Sunday, October 31, 2010

The end of the weekend--and Halloween

Converstion of the weekend:
Jacob (4): "I want you to sit right there, Kegan."
Kegan (3): "Why?"
Jacob: "Because you're my best friend."
Kegan: "Oh, okay."
Wish I had that picture.
Second conversation of the weekend:
Edie (7): "Do you like the Aggies?"
Me: "Yes"
Edie: "Why"
Me: "Because friends of mine are Aggies and besides they're a Texas team."
Edie: "I don't like them." When pressed for a reason, she said, "Because." I told her she had to have a better reason, and she said her friend Caroline doesn't like them. I'm sure my words about having your own opinion fell on deaf ears, but I tried.
Picures from the weekend are already showing up on my desktop rotating photo screen--what a neat way to relive the fun.
My house was empty--and lonely--by ten this morning. Except for a couple of loads of wash and the dishwasher to run, it was all in order and as clean as it's going to get today. The real signs of the weekend's doings are two wonderful bouquets--one on the dining table and one on the coffee table in the living room. The living room one is from the children, with reds and pinks in vivid combination. The vase arrived in a white box with bright pink tissue fanning out all around it--to Jordan's dismay, I left it in the box, because it looks pretty. The second bouquet has more delicate pinks and lilacs with lovely strong bold yellow lillies of some kind. It's from my friend Betty Boles. Adding to my flower display--and somehow ending at the top of my row of pictures here--are my flowers of the month. Jean Walbridge and I exchange this gift every Christmas, and we just picked up our October flowers last week. I am reminded of the legendary Electra Waggoner Wharton who ordered fresh flowers throughout her cattle baron mansion every day, a luxury I surely cannot afford. But I am much enjoying these.
I'm spending the rest of the day reading emails and reading a book on social media for writers. Oh, I'll probably sneak a bit of novel reading in there too. All study and no fun will make Judy dull--or bored. Made up for all those heavy meals this weekend with tuna, hearts of palm, and hummus for lunch.
I have never been one to get enthusiastic about Halloween. Oh, I did it full tilt when the kids were little, but now, living alone, I just can't get excited about giving out candy to boys who are bigger than I am. For several years, Texas Book Festival was the same weekend, so I missed it. But tonight, I went next door to Jay and Susan's, and among other things had a great bowl of stew. I had three bags of candy to contribute, which turned out to be a paltry contribution. Jay says they spent $80 on candy. We live in one of those neighborhoods where carloads of kids are brought in from less fortunate neighborhoods. Almost uniformly, the kids are as polite as can be, and if they forget their parents are quick to remind them to say thank you. Jay estimates he had at least 300 tricksters before he ran out and turned out the lights. Some costumes were cute, some obviously home-made with loving care, and many store-bought--we saw several repeats of the same costumes. Really tiny kids were held by parents and helped up the steps, but still some stumbled and we held our breath collectively. It was, however, a pleasant way to spend the evening instead of hiding in the dark all evening as I've sometimes done.
I'm amazed at me, the non-sports fan, but I really feel the suspense about the Rangers games, though I don't watch. And I'm interested in how TCU, UT, and the Aggies do. I guess it's Texas patriotism coming  to the fore. Such an unusual year--UT and the Aggies doing poorly, though the latter have redeemed themselves the last couple of games, TCU and (I think) SMU in the top ten, Barylor beating UT, and the Rangers in the World Series. As one person  said on Facebook, "Hell has now officially froizen over." Still, it's fun, and I'm anxious to hear how the Rangers do tonight.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A family day--and the day after my big evening

It's kind of hard to see through the acrylic plaque but that's my award from the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and the picture below is the program. Jordan promises to send more "people pictures" Monday, and so I'll post them then. Meantime for a grandmother who had all seven of her grandchildren and all four kids and their spouses in town, I spent a really leisurely day.
When I went to bed last night, the kids had pulled out the trundle and raised it to make a sort of double bed. All four grandchildren then present were going to sleep there--Jordan, Kegan, Morgan, and Maddie, who was sort of the chaperone and discipline dispenser. I cannot say enough about how good and patient Maddie is with the little ones. But when I got up this morning, about seven-thirty, Maddie was alone in the bed; Kegan and Morgan had gone out to the apaartment with their folks, and Jacob was sound asleep in bed with Jamie--talk about musical beds. Jacob is so hard to wake up--I loved, and I rubbed, and I talked, but it honestly took him almost an hour and then suddenly he was full of his lively self. He's so much better when he wakes up on his own!
Got all the kids and Colin out the door for Jacob's nine o'clock soccer game. Jamie, who has been sick, slept until eleven, as did Lisa out in the apartment. About 10:30, I discovered most of the rest of the gang was at Ol' South, so I rushed down there.  Back home, they scattered again--picked up what they needed for the day, Colin and his bunch headed to the deli, Megan and Jordan and their famlies went to Jordan's house. Jamie and I were left alone, and we both quietly worked at our computers. Kind of a nice break. He left about two, though I later found out he went out to Jordan's and took a nap. I stayed home and napped, and Megan came to get me close to five--with Jacob sound asleep in the back of the car. We picked up barbecue and beer (and batteries for my camera) and went to Jordan's, where the kids ran and played. I am so blessed that all of them absolutely love being with their cousins. They laugh, scream, and build wonderful childhood memories that they will carry through life. Christian's sister and her husband joined us with their two little daughters, both of whom have grown so much. The little one is now about 15 months, and Maddie loved pushing her in a trike and just holding her.

Uncle Colin has constructed a pinata in the shape of a UT Longhorn but the trouble was he constructed it too well--in spite of many swats, it refused to release its cargo of small toys. Finally, he made cuts in it and the kids scrambled for the toys. We ate barbecue from Railhead with all the trimmings, and then the evening detriorated into the adult watching the UT/Baylor game while keeping an eye on the Rangers score. Mel and Edie had baked cookies for the children to decorate, so Maddie directed tht operation. If you look closely, you can see all seven gtrandkids in this picture.
Colin said, 'You mean it's only 7:30 and I'm this tired?" We were all home early, and I am now the only one up, enjoying some peace and quiet once again, but it's been a lovely day--lazy and yet full of family.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A heady evening

Tonight I was inducted into the Fort Worth Publiuc Library's Texas Literary Hall of Fame, which means I joined the ranks with such people as John Graves, Katherine Ann Porter, Horton Foote, Shelby Hearon and others--pretty heady company. My children came--Colin, Jordan, and Jamie--Megan was delayed by a kindergartner's first ever school carnival and such things are priority, but she and her family are driving up as we speak. Lisa and Christian stayed home with four grandchildren, all of whom are now crowded into two beds in my family room. Maddie is one of the four, so she'll ride herd on them and make sure they go to sleep. Everyone has to be up and out the door by 8:40 for Jacob's soccer game. Not me. I'd sleep late but I'm sure young voices won't let me. It's such a joy to have them all here--Colin says he got a picture of all four of them in their bed, so I'm waiting for that.
Jordan got lots of pictures tonight at the dinner, but she hasn't shared them, so I have none to post--watch for them in future blogs. I was nervous, of course, about my half-page speech, but it went well, and I got a lot of compliments. I talked about growing up in Chicago and thinking Texas was a foreign land. Then my folks went to Corpus to visit my brother at the Naval Air Station and reported a lush and green tropical land. Later, my soon-to-be husband went to Turkey, Texas, and reported a barren, brown land with no vegetation. I was puzzled. My conclusion was, of course, that I found a land that was green sometimes and brown sometimes but more than that had a rich history and literature, out of which I built a career. I am really amazed by the honor, humbled and grateful.
The inductees with me were all good friends--and I was the only female. They were Jim Lee,sort of a grandfather of Texas literature in many ways, Bill Crider, mystery writer extradorinaire, Carlton Stowers, sports writer, true crimer author, and all around nice guy, Bob Ray Sanders, award-winning journalist with a career in TV, author of the text for one of TCU Press' best-ever photography books, and Jeff Guinn, former book editor of the Star-Telegram and the author of many books, one a winner of the TCU Texas Book Award. I keep using the word heady, but it was heady company to be in.
Best of all, my kids thought I did well on the talk, and that means everything to me. I'm not a native Texasn, but I've been here forty-five years, and I've written and published a whole lot about the state. It's my state, even though some call me an outsider.
I'm a happy camper tonight and going to bed tired.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An amazing day

