Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saga of a grandmother--and a neat recipe

It's been a while since I cooked a big dinner on a weeknight for family and then got a six-year-old ready for bed, with full directions on what to do the next three mornings. But Jacob is with me for three nights--his parents are off to Mexico to celebrate his father's big 40 birthday. I will send him to day camp (right across the street from me) tomorrow and Thursday, with full instructions about packing lunches, what time he has to be there, all that good stuff. Sheesh! You'd think I've never done this before. Friday, his paternal grandparents will take him for the weekend. I'm actually excited about having him for three days and have arranged a full social schedule--tomorrow night I'll fix spaghetti for friends (much younger) who have a four-year-old who Jacob adores. And an 18-month old, which means we have to clean up all the tiny Leggos, etc. Thursday night my good friend and Jacob's Aunt Betty will come by and we'll go out for dinner. Jacob has chosen Mexican. But that night we also have to pack, bathe, etc.
I don't use the crockpot as much as I should but early (really early!) this morning I followed a recipe (which turned out to be more complicated than I thought) and put pork chops on to cook all day. A trick I learned: when they're through cooking, strain the broth off and put the solid things (minus bay leaves but mostly sliced onion) in the blender and puree. Then add to the broth and thicken with cornstarch. The onions gave the gravy a sweet taste. Had lots left over so I froze it for a soup base this winter.
But I also fixed Louella's Rice, of which Christian ate three helpings and declared he'd rather have that than birthday cake. Simplest recipe in the world. Mix:
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup minute rice
1 cup sour cream
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 4 oz. can green chiles
Bake @ 350 until bubbly
In between all those chores, I had breakfast with a friend, wrote 2,000 words, did my yoga routine, partially carried a 55 lb. dog up and down the two steps to the yard twice--and got a much-needed nap. What happened to the simple life, living alone and peacefully writing?
I am worried about Scooby. He keeps his balance pretty well in the back yard because he can get traction on the ground. But his legs splay out on my hardwood floors, and I have to hoist his back end up. And he is terrified of those steps--begins to shake when he gets near them. It's a week and a half since his "incident" and they tell me it will get better. He is better, but not nearly as much as I'd hoped. Yet obviously tonight, he wanted to come in--did not want to be left out. And he plays with the little dog when he's outside. Not ready to call it quits.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Political humor--or is it?

I'm having a hard time reconciling my sense of respect and my sense of humor. I have a great deal of respect for Barack Obama, both as President and a man. I have a friend who says adamantly he respects the office but not the man. I was about to argue, when I realized that's exactly how I feel about George W. Bush. I understand he's a nice guy--genial, laid-back, good company. In fact, that was my impression when I shook hands with him during his governor days. Laura Bush was crisply efficient, well dressed, properly cordial; he looked like he'd grabbed that plaid shirt out of the dryer, and when he offered his hand it was with almost sheepish duck of the head. But his presidency ruined any leeeway I was about to give him.
Now we have Mitt Romney, and I would like to respect the man. Anyone who puts himself out there to run for president deserves respect. But his increasing gaffes make it hard, especially after his tour abroad. The hardest thing for me, however, is that some of the cartoons and comments on Facebook are so darned hysterical, I can't help laughing out loud. I try to follow with common sense. I don't take seriously much from the page, "I love it when I wake up and Obama is president." I do take seriously a column from somone like Paul Krugman. But even the stuff from the "Dogs Against Romney" page is funny, though Seamus' trip on the roof of the car is now a stale joke. The slogan, "Mitt the Twit" is almost irresistible, and I love "Mittens" as a nickname--it has such a dimunitive quality about it.Then there's the picture of Queen Elizabeth, looking stern as only she can, with bubble words, "I am getting quite tired of you, Mr. Romney." Never happened, but the idea is great. Or Jay Leno's comment that the reason Romney is having a hard time picking a v-p candidate is that he's never hired from within this country before. Or the picture of the Obamas at a casual supper somewhere on the campaign trail--they're laughing naturally, heartily and you almost want to laugh with them. But the bubble words say, "And he wanted an apology!" You know that's not what they're laughing about, but it's still funny. I don't repost those things unless I just can't help myself.
But you know what? I don't see Governor Romney laughing much if at all. A tight, forced smile, yes; genuine laughter, no. Maybe someone should tell him that a new study indicates that being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of a healthy personality and sense of humor. Or should we tell him laughter is the best medicine?
In the long run, maybe the most apt saying is "He laughs best who laughs last."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Scooby's home!

Sophie welcomes Scooby home. Well, she had to check, didn't she?
This morning my neighbor, Greg, went with me to pick up Scooby at the vet, and I was grateful for his help. Scoob is much better but had to be lifted into the car. His back legs give out all the time, though he is now walking. When he's not nervous or excited, he does pretty well. The vet tech said he's learned the trick of people with poor balance--walk close to a wall. I laughed and said I do that all the time. When I repeated that story to my friend Jeannie, she said she had this vision of Scooby and me going single file next to a wall.
The truth is not so funny. Scooby is on his way to recovery, and the vet tells me he will continue to get better. But he's far from there. He falls a lot. When I put his food out, he fell and rolled over just taking the one step down from his doghouse. When I wanted to bring him in, I tried to help, but he avoided me and made it down the step but was clearly afraid to try the steps into the house. When he finally came close enough for me to put a leash on him, he went up the steps willingly--and went splat in the doorway. I soothed and petted and said, "Hey, you did it. That's what matters." He fell four or five times between the back door and his bed, and I had to lean down and hoist his back end up--hardwood floors are clearly not easy for him.
He is disoriented and acts for all the world like he's had a stroke, but they assure me it's an inner ear thing--the second bout he's had. The vet says he may never have another one, but just in case I'm loaded with tranquilizers, anti-nausea pills, and anti-motion sickness pills. If it happens on a weekend, my hope is to nurse him through until my vet is open--no more emergency clinic, though I'm grateful for their care. It was, however, the most expensive care ever--12 hours cost over three times what five days of boarding at the regular vet did. And more important my vet knows the history and the dog. I am so grateful to University Animal Hospital.
Sophie is glad to have her buddy home again, but I think she knows he's fragile. I didn't see her jump on his back end one time--her favorite way to get him to play with her--and she didn't bark at him the way she often does to taunt him.
In time we'll be back to normal, but it will take a while. 100+ temperatures this week won't help. But I'm optimistic and grateful.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I am getting old--and a book and a video to recommend

