Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Not the way I intended to spend my day

Started out the day with breakfast with a friend, catching up on writing new, friends, yes gossip. Then off to the nursery where I had several purchases in my mind. Tried to carry all the plants up the stir at once. Bit mistake. Fell although I didn't hurt myself. But noticed that I wasn't walking quite as assuredly as I usually do, and I had trouble typing simple messages. Buy the time a friend called to say she was picking my up for lunch, she said, "Are you okay? " I assured her I was fine. When she got here, she said, "Are you sure  you're all right. Do you want to postpone lunch. "No, I have to eat. In the car on the way home, she said, "I thnk you should see your doctor. Something happened today." I pooh-poohed the suggested. Then Elizabeth came in and said, "Are you all alright? Your speech is slow, slurred."  I ddn't see or hear that. But the next thing I knew Jordan arrived, Elizabeth having called her. And almost instantaneously my brother called. They all convinced me to call the doctor who, of course, wasn't it. But the nurse recommended the  ER. So off Jordan and I went, while Elizabeth went to get Jacob and do homework.
The ER was very efficient (Harris Southwest) and the personnel kind. All kind of tests--chest x-ray, urine sample, blood work, EKG, and CT of m brain.
Final diagnosis: transient alternative awareness, which nobody had ever heard of except me who could identify. Anxiety/phobia patients often suffer a feeling of dissociation. The thing as I didn't feel that way today, but I suppose all things are possible. Also lo sodium and potassium, so the girls have been plying me with water, o.j., and bananas. They also went, sweet things, and got me meatloaf for supper, so now I have a nice piece for a lunch sandwich tomorrow.
But a da in the ER (okay really only two hours) make you focus on yourself; how od I feel? Is my gait unsteady? Is my typing erratic? Yes to some of those, but Elizabeth said tight that I sound much better.
Tomorrow will be a better day. I have promised tot take it easy, have canceled some social meetings for the next two days.  I may bore myself to death.
But tonight I am grateful that I have friends and family around me who are so observant and care so much. What if I lived totally alone? Think Sophie would have called for help?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

TCU Mystery Weekend and so much else

I know it's Sunday night, and I should be posting on Potluck with Judy, but I'm still bursting with excitement over my weekend. Late Friday afternoon, I was honored to be the kickoff mystery author at TCU's Mystery Weekend. Thirty-one people attended, including three men. Longtime friend Shari Barnes, who teaches a non-credit mystery course, interviewed me, and as always she made me look much smarter than I am. The attendees were attentive, encouraging, and they had questions A nice touch--the caterers had prepared Doris' casserole, which comes from my cookbook, along with three kinds of cookies also from the cookbook. I didn't sell many books but that was okay--most of the people had already read them. And I understand some of the participants want the cookbook--should have brought some with me.
After dinner and the discussion, we boarded a bus for Austin--Jordan and Jacob had driven down the day before so I was grateful for a seat on the bus. Really nice new coach, good driver--and two major accidents that tied up I-35 so that our trip was longer than expected. But Megan came to get me, at the hotel where they were staying, and I spent the rest of my weekend with my two daughters and three of my grandsons. Lazy but fun. Ate too much.
We went to Shady Grove for lunch--if you know Austin, you'll recognize the name. Here's Megan and me at the restaurant
 
Discovered that my oldest grandson, Sawyer, who will turn nine in July, is a real bookworm. You have to pry the book out of his hands to get him to go to bed at night, and I predict he'll soon discover the trick of a flashlight under the covers--hurray for him! He was reading the third in the Percy Jackson series, Curse of the Titans, and was almost through. He was also most impressed that I once interviewed the author, Rick Riordan, over the phone. This is Sawyer at the restaurant, when his cousins were running around the play area. I so love having my grandchildren become readers.
 
 
The cousins played, swam a bit (the water is still so cold), jumped on the trampoline, went to Ford's baseball game, but they also showed that they are the children of the electronic age. Here the three of them are this morning (I think the grim looks were because they knew I was taking a picture)
 
 
All said, it was a great visit, mostly hanging out at the house. I read, watched while the girls cooked (how our roles have reversed), sat on the porch and drank wine with them, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, especially seeing my oldest daughter who I don't see often enough. Kudos to Jordan for arranging the trip, driving, and generally being her efficient self. She makes my life shine. 



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mysteries and food--which came first?


Sometime in the last few months I was at my son’s new house and in the kitchen I searched for the wooden spoons my daughter-in-law has always had. Gone! “He threw them out during the move,” she said, “because he wants everything to match.” She was left with black plastic utensils. I was horrified and I think as said as much to the son involved. My other daughter-in-law routinely puts her wooden spoons in the dishwasher. I explained that would dry them out, but the next time I emptied her dishwasher, there they were. “Habit,” she shrugged.

To me, wooden spoons are special. Most of mine speak of years of cooking; a few are relatively new, some of most interesting woods. But I reach for them for almost anything I cook. I found today a blog titled “Pen, Spoon and Dagger” with a post that talks about the heritage and importance of wooden cooking spoons. I printed it out because—shhh!, don’t tell! I have a lovely engraved wooden spoon put away in my gift closet for the daughter who lost hers. I'll include a copy of the blog with it.

But the blog combines cooking and mystery, a frequent combination. I’ve often wondered why we have so many culinary mysteries. Is it because food is one of the biggest comforts of life? Maybe we combine it with murder—the ultimate disaster—to soften the horror? Maybe to humanize the protagonist? I love culinary mysteries, and with Murder at the Blue Plate Café have edged close to writing one.

