Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cleaning Your Kitchen

Want to know how clean your kitchen is? For a small fee, I will rent out my dog Scooby. Sunday night, after my brisket/grease disaster (see my post for 9/26), he spent a long time licking the kitchen floor that I thought I had cleaned so carefully. Then Wednesday night--three nights after the disaster--he discovered some grease that must have dripped out of the bottom of the oven and spent a good ten minutes licking it, until I finally told him it was time to go to bed. Sort of like a tracking dog, only for food remnants. Every dog has his special talents--and that's Scooby's, aside from being the most loveable, sweet animal ever!
Errands this morning--did you ever realize that you can buy a lot of groceries and spend a lot of money in much less time than it takes to unpack what you've bought? By the time I did that, went by the office, went to the vet for animal food, and took Jordan to the safe deposit box, I was pooped.
Tonight was the first session of my fall session of the evening writing class--I have nine enrollees, though two were absent tonight. A most interesting group--a minister, a psychotherapist, an aspiring fiction writer, four repeats from last session, a woman who took a similar class from me ten or twelve years ago. We had a good time. The talk was much more open and free than at the noon class I taught Monday--I hate to say this, but serving a glass of wine makes a difference. Anyway, it was a happy, encouraging evening, and I have great hopes for this group. I served bourbon hot dogs from the freezer, brownies that were so mushy and moist they were hard to deal with, and pimiento cheese that I bought at the store but spiked with a bit of cayenne that made it really good. I can see my lunch sandwich tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A food epiphany

I'm not one given to epiphanies, as in great insights into your life. I had a friend who seemed to have a new and remarkable insight every other day, and it wearied me, but today I had an epiphany. I always used to look forward to Wednesdays because the newspaper had the food section, Jeannie and I went to the Star for meatloaf, and West Wing was on at night. Now, West Wing has gone away, Jeannie and I don't go to the Star much, and the food section has shrunk. But today it had an article on cooking for one. The recommended menu was oven-baked salmon on top of oven-baked, crisp zucchini strips and covered with sauce verte, sort of the French version of chimichurri. It combines basil, parsley, capers, olve oil, chives, garlic, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice--all my favorite flavors.
As I read I realized that I have somehow gotten out of the habit of cooking good meals for myself. It's too easy to grab a big spoonful of store-bought tuna (yuck! do I really do that?) a couple of hearts of palm, and a bit of hummus--tonight I really over-estimated on the amount of hummus I can eat at one sitting   But after reading this menu-for-one, I resolved to go back to cooking healthy, interesting meals for myself--I guess I'd been saving my food creativity for company, but that's sort of silly.
The first step, for me, is something I've been meaning to do for weeks now--clean out the freezer. It's jam-packed full of I-don't-know-what, and I've been trying to eat out of the freezer to use it all up. But I simply need to "pitch" some items. My mother, who lived through the Depression, always thought I was too quick to pitch leftovers. I meant to get to the freezer today and didn't, but it's on my immediate to-do list.
Meanwhile, I had a sociable day. When Charles was still able, he much enjoyed lunch at the Black-Eyed Pea with friends from the Unitarian Church. So today I tagged along with Jay and Suzie Lotven, whom I'd met through Charles, and joined the lunch bunch. A most enjoyable meal, with lots of different intellectual discussions going on--this may be a generalization, but Unitarians are an educated, interesting, intellectual group, all liberals, and besides, I love the Pea's vegtable plate, though I think I ordered wrong today--I got plain squash intead of the squash casserole I love. Anyway, it was fun, and there were a few people I knew there.
Late this afternoon, John and Cindy came by to pick up the old plastic porch chairs I was discarding--they'll put them out by their stock tank, a delightful, tree-sheltered place to sit (if you can avoid mosquitoes). They stayed for about fifteen minutes and we sat on the porch and visited. Then Christian came by to pick up the toys Jacob left last night and the leftover brisket for dinner. I grabbed supper--yep, tuna and hearts of palm and hummus--and then Sue came by for a drink and a good visit. All fun, and much as I want to stay home and write, I enjoy the sociability.
Realized, belatedly, that my first class of the fall session of my private Write Your Life class is tomorrow night. Fortunately I planned to go to the grocery tomorrow anyway, because I provide snacks and wine the first night. Now I have that planned.
Busy weekend coming up, so it may be next week before I get to Central Market and implement my new eating plan. But in the meantime, I have all that good Pisces tuna and salmon. I'll get by and still have creative, healthy meals. I talked to two people today who have been vegan for about nine months--one was vegetarian for years before that. But they both reported remarkable improvements in their health--lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, no more migraines, allergies and sinus problems improved. I'm confused because all these different diets--vegan, gluten free, dairy free--seem to do so much for people I meet. I don't know if I have the will power to do that--I asked the vegan lady if she had cravings, and she said yes, she wants bacon, a good grilled burger, and cheese. I'm just not sure I'm ready to give up the things I enjoy, and if I did--what diet? Besides, the one time I ate at the local vegan restaurant, I didn't like it at all--but maybe I ordered the wrong thing. Then another part of my mind says I eat a healthy balanced diet--particularly when I cook for myself and get off this easy and fast kick. So there's my epiphany and resolve.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Campaign volunteering

I spent my usual Tuesday morning two hours at the local Bill White campaign this morning. Last week, I made a record number of phone calls because no one would talk to me. This week, I got all kinds of chatty people--much more fun. A number of them answered immediately they were voting for White, and one said, "Well, it won't be Rick Perry." I had one man say gruffly yes, he'd made up his mind, and he wouldn't vote for Bill White. So I assumed that meant Perry. But some women, after having declared for White, wanted to tell me all about how they couldn't volunteer because they babysat their grandchildren or some other reason. I'm about to ask the office personnnel if there's some significance to the fact that all the people I call range in age from late 60s to early 90s. When they respond affirmatively to my offer of a yard sign, I almost know better than to ask if they can pick it up--we're not supposed to offer to deliver unless necessary. But a lot of these folks are old enough that if they want a yard sign , they need it delivered. One woman vascillated and kept coming back to the topic of a yard sign--seems she's a Democrat and her husband, a Republican. She wasn't sure how much trouble it would cause but seemed interested in finding out. Finally she said she guessed not. It would save several people a lot of trouble.It's also interesting to read the household statistics of the people I'm calling. Maybe it's a sign of the times, but a lot of grown children--I'm talking 40s and 50s here--seem to be living with their parents.
My goof for the day: a lot of the time you have to leave a message. I try to vary my message so it doesn't sound canned, but sometimes I lose my way in the middle of it. I usually try to end with, "Thank you and have a good day." One notable call I said, "Thank you, and leave a message." I'm sure the woman thought White had an idiot working on his campaign--hope I didn't swing her vote the other way.
I know the odds are long, but from the responses I got today I can't see how Perry is seven points ahead in the polls. Several people said to me that he's been in office too long, though I read hints tonight on Facebook that he has his eye on a national election in 2012 and that's why this election is important to him. Heaven help us!
I had lunch with the assistant dean of our library today and, of course, her attention was much focused on the shooting at UT-Austin. Seems the dean of our library was on the Austin campus for a meeting but called quickly to say she was safe. The dean of the UT Austin Library System is a friend of mine, and his wife emailed early to say he and his staff were safe. I was grateful, though I kept thinking what an administrative nightmare this would be for him. I expect to have lunch with his wife Saturday, so I'll catch up.
Jacob was here tonight but spent the evening glued to the TV, which was fine--I read, and we had a pleasant evening.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned book week