Yesterday I had a surprise visit from a girl who had lived with us during her senior year in high school. Her family, longtime friends, were moving out of town, and she didn't want to change schools. Imagine my shock when she told me she's fifty-four years old, with two children in their late twenties. Her baby sister Jennifer, whom I never knew as well, was with her. Something came up about a school both my Megan and Jennifer had attended, but I added, "She's lots older than you." Jennifer, it turns out, is four years older than Megan, has three children, one of whom is married. Clearly the world has gotten away from me.
Jeanine, the older girl, and I had a good time reminiscing about her year with us. I was flattered when she told me that because she lived with me she eats lots of things she never otherwise would--like tongue. Good heavens! I'm the only adult I know who deliberately orders and enjoys tongue--good for her. One story we laughed over had to do with the single pediatrician who routinely appeared in our driveay at dinner time--he knew a place for him would appear at the table. One night, Jeanine fumed, "Does he always have to come on the night we're having salmon croquettes?" She was still fuming about it, in a good-hearted way, yesterday, when she said, "He ate all what would have been the leftovers, and I loved making them into sandwiches the next day." Spurred me on--I'm going ot fix croquettes this weekend.
They only stayed fifteen or twenty minutes--just passing through on their way to San Antonio but headed most immediately to Uncle Julio's because Jennifer wanted the real "sofa pillow" sopapillas, not those semi-flat huge things most Mexican restaurants serve these days. Such glimpses of the past, with all its good times, are to be treasured. They make you forget some of the bad times.
Want a good, light weekend romance? Read Ruth Hartman's  Grin and Barrett, about two dentists wanting the same office location. Their  battle takes a different turn when sparks of a romantic kind fly. Praised as sassy and funny, the book has been described as a good old-fashioned romance and a delightful read. Find it on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/d8roznx. Grin & Barrett
Author Julie Doner took a full year Dance and Social Justice course at Brock University, during which she, along with six other untrained dancers, created a movement piece using violence against women as their stimulus. It's been posted on youtube, and I would encourage you all to take a moment and watch it, and share it with other women in your lives. Some of the statistics are pretty haunting.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yoga in two parts

Yesterdy morning I did about half my yoga routine and had to stop, for reasons totally unrelated to yoga. I finally finished the routine about six last night, and I'm wondering if a divided routine does you as much good as a complete one. But that's sort of how my week has gone.
Monday is usually my stay-at-home-and-get-lots-done day, but this Monday I was out the door early to transfer Scooby to his own vet--not only did it take a chunk of time, it set a less-than-efficient tone for my day. Scooby is still dozing and snoozing--eating, drinking, peeing and pooping but he has to be carried to the appropriate place for the last two, although he does stand to do them. No way I can carry a 55 lb. dog up and down even the two stairs to the backyard. I went to see him last night, and he struggled to get up for me, so maybe visiting is not a good idea, though I did stay and love on him. They say sometimes it takes a week for the disorientation to go away--much as I love Scooby, dollar signs are swimming in my brain.
Then Tuesday and Wednesday were routine doctor appointments for me (if you can ever call having your eyes dilated routine!). Both were just checkups, but they broke the rhythm of my days.
And then there were pleasant dinners with friends, occasions I wouldn't miss though once again they took me from my computer. I'm not sure I can justify calling myself a writer.
Finally yesterday I got to stay home all afternoon and evening at my desk--editing someone else's manuscript. Years ago when I started editing, I marked up hard copy, sent it to the author, whose responsibility it was to create a new manuscript incorporating my suggestions and return it. I had to compare the two versions, make sure no new errors crept in next to the corrections--that happened a lot. Well, today we have "Track Changes" which makes it so much easier--and so much harder. I am forever getting tangled up in that program--deleting things I don't mean to, creating little blue "fix this" lines that are unfixable as far as I can tell. This time, somehow I lost all the formatting on the manuscript. Fortunately the managing editor of Turquoise Morning Pres is a lot smarter than I am and could tell me what to do. Now, I hope, I'm on the home stretch--and a bonus: I've learned to make marginal comments.
I'm itching to finish this manuscript--but first there's the post office, the bank, the cleaners, early voting, and lunch with a friend. Sigh. But I've done my yoga.
I'm a writer--honest, I am!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dogs and Men