Traditionally chefs were always men. Nero Wolfe was the first to make food a character in his books and you can still get the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. But today’s culinary mystery protagonists are almost uniformly women, while a man may be the antagonist, if not the villain. Does that have to do with women’s equality? Julia Child?

The relationship between food and mysteries is one I have long wanted to explore. The list of culinary mysteries is almost endless, but I haven’t untangled the thread yet. Anybody got any ideas? Maybe another time I’ll list some of the mysteries, and some of the cookbooks—by gosh, there’s even a Nancy Drew cookbook and I don’t remember a word about food in those books.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It's easy to be lost in April


At least, it’s easy to be lost this April. We never know if it’s winter, spring or summer, at least in Texas. And look at all that snow in Colorado in late April! Yesterday the temperature was balmy, the day delightful and sunny. Today it is overcast and cold, in the upper 40s, to go to the upper 30s tonight, with a chill factor well below that (I do wish they’d stop telling us the chill factor!). By the weekend, it will be 80 again. My plants are confused…and so am I. I have a hydrangea that I want to take outside for brief spells to “harden” it, but there’s no sense doing that in weather this cold. And my sweet potato plants are drooping—in fact, one just gave up the ghost. Glad I didn’t buy those cherry tomatoes yet. My brother said tonight in doleful tones, “Summer is over.” I told him we haven’t had it yet, and he said, “Oh, I thought  it was awfully short.”

And I’m sort of at loose ends anyway. Finished first edits on a manuscript last night. Tomorrow it goes to my mentor (need to think of a better descriptive term)—if he says, “This is trash,” in the trash it goes. If he says it has possibilities, back to editing. I know one thing it needs is a better sense of place, so yesterday I drew a map of the fictional town, one of the university (it’s what Fred calls an academic novel meaning it’s not academic in itself but it’s set on a campus), one of the protagonist’s house, and one of her boyfriend’s house. But I’m on hold until he reads it. Meantime I have a novel to review but it’s hard to pull yourself quickly from one fictional world to another, so I’m stalling.

And this is a doctor week for me. Today I went to the ophthalmologist, an appointment I always dread for several reasons. It went much more smoothly than I anticipated, and I do not need the laser treatment he anticipated I would. Good news. Hope the next two go as smoothly.

Life is always uncertain, even the small things. Tonight we waited to hear if they would cancel Jacob’s baseball game because of weather. 5:30 came, so we all trooped to the Grill for supper, and still no word. The staff asked, “Is everybody going to the game?” “Not me,” I replied. “It’s cold  out.” So after supper I saw them off to the game and retreated to my warm house. It’s a night to go to bed early. Jordan just texted on her way home and said, "So cold!"

Maybe tomorrow will be spring again.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Inertia

Inertia, I've decided, breeds inertia. I stayed home alone all day. Not deliberately, but I had nothing I needed to do outside the house--no lunch date, no grocery shopping. If I went out mindlessly, I'd end up spending money. And I did have things to do at my desk. So I stayed home. But I felt sluggish, tentative, etc. When I looked in the mirror, I was surprised to see that I looked normal.
Jordan and Jacob came by at noon--a slight break--and then about five Jacob arrived to spend the night, and my day has brightened a great deal. We watched the news together--who knew a six-year-old is that interested in what goes on in the world? But at the end he clasped his hand to his forehead and said, "A bomb, a fire, and now a flood. This has been a bad violent week!" I agreed. It's been a hard week on all of us.
After the news, we had happy hour in the backyard--sparkling cider in a flute for him, chardonnay for me, and lots of love for the dog. Jacob ran out to get a small decorative pail or metal basket by Elizabeth's door, filled it with ice, and put my wine and his in it to carry outside (I really should have gotten a picture). Sophie discovered some kind of buzzing bug in the grass and carried on, nosing up to it, then jumping back in alarm. Jacob declared it was a bee, but I suspect a wasp of some sort--the sort I'm allergic to.
Jacob is watering Elizabeth's plants while she's away. He watered this morning and started to do it again this evening, but I warned him about the dangers of over-watering. So he carefully felt the soil in each pot and discussed which one was moist--most--and which dry. He can discuss minutiae endlessly.
We finally came in for a dinner of leftovers--barbecue, which last night he said was sloppy Joe and tonight he refused to eat, beans, carrots, tomatoes, and broccoli. He ate medium well and has just, at 7:45, announced that he's hungry. Endless.
Tomorrow we'll go to church and a friend is coming for dinner, so I can banish inertia. But it's an insidious disease.

