Sunday, March 31, 2013

One Early Easter Morning

As I dressed in the dark this morning, I began to think that I had been so preoccupied with the logistics of the day--sunrise service, Easter egg hunt and breakfast for six adults and two kids, then a respite and then mid-day dinner for eight--that I hadn't stopped to meditate on the significance of the day, to let the wonder of God's love sink in. The service was lovely, and the minister--a young man I didn't know--said jut the right words, said that some rejoiced that Jesus was risen but others were fearful, even doubting, which he said is okay. I very much needed to hear that message. The service was highlighted for me by the offertory--"One Early Easter Morning," which I've blogged about before. I sang it in choir at the age of 10, 12, I don't know. But it has bounced around in my head ever since, and I was so grateful to our music director for scheduling it. A quartet, with one acting as soloist, sang it a capalla. We had all groaned about sunrise and early getting up (5:30) but we decided it was inspirational and we'll do it again next year. It's lovely to go to church, outdoors in a courtyard, in the dark and watch the sky turn pink and then blue. As though God were reaching down to say, "It is true. He is Risen." (As our breakfasts guests left, the dad said, "He Lives!" and Jacob asked, "Who lives?" Oh well, he'll learn!).
Ultimately the day was mostly about kids. Jacob began the day at 5 a.m., waking his parents because he had a bonus morning, both the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy visited during the night. That tooth has been hanging for weeks, but he wouldn't let anyone touch it. A stray elbow in a bouncy house at a birthday party yesterday did the trick.
Jacob and his friend/sister, Eva, had a great time hunting eggs, and then we all had sausages, eggs, fruit, and hot cross buns--which I love but nobody else seemed to much like. Nice gathering, good way to start the day. And easy kitchen clean-up. After they left, I got a short nap, and then it was time to get ready for 3:00 p.m. dinner.
Most of the dinner was ready--a sliced ham waiting to be put in the oven, potato salad, fruit salad with just a little more cutting needed, green beans snapped and ready to roast--but the deviled eggs were still empty half eggs, although the filling was made, I was dragging my heels, hoping Jordan would stuff them. Well, now I know the trick--my ten-year-old granddaughter is a pro. I always spoon the filling in, recognizing that it doesn't looks as good. Edie cut a corner in a baggie and piped it in with the precision that characterizes everything she does. They looked beautiful. We had as always a noisy happy hour and a joyous dinner.
What's my lesson from this Easter? Well, I always wait to be blown away by the certainty of my faith, but much as I believe, little doubts creep in, sort of "What ifs?" in the back of my mind. Today I learned that those little doubts are okay and that's it's also okay for me to focus on family, friends, and food even, and maybe especially, on high holy days. And now I wish I could sing with the quartet the last stanza of "One Early Easter Morning," particularly approriate for a sunrise service:

At last the dawn came streaming
Across the Eatern sky.
Thank God for Easter morning
When Christ the Lord rides by.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring is here

My gardeners at work
It wasn't cold this morning for the first time, and tonight Elizabeth and I had the first dinner of the year on the front porch, so I'm sure spring is here. But the biggest sign: Greg, the neighbor who cares for my lawn and garden, took Jacob and me to the nursery shopping today. We got herbs, a hanging basket, another lantana--that on one side of the front steps is looking sad, fountain grass, sweet potato vines, parsley, a flowering blue plant whose name I can't remember, and a dusty miller. Jacob pointed to the dusty miller, and Greg said, "No, we're not getting that." Jacob asked why not, and Greg said, "Cause it's an ugly plant." But Jacob liked it, so we bought one for him and put it in a pot where it can't do much damage. We forgot sage (mine died) and a cherry tomato plant, which I really want. Jacob piped up and said he loves them, so I'll go back, maybe next weekend.
Then Greg put him to work planting, loosening old soil in pots, etc. Jacob loved it--so much better than an out-of-school morning spent watching TV. And my porch is beginning to look like spring again.
Elizabeth is gradually sprucing up the back yard, which I've pretty much left a dog yard all these years. She's added statues, including a Buddha, and bird feeders (she now fills the one I had too) and plans pots and hanging baskets. Let's hope Sophie behaves. We've also put a table (on extended loan from Jordan) and four chairs (from my storeroom) out there. Greg griped and moaned but admitted he can move them ever week to mow. I'm seriously considering a small deck at the back door.
Earlier in the day, Jacob and I went to get my hair cut. Out of the blue he asked, "Juju, when are you going to get married again?" Me: "I don't think I'm going to." Jacob: "Why not?" My first reply was inappropriate: "Well, I tried it once and it wasn't much fun." When he said "What?" I amended it to, "Don't you think I'm kind of old?" Matter-of-factly he said, "Yeah, you are old." Thanks, Jacob. Then later he picked up the stylus I used with my iPhone if I want to send a wordy text and said, "Can I take this home?" I said no, and he asked, "Can I have it when you die?" Little ghoul!
But it was a good day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter baskets and the masculine ego

