Thursday, May 31, 2012

This, that, and a gullywasher

Cousins are your first and best friends forever!

For the second night in a row, the gods were bowling in the wee hours of the morning. Then came sheets of rain. About seven it cleared but remained dark, and just in time for the school rush across the street the heavens opened again. Jordan called for a big umbrella and I put it out; then she called wonderig what to do about her feet--she didnt want to spend the day with wet feet. She finally did what was for us a first: she let him out right by the door next to his classroom. Always the anxious grandmother, I asked if we should call and be sure he was in class. "Mom, I watched him go in the door, and then I watched to be sure no one carried him out." I suppose child-snatchers weren't out in the storm anyway.
This afternoon was my last day to pick Jacob up, and he's staying late, so I decided I had to do my yoga with him here. He suggested I do it in the front room so as not to disturb his TVwatching; I suggested he watch TV in my office so as not to disturb my yoga. That didn't please him, so he watched me do my yoga, imitated me some. When I was in the meditation phase at the end, he demanded, "Juju, are you doing yoga or are you just sleeping?" I'm going to miss him in the afternoons. Then again, maybe I won't have to watch any more Bigfoot videos.
I've been too social this week--Monday night playing catch-up from a weekend away, Tuesday night dinner with the neighbors at the Grill--a chunk out of the evening; Wed. night dinner with friends at a wine cafe--a bigger chunk out of the evening and my wallet both. Tonight I'm staying home, eating a BLT, and working. Was all ready to start tht next Kelly O'Connell novel, but I got final proofs for the third one today. Sigh. The weekend doesn't offer lots of work time. I imagine I'll be running errands, etc.
Retirement sure is fun!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Sort of a Memoir

I've known Judy Mangan vaguely for many years, more in the last few through email and some professional dealings--TCU Press, when I was director, reprinted some Mangan Books titles and Judy and I had quite a bit of correspondence. But I didn't really "know" her until I read her memoir which does exactly what a well written memoir should do: it brings the writer alive on the page for us. Judy eschews the traditional narrative for a series of anecdotes--and she really has an ear for telling the attention-getting story. Some of these anecdotes are no more than a paragraph but they go together like the pieces of a quilt so that when you've finished reading, you have a picture or pattern.
The book is divided into chronological chapters--childhood, high school, college, marriage, and so on. There's a chapter on Mangan Books and one called "Lest We Forget" which neatly encompasses the geneaological material. And unusual for many small-press memoirs, this book has an index--the mark of a true professional.
Judy--or Jude as she asked her children to call her--has the disconcerting habit of throwing characters into the story before we're aware they exist. She does that with Frank, her husband of many years, now gone, and with her children--we have no idea that she has children until she tells a story from their childhood. None of this "On such-and-such a date I gave birth" stuff for her. You catch on pretty quickly. And she is refreshingly frank about some things most of us would skirt in a memoir.
Much of this book is directed at El Pasoans--she's pretty specific about people, places,and events, so that it's the quintessential memoir for family and friends. But the rest of us will find gems to remember and savor. If you're old enough, you'll remember the loops and circles of the Palmer method of handwriting, and I was absolutely delighted to come across the complete text of 'Little Nell," a melodrama I remember from Girl Scout days: "Twas a  year ago today/That my Nellie went away" and so on until the bitter end when Little Nell comes home with her baby, having been abandoned by the lothario she ran away with. There's mention of one of my favorite people--the late C. L. "Doc" Sonnichsen, and a neat final chapter on "My Philosophy" with such treasures as: "You're not sinning unless you're enjoying it," [Baptist philosohy according to Wally Shied]' or "From that time (1593) healthy interest in gold and jewels had to be played down while a passion for making worried Christians out of satisfied savages had to be played up," [C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North]. Perhaps my favorite is a quote from Katherine  Jefferts Shori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. when asked if Jesus is the only way to get to heaven: "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."
Get to know Judy Mangan. You'll like her. Unfortunately the book is not listed on Amazon, but you can send a check for $16 to Mangan Books, 4855 N. Mesa, Suite 120, El Paso TX 79912.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Flying cockroaches, a shaving cream war, and a memorial of sorts

A shaving cream war at its height
Years go I had a dear friend, a generation older than myself, whose son had divorced. She remained fond of his ex-wife and her family, so she called them her outlaw family. This weekend my kids and I had a joyous reunion with my outlaw family--the New York Alters, with their indomitable (?) patriach, Uncle Mark. In the 30 years since Joel Alter and I divorced, I have seen Mark and Amy twice--in 1997 at Jamie and Mel's wedding and again in 2004 when Jordan and Christian married. We have emailed sporadically, though always warmly and with fond feelings--still there was a distance. My children have seen more of them--a few at their children's weddings, Jamie on business trips to New York, all of them on a couple of visits to Joel in the years before he died. But this was a full-blown family reunion--with their oldest daughter, Jordana, her husband Don and 15-mos. daughter Ayla, and their youngest daughter, Emily. (We were missing their son Jeremy and his wife, but hey! they have three-month-old twins and a three-year-old--would you bring that crew from Baltimore to Houston?) We gathered in Houston for two days that went by way too quickly. And there was not for one minute that awkward, "How are you?" "Well, fine, how are you?" It was instant warmth and hugs.
I've always noticed that when my children are together, the grandkids almost don't have individual parents--it's sort of like a commune, where everyone takes equal care of all the children, from handing out treats to soothing skinned knees (several, including one child run over by a bike who said he now understand why his parents tell him to be careful of cars), blackened eyes (we had one), and hurt feelings (lots of those inevitable). But Mark remarked that Ayla was immediately adopted by the children especially Maddie and Eden, both old enough to care for her. My family just absorbed these new people and went on with their usual rowdiness. And they can be overwhelming at times.
Saturday night there was a kickball game in the cul de sac, enlivened by the fact that we spectators were sitting near the strangest sewer I've ever seen--it was in someone's yard, with a concrete base and the usual sewer top. The trouble was that cockroaches (Mark called them cockaroaches--you can always tell a New Yorker!) kept crawling out of them. All the girls went hysterical and were alarmed that I, sitting nearest the sewer in a folding chair, didn't seem alarmed until one crawled up my dress and Megan nearly hit me with my walking stick in her zeal to get it off. Worst of all, these were flying cockroaches, all headed for one tree which we decided was the mating tree. They buzzed right at the girls who screamed and laughed by turns.The children of course made sport of squashing them (I wasn't sure about the bloodlust here) but the street was soon littered with dead cockroaches. Brandon went in the garage, got some insecticide and sprayed it into the sewer, so then we had double reason to warn the children away.
When Mark has been to Fort Worth for those weddings, he wanted, almost demanded, Angelo's BBQ, so Sunday lunch we went to Tin Roof in Kingwood, the closest we could come. They told us they'll be on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" this week. We had an entire section to ourselves and all ate too much. The owner obligingly took a group picture, but I don't have it yet. The highlight of the day, however, was the shaving cream war. Colin spread black plastic on the grass, Lisa provided cans of shaving cream, and the kids--plus Uncle Mark--went at it. He was the only adult game enough, and I intend to warn him that Brandon put a video on YouTube and people are bound to ask "Why is that old guy in there with all those kids?" It was wild good times at their best, and we spectators--at a safe distance--thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards, of course, there was the hosing off.
Way too soon it was late Sunday night and time for goodbye, which took forever. Don, Jordana's husband, got himself a beer, sat on the couch, and said philosophically, "I figure this will take a while." It did, and it was bittersweet but there are plans for an Alter family cruise (I hate cruises!) and more get-togethers. I hope they come true.
This was Memorial Day, and in my thoughts I honored those who have given their lives for our country. But for Mark, Amy, me and my children, it was a different kind of memorial day, a time to rehash memories, good and bad, to patch up the years that circumstances had kept us too far apart, to reaffirm our love for each other and our families. For me, personally, it was eye-opening, a bit disturbing in some things I learned, but a good experience in sharing with someone who understood some things that I had kept to myself. I feel a bit like I've been to an alternate world and it's hard to get back to my daily routine. This is me and Mark, my new-found outlaw brother-in-law who kept referring to me as his sister-in-law and gave me wonderful compliment that I'm keeping to myself.

