Monday, September 30, 2013

The Anxious Parent

I was never a nervous parent, hovering over a child at the first cough or sneeze. "I don't feel good" in the morning got from me a cheery, "Get up and get moving. You'll feel better." There was the classic time Jamie, who suffered from undiagnosed dizzy spells well into his twenties, was about six or seven and said he was too dizzy to stand up. "Nonsense," I said as I pulled him from the bed and stood him in front of me. But when I let go, he collapsed on the floor in a heap...and yes, I did feel guilty. A friend said my kids had to have 105 temperature before I kept them home.
Now I'n "raising" a two-and-a-half-year old Bordoodle and today she's sick. All my neurotic anxiety came out as my mind leapt to pneumonia or something worse. Yesterday she was a bit snuffly, and I considered giving her Benadryl but held off. This morning she woke me at 6:30, barking like a seal. If she'd been a child, I would have immediately suspected whooping cough. Called the vet and they confirmed my first instinct: giver her Benadryl. I could wait until tomorrow to bring her in. Benadryl seemed to help a bit but then she began coughing and spitting up a bit. I called and asked if I could bring her in this morning.
Diagnosis was what I suspected: allergies. But poor thing, she coughs so hard she must be miserable. And sometimes I think she doesn't feel well, but once I let her out and looked out to see her streak across the yard after a squirrel. And she was so anxious to get out of the vet's office that she nearly pulled the attendant down.
Not sure what to do with her tonight. I tried to nap but she coughed and coughed, that deep loud cough that there's no sleeping through.
Hate having sick children, but I don't think telling her to get up and get busy will do much good.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

End of a long, lazy day

My lazy day ended with good fellowship. Friend Mary was coming for dinner--she wanted to take me out since I often cook for her, but with the TCU game it was hard to find a restaurant without an hour wait. So we ate here. Sue and Teddy came by for happy hour, stayed an hour and the four of us had a grand old time visiting, eating gravlax and cream cheese and a raspberry infused cheddar. Sat on the front porch--the deck was a tad damp--and the cool air and breeze were wonderful, especially in contrast to this morning that greeted me with heavy, muggy air.
No, I didn't watch the TCU game but I did check after half-time and found a discouraging score. Later in the afternoon, after I napped, I checked again and TCU had won by a whopping score. Go, Frogs!
Sophie and I spent most of the day being lazy and quiet--I did some computer work and some reading; she slept. She is, however, grieving for Elizabeth--she lost her house manners in the kitchen, something she hasn't done since Scooby died over a year ago, and then she went and slept on his bed--another thing she did after he died. Mary and I gave her extra love while we ate scrambled eggs with spinach--I thought the spinach overshadowed the eggs, she thought it was just right. Hey, she was the guest. What else would she say?
Now dishes are done--except the skillet--and I'm ready to be lazy again. Reading The Lost Art of Mixing, by Erica Bauermeister, which follows The School of Essential Ingredients, a foodie novel I really enjoyed and admired for the quality of its prose.
'Night all. Sweet dreams.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A happy sad day

Elizabeth is gone. She left about two to spend the night with her family and will fly out to Pennsylvania quite early tomorrow morning. I laughed when she said she was having trouble packing--she usually takes a carry-on suitcase and some kind of purple bag into which she stuffs her purse. But this time, there was too much in the purple bag for her purse to fit. She will have to check one bag. Who flies across the country to a new home with only carry-on luggage?
When Jacob came home from school I told him she was gone, but he wanted to check for himself. He reported that the apartment is very empty, and tonight the blinds are drawn and it is dark out there. Jacob said, "It's a sad happy day. We had to many happy times with Elizabeth but now we're sad, except we're happy because she's happy."
We've had a week of farewells as various people took her to lunch or dinner or came by to raise a toast and say goodbye  My farewell with her was a bit teary and filled with hugs. Elizabeth has always been part of my extended family but this year she became much more tightly woven into the fabric of our daily lives--particularly with Jacob and his mom and dad, my neighbors Jay and Susan. At my birthday dinner in July she had her first chance in years to connect with my other kids. As we hugged today, she repeated what she's said before that this has been the best year of her life and she doesn't think it would have been if she landed anywhere else. If I was able to do that for her, I'm humbly grateful. But it has been a two-way street--besides companionship and a sense of not being alone on the property, she has helped me in countless little ways: doing the climbing and reaching chores my kids now forbid me to do, taking extra-heavy garbage carts to the street, even picking up and disposing of a dead rat. Today she got the crockpot down so I can use it Sunday, carried in a bulky comforter from the car (it had been to the cleaners) and solved a Facebook problem for me.
She goes to an exciting new life, filled with enthusiasm for what lies ahead of her; I have the weird feeling something new will come into my life to fill the void she's left, though I have no idea what. We're both moving forward but we forged a bond this year that is stronger and tighter than the one that has held us together since that day, now twenty-one years ago, when she walked into my office as a new work-study student and said, "Hi, I'm Elizabeth Knudson." I learned later that most of the world calls her Beth, but to me she will always be Elizabeth.
May the road rise to meet you, my friend.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Supper and suspended animation