I guess guys develop that sense of masculinity at an early age--no I'm not going into a discussion of what our culture teaches boys vs. girls. Just a story about an Easter basket. A little after eight this morning, Jordan called in frantic mode. She'd forgotten to send Jacob's Easter basket with him. Did I have a stray one around the house (what grandmother doesn't?) and would I take it across the street to the school? I found it and called back. "It's pink. He isn't going to like that." (Actually it was kind of lilac.) She said it would have to do. In truth I didn't feel well this morning--I'd been awake since 2:30 with a deep, thick cough and I was mostly suffering from lack of sleep. But I got myself stirring and dutifully went across the street, Easter basket in hand, dreading handing it to Jacob. (I'd tried to pass the job off on Elizabeth when we met in the driveway but she declined.) In the school, I could see the kids all out in a courtyard two levels below me, and I had no idea how to get there. Fortunately a young mom came along--she turned out to be someone I'd known as a child, and she promised to deliver it, even with my warning about it being pink. Mission accomplished, I went on my way.
When I picked Jacob up at school, he had his Easter goodies in a plastic bag, looking like a poor, neglected kid whose parents didn't care. I asked the teacher if she got the basket, and she said it was still on her desk. Jacob said he'd never seen it, didn't know who it belonged to, wouldn't carry it. It was the pink that did it.
By then, I'd had a good two-hour nap and felt some better, but as soon as Jacob's mom picked him up, I was back in bed. Hoping to sleep soundsly tonight.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The US and WWII--and some good books

You can catch fascinating interiews on NPR. I happened yesterday to tune to a segment of "Fresh Air" for an interview with historian Lynne Olson, author of Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight over World War II, 1939-1941. I was too young (three in 1941) to know any of this, but I'd read a little in other books, and I want to read this one. The disagreements between interventionists, led by Roosevelt, and isolationists, with Lindbergh as spokesman, were bitter, loud, and long. Basically it ended with Pearl Harbor, but Olson told some fascinating bits about deception on both sides, LIndbergh's personal life, things I've never known.
In recent months, I've read three novels about that period but both set either in England or Europe. The first, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, is about a young woman denied entry into higher mathematics programs. So she becomes a typist in the pool sheltered underground in London. Somehow Churchill's eye falls on her, and she is soon taking all his dictation...and is privy to his inside thoughts. Eventually she ends up spying for him. All this is set against the background of the Blitz, the quarrels between Churchill and Chamberlain, and Hitler's unstoppable march across Europe. Author Susan Ella MacNeal followed that one with Princess Elizabeth's Spy in which the same girl, Maggie Hope, is charged with protecting the princess. Good books much enhanced by the history they present.
The other novel is Jack 1939,  by Francine Mathews, in which Churchill sends a young JFK, son of the then-ambassador to England, to spy across Europe and find out what the Germans are planning. Kennedy has a series of close calls and wild adventures. Did it happen? Never, but it makes fascinating reading and, again, the history behind the story is well researched.
If Olson's books tellus abouit the controversey in this country, the others above details conflicts in England, including increasing resentment of America's refusal to leap into the fray, the efforts of the IRA to distract England, and what Winston Churchill famously called "the gathering storm." Books about World War II could fill endless shelves, even entire bookstores, but until recently I haven't been aware of much focus on what was for America the "pre-war" period.
Find Olson's book at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Are you your own best advocate?

A very minor office surgical procedure taught me a good lesson these last couple of days. I had a white bump on my scalp for some time, kept meaning to ask the doctor but forgot because I didn't think it was serious. But it began to grow, and then last weekend it suddenly became tender and felt like a scab trying to come off--only it was the wrong color. So I called the doctor's office, explained I have a history of skin cancer, and I was afraid this would come off before they could biospy it. They gave me an appointment in two-and-a-half weeks. Me: "What do I do if it comes off before that?" Answer: "Call us immediately." That seemed like locking the barn after the horse was gone.
My doctor's office has a terrific web page, with a patient log-in where you can write messages to the doctor, nurses, etc. So I emailed the nurse I usually see, and she was concerned enough to forward my message to the doctor. Upshot: come in today so we can get a biopsy. (All this took several emails back and forth). So in I went, and twenty minutes later I walked out with my "alien" gone. Pathology report in a week, but I'm just relieved it's gone and I don't have to worry about it coming off during the night or when I shampoo or brush my hair.
I know it's a fine line--problem patients are the bane of a medical office, but at the same time, you have to stand up for yourself. I was pleased that I'd taken action and followed up, pushing my case.
I know people who just assume the doctor knows best, don't ask questions, don't understand whatever treatment they're receiving, and also take the word of the receptionist who is a gatekeeper. My advice is to educate yourself (okay, the web can be misleading), ask questions, know what you're talking about and how you're being treated. And when in doubt, follow your instincts.
It worked for me!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dressing up on a stormy weekend