Friday, May 25, 2012

An Evening with Jacob and Bigfoot

Jacob is with me from the time I picked him up at school until toorrow morning--always an event I look forward to. But tonight he came screaming for me and insisted I come back where he was watching TV because it was about Bigfoot and "it's about to get really scary." So I sat on the bed, and he clutched my arm. Mostly it was people talking about hunting for Bigfoot, with occasional brief footage of sightings. I would ask, "Is this scary?" "No, but it's about to be. Don't leave." My pleas that I was hungry and wanted to fix supper, that I had to check the computer list I'm monitoring today, all fell on deaf ears. Finally, I began to sneak away with a promise I'd be right back. I'd get a little done and then go back, only to have him clutch my arm again. And we watched endless discussions about hunting for Bigfoot. Fortunately, he's trained to keep the volume low, and I didn't have my hearing aids in, so I didn't actually have to listen. Last I knew, it's still on.
But he decided he wanted to play in the front yard, so I obligingly took a glass of wine and a book and went to sit on the front porch Then he wanted to go see the tarantula house at Jay and Susan's, which is out of sight. We had a discussion about what he'd do if someone came up to him while I couldn't see him, and he gave all the right answers, but I ended up walking over there with him. I think if there ever was a tarantula there, it's been scared to a new home by all the activity. It became apparent that Jacob's idea of playing in the yard involved showing me endless insects, etc., and I wasn't quite up to a tour. Then we sat on the porch and had a long discussion about hunting and how it's all right to shoot a deer if you plan to eat it, but not if you shoot it just to be shooting it. Jacob seemed to think you coiuld shoot it and whisk it right home to cook, so I tried to explain about dressing and butchering and all that. Not sure I made my point--nor do I think he would eat deer meat. The child doesn't like beef, for goodness sake!
When he was out in the yard tonight, I got little reading done because I was always raising my eyes to make sure I could see him. I live on a busy street, with lots of traffic, and Jacob is never allowed in the front without an adult--nor are the other grandchildren when they visit. Thank goodness for a red shirt that I could see even through the thick green of the youpon tree. But I think tonight a lot of us may be more on edge all over again because of the news in the Etan Platz disappearance. I don't like it when I can't see him. And yet I don't want him to grow up scared. I did that on the South Side of Chicago. There's a fine balance there, but sometimes it's hard to find it.
Bigfoot is over, but there's another "really weird" program on Animal Planet. I said he'd either have to watch it in my office or change channels. I'm a hard-hearted grandma.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A wasted day saved by a great dinner

Today was an absolutely wasted day --or at least the morning was and after that I just gave up and decided not to try to be brilliant today. I arrived at the doctor's office at 9:55 for a 10:10 appointment--being a physician's daughter, I was taught to be prompt. And 10:10 is such a precise time that it indicated efficient scheduling to me. Not so. Ten-thirty came and went, people who had come in long after I had were ushered back--to see different doctors, I suppose. One other woman waited as long or longer than I did--she as there when I arrived. Waiting is not something I do gracefully, even though I had my iPhone and my iPad. I inquired once a little after 10:30 and was told I was next--then, oops, sorry, there's one more patient ahead of you. At eleven, they announced that my doctor was running  late--it would be at least another hour. I went to the desk and they asked if I wanted to go have lunch and come back. No, I emphatically did not! The doctor's next appointment would be July 31, so I rescheduled to see the P.A. on June 14--specifically asked for and got the first appointment of the morning.
Next stop--after a necessary potty stop at my former office--was the bank to look for some papers in my safe deposit box. It seems the bank no longer staffs the safe deposit desk, so I would have to sign in and wait for a bank officer to admit me--once again there was one person ahead of me. But I could see no bank person rushing to help, and I got the sinking feeling that one person ahead of me had been waiting a long time. I left, saying I'd try again tomorrow. What I didn't add was, "When my mood is better."
A whole morning wasted Came home, had lunch, checked emails, and napped--time to get Jacob.
Tonight Jeannie, Betty and I went to a reception to get a farewell hug from a favorite minister who's leaving the churchfor new opportunities. A bittersweet moment. Then we went to Piola for dinner--we meant to sit on the patio until the waitress asked, "Are you sure?" It was pretty hot and steamy and we stayed inside for a wonderful meal. Betty had Chilean sea bass; Jeannie had penne Bolognese, and I had veal piccata with asparagus risotto. I swore I wouldn't eat much risotto--so fattening, you know. I ate almost every bite, and it was a generous serving. The whole wasted day was swept away with that meal and a good glass of chadonnay.
Yeah, maybe I'll work a bit tonight.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Well, darn. I was going to post a video tonight for your watching pleasure but I don't know how to do that. Can't get it from email to my picture file, so you'll have to take my word that it's charming.But what strikes me about it is the wonderful experience all these city kids--my grandchildren and their cousins--are having.
When I was a kid, probably in high school, we went on hay rides. My memory is that we went to someone's enclosed field (probably in the midst of the South Side of Chicago), loaded up in a wagon, and talked, sang, and who knows what else--I'm not telling!--while horses plodded around and around a square field.
Not so the hayride of a couple of weeks ago. All my children and grandchildren, their cousins and aunts and uncles piled on a flatbed trailer loaded in the center with bales of hay and, yes thank you, ringed with railings so no one fell off, though at least one of my grandsons discovered the fun of jumping off the rear end and then running to catch up and jump back on. My brother drove a tractor to pull the trailer. The route wound through his ranch on beautiful land above the Brazos River. I'm not sure the kids appreciated the scenery, but I did--the land is lush this spring, due to plentiful rain (though we're running low again). A big contrast to last year. Wildflowers were out in abundance, and the hay wagon stopped so children could pick them--I became caretaker of the bouquet that one grandniece picked for her mom for Mother's Day It also stopped to look for sign of Bigfoot, with excited cries from children who claimed they smelled him. And when they found his tracks at the edge of a stock tank--where he went in and where he went out--oh, my! Such excitement. There's also a funny shot of one of my grandsons following that time-old tradition of boys and taking a leak in the bushes--except he was in full view of everyone.
I admit that during all this hilarity I was comfortably in the chase vehicle with the video camera operator and her "driver." (He's also her significant other.) It truly was a wonderful day, and I'm sorry you can't see the video.
When I think back to my childhood, I hope these kids will grow up to realize what a rich experience Uncle John offered them with homing pigeons (not sure they were there this time), chickens, a horse, and a  miniature donkey, a Longhorn bull lounging in a pasture next to the house, and all God's world to run and play in. It was a case of the modern present being better than the good old days.
And my hat's off to my brother and his wife, Cindy, for pulling it together. He summed it up when he watched the kids following  Bigfoot tracks and said, "Well, that makes the day." Here they all are, searching the edge of the tank.
And here's Jacob when he first saw the tracks and turned around to Uncle John.
Yeah, it made the day. Sorry I can't show you the video.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Golf, closed roads, and traffic

