Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Learning to Write

This isn't BSP (blatant self promotion)--it's relative to the point I want to make, which is I apprently don't know how to write yet. I have been a published author for over 30 years, with 60 or more books to my credit if you count all those children's nonfiction books I did on assigment. But I've published fiction and nonfiction for adults and young readers, even a cookbook.
Now I'm writing mysteries (I have mentioned the forthcoming Skeleton in a Dead Space, havene't I? yes, I think so:-) I am doing the final edits on my second mystery manuscript, and the publisher's instructions are to search for those pesky adverbs by looking for words ending in "ly." I did and it was a humbling experience. I found I overuse the word "really" to an unbelievable extent, and "only" isn't far behind. Reconstructing sentences without those words was a challenge but fun. Then I moved on to the next search--for the word "had" to find passive voice. I could not believe the number of times "had been" appeared in the manuscript. I still have "was" and "ing" words to go. So far it's a humbling experience, which leaves me wondering if all my previous books are filled with those grammatical errors. I'm afraid to look.
I do have to say that looking searcing for these things is a long and boring process, so much so that sometimes my mind goes blank. But I'm persevering. When I finish, I still have to read the manuscript yet one more time to make sure I haven't introduced new errors in the process of correcting old ones. By the time I'm through, I'll be able to recite the darn thing from memory.
But the whole exercise is one of the best I've ever heard of for checking your manuscript. Thanks to Kim at Turquoise Morning Press for coming up with it.
The manuscript hasn't actually been accepted yet, but I have a proposal in and am quite hopeful. Keep your fingers crossed for me. The title of this one is for now No Neighborhood for Old Women. Yes, that's a spoof on Cormac McCarthy. When I began writing the manuscript, he had just turned down my good friend Marcia Daudistel on her request for an excerpt of his writing to include in an Literary El Paso, an anthology of the work of El Paso authors. I came up with the title off the top of my head, and she hooted with delight. More than that about the book, it's too soon to say. If it's accepted, I may have to change the title.
A food note: I know, I have a food blog but I can't resist sharing my menu tonight: a ground lamb patty with feta and chopped mint in it from Central Market (actually I ate about a third of the huge pattie) and fresh corn, cut off the cob after I boiled it, and mixed with salt and a bit of chiffonade of basil--no butter. So good!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Protecting a new puppy


If  you read my post on Facebook  yesterday, you know that I plan to get a new puppy from a litter of miniature Golden Doodles born in late May. My pup, almost for sure a female, will be eight weeks or thereabouts when I bring her home. I tell people I'm doing this for Scooby--he lies around all day, and I think he needs a playmate--and for Jacob, who is still leery of Scooby. I figure a puppy will be easier for him to "grow" with, though I'll have to curb his bossy tendencies. But of course the truth is I always wanted a doodle. I used to think I wanted a full-size labradoodle, but they can be 100 lbs., far too much dog for me to give it adequate exercise. I found a highly reputable golden doodle kennel in the Metroplex breeding miniatures and eventually filled out the form and made a deposit.
Yesterday I got eight pages of detailed instructions, everything from using a playpen on a tile floor (I don't have tile floors) to housebreaking, crate training, and food, probiotics, and shampoo. I ordered a playpen and made a wish list of the other dog supplies for my upcoming birthday--the heck with the iPad I thought I wanted.
But the thing that scared me most was the stern injunction about protecting your puppy, with its immature immune system, from parvo, a highly contagious virus that can kill puppies. You are not supposed to let your pup out in your front yard, for fear a dog carrying the virus has been there. I thought my back yard would be safe until I remembered I'd kept a stray back there some months ago for a few days. Scooby is immunized and safe, but not so a puppy and apparently the virus can linger. When you take the pup to the vet you should not set it on the floor, and when you leave, spray your shoes with disinfectant before getting into your car--a good trick while holding a wiggly puppy.
I began to have second thoughts. In fact, I had an epiphany and decided I would tell the breeders I'd wait for an older pup or a breeding dog they were phasing out of their program. As usual I jumped to that conclusion and it became a firm reality in my mind. I would email the breeder.
But I hesitated. I called Jordan--who thought I should go with the puppy. We agreed we'd go look at them and see how we felt and what older animals they had; then my brother called to report on his trip to England and France, and when I told him, he was quite firm that eight weeks if the perfect time to take a pup from the kennel, even home-raised pups. He was most encouraging, so now I'm back to getting this tiny pup. It will take all my time for a while. I hope Jacob and Scooby like her. Wynona the cat will try to act as if she doesn't exist.
Wish me well. I've had all kinds of offers of help. Wonder if I have to make guests take off their shoes or spray them before they come in the house?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sweet Dreams

Every night Jacob says, "Sweet dreams," and whoever is kissing him goodnight says, "Sweet dreams" back. It's so much nicer than "Sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite." Last night I had two sweet dreams.
In the first I invented a country (must get out a map and look). I think it was at the northern tip of the African continent, a colony of mostly French--and here's where I violate geography I'm sure--it was just across a channel from southern France. I was preparing to fly home and dreading the long flight (in an earlier part of the dream I was packing and my suitcase kept falling apart--I woke up anxious). Someone said, "Let's take the ferry to France for the day," and I was so excited, so joyous that I was going to France for a day. Where does this come from? My brother and sister-in-law are due back today from southern France; the long flight may be a hangover from my trip to Scotland. All I can figure, but I still had that wonderful feeling of joy when I woke up.
Fed the cat and snuck back to bed for just a bit--which turned out to be an hour and a half. It was a pleasant day, not hot like now, and I was in my kitchen, though I didn't recognize the room at all. Doors at either end were open, and old friends, men and women, kept drifting in and sitting at the long table where I was opening mail and semi-working. Now I can't tell you who they were--except for Bill and Sharon Benge and Sally Armstrong--but we were all interconnected through marriage, divorce, and friendship. And they all shared in some form of creative work. It was a lovely warm feeling to be so surrounded by comfortable friends with much in common, and I remember thinking I must blog about how nice this is. Of course then I woke up--and no, two new book projects hadn't landed on my desk. That too was a dream!
You can't help but wonder where dreams come from. I think they're subconscious manifestations of things that are on your mind, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. I dream about my parents often, and sometimes wake sure that my mother is in the next room (where her bedroom would be if I were in my childhood bedroom). Who knows? Maybe she's here in spirit. Some people who've played major roles in my life appear frequently, and others never appear--as though I have settled my business with them. I don't know what it all means, and I'm not sure dreams are guides for what we should do in daily life. Yet I do pay attention and wonder if there's some sort of message there.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Great Love Affair of the American West

