Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reading galleys and switching gears

Yesterday I determined to devote myself to finishing the galleys I started reading over the rather tumultous weekend. I cleared the desk of everything else, after doing homework with Jacob. He spent the rest of the afternoon like a lamb watching TV. So after I fed us--salads for me and a hot dog for him--I settled down to work, thinking he'd stay in front of the TV till his father came. No such luck.
He came cheerily into the office, told me to close what I was doing and go to ninjago.com (I checked later and it is a real site) because they were going to send him a package. As an afterthought, he added that they would be sending me diamond earrings with ninjas hanging from them--just my style! I explained I had to finish what I was doing. "Well, when you're finished." I explained he'd be home asleep when I finished, and he asked, "And you won't be asleep?" He chattered and chattered, and when I gently asked if he didn't want to go to the playroom and watch TV, he said, "No, I want  you to have company." Thank you, sweet Jacob. We compromised. He watched the Disney channel in my office, and I tuned it out.
Finished reading the galleys, compiled my corrections, and sent them off. About noon they came back. I had understood that the editor would correct in Word and the executive editor would create a new pdf. Besides, I couldn't tell page numbers on the pdf. I framed my corrections so that using the find button would be easy--I thought. No, they need corrections by page and line. I whined, I blamed, I behaved badly (okay, it's been a bad week or last week was bad ending with my family's weekend trauma.) I called Melinda at TCU Press to ask how to tell page numbers (after embarrasing myself with my editors) and before I even got the question out I saw the page numbers across the top. Worked out a system to translate the corrections I'd found so I didn't have to read the whole galley over--was actually pretty proud of myself about that. I'd use Word to search for context, and then find the passage in the pdf. By now I know the manuscript by heart. After a solid afternoon of work, with time out for Jacob and the dogs and a visit with Jacob's mother, I finished and have sent the new version off with great relief.
Now to start over with the manuscript I was revising before all this happened. I had gone through five chapters, but I've lost the thread. It is not part of the Kelly O'Connell series but a possible first entry in a new series--or a stand-alone. So I have to leave one fictional world and immerse myself in another. Not sure I'll tackle that tonight. Tomorrow looked like a long empty day where I could do that--until I speak to a book group in the evening--but a call from the audiology office reminded me of a nine o'clock appointment. Life gets in the way a lot. Thursday will be grocery shopping and Friday, haircut and a quick stop at Central Market to prepare for the arrival of part of my family this weekend. Trouble is I don't know which part and how many and what to buy. Yikes!
A note on yoga: I've been back at it, almost daily, since the first of the year and was pleased this morning at how much stronger I am. That means my muscles don't quiver as much during some poses, like down dog or warrior, and instead of ten, I did fifteen mini-push-ups today. My puzzlement: does a yoga workout do you as much good if you have to stop and answer the phone three times?
Off to dinner with neighbors at the Neighborhood Grill--it's meatloaf night. Hurray!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fort Worth' s iconic Mexican restaurant

There's nothing like overeating at Joe T. Garcia's to start a Sunday with a smile. Jordan, Christian, and David (Jordan's longtime good friend and first high school boyfriend) and I had brunch there. Christian ordered migas, but we had "the dinner"--cheese nachos (huge), cheese enchiladas, guac, rice, beans, and two small tacos. I didn't eat the rice and gave the tacos to Christian--color me righteous. Almost fifty years ago my first introduction to Tex-Mex was at Joe T.’s. After all, I grew up in Chicago and never ate Mexican food at all. My ex and I went to professional meetings there, and I slowly learned to eat cheese enchiladas, tacos, and guacamole. To this day I scrape the chilies off the cheese nachos. But the thing I love best is the beans. Rumor is that at Joe T.’s the beans are “boracchio,” made with beer. I know they’re also made with lard and are as bad for you as chopped liver, but I do like them.
Joe T.'s has a fascinating history. It began as a grocery store where the original Joe T.'s wife also fixed enchiladas and tamales for workers at nearby sites on the North Side. Gradually it grew and grew as various generations of the Garcia and Lancarte families took over the business. Today it encompasses almost a city block, with outdoor seating in gardens that in spring and summer are lush and beautiful. The restaurant draws celebrities and every other rehearsal dinner in Fort Worth. On a warm spring night, the wait is incredible but well worth it. But if you live in Fort Worth, you know all that.
It made a pleasant start to the day. I slept late--actually I woke up and wondered why it was so light. One look at the clock told me. I read emails, Facebook and the paper, fed the dogs, made the bed, and it was lunch time. Home to work on those galleys.
Joel is less on my mind today, though emails from my sister-in-law have upset me and new details keep springing up. But I'm trying to put it behind me. I am sorry that my four kids will to go to California next weekend for some kind of memorial service, but I'll have an "in-law" weekend. Their spouses and children plan to come for rodeo and stock show.
I have come to one conclusion--and after this the subject is dropped from this blog. My parents may have shaped the kind of person I am, but Joel set the course for my life: without him, I would not be in Texas, and I would not have my children. And if he hadn't left, I wouldn't have had the good career I've had. My life is good, so a tip of the hat to hime for all that.
Now I'm moving on.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Working through it

