Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New friends

It's always a good day when you make new friends, and I had that joy today. The story goes back a bit--I signed up for an online course on the history of the Scottish clans. Very excited about it, but the material was so detailed and dense I didn't have time to do more than read each lecture once. As for the exercises where we post bits from out novels in progress set in Scotland--I was really out of it. I don't have one, except floating in the back of my mind. So I wrote the instructor to say I was enjoying the lessons and explain why I wasn't more responsive. An exchange of emails followed, and I found out she lives in far north Fort Worth. So I suggested if she ever came to town we meet for lunch. Turns out she had a doctor appointment very near me for today, so I invited her and her husband for lunch, said I make killer tuna salad. She wrote back saying he wondered if I could make killer chicken salad--so I did. Chicken salad with a touch of curry topped with grated cheese and crushed potato chips that you run under the broiler just long enough to brown (recipe elsewhere--don't do this unless it's a refrigerator-to-oven dish). Sides were asparagus, fruit salad, and rolls. I liked it and they seemed enthusiastic.
We talked about Scotland, of course, though Cindy Vallar is also an expert on pirates and is making herself one on dragons. Her research is incredibly detailed and thorough. They brought scrapbooks of photos and souvenirs of their three trips to Scotland but I was able to hold my own in most of the conversation from my one trip. I could not think of one castle ruins that so intrigued me--the Scots blew it up rather than let their enemies captures it. Finally found tonight it was Urquhart on the banks of Loch Ness. Anyway, it was all fun, I enjoyed the talk and found them delightful people.
Topped off my day with dinner with two good friends at a restaurant new to me--Bird, downtown. They were both a bit alarmed that I ordered bone marrow--one horrified, one clinically inquisitive. I enjoyed it, along with some deviled eggs. A nice day and night.
Other big news looming in my family but it's all still in flux and will have to wait.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The church battles and tornadoes

Sunday morning Jacob ate his breakfast--always chocolate chip waffles at my house--and then plunked himself on the couch with the iPad, deliberately ignoring me. I came into the living room at 10:15, fully dressed for church, and announced that I'd put his toothbrush and mouthwash out and it was time to get ready for church.
Jacob (absolutely incredulous): We're going to church? (He looked out the window as though the Lord maybe had sent one of the thunderstorms promised for this weekend, but the Lord had not cooperated.)
Me: Yes.
So he took care of his oral hygiene and came back to my office.
Jacob: Juju, my stomach really hurts.
Me: Jacob, your stomach hurts every Sunday morning just before church. Get dressed.
Jacob: I didn't say that just so I wouldn't have to go to church. I just wanted you to know.
Me: I'm really sorry your stomach hurts.
I never heard another word about his stomach. We went to church, and there were baptisms (my church dunks). He likes to watch that, and I figure it's good preparation for him. All else went well--he bows his head in prayer, and he recites the Lord's prayer. I was glad we went, and I hope he was too. We're going next week too.
On the way home:
Jacob: I'm not afraid of tornadoes any more.
Me, thinking a little healthy fear was good: Where would we go if there was one?
Jacob: Your closet or the bathroom.
Me: Who would be there?
Jacob: You and me.
Me: What about Sophie?
Jacob: Oh, yeah, we'd take her. Unless of course she was already dead.
I did not explore any more.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Tonight is a night of waiting, anticipation. There are apparently huge storms to the west of us and news reports vary widely--we might get a few drops of rain; on the other hand, we might get one of Texas' spring storms, which can be strong and scary. Jacob is to be here tonight, and he's terrified of storms. So I have my comforting talk all ready.
But that's my other anticipation. He went to a birthday party in my neighborhood at four--for one of his best friends, Collin. Collin's mom said she'd call me about 6:30 so I could pick him up. It's almost 8:30 and he's not home yet. I called about seven and left a message; called again at seven-fifteen and said I was headed that way--she mentioned something about bring him home, and I didn't want to grab him away. So I ate supper on the front porch, had a glass of wine, and sat out there a long time reading. There is an occasional breeze that might hint of a storm to come but no serious green sky or anything.
We sit on the deck so much I forget how lovely the front porch is--trees lush and green all around, traffic slow at this time of the night. A neighbor out playing with his toddler son, who used to wave at me but now has become shy. I half read half looked at the trees and enjoyed the breeze.
Jacob  is now home, full of himself, telling me how things are going to be done. Comforting talk be darned. I had to remind him, rather firmly, that I am the boss and he is taking a shower at nine o'clock. He smells of a swimming pool, but he had a wonderful evening. Lots more fun than staying home with his grandmother.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Please pardon my politics--but not my compassion

Tonight I was browsing Facebook and came across a picture taken in the Oval Office. A little girl in a frilly dress, barely walking but clutching the edge of the desk and with a pacifier in her mouth, is looking at the president who is bent down in his chair holding a hand out to her. A gentle, compassionate gesture and yet someone commented, "He is a genuine fake." A few posts later something called the Grudge (with good cause) posted what a cause for celebration Obama's last day in office will be.
Folks, I am genuinely tired of this irrational hate of the President as a human being. Disagree with his policies and his decisions if you can do so in a rational manner, supporting what you say with facts, research, statistics. Please spare all of us the blind hatred.  I can think of nothing the President or the First Lady have done to merit such anger. In fact, I think they seem like pretty nice people that I'd like to live next door to (their house is in the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up). I don't know enough about international diplomacy to make definitive judgments on his policies. I know a little about health care and think, the ACA is a good step toward needed health care reform--it's not the final word, but it's a bug step in the right direction. Studies seem to prove that. Most of Obama's other policies--voting rights for all, equal pay, etc.--seem aimed at closing the gap between most of us and the one percent (while such policies as Paul Ryan's proposed budget would make that gap a great gulf). It baffles me that people on the lower edge of the middle class are so angry at the president--they're the ones he's trying to protect. Regardless, I think you have to separate political person and human being, and it's disrespectful to slander, rant and otherwise curse the man who was twice elected to run our country.
I really didn't like the policies of George W. Bush, and I was pretty vocal about it. But I don't think he's a bad person. I do think he was given bad counsel (because he chose poor counselors) and made bad decisions. But he seems to be a nice guy who likes the outdoors, likes to paint, loves his family, and is a proud grandpa. Besides, he's keeping out of politics these days which speaks well for him--except promoting immigration reform which is needed. But I never heard people rant about him as a person, much as they decried his wars and tax cuts and other bad decisions. I believe we're still seeing the negatives of his legacy in the Supreme Court--but that's political, not personal. He has every right to be a conservative and to make such appointments--I just wish he hadn't.
When hatred of Obama comes up, some are quick to deny race has anything to do with it. Methinks they doth protest too much. I can't believe race has nothing to do with it because the hatred is so irrational, so much deeper than that bestowed on other presidents (even President Clinton during his impeachment trial). I think it's a sad commentary on our country.
What I think is great is that the Obama family, as a unit, seems to go about life without acknowledging it or letter it bother them.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What can I do? What can you do?