There must have been some kind of bug in the air this past weekend. All my kids were in costumes. The top picture is youngest daughter Jordan and her husband, Christian, who reverted to the ‘80s—or was that the ‘70s?—complete with wigs. They report they had a blast at the annual Lily B. Clayton PTA Auction, which raises money for extras at the school, such as a laptop lab.

And below are my other three, two with spouses, one member of the extended family and my oldest grandchild. Aren’t teenagers wonderful? The look on her face clearly says, “I don’t know these people, don’t know why I’m with them, don’t know why I’m dressed like them.” It was probably about 6:30 a.m. Sunday at Fair Park in Dallas, and the temperature, so they tell me, was 38 and the wind at 45 mph. The Rock ‘n Roll half marathon began at seven, and they all finished it, though I’ve had no word on times. Megan, my oldest daughter who was responsible for the matching pajamas, ran with my granddaughter, Maddie, and says they mostly ran but walked a little—due to Megan’s knee and Maddie’s ankle. Maddie is a superb athlete and star basketball player—lives and breathes the game, though she’s no slouch on the soccer field either. I remember not too many years ago going to either a basketball or volleyball game when most of the girls stood and watched the ball without moving. She’s grown up in a lot of ways, and I am so proud of her. And love her sense of humor—you can see the smile in her eyes in this picture.

Meantime I was snug in my bed—well, sort of. There was this six-year-old who kept kicking me. A clap of loud thunder followed by lightning about eleven Saturday night sent him running to tell me it was time for me to go to bed and he was sleeping in my bed, not his. I regaled him with stories about how much I loved storms on Lake Michigan when I was his age, and his astounded reply was “Why?”

Texas has taught me to be respectful of storms, but as a kid I did love them. We had a summer cottage at the foot of Lake Michigan, high on a dune two long staircases above the beach, and we could watch storms roll down the lake from the north, with dark clouds, roaring winds, whitecaps crashing on the beach, and torrential rains. Snug in the cottage, I thought it was thrilling. I’d still like storms if someone could assure me there would be no tornado and no serious damage, but I’ve seen too many pictures of wind damage in Texas. Jacob and I discussed where to go if there was a tornado, and I asked, “You would remember the dog, wouldn’t you?”

Sophie, the Bordoodle, was unfazed by the storm, though I have had dogs who were terrified. Scooby, the Aussie I lost last summer, was so frightened when I first got him that I tried giving him tranquilizers. Trouble was by the time I realized a storm was coming and gave him the pill, it was too late. It took hours for the pill to kick in, and the storm had passed but the dog was a zombie by then.

I remember my mom telling me that thunder was the gods rolling bowling balls around in heaven. Mom was a good Christian, but she mixed a little Greek mythology in and had many gods up there bowling. I found the idea comforting. I’ll try it on Jacob, though I know he’d correct me and tell me there is only one God.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A short but good trip

Five grandchildren ready for pizza--aren't they lovely?
Sometimes brief visits are best. I'm just back from a quick overnight trip to Frisco where I saw three of my children and five of my seven grandchildren. As always it was noisy, happy and joyful. Where else does someone light the grill at eleven o'clock to grill the perfect rare steak, then slice it thin and distribute slices, even to his sister who swears she won't eat "pink meat." (She closed her eyes, ate it, and admitted it was pretty good). Where else do four children have a wild basketball game in your bedroom while you're trying to do your nightly toilette? I had to keep dodging the ball and kept saying, "Be careful of the grandmother." Where else would I eat eggs, bacon, a mini-sausage in a roll, fruit, and a blueberry muffin for breakfast and then, less than three hours later, eat three pieces of pizza--me who eats a modest third cup cottage cheese for breakfast and never touches pizza! 'Nough said--we had a good time, and it is a delight to see how well the cousins play together, how much they love each other.
Jordan, Jacob and I came home this afternoon. She and Christian had a big school auction to go to tonight, and in Frisco six adults and one teenager will run a half marathon in the morning. Then most will go straight home. I could have stayed and helped Melanie watch and feeed the six children left behind, but it seemed better this way. Tomorrow Jacob and I will go to Palm Sunday services, and Sophie is glad to have us home tonight. We had supper at the Star Cafe and then I let Jacob wander through the tourist-y emporium next door. I had made him promise not to ask me to buy anything, and he didn't, but he'd look at the price on everything and then ask, "Juju, did you bring that much money with you? I saw a twenty in your purse." I assured him I as not using the twenty for any of that stuff, especially the fake guns that he kept asking me if they were real..
It's always sweet to be home, be the trip long or short.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A blog after long silence