I'm still trying to process the death of my ex, Joel. That's him above, I think after a marathon. Although in a wheelchair for a decade or more, he was once a dedicated runner. I've gotten an outpouring of love and understanding today from friends old and new. They all seem to understand that it's not nearly as simple as saying, "Oh, well, I haven't been married to him for thirty years, so it doesn't matter to me." It does matter, probably made more of an impact on me than on our children. I've heard so much today about good Joel/bad Joel that my head is spinning. For years, I've wondered how to explain to people why I married him, but a friend summed it up so well today when she wrote, "In the old days he had a charisma that was charming and an enthusiasm for life that was infectious." There you have it--that's why I married him, and that's the man I grieve for. I remember too a few years ago when a friend from early on and I stood on my front porch talking about Joel. With us was her son, named Joel, then about thirty. Finally he exploded, "Wait a minute! If he's such a bad guy, why am I named after him?" His mother looked at him and said simply, "Because we all loved him back then." Funny and complicated stuff.
It looks like the service will be this weekend in Santa Rosa on their farm--Joel told me it is the former Jack London homestead. Not sure about that, but it makes a good story. My four children will go together, along I think, with Joel's brother, the Uncle Mark to whom they are all close. They will not take spouses or children. But there goes our rodeo/stock show weekend, which I had been looking forward to. A petty thought at this point.
Meantime life goes on. I was slow getting going this morning--slept late and overwhelmed by emails--but finally did the cleaners, post office, Williams Sonoma (fruitless trip), Origins (expensive trip) and Central Market. Came home and finished laundry, cryovaced the meat I bought (my doctor told me to eat more read meat while a friend told me her doctor said not to eat red meat--go figure!), and fixed some curry/chutney/chicken salad for my supper. It ws okay but probably not a recipe I'll keep or repeat.
I am reading galleys on my second Kelly O'Connell mystery, No Neighborhood for Old Women, but because of distractions I'm moving slowly. The editor would like to have them back early in the week but that's looking less and less likely. I'm plugging away though.
Can't say enough about my wonderful children--the solidarity they've shown through this, the support for me (they seem less emotional than I am), their willingness to pay their respects to a father who was distant from them. Regardless of all else, I have a wonderful family and am so blessed.
And say what I might about Joel--he brought a lot of pain and grief into my life but earlier he brought great joy and love and laughter. That's what I choose to remember.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Numb and puzzling grief

This is hard to write, because I'm not sure how I feel. Joel, my ex-husband, died unexpectedly today. He'd been in a wheelchair for years and was not in good health, but there had been no decline lately. My chldren would have told me. For years I've known that I'd outlive him and wondered how I'd feel when he died. We've been divorced thirty years, and the last two years we were together he was pretty cruel to me in emotional terms. But I find all that vanished from my mind. I have cried, not wrenching huge sobs but tears that keep creeping down my cheeks. I am grieving for all that he missed in life--our children, our grandchildren, and the wonderful family life we have--and for a man that I once loved a lot and had a wonderful time with. Now grown, my chldren have not been close to their father, though they have great childhood memories of him. He was a terrific father to young children and brought a lot of fun into their lives. So the ones I've talked to are like me--sad but puzzled about how to feel. They will go to whatever kind of service is held in California, but they have agreed to go as a foursome, without families.
Joel and I have not been close for many years, not one of those divorces where you keep in touch. When Jordan married, the minister asked delicately how mom and dad get along, and Jordan said, "They're cordial." That's about it. We saw each other at weddings. When our oldest married in 2000, the whole wedding party was on a catamarand cruise off Grand Cayman, and somehow Joel and I sat by ourselves and talked for an hour, talking about the past and people we knew. I said I was often tempted to email him with news of those people, especially deaths, and he said he wished I would. But it never happened. The last time I saw him or had any contact was 2004 when our youngest married and he raised a nice toast to me for the way I'd raised our children (it made me feel a bit like the nanny). Yes, it was cordial, but there was nothing to bind us together anymore. He had chosen a lifestyle that was foreign to me, and my career has blossomed in directions it never took while we were married. For him, there was a second wife and another child, a girl of whom I've always been fond; for me, one man that mattered and some that didn't, and now a wonderful personal and professional life. I can't and won't play the grieving widow. And yet I'm puzzled.
I have this strong feeling that there should be a Fort Worth obituary--even today people ask me how Joel is, and I always say that my kids haven't told me there was any change. And there are people I feel should know. I have notified some personal friends, but the rest is up to Joel's wife and, perhaps my children. I have to remember my place (or non-place) in this.
And yet I grieve and shed tears.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Memoir class

My memoir class met tonight for the first meeting of the spring session. We had four returning members and four new ones, a most interesting mix. Each returnee introduced herself and told a bit about why she keeps coming back, what she's learned, how she's been encouraged by the group. Some of the things surprised me, in a good way, and it was rewarding to hear that they feel they've grown and become more comfortable with their writing. One member writes so well there's no critiquing her except to say what we like about it. Tonight she had us in hysterics with a tale about a newlywed housewife and her mundane existence--must win three hands of solitaire before she begins housecleaning, etc. Two others said that through the class they can see a pattern to their writing now, the outline of the project--both are writing for their families and not publication, but the fourth returnee is writing for publication now and has placed a short story. The new members talked about their insecurity about writing, and I remembered that most of the  class began that way and now they're happy to dispense advice and encouragement to others. What a great experience this has been. I'm enjoying it a lot.
Today started out damp and dreary but by the time I emerged from the eye doctor's office, eyes fully dilated, it was bright and sunny. Instead of going to the retirees luncheon, I opted to close my dilated eyes for a long nap! I have had it with doctor appointments--an echocardiogram Monday, skin tumor removal Wednesday, eye doctor today. Each appoointment turned out fine, but it's a wearing way to spend the week. Tomorrow I have to get up really early to take a friend for a colonoscopy,but that's a different thing. I'll treat it like a vacation and read a lot.
Sunny afternoon lightens anyone's disposition. Jacob and I "made up"--he showered me with love, and I gave him the option of doing homework here or at home. He chose home because I'm "sometimes so bossy about it." I think we're still figuring this thing out, but we will. This afternoon he had sparkling cider and declared we were having a party. I sked if he wanted to go into the office and watch TV there and he said no, he wanted to stay at the table and talk. So we talked. Such fun.
Life is good. May it be so for all of you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kindergarten homework

