Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Musings on time and puppies

Tomorrow is the last day of August. I'm not at all sure where the month went. It seemed to just happen, without any startling moments. Okay, launch of my new book was a high but not startling--I knew it would happen. Otherwise, the days just seemed to blend into each other. Sometimes I think this is good--I don't want to be thinking, "Omigosh, is it only Tuesday?" You know what they say about time flying when you're having fun, and I guess that's what happened to me. But at my age, I always hear "Time's winged chariot drawing near." A big part of me doesn't want time to pass that quickly. I think I have to learn to savor every minute, but I do savor special moments: reading an interview with me on a blog this morning--http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/2011/08/interview-with-mystery-author-judy.html--check it out because I thought it read pretty well. And this afternoon, with Jacob standing on the porch, waving at the crossing guard, and calling "Mr. Booker, Mr. Booker." I explained the guard was too busy directing traffic and helping people across the street to hear him. We finally agreed that Jacob could go to the curb but not step off. To his delight, Booker finally saw him and called, "Hey, buddy!" Of course, every student at that school is Booker's buddy, but I didn't tell Jacob that.
Maybe time goes by so quickly because I'm occupied with animals (more than with writing, though I wish it was the other way around). I'm running this geriatric center for a dog and a cat--today I scraped my thumb with the sterile needle I was about to use to infuse Wywy. Bled and bled, and tonight it's sore. Sometimes I wonder if it's like a nursing home, where they're waiting to die, but both Wywy and Scooby have a good quality of life and I work hard to ensure that. Wywy can still get enraged by the puppy, but Scooby plays with her a bit. Again, I need to slow down and sit outside while the dogs play. I try to balance time with them, and this afternoon I left Sophie with Jacob and kept Scooby in the office with me. He was nervous and wanted to go to his bed. My neurotic dog! Can't do much about the cat except try to keep him healthy. Happy? Who knows with cats?
Sophie is a joy and a trial. We were at the point that we had one accident-free day and several with only one accident, but now we've regressed. Countless accidents today, even when I'd just taken her out. One was because I missed her signal but she gave no signal for most. The classic wisdom of grab her and whisk her outside does no good--by the time I make it to the back door from the office (her favorite pooping ground), she's forgotten the urge. Then again, right now she's curled at my feet, as sweet and calm as she can be. I just worry that she'll never be housebroken. It's been years since I housetrained a puppy, and my attempts with older dogs have been a failure. I'm a bit at my wit's end here--and a bit nervous.
I think back though to days when I watched mindless TV because I didn't have much else to do, days when I went to bed really early out of boredom, days when I didn't have much to do at my desk, and I thank the Lord for all the work that's piled up, for all the things I should do and haven't gotten to, for the busy life I have. I guess that's why time is flying--and I really wouldn't have it any other way. Life is good.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A new book plus a food lesson for Jacob and a small triumph

My mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, officially launched today, though it's been on Amazon and Smashwords since Saturday. Still this was THE day--and it was anticlimactic. Yes, I'm excited, but I've been excited for a long time. And yes, I got notes of congratulations and all that. Not sure what I expected. Maybe I'll feel different about it when I hold a print copy in my hands. My goal for so long has been to write and publish a mystery, and it's been a long road, maybe five or six years, so I guess it's hard to feel that it's really happened.
Meantime, I'm editing a young-adult manuscript by another author and fighting with Word--if I center the chapter title, it centers the last two or three lines of the preceding chapter; if I go back and justify them, it justifies the chapter title. Plus the track changes function is unforgiving--if I change something and  then change my mind, there's no going back. You end up with red all over the manuscript and it looks as though, as a prof once said to me, somone had bled on it. The one thing I remember from that class is "Never use red ink on a student's paper."
Jacob had a food lesson. While he ate his after-school snack of yogurt, I trimmed the ends off a whole pack of haricorts vert that I got at a bargain. I gave him a raw one to nibble, and he loved it, waxing eloquent over and over about how good they were, the best green beans he ever ate. He practiced saying haricorts vert but decided he would just say haricorts. Then when his mom came, he forgot it, had to be prompted, and ended with "But they're really carrots!" He tells me though that he's looking forward to eating them tomorrow night.  We'll see. I used this little teaching moment to talk about green is good, since his dad generally thinks if it's green and/or a cooked vegetable, he doesn't want to eat it. Salad and green beans are exceptions. Jacob and I talked about how good carrots and broccoli are and I promised to make him carrots Friday night.
Sophie has destroyed the jacket on yet another book, which means a lot of yelling from me--and then guilt. But we make up afterwards. She's clever--she piles all her toys right in front of her target spot on the bookcase bottom shelf, so I can't be sure if she's chewing a toy or a book. She's had three accidents today, all in my office, which I consider too many for as long as I've been working at this. If I happen to catch her at the right moment, she potties outside; if not, the corner of my office is convenient. But tonight a small triumph: she and I spoke the same language. I recognized her signal, rushed her outside, and she pooped. That may make up for the lethargy I felt earlier in the day. Now she's romping with her toys. Me? Chew books? Never!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Where have all the birds gone?