If I've done the math correctly, today is the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn, sometimes called Custer's Last Stand. Almost 20 years ago, I did a lot of research on the Custers, which finally resulted in the novel Libbie, now long out of print but available in used editions. Someday I hope to put it on Kindle and Smashwords. I didn't and still don't understand the military analysis of the battle--countless historians have dickered and written about it and theories abound--but I think I know enough to judge that Custer rushed in where angels fear to tread. And  he took a lot of good men with him, including his own younger brother and brother-in-law.
I was more interested in Libbie, the general's wife. I read her three books, the books of Lawrence Frost (her apologist or whatever), and some books about Custer, including one titled Custer Victorious about his service in the Civil War, when he was known for bold--and foolhardy--risks and harsh discipline to his soldiers. But I was writing about  his marriage and trying to tell the story from Libbie's point of view. It remains a puzzle to me. Shirley Leckie's excellent biography, Elizabeth Bacon Custer and the Making of a Myth, had not yet been pubilshed, but I've since read it and recommend it highly.
Libbie was obviously infatuated with "Autie," as she called him, but to my mind he would have been hard to live with. Knowing she was afraid of his big dogs, he'd encourage them to get on the bed with her; on wild rides across the prairie, he's spook her horse until it ran away  with her. He was almost obviously unfaithful as accounts of his trips east to testify to the Senate suggest, and she once wrote of going to an Indian reservation and seeing a blond, blue-eyed infant whose mother kept eying her oddly. Libbie, who was raised quietly in a typical 18th-century genteel fashion, defied her father to marry Autie and remained loyal to him through all this. No doubt there were some high moments of passion in their relationship, but I don't think I'd have stayed with a man whose constant hijinx got so out of hand. Is that a "liberated" 21st-century point of view? Was it that as an 18th-century wife she thought she had no alternative? I can't quite believe that, because her account of hearing the news that he was dead is one of the most poignant things I've ever read. She took her shawl from its peg on the wall and went to comfort the other wives, as was her duty as the general's wife. (He had not earned the rank of general but was field-promoted or breveted.) I think she really loved him, in spite of all.
And then there's the matter of her 38 years, give or take, as a widow, when she devoted herself to making a hero of Autie. One supposes she actually believed that he was--or maybe she had to believe that to justify herself and her decisions. Maybe she couldn't face the fact that he disobeyed orders and didn't wait for support but went rushing in. History, perhaps out of deference to Libbie, put off unmasking the hero for many years.
We'll never know, but it's a fascinating bit of history. And on this anniversary I think not of Autie, rushing off to glory, but of Libbie, waiting at the fort. Frederic Remington did a painting of the 7th Cavalry's departure which is almost ghostly, showing the troops marching off into clouds--prophetic? It will break your heart if you, like me, have a soft spot for Libbie.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cats, dogs, and grandchildren

My cat is 19 years old. Last weekend, son Jamie who found the cat as a kitten and brought him home, was here and asked why his breathing was labored. I realized that I'd seen his sides really heaving and when he sits on my desk, I can hear a squeak as he breathes. Put my ear to his chest--scientific, no?--and heard rattling. A call to the vet resulted in a likely diagnosis of asthma or allergies but they should see him. Nothing so simple, although no pneumonia. He has a hernia in his diaphragm, so his intestines are all pushed up into his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. Solution is an expensive, difficult surgery, which we aren't doing for a 19-year-old cat. After all, he's the equivalent of 99 or so in our life span. The problem may be congenital but if so, how did he live such a long and happy life. I'm betting it happened recently, for who knows what reason? Something we'll never know.
My dog is also aging--12, but that's getting on for an Australian shepherd. Abused before I got him, he periodically develops new fears. These hot days I bring him in after lunch, so can nap in the cool. Suddenly, he's afraid to come in the house. Today was the worst. He looked at the door, looked at me, stared off into space. I left the door open and went back into the kitchen. He came in but when I went to close the door he beat me outside. I tried putting a treat just inside the door--he snatched it and went back outside. I left and forgot about it for a while. Finally when I tried again, after much coaxing and loving talk, he came hesitantly up the stairs and in. None of this seems to bother him at night, when he comes right in. I wonder if the heat is making him crazy.,
I've had Jacob the last three evenings--at least he has no serious illnesses and no fears. Two of the three days I've picked him up at school--and woken myself from a deep nap to do it. Today I was so sleepy that when I got him home, I went back to my nap while he,exhausted from playing at day-care, watched TV. But we have peaceable suppers and good companonship. This is all training for next year when I'll get him at 3:00 every day.
Oh, and then there was the major car repair. Nope, it hasn't been my most peaceful week nor one full of accomplishment. Hope everyone has a good weekend--stay inside and stay cool.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Somebody please align the planets

My newspaper horoscope today said to let go of pet projects, something I've actually done with a bit of success. But I haven't gone deeper to explore the alignment of the planets and what it means to someone of my sign, Cancer. I don't need to--I know they've been out of alignment for several days.
Yesterday I had to take my car for repair--one of those annoying little warning lights went on. $500 later and at the end of the day I got my seven-year-old VW beetle convertible back, supposedly good as new. Meantime, in the early morning I ended up with five-year-old Jacob, so I took him to the dealership and then shopping with my friend Jeannie. This meant a lot of transferring of the booster seat--not a major problem, just an annoyance. At Tuesday Morning, Jacob spent at least thirty minutes in the toy aisle, walking up and down, commanding, "Stand right there, Juju," and then putting his hands to his head and saying, "Come on, Jacob. Buy something." He finally settled on a really cheap $2.99 toy, which he promptly left at my house.
I had not one but three social engagements last night--and they all fell through. First, two good friends were to come from out of town so I could cook them a gourmet meal and we could have a sleepover. One had a death in the family, and they had to cancel. Then I was invited to a dinner party, with my contribution to be guacamole. I had made a large batch of guac when the host called to say he had gout and was cancelling. I gave most of the guac to my neighbors. They were going to a neighborhood BYOB party and invited me, but by the time I got the car home I decided it was hot and I was tired. Truth be told, I was in a funk.
Today started off better, and I was all geared up to take the cat to the vet. With cats, if you miss that first attempt to put one in the crate, you might as well give up. Yep, I missed, and the cat was on alert. So instead I gave him his hydration treatment, for which he was quite docile--I think he's getting used to it. Then I ran by the vets to exchange their crate for a larger one and went to a TCU luncheon featuring a TCU Press book. While there I discovered that I have double-booked myself for lunch Friday--one appt. at 11 and one at 12. I'm going to camp at the restaurant and the noon people will meet me there. Jordan called to ask if I could keep Jacob after school. A friend had unexpectedly lost her mother and Jordan would be making an extended sympathy call. So I expected her to bring him about 4:15 and happily went to get a nap before that. At 4:30, I woke with a start and called to see where she was--at the friend's house. Where was Jacob? At school. The part of the message I didn't get was that I was supposed to get him. So I rushed off to the day-care, which is only across the street.
Tonight made up some for the confusion. Betty and I took Jacob to The Tavern, which we have discovered is one of our favorite restaurants. She and I split deviled eggs--we'd done that last week and loved them--and then an order of scallops with salad. Jacob had a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich with lots of good thin fries. Christian came and met us at the restaurant, so I took Betty home and came home to settle down.
Tomorrow doesn't promise to be much better--take the cat to the vet at nine, meeting with a web designer at ten, lunch with a good friend at 11:30, pick up the cat, and come home and prepare for class that night. What can possibly go wrong? A whole lot!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pioneer women physicians and the WalMart Supreme Court decision

