Friday, August 31, 2012

An amazing man

The TCU Bookish Frogs had one of their potluck supper/programs tonight. The speaker was a man who has long been a good friend but is known outside TCU as the best-selling author of popular books on the American presidency. Paul Boller came to TCU as a professor of intellectual history (that's what I always heard was his specialty, but we think of it as the presidency.) His books include Presidential Anecdotes, Presidential Campaigns, Presidential Wives and many others. At TCU Press, during my tenure, we were privileged to publish Memoirs of an Obscure Professor, the title being Paul's poke at a Chicago Tribune article's reference to him during the McCarthy days, when he was teaching at SMU. Among other things, the book contains an essay on his work as a Japanese translator during WWII. A man of many talents and great intellectual capacity, Paul was always a strong supporter of TCU Press during my years there; more recently, when the press was an endangered species, he stepped forward to ask, "What can I do to help?" And help he has.
Paul is, if what I hear is correct, 95 years old, and he's still tooling around town in a smart car.And he still gives a wonderful talk. Tonight he had us all laughing as he talked about his new book from TCU Press, Essays on the Presidents; Principles and Politics. No, folks, it's not a dull, political science text. It's a lively look at some of our presidents and the way they thought. For instance, there's a chapter on the presidents and Shakespeare, many of whom studied the bard and quoted him frequently. On the other hand, there's LBJ who, when presented a speech with a quote from Aeschylus, asked, "Aeschylus? The farmers aren't going to know who the hell Aeschylus was." When the speech writers said they'd immediately take the quote out, Johnson said, "No. Leave it in. I'll say my daddy said it." LBJ always liked to claim he was born in a log cabin until one day his mother turned on him irately and informed him, as he well knew, he wasn't born in a log cabin. Paul said it's his opinion that if Johnson hadn't inherited the Vietnam War, he'd have gone down in history as one of our great presidents because of his social programs. There's a chapter on "Bush-Speak"--referring to the first Bush. I once heard Paul give an after-dinner talk on this subject that was so funny women had mascara running down their cheeks and men were falling off their chairs in laughter--even Republicans. The final chapter is "They Really Said It: Quotes from the Presidents and their Wives"--I can't wait to read that one. Folks, if you're interested in politics or not, read this book. You'll laugh, and you'll learn a great deal about American history and the presidency. It may help put today into perspective. Did you know that in the early days of the government, it was considered rude for a candidate to speak on his own behalf, let alone ask for money? They had a derogatory term for it--electioneering.
A neat touch to the book and the evening: tonight they unveiled a portrait of Paul by Jeff Barnard, a longtime friend of Paul's who has, in his own words, been his carpenter and his driver on book tours as well as his friend. The portrait perfectly captures Paul's wit and sense of adventure. It serves in place of an author photo on the back flap of the book jacket.
P.S. The potluck supper was good, and people, including me, liked the ever-so-simple cobbler I made.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Just call me Lady Judy of Glencoe

I am a Scot and proud of it. Did you know that the number of people of Scottish descent living in America tops the population of Scotland? Count me as one. My lifelong dream of visiting the Highlands came true a year and a half ago, thanks to my oldest son and daughter, and, as the saying goes, my heart belongs to the Highlands. We visited the MacBain Memorial Park (that's my clan, and the park is a tiny bit of the vast lands once owned by the clan and lost in the clearances--but that's another story) and I felt I had a connection to the land. But now there's an even greater opportunity. I found a site called Scottish Highland Titles.
Highland Titles offers small pieces of land, from one square foot to a thousand, on the Keil Estate in Glencoe Woods--not too far from Glencoe where, if you know your Scottish history (or ballads),  you know the Campbells wiped out the MacDonalds in a dastardly repayment of hospitality. When you buy your wee piece of land you get a properly registered title and may call yourself Laird or Lady. You can visit your land with its view of Loch Linnhe and the Salmon Burn, a river running with salmon (you cannot drive to your land but have to follow a path along the river). You may choose to erect a small cairn or plant a tree; if your land is big enough, you may pitch a tent and camp out--the preserve offers other camping areas too.
But the most important thing is that you are contributing to the preservation of the Highlands. Highland  Titles is devoted to conservancy. Their project focuses on the environment, nurturing the native flora and fauna of the Highlands, including varieties of the Highland thistle, while working to eradicate invasive species, such as one type of rhododendrum. The company keeps the land from developers and provides a woodland home for many native animals and birds--and bats. Animals on the land include red deer, roe deer, badgers, hedgehogs, pine martens, the wood mouse. Specially erected bat houses have attracted many species.
It's hard for me to think that the wild land I saw is threatened by developers but apparently it is, so efforts to preserve it are important. The MacBain Memorial Park does that for one tiny piece (maybe two acres). The Highland Titles Company preserves on a much larger scale. As my son said said, "At least you know it's not a come-on, with the money lining someone's pocket. It's going to a good cause."
Hmmm. Lady of Glencoe. It rolls easily off the tongue, don't you think? Check out the Highland Titles Company at

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are short story collections dead?

