighbors.  Sue, my former neighbor, came back for a visit, and the rest of us gathered--Jay and Susan, Greg and Jaimie, Jordan, Christian and Jacob. It was BYOB, pot luck--and we had great food--I made bourbon hot dogs (some of which got scorched and had to be thrown out because I blithely walked away and left them to simmer, got involved at my desk, and didn't stir them--when will I learn about electric stoves, which I hate?; as punishment, I had one heck of a time cleaning that pan). But I also offered a cheeseball, toasted baguettes, and brownies left from last night's class; Jay brought hummus and pita pieces, Jaimie contributed a black-eyed pea salsa, and Sue brought a dish I never did get to taste, so I can't tell what it was. We gathered around the table, eating standing up for a while, until I convinced Jaimie that she and I should lead the way to the porch. Everyone followed. Jacob is sometimes shy in the company of adults, but these were people he knew and he was charming and outgoing.
We visited, we argued (discussed?) politics, we talked about food and the weather and the BP oil disaster and upcoming summer birthdays and what have you, but it was relaxed, fun, and really not too hot. Most of all it was pleasant to know that I was among good friends, that we all care a lot about each other.
The rest of the day was good too--got my new keyboard, though I haven't yet worked up the gumption to install it. Went to lunch with my old and dear friend, Jim, and we had a good time, though we joined someone we met at the restaurant, so as Jim said, we didn't get to tell secrets. Still it was good to catch up with him. And this afternoon I worked on updating my web page--not a lot to update, but I like to change the recipe page and wish I did it more often. I'll post when the changes are up and, big deal, I changed one sentence on the home page--but it's now accurate to say I have two mysteries with an agent and am about a third into a new one different characters, etc.
So, as I often end posts, life is good.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Writing Your Life

Tonight, my class on Writing Your Life met on my front porch--I think this was their fourth meeting, and they are really coalescing into a tight-knit group. I've found this happens with other small groups of women who meet regularly--they bond as sisters. It happened with the contributors to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women and to the cookbook that will follow in a month or so. But it probably happens more often with this group where we share intimate details of our lives. I contributed an essay for general consumption tonight called "The Horseless Carriage," about how I felt about being single at 71 and the men I've loved in my life. One longtime friend praised me for my openness but said, "This just isn't the Judy Alter I've known as director of TCU Press." Others shared equally unknown secrets, and we laughed over the cookbook chapter of one member who recalled the '60s when we all drank cocktails--remember Gimlets and Manhattans and Salty Dogs (if you served my brother a Manhattan, he used to say, "Say good night to me now."). My parents drank a lot of Manhattans when I was young, but I am sure one would do me under the table now. And Old-Fashioneds--my, how I loved them. Haven't had one in years. At the end of the session, we always have a circle and ask how each person is feeling--some said "Better," some said "Tired," and I said, "Freedom." It's a really rewarding experience, and the ladies seem to enjoy it a great deal.
I've also written 700 words on my mystery today, which feels like an accomplishment. When I read it last night, it wasn't as dull as I thought, and today I inserted an incident in earlier text to heighten the suspense and then went on to write the 700 new words, which I feel is a pretty good accomplishment for a day.
Had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch with Elizabeth, usually my co-partner in this evening's class, though she asked to be excused tonight because she really wanted to write on her memoir project and had some things she wanted to get down on paper. I know that feeling and willingly agreed. I hope she'll share with us next week. I should mention that the class is inspired by the Story Circle Network (look for it on Google) although not many members have joined the network.
The Sisters in Crime listserv has had a lot of posts in the last few days about gender language and discrimination--I think the general conclusion is that pronouns and whether God is he or she don't matter much, but the condition of women in  underprivileged countries matters a lot. I thought about that tonight, with a group of educated, middle-class, economically comfortable women sitting around me telling their life stories. Some of us do indeed have hardships to recount--the loss of a child, physical abuse, physical ailments--but these all pale in the face of what women in other cultures face. We should be grateful. But it also occurs to me that men wouldn't be involved in a group like the one that met on my porch tonight--okay, this may be a generalization,but I am drawn back to the now-old book, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, which contends that women want to talk about things; men simply want to solve the problem. I still believe it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blatant Self Promotion