All summer long I've filled the bird feeder every other day--but early last week they ate about a third of the bird seed, and it's remained at that level ever since. I don't see birds around the feeder, in the trees or bushes, and I don't hear them singing. It's kind of spooky, as though they know something about this heat wave we don't, like the zoo animals in D.C. who knew the earthquake was coming before mankind did in spite of all our sophisticated technology. And frankly, I miss them. Please send in the birds!
Sophie the pup and I have been doing battle royal over my bookcase--she wants to chew the bottom shelf on two sections--for some reason, she ignores the other two. I put duct tape down, and she industriously worked to chew it off. I sprayed that stuff that's supposed to repel dogs, and she licked it. Today, having totally lost patience with her when after lots of scolding about the chewing and a firm no about chasing the cat, she chased him anyway, I put her in her crate and took a friend's advice to spray Tabasco on the bookcase. Works like a charm. She took one sniff and hasn't been near the bookshelves again. I think I'll buy a huge bottle of the stuff. Thank you, Sally.
Speaking of mysteries, which we weren't but they're always on my mind, I went to a booksigning at the local Barnes and Noble for Laurie Moore's Couple Gunned Down--News At Ten. I'd read the first in this series, Woman Strangled--News at Ten, amd liked it. Besdes I felt it would be polite to go to a fellow mystery writer's signing since it was so close, and I was glad I did--she seemed genuinely glad to see me. It's the kind of thing that I too often put on my calendar and then just don't do, so chalk one up for me--on another hot day. Now I'm inside for the duration.
And a word on another mystery. I just read Blackbird Fly, by Lise McClendon. Since I read about it on a mystery listserv, I expected a mystery. Instead, it opens as a contemplative, introspective novel about a woman dealing with the sudden death of her husband and the way life can change so quickly. But when Merle Bennet and her teen-age son, Tristan, go to a rural French village to see her husband's family homestead, which she has inherited, intrigue and suspicion build until there is murder and violence. It's all set against the backdrop of a tranquil village that hides many secrets. In spite of that and the ostracism she faces, Merle makes friends and weaves herself into the life of the village until it is a major character in the book. Yes, it's a mystery, but much more it chronicles in a beautiful, haunting way one woman's journey toward emotional freedom, toward learning to fly like the blackbird. I give five stars to this one.
With my computer problems, I got behind on "Potluck with Judy" but I posted a guest blog today. Please go to http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com to see what Pat Deuson has to say about daube. I had no idea what it was--except maybe a daub of paint--until Pat wrote this blog. Her new mystery, Superior Longing, comes out mid-September. Watch for it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The world is in its place

Okay, maybe there are a few problems to worry about like wars and extreme politics, drought and an unbelievable heat wave. But my little corner of the world is back in order. It wasn't easy.
I picked up my car yesterday at noon (hot and sunny). Got half a mile from the dealership, and the car died--in the right turn lane of a busy street. Made a lot of other drivers really angry, but I have to say one woman pulled up next to me to ask if I needed help and a gentleman got out of his truck to make sure I was okay. I assured them I had just called for rescue, and the man said, "Okay, as long as you're alright." There are good people in this world. Rescue, from the dealership, came pretty quickly--it just seemed like forever as I stood in the heat, with my anxiety level rising. They pushed the car into a nearby parking lot, and the courtesy driver, a nice young man named Blake who was by now my friend since this was our second visit, drove me home. I resigned to not having the car for at least another twenty-four hours, but they called about 4:00 and said it had been "an honest mistake"--I've heard more technical language than I can possibly understand this week but it had something to do with timing and tension and a belt and a bolt. Third time was the charm--Jacob and I made it all the way home.
The computer was much easier. I thought it would be two o'clock before it came, and I would have to rush Jacob right out there after school, but just as my stomach was rumbling and I was thinking of lunch at 11:30, the TV dealer called and the part came in. I rushed out and got it. Installing it and starting the computer took two minutes--and I was back in business. I've been working like mad most of the afternoon to catch up--and doing well at it.
This has also been my first week of keeping Jacob after school, and it's gone well. Because open spaces sometimes bother me, I worried about crossing the street but it's been a piece of cake. I cross right in front of my house but we have to trudge down the block to cross where the guard is when we come home. Hottest time of the day, and I'm wiped out by the time we get home. Jacob ran all the way up the block today, taunting me. He has also refused to hold my hand--my, how we grow up. But he stops to give me a hug in the mornings and waves happily to me as he comes out of school in the afternoons. We talk, and snack, and he draws. Not much TV which is good.
So tonight I'm back into my routine. Sophie is sleeping at my feet, and I'm at my computer. Car in the garage. All is well at my house. Hope I'm not speaking too soon.
One thing I did this evening was to proof a story of mine, "Prisoners," which will be in Tales from the Backlist, an anthology being produced by BacklisteBooks.com. This sounds like BSP (Blatant Self Promotion) but years after I wrote it, I am surprised and pleased by how much I like it. It's in Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories, available in print or from Kindle or Smashwords. How's that for subtle BSP?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Life without a computer

My brother said, "You're half a person," when I told him I've been without a computer all week, and he's right. You hear of people who give up TV or give up the internet or something. I hereby swear that will not be me.
Sunday afternoon, my puppy chewed through the wire between the converter and my laptop. I couldn't figure out why she was barking under my desk but soon discovered a wire that was sparking and had no doubt given her a mild shock. Ran to Radio Shack, then Circuit City (moved) and Best Buy (moved) and back to another Radio Shack where they told me Sony parts are proprietary but there was a Sony store nearby. Wrong--no Sony Store. All this is the heavy traffic around the mall because of tax-free shopping with the temperature reading 110 outside.
Monday I located the Sony network store where, after a great deal of trouble they located someone who could get the converter and cord to them in two days. Not cheap. And wrong again. It's scheduled to deliver Friday. I'm holding my breath.
From there I went to the grocery store only to discover I had no wallet. Ran home, cancelled my credit cards, and someone called from Radio Shack to say they'd found my wallet in the parking lot. Went to get it about 3:30--temperature 106--and my car began blowing hot air at me. Went back to the grocery for the things I hadn't gotten in the morning and by the time I got home the "check engine" light was on along with the overheated flashing red light. Car towed. Several hundred dollars later I am to get it this morning.
So that's been my week from hell--no car, no computer. I've been reading emails on my iPhone, which means I didn't answer a lot of them and when I did I'm sure I sounded abrupt--I'm not good on that keypad, even with a stylus. If I've written you and sounded annoyed, it's because I was--just not at you. Judy's Stew has gone undone, and there was no Potluck with Judy this week, although I have several guest columns ready to go.
And friends have been good about carting me around. It's not been all that bad--I'm reading a good book. But my "to do" list is overwhelming. This morning I'm working at TCU Press and grateful for the opportunity. Surely my luck will change--and the heat wave will break.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Listening to your gut