Maybe it's my medical background--I come from a family of physicians, married one, worked in osteopathic medical schools--and maybe it's my interest in the history of the Old West, but I am fascinated by pioneer women physicians. I once wrote a novel, Mattie, based on the life of Georgia Arbuckle Fix who practiced on the Nebraska frontier in the late 18th and early 19th century. That novel earned me a Spur Award from Western Writers of America, an award of which I am justifiably proud. (A bit of self-promotion: Mattie is available from Amazon in print or on KIndle or Smashwords as an e-book).
My friend Dale Walker wrote a terrific book about another pioneer woman physician, who predates Dr. Fix. Mary Edwards Walker, born in 1832, practiced medicine during the Civil War, on the bloodiest battlefields as well as ministering to citizens wherever she was. Accused of spying, she was briefly held in a southern prison camp--surely an incredibly horrible experience for a woman, let alone the many men who suffered that fate. To say she was unconventional is an understatement--she held strong political beliefs and wasn't hesitant to express them all her life, she fought for woman's suffrage and prohibition, she championed the professionalism of nurses even though she always made it clear she was a doctor and not a nurse, and she fought for Prohibition. And she wore bloomers--those long, baggy pants that narrowed at the ankles made fashionable by Amanda Bloomer--because, according to Dr. Walker, the long skrits that dragged the ground were not hygenic. But it is her service during the Civil War that, to me, is the most remarkable. Most of the U.S. Army did not trust her--a woman physician? Pshaw! But she persevered--at Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga and other battles. She met President Abraham Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln and corresponded with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. After the war, she toured the United Kingdom, arousing controversy wherever she went--mostly because of her dress. In 1865, President Andrew  Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor--the only woman in U. S. history to receive this prestigious award. It was her most prized possession, something she never gave up, even when it was rescinded from the record during the height of the women's suffrage movement. President Jimmy Carter restored the medal to her, but of course by then she was long dead.
Of her lifelong battle for equality, she wrote "Woman's mind is an emanation from Deity, and man's mind is very probably emanated from the same source, and the difference in the minds of the sexes is owing in part to the roughness of the clay . . . ."
Dale Walker is an award-winning historian of the American West, with a long list of outstanding books to his credit. No, he's not a descendant of Mary Edwards Walker or her branch of the Walker family. Find the book on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Edwards-Walker-Beyond-American/dp/B001G8WCN8/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1308708580&sr=1-4. There are several books on Walker, but knowing Dale's thorough research, I'm quite sure this is the most accurate and complete.
This book--and the story of pioneer women physicians--seems most appropriate to me today, as I ponder the Supreme Court decision on the class action suits against WalMart. Sure, I understand the legal terms--there were too many unrelated cases of discrimination--but I find it significant that all three women justices dissented from the decision. And that Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion, has been openly biased against women.
I've never been one to whine that women don't get their due--I've had a good career and never felt hampered by my gender--but I recognize it's a battle that's not completely won yet. It's like racial discrimination: we've come a long way, baby, but we still have a ways to go.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How methodical are you? Right brain or left?

My eight-year-old granddaughter astounded me this weekend--she's so organized and methodical. I do remember when she was in pre-school she was the only child who folded her blanket neatly after nap time. She couldn't stand that the furniture, etc., to the Dora playhouse she has long since outgrown was scattered around the playroom and asked for a bag to collect it all--alas, Dora herself is missing. Edie has an expanding file folder thing in which she has carefully labeled the various files with post-its--designs, ideas, sketches, etc. At her cousin's birthday, the Star Wars horns were scattered artfully on the cake table--she lined them  up in two, evenly spaced, matching rows. Oh, to be so organized.
My file drawer by my desk is haphazard at best, surely not aphabetical. I generally know which part of the drawer something is in, but I sometimes have to look and look, going through it file by file. And right now I've lost a file I really need--last night in desperation I created a new file in order to get something off my desk.
The shoes in my closet are helter-skelter and sometimes I have to search for the matching shoe.The clothes in my closet are the same way, and I often go through garment by garment, pushing things aside, to find what I had my mind set on wearing that day. My book shelves are a mess and I search for hours for a book I know I have, frequently giving up.
And yet I consider myself an organized person, indeed almost compulsive. And I think those who worked with me did too. But Melinda always patiently explained to me that I am right-brained--therefore I am creative, but I cannot proofread worth a darn. I admit it's true--my mind doesn't dwell on details, and I sometimes leap before I look. I buy cars, houses, and dogs on impulse--but I listen to my instinct and never seem sorry. When Jordan and I used to spend Sunday afternoons at realtors' open houses, I'd tell her the right house would reach out and touch us. In one hugely expensive house we could nowhere near afford, she asked, "Is this touching  you, Mom? It's touching me." Sometimes, a long while later, in retrospect, I look back and realize I'd have been better off if I'd done something differently. But life is too short for regrets.
And the junk in my attic? The kids will have to worry about that when they cart me out of here.
What about you? Right brained or left brained?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Texas Wind

Sometimes I am intrigued by weather that should alarm me. Perhaps it comes from a childhood on Lake Michigan and a fascination with watching storms roll down the lake. But last night reminded me of Dorothy Scarborough's The Wind and how powerful Texas wind can be.
Remember those TV ads: "It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?" Last night, at 10:30, I didn't know where my children were--at least one of them. He's in his forties and was with his wife and two of my grandchildren, ages six and four. Not to worry? Mother's habits never go away, and besides, I wanted to go to bed. I texted Jordan who assured me they had just left her house (I'd come home much earlier) and would be here in 20 minutes. When I went out to open the driveway gate for them, I discovered the wind was blowing hard and the temperature had dropped from its unbearable high of late afternoon. So I sat on the porch, enjoying the weather. I know full good and well what bad that wind can bring, especially with wildfires already in Palo Pinto County and our ongoing drought, but putting those thoughts aside I loved watching it blow through the trees. Yes, I did think that the elm in front of my house is old and could go with the next big storm--I would prefer it to go into the street and not into my house. But it seemed in no danger last night.
Today, my family is all gone, and I am getting fat on leftovers. The dog and cat are relieved to have their house back, and I have spent a lazy day reading Julia Spencer-Fleming's latest novel, One Was a Soldier. It's absorbing. I justify reading on the grounds it will help me improve my own fiction--and I think that's true.
Ho, hum. We're off on another summer week. Tomorrow, which was forecast to be 101, is now to be "high 90s" and Tuesday it's supposed to be low 90s and rain. Let's hope the weather people are right. Have a good week, everyone.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Life's little unexpected turns and twists

My day didn't turn out as I expected at all. We were to go to Jacob's T-ball game but had no car--Jamie, Colin and Lisa had taken Jamie's car to swim and run, and Mel was leery of driving Colin's car, so we didn't see the rising baseball star. But his coach has recommended that he sign up for Little League next year because he's  that good! Then I had visions of a lovely deli lunch--Colin always wants to eat at Carshon's. To my dismay he said he didn't care, and Jamie quickly jumped in with his favorite pizza place. It's a hangout from their high school days. Two things wrong here: I don't like pizza and dont need the calories, and I always think this place is dingy and dirty. Yet I wanted to go to lunch with my family, so I took a tuna salad sandwich. As Jamie said, "When you're old, you can get away with anything."
In addition to a houseful of people--four adults and five children, plus me--we've been juggling three large dogs in the heat. If we could just turn all three out in the yard, they'd be no problem. But 102 or more is too hot for that. The chocolate lab is outside now, while Scooby, unsettled by all the commotion, paces in my office. The island dog--probably part Belgian Bouvier or German shepherd--is in the apartment. He and Scooby are the old men, and their pecking order is funny. When Scooby and Mosby, the lab, are here together, Scooby is the alpha dog. But when Kaibo, the island dog, appears, he is the alpha dog. Much discussion tonight of my getting a new dog (I will, in July) with some negative opinions and support at least from Jamie, who says I can bring it to his house if it's housebroken!
Jacob's birthday was was what I expected--lovely but crowded and on the hottest day of the year so far, early in the summer. My car said 107 when I went out there about 4:30. House and yard were full of excited youngsters and their parents and other friends of Jordan and Christian. These young people are always so welcoming to me. I get lots of hugs and really feel at home. Wonder of wonders! Darth Vader appeared in person--or elaborate costume. Even my neighbor Susan thought he and his companion (I don't know who that was supposed to be) were scary. I visited with people and often sat with my family around the kitchen table Good times. Jordan is a party organizer, which she says she learned from her mom.
Jamie and crew left tonight, so it seems an incredibly short visit, but Colin and his family will stay over tonight and,  I hope, linger for a good Father's Day breakfast.
If somehow the weekend hasn't been quite what I expected, I think it's my own fault. I set my expectations high and get an idea of just how things should work and then I'm edgy when they don't go that way. Worked hard at overcoming--or at least hiding that--this weekend. And really enjoyed my kids and grandkids. They're a wonderful bunch.
The day was brightened by another guest blog, this an interview on Writers of the West by Jean Henry Mead. http://www.writersofthewest.blogspot.com/ I'm doing pretty well at this guest blog things--another one, about Scottish food, coming Monday. Jamie says I'm really milking that Scotland trip for all its worth. Guess he's right.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Feeling My Age