A good kind of too tired

Last night I posted that I was too tired to write Judy's Stew and several kind people posted with wishes for a good rest and the like. I was so tired I did something I never do: went to bed with dishes in the sink and got up this morning to face soaking flatware and a greasy crockpot. But let me stress: I was the good kind of tired that comes from an evening surrounded by people who are important to me, eating more than my share of food and drinking a tad more wine than wise. When my neighbors and family get together, it's noisy, happy, always an evening full of joy. I can't hear a thing anyone says, but I love it.
We gathered last night to welcome Graham and Heather Brizendine, with son Gage, my new neighbors to the east. We'll see a lot of each other in years to come as we have common driveways. Their house has been a worry to me--rental property in which there have been some people who became dear to me, some whom I never saw, and a couple of difficult ones--like the reclusive couple who threw trash in the bushes or the loud fraternity boys. I've had coeds--they were really polite and considerate--and a three TCU boys who made great neighbors. I had Sue, who has become part ofmy close circle of friends, and her two children for at least three years and grew use to having them nearby, parted with them sadly--but they're not far away. Still I always worried about who would move in next. Now I have a nice family, set to stay for many years--I hope they do.
It was a potluck supper, and I made crockpot barbecue--and announced last night if I ever said I would do it again, someone should commit me (Jay thought I mean commit me to making it but that's not what I had in mind). I remembered how good it was, I just forgot how much work it took. I shredded beef by hand while watching the Boston search. We had a feast--Jay made great potato salad with a definite lemon flavor, Greg and Jaimie brought enough cole slaw for Cox's army, Elizabeth contributed beans, Jordan and Cathy both brought veggies, cheese and snacks. I made a pan of cheater's chocolate chip cookies (so easy) and Cathy brought those bars that are graham crackers with brown sugar, butter and pecans on them--delicious! I hope Heather and Graham don't think we eat that way all the time! But I'm looking forward to a good lunch today. Even Jacob ate barbecue--he thought it was sloppy Joe.
Special thanks to Jordan and Elizabeth for helping put the dinner together, and even more important, putting away leftovers and organizing the kitchen so well that I finished it in under thirty minutes this morning. They freed me to visit with our guests, and I am grateful.
I am so grateful for my small, happy corner of the world!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A lovely day--with clouds and shadows

I wanted to write a blog about what a lovely day it has been. I really did. I was geared up for a big day yesterday, so today was relaxation. Slept a bit late, went to the grocery in preparation for a bbq gathering on Friday night, early lunch and nap, got Jacob and did homework (well, that's almost always a trial). But when Jacob first came home from school, he and I sat with Elizabeth on the porch and celebrated her birthday. The weather was gorgeous. And Booker, our much missed crossing guard, came back for a visit. Wonderful to watch him get hugs from parents and children alike. Tonight Betty and I went to Pappadeaux and shared cedar planked salmon and asparagus. Who could ask for a nicer day.
But there were a lot of clouds--the grayest of which came mid-afternoon when I learned the Senate had rejected the bill for both background checks and outlawing assault weapons. I cannot fathom it, cannot even begin to think where their heads were--well, I have an idea but it wouldn't be ladylike to say it. In short, I'm appalled. I'm told to write my Senators--and just what good would that do in Texas? Senator Cornyn blows with the wind and does whatever is necessary to advance his career. He's up for re-election this fall, and I call on all Texans to work actively to defeat him. I pray for a really strong Democrat to oppose him or even a strong moderate Republican (is there such in Texas?) to defeat him in the primary. I have been disgusted with him for years, and this is the final outrage. My letters get pat, meaningless answers. As for Ted Cruz, he's out of control and not up for election for five long years. Texans did this.
The pall of the Boston Marathon hangs over the country like a funeral shroud. I am haunted by the image of the young boy who was killed, and by the thought of all those who lost limbs. I understand a two-year-old boy is still in critical condition. What kind of people load a bomb with nails and brads and put it in the midst of what should be a celebration.
And now ricin, which is really scary stuff, rears its head in two letters--not hard to see our president as a target and praise be for the facilities that screen mail to officials. But if Obama is a target, why the Republican senator. I sometimes think the world itself is out of control, too much in the hands of crazies...which brings us full circle to background checks. For what reason do sane people object to that measure. I would think even gun advocates would see the reason for such a law.
Basically I'm an optimist, one who thinks good will win out. But it's a hard attitude to maintain, a hard faith to cling to. I guess if it's going to happen, we have to make it happen, and we have to begin with baby steps. How about a grass-roots movement to oust John Cornyn?
Yours in discouragement...but wanting my optimism back.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Oh, my, what a wonderful day

I had a rare treat today. I fixed lunch for the girl I grew up next door to. I thought I hadn't seen her in fifty years but she says she remembers coming to visit once--there's so much of my past I've forgotten. But when she walked into my house she said no, she hadn't been here before. Her husband, a retired Episcopalian priest and a wonderful man with a wry sense of humor, was with her, and we were joined by good friends of mine who are active in the Episcopalian church--they know each other from national church meetings. So there was much talk of Episcopalian politics (they are convoluted) but Judy and I found some time for reminiscing--and we need more time to do it again. We talked about her family and mine and incidents from childhood and books we read as youngsters--Albert Payson Terhune and Walter Farley--and we talked about going back to visit as adults. I truly wish we could spend two days, because already I've thought of so many things I didn't say, ask, whatever.
We sat on the porch for an hour, with hummus and crackers and then went inside for lunch. Fixing lunch for these people was a big deal for me, though I usually entertain easily. But I wanted this to be just right. I set a spring-like table with my mom's Susie Cooper china--a light turquoise border around a flowered center. The menu was curried chicken salad, fruit salad, bread, (I experimented with butter and used one that has olive oil and sea salt--couldn't tell the difference). Dessert was small mint chocolates. I think--hope--it was the perfect menu. I had thought to make a layered sandwich--slicing a round parmesan loaf into three layers and filling them with chicken salad, pimiento cheese and egg salad--but when I was at low ebb last week that seemed like way too much trouble and I changed the menu. I may still do that sandwich loaf sometime.
It's so lovely to call up past memories with someone who shared them with me...and we had little, odd moments to share: a Congo line for Dewey which led my dad to call me inside (he was a huge Democrat  and Judy's family was Republican), the time I had whooping cough and we finally talked over the fence, her grandmother who spent every day in a chair by the window that looked out on our house but assured my mom it was friendly interest. Wonderful stuff. The stuff memoirs are made of.
Then tonight Melinda from TCU Press picked me up for the annual dinner for Friends of the TCU Library. I saw people I was glad to see but a lot of people I didn't know and I missed a lot of faces I thought I'd see. Good dinner, generous happy hour, long acceptance speech (read from his book) from Rick Bass, winner of the TCU Texas Book Award. I'm not sure how long I'll keep attending such events but I was glad for a visit with Melinda and for a few people I saw and value--Paul Boller, Susan Hotard, Susan and Jim Smith, Sue and Alan Winter. I'm sure I've left some out.
A good day and I'm tired. 'Night all.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tragedy in Boston

