Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cooking is good for the soul

Yep, I've decided--cooking is good for the soul. I'm reading a novel that is so zany I might have put it down if it weren't for the fact that the protagonist, Teeny Templeton, calms herself by cooking. And she can do what I can't--dream up recipes, combine things, and come out with something wonderful. Of course, she can dream up things like Skewer Your Ex Kabobs, complete with oleander. And she gets into bizarre situations--like catching her fiance playing naked badminton with two long-legged lovelies. The novel is full of eccentrics, from the fiance's Aunt Dora, who married into Charleston society but knows how to pay it like a harp, to a crude private eye named Old Red. As I said, I'd have done what the novel's title suggests, Gone With a Handsomer Man, except I got hooked, partly by food and cooking.
I am not, sigh, an inventive cook, but last night I invented a sandwich in my dreams. I was in a small cafe in a picturesque old town--think a small Scottish village, at least that's what appeals to me--and they had on the menu a sandwich of cream cheese, blue cheese, and chives. I emailed Jordan about it, and she, who puts cream cheese on everything, thinks it sounds delicious. Maybe we should add mayo? And use scallions instead of the milder chives? But then I have a lovely pot of chives on the porch.
But today I spent much of the day cooking--from  recipes, not my own imagination. Such experiments usually turn out badly, like the recent chicken breast I cooked only to find out it was a thigh, not a breast. But, following recipes, I made lemon potato salad--a friend brought that to a potluck and was generous enough to share the recipe. It's scrumptious. Then another friend sent me the recipe for what she says is the world's best gazpacho. Most gazpacho has bell peppers--I don't like them and they don't like me. But in this one I can easily leave that out. I made a huge batch--need gazpacho? Come on over! This one calls for a couple of weird things--you mash a couple of garlic cloves, sprinkle with salt, and then mash a hard-boiled egg into that mixture. Stir all that into the soup. Then at the very end stir in a half cup plain bread crumbs. I'm having guests tomorrow night who are gluten free, so I'm waiting for them to bring them bread crumbs. I imagine that's a texture issue.I didn't even test this huge batch--just set it into the fridge to chill. I'll "taste for seasoning," as they say, tomorrow when the bread crumbs get here.
Meantime I managed to do small household chores, edit and post a Potluck with Judy guest blog and write a blog that will appear later in the month on Sweethearts of the West. So I've done a bit--but I've got to keep reading and find out what happens with Teeny. Right now, she's out on bail, accused of murdering her fiance, the naked badminton player. Can you believe I'm drawn into all this? It's the cooking I tell you.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Loverly Day

Today I feel like borrowing a word from Eliza Doolittle of  My Fair Lady--it was a loverly day! Not sure why that came into my mind, but it did. Started the morning at Central Market, which always pleases me because I love the fresh fruits and vegetables--and I bought lots. I've been keeping cucumbers in vinegar in the fridge, so had to stock up on those, and I'm making gazpacho this weekend--a big batch that will last a while--so I bought things for that. And potato salad. And corn on the cob--going to try roasting it in the oven in the husk. I've never been one to shun using the oven in summer--come on, it doesn't heat up the kitchen that much! I didn't quite shop till I dropped, but I had fun.
Then at noon, a signing at Z's Cafe--an eclectic place to say the least. How many small cafes have art on the wall and welcome authors for signings? It became a reunion of journalists as former employees of the Star-Telegram came to lunch and buy my book. I loved visiting with Cissy Stewart Lale, Doug Newsom (she didn't work at the paper--she was TCU faculty), Betty Bob Buckley, and Ann Miller-Tinsley. At another table, good friends Mary Rogers and Melinda Mason--gosh I hate to say how long Melinda and I have known each other, but I will say her mouth dropped open when I introduced Jordan to her. Jordan, sweet girl, came to support her mama--and visited with Mary and Melinda while eating Z's famous chicken salad. Others came--a former neighbor, the former principal of Jacob's school (who has a part in the books, much to her pleasure), a couple of women I didn't know but who knew Z's Cafe. It was all cheerful, upbeat, and delightful. And the food is so good. Special of the day was quiche, which those who had it said was wonderful--but they ran out before I got some. Next time. Meantime I had a terrific ham sandwich--not sure when I've had ham that good, and I eat a lot of ham. Sold 15 copies of No Neighborhood for Old Women and three of Skeleton in a Dead Space--not a bad lunch hour at all.
Home for a brief nap. Then I picked up Jacob and got us ready to go to his house for a Mexican pot luck supper. I had made an enchilada casserole--a cheater's casserole--but it had too many tortillas in it. Needed to be less bready. I am always so grateful that Jordan's friends welcome me so happily, and I was delighted when I told Jacob no, he could not have any more to eat because we were going to his house for supper, and he said, "Are you going too?" Of course, he wanted the top down, even though it was beastly hot.
As I always do, I came home early and then was grateful for the top down. Alex Beaton's Scottish ballads blasted out of my car (maybe I need a new Scottish tape for variety!). I even went the long way home so I could enjoy the drive and the music. Okay, I also admit a little voyeurism--there was a body found on a street where you wouldn't expect such to happen, and I went a bit out of the way to pinpoint the location. Man said he came home and found a dead woman, whom he didn't know, on his back doorstep. Absolutely fodder for a mystery. We recently also had a body found near the RR tracks in my neighborhood. My neighbor Susan says she's not sure but what my books are causing all this, as fiction becomes reality. Other way around, I'm going to work reality into fiction. My mind is whirling with thoughts.
Tomorrow, a lazy stay-at-home day fixing that gazpacho and potato salad--and maybe writing a piece about Etta Place.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer, wildfires, and cabin fever