This weekend, three-fourths of my family have gathered at Jamie's house in Frisco. I am not there, which surprises me. The Austin contingent isn't there either, but that doesn't suprise me so much. The other morning I woke early when it was still dark, and you could have scraped my anxiety off the ceiling. So I lay there and tried to figure out what I was anxious about. The brief presentation I had to make that night? Nah, I had good notes and always do better than I think once I get on my feet in front of an audience. Jacob starting school, which will change my routine completely? I didn't think so. In several ways, I'm looking forward to that--it will help me break some bad habits. The weekend won hands down.
The plans, on this 107 weekend, included a pool party at eleven with pizza in honor of granddaughter Morgan's sixth birthday and a triathlon Sunday morning in which Jamie, Colin and Lisa are participating. I am so proud of Colin and Lisa for taking up this challenge and working out in preparation. Jamie does several traithlons a season and is more of an old hand, but I am still proud of him. But that's two outdoor events in the heat and I've never done well in heat since the time when I was about twelve and got so badly sunburned--maybe sunstroke?--that I was in bed for days. Being out in heat and sun makes me woozy.
And then there's my puppy. She's too young to leave in a crate for the petsitter's twice-a-day visits, so I'd have to take her, crate and all. I'd worry about her being in the crate too much, breaking her training routine, having accidents on the floor--Jamie is pretty particular about that because he has two dogs of his own and he's afraid Sophie will set a precedent. So I decided staying home with my animal kingdom was the best plan.
Do I miss being there with everybody? Of course. A whole lot. I particularly wanted to be there for Morgan and her birthday and to show her my puppy, which she had requested. And I want to support Colin and Lisa--and be sure they don't collapse during this event. You know how mothers are--if I were there, all would be well. Am I having a sad, lonely pity party over here in Fort Worth? Not at all. I've been busy all day--getting Jacob ready and off with his mom (he'd spent the night here), visiting a friend who just had surgery, working at my desk, fixing a dinner that took some time--and was only medium good.
And I'm sort of proud of myself. It's not been long since I would have said, "Family get-togther? Got to be there." But I recognize anxiety when it takes over my mind and body, and I've learned a little bit about dealing with it. Tomorrow I'll go to church and give thanks for my family, and then I'll go to an all-church luncheon (Babe's chicken--who could resist?). And tonight I'm going to read a book. Life is good, and I'm filled with gratitude.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What are your dream goals?

Today, "Writing Well is the Best Revenge," one of my favorite blogs, was about unreachable goals, inspired by Diana Nyad's failed attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. When she had to give up, she said, "I was the best I could be." Each of the eight or nine bloggers talked about their goals and, of course, for many of these multi-published authors, publication of that first book was the primary goal. Others confessed to goals that involved physical risk, while still others shunned such an idea. I commented that, although well published, I always wanted to publish a mystery. With that goal in sight with the forthcoming publication of Skeleton in a Dead Space, I guessed that my goals are to turn that one book into a series and then move on to a really significant book, not that I know how to judge "significant."
On the blog Hallie Ephron's goals particularly struck me. She confessed to wanting to make a quilt; she started the project and ended with a handbag. But most of her goals had to do with cooking, and the one, so far unreachable, is to make an eight-layer dobos torte (she's made a five-layer one). I noted that I shared her cooking goals, but after I posted my comment I got to thinking that I don't really know what my cooking goals are. There's no one dish I want to make--I did think of turducken--not even a complicated Julia Child's recipe I want to master. There are however lots of recipes in my file that I want to try--Southern Living came yesterday and I cut out several recipes.
It dawned on me that my one unreachable goal is to be a chef. I suspect at my age I lack the energy, and I know my feet and back couldn't take the long hours on hard floors. But I would love to have a small tea shop-kind of restaurant where I would have people to eat the things that strike me, by whim and fancy, that I want to cook. It's an impractical goal for many reasons, and I know it--the failure rate of restaurants is astronomical and at this advanced point in life I'm not risking my finances. I once took an informal course in restaurant management that convinced me I know nothing about managing a restaurant. I just know the cooking. Several years ago when I was working full time but dissatisfied with life--okay, bored--I decided I would go to culinary school, until a friend reminded me of the high cost, long hours, small reward.
So my reachable goals have to do with writing. There's already a sequel to Skeleton waiting for the publisher's approval. It's called at this point No Neighborhood for Old Women. And I have the first chapter of a third book in the series--as yet untitled. I've been dragging my heels on that, waiting to hear about the second book, but I do believe it's important to have series titles come out in fairly rapid succession. Don't give readers time to go off in other directions and forget your work.
As for cooking, Jordan tells me she and her family will eat with me at least once a week when school is in session and I keep Jacob in the afternoons. So next Tuesday, I'll fix Salisury steak, oven-fried potatoes with rosemary, and a salad. And I've got a dinner party in my head. I told Gayland Poole last night if he'd make thje chili biscuits, as he was promising, I'd cook the dinner. Yep, my mind is never far from food. Maybe it should stay closer to my writing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fun and food