My ex-husband ran the Boston marathon, more than thirty years ago. But I remember how hard he trained for it and how proud he was to be part of that iconic race. I particularly remember one Saturday morning when I told him our four children would be on TV that morning; he looked at me blankly and said, "I have to run." I realized his priorities and mine were different. I don't remember now what his time was--he was never ahead of the pack, generally in the middle. But to finish is an accomplishment.
Today one of his sons does triathlons and has run marathons and three of his children, two spouses and a grandchild recently completed a half marathon. This tragedy hit all of us, but those who live with marathoners and watch them train may feel it a bit differently. I am appalled that someone would hurt others on a day that runners came out to put their training to use and celebrate one of the oldest athletic events in our history.
I can't tell from the news or photos if many runners were hit. It looked more like the explosions went off in the crowds of spectators waiting at the finish line. But I heard that some runners fell to the ground. I also heard that some runners changed course and ran to the nearest hospitals to donate blood.
Perhaps the saddest note: an eight-year-old girl was one of the three killed. This in a race where the last mile was dedicated to the victims at Newtown. We have to protect our children, but what can we do when danger comes so unexpectedly, at an event where you'd least expect it. But then, the Newtown parents sent their children off to school with complete confidence in their security. We can't count on much these days, and we seem to reel from tragedy to tragedy.
A note so minor in comparison that it seems a shame to include it in the same post, but it reminds me of the people without good in their hearts who seem to surround us. Every morning when I read my email, I find two or three posts on the neighborhood newsline about garage break-ins and burglaries. The wrongdoers seem to bypass locked gates but give up fairly quickly if a garage is locked. My garage is empty except for my caar, and I have no lawn equipment; my gate is locked, but anyone can figure that out; I have motion detector lights. Elizabeth has taken her bike inside where it resides at the foot of her bed--doesn't do much for her décor I'm sure. It feels like we're under siege--waiting to see who will be hit next. Not a great way to live.
Neither is wondering if a bomb will go off when you go to a public event.  But I have a couple of philosophies--one is that you can't cower at home. Then the bad guys win. The other is that in the midst of a national tragedy and a local annoyance, we each must be grateful for our blessings. Lord knows, I am richly blessed, and I try to be grateful every day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Chilies


Since I’m working on a book titled Texas is Chili Country (probably to be published by Texas Tech University Press in the Fall of 2014), I’m ever alert to chili recipes. And in researching various mutations (yes, they are) of chili across the country, I had read about Cincinnati chili but had no recipe. I was delighted to find this by Cheryl Norman on the blog, “Chicklets in the Kitchen.” She rewrote it for me, and for good measure, threw in a recipe for Vermont chili. Who knew Vermont had chili, let alone as fiery as some Texas chili? Another treasure, with her permission, for my book. Read, cook, and enjoy these recipes from Cheryl, herself a cookbook author.
Please welcome Cheryl Norman to Potluck with Judy

I love to travel and I love to cook, which means I’m happy when traveling in an RV. I sample dishes all over the United States and try recreating them in my tiny motor home kitchen. Recently, I published a collection of my versions of the recipes as sort of a culinary tour in my cookbook Hasty Tasty RV Recipes.

One dish I found fiercely debated was chili. Texans have their style, a spicy, meaty chili. Southern chili often has beans and corn. Midwest chili often is served with elbow macaroni or spaghetti. One thing all chili has is great taste. Two of my favorites, vastly different in seasonings and flavor, are Vermont chili and Cincinnati chili.

What? You don’t think of Vermont for chili? Neither did we until we happened upon a café featuring the state championship chili. We had to order it, although we still had our doubts. Turned out to be spicy, as hot as any Tex-Mex dish, and yummy. It’s still one of our favorite gastronomic memories.

Cincinnati Chili, according to my husband, isn’t chili at all. It’s a pasta dish with a flavorful and meaty sauce, but it’s not chili. He may not be a fan of the Mediterranean version of chili, but I am. I love Cincinnati-style Chili. Here is my version:

Hasty Tasty Cincinnati-style Chili
Ingredients:

1 pound lean ground beef or lean ground turkey

2 cups water or broth

1 cup frozen diced onion

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2 Tbsp. garam masala*

1 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. cocoa powder

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 15-oz can tomato sauce

2 cups cooked whole wheat spaghetti

1 can small red beans, rinsed and drained (optional for topping)

1 cup diced onion (optional for topping)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional for topping)

Directions:

Cook ground beef in the water or broth over medium heat in a large (4 quart) saucepan.

When the beef is cooked, add onion and garlic. Stir.

Add the spices, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and tomato sauce. Stir and     bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the sauce from heat. Serve over cooked whole wheat spaghetti and add optional toppings if desired.