Today I went to the induction luncheon for the National Cowgirl Museum Hall of Fame. My longtime friend, Joyce Roach, was being inducted and I rejoiced for her. So many of us who've known each other for years came together to cheer for Joyce that the reception beforehand was a delight of visiting. Fran Vick's daughter-in-law and I were incensed that everyone else had wine and we didn't--supposedly young men were circulating with it, but we never saw them, so we went to the curtained corner from which they came and asked sweetly if they could get us wine. They did. Sat with Patt and Fred Erisman, my former boss June Koelker, and Ron Chrisman from UNT Press. That luncheon provides a feast in people watching, because the women's western outfits range from absolutely smashing to over the top and too much. The tables decorations, each apparently done by a different designer, were blow-your mind oppulent, and the place mats were made of real feathers. I kept speculating on whether or not they were reusable--I had this vision of ruffled feathers. Lunch was a good if different salad with spiced pears, greens, tomatoes, and blue cheese, followed by tenderloin with gravy, a lovely gratin of butternut squash with cranberries and what seemed like a chewy cheese layer on top, and a skewer of grilled vegetables. All very good, though dessert was hard to get to--a huge meringue cookie on top of lemon mousse. The meringue was so chewy you couldn't get through it to the mousse and I gave up.
Special awards were presented, and then this year's honorees, with a film history of each followed by their acceptance thanks. Joyce was, as always, eloquent and heart-warming with her account of her love for Texas and the western way of life. She's one of my role models, and this is a long overdue honor for her and her many accomplishments as a teacher, author, and folklorist--besides having grown up a cowgirl. I remember when she and I used to do a dog-and-pony show where she talked about being a fifth generation Texan and I followed with a talk titled, "Notes from an Outsider."
My memoir writing class met tonight and had perhaps one of the most delightful sessions we've had. Two people presented, and we laughed and laughed at their stories but also found the serious side and implications. That is such a great group, and they've developed a remarkable closeness. Tonight talk ranged from childbirth, a year in England, to a California childhood and cooking. What is wonderful is that mostly as these ladies look back on their lives and record them for their children, they find so much joy and laughter.
Ummmm. Tired.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aging--cats and dogs and me

Wywy, my 18-year-old cat, is getting fat again--well, at least he's gaining weight. He had lost weight, and the vet was worried about him though convinced he's not diabetic. I've started mixing just a bit of seafood cat  foot into his kidney diet, and he eats all the time. He's in amazing shape for his age. I feed him on a fairly high cabinet in the bathroom, so the dog won't get his food. There's a seat halfway up, and Wywy jumps up on the seat and then waits patiently for me to lift him the rest of the way up. But I know during the night and other times I'm not there, he gets up on his own. My friend Betty's daughter, Stephanie, had to put one of her cats down yesterday, and my neighbor Susan had to do it today, so I'm aware of age and consequences in my animals But right now Wywy is peacefully curled on my desk, sound asleep.
Scooby, my dog, is also aging, though I don't think he knows it. He's eleven, which is getting on in years for a mid-size dog, but he's still lively, too excitable, and happy with his world. I do notice one of his back legs gives out on him occasionally, and the other day I caught him lazing in the sun watching a squirrel cross the yard. In his best days, Scooby would have chased that squirrel with amazing vigor. He used to lie at the gate and wait for me to come home; when he saw the car, he'd jump up and run after a squirrel, perhaps imaginary, as if to say, "Look, Mom, I'm doing my job." These days, he likes nothing better than his bed, which is right by my bed.
I'm aware and mentally preparing for the fact I may lose both of my animals about the same time. But right now they are such a part of the fabric of my life, I can't imagine it. I don't know if I'll get another cat--Wywy is part Maine coon, which accounts for his sweet disposition, and I am tempted by the thought of a full-blood Maine coon. But I know I will always have a dog, probably from the humane society. Colin and I have a pact: if I get to the point I have to move somewhere and can't take a dog, Colin will adopt the dog.
At lunch today, Jean said she heard me say the other night at dinner that I was liable to lose them both about the same time, and she asked if I was thinking of moving. It was like a bolt out of the blue. No! I love my house, my furniture, my neighbors, my routine--there's not one thought in my head of moving. I use every room in my house plus my guest apt., and I can't imagine giving up any space nor any of my antiques. I imagine the day will come, but I'm sure not thinking about it now. The mere mention of a retirement home gives me the chills, and I haven't seen one that I'd like to live in. The very thought makes me feel old--and I'm not.
Betty and I had supper at a local wine cafe tonight. I ordered the tuna sliders and almost laughed when the server asked, "You do know they're seared Ahi tuna, don't you?" I assured her I did. As she left, Betty said "I bet some people order that expecting tuna salad." Surely not--this is a place that draws a fairly sophisticated clientele, so there I go worrying about age again. Did she think I was an old lady who might now want raw tuna?
I need a haircut--I'm shaggy and really overdue. Maybe with a smart new haircut, I'll get over this fear of people thinking I'm ready for assisted living and not ready to eat seared tuna. It was, by the by, delicious, served on baguettes with a slaw strongly flavored with horseradish.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Updating my life

Well, maybe I haven't updated my entire life, but I've updated my web page, something I don't do often enough. I'm particularly aware of this because the same recipe stays on the recipe page for way too long. But this time I've added information about the e-book versions of Sue Ellen Learns to Dance, updated my bio, changed the recipes and the cookbook page. Of course, I didn't do all that--hats off to Claudia Butts, graphic designer, who did it. I wish I knew how to do it, but as Brandon once said to me, "You really don't want to learn HTML and I surely don't want to teach it to you." My neighbor, Susan, came for happy hour tonight. She's having web pages lessons at the Apple Store and says it's easy--you don't need HTML. The program does it for you. But she's on a Mac, and I'm on a pc. Anyway, check out my newly updated web page at If that doesn't work, just google Judy Alter. They did that the othr day at the Bill White campaign office and were so surprised to see the page that they decided they had a celebrity in their midst. I assured them it was not true and told them one of my more humbling stories.
I spent two hours this morning at the campaign office. Just like last week, I talked to many people who either had or were going to vote for White and only one who was going to vote for Perry. I don't know where this list comes from or how heavily weighted it is, but I found this encouraging. As I drive around town I see a lot of yard signs for White, very few for Perry. But I understand Perry is charging for his--you should pay for the privilege of helping him campaign? Arrogance again!
A wild gastronomic day--a reuben for lunch (the kind with lots of kraut, so good!), hummus with pesto (my new discovery--homemade pesto) and Manchego cheese for happy hour, and a bowl of really spicy chili, courtesy of Susan's husband Jay, for supper. Hmmmm. Hope I sleep tonight. Maybe all that mixture of food is why I feel so weary! It astounds me to realize that from now until Sunday night, I will only eat supper at home Thursday and lunch Friday. Big times ahead. I'm busy picking out my wardrobe.
Back to the novel--I think I quit at 57,000 words last night. Not feeling ambitious tonight, so maybe I'll settle for a thousand.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Why are Mondays always full of detail work, catching up, and stuff like that? I spent the morning answering emails, reading the newspaper online, doing not much profitable Taught my memoir class at noon, which went well, though when we ran out of discussion before the end of the period, I read them my piece on panic disorder. They were noticeably quiet, no response. Not sure how to interpret that. I asked how many knew about anxiety disorder and only one or two hands went up, so I hope I enlightened them. They are a good group, faithful attendees,but somehow the bonding of the evening group is missing. I think it's the difference between taking an hour from work and being in a home setting, plus Thursday evenings we loosen everyone's tongue with a bit of wine. I haven't written anything for the evening group in a long time, because they chatter away the whole evening.
I'm still on my writing kick--a thousand words this afternoon and hope to do a thousand this evening. I'm now in that phase of "get through the rough draft." Then I can go back, patch, elaborate, cut, whatever. I bet I add another 10,000 words when I do that. Okay, at least I'm hoping.
Life promises to get hectic toward the end of the week, so I'm doing as much ahead as I can--tonight I did a "kitchen" wash--towels, napkins, etc.
Jordan, Jacob, and Christian came tonight to eat leftover meatballs and mashed potatoes with spinach and gruyere--Jacob flatly refused the potatoes but enthusiastically ate two meatballs with brown gravy while declaring, "I love chicken, Juju." I didn't tell him he was eating beef. His parents, not spinach eaters, ate the potatoes, though Christian said they tasted very "spinachy." Jordan actually ate what Jacob left on his plate. While Jordan and Christian were clearing the table and getting him ice cream, Jacob came over to me and said, "Juju, I like you and I love you." Wonder if he really knows the distinction? Anyway, it was a "Be still my heart" moment.
What this post amounts to is I had nothing significant to say, just wanted everyone to know I am alive and well. Hope all is well in your world.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Waking and Sleeping