In case you haven't been bombarded with emails  as I have, this is banned book week, a time to celebrate intellectual freedom. If you search on Google you can find lists of books that have been banned over time, everything from Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird to Gone with the Wind. Probably the classic some of us oldsters remember is Lady Chatterly's Lover--scandalous in its time. Some of the classics of our time and earlier times are on that list. Why are they banned? Often because parents, trying to protect their children from evil, protest to school boards. Lauren Myracle, an author of young adult books, calls herself America's number one most challenged author in the country in 2009. She writes about a young girl kissing another girl, a fifth grader with two moms, high school kids drinking too much and doing stupid things--and, yes, tampons.
In a wonderful column today in Shelf Awareness, an online newsletter for booksellers, she says the banned book argument often boils down to us (liberal thinkers) and them (conservative thinkers who go to church every Sunday, buy into conspiracy theories, and say, "Hell, yeah" when Rush Limbaugh mocks universal health care.) The division is not quite that simple. Myracle identifies hereself as a person of faith, a Christian who sings in her church choir. I have to agree that I identify myself as a person of faith and am proud to say I'm a Christian. But I'm not a Christian for book banning. Questioning is an essential part of faith, and if we are to lead meaningful lives we have to have intellectural freedom. Nothing irritates me more than people who think they can tell me what's right for them and for me--from banned books to abortion to politics.
If  you want to read the entire column, and it's thought-provoking, try to find today's Shelf Awareness on google (the full URL didn't print out, so I can't help much there).
A schoolteacher once told me that my very first young-adult novel, After Pa WAs Shot, would be banned if her superintendent read it, because I used the word "Kike" in it. The novel was set in East Texas in the late nineteenth century when Jewish immigrants landed in Galveston and made their way north to smaller towns. The word certainly did reflect my feelings but it was appropriate to time and place. I laughed aloud at the idea of me, Pollyanna, being banned.
On the Sisters in Crime listserv there's been much talk about banned books, and one author challenged each of us by asking what banned book we were going to read this week. I'm reading a really grisly novel, not my usual choice, so maybe that counts. Interestingly enough it also has an Amish background. But if I were going to reread one it would be To Kill a Mockinbird. I'm itching for my eleven-year-old granddaughter to be old enough to read it.
Many bookstores this week will have displays of banned books. Stop by, browse, and pick one up. See how you feel about banned books, intellectural freedom, and faith. I think they're all part of the mix. And here's a cheer for Lauren Myracle.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A slow and easy day, followed by a cooking disaster and a porch party

Cool weather, really cool today. Jacob and I sort of wiled away the morning--we sat on the porch and looked for rolypolys--at one point he was intently watching one crawl up his arm, and I went for my camera. When I came back the rolypoly fell off and he stomped on it. When I protested, he said, "It was a bad rolypoly." I tried to explain about insects being our friends but it fell on deaf ears--he stepped on two more. We had an early lunch and "body rest"--his name for resting but not napping. I was napping, and I told him to come get me only if it was something important. The first time it was: the cat somehow made it up to the kitchen counter (and he makes me believe he's too old to jump!). The second time, Jacob said urgently, "Come on, Juju, come on." Led me into the kitchen and asked, "Doesn't dinner smell good?" I was cooking a pot of beans on the stove and a brisket in the oven.
The brisket was my disaster--my roasting pan was too shallow, and yesterday everytime I moved the darn thing anywhere, I dripped marinade. Tonight when I took it out of the oven, cooked to a faretheewell, it dripped greast and made a slippery mess of the kitchen floor. Fortunately I had the foresight to roll the kilim rug back out of the way. I mopped, I dried, I took the jell-foam thing out to the porch and hosed it down. I dry mopped the kitchen floor. Jacob, whose body rest apparently hadn't been enough, slept through the whole thing. And when his mother arrived she said, "We have to clean this up." I seriously considered throwing the mop at her, but good sense overcame me.
Sixteen people to welcome the new neighbors, who are really nice young people. We all vary in age, so it was a neat mixture. I fixed brisket and beans; others brought rolls, cole slaw, potato salad, salsa, queso, and dessert--chocolate chip cookies with Reese peanut butter cups baked into them--a huge hit. Dealing with the brisket was a huge problem, but Greg managed it, got it out of the juice, let it sit, and carved it masterfully after protesting he was no good at that.
Cleanup tonight took me longer than usual even if Jordan and Sue started on it while I lounged on the porch visiting and Susan stayed to help. This morning, when Jacob and I sat out it was chilly enough I thought it might be too cool for a porch supper, but it was just perfect. Fun listening to all the chatter.  I didn't get the pictures isn the right place and am not sure how to fix them but the first is Jacob in a contemplative mood, studying a rolypoly and the second is him searching for a new one.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mostly food--and a lot of rain

This morning was a lovely day to be inside--almost dark, constant rain, thunder and lightning. I piddled, had to put the dog out for nature's call, but only stuck my own head out enough to empty garbage and get the paper. Christian and I planned to take Jacob to the deli for  lunch, but I didn't want to get out, didn't want to put make-up on. I said I had lunches for Jacob (pbj or grilled cheese) but I didn't have much that would appeal to Christian--my lunch supply consists of gravlax and salmon, tuna, liverwurst, hummus, and hearts of palm. Christian was quick to say not to worry about him--he'd eat a bigger meal just before he goes to work because it's a long time then until he can eat again. I laughed, because I knew none of what he calls my odd tastes would appearl to him. He did stop and get a Happy Meal for Jacob and the accoutrements have kept him busy all day. He actually fell asleep watching TV when I was prepared to think the best I could hope for was a "body rest," as he calls it.
Jacob and I had kosher hot dogs and baked beans for dinner, but I spent some time today cooking for tomorrow. I'm going to make pinto beans the old-fashioned way that I learned probably 30 or more years ago. You soak them overnight, then fry salt pork and onion together (that brown from frying really adds to the taste), and then throw in five bouillion cubes while the beans are cooking. I fried the salt pork and onions tonight. I had a hard time finding salt pork in the grocery--I guess in this health-conscious age we don't cook with it.
I also made a marinade of beef broth, low sodium soy, lemon juisce and garlic for the brisket--which is really too big for the pan. When I first put it in the fridge to marinate I had marinade all over the floor and the inside of the fridge. I opted out of adding the liquid smoke--just want the pure beef taste. Sounds good to me. I'll cook it a lot longer than the recipe said.
Just looked up and the child I thought I had put to bed was sitting on the couch watching me. I hustled him back to bed. He'd had a stomach problem much of the day and occasionally cried that he wanted his daddy to fix his bottom. A big poop took care of that. But the downside is now, at almost ten o'clock, he's feeling wide awake and frisky. I'm not.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An almost perfect fall day

Fall is coming to Texas. The temperature is finally below the low 90s. Today it was humid, really so in the morning, but stiill a perfect morning to drive around with the top down. I had a haircut, and my hair really looked cute when I left the salon--but then I finished my errands top down, and there went that. Still it was worth every minute of driving with the air blowing around me.
Tonight I took a book and an extra glass of wine to the front porch and sat and enjoyed the breeze and the view. My neighbors across the street have the most amazing tall cedars--they lost one in a storm this year, but the others have fiilled in. My crape myrtle, usually slow to bloom and then never blooming profusely, is bursting with flowers, as those trees are all over town. Greg, my botanist friend, tells me it's because of the cool spell we had last week. They're beautiful but messy! I have a  wonderful big but very old elm in front of my house. It used to lose branches from time to time, but it seems stable now. Every time I called the city to take away a  fallen branch, I quaked in fear they'd take the tree down but they said it's still healthy. I hope it lasts as long as I last in this house. To the west of my front yard, I have a lovely lush maple that was small when I moved here eighteen years ago. I must talk to Greg about raising the canopy, but for now it looks really wonderful. The whole street is tree-lined, and I sort of feel I'm in a forest when I look around. My porch plants have come back amazingly after the horrible heat--my fern hanging basket is particularly wonderful. And the hanging sweet potato plant has sent a shoot up the chain the holds it. My only regret is that it gets dark so much earlier these days.
Porch party Sunday night for sixteen. I worried that it would be too hot. Now I'm worried that it may be too cool. High predicted for Sunday is 78, with a low that night in the 50s. Yep, fall is on the way. Meantime, I did some savvy shopping at Central Market and got a whole brisket for $6-something instead of the trimmed ones for $15+ a lb. My gosh!
Looking forward to the weekend. I'll have Jacob from noon Sat. until supper Sunday--hmmmm. How to keep him amused? His other grandparents take him to movies, the state fair, things I'm just not up to alone. Yet he seems to love to come here, so we'll see.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh, what a day it's been!

