Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cats and dogs

Wywy in a happier day.
You know those cutesy things you get (maybe in email) written from a cat's point of view, about "my person"? I'm thinking of writing one, because I can only imagine what Wynona is thinking. After his/her trauma at the vet yesterday--a bath (I'm not sure she's ever had a bath), shots, blood work, etc., she/he disappeared last night when we came home. He emerged sometime after supper to ask for food but ate very little. I didn't see him again all evening, nor did I see him this morning--usually he's right behind me as I head for the bathroom, yowling for his food. I simply couldn't find him--looked under my bed with a flashlight, in the back of my closet where he sometimes heads. Finally found him in the guest room closet where he'd made a nest of some empty grocery bags I keep there. He blinked at me, I petted him, put food and water right by the closet door, and left for the dentist. But here's my Wywy dialog:
"My person thinks I should forgive her for yesterday's horrible experience. She tried to tell me it was all for my own good, but I know better. It was a form on animal cruelty. I'm going to stay here so that she doesn't whisk me off to that 'spa,' as they called it. And if she thinks she can buy forgiveness with food and water, she has another think coming."
This evening I called the vet, and they said it's not unusual for a cat to hide for a day or two--Wywy's done it before, but only for hours. Tonight I got her out, put her on my shoulder, and loved on her/him. He was quiet and seemed to enjoy it, so I went and got a small can of tuna (not the good Pisces stuff, thank you very much) and fed him that. He ate and wandered around the house a bit, stopping to drink a couple of times. But now he's back in the closet. I'll continue to see where periodic loving gets me, but cats are finicky and funny.
Meanwhile Scooby has taken a notion to dump over his food bowl every night, I think because he's mad at me for making him go outside in the evening. I tell him the possums will eat what he spills and about half the time some critter eats it by morning, so I've cut down on the amount. Maybe cooler weather will soothe him. Or maybe both my animals are getting old and cranky--Wywy is 18, old for a cat, and Scooby is 11, at least late middle age for an Aussie. But both seem fine and lively most of the time--it's just these personality quirks they developed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A new baby, a cat, and what defines TexMex?

My niece and her husband welcomed a second baby girl into their family this morning--Madeleine Elizabeth McClain joins big sister Emery. Madeleine weighed six something lbs. and was 18" inches long--a dainty girl, which is nice since her mom and sister are both dainty. These really are the years of babies in our family--though my brother now has the two youngest grandchildren and with a total of five has almost caught up to my seven.
My big accomplishment was to take the cat to the vet for flea treatment. Wynona spends his days and nights on my desk. Cats always pick a favorite spot and it usually changes every six months or so. Not this time--the desk, according to him, is his. But I began to find this fine black grit on the desk, a sure sign of fleas and particularly disturbing since that's where I eat when I'm home alone--I wore my hands out disinfecting the desk two or three times a day. So tonight, at some cost, the cat is bathed, medicated and flea free. And nowhere near my desk. I think he's mad at me for taking him to the vet. I know he's in the house but I have no idea where.
My project for tonight is to write up the history of Whataburger, the hamburger chain that began in a kiosk in Corpus Christi in 1950. Now 60 years old, it is one of the largest and most praised chains in the country. But then I'm going on to study TexMex--and just how do you define that? I'm  having such fun with this food book.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Texas food and looking ahead to the week

Did you know that at the turn of the 19th century there were hundreds of pasta companies across America, owned by Italian American immigrants who catered to Italian communites and their need for pasta? It was a good economic risk--pasta is cheap and easy. And to my surprise, as early as the 1920s, there was a large Hispanic customer base for vermicelli, the thin spaghetti sometimes called "little worms." It was cheap, and migrant workers could cook it easily on cook stoves in the field. Today the only pasta company in Texas that survives and flourishes is O. B. (Our Best) Macaroni, which started as the American Macaroni Company. Those early pasta makers named their companies macaroni companies, probably in an attempt at Americanization. O. B. was owned and run by four generations of one family and only sold last year, fortunately not to a mega-agricultural corporation but to a couple who seem to care passionately about the company and its history. Those are the stories that intrigue me, and that's how I spent my morning--revising and enlarging my piece on O. B. Macaroni. And this evening I wrote a piece about that iconic Texas food--chicken fried steak. It's not a brand that went on to national distribution, but how can you leave it out of a book about Texas food? The worst news: Chicken fried steak is the Official Dish of the State of Oklahoma. Hold on, folks--that's Texas food.
Anyway, it was a good lazy day, and I accomplished a lot.
Also enjoyed leftovers--the avocado I forgot to serve Jordan last night, the chicken salad we didn't eat, the Ellerbee's tomato salad that was left over and maybe even better tonight. I decided heirloom tomatoes do make a difference.
Now I'm looking ahead to sort of a dismal week--the things that pop up on my calendar for the next couple of days are taking the cat to the vet--this entails going to the vet to borrow a carrier, coming home and crating the cat, and going back--and going to the dentist. Pretty dismal, but I will have lunch with a good friend tomorrow, which will brighten the day a bit. The cat has to go to the vet because she/he has fleas--I don't want to talk about it anymore, but remember that she spends most of her time on my desk! I'm not sure how she got them because she never goes outside and Scooby is on flea prevention medication. Yikes! One of life's many little but disturbing problems.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Understanding the separation of mind and body

Jacob understands the separation of mind and body perfectly. Today as I sat reading, he began throwing himself on the daybed where he sleeps, then sliding off and landing in a heap on the floor. He repeated this more times than I care to count, and each time he did it, he pushed the bed against the wall and the already frail and cheap mini-blinds in that window-filled room. Finally I said that was enough.
Jacob: I am not doing it. My body is not listening to my mind.
Me: Tell your body I'll give it a spanking.
He obediently walked over to me, so I hugged him and gave him a few gentle swats on his well-padded behind. He went back to throwing himself against the bed. "I'ts not working, Juju."
I told him to put his body in time out; he knows where the time out chair is. But he came back almost immediately, saying "My body won't stay there." Finally something else got his attention, but throughout the day he'd hit himself in the head and say, "Stop it, body. Stop hitting me." Of course I encouraged all this by laughing. His mom was a bit alarmed when he demonstrated for her tonight.
It was a Jacob day. We went to the grocery store, where I had to ask a sack person to put him in the seat in the front of the cart; then that didn't suit him, and we had a perilous maneuver getting him into the main basket of the cart. Then an equally perilous maneuver getting him out of it--I thought I was going to drop him in which case, I think, I might have broken the leg he wouldn't untangle from the cart. He weighs a whopping 44.5 lbs. now.
I snuck away occasionally to check email and do a bit of research on the web, but mostly I sat in the back room and read while Jacob watched TV and played. We had great conversations, and tonight we played a new game where I sent him out of the room, hid the miniature soccer, football and basketball I'd gotten him and he had to look for them. But I cannot do any work while he's here, and I cannot nap unless he falls asleep--which he didn't do. He was in and out of my bed, wanted to talk to Scooby (which only gets Scooby all excited), had to potty (didn't really), wanted a drink (forgot about that quickly). I finally turned the TV back on for him and tried to nap but it was too late.
Made a chicken salad with scallions, celery, blue cheese, lemon, mayo and sour cream for Jordan tonight. Finally remembered how I'd done that--and it was good. I also made Ellerbee's heirloom tomato salad, and it was great (look it up on Epicurious.com) though I'm not sure I could tell a difference between the heirloom tomatoes and regular fresh from the vine ones.
Giving myself a vacation the rest of the night. Back to the real world tomorrow.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Possible new writing project, Jacob, and, as always, food