Jacob and I have had a rough two days, mostly clashing over homework. He uses any excuse to put it off and I end up feeling like a bully for ordering him to do it after his snack. Today I decided I would try extra hard to make it a more pleasant day than yesterday, so even before we left the school I said I thought a cold rainy day called for hot cocoa. He agreed and ended up dumping semi-sweet minimorsels into it. Then he had a Twinkie (long story why I bought them and won't again) and went off to visit the dogs, who were in their beds because of the rain. I distinctly told him not to let the puppy out of her crate. Next  thing I knew Sophie came bounding into my office. His explanation? He wanted to try his sunglasses on her. That did NOT get us off to a good start.
But we turned to the homework.  Jacob's approach is to guess. One problem had five chickens. If you take two away how many are left? He looked at me brightly and suggested "Five?" Now this is not a slow child--he figures things out way beyond his years when he wants to. He just plain doesn't want to do his homework. We struggled through that math work, counting on fingers and counting animals on the page. Once he gets the hang of it, he whips through it in no time and generally is pretty proud of himself. That didn't happen today--I almost felt he was playing with me, and my string grew shorter and shorter.
Next we moved on to the new batch of reading words he'd brought home. The guessing was much worse. He'd look at "this" and I'd sound out "th" and "iss" and he'd say happily, "Green!" Then he wanted to love the dog; next he was distracted by the pictures on my computer screen. I got read of all distractions. We finally muddled through, and as he finally got each word I made him study it. Told his mom they should go over the words with him again tonight. Bet he doesn't remember them.
We parted friends. I got three kisses, a huge hug, and an agreement that tomorrow will be better. But Mom was quite strict about listening to Juju's dog instructions or losing his dog privileges.
I hate the way this whole business makes me feel, like it's ruining all the fun we usually have together. And I hate it when he says, "You're so mean. All  you care about is homework." I tell him "No, all I care about is you."
I honestly don't think my kids had homework in kindergarten, and I'm too old for this!
Rant over.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lessons in Humility on a rainy day

Yesterday as I went down the drive to cross the street and pick up Jacob at school, there was a car parked diretly across my driveway. My one peeve about living across from a school, and it's a big one, is that parents are rude. So as I skirted the car and headed across the street, I was in high dudgeon. My friend Booker, the crossing guard, must have guessed my mood because he came over to me and just as I was saying, "Now that's rude in the extreme," he said, "She's handicapped. I told her you don't go anywhere this time of day." Not the first time he's made me see things in a different perspective.
And another lesson: last week when friends were here, Jordan came by and we were talking about an acquaintance whose behavior we didn't exactly like. Jordan said, "She's ... wait I have to think how to say this." Five-year-old Jacob piped up, "Yeah, because there's a child in the room." It made me realize we were being petty to talk about anybody in terms we couldn't say in front of him. Was it Mother Teresa who said if you judge others you don't have time to love them?
Seems to me I get a lot of similar lessons in humility but I'm a slow learner. I look at others who are dealing with illness or unhappiness or aging parents or other family problems, and I'm grateful for my healthy, happy family, my satisfying life as a writer, my house, animals and garden. But I still need to learn to translate that deliberate thanksfulness to automatic response to other people. Hard to do. Don't get me started on some politicians--I may draw the line there:-)
Lunch today with Melinda at our favorite Italian place, Patrizio's. We each had a half grilled chicken salad--their salads are huge and half is just right. As we always do we laughed and hooted and had fun. It was a sunny, pleasant day. By three, when I got Jacob it was gray, and we felt the first few drops.  Tonight it's outright raining, and I'm going to forego my weekly Tuesday night meatloaf fix. Maybe I'll sneak down to the Grill Thursday night and get take-out before my class. This is a good night to stay home, warm and dry.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kids, cooking, and writing--the stuff of Judy's Stew

The mail brought a delightful surprise today--Lisa had a 2012 calendar made on Snapfsih--all adorable pictures of their adorable children, Morgan and Kegan. When I wrote to thank her she pointed out that she had annotated it for all the birthdays in the family, anniversaries, and major holidays.  I'm always looking for ways to keep track of birthdays, so this will be perfect. And besides I can look at those bright faces.
The same mail brought another bonus--the new issues of Southern Living and Bon Appetit. Two in one day! Work went out the window while I browsed--reading recipes in magazines is absolutely high on my list of favorite things.
Southern Living has, for instance, a whole spread on pimiento cheese. I have only learned to like it in the last few years, but now I love it. I have made good pimiento cheese at home but I also have a favorite "store-bought" brand--Palmetto cheese (not the kind with jalapenos added, thank you). It has cream cheese and just enough red pepper bite. Jordan has turned up her nose a pimiento cheese for years, I suppose because she wasn't raised on it (nor was I as a northerner). But she eats a lot of this if I put it out for an appetizer. That brand was mentioned in the article, along with several others. And there are directions for several varieties--and a pimiento cheese/bacon sandwich. Be still my heart. And how about chutney chicken salad? Yummm.
Bon Appetit this month is devoted to southern cooking--even directions for caring for that cast-iron skillet you can't live without. The last time I followed directions for re-seasoning my skillet, I thought I'd ruined it. But scrubbing stubborn bits with Kosher salt makes sense to me. And skillet-fried chicken sounds heavenly. I've never been successful at frying chicken but this may make me try again.
And writing? Tonight I talked to the mystery class in the community classes program at TCU. My friend Shari Barnes coordinates it and I'm sure it's her leadership that makes it such a lively, funny group. The session was filled with laughter--and some penetrating questions that I had to think about. General concensus: they liked Kelly a lot, so there to to book reviewer who thought she was a cold snob.
What a nice day! Now back to work, but I'm not through with those magazines. That was just the first go-throiugh.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lovely day, crazy weather, and chocolate