Somehow I keep wanting to make today Friday, and I think maybe it's because it has been a discouraging week. Karl Rove raised a ton of money to defeat liberals, the Supreme Court shot down affirmative action, Paul Ryan proposes a budget that will obliterate the middle class, and authors are suing book reviewers for negative reviews. Why is there such acrimony in our country? I posted earlier that the two rival factions in Palestinian government had come together to form a unity government. A friend suggested pressure from Israel forced that move, and she was right. Somewhere I read an article that said a fairly credible analysis claimed that the U.S. is no longer a democracy--it's an oligarchy, a country ruled by the wealthy. Well, if corporations are people and the courts keep ruling in favor of them, that's probably already true or soon will be.
Today I read an article about the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in which the Colorado National Guard fired on a tent camp of striking miners and their families, killing some two dozen, including many women and children. It seems the miners were fighting for the same rights and working conditions that are being rolled back today.
It's not only people--there is a move afoot to allow ranchers, etc., to hunt wolves to extinction. Do these people not know the laws of nature and how important each link in the chain is to the world? Perhaps the wolf will be like the buffalo--when we kill almost all of them (except maybe those in zoos), then we'll frantically be trying to bring them back as a species. It seems to me that so many people don't see beyond the present moment and their comfort and  pocketbooks. I can't believe that ranchers can't find a way to protect their herds from wolves, but as my brother told me about feral hogs--maybe I don't understand the proportion of the problem. (I have no problem with killing feral hogs and I think they're far from being endangered--people may be in more danger from them.)
It seems strange to me that in the midst of all this chaos, for that's what it must be called, most of us go peacefully on with our daily lives. Sure, my grocery and gas bills grow at a rate faster than my income, and I'm tightening my belt a little. But I still live the good life of the middle class--entertaining when I want to, eating in restaurants when the fancy strikes me, getting good medical care. I may skimp on clothes a bit but I can always buy that new pair of pants or shoes when I really want.
Sometimes I feel I should be giving more to charity, and I do give frequently to a few causes--my church, animal protection groups, Democratic candidates--but I am besieged with so many requests, that it boggles my mind.
Which leaves me with that eternal question--beyond voting, what can I, a retired woman on a fixed income, do to help save the world? Sometimes I feel helpless, but other times I think of people who have made a difference single-handedly, through persistence, and I think I'm a wimp. Guilt is not a good feeling.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Get off your duff!

I started out the day in an absolutely fruitless dilemma, debating about the many things I had to do and which should be done first. Seriously, that dilemma went round and round in my mind while I checked email, ate breakfast, read the paper and read Facebook. Then all of the sudden, I got up, decided to tackle one thing at a time, and I had a great burst of energy and well-bring. Everything I did went well (even yoga) and before lunch I had accomplished all the chores I'd allocated to this morning. Lesson learned: get off your duff and get to work. Some of it was housework, some of it was writing related--but the important thing is I got it done. And I felt so much better about myself and the world. I tried to explain this to that lump of a dog--you know, the one who was full of energy at four in the morning but absolutely tapped out in the chair in my office by ten. She was unimpressed until I finally decided, close to eleven that it was time for her to go out, whether she wanted to or not.
So tonight I'll write my thousand words--daily requirement. And I got the evening off to a good start by fixing tuna pasties--I had a tube of biscuits left from Easter, pulled them into bigger sizes, added tuna mixture, and baked. So good! Watch for the recipe one Sunday soon on Potluck with Judy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A new look

Please admire my new look on the blog. Seven or so years ago, when I started a blog, I knew nothing about it. In fact, when daughter-in-law Melanie suggested it, I protested I had nothing to write about--at that time my writing career was sort of on hold, though I was experimenting with mysteries. But publication in the mystery genre was still several years away. "Sure you do," Mel said. "You can write about writing and cooking and grandchildren, and call it Judy's Stew.' I stuck my toe in the water and liked it, but I give all credit to Mel. But at the time I knew no better than to use one of the standard templates offered by Blogger. When I asked two designer friends to redesign my blog, they threw their hands up in the air. So my deepest thanks for the new look go to Becca Allen, of the TCU Press staff, who took it on as a free-lance project. She did a great job!
Over the years the blog has sort of evolved. The cooking part branched off and is now in my once-a-week food blog, "Potluck with Judy." That's in large part due to Elizabeth who kept urging me on--a friend for over twenty years, she lived in my guest house for a year and knows how important cooking and food are to me.
"Judy's Stew" became more and more a personal blog, especially since I have an author page on Facebook. My audience is, I hope, readers more than writers, so I write very little about writing technique, marketing, all the ins and outs of being a professional writer. I want readers to know who I am as a person.
I write about whatever strikes me at the moment, and I don't shy away from topics that are verboten on most blogs, primarily politics and, to a lesser extent, religion. To the chagrin of some of my family, most blog readers know I'm a confirmed liberal, and I'm proud of my committed membership in Fort Worth's University Christian Church (the family is not embarrassed by that).
Everyone knows I raised four children, mostly as a single parent, and have seven grandchildren who are of course the most beautiful and smartest in the universe. The new banner on the blog shows all my family along with my brother's extended family We're a happy and noisy crew when we get together.
My dog, Sophie, a cross of border collie and poodle, appears in my blog fairly often. She's a great companion, loving, affectionate, and full of mischief when she gets excited.
And yes, I spend my days writing and doing writing-related work. Of course then there are my duties as editor of the neighborhood newsletter, welcomer of new visitors to the church, homework coach for the second-grade grandchild who goes to school across the street from my house. And entertaining and going out with friends. Those are the things I write about, and I hope the new look reflects the essentials of my life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