After an extended and unusually pleasant spring, it's a shock to realize that summer has come to North Texas with some of the vengeance of last year's horrific season. The top stays up on my convertible, the windows closed, the a/c on--not the way I like to drive. Yesterday, when it hit 106, the air felt like a smothering blanket when I ventured outside. My dogs spend the hottest part of the day inside. This afternoon Sophie acted like she wanted to go out, so I started toward the back door. She followed for a bit but then sat down firmly in the middle of the kitchen, as if to say, "I'm not going back out there!"
I've spent most of this week at home on my computer, and I'm beginning to get cabin fever. I had a bunch of errands that could easily have been done in one day, but I chose to do the little ones today, saving the grocery for tomorrow, so that I get out each day. The grocery is not exciting, but the clerks are pleasant and you get to talk to people. I value my solitude, and Lord knows I have plenty of work to do, but I am not a loner. I need people. To my delight Jordan and Jacob stopped in about eight this morning--Jacob demonstrated the new break-dancing techniques he'd learned at yesterday's lesson.
Being at my computer has meant that I've been glued to the reports of the apolcalyptic fires in Colorado, particularly Colorado Springs. Years and years ago (in the '70s) my brother lived there and we visited often. Then seven or so years ago, Colin and Lisa lived there, and we visited again. Both John and Colin lived close to the Garden of the Gods, and I treasure a picture of my whole family in front of the rock with Garden of the Gods written on it. From this distance, it's easy to feel dismay over the possible destruction of the Air Force Academy and the Broadmoor; it's harder to comprehend the tragic loss to so many families, with countless homes burned, the trauma of rapid evacuations, the desperation of first responders. I read that police directing evacuation traffic wore T-shirts over their faces so they could breathe in that smoke-filled air, and hospitals have treated many people with respiratory problems. I've thought of a line from Anna Quindlen's book, Lots of Cake, Plenty of Candles. "Catastrophe," she wrote, "is numerical. Loss is singular." We can pray and worry over the catastrophe, but we can never share the loss experienced by so many. Makes it seem petty to complain about 106.
I read with amusement a newspaper article about Texas food, with recipes, that purported to give author Dan Jenkins' recipe for cheese enchiladas. I emailed Dan with a comment to the effect that I didn't realize he cooked, and he wrote back to say that he doesn't. About the only cooking he does is to open a can of Wolf Brand chili. But you know, the recipe sounded kind of good. Jordan plans a Mexican potluck Friday night, and I think I might go and take an enchilada casserole. The article gave a chili recipe, but it occurs to me you could fill the enchiladas with Velveeta, as suggested--I'd add onion--and top with Wolf Brand. I'm debating whether I can do it the new way I've discovered for enchilada casseroles of any kind, by layering flat tortillas instead of softening in grease and rolling. At the least, I'll soften them in the microwave.
Life should get busier this weekend with a signing, some cooking (always fun), church, Jacob on Sunday afternoon, and company for Sunday supper.
And so the summer settles in, and so does my summer routine. Back to the manuscript I'm editing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Learning to Swim

I"m reading Anna Quindlen's memoir, Plenty of Cake, Lots of Candles, a series of reflections on what she's learned over the thirty years since she began her New Yurk Times column on life in your thirties. In a chapter on parenting, she decries the tendency of today's mothers to micromanage their children's lives, never allowing them to experience failure or disappointment which, she suggests, makes them ill-prepared to face life in the real world. It doesn't allow them to possess their own triumphs--or failures.
Reading that I thought of Jacob and the swimming pool. He has hated water--even at his own birthday parties, he would dabble his feet at the edge of the pool while his cousins swam and frolicked. This spring he said to me, "My daddy says I have to learn the water, but I'm not going to." Then his summer day care program put a life jacket on him and as he told his father, he "lost the fear."
This weekend at his cousin's eighth birthday party, I saw him standing at the edge of the pool, watching the "big" kids swim freely. I surmised he was too embarrassed to put on a life jacket when all those older kids were strong swimmers. Later when I looked, he was sitting alone in the hot tub shallow portion, looking fairly lonely and forlorn. But then for some reason he put on the life jacket and joined the fray. We couldn't get him out of the pool the rest of the weekend. In the middle of the deep end? Not a problem--he just dog paddled wherever he wanted to go and shouted, "Look, Juju, I"m swimming." We could have rescued him, pitied him, etc. but we didn't, and he figured it out on his own.
Quindlen claims to have raised three perfectly fine adults without planning every minute of their existence, a sentiment that echoes my own. I was the single parent of four children and getting them to school, Scouts, etc., was all I could manage. Who thought about play dates? I remember once the mother of one of Megan's friends called to ask if Megan was free a week from Thursday. How the heck did I know? Quindlen had three children so she'd never have to play board games; worked pretty much the same way for me. Once, looking for a pre-school for Meg (her birthday just missed the cutoff date for the TCU school Colin attended), I went to one where they believed in free play--it was pandemonium and I decided she got plenty of that at home.
Like Quindlen, I have wonderful adult children--they are close to each other and all of them seem to love me. They are contributing citizens with good jobs, and best of all, they're great parents.  I always thought it was sheer damn good luck. Now I wonder if it was benign neglect. Whatever, they survived and so did I--without many play dates!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Break dancing and a bike with gears

