Monday, December 31, 2012

The good kind of New Year's party

Jacob hosted a New Year's party this evening. Okay, it was his mom's idea, but she served six young children formally at the dining table--with my best china that I had given her. Confession: I did not mean her to serve six-to-eight year olds, and at least one mom was heard to say, "You're not serving my two-year-old on good china." But Jordan did it up proud, with carrot and celery stick appetizer in tiny glass cylinders on small plates; mac and cheese, hot dog bites in crescent rolls, and meatballs, plus chocolate pudding in flutes with the rims studded with multicolor shot. Jacob was very proud and told me he was the boss of the party. But he nearly pigged out on the chocolate/banana bread I was trying to slice beforehand--it did not slice well, and he picked up a huge piece and said, "This is a crumb. I'm so hungry!"
Normally I don't go to New Year's Eve parties--it's home in pjs for me. But tonight I really enjoyed myself. While the children ate, the adults gathered in small groups in the kitchen and noshed on a bunch of things from cheese and fruit to veggies and hummus, drunken meatballs, spanikopita, all kinds of good things.
I stayed just long enough--about an hour and a half. Had some wine, nibbled, talked with various of these young people all of whom I've known for years. They are so kind and welcoming, and I'm flattered to be included in their gatherings. When it was time for me to head home, I got warm hugs from them, and I came away thinking, "Now I want to visit longer with this one and that." I had a good chat with Christian's sister who is in graduate school and has moved her husband and two girls into student housing--she says, "We live in the dorm." But I am so proud of her. One of Jordan's friends married a history teacher--high school--this past year, and I so enjoy talking to him but we get distracted. A group of us had an intense conversation about first-grade homework--wow!
I was barely in the door at home when the phone rang--Jordan checking to be sure I got safely home. I took back roads and figured it was too early for drunks to be out. Many of the people at Jordan's will spend the night there rather than brave the roads.
So now Sophie and I are settled in for the night. I wish for each of you a healthy and happy 2013. I don't know that there's anything more important than that. For our fragile planet, I have so many wishes--peace, an end to global warming, an increased guardianship of what the earth gives us, an end to senseless gun massacres, an end to bigotry and hatred. That's a tall order but maybe in 2013 we can take more baby steps toward that. I do believe we grow a little better each year, not worse, and I can only look forward with positive hope.
A P.S. I can't resist: Jacob said the other day, "I kind of wish we weren't having the party. I'd like some of that melty cheese Juju made last year." I'd forgotten that he spent New Year's Eve with me last year, and I fixed cheese fondue! I've promised to make it for our Twelfth Night Supper when we, following family tradition, each throw a twig of greens into the fireplace and make a wish. Do you know how hard it is to find someone with a live green tree these days?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Home again, home again

Not sure why my family feels compelled to make weird faces at a camera
Oblivious of the camera--at a restaurant, drawing on the kids' menus
I'm back from almost a week-long visit with my oldest son and his family in Kingwood, north of Houston. A good time--my Houston grandkids have now been around me more and are more open about hugging and loving. They really seemed excited to see me, which delighted me. Watched them jump on the Christmas trampoline, demonstrate karate sidekicks (wicked), draw, and be silly. Had some good visits with my son--like any mother I'm so very proud of him but not above suggesting a thing or two. Colin is an accountant, so once again we discussed my finances and figured out where I am which he says is better than I think it is. I will remain penurious. Lisa, my daughter-in-law, really didn't feel good all week--recovering from the gift of flu from one of her seventh-grade students. I did a lot of computer work, got a book read (couldn't put it down) and reviewed, wrote a proposal for a novel. Somehow being away from home frees me from all those small chores and allows me to focus on some bigger things.
We shared Christmas Day with Lisa's parents, who are good friends of mine. Torhild brought Norwegian hamburgers for Christmas Eve--a family tradition--and John helped with the dinner. Colin flattered me by specifying I was to make the gravy--and it did turn out well if I do say so. The rest of the week I had a fondness for dressing covered with gravy, and I nearly cried this morning when they threw it all out. I had salvaged turkey so I could have a sandwich on the way home.
Christmas Day was a bit marred by tornado warnings in the morning--the sirens went off--and power outages in the evening due to high winds. Power would go off, then come back on, then go off.  We didn't get any of Fort Worth's lovely snow--it was just wet and cold.
Jordan and Jacob came down Thursday, and the cousins were wild--I should know, because I got to babysit them Friday morning. Colin thought he was taking time off, but it just meant he came home at three instead of seven--still was up at five, cleaning the kitchen (he allows no one to touch is the night before, no matter how I itch to at least rinse the plates), going to work by 8:00.
Each time you visit one of your children, you get to know that family a little better--and I am aware of that after this trip. It's a good thing. I am also aware lately that my sons seem more solicitous of me--hope it's not that they sense my mortality or something. I think they're just good guys.
So Christmas is over for another year. I hear the talking about Santa Fe next year (it will be an all-Alter Christmas) which would delight me, though they love to tease and say, "You know, we'd all really like to take a cruise." They know I have a list of twenty reasons, some rational and some not, why I don't want to go on a cruise.
Tonight I'm grateful for a good week but glad to be home with Sophie and untangling my life and getting it in order again--no small task. I said something to Lisa this morning about fish and guests, and she was puzzled so I had to explain that both grow old in three days.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Once a day is not enough