That last chapter

This seems kind of a BSP post (blatant self promotion) but I don’t mean it that way. I just finished proofing (again, for the umpteenth time!) a novel I plan to self-publish in October. As I proofed I dreaded getting to the last chapter. There is, I hope, sufficient tension all the way through the novel, but I know in advance that the last scene is scary, the main character nearly meets her maker, and it makes my teeth on edge. Even though I wrote it, and even though I know the ending. I wonder if other writers feel that way.

I have a short story, “The Art of Dipping Candles,” that has been reprinted many times, and I’ve been called on to read it publicly several times. Same thing: when I get to the end, it makes me cry. I can’t help it—it’s just so damn sad.

Beyond that I’ve had lessons in computer difficulty today. I could not download a mobi file from an email and save it, no matter what I did. Then it turned out I’d been downloading it all the time. I even dug out my generation one Kindle, found the cords, charged it and prepared to try to connect Kindle to  computer—though I had no idea what to do next. Fortunately that little dilemma was solved.

Then I thought I’d begin reading about how to download files to Create Space—not actually doing it, mind you, but just reading about the process. I soon found I’d already listed the book and found myself loading text, trying to load ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which Create Space rejected. I had purchased it from R. R. Bowker, so will have to call one or the other about what to do. Then I tried to upload the cover—I only had a jpeg and they wanted a pdf. A friend converted it for me. I knew this was going to be a long, slow process, so I feel good about even having a start. I want to have ARCs by June.

And I wrote 1150 words on the new Kelly novel tonight. So watch my dust—I’m on a roll! And come October, watch for The Perfect Coed from Alter Ego Publishing (no snickers, please—that was once on my rural mailbox). It’s both an adventure and an experiment for me. Come along for the ride.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A day of anticipation

I like Easter Saturday. There’s so much anticipation in that day sandwiched between the grief of Good Friday and the joy of Easter.

For kids, it’s anticipation of Easter egg hunts and treats and…oh, yeah. And church. Jacob went to bed last night wishing that it was already Saturday because then Easter would be the next day and the Easter bunny would come. He did have a good discussion with neighbor Jay about the meaning of Good Friday and Easter. To my surprise, Jay taught Sunday school more than once, and he did a good job of explaining what Christians see as the love of God in sacrificing his son and the reassurance of the resurrection. Jacob took it all in seriously, and he replied intelligently, though by today he was a bit foggy on the details. He’ll be at sunrise service with the rest of us, but I know a big part of his mind will be on the egg hunt. Actually he’ll have two egg hunts, but that’s another story.

For many of us as adults, it’s a day of preparation which heightens the anticipation. Jordan says it’s like Christmas Eve—so much to do, so little time. I know it’s been a cooking day for me—German potato salad for a family gathering tomorrow; sloppy Joe for a working dinner tonight; setting the table for Easter breakfast. Jordan prepared for the Easter bunny, straightened what she thought needed straightening about my house including the bathroom, laid out things for the morning I hadn’t gotten to yet. And then she went home to do the same at her house.

I’ve written about the relationship between food and mysteries but it occurs to me you could do a great article on food and Christianity, from the feeding of the multitudes (Jacob was retelling the story tonight and said Jesus’ mother told him there wasn’t enough wine and to hurry up and make more) right up to today when so many of our holidays center around meals and traditional foods. Turkey at Christmas, ham or lamb for Easter…and in my family, a big breakfast on each of those days.

Tomorrow I’ll host breakfast for between seven and nine adults and two children right after the early service. We’ll have breakfast parfaits (strawberries. yogurt, granola), an egg casserole, link sausages and biscuits or hot cross buns. I love the buns, buy them every year, and I think I’m the only one who eats them.

Tonight Jordan made the egg casserole (I really don’t believe in doing it the night before but she told me “that’s how we young people roll, Mom”—I bit my tongue on several counts) and I finished setting the table. So the sloppy Joe sustained us during this activity. Morning will be hectic with the two young ones hunting eggs and Jordan and me getting breakfast on the table.

A break in the middle of the day—for me, a nap. Then it’s off to Jordan’s for mid-afternoon dinner of ham, beans, potato salad with Christian’s family. Preceded of course by an egg hunt for Jacob and his two cousins.

In the midst of it all, I will try hard to keep in mind that miracle that draws us together, the mystery of the stone rolled away, the glory of the risen Christ. A feeling of awe and grace came over me last year at the sunrise service—it’s magic to go in the dark and, sitting in the garden, watch the sky go from gray to pink to daylight. I’m filled with anticipation of the good news.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Is this what happens in old age?