My agent emailed today. He has a publisher who wants a book on lynchings in the Old West and how they reflect the development of law and order on the frontier. Told the publisher he had a writer with a good knowledge of the history of the Old West--that I may have, but lynchings have never been my subject, nor, really, has law and order. I always wrote about women in the American West. Still in the face of an assignment, I can explore new territory, maybe even going at it from a woman's point of view, because women banded together in anti-lynching societies, and it's always said women brought law, order, and community to the American West. Lots of research ahead, but if the publisher and I like each other and settle on a contract, it should be fun.  Till it's settled, I'm going to continue working on the Texas food book. The novel is going on the back burner for the time being, though it was going well, and I was excited about it.
Jacob arrived about five-thirty tonight, so it's not a night for serious research on any of my projects. I'll have him all day tomorrow--our big adventure is a trip to the grocery store. He measures time in "after nap," so night-time and nap time are the same in his mind. "After nap" tomorrow, Mom will come, we'll all have dinner, and she'll take him home. I'm so grateful he still takes good afternoon naps. Sunday I'm a working girl.
Fort Worth has one of the ten best new restaurants in the country, according to Bon Appetit. It's Ellerbee's where I've been several times for lunch and once for dinner. The article included a recipe for heirloom tomato salad, which I'm going to make for Jordan tomorrow night. I never buy heirloom tomatoes--they're so expensive, and I can't tell the difference, but I bought two today, made the dressing, and baked chicken breasts for a chicken salad I once made. Jordan loved it, but I don't remember what was in it, except that I added blue cheese. With blue cheese in both the chicken salad and the tomato salad, she'll be a happy camper.
Tonight I cooked gluten free spaghetti (which essentially means it's rice spaghetti). The instructions said to boil 4-6 minutes, so since I was only cooking a small amount I settled on four minutes plus a few seconds. Underdone. Not sure if that's why Jacob didn't like it or if the sauce was too spicy for him. But he definitely didn't like it. My gluten free phase was probably one of the shortest of all my experimental lifestyles. Definitely not for me. I couldn't eat blue cheese!
Jacob has gone through his bedtime routine peacefully and is watching TV. The test will come when I tell him it's time to turn it off. But we are ahead of our usual schedule, and I'm feeling optmistic.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Family worries and retirement

Two days ago my oldest daughter was rear-ended in Austin. She said she felt a sharp pain in her lower back when it happened and didn't know what that was. My brother knew exactly--a cranialsacral injury. So they talked, he was going to help her look for an osteopathic physician in Austin who was certified in cranialsacral work. This morning he called fairly early to say he hadn't done it because he'd had a "hiccup"--spent yesterday afternoon and half the night in the ER and was admitted to the Granbury hospital for rapid heart rate. Hey, a whole new thing for me to worry about. I emailed all the kids, and Colin responded that he'd just woken up from his colonoscopy. Yikes! My family was falling apart. Tonight all is well--sort of. Megan spent 3-1/2 hours in the dentist's chair, so didn't have time to investigate doctors, though she admitted this morning her back is sore. And a friend was good enough to get online, search Austin D.O.s and come up with a name for her. My brother is still in the hospital--they're going to decrease his medication and send him home tomorrow. He's bored. I didn't know he took medication to regulate his heartbeat, so somehow knowing this is not a brand new problem makes me feel better. And Colin is fine, will go to the doctor next week for the path report and to schedule further testing to deal with his Crohn's disease. None of it is ideal, but it's a lot better than it looked this morning.
When I used to contemplate retirement, I was terrified of waking up in the morning and wondering what to do with the day. Not a problem. I have so much work on my desk, plus errands to run, plus things I want to read, I hardly know where to start the day. This week I had one long day at home alone; otherwise it's been errands and lunch and class and all sorts of things. Haven't written nearly as much as I'd like. The weekend doesn't look much better, until Sunday. But Monday it starts all over again. And I've volunteered to work at the local Bill White campaign office on Tuesday mornings.
Several of the members of my class didn't show tonight, and I joked with one that we needed a class in simplifying our lives. I think I need that for sure, but  it beats the alternative of sitting around wondering what to do with my days. I am so much livelier and happier when I get out and interact with the world.
Great lunch today with Melinda from TCU Press--we talked about kids and weddings and grandchildren and all sorts of stuff. And we both enjoyed chicken salad at Patrizio's. Melinda is one of the people who keeps me grounded.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cool front, an anxious dog, and a good day

In Texas, there is almost nothing as breath-taking as the first day a cool front breaks a record heat wave. Yesterday or the day before we had 107. Rain came through yesterday afternoon and again during the night, and today's high is predicted to be 89. When I went out to run errands, it felt cool and wonderful. I wore a long-sleeved top I'd been avoiding, opened all the windows on the car, and charged ahead (too much chance of rain to take the top down!). It honestly changes your attitude dramatically. Good thing is it's supposed to go only to the mid-90s all week. No, I don't know how much rain--probaby not as much as we need, but it was a blessing.
It must have been the rain, however, that upset Scooby about three a.m. Usually these days he sleeps through storms, comfy and safe in his bed. When I got him from the Humane Society sevven-and-a-half years ago, he absolutely panicked at rain, thunder and lightning. He'd even claw at my legs as though he wanted to get in my lap. These days, he's so much calmer, and I tell myself it's because he feels secure. But he sure didn't last night--began to paw at the edge of the bed and pant in my face, so I reluctantly decided he need to go out, watched out the back door while he peed and then went around the corner to the side of the house whre he often poops. Brought him back him, loved him, and went back to bed. No good. He now began putting both front paws on the bed, which left him looming over me like some kind of monster in the night. I loved, reassured, commanded, ignored--nothing worked. So feeling guilty, I put him back out and turned away from his pitying look--after all, he has a perfectly fine dog house. Of course by then I was wide awake and lay awake a long time.  Today he seems calmer--I bet he too likes the cool air.
You know those days when you cross a bunch of things off your to-do list? I had one today, and it is such a good feeling. Got going early--went to VW, where they replaced a brake light and washed the car for no charge. I was in and out in 20 minutes. Then I went exploring to Vickery and the South Freeway (not a cool part of town) to pick up a printed history of the O. B. Macaroni Company (I've skimmed about half of it this afternoon and taken notes); ended my morning errands at Origins where I swear I spend more money than at Central Market--I just don't go as often. Came home, did my yoga, showered, dealt with the morning's voluminous e-mail, ate lunch, and got to work. Feeling sort of smug, if I do say so.
Betty and I finished off the day by having dinner at Brownstone, a new restaurant in the complex that's grown up off West Seventh in Fort Worth. Brownstone features down-home cooking and offers such things as succotash, chard, and crispy chicken livers--we were both really tempted by the latter, but since I'd eaten chopped chicken liver on Monday, I just couldn't do that. I had a Pick of the Greens salad with creamy buttermilk dressing, and Betty had a Texas salad of black-eyed peas and corn. Mine was good, and hers also looked tempting. She ordered a chicken pot pie (really like a fried pie). I had a bite and it was good, but not something I'd order again. I'd been warned against this restaurant, but we both really liked it and will go back. Who knows? We may split those chicken livers sometime.
Came home and finished taking notes on the history of O. B. Macaroni--I'll return the book tomorrow, since it's the company's only copy of this privately printed book. The O.B. story is interesting particularly because of what it reflects about Italian immigrants in the 20th century and about family owned businesses--four generations. Only last year was it sold to "new folk," but they appreciate the history a lot. I'm really having fun with the food book I'm writing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Sluggish Day and a couple of good mysteries