My cookbook/memoir has been in print a year now, and I decided it's time for what the Sisters in Crime listserv calls blatant self promotion (on the listserv it's strictly forbidden, but hey this is my blog and I can do what I want). Since the number of hits on my blog increases nicely at a good rate, I figured I might have gained some new readers in that year who didn't know about the cookbook, and, golly gee, I should tell them. Besides, the sales people tell me the cover is misleading, as adorable as Jacob is--people think it's a book about teaching kids to cook. So please spread the word--tell all your friends who like to cook and those who read memoirs, that this is not at all a kids book. For one thing, there are a lot of recipes with wine in them. Oh, and please forgive the slightly crooked image--I'm still new at scanning and was actually proud of myself that I was able to scan the cover. I got a new review today on email from a Web site,, and the review, written by Matilda Butler, calls my book "an incredibly charming memoir/cookbook." Apparently Matilda and I have a lot in common such as childhood memories of the "inevitable fried liver" and tongue (I apparently liked it better than she did). But she wrote that we read memoirs in part to evoke memories, and mine connected with her on many points. She concludes by saying that she and I were old friends sharing life stories and recipes, so I hope you--and new readers--feel that way too.
Today was a funny day. I worked all morning, got dressed to go to a luncheon and went by the office, only to discover none of my former office mates were going and they weren't serving lunch--just dessert, which I definitely don't need. So I came home, ate tunafish salad, and reread my mystery for the twenty-twelfth time. Funny thing about writing--sometimes when you write it you think it's awful, but there's that old, tried and true piece of advice--just get the words down on paper. So far I find the first five chapters hold up well. I quit and took a nap when I came to a place in Chapter Six where I need to insert a new incident to increase the tension. It is after all a mystery, and even though it's a cozy, it needs some sense of danger and suspense.
I finished the third Stieg Larsson book and find I need some light reading, after reading the trilogy in fairly rapid succession. It's intense. I have a Pat Conroy novel on my shelf, but I think I'm ready for something lighter right now, maybe that book on the joying of eating at home or the Jim Butcher novel Fred loaned me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A computer lesson hard learned and a good dinner

This afternoon as I worked in my office, I saw strange shadows flitting all around--it was the Mylar balloons left from this weekend's fun. They were floating on the ceilings in the house, and I learned the hard way that once they lose buoyancy and drift, they can set off a motion detector. So I took them outside and tied them to a porch chair, where they blew in the breeze and looked really cool. Late in the afternoon, I realized they had drifted loose from their moorings and were anchored in the crape myrtle, so I untied them and fastened them more securely to the chair. When they deflate, I'll discard them, but I'm enough of an environmentalist not to let them float off in space. The other picture is of the bottle tree Colin assembled and installed for me this weekend--the kids carried bottles to him. I had a bottle tree several years ago, made from a fallen branch of the big tree in my front yard, but as wood will do, it rotted. I saved the colorful bottles, and now they have a new life. They, like the garden, need a good rain--I didn't have time to rinse them before Colin put them up. I really like the color they add to my yard and am petitioning friends for colorful, empty wine bottles. As usual, the colors don't show up well in my photo, nor do the cone flowers, which are really gorgeous.
Lesson for the day: do not spill wine on your wireless remote keyboard. It causes it to type gibberish instead of what you mean to type. I woke early this morning worrying about that and a couple of other problems, but it turns out I can move my laptop so that I can easily type on it, while looking at the larger screen on my remote monitor. I've ordered a new keyboard/mouse set, although my mouse still works well. I was afraid it wouldn't with a new keyboard. Jordan giggled when I told her this and asked, "Am I allowed to tell this story?"
Betty and I had our weekly dinner tonight and really lucked out--we went to a wine bar that I haven't been to in a while. Their happy hour specials included $5 chardonnay (pretty good) and tuna sliders--four baguette slices topped with a horseradish-flavored cabbage-and-carrot slaw and small slices of Ahi tuna.I ordered that, and it was delicious. Betty had chicken quesadillas, made with blue corn tortillas and was equally pleased. I think each appetizer portion (plenty for dinner) was $6. Came home in time to catch part of President Obama's brief speech on the oil crisis.
Yesterday, on Facebook, a friend pointed out the irony of the state Republican convention voting to call for an end to the ban on deep-water drilling but to ban strip clubs. Someone wrote that she was sure God was a lot more concerned with strip clubs than the oil spill in the gulf. I couldn't restrain myself: if God is bothered by strip clubs, I wrote, I'm sure he's devastated by the Gulf disaster. Talk about apples (miniature) and oranges.