You know that song? "Oh, what a day it's been! What a wonderful day!" That's not the song I feel like singing tongiht.This morning I ran errands--my former office, liquor store for those nice plastic plates, hardware for shower hooks (hate those fancy plastic ones and got old-fahioned metal), and grocery. It was relatively cool, and I put all the windows down--so neat that on a convertible  you can do that with one button. But I noticed the rear right window didn't go all the way up--it would go part way and then pop down. As soon as I got home, I called VW and they could work me in and get the car back to me tonight. Then the service assistant or whatever called to say it would be $406.99 plus tax. I said, "Well, we have to do it." Tonight, as I drove off the lot, with a list saying they'd checked every inch and function of the car including windows, the left rear window didn't go up. It went farther, and I'm pretty sure it would be hard for anyone to break into the car--but it is supposed to rain all weekend. If it waits until tomorrow afternoon, I'm home free--won't use the car Sat. or Sunday as far as I know. When I called the service assistant said it needs the same thing--there goes $800 for car windows! And I was so pleased to get off light for the passenger side mirror a couple of weeks ago! A friend told me she loved her VW until the extended warranty expired and everything started going wrong. I hope to heaven that's not what's happening to me--I intend to drive this car until the kids take the keys away. It's only got 22,000 miles on it; Susan next door has 96,000 on hers and it's not a VW--aren't they supposed to last forever?
Came home, did my chores, and treated myself to a ground sirloin sandwich!
My animals are developing bad habits. In the evening, Scooby dumps his food all over the back steps. Usually in the morning, it's gone, and last night I actually caught a possum eating it, while Scooby lounged in his dog house. But tonight, since I hadn't done chores earlier, I was out there with him when he ate, and he ate every bite. Do you suppose the poor old man just wants sociability with his meal?
Wywy on the other hand thinks I should feed her every time I stand up from my desk or go near the bathroom, where her food is served on a high counter to keep it from Scoob. I know she can jump up there, because I've caught her eating in the middle of the night if I get up to use the facilities. But when I'm around she sits on the seat halfway up and looks pitiful. If the food is not fresh, she turns away and looks even more pitiful. Sometimes I take it to the kitchen, stir it up, and bring it back--she often eats it. I think I have spoiled my animals.
Writing? What's that? Actually going to tackle that book review tonight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adoption and single parenthood

I'm reading Debra Monroe's account of her adoption, as a single Anglo woman, of an African American infant--On the Outskirts of Normal--Forging a Family Against the Grain. It brings back memories. I am the single parent of four adopted children, one of them bi-racial and another supposedly so, though we can't see it and don't believe it. Still Debra had a much harder time than I did. I'm sure it's more difficult to bring a black baby to a small Texas town, no matter how sophisticated, than it is to raise a Eurasian child in a city. Still there were funny moments, like the time on the soccer field when another parent said to us "Did you see that little Mexican kid? He said 'I'm going to kick the S--- out of that ball.'" We didn't even ask, we knew, even though he's half Chinese and half Greek. Or the time when he was about three or four at a bull-raising ranch in Mexico where he hit the pinata but was chased away by some Anglo tourist who thought he was a Mexican ranch hand's kid. He raced for me, calling "Mama," and I held out my hand as we walked back to collect his winnings. The tourist stared at us--dark-headed and dark-skinned child and fair, pale blonde me.
Debra writes that she adopted at a time when inter-racial adoption was rare, and a law had just passed to enable Anglos to adopt African American children if there was no good African American home available. We adopted twenty years before that, and inter-racial adoption was really rare. In fact, we had two children so the adoption agency considered our family complete. But we had always said we'd love a baby, no matter its color--and they called us one day. A lucky call for me, though I remember being so befuddled that I said, "I guess we'll come look at him," as though I were going to market to judge if the tomatoes were any good.
But I had a husband when they were infants, and he was a good father in those days. so I was spared the trauma of dealing with babies alone. And he was a doctor, so he could deal with their illnesses, major and minor. I do remember one time though, after he was gone, when one of them was desperately, violently throwing up, and I said, "Lord, I didn't mean to do this alone."
Debra's child was seriously sick, and so was she, which led to a prolonged--several years--miserable time for them. I thought, well, that didn't happen to me. Until I look back and realize one of my children had grande mal seizures and the other, all his high school years, suffered from unidentified stomach problems that were finally diagnosed as the Crohn's diseases with which he struggles to this day. And then there was the time one had mono, just after my husband left home. I'd take him to the ER and they'd say soothingly that they knew there was upset in the home just then. I wanted to shout: You don't understand. My child is sick. They finally got the picture.
Debra dated but tried to hide it from her daughter. I remember those days--I guess they could be called the days of furtive romance. But one thing I was proud of: I never let social life or my desire for one or my physical longings affect the children. They came first, and I think they always knew it. One of them said to me years later, "You didn't exactly put yourself out there." Ya think? Wonder why?
If I say I had it much easier than the single parent I'm reading about maybe it's because I'm less introspective, though I often thought I inclined too much that way. My children tell me I am in denial. I don't remember temper tantrums (okay, a few--like the time I washed Jamie's mouth out with soap). I don't remember fighting (until the girls got to high school when they hated each other and everyone else around them, including me). I do remember lots of love and laughter. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Debra Monroe's daughter is now thirteen, a bright, outgoing, outspoken young woman from what I hear. They're headed into those terrible years when young girls decide their mothers have ruined their lives. I hope they both skip that phase. I wish her well, because for all her angst, she truly, clearly, deeply loves that child and wants above all to protect her and raise her to be a person who can make good choices in life. I think she's on her way. Her story illustrates once again that poem that the Edna Gladney Adoption Agency (it probably has a better name now) used to quote: You were not born from under my heart but in it. Giving birth has little to do with love, in my own personal book, but raising and loving and sharing experiences have everything to do with it. And though I sometimes felt on the edge of some groups because I was a single parent, I never felt I was on the outskirts of normal.
I'm to review the book for the Story Circle Network and my review will be much more impersonal, but I can't resist sharing the similarities and differences in our experiences.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The snowflake

On the Sisters in Crime listserv, I'm what's known as a pantser--I write by the seat of my pants. I start with a general idea of who the characters are, who is murdered, and who does it. And then I write, figuring inspiration will come as I write and the characters will reveal themselves to me. Well, this time, it isn't working, partly because I keep getting distracted by projects with more definite goals and partly because I got about 35,000 words, knew where it was going, and was completely stymied. Then someone on one of the lists I read mentioned the snowflake method, which is essentially starting with a basic shape and adding layers--it is the creation of a software engineer, who says it's akin to designing software.
Randy Ingermanson recommends several steps, and I decided to follow them carefully: write a one-sentence synopsis, then a one-paragraph. Then write a page about each of your major characters. That's where I am now, and it's been an amazing experience. I realized things about my characters that I never knew. I know lots of authors make lengthy outlines or notes about their characters, and now I can see why--what I'm finding out will profoundly affect the shape of the novel. I'm not rushing into this and dashing off descriptions of all the characters in one night--I do one or two at a time and take time to consider how they affect the development of the story. I'll go back to the novel with renewed interest--if a less speculative job doesn't intervene. I'm becoming a definite believer in some pre-work before  you write.
My family is already all abuzz with holiday plans, visit plans--we're going to have a lot of togetherness in the next couple of months, and I couldn't be happier about it. But oh those plans get complicated! Herding cats might be easier. Apparently I've missed a couple of emails, so I'm not up to the minute on the plans. I used to feel I had to be information central, and it startled me that the children were communicating with each other without going through me. Now they're apparently communicating with each other and leaving me out of the loop. Does age make you irrelevant?
I did have a senile moment this evening and was going to confess it on the blog--only now I can't remember what it was. Oh, dear.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting for Godot