Ever think about watching a six-year-old give a break dancing lesson to two forty-year-olds? I hadn't, but that's what I did Satuday night, and I laughed until I cried. Jacob tried to teach his aunt and uncle, my daughter Megan and her husband Brandon, how to do that Michael Jackson move where he squats and kind of turns all the way around--I asked Jacob if it had a name but he said no. Still, you'd know what I'm talking about if you saw it. Even I knew, and I'm far from familiar with break dancing--though I may get that way soon. Brandon sort of did it, and Jacob high-fived him. Then Megan announced she knew how to moonwalkk and demonstrated, but Brandon said it was the sorriest moonwalk he'd ever seen and proceeded to glide across the floor. Jacob did demonstrations for us--a routine perfectly timed to the music B. played. Not sure where he gets it, but Jacob is sure good at it--maybe it's a six-year-old's lack of inhibition. I never even learned to jitterbug, and that was "the thing" in my day.
Other highlights of a weekend in Austin were seeing eight-year-old Sawyer get his birthday present--a bike with gears and hand brakes, which he'd been wanting for family bike rides in their hilly part of Austin. And lunch with my daughters at Z Tejas, one of my favorite Austin restaurants. And a too-short visit with my oldest, Colin, and his children, Morgan and Kegan. Lisa was in Haiti on a mission trip--or so we thought. Actually she was sitting in the Miami airport--spent almost 24 hours in Miami instead of a quick layover on the way to Haiti. But Colin and the kids drove up from Houston for the birthday and back that night.
I napped, read, and was lazy--no one put me to work, which I would have welcomed. And I stayed out of the way of a swimming pool party with eighteen eight-year-olds. Lots of splashing. But a big event: Jacob decided he wasn't afraid of the water and spent the rest of the weekend in the pool--with a life jacket. Swimming lessons coming up. I was afraid he'd get over-confident and go in without the jacket--Jordan said he did once, sank to the bottom, but came right up. Lesson learned.
All is all, as always, it was great to be with my family. I am so lucky.
Home Sunday night--drive on I-35 took much longer than it should because of heavy traffic that slowed to 20 mph for no apparent reason, then picked up again. Today I've spent all day at my computer. Tired but so proud of accomplishing a lot. Very optimistic tonight.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thoughts on driving Volkswagens

My car, complete with huge flower in the vase (thanks to Megan who
brought it from Belgium)
My first car was a Volkswagen. I bought it in maybe 1961. It was the color of canned tomato soup, and someone had striped it. I thought it was sort of cool. My dad went with me to pick it out, and I paid $750 (my own money). I drove that car until I married in the spring of 1964. My new husband, now ex-, and I traded it and whatever clunker he was driving for a Karmann Ghia, yellow with a black top. It looked like a bumblebee. We drove our worldly goods (those that weren't shipped via movers) from Missouri to Texas in the car a year later, with luggage strapped on the top and a full grown magnificent male collie taking up the space where the back seat pulled down and made a platform. Thirty miles down the road, our luggage began to crawl down over the windshield. We went back to town, regouped, mailed some stuff and started out again.
I guess we thought we were moving on up in the world,  for we didn't have Volkswagens after that for a long time. Mustang convertible and then a Mercedes convertible we could not afford for him; huge Cadillacs, used, for me, then station  wagons and vans. But somewhere along the way I decided I was leery of those big cars, so as a third car Joel bought me an old VW that had been rolled and still had all its dents, with a bumper sign saying "Old is beautiful." I graduated from that to a black-on-black classic convertible with a burled wood dashboard--this was about the time they stopped making the old bugs.
I loved that car. Maybe my all-time favorite until now. I remember coming out of a grocery store and having a woman say to me, "My husband would kill for that car." Another time I took the chldren for ice cream cones--four kids plus the driver was a squeeze but it was before the days of seat-belt laws. We drove home with the top down and I realized my mistake--ice cream flew all over the car and us. Good times.
Single, I decided I needed a bigger car so I bought a used VW camper--long before the Vanogan days. It embarrassed the daylights out of some of my kids. I remember once picking up Megan, then a tween, at a party only to hear her say, "Let's get out of here before anyone sees this car." Piqued, I drove away banging on the horn--no wonder Meg and I had our share of battles in those years. I got more sensible--drove a minivan, then a couple of Sterlings (no longer made) and finally Camrys.
One day driving in Dallas with my oldest son, I looked over at one of the new VW bugs and said, "I'd really love to have one of those." Colin, bless his heart, said, "Mom, if you want it, you should have it." In those days, you had to put a deposit down and go on a waiting list but eventually I got a bright blue bug. We gave Jordan my Camry and traded whatever clunker she had in on the VW. I remember driving to get my new car when her car made such alarming noises that Colin said, "I'm afraid we won't make it." But we did and went to celebrate and show off at friends' restaurant. The car had a sun roof, which I thought was the cat's pajamas.
After a few years, I began to long for a convertible, and younger son Jamie egged me on. He went with me to look, did all the bargaining--we were about to buy a car and they sold it out from under us on the showroom floor, so Jamie, the quintessential salesman himself, bullied them down in price and into throwing in the burled wood luxury dashboard plus some other amenities.
So today I drive a VW bug convertible. I think part of my reasoning was I didn't want to be a stodgy grandmother, and this was one way of breaking the mold of any aging woman. Last summer it went from cold to hot so fast, I don't think I put the top down more than three times. This spring was heavenly, and even now that summer has arrived, I can put it down in the early mornings and late at night. My hair and complexion suffer but my spirit soars.
Jacob at first didn't like the top down, but now he says, "Juju, please fold that back." Sometimes coming home from his house at dusk with the top down, I take back and scenic ways with Alex Beaton singing Scottish ballads blasting from my tape deck. Love it.
Last night as I was leaving the Old Neighborhood Grill, a woman smiled at me, and then impulsively asked, "Are  you the woman who drives the Volkswagen convertible?" I said yes, and she said, "I've seen you driving around." And probably waving madly at everyone I know. That and Alex Beaton are why I love my car.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jacob turned six today