Kauai at its lush, green best
Okay, the title of this blog is a silly take-off on the W. B. Yeats' poem, "Speech After Long Silence," a poem I remember writing a paper on in graduate school, fabricating a whole scene of a married couple who hadn't spoken to each other for years because they had nothing to say. That's sort of where I was with the blog this week: I had nothing much to say.
It’s been back to routine around here—Hawaii too far behind me, Jacob back in school so we’re doing homework every afternoon. What I thought would be a long week of stay-home-and-work days turned out not to be so. Lunches with three friends, and dinner at the Old Neighborhood Grill two nights in a row—ate a turkey burger each night. Think that craving is squelched for a while. Tonight I fixed chicken with a yogurt sauce for the Burtons and everyone had their own veggie—broccoli for Jacob because he loves it (or did until tonight), leftover zucchini for me, a salad for Jordan, and either salad or green beans for Christian. But Christian didn’t show up until it was time to be off to the school for Jacob’s first-grade program. He had one line, which he delivered masterfully. We just wished he would have smiled more the whole time. Sent dinner home with Christian.
Speaking of zucchini, it’s funny how a vacation can make you forget your routine. Once back, I bought zucchini when I grocery shopped. Rattling around in my mind was the notion that I’d found a way to cook it that I really liked—I just couldn’t remember what it was, so the zucchini sat. I was about to get out my file of vegetable recipes when I remembered: grate it, sautĂ© in butter briefly, add salt and pepper. So easy and so good.
Today I downloaded the rest of the Hawaii pictures from my camera. When I got home, I got out the cord that connects camera to computer and found it had been chewed—who could have done that? Sophie isn’t talking. So, at a cost of $50-plus, I ordered a new one. It came yesterday and I retrieved the pictures. What I’d had so far were from my phone or Jordan’s phone.
Spent a good part of this week buried in a book—Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale. Look for the review on Story Circle Book Reviews soon, and I’ll try to post a review on Goodreads. I loved this book. It will make you laugh, look at your own life, and cry for Faith and her loved ones.
Next project: edits on the second Blue Plate Mystery, tentatively titled Murder at Tremont House. Catch up on Kate Chambers’ adventures from the beginning by reading Murder at the Blue Plate CafĂ©.
Let the good times roll!

Monday, March 18, 2013

More Chronicles of Sophie

Sophie had a bath, trim, nails cut, the whole nine yards today. She's fluffy and cute and doesn't look like a poodle (my constant worry). Cheers to Whisker Washers and a nice guy named Kirk who took time to comb some mats out of her.
My "puppy" is just two months shy of her second birthday, and she is so much calmer. She's taken to sleeping at my feet, under my desk, though sometimes she just goes and crawls happily into her crate. I guess this afternoon I wakened her before she was ready, because she clearly didn't want to come out. She follows me from room to room. The other day she lost me and suddenly came bounding into the bathroom, pushing the door open, as if to say, "There you are! I found you!" She still has her moments--goes crazy bonkers over Jordan and anyone new, like the dog groomer this morning. Also Greg who does the lawn, Lewis who keeps my house running. Last night, with ten adults and three children for dinner, I had to tell Jacob emphatically that no, he could not let her in. But she's finally growing into a well-behaved dog. Home alone with me, she's calm, quiet, sometimes begs for attention but we've pretty much reached an agreement on our lifestyle.
Every morning when I open her crate, she puts her head in my lap and we have a little loving session, although sometimes it's clear she's more anxious for a drink and a path of grass than love. Every night, when I turn out my desk lamp, she picks up a toy, trying to tempt me to play, but I can bribe her with a treat. Then before she crawls into her crate, I get down on the floor, she climbs in my lap, and we sit and love and I talk to her. Sometimes she twists around to lick my face and other times she contents herself with licking my hands or ankles. But when I make a move in the direction of the crate, she goes willingly. I've developed the habit of singing the first lines of "Good night, Irene," to her. Tried to substitute Sophie for Irene (should work--two syllables) but I can't do it. I have no idea if she likes this or finds it an irritation.
I also talk to her a lot--we discuss whatever's on my mind, from what to fix for supper to whether or not I'm going to leave her long when I put her outside. More and more, she prefers to be in the house, but for some inexplicable reason, she is loathe to come in at night. I cajole, command, threaten and tempt--eventually something works. And then she gets her one chew bone of the day.
Sophie's good company, and she's worth every ounce of frustration that went into her first year--and most of the destruction too. I cannot imagine ever living without a dog.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Mexican St. Patrick's day birthday