With some books, the fun just goes on and on. Tonight several of the contributors participated in a panel on Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, the book that grew out of Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women. The evening began with wine and refreshments--potato soup, cheese grits, and chicken enchiladas, all cooked from recipes in the book--at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. We mingled, talked, laughed and had a great time meeting people we hadn't known. Then we moved across a small plaza to the new Museum of Science and History, where dessert was applesauce cake, again from the cookbook, and coffee. Six of us presented ten minute sketches on our chapters and then signed a fair number of books for people who thanked us enthusiastically for an interesting program. It was a lively evening with a receptive audience, and we felt free to offer comments to the speakers--when Joyce Williams said something about my reaction to her chapter on frontier cooking, I called out "I don't cook squirrel," and when Joy Donovan said she didn't know why she was picked to be part of the cookbook, Katie Sherrod said, "It's because you're so cute," and I added, "It's your pearls"--she had on huge overkill pearls. We have this wonderful camaraderie in the group, a closeness that I have found only one other group--my memoir class. There's something about women sharing food, wine, and stories.The top picture above is Brenda Sanders-Wise, second from left, with her husband to the left, and to the far right her brother Drew, who is a great storyteller. I'm sorry but I don't know the fourth person. Brenda wrote the chapter on The Garden of Eden, representing the black community, and we are all waiting for Sunday dinner in The Garden. I don't know the two ladies below but they were obviously having such a good time. Participating in those two Grace & Gumption books and their continuing public appearances has been one of the richest experiences of my life.
A note from the puppy kingdom: this is our third day with only one accident. That perfect day is within reach. If I'd paid attention tonight, I could have prevented the accident we had. I was by the vet's today to pick up supplies and was reassured that I'm doing very well. Poor Sophie feels like she's been in her crate all day--she has been a good part of it. I'm trying to give her love and company tonight.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The importance of keeping up friendships

I've known Connie Jenkins since 1965 when my then-husband moved us to Fort Worth so he could do a surgical residency. Russ Jenkins was just finishing that residency and would later be Joel's senior partner in a surgical practice. Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital was fairly small at the time, and staff and residents socialized a lot. I don't remember much about those early days, except that Joel tried to turn me against Russ and Connie--he didn't much like being supervised and of couse Russ supervised him.
But after Joel left me, with four young children to raise, Russ and Connie became sort of my protectors. I saw them occasionally, though I wasn't included in many osteopathic events. Over the years that changed, and I counted on them to take me so I wouldn't have to go to dinners, etc., alone. We hit all the big events--weddings, anniversaries, banquets, etc. I remember Russ once, at a dinner, coming up behind me (we were seated at different tables). I had finished but everyone else was still eating. "The trouble with you," he rumbled, "is that you ate with Joel Alter too much."
After she retired, Connie, a general practice physician, would call me and we'd meet for lunch. Then Russ began to join us occasionally, and once in a while my 40-year-friend from Granbury, Linda, would meet us. Russ and Connie had known Linda since the day she was born. I once said to Connie that I always had the feeling Russ was looking out for me, and she said, "He was. He didn't think you'd been treated right."
Although I didn't ask Russ to do Colin's hernia surgery--something I regret to this day and attribute to Joel's influence on me--he was enormously supportive as we dealt with Colin's many stomach ailments and finally came up with a diagnosis of Crohn's disease. Russ was still looking out for me.
The last time I saw him, he was in a wheelchair--it was at my 70th birthday party, and he was hearty and jovial. I remember my kids clustering around him and giving him hugs. Russ died, maybe two years ago, after they had moved to a retirement community in a suburb to the north--too far for me to go easily. But I was at the funeral and kept in touch with Connie by phone.
Today, Linda and I went to Connie's retirement home for lunch. We three had a spirited conversation, increased I suppose by the wine Connie served us in her apartment--at 11:00 a.m., a little early for me. But we had a good visit, joined briefly by Connie's daughter-in-law. We talked of our kids and grandkids, of people we'd known, and all sorts of things. Then we had a marvelous meal in the dining room--as Connie's guests. Far more than I usually eat for lunch but really delicious--and more visiting and laughing.
Linda and I left, amid promises to return soon. The day was wonderfully pleasant, and it made me reflect on the importance of maintaining connections with people. Too many times, friendship seems like work, and we put off calling, writing, that lunch, whatever. Connie was the one at first who persisted and maintained our friendship, and I will always be grateful for that. She's a tough, strong lady, and I'm honored to call her my friend. She's also a hero of mine--for her career, her dedication to her children and grandchildren, her always upbeat attitude in the face of diversity.
I'll go to bed with happy thoughts tonight.
And Linda? She's another story of a good friendship maintained over the years--for another time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

May I exchange this day, please?

My day got off on the wrong foot. I got up early because I couldn't sleep and my thoughts were disturbing me. Probably I was grumpy, and my later troubles may have ensued from Sophie picking up on that. Morning routine--feed cat, take puppy out, feed big dog. All done. Fed the puppy in the kitchen, noticed she was sniffing suspiciously, and took her out. Big dog distracted her--no results. Brought her in and she immediately pooped in the kitchen. Finally made it, with puppy and coffee, to the office where I discovered the cat had left not puddles but lakes in "his" bathroom off the office. Closed the door and resolved to deal with it later. Then my email was down--TCU was having server problems. So I decided to put the puppy in her crate and do my chores, including cleaning that bathroom. I scrubbed it from top to bottom, emptied and scrubbed the litter box, and finally scrubbed me. By 9 a.m. when the internet came back up, I was ready to go back to bed.
No such luck--had to go to Petco for supplies and then to a doctor's appointment. Noon, and I was ready to go back to bed once again. Still no such luck. Emails to answer, a talk to prepare, this that and the other to get done. Note: no writing. Yikes! But I finally did put everyone down and get a nap. This is my last week of long afternoon naps. Next Monday I start picking Jacob up every day at three o'clock.
Tonight I'm watching Sophie like a hawk. Took her out for a long while after her supper but nada. I'm thinking the trick may be to put her in her crate--then when I take her out, she's used to going outside to pee. The other is another matter. She settled down for a while--after some scolding about going near wires--to play with her toys as if to say, "Look how good I can be." Now she's running around the office (not that large a space) like a crazy thing, working off all that energy she didn't run off outside tonight.
I've decided creativity is gone for the day. I'm going to read Susan Schreyer's An Error in Judgment.
Did have a nice dinner party last night--the family directly behind me has a 5-year-old boy, Sam, who will be going to kindergarten with Jacob, (and a three-year-old named Alex) so we invited them to supper so the boys could get acquainted, which they did after a few minutes shyness. I fixed crockpot barbecue for ten (including three little boys), baked beans (Bush's are soooo good, though next time I won't try those with maple syrup since they're a bit too sweet), and a potato chip and onion soup dip for appetizer. Susan brought a delicious salad with apples and raisins and spinach, and Sue joined us, so it was a bit like the old neighborhood group. Before I knew it, it was 8:30 and everyone was rushing off to get little ones to bed. Sue said later that she loved having the house so full of "boy energy." The girls--Jordan, Susan and Sue--did much of the basic kitchen clean-up for me, and Jordan took Sophie out. She has consistently been a huge help with Sophie.
A PS to the Sophie story: I decided after she ws so wild, it was a good time to take her out. She pooped, and I praised. Then I walked her around where she usually pees--forever. No result, so I left her alone in the office for two minutes while I got a glass of wine--and she peed. The appropriate end to this day.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brand new web page and other stuff