In the last four days I've written about 8,000 words on my novel. I have, as they say, gotten into it. This morning, I woke up at 2:30 from a sound sleep but could not get back to sleep. I was living out scenes from the novel in my head, working out the future plot, even figured out how the protagonist saves herself  from the villain. For too long I kept abandoning this novel, then coming back to it. I think because the world of it didn't seem real. Now it does, and the characters do--this late in the manuscript (54,000 words, thank you very much), they're taking on personality and depth. When I do that first rewrite I'll be more confident about who they are. I want to toss the world aside and write, write, write, but of course I can't do that, particularly not this week. My horoscope this morning said the world would keep me very busy in the beginning of the week and then leave me hanging. My calendar indicates just the opposite. Anyway, having my muse talk to me is great, but I'd like some sleep, please. The late Dorothy Johnson (A Man Called Horse, The Hanging Tree, etc.) used to say if her muse wasn't talking to her she might as well go scrub windows. One day she wrote that she'd just had an awful shock: she was working on a novel about NYC during WWII, called The Unbombed, because New Yorkers always lived in fear of bombings. She wrote she'd had a terrible disappointment: her muse had just told her that the man she thought was going to be the hero was going to be killed in the war. I know the feeling--the villain in my current work-in-progress has changed three times, but I think now I finally know who it is.
I am still exporing the possibility of self-publishing this novel, since the others haven't sold. It's a whole new world out there, and self-publishing has lost its stigma, may have some distinct advantages.
Lovely dinner tonight with old friends, couples who knew each other from way back but don't visit often. Nice to bring people together. The two men were both Air Force pilots so there was a lot of flying talk, and one is a docent at the Carter where Kathie plans to volunteer, so they all had a lot to talk about. My meatballs were good--sitting overnight really did improve them, softened what I thought was too strong a tomato paste taste--and the mashed potatoes with spinach and gruyere were wonderful. For an appetizer, I served store-bought hummus--I've found a brand I really like, Cedar's Original, and I plopped a couple of defrosted cubes of pesto down in the middle. Great combination. Kathie brought chocolate cake for dessert, so it was a festive and good meal.
Nice day. Much better than yesterday. And I did write 2,000 words. Moving on.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Funky Day

No other word for it--it's been a funky day. Spent the morning making meatballs with brown gravy, sort of a complicated process. You mix meat, egg, parsley, summer savory, salt, pepper, and so forth, then put it into the blender until it's paste-like. Then you bake the meatballs for 30 minutes; then brown in butter and olive oil; remove from pan and make brown gravy with red wine, beef broth, and tomato paste. Took me parts of most of the morning, and I find these days a morning of cooking tires me--hate that!
It's rained all day, some of it with thunder and some of it quite a hard downpour. At some points it was almost dark as night. Scooby thought it was a good day to be in, but he stayed close to me--thunderstorms terrify him. I thought it was a great afternoon for  reading and napping--finished Air Time, by Hank Phillipp Ryan, another great read in her series about Charlotte McNally, a Boston TV investigative reporter. Since that's what Ryan does in her daytime job in Boston, so she really knows whereof she writes. But better than that, she creates credible characters that you like and identify with. There's the requisite tension, and though you know it will all come out all right (or mostly so), Ryan still keeps you reading. I think characters are so much more important than plot in mysteries. I don't want to read about people I don't like or care about.
Spent some time exploring promotion options on Amazon (haven't had many sales of my e-book, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance) but the options thoroughly confused me. Brandon sent me directions for downloading a friend's book from Smashwords to my Kindle--they made sense on paper but confused me in practice. Both failures sent me further into a funk, but I'll recover. I did manage to write some updates for my web page and send them to the designer, so that's one thing accomplished. But I really want to be able to update my own page--others do it, so surely I can. Brandon's opinion about that was that I really don't want to learn HTML and he surely doesn't want to teach me.
Jacob was supposed to come tonight but his mom doesn't feel well and decided to stay home. When she first mentioned this, I saw a light--I wouldn't have to keep Jacob away from an already nervous dog, I could do the writing I didn't do this afternoon, and I could finish my cooking without distraction tomorrow. But of course, when she confirmed that she was keeping him home, I was disappointed. I will write--try for 2000 words.

Friday, October 22, 2010

That kind of a day!

Woke up at 5:00 this morning and couldn't sleep, though I guess I did finally doze. My motor was running too fast, thinking of all the things I had to do--most of them self-imposed, none of them necessary to the well-being of the world or even my small world. But when I feel that way, my balance is off, my cheery self is off, etc. I finally worked it out, doing all the errands I had planned--vet for dog food, a fruitless search for empty atomizer bottles, bookstore, grocery times two (had to come home in between to put perishables up), and Clothes Carpenter to get them to repair the lining of a purse. With all that, I made it in time to pick up Jeannie at 11:30 for lox and bagels at Carshon's. And one final errand: we dropped off some boxes at the office. They can use them for mailing books, and I see no reason to just recycle them. Then home to write a thousand words, but I have a great puzzle. When I started I wrote down the number of words in the mss. to date, and when I finished, I'd lost almost a thousand words. Yet I did a word count on the new material and it was over a thousand. Not sure if I misread the first time or what, but it was discouraging. I  thought I'd hit 50,000, and I didn't. Hope to do another thousand tonight.
This is a cooking weekend. Four good friends are coming for supper Sunday, so I started tonight. Cooked the spinach and grated the gruyere that will go in the mashed potatoes; measured out the French bread I need for meatballs and sealed the rest to serve with dinner; washed all the lettuce for salad. Still have to get out the table settings and can't quite decide what plates to use--I'm leaning toward the red-and-green plaid, since the holiday season is upon us. I'm trying to get a jump start on it. Tomorrow morning I'll make meatballs with brown gravy--they should only get better sitting a day--and Sunday I'll make the mashed potatoes, which will leave only the salad for the last minute.
Tonight I also cooked myself a good dinner, abandoning tuna fish and hummus and hearts of palm, my usual last-minute fare. I sauteed two small filets of Dover sole I'd bought this morning, sliced about half a zucchini, topped the slices with salt, pepper, olive oil, and grated parmesan. A fine meal.
Okay, off to write another thousand words--I hope.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Neighbors are like relatives--you don't get to choose them. But I've been as lucky with neighbors (recently) as I am with relatives. For several years I had college students living to the east--some were really nice and friendly, others were a pain. On the other side was an elderly and eccentric man who was so lonely he loved to talk. I felt most guilty that I didn't encourage him but I didn't want to take him to adopt.
Two good things happened--Jay and Susan bought the house to the west and comletely redid it. It's wonderful, and they're great neighbors. Then Sue moved in on the other side, and when I heard about it I thought, "Oh dear, a single mom with two children who will probably be noisy." Not at all. The children are a delight, and Sue became a good friend. She moved last March, and I miss her still.
But Brannon and Meredith Latimer have moved into her house with two-year-old Abby. They're expecting baby two in March and just found out it's a boy.
Meredith came over for coffee on the porch this morning--a lovely sunny morning with the temperature just right. We chatted immediately, found lots in common, and the forty-year age gap between us disappeared. We swapped stories--mine about granchildren, and hers about her child, then on to family, background, etc. An hour passed before we knew it, and it was time for her to pick up Abby. A most pleasant break in the morning, and I welcome them to the neighborhood, hope they'll stay a while.
November is Nanowrimo Month, a project that urges amateur and professional writers to put together a novel in 30 days--I didn't sign up. I don't need more pressure in my life. After all, that's why I'm retired. But today I wrote slightly over 2,000 words--if I did that every day for 30 days, I'd be darn close to a finished cozy. With my upcoming schedule, I won't get that done, but it was a good feeling, and I intend to keep after the novel now that I'm back to it. No more distractions.
Tonight was my memoir writing class. What a classy group of ladies! We laugh, we look at ourselves, we explore, and, best of all, we share. There are some hard times shared but somehow we always see the good in life. Tonight in addition to presentations, we read our exercises in telling a story in six sentences. (There's a blog where you can do that: Lots of fun. I cheated and condensed one of my short stories into six sentences, but some of the others were really good, and one gave me the chills.  The beginning of a good mystery short story.
I am so grateful for all these different threads in my life. They tie together well, but I have the feeling I'll be harried and hurried from now through Christmas.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Writing again--and a puzzling dinner