During the last ten years or so that I was director of TCU Press, we routinely rejected short story collections, usually without reading them. The policy was based on bitter experience--we had published collections by well-known Texas authors, stories that I really thought were high quality. And we inevitably lost money on them. In this day of POD and  e-books, they may be more profitable, but I came away with the impression that readers don't want short stories. They want to immerse themselves in the world of a novel. Short stories were saved for literary journals and the occasional commercial magazine that publishes them. Remember when POST published all those stories by authors either already famous or soon to be? Those days too seem gone (oops, just dated myself--I mean I've read about the history of that magazine).
In the past I was asked to contribute to several themed anthologies of stories, the most difficult among them the time I had to write about some sort of firearm--I required a tutorial from my longtime friend and mentor, Fred, and if I remember correctly I wrote about a derringer--and a young girl out for revenge. "Pegeen's Revenge" was one of my favorite stories.
Today my publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, publishes themed anthologies of romance short stories. Recent titles inlude Men in Uniform, Foreign Affairs, and Be Mine, Valentine. They must be successful or TMP wouldn't continue to publish them.
I have one collection of fourteen stories in print. Sue Ellen Learns to Dance is filled with stories about what was once my focus--the lives and loves of women of the American West, both historical and contemporary. Originally published by Panther Creek Press (thank you, Guida Jackson), it got some nice blurbs and reviews but it never sold much. When I asked for permission to post it as an e-book, Guida gave me her blessing, and up it went on Kindle and Smashwords. Recently, a couple of fellow members of Sisters in Crime/Guppies have discovered the title and said some quite nice things about it but mostly it languishes.
I have two books posted myself on those platforms. One, Mattie, sells quite well. The short story collection simply doesn't sell. I know a redesigned cover would help--the current one has too academic a look, so a friend who owns a gift shop tells me. It didn't sell for her. You can comment on the cover as seen above. The photograph, which is eloquently poignant and sad, is by Dorothea Lange and was my personal pick. But at this point, I'm reluctant to put more money into redesigning the cover. Then again, maybe I didn't market it enough, put enough oomph into it (yes, this blog post is an effort to remedy that).
I don't know the answer to Sue Ellen's status, but I'm curious: do you read short stories? Collections of them? Don't get me started on poetry collections...but then, I've never written a single poem.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A flattering invitation...and some advice for readers

I have been invited to be the speaker at the opening luncheon of Women's Ministries at my church, University Christian Church. I found the invitation flattering, and now I find the all-out effort they're putting into publicity even more flattering. I went to the restroom on the way to the service yesterday morning--and there I was, in living color. There are posters on bulletin boards throughout the church, and the luncheon was announced in the monthly journal. Last night at Fall Kick-off there was a sign-up table, with the same poster (Jacob and I posed by it for his daddy). Several women I know made a point of telling me they'd be there that Sunday, and special thanks to Jordan for saying she'll go be my cheering section. And to Reverend Cyndy Twedell for the great publicity.
All this made me think I'd better scurry home and work on my comments--the luncheon is September 9, which isn't all that far away. I have always been one to prepare comments in advance and read them often enough that I almost don't refer to them when I deliver the speech. In fact sometims I get so familiar with it that I bore myself. But this time I noticed several places I could enlarge and embellish. I'll have bookmarks, but I also worked on a handout--something telling ladies where to find my books and me on the web...and on the backside of the handout I'm going to put suggestions for helping your favorite authors.
I'm sure readers don't know to click "Like" on Amazon or cick on tags or even leave a review. I guess my biggest hint to them will be "If you enjoyed a book, tell your friends." They say word-of-mouth is the single most important factor in the success of a book or an author.
So wish me luck. I'm taking a slight break from the manuscript that had my bumfuzzled and doing things like getting ready for this talk, writing some guest blogs ahead of time, and the like. For the time being it makes me sleep better at night but I know guilt will soon kick in.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Uabashadly a grandmother

This is purely a grandmother blog--with a alittle bit of doggy thrown in, so if that bores you, click away now. I enjoyed way too much of my own company this past week, so it was a joy to have Jacob spend last night. When he came in from day camp I said I had a surprise--chocolate peanut butter (I'd never heard of such until I saw it in a recipe) spread on apple slices--he loved it, asked for sparkling cider to go with it. For dinner? More choclate peanut butter, with honey, in a sandwich--sounded cloying or too sweet or something so I started him on a half, and he said that was enough--plus five raspberries. After saying he wanted to stay home and eat ice cream, he decided he'd like to go for frozen custard at Curley's--and when he got there, he wanted a hot dog with ketchup. He ate the whole thing and about half a cup of chocolate custarad--while I wolfed down a waffle cone with vanilla. We sat outside in a really pleasant little area that he thought would be perfect for an Easter egg hunt. Yes, I sprayed him thoroughly with Deep Woods Off!
He and Sophie spent the rest of the evening in my office. Jacob said some people don't talk much, but he does and Poppy (his grandfather) said that was healthy. Jacob proceeded to demonstrate how healthy he is. I got little to no work done, and he kept asking me to pull up hurricane pictures. All I found were maps of Isaac's progress.
This morning, after a lazy start, it was off to the bookstore where he showed me at least 25 things I could get him for his birthday--not until next June, thank you--but we only bought the fourth Wimpy Kids book (he'd seen the movie) and one 100-piece puzzle. He saw a pack of three puzzles, but I convinced him it was best to start on one. Then to Central Market where we bought Jacob stuff--more sparkling cider, maple syrup for his waffles, baked puffed rice for after-school, and a marvelous cupcake that said ABC and had a ruler on it. By the time we got it home, it had fallen sideways and the icing was all mushed. He ate it with relish.
Throughout  our visit he was a gentleman, telling me ladies go first and stepping back--his dad has been drilling that into him. Knowing I sometimes have trouble with steps, he asked if I wanted him to hold my hand. He said "Thank you," "Please," and all the other polite things we hope our kids will say. Maybe this is what happens because I haven't had him much at all this summer. Hope it will last into the school year.
Sophie is having a traumatic time--she's lost her buddy. He never let her in his doghouse, but she perched on the roofed porch, especially when he was sick.She was guarding him And she's housebound because of the house painters--which should only last one more week. But as a result she's lost her house manners--peed in the house four times, pooped once. I talked to the dog trainer, and he said to go back to a training schedule, letting her out every two hours. The painters will have to cope. Tonight I tossed a rope-and-ball toy for her, but she was much more interested in coming in the house. I'm back  to keeping her in my office instead of giving her the run of the house. She's getting lots more love and attention, so my theory is she shouldl enjoy it. The trainer said however it's not unsual for a dog to grieve for six months--it's now been two weeks. And, which will relieve some of my children, he said a second dog is not the answer. He even suggested I might be happier and find it easier to have only one dog.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to school