I too often say, boastfully, that I don't feel my 70+ years  at all, and some kindly say I don't look that old. But yesterday and today I felt them. With my family coming and going at odd times this weekend, I went to two grocery stores yesterday--Central Market for meat and a few other things, then Albertson's for general supplies and canned goods. By the time I went to one, came home and unpacked the groceries, then went to the second and unpacked plus watered my abundant porch plants, it took me three hours, and I was really ready for lunch and to get off my feet. Worked a bit, napped, and by 4:30, I was back in the kitchen cooking steak fingers, green beans vinaigrette, and oven-fried potatoes for Jacob, Christian and Susan--Jordan's colleague who lives with them. That took me an hour and a half, and then after a quick dinner, I had to do dishes.
It occurred to me that I used to cook meals like last night's every night for four kids, and on weeekend I shopped and sometimes cooked for 15-20 on Sunday evening. I don't know that I coiuld do that these days. I'd like to think that it's just the habit of laziness, but much as I love to cook after an hour and a half my back tells me to sit down, even if only for a few minutes.
This morning I spent almost two hours in the kitchen making a huge casserole--I planned to make a double one, but as plans got more vague, I cut back to one and froze the extra ground meat. Still, I had visions of a lovely family dinner--two of my sons and one of my daughters, all with their families. Didn't happen. Jordan, Christian, Jacob and I ate together, though Jacob said he wasn't hungry, agreed to eat broccoli and blueberries, and then ate chicken nuggets, more blueberries but refused the cauliflower (I didn't have more broccoli and Jordan's attempt to pass cauliflower off as white broccoli was unsuccessful). So now I have this huge, rich, fattening, delicious casserole left. Maybe someone will nibble on it over the weekend; I foresee that Jordan and her family and I will be eating it next weekend. Hmmm--one of my overnight guests Tuesday night said they wanted leftovers, I had planned an elegant meal of sea bass in papilotte but you know, hamburger, onion, mushroom, cheese casserole might just sound good. Maybe I can do an exotic dessert.
So here I sit at 8 p.m., the house empty, waiting for Jamie and family who stopped to eat at the Mexican Inn (don't ask for my comment!) and Colin and family, who didn't get off from Houston until almost five and then had car trouble. Not exactly the evening I planned, but it occurred to me that a few years ago that would have sent me into a frenzy. Now I'm quite philosophical about it.
It will still be good to have my family around me, however briefly, this weekend.
Oops. I forgot. I have to go back to the kitchen to make a double recipe of corn/Rotel dip for Jacob's birthday party tomorrow. Woman's work is never done.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Musings about houses

Have you thought about the houses you've lived in? No doubt, many of us changed our houses--remodelling, repainting, somehow leaving our mark on them. But did the house change you? A recent book review got me to thinking about the houses I've lived in and the American obssession with bigger, better houses. I suffered from that obsession for a long time.
I was raised in a skinny, 1893-built duplex on Chicago's South Side--seemed big as all outdoors to me as a kid, but it was small for a family of four. When I left home, I lived in a series of student housing-type places, including an old Victorian house that was empty except fo rmy three rooms on the ground floor--a bit spooky--and a hunting cabin that someone had built on to in stages. I used to laugh that in 1964, as a starving student, I lived in a split level, but the bedroom was a chicken coop that had been cleaned and attached to the house and the bathroom was opposite the front door--made you a believer in privacy. Still the house had a funky charm, and I loved it. My new husband painted the mailbox with "Alter's Ego" and a physician we knew said, "I get the Alter part, but what's the e-g-o?" Go figure!
When he was in residency and I in graduate school, we lived in rentals in Fort Worth. Then, when our first child was less than a  year we moved into my dream home--a rambling huge Mediterranean with wonderful tiles in the entry floor, tiles surrounding the round fireplace, colorful tiles in the bathrooms, wrought iron chandeliers, a living room with a vaulted ceiling. It was everything I ever wanted--but yes, we changed it, redoing the kitchen, enclosing the patio to make a marvelous huge dining room, and eventually converting the garage into a master bedroom. We gave grand parties in that house and were wildly happy--well, for a while. When my marriage fell apart, so did my happiness with the dream home--built in the 1920s, it was too much for me to maintain. By then, there were four children, and we left for a much smaller, single-story house. It was another charming older home, but the kids mourned for their first home for a long time. I know that house changed me and molded me.
With four kids, I didn't give up the search for the perfect, larger house. The kids and I spent countless weekends touring realtors' open houses but never saw anything that I could afford. We moved to a rambling ranch-style and then, when the four were ready to fly the nest, I moved back to the neighborhood of smaller, older but charming homes--and I've lived in this one for 19 years.
My longing for the huge dream house disappeared somewhere along the way. I began to realize, I think, that I made the home--the house didn't make me. I am happier in this smaller house--2 bedrooms, an office, bath and a half, playroom, and garage apt.--than I ever was in that huge Mediterranean of my dreams. Sometimes I wonder why it took me so long to figure that out. Someone asked me recently if I was ready to consider a retirement home, and I almost jumped out of my skin. No way! I'm staying here. My animals and I are comfortable, and there's room for most if not all of my kids. Grandson Jacob is at home here, and has his own room--the playroom. Life is good.
I'm convinced that houses do mold us but ultimately, home is where we make it--and where we decide to be happy without longing for bigger, better, showier and more expensive.
It did grieve me that a developer "upgraded" the Mediterranean home, replacing all the original tile with fabricated materials, covering up the wonderful turned pillars, and generally making it just another big house, without the grace and charm of the original. Subsequent owners have tried to restore the original look, added on, built here and there, until I hardly recognize the house. There's a lesson there too about moving on with life.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Woohoo! A new cover