Monday, June 14, 2010


More ranch pictures. Top left, in order, are Edie, Jacob, Kegan, and Morgan. Next, my two Houston grandchildren in their TCU T-shirts, and bottom the three younger ones are sitting on the tractor. You can imagine what fun that was for them--Jacob's mom tells me he is still talking about Pony Romo. Not sure why Morgan and Kegan are wearing rain boots, but they are!
The dentist's office, even just for a cleaning, is not my favorite way to start the day but I did, bright and early. The people there, especially Stephanie, the hygeneist, are so pleasnt that it makes it more pleasant, but I once fell coming out of that office (after a three-hour stretch in the chair) and am now spooked about it. Stephanie walked me out, and I was home by ten.
Lunch with a friend, an evening visit with Charles at Trinity Terrace, some research and writing for that nonfiction proposal, and that was my uneventful Monday. No deep thoughts, though I have some political thoughts I'll refrain from sharing. (I can hear my brother breathing a sigh of relief.)
The Star-Telegram reviewed Stieg Larsson's third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornest's Nest on Sunday but I deliberately refrained from reading the review since I'm in the middle of the book. Fred tells me it was a fairly negative review, but I don't care--I'm really hooked on it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What I did this weekend

I feel like I'm writing one of those grade school September essays on "What I did this summer," but we had such a wonderful weekend. Now, about 2:00 p.m. Sunday, my house is quiet and empty, the dog and cat are relieved to have their space back, I have a fridge full of dabs of this and bits of that to deal with, and I can't believe the weekend went by so quickly. Plus I definitely need a nap!
The Houston Alters arrived about 7:30 Friday night, the Frisco Alters, minus Maddie, about ten, and we were late getting to bed, although Edie immediately took charge of Jacob, somewhat to her father's alarm since he didn't know she knew how to put on an overnight diaper--where has he been? But Saturday we were up early to go to Uncle John's ranch for the day. The pictures above show Kegan and Jacob with my brother, Kegan riding the pony (all four kids got to ride twice each) with his dad Colin leading, and Morgan and her mom, Lisa, by the Longhorn--Morgan does not look happy about that at all. I'll probably post more pictures as I get them if everyone can stand it. Hot and tired, we had a great lunch--I brought lox and bagels, Cindy had smoked pork, a salad, corn, and lots of fresh fruit which the kids all love. Edie had made cupcakes for her cousins and we took them to the ranch. Both Jacob and Kegan fell asleep willingly, asking to go nap--Jacob without finishing his lunch. All the others took off to "look at the cows" but took side trips and were gone a long time, so Cindy and I sat on the porch--very windy and pleasant out of the sun--and took turns checking on the sleepers.
Jamie has wanted for a long time to ride his bike from my house to the ranch, so yesterday was the day. He planned to leave at six; he left at 7:30. Most of us left at 8:30, but Mel and Edie stayed behind. They beat us to the ranch by an hour, and we arrived simultaneously with Jamie. We went to Starbucks, then to Central Market for groceries, and then got caught for 20-30 minutes at a train crossing in Cresson--well, it seemed that long to me. The train kept backing up and going forward--apparently it switches tracks right there, a lengthy process. Colin kept saying, "Look at you. Why are you so impatient? We're out for a nice drive." As Jacob will tell you, patience is not my long suit (he says, "Patience, Juju, patience.").
I had been really worried about Jamie's long ride--he turned off his odometer when he turned off the highway but we figure it was about 60 miles, much of it on 377, a busy highway. In retrospect, he said it was probably one of his dumber ideas and he scared himself badly a few times, but he was proud he did it--in three hours! Colin was telling him the new route John and Cindy pointed out to us and said that was the way he should go next time. "I'm not doing it again," he said.
Last night the Frisco Alters went home, Jordan who'd been entertaining that day, came for supper, and Jacob elected to stay overnight again with his cousins. Grilled hamburgers, sat around, and early to bed. Today lunch at Joe T.'s, with a chance to hug Christian, and now everyone is gone.
When the three little children get to playing-Morgan is almost five, Jacob will be four this month, and Kegan just turned three--it's pandemonium in the house, but I love it. I love that they will have wonderful memories of going to Juju's and being with their cousins. Edie, at seven, sort of "mother hens" them all, though she and Maddie will also I hope have good memories. We missed the Austin boys, who would have loved the whole weekend. Apparently our next get-together will be the end of July. I love it that I have family who want to be together so much! I am blessed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A new baby, garden news, and anticipation