Jacob and Sophie
My wonderful birthday weekend included a two-day visit to my younger son's new home and special time with his famly amd ended with a lovely gathering at my house, of neighbors and people I care about, put together by Jordan and my neighbor Jay (who baked a scrumptious cake). We were also celebrating his wife, Susan's birthday. So I was surrounded by wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
But it ended on a sour note after everyone but Jay and Susan and her dad had left. I went to put my dogs out--they'd been in because of the heat--and my big dog couldn't stand. His back legs kept splaying out from under him. Jay carried him outside, by which time the poor dog was shaking visibly. Long story short, Jay and I, with Scooby, ended up at the emergency animal care clinic about 8:45. Their probable diagnosis was toxicity--he'd gotten hold of something. I couldn't believe that but we waited for blood work results, which eventually were all good--no organs damaged. While we waited, Jay lay on the floor and loved on Scooby who finally began demanding affection and kissing him lavishly. Jay is what I call "a dog person," and it clearly showed last night--he really cared about Scooby. Meanwhile Jay also joked, poked fun at me, and was, in a word, outrageous. When the doctor came in with lab results, Jay was on the floor demonstrating a yoga pose. We left the dog to be "stabilized" with fluids, lasix, steroids, etc. On the way home, I said to Jay that I knew he kept cutting up to keep me from dissolving in a puddle, and he admitted there was usually a method to his madness. But I can't say enough for his kindness and attentiveness--I offered to go in my car so he didn't have to wait, but he wouldn't hear of it. He was right, of course, that I was on the verge of tears, and he steered me in a better direction. Other than loyal and loving children, there's nothing better than a good neighbor, and I am fortunate.
This morning I got Scooby from the emergency clinic--he was a bit better--and took him to my vet, who says he thinks it's a recurrence of his idiopathic vestiubular disease (it's like meuniere's disease in humans) and we'd just have to let him lie low for a couple of days. So Scooby is snoozing away at the vet's, and I am encouraged. He's an old dog, and I know one day one of these episodes will be the last, but he'd been enjoying life so much I couldn't face it last night. Another neighbor, Greg, had just commented Friday that Sophie, the little dog, has added years to Scooby's life. Friday the two of them were playing and  mock growling all around Greg's feet while he was trimming bushes. Nope, that dog isn't ready to go--and I'm not ready to lose him.
Today I felt the hangover of the trauma. It had even been an act of something on my part to transfer Scooby from vet to vet alone, so I was wiped out and not much good at anything. Sophie, bless her, put the icing on the cake this afternoon. I went to bring her in for her mid-day meal and a nap while it was hot, but she wouldn't come and obviously had something in her mouth she didn't want to relinquish. Finally she darted in the open door and made a beeline for the study, where I could corner her. But if I went to one side of the desk, she scooted under it to the other--and so it went. We were at a stalemate, in spite of my stern commands to "Drop it!" She finally did, and a pitiful baby bird gave a weak flutter. I put Sophie in her crate, gathered a handful of paper towels and disposed of the bird, and decided I really really needed a nap.
Tomorrow, I'm certain, will be a better day--and maybe I'll get some work done. But meantime, I entered into another senior year with great joy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Writing: and the angst goes on

I am 30,000 words into my work-in-progress, but the remaining 40,000 loom before me like a great chasm. I'm not sure who's behind all the bad stuff that's going on in the novel, and I've got one character who is so enigmatic I don't know if she's one of the good guys or bad, a victim, a martyr, or--maybe--a heroine. Hey, I like that idea. Kelly seems to be waiting for things to happen, but she has to be pro-active if she's to be the protagonist. I have scads of notes, but no outline--that's not my style. My mentor/beta reader/good friend/whatever-he-is has read the first 10,000 words--I gave them to him when I was desperate, but now I've moved on beyond that, changed a major plot element, and made lots of other changes. We're to have lunch next week, and he'll give me his comments--always sharp and incisive, written out so that I can study them. But it's changed so much I now think I was hasty--or panicked--in giving the first bit to him. I keep remembering the words of a fellow mystery writer that the point of a first draft is simply to get to the end.
Last night I read sixty fives pages of Polly Iyer's Murder Deja Vu. (A note of explanation: Polly is a friend; I've never met her, but she's a fellow member of Sisters in Crime and fairly active on the Guppies sub-list; we've exchanged Facebook comments, and I definitely feel she's a friend.) The tension in the opening pages of this novel was terrific, and I was mesmerized, only put it down because I knew I had to be up early. The story has a much harder edge than what I write, and for a few minutes I beat myself up because I don't write like that. But then I explained to myself, with fair success, that each of us write what we write, the way we do it. I suspect it has something to do with the way we see the world. That may make me a Pollyanna type, but so be it. I started out as a  young-adult author way back when and later so tired of agents reading adult manuscripts and telling me they thought they were for the y/a audience. But another friend, commenting on a post on "Judy's Stew" wrote "You made me care about your characters, so you are doing something right. Buck up!" So I will.
But not tonight and not this weekend. I'm taking a brief holiday. Sunday is my birthday, and I'll spend the weeked surrounded by family and friends. I'll read a lot, while grandchildren swim, and put all thoughts of Kelly O'Connell and her unsolved mystery out of my mind. Monday, when I get back to work, I will check the first round of edits on another author's manuscript that I'm editing. So maybe after a break, I'll go back with renewed enthusiasm.
The motto for all writers is, I suspect, "Persevere." There's a lot of advice out there, but that one word seems to sum it up.
Happy weekend everyone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The gathering storm