Please check out my new web page at http://www.judyalter.com. It's totally redesigned and features my forthcoming mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space. One of the things people have so far really liked about it is the pictures of Kelly's neighborhood, Kelly being the main character in the novel. My friend Polly Hooper and I drove around Fort Worth's Fairmount neighborhood one Sat. afternoon while she took pictures. She's also responsible for my new picture on this blog and the web page. Great job, Polly, and many thanks. (She does this as a hobby!) Thanks also to Oscar Brown and his company who designed and will maintain the site. I'd love to have your comments.
Many parts of Texas got blessed rain today. I haven't watched TV for the official measurements or anything but the world was wet and muddy when I got up this morning. It's been so long since rain--BP as in before puppy--that I'd forgotten about the complications of dogs and mud and how much Scoob hates rain. I didn't mind dealing with it, nor did I mind that my newspaper was quite soggy. It rained, mostly just spitting, all morning. Luckily, I'm washable, even my hair--so I don't mind getting wet. The rain lowered the temperature some, but the humidity was so high it felt like a steam bath outside.
Jordan and Jacob came for lunch, and I'm not sure if it's harder to train the puppy or the boy. He wants to give her orders all the time, even when she's not doing anything bad. Today  we worked on "If she's jumping on me, let me handle it; if she's jumping on you, then you tell her down." As it was, he was shouting "Down!" all the time. Sophie has truly been a pain today--I fear we'll never get house training done--she understands about outside, but if she has to go she doesn't think about it. She has "favorite" spots in the house. I read in the monks' book about training that you should never let a puppy see you clean up the accident--makes them think  you're their housekeeper, and Sophie tends to think it playtime to see if she can grab the paper towel. So now, if I catch her in the act, I roar, rush her outside, by which time she's always forgotten what she wanted to do, and then put her in the crate while I clean up. There goes a chunk of time! She goes from chewing on wires to destroying the bottom shelf of my bookcase to escaping from the kitchen even when I'm working in there.
I did cook today. Made stuffed mushrooms with my mom's recipe for our lunch--had four mushrooms left from something else and Jordan loves them. Simple stuffing:

Grated cheddar
dry mustard
chopped scallion
mayonnaise to bind

Bake in a moderate oven so the mushrooms will cook before the cheese runs all over the place. The cheese mixture is delicious just on bread, broiled. No, I don't have measurements--it's something you do by gosh and by golly.
Also made barbecue sauce today so that first thing in the morning I can put my chuck roast and the sauce in the crockpot to cook all day. It's a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that I've used before, but this time I couldn't resist substituting dark molasses for dark brown sugar. We'll see.
And today I finally got ground lamb patties at Central Market--they make them with feta and mint, and they are delicious. One of the butchers told me to call ahead and order them, so I did when I ordered the chuck roast. I cooked half a pattie (they're 8 oz. patties) thinking I'd save half of that for lunch tomorrow--no such luck. I ate the whole thing.
Off to read a good mystery.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do you remember your dreams?

Jacob at Legoland, a dream come true for any little boy
I dream vividly, in color, with sound effects. When I was working and more stressed than I recognized or care to remember, I had bizarre dreams. Now, in retirement, I often create a really plessant world in my dreams and reluctantly call myself back to reality when I wake--the reality of starting the morning routine with the cat, the puppy, and the old dog.
Frequently I can connect things that happen in dreams to something from the real world. Last night, my ex-sister-in-law was in my dreams. No-brainer. I ran into her at lunch, and we promised to visit soon. There was a dog that kept jumping to get my face and hands--another no-brainer. That's my puppy. And there was a wild pig--my brother told me a day or two ago he's had an invasion of wild pigs on his ranch. Admittedly, this was the biggest wild pig you've ever seen and it had it's babies on its back, sort of like a pack mule with a load--I think that's because I've read about a couple of bear attacks on people when mama bear was protecting her cubs. My parents and brother were in the dream--but so was my grown nephew (his mother and I talked about him yesterday during our brief meeting). I often dream about the nuclear family of my childhood--Mom, Dad, and brother. Sometimes my children are in my dreams, young or grown--I can't predict it. My ex-husband appears too--sometimes in his charming mode that I fell in love with and sometimes ugly and vindictive. Strangely the two other men in my life that I've really loved never appear--I'd sort of like to call them up or back or whatever.
I do have a recurring dream about cleaning up a kitchen--mine or somebody else's. One night it was my mother's kitchen in Chicago, years ago. But as soon as I clean one counter, another one is dirty, and the task is endless.
One night I wrote a perfect mystery in my dream. It somehow was created on the theory of things happening in threes, and I remember that  when I awoke I thought what a good story I'd written. But it faded soon after, and I never could figure out what happened. Strangely, I never dream about whatever I'm working on, though that's often the last thought on my mind before I go to sleep.
I looked up some facets of my dreams on one of those online sites, not that I put faith in such blanket interpretations. But dreaming about dogs is good. Pigs, not so good--some deep, hidden aspect of yourself that you're trying to conceal. But cleaning may mean that you're cleaning out old habits and ways of thinking and moving on to a new phase of your life. Now that interpretation I'll take.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Major breakthroughs in the animal kingdom--and a near a/c disaster