Whoohoo! I'm a novelist again. I dug back into my work-in-progress today and actually wrote two new pages--not much, I know, but it's a toe in the water. Some time ago I read about the Snowflake method of writing a novel--like adding layers until you get the complex shape of a snowflake. The author recommended you write a description of your novel in one sentence, then one paragraph, and then one page. Then write a page about each of the main characters. When I went back to it today I realized that I'd done all that, and I do know my characters pretty well and I have the general plot in my mind. I had thought to read it all again--I'm at 47,000 words--but those notes convinced me that I should just plow ahead, finish the draft, and then go back for rewrites. I'm full of ideas and, now, enthusiasm. Once you move away from a novel in progress, it's hard to go back and pick up the threads, but those snowflake pieces made it much easier to step back into that world. I am anxious to write--but the world is too much with me (please forgive the cliche). I have a coffee date with my new neighbor in the morning and must fit in my bike ride; tomorrow night I teach; Friday I have to grocery shop and have a tentative lunch date. But Friday afternoon and evening are clear, and I know I'll begin to get back into it. Why did I move away from it? I can't even remember now, except that a lot of other small projects seemed to come my way.
Had lunch today with a friend who is worried about what she'll do in retirement. I was prepared to offer suggestions, but it turns out she gave herself a kick yesterday and shed her doldrums, began networking, and has some real ideas, any two of which will keep her more than busy. I predict she'll easily end up like me, wondering how I got so busy.
Tonight Betty and I went to a new bistro that I've been longing to try. She had lentil soup and Caesar salad, but I relished the appetizer plate of pate--three different pates, two smooth and sophisticated and one country, all delicious. The server put everything on one check, so we asked her to split it--and we each got identical checks that still had all the food and wine ordered on them. So we paid what we thought was the amount each owed, though I was amazed I could have pate for $4.45 and wine for $2.75--it was the house chardonnay and not very good. Well, of course, on the way home we figured out that the waitress had just split the bill in half, so we each paid half of what we should. She wasn't very attentive, I think because we were two older ladies not ordering entrees (we've run into that before), and though we wondered about the check, it had taken so long to get it we didn't want to wait around to question her. So we left, and on the way home figured out what happened. I called the restaurant and they said not to worry, the waitress would have to make it up. Well, I sort of hate that but as I said to whoever was on the phone, maybe it was a learning lesson for her. And she honestly hadn't paid much attention to us. But oh, those pates were good. I'm sure we'll go back, but I hope we get a different waitress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coming home is hard, gubernatorial campaign, and a dog/child problem

I'm not a good traveler. I don't like to be away from my house, my animals, my own bed for very long. But I often find coming home is harder than leaving. After a wonderful three nights in Austin with Megan's family, Jamie's girls, and glimpses of Jamie, I got home yesterday about 3:15 and had less than two hours before Jacob arrived for the night.
The trouble with me, I confess, is that I'm almost obsessive-compulsive. If it needs to be done, I want to do it NOW. I come home, no matter how long I've been gone nor how much computer access I've had, to tons of computer work to do, bags to unpack, animals to reassure, the "to do" list I made while traveling--and I bigosh have to get it done that day. Last night, poor Jacob suffered from it--he was watching TV but I told him to come get me if he needed me, which he did about ten times. I was tired, and I'm sure he could tell I was losing my patience, because at one point he asked, "Juju, are you happy?" He, poor baby, had an ear ache so wasn't at his best either, and it was not our best evening together. I did get him down by 9:30--pretty good for a school night. And this morning? Nothing on my desk seemed that urgent.
Jacob pounded on my leg to wake me about 7:45, announcing that it was wake-up time and seemed offended that I didn't spring right out of bed. Somehow it was almost nine before I got coffee and my morning yogurt. Finally, at 9:30, he was off to school, and at ten I went to make phone calls for Bill White. I'm pleased to report that I only talked to one person who was voting for Perry and quite a few who were voting for White. And a few undecideds actually listened to me tell them why we needed White and thanked me. My main talking point? The state is $18 billion in debt, a fact that never comes out in Perry's rosy ads about how well Texas is doing. And now more and more of Perry's underhanded deals are coming out. Want to check the veracity of ad claims? Go to It gives the truth about both sides and their campaign claims.
I've got a dog problem. Jacob loves Scooby and says "See? Scooby loves me!" but Jacob is also a bit afraid of Scooby. When I gave Jacob a handful of four treats and told him to take them to the office, he kept throwing them at Scooby to keep him at a distance from him. But once Scooby was in the office, Jacob wanted to stay and "play" with him. Well, Jacob makes Scooby as nervous as the other way around. Scooby reverted into the panic mode he used to show during storms, getting under my desk and pawing at me. I finally put both of them in their respective beds, but I'm thinking some desensitization training is needed. Scooby is 11 but I think I can teach an old dog new tricks with his training leash and soothing words. The problem will be to get Jacob to be calm, slow, and loving. Guess I'll work on it this weekend. Scooby is actually the most loving dog in the world, but because he was abused in his previous life, he has some real quirks and fears. A report for dog lovers will follow next week.
Writing a mystery? What's that? I swear I'm going to get back to it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Texas Book Festival and an Austin weekend