The movers came today and packed up Elizabeth's apartment. She is out there with one bed, two straight chairs, a refrigerator and a microwave. I urged her to come in to read, work on her computer, anything but to be in such a bare, depressing space. She hasn't yet, though she spent some of the afternoon inside, and together we helped Jacob think of rhyming words for his spelling list. He is so enamored of her that he looked to her for every word, and when I ventured something he'd ask her to confirm it. I finally demanded, "Why are you looking at her? I'm the one with a Ph.D." and we all collapsed in giggles. Come now, what can you think of that rhymes with whiskers?
I'm not sure the impact of her leaving has hit him and he will be bereft. The first thing every day when he comes home from school, he rushes out to see Elizabeth. Sophie knows. She sits by Elizabeth's side and stares at her. Funny how dogs can sense these things. Sophie had a high old morning watching the movers at work and one of her favorite people, Greg the lawn guy/neighborfriend, came to say goodbye to Elizabeth.
Tonight we had dinner together and both realized it was our "last meal"--tomorrow night I have class and she has a happy hour with our neighbors, to which of course I'm invited. I said it would probably be going when I get home at 8:30 and she agreed. But tonight we had our favorite meal--salmon cakes. Elizabeth makes them with egg, almond flour (gluten free), salt and pepper--and that's it. I usually add onion, Worcestershire, and dry mustard--but these are so good I think the seasonings are superfluous. My mom taught me to make croquettes with cracker crumbs and then press crumbs into them for a coating. She also taught me to shape them like logs. I think I'll continue to use cracker crumbs but not coat the cakes--the crumbs don't stay on and they tend to burn. And I'll make patties, not logs. Much easier. A cooking lesson from Elizabeth.
We rounded out our meal with asparagus, a bit of leftover cantaloupe, and raspberries, which I ordinarily hide in the back of the fridge and don't share with anyone. Elizabeth knew it was a special occasion. The plates were so pretty we couldn't resist a picture.
I told Elizabeth she'd have to leave something behind to insure that she'd return. So far, she's left a hula hoop (forgot to ask the movers to take it) and a rickety laundry rack which she didn't think would survive the trip. I told her that wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but she's also leaving a cute little metal pink chair. If I put a plant on it. I'll keep it in front of the apartment, with a plant on it.
We live in suspended animation. I finally told her last night that I would be glad when she's gone (she'll spend Friday night with her family and fly out Saturday) simply because the anticipation will be over and her leaving will be a fait accompli. She is anxious for Saturday and her new life because, as she says, "Let's get this show on the road." It's all a funny learning experience.
Tomorrow she and neighbor Jay (the good-looking one) will move my furniture from storage back into the apartment, so it will be less bare. Dilemma: do I want to keep those double bunk beds? They proved to be most unwieldy and they take up a lot of space. As Elizabeth kept repeating, I could do all kinds of things out there if I didn't have the bunk beds. Guess I'll poll my children and see what they think.
Life moves on, and changes are good though they may seem hard at the time. As my mom always said, all things work to some good end. But, then, Mom had a lot of sayings, like "The mills of the gods grind extremely slowly but they grind extremely fine." Go figure!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is there a spot on the moon?

This week is only two days in so far, but it feels like twenty-two. It's been nothing but a series of missteps, small mistakes, and frustration. Is there a spot on the moon?
Some days I struggle with Jacob and his homework--today I've felt that way about my own homework. I signed up for a course on how to navigate Goodreads. But the course is conducted on a site called CourseSites, a sub-site of Blackboard which is used by many universities for distance learning. I swear I've spent more times learning CourseSites than I have navigating Goodreads.
This weekend, my mistakes were all in the kitchen. I meant to make a salad plate with cold chicken, asparagus, avocado, mango and mango salsa for my guests. Bought two rock-hard mangos on Thursday, figuring they would be ripe by Sunday. Wrong! The one remaining is still rock-hard. So I went back to Central Market on Sunday to buy already cut up mango, and lo! mangos had gone out of season in that brief time--not a one, whole or cut up, in the entire store. We had cantaloupe on our salad plate and cantaloupe salsa. I threw in the blueberries I had on hand, and it was pretty darn good. But I forgot the avocado (which I enjoyed last night). Then I made a tricky Greek flatbread that involves a really hot skillet and a 30% chance of burning yourself--didn't burn myself but forgot to add the half an egg. It was still pretty good.
Friday night I made a ham sandwich casserole--you put rolls stuffed with ham and gruyere in a pan, cover them with butter, Worcestershire, dried onion and Parmesan. I forgot, however, that you're supposed to spread the inside of the top of the rolls with a cream cheese/chive/onion spread. Still good, but now I've got that spread in the icebox. And the idea that I forgot made me angry.
Today I had dinner plans which cancelled because my friend is sick, but I thought that worked out okay. Jordan was coming here for a happy hour with Elizabeth, and I could join them--or so I thought. Turns out Jordan planned the happy hour at her house. I wasn't sweet about giving up my extra evening at home, but I decided I would go. Then she came in a little after four--which I didn't know she was going to do--and she'd had a horrible two days. A difficult problem to work out for clients who are special to her; six bottles of wine that jumped out of the car when she went into her office this morning (only three--all red--broke); meatballs she bought and left in the freezer at work. Jacob was completely in awe of her meltdown, and so was I. When I went out there for happy hour, I was really glad I had--she had changed into an at-home "gown" and spread out a beautiful and eye-appealing array of happy hour foods. I felt bad about ever being reluctant, and I came home in a better mood.
Got to thinking though how much we are impacted, affected, whatever by the mood of those around us, especially if we care about them. Jordan's mood really hit me. This week, Elizabeth leaves us Friday (she'll spend the night with her family and fly out Saturday) and she's living in suspended animation until then--the movers come tomorrow, and she'll really be lost from then on, anticipating that Saturday flight to Pennsylvania. I find that anticipation affecting me so that I too feel in suspended animation. I'm not sure if it's good to be so sensitive to the moods of those around you, or if I should put my chin up and be my own person. Maybe a mix of the two.
Anyway, I do believe in spots on the moon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Not my finest hour