Sweet Lily B. (Lily B. Clayton Elementary), Jacob's school
We went to meet Jacob's new first-grade teacher tonight, and I was drawn back in years . I don't remember visiting classrooms before the first day of school, nor do I remember that the classrooms were so thoroughly prepared for my children. Jacob's desk is assigned, with his name on it and a ruler of some sort; his name is on the "behavior board"--when I pointed that out to him, he said, "I know, I know." There was a packet on the desk with information to be filled out, and an important part of the whole event was for parents to indicate how the child woud be picked up. That was why I was there--so the teacher would recognize me when I came to get Jacob. But it was all so ready and so tailored to each individual child--I was truly impressed. Jacob was excited. He will have at least two good buddies in his class this year, and it's nice that it's a different mix from last year--he'll make new friends.
There was a "social hour" in the cafeteria and I found myself in a whole new part of the school that never existed when my youngest, Jacob's mother, went there--classrooms and the cafeteria. The cafeteria I remember was where the school library is now...and where they seem to be having big-time foundation problems or something. There have been backhoes and all sorts of equipment working at the school for a month or so and huge areas are still marked off with danger tape--not a good way to begin the year.
But sitting in the cafeteria, watching my daughter "work the room," hugging this one and that, I was again grateful that part of raising children is long behind me. Jordan is going to be active in PTA this year (or is it PTO these days?) and they'll attend all the events. I'll go only when Jacob is performing in one capacity or another. And I'm glad, nay delighted, I don't have to do any more school carnivals and the like.When they have their neighborhood walk in September I'll sit on my porch and wave. I think all that is a benefit of aging.
After the meet-and-greet, we went with two other families to the Neighborhood Grill for dinner--the children had their own table and were delighted and wild. Fun times, but I was glad to be home. As we left, one of the dads said, "I bet everyone in there was glad to see us leave." I agreed.
Gosh! Am I getting curmudgeonly? Don't want to do that!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Those subtle blends of flavors

I'm reading A Brew to Kill, a Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle and enjoying it much. But I am awed and baffled first by the art of the barista--who knew how much training, talent, and finesse it takes to pull coffee?--and second by the acuteness of heroine Claire Cosi's taste buds.In one sip of coffee, which she savors long and slow, she finds subtle blends of fruit, almond, chocolate, woodsy flavors, whatever--things I never think of when I drink coffee. It's just coffee to me, but I'm not an aficionado. Claire's ex-husband brings home a new bean from  South America, and the author is at pains to dissect the flavors.
Confession: I don't like Starbuck coffee; to me, it's bitter. I don't like strong coffee. I drink decaf, because caffeine hypes me up too much, something I am quite capable of doing on my own without outside help. I only drink one cup of coffee a day. Occasionally I prefer green tea, wish I'd drink it more often because it's so good for you.
Separating out coffee flavors is like letting fine wine roll around on your tongue. I'm afraid that art is missing in me. Another confession: I drink box wine a lot of the time. It's cheap, and some of it is not bad. When I arrive in Austin, my son-in-law always takes a picture of the box, posts it on Facebook, and writes, "Gaga's back in town." As those who know me are aware, I enjoy a glass of chardonnay, and I like it oakey. I don't get much more specific than that, so I'm mystified when people talk about fruity--okay, sometimes I think I get that but I'm never sure. Move on to specific fruits and I'm lost.
I can detect a thin, really cheap chardonnay or a sour one--but my oenophile daughter and her husband scoff at what I consider a nice bottle of wine. And I run from a Reisling or Muscatel--or anything sweet. These days pinot grigio seems to be the white wine of choice, but I stick to chardonnay and I was comforted to read on the internet that the appeal of chardonnay is its complexity. See, I'm not a simpleton.
Would someone run out and get me a bottle of  Kendall Jackson, please?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Lonely Only

Sophie, chewing on a Bully Stick--best treat ever
When I lost my 12-year-old Aussie, Scooby, a week and a half ago, I was sure I'd get another dog immediately. Sophie, the 15-month Bordoodle, needed a pal. My children, particularly my oldest son, tried to talk reason. "Let Sophie have a while being the only dog. See how she does." No, I argued, she'll be bored and lonely. She won't get any exercise. She loved him.
True enough, Sophie was sort of quiet and depressed. I washed Scooby's bed cover and put the bed in the guest room, intending to take it out to the apartment for visiting dogs. I'd find her taking her toys and lying there during the day, though she's quit doing that now. But she was clearly lonely.
One night I thought she looked particulary sad, and I began to investigate rescue dogs on the web. Found a beautiful red Aussie but she was six months old (I can't train another dog!) and she needed work. In other words, she was a herder; she needed all that exercise. Then I found a lovely mini-Aussie named Bluebelle. She was available through the Mini Aussie Rescue Service, and I swear I filled out lengthier, more complicated forms that I did when I adopted four children. They warned they did't reply immediately.
Meantime Sophie began to adjust. She enjoyed having the run of the house--okay, I close off the playroom because there are just too many stuffed toys, Lego parts, etc., and I close off my closet because she takes the arch supports out of my shoes and destroys them. Hey, she's still partly a baby. And I have discovered two instances where what I thought was impeccable housetraining broke down, but maybe I didn't pay attention to her messages.
Still, lots of the time she would lie at my feet while I worked. I put all her toys in a basket in my office and she would choose one or two and dart off with them. She knows when I turn off the computer and light at night and chooses that time to bring me a toy to fight over. She gets lots of love, when she comes out of her crate, when she comes in from outside, when she begs by my desk. "This is working," I told myself.
We--the dogs and I--developed a three o'clock nap habit this summer (about to change with Jacob going back to school). But this afternoon, I got lost in the book I was reading and realized it was four and I didn't know where Sophie was. She had curled up in her crate and gone to sleep. "Mom, don't you know it's nap time?"
Today the MARS people wrote to say that Bluebelle had gone to a new home and was I still interested. I thanked them, said how happy I was for Bluebelle, and said I was rethinking the whole thing, would they please keep my application on file. It really is easier having one dog. I'm just not sure about the future.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A banner day, some dumb mishaps, and a minor family tragedy