We started our trip to Austin with a stop at Heritage Homestead outside Elm Mott (just north of Waco). It's a commune with a wonderful restaurant--almost all the food is grown, baked, etc. on the grounds. I heard an ordinary sandwich--turkey and cheese with mayo--but in their hands it became extraordinary. The grounds are beautiful, and we wandered to the gift shop (hand-crafted items, from weaving and pottery to word-working and a $4900 wooden rocking chair), the pottery shop where no one was working at the moment but we saw more of their ware, the wood shop where we watched them building furniture, all by hand. No electric tools for these folks! We by-passed the weaving shop--Susan Petty was with us, and we'd never have gotten her out of there but she did pick up some brochures on classes, etc. Heritage Homestead is really an amazing place and I urge you to stop there. The picture above doesn't do it credit (the sun was in my eyes and I couldn't see what I was taking) but that's the restaurant building, wonderfully landscaped.
In Austin by 3:30--Melinda and I met her friend (and now mine) K.K. for drinks at Z-Tejas on the patio and relaxed and had a good time. Then I went to Megan's, where we had terrific flank steak and salad for supper. Jamie and his girls arrived shortly thereafter, so I had a good portion of my family together.
Sat. morning everyone left for Sawyer's nine o'clock soccer game--except me. I was reading and drinking tea when Jamie wandered in from the guest apt., so we had a good visit.
Megan and Brandon have recently remodeled their kitchen, opening the house from the front all the way to the back. It's spectacular and makes so much more space for visiting while someone cooks, etc. When the house was empty I took a couple of pictures.
Megan announced a picnic at 11:30 and B. made sandwiches; by 12:15 or so, she decided we'd just go ahead and eat them. Jamie had left to check into a hotel and prepare for his half Ironman. Megan then announced at one that everyone was going to go to the park to throw footballs and kick soccer balls. I begged off, read, had a little wine, and a good nap. Saturday night we ate at Matt's El Rancho, which was fun for me because the Dallas incarnations of that restaurant are in my book, Great Texas Chefs. I particularly liked eating the Bob Armstrong Dip. Ate way too much. This picture is of Uncle Jamie conspiring with his nephews to play tricks on people--they think he's very exciting.
Sunday I went to the Texas Book Festival and, as I have for years, was at the TCU Press both with the A&M consortium, even though I have no official capacity any more. It was good to see so many people I worked with for years and am so fond of. I actually sold two books, both to a good friend from A&M but also went to a program for Smurglets Are Everywhere, a marvelous book of children's poetry written by Alan Birkelbach and illustrated by my neighbor Susan Halbower. Met fellow Guppie Kaye George (a branch of Sisters in Crime for those who are Going to be Published) for lunch--fun to meet someone I've known on the computer for a couple of years. And I sat at the Texas Institute of Letters booth for an hour, though with no interest from the public--still a good chance to visit with my friend Bob Flynn. Went home tired to find Jamie and the girls still at the house--he'd finished his half Ironman in 5 hours 18 minutes, which I thought was really good.
Today we headed home--slowly. Breakfast with my longtime friend Barbara Whitehead, who has designed books for TCU Press for almost 30 years. Then Melinda, K.K., and I went looking for the student who was to drive home with us and got lost in the rolling hills of suburban west Austin. Finally found her, dropped K.K. off at her house, and hit the highway. One stop in Lorena, where there is a block-long quaint old-town section. We were headed for the cheese shop, and I meant to take a picture--the whole place was picturesque. I bought some homemade pimiento cheese and a quarter pound Lorena manchego (delicious!). They have a lunch menu, and we may stop another time.
Home, weary, to be greeted by Jacob who has an earache, but is not settling down to bed. And I'm so sleepy. But what a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing memoir, the Chilean rescue, and changing weather

My evening memoir writing class met tonight. There are a couple of basic differences between it and the daytime class on campus: in the evening, we're in the casual setting of a home, and we have snacks and wine (the latter making the real difference). The lunchtime group brownbags it but I notice not many eat--I always have a tuna sandwich.
Tonight was a great time of sharing--two people presented stories from their childhood, both with perception and honesty and, afterward, open, honest responses to questions. Some brought laughter, some brought moments of silence. Mostly though we're a laughing, happy group. I shared my story of adoption, and once you get me started on that, I'm hard to shut up, but they were most responsive. My friend Linda is now among the group, and of course she was around when my babies were children, so she knows these stories. "I loved hearing them again, in your voice," she said. Linda came for supper, and I fixed a one-dish meal of chicken, pasta, two cheeses (cheddar and cream) and green peas. It was supposed to have broccoli, but I forgot to go back by the frozen section when I went to the store this morning. Darn! I substituted a small can of green peas.
I am still watching whatever's on TV about the Chilean miners. I hear two books have been proposed in New York, one of them already under contract in the UK.  NYpublishers are hesitant because they fear the heartwarming story has gotten so much instant coverage no one will want a book about it. I think, as a publisher, I'd jump at such a book, but then I was never a big-time publisher dealing with thousand-copy print runs. Jean Walbridge said today that it just shows what people can do when a country pulls together and determines to accomplish something. The Chilean president (who has been a strong and admirable figure throughout this ordeal) said they just decided everything else went on the back burner--they were going to get these miners out. And they did, with help, both technical and emotional support and I suppose financial, from all over the world. A book about that cooperative effort would be excellent, if only to make it required reading for all members of our Federal congress.Apparently a few miners suffer health problems--from pneumonia to skin and dental problems--but most are hale and hearty. It will be interesting to see how they handle the future, though they've been quoted as saying they don't want fame and fortune--they want to go back to their lives. I wonder how many will want to go underground again. A trivial thought that came to me today: they had to fit themselves into a cylinder that was 23 inches--how did they do it? That's a lot less than my waist. I have a vision of people poking and pushing to get my stomach into that tiny cylinder. But, hey, these were mostly pretty big guys.
Chilly morning today--first turtleneck day of the fall season. And gosh it gets dark early. I think my sweet potato plants have had it for the year, and I must soon harvest my basil if I don't want to lose it. I foresee a lot of pesto in the future. Next year I'm going to be more judicious about planting herbs--no dill, because the caterpillars eat it, no summer savory because I didn't use it once and Greg says it's just a tasteless version of oregano. No tansy because it crowds everything else out. Don't have to think about that right now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean rescue and chicken fried steak

Like many of us, I stayed up too late last night and spent much of today riveted to the TV watching rescuers pull he Chilean miners out of the earth. It's an incredible story of humanity, compassion and determination--I admire those miners more than I can say, but I also admire the six rescuers who went underground to help them out (as I write three of the rescuers are out). The reunion scenes have brought tears to the eyes but also joy in seeing how vital and enthusiastic these men are. They've all come out making thumbs-up signs or more, hugging everyone--it's just a joy to watch. As for the man whose mistress met him while his wife stayed away--well, let's hope there's not a different story of heartbreak there. I predict someone--or several someones--will get best-selling books out of this. It may be one of those rush-to-print cases, to see who can be the first with an authoritative story. On the other hand, I much admire the Chilean government's obvious tight control on this story--I heard this morning that the rescues were only broadcast on the government station with a 30-second delay in case of unforeseen circumstances. Thankfully, there have been none so far. But the government may also control access to the miners and their stories. One thing for sure: life will never be the same for any of them. I'm just now seeing how much they're being offered for interviews, etc.--probably more money than any of them dreamed of. It will be interesting to see how the individual men handle this sudden fame and heroic status. Life may never be the same for the rest of us, now we can see what a world community can do with joint effort. It makes wars fade into the background, even if only briefly.
On a much lighter note, I had a self-indulgent dinner of chicken-fried steak at the Star Cafe tonight. I split one order with Cara Gilger, who several years ago was a TCU student, active in our church, and a waitress--ooops, wait person--at the Star. She wormed her way into our hearts, and Betty and I were both delighted to see her tonight. She's grown up, married, a minister, and an expectant mother--all the things we could wish for our protege. And she's still her iconoclastic self--a devout person with a sharp tongue. What a great combination.
Other than that, it's been one of those days that makes me wonder how I can be so busy in retirement that I have no time to write and barely fit in exercise. Went to a luncheon today to hear Karla Morton, poet laureate of the State of Texas. Karla, a delightful, energetic person with wonderful stage presentation, is a dedicated Texan and a cancer survivor, and she writes mind-boggling accessible poetry about those subjects and others. For her latest book go to I'm at the point with TCU Press that they're still pubishing books that I acquired, and it makes me proud to see them come into print.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Campaign work and an email day