If an ideal world, I would tell you I do my yoga routine once a day. Truth is, I'm doing well if I do it four times a week--as with a lot of other things such as writing, life gets in the way. What with Christmas and family and cooking and excitement, I didn't do any workout Sunday through Tuesday. Yesterday, Wednesday, when I did my routine I could feel how tight my muscles were and how good it felt to stretch and twist and loosen things up. My yoga routine was designed for me by my teacher--she knows what I'm capable of and what I shouldn't try. I can't, for instance, ever do a full plank because my old feet just won't bend that way; but I can do a half plank and do mini-push-ups in that position. And I can do some poses I'm pretty proud to have accomplished. Just can't remember the name of anything but boat. Elizabeth, who is tenant, friend, and yoga teacher, always pushes me to go farther: if I can hold boat for a count of twenty, I should begin to hold it for a count of thirty. Is she kidding? One thing I cannot do is sit and clasp the bottom of one foot with that leg flat on the floor--too many years (my entire professional life) spent at a desk have irreversibly shortened my hamstrings or whatever those muscles are. I've been doing yoga four years, more or less, and I still can't come close to straightening either leg. When I sit with legs flat on the floor, I can reach maybe mid-calf, and that hurts.
No matter, until today I felt quite righteous about my physical routine.Then I read an article on Facebook about recent research entitled "Don't Just Sit There." (see it here: A research study has suggested that if you sit at a desk all day and then get up to exercise in the evening, you're still not getting the benefits of movement--.and you'll find it hard to lose weight. (Amen! I can testify!) It suggests getting up at least twice an hour to move about and taking phone calls standing up instead of sitting.
I thought about my daily routine and because, as I said, life gets in the way, I don't really sit at a desk all day. That's another ideal world that, for me, doesn't exist. I always have errands to run; there's the dog to care for, play with, let in and out; there are meals out with friends; and then there's my daily trip to the elementary school, and believe me, when Jacob's in the house, I don't sit still: I'm up getting snacks, homework supplies, etc. I'd get more written if I did sit at a desk all day. And I suspect during those rare times when I am at my desk for two or three hours, I get up once or twice an hour--a trip to the bathroom or hungry or thirsty or check the laundry.
How about you? Are you sedentary for hours? Maybe at a desk? Reading a book? Watching TV?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Twas the Day after Christmas

And just as the day should be--long and slow and lazy, a time for recharging. I did a tiny bit of work--polished a proposal and a book review and sent them off. I fiddled on Facebook and even thought for a change I'd go to Pinterest. I almost never do that because you get stuck on it forever--it's addictive. But today it was almost all photos of classic movie stars. Nice but I could scroll through pretty fast. So I dove into the new Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle, Holiday Buzz. Spent an enjoyable evening reading. Just not ready to get back into the routine of the real world, though several projects beckon.
Going to read a bit more, go to sleep early. Sweet dreams, everyone. I hope you too recharged your batteries. Sorry for those who had to rush back to work early this morning. Once again, something that makes me realize how fortunate I am.
LIfe is good--grab it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How far does your Chrismtas spirit go?

We've had a lovely, family Christmas with all the trimmings--"out" presents and stockings for excited kids,and thoughtful stocking gifts for adults, a lazy big breakfast, and then an attack on the mountain of gifts undere the tree. Seven-year-old Morgan told me tonight it's the best Christmas she's ever had. Dinner was early--turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, a new version of green bean cassereole--nobody wanted apple pie. Now, at eight, it feels like midnight and the house is quiet.
I kow there are many who did not share these blessings of Christmas, many for whom this day was just like to many others or worse--perhaps they were lonely, hungry, cold, frightened. A disturbing incident that happened to my daughter and her family has set me thinking about those less fortunate--and how you know who is real and who is a scammer. It's a cycnical attitude but symptomatic, I fear, of the times in which we live.
They were coming home from midnight services, delayed first by the need to wait while ambulance attendants cared for a woman who fainted toward the end of the service (it's always crowded and it gets hot in there--easy to faint at this season of too much stress and fatigue), then by a wreck. I'm not sure I have the story straight but a tow truck followed them home--perhaps from the wreck?--and into their driveway. A woman got out and asked for money. They had their six-year-old with them and reacted as any parents would I think--with fright and concern for the child, and for themselves. They closed the electric gate and the garage doors, bolted all the doors and turned on the alarm system (what a world we live in!). Sorry to say I think I would have called the police--my neighborhood association has trained me well that it's better to be suspicious than a victim (again, what a world!).
But for some reason, hearing this tale today, I thought of Halloween and the trick-or-treaters who came to my front porch. I was touched and delighted by the mothers who said to children who grabbed, "No, no, only one piece." And I was slightly outraged by the mothers--and a couple of grandmothers--who grabbed handfuls for themselves. Until someone said to me, "Judy, perhaps that is all they had to eat that day" and anger turned to curiosity, open to the possibility that compassion was called for.
I live across the street from an elementary school and occasionally harried parents block my driveay. It's rude and inconsiderate, and it makes me angry. I expressed that to the crossing guard one day when I went to pick up Jacob and he said, "She's handicapped. I told her it was okay. Told her you don't ever go anywhere this time of day." Of course I don't--I'm doing first-grade homework. I felt humble--and a bit humiliated.
So how do you know, especially with all the horrific tragedies of the last few weeks, when the need is real and compassion is the answer and when caution is the prudent expedient. Remember when the initials WWJD were popular--what would Jesus do? What would he have said to the woman in the tow truck? I'm afraid I'd have reacted just as my kids did and probably also called the police...and then I'd have spent a sleepless night worrying about whether or not I had done the right thing. Maybe she had hungry kids at home or she wanted money to buy at least one small Christmas surprise. We'll never know.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all,
and to all, a Good Night!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Larry L. King--a small tribute

I didn’t know Larry L. King well. In fact, in later years, I had to re-introduce myself to him every time I saw him. But I had the pleasure of working with him on several projects when I was director of TCU Press, and it really was a pleasure. Sure, I found him to be everything his obituaries say he was—larger than life, hard-drinking, hard living (though by most of the time I knew him  those days were over), and loud. I still remember standing in the hallway on the top floor of what was then, I think, the Texas Hyatt Hotel and cringing with embarrassment while he bellowed at the top of his lungs, “This is the goddamndest worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in!” And there was the night someone convinced the then-director of the press (thank heaven, not me) to pay an outrageous sum of money so we could bring Larry to Fort Worth to speak for an evening. Ten people showed up, and the book review editor from the newspaper fell asleep—a fact that Larry did not allow to stay secret. Yes, he had an ego—what writer doesn’t?—and he craved an audience, preferably a paying one. But he was one of the good guys.