I'm left tonight with the warm glow that comes from being with family and good friends--and having a thoroughly happy six-year-old grandson. Jacob had his "kids" party at Legoland Saturday and then Saturday night a party at home with his parents friends and their chidren. But today was the real day. I called this morning to wish him happy birthday and said, "It's going to be a special day all day, isn't it?" He said firmly, "Yes, it is." I told him I'd pick him up after day care (got to stop calling it school) and bring him home and we'd have a party. His grown-up reply was "Got it!"
So tonight his Burton grandparents and Aunt Doodie (Christian's sister) joined my neighbors Jay and Susan, good friends Elizabeth and Weldon, former neighbor Meredith with her two little ones (her daughter, two years younger, is one of Jacob'd delights--he ran to tell me "Abby's here!") and my dear friend Aunt Betty in celebrating. Not an imaginative menu--hot dogs, baked beans, leftover potato salad from Saturday, sour-cream onion dip (I overdid on that!), pickled cucumbers (my experiment that everyone loved) and a sinful chocolate mousse cake. Jacob had requested "those little brown sausages" and green peas, and I had promised him whatever he wanted since it was his birthday, so his menu differed from ours. We sat on the porch and visited, while Jacob, Abby, and Poppy played Frisbee and I don't know what else on the lawn. Some ate inside, others outside--lovely evening--and then we all gathered for cake and presents. Jacob was truly excited by each present and ran around giving hugs. Everybody talked at once, and it was a wonderful evening.
Jordan had the kitchen cleaned before I felt I could leave my guests to get in there and help her, so I finished up after everyone left. I am so blessed by family and friends who care about me and mine. This was extended family, people who have watched Jacob grow up and who care about him...and us. Wonderful.
Early in the evening, before everyone arrived, the sky clouded up and it looked like rain. Jacob turned contemplative and even unhappy at the prospect of rain on his parade, and he refused to let his mom take a picture of him. But I snuck one...and I think it's one of my favorites.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yoga and writing

Yesterday I woke up in a funk. The prospect of lunch with one good friend and supper with two others didn't jolt me out of my blues. It took me a while--and a yoga session--to figure out what was bothering me. The novel I'm working on wasn't going well; in fact it wasn't going. I'd been reading a wonderful mystery mentioned in a previous blog--Mr. Churchill's Secretary. I got so thoroughly engrossed in it that it's been hard for me to start another novel, though my iPad is loaded with two new ones by authors whose work I usually enjoy. What set Mr. Churchill's Secretary apart was partly the significance of the backdrop--Hitler's march across Europe, the Luftwaffe bombings of London. But more than that, it was the unexpected. No one was who you thought they were, and good guys turned out to be villains, and those you had pegged as villains were good guys--or at least had a soft streak. My novel, on the other hand, was predictable--at least in my mind.
I figured all this out while stretching and pushing and doing all those yoga things--and counting to ten seconds for many poses. But I truly went back to work with renewed enthusiasm and have since written about 3500 words--okay, I know some authors write ten hours and 10,000 words a day--not me. But I finally feel that I'm headed in a better direction, and that's exciting.
I have enjoyed my social life--lunch with Melinda who, apart from having been my favorite employee at TCU Press, remains a good friend now that I'm not at the press; supper with Carol and Kathie, two book cronies I've known for years. We share each others triumphs, tragedies, and small concerns. Today I had lunch with several members of a book group I've spoken to three times--discovered one of them is a "field editor" for a cooking magazine--right up my alley, and I may have more to say about her later. But she gave me sample copies of Taste of Home and I had fun learing through them this afternoon. My favorite find: strawberries stuffied with a mix of cream cheese and blue cheese, and topped with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette (I'd leave out the chopped pecans). Would that be salad or dessert? It was a real boost to my ego to hear these ladies say again how much they liked my books, and one had read one of my historical novels and ordered another.
An aside; we deliberatel went to the Frank Kent Honda dealership for lunch. Good friend David Rotman who used to own Cafe Aspen now works there, and they asked him to spiff up their food service for customers and employees. He's brought some of the old Aspen recipes, and you can have a great lunch in the attractive chrome setting of a new car dealership. David wasn't there today, but we had a good lunch and good time. One salesman told us lunch was free if we bought a car; he told one of the other ladies if she paid his price for lunch, she'd get a free car.
Tonight was neighbors' night at the Old Neighborhood Grill and I had my meatloaf fix--the cashier looks at me and asks, "The usual?" When I nod, she pours a generous glass of Kendall Jackson chardonnay and orders up a piece of meat loaf and a side of green beans. I don't know--is it good to be that predictable? As we were leaving, one neighbor asked, "Are you going home to write?" I said I was, and she said, "Good. I need another mystery to read."
So all in all, writing is looking pretty good to me--and when I reread what I had done on that novel, it really wasn't all that bad. I think I'll run it by my mentor/beta reader/whatever next week and maybe get a critique partner through Sisters in Crime's Guppy program. Funk gone at least for now. Oh, and I've done my yoga faithfully. I think it helps both mind and body--and that funky right hip that's been bothering me.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mr. Churchill's decision--and ours