If you follow me on Facebook, you already know my big news! Trouble in a Big Box, my third Kelly O'Connell Mystery, went live today on Kindle, Nook, and various other digital platforms. I'm really excited and hope when you read it you can't tell that three-fourths through the manuscript, I was still wondering who done it. And then it all fell into place--I'm pleased with the result (is that too much self confidence?). I had to argue with my editor over the title--although my publisher is in Kentucky, my editor is in Wales and she didn't know the term "big box." (For some reason I have a hard time typing that--it comes out Bix Box every time!) She thought Kelly was going to come home and find a big box of some kind at her doorstep. I assured her people in this country would know it refers to a Big Box store moving into Kelly's beloved Fairmount neighborhood. Shortly after I wrote this, fiction became truth when a WalMart moved into a residential neighborhood adjacent to Fairmount--over neighborhood objections.
I laugh when I remember a few years ago I thought if I could just get one mystery in print, I'd be happy--now I have three, with two more scheduled.
The print copy of this one will be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Turquoise Morning Press in about three weeks, and I can't wait to hold it in my hand.
Maybe I was giddy with excitement, but I sure have done a couple of dumb things lately. Yesterday I could NOT find the remote to the kitchen TV. I looked in cupboards, drawers, the bowl of onions and fruit I keep on the counter--nada. Found it in my purse. This sent Jacob--and his parents--into hysterics. He wanted to know what would have happened if I put it in the refrigerator. Then today I cooked some plums for a yummy salad dressing. Directions were to drain the cooking liquid into a bowl, then mash as much of the solids as possible through a sieve. Somehow I lifted up the sieve, drained the liquid through it--without the bowl under it. Plum juice everywhere. I captured as much as I could, mushed up the solids and put the whole thing in the dressing. Hope my lunch guests tomorrow don't mind a bit of peel. It's also all over my T-shirt, but my mom taught me to remove fruit stains--pour boiling water through them. It works every time!
I did have a bit of good fortune today when I went to pick up some pants left at the cleaners for alteration. They weren't ready but they handed me two shirts--I've been missing one of them over a year--and it was a favorite!
Our minor family tragedy: My grandchildren all went to the Midway at the Stock Show and Rodeo in January 2011. One of the games rewarded kids with their own goldfish--and the man must have wanted to get rid of the fish, because each of my seven went home with a fish. Most (fish, not grandchildren) died almost immediately, but Jacob's lived on. He called it Fishy Cory (or Cory Fishy, not sure). Cory died today. RIP. I must say Jacob's aunts and uncles have been less than sympathetic, texting outrageous messages, promising to get him a ferret, even suggesting that the grandmother might like to have the ferret--no thank you! Jordan tells me that Jacob is sad. When she and Christian went to Mexico earlier this month, I was responsible for feeding Fishy twice--and I lived in terror I'd find him belly up. I'm sorry he died, but relieved he didn't die on my watch.

Friday, August 17, 2012

One of those days

Some days the gods seem determined to test your mettle. This has been one of those days. Woke early, because I knew I had to rush in the morning; up at 6:30, out the door at 7:45 to the VW dealership to leave my car--expensive repairs!--and pick up a loaner. Got a haircut, went to Central Market, and all seemed well, though the house was teeming with people when I came home--Socorro was cleaning, painters were scraping and sanding, Greg came to mow but couldn't do the back yard because of the painters, a/c repairman came for yearly check (not cheap either). And then Socorro said the bathtub wouldn't drain. After she left and I looked I got the full impact of what she was saying--two to three inches of filthy, brown standing water. Called the plumber--they promised to make me next on the list. Plumber was here by three, but what I thought would be short and sweet was not. Two hours and one more plumber later they said they'd be back tomorrow. Never did get to the VW dealership so I still have the loaner--a nice new bug, but not near as nice as my convertible.
So tomorrow I have to rush up to VW at nine, to be home by nine-thirty for the plumber. Meantime I can flush the two commodes and use the bathroom sinks. I cannot use the kitchen sink, bathtub, or washing machine--somehow they're all hooked together. Because of whatever blockage, when I washed the cleaning rags Socorro had used, the draining water backed up in the tub. (I really should have put my hearing aids in so I could better understand this explanation).
Things I don't  understand: if I made the VW appt. a week ago and got there at eight o'clock, why was it one o'clock before they worked on my car? And five o'clock before they called to say I had a headlight out (had taken the car in for window repair). If the painters are so neat and careful, why do plumbers leave a gate open and unlocked (dog hazard), leave parts on the bathroom floor (another dog hazard) and track leaves in all over? They're  really nice guys, and I'm grateful, but I'm struck by the difference.
I thought I was so exhuasted I would skip Jordan's potluck but after a short nap, I put Sophie out--she poor thing had spent way too much of this confusing day in her crate. Put on makeup, a clean shirt, grabbed my corn and bean salad and went to Jordan's, watching dark storm clouds. Jordan showed me on her phone that a big storm was headed our way and said I was not to drive home until it was over. Of course I began to fret about Sophie, though she is not scared of storms as Scooby was. Made myself a take-home supper plate and came back through a nice, steady but gentle rain. Apparently in other parts of town there were hail and high winds. I was greeted by a very wet dog.
Tomorrow night I have  company coming for supper, and I've planned a nice antipasto light meal--but honest, I need a functioning kitchen to do it!
I think I'll just burrow under the covers early and forget the world till morning. Supposed to rain again tomorrow. Praise be! Love the rain, hate the plumbing and car problems.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A mother/daughter evening

The Hapkido Kid
Jacob is taking Hapkido, a branch of the martial arts, and here shows off his brand new uniform. He said to me, "I know a lot more moves than you do." A safe bet--I don't know any. I countered with "I know more yoga than you," and he said, "Yeah, but I can still beat you up, but I would never do that." Such a sweet boy. He was waiting for his dad to pick him up, so his mom and I could have a girls' evening.
Having blogged about best friends last night and how my daughters are probably my best friends, it's only appropriate to report on our girls' evening. Jordan and I enjoyed a long delayed dinner at Winslow's Wine Cafe tonight. To top it off, she had a $40 gift certificate which helped the bill considerably. We had crab cakes, salad (split one order of both) and two glasses of wine each. Really good food. The wine loosened our tongues, and we had real heart-to-heart talk. No one in the immediate family needs to worry--what we said about everyone was all good. Others might worry, however--just kidding. But it was nice to share confidences and concerns without having to worry about who else was in the room. We made some decisions, like what snacks I'll feed Jacob after school--he'd gotten in the habit of helping himself to too many granola bars. Sure they're healthy, but they're not sugar free. But the best part was to feel that we are on the same page, we can share confidences, and we're friends beyond our mother/daughter relationship. We laughed about all the ills she says I gave her--anxiety, tummy troubles, etc., all things that might be passed on genetically but, hey! She's adopted.
My conclusion at the end of a lovely evening? There's nothing like a daughter. She undertands how I think, shares my joys and concerns and shares hers with me, gently chastises me when I must be better behaved and let go of some anger--or save it to vent to her alone.
Now I'm going to start lobbying for my older daughter, Megan, to come for a weekend so the three of us can have some shared time--down and dirty, full of love and happiness.
I am so blessed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Do you have a BFF?