Tonight was not my finest hour. I expected to take Jacob for grilled cheese at the Grill at six--or possibly six-thirty. It was seven-thirty by the time we got there--I was hungry, cranky, and frustrated. I had a lot to do that I would have started on except I kept thinking the child would arrive any minute. This morning, he was cranky because I said a friend of mine might go with us--no one, he said, would talk to him. Well, the friend didn't go, he and I ate in total silence while he played with his phone--which he'd been told earlier not to do. To top it all off, he wanted his usual sandwich and fries--but it turned out he wasn't really hungry because he'd just had pizza. Definitely not my finest hour. Came home to fix things for a salad supper tomorrow night, and the mangos are still hard as rocks! Oh, well, I'll think about that tomorrow.
I did have a fine evening last night. Went to hear Texas author Tom Zigal talk to TCU's Bookish Frogs group. His new book is Many Rivers to Cross, a novel set in the three days following Katrina. It's about an African-American man who travels to New Orleans (when everyone else is going the other way) to rescue his daughter and her two small children. Zigal said he had the plot in his head before he realized that it had to be an Black man because Katrina was particularly an African-American tragedy. The section he read--first chapter--was powerful, and I'm looking forward to reading the book.
Otherwise my lazy weekend has turned out not to be so lazy. Jacob and I had fun at the grocery, mostly because I bought him a spooky hand with a bag attached to collect treats. Other than that, I spent today running down facts and spellings, adding a bit to my novel because I had an "Aha!" moment in the night, and, tonight, getting ready to serve breakfast to four adults and one child and supper to two ladies tomorrow. The supper has me more baffled than breakfast--though I always end up fishing my scrambled eggs out while they're still soft and runny while others wait until they turn to hard little rocks. The result is I eat breakfast alone and am through by the time others join me. Yep, I'm still cranky.
Going out on the deck to read The Virginian, which I'm enjoying all over again.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I post dog pictures on Facebook

My Aussie, a rescue dog who died of old age a year ago
I had him for nine years--wonderful dog
Facebook provides me with a lot of things--information, misinformation, and some darn funny jokes. It's the first place I hear about a lot of national happenings, and the last place I trust for accurate information or statistics. But it has a very serious aspect for me.
I post pictures of lost dogs, found dogs, shelter dogs looking for a forever home, and, worst of all, dogs on the EU list. So many dogs in shelters look sad and scared, it breaks my heart. And the EU list--I saw one tonight that said, "I only have two hours to live." Too late, I fear, for anyone to help that poor guy. Sometimes there are pictures of momma dogs with their offspring and the word that an overcrowded shelter will euthanize momma and her pups. Each picture tears at my  heart--the lost dogs whose families are probably desperate, the found dogs who are bewildered, the scared and sad shelter dogs. Sometimes the background information says "owner surrender." Now I know there are cases where people simply cannot care for their animals--illness, a death in the family--but there are also way too many cases where people simply tire of the dog or the responsibilities of dog ownership. I suspect those are often the people who haven't taken the time to train their dogs to be compatible members of their household.
Two stories stand out in my mind: some people turned in a ten-month Labrador because it "got too big"--did they expect it to be a cuddly puppy all its life? What did they know about Labs before they took that darling puppy? In another instance, people dumped a dog from a car and sped off, with the dog frantically chasing them. I repeat: heart-breaking. Owning a dog is a commitment for that dog's life span. If you don't want it to become an integral part of your family, don't get it in the first place.
I have had rescue dogs of one sort or another much of my life, but I can't take in another dog now. Sophie and I have our routine, it works well for us, and I probably can't afford the care of another dog. Besides, I admit to being a softy--I'm afraid she'd have her feelings hurt. She's a bit jealous when Jordan brings their Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (rescue dogs). Sophie thinks Jordan is one of "her" people. I admit also to a bit of guilt about owning a kennel-bred dog when I probably should have rescued from a shelter, but I was determined to have a doodle dog...and so I have my Bordoodle, and I adore her.
I post pictures in the hopes that someone will say, "That's the dog for me," and make that important phone call to start the process. I do know of three or four instances where my posts have helped find a dog its "forever home," and I like to think there are more that I don't know about. It seems to me the least I can do--besides sending an occasional small contribution to the Humane Society of North Texas. I repost those pictures with a great sense of hope, and I keep up with what has become a dog-rescue network on Facebook. Lots of people know more about transport and such things than I do, but I muddle along, and I know where to go if I have a question.
People have threatened to unfriend me or at least hide me--and indeed may have done so. The pictures they say are too difficult to look at
. I agree but I urge them to look and re-post. It's a small pebble thrown into a big pond, but there's always the chance that your sharing will save a dog's life.
Sure, it's not a solution to the problem. We need a compassionate, educated pet-owning public before we stop being inundated with stray and homeless and starving dogs and cats. But everyone has to start somewhere. I urge you to do your part if, like me, you are passionate about animals.
And sometimes the dog pictures are the cutest, most heart-warming and funniest things on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My kind of day