Five-way chili is topped with cheese, onions, and beans. Four-way is topped with two of the three, etc.

 Yield: Serves 4

Store leftover sauce in an airtight container in the freezer for up to four  months.

*Garam masala is a spice blend. Or make your own as follows:

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

½  teaspoons ground coriander

½  teaspoons ground cardamom

½  teaspoons ground pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½  teaspoon ground cloves

½  teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.
****
For Vermont Chili, I had no recipe, so I tried to recreate it. If you can find Bloemer’s Chili Base in your area (Bloemer’s is based in Louisville), use it for seasoning. I order mine online from BloemerFoods.com.

 

Vermont Chili

 Ingredients:

1.3 pounds lean ground turkey or beef (your choice) or combination turkey/beef

12 oz. frozen diced onions

1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

1 oz. chili powder

1 15.5-oz. can chili beans

1 can or bottle beer, any kind

1 chopped jalapeño (optional)

 Directions:

Brown ground turkey and onion over medium-low heat in a covered 4-quart pan. Gradually add the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then cook, uncovered until the liquid reduces and chili is thick. Don’t rush it. This reduction can take from 20-45 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

Store leftovers in a covered container or freeze in an airtight bag or container.
Yield: 4–5 servings

 These chili recipes plus many more are included in Hasty Tasty RV Meals by Cheryl Norman ©2012 For more information, visit hastytastymeals.com. Also visit Cheryl’s fiction writing site at cherylnorman.com.

****

Cheryl Norman grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where she wrote her first mystery at the age of thirteen. She earned a BA in English at Georgia State University in Atlanta. After a career in the telecommunications industry, she returned to fiction writing and won the 2003 EPPIE award for her contemporary romance, Last Resort.  Her debut with Medallion Press, Restore My Heart, led to a mention in Publisher's Weekly as one of ten new romance authors to watch. Running Scared, a romantic suspense set in Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington D.C., received a Perfect 10 from Romance Reviews Today. Reviewer Harriet Klausner calls her writing "Mindful of Linda Howard."

Her latest romantic suspense novel for Medallion is Reclaim My Life, and Cheryl has two novellas in the anthology Romance on Route 66. Rebuild My World, the sequel to Reclaim My Life, was published in 2011 by Turquoise Morning Press.

Cheryl has combined her passion for writing and healthful cooking by publishing four cookbooks (two finalists in the EPIC competition in the self-help category). In addition to writing, Cheryl works with breast cancer survivors to raise awareness about early detection and treatment of the disease. She also helps writers with grammar via her Grammar Cop blog, newsletter articles, and workshops.

 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

More neighborhood notes

Jacob, his mom, and Sophie
I'm still thinking about my neighborhood. Late this afternoon Jacob went to the neighbors behind me to play. When I went to pick him up and get him ready for his baseball game, they were all down the block, looking across the street. A blue heron was perched in another neighbors' shrub, standing tall and erect, almost like one of the statues they have on their porch railing. I drove in that driveway (on a separate errand) but the bird never moved, never flinched. Jacob thought it was cool. It's not everywhere that people, and children, get so excited about a rare bird.
Tonight, while he was at his game, I saw on the porch and read--so peaceful and quiet, except for lots of birdsong. Wish I was better about identifying various birds and their songs. Lots of walkers, many with dogs, went by, along with bikers. Lately I've noticed an unusual number of men riding bikes with baby carriages--those little cocoon-like things--attached to the back. Today I saw one brave soul with one of those plus a toddler strapped to a child's seat directly behind him. Brave soul! I said as much aloud, and Jacob asked, "Why is he brave?"
Jacob is still at his Little League game, something I have mixed feelings about. Last night, his dad had to interrupt his planned evening to take him to a game; tonight another boy's grandmother picked him up, because his parents are both busy and my knee is not up to tramping around a baseball field--I'm not sure my psyche is either; tomorrow his parents will take him to an evening game. Three games in three nights? There goes the weekend. And tonight he'll be sweaty and dirty; if he's going to church with me, he needs a shower. He's used to baths--at home--so this will be an adventure.
I don't think Jacob knows his neighbors at home or has playmates on the street, so that's another plus about the neighborhood. He's getting a sense of neighborhood and friends. Jay and Susan next door pay a lot of attention to him, and he has Sam and his little brother behind us for playmates (I swear I want a gate between the yards). But it's one of the things I'm glad I can offer him.
And the other, a big one, is that I've taught him to love dogs. When Sophie was tiny, she bit and jumped so much, as puppies do, that he didn't like her, so he turned to my Aussie, Scooby. We lost Scooby last summer, and Jacob and Sophie are not almost inseparable. They spend hours outside, running, wrestling, playing fetch. From being afraid of dogs, he's gone to being a dog lover.
Life is good. Sorry I've rambled but that's the way my mind is working tonight.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Come visit my neighborhood


Lily B. Clayton Elementary School
across the street from my house
Picture by Polly Hooper
Several years ago, my younger son who lives in a big house in a suburb north of Dallas, said to me, “I want to live in a neighborhood like you do.” I do live in a neighborhood, with all that implies, the kind Mr. Rogers meant when he asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” The houses are old (mine was built in 1922) and probably the red brick bungalow dominates, but we have two-story houses and even a McMansion or two with zero lot line (working to stop that trend); our houses also come in tan brick, stucco, painted brick, some with arched windows and vaulted ceilings, others with tall ceilings and crown molding.. But they all have charm. We always hope add-ons will be done tastefully to fit in with the décor; similarly, we hope each home owner will maintain his or her property to the level of the neighborhood.