Recently I've read a couple of novels set during what Winston Churchill called the gathering storm in England--1939, with Hitler marching across Europe and Neville Chamberlain believing that appeasement would work. Give them Sudentenland, and they'll leave England alone, a policy which Churchill loudly denounced. The first novel, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal, opened my eyes to the situation in England. With the German threat hanging over the country, the IRA was determined to do the German's work for them--bring England to its knees by bombing railroad stations and the like. Their intricate plots were completely separate from Germany and Hitler. And there was great resentment of the US for not entering the fray.This novel is basically a cozy mystery and while I enjoyed the plot, I was much more interested in the historical background, which did include blitzes and quite a few scenes with Churchill. One thread is the limited opportunities for women--Maggie Hope graduated at the top of her class from a prestigious American women's university and is as well trained as England's sharpest intelligence minds, but she is only qualified to be a typist. By a fluke, she becomes the one to take Churchill's dictation and eventually has an opportunity to use her considerable intelligence skills.
The second book, which I just finished, is more of a puzzle. It's Francine Matthews' Jack 1939, set a bit earlier in 1939, before Germany took Poland and began bombing London. Jack is twenty-two-year-old JFK suffering from a severe but undiagnosed illness (probably the Bright's disease later diagnosed). He goes to England, where Joe Kennedy is America's ambassador, to wander Europe doing research for his senior thesis at Harvard, using a diplomatic passport.
This is a suspene thriller in every sense of the term. We know the hero--Jack, who is is sick all the time, often feverish, unable to hold food down, medicating himself, thin and frail. We know the heroine if there is one--Diana Playfair (I looked on Google and she doesn't seem to be a historical character). We know the villains--Reinhard Heydrich, the obbergruppenfuhrer, chief of Hitler's main security office and a thoroughly merciless man (historical figure) along with Hans Obst (apparently fictional), an equally merciless killer skiled with a knife. And we know the prize--an address book listing those who donated to the Sisters of Clemency, a charity which funneled funds to aid the Nazis in defeating Roosevelt in the American election--a list which includes Joe Kennedy. (Complicated enough for you?) Most of the above is historical but what bothered me in this novel was sorting the historical from the fictional, some of which seems improbable. Jack skitters across Europe, Obst at his heels, passing through checkpoints and closed borders and escaping death by a hair's breadth. Suspense at its best but, to me, bothersome. Jack does go from wanting to get the address book to save the famly reputation to wanting to get it for the cause of America--a touch of Camelot to come?
Joe Kennedy is as you would expect--authoritarian, dictatorial, self-centered. Rose, whom I always greatly admired, comes across as less admirable--a social-climbing, self-centered, self-indulgent woman who is distant from her children, even when Jack may be dying. Jack is not much of a surprise--intelligent, foolhardy, an eye for the skirts, enjoying a good drink. But then, he expected to die at any time anyway--why not in an adventure rather than a hospital bed? It's hard to give up Camelot.
But these books have piqued my interest in the pre-WWII years, and I want to read more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A public apology and a bit of angst

My oldest son, Colin, has demanded a public apology. For years, I've been using low-fat products--cake mixes, sour cream, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, you name it--over his loud objections. When he still lived at home, I would hide the packaging from him whenever possible. Lately I've begun to suspect low-fat is not what it's cracked up to be, and I've heard that when they take the fat out they put more carbs in. Self defeating for watching your weight. Then, on Facebook, I saw a quote that really caught my attention (forgive the language--it's not mine): When you  see the word low-fat, think shit-storm of chemicals. Made sense to me, so I called Colin to apologize. He said he semi-accepted my apology but needed a full, public apology on Judy's Stew. So here you have it, my darling son!
This morning I woke up at five in full despair over the novel I'm working on. It is going nowhere; it's a bunch of strung together episdoes; it has way too much dialogue and not enough action (ever a danger in first-person narration). Maybe I should abandon it--this is my second try at the fourth Kelly O'Connell novel, and I still have the aborted first attempt. I went back to sleep and woke at six-forty-five, feeling much better about the world and my manuscript, with a plan in mind. I'd read what I have, looking for holes, places I could embellish, things I needed to cut out. Of course, first, there was a quick run to the grocery, Greg to do the yard, the dog groomer--excited about having the groomer come to the house so poor old Scooby doesn't have to scramble into the back of a VW bug.
Now I'm up to the beginning of Chapter Six--this was not a quick read-through but a careful consideration as well as proofing. You know what? It's not great literature, but it's not as bad as I feared. As my friend Fred advises, I 'll persevere.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Th value of trivia in blogs

A friend wrote me today, apparently after having read by blog last night. She said she enjoys  the informal blogs she follows, those that give a sense of people's daily lives. When she used to read newspaper columns, she felt she was being lectured to. Well that's all the encouragement I needed, so here goes a trivia, "what I did today" blog.
By three this afternoon, I had gotten my household running including watering porch plants--I think I am drowning two planters of cactus and vow to ignore them. I had been to the grocery and put away what I bought, created a kitchen garden, made ham salad, done my yoga, and written 2,000 words on the current novel. Yes, I  deserved a nap--and had a good one.
Elizabeth, my long-time friend, once student and now yoga guru, came for supper since her husband is at Comic Con in San Diego. I promised her eggs and bacon--instead I froze the bacon, and we had a green salad with lime/cilantro dressing and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, diced tomatoes, and chopped scallions--with white wine, of course. She brought some delicious mocha-chocolate morsels made with coconut oil--and the coconut taste was pronounced. So good! We had a good visit talking about everything from the effect of attitude on health to a cat that is peeing on her bed. Didn't solve the world's problems, but as she said, "We could, if anyone would listen to us." As she left, she said, "It's never just bacon and eggs at your house."
I've thought a lot about the way parents schedule children this weekend. Jordan is out of town on business (Jamaica, poor girl) so Christian is the single parent, and Jacob had a busy social schedule. What ended up being a play date last night, a birthday party this afternoon, and a play date from 6:30 to 8:30 this evening. Tomorrow he has a birthday party at 11:00--don't know what those parents were thinking. That's church time. Since Christian won't be meeting me at church, I'm going to stay home and pickle some veggies--but I'll go to church via the radio. But poor Christian--not a moment to call his own. I'm of the school that kids should be left on their own, and that's what I often do with Jacob. Problem is, when left on his own, he plants himself in front of the TV. I'm seriously thinking of rationing it. It's not a problem this summer, because he's not here much. But in the fall when school starts and he's here every afternoon, I'm going to make some rules. Hmmm--haven't thought of what the rules are though.
Meanwhile Christian is going to bring us supper from Maid-Rite tomorrow night. Looking forward to that pork tenderloin sandwich.
Now I'm going back to the book I"m reading: Jack 1939. It's based on the fictional premise that FDR made a young JFK his spy in Europe as Hitler was trying to buy the U.S. election and defeat FDR.  JFK had a diplomatic passport because his father was Ambassador to England--and a Hitler sympathizer. Wish I knew more about the history of the era so I could tell if this is far-fetched or not.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Blogging and writing