Here it is, the long-awaited cover to my forthcoming mystery. Guess I don't need to tell you the title, because there it is in big bold print. The publisher, Kim Jacobs of Turquoise Morning Press, was kind enough to consult me all along the way--neither of us liked the first mockup, apparently done by a designer. As Melinda at TCU Press said, it looked like it was a vampire story.  In this the final version, I'm a bit undertain about a skull (but then I'm the one who thought up a skeleton and suggested it for the cover art)--told Kim I think it's the teeth that bother me. LOL. But it is really appropriate to the book which, in spite of the title and skull, is a cozy mystery--amateur sleuth, no onstage violence, no lust--okay a sprinkling of longing. Anyway, I'm excited to have the cover because now I can build a new website and do all sorts of stuff to tell the mystery-reading world about my book. Launch date is August 29, presumably for e-book with print copy to follow in a week or so. If you're in Fort Worth, watch for a launch party at the Old Neighborhood Grill. When Peter suggested it, I said, "Perfect, because the Grill is mentioned in t he book several times."
I also did a guest blog today at Buried Under Books (http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/2011/06/14/searaching-for-ancestors-and-finding-stories/comment-page-1/#comment-73274). More of my Scottish adventures and a bit of family history, but it received lots of warm and favorable comments. All this re-living the trip online is making me ready to go back. Next week there'll be a guest blog on Scottish food--I loved it.
Meantime my own food blog is getting good reaction and response. Lots of people like it and I've had a couple of mentions of guest blogs. So I'm feeling pretty good about my "new" or "reborn" writing career. Retiring may be the best thing I ever did, much as I loved my work at TCU Press.
 Watch for another Potluck installment tomorrow, probably on tuna.  Did I hear a groan?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Speaking my mind

I usually try to stay away from politics in this blog, but lately my mind has been so boggled by events that I can't help but speak out. To begin with there are the education budget cuts on the state level. I have heard several reports that there are plenty of jobs available especially in the health care and manufacuring segments, but there are not people trained to perform those jobs. I presume that means in many isntances the kind of training provided in both high school and junior colleges. Yet we're going to cut the educational budget by a whopping $4 billion. I worry of course about my grade-school grandchildren, when arts programs and other "electives" are being cut left and right. Someone told me today of a local school district that has let all their librarians go--how do you teach without a library? Bless Wendy Davis and may her efforts succeed--or at least have some effect on the legislative process.
And then there's the prospect of Rick Perry running for president. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that anyone would take it seriouisly--but then, I felt that way about George W. Bush's bid for the presidency. And look what happened. I read a list today of ten things that Perry has done that should scare the socks off all of us, like declaring Texas should secede. Another thing I have a hard time taking seriously, but I guess he meant it. And his legislative priorities sure scare me. Thanks much, but I think Medicare and Social Security are making my retirement comfortable if not luxurious.
And then there's poor old Newt Gingrich--does he not see the handwriting on the wall?
I was talking to a fellow liberal the other day about how frightening most of the potential GOP candidates are, and we decided Mitt Romney was the least frightening, but she said she hopes it's someone really far out that no one will take seriously.
As for the Democrats, I don't think people pay attention to the positive things President Obama has accomplished, like the million or so jobs saved with the rescue of the auto industry. It baffles me why people don't understand that the country didn't get into a recession overnight and can't recover from it that quickly either.
There, rant over. But it sure is hard to be a liberal these days and keep the faith.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A bargain with myself . . . and maybe with God

This morning I went to church by myself. It may not sound like much to most readers, but it's a big deal for me. I dislike going to church alone almost as much as I dislike going to the dentist. . . and yet I long to go to church. For many years, I faithfully went alone, but then two things happened: my good friend Betty retired as organist. She had always kept me involved in the life of the church, finding tickets for me to sell in the lobby, sign-ups to do, committees to join, even projects to head. I used to say whatever came up, she'd say, "Judy will do it." About the same time, the minister I'd worked with left, all the people seemed to change, and I didn't have the base I'd had at the church. If I weren't single, would I have gone ahead and forged new connections, like my friends Jean and Jim who recently joined the church? I don't know. I do know that's what I should have done.
But the second thing is that my old phobia, a fear of being alone in open spaces (called agoraphobia), came back to haunt me. I lost my balance--or more accurately, my confidence in my balance. Curbs and steps without railings stymied me; so did parking lots. For a while, I really curtailed my travels and avoided telling friends. Slowly, I foiund that good friends accepted and stood ready to help. I began to force myself to do things, to take that step I didn't think I could. I carried a walking stick or a cane, to the puzzlement of many. I even discovered that I could use valet parking at church and not have to walk across the parking lot.  But going back to church was hard, and I could usually find some piddling at home to avoid it. We could get really Freudian here and go back to my childhood and being forced to attend church, but I won't go there.
Then  Jacob began to spend many Saturday nights with me, and I wanted him to grow up in the church. I regret with all my heart that my children didn't grow up in the church. After a first disastrous experience, where the day-care worked scared the daylights out of Jacob and set him to screaming and begging me to take him home, I waited months, tried again (with his mom this time), and he loved it. He thinks church is fun, though last week when I gave him his choice between playing and going to church with me, he chose church. I suppose next year, I'll have to get him going in time for Sunday school, and then I'll begin going to that again too.
My church has an interim minister. I've never gotten to know him, because of my spotty attendance record, but his sermons are wonderful. He's leaving in something like two weeks, and I didn't want to miss his sermon. LIstening on the radio didn't seem enough. Plus in my ongoing determination to overcome this phobia, doing things I should but would rather not is part of the program. This morning I decided I didn't really have to go, and then I drew mysellf up short and asked, "Are you going to be afraid all your life?" I made a bargain with myself: if I went to church, I didn't have to ride my exercise bike today.
I went to church. Not sure if God knows he won the bargain or not, but I was glad to be there. Sat with an acquaintance, greeted many people I know and like, got a hug from a special friend. I'll go again . And maybe ride the bike too.
Sorry, folks, I can neither explain nor fix the font change. It doesn't show up in draft, but when I publish the postk there it is. Thank  you, Blogger!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Navigating the internet--with difficulty

People who talk glibly of various online programs that I don't understand frustrate me--now I can't even think of the names of those programs, but they are myriad. I have trouble mastering simple things, though I do okay on Facebook and Twitter (the latter is to me a bit boring). But tonight I semi-conquered two problems.
The first was my web page--well, I haven't conquered it but I made one small step. Some time ago, I submitted it to a blog that periodically evaluates web pages and came back with not a good score. The critic pointed out that it's an old picture--and it is, probably twenty-five years old. Then there was the complaint that no links make it easy for readers to click and order my books--most of my books are out of print and can only be ordered from individual sellers, but I guess I could put Amazon links. I hadn't gotten to putting old titles on Amazon and Kindle yet. And,  hey, I thought I was doing well to have a web page, let alone all that fancy stuff.
A colleague at TCU designed the page for me and did what I thought was a great job, though the critic called it simplistic. Well, I'd rather have simplistic than some of those web pages that are so fancy and intricate you don't know what you're looking at. I don't need bells and whistles--but I do need to update the page from time to time and my colleague, now an independent designer, charged every time as well she should. It's just that I need a page that is not in html and that I can upgrade--change a recipe, add a new event, etc. Besides, I have a new book coming out--have I mentioned that? oh, yes, I'm sure I have--and I need a whole new web page featuring that book, the new picture of me, etc. Not being smart about this, I assumed that the host I had required html and so I cancelled the account. Fortunately, there was a grace period, because someone from Wordpress.com pointed out to me that I still needed a host, even if I posted my page through Wordpress. So tonight I renewed the domain, just to be sure, even though it didn't expire until July 2012. Money wasted, but I was told if I let it cancel, I couldn't renew the name for 90 days, according to FCC regulations. So now that's done, and I assume all is well.
Then there's the food blog. For some reason, last night I couldn't figure out how to create a second blog on Blogger.com. Tonight, I breezed through it. And there's now a page called Potluck with Judy (notice I changed the title from Judy's Potluck, figuring that could too easily get mixed up with Judy's Stew). I think it can be found at http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com/ but one can never be sure. And I pretty much got it set up--a picture of me that's way too big, and I wrote an "about me" that didn't show up on the page. Figured I'd done enough for one night. I'll quit.
Occasionally--only occasionally--I'm ahead of my kids. When we went to Scotland, Colin said his brother wanted him to put pictures in Dropbox and he had no idea what that is. I do! I have Dropbox, but I mostly forget to use it. There was an exchange on one of the listservs tonight about whether or not you should revise in Dropbox or revise in Word and drag each new version to Dropbox. Please! When do these people write?
Some authors check their sales at Amazon and Smashwords three or four times a day--I would find that so discouraging I'd probably never write another word. I check, oh, maybe every two weeks. In recent months, I've gotten two checks from Amazon and they came as delightful surprises.
I want writing to be fun. I don't want to feel about it as I did whenever I faced the spreadsheets of monthly reports at the press. So I'll keep reading with awe and envy about the people who sell hundreds of copies online daily . . . and I'll just toddle along with my few copies. Ten? Hey, that's a big day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Memoirs and food blogs