Or suspended animation. Or waiting for the other shoe to drop. All of those are how I felt today. Last week was really busy, the weekend even more so, and I told myself Monday I'd start all over again. But this morning I thought, "On what?" My food book is with the editor, and I've heard nothing about the other two posssible projects headed my way. The answer of course would be to dig right in and get to work on my novel--but it's hard to get back to after I've been away from it so long and while I'm anticipating being drawn away again. So I piddled this morning, did a laundry, did my yoga, answered emails. Then lunch with Fred, where we mostly talked about the current state of the world and I had a great tongue sandwich. Then this afternoon I read, figured out a menu for next Sunday night for a welcome for the new neighbors, and napped. I can distract myself all day going through recipes. Close to the end of the mystery I was reading so I finished it tonight. Really should write character descriptions of the primary people in the novel, and maybe I'll start on that. Also I have a review book on my desk. Not as though I don't have things to do--I just don't know which one to start or where or why.
Good supper tonight. I snitched some chopped chicken liver at the end of last night's party, maybe two tablespoonsfull but enough that I could tell I was eating schmaltz. So good. But to counter all that fat and bad organ meet, I had a half ear corn and a half of a yellow squash. Split the squash, cleaned out the seeds, spread with olive oil, and grilled it until charred and soft. Then brushed it with a mix of sherry vinegar and fresh oregan, and topped it with panko crumbs that I'd sauteed in olive oil with garlic and just a bit of crushed red pepper. Really good--I'll try that one again. And much easier on the diet than the cheesy casserole I usually make of yellow squash.
Today it was only 92 and cooler weather is supposedly in the near future. Can't wait. We've been blessed with plenty of rain, but this heat has been unreal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An international buffet

The Bookish Frogs met at my house tonight for a buffet (they're a community support group for TCU Press). Food was to be supplied by contributors to Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, but as more than half of them were unavailable, I panicked--in my usual manner--about having enough substantial food. I could see a buffet of desserts with only my spaghetti chicken. Turned out the other way, and we had an international buffet--chopped chicken liver (do you know how much I love that? Even really made with schmaltz--oh, my gallbladder!) and chicken soup from the Jewish community, enchiladas from the Hispanic community, brisket from the African American community, and a Middle Eastern platter of snacks from Dan, the new director of TCU Press, and his wife, plus chicken spaghetti that I made (enough for Cox's army), pork spareribs, wonderful biscuits, a great bok choy salad. It was a happy evening, and everyone enjoyed it immensely. Some sat on the porch--it was warm but not too hot. Others perched at varioius places. Susan Petty, my former and still colleague, did a great job of organizing and also of moderating a discussion from the contributors who were there. Fun for all.
I had spent much of the morning "straightening" the house, looking at details I normally overlook and trying to fix them. Wore me out. I even vacuumed when I realized how much dog hair there was on the rug in my study. Made a queso-type dip, still have about 2/3 of it left, plus a lot of chicken spaghetti, even after Susan took some home. But it was a fairly quiet day--I got to read, had a good nap. Still tired tonight, after everyone left.
But much credit to Susan  for helping get everything together and to the contributors who were here plus to Dan's wife, Cynthia, for helping clean up. Susan expected to be here until nine but was out the door at eight, and other than dishes in the drain basket and dirty flatware in the dishwasher, you'd never know I had a crowd in my house. I'll tackle those tomorrow, when I plan to have a slow and lazy day.
The evening was one of those that makes me feel blessed, for being involved with such wonderful people, for having them in my home, sharing good food with good people. Between yesterday and today I have had a full but wonderful weekend. And I am, as the saying goes, bone-weary.
But I think Susan sold quite a few books, which is quite a good thing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Long but satisfying day

Jacob woke me before I was really ready to get up this morning. I opened one eye to see this smiling face and hear "It's get-up time, Juju." No solution: I got up. We sort of piddled the morning away--Jacob playing and finally settling down to TV (after eating two waffles and a yogurt), me obsessing about getting ready to go to Dallas in the early afternoon and getting the house ready for tomorrow night. Jordan did not help by saying there was some smell she couldn't identify and be sure to light candles. Then she ran a finger over the buffet and indicated it needed dusting--I expected white gloves next. They got Jacob into his soccer clothes--the picture above is when he was sort of half dressed and a bit grumpy about it. Pictures from the game were so cute. I had hoped they'd email one, but they just posted them on Facebook. Apparently he is #9, which his cousin Emily says is a lucky number, and according to his father he played hard. After one practice. I'm not sure how hard four-year-olds play soccer.
I had a really really early lunch, followed by an early nap during which I slept soundly. Was ready to go when Memie Hardy came to pick me up for the drive to Dallas. We don't know each other well but had a great visit on all our driving around and waiting in bookstores today.
We went to a signing and talk by Debra Monroe for her new book, On The Outskirts of Normal (SMU Press), which has gotten rave reviews in all the big national review outlets. It chronicles her adoption, as a single Anglo woman, of a newborn African-American infant. The girl is now thirteen, and the light of Debra's life. I came home with a copy of the book to review for the Story Circle Network. I'm sure the book will be as honest and forthright and humorous as the talk was today.
Afterward Kathie Lang  Allen, senior editor at SMU Press and my good friend, gave a magnificent dinner party. I met all kinds of interesting people I'd never known before, saw a couple of old friends, and ate scrumptious food--Memie had made two cheese/curry dips, one with chutney and green onions that I could have made a meal of. Dinner was tomato aspic, beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce and fresh yeast rolls (I couldn't believe I ate two), cheese grits, and asparagus. I swore I wouldn't eat dessert, but the chocolate cheesecake was too good to resist a small piece.
Kathie served a seated dinner, although buffet, for about twenty-three. I laughed that I am serving pot-luck to about thirty tomorrow but they will get disposable plates and flatware (I actually recycle the latter) along with small plastic wine glasses. Kathie likes to get out her good pieces and use them--I am much more casual, though I'm so glad I know someone who puts on proper dinner parties. Dinner at Kathie's is always a treat, and her husband Rick was a gracious host and bartender.
But for me, seven hours away from home was a long time. I was ready to feed my animals, check my email, read Facebook, and relax. I think I'm addicted to e-mail and Kindle, but that's another blog, another time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The world's biggest chicken casserole

Sunday night I'm hosting a Bookish Frog (supporters of TCU Press) pot-luck to celebrate Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook. Contributors are to bring dishes made from recipes in their chapters, so we might have some interesting food. Really too bad Joyce Williams, who wrote about pioneer women, is in Switzerland celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary--I did so want stewed squirrel. I chose a chicken/spaghetti casserole that has everything but the kitchen sink.The recipe is from a Women's Club cookbook or some such years ago, so old that it calls for a No. 2 can of tomatoes. I had to Google that to find out how much and then I sort of guessed. Remember when that was how cans were measured? It made no sense.
Since my weekend is busy, I stewed the chicken last night and boned it; then this morning I put the whole thing together, except for the mushrooms and oregano which I forgot. I can do those on Sunday. But this recipe has everything: spaghetti, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, one large hen, onions, celery, chicken broth (after you boil the spaghetti in it), mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs (I couldn't do it--I diced up the whties but I threw the yolks away), and grated cheese. I was going to put the cheese on top, but  I decided the casserole probably needs it as a kind of binding/sauce agent. What I've got now, before the mushrooms, completely fills my large Dutch oven. No wonder it cooks for an hour and a half! Note: it called for canned mushrooms, which you then sauteed. Come again? I bought fresh mushrooms, will probably saute then tonight while watching Jacob.
Had lunch with an old friend today who really wanted a Reuben, so of course I took her to Carshon's. I gently asked if she wanted a whole sandwich, and she said no, probably a half. They don't do half orders on special sandwiches, so sacrificing good friend that I am, I offered to split it, though I did order so we got corned beef instead of pastrami and toasted instead of grilled. Honestly, how bad can half a Reuben be? Don't answer that. I got on the scales after lunch, and it wasn't good. But oh my that sandwich was delicious.
Jacob is here tonight. When he was a baby, someone sent a flower arrangement with a mid-sized stuffed frog. Somewhere along the way, he latched on to Froggie and became inseparable. Jordan has been back to that florist to order a whole stash of replacement Froggies. But tonight Jacob came to me in tears--he'd left Froggie in his mom's car. I was going to take him and go get it, but she said that wouldn't work because he'd see her company and want to come in. So Froggie mysteriously appeared on my porch a bit ago. Kids and their attachments are funny--Jordan had a quilted small blanket someone made for her, and I had to restuff it three times. I think it's still in the attic.
Busy weekend. I think I wear myself out planning how to handle such times. Yoga doesn't seem to help me relax and let it all flow, especially when a poor pitiful little kid, maybe six at best, interrupts by ringing the doorbell and saying "We need money for a walk-a-thon." He kept looking around like maybe his parents would come rescue him. I hate it when parents do that to their children! I just settled back down to finish my routine, got to the relaxation part, and Jacob and Jordan arrived earlier than she had predicted. But I'm still trying to go with the flow. And lots of advance planning.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