From my front porch
Tall trees arch over our streets, forming a canopy that seems to shelter us. When I sit on my front porch, I can block out traffic and pretend I’m in a tree house, surrounded by oaks, crape myrtle, pecan, the great elm in front of my house (which is very old and worries me every time we have a storm). And I can listen to a railroad train a couple of blocks away—many would complain about that but I love trains and find the sound comforting.

We have an active, even pro-active neighborhood association with monthly meetings and a monthly neighborhood newsletter. Recently a national chain has started producing a slick magazine for the neighborhood, but I’m prejudiced—I like our traditional newsletter (maybe because I’m about to become editor). Our neighborhood association deals with the issues of buildings that don’t fit into the neighborhood “style,” from an office complex on the edge of the neighborhood to contemporary houses built in the middle, or the narrowing of the main road that runs through the neighborhood, a commuter route for many in our city, and the zoo, which is on the edge of our neighborhood. It sponsors everything from Easter parades and ice cream socials to Christmas gift baskets for shut-ins and the elderly. We also have a busy email list where people post about lost dogs and cats and stray dogs seen wandering. Neighbors looking after neighbors.

I live across the street from an elementary school, the building so old and beautiful that it’s on one or the other register of historic places, with its art deco touches and a goldfish pond in one of the basement kindergarten rooms. That school anchors the neighborhood and is the focus for many activities. I am lucky that grandson Jacob goes to school there. Every day I walk across the street to get him, and we spend our afternoons together doing homework.

My house in the snow
Photo by Susan Halbower
It’s the kind of neighborhood where a small group gathers each Tuesday night at the local café for supper. I love it for the camaraderie and because Tuesday night is meatloaf night.  A few years ago, when we had a heavy, wet snow, my neighbor across the street sent her teenage son to shovel my walk. When I tried to pay him, he said, “Oh, no, thank you. This is what neighbors do for each other.”

Last night my grandson and his playmates “discovered” a hole in my fence where my dog could escape. One of the little boys’ fathers came promptly to fix it, saying the boys hadn’t just discovered the hole—they made it and then tried to block it when they (probably Jacob) realized that Sophie might get away.

So, thank you Berkeley and Margaret Johnson and son Atticus and Jason Brown who mended the fence and Mary Dulle who encouraged me to go to dinner (and made me newsletter editor) and the Barrs and the Harrals and Lyn and others who join us on Tuesday night. And thank you to Jay and Susan, Greg and Jaimie, terrific neighbors who kind of watch after me. I can’t think of a better place to live.

My Kelly O’Connell Mysteries are set in a neighborhood, but it is not Berkeley—it’s Fairmount, which is just adjacent to us. But in writing of that neighborhood and the community spirit, I very much had Berkeley in mind. The houses in Fairmount are a bit older, with lots of Craftsman homes, and the streets are wonderful and wide, like they used to make them. But Fairmount and Berkeley share many characteristics.

Nope, I don’t want to live in a development or a high-rise or a condo in assisted living. When people ask if I’m considering selling, I say, “No. Not until my kids make me.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hello, world! I'm back


This is my whine: I’ve had walking pneumonia for two weeks, the antibiotics were making me sick, and it hurt to walk because of the fall on my knee. The weather was gloomy, cold and rainy, which didn’t help at all. Yesterday was a low point in my existence.

This is the cheerful part: I woke about three in the morning and thought, “I feel better.” And this morning I felt almost like myself. The sick feeling is almost gone, though I was cautious about eating all day and I still took a long nap, my knee is better if not healed, and I’m not coughing much. The sun is bright and the day much warmer. By the weekend we’ll be in the 80s and we can all begin to moan and groan about summer.

When you’re miserably sick, you can’t imagine ever feeling better. When it’s gloomy and rainy, you can’t imagine it being bright and sunny. And when things do change, it’s sort of like seeing the world with brand new eyes. It makes you appreciative and grateful.

I’m tired of being home, cancelling lunches and dinners with friends. I want to get out in the world and pick up the normal threads of my life. Starting with the grocery store tomorrow.

I have been reading a novel just for the heck of it—something I don’t often find time to do—and I’ve come to a conclusion: I do NOT like rhetorical questions in a cozy mystery. One is too many; lots are lots too many. Shhh—I’ll never tell what I’m reading.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A fall, a good big brother, and a treatment

In this family photo from last year, my brother is in the middle of the back row,
with a gimme cap. I thought I had a photo of the two of us but can't find it.
Osteopathic medicine runs in my family. When my brother and I were young, we could count 18 osteopathic physicians in the family, including uncles, cousins, his father (who died young) and mine. John become a D.O., as did his son and one of my nieces from New York. Today's generation proudly carries on the tradition.
John and I have swapped stories from our childhood. He said if he was sick in bed, he'd hear Dad coming up the stairs and think, "If I pretend to be asleep, he won't treat me." It never worked. I used to scream, wiggle, and protest, Dad would say, "People pay me good money to do this."
John came to treat me for my walking pneumonia today, and I conveniently managed to fall and badly bruise a knee last night, so he treated me for both. And both feel better tonight. John's treatments are nothing like Dad's--Dad was old school, crack and pop. He had hands like a giant from all his years of using them. John's treatment today focused mainly on my head and neck though he pumped my chest and told me to cough. His touch is gentle, and you don't realize he's doing anything, but his eyes are closed and he's concentrating. I can sure tell he loosened my sinuses.
The nicest part about it was that we had a good visit while my sister-in-law kept an appointment. My brother lives maybe an hour and a quarter away, and we talk on the phone frequently but we only see each other on family occasions, so this was a bonus. Of course tonight I can think of a dozen things I didn't tell him. All my life, I've known I was grateful to have a protective big brother--and to be born into an osteopathic family.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Politics, Politicians, and Pollyanna