Last night, we had a satisfying memoir class, the last of this session. Two women presented, two very different papers, and yet in both cases. I think through discussion they came to see what they were feeling and writing about more clearly. It's so satisfying when that happens. I always feel "on" at these classes because I know as facilitator or moderator or whatever I am, I'm expected to pull things together and make meaningful comments. One of our ladies has missed several meetings because of her husband's illness but she was back last night and wonder of wonders, she had a proof of the first volume of her memoirs. That's a pretty exciting accomplishment for this class, and we all cheered and wished her well. She does not plan to market publicly--this is a book for her family and friends and I'm glad she had no delusions of fame and fortune.
Our next session begins June 23, and most of the ladies are returning. In the year I've taught it I've only had two drop-outs; others come and go, saying they have too many committments for one session but they'll be back. And they do return. We are like a group of sorority sisters or something. One of the women who presented last night said she would never share her piece with anyone else, except perhaps her prayer group, but she felt free to discuss a difficult topic with us. I think she may have inspired me to write a piece and keep it handy in case we ever run out of presentation pieces. It will be titled, "The Road Not Taken," with appropriate bows to Robert Frost.
When class ended last night and I got the kitchen cleaned and myself settled down, I had 80 e-mails. Being OCD, I checked them all--hence no blog. Tonight, I have not much more to blog about. It's a lazy weekend, with Jacob out of town, his mother going out of town. I sort of floated through the day, which was pleasant, but tonight I've been working on my food blog.
I'll post a reminder again--all over, on Facebook, Twitter, whatever--but the first post will be up Sunday night on what I've decided to call Judy's Potluck. Friends Weldon and Beth suggested the name because they thought it implied the community participaton I want--y'all bring something to the potluck! I'll get it started with a few posts and then hope others will jump in with comments, recipes, recollections, even guest columns.
In the initial column, which I drafted tonight, I'll stress that I'm not a professional, trained cook--except by my mom, which was pretty darn good training. But cooking is my avocation, the thing that relaxes me. I guess I'm what they call a nurturer (is that a cliche these days?) but I love to feed people, and I love to try new recipes on guests--and myself. 
I want to hear about your cooking, so I hope you'll join in.
Excuse me, but there's this Diane Mott Davidson book I've been trying to read all day. Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Life's little disasters

Everyone has days like this--everything goes wrong. My first clue should have been when I discovered the people who clean my house once a month had left the litter box sitting on the commode, where the cat couldn't reach it. Actually I had said, "Never mind. I'll fix it," and then forgot. The cat was obedient--peed all over the floor where the box should have been. Cleaned that up, which put me behind in getting to my haircut appointment. Tried to turn on the TV in my office and got a screen full of snow. Forgot about that to go get my hair cut. Electric gate opened just fine with the remote but would not close for love nor money--I had to close it by hand. Got the haircut,, came back and spent 45 minutes on the phone with AT&T U-Verse trying to fix my snowy screen, following all sorts of directions about unplugging this and pressing that and so on. Finally had to leave for lunch, but the technician assured me it should work. It didn't.
After lunch I decided to tackle the TV again because I hate unsolved minor problems like that--they niggle at me. This time I learned a lesson--instead of calling the help number and going through all that automated nonsense, I instituted an online chat with a technician. This is a big lesson for me, because sometimes technicians speak English as their second language and they're hard for me to understand with my impaired hearing (a gentle way of putting it!). The online exchange is great, and with Praveen's help I figured out that the cleaning ladies had unplugged something. That had been a lurking suspicion in my mind, and I'd checked once but overlooked this plug. Voila! I had TV again.
The gate should be fixed tomorrow by someone smarter than I. Now if I could just fix that loose piece of rubber on the window lining of my car, I'd be in good shape. The VW service people said, "We've never seen anything like that." (Don't you love being the person who brings them a new problem?) They said to get at it, they'd have to remove the chrome, etc, and I asked, "What if I tried glue?" The mechanic said, "Yeah, try Superglue." So I will. I always have a fear of glueing my thumb to my forefinger!
Speaking of hearing impaired, the other day Jacob said to me, "I got a Lunchable."
Me: "You got in trouble?"
Jacob: "No." Repeated the line.
Me: "You want a vegetable?"
Jacob: "Juju, where are your hearing aids?" I put one in, and he looked at me and said, "Do you have another one?"
And then later that night he watched me clean my face and said, "Omigosh! Where did your eyebrows go?"
When we were all in Houston recently, four-year-old Kegan looked at my bare feet and asked what "that" was. I explained it was a corn because my feet are old. He looked at me and said, "You're crazy." Then after a long pause, "Nice, but crazy."
And, finally, Kegan and Jacob were playing outside when they came bursting into the kitchen.
Jacob: "Aunt Lisa, Kegan said I'm not his friend any more."
Kegan: "I didn't say that."
Jacob: "No, but you were about to!"
I love kids!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A food blog

I've been thinking lately of starting a food blog. For some time, one friend in particular has urged me to do that, and now several ideas have come to mind. I want it to be a community participation blog--guest bloggers, recipes from readers, comments, lots of participation. I'll probably post it twice a week--maybe aim for Wednesdays and Sundays, though don't look for one this Wednesday which, as I write, is tomorrow.
I haven't had many guest bloggers on Judy's Stew--in fact, darn few, because it didn't seem to fit the flow of the blog. But for the food one, I'll welcome guests--and will put out an internet call. My friend Weldon wrote eloquently about why he is gluten-free, and I'll ask him to repeat that column. I have ideas for discussing anchovies--ever notice how many people profess to hate them and then order Caesar salad? Or maybe one on sandwich fillings--I love chicken, tuna, ham, lobster, whatever kind of salad--except shrimp, which I'm sadly allergic to.
Maybe we'll do a blog on guacamole and ask for recipes--I have a class member whose husband makes the best guacamole I've ever tasted, but it takes so many avocados that I put the recipe away every time I look at it.
I've resisted mentioning food the last few days because I had this in my mind, but heck--I might as well say we had bison burgers the other night. So good. Beth (gluten-free, dairy-free wife of Weldon) said she could tell a slight difference, but I couldn't. I made a sauce that, to me, tasted like what you get on a Big Mac (no, I haven't had one in years) and I thought I'd probably be the only one to eat it. It's not on Beth and Weldon's diet, and I knew Jordan wouldn't try but to my surprise Christian ate quite a bit of it. He must be a fan of Big Macs. I made a fruit salad, which Jacob ate until his parents had to say "No more fruit," and a sort of ersatz Texas caviar which mostly consisted of what I had in the cupboard--black-eyed peas, black beans, corn, green beans, and a vinaigrette. Good meal. So that's the kind of things I have in mind. Fixed a really good meal lately? Tell me about it.
To start off this community participation, I'm asking for name suggestions. Daughter-in-law Melanie (my fifth child) named Judy's Stew without batting an eye, and I've asked for her ideas. But I'd welcome any suggestions. Judy's Kitchen isn't right, because I want this to be everybody's kitchen--and yet I want to retain my identity with it. So there's a challenge. Send ideas to me at j.alter@tcu.edu.
Happy cooking!