My thirteen-year-old granddaughter has a BFF--best friend forever, though I think this is about the third one, so take the forever part with a bit of caution. I don't know that, when I was a teenager or even younger, we added the word forever. During late elementary school and high school I had two best friends, though I shared each with another girl--a situation that did not always bring out the best in any of the three of us. Today I have a nice friendly relationship with one of the girls with whom I shared a BF.
I got to thinking about best friends today. I have many many dear friends, people I hold close to my heart. But best friends? Well, maybe a handful, each of whom fits into a different niche in my life, as I hope I do for them. Barbara, one of my high school BFs, remains close today, someone with whom I share the past and memories but also family life and the way we love it, a certain quirky sense of humor, an interest in cooking. Strangely, when one of us writes, it's often about a topic that's on the other one's mind. We seem to be in sync.
And then there's Elizabeth, much younger, who was once my student, then my teacher, and now my good friend. I find the changing roles fascinating. And Betty, who I've known fifteen years or more--we try to eat out togther once a week and catch up, and she has declared herself Aunt Betty to Jacob, who loves her. And the two Jeans--friends from days at TCU. Our paths have now diverged, but I share some things with Jean and some with Jeannie and the three of us remain close. I certainly count them as among my best friends. And Sue, who has adopted me as her Fort Worth mom because her own mom is so far away in Canada. See, once I begin naming names, I run the risk of leaving out someone important. No, I don't have any one BF, let alone BFF--I know relationships shift and change, but I am blessed to have these women in my life.
And when it comes right down to it, maybe my best friends, above all, are my daughters, Megan and Jordan, and my daughters-in-law, Melanie and Lisa. They love me unconditionally (I think) but don't hesitate to keep me in line when necessary--from clothing to cooking to attitude.
Henry Adams wrote, "One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible." Sorry, Henry, I disagree. It is possible to have many best friends throughout life--but I'm leery of that addition of the word "forever."

Monday, August 13, 2012

OCD--do you suffer from it?

Compulsive behavior, or, less gently put, obsessive compulsive disorder. Who, me? Leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight? Never. Leave home in the morning with the bed unmade. Not my mother's daughter! My obsessive behavior carries over into lots of areas of my life. The other day three things were on my errand list on an already crowded day--buy printer paper, buy some back-up of the cosmetics I like, and get the car washed. There was absolutely no reason all had to be done that day. I had enough printer paper for the weekend; I probably had enough make-up and eye shadow for a month; and the car, while dirty, would run just fine if I didn't get it washed. Did they all get done that day? You bet--except the car, because the rear window on the driver's side suddenly refused to go up, so driving through an automatic car wash was not a good idea. I made an appointment to have it fixed this week and will get them to wash it when they fix the window.
But compulsiveness carries over into my writing. I was on a roll last week of writing 2000 words a day, come hell, high water, or my grandchild. I did that for four days, though I have doubts about the wisdom of writing to a certain word count. You may pad, write junk, anything to get those words down--and later have to delete half of them. Still, since I write short, one of my big worries is always that I won't make the minimum for a cozy novel--I aim for 70,000 words but often fall short. Anyway, after feeding my compulsion for four days I hit a wall. During a long, sleepless night, I worked out where the plot was going and got up early in the morning feeling elated, compulsively made notes. And haven't written a thing since--almost five days. Life gets in the way even of compulsiveness--the illness and death of my dog, a trip to visit one son and his family, company for dinner, a talk to prepare. But tonight my mind is on the 2,000 words I'll write tomorrow.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Scooby stories and Sophie's adjustment

I have been overwhelmed with the sympathy and concern from Facebook friends--and others--on my loss of Scooby. As I've answered a few individual emails, Scooby stories have come flooding back into my mind. My friend Jeannie said  she was sure he was running through fields, chasing rabbits. I had to remind her he was the squirrel-chasing pro. He'd lie in the driveway, but when he saw us drive up, he'd run off after a squirrel, real or imaginary, as if to say, "Look, Ma, I'm doing my job." The time he got out just as kids were arriving for school across the street--I was terrified he'd dart out in the street with all those crazy-driving moms or scare some small child. When I discovered him and called he pranced up to the front door with the air of "Did you want me, Mom?" Scooby had a good berth, and he knew it--he'd had some bad ones before in his life. Another time I saw him across the street, sniffing the garbage. Instinctively I called to him--wrong thing to do. He came bounding toward me. Thank heaven, the car that was going by was going slow and had good brakes. Once a friend was determined to show me he'd sit on the front porch enjoying the companionship, without a leash. She didn't know Scooby like I did--when an innocent neighbor, walking a dog, came along across the street, he was gone in a leap and a bound. When I first got him, I hired a dog trainer. I asked when Scoob would calm down and, because of the Aussie breed, the trainer said, "Oh, when he's about ten." He was spot on.
Since Sophie will be an only dog, at least for a while, I'm praticing making her more house friendly. She's spent a lot of her life in the yard with Scooby, but now the yard is boring for her. Let her have the run of the house last night, and she chewed a pine cone from a basket by the fireplace, then discovered the good authentic Indian basket that holds her overflow oys and tipped it over to get at them. I'm just grateful she didn't chew the basket This morning I took her into the bathroom while I showered--she proved a hindrance. Wanted to lick the water off me while I dried, then lick off the lotion. And later I gave her the cardboard cylinder from an empty roll of paper towels. She carried it around proudly until she began to destroy it--then she was furtive, as though she'd found a forbidden fruit. Colin says she's still a puppy--but she's 15 months old. Do I really have to wait until she's two?
Colin is much against my getting a new dog, argues that Sophie would enjoy being an only dog (did he always wish to be an only child?), and I should socialize her. I'm trying, I'm trying, and it's true--she does crave human companionship.
Difficult days of adjustment ahead, but I do appreciate all the love and support for me and for both dogs. And let me add that Scooby had the kindest, best care ever from Dr.John Minnerly and the staff at university Animal Hospital. They went overboard in caring for both Scooby and me. My gratitude toward them know no bounds.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Quality of life issues