Fun doing phone calls at the Bill White campaign headquarters today. When I first started several weeks ago, I was the only one in the room (which I kind of liked) but today, as the election draws near, there were about ten people in there making phone calls (a bit distracting for my challenged ears). Still, I talked to lots of people who were going to vote for White and one man whose disparaging comments about Republicans I can't repeat. Then there was the lady who said, "I've had enough of the other guy. Haven't you?" I assured her I'd had more than enough. Sure, there were about three who told me they knew who they were going to vote for and it wouldn't be Bill White. So be it. I was nonetheless encouraged by the support for him I saw.
Lunch with an old and good friend and then home where I surely dealt with 100 emails between 1:30 and eight tonight--mostly Sisters in Crime and Guppies (going to be published). They're time consuming, but I'm afraid to skip any because some have valuable information. A nap, a bike ride, a supper of leftovers, and I'm back at my desk, hope to get to read tonight.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Memoir class, animals, and a good mystery

I taught my memoir writing class at TCU today. I use the word "taught" lightly, because my only function is to spur discussion, and some of the pieces people write do that without any input from me. I try to get the class to see the submissions not as an isolated piece of writing but as a partial statement of who the writer is today. It amazes me that some people, one I've known for years, have stories in their backgrounds I'd never have guessed. The different approaches to life and its ups and downs are fascinating, but with a few exceptions I don't find this group ready to come to grips with the hard things in their lives. Still, it was an interesting and lively hour. My theory is that memoir is the story of how you got to be where you are today. I drove one of the class members back to her office, and she said, "I'm really enjoying this. It makes you think." I guess I couldn't ask for more.
My animals, both in their dotage, are changing their habits. I read today about the importance of socialization of your animals--i.e., dogs left outside. Well, my Aussie is outside all day, because he, a rescued dog, can't be trusted in the house without supervision.. I used to think chasing squirrels kept him active and interested, but now that he's eleven, I've noticed him lying in the sun while squirrels parade on the grass. I bring him in after supper, take him to my office, and give him treats--but as soon as he eaten his treats, he wants to go drink water and go to his bed, next to my bed. No more lounging lovingly at my feet while I work at my desk And my eighteen-year-old cat has gone back to sleeping at the foot of my bed, which I really like. He doesn't spend as much time on my desk, and while I miss the companionship, he was often in the way of what I needed to do. But I think that he sleeps on the bed so he can watch for my first restless moment in the morning and yowl to be fed.
I didn't get much done today, and I blame it all on an author. A couple of weeks ago Hank Phillipi Ryan offered ten free copies of her new novel, Drive Time, to the first ten who responded. I was one of the lucky ones and got the book. It introduced me to a whole new series and a protagonist I really like. Hank is an investigative reporter for a Boston TV channel, and so is her protagonist, so she knows whereof she writes. She's created a character who's determined, smart, and oh-so-career minded but who is also very human. I'm only about a third of the way through, but I've not done much else today besides the class, some e-mail, and my bike workout. Thanks, Hank, for giving me another reason to put off getting back to my own novel! I swear when I finish this, the only fiction I'll read is my novel--I've been away from it so long that I'll have to read from the beginning to get myself back into the story.
Our Texas weather continues to be absolutely lovely, so I took Hank's novel and a glass of wine to the porch tonight and enjoyed both thoroughly.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lazy Jacob day and a good dinner

Having fallen asleep before 9 p.m., Jacob woke birght-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:30 this morning. I did not share his enthusiasm for the day. I got him to cuddle for half an hour, but he's a pretty restless, wriggly cuddler. At seven, I thought, okay, I'll turn on the TV for him and feed the cat (he kept telling me Wywy wanted food!). I did and got another 45 minutes of dozing, which brightened my mood considerably.
Our good weather continued today, and we spent a lot of time on the porch (I had to convince him he could not go out in his underwear). We tasted and talked about the various herbs in my porch garden--I think he liked chives best. We watched squirrels, and I sent him on a hunt for geckos on the brick of t he house. He moved his precious rock collection for me, so I could put the plumbago in a spot where it got more much-needed sun. With the nicer weather, my porch has come back to life--the basil no longer droops, the plumbago and impatiens are blooming. It's like a green sanctuary. On our second trip to the porch for the morning, Jacob thought he saw a bee and nothing would do but that we go inside. Then, inside, he spotted a spider and insisted I "get it," when my inclination was to let the poor creature go about his business. Still, I decided when it came to a standoff between Jacob and a spider, he won hands down. Goodbye, spider.
I told Jacob to take a body rest after lunch, and I had what I'd call an interrupted nap--he kept appearing at my bedside with some new announcement. When I finally got up, he lay still as could be and watched TV. I was still trying to persuade him to put his clothes back on when his mom arrived. We did sit outside, and the new neighbors wandered over for a visit. Jacob and their two-year-old played sweetly--a pleasant encounter.
I fixed a dinner of lamb burgers, wedge salad with a pumped up ranch dressing, and feta bread--the latter was the centerpiece of the meal. You heat an oven proof skillet (my reliable iron one) in a 500 degree oven for five minutes, the pour in 2 Tbsp. olive oil and a batter of flour, baking powder, salt, water, olive oil, and vodka (not sure why the latter), spread it around quickly because it begins to cook immediately, and top it with feta and dots of butter. Bake for 15-20 minutes, still at 500, and remove carefully. The directions were so full of cautions for dealing with the extreme heat and the need for speed that I was intimidated, but it really wasn't hard at all--and it came out great. Like a pizza with a really thin crust topped with feta. Christian immediately wanted to open a pizza parlor and serve variations of it, until I asked if I had to do the cooking? If you're interested in the recipe, try to find a Web site called "the meaning of pie" and scroll back to older entries--it's worth the chase, believe me.
Jacob was an angel all weekend--well, okay, a couple of mis-steps, but nothing serious. For some reason when his parents arrive, his behavior deteriorates, Jordan gets impatient, and confusion results. I'm not sure how to handle that.
Back to the workaday world tomorrow after my nice lazy weekend. I dreamt I was getting ready to be at the office at 8;00 a.m. and then I thought, "Wait! I'm retired. Why am I going in at eight?" And tomorrow I can sleep past 6:30.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A truly self-indulgent day

Sometimes retirees think every day will be like this, but I would wither from inertia if that was so. But I thoroughly enjoyed today, from waking up late with the thought that there's nothing I absolutely had to do today to tonight when Jacob fell asleep of his own accord, TV still on. I hadn't read to him, gotten him to the potty, any of those things. Somehow I struggled his pants off him and put on a night-time diaper. Have you ever tried that upside down on a sleeping child who refused to turn over? Good trick, if I do say so.
This morning I changed and washed the sheets, watered the porch plants, did my yoga, fiddled with email and Facebook--still working on raising my internet profile. Took me all morning. There are days--too many--when I'm hard-put to fit in exercise. How can that be?
Early lunch, early nap. Jamie had said he was leaving Frisco "noonish" for Fort Worth. I knew he wouldn't make it by 1, so about 1:30 I took a nap, woke with a start when something made me realize I didn't pay my quarterly taxes in September! Jamie, on the other hand, never showed up, finally called about 8:15. He was on his way to "the Fort" for his 20th h.s.reunion, which started at 7 p.m. Ah, Jamie.
Jacob arrived about four, and we sat outside for a long time, though I refused to let him off the porch because he had stripped down to his underwear. He played with his toys, I read and generally enjoyed the pleasant day. Jacob voluntarily got dressed, because he wanted to go outside again. We had a picnic on the porch--grilled cheese sandwiches on plastic plates, and I finally lured him inside with the promise of ice cream. Since I don't have the kind of backyard he can play in, I'm paranoid about watching him when we're in the front and will not leave him alone for a minute. A grandma pal of mine and I recently discussed the sense of responsibility you feel when watching grandchildren, so different from when we raised our own kids. Lesson we were working on tonight: when  you spill something you clean it up; you do NOT say to your grandmother, "I want you to do it."
He'd had a full day, including a soccer game, with no nap and the "body rest" he took when he first got here didn't do the trick. So now he's peacefully asleep, and I'm going to bed early too.