I don't know if it's the rainy day (blessed rain brought not only moisture but much cooler temperatures and our record-setting heat wave is over) or the fact that I didn't go anywhere, didn't even put make-up on or maybe a combination, but I have been sluggish. Where I intended to write on my non-fiction book this morning, I piddled, doing odds and ends. In retrospect, I did good things--ordered a new console for my exercise bike, made an appointment to have my brake light fixed--two kind souls have told me they were behind me and it's out, not the kind of thing you can test alone. I contacted the president of O. B. Macaroni (included in my book) and will go pick up a privately printed history of the company tomorrow, tried to call someone at Best Maid Pickles and left a message, and explored the website for Mrs. Renfro's salsas, etc. But it was also a good day for napping and reading, and I did both. Scooby had to come in very early  because of thunder (scares him) and he's outside now, but I know would love to be back in his bed.
I finished a good mystery yesterday--A Killer Plot, which is I think the first novel by Ellery Adams. Distinctive protagonist--a girl born on the coast of North Carolina and raised in a lighthouse by her widowed father until he disappears at sea; then she is sent away to boarding schools and so forth, and finally returns as a sophisticated, wealthy woman. She joins a writers' group and the fun begins. But the book wouldn't be what it is without her dog, Haviland, a standard poodle that she sometimes calls "Captain" and takes everywhere with her. Made me wish Scooby had more training, but this dog is probably too good to be real--trained to track, attack, etc., and yet always a perfect gentleman. Olivia  even takes him into restaurants, including the upscale one she owns, and Haviland is generally accepted by the small community. He really adds spice to the book, as does Olivia who is highly independent and does not suffer fools easily.
Now I'm reading Chapter and Hearse (could NOT make the italics work) by Lorna Bartlett and enjoying it a great deal--just issued, it made the NYT best-sellers list and some others. I've read other books in Barlett's Booktown Series, set in a town revitalized by several bookstores moving to town and attracting busloads of tourists--and, of course, the predictable murders. Much as I'm enjoying it, one thing bothers me: at one point she refers to an elderly lady as old and stooped, probably in her seventies or eighties. Hey, at 72, I resent that! But don't let it keep you from Lorna's books.
Back to work. I'm determined to write my daily thousand words tonight. I seem to have great momentum on Tuesday through Thursday, lose it on the weekend. Have to write when I can.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook

Three years ago, TCU Press published Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women. We saw it as the first step in compiling a history of what women had accomplished for our city, a subject hitherto overlooked, though we had lots of masculine heroes and role models. There were wonderful women, and fourteen contributors attempted to bring their stories together in one volume. It was a hit and sold well. Now a project that I not so modestly admit that I initiated has come to publication: Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook.When we first talked about it, there was some discussion that if we wer trying to prove that women had roles outside the home, we were blindsiding ourselves with a cookbook. But we generally agreed that until recently cooking almost always fell to the woman, no matter what else she was doing outside the home. Some of the recipes reflect this tendency for women to cook in a hurry, using easy and fast recipes.
According to one review, it's a great mix of academic-style social history with a recipe book. There are recipes you won't want to try--the first in the book is how to cook a squirrel--but more contemporary recipes from Joe T. Garcia's restaurant or Jon Bonnell, whose grandmother was one of Fort Worth's best known philanthropists. The older recipes are more fun, but you'll want too cook some of the newer ones. I particularly like the "Texas Tingle Dip" that calls for 1 can RO*TEL tomatoes, 1 can mushroom soup, and 8 oz. cheddar cheese. I admit I scorched it the first time I tried to make it, but from now on I'll  use the double boiler. Then there's the recipe in my chapter for Hollandaise sauce that boggles my mind: 1/2 c. Hellman's mayonnaise, 1 tsp. French's yellow mustard, 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1/2 stick melted butter. Like no Hollandaise I've ever tasted!
I hosted a pot-luck happy hour tonight for the contributors to the two books--okay we lost two and added two new ones for the cookbook--but we have become a bonded group. We were each to bring something from our chapter. We teased Joyce Williams about bringing squirrel (she brought cornbread and a corn and pea mix),  and we praised Brenda Sanders-Wise for the pound cake she brought. My chapter--"Ranch Women, Cowgirls, and Wildcatters"--didn't offer much in the way of appetizers, but I figured Electra Waggoner Wharton probably served finger sandwiches, so that's what I did. I made a filling of mayo, cream cheese,  cayenne, grated sharp cheddar, and chopped, drained sun-dried tomatoes--not what Electra would have served (it was sort of pimiento cheese with sun-dried tomatoes instead of pimientos). I meant to also make finger sandwiches of cucumber, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and chives--but the cheese/tomato mixture made so many I abandoned that idea, and now I have finger sandwiches in the fridge, plus a whole cucumber and a lot of cream cheese. Sounds like good leftover eating to me.
Anway, it's a great book. Want a Christms gift for one or more friends? Try this. Want a speaker for a women's group? We're available--one or more of us. We love this book, and we want the world to know about it. Just holler at me at j.alter@tcu.edu and let me know if you want some of us to show up for an event. I can't promised boiled squirrel, but hey!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

And the heat goes on . . . .

104 yesterday, the same or higher today, 104 again tomorrow for the first day of school. It's brutal, and it was a good day to stay inside, which I did only venturing out to water plants and take care of Scooby, who spent most of the day inside. After proofing that history of the osteopathic college online, I gave myself a vacation and spent much of yesterday reading a novel. Tonight I am closing in on the end of it. Today I also read the Sisters in Crime Summit Report on digital publishing--a team visited Amazon, Google, Smashwords, and Apple iBookstore. Each has a different niche and approach, but these are energetic, enthusiastic people, not just techies but people who love books, and they are changing the way we will all read, write and publish. It's a question of keeping up with the rapidly changing technology, and I already feel behind. Resolve: to straighten out the issue of rights to the fiction I published in the '90s and see about reversion of rights where necessary. I am anxious to get them in e-book form.
Last week when I mentioned to Jordan I had a long empty weekend coming up, she said, "Let's get Jay and Susan to come for an early happy hour Sunday." So I invited them for five o'clock. Then Jordan announced that Christian had arranged for a bunch of their friends to meet at Mama's Pizza tonight and did we want to come. We old folks (and believe me Jay and Susan are twenty to twenty-five years younger than me) declined. I fixed  us an antipasto platter--deviled eggs,  the sardine spread on baguettes, hearts of palm, cherub tomatoes, finger sandwiches of that cheese with sundried tomatoes, and tiny bits of ham rolled around cream cheese. Left out the hummus, because there was no room for it on the plate. To me, that's a great way to eat a Sunday supper. We had a lively time--they brought a spike melon that you cut in half and then suck out the ingredients, spitting out the seeds. I passed on that, very intimidating. But we had fun and are ready to face the week.
Actually it's supposed to cool off by Wednesday. We can always hope. I'm afraid Scooby is spoiled by his long aftrnoon naps in his bed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Yoga, cooking to nostalgic music, and back to school

My recumbent exercise bike is off its course. I finally reset all the settings--time, distance, etc.--but when I peddle it shoots up to the highest resistance, way beyond my capabilities. I've called the company, and they said I need to check the voltage, so I'm waiting for some kind soul with a voltimeter (is that the word?) to come along. Meantime, every day for over a week, I've been doing yoga, and I'm glad to be back at it, finding myself more confident about my yoga--and, interestingly, more confident in life. I don't know if it's the yoga or the meditationa afterward (which turns into prayer for me). But I frequently wake up a bit depressed and have to get going before, as one friend said, I get my happy on. But this morning I woke up cheerful, ready to get on with the day. And when I took a nap, I nearly leapt out of bed to do my yoga and then cook, feeling enthusiastic about all of it.
Tonight I was cooking in preparation for happy hour guests tomorrow and a happy hour gaggle of cookbook contributors on Monday night. I made a faux pimiento cheese--with chopped sun-dried tomatoes instead of pimientoes (of which I'm not overly fond) and added a bit of cayenne to the recipe, because that's how I make pimiento cheese. Then I hard-boiled eggs for deviled eggs and made a sardine spread for tomorrow night. During all this, a paid advertisement came on for a CD of all the golden oldies from the '60s and of course they played snatches of songs--"Because of You," "You Belong to Me," "No, No, Not much," "The Twelfth of Never," some Elvis pieces, etc. All were enhanced versions of recordings by the original artists. I had a wonderful time. I usually enjoy cooking anyway, but this added a new dimension. Then I put a piece of salmon in a pie plate, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, surrounded it with white wine, and baked it while I sauteed some zucchini. Great dinner.
School starts Monday for many Texas schools. For me, this has dual significance: first and foremost, my grandkids go back to school. Maddie will be entering middle school (how did she get so old?) and I have this fearful feeling of sending her out into the big world, after the sheltered environment of an elementary school almost across the street from her house; Edie will be in second grade (growing so fast) and Sawyer and Morgan will both enter kindergarten--a milestone in their lives. I haven't had a report on Morgan, but Sawyer found he will have a man for a teacher and is much excited. My hat's off to men who teach those younger kids. The remaining kids will be in day care, but Jacob has been promoted to the four-year-old class. When I asked him about it, he said, "Yeah, I go upstairs now." That's his idea of being promoted.
But school starting has another, more immediate effect on my life. I live across from an elementary school. (After I bought this house, 16 years ago, a good friend said she would never live across from a school--thanks for telling me too late.) Actually I love the house, and it shouldn't be such a problem now that I don't have to rush out the door and driveway at eight, but parents dropping their darlings off are unbelievably rude and thoughtless--they park across my driveway (I once almost hit a kid and another time almost hit a car because when I looked it wasn't there and then suddenly as I backed down the drive, there it was!). They also let their kids out in the middle of the street, which is unbelievably dangerous. The other night the school had an open house, and someone had stopped across my driveway to let his family out just when a friend came to pick me up. Every year, my neighborhood sighs and complains, but it never seems to help. I know the school tries to remind parents, but I think our neighborhood policeman needs to be on the scene. There, rant finished.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Emotion vs. logic--where do you draw the line?