My nephew Russ and his wife Beth welcomed their third child yesterday--how could I have forgotten that in last night's blog? So far, the little boy has a middle name (his mom's maiden name) but no first name. He was ten days early and and on a breathing machine. It's not, Russ assures me, a serious problem, but little "no name yet" will stay in the hospital when Mom goes home tomorrow. (Both Mom and Dad in this case are physicians, so I take their word for it!) So we  rejoice in this addition to the family. John now has four grandchildren and is expecting a fifth in September--he's catching up to me! He said yesterday he never imagined himself having grandchildren and he couldn't be more delighted--and I couldn't be happier for him.
Greg ate the first fig of my bountiful crop today--I told him the first one was his--and said it was delicious and sweeet. He's going to start walking up every evening or so to check our harvest, so we can get them before the squirrels and birds do. Some really huge figs on the tree--previous years the yard man always trimmed the tree way back--Greg let it grow out into the yard so it got sun, and the result is this huge crop, many still small but the big ones grew a lot in a week. He also discovered a big stand of poke sallet growing behind my garage. I've eaten it--Aunt Reva (Charles' late wife) used to cook it, with the strong warning that it was poison and you had to boil it, drain it, and boil it again. I don't remember much about the taste, though since I like spinach I suppose I liked it. Greg says it has a bitter taste. His grandmother or someone used to boil it and then fry it, but I'm a bit leery. I did call Charles and tell him I had it, and he says I need to be brave and cook it. What I need is an good old elderly Texas cook. I doubt there are many around who remember cooking poke sallet.
Part of the pleasure of any happy event is anticipation, and I am filled with anticipation today for the arrival sometime this evening of the Houston Alters and the Frisco Alters, plus Jacob will be here at six. I am not planning dinner for any of the others--their arrival time is uncertain. I'd planned to cook casseroles, but the boys both said not to and they were right--I'd have ended up with a lot of leftover casserole I don't need, and I'd have spent the morning cooking. As it is, I cleaned the house (superficially, I admit, but all the linens are clean), did my yoga, and piddled. A most pleasant day.
Of course anticipation has its downside--it's the enemy of anxiety. It's not that you can't walk across that open space or drive on that highway, it's anticipating it that gets you. But I'm not thinking about that today. This is a happy day!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Patrizio's, work, and gardens

For years, Patrizio's at Highland Park Village was my favorite restaurant in Dallas, and I ate there every chance I got. I loved their appetizers, Megan loved the bellinis, and Jamie, the crab claws. Now, Patrizio's has come to Fort Worth. Betty and I ate there tonight and considered it a winner. She had a penne pasta dish, and I had a chopped salad, both excellent. Service was good and so fast it almost made my head spin, atmosphere good. I couldn't talk Betty into dessert, so I had to forego the double chocolate mousse, which would, of course, have required a second glass of wine. I'm not forgetting it for next time, and we've already settled on our menu next time--splitting crab cakes and the hearts of palm salad. The restaurant is one of several in a new very sophisticated high-rise develoment area that includes lots of condos, gyms, a movie theater, etc. The only drawback is that parking is really really difficult. We never could locate the valet parking for Patrizio's, though last week we used the valet service at Bailey's. We decided tonight was one of our better adventures--and the prices are reasonable.
I worked today, though this morning I ran errands--to the office to drop off a manuscript, to Coldwater Creek to check out the 70% off sale (nothing grabbed my attention, and I doubt it was all 70% off), and then to Albertson's for groceries. But after lunch I wrote about 770 words on my novel (now that's become my daily standard--I had an older colleague who said a page a day is a book a year, but I figure I'm outdoing that--and some days I get in more words as I may tonight but then other days I get none written, so it's probably a wash).
Tonight I had my usual evening stint of reading on the porch with a glass of wine and glorying in all the greenery. Boy, do I have a list for Greg tomorrow--I discovered that a fern-like plant in the planter box is overshadowing a struggling oregano plant (and I don't think the fern is edible--Greg know what it is, but I think it needs trimming). My fig tree has more figs than you can imagine, some of them enormous. I watch them carefully because I want to get to them before the birds and squirrels do, but they're just not quite ripe yet. Greg is supposed to put down grass in the way back part of the back yard, where it had all died, and I need to call his attention to the weeds and sprouting trees in the narrow space between my house and my neighbors. It seems every time I go out in the yard, I find something else that needs attention.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Germs, menu planning, and a working day