I had a full calendar today--a haircut appointment, a dermatologist appointment followed by lunch with a friend, a play date for Jacob at our house and happy hour with the neighbors. The only one of those things that worked out as planned was the happy hour.
Went to my haircut, waited half an hour for Rosa, thinking maybe I'd gotten the time wrong. Finally got her on the phone--my appointment was a week ago today. No wonder my hair seems extraordinarily long--now I have to live with it until Tuesday morning. No special Easter "do" for me.
The dermatologist actually worked out more easily--I saw the appointment on my calendar twice, called  and found out it is for a week from Monday. And the friend I was having lunch with cancelled because she's having a busy week. But getting all those things wrong on my calendar shook my self-confidence.
Anyway then I was free to join good friends Phil and Subie who were lunching with Bob Compton, who we all know from his days as Dallas Morning New Book Editor. We ate on the patio at Nonna Tata--okay, it's a graveled covered area, but it was outdoors on a gorgeous day. Had my favorite thing--braseola (the beef version of prosciutto) covered with sliced grana cheese and a light lemon dressing with a side of wonderful potato salad--the no-mayo kind.
After school, a good friend came home with Jacob--the friend's grandfather always accompanies him, and we have great visits while the boys play. But today, I soon had four boys playing football in the front yard and two moms on the porch. One mom took her son home, and the other mom took all three boys to her house--bless her! The grandfather and I had a nice long visit, and then I had a quiet afternoon and got lots done. Jacob went from the first boy's house to that of the original play date; then the grandfather took them all to the schoolyard to play. It was after six-thirty when Jacob came in, sweaty and exhausted.
Meantime I was having wine and southwestern tuna on the deck with my neighbors. Lovely evening, good company, good food.
Struck me again how lucky I am to have friends of all ages--from the grandfather I visited with after school (his kids are twenty years younger than mine so he's much younger than me) to my neighbors in their fifties to the mothers of Jacob's school friends who are younger than Jordan. Variety truly is the spice of life--and I like my spicy life.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Play dates

My kids never had play dates, but I don't think I was a neglectful mother. We'd just never heard of the concept back in the seventies. Besides, with four kids, they had plenty of action at home. I remember once when the mother of an only child called me and wanted to know if Megan was available to play a week from Thursday. I nearly exploded! How in the blue blazes did I know what Megan would be doing that far away, but I assumed she'd be playing with her brothers and sisters. (That's another thing--I don't remember elementary school having so much homework; Jacob and I spend much of the afternoon doing homework--either I've forgotten or I really didn't do that much with my children.)
At any rate, we had a play date around here yesterday. My friend Jeannie brought Mabel, a two-plus-year old cockapoo to play with Sophie, my almost three-year-old bordoodle.
Mabel is staying with Jeannie, and I do believe she thinks she's died and gone to heaven. All she wants is to sit on a lap and be loved--but she would prefer it to be Jeannie's lap. We thought a play date between the two would be perfect.
It was and wasn't. Sophie thinks all comers, be they dog or human, love her and have arrived for her delight. Mabel hasn't been around that many other dogs or people, so she's hesitant and protective with a tendency to be belligerent. If Sophie came too close to Jeannie, Mabel took out after her. Sophie, who can run faster, simply circled the yard, thinking it all a good game. Sometimes they'd calm down and sniff each other, but there was never any real play.
While we ate lunch, we'd find them lying together under the table but then something would set one off and they'd be at it again. We had fun, but we're not sure about the dogs. I guess though it's like children--you have to give it more than one try.
It's a little hard to see Sophie in the shade, but she's there. I never realized before Sophie how hard it is to photograph a black dog.
So this is what my retirement has come to--second-grade homework and play dates for dogs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Still Plays with Trains

The tee shirt that my breakfast companion wore said, “Still Plays with Trains.” It reminded me of my father, gone now a year and a half, who was a lifelong lover of trains. Shortly before his death he turned in to his editor his last book, this one about the Rochester Division of the Erie Railroad. It was from him that I learned to enjoy rail transport.
Growing up, I shared my basement bedroom with Dad’s HO-gauge model railroad setup. Dad shot hours of 16mm film of trains, especially those pulled by steam locomotives. Turns out his early diesel movies were sufficiently popular they were made into videos. I may be the only Boy Scout to have earned most of his hiking merit badge by walking abandoned track in and around Rochester. Dad knew the mileages from any point to another and would drop me off at various points along the lines and I’d walk home.

My first memory of traveling by rail was from the mid-1950s. Actually, my memory is of being told the story as I don’t directly recall it. My parents, my (then) baby sister and I were traveling on a train and ate in the dining car. Back then people dressed up to take the train, and the dining car service was starched white tablecloth, cloth napkins and good silver. For whatever reason my father was at a different table than the rest of us. We finished dinner first and my mother informed me how to use the fingerbowls. ( In a LOUD VOICE I called across the aisle, “Daddy, they’re for washing your fingers. You’re not supposed to drink the water.”
In 1967 on a return trip with my father from Boston to Rochester on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we had to sit on our suitcases in the aisle from Albany to Syracuse where seats finally became available.

When it came to railroads, my father could make friends with anyone. He managed to become acquainted with a Canadian National freight crew because they were still running one of the early diesels on a “milk train” route. He arranged for them to take me along for a day. He dropped me off in Madoc, ON (if I recall correctly) and picked me up in Bancroft, ON that night. I rode in the caboose (they still had them) where I helped check manifests and ate lunch with the crew. They didn’t let me anywhere near the couplings, but I did throw some switches and I rode much of the trip away from towns up in the engine. Everything the crew and I did that day broke the rules, but the crew and my father thought it would be a great experience and to heck with management’s rules.
Whenever I can conjure a reasonable excuse I take train rather than fly. The most recent opportunity came when I decided to participate in Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA as part of the promotion for the April 2014 release of the second Seamus McCree mystery,
Cabin Fever.
We took sleepers from Savannah to Washington, DC to Chicago to Emeryville, CA (outside San Francisco). After attending the conference we trained from LA to New Orleans and detrained at Birmingham where we rented a car and drove home rather than spend two more days going up to Washington, DC and back down to Savannah.

On this trip the most interesting railroad-related conversation was with a guy from the Cincinnati area. He’s the engineer (civil, not train) responsible for a G-gauge (~1/24th actual size), 25,000 sq. foot train set with over two miles of tracks. It has three sections relating respectively to the late 19th century, mid-20th century and modern railroads. There are streetcars as well, realistic buildings constructed by volunteers and an elevation change of eleven feet. I’d never heard of this place and I lived in Cincinnati until four years ago. It’s on my list of things to do the next time I’m in the area.