NPR and the Tea Party

I was listening to NPR this morning on the way to the dentist (aargh! Needed distraction--I feel like I've been living in that office lately). Two members of the Tea Party were debating. I didn't hear where the gentleman was from, but he said the Tea Party is based on the values of our forefathers--right to life, freedom of religion, marriage between a man and a woman, all the Christian far right values. The woman, who is from Waco, Texas, and I think the founder of the Tea Party movement there, made much more sense: she said they don't concern themselves with social issues, because the Tea Party is about economics. We wouldn't, she said, expect the NRA to take up the anti-abortion cause, and her Tea Party doesn't take it up either. The other day I heard commentators discussing the movement, also on NPR, and one wondered why they didn't just form a separate political party. The answer was that they feel they already have a party: the GOP. While some one pointed out that it's time for change in Washington--the same people keep getting elected and get set in their ways and their opinions (to my mind a valid point)--another suggested that it's not the established politicians who are liable to be defeated this fall--it's those who have only been in Congress for one or two terms. And then someone commented that if a number of Tea Party candidates are elected, as seems likely from the primaries the other night, Congress will find itself with a whole lot of newcomers who don't kow how things work, don't even know where the restrooms are in the capitol. If that happens, he predicted, it will be hard for Mitch McConnell to control and manage his caucus. All of this makes me think it should be interesting times ahead in our national government. Meantime, I'm worrying about state and local government and grateful that the city balanced the budget without closing three threatened libraries in "poverty areas." Since my mentor and good friend Fred lives near one of those libraries and uses it frequently, I asked if he wanted to consider moving, and he assured me not.
I think I inherited this interest in politics from my dad, who always voted for the best man, but the best man, as far as I know, always turned out to be a Democrat, and I was raised with real reverence for FDR. I remember when I was quite young playing outside the house and seeing a woman jump out of a car and yell, "Hooray! Roosevelt is dead." I rushed in the house to tell my mother, and she said something like, "Hush! Don't you talk that way!"
From the serious to the mundane: my brother and his wife called tonight. Cindy said she was on her third attempt to make mayonnaise and had I ever done it. I said I tried and failed, and my advice was that Hellman's low-fat with olive oil is really good and she should buy some. John got on the phone, thanked me for my non-help, and as we chatted he said Cindy reported that the mayo was thickening up but didn't have much flavor. I suggested lemon, and John said he'd add white pepper. I'm all for from-scratch cooking, but there are times when it's easier to buy it.
"Scuse me, I have to go bone a chicken now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A mishmash day

No profound thoughts today. Got going pretty early, went to Central Market for just a few items--how do you go for just a few things and end up spending $45? I did it. Came home, dealt with about fifty e-mails, and went to the employees' book review lunch at TCU. A book by Wendi Pierce with Rick Steed on Historic Day Trips from Dallas/Fort Worth. Lots of history, which I find fascinating, though some was pretty bloody--they delved into such topics as the case of a man named Wilbarger who was the first Anglo to be scalped and survive. Apparently they read historical markers and then did research--kind of stuff I love. Susan Oakley, who puts these lunches together, asked what you do when you're with someone who doesn't want to stop at markers because "We're making such good time." It's that old dilemma--is the trip your goal or the destination. My ex-husband was of the school where you get in the car, go by the most direct method, and don't get out until you get where  you're going; I love backroads and small towns and bits of history. I remember the time a friend and I took an entire long day to drive from Amarillo to Fort Worth (normally a six-hour drive)--we drove around the square of every small town, stopped in junk stores, looked for the Waggoner mansion in Decatur, had a grand time. I'm afraid I'm too often a passenger in a car where the destination is the goal. Anyway, I enjoyed this book program--though I think my hearing is getting worse. Even with my hearing aids, I missed a lot of it.
Tonight  Betty and I went to one of our favorite places, Sapristi's. Usually we split the tapas platter, but it had spicy eggplant that the waiter assured us was really spicy (not for me) and a potato fritatta--the Spanish have a name for it that I can't remember, but I don't particularly care for it. So I had a delicious crab cake and a Caesar salad--so good!
Now I'm home wading through more e-mails and trying to collect my thoughts. My hectic week is turning out quite manageable, and the next two days look easy. I need to go back to my novel--have some good ideas for rewrites that I must study, but why rewrite until  you finish the darn thing? I think a part of my brain is waiting for the two other possible jobs--paying jobs, I should add. When I read Guppies posts (Going to be Published) I realize that I'm a real slacker. Those ladies devote every day to their writing, whereas I go back to it whenever, waiting for some sign from the heavens. Then again, they all e-mail so much that I don't know how they have time to write. It takes me much of the day just to read the e-mails.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I hit two miletones yesterday--and one of them almost slipped by me. When I reached the mark of 19,000 hits on my blog, I thought I'd watch and have a blogobration (is that a blog celebration?) at 20,000. But I must have turned my head. Either that or more people read it than usual, because last night I looked and it was at 20,077. Now folks, this is not the Huffington Post--that probably gets over a thousand hits a day. I've been blogging four years, so that probably averages to 20 hits a day, though I think it's been growing lately. I guess the good news is that people don't read it once or twice and get bored but seem to come back. So I'm pleased. I enjoy blogging, and I'll keep doing it. I thank those of you who read it daily--Jeannie and Marcia and Elizabeth, among others--and those of you who check in when  you have time. Sometimes I think my blog is such a mish-mash that I'm not sure where it's going--but I try to keep it a mix of writing, cooking, and grandmothering--hats off to Melanie for coming up with that concept and title. And I try to avoid politics, though every once in a while I can't resist inserting a bit of my opinion on that subject. But thank you all for reading and caring. I'd like to hear more from you--what do you want me to talk about, what interests you, what bores you?
The second milestone was that I sent the rough draft of my Texas food book to the publisher who's expressed interest--I guess I blogged about that last night. But it was an accomplishment, because when I first looked at the list of foods that began in Texas, I thought writing about all of them was insurmountable. It wasn't. Instead it was fun.
Another phone bank day at the Bill White campaign office. I particularly liked the lady who said she didn't know anything about White, and we got to chatting. At one point she said to me, "I'm 70, but I'm not a dumb 70." I replied, "I got you beat. I'm 72." We laughed and continued to have a good conversation. It makes you feel good when you open someone's eyes to study the issues and the candidates, even if they don't immediately agree with you. Several people said to me, "I don't want to get involved." A campaign worker said, "You should ask them why they don't want to get involved. Don't they realize this is their state, and who is elected affects their daily lives?" I'll try it next week.
Jacob came for supper tonight. Supper consisted for him of seven chicken nuggets and one blackberry. I made myself another version of tuna salad--this with lemon, tomato, fresh tarragon from my porch, mayonnaise, red onion, and ate it along with hearts of palm and hummus. Good dinner, and not too fattening. Jacob's dad came and together they fnished the blackberries. But I turned a deaf ear to Jacob's pleas for ice cream. I think I've learned my lesson about sweets. He proudly pointed out to his dad where he hid under the dining room table the other night, and Christian, bless him, used the occasion to reinforce that Jacob was not ever going to hide from Juju again.
I'm usually a sound sleeper but last night I could not get to sleep. I would swear I didn't sleep all night, but my mom used to tell me I did and just didn't know it. But I do know I never got that deep REM sleep we need--and this morning at an 8:00 breakfast I felt like I was sleep-walking. Jacob's early arrival interrupted a good nap that Scooby and I were sharing, so I'm off to bed early. It seems a busy week looms, but when I think about it, I suspect its easily manageable.
Again, thanks for being interested in me and my doings, my writing, my cooking, my family.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Finishing a project