Yesterday it was shirt-sleeve weather--in the seventies; today it was in the low fifties with a cold wind in spite of sunny skies; tomorrow it will be in the seventies. Welcome to North Texas. Still it was a lovely, lazy day--grocery store, household chores--including changing linen on the guest bed. I hate to make beds so I do it by stages--put pillow cases on, several hours later, put sheets on. Still have to put the comforter, pillows, and decorative blanket in place.
No news to anyone but dieting sometimes makes you very hungry. I fixed myself a lovely lunch of one deviled egg, hearts of palm, and brown rice and flax crackers with hummus--healthy, no? But I went back and had a banana, and then, because I was writing a guest blog about chocolate, I had some chocolate--third piece I've had since New Years. Tonight I had two small new potatoes, a bit of spinach and a half hamburger--still hungry. Had blueberries. And I'm still hungry! Discovery: when you cook hamburgers in salt, as I do (my mom taught me that) blue cheese makes them too salty.
But I had fun this afternoon researching a blog on chocolate and writers--actually didn't come up with as much as I expected, but chocolate, for all its possible negative effects--obesity, migraine, etc.--is a "feel good" substance. Debate rages: does it make us feel good because of it's so rich, sensual, creamy, gratifying, dense, and silky smooth--or because it has flavonoids and caffeine and actually gives us a chemical boost? Now to apply that to writing--in 500 words.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Yoga--and me

Ten or more years ago a friend and I took a yoga class at TCU. Maybe 10-15 people in a big, bare room with one mirrored wall. I think it was the mirrors that did me in--even ten years ago I saw that when I leaned over, some things--like my face--didn't stay in place but sagged. Demoralizing. And I didn't particularly like anything about the class, could never stand the relaxation at the end. So I quit, and when all about me were raving about yoga, I resisted. It wasn't for me. I walked for exercise.
Several things happened to change that: both my daughter-in-law Melanie and my good friend Elizabeth began to study yoga and today they are both certified instructors. And I realized that I was no longer sure-footed and didn't have the self-confidence for my daily walk that I once had. It took a while but one day I announced to Elizabeth that I was ready for lessons. She, bless her, didn't gloat, just set up a businesslike arrangement for lessons at my home. I had to convince her I didn't want candles or mood music with the lesson, but gradually I mastered some poses and semi-learned the relaxation/meditaton at the end--the first time I tried that, Elizabeth said indignantly, "You're reading the titles in the bookcase, aren't you?" Relaxation has never been easy for me, but I got to where I did a half-hour workout and began alternating--yoga one day, indoor recumbent bike the next.
I was pretty faithful until I got Sophie last July, then a twelve-week old energetic Bordoodle (half Border Collie, half poodle) pup. Taking care of her wore me out and gave me plenty of exercise. I quit doing anything else. And once you quit, it's hard to return. I did some yoga sporadically but my muscles soon lost the pattern and my conscience kept nagging at me.
Like many people I made some 2012 resolutions, a return to yoga among them. I find I approach it far differently now--for one thing, since retiring two years ago, I am a much more relaxed person and the relaxation part is easier for me--it always turns into prayer (eyes closed, no reading titles) but I do a survey of my muscles, relaxing them body part by body part, and I try to clear my mind of anxiety, negative thoughts and the like. I am also much more focused on my breathing, so that I approach yoga poses with more concentration than I did before I see all this as part of real growth--physical improvement yes, but emotional or spiritual growth.
And my two role models? They're both so busy teaching--and Melanie has an  unrelated day job--that they complain they don't have time for their workouts!
My resolutions also included watching my weight go down, not up. I have a friend who says he lost 17 lbs. by portion control and omitting bread. That's what I'm trying, and I've lost two lbs. I figure slow and steady does it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A publishing summit--sort of