I'm a back roads person. If there are side streets, park roads, whatever that will get me where I'm going, that's my route. I remember years ago an older friend said to me, rather primly, that she always believed a straight line was the shortest distance between two points. Not me. I'll ramble, curve, backtrack, anything to avoid main thoroughfares with lots of traffic and stoplights and angry drivers.
But this time of year, one of my favorite scenic paths through park, along a golf course, and through a lovely residential district gets messed up. I saw it happen today. Cars parked on the front lawns of expensive homes; foot lanes marked with cones on the side of the road. Some roads blocked--no matter, I can go another way, at least for the time being. But soon roads will be blocked, and I'll have to go another way.What's the sense of having a convertible on a gorgeous day if you can't drive under trees? Who wants to drive through a business district?
It's time for the Crowne Plaza International Colonial Golf Tournament--in the day it was the Colonial N.I.T. and I've never gotten over calling it that. Whereas my Fort Worth kids eagerly anticipate it every year, I dread it. They like the partying, the people watching; I hate the traffic.
When the children were little, I used to drive by the tournament, saying to them, "Look at the silly people following the little white ball." Once their father and I took them to the tournament--disaster. We were  neither one smart enough about golf to tell them to be quiet, and we got dirty looks.
Would you believe my oldest son is now the accountant for a series of golf clubs and one of the highlights of his year is the Shell Tournament in Houston. Traitor. I wonder if the people in that neighborhood feel as I do?
I realize that in Fort Worth the Colonial has a big place in our civic history. Novels have been set there, and Priscilla and Cullen Davis cemented the tournament's significance as a people-watching place. Our golf tournament has, I suppose, helped create famous sports writers like Dan Jenkins. I like Dan but remain unimpressed, with a secret wish that some year they'd just cancel it.
I sound like a curmudgeon, don't I? Maybe I am. At least about golf. I've never undertood why people are so fanatical about it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The fun of book signings

This has been a weekend of book signings, and it carried over into Monday night. It began with the Mystery Month Event at Barnes & Noble Friday night and carried over into two signings at the Old Neighborhood Grill--a real neighborhood hangout with good food. Saturday morning Jordan and I were there at seven, and several friends were equally prompt, meeting for breakfast and to get signed books. I sold 24 books, which I think is a really respectable number, especially that early in the morning, and beyond that I had a good time visiting with friends. Most people who came to buy a book stayed to eat breakfast.
Not so tonight for another signing, back at the Grill. People who came to buy the book lingered and visited over a glass of wine, which was fun and pleasant. Tonight was not as busy as the Monday night signing for the first book, but I wonder if that isn't usual with the second in a series. People will read it but don't feel as obliged to be in on the "big" event. Several people have said to me that they're liking the second book even better than the first. And tonight I got some "walk up" traffic--people who came to the Grill for supper and stopped to chat. Several bought books, and one went away with a bookmark, saying she'd get it later--maybe she will and maybe she won't. One friend I hadn't seen in a long time said she's heard a lot about this book and wanted her book group to read it--great news!
Both signings were family affairs. Jordan has appointed herself my goodwill ambassador, cashier, and, most recently, publicist, though she did ask "As your publicist, what would I do?" Hmmm. Stumped us both. Jacob was a willing salesman and, if nothing else, charmed people. He tallied a long list of figures that, far as I could tell, had nothing to do with anything and announced I could give him either $1, $100 or $1,000--which would I choose? Hmm, life's hard decisions.
Christian arrived, and we stayed for supper. Even sold a book unexpectedly as we were about to leave.
The third book is written, and I have about 2500 words on the fourth--though it went in a totally unexpected direction this morning. Now what do I do with that, other than bask in the glow of these good signings?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Do you talk to your dog

Sophie the irrepressible Bordoodle turned one year old Friday. She actually has calmed down a lot, but now people are saying, "Wait till she's two!" Well, darn, I thought I would have her tamed and reasonable by one. Training Sophie--hmmm, is that the title of a book?--has been a long and sometimes difficult process. For economy, I took her to the PetSmart training classes rather than hiring the personal trainer I used with Scooby. PetSmart training works really well for some people, er, dogs. Not Sophie. I suppose I wasn't consistent about doing it at home, and getting her there got to be a problem--she's so wild once she gets off my property that I am afraid of being pulled down. Sophie will not be getting long outdoor walks, unless Jordan gives them to her.
Eventually I gave up on PetSmart, but she retains a lot of good manners from that training--sit, down, drop it, leave it, etc. But I called Kenny, of Home Dog Training, for larger issues such as jumping--my left arm is always a mess of scratches and marks where she jumps when I'm at my desk. Kenny's big dictum is "Don't talk to your dog while you're training. Only commands." Come on, I want to carry on conversations, tell her she's being adorable, ridiculous, spoiled, whatever. Yesterday, our third and apparently last lesson, he finally got through to me by asking if I saw how she listened to him but not me. "She tunes you out, because she hears you  talk all the time." Made sense, and I'm trying hard, though I have ocasional lapses. I am allowed to say "Good girl," so I do that often. And I play with her and love on her--just no cooing, please.
The first picture is Sophie loving having a new toy; the second is Sophie busily destroying said toy which no longer squeaks.
We're working on stay and come--she did "stay" beautifully with Kenny here; not so much with me. If I hold the leash, she does well; If I let go of the leash, she stays while I walk away, then bolts when I start toward her. I haven't tried "come" on my own yet--she's tired of Pupparoni, and Kenny suggests a tiny tiny pieces of cheese, so I'll buy those awful Kraft slicees. But I figure we have to master "stay" first. What with Jacob, both dogs, yoga, plants to water, and other chores, plus training Sophie, it's no wonder I hardly have time to write.
I hard a small part in a nice dog story this weekend. Two Facebook friends are dog rescuers--they post heartbreaking pictures of dogs that must be rescued or they will be put down. Yesterday there was a miniature schnauzer--surrounded by newspapers, so that I wondered if he'd been destroying them. I shared the photo on Facebook as I do with many rescue dog pictures, and friends of mine saw it and decided they wanted him. He had to be "tagged" by seven this morning, so they emailed, got word late last night they could pick him up today, although they were warned he'd been there so long because he was "unpredictable." They picked him up, named him Jasper, and took him home to a menagerie of dogs and cats where he happily fit right in. I am so grateful to have had a small part in this rescue, and I hope to keep up with Jasper.