The only major project I worked on with him was Larry L. King: A Writer’s Life in Letters, or Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye. It’s a remarkable book, and I recommend it for a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a truly complex man. He was a prolific correspondent and kept carbons—remember those things on onion-skin paper?—of every letter he wrote. After he donated all his papers—an unbelievable number of cartons—to the Southwest Writers Collection housed at Texas State University-San Marcos, he and Richard Holland collaborated to compile this collection of letters. Larry lived in D.C. since the 1950s and worked with Democratic politicians, knew the political scene, and was astute about it, as shows in many of his letters and some other writings, like the play The Dead Presidents’ Club. But he never forgot the West Texas of his childhood; it was the place that gave him identity and his strong identification with the Odessa-Midland area gave rise to some of his best writing, including many of the letters in this collection. They reveal a warm, tender, outrageously funny side to this man as he recounted, with love and irony, stories of his family and of his growing-up years. Some of his best essays also spring from his deep knowledge of the people of this region, their likes, prejudices, fears and joys.

When Willie Morris died, Larry wrote a heartfelt tribute to his old friend—no, not an obituary--a whole book. He sent it to TCU Press, and I spent a long weekend reading the manuscript and making editorial suggestions. Ultimately it went to a bigger, more prestigious press (that paid better than we ever could) but Larry wrote a kind letter of appreciation for my work and suggestions—and he sent me a signed copy of the book.

There were other, smaller crossings of our paths: once I was so bold to ask, and he blurbed a book for me. We re-published one of his plays—The Golden Shadows Old West Museum, based on a short story by Mike Blackman. He was the first emcee of the celebrity dinner at the Texas Book Festival, and he made a rousing good time out of what has become now a much tamer  event. From time to time, I saw him at later festivals. At every turn, I found him, under that bluff surface, to be a good, kind, and caring man.

I suspect in later life the hard living of his early years caught up with him—his obituary says emphysema—and I’m sorry about that. RIP Larry L. King. You brought a lot of humor and common sense to politics and to our view of Texas and Texans. You done good!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Best party of the season

Probably the best party I went to all this season--the first-grade Christmas party in Jacob's classroom at Lily B. Clayton Elementary. They watched The Polar Express and got to wear their jammiese to school. Jacob carried his fuzzy blanket but his mom said no to the pillow pet. Still I saw some one little girl lugging a huge pillow and an equally large stuffed toy.
The hour-long party at the end of the day was in the classroom--parents and grandparents invited. Mass confusion. There were four activity tables--decorate a cookie (Jacob devoured the one above just after a fellow grandparent took the picture), color a snowman with cotton to glue on for his beard and hair (Jacob declined to take his artistic creation home), bingo played with M&Ms (they ate all the M&Ms and started over), and a table for making reindeer food. There was also face painting--maybe you can see the reindeer on his cheek. Lots of sugar, lots of yelling, excited children. I'm afraid the teacher had to stay until suppertime to clean up, but everyone had a wonderful time. It convinced me I could not teach first grade though I was most impressed by the learning charts and decorations in the classroom. It's a cheerful, lively environment with a reading corner, reached by climbing stairs, a rocking chair for the teacher. Fun, but I was glad to come home.
That followed a delicious lunch at the new Magnolia Cheese Company. I had something called Happy Cheddar Turkey on five-grain bread--it was small but delicious, had aoili and other things I couldn't identify--served with kale chips, which were really good. It was our annual Christmas celebration lunch for Melinda (TCU Press production manager) and me, so we each had a glass of wine. Nice space, a fascinating counter of cheeses, good food and several sandwiches I wanted to try, like the Twisted Spaniard--ham and brie. But it was pricey and the service was slow. They may work that out when they've been open a little longer.
And here's the scene when Jordan came to pick up Jacob. She had a lap full:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Vine: good Greek food--and great hospitality

This is sort of a post for Fort Worth friends because it's about a local restaurant, but my experience there tonight says a lot about the importance of gracious hospitality in a restaurant. Two friends and I had our annual Christmas dinner at The Vine, a relatively new, small Greek restaurant on West Seventh, just west of Montgomery Ward Plaza on the north side of the street. I'd seen it reviewed favorably, but I'd heard it described as a hole in the wall. It's not really, but neither is it one of the sleek modern places that have so taken over the So7 area. Don't get me wrong--I like Patrizio's, Terra, and others, but this was a mom-and-pop operation in a small but bright, clean space. Pop was very visible; didn't see Mom.
Our first faux pas--we walked in unbashadely carrying our own bottles of wine because we heard it was BYOB . Wrong--they have wine on the menu! I apologized to the owner when he seated us and he said no problem, graciously brought wine glasses and opened our wine. I assured him next time, we'd drink his wine.
We studied the menu--all kinds of things I love: spanikopita, dolmades (in tomato sauce--new to me), keftedes (meatballs), saganaki (notice I got stuck on the appetizers). Several varieties of kebobs, pastitso , moussaka, Greek salad. More than I could possibly contemplate.
We ordered--my friends both ordering chicken kebobs which seemed to me to waste the experience of good Greek food. I ordered two appetizers--spanikopita and dolmades--and it was way more than I could eat. The owner took our order and was graciousness personnified.
We chatted, had a lot to catch up on, though it finally dawned on me that it was taking a long time for our food to arrive. Between chatting, we watched the presentation of saganaki (flaming cheese) which my friends had never seen. I've had it several times and seeing it made me wish we'd ordered it. After what seemed forever, the owner, a tall,dignified man, appeared at our table to apologize. He himself forgot to turn in the order. He would comp the dolmades if we could wait five more minutes. We assured him we could and that comping that one appetizer wasn't necessary--it was part of my meal. When he came back, after we'd finished, to present the checks, he said he was giving us a 20% discount because of his mistake.
As we left he ushered us out, still apologizing with grace and dignity. We assured him we'd be back.
Carol, who had once chatted with him, said he's a retired engineer, worked at Lockheed and complained about the lack of really good Greek food in Fort Worth. So when he retired it was time to put up or shut up. I think and hope that he'll succeeed, and I sure intend to go back, not just because the food was good but because he was so nice to us. And no, I won't take my own wine next time-how gauche!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday blues