No Judy's Stew last night because I could not get Gayla Christiansen and Fran Vick to stop chatting; if I left the room, they'd chat about me, so I was stuck. Gayla is director of marketing for Texas A&M Press; Fran is the retired director of the University of North Texas Press, and I am, of course, retired as director of TCU Press. We call ourselves the Front Porch Wine Drinking, World Problem Solving Three Ladies of Publishing. Our sleepovers are hard to schedule and therefore don't happen as often as we'd like, but the ladies do like to come here and let me cook for them. Each has her own bed--Jacob gave permission to Gayla to sleep in his bed, but she'd been sleeping in it long before he ever did. Kathie Lang Allen (retired senior editor from SMU Press) and Carol Roark (retired curator of the Texas Collection at the Dallas Public Library) joined us for dinner and talk ranged from personal to professional and back again, with lots of laughter. I have beene threatened with bodily harm if I share the sources of the laughter but as Gayla said this morning, the comfort level was high. It is good to have old, comfortable friends--and I mean that in the best way. And there are some ex-husbands and husbands whose ears should be burning this morning.
Gayla and I share dog history--I "interviewed" her first dog, Eppi, for her and she loved that dog beyond measure. Eppi died this fall, and Gayla has Jake, sort of a border collie mix. I have been actively watching for a second dog for her--Jake is lonely without Eppi. But both ladies needed to meet Sophie. Late in the evening Gayla sat on the floor and I brought Sophie in, having warned Gayla that once you're on the floor you're a toy and all rules are off. Sophie jumped and licked but soon lay quietly (all adjectives are relative) in Gayla's lap with an occasional venture to let Fran pet her. So nice to know she can do that. I wish I'd gotten pictures--I tried but neither the dog nor the woman were still long enough.
I often surprise the ladies with a gourmet meal, usualy something I've never cooked before. Last night, it was a beet/orange/avocado salad with vinaigrette and a pot of chili. We've decided it must be the "Chili that is not chili." It contained along with all the tomatoes and hamburger orange juice, cinnamon, and cocoa powder in it in addition to coriander and chili powder--no onions. Garlic yes but not discernible. But yes, beans (black). (I can hear chiliheads exclaiming in horror.) I thought there was too much tomato puree and added a can of beer to thin it. And I'd doubled the recipe. You can imagine the result: I have half a pot of chili left over. Sent two ladle-fulls (ladlesfull?) home with each of them, plan to give some to my neighbor, and will serve some to Jordan and Christian and myself tonight.
Dessert? What else after the week's headlines? I served a basket of Twinkies. Not as good as I remember from childhood. I'll see how Jacob likes them this afternoon.
At 11:30 I finally announced I was going to bed (ever the good hostess) and they followed with suitable warnings about alarm systems, coffee pot, front door locks and the newspaper. They probably took half an hour to settle down; at 4:30 Fran's light was on and she was reading in bed. When I got up at 7:00 they were drinking coffee, fully dressed, in the family room. We greeted Jacob on his way to school, which they thought was great fun, and went down the street to the Neighborhood Grill for breakfast about nine. Stayed there an hour, more talking and laughing.
I saw them off with mixed feelings--so much fun, such good friends--but so much to do on my desk. Such breaks are a wonderful change in routine, and I'm lucky to have them happen so often in my life. It isn't always Gayla and Fran, but there's always something around the next corner to look forward to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A boy and a dog and thoughts on book clubs

I'm particularly proud of this picture because seven months ago Jacob was scared of Scooby--who is the sweetest dog in the world. But Sophie came into our lives, jumping and nipping with puppy teeth, and Jacob somehow decided Scooby was safer. Now he lies down on the floor with either of them. Sophie climbs all over him, licking, and he just giggles. I was afraid of dogs when I was very young--my parents mistakenly told me a Scottie snapped at me when I was an infant. But then my brother brought home a sweet but wild collie mix named Timmy (female). I loved that dog and have loved so many dogs since--and grieved over more than I care to count. I can't imagine living without a dog. My other grandchildren are comfortable with dogs, ranging from strong affection to mild interest, and I wanted Jacob to be a dog person.
My Sophie experiment was selfish, granted--I wanted one of the "doodle" breeds, but I also wanted Jacob to have a puppy, at least part time, and I wanted a companion for Scooby. Sophie (my private name for her is Wild One) has done her job admirably--Jacob is at ease with all the dogs in the family and Scooby is much livelier.
Tonight I was a guest author at a neighborhood book club. Berkeley, I've discovered, has at least two book clubs plus a number of residents belong to a third one. I"ve spoken to the other two about Skeleton in a Dead Space, but I suspect tonight's was the longest-running group, together since 1982--thirty years. Remarkable. One woman had kept a record of every book they've read--but now she can't find it! I knew everyone but one member, and the evening was lots of fun. Most women who care enough to join a book club are bright, interested, and conversational, though talk often wanders from the book under discussion. Tonight I gave them some insights into writing though not what they expected--I am not a disciplined writer who locks herself in the office for at least four hours every day. Even in retirement, there's too much going on. I write when I can, and I admit circumstances make a huge difference: when I have no interest from a publisher, I'm likely to procrastinate; when I have deadlines, I'm much more dedicated. Right now I'm editing, with a fairly distant deadline, so it doesn't seem urgent; when I start a new manuscript I work more consistently at my writing.
I'm also realizing the term cozy mystery is not in general use, nor are plotter and pantser, so it's always fun to explain those terms. And the idea of self-publishing, an agent hunt, searching for a publisher--all the things part of my daily life--are foreign to these devoted readers. I kind of described stages of my career, from the '80s and '90s when I had an agent to the long dry period and then today, when I am happily settled with a publisher who is interested in building my career and in future books in the Kelly O'Connell series. I'm lucky to have found this publishing home--after writing for thirty-five years. Hope I can write  untl I'm ninety or more!
They cut the water off on my street for water repair at three today. I got two warnings that it would be off until midnight, so I stocked up on water, used almost none of it. And lo and behold, it was on when I got home at 9:30. Guess I'll water plants tomorrow with all that stored-up water.
A busy but good day. Tomorrow, house guests.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