Either yesterday or today I saw a segment on the TODAY show about germs. The specialist advocated not keeping your toothbrush in the bathroom, because it's the dirtiest place in the house. There are all those microbes in the commode, and when you flush it they are propelled at great velocity into the air. It made me think of the old James Thurber story about his aunt (I think it was) who thought an empty light bulb socket dripped electricity on to you. Anyway, if you must keep your toothbrush in the bathroom, keep it in the medicine chest, behind a door--well, thank you very much, my electric toothbrush would never fit into my medicine chest. And by the by you should not keep medicine in the medicine chest, because when you shower the room heats up beyond the temperature at which medicines keep best. Shoes? Nasty things. Take them off the minute you come in the door. Well, my feet are old and were the first thing to go south as I aged--I who went barefoot all my life am no longer comfortable doing that. Women's purses? Nasty on the bottom, because we set them on the floor in public restrooms--well, I do try to avoid that, and I make it a point (most of the time) not to set it on the kitchen counter. But whenever I hear things like that--such as you should wash your kitchen towel daily--I think we're all exposed to germs all the time. If we sterilize our conditions, it's like taking too many antibiotics--we'll lose our natural immunity. Every once in a while a bug does get us--as one did Jacob last weekend--but on the whole, I, for one who is careful but not overly so, seem to be consistently healthy (I hope I won't get smitten for this). Cleanliness is next to godliness--but only if you don't carry it to extremes.
Both of my sons and their families will be here Friday night, and I have been planning menus, none of which seemed to work out. You'd have thought I was entertaining the Queen of England, the way Lisa and I exchanged emails about food for the entire weekend. Colin finally called tonight and said, "Mom, don't fix dinner Friday night. Just feed yourself and Jacob. We'll eat before we get there." Jamie said the same thing. So Jacob will probably share spaghetti marinara with me. Saturday night's meal was also up for discussion, but Lisa, bless her, is bringing pasta salad and black bean salsa, and I'll add hamburgers, hot dogs, and baked beans. Feeding my family is almost as complicated as getting them to coordinate their schedules.
A good work day--I got quite a bit done on the nonfiction proposal I'm working on. My friend, librarian Carol Roark, came to help me with databases--she's a fanatic when it comes to research. I gave her a topic, and she kept finding new leads, etc. All the while my stomach was rumbling, and I finally had to tear her away from the computer so we could go to lunch. But she inspired me, and I came back and did a lot of work. Tonight I wrote maybe 700 words on my novel, so I'm feeling smug.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

One of those days

Not much to blog about tonight. This morning I was, to borrow a phrase from a fellow member of Sisters in Crime, a domestic diva (the title of Krista Davis' series of really good cozy mysteries). With most of the family coming this weekend, I got busy and washed all the sheets in the main house--except for the trundle which I'll do tomorrow. I don't much like housekeeping, except cooking and I don't mind cleaning the kitchen, but I hate, hate, hate changing beds.Three down, one to go. I'm fairly sure the linen in the guest house is clean. Plus tomorrow I'll have to wash all the napkins, place mats, etc, from entertaining.
Had a good lunch with my friend Fred, where we talked about all kinds of things but for once neither about the press nor about my work in progress. Just visited--he has a wonderful, wicked sense of humor, and we had a good time. Plus good food at Carshon's--I had lox and cream cheese.
Tonight I fixed lamb burgers for Jay and Susan--Jay howled when he heard I'd fixed them for Jordan and Christian and not for him. They were good, and I made a new guac--feta, lime juice and avocado. Really good. We sat on the porch enjoying the pleasant breeze and talking until almost nine.
So no, no constructive work done today, but a pleasant day. Hey, I'm retired--I don't have to set the world on fire every day. It's a lesson I keep trying to teach myself.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Trying to write after reading Stieg Larsson

Last night I finished the second in Stieg Larsson's trilogy--The Girl Who Played with Fire. And today I resolved to get back to my own novel, after a weekend of dilly-dallying. Do you know how hard it is to write a cozy after reading the compellingly noir Larsson books? I felt like a ninny, and in truth I wrote almost 600 uninspired words and quit. I know the story needs to be more than dialogue, even if I am fairly comfortable writing dialog and moving the action along that way--maybe it's time for another rewrite to insert more description. But anyway I gave up, worked on paying bills, all the kinds of things you do to avoid writing. I always remember Erma Bombech, who said she would rather scrub floors than face a blank sheet of paper in her typewriter--that was her day. Today it's a blank computer screen.
Took a nap and went to visit Charles at Trinity Terrace, told him about my uninspired writing, and he said, "Tomorrow is another day." Later when I said I was going home to eat supper and try to write some more, he said, "I'll inspire you." Well, I don't know if he did or not, but I erased part of what I had written earlier, changed the scene, and ended up writing 1200 words. Inspired? No idea until I read it tomorrow.
I ordered the third Stieg Larsson book today for my Kindle--The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Amazon always sends  you a thank you and says you can begin reading immediately, but that was at 11:00 this morning; by seven tonight, I still didn't have it, though I checked my bank account, and it had been charged. Finally I turned the Kindle off and back on, but I still didn't see it, so I called. Well--red face--by the time I got the technician he said they showed it had been delivered ten minutes earlier and suggested that if I ever had that trouble again to turn it off and back on. At first I thought since these books are so intense I'd take a rest before reading the third one but I'm afraid I'm irresistibly hooked. And unlike many sequels that jump to new action, this one takes up right where the last one ended--in fact, the very same evening. Okay, I have to go read now.