I've been blogging for six years now, almost to the day. Sometimes I find it addictive, like having someone to talk with about the things I find important. But many days, I feel my blog lapses into trivia, sort of "what I did today." A flattering email from the director of a small academic press, suggesting a book of blogs, sent me to looking at some back blogs. I knew the one I did just this week on religion and politics had legs, even if controversial--some people think I should just shut up. But I found others with substance, and the idea began to take shape. I asked if he meant to include my food blog, Potluck with Judy, and he kind of left it up to me. So I'm thinking a two-section collection, with some from each blog. It would take me forever to put that together, and it won't be tomorrow because I've honestly started writing--again--on that fourth Kelly O'Connell mystery.
I have a friend who is writing a memoir. She did everything she could to avoid working on it--laundry, cleaning house, washing windows (well, I don't know about that). Someone suggested she write a letter, "Dear World, I'm sorry I didn't write that book. I was busy doing the laundry." So she set aside two- or three-hour blocks of time, maybe once or twice a week, during which she would write--period. One day she wrote for a while and ran dry, but she was determined to sit there. So sit there she did, staring into space. Oh, it's so easy to give others advice. "Write through it," I said. "Just write, don't worry about what. Just put words on paper. You can edit later."
We never take our own advice. I've distracted myself with editing someone else's manuscript, blogging, writing guest posts for other people's blogs, e-mailing, and reading. But this week I'm back to it, and I'm trying to set a goal--2,000 words a day. If they are meaningless trivia, so be it. I sort of know how this novel is going to work out, but at 20,000 words the end seems so far away that I'm afraid to introduce some of those final elements--or even the building-tension ones--so early. Then what will I do? On the other hand, if I'd go ahead and do that, perhaps my characters would lead me in other directions, and I'd find it all works out.
I know writers who spend four, five, six hours a day at their computers--without even the distraction of e-mail. Would I were such a one. When people ask when I write, I say, "Whenever I can fit it in." That would be easier if I were reclusive by nature, but I'm not. I usually spend Mondays at home all day, so by Tuesday I'm ready for social life. This week I've had lunch with friends two days, happy hour one night (on my porch), and supper out three--if you count tonight when I went to Jordan's potluck (which she had left Christian to host while she went to Jamaica on business). Pizza was the order of the day, so I took an appetizer, had a glass of wine and visited, and came home for my own supper of smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato--and raspberries and chocolate for dessert. But tomorrow night a friend is coming for supper, and Sunday, Christian, Jacob, and I will eat together.
And then there's the domestic side: I love to cook. So sometime this weekend, I want to pickle some vegetables. That definitely did not intrigue Christian, who is not a vegetable person. But I bought broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, summer squash, and green beans today--plus a cucumber to refresh my stock of marinaed cucumbers. For the others, I think I'll sprinkle in a bit of pimiento just for color (I'm not a fan, but I do like pimiento cheese, especially Palmetto) and instead of pickling spices, I'll use Italian herbs.
I won't even mention reading. But I think it was Stephen King who said if you don't have time to read, you don't have time or the ability to write--something to that effect.
I am reminded of Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird. Every writer should read it--to me the basic advice is to put one word after the other, though I also value her thought that we should worry about character not plot. Wonder if I could find that on my bookshelves to give to my memoir-writing friend.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Religion and Politics: My Take

Religion and politics are the two topics that are verboten on the internet. I have guest-posted at several blogs where the instructions were, "Write about anything you want except religion and politics."
I don't blog or post on Facebook about religion, though I'm glad to share my faith if asked. I feel no need to defend it, because it's not threatened. If your beliefs are polar opposite mine, you worship your way, and I'll worship mine. I know that is not true in all countries; it's one of the blessings of America.
But politics is another matter. What happens on the national political front directly affects me and impacts the future of my children and grandchildren. Friends and family have chided me for being too outspoken on Facebook--if you follow my posts, you know that I lean to the left, far left some say. I prefer to call it humanitarianism. A colleague wrote that he tries to tone down his political posts but sometimes he's too outraged. I'm outraged a lot about everything from Mitt Romney's off-shore accounts to Rick Perry's rejection of Federal aid in the state that ranks lowest in health care delivery, about Mitch McConnell's avowed goal of defeating President Obama no matter the cost to the country, about the so-called war on women, about the fact that too many Americans are suffering physicially, financially, and emotionally.
I try to be responsible about what I post, to authenticate the source. There are some posts I won't share because I think they're propoganda, although some of those pieces are so bitingly funny I occasionally lapse. And I try to be judicious and not flood followers with political posts--I can flood them with dog pictures. But I'm also aware of the dangers of an apathetic body of voters. I'm reading novels set in England in 1939 right now, and I'm reminded that many Germans kept quiet while Nazism took over their country, kept quiet during the Holacaust. In England, Winston Churchill and his sense of the inevitability of war were unpopular--people wanted to believe Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy would work. It didn't. So I would urge people to speak out.
My faith dictates my politics. Because of my faith, I'm opposed to capital punishment; I believe health care should be available to everyone; I think all people deserve equal opportunity in this country. I take to heart the words, "You are your brother's keeper." I can't believe the Lord meant us to value wealth over human kindness, so I'm outraged a lot.
If my post has outraged you, hurray! I've made you think. My colleague mentioned above is a teacher, and he says his goal is to make students think, not necessarily as he does (he leans left too) but to think criticially.
Friends have told me I will change no one's mind on Facebook, but you know what? I don't believe that. I post a lot of pictures of healthy dogs about to be euthanized just because an animal shelter has run out of room. I know of one dog  for sure who found a happy home because of my sharing his picture. I think it can happen in politics too. At least maybe I can make someone think.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A taste of Iowa