Jasper before rescue

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Writerly LIfe

I'm feeling like a writer today, a feeling I don't always have. Some days I think I'm pretending, and someone will catch me in my hoax. But yesterday, my editor, Ayla, sent the third Kelly manuscript back for one last read--which she wanted today or tomorrow morning at the latest. I panicked, said I had too much else to do, etc., but of course I did it. By the time I went to bed late last night, bleary-eyed, I had read sixteen chapters. Finished the last three at lunchtime today and sent it off. The whole point was for me to cut down descriptions of food--more about that in a minute--and find typos. In the best of circumstances, I can't find typos in my own work--and I'm not terrific at it in other people's writing. But in my own writing, I know what it's supposed to say and that's what I see
Ayla is constantly after me to cut down on the descriptions of food, but I maintain that what we eat says a lot about who we are and what kind of person. My good friend Jim Lee, folklorist par excellence, once wrote, "One of the lessons that we have learned--or are beginning to learn--from the study of folklore is the importance of food and eating customs in unravelling the history of a people. . . . The foods we eat, the way we eat them, and the imagination we bestow upon their preparation will tell [much about us] to historians, folklorists, and anthropologists of Buck Roger's twenty-fifth century." I sent that quote to Ayla today. Not sure of her response. Kelly O'Connell of my mysteries is a so-so cook, often so busy that she takes her girls out or orders pizza. But  she tries, and I include her disasters (creamed tuna on toast, a spur-of-the-moment hamburger casserole that sort of came out like soup) and her triumphs--a baked ham with potato salad, a perfectly roasted chicken. I think that--and her restaurant meals, from puttanesca to a reuben--tell us a lot about Kelly. Of course, Mike, the man in her life, is terrific at cooking on the grill--that doesn't help Kelly's cooking ego at all.
May is Mystery Month, and tonight I signed books, with four other mystery authors--Laurie Moore, Paula LaRocque, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Wendy Lyn Watson--at Barnes and Noble. The community relations manager had a list of questions, and the discussion was pretty interesting. We all had a good time and signed a few books. Plus we left stacks of signed books behind.
A nice evening, but I'm yawning. Have to be up at six tomorrow morning for a seven o'clock signing. Peter at the Old Neighborhood Grill says that's when his Saturday readers come for breakfast, and it worked well for Skeleton in a Dead Space, so I'll try it again tomorrow for No Neighborhood for Old Women. My sweet daughter Jordan will meet me at the restaurant at seven--that's above and beyond, even for a daughter, and I'm grateful. Going to do a raffle for a three free copies of the third Kelly O'Connell novel, due out in August--Trouble in a Big Box.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

That first awful page

Yesterday was the day I was to start on the fourth Kelly O'Connell novel, tentatively (very tentatively) titled Ghost in a Four-Square. It's always hard for me to start a novel. I'm capable of procrastinating a lot, what I've been doing for several weeks now. This has been a week with an empty slate, so Monday I cleaned my desk of this and that odd chore--a bit of marketing, some personal emails to answer, that sort of thing. And then of course there were Facebook and Pinterest, and oh! I don't know where the day went. But it did. Including  finishing the Claudia Bishop novel, Dread on Arrival, that I was enjoying.
But yesterday, that was the day that I'd begin. But there was one bit of information I needed about the neighborhood where Kelly lives and works as a realtor/rennovator. I had to talk to one woman--or so I told myself (procrastination comes in many forms). I couldn't reach her,so I did other things and had a really restless day, at odds with myself. I knew I was putting off getting that first sentence down.
Finally last night, late, on the spur of the moment, I wrote bout 400 words--not a brilliant start, but I think I'm headed in the right direction. I do have a synopsis, but a lot more complications will have to develop before that synopsis becomes a 70,000-word novel. And it hasn't begun to flow yet, still feels stiff and awkward.
The funniest thing I discovered tonight when I went back to re-read was that I'd written it in the third person. The Kelly O'Connell novels are all first person, and just today a reviewer praised the way I make readers care about Kelly. That of course is due to the first person. In fact, I don't think I've ever written a third person novel--oh, I tried, but then switched back to first person. The classic wisdom is that you write your first novel in the first person and then "graduate." I once asked a book editor good friend what would happen if I never "graduated" and he said, "I'd think Judy Alter has found her voice." So what was I doing in third person? To me, that was an indication I hadn't connected with the story.
I rewrote those 400 words tonight and maybe added another hundred. I'm no farther ahead, and it still doesn't feel right. I think this is the point at which you put your bottom in the chair, keep it there, and get words, any words, on that computer page. But not tonight. It's late. And tomorrow is a dog-training session, right in the middle of what would be work time. Once I get this thing flowing though, I'll use small and odd bits of time well.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Politics and other funny things

No need to go farther than the daily newspaper for a good chuckle. Yesterday, it was reported that the State of Missouri added Rush Limbaugh to its Hall of Famous Missourians--see they don't even get the title right. Shouldn't it be Missouri Hall of Fame? Anyway, they inducted Limbaugh and unveiled a bust of him in a secret ceremony from which reporters and Democrats were barred. It was kept secret until thirty minutes before the ceremony began. Now that's scary stuff--an abuse of power at least. Predictably, Democrats in the Missouri legislature are howling that the bust should not be displayed with others in this Hall of Fame. The governor of Missouri is apparently the consummate politician: he announced that jurisdiction or authority over the Hall of Fame was an "iffy" thing, which is a way of saying, "Don't put that ball in my court!" The Speaker of the House in Missouri blamed the secrecy on "radical liberals" who have no undertanding of forgiving past mistakes, referring apparently to the young woman Limbaugh derided as a slut and a prostitute. Ain't politics fun?
The presidential candidates spoke at commencements this weekend. President Obama preached to his base in this day of the so-called "war on women"--he addressed the 600 graduates of the all-women Barnard College, telling them to "Fight for your seat at the head of the table." Former governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, tried to solidify his base by speaking to religious conservatives who had been cool toward him during much of the primary fight. At Liberty University, which boasts of a World Class Christian Education, he told graduates, "The welcoming spirit of Liberty is a tribute to the gracious Christian example of your founder." That would of course be Jerry Falwell. Because I didn't know a thing about Liberty U. I looked it up online--and the first thing to come up is the world's largest online university. Don't know if that's a branch of the physical university or not, but, Mitt, I think you lost this one.
And then there's the man in New York who has spent $60K suing his ex-girlfriend for custody of a dog she alleges he gave her as an outright gift. He appeared on the TODAY show this morning wearing orange pants and black-and-white striped socks--and he wants us to take him seriously?
Finally, there's a new book out called Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores. The ad features this conversation: Customer: Who wrote the Bible? Customer's friend: Jesus.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Some thoughts on my mother