High times in Frisco

Last night all of the Alters plus many friends gathered at the Londoner in Frisco to suprirse Jamie with a celebration of his fortieth birthday. Jame is rarely blindsided--but he was this time. As he topped the steps to the second-floor private room where we waited, his eyes widened and he pulled back in surprise, effectively taking a part of the stair railing with him. My blog of Wednesday about how I wished we could celebrate was a red herring--devised by Colin and Melanie--to throw Jamie off the track. I dont think he even got that part but he was surprised. Not only his family, but his cousin, some high school friends, neighbors, employees and people I have no idea about.
We dined on chicken and beef satay and shepherd's pie--his absolute favorite.
Jamie is a triathlete, and Mel got the absolutely perfect cake for him. Top layer red velvet, middle layer white cake, and bottom chocolate, all covered with rich butter cream frosting. (Blew my diet, especially the chocolate piece I had at breakfast!) We had a hard time keeping little fingers from reaching out to swipe at the frosting, but finally Jamie blew out all 40 candles in one breath--no small trick because they were scattered on the various layers of the cake.
At eight or so in the evening, the older girls--Maddie, 12, and Eden, 8--along with Maddie's best friend went home with all the smaller children. I was invited to go but wasn't ready to leave the party. By the time we finally went home, after ten-thirty, I was really ready.
The birthday boy with his brother Colin on the left (who told funny stories about Jamie) and his brother-in-law Christian on the right.
Of course, the Alters had to rehash the evening, and all the young children were still up and going. I finally snuck off to bed at 12:30 but didn't sleep well--too far past my bedtime and too much wine and  food.
Hats off to Mel who put the whole party together--we got there early to be "on duty," but she had clearly been there with candles, flowers, tablecloths, a cake server--she thought of everything. And after a late night, she was up early this morning and off to the grocery to put together breakfast for seventeen. A true gift of love to my son--from a multi-talented young woman whom I love a lot.
This morning after breakfast everyone wanted to do something "fun." Do you have any idea how long it takes to organize seventeen people?  We finally left the house about 11:45 and of course had to go eat again. Then we went to Main Event--the kind of place my children and grandchildren love and I deplore (Mel is on my side, as she always is when everyone wants to go skiing). Video games, bowling alleys, pool tables, loud, loud, loud. I found the bar, which was relatively quiet, and had a glass of wine, read emals and Facebook. Jamie was astounded that I didn't want to play games. We were probably there not much over an hour but it seemed forever. We headed home but when we were almost back to Fort Worth, Megan and her family were still back in Frisco--and they had to drive to Austin. Colin left when we did for the long drive to Houston.
It's always an amazing delight to me to be with all my family. I am so blessed. But it's also always so good to be back home, sort myself out, unpack and get into my comfortable world. And this time I have the joy of knowing they'll all be back in three weeks for the Southwestern Live Stock Show and Rodeo.
I think my dogs were glad to see me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Further Adventures of Sophie

This morning I was sitting at my desk when I heard purposeful strides on the front porch and a determined knocking at the door. I opened it to find neighbor Jay with his dog and Sophie prancing around them having the time of her life. Jay had to bring Pearl inside to get Sophie in. I slammed the door, grabbbed Sophie by her coat and then got her collar, and thanked them as they slipped out the door. Sophie seemed delighted with herself and her grand adventure. She's lucky Pearl is more friendly on a leash than she is through a locked gate or a screen door. Turns out someone had forgotten the special latch on the dog yard, both dogs got into the driveway, and Sophie merrily slipped under the electric gate. I fixed it and returned them to their yard. If I'd found her gone, I would have panicked--and called Jay!
Sophie is so smart--and sometimes so easily duped. She is definitely an independent wild one. When I call her to come, she looks at  me. We have a stare-down, and she looks like she's considering. But if I either start toward her or turn away, she bounds over to me. She has endless energy for jumping at Scooby andd running circles in the yard, and yet when I leave her alone in the office, she generally lies still and watches for me to return (okay, there have been a few destructive incidents, like the time she chewed a bunch of old family pictures or the time she got on my desk, all four feet, and scratched great lines in a picture of Morgan so that the poor child now looks like she's sprouting whiskers!). When she's in her crate, Sophie never makes a sound, though I can hear her move around in the early morning. Never whines or barks. And if I love on her, she'll sit at my feet all day. She is truly one bundle of love and mischief all wrapped up together.
Today is day 7 of watching my diet more carefully. I have not rejoined Weightwatchers, but I am trying to apply the general principles of one protein and lots of fruit and veggies. For lunch I had tuna salad made mostly with vinaigrette and a touch of mayo (lowfat) and mustard. Pretty good. Along with cherry tomatoes and a deviled egg--that may have stretched the point. But in the last week, I've had chocolate once--anchovies got to me last night and I had to balance the taste--and I've done yoga six days in a row. Color me smug. No, I haven't weighed to see how this is working out.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Becoming a Recluse