Friday, October 08, 2010

One of those days

Since retiring I've fallen into the habit of sleeping until abut eight o'clock--I wake about seven and doze as long as the dog, cat, and my bladder will let me. It's a delicious time, and my thoughts wander all over the good things in my life and what plans I have for the day. But this morning, at 7:45, I was blasted out of bed--literally--by the boom of marching drums. They were coming from the schoolyard across the street, and I finally got myself together enough to go out, get the paper, and see what was going on. Crowds of people were gathering on the lawn, then a sheriff's car pulled up with lights flashing, and pretty soon an inflatable arch went up over the side street. I finally figured out it was a walkathon, fund-raiser for the school (probably when first awakened I'd have donated money to get them to stop the drums but once I was up and about, I sort of liked them). Of course, the dog and cat went crazy--the dog demanding to go out, the cat demanding to be fed, and me deciding going to the bathroom was my first priority. I finally got everyone settled down, fed, and where they belonged. When I left for the grocery store, there was a police car almost but not quite blocking my driveway. The woman driving it moved it a bit, but it was still tricky getting out of the driveway without scraping a police car--now that would have been a nightmare.
The day went that way--I got tangled in a bunch of e-mails, a long conversation with Jordan about Kindle--she was relaying everything I said to a colleague until I finally said I felt like I was talking to a parrot. Had a delightful lunch at Nonna Tata (country Italian) with Susan and Melinda, then back to the computer. I spent a lot of time creating an author page on Kindle, and it was three o'clock in the afternoon before I read the morning paper, usually the first thing I do in the morning.
The rest of the day went okay--a nap, a bike ride, feeding animals (again! with the cat it's a constant process!), dinner making salad out of leftover salmon from last night with an added bit of gravlax I had on hand (made an interesting salad). Tonight I posted my short story collection on Smashwords which puts things on all kinds of e-platforms. I know I did both that and Kindle without following format instructions, so they are in less than ideal shape, but they're up and running--my usual impatience with tech instructions.
Tonight I've had it. I'm doing something I never do--watching TV: Dateline, to be followed by a Food Network show featuring a local restaurant. Sometimes it's good to chill.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Friends, old, true, and lost

This is something I wrote in a hurry this afternoon because I feared my class would run out of discussion tonight. Besides, it's a topic that's been on my mind for a while. The group did talk about this a bit but seemed to think it's a common experience. We talked about friendship, but I came away with the feeling what I wrote wasn't that profound. Otherwise it was a great class, good discussion, lots of sharing. And great apple caramel cake--no, I didn't make it. Linda came from Granbury and we had supper first--that was really good. Salmon (my good canned kind) over asparagus and topped with a sauce of basil, chives, flat-leaf parsley, capers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Pungent--I thought we might scare off everyone in the class, but I guess not. We had a good visit before everyone got here.

Herewith my afternoon scrambling of my thoughts on friendship:
I am still in touch with my best friend from high school—our lives have diverged, our religious and political views are very different, but we share a lot of memories and common interests in family. I follow her on Facebook, and we email occasionally. I’m also in touch with good friends made during the years of my master’s work in Missouri—they live in Nebraska but have twice been to Texas, and I keep hoping they’ll come again. We too keep in touch by email. And then there’s a friend and former neighbor that I probably first met in the late sixties—every couple of weeks, he’ll pick up the phone and call just to say “How are you?” He and his wife have busy social and business schedules, but I do want to have them for an antipasto evening, because I remember they much enjoyed such one time before.

Friendship do come and go—people drift out of your life, and new ones drift in. I remember one night at one of my Xmas trees trimming parties after my divorce, a friend looked around and realized she didn’t know anyone. Then she thought, “OF course, Judy’s filled her life with new friends.” I’ve known some of the people closest to me for about ten years, and I can’t see them drifting away—the bonds between us are strong. But I’m always adding new friends, and when I ask the Lord to bless my friends, the list is long. I am fortunate.

Every once in a while, you lose a friend—suddenly and without explanation. That’s happened to me twice in recent years and, frankly, it hurts. A woman I’ve known since the early ‘70s and with whom I’ve shared happy moments and tragic ones, moved to a retirement home in Dallas. I called, I sent emails, a Christmas present, a birthday card. I tried to keep her informed on doings at our church and with our friends, but she always is in a hurry, says she’ll call back—and I never hear from her. I’ve written her off my list. Long after our girls were out of high school, I became friends with the mother of one of Megan’s best friends, she, too, a writer. We lunched, I ate in their home, and she and her husband ate in mine, and we came close to collaborating on a book. I thought we had a good friendship. But she moved to Colorado, lost her husband, suffered health problems, and wiped me off her slate. I talk to friends who hear from her occasionally, but I’ve heard nothing and she doesn't call when she's in town. I honestly don’t think it’s my problem in either case, but it’s still hurtful.

Friendship, as most of us know, takes work. You have to pick up the phone, make that contact, suggest that lunch, exchange news. It’s best when it’s a two-way street, but it isn’t always and that’s no reason to give up on friends who are responsive when you call. I think I have a lot of friends not only because I’m blessed but because I work at friendships.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Three big accomplishments

Nothing makes me feel more deliciously self-indulgent than eating a whole lobster, but that's what Jeannie, Betty and I did tonight at Lucille's, a local restaurant that once a year sponsors Lobstrama for several weeks. A whole lobster is only $13.95, and we have it with the house salad which has a roquefort-vinaigrette dressing. Needless to say, I'm stuffed but happy. I've gotten pretty good at dealing with a whole lobster and extracting the meat, especially the claw meat that is so sweet and tender. Betty laughs that she always needs instuction, though she did well tonight, and Jeannie found meat in the body cavity where I never think to look--I was full by the time I got to that. Lovely evening, although the restaurant got so crowded it was hard for me to hear, in spite of the fact that the volume on my hearing aids has been re-set and turned up a lot.
But that was only my final accomplishment of the day. The first was  cleaning closets, a chore I hate and am fully capable of putting off for two years or more. But I got a notice that the ARC would be in my neighborhood tomorrow (Association for Retarded Citizens? Surely not. There must be a more pc name for it now, but they do help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities). It sparked my conscience. I kept the notice on my desk for a week or so, thinking surely I could come up with one bag. Today, with a/c repairmen putting the finishing touches on the duct work for my new furnace, seemed like a good time to clean closets, so I did. Got four bags, including one of shoes. I was ruthless--or pretty much so. There are some things I gave leniency to for another year, and in a couple of instances, I discarded the pants, skirt or jumper but kept the top. I even straightened the shoes that were strewn haphazardly on my closet floor, put them on the shoe rack, and swept the closet. Oh, the feeling of righteousness! Tomorrow I'll put the bags out with the appropriate sign.
Then this afternoon I spent about two hours posting my short story collection, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories, to Kindle. They really do make it simple, though I'm afraid my text came through with no paragraph indents. Stiill, I was enormously proud of myself for having accomplished this. I priced it at $2.99, the lowest price Kindle allows. I've heard that at that price you get a lot of sales. It wilil be two or three days before it shows up in the Kindle shop.
Why, then, with these accomplishments for the day, do I feel edgy? It's the lack of a next project, but I made a resolve today: I'll finish the draft of my work-in-progress, a cozy mystery, and then move on to a nonfiction project that's floating in my head since my agent mentioned a possible assignment. I hope I'll stick to that resolution. I also have to obtain e-book permission from previous publishers and send copies of the books to the agent. And I'm still waiting for an editorial opinion on the Texas food book. Yep, I'm not giving up on the career yet.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Amish Life