I have a friend who, when asked how she is, replies cheerfully, "I have my usual holiday neuroses" (she has good cause but that's another story). Lots of people suffer from the blues in one form or another during the holiday season--maybe it's loneliness, maybe it's remembering holidays past and fearing this year won't be as good. I suspect for too many the holidays are tinged with bad memories--sad events, dysfunctional families, you name it.
I am blessed in that I have nothing but happy memories of the Christmas holidays--from my own childhood, from the years when my children were young (we celebrated Hanukah and Christmas with four children--if you don't think that takes logistics, think again). There was the year one of the kids found the hidden presents and showed the others--they all agreed it ruined Christmas. There were Hanukah suppers with latkes and a friend's father who used to peel dollar bills off a huge roll and hand them to the children. There was that unbelievable mountain of presents under the Christmas tree every year. When the children were older, I took them to Santa Fe for several years and even after they married Christmas meant Santa Fe to us. In recent years we've alternated--Alter Christmas one year, Alter Thanksgiving the next, and we've gone different places--like a trip to Breckenridge when everyone got sick--not so much fun but even some pleasant memories out of that. And this year I have Jacob and the magic of the Elf on the Shelf, and I'm looking forwarad to being with other grandchildren.
But somehow this year I feel my old friend anxiety hovering just under the surface. Maybe it does that every year and I just don't realize it. Or maybe this year is different. A couple of weeks ago I woke in high anxiety worrying about a speaking engagement in January--for Pete's sake, why now? I can worry about that in January. Recently I had another bout with the "I can't walk from here to there" kind of anxiety following what I thought was going to turn out to be a debilitating nosebleed--I did finally get it under control, and I'm sure it was due to cold weather and dry heat. And I had in-the-night anxiety after Newtown, but who in this entire country didn't? But I figure two steps backward demands at least one step forward, and I'm working on it.
The good thing is that I find myself these days better able to deal with anxiety, to recognize it for what it is, and to know that it will pass. I'm not always sure analyzing what is behind it is a good idea, and I don't try. I'm learning to say that's how I am--other people have allergies or stomach problems or migraines: I have anxiety.
And it hasn't stopped me from enjoying the holidays--a lovely lunch at a boutique hotel, a warm and caring get-together with some members of my memoir class (and the best food--thank  you, Anne Kane), dinner tonight with Betty, lunch with old friends. My life is full, and I feel truly blessed. Get thee behind me, anxiety.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Moving on but never letting go

I sense a subtle shift in mood in the media, maybe even in the people now that Newtown is five days behind us and the absolute shock is wearing off. We have too often grieved over tragedies for a few days, while they were prominent in the media, and then moved on. This time is different. We will never ever forget the children of Sandy Hook, but we are moving on. The media is beginning, slowly of course, to cover other subjects, and the national mood is turning toward dealing with the issues raised by this tragedy.
I read that Senator Diane Feinstein intends to introduce a bill on the first day of the legislative session proposing banning assault rifles and large magazine clips (I may not even get the terminology right here). Some conservatives are also proposing sensible gun control measures, including restoring the ban on assault rifles which Congrees, to their shame, let expire without action.
There is also a lot of attention being paid to mental health. The letter known as "I am Adam Lanza's mother" has gone viral on the internet and the author appeared on the TODAY show. She emphasized the helplessness of families, a feeling I'm sure Nancy Lanza knew only too well as she tried to deal with her disturbed son. Perhaps her mistake (in addition to stockpiling weapons) was to keep her trials a secret. One of the lessons we must learn is to wash away the stigma of mental health. We cannot deal with what is hidden in the closet.
Another facet of the whole problem is raising its head--the violence that pervades our culture on TV and in the movies. I see it in some of my grandchildren who accept violence as a part of life. Too often, on cartoons, they see people shot, fall down, only to rise again. Censorship is an ugly word; self-censorship is strength, but profit and greed too often rules the day.
Of course the past weekend brought out the worst in some people, like the Texas legislator (of course it would be Texas) who proclaimed that what we need is more guns and the people who advocate arming teachers. And then there's the appalling story of a man who said on Sunday, "Get the nigger off TV. We wanat to watch football," when major networks pre-empted programming to show President Obama's talk in Newton. I hope that story isi apocryphal but probably it illustrates that deep vein of hatred that runs throughout our nation.
No, we will never forget but we are beginning to work together toward healing by taking action. I so hope I am not wrong in saying this time we really will look at ourselves as a nation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Poignant letter to Santa

Over this long weekend, I have wondered how many elves in Newtown were left on the shelf. That little elf has wormed his way into our Christmas celebration big time and consumed much of my attention over the weekend. Jacob's traveling elf (he has two) came to my house and demonstrated he is magic by flying during the night from Jacob's bed to the Christmas rosemary tree on the coffee table. And he confirmed that magic by taking a picture of himself and putting it on my computer.
So tonight Jacob dictated a long letter to Santa. It was in truth a series of "I want, I want." He wants to see Rudolph, to keep Boogie (the traveling elf) after Christmas, to see Donner and Blitzen and Mrs. Claus again and Santa through the window on Christmas Eve. He says his main elf, Jack, isn't very funny and could Santa please make him funnier, and he says he has been a good boy this year.
It strikes me as the strangest of contradictions that this child, who sometimes knows his way around the computer better than I do and certainly understands the cell phone better, also believes so firmly in Santa and the magic of elves. It is a great gift--to him and to those of us who love him.
But writing the letter almost made me cry all over again, thinking of the children who won't write their letters this year and those who may write but their faith is shattered and their innocence gone. One more reminder that this tragedy, horrific at any season, is just a bit worse, if that's possible, at the time of year that is all about children in most faiths and, for Christians, about welcoming the Christ child.
Our former minister wrote in his blog today that if we have a candle of joy to light, we should light it today because life is fragile. I think spending my evening writing Jacob's letter instead of reading the galleys I should be proofing is my way of lighting that candle. But we will never forget the children of Sandy Hook, the letters they won't write, the elves who sit quietly on shelves no longer flying.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown

I didn't blog last night. There was nothing to say, and as one friend put it, I was rattled. There is still nothing to say, nothing we can do to ease the pain of the people of Newtown. We can send prayers and thoughts to those who lost loved ones; we can send donations to the mental health services of Newtown for counseling for survivors. But for a long time, none of it matters. There are families for whom there will be no Christmas this year and life will never again be the same. I cannot wrap my mind around the agony of sending a child off to school and then learning that he or she will never be coming home again.
Almost all that can be said has been said on Facebook--and some that should never be said. Like a declaration that there always has been evil in the world and always will be. Really? Should we just sit back and accept massacres in public places as a fact of life? Or, even worse, the pronouncements that the reason this happened is because there is no prayer in schools. That insults the God I believe in. I do think a moment of quiet in school would be appropriate so that each child could pray or meditate in the religion in which they are being raised. But the folks who bring this up mean Christian prayer, and that is wrong in our increasingly diverse culture. And I was outraged by a columnist who suggested that in his news conference President Obama faked tears. The hatred in this country runs so deep it's no wonder we have mass killings.
Sensible public opinion seems to come down to two things: mental health and gun control. The first is tricky. How do you legislate mental health, which to my mind includes the deep vein of hatred? Apparently we can't rely on family and friends to identify a problem and seek help. But we can't institute laws whereby I could say, "You know, so-and-so isn't acting right" and cause "so-and-so" all kinds of grief. It's called invasion of privacy or violation of civil rights. But somehow we have to get a handle on this problem of young men (for the most part) who harbor such irrational anger at the world that they kill strangers in large numbers.
Gun control is almost easier, except it's not. The NRA and its lobbyists are powerful and have deep pockets. Legislators who tabled consideration of extending the ban on assault weapons should hang their heads in shame. There is no reason for citizens to have assault weapons. Apparently none was used yesterday--I got into a long Facebook thread about what kind of weapon was used, until I finally threw up my hands and asked, "What the hell does it matter? Children are dead." I hope President Obama will show as much courage and determination in dealing with this problem as he is showing about the fiscal cliff. Now is the time for action, while the public is outraged. The NRA has held us hostage long enough.
Personally I would ban all guns, except perhaps hunting rifles, though I was amused today when someone pointed out that hunters only shoot at things who can't shoot back. So do terrorists who kill young children. Yes, there will always be illegal handguns but the more we can control, the better. I was appalled to read this morning that a Texas school district has armed its teachers. Wrong solutioin, so wrong.
Last night I shared a post of statistics about deaths by guns in this country compared to the number in other "civilized" countries. Apparently, the statistics were hopelessly out of date, and I apologize (one of the dangers of Facebook). But it is still true that more people in this country are killed by guns than in any other country in the "civilized" world. Yesterday over twenty school children and a teacher in China were attacked by an assailant weilding a knife. No one died. If that doesn't speak volumes, I don't know what does.
There is still nothing to say. My heart is still broken as I think about the families in Newtown and as I watch six-year-old Jacob decorating a gingerbread man and think how precious he is. That's what this season should be about--joy and wonder--not death and grief that will never go away. No I don't think we as a nation are lost and beyond hope. But I do think it's past time we took a good long look at ourselves and then moved to action.
Happy holidays everyone, and as you hold our loved ones tight, remember the people of Newtown. They will never again be the same, and Christmas will always be bitter for them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One of those days

The photo I picked up today
along with a suitable frame
Today simply was not one of my better days. I set out early on a bunch of errands, so I'd be in plenty of time for a TCU Retirees Luncheon. Went to CVS, where there was some confusion--apparently I paid online for the prints I ordered but didn't realize it and tried to pay again. Nice that they're honest. Then on to my regular groceery store for the things I forgot yesterday. Next to Central Market where I buy my fresh meat--got a boneless pork shoulder roast for tomorrow's chili but they didn't have chicken livers. I wandered around th store in no particular order, looking for chutney, and managed to buy two chocolate bars that weren't what I wanted at all. Honest, I don't need chocolate--Jordan et al gave me chocolate covered orange peel and I have a freezer full of desserts. But it seemed like everything in Central Market moved at the speed of cold molasses. Then back to Albertson's for the chicken livers. At first they didn't seem to have any either but a nice butcher said they just got a truck last night and he would check--took him ten minutes, while I tried really hard to be patient, and he appeared with a pound of frozen chicken livers. I thanked him but said I really wish they were unfrozen--that truck will be there Satruday night late. Too late for me.
Everywhere I went there were slow drivers, hesitant drivers, construction that brought traffic to a dead halt. Finally got home with all my groceries and a bit of time to spare. Somehow that time got eaten up and I was late to the luncheon. Good thing I had elected to mee Jean there--she likes to linger and visit, and I'm out the door like a shot so I can nap before I get Jacob. But sitting there I suddenly had one of those "I can't walk from here to there" moments, so I worried about getting out of the building and to my car during what should have been a pleasant program--and was. And a delicious lunch--ate way too much chicken with a rich sauce and risotto. As it turned out a friend was also hurrying out, and I asked her to walk me to my car. Which makes me feel awkward, dumb, all those things. "Is it your inner ear?" she asked. "No," I said truthfully, "it's anxiety." Since she travels all over the world alone, I'm not sure she had a clue what I was talking about.
So glad to come home, get my nap,, and collect Jacob. But then we didn't have the spelling list...and the test is tomorrow. Jordan emailed it when she got home. Meanwhile we had reconstructed it as best we could from memory, which I thought was a good exercise. Then came math--Jacob and I had different interpetations of the assignment. I have absolutely no idea what skip counting is and I figured he'd been told in class but opted to leave it for his father--who was equally puzzled but thought I was right. Sad day when you can't do first-grade math.
So here I sit, having had a great salad for supper, prepared for a long lazy evening. All the ingredients for crockpot chili are on the counter, the table is set, and I've done what I can do. Tomorrow will be a better day.
When I think of all the horrible problems, physical and emotional, that so many people have I feel like a wimp for getting all in a snit about walking across an empty parking lot. But it happens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Grab bars and gracefully aging--or falling