I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. There were ten adults and three children here for Jordan’s birthday dinner tonight. I cut up fruit this morning, grated cheese, had the table all set with extra leaves in it (that kills my back), thought I was all ready. Jordan arrived an hour before the guests and went into frantic mode making cheese enchiladas and queso. I was the sous chef, which meant cleaning up as she went along because I can’t bear to let a mess accumulate. Made me appreciate my lazy pace of the rest of the day.

Then the guests began to arrive. These are all people I love, but oh my! when they all talk at once it’s so much noise I can’t make out what any one person is saying. Still it was a jolly affair, with lots of laughter, children shouting, all the trappings of a family celebration. And good food—chips and queso, cheese enchiladas, beans, a huge fruit salad, and chocolate cake. What more could anyone ask?

Jordan and Christian are so good about cleaning up my kitchen. Tonight it got to be eight o’clock, time to get Jacob home to bed, and they apologized for the mess they left. I approached it with a certain amount of dread but it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve left two enchilada pans soaking, but everything else is done. Tomorrow I’ll do a big kitchen wash—towels, napkins, etc.

And tonight I’m happy but tired. I think my St. Patrick’s Day baby, the youngest of my children, had a good birthday.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Setting your own deadlines--or OCD

My neighbors came for happy hour tonight, and Jay was telling me that Susan had trimmed back the ivy growing up my wall. I protested that Greg, who keeps my yard, could do that, but she shrugged and said, "I was already there." Jay said she was compulsive, and a bit later I confessed to something that indicated I too am compulsive--which I guess everyone who knows me is already aware of.
But my self-imposed deadlines struck me again tonight with a bit of humor. I had dreaded a long weekend with nothing to do. Happy hour took care of tonight, and I invited a friend for supper tomorrow. Then I decided I have to cook an Irish supper, so I'm doing a Reuben casserole (now there's an experiment!) and an Irish potato salad. This means two trips to two different groceries, which I had planned anyway, but the potato salad recipe says, "Best prepared the day before." Well, I can't do that, but I can cook it in the morning. That makes a very busy morning. I had planned to drop some things off at another friend's house, but I emailed her that my plate was full tomorrow and I'd get them to her next week--and that's when it struck me. My plate is indeed full, but with self-imposed deadlines. Nobody else cares. If I greeted my guest at the door tomorrow night and said, "I didn't cook. Let's go out," she'd say, "Fine. Where do you want to go?" But of course I won't do that. I'll have individual casseroles waiting and that blasted potato salad. And somewhere during the day I'll set out dishes for dinner for 12-13 on Sunday (I don't have to cook, just make a fruit salad--Jordan is making an enchilada casserole for her own birthday dinner).
My first thought is how silly is that to have filled my empty weekend to the point that I feel busy?. But I thought about it some more and realized there's an upside to this. A friend wrote me the other day saying she admired my energy and enthusiasm. Well, I think energy comes from doing the compulsive things I do, from keeping busy, reaching out to friends, loving the world around me. If I'd have left the weekend empty, I'd probably have a pity party of one. So tomorrow, much as I've enjoyed sleeping late with the time change, I'll probably pop out of bed and get to the store, so I can make the potato salad--and I'll fret because it hasn't really sat overnight. Being compulsive can get silly sometimes, but it ain't all bad.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

People make a huge difference

Yesterday I was feeling a bit sorry for myself because a long day stretched before me without much if any human interaction. But Sophie and I were both overjoyed when Lewis Bundock, the man who keeps my house together, came to fix a balky door and visited. Today Greg, the man who makes my flowers and lawns look good, came and also stayed to visit--Sophie and I were again overjoyed.
Then I had lunch with good friend Jean at Tokyo Cafe--yakitori and a salad--and we went to get our flowers of the month (above). We had a great visit, catching up on everthing from my trip to Hawaii to her plans to go to Italy.
Tonight, good friend Kathie Lang Allen came from Arlington and we visited over a glass of wine and then went to Miso Fusion for supper. I had a plate of red, green, and white enchiladas--way too much for me to eat, but the spinach enchilada was the best I've ever had. And we too had a good visit.
I've long said that I feed on people. Being with others energizes me, and I am a much happier camper. Left alone, I tend to fall into introspection and the doldrums. So tonight I'm upbeat, happy with the world, and optimistic. Now if I could only settle down to work.
But I can't emphasize enough how important my friends are to me. I am blessed with many, and I hope each and every one realizes how much I value them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting back to work