I went to a small liberal arts college in a small Iowa farm town for two years. It definitely was not a match for a city girl from the South Side of Chicago who was madly in love with an "older" medical student back home. My mom claimed my girlfriend, Barbara, and I chose that school because the recruiter who visited our high school was young and very good-looking. Probably so. But I didn't like Iowa, didn't like 3.2 beer--we weren't allowed to drink anyway. When you signed in from a date at night, a monitor asked if you had a good time, putting her face close enough to yours to smell your breath. I never felt comfortable with the social life, though Barbara loved it and has gone back to reunions. I guess I got a good enough education, although when I transferred to the University of Chicago as a junior, they made me take freshman English because I had "passed out" of it at the college and taken a substitute course in Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams. It was a fascinating experience that I recall with intellectual fondness--whatever that is. But Chicago deemed my writing skills inadequate--a nice irony since I've been a writer for almost forty years. Chicago also deemed me unable to qualify for an advanced degree based on my exit exams--another nice irony since I have a Ph.D.
All of that is beside the point, except to say that I carry good food memories of Iowa. In the basement cafeteria in a Cedar Rapids department store I learned to love a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise and blue cheese. I carried that idea home to my mom, who immediately adopted it. She used to pack a lunch for me when I was in school and working in Chicago, and she sometimes surprised me with that sandwich. I also remember visiting the Maytag cheese factory in Newton, Iowa--Mom and I were a bit dismayed that one of the workers dipped his bare arm into a vat of cheese to stir it. But later Mom used to send a wheel of Maytag blue cheese for Christmas, and it's the kind I buy to this day. I also remember visiting the Amana Colonies--a German self-sustaining commune--and encountering for the first time a family-style meal. The simple food--corn, green beans, potatoes, whatever--was served in bowls big enough to serve everyone at the table. A party of three? Didn't matter. You sat at a table for eight or ten and shared it with folks you'd never met. I loved it--and loved the plain, simple and oh-so-good food.
But what I've longed for ever since--and believe me, that's been a long time--is a good pork tenderloin sandwich. It may be that I remember those also from my time in the northeast corner of Missouri, but after all that borders on Iowa. Breaded pork tenderloin is served on a hamburger bun and to my memory the meat was always slightly peppery--and delicious.
I don't remember if we ate them at a Maid-Rite or not, but I read  recently in local food critic Bud Kennedy's column that Maid-Rite has come to the Fort Worth area and brought their iconic pork tenderloin sandwiches. My good friend Betty and I usually go to a nice restaurant once a week, but I'm tempted to suggest we get to-go food from Maid-Rite and bring it to my porch next week. I'll present it as a food adventure.
Maid-Rite is also the home of loose meat, which is just what the name says--ground meat not formed into a patty. In fact, that's their signature sandwich. Ground meat is sauteed with onion on a special grill so that the grease drains off and then piled on a hamburger bun. It depends on the franchise--some season the meat and some don't.
But me? I'm ordering the pork tenderloin sandwich. After all, where can you get dinner for $4.99. And then, maybe a giant shake to go with it. Hey, Maid-Rite, welcome to the Metroplex.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Thoughts on a power outage

Everyone should have one power outage a year. It makes you humble and renews your gratitude. The one at my house was not nearly as long or in such hot weather as folks in the D.C. area suffered through, and I felt like a wimp for whining.
Apparently our electric distributor, Oncor, had to deal with multiple outages after a brief but severe wind storm blew through Saturday afternoon. I had been napping and missed it, but when I went out around five to give the dogs fresh water (they were still napping inside) and fill the bird feeder, I noticed it was pretty windy and there were clumps of leaves scattered over the yard. When I went back inside, I wondered why the kitchen was so dark--the fluorescent soffit lights that I leave on day and night were out. Then I heard it--that stillness that only happens in a house without power. Not alarmed because I was sure it would be brief, I called the power company and was told it would be repaired by eight that night. Longer than I expected, but still okay.
I had company coming for supper, but a cold summer meal was already prepared and in the fridge. Serving it meant that we opened the fridge a lot more than I liked. And they didn't get the hot pita/feta bread I planned on making. We ate on the porch and all was well. But eight came and went. After they left, I stumbled around with a candle and/or flashlight, getting the dogs fed and inside for the night, getting my nightly toilette accomplished, and finally reading on my iPad which was mercifully charged. Not exactly happy but not miserable. I found myself conserving water (always a good thing) and then telling myself, "No, it's power, not water."
At 2 a.m. I sat up in bed and announced to the dogs, "I am officially miserable." At 7 a.m. I decided they would be cooler outside. I did the clean-up I'd ignored in the dark and packed a bag. As soon as it was a decent hour I called my daughter and asked if I could come shower and have breakfast. They were off to a swimming lesson for Jacob, but I let myself in. Thirty minutes later, when they returned, I was a new and clean person happily reading email. I stayed there until noon, playing Legos with Jacob and working on stuff on the iPad. I charged it, the phone, and, just in case, the Kindle. The power company said two o'clock.
Big thanks to Jordan, Jacob, and Christian for making me welcome, feeding me a huge brunch, and, to Jordan, for packing an ice-chest lunch for me. Things I learned: you cannot click on "Like" by an Amazon title on the iPad, nor can you share Facebook images. The iPad doesn't get Facebook or new email in a house with no power--therer is no internet connection. The phone did those things just fine.
At two o'clock, Oncor told my neighbor five o'clock and added the wounding comment, "There are only twenty-two of you." Did that make us less a priority? One square city block?
The power came on about four, and I reluctantly threw out chicken salad, curry sauce, ice cream and a few other things.My losses were not anywhere near as great as those of residents and businesses in the East. But it was still a miserable experience, and I was exhausted--from not sleeping well, from worrying about the food in the fridge and freezer, and from the tension of expecting the lights to pop on at any minute. I wandered around the house enjoying the sound of the a/c, eating a snack dinner of mostly veggies, and reading. Too tired to do any constructive work. The dogs and I slept well, and today I am grateful for a cool house with all my electronic gear working. And a bit humbled.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Summer Pleasures