There's something  unsettling about finishing a project--a sense of triumph, yes, but also a moment of almost bewilderment. What will I do next? I sent off the rough draft of my Texas food book to the editor today--if she likes it and I end up with a contract, there will be a lot more to do. But for the time being it's out of my hands. Oh, of course I'll find snippets and recipes here and there that I want to add, but  for the time being it's done. And I wait.
Meantime, I can go back to my novel--no wonder the poor thing suffers. I work on it for a while, then abandon it, then have to go back and pick up the threads, each time hoping I'll have an epiphany about where the darn thing is going. I know roughly, but I'm really plowing through this first draft. Then there's the project my agent told me about--but I've heard nothing from him again or the publisher.
My mom always used to tell me that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and I am convinced over and over that it's true. Today, when I sent that first draft, the editor wrote back and asked if I'd be interested in co-authoring a book. She has a project, about women in the American West, that really interests her but needs some help. I replied of course I'd be interested. So, maybe, there's my next project.
Meantime, it's a busy week ahead, and tonight, with no project on my desk, at least no immediately active one, I'll read a mystery. There's been some posts on the Sisters in Crime listserv about what you do when you finish a project. Suggestions range from starting the next one to cooking to taking a vacation. My answer? Read a mystery.
Fixed a nice, light supper tonight. Some of that good tuna I get from Oregon, with chopped red onion and tomato, basil, capers, salt and olive oil. Yumm! I ate more than I thought I would. Did a bad thing (for the cat but one he liked) and drained the tuna water over some kidney diet cat food. Talk about self defeating! But Wywy was happy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A peaceful Sunday

Sundays should indeed be peaceful days of rest and mine was, though the good Lord knows I needed it after last night's adventure with Jacob. My night with Jacob didn't end with finding him under the dining table and getting him to bed. He had to get up to pee, he had to get up to bring me the model horse he'd told me to take back to the office (I do NOT take orders from a four-year-old well). Finally, he was asleep, and I was just drifting off--when he fell out of bed. He cried, I loved on him and hoisted back into bed, by which time he was sound asleep. In fact, I don't think he ever really woke up, because this morning he vehementaly--and with some anger--said he dreamt he fell out of bed, but he really didn't--I love the way he says didn't, drawing it out into an emphatic three-syllable word.. We made our way through fruit yogurt and two waffles, he played, I read the paper, and all was well. When his mom arrived, we took a batch of muffins and a rubber duckie to welcome the new neighbors next door (they have a two-year-old). Nice people, and I'm so glad to have neighbors again. Then I gave Jordan and Jacob lunch and shooed them out. Read, had a good long nap, and went to friends' for dinner. We talked about the dangers of religious extremism, but for the three of us to have that conversation is truly preaching to the choir. It was a Sunday to be savored.
Just finished Mint Julep Murder by Carolyn Hart in her Death on Demand bookstore mystery series. It's one of the earlier ones but one that I apparently missed. As always it was excellent, and I for one didn't suspect the solution until the very end. But even beyond the mystery is the fact that Hart creates a group of characters you like and care about, and if you read several of her books, they become old friends.
Now I'm going to start a new book, Holy Guacamole, recommended by author Marcia Daudistel of El Paso. Nancy Fairbanks is an El Paso author who writes, among other things, culinary mysteries--my favorite kind. I read the free sample that Kindle offers--I love that service because it's saved me from paying for some mysteries I wouldn't read--but this time I was intrigued by the opening. So I'm looking forward to it.
Back to work tomorrow.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The terror of a missing child

You read about children disappearing from their beds, and you never think it could happen to you. But tonight I tucked Jacob in, went to my office where the monitor is on, then got up to feed the cat and noticed the door to Jacob's bedroom was opened. He wasn't in his bed, so I assumed he'd gotten in my bed to visit with Scooby. Nope. I looked everywhere, going through the house, telling him what trouble he'd be in. I mean I looked in the freezer and the fridge, the utility closet, the cat's closet, behind the shower curtain, under my bed. I was certain my tone of voice and my threats would bring him out, but no. The back and front doors were double locked, and I was sure he didn't know how to unlock either one. Plus the alarm system was on. But when I'd exhausted every possibility, I called Jay, who came immediately with a large flashlight. He too looked through the house and called loudly. We turned Scooby loose from his bed, but he was simply enthusiastic and not much of a hunter. Finally, Jay said, "Call the police. He's not in this house. It's not that big a house." I said I should call Jordan first, did, and got the answering message. So I was standing at the kitchen phone dialing 911 when I saw a shape under the dining table. Lost child found. Jay and I both explained to him that he scared us because we love him, and I explained it long after Jay left--with my undying gratitude. I'm not sure Jacob fully understood--he kept telling me he was hiding from the bad guy, to which I responded that when he heard me calling he should have answered. Jordan was frantic, I told her everything was okay, but she said, "You call me and say it's an emergency and then it's okay." So I explained and she calmed down. Strikes me as strange that I was sort of calm throughout the whole thing, because I absolutely could not see how he could have gotten out or how someone could have gotten in to get him. But still . . .
Jacob has given me sweet kisses and wished me sweet dreams, but I'm not sure I will sleep. Too wound up.
A bit of irony: when Jordan was about Jacob's age, a good friend lived with us and one day she was alone at home with Jordan. She lost her, and went frantically through the house calling her name. The whole time, Jordan sat on a window seat in the dining room, watching Anne race back and forth and not saying a word. I think Anne assumed she was one of the kids' lifesize dolls. So now I know how she felt.
I had meant to blog about the frustration of the college football season, when I want to see the national news. Tonight all three major channels in our area carried football instead of news, and MSNBC was replaying tapes from the actual September 11--not something any of us need to relive. But I wanted to know if the Reverend Jones met with the Imam in New York, if there were more riots in Afghanistan--seems to me there was a lot more important going on in the world than football, and I get frustrated. But then, I am not and never was a fan.
Until bedtime, Jacob and I had a pleasant evening--he ate a ton of blackberries, some tomatoes and part of a turkey sandwich. Then he taste tested the muffins I plan to take to the new neighbors tomorrow. And he went to bed so easily. I thought I was home free. Guess not.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Traumas, major and minor

We have suvived all kinds of traumas, major and minor. On Wednesday it was floods and possible tornadoes. I spent an hour watching firemen rescue people from an apt. complex roof in Arlington--a creek had suddenly burst its banks. And there was flooding all ovr the state in the path of--was it Hermione? Megan had a friend who drove into a low-water crossing before he saw the water but luckily escaped. Then that night I spent an hour texting with Melanie in Frisco because it looked like a tornado was headed their way--Jamie was at his office in Addison and she told him to stay there. I think the storm--no tornado but lots of wind and rain--passed between them. A good friend lives in a sixth-floor condo in Dallas where another tornado looked headed. I asked if she went to the basement but she said she stood in the window and watched it. Her opinion was that it was a lot more exciting on TV than what she saw. Tells you something about media, doesn't it? A good two hours of media time was devoted to the storms.
On the home front, the cat got locked in the closet that is her new hiding spot. Socorro, who keeps my house as clean as she can, didn't realize it was in there and closed the door tight. I finally missed her and noticed the closed door. Then yesterday morning when I went to let Scooby out, there was a dead possum at the foot of the stairs to the back yard.. My first instinct was to call neighbor Jay but I figured by the time he got here, Scooby's bladder would have given way. So I used the pooper-scooper to throw the poor critter over the fence into the drivewy, where today Greg, who does the lawn, kindly disposed of it for me. No, it was not playing possum--it was dead, for sure!
My food book proceeds, and today I plowed through the Best Maid Products (best known for pickles) Web page and got enough information to write up a descriptive history. Like many Texas foods it began as a home project--a Mrs. Dalton who made and sold meringue pies and didn't know what to do with all those leftover egg yolks. So she made mayonnaise. I love the creative use of leftovers! I think this is the last major entry before I send the draft off to the probable publisher.
I'm relieved that the publicity-seeking "reverend" in Florida has decided not to burn the Koran, but I still hope tomorrow will be peaceful. I thought President Obama did a good job today of handling the subject and the whole anti-Muslim feeling that has suddenly burst upon us with such ferocity. I saw on TV tonight a bit about a man who lost his son that day and is crusading to educate young adults--too young at the time to remember or understand--about the life-changing day and its impact on America. A much more reasonable way to remember the victims than burning the Koran.
Yay! The house next door to me will be occupied as of tomorrow. The landlady has rented, after nine months of trying to sell, to a young patent attorney, his wife who is expecting, and their two-year-old daughter. Sounds like good neighbors. Not having neighbors is sort of akin to being marooned on an island.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A political volunteer and a certain kind of fictional heroine