I spent most of yesterday and much of today reading proofs on a 40-year history of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. I was reading an online pdf which to me is really difficult, and I wished for hard copy. Forty years ago, my ex-husband was founding faculty; soon after the college opened, I became director of communications. Later my brother was dean of clinical sciences. That school, that grew from nothing like Topsy, was our lives, except for our children. I wrote an early chapter for the book titled "Humble Beginnings" and reading about the early years was an exercise in nostalgia. Reading about the present status of the school was an eye-opening realization of how far it's come. Today it is the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center and includes several schools--public health, physical therapy, programs for physicians' assistants, etc.--and many research centers. It's nationally ranked well and has received great recognition for its research programs, especially in forensic medicine. What began on the unfinished fifth floor of a hospital, with an anatomy lab in a garage apartment, is now a large campus with at least five tall and sleek modern buildings (I may be miscounting). It's a remarkable achievement in forty years, and I am much impressed.
So it was bittersweet this morning to open the paper and read that the board of regents of UNT had okayed a plan to pursue adding the MD degree and another separate school for MD students to the overall health science center. All the remarkable growth, the great accomplishments from humble beginnings, have been built on the back of an osteopathic medical institution. And now they want to add an MD program?
I can't figure out whether my strong objection is logical or emotional. I am a child of the osteopathic profession--my father, brother, ex-husband, and countless uncles were DOs. I remember too well the days when DOs were second-class physicians, scorned by the MD community. Students, mostly young men from the East who couldn't get into an MD school, entered DO schools. Even today I know of a friend whose husband would never tolerate her seeing a DO. Once, in the 1970s, I ghosted a book for a doctor known as "Mr. Osteopathy of Texas." The title? The Quack Doctor. He said he was supposed to write a history of osteopathic medicine in Texas but that sounded dull and he wanted to write something that would get people's attention. Today, none of that is true--my nephew went through osteopathic medical school on an army scholarship and has trained at such institutions as Walter Reed; osteopathic students and graduates rotate through nationally prestigious MD hospitals as interns and residents. It's almost a level playing field.
The logical part of my objection is that if they've made such wonderful gains as an osteopathic institution, why add the MD program? The emotional part of me fears that the DO program will suffer and become second-rate, losing everything that has been gained.
Dr. Tom Yorio (PhD), provost of the health science center and a well respected research scientist, wrote the most compelling case for the MD program I've yet read, but I remain unconvinced.
The addition of the program still has to be approved by the Texas Legislature, which chartered TCOM to provide primary care physicians, especially those that would practice in rural communities. Osteopathic medicine has a record of educating primary care physicians; a much higher percentage of MD students go into research or specialties and sub-specialties. I don't know about writing my legislators or not--my small voice would be lost on the wind, but I may do it anyway. Meantime, I can envision my dad, longtime president of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, holding his head in his hands in dismay. See? I told you it's an emotional issue for me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tragedy at a young age

My daughter-in-law, Lisa, teaches middle school math, and she wrote me yesterday that one of her students, 14 years old, had taken her own life. The girl had been in a traffic accident in July that killed two of her friends and her sister, and she had a hard time coping. The drunk driver who hit them was from Nepal and is presumed to have fled the country, so there's no closure there. The mom who was driving the car also survived. But the real tragedy to me is that the girl's mother and grandmother said they knew the girl was hurting, but they had no money for counseling. Apparently, they didn't realize the state provides counseling free in such situations. It strikes me that a whole segment of our population, probably poor, probably uneducated, is simply not equipped to deal with life's tragedies, to seek help where it's available.
Yesterday, Lisa wrote that the family wanted someone from the school to speak. Many were reluctant, so she wrote out a short paragraph and sent it to me for editing. I told her I wouldn't touch a word--what she wrote came from the heart and from knowing the girl. I worried today about her having to read it, but it turns out the minister read the words of comfort from the teachers. Still, I'm proud of her for having volunteered and for being willing to stand up before the congregation. I didn't have the nerve to do it at Charles' memorial service Sunday, though there was much I could have said.
Lisa tells me when school starts next week, they will have counselors available to the students and are planning to bring in a speaker on suicide--a good move.
Next week, my oldest grandchild starts middle school, the next one goes into second grade, and two enter kindergarten. I feel like we're sending them into a foreign world. In public school they run into so many influences they've been sheltered from all their lives. Mine are well grounded, much loved, secure children but still I pray for each of them every night. Oh, in some ways, I'd love to put a glass bubble around each of those children that I love so much. And the family in the Houston area that has lost two girls this summer? I cannot even begin to imagine their pain. They, too, are in my prayers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Losing the thread . . . .

Over the weekend, I lost the thread of my novel or, as mystery writers call it, my WIP (work in progress). I had been going gangbusters, a thousand words a day, last week. But then Friday I got busy with other things, Saturday Jacob came to stay, and Sunday Colin, Jamie and Jordan arrived for the memorial service for Charles. Yesterday it was 9:30 before I even picked up a book, by which time I was too tired to think about being creative. This morning I ran errands--for some reason it took me forever to wrap and mail a package--the local post office substation I went to had closed, so I thought, but then I found out it had just moved. Meantime I went back home to get the handicapped tag so I could park in a good place at the post office. Anyway, there, with emails, went the morning.
But this afternoon I settled down to it, read a bit about where I'd left off, and began to write--at this point I'm mostly getting words on paper, forging ahead. I have definite ideas of what's going to happen but I'm afraid if I start moving toward the climactic parts of the novel, with only 43,000 words done, I'll end up really short. I'm thinking, however, that's what I should do, see how it comes out, and then rewrite. I did write a total of about a thousand words today, some of it going into the early parts to clarify some things and some of it moving ahead. And I guess I know where I'm going with it, so I can move ahead tomorrow. If I write every day I keep up the momentum of the story--and I think that's important.
It's much easier to keep up the momentum on my nonfiction book--those are short entries, and I can easily do one a day if I put my mind to it. The problem will come with finding illustrations, if the proposed publisher likes the manuscript. Right now, it's really short--16,000 words--but there are so many pictures I could include, like Frito Bandito and all the Dr Pepper memorabilia.
Jacob was having a boys' night with his dad, while Jordan went to a girls' happy hour and then came by here for supper, because she didn't want to have to cook at 7:30. We had a nice visit--I had already eaten half my tuna cake (too big for one helping) and some squash casserole and fried her the other tuna pattie and made a salad--squash casserole would never pass those lips. I really feel like I've overeaten today--a rich but wonderful smoked turkey, cheddar, sprouts, tomato sandwich on sun-dried panini for lunch. Bet I gained weight today.