Getting back from a trip complicated by the switch to daylight savings time has made it hard for me to get back to routine. Though I have to protest--against a swarm of complaints about the switch to daylight savings time, I love it, love the extra light at night, the darker mornings. And then there was Jacob's sickness--he had a stomach bug over the weekend which really worked to my benefit: I had two delightful dinners at their house, though I was dismayed by how lethargic he was. Even woke in the night worrying about him--lethargy is generally not in Jacob's vocabulary. He was to go to his other grandparents Sunday but was too sick, so Monday, after a trip to the doctor, I got the fun (?) of getting 2 oz. of Pedialite down him every fifteen minutes to get fluid into his severely dehydrated little body. He was cross, cranky, stubborn, and sleepy. Not the best day for either of us. Tuesday he was much brighter, back to his talk-a-bunch self--we ran errands and he was pleased to go inside a post office for what he said was the first time in his life, he wanted to do yoga stretches, etc. We were back on track.
This morning, he went to his other grandparents, my tenant left at 3:20 a.m. for a long weekend trip, and I felt deserted with a long day stretching ahead of me. Not that I didn't have work to do; I just had no enthusiasm for any of it. But the day got better--the man who keeps my house running came to fix a balky door and we had a long visit, discussing among other things a possible deck off the back door. Then I ran the one errand I hadn't done yesterday and decided to treat myself at Central Market--bought a salmon cake and twice baked potato for supper, a meatloaf for sandwiches, and--oh, yes--some chocolate. Brightened my mood considerably.
And, yes, I've done some work since, including writing a guest blog I was a bit baffled about. My crab cake and potato were delicious, though following my new routine I only ate half of each.
I love it when I can get busy on a day that starts out gloomy and end the day cheerfully. I think it's always up to us, a matter of deciding how we'll spend the day. And I didn't want to spend it in a sulk. I'm thinking of the rest of the week as my spring vacation--even slept late this morning. But I admit I'll be glad when we're back in the routine next Monday, homework and all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Old friends are gold

I can't leave Hawaii behind on the blog without a tip of the hat to the people who lured us to the islands, Martha and Dick Andersen. Fifty years ago last fall Martha and I were English majors together at Truman State University in Kirkville, Missouri, she an undergraduate and me working on a Masters. We had a big something in common--her father was the the president of the osteopathic college in Kirksville; mine was president of the one in Chicago. I don't think it was that that drew us together so much as an affinity for each other. Martha would marry that December, and I married the next year. The four of us did a lot together, creating some fond memories. Over the years and through crises in both families, we've kept in touch. They've come to Texas four times at least, and when my children were young we all went to Omaha to see them. When they lived in Singapore, they urged me to come visit but I wasn't quite brave enough to make the long and complicated trip alone. One year on a visit to Texas, they took me to Santa Fe--wonderful experience. It's truly golden to have friends who remain close and caring after all those years, and I feel blessed by their continuing friendship and support. They are one of the most comfortable couples I know...I don't think I can pay them a greater compliment.
And they've welcomed Jordan heartily. We had great visits on the lanai, fun fixing suppers (and the perfect martini), and sightseeing on Kauai. Because of them, I have an experience I will always treasure.
Sunset above the clouds as we headed home
As wonderful as our trip had been, we were ready to come home, and it's good to be back. Now I'm trying to get in the groove of work. I have books to write, lunches to share with friends, books to read, a lot to do. And it's all good.

Monday, March 11, 2013


We had an entirely different experience on Maui than we did on Kauai. I think it was because we stayed in a resort hotel rather than a private residence. We were tourists among throngs of fellow tourists. I learned a lot on Maui, and some of it is negative. I learned that I don’t really like life at a resort hotel and while I always appreciate good food I am not fond of eating all meals in high-priced restaurants.

The day we landed we had lunch at a seaside place called Mama’s Fish House that Jordan had found online. A beautiful experience—window table, ocean right in front of us, a sophisticated menu. I had lobster guacamole and oysters on the half shell, with a glass of wine. Loved it…and nearly fainted when they brought the bill.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency at Ka’annapoli Beach, an inspiring place with a fully planted open atrium and the customary rooms around it. I was much relieved that our room was in another wing and I didn’t have to do those glass elevators and balcony walks to get there. Heights bother me, and I once had a miserable stay on the 11th floor of a Hyatt with three young children; the oldest, three, could have climbed that balcony wall in a flash.