The finger bowls are gone, as are the silver and fresh flowers on the tables. The scenery is just as spectacular, the people we eat meals with are just as interesting; and there is something that reaches deep into my core as I hear the whistle blow, we approach a crossing and a father holds his child on his shoulders to watch the train pass. The kid waves and I wave back.

I’m thinking of asking for that tee shirt for my birthday, because really, I am just a kid who still plays with trains.


~ Jim

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking wth phyllo

Sorry, no Judy's Stew tonight. I was so late and tired last night I didn't post my Sunday night Potluck with Judy, so it's up tonight. If you want to know what went on in my kitchen this weekend, please see
Thanks. Back tomorrow with another update--assuming something worthwhile happens.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My writing process

Holly Gilliatt, one of my favorite authors, tagged me in a blog hop where we're supposed to write about our writing process and tag four others authors. So far I've only found two willing to participate, and I almost didn't write tonight. It's late, I've been in the kitchen all evening--making a cucumber salad and the filling for spanakopita. The latter is a great adventure for me, because I've never ever worked with phyllo. Tempted many times, but I always shied away. This time I'm going to do it.
First let me tell you about Holly, because she's one of my special people. She writes women's fiction--not romance novels, but novels with a lot of love and sentiment in them. I've been editing those novels, and I'm pretty rough on her about overwrought passages, etc. But the more I read, the more I like her work. She may be a sentimentalist, but she's got a knack for capturing women in their glory and their bitchiness. And she's funny. Much more mod than I am--well, she's almost half my age. But what I consider bad words tumble easily onto her pages, and she's always citing music and musicians I've never heard of. Holly has two books in print--Love in Sight and Til St. Patrick's Day, with a third coming soon. Read them and enjoy. Find Holly at
Now to my writing process. I'm afraid the answers will be brief and not what you expect.
1. What am I working on? The sixth Kelly O'Connell novel. I have 30,000 words on paper and wish to heaven I knew what's going to happen next.
2. How does your work differ from others in the genre? Big disappointment here, folks. I don't think it does much. The parameters, guidelines, whatever for cozies are pretty well set, and I think for eight books I've been following them. So if you like cozies with amateur female sleuths, you should like my Kelly O'Connell and Blue Plate Café mystery series. That is not to say I may not break out of the mold soon but I'm cutting my teeth on what for me is a new genre.
3. Why do you write what you write? Ah, easy! Because I've read cozies all my life and wanted to write mysteries after a career writing about women of the American West. In breaking into a new genre, I followed the conventions. But watch my dust soon!
4. How does your writing process work? My instant answer is "Not well." I have no set schedule. Though retired and single, I have such a busy life that sometimes writing gets shoved to a secondary burner no matter my good intentions. There are grandchildren, exercise, cooking for company, errands and doctors--and not enough hours in the day. If I could write a thousand words a day, I'd be a happy camper. But that doesn't always happen. Neither does my yoga
So there is yes, folks--my rather writing process. Hope it turns out okay.
I'm tagging Michele Drier and Maya Corrigan. Maybe two more volunteers will come forward.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Memories of my mom

My mom would be 114 today, or maybe I should say her soul is 114. As a child I had no trouble remembering her age because I knew it was the same as the year--after she got over that spell of telling me she was fifteen and my father 16. My fondest memories of Mom are of her happy silly moments--and oh, did she have them. Like the time a friend with no relatives came to the house because she needed someone responsible to sign some banking papers for her. It was  breakfast, and my mom was convinced that something really bad would happen if you didn't eat breakfast, so she put toast in for Rose and then wrote, "Alice P. Mac" on the signature line, checked the toast, and came back to write Bread instead of Alice P. MacBain. She told stories of when she and all our uncles were young and in school, and I decided they were sillier and wilder than we would ever be--like the time my aunt lost her husband in a one-room apt. She came out of the bath, couldn't find him, finally heard a soft knocking--opened the door to find him standing there stark naked. He had just stepped out to pull a fuse as a joke to a fellow who was bringing his bride home that night, and the door locked behind him. When Mom told these stories, the tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks.
She was delighted when grandchildren came along, rather late in her life. She'd read them fairy tales, but when it got bloody--as fairy tales can--she substituted, "She hit him." Once, when my two oldest were about one and two, Mom was in the back seat between their car seats. For some reason, they both set up a howl. The louder they howled, the harder my mom laughed. My father drove as if he didn't know any of us. My youngest daughter was her particular favorite because by then my dad had died and Mom had moved close to us. Jordan says to this day she can smell Grandmother's house, and she thinks she could draw the floor plan. We had family dinner at Mom's every Sunday night--a ritual we all enjoyed.
Mom was an incredible cook, and she taught me. She'd let me make a mess in the kitchen, and when someone asked why she did that she answered, "If I don't, she'll never learn to cook." I once made a cake that tasted awful, and she asked how much baking soda I put in it. "Nine tablespoons," I replied. She nearly fainted, but when she looked at the recipe, it was indeed a mistake there, not mine.
Mom's life wasn't all joy and happiness. She had hard times--I think some that I don't know about, but I do know she lived through the Depession as a young adult (and all her life she saved leftovers, bits of string and foil); she lost her first husband to a wound from WWI and she lost her last child, my younger sister, in infancy. Once, after we'd all left Chicago she went back to visit a dear friend. They were walking down Michigan Avenue when the friend dropped dead beside her. My mom had incredible strength, although these and other ordeals left their mark.
We camped every summer in a cabin without running water, plumbing or electricity. Mom cooked as though she were in that remodeled kitchen at home that brought her such pride. She carried more than her share of the packs as we hiked a mile through the woods to get to that cabin--we carried in all food and clothes and other supplies. I can still see Mom hanging clothes on the line to dry, her arms strong and brown from the sun. And she swam until she was in her eighties. I think her nonathletic daughter was a disappointment to her.
In her early 80s Mom's mind began that slippery slope, due to a series of small strokes. She was frightened and cross with my now teenaged children. And that ladylike woman, always known for being a model of decorum, did some outrageous things. I wanted to shake her and say, "Mom, be yourself!" But the woman I had known, loved and tried to emulate, was gone, replaced by a shell.
Today I try to banish those memories and replace them with the good times, the fun we had together, especially in the kitchen and with grandchildren. I often wish she--and my dad--could see how wonderfully those children have grown up and what great children they are raising. And I am sad that my grandchildren don't know my mom.
I love you, Mom, always have, always will.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