Yesterday I was in a funk. I started the day with a teeth cleaning, which took a good chunk of my working time out of the morning. Then thing after thing piled on my desk--who knew I'd agreed to judge a contest? Why did people send me pdfs for the newsletter when I can't work with them (probably my basic program plus lack of computer expertise)? When am I going to read that book for my class? Homework with Jacob seemed interminable, and I had to firmly convince him that I had not made the deal he said I did--yes, he alphabetized those words. Even a belated birthday dinner at LaMadeleine with Jordan and Jacob didn't cheer me much, though it was good and fun (Jordan's great car wreck happened on my actual birthday). At the end of the day, knowing I'd written over 2000 words, I was still in a funk.  This morning Elizabeth offered an opinion that hit home: she said every time I go to the dentist, I'm in a funk for the entire day. Hope she hasn't jinxed me for future dental appointments. I really like the hygienist.
Today was much more to my liking--I had no obligations until I got Jacob at three. I wrote 1700 words, worked on the upcoming issue of the newsletter, did my yoga, and did a bit of reading on The Virginian for my class--it's been years since I've read it. Jacob's homework went smoothly, and the world seems in its place.
Sophie likes this kind of a day too, because she's inside with me, except for occasional trips to the back yard. This afternoon, she cuddled with Jacob while he sat in a big, comfy chair and played on the iPad for a few minutes. That dog is so spoiled--she doesn't realize what the world is like for many dogs. I think, though, she senses Elizabeth is leaving us because when we meet for wine at night, Sophie sits and stares into Elizabeth's face. "I'm so cute, how can you leave me?"
I've noticed a new pattern in my life: I like to eat lunch at home and have supper with friends because I get so much more desk work done that way. Tonight was dinner with Betty at the Blu Crab Café. We split Chilean Sea Bass with Potatoes Dauphinois, a stacked dish with some kind of tomato relish and microgreens on it. Good but rich--I couldn't have eaten the whole thing.
To top my day off, I got a birthday present from my brother and his wife today--there must be something about the full moon that calls out belated birthday celebrations. It was a package from Amazon and when I saw a gorgeous, oversize cookbook called Charcuterie my first reaction was, "I didn't order this but it sure would make a great present for John." Then I saw the note that it was from John and Cindy.
Later tonight I'll finish the day off with a glass of wine on the deck, while Elizabeth and I catch up on our days. Life is good.

Elizabeth's Legacy

For twenty years, my back yard was a dog yard. I mowed it, cleaned up after the dogs, and left it alone. The city did sewer work one year, dug a huge hole (two dogs fell in), and tore out some mature photina, replacing them with 3-gallon plants which the male dogs promptly peed on and killed. The grass went from weeds to bare. It was an eyesore.
By this spring Greg, my all-purpose lawn guy/neighbor/friend, had restored the grass, and Elizabeth began putting plants at the corner of the apartment and scattering a bit of statuary--mostly Buddhas--around the yard. She hung bird feeders in the trees, and a birdcage. Then Jordan brought a table they were not using, and we dragged plastic chairs out of the garage storage space. Elizabeth, Jordan and I began to have happy hour out there.
Yard table--we can't figure out what happened to the fourth chair
In the back of my mind, I'd always toyed with the idea of a deck outside the back door but to look at what? A barren waste? But now I could see a garden beginning to emerge. The idea of a deck had more appeal, so I talked to the contractor who keeps my house in shape, and he drew up plans. By my birthday in mid-July we were celebrating with dinner on the deck and tables on the lawn.
I love the stepping stones to nowhere
They used to go from the apartment to the back door so the boys wouldn't bring in mud
The yard now sports a bottle tree--Jacob and Elizabeth put it up Sunday, a yard flag, new rose bushes that will grow tall and bushy and block out the garage behind us.
Bottle tree--note to the left a rose bush that will be much bigger next year
and to the right Turk's cap
For the birthday party, Susan cleaned up the bed on their side of the yard and laid pavers out to form a bed, though it's so shady coleus may be the only thing that will grow there. I found a cherub-like figure in the back of my closet to take the place of the Buddhas that are moving to Pennsylvania, and Melinda from my office brought me a wonderful flying purple pig.
The deck table has all the amenities--a bug-repellent lantern that really works, two candle-like lamps in iron containers, a small fountain that bubbles and gurgles. Oh, and at some cost, we have electric power. We need to deck the deck with tiny white lights.
The yard flag, with Susan's new bed to the right; doghouse in front right
with a child's chair Susan added for whimsy

The yard is still a work in progress, but it's changed so much over one summer. And if Elizabeth hadn't put out those petunias and statues, it never would have happened. Her legacy, of course, goes far beyond the tangible things of the garden to deeper levels of friendship and sharing. It's been a great year for each of us, and I'm sad that just as we've figured out a pretty good way to balance our independent lives with living on the same property, she's moving. She believes the Universe moves as it should; I believe God has a plan for each of us. We're moving on, but I can sit on my deck and stare at my garden and silently thank her.
Actually we've decided I can sit on the deck, and she can sit on her patio, each of us with wine, and share our usual evening catch-up sessions by texting.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Late nights on the deck and the hairy puppet

Taken at Elizabeth's going away party
Note Jacob's Phillies shirt, given him by Elizabeth
and the man she's leaving us to be with

Elizabeth and I have developed the habit of meeting on the deck for a glass of wine to end the day. It’s a time for reflection, deep thoughts, silly comments, and whatever. As the time for her move approaches, we find ourselves more often in deep thoughts—a whole new life for her, a big adjustment for me.