Once settled in our room, we fell quickly into a pattern. Jordan got up early and went to the spa ever morning, while I dozed, watched the news, and drank my coffee. One breakfast in the hotel dining room was enough—we neither needed to eat that much nor spend that much. But it was a lovely experience—the restaurant was open to a pond with a waterfall and a swan that swam right up to our table. Sparrows flew all over the dining room, often landing to pick up snacks from discarded plates. After that, we breakfasted in our room.

Jordan had arranged to visit other hotels at lunchtime, so we dined at the Ritz Carlton one day and the Four Seasons the next—both magnificent, elegant places where I felt slightly under-dressed and out of place. But beach-front lunches were good…and always there was the ocean. At the Four Seasons, we had our best whale sighting ever when one jumped out and then dove back into the water right in front of us. These visits gave us a chance to drive both directions from our hotel and see a bit of the island which is, as you’d expect, beautiful. Much of it is “developed” and manicured but there’s still plenty in its natural state. We were particularly aware here of green ocean fronts and barren, brown hills.

Afternoons, Jordan sunned by the pool while I read and napped in our room, which had an ocean view if you sat on the balcony and looked just the right way. Or maybe I should say ocean glimpse. Although we had a car, Jordan didn’t want to drive at night so we dined at the hotel and quickly found our favorite spot: Japengo, a sushi/steakhouse. We claimed a table on the patio bar area with a wonderful ocean view—and more whale sightings.

One night we had the fun of visiting with William Nikkel, an author published by my publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, 6and his wife Karen; theylive on Maui. We sat at “our” table and shared a pupu platter, along with tales of writing mysteries. Jordan said when we talked about various guns and their capabilities and people who “needed killing” the lady at the next table was alarmed and kept watching us with caution.

We spent a long day waiting to fly home--lunch at a nice place on the coast and long hours in a bar at the airport where we watched a small drama. Fur men took forever to load a large dog crate into the cargo hold of a plane. They turned it sideways and ever which way and I worried about the dog, but we could see them talk to it and put their hands in to pet the animal. The finally got it loaded and upright. Five minutes later they came back, unloaded it, and drove away. Did they put it on the wrong plane? We'll never know. Finally our plane took off and we flew most of the night to get home. Glad to be back.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Kauai, the Garden Island

The view from the lanai
My favorite place in Kauai was the lanai (or patio). It’s maybe a hundred yards from bushes, beyond which are lava rocks and the ocean. We sat there endlessly—breakfast, lunch, happy hour—talking, catching up, reliving old times, watching for whales. I think I was first to see spouts but Jordan got better at it than I was. The birds came right in front of us to eat bread that Martha provided, the wind blew, and occasional rain splattered us. My idea of heaven—especially with a book. When I said I could spend all day there, Dick said, “I do. A lot.”

Spouting Horn
But we were there to see the sights, and Dick and Martha showed them to us. Martha took us souvenir shopping for things to bring back home—a trip that would have bored Dick utterly. She also showed us some of the local sights around Po’ipu Beach (means crashing waves), including Spouting Horn, a phenomenon where incoming ocean water spouts up between rocks—not sure what causes it. And the wind blew and blew.

Wimea Canyon

One day we all went to Wimea Canyon, which involved a trip along the south and west coasts of the island and then angling inward, up twisting, turning mountain roads to a canyon that is a miniature of the Grand Canyon and spectacular in its own right. I wimped out and didn’t climb to the observation point, which Jordan said I would not have enjoyed—but I got enough glimpses as we sped along those roads to know how impressive it is. We went further into the mountains to a state park where we picnicked on a grassy meadow and fed the most spectacular chickens. They are wild and colorful descendants of chickens brought by the Japanese but very tame because they’re used to being fed. I noticed that neither Mama nor Papa were much concerned about feeding the babies and would grab the crumbs we flung before the little ones could get them. On the way back we stopped at the Kauai Chocolate Company—talk about temptation! That night we had dinner at Brennecke’s, a seaside table at an open-air restaurant with a great view of the sunset.

Anni Beach

The next day we went to the north end of the island. High point of that trip for me was seeing Anni Beach where South Pacific was filmed. Now we have to watch the movie again. The landscape was a bit different, and the houses reminded me more of Galveston. We did go by the hotel—now the St. Regis but then something different—where my oldest daughter and her husband honeymooned.