Monday, August 16, 2010


My friend Carol and I went exploring today. During my time at TCU Press, we talked to members of the Sanders family about a history of the Garden of Eden, an African-American community on the east side of Fort Worth. It's residents have dwindled in numbers, but the descendants of Major Cheney, who founded the community in the 19th century, still live on the family property and there are other residences scattered around, although the area is now heavily industrial. When we worked on Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, newly out, I had the pleasure of getting to know Brenda Sanders-Wise, a prime mover in organizing the history. Carol has been given the task of researching and delving into the history to help shape the book. So we both wanted to see the Garden of Eden. Alas, there's not much to see from the street, though a piece of land being cleared bears a sign indicating it is the future home of a replication of the home of Major and Malinda Cheney--whether it's the first home that burned or the second I don't know, but I think most of the family homes are way back off the road, in the woods and close to the river. They still raise their own produce in summer and fix lavish Sunday meals--we though maybe if they saw us drive by we'd be invited for lunch, but of course we saw no one. But Carol is a back-roads explorer, and we drove down several, mostly surrounded by industrial sites, including perhaps the largest junk car yard I've ever seen. But at least we got a feel for the geography and place, and when we both see Brenda at a happy hour next week, we hope to tell her about our trip and ask some questions.
Then I led Carol the explorer to the beer can house closer to our part of Fort Worth--I've mentioned it before but it is a modest (to say the least) house decorated with an amazijg array of strands and strings of Miller Lite cans, some artistically shaped so that the look almost like Christmas tree ornaments.
Our explorations left us hungry, of course, and we had lunch at Patrizio's, where I had angel hair pasta with artichokes, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and a lemony sauce--so good. Tonight I ate out of the refrigerator, using up leftovers from the weekend.
For fans of To Kill a Mockingbird: Today I read about a lawyer who was asked if there could ever be a lawyer like Atticus Finch. He replied he didn't think anyone could be that perfect, but that before he had a serious talk with his teen-age son, he asked himself, "What would Atticus do?" A local bookstore jumped on the idea and is now selling bumper stickeers that ask "What would Atticus do?" and "What would Scout do?" I'm sorry I don't have the information, but you can probably Google "Atticus bumper stickers" and find it. What a great idea!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Memorial service for a fine man--and a visit with some of my family

The memorial service for my friend Charles was today, some six weeks after his death, which to me made it almost anticimactic. But Colin drove up from Houston and Jamie came from Frisco, both dressed to the nines in suits at a service where some people were very casual. Jacob had spent the night with me and was oh so excited about his uncles and his mommy coming at noon. "It's taking a long time," he said to me at least ten times this morning. They arrived and the boys went to a taqueria to eat, while Jordan and I ate tuna and hummus and hearts of palm--see who the healthy ones are in this family?The picture above shows the only three adults I know who will get the giggles while waiting in line to sign the guest book at a memorial service (unless their sister Megan had been there and she would have joined in). Jacob got drawn into the foolishness, but he really behaved perfectly for the first hour of  what turned out to be a long service. Then Jordan had to take him to the lobby to let loose steam.
Charles died July 3, so I've begun to get used to his absence in my life,though I will always miss him. I was drawn into the service first becuse they had a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace"--I love the pipes but have a hard time picking out the melody, and Jacob looked puzzled and put his hands over his ears.But Charles was a good Scot. One of Charles' sons, Clint, showed a slide show retrospective of Charles' life that had some wonderful pictures, including one of Charles, Reva, and their four kids in one of their cars went they went in for race touring (that may not be the right phrase). Reva was beautiful, but I recognized the older beautiful woman I loved so much and cooked with a lot. And then there were pictures more familiar to me--the ranch, Charles running, the parts of his life I knew him for, and I've probably known him for thirty years. The saddest moment for me was the postlude--a beautiful cello piece--with a picture of Charles on a huge screen. I realized he was gone from my life, and I will always miss him.
Charles was an extraordinary man, probably one of the most intellectual men I've ever met, with a wide range of interests and none of them frivolous--which always made me wonder that he tolerated me and my frivolous interests. He had the most inquiring mind I've ever known, generally a happy and gentle disposition (I only know of one person he really disliked), an acute and sharp wit, and a great love of life. Not many of us are privileged to know someone like him, and I am grateful for the time I spent with him. One of the last times he and I went out together--when he was still able to get about without a wheelchair--we went to a favorite restaurant where they serve mussels. He had loved finding mussels on the beach as a kid and was anxious to eat them again--the first time he went to the restaurant, they asked him if he wanted white, red, or green sauce. Puzzled, he said, "They didn't come in colors when I was a kid." But this night, not too long ago, he ordered mussels and red wine and then a crab cake and then, if I remember correctly, we shared chocolate mousse. He enjoyed the evening immensely, and I enjoyed it just watching him eat so happily. Thanks,, Charles, for a lot of good memories--and some bits of good advice.
I spent the morning getting everything ready so I could fix a birthday dinner for Christian after we got home. We had salad, bifsteak hache au poivre (ground sirloin with cracked black pepper and a sauce of red wine, brandy, shallots, and beef broth), and Christian's green beans--cooked with bacon and vinegar. Pretty good if I do say so. But tonight I admit I'm tired. Long day well put behind me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Action figures, southwestern tuna, and mutt makeovers

Elizabeth and Weldon came for supper tonight and mostly spent the evening taking pictures of action figures with Jacob--they were all enchanted and so was I. She emailed earlier in the week to ask if I'd be making southwestern tuna and I said I would if they'd come eat it with me, so they did tonight--and Jacob was highly entertained. Apparently he woke up from his nap asking if he'd see Weldon today. Jordan had no idea he would and was astounded to find them here. Maybe Jacob is psychic, but they all had a delightful time. We had fruit salad and marinated tomatoes with our tuna. Weldon and Elizabeth are my friends who are gluten free, and she has a blog (http://www.cowstoquinoa.blogspot.com/) about their diet. She wants to post the recipe (and pictures of making it) later this week on her blog, but since we have different readers, I'll put the recipe here:
Two 7 oz. cans tuna (we of course used that special tuna I ordered from Oregon, which they now are eating too), Add 1/4 c. mayonnaise, 3 Tbsp. chopped red onion, 3 Tblsp. chopped cilantro, 2 Tbsp. green chilis, 1 tsp. lime peel, 1 tsp. lime juice (I used almost 1 Tbsp.), and 1/8 tsp each cumin and chili powder, At first we were going to make only one can of tuna, but, never good at following recipes, I put in 1 tsp. each cumin and chili powder, so I decided we needed two cans of tuna. Good thing we did, because we ate most of it.Jordan can eat the leftovers tomorrow for lunch.
Today's newspaper had a great article about a program called Mutt Makeover, an outgrowth of the national
Mustang Makeover program that tames wild mustangs for adoption. In the Mutt program, trainers take dogs from the Humane Society, train them for ten weeks, and offer tham for adoption. I rescued my dog Scooby from the Humane Society (where someone said considering his age--3.5 years at the time--and his size--55 lbs.--it was a wonder he hadn't been euthanized, a thought that troubles me to this day). He is a beautiful specimen of an Australian shepherd, and the most loveable, sweet dog in the universe, but he had cage fever when I got him and there are some aspects of civilization he'll never get--trustworthy house manners (he's okay if I'm around or if he's in his bed), calm behavior around company, begging for food. He also will never get over his herding instinct. I love him dearly, but I couldn't help thinking what a wonderful dog he'd be if a professional trainer had taken him on. Yes, I had a trainer, but it was mostly left up to me, and while I corrected some bad habits--chewing on stuffed animals, jumping on people and furniture--I never have gotten him fully civilized. Now he's eleven, and I figure it's too late for eaither of us to change.
Oops, the same picture appears twice. Sorrhy about my incompetence.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Smurglets--they're everywhere, plus Friday the 13th