Sophie at 12 weeks
Tonight my 12-year-old Aussie, Scooby, played with the puppy. What an amazing accomplishment, since for over four weeks he's regarded her as, at the least, a severe annoyance. I had Sophie in the backyard, hoping she'd potty, and Jacob came out, leaving Scooby looking out the back door with a wistful look. I asked Jacob to let him out, and Jacob at first objected, but finally did. Sophie ran Scooby in circles around the yard--he can't catch her--and then came to sniff of him, and there was lots of mutual sniffing. I softly reminded Scoob to be gentle--once a male collie we had grabbed a Yorkie by the back of the neck, threw it up in the air and broke its back. So when I once saw Scoob's mouth go for the back of Sophie's neck, I said, "Be sweet," and he was. Mostly he was very gentle with her--he is the kindest, sweetest dog I've ever owned. Half the time when she was running in circles around the yard, he came to Jacob and me for love and got lots of it. I half  think he figured out that by being mad at the puppy he was missing out on a lot of love--and tonight he got it. We brought them into the family room together, fed them treats, and the same pattern continued. Jacob and I high-fived and celebrated our accomplishment.
Another breakthrough, I think: this is the first day we haven't had a potty accident in the house. Of course, it's only 9:30, but I'm optimistic. Right now there's a pooped puppy at my feet, and Jacob is contentedly watching his extra bit of TV. Scooby is in his bed, and the cat is fed and happy. All is peaceable in the animal kingdom.
As my Facebook friends know, my a/c went out during the night and by 3 a.m. it was 81 in the house. I posted it on FB just because I had to tell someone! I have been overwhelmed by the number of  kind and generous responses--concern, offers of places to hide out (with my animals, which was my main concern--aging animals and a young puppy don't need an overheated house). Elizabeth, who has three indoor dogs and a cat, said we'd be Noah's Ark but we'd manage. I had offers from people I haven't seen in years, and expressions of concern from Sisters in Crime I've never met. It was like birthday greetings ten times over, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am.
I called the a/c company and left a message at 7 a.m. Before 8:30 I got a call that  the tech was headed my way, and by 9 a.m. it was fixed. I had gone out at 7 to check, and the compressor was not doing its thing nor did it have a reset button. It was some minor part that had to be replaced, but while he was here the tech changed the furnace filter--only has to be done once a year now--and cleaned the compressor. I have done business with Rhinefort and Company since 2000, and I am so extremely thankful for their prompt and efficient service. I love being an established customer.
What a good day! I feel so much more in control than I did last night. Potluck with Judy got put off a night because I wanted to shout out my dog news, but watch for it tomorrow night: meatloaf. Who loves it, who hates it?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Animal Kingdom

My day did not get off to a good start today. I've gotten things down to a routine--feed the cat, take the puppy out and then put her in the bathroom while I feed Scooby and let him out. This morning, as I put her in the bathroom, Sophie escaped and led me on a merry chase. Finally cornered her in my closet but there went a good ten minutes, when I was rushing to get to an 8:30 breakfast. Back on track, but the remote for the kitchen TV wouldn't work--stuck on the Food Network channel, which I love during the day but in the morning I want news. Changed the batteries, pressed the AT&T button as I've been taught--nada. Still had those terrible television ads they run in the mornings.
Made the breakfast meeting--Book Ladies, a group of ladies whose professional lives have all had to do with books (librarians, authors, booksellers,, a woman who was once my editor at TCU Press) but had to rush away to take Sophie for another set of puppy shots. This is a two-person operation: because of the danger of parvo virus, I've been told to carry her in and not set her down until she's on the vet's table. This goes on until she's had all her shots--one more month. When we get back into the car, we have to disinfect the bottoms of our shoes! So my dining friend Betty goes with me. She decided this morning I should write a book about Sophie and the balky remote, but I told her it was barely worth a blog.
Sophie got left alone a lot though--I had a long and delightful lunch with a good friend today, home for a while, then a nap, and Sophie was back in her crate while I ran a friend to get her car. Then home and out again briefly but back into the crate while I went to dinner with the neighborhood crowd. She punished me by completely destroying the jacket of a book she somehow got out of the bookcase.What I have been told about her is true--she's much smarter than I am.
On another front, I asked the vet today about Scooby's back legs going out from under him, and she prescribed aspirin twice a day. Tonight, as I was late out the door for dinner, he barked insistently, so I let him out to pee, which he did. But he kept barking. I guess he was hungry. I sure hope he doesn't get to the point that he can't sleep through the night. Colin, my oldest, had a dog like that and every time Colin got up to let him out he ate a pbj--gained a lot of weight.
Things are still not peaceful in the animal kingdom. Sophie is going from one "No!" to another, Scooby is still outside. I have to feed Sophie and bring Scooby inside so I can take her out. Will this day never end? And writing, what's that?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thoughts on Bookstores