My son Jamie shared a couple of You-Tube videos from the show "Newsroom" with me this morning, and we got into an interesting discussion of what's broken in America. Conclusion? The system. One clip showed a young girl asking why America is the greatest country in the world. The show star's long answer boiled down to "It's not the greatest country in the world, but it was and it could be again."
Set me thinking about politicians today. I guess I'm Pollyanna, but in an ideal world I think they would run for office because they wanted to be public servants. Therefore, they would put the public good ahead of their own success (that's sort of what I think physicians should do too, and I think maybe since the day of doctors earning big bucks seems to be passing, that sort of change is happening in medicine). But back to politics--let me use Texas Senator John Cornyn as an example, though I know it happens on both sides of the aisle (I may be Pollyanna, but I'm not that stupid!). Cornyn seemed a reasonable fellow when he was in office in Texas, but when he got to Congress, he lost any individual opinion, always voting the party line. Recently I read that he's moving closer to the extreme right wing because he's worried about his re-election. Therein lies my problem--the only reason I can see for becoming more conservative is that you really embrace those core beliefs. If you don't believe it, how can you say it?
I was also horrified to read that Speaker John Boehner publicly said he rejected the President's latest budget without reading it. To me that speaks of a deep bias against the President and not at all of a willingness to work together, to compromise for the sake of the common good--and all those people who are hurting because of the sequester.
I know a few politicians, past and present, who I think really had or have the public good in mind. Senator Ted Kennedy was one; Texas Representative Lon Burnam is another, though Lord knows he faces an uphill battle in the Texas House. I like to think U.S. Representative Marc Veasey is another, but I only know about him through my daughter and her husband. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel seems to be another. Can't make my mind up about Ron Paul--he had some good ideas but a lot that were pretty wild.
Jamie and I came to no conclusions because there is no simple fix. Term limits sound reasonable, to me, because they would keep legislators from getting too entrenched, but Jamie pointed out you'd have too many people who don't know what they're doing. We have one example of an out-of-control freshman legislator from Texas who may prove his point.
Maybe, as Medicare and Obama care have done with physicians, we should stop rewarding legislators so handsomely and making it so expensive to run that only the wealthy can afford to try. As we careen toward an oligarchy, maybe we should think about that.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Trivia from a mostly good day

Having my friend Elizabeth in the guest house is having unexpected benefits. In the twenty years I've lived in this house, my back yard has been a dog wasteland--with at one time three large dogs. Now I'm down to one fairly well behaved dog--she did drag a fern across the yard, not knowing what she had. But with Jordan's help, we've added  table and chairs, and Elizabeth has put out pots of flowers, handing ornamentation, and statues. This afternoon Jordan, Elizabeth, Jacob, and I had a happy hour out there--lovely day, perfect temperature, the sun a welcome relief after our cold, rainy days. It was a fine moment, and I just sat there and enjoyed it.
This morning I ventured out to the grocery, after having not been out of the house for three days. I always think my fears are worse than others, but Elizabeth said to me, "It's like you're on Mars, isn't it?" I did feel weird, and my confidence in my walking, always shaky, was at low ebb. I laughed at the post office, because when I got out of the car I took two hesitant small steps, using my cane, and then hit my stride, tucked the cane under my arm and walked confidently away. I know there was a woman watching me and I suspect she was greatly puzzled. But the trip to the post office and grocery wore me out--so tired when I came home. And couldn't nap, because I kept coughing.
At three I was out to pick up Jacob, and it was like the world was back to normal. After I gave him a snack, he went out and helped Elizabeth build a brick step outside her door--when it rains a deep puddle forms there, so now she can step inside without wet feet. I wait daily to see what new improvements she'll bring. Greg, who mows, thinks it's all a pain, but he's cheerful about it.
I've learned a Facebook lesson again that I've learned over and over--check before posting. Today I managed to post a picture of a man who was said to visit dog shelters looking for dogs he could use as bait--false; then I posted instructions for what to do if you have a heart attack--and was told they were not only wrong, they could be dangerous (I plan to ask the doctor about that). Then I shared a prayer for a certain Marine battalion under heavy fire in Afghanistan--only to learn that they've been home for two years. (I wondered why this hadn't been on the news.) I can hear my son-in-law shouting, "Snopes, Jude, snopes!" I promise to be more careful. Apparently I've also fallen for hoaxes of sick and dying children. Too soft a heart--but it's scary to think all this misinformation is out there on the web.
Now I'm off to fix something my mom always gave me when I was sick--stewed tomatoes with butter and crumbled crackers. Yum! Perfect comfort food for one who hasn't had an appetite. But, yay, I've lost several lbs. I know, I know--it will come back.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Is the sky falling?