Can't resist. This is Morgan, my 5-year-old granddaughter from the Houston area, with her first project for kindergarten. Mom tells me she cut the letters of her name out freehand and chose the other images. She looks very proud, as rightfully she should.
There was an obituary for a fairly prominent gentlemen in the community in the paper this morning. He died at the age of ninety, and, God bless him, among his survivors, his fiancee was listed. That's the way to grow old!
I spent my first two-hour morning stint at the Bill White campaign headquarters this morning, working the phone bank. I can't tell you how many messages I left, finally got my spiel down pretty well. I accused the workers of giving me the geriatric list because they were all people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Got one woman who was listed as 110 and I was in awe--Willard Scott should be talking to her!--but it turns out that's a code they use when they don't know the age. Actually called six people I knew, which was fun. Most people were polite, several told me they were voting for White, even two or three who said they generally vote Republican. Only one man was firm but he was polite, sort of. Said he wouldnt vote for him for dogcatcher and added, "I'm a good Republican." I wanted to ask him to define that but I refrained. I'll go back once a week until the election. I could hear the staff laughing and cheering after some of my calls--they were eavesdropping!--and they told me I made many more calls than most volunteers.
I'm reading a mystery that will go unnamed. Actually I'm enjoying it, but it has the kind of heroine who drives me bananas. She refuses to level with the guy in her life (who is of course also involved in the mystery). Instead she keeps digging herself a deeper and deeper hole, while all she longs for is to recapture his love--and its obvious he wants that too. But she throws up these barriers, with the feeble excuse (to the reader) that she's not good at talking about feelings or lying to him because she's afraid she'll be accused of murder if she tells the truth. I know why it's done, of course--it spins out the plot, which otherwise would be solved in 50 pages. But you want to shake that girl and say, "Tell the truth, just this once!" It makes her a kind of transparent heroine.
Peter, Paul and Mary retrospective on public TV night--oh my, does that take me back in time, a happy trip.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rain--and a persistent worry

A rainy day--the kind where you look like a wet puppy no matter what you do. Sometimes it was a light drizzle, other times it came down pretty hard. Either way it's welcome. The humidity was awfully high, so it felt muggy even though the temperature wasn't that high--and then when you came into air conditioning, it was cold. When I drove into VW's service bay everyone was cautioning about how slippery the wet floor was, and if I heard it once, I heard ten times, "I would want you to fall." I didn't. One service counselor was using a crutch--I waved my cane at him and told him we matched. Amazingly, my mirror was replaced within 45 minutes and cost $88, which wasn't as bad as I expected. I will now be more careful coming out of that narrow garage, though I do think having lived here seventeen years and never done that before is pretty good. This morning, with the mirror still broken, I almost veered into the fence on my side of the car.
I am terribly concerned about the wave of Muslim hate sweeping across this country. I understand that hate has unfortunately been a part of our history--of African Americans, of Jews, of the Japanese during WWII. It's like we never learn--or at least some of us don't. I worry about those Muslims who are good American citizens--for their safety, for their mental peace. And I am appalled by the minister in Florida who threatens to burn copies of the Koran on September 11--what a terribly inappropriate and dangerous way to remember those who died. I'm not one to wear those bracelets with WWJD on them, but I do wonder if those dedicated churchgoers in Florida really think Jesus would approve of the book burning. I'll be glad when Saturday is over--peacefully, I hope.
And I can't help wondering why this Muslim hate surfaces now, nine years later. Is it because some falsely accuse our president of being Muslim. That he's not doesn't seem to register with them. But what if he were? There's no law, nor nothing in our constitution, that specifies the faith of the president.
Oh my, sometimes the world really is too much with us!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Aging, uh, gracefully

I had dinner with two friends tonight to celebrate the 65th birthday of one of them. While she appreciated the attention, she isn't exactly celebrating. She moaned and groaned when she turned sixty, and now sixty-five seems even worse to her. Sometimes I feel a little offended, like she should think before she says that to me. But I did point out tonight that I am 72, don't feel it and don't think I look it. The third friend began to smirk, and I said, "What? You think I look 72?" She said that was not at all what she was thinking, and I believe her. I asked the birthday girl how old her husband is, and she replied, "Seventy-seven." So there! But she said she feels 34.
I've talked about this before--that there is an age you feel you are all your life, no matter your chronological age. At 34, my friend was in the depths of a bad place, a bad marriage. I too feel I'm in my mid-thirties and then didn't know that I was in a marriage that was about to turn bad. Then I had young children--one still to come--and thought life was pretty good. But if you ask me, I wouldn't go back to that age for anything, unless I could take with me the wisdom, knowledge, and world view I've gained over the years. Not that I am by any means an aged sage, but I look back at myself in my thirties and think how naive, how shallow, how innocent of the real world I was. And I find I like myself better these days--I'm more patient, less anxious (some won't believe that), not bothered by the demons of my thirties. And I'm probably happier than I've ever been in my life, more content with life and with myself. It's a great feeling. I hope my friend can reach it, though she's in the midst of a stressful work situation right now.
It was a great dinner--I had a chopped salad, huge, and the other ladies had pasta. We were at my current and longtime favorite restaurant, Patrizio's. It's just now finally come to Fort Worth from Dallas. They brought us complimentary spumoni because it was a birthday, and we all enjoyed.
Back to the real world tomorrow, and I will be confused all week about what day of the week it is. Now that I'm retired, I sometimes wake up wondering what day it is and what I am supposed to do that day. Somehow every morning seems like Saturday to me.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Some thoughts on food and beer

I've been thinking lately that the secret of serving good, even great meals is not as much in the cooking as it is in the menu planning. "Pairing" foods is more important, to me, than pairing wines. I remember years ago attending a luncheon at a women's club where they served sliced barbecue and tomato aspic. I laughed at the time but am still a bit appalled. But that's why the dinner I fixed last night worked, basic though it was--hot dogs, beans, and potato salad. Those things go together. I try to keep that idea in mind even in more sophisticated menus--like egg salad sandwiches go with smoked salmon--so stick a slice in  your next sandwich. It's really good. Or caviar and hard boiled eggs go together, or steak, salad, and a baked potato. Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with cream gravy. Salmon croquettes and stewed tomatoes (okay, that's a favorite from my childhod.) It's all in the pairing.
I'm a bit over my lazy spell of yesterday and dove (dived?) headfirst into beer this morning (not literally). But I boned up on Texas beer. Since its beginning, Texas has been a state of microbreweries, none of which succeeded. First, the British brought a top-fermenting beer that didn't need aging; after the Civil War German immigrants wanted lager, a bottom-fermeneting beer that must age. The only three Texas beers that have made any kind of mark on the beer-drinking world are Lone Star (not always praised for its quality), Pearl, and Shiner. I guess Brandon and Colin have me brainwashed, but I thought Shiner had a bigger market share than it does, and I thought out-of-staters longed for a good Shiner the way we Texans used to long for Coors when you could only get it in Colorado. Apparently not so. More research required, but since I'm not a beer drinker, it won't be that kind of research.
One website suggests that Pearl, now made and distributed by Miller, is as much a victim of the Big Boys as all those microbreweries that have gone out of business. Chastising Texans to buy local, the critci points out that the big three--Annheuser Busch, Miller, and Adolph Coors--can out-spend and out-produce the small breweries, forcing them out of business. In Fort Worth we hear a lot about locally brewed Rahr beer, and there is a restaurant/brewery near me where you can watch the brewmaster at work. I'm sure those folks want you to buy local, and I know my boys would be most unhappy if Shiner ever went out of business, which its not lkely to do.
I've seen several postings on Facebook, including one from son Jamie, about Camp Rock, but of course I had no idea what it was. Tonight Jacob came in and made me repeat after him Camp Rock: The Final Jam. He is glued to the TV, watching it, and I have the TV muted in my office, so I can watch and really know when it's over. He pitched a fit when I suggested muting it to read a book, so I'm watchful.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cool evenings and lazy days