This is post-Mothers' Day but these thoughts on mothers--specifically my mother--have been rattling around in my head for a week now. If you follow this blog, you know my neighbor lost her mother a week ago. Although her mother was in a care facility, Susan devoted a good chunk of each day to caring for her mother, giving her the companionship and love that all of us crave. When I think of it, feelings of guilt about my mother's last couple of years wash over me.
My mother was a bright, intelligent, charming woman who had a fine sense of the ridiculous. She loved to tell the story about the time she signed her name Alice P. MacBread instead of MacBain (there's a story behind it) and when she once found herself in the back seat of the car between my two howling toddlers, she laughed and laughed. The louder they howled, the more she laughed. My dad drove like he didn't know any of us. My dad was the administrator of a hospital; the painter at the hospital did odd jobs at our house, and one night, wearing an old coat and tennis shoes, Mom went to pick Al up. A new switchboard operator asked, "Shall I tell him his wife is here?" Another story she loved to tell.
Mom was proud of the fact that she once worked for Robert Maynard Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago and founder of the Great Books Program. Continuing education was real to her, and she read constantly, always improving her mind. She read the works of historians Will and Ariel Durant aloud to my father in the evenings.
Yet she was a devoted housewife who showered and changed daily before Dad got home. She set a fine table every night with white linen--we had napkin rings in those days--and balanced meals, though she was a devotee of Adele Davis' theories on healthy eating. But she also entertained graciously and seemingly effortless, and she taught me. When a friend once asked her how she could let me make such a mess in the kitchen, she said, "If I don't, she'll never learn to cook." By the time I was ten I was the sous chef--and the dishwasher--for her dinner parties. It's a gift I've carried throughout my life.
Mom was above all a lady--no bathroom humor allowed, and she let you know what was good taste and what wasn't with a firm hand. In later life, if she didn't like the conversation, the chin went up in the air and the eyes went out the window. You were put in your place. Relatives have said to me in the years since we lost her, "Your mom was the most gracious lady I ever knew."
I could go on and on about the woman who raised me with laughter and love, but all that went out the window in her early eighties when dementia, due to small strokes, began to creep in. I was the single parent of four; my brother was a single, practicing physician; neither of us could care for her but we couldn't leave her at home with just a daytime caretaker. She called John once in the middle of the night because she couldn't turn off the water in the sink--no plumbing problem. Her confusion.
Once she was in a nursing home, she went rapidly downhill. John and I both have our own private reasons for guilt, but I didn't spend enough time with her. I couldn't. I was raising those four kids and working full time. But beyond that, visits were unpleasant. I couldn't bear to see that wonderful woman lose every bit of grace she had and lapse into what she herself would have called unacceptable behavior. It broke my heart every day.
I know she was lonely and afraid, and I have a hard time getting past those awful days and back to Mom as I treasured for the first forty years of my life. I wasn't with her when she died, because I didn't realize how serious that episode was. A woman she loved, her caretaker for several years, held her hand in that last hour. Writing this down has enabled me to recall all the good of her long life and take another step forward to putting her last years behind me. For that, I am thankful.
She would have loved to see her great-grandchildren this weekend--nine out of the ten--as they roamed the ranch, played baseball, and hunted for Bigfoot's track. For years after Mom's death, I talked to her--and I still long to ask her to tell me about a certain person or consider a recipe with me or share a memory. I am who I am because of my mother.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My cup runneth over--and so did my eyes

I left my daughter's house this afternoon about 1:30 with my vision blurred by tears that kept leaking out--tears of joy, happiness, overwhelming love. I had such a good morning with all my children and grandchildren. Jordan fixed a huge brunch, and people ate whenever they wandered in. Gorgeous day so we sat  on the patio, while the kids played in the yard. There was, of course, the occasional accidental injury and the one who tattled on another, but they were so happy and were having such a good weekend. I had b'day presents for all those with April and May birthdays I'd missed or would miss, and after those were opened, my wonderful children surprised me with an iPad.
Of course, I had just finished putting my foot in my mouth by announcing that I had really decided that I would get myself a Kindle Fire. An iPad, I proclaimed knowingly, wouldn't fit in my purse (it will, 'cause I carry big purses). So there was much teasing, but they were all so excited to give it to me and get me started with it, telling me over and over how much I'll use it. And I will--I'm thrilled with it already, though some of the things Jamie taught me have already leaked out of my brain. But I want to put more blogs on my reading list and add more magazines--cooking magazines--to my bookshelf.
Not sure if it was the iPad, the hugs and love (more likely) or the culmination of the glorious family weekend we've had that caused those tears to leak out, but they did. I am so thankful for my family.
Of course they all partied and hung out until after four. I would have stayed but they should not give me wine at eleven o'clock in the morning. I went into this hectic, exciting weekend already tired and am now thoroughly exhuasted but in oh such a good way.
I came home, thinking I'd get my dogs fed, Jamie et al would come for their stuff, and I'd get a good long nap. Foiled on all counts. Jamie's dog was in the backyard, so I could hardly feed Scooby out there. Mozby is such a love though and so anxious to please that I eventually brought both my dogs in and gave Mozby treats for good behavior. Should have taken my nap when I got home--it was five before the Frisco Alters got here to pack up belongings and dogs, and five-thirty before I got my nap, so naturally it was an abbreviated one.
Early to bed tonight. I say that and then I got involved in something, and it's as late as always. Last night it was eleven-thirty, but my Austin grandsons wake up bright and early and noisy--no amount of shushing convinces them about indoor voices, so I was up at six-forty-five and making cinnamon pull-apart bread shortly after that.
Mother's Day thoughts--about my mom, the moms of others, and myself as a mom have been rattling around in my mind all week but I'll save them for a belated post-Mother's Day blog tomorrow. Meantime, I am counting my blessings, four wonderful children who married equally wonderful people and produced seven lovely grandchildren. And then there's that larger family with whom we spent yesterday and who are equally a blessing. Hope I can live up to all this.
Here's a picture from yesterday of my Houston kids and grandkids--last night I thought I'd lost it on the computer but I found it this morning. They're gorgeous, all of them. Kegan, my youngest grandchld, will suffer himself to be hugged but he does little to cooperate. Must be hard being the youngest in such a bunch.  Morgan is much more affectionate, having overcome some shyness she felt as a younger child.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Family reunion

We had a family reunion today at my brother's ranch--my family, his family, and his wife's family, thirty of us. These are wonderful folks, and we couldn't be luckier to have each other. It isn't clear in this fuzzy photo but there are nine under ten--one was sick and couldn't come, so my niece is also missing--but all day it seemed like there were about twice that many little kids having the time of their lives.
John and Cindy are generous, gracious hosts who go to a lot of trouble for their family. John has been planning this--especially the main event--for ove two weeks, and Cindy worked all day in the kitchen. The only person who can successfully help her is her sister, Jenny, so while the rest of us went on a hayride, Jenny and Cindy worked.