Scooby in better days--a beautiful and sweet dog
My twelve-year-old Aussie had been gradually improving since his latest attack of idiopathic vestibular disease. The high point came maybe last Tuesday when he went down the stairs to the backyard (two steps) by himself without falling. He's been walking to and from his bed without falling on my hardwood floors. I cheered and called the vet, who also cheered. But the last couple of days, all the progress has slowly faded away, and this morning he wouldn't get up--I lifted his hind quarters, but he fell three times between his bed and the bedroom door. I finally got him outside, using a towel for a sling to hold up his back end and, yes, he fell down those steps. I stopped by the vet's on my way home from the grocery, and Dr. John Minnerly (my new hero at University Animal Hospital) said he did not like the news at all.
A little after noon, I brought Sophie in and called to Scooby to come get his food. He didn't come, so after a long while, I went out to his dog house and banged on it. All I could see was his back end. I got down and crawled onto the porch of the doghouse to look inside. He lay on his side, panting heavily, and resisted all my pleas to come out, so I tried dragging the back legs. Didn't work. So I crawled in and got his collar and pulled him out. He offered to bite me--Scooby would never really bite, but he'll put his teeth aroiund my wrist to say, "Stop what you're doing." I had to pull him out twice before he finally came out, stood up, and staggered over to his food--which he ate all of. By the time I went inside with Sophie, my heart was beating like a trip-hammer. Called the vet, who also panicked, and said he'd be right over. Long story short, he and his technician decided--and I heartily agree--that Scooby would be better off in their clinic over the weekend. I don't want him to have a catastrophe while the vet is closed, so that I have to go to the ER Clinic. And Dr. Minnerly and his staff know and love Scooby. They'll watch him and monitor his condition.
I have really mixed feelings here. The last thing I said to Dr. Minerly was, "Think about quality of life issues." How miserable is Scooby, trembling every time he tries to go up or down stairs, safe only in his doghouse or his bed, afraid of falling all the time? Christian asked me that tonight, and I said, "He's so scared. But what is he scared about? Pain? Death? We're all scared about those." I have no idea how to help Scooby best. He's been the most loving, wonderful dog I've ever had but now it's like I can't reach him. He reminds me of an old man who's had a stroke--probably doesn't see or hear well, his back legs don't work, and he gets confused. And yet he enjoys love and attention--and his food--and he makes weak attempts to play with Sophie.
Sophie is a bit devastated. She doesn't understand why she was outside alone for two hours tonight while I went to dinner. She misses him.
What a mess. Excuse me while I reach for another Kleenex.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

My cancelled day

This morning I decided, about five in the morning, to cancel the day. I'd been awake all night and made  more than a few trips to the bathroom. That uneasy feeling I've had in my stomach for two days finally erupted. Unpleasantly. I mentally cancelled my yoga routine, my obligation to myself to write a certain number of words, and I made a note in my head to email the friends I was going to lunch with. There was nothing I absolutely had to do today.
Once I really got up, a little  before seven, I thought my stomach had finally calmed down, so I ate toast and tea so that I could take my daily pills. Then I put the dogs out, did some email work, read the paper, and went back to bed for over an hour. Got up feeling better, and Jordan, bless her, brought me steaming hot homemade soup from Carshon's Deli. So good, so soothing. I worked for a while, both chores and writing, and took a two-and-a-half-hour nap--sleeping some, dozing some. Not sure if this was a bug or something I ate, but I sure didn't like it. I think with a good night's sleep, I'll be a new person tomorrow. But insomnia is a fairly recent visitor to me, and I'm hoping it doesn't return tonight.
In spite of a down, cancelled day, I am pretty proud of my accomplishments: did laundry, changed the bed linens, ran the dishwasher, showered and shampooed, and wrote slightly over 2,000 words. Starting tomorrow, the weekend looks busy, and I won't get to do that, so it's good to have it all done.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

In a stew

I'm stewing in my own stew tonight. Have spent three days working at my computer without much break and much human company, although I did go out for dinner two nights. But I'm a bit tired of myself and my manuscript. Spent today re-reading the 40,000 words I've written--and, in revising, picked up almost 900 words plus some ideas for where it's going next. So that's the good news. No title yet. I think you forget, between novels, what hard work writing 70,000 words is. I'm sure remembering this time.
The really good news is that my old dog is doing much better with his balance and his back legs. This morning, he went down the steps to the yard, by himself, without falling, and last night, when I left the door open and went back to the kitchen, he came in by himself. I no longer use a towel as a sling to hold up his back legs. He's still shaky about the stairs and loses footing on the wood floors, but he pretty much doesn't collapsewith his legs splayed out. Tonight he was a little less certain, but it was thundering and that always scares him. And it doesn't help outside that the young dog thinks his back end is her private trampoline. Whenever she gets excited, she jumps on him. His legs buckle, but he doesn't go down. Our wonderful vet told me the other day that we probably had 95% of the improvement we could expect. I called them today and said we got the other 5%.
Tomorrow is another work day, but with the anticipation of a pleasant lunch with good friends.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Tangled in the web