How easy it is to be spooked

So much tragedy in the news--always, but it somehow seems worse to me tonight. The stabbing at a Pennsylvania school--you reach out emotionally over the distance to the parents of the wounded, especially the one boy on life support, and to the family of the perpetrator. Grief that I cannot imagine. And the hit-and-run at the California day care center, with one child dead and several injured--as with Newton, how do you send your young child to school one day and then learn that he or she is never coming home again? The ongoing search for Malaysia Flight 370--those families must be numb by now, and yet they need the closure.
I see minor tragedies all around me--ones that don't make the world weep but only those directly involved. They touch my heart as much. I'm known for posting lost, found, and endangered dogs on Facebook. Tonight I read about a woman whose Westie was apparently taken from her driveway. Several other expensive lap dogs were missing in the same Fort Worth neighborhood which points to a thief who probably took them for sale. I know only too well the panic that comes when a dog is missing. I watch Sophie like a hawk because she's convinced there's a great big, wide, welcoming world out there. She knows nothing of cruelty to animals--why would she? She has a coterie of people who love her. And she knows nothing of cars, has no street sense. A dog fight? What's that?
Tonight I got spooked, and I think it's because of that Westie in the context of larger tragedies. Sophie was outside, and I was at my desk when I heard a noise in the driveway behind me. Actually it sounded like drops of water, but I ruled that out since it's not raining. I decided I'd feel better if Sophie were inside--she's quick to bark at both imaginary and real threats, though we have few of the latter.
I went to get her, but she didn't come and I felt a moment's panic. If I'd thought for a second I'd have realized none of the motion-sensitive lights came on, and Sophie rarely comes immediately when I call her. But, with my usual bribe of "Treat!" I slammed the door and went into the kitchen, a technique that usually work. But I was thinking, "What if she doesn't come this time?" (I've been working on a Kelly O'Connell mystery tonight, and Kelly does a lot of "what if" thinking!) Of course, when I went back she was on the deck and ready to come in. I had let my imagination run away with me again--better at nine at night than three in the morning!
But I think we get more easily spooked in a world where tragedy, major and minor, seems to be all around us. I remember when that tsunami hit in December several years ago, a non-believer friend said to me, "I see you so firm in your belief and I think I could join you, but then something like this happens. How can I believe in a God who lets a tsunami kill thousands?" I was at a loss, so I asked a ministerial friend who said, if I remember rightly, "Shit happens." But I think the best answer I got was from another minister who said, "God doesn't prevent tragedy--man-made or natural. But he is there to guide us through it, to wrap us in his love and hold out his hand." I believe that.
And I'm not going to get spooked at three in the morning. Now I have to go let Sophie in again.

And Then There’s Great-Grandkids

Once again, it’s Wednesday and guest day at Judy’s Stew. Please welcome Marilyn Meredith, my guest for the week who took her clue from all my posts about grandchildren. She certainly leaves me behind in that department. F. M. Meredith aka Marilyn Meredith is the author of over 35 published books. She enjoys writing about police officers and their families and how what happens on the job affects the family and vice versa. Having several members of her own family involved in law enforcement, as well as many friends, she’s witnessed some of this first-hand. Tell us about your grands, your greats, and your new book, Marilyn.

After reading Judy’s blog and learning that grandkids are an important part of her life, I thought I’d expound a bit on the greats as I have a slew of them. Obviously I have the grands too—but the youngest is in her twenties now and the oldest has teenage kids.
My eldest great is the same age as the youngest grand. His big interest is martial arts, staying in shape and writing and performing Christian rap.

The youngest lives next door and I see her nearly every day. She’s one and a half and a true delight. So much fun to watch her grow and hear all the new words she learns each day. And since her mom is pregnant, we’ll soon have another baby around.
In between there is one great-grand daughter who loves to make You-tube videos, her sister is into Polynesian dancing, and her brother is great at baseball and basketball. In another family, a great-granddaughter is an expert Irish dancer and her dance team will be performing in London this year. Her brother loves racing in the soap box-derby.

Altogether, I have 18 greats and 13 grands. There is the potential for more as three of my grandsons recently married. (One of these I learned is also expecting this year.)
The big difference with greats is I don’t babysit when they are little. I can’t chase them around. Well, I could, I suppose, but I’d never catch them. It’s up to their grandparents to buy them the presents they want—I’d go broke if I tried.

I rely a lot on Facebook for pictures and news. Fortunately, the majority of them live in California and I do get to see them once in a while.
And to bring this around to writing, my family is proud of the fact that I’m a writer—though only certain ones actually read my books. With one of my granddaughters, at her request, I went to school and gave a talk to every one of her classes, first through eighth grade. Since the kids were the same, I had to come up with new ideas for each presentation.

I’ve spoken to other grandkids’ classes about writing, grammar school and high school. And this winter, I visited a great-grandson’s third grade class and we planned a story together. Great fun!
Of this whole bunch, so far, there is only one who is interested in writing.

And now a bit about my latest book:
Murder in the Worst Degree: The body that washes up on the beach leads Detectives Milligan and Zachary on a murder investigation that includes the victim’s family members, his housekeeper, three long-time friends, and a mystery woman.