But Saturday night Jacob was with us, and we were all downright silly. In packing, Elizabeth had come across a hairy puppet she’d had for years. She gave it to Jacob. At first I thought it was just plain ugly, but that night when she began to make it talk and dance, I was enchanted. So was Jacob, who named it Harry. Sophie thought it was another dog and was less entranced—she went from curious to jealous (she did that last night too with Jordan’s two dogs here—I guess a second dog at my house is not a good idea). Elizabeth is really good at making Harry look and act like a character from Sesame Street, all in pantomime. Harry doesn’t talk.

We sat and laughed and giggled at Harry’s antics and stayed up far too late. Jacob went to bed at eleven-thirty, much to his parents’ dismay the next day. He said he likes to stay here because he gets to stay up so late. Not sure if that’s a gandmother’s privilege or my weakness. He asked if he could still have five minutes TV after he got in bed, and I said yes but when I went to turn it off he was already half asleep.

Jacob slept with Harry that night, but the next day Sophie still wasn’t reconciled to the puppet. If Jacob left it on the bed, she jumped up on the bed to get it. If he carried it around, she jumped at him. I’m glad to say that Harry has gone home to Jacob’s house. Much as I enjoyed his antics, I’d be glad if he didn’t visit too often.

But Harry will be part of Elizabeth’s legacy after a year of living in my garage apartment. She also leaves me a new fridge and a microwave in the apartment…but I’ll talk about her greatest gift tomorrow.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why I read

I read because I cannot keep myself from reading. Yes, I keep magazines in the bathroom. Eating dinner alone, I dine with my iPad of a book or magazine. Late at night, at my desk, too tired to be creative, I read. (I’m one of those rare creatures who can’t read in bed.)

I grew up a reader, which I’m sure is due to the old adage about reading to your children. I remember most my mom reading The Wind in the Willows but also something about Reddy Fox and, of course, The Little Engine That Could. Once I was old enough to read on my own, there was no stopping me. Summers when I was nine, ten or thereabouts, I rode my bike every day to the Blackstone branch of the Chicago Public Library, took out several books, and rode home to spend the day on our screened-in porch reading. The neighborhood kids thought I was nuts. I remember going through the Little Colonel stories, Bobbsey Twins, graduating to Nancy Drew and Cherry Adams, a nurse, and finally to Frances Parkinson Keyes’ Gothic stories of steamboats and New Orleans and the deep South.

In college, I majored in English because I liked to read and, after all, some man was going to marry me and take care of me—well, that part didn’t work out, but I kept on reading.

Mysteries have been one of my lifelong passions—along with the literature of the American West—so it’s no wonder I find myself writing mysteries today…and reading them. The last few days have found me deep in Diane Mott Davidson’s The Whole Enchilada. Davidson is one of the authors who can make me so immerse myself in the world of her novel that I am loathe to leave it, especially for the world of the novel I’m writing. So I was glued to my iPad—when I could keep it from Jacob. This novel, as all of her others, is superbly plotted, with more intricacy that I can possibly think of for my own novels, and I read it anxiously all the way to the end—when, after all is solved, an event is sort of stuck on that’s unexpected and unrelated and left me a bit dissatisfied. But who am I to criticize Davidson who is one of the leading lights of today’s culinary mysteries. Now I’m hungry to jump into another book and avoid my own writing. But my mind is beginning to work on possibilities for the direction my new novel will take. Part of the problem is that I’m stuck in the boggy middle, still pretty far from shore.

I guess I’ll just keep reading. Part of the advantage of reading is that it makes me rethink where my novel is going, even if I do it subconsciously.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The difference in grilled cheese sandwiches

Lesson learned. Never take a picky child to an even semi-sophisticated restaurant. Tonight friend Carol and I took Jacob to the Magnolia Cheese Company for supper. I had called ahead to be sure they could do a plain grilled cheese, since that's one thing Jacob will eat--usually. Turns out there's grilled cheese and then there's, "I don't like it." When he made that pronouncement, I tasted it--and darned if it wasn't the best grilled cheese I've had in a while. Of course, he wouldn't touch the kale chips that came with it--don't think the child has ever met kale in his life.
Recently my brother pulled into the parking lot of our local deli, Carshon's, and Jacob announced that he didn't like their grilled cheese. I shushed him and said Uncle John wanted lox and cream cheese and the rest of us liked Carshon's a lot. Jacob apparently only likes the cheese sandwiches at the Old Neighborhood Grill and The Star Café. When I told him earlier this week we were going to The Star with Aunt Betty, he said, "Oh, good. I like their grilled cheese."
To me, a grilled cheese is a grilled cheese, maybe with some rare exceptions. I wouldn't call myself a gourmand, but I know good food from ordinary. I can distinguish between say bottled pasta sauce and the real, homemade thing, or between bottled salad dressing and a good vinaigrette. And I relish the occasional fancy dish, such as brie with jalapeno salsa or those rare lamb chops the other night.  But grilled cheese?
When Jacob asked what dessert they had I told him cheesecake and bread pudding. "I think I'll try cheesecake," he said. "Have you ever had it?" The answer was no. I wasn't about to give him a dessert of any kind if he didn't eat his supper, let alone something he probably wouldn't eat. Carol's comment that it was chevre cheesecake (she said goat) squelched any argument on his part.
We came home and I fixed a peanut butter and honey sandwich and followed it with a bit of vanilla ice cream. Can he go through life eating grilled cheese and hot dogs at the Grill or The Star?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putting on my teacher's hat