A Day at Home, a winning athlete in the family, and an upcoming get-together

This was supposed to be Sunday night's post, but as down, so here it is in the middle of Monday. Will I post tonight? Depends on what I feel I have to say.

I spent the whole day at home, though I didn't mean to. Jacob woke me at 7:15 with the news that he was sick. Throughout the day he threw up three times--one in the commode, once in the driveway (there went the trip to Central Market--he said, "I don't want to go to the grocery store any more") and once on the kitchen floor, barely missing the Kilim rug. Other times he sat helplessly on the potty, with no results except a bit of pee. In between, he was fairly content lying in his bed and watching the Disney channel, and I was content with my book, so we were happy campers. He crawled into bed with me early this morning and then again after nap, when he had a dream that scared him. So if he has a viral gastroenteritis, which my brother predicted, I'll probably get it too--darn! But it was nice to cuddle with him, and on a truly hot and humid day, staying inside wasn't all bad. I made a bison meatloaf and roasted potatoes for Jacob's parents for dinner, but we confined him to boiled potatoes. It was sort of a rushed dinner as they were in a hurry to get him home. I'm anticipating having to keep him after a doctor's appt. tomorrow, which is okay.
Our stunning family news is that Jamie won a fourth-place trophy in the triathlon he did today--it was in Dallas and I know no details about his times, number of competitors, etc., but wow! fourth place! Since Rob, who works with him, beat him by thirty seconds in the last race, this was a sweet comeback for Jame. (Rob didn't enter the race.) Jame was in Colorado much of the past week, sending bulletins about whether he was winning or losing at poker and pictures of the huge trout he caught. I worried that wasn't exactly good training for a race and then today I worried about the heat and humidity, but I guess mothers always worry when they don't need to. Anyway, I join with the rest of the family in cheering him on tonight.
Now I'm beginning to plan for a visit from the Houston Alters next weekend. The Frisco Alters will be here some or all of the weekend, and I'll have Jacob, though Jordan won't join us until Saturday evening and Christian will be working. Megan and her bunch can't come, but it will still be a good visit, and I'm excited. My way of working on excitement is to plan menus.
Stayed up way too late finished the second Stieg Larsson book, but it was worth it. Good writer, indeed wonderful writer, though sometimes I detected coincidences, plotting that didn't quite hold together, etc. Didn't keep me from hanging on every word.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Chronicles of Jacob--and a new idea for guacamole

I'm thinking of writing a book titled Chronicles of Jacob. Tonight we had another adventure. He arrived quite somber and declared he did not want to go out for dinner. We watched "Who Let the Dogs Out" for the  umpteenth time, and I saw that there is a parody called "Who Let the Frogs Out?" So I told him we could watch it after we came home from dinner. WE went to the Star, a North Side steak/hamburger/chicken fried place owned by my friends Betty and Don. Betty had put parking cones out in front to save us a place, which was really wonderful--and there she stood on the street waitingfor us. Jacob was quite solemn at first, but he livened up. He wanted to know why the men were wearing hats--North Side is full of cowboys, and Don even came in wearing a Stetson. I think maybe Jacob needs one for his birthday.
Betty and I visited, and Jacob toyed with his chicken tenders--they were not like the bland frozen chicken nuggets he's used to, but he ate a lot of fries. Then he played with stuffed toys from the display counter and became a bundle of energy. On the way home he chattered all the time and demanded, "Juju, why aren't you talking to me?" He had so much energy that I called Jay to come have a drink on the porch--which translates to help me watch Jacob. It was hot but pleasant, and Jacob ran and played but always where we had him in sight. So much in sight that we were well aware when he pulled down his pants and peed in the monkey grass. Jay shrugged and said, "He's a boy." But then he called out, "You're supposed to go behind a tree!"
Now he's talking to his toys, though for a minute I thought he'd gone right asleep. Wishful thinking on my part! But a plus: we haven't had the TV on since he got here, and he hasn't asked for it.
Me? I'm tired--and before Jacob arrived, I really didn't do much. Mostly I read The Girl Who Played with Fire-I'm hooked, I must admit. It's pretty intense, though, and I may take a break before reading the third Stieg Larsson book, though I read an interview with him today (made shortly before his sudden death) in which he indicated the story all comes together in the third book.
Found a recipe today on the Web site "Mystery Lovers Kitchen" that suggested mixing an avocado, lime juice, and about 2 oz. of feta for guacamole to spread on a toasted pita, top with cherry tomatoes halved and whatever else you want. I'm big into using pita toasts for dip these days (much better than chips) so I think it sounds good just as a dip. May try it soon. Credit for the recipe goes to Cleo Coyle, author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries and one of my favorite authors.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Activists, food research, and women's groups