The other night good friends gathered at my dinner table. As I often do, I felt a little out of the conversation--maybe my hearing, maybe the fact that my family and friends are loud and all talk at once, and I get drowned out. But suddenly the conversation turned to me and safety in the shower--and I no longer felt left out. I was clearly at the center of the talk. (Jordan later said, "I didn't know you fell in the shower. When did you do that?" I explained I haven't--they were anticipating to the point they almost scared me out of taking showers.) Did I have grab bars? No, I have a towel rack in the shower. Oh, that would pull right out of the wall--they haven't seen the cement used to secure it in this old house. How did I get out of the tub? I hold on to the towel rack on the back of the bathroom door and step onto a rug. That would never do--too flimsy. Where was my monitor? Hanging on the doorknob within easy reach. And there's a non-skid rubber mat on the bottom of the tub. No, I need grab bars--can't figure out where I would put them that they wouldn't just make it harder to get out of the tub, but I will ask the contractor next time he's here.
I have fallen three times in recent months--once tripping over a flipped-back rug, once tangling my feet in the dog's leash, and once simply not paying attention and missing a single step down. None of those have to do with age; they do have to do with not paying attention, a lifetime habit. In fact, Colin, my oldest, said he would forgive me that single step fall in Jamie's house because he himself almost missed it a few times.
I'm grateful to have the concern of these loving friends but I suddenly felt like the really old lady at the table--the next oldest person is twenty years younger than me, almost to the day. And I was not at all sure how I felt about being in that role--no, I knew. I don't like it. I don't feel any older than these friends.
Over Thanksgiving, my oldest daughter fell while running--she tripped, as she said, "over nothing." Bunged up her knee, broke her cell phone, and put her hands out to stop herself--wrong, wrong! I know to roll with a fall and have not--knock on wood--injured myself badly. But no one made Megan's fall the subject of a major discussion.
I really don't want to be the old lady in the room. But then I appreciate concern. A dilemma.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home for the holidays

As the holidays approach, I get sort of sentimental about Christmases gone by. I remember the days when I automatically expected my grown children home for Christmas. Sure, when they married, we alternated years with in-laws and frequently we went to Santa Fe, but still they sometimes had Thanksgiving and/or Christmas in my house. Those days are gone—my family has grown too large to fit comfortably in my house; their houses are larger, and I admit dinner for sixteen is an effort for me. It’s all part of changing family dynamics that have been on my mind lately.

I raised four children, as a single parent from the time they ranged in age from six to twelve—those years I call the “casserole years” when I was in the car chauffeuring more than I was out, years when I was still at the core of their world and I knew almost everything they did (okay, there were some stories I heard years later that singed my hair).

I remember what a great shock it was to me when I realized that my children, now scattered across Texas, were communicating with each other without going through me. One would tell me the other was traveling, and I would bristle: why hadn’t they told me? Or some such similar thing. I thought I was Telephone Central, just as I thought I was Holiday Central. But I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that they have their own families and their own loyalties—they love me, but I am not at the center of the universe.

Today I have seven grandchildren. Each in his or her own way shows me affection, but I know it’s not the same as when my children were those ages and I was the center of their world. I remember babysitting Jacob one night when he was maybe eight months old. He woke with a bad dream, so I rocked him and he clung to my chest tightly and eventually went to sleep there. I hadn’t had a baby sleep on my chest and so look to me for comfort in years and it brought tears of joy. But if his mommy had been there, he would have gone to her—no question about it. And I know as much time as I spend with Jacob and as much as he loves me, his parents are the center of his world. He’ll ask, “When are my mommy and daddy coming?” I can never nor would I ever intrude on that relationship. I’ve had my day and it was wonderful. Now I’m grateful that I am still so much a part of the family and still so loved by my children and grandchildren.

IF you ask me my priorities in life, I’ll tell you always I’m a mom and a grandmom first, then I’m an author, and my third role (in order of significance) used to be that I was a publisher. Today I’m grateful I have an independent life that doesn’t depend totally on my family—I rather imagine they’re grateful for that too.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Lighten Up, Folks

The other day I posted a short notice on how dismayed I am at the Facebook posts that exhibit a gut-level hatred of President Obama, a hatred that goes far beyond disagreement with his political philosophies and is instead aimed at the man as a person. He is our elected president and deserves respect as such. I find it personally offensive when people are that bitter...and at the core, I always supsect racism, though most would deny it.
Today I'm a bit dismayed in a lighter manner, but I've been following a thread critical of the attention being paid to the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge. I have seen such comments as "I thought we weren't part of England any more" and "Is this more important than the fiscal cliff?" In answer to the latter, not it's not, but it's a nice diversion.
In spite of the fact that we separated ourselves from the monarchy almost 250 years ago, most Americans are still intrigued by the pomp and circumstance of English royalty. Look at the way we have followed Queen Elizabeth's years on the throne, from her coronation to her marriage and the recent celebration of her sixty years (is that right?) on the throne. And isn't she wonderfully regal and yet at the same time sort of salt-of-the-earth real? I remember my daughter and I watching coverage of the funeral of Diana into the wee hours of the night, and most of us were, more recently, glued to the TV on the happy occasion of the wedding of Will and Kate, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We seem to like all the ceremony that goes with the monarchy and is missing from much of American life. So why not follow the pregnancy, rejoice with the young couple, and worry when Kate is dehydrated enough to be hospitalized. Sure, hundreds of young women in this country have severe, acute morning sickness and it doesn't make the headlines, but hey, she's married to the heir to the British throne, the last great glamorous monarchy (yes, there are others but they don't have the same allure).
And yes, the whole thing took a tragic turn for the worse with the death, an apparent suicide, of the nurse who fell for a hoax and released information about Kate's condition. The journalists' desperation to get information, by hook or crook, reinforces my point about worldwide interest in the pregnancy but it also says something dark about journalistic integrity. My prayers go with the family of the nurse. NOw that's tragic news, worth complaining about.
But why not let the pregnancy be in the news and not grouse about it? Makes me think people are just looking for something to complain about. So complain about hungry, sick children in this country, abandoned dogs and cats, abused wives, gay couples who can't marry, cancer and HIV patients, wars we shouldn't be involved in--there are any number of causes. And after you complain, go out and do something--contribute to a canned food drive, adopt an animal, there are any number of ways to help in this world. The Duke and Duchess provide a light moment of relief.
.In this season of joy, let's share Will andKate's joy and stop complaining. And, hey, act like grown-ups and stop hating the man who has the heavy burden of steeering this country through troubled waters.
Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A very good day