Monday, June 06, 2011

The fellowship of mystery writers

I've wanted to write mysteries for years, but I felt the way I did before I ever wrote fiction: mysteries were over there, on a different shelf, and I couldn't do them. I made a couple of failed attempts--actually I still think one is pretty good. But I knew I was wandering in the wilderness of my own ignorance. One day Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles herbalist mysteries and much more, came to talk at TCU. I think we'd crossed paths or were vaguely acquainted, but I was so bold as to ask her advice and she said one meaningful thing to me, "Join Sisters in Crime." I did, and I've been everlastingly grateful ever since. Once I became a member, I soon joined several sub-groups: Agent Quest, for those who were looking for agents; Guppies, the great pond of unpublished writers who are going to be published--many stay in the group after publication because of its warm camaraderie; Senior Sleuths, for those who write about older than average protagonists, something I thought about for a long time; and SmallPressQuest for those who want to abandon the search for an agent and try publishing with small presses.
I cannot begin to tell you all I've learned in the three or four years since, but the biggest thing is that it's not a cut-throat world out there. Mystery writers are in competition to a certain extent, sure, but they are so supportive of each other. They rejoice in triumphs, be they an agency contract, a publishing contract, a good review, or an important blurb. They get out the boas, start kick lines, and throw cyber-champagne parties. And they share a wealth of knowledge about seeking agents, deciding which agent is for you (it takes guts to say no but sometimes it's the best thing to do), the advantages and disadvantages of small press publication, general news of the publishing industry, and sometimes personal triumphs and tragedies. We all literally become sisters. I realize in retrospect what a naif I was in that wilderness of ignorance. I had, for instance, no idea that it was so hard to get an agent, yet now I know of people who've queried 200 or more agents; I've learned about protecting your e-rights and watching royalties paid on e-books as opposed to print (e-books should pay much more).
I've learned a lot about the use of social media--most writers but not all blog; most but not all use Facebook; there's division on the usefullness of Twitter though some swear by it. And I've found sites like Goodreads, Linked In, and too many others to mention. I've learned about retweeting for other authors and adding tags to books on Amazon and checking sales numbers on Amazon and other sites.
The problem with all this, of course, is that it's time-consuming. You eventually get to the point you have to decide which things you're going to do and which you aren't. I get upwards of 200 e-mails a day (I did join Murder Must Advertise and a couple other lists) and I look at each post, no matter how briefly. At this point I only have reprints on Amazon and Smashwords (that's another whole new topic, but Smashwords publishes e-books for almost every platform there is), so I don't check sales number or rankings compulsively; I'm barely active on Twitter and Goodreads, and I've dropped Linked In. But all that networking allows you to make decisions that you think are right for you.
After probably not enough agent queries and negative experiences with a press that kept my manuscript as an exclusive for a year (SinC will tell you that's a no-no) and with an agent who did the same thing, I have signed with Turquoise Morning Press, a small press where the vibes feel right. Probably not as businesslike as many of my sisters in mystery would be but it works for me. I tend to act on impulse (right brain, not left) but I think this will work out just fine. The main thing for me is I don't want the "business" or "busyness" of being a mystery writer to get in the way of writing and the fun of it.
But I have indeed plunged into a whole new world, one I suspect most readers don't dream exists, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Welcome to Kelly's neighborhood









All picture courtesy Polly Hooper.

The protagonist of my forthcoming mystery--you know, Skeleton in a Dead Space, that book I've talked incessantly about--is Kelly O'Connell, a realtor and single mother in the Fairmount neighborhood of Fort Worth. So one I thing I figure is that potential (possible?) readers should be familiar with Kelly's neighborhood, because it becomes almost another character in the book. I talked about it in my last post and about my picture-taking excursion with Polly Hooper. Actually, that's a misnomer--Polly took pictures; I sat in the car and watched. But here's Kelly's neighborhood--and what I think are some terrific pictures!
Wouldn't you want to live in that neighborhood? And solve any murders that intruded on the peacefulness of it?
These pictures will be on that new website, if I ever get the @#$%&* thing up and running.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Fun on a Saturday

Have I mentioned that my mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, will be published in late August? Actually, I think I've mentioned it twenty-eleven times because I'm excited about it. But one marketing project I'm undertaking in preparation is building a new web page, featuring the book. Confession: I submitted my current web page for appraisal (a site called 1st Turning Point evaluates websites). Mine did not fare well--it is hopelessly inadequate and outdated. The picture of me was taken when my kids were in college and since they are now in their forties or rapidly approaching them, that makes it pretty outdated. Another criticism was the lack of links to buy my books--but most of them are now out of print. Dated again!
So I'm building a new page, and the home page will feature the neighborhood in which the mystery is set. Kelly, the protagonist, lives in Fairmount--a historic neighborhood just blocks from me. As a matter of fact, Kelly and I frequent several of the same restaurants, her children attend the school across the street from me--yeah, I really did what they mean when they say write about what you know.
But Fairmount, for those of you not from Fort Worth, is a fascinating inner city neighbhorhood that in the last twenty years or so has undergone great revitalization. It's charming houses have been bought by young people who've updated them while preserving the early 1920s style, and the neighborhood is valued for its location close to downtown. More and more restaurants have flourished, bringing activity to the area. You still occasionally see a rundown house with broken sidewalk and discarded dishwasher on the front porch next to a nicely redone house with a lovely, well cared for garden. But it's getting more rare. Fairmount recently placed first in the Social Revitalization/Neighborliness category of the National 2011 Neighborhood of the Year Awards, for its community garden.
This morning Polly, one of my memoir writers and a talented photographer (responsible for my photo on this blog), and I went about the neighborhood in my VW convertible. We started with the top down, but I soon decided we were getting to sunburned. She photographed the steps of Lily B. Clayton, the school; the Old Neighborhood Grill; Chadra (a restaurant), Nonna Tata (another restaurant), a small office building on Magnolia that looks to me like where Kelly would have her office, and several rows of houses, an individual Craftsman house, and a garden that caught my eye because of the profuse Rose of Sharon. And, finally, a street sign with the Fairmount Neighborhood designation above it. I told Polly if anyone came out and demanded to know why she was taking a picture of their house, I'd just drive away and leave her. But we had fun and a good visit, and she says she got some good shots.
Afterwards we came back to my house, where Polly's husband Mike met us, and we had an early brunch of smoked salmon and cream cheese, and a curried egg anchovy spread I'd made--with, of course, a little white wine to wash it down. And with a lot of good conversation.
This evening Jacob is here. Jay and Susan came for a drink, and I re-served the lunch food, plus we had a spinach/feta dip they'd bought and I decined some wasabi peas--not like me, because I really like wasabi. Poor Jacob really wanted attention, and all he was told was, "I'm relaxing" or "I'm visiting with adults." For supper, I'd bought a rotisseried chicken at the market, but Jacob refused it--I think it was all those green herbs on the skin. He ate broccoli and fruit, lots of fruit. Tonight he told me, in almost simultaneous breaths, that I was the best Juju ever and I was the meanest grandmother ever.
A satisfying Saturday.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Pomp, Circumstance, and pre-school?