Last night a friend asked me what would happen to our TCU campus bookstore if Barnes & Noble went under. I looked blank for a minute and then realized she had the two chains mixed up. I assured her it was Border's that was closing, but it occurred to me the reading public doesn' t know much about the situation except that it has meant some great bargains at Border's stores as they clear their shelves. That confusion might be a problem for B&N, but I'm sure they'll counter it with effective publicity.
What Border's bankruptcy means for publishers, agents, and authors is a dramatic difference. I read somewhere that Border's has $1 billion in unpaid bills, which will trickle down. Publishers won't get paid, and they won't pay their authors. Publishers will probably also do some belt-tightening--maybe cut the size of their lists (drastic for authors in a climate where it's already hard to stand out from the crowd of authors waiting to be published). Publishers may also cut print runs, which of course will affect authors. Who knows what wiill happen to book prices? It's not just one company closing; it's a whole climate shift in a publishing world that has already been turned topsy turvy by what one independent bookstore owner called "this perfect storm of bad economy, bad weather, bad management, and changing industry."
The good news may be for the independent bookstores, called "indies" in the book world. In some places, the closing of the local Border's will leave an indie as the only bookstore. Many who study bookselling predict that this major event may signal the comeback of the indies, which have been closing right and left for several years. Shelf Awareness, an online daily column for booksellers, has been chronicling the close of bookstores across the country for some time now, but lately there seems to be a more optimistic note.
In my neighborhood, the one indie bookstore closed perhaps six months ago (we do have two Barnes & Nobles stores nearby, one of them the campus bookstore). The indie used to frustrate me when I was at TCU Press because the owner would buy one copy of a book. "What if you sell it?" I asked. "Then we'll order another." No good pointing out that there would be a gap of days when the book wouldn't be on the shelves. On the other hand, our sales rep called on a small museum store on the North Side where, years ago, the manager would wave a hand and say, "I'll take two dozen of this one and a dozen of that one." Love people like that.
But indie bookstores offer so much. They are the stores where you know the bookseller and he or she knows you, knows what you like to read. They may keep a pot of coffee on for customers, and they're great at hand-selling. When they find a book they like, they may carry it around with them, pointing out its virtues to individual customers. They know their stock and can lead you to a certain section or title without consulting a computer. They'll chat with you about the neighborhood, your children and grandchildren, the weather--whatever. When you're a regular customer, you become family. It's always lovely to be welcomed into a store by name.
Don't get me wrong. I shop at B&N a lot. Their booksellers are uniformly friendly and cooperative, and they obviously have a much larger stock than an indie. And while they're pulling back on the book signings, they still do them on occasion and attract anywhere from one to thirty or more people. I've been to some great programs at B&B stores, They're also generous about the number of books they order for signings, so an author never has to turn disappointed buyers away. (Of course that leads to the returns policy that is the bane of publishers' planning and budgeting.)
I wish continued success for B&N as a chain--its had its difficult moments recently too--and at the sasme time for the Phoenix-like rise of the indie bookstore. If I were young (and fairly well off), I'd open one. As it is, I might like to work part time in a small, intimate store. That's probably all as far-fetched as my dream of owning a small restaurant, but dreams are nice.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

A long and lazy Saturday--and a puppy update

A friend posted on Facebook this morning something about it being Saturday with its endless possibilities. She opted for going shopping, and I laughed. My idea of a long, lazy Saturday is staying home reading, cooking, and napping. And that's just what I did. I'm re-reading for the second time the galleys of Skeleton in a Dead Space--amazing what you find when you think you've found everything. And I'm reading a mystery, A Crack in Everything, for review on the Story Circle Network. So I kind of alternate between the two.
A nice blessing for the day: a member of my extended family--my sister-in-law's brother-in-law, which makes it all sound distant and yet my family is all very fond of him--returned from a year's duty in Afghanistan. Seeing the picture of him and his wife ws wonderful. I am grateful that he's home safe and thankful for what he did for our country. Now if we could just get my nephew back from Iraq . . . .
It was a hard day with the puppy. I have puppy-proofed almost everything in my office, where she spends a great deal of her time, so now she's trying to chew the wood on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, which brings me out of my chair erupting in a great loud "No!" I'm less worried about the bookcase--it can be sanded and repainted--than I am about her getting splinters in her lungs. She's also decided to try to remove the duct tape that I used to keep the phone jack out of her little sharp jaws. And she's discovered the wilderness behind the garage in the back yard, so she no longer runs and plays where I can watch her, which of course worries me. In fairness, I must say she spent a good portion of the day lying contentedly at my feet--she sort of sleeps with her eyes open. When I scold her she looks the other way, then sneaks a look to see if I'm still looking at her--I am!
Potty training is going okay but not great--we've had one poop and two puddles in the house today, which overall is not a bad record for twelve weeks. If I time it just right, especially after nap and first thing in the morning, she rushes right out the door to pee. Catching when she wants to poop is more problematical--I haven't figured it out and neither has she.
Sophie knows "come" and "stay" and obeys when the mood strikes her. Her favorite game is to run wildly through the house escaping from me. If she's in a manic phase, forget it. I use a leash a lot in the house and yard, so that I can step on it and control her, and she's fairly good about the leash though she still wants to chew it. I think life will get a lot easier when I can take her out in the front yard; also when the heat isn't so bad; and when, if ever, she doesn't get distracted from her business by Scooby. Vet appt. next Tuesday and my oh my I have a long list--questions about both dogs and the cat.
A new issue of Food & Wine came today and I had fun leafing through it. High on my list: halibut in parchment and an appetizer spread of pureed hard-boiled eggs, salami, gherkins, mustard, mayo, and capers plus herbs--who needs herbs with all those flavors.
It was cooler today--only 105. I swear when I took Sophie out mid-day, it was hotter than the days it was 110. They say maybe 100 in a week, but "they" have predicted lower temperatures a week out for weeks now and it never happens.
I did cook for myself tonight--watch for that tomorrow night on Potluck with Judy.
Back to proof-reading.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A literary night--and some thoughts on heat and puppies