Hawaiians seem to live with one eye on the weather. One day we heard sirens, and Martha was worried—they have been through two tsunami alerts which meant they had to drive inland, once spending the night in their car in a shopping mall parking lot. This time it was merely the noon sirens. On the way to Princeville we went over a wooden bridge that she said they close when it rains hard.

I loved our time on Kauai and would go back in a heartbeat.

Frustration: some of my pictures are in my camera, but I discovered when I went to download them that someone had chewed the cord that connects the camera to the computer—I suspect a certain dog. Monday: a trip to Sony to get a new cord. Jordan got some great pictures that I didn’t, but images from her cell phone won’t download to my phone, computer, anything. I may be posting images for weeks when I finally get them. Tomorrow or Monday, impressions of Maui.

Friday, March 08, 2013

A confession, Hawaii—and my daughter

To those who read this regularly, an apology. When I said I was taking a break, I didn’t tell the full story. Two years ago, my two oldest children took me on a wonderful trip to Scotland. Last week, my youngest daughter took me for a week in Hawaii (we landed at five a.m. this morning!). All the kids know I’m an uncertain traveler at best. I’ve gotten much calmer about flying, but I am anxious in airports, on escalators, going through security, etc. They manage a nice balance of taking care of me without letting me become dependant—which I try not to do but sometimes I am overwhelmed and reach out for a steadying arm.

Jordan is a travel agent and, by extension, a professional traveler. She knows the ins and outs of airports, security check-in, off-site parking, car rental, all that rigmarole that confuses me utterly. We had a seamless trip with four plane boardings, a rented car, off-site parking at the DFW airport. I was mightily impressed by her knowledge of everything from what to tip to what to look for in a hotel and by the way she uses that old saying my mom taught me (and I suppose her): you catch more flies with a teaspoon of sugar than a cup or vinegar. Jordan charms her way through life. And as she said to me once after the two of us took a one-day necessary trip to Houston and back, “It’s a good thing we like each other.”

Scotland was always my dream destination; Hawaii never entered my consideration. We went because dear but distant friends of fifty years (gulp!) have a condo on Kauai and invited us, so we spent four nights there and three on Maui so Jordan could explore some sites for future clients and familiarize herself with the islands. And we had quite an education.

I suppose you see a place in context of what you know. Jordan said Hawaii with its lush shores and sometimes bare mountains reminded her of northern California; small communities nestled in the foothills of some of those mountains spoke to me of Colorado. I was attracted to the simple design of houses on South Kauai and then realized they reminded me of the Craftsman architecture about which I write. I suppose in reality they reflect the simple taste of the missionaries who “civilized” the islands.

But Hawaii truly is a unique paradise as it’s billed. The people are warm and friendly and when they say “Aloha” or Mahalo,” they mean it. They are conscious of their environment—you don’t see trash along highways at all; wide bike lanes provide safety for riders; people often pull off the road to park, even camp, at small strips of beach; hotels and other public buildings are open air—no doors or windows in lobbies, etc. (I almost wished it would rain hard so I could see how they cope). Hawaiians are, however, conscious of their privacy, and a lot of houses I would like to have seen were hidden by the privacy of a concrete block wall (erected since a bad hurricane) or thick foliage.

Flowers everywhere, and trees I’d never seen—one I can’t name in which the leaves branched out from the trunk in horizontal planes. The wiliwili or twisted tree is an indigenous and endangered flowering tree now the subject of a strong conservation effort. And firs and pines abound, along of course with the ubiquitous palm trees. Yes, we got leis—some authentic ones from our friends (below) that I can’t describe and at the hotel on Maui, the orchid leis.

The langugae baffled both of us. I am never comfortable speaking a foreign language though I can muddle through reading French and Spanish, but Hawaiian is beyond me. It's that dipthong that isn't quite what it seems--Li'hue is Le-hooey (rhymes with phooey), Ka'annapoli has just that slight hesitation between the two letters "a." And the spelling of many of them is difficult though Poipu beach comes out sounding much like it's spelled. I still don't know the name of the airport city in Maui.

The things I liked best: chocolate covered macadamia nuts, wonderfully sweet fruit, the abundance of fresh fish—some such as ono which I’d never heard of, the constantly changing landscape, and of course the ocean. Okay, it did remind me of Lake Michigan, but the ocean had whales! Big difference.

If you can bear with me in the next couple of days I’ll sketch our adventures in Kauai and Maui. It was a wonderful adventure but, as always, I’m glad to be home and to be greeted by an exuberantly enthusiastic dog—nice to be missed.