I wish I were, I wish I were, I wish I were an intuitive tecchie. I'm not. I spent far too much time solving problems on the web today. Somehow when I go to a site, having carefully checked to see what my password is, it still doesn't work. That was the case with PayPal this morning. I signed up for PayPal reluctantly. It was forbidden at TCU, and I'm leery of it. But I had no choice--it's required by my publisher. I never use it except to transfer royalty checks, but today I wanted to pay for a couple of guest blogs--long story, but it was a modest amount. PayPal was the only choice, so I tried to sign in. PayPal didn't recognize me, then it couldn't verify my information, then I had to figure out how to send them proof of my social security number--and the best I got was the resolution was "in progress." Meanwhile, I had spent far too much of the morning in the bowels of their system.
Then I discovered Pay Ahead or whatever it is--I could pay instantly and they'd bill me for reimbursement. That actually went pretty well and by then the system recognized me. If they want to be reimbursed, I do hope they'll continue to recognize me. I was able to put that matter aside, complete my tasks for the Long and Short Reviews 5th anniversary celebration, and move on to writing.
But first I tried to put a logo on my blog--ended up with it in the header, which is not at all where I wanted it. That took 20-30 minutes to figure out how to delete it from the header, add it to the sidebar, and move it around. But I'm proud to say it's accomplished--see if you can spot the new logo.
Then I went to fix lunch and found the kitchen TV had no signal. Called AT&T--15 minute wait time to talk to a support person, so I reluctantly went to the online support system and signed in for a live chat. Actually those are a big improvement for me, because I'm sure if I'd been talking to Piranti--wherever he was in India or whatever--I wouldn't have been able to understand him because of the combination of my hearing and his accented English. As it was, we got along quite well, but the whole problem-solving adventure took 20 or 30 minutes and involved many trips between the computer and the kitchen for me. Thanks, but I'd already had my exercise for the day. Piranti was helpful, courteous--agreed willingly to a break to let me bring the dogs in out of the heat and said how lucky the dogs are that I take care of them. Finally, with a suggestion from me, we solved the problem and voila! a picture on the TV!
Through all this, I didn't write the 2000 words I meant to this morning--only 758. So I figure I have to write 250 tonight to reach my minimum goal. But, yeah! I passed the 40,000 words point on my work-in-progress. It would be nice if I had a better idea of what was going to happen in the next 30,000 words, but I'm feeling a great sense of accomplishment. One reason that I didn't move the word count ahead that much this morning is that I had to do a lot of cleaning up--I'd said one thing and done another, and I had to fix that.
Dogs are in, sky is cloudy (pray for rain) and it's nap time. I'm feeling good enough about the day that I can take a nap with a clear conscience.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Name the hot dog--and win a free book

Hot dogs have moved from the ballpark to the world of haute cuisine--well, almost. There are a hundred things you can do with a plain old hot dog these days--from the spiral cut and roasted to the muffaletta dog with marinated olives and peppers. I personally like Hebrew National hot dogs with sauerkraut and a sharp, good mustard--not Kraft salad mustard, thank  you very much.
I've decided a character in the fourth Kelly O'Connell Mystery is going to open an upscale (?) hot dog restaurant on what has become restaurant row in Kelly's neighborhood--alongside a bistro, a country Italian restaurant, a long-established place serving Middle Eastern food, a high-brow taco place. She'll serve a wide variety of hot dogs--Thai style with Sriracha and other things, Greek with yogurt, cucumber, and Greek salad dressing, Dixie featuring black-eyed peas, bell pepper, and jalopeno. I'm sure she'll think of other varieties. And of course, chili dogs and Chicago style with mustard, sweet and dill pickles, onion, and peppers. I remember a drive-up stand in Santa Fe called "The Chicago Dog" but I have something more than a drive-up in mind,though small, very few seats.
My problem is what to call the restaurant? I googled hot dog restaurants and was amazed at the number of them across the country. I'm not quite as close to cutting edge as I thought, except that I know there's none in my immediate area, which is pretty much Kelly's area. So this is a viable idea--hey, if I quit writing I might do that myself. Serve beer with them.
But back to my point. I looked at names of restaurants across the country and most were unimaginative. Sometimes they were the owner's name, like "Mike's Place."  A lot were "Dog House" or "Dog Stand." I want something more original. In the book I ask the young girls to think of a name, but then of course in the long run I'd have to come up with it. The best my fictional characters came up with us "Puttin' On The Dog" which one said sounded like a grooming parlor. So I  thought why not ask readers to come up with a really clever name.
So please send ideas to me at I'll look forward to suggestions until September 15. I admit the winner will be chosen by me, probably in conjunction with my local daughter. But the winner will get a free copy of the as-yet unnamed fourth Kelly O'Connell Mystery, due next April.
I'm kind of getting carried away with this hot dog idea. Also send me any new ideas you have for toppings. I'll credit those in the book.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Herding cats

Lots of pictures, but this is part of my wonderful family.
I've just spent twenty-four hours with my two sons and their families. Colin and all drove up from Houston to see Jamie's new house in Frisco, and good friends Elizabeth and Weldon drove me to Frisco (gave my little car a much-needed road trip) and stayed for several hours to visit. My sons are men I'm proud of and their families are wonderful--wives are busy career women, terrific moms, fun to be with, and the children are all happy, enthusiastic,  well-mannered and, above all, loving.
Last night we were headed out for dinner at six. It was seven before we got everyone together and out the door. Herding cats! We went to a sushi restaurant in The Shops at Legacy (Plano, TX), a place I'd heard about but never been. Charming restaurant/shopping area. But the sushi place was crowded by 7:30 on a Saturday night--an hour and a half wait to eat inside, half an hour outside. We opted for outside but waited inside where the noise level was deafening. When we finally were seated, there was a bit of a breeze and it wasn't bad at all. Hard to converse with nine at a long table, but  I had Jamie and Mel on either side of me and we talked some. Salmon sashimi was good, and I had a great salad with a soy/ginger vinaigrette.
This morning Mel announced she was going to take the kids to the park while it was cool--this was about nine. I declined to go. By the time they left, with a cooler full of water bottles, it was almost eleven--herding cats again. Jamie came in from his run and also declined to go, so he and I had a good visit. But he began to worry that he hadn't heard from Mel--turns out Maddie (thirteen) had heat exhuastion. Mel took her to the ER clinic while Colin brought everyone else home. The patient is fine--had an IV and was ordered to stay out of the heat and sun for at least 24 hours. No basketball, no swimming, nada. But a bit scary for us.
Colin intended to leave at 1:00--we left at 2:15. Herding cats again. But the Houston Alters were so good to bring me home on their way to Houston--way out of the way, but otherwise I wouldn't have gotten to spend the night there and see them.
Got home to a peaceful, quiet house. Moksha, who looks after my animals, had the dogs in their beds so they'd be out of the afternoon heat. Scoob got really excited by the children but settled down. I realized that even a one-night respite from caring for him was great. I slept nine hours last night. Woke at 7:45 without hearing a dog snort and lick and whine. I'll always take good care of him--but the vacation was nice.
Even nicer was being with my family. Such a blessing.