Find Marilyn at these sites:

And enter to win a copy of her new book:
Once again I am offering the opportunity to have your name used as a character in a book if you comment on the most blogs during this tour for Murder in the Worst Degree.
Tomorrow you can find her at:


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Some thoughts on a social day

I had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Old Neighborhood Grill today, the small but wonderful restaurant that figures so prominently in my Kelly O'Connell Mysteries.
Breakfast was the monthly meeting of the Book Ladies,, most of us now retired from careers that had something to do with books. We have two authors, me and Carol Nelson Douglas, a former reviewer who has contributed chapters to textbooks, retired librarians, and so on. Sometimes we talk about books--who's reading what, etc.--and sometimes we talk politics. Sometimes, as with most groups of women our age, the talk degenerates into health care but that's rare. Today it turned briefly to the writing careers of Carol and me and how many books we have each written--and then Carol gave us the history of the ebook rights contracts that have tied up profits for so many authors. Trying to be modest about my diet, I had one egg over easy, a thick slice of orange, and half a piece of toast to slop up the yolk.
Lunch with a friend I don't see often enough but we always laugh and have a great time, mostly talking about families and grandchildren. Genie was good enough to help me once with a major injury for a character in one of my books--because she'd had that injury and one of her daughters is a physical therapist. Once again, we were good--all side vegetable dishes.
Tonight was neighbors' night at the Grill, an occasion Jacob rally looks forward to, especially now that friends Subie and Phil Green are back in town and bring Phil's seeing-eye dog, Santiago, to dinner. I'm not sure who Jacob likes best--Phil, Subie, or Santiago. Tonight he went so far as to determine the seating arrangement. I had a slice of meatloaf and some green beans--but I snacked on some of Jacob's fries with ketchup. Surely my diet will forgive.
Came home just in time to meet Jacob's parents and they sat for a glass of wine. So all of a sudden, it was nine o'clock, I hadn't written a word on the novel, and I was too sleepy. But you know the lesson of the day? Enjoy sociability when it comes your way. I can always work. I saw a blurb on today about how loneliness can lead to an early grave, and tonight I thought how fortunate I am to have such an active social life, so many friends. I don't have drop-dead deadlines except those I impose on myself because I'm compulsive, and probably this is the time of life to relish the joy that comes my way. (Jacob kindly informed the whole table of my age tonight.)
It reminds me of a self-help tape I had for a long time: "Life is Uncertain. Eat Dessert First." The other afternoon Jordan, Subie and I were contemplating my new living room arrangement, when Jordan asked, "Did your realize Jacob just went and helped himself to ice cream?" No, I hadn't, and I really encourage him to ask first--to prevent constant snacking. But before I could protest, she called out, "Jacob, did Juju teach you that sometimes it's okay to eat dessert first?" I honestly did one night recently when he was in a funk. My own lessons come back to haunt me.
But I like today's lesson about enjoying my family and friends at this point in my life. A thousand words a day suddenly doesn't seem that critical..

Monday, April 07, 2014

Making cozy even cozier

Ever since Jordan was a teen-ager, she loved to rearrange furniture. She'd move beds, dressers, everything in her room by herself. Today she delivered an ottoman I'd bought at a garage sale and just kind of set it in the living room. I wasn't sure where to put it, but I said we would need to rearrange. She clapped her hands, said "Where's the wine," and began moving furniture.
The ottoman that started all this now sits in a corner and has a permanent occupant--my stuffed cheetah named Clifford. (Of course there was the time I dreamt Clifford was walking around the house--Jordan said, "Shhh. Don't tell anyone that!" and then she told everyone she saw.)
Jacob got involved in the first step--sweeping behind the pieces she moved. Then he took one side of each chair and helped position it. Decided he loved the new look, but we weren't so sure. We sat, looked, rearranged. Finally we settled on an arrangement we like well enough or me to live with it for a few days and see how it wears.
One thing I really like is that we created a cozy conversation area in one corner. Of course now one chair partially blocks a doorway, but we'll just have to watch where we're going. Jacob delighted in demonstrating how someone could fall over it. Note the three items on the table--Jordan's version of feng shui. There should be wine glasses--hmmm, wonder where they went.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Weekend doings

I so often have a seven-year-old on Saturday night that weekends without him loom long and empty. Frequently I fill them with dinner guests but I decided against that this weekend for several reasons--mostly the diet I'm trying to maintain and my budget, which has already run riot by the fifth of the month. Instead I decided to do a lot of those little things that had been undone, I packaged up and returned two lampshades to Amazon--they didn't fit the lamps, and I learned a lesson about old floor lamps (definitely mine) and uno fittings. Went to the grocery and then to the hardware for a nozzle to replace the one that gave me an unnecessary and unneeded drenching yesterday, Then I buckled down to the chores that had been looking at me--I made some tile and tub cleaner--equal parts white vinegar and Dreft, cleaned the kitchen sink thoroughly, and washed my prayer shawl in it. Tricky part was finding a place to lay the wet shawl out but I cleared enough space of kitchen counter, turned it frequently, and replaced wet towels on which it lay.
Now barely damp, it's on the table in the playroom. Tonight it feels soft and smells wonderfully fresh. Normally it lives on the back of my office chair for chilly nights. Finally I made an all-purpose cleaner, according to a formula I'd found in the neighborhood newsletter--more complicated, it used rubbing alcohol, white vinegar, a bit of laundry soap, a tiny bit of ammonia, and plenty of water. We'll see. They're in spray bottles, labeled as neatly as I can be with a Sharpie.
A friend came to pick me up for lunch, and when I regaled her with all this, she said, "Little Miss Domesticity."
After a good lunch--best tuna salad in town is at Swiss Pastry Shop--the day deteriorated into Facebook, email, and a nap. But tonight I'll write--and savor my feeling of accomplishment.
Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and, while it won't be cold, I still feel a pot of vegetable soup coming on.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Twas a dark and stormy night....