I just reviewed a book called The Amish Cook's Anniversary Book by Lovina Eichel with Kevin Williams for Story Circle Network Book Reviews ( The book is a collection of newspaper columns first written by Elizabeth Coblentz in 1991 and taken over by her daughter, Lovina Eichel, after Elizabeth's sudden death in 2002. I found this oversize book with full color photographs not only beautiful but interesting far beyond the relatively few recipes scattered throughout. I think we're all curious about Amish life. This is what I found out: the Amish still ride in a horse-drawn buggy, but they can drive, particularly long distances, in a car driven by a non-Amish person, and they can stay in modern hotels that have all those conveniences they lack at home, like electricity. Some Amish farmers have bought mechanized tractors--the old ways may be fading a bit. Rules vary from region to region but in some places they may have small appliances--alarm clocks, radios, flashlights. And in Michigan they may have gasoline-powered freezers but not in Indiana. Since they butcher their own meat, freezers must be a huge help.
The Amish life is one of hard work, and women get together to feed several hundred people abundant meals at weddings and other celebrations. They generally rise at four or five in the morning and work until evening--sewing, canning, quilting, cleaning, washing, cooking. Their life is guided by their absolute belief in God's ways. At one point, Elizabeth writes, "God makes no mistakes." I am always envious of people with such absolute faith. My faith is strong but not quite that strong.
There are recipes scattered throughout the book, several that I think I'll try, but here's one that called out to me:
Amish Classic Ham Salad
3 c. diced ham                                                                  2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 c. sweet pickle relish                                                   1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. minced onions                                                         1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. prepared mustard                                                    1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. mayonnaise                                                             2 c. crushed potato chips
1 c. diced celery
Preheat oven to 425
Combine all ingredients except potato chips. Stir until well combined. Pour into 2-quart casserole and sprinkle with crushed potato chips. Cover and bake 20 minutes or until top is bubbling and golden.
I'm a big fan of ham salad, so I'm anxious to try a baked version. This serves eight.
Otherwise, a ho-hum day. I started by emptying the dishwasher only to realize I hadn't run it and the dishes were still dirty; this evening I did a rag and rug wash, belatedly realizing that the dishtowels I washed last night were still in the washer. So I had to fish out the rags and rugs, dry them, and wash the dishtowels again. Went to the audiologist at 9:30 this morning, thinking I'd be in plenty of time to volunteer at Bill White's campaign headquarters at ten. Wrong--the audiologist was overbooked for one thing, and for another he replaced the tubing on my hearing aids and adjusted the volume--it was, he said, too low for the amount of my hearing loss, something we did because I was so uncomfortable with the aids at first. I'm pretty used to them now. Then an hour at the campaign headquarters, most of which I spent calling people who weren't home. Frustrating. Proofreading this afternoon and doing a few odds and ends.Not an exciting day. Oh, and my agent forwarded, with regret, a rejection of my first mystery from a publisher--I think this is the fourth publisher that's turned him down. I try to be philosophical, but this criticism hit home--there wasn't a sense of urgency about the action. If there isn't in that novel, it's surely lacking in the next one and the one I supposedly have in progress. Well, I'll think abut that tomorrow. Meanwhile back to proofreading for a bit and then that mystery I'm reading that is really fun.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

An Austin weekend

This is how the adult Alter/Hudgeons/Burton children spent Saturday afternoon, glumly watching the deafeat of UT at the hands of OU. And below is how the grandchildren spent the afternoon--caged. It's not as bad as it looks. The trampoline has a net around it for safety, and most of the kids spent all weekend bouncing. We had seven children, one pool, one trampoline, and only one accident: Edie twisted her ankle just before we left for lunch on Sunday and had to be carried, though by the time we finished eating she was putting some tentative weight on it and not nearly as tearful as she'd been when it happened. A much more minor problem: two footballs are now in the yard of the neighbors behind the back fence--Maddie has a powerful arm.
The final picture shows how the Alters celebrate birthdays, with all those children trying to put forty candles on Aunt Megan's cake and then help her blow them out. Of course they were the trick candles that flare up as soon as you blow them out. Megan finally had to say to the children, "Quit blowing. It's just makes them light up again." She resorted to dumping them in a glass of water. I was pleased with my present for Megan--besides a gift certificate for Kindle, I gathered forty of a variety of things--marshmallows, corks, Hershey kisses, gummy bears, scrunchies, jalopeno almonds, etc., each with a note for suggested use.
It was all great fun, and we had a lovely weekend. The weather was beautiful, and mostly we sat around in the back, watching the kids in the pool or on the tramp (strict rules about adults being around for these activities, though Maddie pretty much qualifies these days). We went to a six-year-old's soccer game to see Sawyer play defense and goalie--he did himself proud and was pleased with all the praise. We went for a long walk at dusk--longer than Megan promised me it would be and though I can ride a good distance on my stationary bike in a fair amount of time, this wore me out. Today we had lunch at Salt Lick, the legendary barbecue place I'd heard much about. I'd heard, with some trepidation, that they put barbecue sauce in their potato salad, and I resolved to abstain--but it was good. We ate under the trees, and the kids could run and play, though they spent some time raptly listening to the guitar player.
The nice thing about my family is that they really all love each other a lot, and all the children get along and have a weekend-long play date (bedtime is sometimes hard). But no adults singles out his or her child for attention--they are equally loving and caring--and meting out discipline--with all the children. But I feel so blessed.
Megan and Brandon live in a sixty-year-old house, and this is the first time I've seen the remodeled kitchen, which completely transformed the whole downstairs--it is now open from front to back, with a huge granite slab island that will eventually have cabinets on one side and seating on the other. At the far end, near what is used as the living/family room, there is a bar with higher stools. It's all great for visiting with whoever's cooking, gathering around to eat, whatever. So much more space and openness--and light. In fact, Megan says at night their house looks like a big-screen TV and she must get drapes. But it's really wonderful, with redone hardwoods (dark), dark wood cabinets, multi-color granite counters, and backsplash of variegated glass bricks--I'm not doing it justice. Megan has impeccable taste, and it's all well done.
So, home, tired, with lots to do. But savoring a wonderful weekend. I see someone has already put some weekend pictures on my Ceiva--the revolving picture frame on my desk.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Conspicuous wastefulness

This week the TODAY show has featured a family of five whose grocery bill averages under $300 a month, and as the mother said they eat good things--beef stroganoff is one I remember she mentioned. They are however dedicated frugalists--one of the grown daughters said she is amazed at the money her friends spend on jeans when she knows she can get a pair of $10. The grocery bill is kept in check by a lot of work--menus are planned ahead for each month, every day; coupon clipping and bargain hunting are serious business. Bottled water? Never. There are, according to the dad, a lot cheaper ways to drink good water. It struck me that living frugally is their passion in life, just as writing is mine.
But at the other end of the spectrum, today I cleaned my freezer and threw away a garbage sack of food--freezer burned things I couldn't identify, odd bits and pieces of bread. I'm pretty good about using FoodSaver and labeling, so I also discovered lots and lots of meals in there--a bit of buffalo meatloaf, still edible; a lamb chop; a full chicken breast; some marinara sauce. Three containers of ground Parmesan (I consolidated, as I did with bacon), and Jacob and I could eat hot dogs (Hebrew National) with buns for a month should we desire. Still throwing out food, even if I knew it would never get eaten, made me feel guilty, considering all the hungry across the world.
My mom lived through the Depression and never threw anything out, to the point in her later years my brother and I were discouraged to find jars in the back of her fridge with a nice crop of mold. She also saved and reused aluminum foil and paper towels--she had a special place where she kept slightly dirty paper towel. In their second use they mopped up spills on the floor. She used to accuse me of being too quick to pitch tiny bits of leftover, but I think there's some of Mom's frugality in me and that's why I stick bits of things in the freezer.
One of Mom's saving ways I used to follow when my children were young was soup of the week. Got a bit of leftover casserole? Some spaghetti sauce? Keep a pot in the fridge, add all those leftovers, and make soup once a week, adding a can of tomatoes or some boullion or whtever's needed. My soup of the week was always brown, which puzzled me. The kids remember it, perhaps not always favorably.
Along with cooking more meals for myself rather than grabbing tuna, I'm going to eat up my frozen foods and keep better control of my freezer. Ah, the best intentions . . . . now it's time for a pimiento cheee sandwich, with that cheese left from last night. Can't let it go to waste.