One of my summer pleasures is driving home from my daughter's just before dark. It's about a twenty-minute drive, and I put the top down and blast out the Alex Beaton tape (see how old-fashioned I am? No CD player in my car!) of Scottish ballads. I go back  roads, through residential districts shaded by trees and then through the park. Lovely. No hat--don't care what my hair looks like.
Jordan has instituted a new tradition for the summer--Friday night potluck. Tonight between fifteen and twenty people in their late thirties and early forties--and me. I've known some of them since they were in high school, and I am so blessed that they always seem glad to see me, hug me, and start conversations. We talk about books, dogs, jobs, whatever. Pure pleasure. And the food is good.
Now I'm home, looking forward to spending much of tomorrow cooking. I seem to have an overcooking problem lately. I was to make Italian/cheese pinwheels (out of crescent rolls) for tonight--somehow I made them smaller than the directions but cooked them the same amount of time. They tasted okay but sure were crisp. I added a round loaf of Parmesan bread, which Rob told me was great--Rob is one I've known forever and he now works with Jamie.
Today I tried to make a curry sauce for a complicated chicken salad recipe I'll make tomorrow--and burned it. I've never been good at reduction sauces, I think becuase my patience quota is low, and this one has apricot jam in it, so in the process of reducing it, I scorched it. Threw it out and made it again late this afternoon, paying much closer attention to it while it reduced--at a lower heat.
Went to pick Jacob up at day camp midway through the sauce preparation--and he announced he didn't like the smell. I thought it was the curry sauce--which does linger even tonight when I came home. But it seems he thinks my car smells bad--we won't go into his description of the bad smell. 'Nough said.
I'm reading Susan Schreyer's Bushwhacked and ready to get back to it. Susan is one of my heroes--she got tired of the agent/traditional pubishing game and became a self-publisher. This is her fourth mystery, and I'm captivated by her characters and plots. We hear complaints all the time about the poor quality of unjuried self-publishing with no gatekeepr. Susan stands out as a shining example of the best of the new opportunities for writers.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Pet grammatical peeves

I read a lot of email every day, a lot of posts on various listservs for authors--and you'd be amazed at the grammatical mistakes in them. How do these people think they can write a book? Sure, some are typos--but not all. Below is a list I've gathered recently--and not all are from professional writers.

There is unbelievable confusion over lay and lie. "My dogs were laying next to me." No,they weren't! They were lying next to you. "Laying on the beach was a good idea." Wrong! Lying on the beach might be a good idea. You lay an object down; you yourself lie down. Honest, this distinction is pretty straightforward and can be learned.

Another error that I find all the time, even in pubolished books, is the dangling modifier: "Sitting on my patio, a lovely red cardinal flew by." How could he fly by if he was sitting on your patio? The writer meant, "While I was sitting on my patio, a lovely ....." Or, "Tall, dressed in baggy chinos and a work shirt, his long graying hair was tied in a ponytail." Hmmm. How do you get chinos and a work shirt on a ponytail? Seems to me if you would read this aloud, you'd see it makes no sense.

Your, for you're, as in "Your welcome," in response to thank you. Or this one I found the other day, "If your in to dogs..." You're in to dogs? What does "in to dogs" mean  anyway? Into dogs? as in liking them?

Hope for our countries future--that robs me of a lot of hope.

Site the owners for animal abuse, instead of cite.

"The dog was unable to be caught." Wow! Talk about passive voice. Was he trying hard to be caught and unable to do it How about, "We couldn't catch the dog"?

I'm sicken tired. OKay, I'm sick and tired of syntax problems.

Site the owners, instead of cite the owners--for abuse of an animal.

To cast shadows and dispersions on something.... Don't think you can cast dispersions, but maybe aspersions? Why don't people check these things? As you type these days, if you're not sure about a word, it's really easy to just google it and get a meaning.

And there's always the time that I spoke to my granddaughter's first grade class. Her mom and the teacher had arranged this, but that day there was a substitute. She introduced me by saying, "Maddie's grandmother is here because she has wrote some books." No wonder I see these errors pop up--kids hear that kind of incorrect language in their early years.