An absolutely perfect night for supper on the front porch--temperature just right, a slight breeze, good friends, good food. Above, left to right are my neighbor Susan, Weldon who had a harem tonight unless you count Jacob, Jordan, Jacob, and Elizabeth (Beth), my longtime friend, yoga teacher, co-teacher of writing classes and former student--and also Weldon's wife. We had traditional Labor Day food--hot dogs, potato salad, beans, a bean and veggie dip that Jordan made, a grape and cheese platter from Susan and quinoa salad from Elizabeth. They are on gluten, dairy, sodium free diets (there's one other thing but I can't remember it). Anway, the quinoa, which I was always leery of and never could learn to pronounce, was really good. I made that County Line potato salad that I'm so enamored of--the distinguishing taste is dill pickle relish, and it makes it so good. It's not non-fattening--lots of sour cream and mayo, though I used low-fat in both cases. Still I had more than one helping today. Compensated by not eating a bun with my hot dog. Susan and I were standing on the porch looking at my cactus plant that is, I think, growing new cacti when I felt this swat on my bottom. I turned around and Jacob asked, "Is there 'ssert?" He got an ice cream cup.
Lazy day--no work, except housework, and much reading of a good novel. I am a huge fan of Carolyn Hart and just finished her Christie Caper, which I thought was really one of her most suspenseful, with a surprising twist. At the back was a teaser for Southern Ghost, which I immediately ordered for my Kindle and now I can't put it down. Wish I wrote like that.
I've lost track, but here's the latest cat report: the cat is eating ravenously, but I have to mix a little tuna in with the kidney diet food. Sleeps on my desk sometimes, but really really likes his new hidey-hole in the closet. I showed Jacob, on demand, but said he must never touch the cat when its in there.
A pleasant day. And I have no plans to get ambitious tomorrow either! Life is good. I like the phrase, "It is well with my soul."

Friday, September 03, 2010

Burned out and the amazing changes in publishing

I'm not sure how it's possible to feel burned out in a life as leisurely and stress free as mine, but I did work hard all week on my food book, and tonight I just can't face the subject of Texas beer--too much information, too many contradictory histories. Who to believe? So I did something I never do--I watched a two-hour Dateline program. And now I'm going to read--but not about beer.
I think one reason I feel I'm batting my head against a brick wall is the change in the publishing scene. Everyone's writing about it, and I have nothing new to add. The other night at dinner, my successor, Dan, talked about the multimedia format Google is about to announce--when you read on an e-readeer, characters will walk across the screen, etc. He said, "It boggles the mind." He also said nowadays he goes to paperless meetings--everyone has an iPad, iPhone or some simiilar device. His wife echoed that that's usually true in the classroom, though she'd run into trouble trying to present a Power Point program to a class.  I wondered to myself if I can find a place in such a world. The Sisters in Crime listserv has been full of speculation about where the new world of technology will lead writers--and even agents and publishers. It is, most agree, an exciting time for writers, with all kinds of new opportunities opening up, including self-publishing on Smashwords, Kindle, and similar sites. Does that mean the end to good editing, good writing? Not necessarily. The general feeling is that the wheat will separate itself from the chaff, the cream will rise to the top, whatever metaphor you want. (One of the features of Kindle that I love is the ability to preview a small portion of the book before deciding to buy.) There's a brass ring out there for writers, but you have to be bold enough to grab it--and tech savvy. I am wondering (worrying?) if I'm bold enough--and savvy enough. But I'm distinctly feeling the lack of action--going to call my agent next week and then, if need be, take some basic steps on my own. It's a scary new world, but  I think having my older works available would be a boost to newer ones. Wish me luck.Besides, I hear there's nice money to be made if you price books at, say, $2.99.
Blessedly cool today--a high of only 88, down to the low 60s tonight, and only 88 tomorrow. A few of us will have a porch party tomorrow night (a chance for me to enjoy people I like to be with and an excuse to make that potato salad I love). Tomorrow I'll clean up the porch--it's beeen bandoned for a long time because of the heat. And I'll make potato salad, empty the trash, and have a thoroughly domestic day, without worrying about writing.
I haven't had a good ear of corn all summer--they seemed tough and tasteless. But today at Central Market I found local corn with small kernels and bought two ears--ate one tonight, and it was so sweet and good. Too bad it's the end of the season!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

My father's words . . . and cat report #3

When I was about 20, my parents were departing on some trip (they traveled a lot) and at breakfast my father looked at me and said, "Judy, if anything happens to us, you will take care of Jenny, won't you?" Jenny is my cousin in Canada, maybe three or four years older, bipolar though I've never known the actual diagnosis. At the time, all I could think was "Nothing can happen to my parents!" But now all these years, his words come back to haunt me. I have not seen Jenny since I was about 14, and we spent some time together at my aunt's cabin on the lake the family had called home for years. But my aunt declined and was no longer able to take care of Jenny (and has since died), so for the last three or four years, I have had power of attorney and managed Jenny's affairs. She is in a provincial nursing home, where they seem to love her quirky personality and put up with her neediness. Yesterday I had to cancel her daily companion--it was costing more than Jenny's pensions bring in. And her trust funds are dwindling (though in provincial nursing homes, they take care of you no matter what). She has been diagnosed with breast cancer--thank heaven for Canada's socialized medicine. But still I am trying to be a responsible steward--and it's hard long distance. I cannot understand Jenny on the phone, so I have given up on phone calls. Occasionally she dictates a notes to someone to send to me. Both the companion and the nursing home staff member who is my contact have told me how often Jenny talks about her dear, dear cousin Judy, asks about my children, etc. So today I sent her a copy of my cookbook/memoir, with its pictures of the children and grandchildren. And I resolve to write to her more often. I've just been absorbed in counting the pennies and ignored the human factor, and I'm a bit ashamed.
Meanwhile, for those who are following my cat report: Wywy is better today, sleeping on my desk, etc., begging for food--but not eating. So this morning I bought a can of whitefish in tuna sauce cat food (I know tuna is the worse thing for an older male cat with even mild kidney disorder, but . . . .) and I bought cottage cheese, which I know she loves (but I'm afraid will give her diarrhea). She is scarfing them down, so I've lost all my cat food principles. I'm going to start trying to mix in the kidney diet food gradually. This is the fourth day since her traumatic visit to the "spa."
Tonight Jeannie and Betty and I had dinner at Betty's Star Cafe. Jeannie and I split chicken fried steak (who could eat a whole one?) and I was stuffed, could barely touch the mashed potatoes with cream gravy that I had longed for. Thoroughly fun, though I'm full and feel like I've fallen off the calorie wagon.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Dogs and Cats #2

Wywy ventured out of his closet voluntarily this morning, nibbled just a bit, wandered around the house, and retreated. I got him out periodically to love him and offer him food, and several times he sat on my desk for a while. Tonight when I came home from dinner, he was waiting at the door and yowled to be fed, but didn't eat much. I'll feel better when he's eating again.
Scooby, who sometimes lounges in the house until 8 p.m., nicely went out at 5:15. I fed him and left for a 5:30 dinner meeting. Just got inside the restaurants when the heavens let loose--hardest rain I've seen all summer, and it kept up for almost an hour. Got home in time to bring a grateful dog inside, but now it's thundering and lightning again. Scooby's food was scattered all over the back steps--a soggy feast for the possums but I don't suppose they're fussy.
Spent the whole day working at my desk and felt good about it. Moving my Texas food book right along. Other than that, the world is in its place, I'm a happy camper, and I have nothing profound to say. Oh, except I snagged my right sideview mirror on the garage wall this evening and killed it. In my own defense, it's a narrow 1920s garage, and I've driven in and out of it for 17 years without a problem. As the new director of the press said at dinner, "It's Murphy's Law. Bound to happen."