The moon and stars must be aligned just right today. One friend on Facebook said she feels like shouting "I love the world!" and others echoed similar sentiments, indicating it was a good day. Here in Fort Worth it was a beautiful sunny day--a little cool when Jacob and I set out this morning and a little windy, but, as a woman I used to know said, "it faired off" and was delightful.
Jacob was home one more day, though maybe he could have gone to school without infecting anyone. Yesterday I thought I was a failure as a grandmother and he would grow up remembering me as the mean one--yes, you have to do your spelling. "Turn off the TV and pay attention." "No, you may not open the front door and wave at your friends who are leaving school when you've been home sick all day." "No, you can't go out to the apartment to see Elizabeth. She hasn't had a flu shot." I will say to his credit, he forgot, went into the apartment, was there about two minutes and said, "I can't stay. Juju said I can't come out here." So they talked through the door. But when he left last night I felt it had not, to say the least, been one of our better days.
Today I had a wonderful companion who was sunshine, laughter and giggles all day. We ran the errands I'd been itching to do all week--the jeweler's for a watch battery, Michael's for votive candle holder (where in the attic are mine?), Staples for an ink cartridge and paper, the liquor store for wine to last over the holiday, and--the treat, the surprise!--McDonald's for a happy meal. Only we got there too early--they were still serving breakfast. He decided he wanted hotcakes and then was dismayed that they don't come with a toy. Jacob spent a good part of the afternoon in the yard playing with the dog. I looked out once and the two of them were huddled together, their backs against the outside wall of the apartment. So sorry I didn't get a picture. Tomorrow he goes back to school and then to his other grandparents' for the weekend. Yeah, I'm relieved--but I will miss him.
Other good things happened--a preview of a great review of Trouble in a Big Box, lunch with a friend I've known for forty years, talk to on the phone frequently, rarely see--a real treat, and plans beginning to come together for the book signing Monday night. Yes, world, I'm a happy camper too. Hope the moon and stars stay wherever they are!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The amazing Nancy Drew

Especially for her time--the fifties and sixties--Nancy Drew was an amazing young lady. She could swim, dance, hike, do all manner of things. As one reviewer at today's Nancy Drew Luncheobn said, she could do anything.  She had amazing survival skills, living through being shoved overboard on a cruise and being buried in a cave-in, among other disasters. For a young lady in a time when people didn't travel as freely as they do today, she was surprising well traveled--from the Netherlands to Arizona to Istanbul and other exotic places--in over 48 mysteries, she could do a lot of hopping around the world. Her mystery solving skills are beyind comparison; never mind that she relied on coincidence and lucky happenstance for a lot of her solutions. When us oldsters were reading her books way back then, we believed she could do all those things and that all those adventures could happen to her (we hadn't become cynical about the Cabot Cove Syndrome yet)--and we wanted to be Nancy Drew with her red convertible. In a room of over fifty women, only three had never read the books--and two of those just read their first to be on the discussion panel. Fascinating stuff, and it took many of us back a lot of years.
The menu at today's luncheon was pretty much from the fifties--high in carbs. There was Scarlet Slipper Raspberry Punch from The Scarlet Slipper Mystery; Crooked Banister Corn Bread from The Crooked Banister; Shadow Ranch Barbecued Beans from The Secret of Shadow Ranch (one of the earlier books); Mannequin Casserole from The Mysterious Mannequin; and Brass-Bound Trunk Candy from The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk. I didn't taste the punch but others said it was pretty good; the cornbread was just that--cornbread; the barbecued beans were really really sweet--what we in Texas call northern beans. They were made with two cans pork and beans, not from beans soaked overnight, and cooked only two hours. Good, if you like sweet beans--and I do. The main dish, Mannequin Casserole, was a melange of ground beef, macaroni shells, tomato sauce, creamed corn and cheese with onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. Good, but as a friend next to me said, "It's sort of what we call ghouash," and another said "It's like the Doris' Cassereole you make, Judy." Still, if I weren't on the small portion kick, I'd have gone back for more.
Presenters synopsized each book from which a recipe came but they were hard put to tie the recipe to the book--the cornbread was actually mentioned on a specific page in Crooked Banister, but the reviewer for Shadow Ranch could only surmise that when they packed a picnic lunch for a day's outing, it included the beans. And the reviewer for The Mysterious Mannequin, in which Nancy finds herself in Istanbul, guessed that it was based on a dish from that region of the world. Hmmm. With canned corn?
 The cookbook was originally compiled in 1973 by Carolyn Keene, the pen name used by the several authors who compiled the mysteries; a later version, Nancy Drew: Clues to Good Cooking was published in 2005 and was the book the recipes came from today.
Highlight came when Tracy Thompson read from Nancy Drew's Guide to Life which contains such gems (roughly paraphrased) as "If you see a bleeding injured man swimming toward your boat, be sure to stop and help him; he may be fleeing evil pursuers." Or, "Never disregard fine lines on a piece of paper--a microscope may reveal them to be fine printing."  Or "If you see something resembling a shark in the water, don't fret. It's more likely a small submarine operated by thieves." Words to live by.
Fun event, and now I think I even want to reread one of the books--don't I remember a title about a winding staircase? And another about an old clock? The friend next to me said she still has all thirty-six of her books. If you want to delve more deeply into Nancy and her history, there are scholarly books today, such as Nancy Drew and The Women Who Created Her, which I suppose talks about The Stratemeyer Syndicate that created not only Nancy but the Hardy Boys and other series. A great era in young-adult literature--and we got a welcome glimpse back into it today! Kudos to Susan Oakley, Shari Barnes, and Human Relations at TCU for a great luncheon .

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The flu, cabin fever, Nancy Drew, and the end of the world