I don't wear my teacher's hat often, so it doesn't sit securely on my head. Tonight I led the first discussion of my four-session non-credit class, "Why Cowboys Are Our Heroes--or Are They?" It was supposed to last an hour and a half--we made it to an hour and ten minutes, only twenty minutes short.
I had outlined a discussion that included figuring out where the American West was, who the mythic cowboy was (they wanted to talk a lot more about reality), who went West, where the women were. But with five students, who were sort of talkative, it was hard, and I went through my notes too quickly. On the other hand, as the discussion ranged, I was pleased with the bits of knowledge that I dredged up from the back of my mind--like a fairly long discussion of the influence of Celtic culture on cowboy culture. One man said he's taken every class that had to do with the American West, so I asked him toward the end if we were repeating things he already knew. I was reassured when he said, 'No, not at all." I would judge the evening not one of my astounding successes but neither was it one of my great failures. I hope none of the five drops the class.
We meet every two weeks, but the next meeting is at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art for a docent-led discussion of the work of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell.
So it's a month before I put my teacher's hat on again and then it's to lead a discussion of The Virginian, Owen Wister's classic 1903 novel.
Meantime, tonight, I'm going to sink back into Diane Mott Davidson's The Whole Enchilada, a culinary mystery I'm enjoying thoroughly. I've written my 2300 words for the day. I guess I can sleep well with a clear conscience tonight and put my teacher's hat aside for a bit.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


This morning as I came through the house in the early daylight I saw a flag at the curb and momentarily wondered—it’s a Wednesday, not a Monday, not a holiday that I could think of. And the flag looked a bit incongruous between two garbage carts. But then I remembered—it’s 9/11. Perhaps the second—or third—day of infamy in our national history, on somewhat of a par with Pearl Harbor and JFK’s assassination. At least those are the moments that stand out in my living memory—and I’m not sure I remember Pearl Harbor, just hearing where I was when the new came.

Like most Americans I remember where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001—sitting at the same desk I am now. I’d stayed home from work because a workman (worker man one of my granddaughters used to say) was coming to refinish the bathroom sink (bad idea—just buy a new sink). I was working but had the TODAY show on and remember clearly the first announcement that a plane had flown into of the World Trade Towers. At first, everyone assumed it was a small private plane, seriously off course. The awful truth of course soon was evident. I kept running into the bathroom to update the worker man, who was strangely unmoved by it (he was a taciturn and not very pleasant individual who left a mess behind him). At the end of the morning, I tore myself from the TV, dressed and went to work. My colleague called in to say he couldn’t leave his TV.

The next few days were a blur of unimaginable tragedy and horror, sadness so great I hate to think about it but like our nation I can’t let myself forget—and the flag in front of my house is a poignant reminder.

Today I sat in the same spot, with the TODAY show on until I got serious about working. I wrote almost two thousand words on my work-in-progress—a commendable accomplishment for an author. But somehow it struck me as insignificant to work on a cozy mystery when all around me—especially on Facebook—were strong reminders of what this day means to us as a nation and, tragically, to so many people as individuals who lost loved ones or their health or whose lives were forever changed.

Does it put the Syrian crisis into perspective? I don’t know. I’ve been struggling to find some link, some parallel for the two but so far couldn’t do it. I may have an “Aha” moment later, but for now I’m just relieved that diplomacy has a chance. It’s like the song, “Give peace a chance.”

This afternoon when Jacob came home from school I intended to ask if they talked about 9/11 at school, but on the way up the drive he grabbed the flag pole and said, “Don’t ask me, Juju. I know what this is for. My dad told me on the way to school this morning.” They didn’t talk about it at school, which seemed sad to me.

Today ended as well as any such day can. Elizabeth, Betty and I took Jacob to The Star (the restaurant Betty and her husband own) and had a good dinner. Jacob loves the grilled cheese there. On the way home, we drove through downtown and Jacob marveled at the twinkly lights in the trees. Then, straight ahead, we saw a tall building with the top decorated in red, white and blue…and we were reminded once again of the significance of the day. And I thought about the insignificance of much of what we daily do, in the face of what happened twelve years ago.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Living high on the hog