In September, TCU Press will publish a book of children's poetry titled Smurglets Are Everywhere, poetry by 2005 Texas poet laureate Alan Birkelbach and illustrations by my neighbor, Susan J. Halbower. It's absolutely a magical book. So the picture above shows six of my seven favorite smurglets. When the seventh, who was sick, made it to the picture, his oldest cousin made awful faces, so I chose this one to post instead. I wanted to post the book's front cover, but it's a pdf and they won't post to blogger. Take my word for it--it's wonderful. And if you look closely enough, you can make it out on the T-shirts above. Maddie's T-shirt somehow didn't make it to Frisco so I gave her my XL shirt. She clowned about the way it hung on her, but tweens are so clever--she rolled up the sleeves, tied it in the back, and it looks great. She opted however to give it back to me and get one that would really fit her.
Computer dependency is awful, but boy do I have it. Last night when I turned my computer off, it froze at "Please do not power off or unplug. Updating 2 of 11." I went to bed, but this morning it still said the same thing, so I did the unforgiveable and powered it off. It wouldn't start. A long weeked of no e-mail, no writing on my novel, no Facebook, nothing, loomed before me. Sure I could spend it reading, and I have a lot of cooking to do, but still. I called Jamie, because he bought it and I didn't know whether to call Sony or take it back to Best Buy or wherever he got it. He talked me through turning it off, taking out the battery, and putting it back in. Magic! The computer worked, though it's made me nervous all day. It's only five months old, so I didn't think it should crash. Of course, Jamie began the conversation with "Do you have backup? You've lost everything," followed by "Just joking." He's so good at that. So there I was back in business. When he returned my call this morning, I was in the bedroom and asked him to hold on while I went to the office. He said he would but by the time I got to the office, the phone was dead. I thought the world was conspiring against me, but he called back quite quickly. Then when I scanned my card in the little machine at the grocery, the machine went beserk. I'm afraid to touch anything else mechanical today. It's truly Friday the 13th. I think it was also 105 today. Both good reasons to say in, which I've done since the grocery store.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Writing Your Own Obituary

Lots of journalists write their own obituaries and also keep obituaries on file of famous people, local or not--just in case. I actually started my own some time ago because I thought if I got hit by a truck, my children would write, "She was the daughter of Grandmother and Grandfather." So I thought to nail down the facts of my life for them. In doing so, I missed totally what I hoped was the spirit of my life--I'm hoping, when the time comes, they can fill in with some kind words about whatever they see as my attributes
But at the last session, my memoir class somehow got to talking  about obituaries, and I suggested that having each member write their obituary would be an appropriate exercise for tonight. Only a few completed it, and one wrote about how she never reads obituaries and hates funerals--off topic to my mind, but one class member said it revealed the writer's love of her family. Two others wrote eulogies--almost light-hearted pieces about how they saw their own lives. One had herself living until 125 and the other wrote "She went before she was ready . . . but she's living in a yellow cottage with roses on the other side." I was the only one who wrote an obit that followed the formula used by the newspaper--with great gaps, of course. But I got the facts of my birth, education, and career down so that when the day comes the kids will have that (stored in my computer). I tried for a lighthearted attempt at describing my life--mostly about meals enjoyed--but I hope the kids will embroider on that.
It was an interesting class--we only have two sessions left. Out of 8 remaining members, five have signed up for next fall. I'll teach eight sessions, one every week, so we'll be through by Thanksgiving. I'll also be teaching eight noon sessions for Human Resources at TCU. Who knows? Maybe I've found a second career.
But I think I'll start the next sessions off with the obituary exercise--what better way to put a memoir into order than to do an overview of your life?
Hats off to Elizabeth (Beth) Knudson, who has been my co-coordinator of this class and has kept records of who is bring food when and all that stuff. Next semester she will not be at the noon sessions at all and at the evening sessions only as she can find time. But my deep thanks to her for all her help, support, and vision--and for a longstanding friendship. Check out Beth's blogs at http://www.cowstoquinoa.blogspot.com/ and http://www.laughingladybug.com/.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Elmer Kelton, writing deadlines, and hot weather

Today I went to a meeting at TCU Press about the Elmer Kelton titles we reprint and those we are about to sign a renewal of rights for. Elmer, for those who don't know, was a beloved novelist who wrote Texas history, from before the Alamo to the present, in a way no one else could, with a true Texas voice that no one could ever imitate. Born in the sand hills of Crane County, he grew up on stories of cowboys (his father was a ranch foreman), and he wove these into his books, along with a rich and well-researched knowledge of history. Probably his classic is The Time It Never Rained, a novel about the seven-year drought of the 1950s. One critic called it "one of the dozen or so best novels written by an American in the 20th Century." Elmer died last August, and we wondered, suspected, hoped there would be a bump of interest in his work. Sales prove that to be true. And today a friend sent me a link to Amazon.com that shows that a new copy of the small literary biography of Elmer I did in the 1990s may now be had for $263. Wow! Elmer, a perfect gentleman, always expressed his profound appreciation to TCU Press for keeping his works in print, and I wanted to shout at him that his books had kept TCU Press alive. He wrote, if I'm correct, about 60 books. A true marvel. If  you haven't read him, make it a point to do so. And as a person, we all miss him mightily. Gentle, kind, soft spoken, self-demurring with that politeness of a cowboy that always seemed a little more uncomfortable around women. But not his Austrian-born wife of many years, whom he adored. Watch for a festschrift, a small book honoring him, from TCU Press in the spring: Elmer Kelton: Memories and Essays.
Jungle Red Writers, a blog written by several members of Sisters in Crime, has a challenge out to members and authors to write one page a day before turning on the internet. It's not quite something I can follow--I go for the internet first thing in the morning--but it has inspired me this week to write a thousand words a day on my current novel. In fact, I think today I wrote about 1500. And I'm following that old advice--just keep writing. Worry about what sense it makes when you go back through for the first edit.
The 100+ temperatures continue in Texas--hot, muggy, and fairly discouraging. My basil is shriveled no matter how much I water it. But relief is finally on the way--who would believe that predicted highs in the mid-90s sound wonderful. But they do. By Sunday night or Monday. Meantime I have a spoiled dog because he spends all his time indoors. So do I as much as possible.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A sharp right turn in the middle of writing a novel

Not many people remember Dorothy Johnson these days, but she was the master of the short story, most often about the American West, and the author of such stories as "A Man Called Horse" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Years ago I was privileged to call her my friend and to correspond with her. In her later years (she hated the term octogenarian, which she said sounded like a scaly reptile with a skin disease), she was writing about New York City during WWII and the constant alert for fear of the bombing attack that never came. She titled it "The Unbombed," and I suspect she never finished it before she died. But one day she wrote me that she'd just had a terrible shock. She'd found out that the man she thought was going to be the hero of her book was going to be killed in the war. Who told her? Her muse. Dorothy was a firm believer in listening to your muse as you write.
Something similar happened to me today. When I woke up this morning I lay in bed a long time, plotting in my head the end of the novel I'm about halfway through. But I never was really comfortable about the murderer--he's a nice guy, and I hated to turn him into a villain. I finally made it to my computer to write down all the stuff in my head and happened to read an old file called rough ideas or something like that. In that, the villain was a totally different person and had a much more believable motive. So now I'm doing an abrupt right turn. I hadn't gotten far enough into the end that this is a serious problem, but it does call for minor revision. But I feel a lot better about the whole thing now. There are a lot of possible suspects, but now I know who really did it. Most writers will tell you to listen to your characters and they'll tell you what's going to happen, and I've had that experience more than once. I remember a writer who taught a seminar at TCU and said, "What is this nonsense about listening to your characters? I'm the author. I tell them what to do." I didn't much like his books.
My mystery of the day: how can you put four pillow cases in the laundry and only get three back? There's a poltergeist in my house!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Planning a menu--and a happy grandmother's picture