In one day last week, my seven-year-old granddaughter, who has the softest heart of any child I ever saw, wrote a letter of support to the SPCA, complained to her mom about all the plastic bottles in the ocean, and asked if they couldn't adopt another Orca whale at the museum. I love it! Her uncle in New York suggested she would next write a letter to BP, and her mom responded with a supposed message that the child would sign, "Love, Eden." And she probably would!
Yesterday I had lunch with the acknowledged Texas food guru on the newspaper staff--and he put the name to the topic I've been fiddling about: iconic Texas food companies. I would also add iconic Texas foods--the stuff of myth and legend. He drew the line between true food research and food folklore, and I said I wanted to combine a bit of both. But it was a fascinating talk. And I'm more enthusiastic than ever about my new project, but except to write up my notes from talking to him, I have done nothing but focus on my novel. I estimate I've written 3,000 words in the last three days, and I can see it taking shape in my mind. My mentor Fred read a portion of the early part and responded with lots of questions and possibilities--to my surprise, I knew the answer to all of them, so I really do have it worked out in my mind what's going to happen. And as I write, one scene inspires another. Not sure if this is called free writing, writing without an outline or what. I have that general idea, but then my characters tell me what's going to happen. The whole business of long days without TCU Press has disappeared within--what? two or three weeks! Some day I piddle so in the mornings that it's almost lunch time before I'm showered and ready for the day. Doesn't bother me a bit. I read emails, the newspaper, work out, etc. in the mornings. After lunch--and I try to eat out with friends often--I work and read, then nap. In the evening I work and read again--a delightful routine. Except that I'm in the midst of the second Stieg Larsson book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and I'm hooked. Not getting as much work done as I want.
Tonight I went to a party to celebrate former neighbor Sue's new house--it really is lovely, so much more spacious than what she had. And it has a wonderful, huge party deck. Few people I knew, but enough--Jordan, Christian and Jacob, Jay, Gregg and Jamie. Had a good time until bugs and heat got to me. When Gregg and Jamie decided to go home, I got my keys out of Jay's car and came with them. Still it was fun, and nice to be out.
LIfe is sweet.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Oil spills and ended marriages

I don't often comment on current events in this blog--and knowing that many disagree with my liberal politics, I try to avoid that topic too. But the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf (spill seems like a dimunitive word in the face of the enormity of the disaster) is on all our minds. Sometimes, I admit, I mute the TV when they talk about longterm consequences, because it's just too much too comprehend, too awful to believe. I do think BP is trying everything they know, but they doing no more than guessing and grabbing at straws, while the situation grows ever worse. Meantime, there are constant cries for President Obama to "take charge"--what is he to do? Dive down there and put his finger in the hole, like the legendary boy in Holland? What the president should have done, but none of us knew it, was to uncover the corruption, the faked inspections, the greed that led to this disaster. I read a column the other day (sorry I can't remember the columnist's name) that suggested that if technology doesn't know how to stop leaks at that depth, we should be drilling that deep. I'm a little afraid the situation may prove analagous to the Barnett Shales drillingsin Fort Worth, with reports of increased levels of benzene in the air. And now, after the oil is out of the pipe (well, I didn't want to mix my metaphors and talk about horses out of the barn), he's doing what's apropriate--he's taken the blame, he's called for a criminal investigation. But I doubt the government has people with any more expertise than BP at stopping this awful thing. I read somewhere that BP will survive this disaster, even though it's costing them billions a day--I hope not. I hope they pay, financially and in terms of criminal indictments, along with inspectors who overlooked violations and all others culpable. This was a preventable disaster. But let's not expect the president to be the boy at the dike, and let's not blame him for every disaster, every little thing that goes wrong. And let's recognize that our dependency on oil and our insistence on our individual comfort are ruining the planet. Read Garrison Keillor's commentary in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today, June 2.
The other item on my mind is the dissolution of the Gore marraige. I admire them and have great respect. I suspect it's really true that they've grown apart, and I hope, really hope, that they mean it when they say this is a mutual and mutually supportive decision. If so, it's a brave one. It's not easy to strike off on your own, especially at their ages. Thirty years ago, if I'd had the nerve, I'd have left a marriage that I knew was dying, but my excuse was I had four young children and didn't know I could support them. As it turns out, I did nicely, and we were all the happier after my husband left--it was the nicest thing he ever did for us. From the pespective of age and increased wisdom, I'd have left two years earlier. So I admire the Gores, wish each of them well. As someone said on TV this morning, forty years of marriage is a success. This sepraration can't be looked at as the "failure" of a marriage. But if we learn that either one has someone waiting in the wings, I will once again be Pollyanna in disappointment.
Enough of current events. I've had a good day. 11:15 this morning before I settled down to serious work--I'm loving my mornings of piddling and will resent the few mornings I have to get up earlier than eight o'clock. But I've written between 1100 and 1200 words today on my novel and will write more tonight. Plus I've done some serious thinking and defining on my nonfiction project. Retirement is looking pretty good.
Jacob is supposed to come tonight so his parents can dig a huge hole in the yard and explore their sprinkler system's leak, but it looks like rain, and I don't know if he'll come after all. Meantime, I'm going to heat myself some defrosted, home-made chicken pot pie.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Retirement the way it ought to be