I'll keep collecting. I know the English language isn't easy, but these are so blatantly wrong that, for me, it's like a fingrnail scratching on a blackboard. I admit there's one I never get right myself: bad and badly.  I keep saying, "I feel badly for someone," and both my English prof friend and my daughter jump on me. I feel badly means you don't feel well, or your fingers can't feel the person well. You feel bad for someone. Oh, help--get me out of this.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Fourth of July

July_4th : happy 4th of July with an american flag weaving on a blue sky
I couldn't get a good picture of the flag at the foot of my driveway--not enough breeze--so this clip-art will have to do. It's about as celebratory as I got today. Even forgot--or got so wrapped up in what I was doing--to go out on the front porch and see the neighborhood parade head for the school across the street. But it's been a good lazy day--cleaned my desk of all sorts of odds and ends, wrote a book review blog I promised someone (the book was William Marsh Rice and His Institute, meaning Rice University--great story; he was murdered!),  filed some papers, whittled my "to do" pile down and cleared out the cooking magazines. All this is a way of saying I avoided work on the novel in progress.
Also got a nap and did my yoga routine. If you read yesterday's blog, you may remember I mentioned, cryptically, the piriformis muscle. My right hip has been sore off and on, especially in going up steps, althoiugh it's much better lately. But my yoga/wellness guru thinks it may be the piriformis muscle (a small muscle behind the gluts) and has given me exercies to strengthen and stretch it. So far, no hip pain.
Capped the day off with dinner with Sue, my former neighbor who calls me her Fort Worth mom. We headed for one spot but it was closed--a place I'd never been and was curious to try. Driving down Magnolia was like driving down a ghost street--eveything was closed. We came to one restaurant that was open--in a location I'd been to before in previous incarnations. I didn't even get the name this time, but it was Mexican, and I had great ground sirloin tacos, filled with fine fresh vegetables and a bit of cheese. Sue had paella which she said was good but oh so rich. We talked--and argued, as we always do. I said something about the difference between Bush and Obama, and she said, in her own forthrigt manner, "I think that's complete bullshit!" We have fun because, with a generation between us, we are a lot alike but oh so different--she's a lot tougher than I am. She says it's because she works for lawyers. I think it's just a personality difference. But tonight was lots of fun.
Rat race the rest of the week.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Fiction becomes reality--or is it the other way around

If I had something in mind to blog about tonight, it's gone--because I just got this wonderful cover for the third Kelly O'Connell Mystery, due out in August. Actually, I think I was going to blog about yoga and the piriformis muscle, but surely you can wait for that, in light of this new development. Kim Jacobs, publisher of Turrquoise Morning Press, did this cover herself and as always I think it's terrific. The top part looks like it could be Magnolia Avenue and the bottom is unmistakeably an out-of-place big-box store. Many thanks to Kim for yet anothergreat cover. There's a lot of talk these days about branding--and Kim manages to "brand" the covers of my books.
I particularly like this book (is it boastful of me to say I like my own book?) because it has to do with a big-box store moving into a neighborhood of mom-and-pop stores. Shortly after I finished the manuscript, fiction became reality when a WalMart was scheduled to open not in Kelly's beloved Fairmount but in the adjoining neighborhood, also an enclave of gracious older homes. As far as I know that store is going in, despite neighborhood efforts to stop it. And I have heard vague rumors of a big box wanting to move to Magnolia, which is the heart of Kelly's neighborhood.
My editor, who lives in Wales, didn't like the title of this book. She thought Kelly was going to find a big box at her front door. I assured her people in this country would know what a big box meant--please don't prove me wrong.
But recently, we've had some incidents where the crime preceeded the fiction, leading  one of my neighbors to say, "Stop the madness!" and another friend to say she needed Kelly in her neighborhood. In the first instance, a body was found in a vacant field near railroad tracks in our neighborhood. I actually wrote that into the work in progress. But then a  young girl was found shot in an upscale neigborhood in back of a house where the occupant did not know her. My neighbor was jokingly saying Kelly was causing the madness, but my friend lived just behind that house--her side patio adjoined that property, and she and her husband heard the gunshots. Shakes you to have violence come that close, but that incident probably won't make it into the fourth Kelly book. You never know though.
Then another friend wrote from far west Fort Worth that a body was found in her neighborhood that same night. She didn't ask for Kelly, however. Glad--that girl is getting stretched thin, and she's in the middle of finding her way through the as-yet untitled fourth story of her adventures. Wish her luck--and me as I try to write it.
Meantwhile, watch for Trouble in a Big Box, due in August.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Hope is the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul

I am so proud of my Houston daughter-in-law Lisa, who has just returned from a mission trip to a remote mountain village in Haiti. That's her above, loving on a baby. The trip began with what she called a hiccup--I so would have called a 24-hour delay in Miami a huge burp. But the team finally reached the village of Marmelade (really, that's the name) and began their work--saw 540 patients, from infants to elderly, in three days and left so many more in need of medical help.

Lisa, a teacher, also was part of the education aspect of the trip, meeting with teachers, talking with them about styles of learning, teaching techniques, offering them ideas for activities, some of which involved a deck of cards. Each teacher who attended left with a backpack full of supplies, including a deck of cards. This is market day in Marmelade.

Lisa reports the people were warm, welcoming and friendly, but taking cup baths in water from a pump and doing without a/c was a bit much. The food, however, was delicious--prepared for them by one woman. Need to get details on that! They were, she said, sad to leave Marmelade--and apprently will go back--but grateful to get to a resort with a/c and a swim in the ocean.
In my church Sunday, the minister preached on despair, desperation, and hope. It occurred to me that, beyond medicine and educational tools, the huge gift Lisa and her team brought to these people was hope. As I said I'm proud of her.
That sermon stuck in my mind. The minister stressed that we must all reach out to give hope to those who need it, and I thought about the people I know. One or two people came to mind that I might reach out to but in the most part I am surrounded by people who are always hopeful, always looking to a bright future. Whether that's a subconscious choice or not, I don't know, but I do realize we cannot surround ourselves with people who drag us down. There's a fine line there, and I'm not sure where to draw it.
I think Lisa knows about that fine line. She gave the people of Marmelade hope; they in turn, rather than dragging her down, enriched her life. And that makes me proud of her.