Ignore the goofy grin. This is very much a proud grandmother photo. I'm wearing the T-shirt that Morgan and Kegan made for me, with a little help from their mom. Susan took this tonight when she and Jay came for supper.
I'm convinced more than ever that successful entertaining depends less on your ability as a cook than on  your ability to plan a menu. Tonight we had a cold supper, perfect for a warm day like today (101, with heat index of 108). My mom used to chill a can of salmon and serve it on a platter with cucumber, mayonnaise, and I forget what all. I've talked before about the Pisces tuna I order from a cannery in Oregon. Recently I also got six cans of salmon, and we tried it tonight. I fixed a platter of deviled eggs, cherub tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus and salmon, and served it with a vinaigrette, mayonnaise, and lemon. None of us used anything but the lemon, and the salmon was delicious.
I also made the County Line potato salad that I loved so much at the party last weekend. It was great and Jay, who never will take home leftovers, took a huge helping of potato salad--he had some cockamanny argument that it wasn't leftovers because it hadn't been cooked and wouldn't have to be reheated. Look up the recipe online, because it's all over the place. I learned something while making it. Back to Mom's cooking again, but she learned years and years ago from the Italian cook at the hospital where Dad worked that you should peel and cube the potatoes while hot and pour vinaigrette over them. Let that soak in and cool before adding mayonnaise, mustard, onion, celery, whatever. The directions for County Line potato salad call for boiling the potatoes in their skins and refrigerating them for half an hour. I refrigerated them overnight, and oh my goodness, they were so much easier to peel and dice. You make the sauce, including onion and celery, in a separate bowl and then add the potatoes. For once, I followed the recipe to the letter, and it was delicious if I do say so. I could have eaten two helpings again but I was aware of the sour cream and mayo, even if both were "light."
Usually I don't fix dessert, but last week I wrote about Blue Bell ice cream, so I had to buy some. I bought peppermint/chocolate and served it with a mint chocolate sauce I had in the fridge. All three of us licked our bowls clean.
My point about planning: the cold platter, potato salad, and ice cream went together so well and made a perfect meal for a hot summer night. And as Susan said, conversation was as lively as always. We had a good time.
Nor did I lounge away the day. I wrote almost 800 words on my novel and feel I'm back into it. A busy week ahead, but I intend to keep writing. There's a challenge on a mystery blog to write one page a day before you ever turn to the internet. Good idea, but not one I find myself following. But I'm going to write a page--or more--every day.
As I walked out on the porch tonight when Jay and Susan were leaving, I said to think that in a month we'll be having cocktails and maybe dinner on the porch. We all sighed. This 100+ heat seems endless. We've been encouraged with the promise of scattered showers, but I'll tell you how scattered they've been: yesterday morning when I went to the store the streets were dry, but when I got  six blocks away they were wet with large puddles indicating a good-sized rain. So frustrating!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Dogs and cats

My sweet, loveable, completely neurotic Australian shepherd, Scooby, is eleven today. I brought him some of those pig ears as a special treat, but at first he seemed unimpressed, like he would rather have his Purina snacks. He did finally eat it though. Scooby was abused, a junkyard dog, and in the animal shelter when I got him--he'll never overcome a lot of his early years. I can't trust him to roam freely in the house--he'll poop. For years he's rushed in the house the minute I opened the back door but now he stands and considers the matter. I have to threaten to close it before he comes in. Also for years, he's spent evenings--and hot afternoons--in my study, but something must have happened to scare him, because now he hesitates, walks around the couch, looks in, makes some false starts, and finally comes in. Once he's eaten his treats, its clear he wants to go to his bed. Right now, he's been there since about two and it's almost 7:30, way past his dinner hour. When I asked if he wanted to go eat dinner, he solved that matter by avoiding looking at me. I'll have to force the issue, with a leash, in a little bit--and then he'll be just as pleased as punch to go outside. But for all his idiosyncrasies, he has the sweetest nature of any dog I've known--and the most desperate for attention.  I've had him seven-and-a-half years.
Meantime, the cat takes up residence on my desk, which makes working difficult and worries me a little about sanitation, since this is where I eat most of the meals I eat alone at home. But he's often content to lie on the library table behind the couch. The cat--Wywy--is 18 years old, so both of my animals are aging at once, which sort of alarms me. I see signs of slowing down in Wywy but I think Scooby still thinks he's three.
When the dog is happily in bed and the cat content on the table, I feel at peace. They are trouble and expense and bother, and I can't imagine life without them. I know people who don't want to be bothered with pets, but I'll never feel that way. They give me companionship, and Scooby is actually a pretty good guard dog. Of course, if a villain made his way into the house, Scooby would lick him to death, but he can sound ferocious when he sees or hears something outside he doesn't like.
Nice day--lunch with my former neighbor, Sue, and a good "catch-up" talk and then an afternoon of work on my novel. I'm ready to move ahead with it.
Oh, oh--here comes the cat!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Family on my mind

My lovely daughter Megan emailed me today, forwarding a message from her legal assistant that thanked her for always being so lovely to work with. Megan said she told her all the lovely parts of her personality came from her mom. What a great thing for one of my grown children to say! Of course I told her she was lovely--and a flirt--at such a young age that I can't claim responsbility. But I'm glad she feels that way. I love you, Megan!
Kevin and Jenny have been on my mind today. He left on a noon flight for Fort Benning and then on to Afghanistan, and I keep thinking this is the beginning of what will be a very long year for them--and they're only hours into it. He's off to an adventure, however reluctantly, in a world that he understands--I was amazed last night listening to him explain what his life will be like over there. But Jenny is left to wait, and I ache for her. Fortunately she has wonderful family support.
Christian had a birthday today while in Florida. I won't say which one because I think he's getting a tad touchy about it. But I hope it was a happy day--they'll be home tomorrow night, and I'll be glad to have them back in town.
And I've thought about my brother and Cindy picking me up for dinner and how nice it is to be so close to them and so comfortable with them--there were years when we weren't that close, and I'm enjoying what age has brought us. Nothing beats family, and I am blessed.
Hot today. A friend posted the heat index on Facebook--something like 107--and I responded that I prefer to ignore the heat index and just look at the temperature, which is bad enough. I long for the days before anyone knew anything about a heat index. Scooby knows it's hot and has been lounging on his bed all afternoon--when I asked a bit ago if he wanted to go out, he looked at me with one eye like, "Surely you jest." I will have to force the issue soon.
Vacation day: I had lunch with Fred, my mentor, and we talked about  my novel. I fully intended to come home and jump into it, but I'm in the midst of reading a mystery, Indigo Dying by Susan Wittig Albert, and decided I'd allow myself the luxury of finishing that first. I need to get my head out of one fictional world before trying to concentrate on another. But I can feel ideas bouncing around in my subconscious. Things I've read lately on the Guppies (Going to be Published) listserv are there too--specifically about microtension in scenes, whether or not you use adverbs (usually a no-no but British writers use them frequently), and how to tag dialog--if you repeatedly use "said" it gets boring but if you get too carried away-'"exhorted, mandated, commanded, etc."--it distracts the reader. I think I'll go by instinct.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Email explosion and no work

The lists from Sisters in Crime, Guppies, and Agent Quest exploded in my mail box--110 when I came home from lunch and 73 when I came home from supper. I barely caught up, though many don't require serious or lengthy reading, thank goodness. I guess usually I'm at my desk and deal with them as they come it, so it usually doesn't seem like so many.
Not a lick of work today, though mostly a pleasant day. Began with two hours in the dentist chair--much sitting and waiting, at which I am not graceful. And in the midst of it, the battery on my Kindle ran out of juice. But then Jim Lee took Jeannie and me to lunch at Patrizio's, which was fun--good company and good food. Came home, cleared out e-mails, had a nap, and John and Cindy arrived. We went to dinner with Cindy's sister Jenny and her Kevin, Patty and her Ralph, my niece Jennifer and her husband adorable almost-three-year-old, and a couple of friends, one an old family friend that I hate to think about how long we've known each other. It was Kevin's last night before he deploys to Afghanistan--a bittersweeet occasion though everyone was in good spirits. We had Mexican food--I guess if you are leaving Texas for a year you want your last hit of Mexican food. Ate at LaFamilia, which was really good.
So now it's the end of the day, I'm too tired to start anything, but I guess I'll re-read what I've written on Blue Bell Ice Cream, "the best ice cream in the country."
I am feeling the pull of fiction and think tomorrow, after lunch with my mentor, I'll go back to working on my novel. Nice quiet weekend looms.
'Night everyone. Godspeed to Kevin.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Why Writers Write