I didn't blog last night because it seemed I had nothing to say except that I'd been busier than ever doing I don't know what. But all kinds of things landed on my desk, from corrections to a proof to legal matters dealing with my cousin to  a book I really want to read and don't have time to immerse myself in--five-minute reading sessions are no fun.
Today, the opposite is true. I had breakfast with the Book Ladies--the monthly group of book people who sometimes talk about books and other times talk about travels and politics and grandchildren and who knows what. But it's always fun, and our numbers were strong this morning. Then lunch with friend Jean and a trip to pick up our flowers of the month.
But tonight was a rare experience. Mary Dulle generously and graciously asked me to be her guest at a wine dinner--the Cline Wine (I like the rhyme, never heard of the Cline Winery before) was cosponsored by Put a Cork in It and Lili's Bistro on Magnolia, at the Lilipad, their special events venue. I love wine, but I'm not especially good at a wine tasting because I don't much care for red wines. The menu, however, sent me into pure ecstasy.
The five-course meal began with a brie appetizer topped weith a jalapeno chutney--I'm not usually one for spicy, but this was delicious. Next came a tempura lobster salad with chilled green tea soba noodles (I'm not used to cold noodles), shredded cabbage, oven roasted tomatoes, and edamame, all tossed in a curry vinaigrette and dressed with micro-greens, Fantastic!
Next came a risotto with smoked mushrooms, roasted corn, cipollini onions and heirloom grape tomatoes. Oh so rich, but good--I barely ate half of it, saving room for the lamb and fingerling potatoes that were to follow. My lamb was just right--on the rare side of medium--topped with a salsa of fresh figs and cardamom (a spice I've loved since my mom used it in coffee cakes). The potatoes had a hint of rosemary and were crisply browned, and the plate was finished with spinach and what was supposed to be patty pan squash but looked like baby zucchini.
Dessert? Chocolate gelato topped with whipped cream, blackberries, a zinfandel reduction, and chocolate covered bacon--okay, I know it's trendy, but I didn't much like the bacon.
Photo by Mary Dulle
The meal on the whole though was wonderful--innovative and fresh combinations of flavors and textures--a true treat, and I enjoyed every minute of it, met some interesting new people--may even have sold a couple of books. What more could anyone ask?
Tomorrow back to routine--and to get some work done.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

A spot on the moon--and some fine food

There's a spot on the moon. I'm convinced of it. Yesterday I got all the way to the grocery store, only to discover I had left my list at home. I simply do not shop without a list, so home I went--probably a twenty-to-thirty minute delay in that shopping trip was I was trying to hurry through. This morning I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription--drove up to the drive-through window and realized I didn't have my drivers license or my debit card. Back home--a shorter trip.
Jordan emailed that she had taken to her bed. She had a melt-down at Jacob's baseball game--felt she was going to faint, over-heated, completely out of control. A friend got her Gatorade and helped her; what she wanted was to go home to bed but she wouldn't leave Jacob. Fortunately his other grandparents arrived--the ones who are good grandparents and go to baseball games (I went to one and gave it up). So she went home and left them to cheer and then take him to supper. They really are good to come all the way from a Dallas suburb to his games. Next week they'll come because the kids are both busy on his practice night, and I have a class to teach.
Then a good friend who was coming for wine and a catch-up session emailed that she was under the weather--I think the heat got her too. So no happy hour.
But it's been a nice, lazy day. I'm a bit stumped about my novel. There's a character who keeps appearing, and I'm not sure why or how she relates to the plot. But I'm letting her go her merry way. Tonight, though, I'm taking a break and reading The End of Your Life Book Club, written by a man who goes to chemo with his mother regularly and she turns their visits into a book club. They both have more highbrow tastes than I do, but it's a powerful book, based I'm sure on a real experience.
Good food lately. Last night I fixed vichyssoise--found an easy and good recipe on the blog, "Mystery Lovers Kitchen," so thanks, Peg Cochran, for that. And I made an old-fashioned, start-from-scratch Caesar salad, using the recipe in my original edition of The Joy of Cooking. The page is splattered with a thousand spots, proof that I used to follow that recipe often. The page for hollandaise is the same way. Tonight I made my favorite--salmon croquettes. Felt a little guilty indulging all by myself, without sharing with Elizabeth or Jordan, but I did it and enjoyed my feast. Cooked a fresh ear of corn that needed to be cooked, and tried a roasted cabbage recipe--cabbage didn't cook as quickly as I thought so it's for supper tomorrow night.
Now back to the reappearing character.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Facebook and Syria

I've thought about this a long time. There are so many things on the Web about Syria and our future course of action, that I hesitate to put my opinion out there. And yet I feel compelled to share my confused thoughts.
Like many Americans, I get news, laughs, friendship, and questionable information from Facebook. I check it every morning. Also like most Americans, Syria looms on my mind, and I’m conflicted. Today, I saw two graphic postings on Facebook that struck me: the first was a political lampoon: “Last week Fox News demanded President Obama get congressional approval to bomb Syria; this week they’re outraged that he asked for congressional approval.” The second, with a clear picture of destruction reminded us: “Pearl Harbor: Not an act of war. Just a random air strike. No boots on the ground.”

I’m on the side of peace, of talking things out, negotiating. I am opposed to war and killing, and I’m baffled by the dictum of death as punishment for killing. I’m like the little boy—Facebook again—who said, “You’re telling me your country is going to bomb Syria because Syria bombed Syria?” I don’t think the U.S. has to be the policeman of the world, and I fear being drawn into another Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. I trust President Obama when he says “no boots on the ground,” but I’m not sure that makes a difference. I’d like to know that only military installations or WMP storehouses will be targeted. More than enough men, women and children have died in Syria already, and I shudder at the thought of more deaths on the U.S. collective conscience.