Friday, August 03, 2012

LIsten to your body--or your muse?

A lot of writers will tell you the way to write a novel is simply to plant your butt in the chair and write. I remember once being awed to meet J. A. Jance, one of my personal heroines at the time, and when I said I was trying to write mysteries, she said dismissively, "We all know how you do that. You plant your bottom in the chair and write." At the time I was offended by her abrupt, uncaring manner because we didn't all know--I could sit in a chair all day and have no idea what I was doing. I thought if I had her success and met a wannabe, I'd be more encouraging, probe a little about interests, etc. I later heard however that she was in the midst of a family crisis far away--and she was in my city because of a commitment to speak that evening. She carried the evening off with panache and you'd have never known that someone she cared about was dying.
But I kept that  line in my mind. It's not an unusual or particularly original piece of advice. Some writers set daily goals--hours at the computer, number of pages or scenes or words written. I can't do that because my schedule varies wildly. But so, I find, does my muse. When do you keep your butt in the chair and when do you simply walk away?
This morning, my house was a zoo. Jacob and I went out early to his house to feed Fishy, water the plants, look for his favorite sleeping shirt (he couldn't find it) and get his bike-riding helmet (it was in the locked garage). When we came home, Socorro was cleaning, Greg was mowing, and the serviceman from I&E was working on the sprinkler system. Jacob said, "There are a lot of people at your house, Juju," and I was tempted to tell him it takes a village to keep my house running. His grandfather came to pick him up, amid much excitement on Jacob's part--a trip to Legoland, a water park adventure, and a movie. Jacob told me they were taking him to see a movie with lots of violence, and I said I doubted his other grandmother would tolerate that. "Just kidding," he said. "We're going to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid."
Greg finished the yard, Socorro finished the house, and everyone was gone. I fixed lunch and settled down to write. Some really constructive time. I did write 900 words, a scene that I had planned out. I knew where it was going from there, but  I'm not sure if it was my body or my brain or both that didn't want to work. Each word was painful, and I quit. Be it physical or mental, the muse wasn't there. Took a good two-hour nap, fixed a light summer supper--cold salmon platter with avocado, deviled eggs, cherry tomatoes, cucumber--for a friend and had a lazy evening visiting. She's someone who also lives alone, is as devoted to her cats as I am to my dogs.  We have great conversations, and I feel I'm lucky to have found another new but good friend in recent years.
The news on the dog front is good. Scooby has suddenly turned a corner. Greg said he ran to him this morning, and at noon he went up the steps himself--his back legs don't quite make it, and he needs help. I have given up the towel/sling because it seems to hinder more than it helps. Yes, he still falls but not nearly as often--and he's not as nervous and anxious about it. I am encouraged for the first time in almost two weeks.
Life is good, and I remind myself daily to be grateful.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A grandmother's saga, part II

The fun continues. This morning we went to the pediatrician. Jacob does not have impetigo.  The very pleasant doctor said it looked like bug bites to him. Thirty-five (conservative estimate) between the time I dropped him off yesterday and the time I picked hm up--and he wasn't scheduled to be outside because of the heat. Bribery: I promised him if he' be sweet, I'd get him a Happy Meal--thought I found a McDonald's fairly close to the doctor's office, but it turned out to be one inside a hospital. Didn't want to park and go in, so we ended up going way out to Jacob's house to the one on Bryant Irvin. But he was happy. Wouldn't go back to day camp and probably should have because he was sort of a nuisance (did a loving grandmother say that?) all afternoon. He needed to burn off some energy. We went for Mexican food with Aunt Betty but Jacob wasn't hungry. I was strict about nothing else all night, so about 8:30 he ate some the rest of his taco, beans and rice. Now the child is bathed, clothes are in the dryer, and he just whispered a secret to me: "I love you." Makes it all worthwhile. But the grandmother is sort of tired.
I haven't written a word all day, but I don't figure 9:30 is the time to start. Guess I'll read while those clothes dry. It's quiet and peacful--what a blessing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Six-Year-Old Blues

The Impetigo Kid
Jacob is pitiful tonight. I had promised him an evening he was looking forward to--playing with his pal Abby, spaghetti for supper, ice cream for dessert. But when I picked him up from day care they pointed out a lot of small red bumps and suggested impetigo--they've had one case at the facility and have a health alert warning sign up. The suggestion: get him checked out. Of course I called Abby's mother, and as I expected, she bowed out gracefully, saying she particularly worried about her 18-month-old. Jacob is heartbroken--suggested she get a sitter for the tiny one and bring Abby, but I explained if Abby caught it she'd give it to her brother. "What if you get it?" "What if  Mommy got it?" He sobbed, grew quiet, and next thing I knew he was asleep in front of the TV. Our spaghetti didn't taste nearly as good, though he's eating ice cream with enthusiasm. Tomorrow morning we go to the doctor. I'm sure his Aunt Betty won't cancel tomorrow night so that's one bright spot. I feel so sorry for him--and when he says, "It's not fair," I agree with him. Told him I'd spoil him tonight, let him eat ice cream and watch late-night (for him) TV.
But it's hard to see a six-year-old boy put on his nightshirt (one of his father's T-shirts) and put himself in bed at seven o'clock. That's what he did, and he's watching TV.