I"m reading a book that fascinates me--Mr. Churchill's Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal. I'm fascinated not only because it has good mystery elements but mostly because of the history I'm learning. The setting is London in 1939, with war anticipation running high as Hitler marched across Europe. I was one year old, so I obviously didn't know, but in school I learned basically that WWII started with Pearl Harbor. Now I know there was so much more going on. Hitler devastated Europe, ending with France. Britain knew he would turn his attention there and lived in dreadful anticipation of the Luftwaffe attacks. London was rife with resentment that the United States had not joined in, and the IRA was doing its best to bring down England at this most vulnerable time--bombings, collusion with the Nazis, all kinds of plots. Britain faced treason from within and military force from without. Winston Churchill, who called for resisting the enemy at all costs, was not particularly a popular figure. Many favored appeasement, but Churchill held fast to his conviction that Britain must not succumb.
The central figure, as the title implies, is Mr. Churchill's secretary--actually she's a mathematician, trained at Wellesley, but women were not allowed such jobs, so she takes dictation. And at one point, Church says to her, "Either we move forward into a world of sunlight or sink into the abyss of a new dark age."
To me, that's where America stands right now. It's not overtly a political choice, it's a moral one--though ultimately of course it comes down to politics. But are we going to become a nation divided by class, with little or no opportunity for few but the rich? A nation divided by gender, race, sexual preference? A nation whose judgment and laws are heavily influenced by one set of religious principles that, among other things, deny women a seat at the table?
Or are we going to conitnue to move forward to be a nation where every person,regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual preference, has an equal chance? A nation where all faiths and all races are respected? A nation that recognizes the worth of the individual, be he or she factory worker or millionaire?
Granted our forefathers didn't foresee racial equality, gender equality--we have, to our credit, "come a long way, baby!" But those founding fathers were quite clear about separation of church and state, having come from the oppression of many religions in Europe. And Thomas Jefferson, among others, warned of the dangers when government falls into the hands of the privileged and elite.
This November we have that clear choice. It's not a choice of Republican or Democrat--it's a choice of moral principles. I know where I stand. How about you?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Easily distracted--or life is good

My writing goes slowly, but I realized tonight it's because I'm easily distracted. I want to write, but I have no set schedule. I also want to  seize whatever opportunities for fun, happiness, sociability come my way. So I'm all too ready when someone suggests lunch or dinner. Plead that I have work to do? Not me, though sometimes it gnaws at my conscience.
Today Jordan called to say that she and a friend wanted to have happy hour and meet at my house. Did I say that I was in the middle of a chapter and besides I hadn't done my yoga yet? No, I said, "Great." She arrived with Jacob, and Lacey, carrying a bottle of wine, appeared a bit later (I take very little on these afternoon happy hours--I find wine in the late afternoon does me in). Jordan got out a silver tray, served three glasses of wine and one flute of sparkling cider--Jacob prefers his cider out of a flute, thank you very much. Then Jordan reminded (?) me that she and all those going to Jacob's Legoland birthday party would be meeting here at ten in the morning and I should be sure to look "cute." "Cute?" Are you kidding? I intended to be running errands. "I told you about this," she said. Honest, she didn't, but hey, it's okay. She said they would return about three, when I intended to be napping, and the children would probably have to come in to use the bathroom. It would be noisy. Now I could have bowed out of all this, but Jordan and Jacob bring a richness to my life that I don't want to miss, not for one minute. So probably, no yoga, no writing tomorrow, since there's also an evening party for Jacob. Jordan believes in drawing birthdays out.
And then coming up is the eighth birthday of one of my grandsons in Austin. Am I going to say, "No, I have to stay home and write?" Not me! I've worked hard all my life, and when family opportunities come up, I grab them. I'll be in Austin.
This morning I got distracted watching Justin Bieber on the TODAY Show--a throng of young girls had begun camping out on Rockefeller Plaza (they temporarily renamed it Bieber Plazs) two days ago, and as I watched those girls swooning and screaming and singing along, I could so easily see  my oldest granddaughter, Maddie among them. She has had a bad case of "Bieber Fever" for some time though I think it's gradually abating. To my eye, he's a nice enough looking young boy, although my haircut person said today she thinks he looks like Ellen DeGeneris--I didn't know where to go with that. But I'm not much impressed with his music--maybe a generational thing. I wondered at the frenzy of all those young girls, and then I remembered Frank Sinatra and the bobby-soxers. No, even I am not quite that old, but I read about the craze and saw pictures. Same thing, different generation.
Meantime, what looked like a nice long weekend is now looking crowded--and not by work on my new novel. Maybe it's percolating in the back of my mind. I do hope so.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gifts from Dad

Like most people this weekend, I'm thinking about my father. My dad gave me many gifts: a love of Scotland and its history and particularly the history of Clan MacBean; an appreciation of a good leg of lamb and fine table manners (he said you use your best manners with those closest to  you and never said "it's just family"); a sense of the importance of meaningful work that you enjoy; a recognition of the need for faith--and church--in my life (though I haven't always been faithful); a love of a beautiful flower garden; a lifetime habit of reading.
But maybe the biggest gift he gave me was to make me an executive secretary extraordinaire, nurturing skills I have used all my professional life. Dad was the president of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, then one of five or six such schools in the nation (depends on what year you're talking about) and, because he could find no one else appropriate to do it, the administrator of the associated Chicago Osteopathic Hospital. He knew how to light the boiler. This is significant, because he said if you were responsible for an institution, you had to know how all parts of it worked. He knew everyone from physicians to maintenance and housekeeping staff and loved to joke with the cooks in the kitchen--my mom swears one of them taught her to make potato salad. Dad always answered his own phone and made his own calls--one of the few things that brought him to anger was to answer the phone only to have a secretary say, "Please hold for so-and-so." He'd ask, "Does he think his time is more valuable than mine?" A lesson I learned from him but somehow wasn't always able to use: "Never fire a person; make them want to resign."
I have vague memories that my brother went to work at the hospital at a young age, doing groundskeeper work, I think. I know I began as a typist after school at the age of fourteen. I think I typed the same five-line letter ten times before I got it right that first day, but Dad's executive assistant, who became my mentor, was patient. Together the two of them taught me the world of business and office work, and eventually when I was at the University of Chicago, I was Dad's secretary, sharing an office with him. You may think that was a piece of cake--not so! I was expected to work harder because I was the boss' daughter, and I was clearly reprimanded when I snuck away to run the switchoard, the old kind with cords you plugged in--I loved doing that.
But I learned the basics--answer phone calls and letters promptly, deal with matters on your desk, and don't put them aside; be courteous but firm when you had to; write a coherent and intelligent letter, and much more, probably an instinct that I can't define. But, whether as diretor of a small press or head of a four-child, single-parent household (always filled with other people), I have always been an efficient manager. It was Dad's gift to me.
I like to think that Dad, who's been gone thiry-seven years (wow!), looked down with approval on my children and me (well, most of the time) and on my work at TCU Press and as an author. I know that on his deathbed, one of the last things he said to me was how proud he was of me. I hope that's still true. That, too, was his gift to me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Neighborhood and neighbors