I’m no military strategist, but it strikes me as a little ludicrous that Congress is publicly debating what to do—while the world watches. Haven’t we lost the surprise factor? Did Japan have a public debate before Pearl Harbor? Was John McCain really playing games on his phone during the debate yesterday (that’s another of those Facebook posts you never know whether to trust or not). Facebook again: “We got to be the only country that sends out ‘save the date’ notices for an attack.”

On the other hand, I can’t bear to look at the pictures of all those bodies in Syria and think of the monstrous intent behind such an act. If we are to have a civilized world—and we all live in this world where isolationism is no longer possible—we cannot allow such heinous attacks to continue unchecked. Humanity compels us to take action (not going to get into comparing this to the non-existent WMD in Iraq). Would an attack change things? I don’t know. Can we just wave our hand and say, “Oh, too bad”? I don’t think so.

I’m certainly glad I don’t wear the President’s shoes? Have you noticed he’s aging?


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Has your child hugged you today?

My friend Katie Sherrod recently shared on article on Facebook about people requesting kisses from children—not predatory people, just ordinary friendly people reacting to a cute child. But the point was that this affection-on-cue teaches our children to please others and to observe social ritual without taking into account what they want. Katie herself wrote how she hates to be asked for a hug or a smile—they are hers to give and there are times she doesn’t have a hug or a smile. True for all of us.

The post made me think about Jacob, who is always told to give me a hug and a kiss before he leaves. And, I confess, if he doesn’t, I sometimes say in a joking tone, “Jacob Burton, you come give me a hug!” Kegan, my youngest grandchild, resisted my kisses and hugs for a long time until it became a game—now he comes to me, apparently reluctantly, but with a sly and shy grin on his face (see the toothless picture above). Nine-year-old Sawyer on the other hand is the most enthusiastic kisser I’ve ever met—he throws his arms around you and plants a big one.

I made a pact with Jacob this past weekend—and I will make it with other grandchildren—that if he wants to hug me, I would be delighted and would hug back; if he wants to give me a kiss, I’d be over the moon (I come from a family of mouth kissers—none of that cheek business for a lot of them, though Jacob gives cheek kisses if I have lipstick on). But he doesn’t have to. He thought that sounded pretty good.

So this morning, in my driveway, as he headed to school, his father said, “Give Juju a hug.” Jacob gave me what I call a passive hug—he leaned against me and let me hug him. His dad objected, and I said, “No, it’s okay. We have a deal.” So Dad looked around, sensitive to seven-year-old egos, and said, “There’s no one around, for Pete’s sake.” I told him that wasn’t the point, and he said, “Well, you’re far more lenient with him than I am.” (I suspect that’s true in a lot of instances—grandmother’s privilege.)

Act Two: this afternoon, Jacob’s mom comes to pick him up, and I repeat the conversation. Her take on it was totally different, though she would probably agree about adults out of the family asking for kisses. But, with Jacob listening intently, she said, “Giving a hug is how we say thank you and show our love for our grandmother.” That, too, made sense to me.

Result? The kid went off to baseball without so much as a backward glance at me. There’s no winning.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Peoria, white shoes, and long holiday weekends

Bored Sophie

Many years ago, my mother was walking down a Chicago street with two friends, one of whom considered herself an expert on style and all things fashionable. “You never wear white shoes after Labor Day,” she intoned. “People will think you’re from Peoria.” My mother’s other friend was indeed from Peoria, and it was a touchy situation for a while. But Labor Day is the time we mark the traditional end of summer, though it will be hot for another month in Texas. Still, it’s  unfortunate that the true origin of the holiday has been overshadowed by the fact that it’s time to say goodbye to summer, put away those white shoes and bags, and welcome fall. Actually I haven’t worn white shoes, except tenners, in a long time.

Holiday weekends can be long when you live alone. I find like a lot of other things the anticipation is worse than the reality. I began to worry last week about how to fill my weekend, but I had Jacob overnight Saturday, we met his mom at church on Sunday, and Sunday night I went to a nice gathering at the home of neighbors—stayed out later than I’m used to.

Today, though, I’ve had my face in the computer screen all day—wrote a belated Potluck with Judy (should have written it last night but all creativity was gone when I got home). Mostly, though, the day was spent doing second edits on a manuscript for my publisher. It’s a good story, and you’ll like the book when it comes out—probably titled Poplar Place. The author, Ellen Butler, and I addressed structural issues and the like in the first edits, and she’s done a nice job of clearing up some questions. She’s also stood up for herself a few times, as in “Please leave this.” Now I’m doing line by line copy-editing, which is a bit slow. So far today I’ve done 129 pages.

Sophie found my day particularly dull. None of her special friends came to visit her, and I’m no fun, though I did throw a toy for her a lot this morning. Poor baby—she’s wandered around, sometimes disconsolately with a toy in her mouth. Tomorrow Jacob will be here briefly to cheer her up.

I didn’t find the day as dull as she did because I was occupied and had a goal, but I’ll be glad of human contact tomorrow—haven’t even talked to anyone on the phone today—and I’ll be glad to return to routine. Still a day like this every once in a while is good for the soul—and sure makes you feel efficient.