The Guppies listserv, a branch of Sister in Crime for those who are "going to be published," has been running a series of comments from "pre-published" authors answering questions such as where are you on your work in progress, is this your first manuscript, what's hardest for you--plotting, characterization, etc., and what do you do when you get discouraged. The answers are all over the place--some people are on their first manuscript, others have old ones stacked in the deep freeze. Many find plotting hard (me among them) but for others it's simply finding the time to write--or the drive--or the energy. But the thing that has struck me is that so many have said things like, "I like my characters. I want to stick with them," or "I am not healthy if I don't write--I have to go into therapy" or "I can't imagine not writing." One woman said she writes e-mails, blogs, anything to be creative if she's stuck on a story.
I know exactly how they feel. If I don't have something on my desk to write, I'm at loose ends. I'm fortunate right now to have two projects: the novel in progress and the nonfiction book. Lately I've been concentrating on the latter, but since Fred Erisman re-read my novel (about half a novel) and  decided his earlier questions were irrelevant and he "is hooked," I feel myself being drawn back to the novel and its possibilities. I'll have lunch with him Friday, and I'm sure we'll talk about it.
When people ask my why I blog, it's the same answer--it's a chance to write to the world. I have long felt that working things out in words is the same as a mathematician working things out in number. I just can't, God help me, do anything but the most elementary math.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Need recipes

I spent some of today researching RO*TEL tomatoes--one valuable thing I learned is that's how you write it, not Rotel, as I've done for years. But information is scant--a man named Roettelle began canning them in the early 1940s in far south Texas; today the company is owned by ConAgra (what isn't?). Sure there are recipes on the RO*TEL website, but I'm looking for original recipes. King Ranch Chicken is a classic, but I used my own version that did not come from the website, and I used my daughter's queso that is a little different because it adds cream cheese to the RO*TEL and Velveeta. But I'd like other original recipes--it's easy to point readers to a web site, but it doesn't give a book much flavor (no pun intended). So if you've a great family recipe using these spicy canned tomatoes, please send it to me at j.alter@tcu.edu. I'll credit your contribution in the book. Thanks much.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, I went to a wine cafe tonight wearing the trendy new jeans and shirt Megan and Mel picked out for me. Ate a crab cake with blue cheese remolaude--delicious, but a long way from RO*TEL.
Like most of the nation, Texas is gripped in a heat wave. I haven't heard an official report tonight but it was expected to reach 105 and may have gone higher. It's been a bit dry which has helped but that's supposed to change. I'm beginning to think, as I'm sure others are, of the terrible summer of 1980 when we set all kinds of heat records. People still have T-shirts that say "I survived the summer of 1980." Extreme heat, like extreme cold, makes you feel almost trapped, though I laughed last night when I went out to water plants. Jay was sitting on his porch next door. I asked why he was out in the heat, and he said it was too cold inside. I find that too--too hot outside, too cold inside. Aren't we spoiled creatures?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Reclaiming my life--and a pink flamingo and a bit of plagiarism

For  years, I threatened to put a pink plastic flamingo in my front yard as the sort of ultimate in tackiness, but I could hear my oldest daughter's reaction. I've seen in other yards flocks of them that are periodically rearranged and they're really fascinating. For my birthday I got my pink flamingo--metal and classy, not plastic and tacky--from the Houston Alters. Lisa said it would match my pink cone flowers, which are, alas, now faded and gone--but it will next year. It's just in front of the "jewel"-encrusted stepping stones that Morgan and Kegan made me for my last birthday (the Houston grandkids). I keep having to stop Jacob from pulling the "jewels" off and carrying them away as prizes.
Today I began reclaiming my life. Last week, because of the tooth, I was pretty much a recluse--and realized how seductive that can be for one who has insecurities about getting out. Then there was the wonderful weekend, but today I was back to reality. Of course, it's my confidence in my balance that bothers me. I did well, though at one point I found myself paralyzed, couldn't let go of the banister I was holding on to in order to take that first step. Finally the rational part of my mind stepped in and reminded me that I was expected somewhere for lunch and couldn't hold on to that bannister all day. I stepped and nothing bad happened. I should have taken the cane with me because I'm finally learning to use it when those momentary panic attacks come. They pass quickly and if I have the cane to steady me, I'm off and running. Anyway I did two errands, went to meet folks for lunch--and got stood up! Turns out he was sick and they forgot--profuse apologies and we'll reschedule. I didn't mind sitting in Carshon's for half an hour--sort of time to collect myself.
This afternoon I wrote about 1400 words on Gail Borden and read a bit of the mystery I've almost finished. So it's been a good day.
Read today about a  young woman, seventeen, who freely steals whole passages from other works and incorporates them into hers. She calls it "borrowing" though the rest of us would call it plagiarism. Worst of all, her work has won some sort of prize. I remember a student in my writing for publication class who was a poor writer at best until he turned in an almost perfect paper on yachting--with help, I found the magazine it came straight from, word for word. I called him in, he told me an F would end his college career, and I said, "Sorry." His mother even called and said to blame her, she'd told him to do it (can you imagine?). I gave him the F and have no idea what happened to him. But the times, they are a-changing if plagiarism can win a prize. Or am I an old fuddy-duddy?
So tired last night, but here's a picture of Jacob that says it better than I ever could. We were on our way home from Frisco yesterday afternoon.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Joy of a Big Family

I grew up almost an only child. My brother, six-and-a-half years older,, was sent to boarding school when he was about fifteen and never really lived at home again. I don't remember being lonely because I had lots of friends--two "best" friends. But I never knew about sibling love and bonding. When I married, I expected to have the usual two children and that was it. Instead I have four wonderful children, all with equally wonderful spouses, and seven grandchildren. We are, as Colin (my oldest) said this weekend, a noisy bunch when we get together. It used to sort of intimidate some of the spouses, each of whom came from two-children parents but now they happily join in the fun and noise-making and even instigate it. And I am amazed at the bond between them--and they way they love all the children, not just their own. Love, I've decided, is infectious.
Today we all ate lunch at Babe's Chicken--a belated celebration of my birthday, the destination chosen because I have long wanted to eat there. Christian arrived first and got us a private room, round, which was wonderful. I sat there in awe and looked around the table at those happy, laughing faces--well a couple of grandchildren were over-tired and half-sick but that's to be expected--and thought, "This is my family!" I am so grateful.
And then there is my brother's family--when the kids were in high school, we all ate Sunday dinner together: my four, his son and daughter, and whatever assorted friends wanted to join us. I often fixed for 15-20 on a Sunday night. These days, John and Cindy have two in-law children and four, almost five, grandchildren. They kids are still close, though they don't see each other often--when they do, it's a happy reunion. And John and I talk frequently on the phone.
And then there's Cindy's family--two sisters and their significant others and their mother. We mostly see them once a year, at Thanksgiving, but they too are family, and we are all extremely fond of them.
Above is a picture of most of us taken Thanksgiving 2008 at my brother's ranch--that's him standing to the far right. I won't even attempt to tell who is there, who is missing, who was invited that day--just say it was typical of our Thanksgivings.
This weekend the whole extended family met at a wedding celebration/going away party for one of Cindy's sisters, Jenny, and her new husband, Kevin. They've been together something like 18 years but got married when he got the news he's deploying to Afghanistan next week. Granted, there's a worry behind that--he's the first person I've known and cared about to deploy to "our" wars in the Middle East. But last night was like a big family reunion, although there were many other people at the party. Kevin said it looked like Thanksgiving all over again, and at one point he, Jenny, Megan, Colin and I got to laughing over a particularly memorable holiday--though it wasn't funny at the time. I got to see my newest great-nephew, now seven weeks old. It was absolutely a wonderful evening. And I thought again of the joys of a big family.
My diet went all to pieces this weekend--no thought about calories or points or gluten or any of it. For dinner last night I had two helpings of potato salad (made according to the recipe from County Line BBQ in Austin and nicely flaviored with pickle juice) and, much later, a small piece of Jamie's home-made banana pudding. And today, at Babe's--well, let's not even talk about it. I haven't eaten fried chicken in years, and this was wonderful. I said another time, with will power, I might follow the example of my vegetarian granddaughter, Eden, and eat only veggies, but Jamie pointed out those--potatoes with cream gravy, corn, and green beans--are so heavy with butter I wouldn't be saving anything.
Thanks to Jamie and Mel for hosting all of us at their house in Frisco, finding corners and nooks for everyone to sleep, and organizing a great weekend. And special thanks to Maddie for giving me her bedroom. More pictures will follow as Jordan sends them to me from her camera.
I now know what I missed growing up, and I can't imagine life without a big family. I am so blessed.