Watching the evening news these days is a grim experience: a petty dictator in North Korea is stamping his foot and threatening nuclear attack; people die daily by the dozens in the Middle East; severe weather problems beset the entire globe; famine in Africa makes us weep for those who die of malnutrition; here at home, a partisan Congress is stalled on budget, gun control, the right to marry--major issues for many of us. The sequester has taken much-needed jobs from people and essential aid from the medically underserved and poverty stricken. It occurs to me as I worry that our grandparents and their parents probably thought the world was falling apart a hundred years ago--and it didn't so far.
Most of us feel powerless in the face of the enormity of the world's problems. I know I do. I have great admitation for people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who do enormous charitable work throughout the world. I have chosen a few causes to support in my own small way--that means a small check occasionally.
Each of us has to choose what we can do, especially with limited resources. I've chosen to help lost or stray dogs and those about to be euthanized by posting about them on Facebook and sharing posts from others. It's a discouraging effort without much feedback, but there is a network of people who do this, many more active than I am. I do know of a few dogs who have happy homes because of my effort. If I could, I would bring so many of them home, but Sophie and I are settled in a comfortable routine--I'm afraid she shines as the only dog.
One friend asked why I devote so much time and effort to animals when there are so many hungry and homeless children. My answer is twofold: beyond food drives at my church or the food bank, I can do little to dent the problems of hungry children, either here at home or throughout the world, but I can make a difference for dogs. And we humans are responsible for those animals--we have bred them, let them reproduce, and they too have feelings and fears. Too many of us have been irresponsible pet owners. Maybe I can make a tiny bit of amends.
 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Housebound

I could get into this business of being sick--or semi-sick. As I wrote that, I realized that there are so many who are desperately ill that my light-hearted approach will seem heartless and, believe me, I don't mean it that way. But a today at home has been lovely. Walking pneumonia gave me all kinds of excuses for not doing things I didn't want to, like going out in a chilly rain. And it let me throw work to the winds and spend the morning leafing through my appalling collection of recipes, though that was kind of strange since I have no appetite. Still, several events loom on my culinary horizon and I was able to start picking possible recipes. This Sunday, I'll cook for Elizabeth and a friend--she has requested chili, and until today I'd have said the weather is too hot. But chili would be so good right now. She's brought gluten-free cornbread mix, and we'll have salad and guacamole with chips.
In mid-April, special friends are coming--the girl I grew up next door to and haven't seen in fifty years, with her husband, and we'll be joined for lunch by mutual friends from here in town. I want it to be a really special lunch, not overwhelming, light and spring-like, just the right dish. I'm working on it.
And then a few nights later, I'll cook the entree for a welcome-new-neighbor dinner for about twelve--vacillating between crockpot barbecue, chicken tetrazini, and a couple of other choices. I love going through recipes. One file I searched today is my "Entrees Never Tried" and as I went through I was heartless about discarding things I'd never cook. Reduced the file a great deal, a good thing since it was growing out of bounds. Too easy to snip something from a magazine and slide it in there. I have to think through whether or not I'd really cook that...and for who? (whom?)
Then there was napping, some sorting of papers on my desk, writing two guest blogs...oh, yes, I kept busy, didn't malinger in bed all day, though I did have a good nap. My biggest problem is that when I lie down, I start to cough. With 7-UP, cough drops, and some liquid that is supposed to help me sleep, it still takes a while. But, thank heaven, when I sleep, I do it soundly.
Tonight I made ham salad--so much ham left over--and ate a bit of leftover potato salad and fruit salad. They're both almost gone. Another good aspect to this: I've lost five pounds. But that, I know, will come back quickly.
And by tomorrow, I'll be ready to get back to the world. It's supposed to continue raining...oh, well.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Waltzing Mathilda...no, that's not right

Walking Pneumonia, not Waltzing Mathilda--that's what I have. An insult to me, who claims to never get sick. My mom had a philosophy: if you woke up not feeling well, you just got up and went about your day and pretty soon you felt a lot better. I applied that to my kids so much that one friend complained that they had to have a 105 fever before I let them stay home from school. But they are healthy people today! I remember once when Jamie was six or seven and given to dizzy spells that no one could diagnose, he told me he was too dizzy to get out of bed. "Nonsense," I said as I hauled him to his feet. "See? You're just fine." Then I let go and he crumped in a pile on the floor.
Well that's sort of what happened to me. For six days I kept telling myself this deep cough would get better; indeed I was improving. But this morning at five after a sleepless night I suddenly decided that was hogwash and it was time for the doctor to confirm my own diagnosis: walking pneumonia. I blustered through a long morning in the doctor's office, an x-ray clinic and finally a pharmacy, but I could feel I was losing it. I left the prescriptions at a pharmacy by Jordan's office so she could easily pick them up and went home to bed.
Jordan did pick up the medicine, 7-Up, cough drops, soup, saltines, etc. and came and tucked me in. Then she got Jacob from school, which I had until noon been prepared to do and discovered I had no more stamina for that than for running around the block. She takes good care of me, and I am most grateful.
Coming home at noon was a changing moment: I went from carrying on for the world to being sick and treating myself like an invalid, which I guess I'll do for the next couple of days. Slept all afternoon, got up for a couple of hours, and crept back to bed. Now I've been up an hour and a half, and I'm about to go back to bed, armed with cough drops, 7-Up, and a syrup that is supposed to help me sleep.
In a way, it's kind of nice. I can do this in-and-out-of-bed thing for a couple of days--reading, writing, sleeping. And yet I've ignored all the work that's piled on my desk in favor of reading a mystery. Tomorrow I may do a little menu planning--though I'm not much interested in food right now, and I may get back to the book I was almost finished editing and the guest blog I need to write.
Maybe there's something to giving in and occasionally admitting that you really don't feel well--as long as it doesn't become a habit.