I'm afraid I'm becoming a recluse. I"ve essentially stayed home the last three days with no human company except Jacob after school and his mom's breezy quick visits to pick him up. Did eat dinner with Aunt Betty last night--Jacob was a bit offended he wasn't going. We went to The Tavern on Hulen, and if you live in Fort Worth and haven't been there, I heartily recommend it. I've loved everything I've had. Last night, it was a Maytag blue cheese burger (shades of my mom, who loved Maytag) cooked just the way I like it--charred on the outside, really pink on the inside. Brought half of  it home for lunch today and it was even better.
Back to the recluse business: I forced myself to go to the grocery this morning, a necessity, but sent last-minute regrets to join two friends for lunch. I was just too comfortable being home. I've spent the days checking final edits on No Neighborhood for Old Women and filling out an art sheet about the cover--I do wish I had an idea, let alone an inspiration about how the cover should look. I love the cover of Skeleton in a Dead Space and hope this one will be as wonderful.
I've also been reading Lucy Burdette's first novel in her Key West culinary series, Appetite for Murder. I really want to write a culinary mystery--have one in the works but need to work more food into it. Meantime, I enjoyed this one thoroughly--mention of conch fritters brought back the days when we visited Colin and Lisa in the Caribbean.
What I didn't do: taxes. I keep eyeing all the records I've collected over the past year with distaste.
It was particularly easy to stay home because two days this week the weather was cold and rainy. Today, it was cold but sunny and gorgeous. One friend posted on Facebook that she had the top down on her car. I wasn't quite that brave.
Being a recluse has its downside: yesterday I read a post on the neighborhood email warning of a new scam whereby a Hispanic man comes to the door to tell you he's doing work for your neighbor and would like to meet you in the backyard to discuss how it will impact your property. While you're in the back yard, his accomplice rifles the house. They target elderly women home alone in the day--hello! that's me! I immediately threw the deadbolt, put on my monitor and felt under seige, all of which Jordan thought was excessive. "You're not going to open the door anyway. Are you?" Betty told me they had hit fairly close to her house, in a neighborhood where I lived many years ago. Today the scam is all over the TV news, so I guess maybe their game may be winding down because lots of people are alert to it. I'm still on the lookout. I think I thought with the monitor I could be the local heroine, press it to call 911, and bring the law before they had a chance to escape!
Today was a good day to hibernate for another reason: no school. I didn't have to plan my afternoon and nap around picking up Jacob at three. Monday is a holiday too, so I have a four day weekend--sort of.
Tonight I have the cleanest drivers license and credit card in town--put them throiugh the washer in my jeans pocket. I'm constantly losing them because I don't like to carry a purse to the grocery--caution again, inherited from my mom, so I put them in my jeans and then forget when I get home. Once this resulted in my standing in line at the airport without my drivers license--my TCU i.d. card got me on the plane but I swear I thought they were going to keep me in El Paso! Some lessons seem hard to learn. Hmmm. I wonder if washing de-magnetized the credit card?
I will get out in the world this weekend, and next week looms busy with a day trip to Granbury, overnight house guests and a dinner party. But I sure have enjoyed these three days, good naps, reading, what retirement should be.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jamie.

James Andrew Alter turned forty today. I'm having a hard time with this. He's my second son, third child. Three now have hit the forty mark. I know all parents feel this way, but it seems only yesterday he was dragging a cat by the tail and saying, "This is muh pet." That cat remained "Muh Pet" the rest of her life and when she once scratched him, I asked, "What did you do to Muh Pet?" Reply: "I hammered her." HIs birthday has set me to thinking about incidents and sayings from all my child-rearing years, with all four children. Happy as I am with my life now, I sometimes long for those days.Yes, they were hectic and I was exhausted most of the time, but we were all five happy people.
When I said by email to Jamie today that I carry a lot of happy memories, he replied that he had a lot of his own. We'll share someday, but I know all my children have those memories. They love to play the game of "Remember the time . . .?"
In the picture above of my family, taklen at my 70th birthday, Jamie is on the far right with his hand on his daughter's shoulder. Colin is in the back on my left and Megan on my right; Jordan is kneeling in front.
We normally make a big deal of decade-changing birthdays but we were all together at Christmas and will be again in early February when everyone arrives for the rodeo and stock show. I'd love to have a gathering of the clan to celebrate Jamie this weekend, but we'll do it at stock show time. I remember one year cooking his favorite meal--prime rib--but there are so many of us now there's no way I could afford prime rib for sixteen. I bet we end up with barbecue or chicken-fried steak or, heaven forbid, tacos from Ernesto's when we do celebrate.
I remember better when my brother turned forty than I do when I did. He and his much younger wife were visiting, and I wrote "40" in shaving cream on every mirror in the house. He lost patience. I won't say how many years ago that was, for fear he'd lose patience again. But I think when I turned forty, it wasn't a happy time in my life. For Jamie, it's a happy, good time with a wonderful family, a good business, an active exercise life, and--always--a bit of trickery and fun. He can still prank call me successfully.
So tonight, I'll raise a glass of wine in toast to Jamie, and he'll raise his Diet Coke back at me from Frisco. And then I'll make a second toast to my three other wonderful children, one of whom thank goodness is still in her thirties--okay, late thirties, but we won't quibble. Oops, I'm getting sentimental here. 'Nuf said.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Life without a computer

My computer went crazy about four o'clock last Friday. The cursor took on a life of it's own, darting all over the screen and ignoring my mouse efforts, both remote and on the laptop. If I did manage to coax it into position, clicking on the close sign did absolutely nothing. I called a friend's computer guru who recommended a shop that seemed halfway to Weatherford to me. Took it in Saturday--and there, oh sob! was a weekend without a computer. I literally live at my computer when I'm home and not doing household chores; I read with the email on; if I eat alone I do so in front of the computer. I start my day with emails and Facebook. OK, I'm a junkie, but this was pretty tortuous.
I made do with the iPhone and the Nook, emailing and reading Facebook on both, and spending a lot of time reading mysteries. Finished Julie Hyzy's wonderful Affairs of Steak, the newest in the White House chef series, and started Lucy Burdette's debut novel, Appetite for Murder, about an aspiring food critic--and a murder--in Key West. Hoped the computer would be back Monday but no such luck.
Monday night, the Nook and the iPhone both ran out of battery at the same time; the Nook takes 15 or 20 minutes before it can power up again, and it had the book I'm reading on it. Five minutes later the TV in my office went out. I was stranded in an electronic wilderness!
Today, I got a great review by Terry Ambrose at http://www.examiner.com/crime-fiction-in-national/skeleton-a-dead-space-would-be-realtor-s-nightmare and I could't print it, etc., a friend emailed to be sure I was not sick (nice that people notice when I'm missing) and another, by phone, said, "No wonder you were so quiet all weekend." I got an email that I have a guest blog due in two days. And I had by today compiled a little list of things to clear up once I got the computer back on.
Hurray! this afternoon Jacob and I drove in one of those cold drizzles all the way out Camp Bowie past Cherry Lane. With my back-roads routes, it was a bit of a journey and a cold one because it's one of those days when the car fogs up and you have to defrost with the a/c. Besides, Jacob complains about the heater, says it smells bad.
There's always, for me, a bit of trepidation when I first re-hook my computer, but all is in order, except of course my GoogleSearch history is gone, there's no list of recently viewed files. Oops, I have to see if all my stored email addresses are gone--so far I've just been replying.
But I'm back in the electronic world and happy about it. Tomorrow, I'm staying home and talking nice to my computer all day.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The gift of a day