Yesterday I said to Christian, "No, of course he doesn't have the flu. He'd feel a lot worse, achy, and his stomach would be involved." Well, that shows what a good diagnostician I am. Jacob has the flu, diagnosed by a nose swab at the doctor's office today--no wonder my brother always says, "Don't tell me if they feel hot; take the temperature." So Jacob and I are stuck with each other at least through tomorrow. He's still coughing, still has fever though lower, and is contagious. (Yes, I've had a flu shot, and I figure if I haven't gotten it by now--it started Friday when he spent the entire night breathing on me--I'm not going to; hope that's not faulty logic.)
Yesterday I had him all day; this morning he was at the doctor's most of the morning, and then Jordan came to let me keep a lunch date. And I had a good nap in the afternoon, so it wasn't hard. Tomorrow she'll come to let me take almost two hours to go to a luncheon at TCU. But Jacob and I are both tiring of each other's company, and we have cabin fever. I have a bunch of errands I'd like to get done, so I keep telling my compulsive self that the world won't end if I don't do them for a few days.
The luncheon tomorrow is one of a series sponsored by Human Rrelations and I'm looking forward to it. It's a Nancy Drew luncheon, with dishes made from recipes in the Nancy Drew Cookbook--who even knew there was such a thing? I only have one granddaughter young enough to be interested--the other two have outgrown Nancy Drew, though I don't think I did until I was twelve or so. Kids are so much more sophisticated today--blame it on social media, cell phones, iPads, and the like. That aside, I'm just interested in the whole Nancy Drew canon and am curious about the luncheon. Should be fun.
I've also gotten some work done while Jacob's been here--a new final scene to the novel I've been working on. Now to proofread it one more time, and then I'll send it off. Nice closure for the end of the year. Not starting a new proejct until January.
So life goes along, and Christmas won't be cancelled or even delayed because I may not do my errands till Friday or Saturday. The world will still revolve. Which reminds me--I was delighted to receive an invitation to a party for Skeptics and Optimists. It says,, "If the sun rises on Dec. 22, we'll party." Dec. 21 is of course the day the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world. I feel a bit about that as I did about the millenium when it approached--a little apprehensive, not that the world will end, but that something bad could happen.. But I'm an optimist--it probably won't.
Just looked at the labels for this post--the wide array really indicates that I've rambled. Bear with me folks, it's cabin fever...and the season.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A cooking weekend

Seems like I spent most of the weekend cooking--and I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend. Friday night, with two little boys for supper, I fixed hot dogs, canned corn, and potato chips (okay, that's not really cooking)--neither boy ate well, and it turned out that both had slight colds. By the next morning, Jacob was really sick but that's another story.
After Max went home and Jacob was settled I made peanut butter cookies, the old recipe that my mom handed down--gosh but they smell wonderful fresh out of the oven. And made myself salmon cakes for supper--have enjoyed them all weekend and am sad to say I was piggy enough to eat two for lunch today so they're all gone.
Saturday's big project was coq au vin made the old-fashioned way, so that it simmers a long time in the sauce. There's much reduction of sauces involved--something that my impatience usually makes difficult, but I did it right this time. One of the tedious things about this dish was chopping--carrots, celery, onions and eventualy mushrooms. But I got it all together, cooked it and put it in the fridge.
This morning I woke with the jitters--can't explain it, but I was just plain anxious. Cooking is often a good antidote, so after I talked to Jordan, found out Jacob had a 102 fever, and they weren't going to church, I finished off the coq au vin. Fished the chicken out, sauteed the mushrooms, reduced the sauce once again and put it all back together. And then back in the fridge. Spent the rest of the morning wrapping Christmas gifts. I'm way ahead of the game--not unusual for me.
Tonight, Jordan and Christian came with Jacob--now 102.9, though medicine took it down and he felt okay but not great. Did eat dinner with us, and Elizabeth came in from her yoga classes in time for supper. Chicken was so tender it fell off the bone--one piece (I had used thighs) literally did fall apart and got lost in the sauce, which was rich and good the way only a sauce cooked for hours can be. It was also chock full of  veggies--carrots, celery, onion and mushrooms. Christian of course wanted nothing to do with the veggies but the rest of us loved them.
My neighbors put new flickering white lights on the arbor outside my dining room window, and we lit the Christmas lights inside the house for the first time this season. I used my red-and-green plaid china, and we felt festive. Lovely evening--so nice to have family around and so nice to have Elizabeth as part of the family. Counting my blessings once again.
Tomorrow is a babysitting day, though he requires little attention. I shudder to admit I'll park him in front of the TV, but his parents will bring some movies, and maybe we'll do a puzzle or two, but, please Lord, not Spiderman again! Jacob can't go back to school until he's been fever-free for 24 hours.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Do you live in an old house?


My house, cozy and snug in a 2011 snowstorm
The decorative dentil molding over the porch gave way to age several years ago
My house was built in 1922. It wears its age proudly and well. Over its ninety years, it has softened and gentled until it wraps itself around me in a way new houses never do. More than a house, it's home and has been for twenty years. The floors are scuffed and scraped—you can see where my Aussie slept every warm night, preferring the wood floor to his bed. I guess the oil from his coat gradually wore away the finish. Same thing in the spot in the office, where he always slept at my feet. And under my rolling chair—and I do roll from desk to credenza to get this, that or the other—the floor is similarly scraped. Some previous owners weren’t smart about water damage from plants, and there are some huge circular stains in the dining room. Even the new floor that was put in the add-on family room ten years ago shows stress and strain by the back door to the yard—too many muddy dogs and children have gone in and out.  When one of my daughters suggested I have the floors redone, my answer was ready: too difficult to live through, too expensive, and shiny would floors would make this grand old lady (the house, not me) uncomfortable. The next occupant will have to redo the floors—but I hope that’s a long way down the road.

When something breaks in an old house, it really breaks. It seems like I have a water leak somewhere all the time which means high water bills and even higher plumbing bills. Commodes are big offenders—they leak, they run, they periodically re-flush themselves even if you’re not in the room. The plumber explained that one to me and it sort of made sense. Most recently the commode in the guest apartment sprang a leak—and warped the wood floor so that several boards had to be placed. I could not live in my old house without Bundock Construction—brothers Lewis and Jim. They did some major remodeling in 2000, taking out a partial wall and putting in French doors, redirecting duct work, giving me a new attic staircase because they said the old one would kill me, and finishing with a much needed paint job. When they finished, they said “Call us. You’re one of ours now.” I’m sure they’ve lived to regret those words, because I call almost every week, for everything from a light bulb high above the kitchen soffet to a broken bird feeder.

I’m convinced old houses get dirty faster than new ones—they have cracks and crevices through which dirt sifts, windows don’t fit tightly (vines have been known to grow in those little windows over the bookcases that flank my Art Deco fireplace). There’s a crack between tile floor (those old tiny octagonal tiles) and baseboard behind the bathroom sink, and most mornings a gecko comes through to visit with me. I wait for him and welcome him. Thanks to Socorro Escobar who keeps my house clean. Love old houses, hate to clean them.

At night I lie in bed and look at a ceiling with so many cracks that it looks like a road map. I listen to my house creak and groan and it settles a tiny bit. Occasionally there’s a loud, unidentified noise, but I figure if the dog isn’t alarmed, I won’t be either. I’m home, safe, and comfortable.