The hayride--the main event! Everyone piled on a flatbed trailer stacked with bales of hay. I must admit that Cindy's sister, Patty, her SO Ralph, and I followed in a Kobuto (think that's right) which is a small all-terrain thing--much more comfortable. Cindy's brother-in-law Kevin folowed on an ATV and midway, he and Ralph changed vehicles. The stock tanks are full, the pastures lush with various grasses and wildflowers--I saw a version of coreopsis and some purple things I couldn't identify plus some we thought were black-eyed Susans. Quite a contrast from last year when drought and high temperatures turned the land pretty barren. From the Kobuto, I got a great view of all the fun the kids were having. A new game: jump off the wagon and then run to catch up and jump back on. Not sure that's a wonderful idea, but no one got hurt.
The tour guide, my brother, stopped to point out various things--like the wildflowers (six-year-old Kate picked a bouquet for her mom) but this was primarily a hunt for Bigfoot. At one point, Jamie jumped out, sniffed some leaves, and declared that Bigfoot had come that way. The young kids fanned out looking for trail in all earnestness. But on the edge of one stock tank, they found it! Bigfoot's footprint! Here's Jacob, looking back at Uncle John, when he first saw the footprint.
As John said, that made the day, if nothing else. And then Jamie led the little children and some big in a searching walk around the edge of the tank--I was waiting for one to get too intent on searching and tumble into the water. Lo and behold, there was another footprint on the othe side of the tank! It was honestly a wonderful sight to see those kids so excited, trooping along in single file through waist-high weeds and grass, bending down to examine the footprint without disturbing it. I hope they'll remember this day when they're grown and treasure the wonder of it.
We had a bountiful meal--beef tenderloin, corn on the cob (Jenny stuck wooden chopsticks in the end of each piece of corn for easier holding--great idea!--they come with takeout orders from PeiWei and she had a drawer full of them), rolls, and then the things the rest of us had brought--my potato salad, Megan's marinated vegetables. We had snacked all along on Mel's veggies and dip, Lisa's black bean salad, Jordan's corn dip. We ate well, and it was so good. For dessert: homemade ice cream and Beth's cookies. Funniest picture oif the day: two-year-old Andrew who lost his balance and sat in the doorway, tumbling his ice cream and spraying it everywhere but not at all disturbed by his sudden seating. Here are my two gorgeous daughters:

There were games of horseshoes--Andrew thought collecting horseshoes (plastic) was his duty, but he had to be persuaded to part with them and stand away from the peg--and there was a riotous game of baseball in which everyone got turns batting and running to loosely (very!) defined bases.  Most of us sat on the porch and laughed a lot. The day was absolutely perfect, with a temperature in the 70s and cloud cover. As we left a few drops of rain sprinkled on us but that was all.
John and I never had the sense, growing up,that we were part of a larger family. John had Peckham cousins in New York--he spent some summer with his New York relatives and was close to them, but is no longer close to the few that are left; on my dad's side, I had one cousin in distant Canada--the last time I saw her I was about fourteen (she's part of my life now, but that's a different story). On Mom's side there were three cousins, and we lost track of them years ago. So it is a huge delight for us to have all these folks as family. Some of us only cross paths twice a year, if we're lucky, but it's always joyous, a time for celebrating--and the ranch is almost always the location of our get-togethers. It's not only a treat to be together, but for some of us a day spent in the outdoors is a marvelous change. (John always says I don't spend enough time outdoors, and he's probably right, but I loved it today). I've always known how blessed I am with my children and grandchildren, but once again today I was reminded of just how large my family is and of how grateful I am for all these diverse people with whom I laugh, joke, and feel loved, as I love them. My sense--and hope--is that as the years go by, these generations, my children and grandchildren, will stay close to cousins, aunts and uncles.
Tonight half of my immediate family is at my house, crashed. I know all those ten and under will sleep soundly tonight.
PS I read just the other day that it is legal in Texas to hunt and kill Sasequatch and Bigfoot. Good luck all you hunters!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Politics, potato salad, and a beautiful memorial service

Jordan, my former neighbor and Canadian daughter, Sue, and I went to Susan's mother's memorial service this morning. It was one of the loveliest services I've ever been to, each component carefully chosen. The congregation sang, "How Great Thou Art" and 'Here am I," both favorites of mine. the string quartet carried each of us away into private meditation; the eulogies were moving and made me wish oh so much I'd known Kay Halbower in her heyday; and the Twenty-third Psalm brought tears, as it always can in such a situation; our minister delivered a moving but very celebratory message, stressing that Kay was charming, caring, and unconventional. I see all those traits in her daughter, my friend Susan. I told Jordan to take notes for my funeral, and she said to put them in my file. When I complimented Larry, the minister, I said it was just what I wanted my funeral to be and after thanking me, he said, "Don't be in a hurry." I'm not, but I was truly moved by that service this morning.
From that emotional topic, on to politics. There's a Facebook page called Dogs Against Romney, all built around that infamous time when Governor Romney drove his family to Minnesota or Michigan or some far place, with the family dog in a crate on the roof. The idea outrages animal lovers, as it should, but I long ago decided I don't need to see pictures every day of dogs who ride inside. A friend who did not know of the site, said, "Now that's absolutely silly," when I told him about it. But couple that with the stories of Romney's bullying tactics in high school and I truly begin to think he's not the kind of man I want to lead our country. Romney denied the stories, then admitted maybe some of his pranks got out of hand--we'll never know the truth but I just heard the family of the "victim" said the story was distorted and they were angry it was used for political purposes. But there's that old saying that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats his dog. Those of you that know me, know I wasn't going to vote for him anyway. These are just idle speculations.
And finally potato salad--I've labored in the kitchen a lot this week, and today I made a huge batch of potato salad for our family reunion tomorrow. What bothers me--really bothers my back--about making potato salad is all the standing and chopping, but I did it in stages today. Peeled and diced the already cooked, cold potatoes and then sat at my desk for a bit; then the celery and another break; finally pulsed the onions in the food processor. There are a couple of dilemmas here--one is that my mom taught me you should peel hot potatoes and pour some kind of vinaigrette on them while they're hot and will soak it up; the recipe I use calls for cold potatoes and, trust me, it is so much eaiser! Sorry, Mom.
The other dilemma has to do with food safety. We will drive at least an hour to get to the ranch tomorrow, and I began to have doubts about unrefrigerated potato salad. Besides, it has a lot of sour cream in it, and I think it gets watery pretty quickly. I talked to Cindy, my sister-in-law, and she thought I should make it tonight to let the flavors blend. Compromise: I've put on all the dry seasonings--salt, coarse pepper (lots of it!), celery and garlic salt and dill pickle relish. I'll put the mayo and sour cream in a refrigerator container and mix it all up when I get there. The recipe I use is from a barbecue restaurant in Austin and San Antonio so I don't feel free to repeat it, but if you want you might search Google for County Line Potato Salad. Like the casserole I made the other night, this will feed Cox's army.
A long, lazy evening looms, and and I welcome it. Jamie, Mel, and their girls will be here "after work" depending on how long it takes them to drive from Frisco--lately the Friday night traffic has been awful, and they're not known for fast starts. I don't expect them very early, but the guest apartment is ready, the a/c on. And I'm happy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Week that Was