This morning I worked myself up to go for a long overdue eye examination. I always hate going to the opthalmologist--don't get me wrong.  He's a good guy, a friend of many years. But reading those charts makes me feel like I'm failing a test, and when he tilts me back and uses those prisms to look deep into my eye I hold my breath lest he say, "Omigosh!" or something equally scary. (Actually a previous eye doctor did say, "I don't like what I'm seeing" which I thought was really poor handling of a patient, especially a nervous one, and I never went back to him.). Anyway, today I had gathered my courage and was changing clothes when the doctor's office called to say he was ill and cancelling appointments for the day. So I got a three-week reprieve for which I am only partly grateful--I'd just as soon get it over with. Actually I'd rather go to the dentist.
But there I was with the gift of a day. I worked at my desk all morning and finished final edits on No Neighborhood for Old Women which will be out in April. In the last read-through I found several small inconsistencies and things that needed explaining or clarifying. I'm sure there are more small points and lots of typos--someone pointed out the typos in Skeleton in a Dead Space to me and I replied honestly that there has never been a book published without a typo. But we all keep trying.
I piddled the rest of the day--groomed Sophie with Jacob's not-very-helpful help (she play bites), watered plants inside and out, did a good yoga workout, forced a stubborn Jacob to do his homework ("No,  you're not sick--don't try that"; next minute he was grinning and trying to play a joke on me.). His attention span is still pretty short, and he wants to be outside playing. But it was a lovely day, an unexpected gift.
Betty and I had supper at The Tavern, a great restaurant that I always want to call The Ranch for some reason. We split their huge BLT salad--good, but there are other things on the menu I like better. Like their deviled eggs and their black beans.
Tonight, though I have a list of things to be done, I'm going to start Julie Hyzy's new book, Affairs of Steak, in her series about a White House chef.
Isn't it nice every once in a while to be handed a free day?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Who's Knocking on my door?

Way back when I was in Girl Scouts--I think that was the connection--we used to get on the church stage and do a skit that began, "'Twas a year ago today/that my Nellie went away/She was sixteen, the village queen/The prettiest girl you ever seen." Each person took a role--Nellie, the father, the wicked lover, etc.--and we  recited this in a singsong manner, accompanied by deep knee bends. It's an indelible memory of my childhood, but I never can remember the rest of the words. The story is of course going to be obvious melodrama--Nellie is lured away by a mustachioed villainous actor; a  year later, she returns home bringing her infant. She has been abandoned. Everyone I asked about this looked at me blankly, indeed I think they thought I was a bit addled.
But last night I found a whole web site devoted to it. The poem or skit or whatever it is bears the title "Who's knocking on my door?" and there are countless variations in the wording. But it's more universally known than I thought. Most people remember it from the '40s and '50s. For me, it was like finding an old friend.
Now if someone could track down the Easter hymn we used to sing in children's choir: "One early Easter morning/I wakened with the birds/And all around lay silence/Too deep for earthly words." MY friend Barbara, who went to church and sang in the choir with me, remembers it but she doesn't know any more words than I do. My friend Betty, now retired after forty years as a church organist, never heard of it--and I thought she knew every possible piece of church music! Google doesn't help. Anyone know that song?

Monday, January 02, 2012

End of the holiday

I spent Christmas Day with my family--eight adults and seven grandchildren. Last night I spent New Year's dinner with my Fort Worth family: Jordan, Christian and Jacob. Sue, who calls me her Fort Worth mom, came by for appetizers and a glass of wine. When Jay and Susan, my neighbors, arrived, they brought wine stoppers--the kind I had asked Jordan to look for. When I said that, Jay said, "We're better kids than she is!" And it dawned on me that this was my Fort Worth family--missing Elizabeth and Weldon, but I'm sure they'll be here soon. We had hoppin john that had quite a kick to it--and I didn't add the jalapeno or the bell pepper. Must have been the Cajun seasoning. The Burtons left soon after dinner, but Jay and Susan lingered, playing with Sophie. We agreed she's a great dog--or will be when she's eighteen months. Today, Susan brought a new Kobo brush over and showed me how to use it--Sophie looked lovely, but was soon rolling in the leaves again. Tonight I looked out and she was lying in the yard like a limp rag doll. I called and she didn't move. So, in stocking feet, I rushed out, got almost to her, and she jumped up and began to run like the Energizer Bunny.
The new year is off to a good start. When I retired I thought I would get to write all day every day, but I soon found life gets in the way. This week, it's a haircut, two lunch dates, a date with a dog trainer, and an eye doctor appt. that I dread--I always feel like I'm failing a test when I can't read some lines on the screen. But today was the gift of an extra holiday. My calendar was absolutely empty, and Jacob did not have school--in fact, he's with his folks, and I haven't even heard from them all day. So I did spend much of the day at my computer and got lots done. Almost through formatting the second Kelly O'Connell novel. But I also had a lovely, lazy nap and did my yoga, took Christmas off the dining table, and mopped the kitchen floor. Now I'm back at my desk.
Tomorrow, the world begins again after a lovely holiday. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I"ll be on the porch at 7:55 to hug Jacob and out the driveway at 8:30.