I've been to two graduations in the last week. The first was Jacob's pre-school graduation, crowded with proud parents and grandparents. The kids were adorable of course, sang a couple of songs in which they sounded like the children's choir at church. But they marched in to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." I don't think it made much impression on five-year-olds and they soon went to devour cake.
This morning I went with former neighbor Sue to see her son Hunter graduate from 5th grade at Lilly B. Clayton, the school across the street from my house and the one Jacob will attend starting next Tuesday. This was a much more rehearsed affair--Hunter said they practiced over and over and over and over. But, yes, they marched in to "Pomp and Circumstance." One blessing: when they sang "Clayton, my Clayton" it was to the tune of "Texas, My Texas." The musical selections were lively and well done, the awards endless--almost every child earned either the honor roll, attendance record or good citizenship. My heart ached for those who had no such accolades after their names were called. I guess we make our own beds, even in elementary school. Sue cried, as this is her last child to graduate from this school that has been such a loving, warm home for them, and I failed at my mission--didn't bring Kleenex. But I was glad to be there for support.
The thing about "Pomp and Circumstance" is that Kenwood Elementary School in Chicago ruined it for me. they put words to it, and to this day when I hear those familiar strains, my mind goes, "Goodbye to you, Kenwood/We will remember your name/For you've led us onward/To the halls of fame." If there's more, I can't remember it, but that's enough--migosh, it's been, what? sixty-some years? My mom had the same problem, only it always made her laugh. Even when I got a Ph.D.
This afternoon, I guess I was worn out by graduation and errands but my dog and cat and I slept for over two hours, so soundly that I awoke comletely disoriented--5:30? Morning? Evening? What day? I had no idea. Even wondered if I was still in Scotland but pretty quickly ruled that out. When I figured out the whole thing, I lay in delicious comfort until six, enjoying drowsiness and the quiet closeness of the animals--felt like a family.
When my children were at home, I used to buy cube steaks--those inexpensive cuts that have been tenderized. Haven't done that in years, but I saw a small one in the market today. Brought it home and cooked it the way I always had--cut in strips, flour, salt and pepper liberally, give it a fairly quick saute, and squeeze lemon juice over it before serving. While that was going on I roasted some cauliflower (which may be my new favorite vegetable after years of ignoring it) with olive oil, salt and papper. Delicious to slop the cauliflower in the leftover lemon/beef juice. I buy just a handful of cauliflower flowerets for me, but I may start buying broccoflower to get the green benefit. Only thing I missed tonight was the green vegetable.
I may have told this story before, but I inherited from my mom a firm conviction that  you should have something green, preferably dark green, at every meal. I don't always do it, but it's there. One time, a man I was dating ordered chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes with gravy for lunch. I looked at his plate in horror and said, "You don't have anything green!" He rolled his eyes and said, "Once a mother, always a mother." You know, I miss that man yet.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The puppy that wasn't meant for me

I've been noticing that Scooby, my now twelve-and-a-half-year-old Aussie (if my math is right), mostly sleeps day and night, especially if he's outside and it's hot. Inside, with me for company, he's more alert, but I think he's bored, and I've decided he needs a buddy. He may not agree, but we'll see. I found some adorable pups on the humane society web page and off I went to see them--with Sue, who had gone with me to "interview" a collie for my friend Gayla (Gayla now adores that dog!). These pups were seven weeks old, a Shih Tzu/terrier mix, and the one featured in the photo looked more much Shih Tzu than terrier. To my amazement--and Sue's expectations--there were several other people waiting to see the pups. We filled out applications and three of us all decided we wanted Marcie, the little one whose picture drew me in. The woman in charge drew names out of a hat--literally--and to my relief, I didn't get the dog. She was so tiny! And she had so much training ahead of her. I couldn't have left her out in the yard or anything. The other three pups were more wiry and terrier-like--they didn't call out to me like Marcie did. So we left puppyless.
My official line is that I'm waiting for the Lord to put the right dog in front of me--and believe me, I'll know when it's the right dog. But I admit I'm helping a little by surfing the web, making some inquiries, etc. Scoob meanwhile is lying on the floor looking at me as if to ask, "What are you up to?"
Meanwhile, there's Wywy the cat. I tried--twice--this evening to give him an infusion and really did better than before, but one time I didn't have the cat low enough below the IV bag. I'm honestly not sure how much liquid I got into him, but I tried. And now the bag is empty. I'll get refills and try again next week.
I've also spent much of this afternoon and evening fighting with Google, trying to build a new web-page. So far, Google has won. Upshot is I have two new sites established, and I'd like to delete both of them but can't figure out how. I'll keep working--or maybe shove the whole thing and try a new host. Google doesn't seem to have any support at the other end of the phone and, for me, that's a real handicap.
My horoscope says something about my intense personal magnetism today--between dogs, cats, and Google, it doesn't seem to be working.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Scotland, the last morning

Not much to say about day eight. There’s only so much to be said about a hour-plus connecting flight and then a ten-hour one that turned into eleven hours. But I did have an interesting breakfast.
Black pudding had danced before my eyes on all sorts of menus all week—lunch, dinner, often combined with steak or lamb in a chef-oriented entrĂ©e. I knew I had to taste it before I left, and I resolved to do so that last morning. I thought it was pudding like maybe tapioca, so I asked our host, David, if I could have just a teaspoonful. Well, it didn’t come that way—it was a coarse-textured and very black pattie, like I remember my mom cutting off cans of corned beef hash. I ate my sausage and eyed that pattie. Finally I took a bite: it tasted like oatmeal, maybe a bit saltier, maybe a bit sweeter. I asked David the point of adding the dried pigs blood, and he said he supposed it was simply to make use of every part of the animal. (I must learn to take pictures of food!) I did eat almost all of it, I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t miss it much since it’s not available here.
There is one airplane story on what seemed an interminable flight: a friend who is a wellness counselor had given me a sheet of exercises that you can do in your seat to avoid deep vein thrombosis. They involved turning your feet in small circles, walking in place while sitting, stretching your arms various ways, etc. I did them rather faithfully, and the kids thought it was funny to imitate me, especially when we were sitting in exit aisles and had plenty of leg room. They would swing their feet and legs in wide circles, grinning at me all the time. Passersby—and the attendants—must have thought we were all nuts.
We landed in Houston at 8:40--I don't even want to think about what time that was in Scotland--and Megan caught a flight (barely) to Austin; Colin and I went to his house, and everyone crashed. Next morning I was on a 9:00 a.m. flight to DFW and home before noon. The trip was over before I knew it.
In this series of posts I have referred to my son and daughter, ages 42 and 40 respectively, as “the kids.” They are; they will always be my children. But they are the best traveling companions (and guardians) ever.
If you’ve enjoyed my posts on Scotland, I’m grateful. Writing them was a great way to cement the trip in my mind, just as it feels as if it might flit away in the dailyness of life. It also helped me gain some perspective on all that we saw and did. I surely haven’t seen all of Scotland, let alone a sixteenth of its many castles. I’m glad we went at the pace we did and saw as much as we could. But on another trip—yes, now I’m counting on it—I’d like to stay in one place for several days, probably on Skye.