This has been the week that was--final edits, proofing a final draft, finding typos right and left, plus more major events like the death of my neighbor's mother--I devoted one day to cooking for that family. Then there was the book signing in Dallas, a luncheon speech (brief) today that was fun but took a chunk out of my day, my memoir class tonight, and I honestly can't remember what else. Tomorrow is the service for Susan's mother, and then I must make potato salad for 20-25 people--I'm a bit daunted by that task. And tonight I still have to empty the dishwasher, and early tomorrow start the laundry and run to Central Market. I feel like I'm on a treadmill.
Managed a half hour nap today between getting home from the luncheon and getting Jacob. Slept so soundly that I was really sleepy when the alarm went off. Got him home, fed him peanut butter and sparkling cider, homework done (didn't take long), and (Oh, guilty conscience) put him in front of the TV, his preferred place, and went back to bed until his mom came. She was in a hurry, so they rushed out the door--when I asked Jacob for a hug and a kiss, he said, "Kiss the top of my head." Indignantly, I said, "I will not." But they weren't out of the driveway until I was back in bed and stayed there until Linda came for supper.
Saturday is our big family reunion at my brother's ranch, Sunday brunch at Jordan's (I have to make a cinnamon pull-apart coffee cake), and then I guess they'll all head for home. I'll probably head for my bed.
Come Monday I'll tackle that growing "to be done" stack on my desk. Meantime, I look forward to the weekend so much. Just wish I didn't feel like my motor is running too fast. The hectic life is not for me!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A day of mixed feelings

I hit the floor running this morning a little before seven but noticed that my neighbor's car wasn't in her driveway. Really unusual for her, and since her elderly mom has been failing lately, I worried. Apparently with good cause. Her mom died this morning, with her family at her bedside. They've all been on my mind all day. Tomorrow I will devote the day to cooking a dinner big enough to feed most of the family that will begin to arrive--a Tex-Mex casserole that serves at least fiften, marinated veggies, and salsa (homemade) and chips. It's not much, but it's what I can do.
Proofread like mad all day today but snuck in a nap before Gayla arrived at three, and we left for Dallas for a signing for my good friend Fran. The party was at the home of a well-known photographer and in a part of Dallas I guess I've missed--opulent puts it mildly. Looking for the right address, we passed mansion after mansion on a small, almost hidden road. Laura Wilson's house, by contrast, is modest but absolutely wonderful--lots of open space for entertaining, exhibiting her photographs--one room is a gallery, and a wonderful kitchen/pantry. She must entertain often, and she does it with grace. The back yard (that seems a small term for it) is gorgeous, and we watched some rabbits cavorting in the far part. I got pressed into service at the signing table--handing people sticky notes on which I asked them to put what they would like Fran and her co-editor, Jane Monday, to write. A few people were put off--Fran will know, they said. They don't realize in the flurry of a signing an author can forget her own child's name. I also took cash and checks while Gayla handled credit card sales (she doesn't trust me), took the shrink wrapping off books, and was a general go-fur, but  it was fun to be back on that end of the business again. Saw several people I was really glad to see, and truth be told, I'm better off at parties like that if I have a chore. So I enjoyed it.
Got to make my shopping list for tomorrow--another busy day. I don't seem to have any other kind lately.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Caught between two fictional worlds

I know some readers keep two or three books going at once, and even some authors work on more than one manuscript at a time. I know authors who read five or six novels a week, even while working on their own--do they sleep? I couldn't do it. I can't even read two books at once, and when I'm working seriously on a novel, I don't read much fiction. I immerse myself in the world I've created for my characters--their reality becomes a sort of reality for me, and I guess I don't want too many worlds colliding in my brain.
Last week I did edits on the final draft of what I hope will be the first of a new mystery series--Blue Plate Mysteries. This will sort of salve my urge to write a culinary mystery, though it's by no means gourmet cuisine. The Blue Plate Cafe is in a fictional small town in East Texas, and they serve chicken-fried steak, fried catfish, smothered steak, and the like--oh, and turnip greens, which figure in the story. For many years, my children and I visited friends Charles and Reva Ogilvie at their guest ranch outside Ben Wheeler, Texas, and we usually ate at The Shed in Edom. By small coincidence, the grandmother of son-in-law Christian owns the house right next to The Shed. We once drove all over Edom looking for her house; he was chagrined when he got home and asked her and she said it was next door to The Shed--we'd eaten breakfast there that morning.
But back to my story. I was finishing up the manuscript which will, I think, be called Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe, not very original but a good place to start. But in my head I was in Wheeler, Texas, with a cast of characers including two totally opposite twin sisters, one of whom runs the cafe, a financial planner from Dallas, lawyers, a police chief, etc. These people and that town were real to me.
But I had to yank myself out of their world when I got final edits on the third Kelly O'Connell Mystery, Trouble in a Big Box. The deadline for going through the edits was tight, so I was quicky back in the Fairmount Historic District with Kelly, Mike, their daughters, and a host of other familiar characters. I'm still in that world, because, having sent the manuscript off, I'm re-reading every line of it. But I keep waiting for Kate, wearing her Blue Plate apron, to pop up or that nasty mayor of the town or maybe Dave Millican who runs the nursery. Nope, they're back in Wheeler where I left them. In a way, it's like playing with dolls and putting them to bed for the night.
Now I'm going to put myself to bed for the night. Big day tomorrow with a trip to Dallas for a signing for Fran Vick's new book, Letters to Alice, an edited compilation of the letters of Richard Kleberg (of the famous South Texas King Ranch) to his beloved wife. Oops, another world--and a fascinating one, but this one real, not fictional.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Finding myself in two strange worlds

Today I found myself in two worlds that were strange to me. One was the military. I went to the National Cemetery in Grand Prairie, Texas, for a memorial service for the father of a friend. Very different from memorial services I'm used to, but very impressive. Since there was no casket, eight young men standing rigidly at attention unfolded and refolded a flag, and then it was presented to Kathie. The pesenting soldier said a few soft words to her, and I could see her nodding her head.  One young man among the flag folders that I could see clearly looked terrified that he would do something wrong, and I wondered if it was his first time to do that. Next our attention was directed to a hillside just to the side of the shelter where we were. A lone bugler stood there, but three of the young soldiers joined him. He played "Taps" (Carol tells me now it is sometimes taped and the bugler, as it were, is playing karaoke--we couldn't tell about this one.) Eiher way, it made me teary because it always made my mom cry and I thought not of soldiers but of Mom. They must have played it at the funeral of my brother's father, who died from a WWI wound. This was followed by a three-gun salute, after which a soldier presented something else to Kathie and said a few words to her. A gentleman from the assisted living center spoke about his friendship with Larry, Kathie's father, and then Kathie, completely composed and in control, gave a brief but moving eulogy and invited us all back to the house for a reception. What I guess I missed, impressed as I was by the formality, was the presence of a chaplain, but it may well be the family didn't request one. Carol and I flew back so we could put out food before the guests arrived and pretty much we were successful. I tried to be as helpful as I could but left about 4:30 with friends Jean and Jim, leaving Carol behind because she was going to help clean up. Kathie is an exceptional hostess, and the reception was beautifully done. Still, I was tired when I got home, and I can only imagine how exhausted Kathie is tonight.
The other strange world I wandered into was a Facebook thread of conservatives, and I did that because I couldn't resist a comment on the original post about how awful things have gotten under President Obama. I refrained from asking if they were wonderful under W. but I did point out some things I thought Obama has accomplished (we sure aren't hearing high body counts every day) and ended with, "Is your glass half full or half empty. Mine's half full." Well, I was deluged with responses, and the bitter, hateful tone of some of them astounded me. One guy and I agreed that each side sees things from their own point of view, and he suggested people vote the issue and not the party. But for these folks the issue is President Obama, and the level of hate is scary. It's also absurd. One man said that since Obama is president there is no glass, so it can't be full or empty--he's taken it away (by then I was sorry I'd introduced that image). The original poster said he's talked to thousands of service people and they uniformly resent Obama taking credit for killing Osama Bin Laden because the mechanism was set in place by W. True, but W. didn't get it done; it happened on Obama's watch. And thousands? Is he sure of that number? Does he do anything else with his life? There was talk of how Obama politicized the moment, to which I couldn't help but respond with a comment about Bush's great fly-in moment when he announced "Mission Accomplished." Of course, it wasn't. The response that made me want to laugh and cry simultaneously was, "He's destroyed the very fabric of America." Hello! What does that mean? I decided countering was useless and bowed out of the discussion. But I have seen the enemy, and they really really scare me.
One wonders how much of this hatred has a racial element, a sort of "He isn't one of us" basis. That goes from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who early on made it their mission to destroy the president when their mission should have been the good of the country to that nameless commentor about the fabric of America. A worrisome thought.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