The elm tree in front of my house, from my front porch, where I entertain a lot
I live in the Berkeley Neighborhood in inner Fort Worth, an older neighborhood full of charming homes (mine was built in 1922) close enough to the hospital district and downtown that residents can avoid the freeway--a distinct bonus in my mind. We have wonderful huge trees, the kind that arch over the street forming a canopy. A huge old elm anchors my house to the street, and I live in fear that the city will say it's on its way out. Recently they came to trim it and pronounced it healthy. We have paved sidewalks, albeit some a little rough and uneven, and wonderful old-fashioned streetlights. Some houses are like mine--modest bungalows with that standard pattern--living, dining, kitchen on one side, and three bedrooms on the other; other homes are two-story, large and usually expensive. Many have been added on and undergone redos but in general the neighborhood has been good about maintaining ambience. There are few glaring mistakes and only one or two instances where the existing house was torn down to make room for a new one--a couple of McMansions but not bad.
It's a cohesive neighborhood with an active neighborhood association and a busy email "buzz." A dog runnning loose will be reported quickly, and neighbors turn out to help return it to the rightful owner. When developers wanted to build an apartment complex at the edge of the neighborhod, the association worked closely with them on such issues as noise abatement, lighting, traffic control, and a design reflecting the neighborhood. We'd rather not have the complex, but it will be the best we could get.
We are next to one of the larger city parks and the zoo--okay, that does cause traffic problems occasionally and there's an occasional report (rarely verified) of a coyote sighting--when seen, the poor animal must have wandered up from the river in the park. Within walking distance there are several good restaurants and a lot more within five minutes by car.
One of the things I find neighborly that I discovered a year ago or less, thanks to a friend, was the neighborhood dinner group. A small group meets on Tuesday nights, informally, for supper at the Old Neighborhood Grill. You never know who will be there or if you'll end up eating alone--though that rarely happens. I'm impressed that most of these people are involved in their churches and community, for instance with Leadership Fort Worth. One has been a mainstay of the neighborhood association for  years. They're people who take their community seriously. Conversation is always lively, and tonight it touched on what a gem our city has in the University of North Texas Health Science Center with its pioneering programs. One of the best forensic medicine programs in the country, with experts who are called on worldwide to do work; an outstanding Alzheimer's research program. Those were but two, but I know there are many more.
I was involved with the health science center, once a stand-alone osteopathic medical college, from its earliest days, and it gave me a secret glow to hear these people praise it. They know nothing about the early hard-scrabble days--though maybe someday I'll tell them, since it's a subject I've written on.
Neighbors can be the nicest folks on earth.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Potluck with Judy

I"ve had food on my mind lately, so if you've missed Judy's Stew, please pop over to Potluck with Judy ( and read posts from last night and tonight. Last night's post is a tour of some great local restaurants, and in tonight's you'll find a terrific recipe for a light summer potato salad. I know I said I'd post Potluck every Sunday night, but this week I seem to have had too many food things to report. Afraid to step on the scales, but it sure has been a nice week.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Dogs--training them, loving them

Sophie demonstrating that she has learned "stay"
I"m not sure if I wasn't consistent enough or if Sophie, at almost thirteen months, has calmed down enough to learn some commands. Early on she was good about "sit" and "down" (as in lie down--not don't jump, which she hasn't quite mastered yet) and then she learned, to my surprise, "drop it" and "leave it." She got so that she would ignore Scooby's food if he hadn't eaten it. And she knows to wait at the open front door until I tell her it's okay to go out. She does that with a leash, and the last time I tried it with Jordan and Jacob on the porch, she completely lost it. Who knows what she'd do if no one was there and she wanted to bolt. Still we're moving in the right direction.
But now I'm delighted that she has learned (and accepted) "stay" and "come"--of course, so far she's only done that in a training situation. And when she obeys "come" I bribe her with a tiny bit of processed cheese--the kind I won't eat (hmmm, maybe I shouldn't feed it to my dog either!).
Being half poodle and half border collie, she's smart as a whip. Obedience is less a question of knowing what I want from her than of her decision about whether or not she wants to do it. But as she settles down, she's more inclined to do what I want. A friend posted on Facebook the other day about wanting a Velcro dog and I guess that's what I always want--a dog who will stick by my side, no matter what, lie contentedly at my feet, etc. In view of that, I have a poor record in choosing breeds--an Aussie who was wild until (but devoted) until he was ten and now this Bordoodle. Both as sweet and loving as they can be but independent, lively, with minds of their own.
Someone asked me the other day how much longer I plan to stay in my house, and I replied I never even think about that. I can't imagine life without dogs, and my current dogs would never survive in an apartment retirement home, even if it allowed dogs. (The other reasons I won't go there are for another blog.) They like the outdoors, and I like being able to open the door and let them run into the yard--okay, Scooby now sort of hesitates but he goes. There have been very few periods in my life when I didn't have a dog or two or three. Yes, they're work, and sometimes a pain, but they are so worth it and they return threefold the love you give them.
I frequently repost on Facebook dogs that are up for adoption, some in immediate danger of euthanasia, and it makes me wish I could take every one of them. Some people are cat people; I'm a dog person.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Did I throw the baby out with the bath water?