My pictures didn't come out quite as I intended--the plumbago in the second one doesn't show off its glorious blue color, and in the third the coneflowers that are thick in the front yard don't really show unless you look in the foreground. But the whole garden and porch are so pretty that I just delight in them. Tonight I sat out on the porch--there was a slight breeze, for a change--read a book, and thought a bit smugly how good my life is. (I hope it's not a case where smug goes before a fall!)
This morning it was 10:45 before I was dressed and ready for the day--I am learning to putter. I read my emails, read the newspaper online (how I hate that!), did my yoga, straightened the house a bit, and showered--and there went the morning. More emails, and it was time for lunch with an old friend.
After a good visit over a delicious lunch--I had lox and cream cheese, and he had smoked trout and cream cheese--as I was gettingout of the car, he said, "You're doing everything I hope to do in retirement." And a friend from Omaha emailed me to say she thought I was handling retirement with grace. I do hope so.
This afternoon I actually did some work on the proposal for a nonfiction book that I am trying to put together and ran into that bugaboo for which I'm always on to authors--inadequate documentation. I can't believe I cut out newspaper clippings without the date and page # attached, but I did. All I know is they were published in 2008 in the local paper. A hunt will ensue.
Last night, it seemed hot in the house, and I discovered that though the a/c was laboring, it was almost 80, when I had the thermostat set at 73. My a/c guru told me to turn off the a/c and turn on the fan--the unit had frozen (the filter was wet on one side). It worked, but someone from the company came to check it all out late this afternoon, and all is well, though his ominous words were "It will probably make it through the summer." It was nice tonight to hear the unit kick off--which it hadn't done for over 24 hours. My mind runs to the electric bill.
Betty and I had an adventure tonight--we went exploring in a new upscale condo/restaurant/you name it district. We had eaten at a Mediterranean restaurant there that we didn't really like, so tonight we ate at Bailey's Prime Rib--I had misgivings because it sounded pricey and like heavy food. My misgivings grew when we got inside--most elegant, one of those places with with menus that are as heavy as most books. I whispered that we might have to eat pbj sandwiches for the rest of the month, but we split a fried avocado stuffed with a lobster mixture and each had a small salad, plus a glass of wine. With tip, it was under $30 apiece, though I always feel that people in such places are looking askance at us, as though we've wandered out of our proper milieu. Only when we got up to leave did I realize that Betty was wearing jeans! It was fun, the food was good, but we won't go back. I prefer a more casual atmosphere.
Yesterday I spent the whole day reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--I had read a lot about it some time ago when it received high critical praise, so I bought it for Megan for Christmas 2008. She took a long time before she got around to reading it, so I thought it was a bust as a gift, but when she finally got to it, she absolutely loved it. I asked her to bring it when she came up a couple of weeks ago, and I too loved it, couldn't put it down. It's suspense, intrigue, with a couple of gory scenes, but it's so well done, so well written--and the characters are amazing. Because I read the book trade publications, I keep thinking everyone knows the story but apparently not. Swedish author and magazine editor Stieg Larsson turned in three novel manuscripts and then died of a massive heart attack at a young age and before the novels were published. I am now reading The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second one. I can't remember the exact title of the third (The Girl Who . . . Hornet's Nest). The first is definitely set in Sweden, and I imagine the others are too though the second opens in the Caribbean. After publication in Swedish, they were translated into English. I recommend them heartily. You get lost in the fictional world (the best kind of reading), but it's also a little like reading To Kill a Mockingbird or The Angle of Repose. I know I'll never write anything that good--but I can read and enjoy.