That classic first line of a bad novel is true in North Texas. We're surrounded by tornado warnings, though ours has just expired. My daughter had hail at her house, while I relished about five minutes of steady, medium rain--the good kind of rain, just not enough of it for our drought. All evening lightning has flashed around the sky and thunder rolled over us. As my Mom used to tell me, the gods are bowling. As long as the sky doesn't turn green and no rotating clouds are reported, I enjoy a good storm. Tonight we're being warned to stay away from drafts because of lightning--otherwise I'd throw open my greenhouse windows and let some of that rain-freshened air in the house. It's cooled nicely outside but is still stuffy inside.
Once when my four children were little, we left them with a nanny for an afternoon. When the sky turned green, I called the nanny and said, "You do know what to do with the children in a bad storm, don't you?" We had a house with a basement. "Oh yes, ma'am," she said. "What?" Now I have no basement, but Sophie and I will go to the big closet in my bedroom, though I've never had to do that in twenty years.
When I was a kid, we had a cabin in the Indiana Dunes State Park, at the very food of Lake Michigan, high up on a dune--three flights of stairs from the beach. One of my great delights was to watch a storm roll down the entire length of that huge lake, cresting in wild whitecaps as it reached the beach and bringing with it rain, lightning and thunder. Maybe I didn't know enough to be fearful, and I'm thankful to my parents for not teaching me that fear.
Jacob on the other hand is fearful of storms. The other night he saw three lightning flashes, and I suggested he go to the back door because Sophie would want to come in. He insisted I go with him, explaining, "You know how lightning frightens me." Once there he stood inside the open door and called, "Come in, Sophie. It's lightning." About a lot of things he's fearless and brave, but storms get him.
Me? I'm actually hoping for more storms--my new plants need the rain. Just not violent winds or tornadoes, please.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sleuthing in a canoe and on a motorcycle

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Lesley Diehl. Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work. She is author of several short stories and a number of mystery series including the microbrewing series (A Deadly Draught; Poisoned Pairings), a rural Florida mystery series (Dumpster Dying; Grilled, Chilled and Killed), A Secondhand Murder, the first in The Eve Appel mystery series and her most recent, Murder Is Academic. Please welcome Lesley as she tells us about her newest book.
In keeping with the snooping amateur sleuths who populate my cozy mysteries, I’ve got a new woman who joins their ranks. In Murder Is Academic the setting is a small town in upstate New York, and the protagonist is Laura Murphy, psychology professor at the local college, a woman addicted to chocolate-covered donuts and something unexpected: solving murders. Don’t be fooled by her credentials. Despite all those degrees, she’s arrived at that point in her life when everything seems to be falling into place including her middle-aged body, sagging in ways she never anticipated when she was younger. What to do? The weather is fine, so Laura and Annie, her best friend decide that entering a fifty-mile canoe race might just be the thing for losing weight. The results are different from what they expected. Not only has Laura done little exercise other than lift her coffee cup to her lips, she’s not prepared for what she encounters on the water: the dead body of the college president. When she says yes to dinner with a Canadian biker, she finds herself and her date suspects in the murder.
Laura’s friend, the detective assigned the case, asks her to help him find out who on the small upstate New York college campus may be a killer. The murder appears to be wrapped up in some unsavory happenings on the lake where Laura lives. A fish kill and raw sewage seeping into the water along with the apparent drowning suicide of a faculty member complicate the hunt for the killer. So you see, college life for our professor is much more than grading exams, writing research papers of serious intellectual import, and swearing at her computer when something goes wrong on the internet. Yup, there’s this hunky biker dude and the possibility that she can outwit her detective friend in finding the killer. There is a downside to the joys of finding love later in life and chasing down clues to the murder, both slimming activities with fewer muscle aches than canoeing. Things can get personal, and they do. The killer makes a threatening phone call to Laura. With a tornado bearing down on the area and the killer intent upon silencing her, Laura’s sleuthing work may come too late to save her and her biker from a watery grave.
As you can guess, everything turns out well for Laura. Sleuthing replaces eating donuts, and riding on the back of a motorcycle results in much more than messed up hair. Another sassy gal takes on murder, gets thinner and falls in love. Laura Murphy defeats hot flashes and killers. There will be a sequel: Failure Is Fatal, in which Laura tackles bad frat boys.




Tuesday, April 01, 2014

That "Ooops" Moment

A picture is worth a thousand words. This is the picture that I thought made me look fat. Dare I say blowsy? Frowsy?
I did something this morning a lot of women do daily--I stepped on the scale. For the last five years or more I've weighed a lot more than I wanted, but I usually kept it within a three-four pound range, and my doctor said he wasn't at all concerned. The other night, at a birthday dinner, a friend took my picture because she liked the color top I had on. When she sent it to me, I thought, "I look fat." So I stepped on the scales and guess what? I am fat. I've gained five or six pounds in the last few months.
Immediate diet coming up. The pimiento cheese sandwich for lunch was replaced with cold salmon seasoned with lemon juice, roasted asparagus, and a small bit of leftover potato salad with lemon juice, no mayo (a delicious recipe). Dinner wasn't quite as successful but not too bad--pinto beans, green beans (no butter), and meatloaf but I scraped the sauce off.
My plan: salads like tuna, egg, chicken or ham with veggies for lunch and maybe dinner. When I eat dinner out, I'll order things without potatoes or carbs or much fat (okay, I may cheat on the latter). But I'll eat a lot of fish, which I like. My personal weak spots are white wine and dark chocolate and I'll cut down on them--both expensive. That will also help my grocery bill.
In truth, I think I eat a fairly healthy diet, but I'd fallen into the habit of putting my tuna or ham salad in a sandwich, or making an open-faced turkey/ham/cheese sandwich with a homemade Thousand Island dressing. No more bread, although I've never eaten much. A couple of brief spells on online Weightwatchers have schooled me in what to eat and what not to eat, though I'm a terrible cheat.
There are fattening things I love--mayonnaise, cheese, chopped liver (okay I don't each much of that), cream cheese, bacon--I'll avoid them until I get this under control.
It's easy on day one to be optimistic about losing weight. It'll be a snap, and 1'll soon shed those extra pounds, yet I know that's not true. It's liable to be a long hard slog.
And part of it--I'll do my yoga routine four or five times a week. Granted, my routine is not too rigorous, designed for a woman of my age. Still I worked up a sweat doing it this evening, and I'm determined to make that a part of my daily routine.
Wish me luck. I know I'll never weigh 110 again as I did in my twenties, but I'd like to lose the fat-faced look and the belly that makes a favorite pair of pants not fit any more.