The house to the east of me is rental property. We have common driveways, and their kitchen, dining and living rooms look out at me; my office, where I spend most of my time, looks out at them. So I get to know whoever lives there pretty well. When I first moved here, the owners lived in the house with small children (now grown), who used to get out in the driveway at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and scream, "Daddy! Daddy!" They moved to a larger house and there was a newly married couple in their maybe mid-thirties--nice enough people (except for one smashing driveway argument)--but they had a half wolf/half dog that howled. His name was Grant, and my kids, then grown, thought it was "Grand Goddman it!" because if he howled in the early morning, I'd come straight up in bed shouting that. (Excuse my profanity). Then came a series of college kids--some boys who were pleasant and not noisy, some boys I barely knew who had parties so loud I once called the police explaining I didn't want them to get in trouble, I just wanted them to be quiet (found out other neighbors had called too, which made me feel better). There was one weird couple--he had a homemade-looking van conversion from which he sold golf balls (one friend said to me, "Yes, but what's inside the golf balls?) and his wife was so reclusive I thought maybe she had agoraphobia. I was always tempted to see if I could help, but  they were so strange I kept my distance.
Then came Sue, about seven years ago. Newly divorced, with two young children. I met her parents first in the driveway and took to them instantly--of course, they're Canadian! Sue and I became good friends in spite of a 30-year age difference, and we shared a lot of wine on my porch. With Jay and Susan, neighbors to the west, we had a happy little community. Sue moved maybe two years ago, but we are still close--and she is only nine minutes away. She's clocked it. She calls me her Fort Worth mom, and I am awed by what wonderful people her children have grown to be--one in high school, one in middle school now. I was distressed when she moved, and the house sat vacant for a long time. I still get a visit with her folks when they come to town,  usually twice a year.
The Latimers moved in--Meredith, Brannon, and two-year-old Abby. They've been there almost two years and have become almost family--Meredith and Jordan visit a lot, and Meredith said the other day she's tempted to call me "Mom." Jacob adores going over there to play with Abby and the new baby, Grayson, now a year old. But now they've bought a house--probably not much more than a mile away. I'm happy for them, and I know, as Meredith predicts, we'll stay close. She says she likes Jacob and his mom and his grandmom too much to let go. But it won't be the same.
Still, I've decided I collect new friends, even extended family members, from that house--and I wait with baited breath to see who will move in next. Meredith et al probably won't be gone for another month, but then we'll see!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A sudden burst of energy and a fascinating Web site

Does this ever happen to you? You sort of drag your way through a few days and then suddenly you're energized, enthusiastic, back, as my friend Joyce Roach alwys says, "at yourself." I've been lollygagging this week. Oh, I could keep busy with Facebook and emails and Pinterest and odds and ends, like a long discussion with the plumber about why my water bill was so high. But late this morning, I finally turned my attention to the manuscript that's been on my desk since late January, waiting for revision after I got comments from beta reader Fred. And I'm suddenly "back at myself." It's lovely to go back to something written quite a while ago and discover it's not all that bad; in fact, I like parts of it, and Fred's comments are helpful. So I sailed into it.
One thing that helped: I'm a more critical reader these days. As I read more cozy mysteries, I find my taste or instincts improving. Just finished one that I thoroughly enjoyed--the plot was convoluted enough that I was left guessing until the end and the villain turned out to be the last person you'd suspect. Plus the requisite climactic scene was nail-biting indeed. But the heroine--like too many single amateur sleuths, she kept shooting herself in the foot, refusing to trust the guy who is obviously (to the reader) the good guy and crazy about her. Worse, she went lickety-split after the guys she thought were the villains, all but screaming their names from the rooftop--and, indeed, giving them to the police, who nicely ignored her as a nuisance. She was out of control. So there I had a model of what I don't want to do, and I'm re-reading carefully to make sure that Kate doeesn't behave that way.
That's right, Kate, not Kelly. What I'm reading now will come out in January, and I hope it's the first of a new series set in a small-town cafe in East Texas. Anxious as I am to encourage everyone to get to know Kelly O'Connell of Skeleton in a Dead Space and No Neighborhood for Old Women, I'm also immersed in Kate's world--and wondering if Kate and Kely are too close together in sound. I still have time to change Kate's name. I'd love opinions.
Held the first copy of No Neighborhood for Old Women in my hands today--always a thrill, though it looked a bit smaller than I expected. I love the dedication and hope my publishing pals--Gayla, Fran, Kathie, Carol and Melinda--read it. Kathie told me she doesn't read mysteries but maybe she'll read this one with her name on the dedication page--or at least read the dedication page. Gayla and Fran and Melinda are fans of the first book, so they tell me, and I don't know if Carol has read it or not. My busy friends.
I also sent out email invitations today to the two signings at the Old Neighborhood Grill: May 19, Saturday, at 7:00 a.m.--Peter, the owner, says that's when his readers come in. I'll stay as long as people stop to say hello.The second signing, for slugabeds, is at 5:30 Monday May 21, same place--great place to have supper if you're in Fort Worth. I'll post on Facebook soon, but I've already had nice response to my email flyer. Last time I signed at the Grill, it was a great success.
I stambled on a Web site today called The Secret Life of Pronouns. I believe it's a book. It has fascinating exercises for you to analyze yourself. One is the classic TAT which is supposed to reveal your views about yourself, the world, and relationships, but the one I liked was a Life Survey. About 80 questions but they go fast, and it instantly analyzes how you fit into four categores (I can only remember three because I was like a one in the fourth--I think it was sloth or something). The other three are Suburbanite, Cultural, and Preppie. I arrived pretty much in the middle ground on all three, and at the end was told, "This computer thinks you have a healthy approach to life, but you may try too hard at your yoga." Are you listening, Elizabeth? Check it out--it's fun. One exercise I'll have my class do--writing about an everyday object for five minutes, no longer.
So with this newfound energy, tomorrow I'm back to a world of errands, lunch and dinner engagements, etc., not that I'm complaining about any of that. Oh, and cooking. But once I get going on a major project, like these revisions, I'm usually pretty focused.