My thoughts are on Kelly O'Connell Mysteries tonight, so here's a picture of another Craftsman house  from Kelly's Fairmount neighborhood. This one may figure in the fourth book in the series.

I've been struggling for some time to start the fourth Kelly O'Connell Mystery. I had ideas floating around in my head, finally wrote a synopsis on the basis of which Turquoise Morning Press issued a contract, and in the last couple of weeks got serious about writing. But I discarded start after start. Nothing seemed to work. I don't outline, but the general idea I had didn't seem to be going any place. And I thought the writing was wooden.
This morning, as I was doing my yoga, a great thought came to me: there was no mystery in what I was writing. A funny story, perhaps, maybe a short story or a subplot. But there was as far as I could tell no real threat to Kelly or her family, not much to call the police about. I suddenly decided I would have to shelve the whole thing--at one point, during all my revising and cutting and pasting, I had it slightly over 5,000 words. I think this morning, the main part was down to about 2,500 but all those other bits and pieces were saved in various files. What I needed was an entirely new plot.
So while I was bending and stretching and breathing deeply, I thought about possibilities--and I thought about current social issues. I came up with some ideas, so later in the morning I wrote the managing editor with an explanation of where I was, and she answered that they would not want me to keep at something that was not working but since they had contracted on the basis of one synopsis, I needed to come up with a new one. She urged me to take my time, which I fully intended to do.
But after lunch with a friend, I came back and batted out almost 600 words of a new synopsis.The words came quickly and easily, which encourages me to hope the story will too. I can see or hear the opening scene in my mind.
I'm too tired to work competently on the rest of the synopsis--or edit what I have--so that's tomorrow's chore after the grocery. Feeling really good about this too.
I did change the name of the file, Kelly #4, to Ghost in a Four-Square (the title I'd intended for the baby I threw out) and created a new Kelly #4 file, untitled as yet. Nothing is lost or irretrievable, but I feel I'm headed in the right direction.
Then tonight, after a nice dinner out with a friend, I had to answer a long bunch of questions from the reprint publisher about the two western historical romances (I use the latter word reluctantly) that are posted on the web. This writing life is exhausting. I'm going to read now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

My impression of the Impressionists

Next week is the last week of the Impressionist exhibit at Fort Worth's Kimbell Museum. These are works from the Carter Collection, about which I know little. But I like Impressionists, wanted to see the exhibit but told myself I had no one to go with, it was always so crowded, it was expensive, yada, yada yada. Last week good friend Jeannie Chaffee said she's take me on her membership and assured me it had never been crowded when she was there. We planned to eat lunch at the museum restaurant which always has an innovative menu--sometimes great, sometimes not so great. When we walked in, the place was wall to wall people. First decision: eat lunch elsewhere. We later asked a guard about the crowd and she said Tuesdays are half price. Lesson learned: don't go on Tuesday.
In spite of people everywhere, we were able to view the paintings, read the signage. Jeannie had seen the exhibit several times already, so she could tell me which paintings had interesting stories and which bits of signage I could skip. The exhibit began with Coret, who really paved the way for Impessionists, then moved on to Monet, Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Latrec, and a few artists I'd never heard of, ending with Gaugain, whose works of the South Pacific don't do much for me. But it was interesting to watch the freedom of technique develop in each artist, and the clear move away from posed portraits of nobles to ordinary people caught going about their lives. I'm on shaky ground talking about art, but it seemed to me that Impressionism has all to do about brush strokes and freedom (not thefirst time I've thought that but it struck me again today).
What struck me even more forcibly was that these artists from the late nineteenth-century were part of a larger cataclysmic change in the social structure of the world. As the Industrial Revolution standardized life and made objects impersonal, artists of all kinds worked to create works that celebrated the individuality of mankind. It wasn't just an experimental period in art--that spirit carried over into architecture, literature, clothing, all aspects of life. I'm particularly interested in it because that same era gave rise to the earliest Craftsman architecture--the subject of my Kelly O'Connell Mysteries. But in a previous part of my life I studied the exploration and conquest (bad word!) of the American West during that same period, and I could even fit that into the pattern--a search for new freedom, new opportunities, a casting off of the old ways. If I could live in another period, I would choose the late nineteenth century, though Jeannie pointed out that the sixties in the twentieth century brought about similarly cataclysmic changes--look at music, clothing, protests, etc. Still, it's about 1875-1900 for me.
Many thanks to Jeannie for a really interesting lunch hour. We left and ate at a favorite local cafeteria and then checked out the summer sale at Williams Sonoma--sort of a prosaic comedown but fun.
A postscript: I used to have a really long print of Monet's water lillies--maybe three feet or more--in the two-story dining room of what I now call "my doctor's wife house." Wondering what ever happened to that--the print, not the house.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Turning Six...and the man in the moon