Tonight was the panel discussion at the Haltom City Public LIbrary celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Bob Ray Sanders, a leading journalist and community figure and also a native of Haltom City, moderated a panel discussion that ranged from the book to segregation in Fort Worth--Bob Ray remembers having to walk by three schools to get to the one he was allowed to go to, even though his family had been property owners for generations--and finally to integration in the '60s. Audience participation was lively, and everyone thought it was a stimulating and thought-provoking evening. We talked about the book as literature, as social commentary, and as it relates to today when prejudice surely is not erased from our society though we've come a long way. Othre panels members were author Mike Cochran, a high school teacher who has taught the novel for ten years, and an actress who read portions with great dramatic appeal. I was pleased to see some familiar faces in the audience and to have others stop and talk to me about my work.
Betty and I were joined by my friend Linda from Granbury and her friend Nancy, so we had a happy foursome at supper--I got my favorite meatloaf at the Grill--and it was nice to have my own cheering section in the front row of the audience. I like getting out to events like that and realize I should do more of it. Made some phone calls today to inquire about visiting various book clubs in the area.
I don't think Sophie had ever seen me in a skirt before--she kept biting at the ruffles on it.
I think the high today was 108, maybe a notch or two higher. I know the heat will end, I know it willr ain someday, and I know the puppy will be housebroken, but as you plod along day by day, it all looks like a long way away. The keep predicting lower temperatures--l04 is lower at this point--a few days out, but when that day comes the lower temperatures have been pushed further away. Sue asked me last night if it scared me, like maybe it would just keep getting worse and worse. I said that doesn't frighten me as much as the the feeling that I am trapped by a huge, hot monster, sort of like Grendel in Beowulf.
As if to prove to me that things aren't going to change soon, the puppy just pooped on my office floor. I took her out half an hour ago, probably didn't wait long enough. 'Scuse me--I have some cleaning to do.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Magic of a Mentor

I've written 3000 words on a new novel--barely a drop in the bucket--but I felt that I was wandering around in the story. Yesterday, at lunch, I handed the pages to Fred, my mentor, and then I put it aside from my mind. I'm reading galleys on the first novel, due out August 29, and I need to concentrate on that. But I'm a great believer in the "back burner"--I think things simmer in the back of your mind when you're not consciously thinking about them. If I sit myself down and say, "Now I'm going to plot this novel," I come up with zip. But if I wait and let it come when I'm at the keyboard, ideas flow.
Late last night I wrote Fred an email that simply said, "There has to be a murder." I am what they call a pantser--I write by the seat of my pants and not with an outline, though I have a general idea of what's in a story.
Today I got Fred's  response--as always, he told me to slow down, write in more backstory. This time he said I had packed so much emotional intensity into six pages that it threatened to wear a reader out--spread it out (another version of slow down). He suggested some possible plot scenarios--I think I'll take some, omit others. Even as I proof another book I can feel ideas for this new one simmering in my mind, and I itch to get back to that manuscript--a good and positive feeling. I think that's why I keep writing, since I'll obviously never become rich. I have long said working things out in words is for me like the satisfaction a mathematician gets from working out a complex problem.
110 officially today--and it makes me feel 110. Picked up Jacob at 4:30--the hottest place I ever go is the side of that gymnasium as I walk to get him. Home to juggle a five-year-old boy, two dogs who had to pee but couldn't stay out in the heat, dinner, then feed the animals, take the garbage carts down and, in a fit of compulsion, bathe the puppy. It was Sophie's first bath and she didn't enjoy it much but I guess it wore her out as much as me. She's sleeping at my feet right now. Of course, after bathing her, I had to shower to get rid of eau d' puppy.
Supposed to be even hotter tomorrow. I think I'll stay in all day--no errands, no lunch out, just me and the animal kingdom.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Debt deal and staying optimistic

If Facebook is any gauge, a lot of liberals are not happy about the debt deal. I suppose a lot of conservatives aren't either, but I think in the long run both parties compromised, did what they had to, and the president, out of necessity, accepted something that was far less than he wanted. To him, I say job well done; to Congress, I say quit your blustering and posturing (that phrase started on FB and I think it's perfect).
But when it looked like we weren't going to get a deal--and I might go a few months without social security--I began to think about the way I live and what I could cut down on. Entertaining for one. I told Jordan if they planned to eat at my house a couple of nights a week--when Jacob is in school across the street--it would have to be potluck, and she snippily replied, "And you'll have to stop feeding all your friends." Too true. And all those lunches and occasional dinners out. As I put on make-up yesterday, I realized that I use really expensive make-up and cleanser, not what you get in the drugstore. Special cream to keep wrinkles away from my eyes (me, vain?). I've started buying house brands in the grocery for some things but for others I insist on top of the line--and I buy that expensive tuna canned in Oregon (just ordered another case to split with friends--Jordan nearly fainted when I told her the per can cost). I do drink cheap wine, but that's not much of a savings. I drive a gas-efficient car, though I've never measured just how efficient it is. In short there are a lot of ways I could live more cheaply--clean my own house, mow my own lawn (I really think I'm too old for that), stop updating the house--but that's self defeating. Someday I don't want it to look like a house an old lady lived in for forty years and never did a thing to. When reality comes up front and close, as it did with this debt debate, it makes you take a long, hard look a your priorities. And I realize for a single, retired woman of "a certain age" I live pretty well.
I work hard but for not much if any income--I got a little over $11 from Amazon the other day but the same mail brought a $315 electric bill, which actually isn't too bad with this heat. But I am working--got galleys to read on the novel, compiled a list of possible review outlets for the review coordinator, and proofed my new web page today, all the while keeping one eye on Sophie and moving more things from her reach. I used duct tape to keep her from the phone jack--she actually disconnected me during a call today.
Sophie takes a lot of my time--she needs to go out every two hours. Training her at this point is mostly training myself to take her out in a timely fashion. Right now she's sleeping peacefully at my feet--one of the nicest times of the day.
I tell my self over and over that the heat will break and the puppy will grow up. How soon, Lord, how soon?
I'm rambling. Over and out.