Jacob and I had a rough time the other night. He walked right by me when he came in, and I said something about saying hello. "Juju, you just saw me yesterday!" I pointed out this was the first time I saw him that day and he could say hello, and he spread his arms expressively and said, "I"m turning six" as if that explained nonchalance. Then we had a real row when he started to help himself to a fruit bar at six o'clock. I said no because dinner would be ready in five or ten minutes. He yelled (yes, he did) that I didn't understand--he couldn't wait! I told him he could and would. He sort of got his manners back and later we had a talk and I asked what we could do about attitude. His solution, after long periods of "I'm thinking,"  was that he could be nicer to me, which I appreciated.
But any differences vanished about ten o'clock. I went out to get the little dog and was sitting on the back steps staring at the full moon. I called Jacob to see it, and we talked about  the man in the moon. He didn't see it, but after a while he said,"I see him. It's my first time." The look on his face was full of awe. We talked about green cheese, and then he wanted to know about men on the moon. I suggested if there were any, they were aliens because we'd heard no news of expeditions to the moon.
"I have an alien for a friend. He lives on the moon. His name is Jack." Jacob called "Hello, Jack" so loudly I expected the neighbors to come running. Jack apparently answered him, and Jacob called back, "Can you see me? I'm at my grandmother's house." He then told me all about Jack and asked if I saw him right by one of the eyes of the man in the moon. It was truly a magical moment with a child, and I only reluctantly said we had to go in when Sophie started chewing her leash. But Jacob insisted we both had to call goodnight to Jack.
My faith is restored. He's still my sweet boy, even if he is about to turn six.

Saturday, June 02, 2012


A lot of the time when I write to one of my kids, the subject line is stuff, which means it's a mish-mash, and that's what this is. I spent a lazy but productive Saturday--finished the galleys for the third Kelly O'Connell Mystery, Trouble in a Big Box (I simply cannot type that without typing Bix instead of Big!). Did my yoga, feeling more relaxed than usual--I'd just had a good nap and had no rush to be anywhere or do anything--which is usually my feeling when I do yoga. And I cooked--made a tomato/cheddar pie with some difficulty with the crust--still not sure how it will turn out, but the recipe said let it set for 3-4 hours, so I decided to let it set overnight. I'll serve it tomorrow, along with the overnight salad I made just now. And I made myself ham salad for lunch: my new trick is to buy a half-inch thick slice of good ham, whirl it in the blender, add chopped celery and scallions, mustard and mayo. It's lunch for three days at least; then I'll switch to tuna.
Speaking of food, I realized today that not all of you who read my blog are on Facebook and therefore you miss my postings of "Potluck with Judy" when I post on the food blog instead of this one. So I'm starting a new policy: from now on, I'll post on Potluck on Sunday evenings. Maybe that will make me more disciplined--it's been kind of haphazard. Tomorrow's post is already half written--some terrific, easy appetizers. The URL is if you want to check it out tomorrow night.
If you're Amazon buyers, here's something you may not realize: if you read a book and like it, it's a big help to the author if you click the "Like" button right by the title. And it's a huge help if you write a short review, just two or three sentences. Yes, this is a plea for reviews for No Neighborhood for Old Women--it hasn't gotten any yet, but many people have told me they like it. I need to share those opinions with the world. I have a dear friend who congratulated me when Skeleton in a Dead Space came out but explained, "You know, I don't read mysteries." For reasons of my own I gave her a copy of No Neighborhood for Old Women, and she tells me she loved it, couldn't wait to get back to it when she had to put it down. She's even speculating on what will happen in the third book and calls herself a "new fan of your mystery-writing." Not everyone is going to be so enthusiastic, so if you found flaws say so, but I'd sure appreciate a few reviews. And remember this when you read books by other authors--heck, even if you didn't buy it on Amazon, you can go on there and click "Like" and leave a review if you feel so inclined.
Every day I learn more and more about the mystery business, but  it's still an uphill climb. Thanks for your help.

Friday, June 01, 2012

a literary evening with the Bookish Frogs

Texas, My Texas: Musings of the Rambling Boy
Lonn Taylor spoke to the Bookish Frogs tonight--mostly he read three short essays from his new book--but it was a delightful evening. With the Bookish Frogs, you get to meet and hear an author,  you get a terrific and interesting pot-luck supper (remember how much fun it is to discover who brought what?), and often  you get to see an amazing house. Such was the case tonight.
But first, Lonn Taylor. He lives in Fort Davis and writes a weekly column for the newspaper there. This compilation of his columns is not limited to the Big Bend area however but ranges widely over his interesting life and career--he was a curator at the UT Winedale Historical Center and was for twenty years a historian at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American HIstory. Best of all, he's a home-town boy who graduated from TCU, and one of the essays in his book is about little known bars that he frequented during his school years in the late '50s and early '60s. (Some of you may recognize one or two--just sayin'!). He also read a piece about his grandmother who, among other things, believed that your watch would stop if you rode a streetcar and that Abraham Lincoln was the illegitimate brother of Jefferson Davis. Fascinating stuff.
The food was good, the wine plentiful, and the house in which we met spectacular. It's in west Fort Worth, a '70s modern with a two-story living room (the current owners have added an almost-floor-to-ceiling bookcase with a ladder, and someone remarked to me that they were always so impressed by a bookcase with a ladder--me too!). They've kept the mirrors of the '70s, so that a good portion of the wall surrounding the fireplace is mirrored, and there's the most amazing powder room--every surface, even the inside of the door is mirrored. You can see parts of yourself you may never have seen before. I decided next time I needed someone to check my back for moles, I'd just call and ask if I could use their  powder room.The open entertaining aspect intrigued me the most--a wonderful long granite bar, with a sink, runs along one side of the dining room, with plenty of stools for seating. And the kitchen is spacious, open and gleaming. The dining room and kitchen walls are windows that look out on the narrowest of gardens, well maintained with gravel and unusual plant arrangements. A real treat to see.
If you like good  books and book people and you live in Fort Worth, you really should investigate the Bookish Frogs and support TCU Press. They have a Web page, so check it out. See you at the next supper--and, hey, bring  your friends.