Saturday, May 31, 2014

School daze

Photo by Polly Hooper
One more week and a day...and the FWISD schools are out for the summer (who finishes the year on a Monday? snow days and all that). Jacob is at the end of second grade, and I realize I've been waiting on my porch for him almost every morning for three years. At first Sophie was a puppy, and we waited together--she seemed to know that Jacob would be coming. Now, she's 30 lbs. of enthusiasm and it's too much of an effort to contain her while I wait. Three years ago, Jacob would give me a hug and a kiss before he headed across the street. Now I get what I call a passive hug--he sort of leans into me and allows me to hug him--it exasperates his father, but I understand. He doesn't want to be teased about hugging his grandmother.
I love watching the kids go by--new faces every year, but I am also watching some grow up. I notice in particular one father/daughter combination. She walks sedately beside him, holding his hand, not talking, although he occasionally smiles fondly at her. She's grown so tall since I first noticed them that I wonder if she's not at least in fourth grade, maybe fifth. The Brown boys from behind me are now both in school--Alex spent two years accompanying mom Amy while she walked with Sam, but this year Alex is in kindergarten. Both boys run far ahead of Amy. And Atticus, Jacob's pal from kindergarten runs ahead of his dad, though the other day he sweetly brought my paper up to me (usually Jacob's chore). On project days, parents often carefully carry constructions and posters of various sizes and shapes. I remember when friend Sue lived next door and would help Hunter labor over his projects--I was pleased to be in the audience with Sue when Hunter graduated from fifth grade. And then Jacob had the same kindergarten teacher Hunter had. Today, on the way home, Jacob sometimes still stops to give her a hug.
I remember when Jacob was still a toddler, sitting on the porch with him on my lap staring wistfully at the kids in the afternoon when they got out of school. Once he walked a friend across the street and explained to her that this was where he was going to school. He knew more about it than we did, but because I am a resident grandparent and the after-school care person, he can attend there. It's a good school, and we're lucky he's there.
Over the years I've become friends with the crossing guards--Booker was my great friend, brought my garbage cars up and down for me and called me Granny, even before Jacob was in school. Now we have a pleasant lady who waves at me as I water plants--I do that this time of year as I wait.
I feel like I'm seeing the world pass by me--children and parents of all sizes, shapes, and races, growing, changing, moving on through life while I sit on my porch and watch. I love it..

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cozies and Cooks

There's a long history of the relationship between food and mystery, particularly cozy mysteries. Maybe it's because we combine one of the greatest pleasures of life--food--with one of the greatest fears--murder. Maybe it softens the horror and humanizes the protagonist. Maybe it's, as a friend suggested, that we bring food to funerals as the best way we know to comfort.
Nero Wolfe was one of the earliest sleuth cooks (his lamb meatloaf still sounds wonderful) and his cookbook is still available. There's a Sherlock Holmes Cookbook--who would have thought?--and a Pataricia Cornwall one. Cornwall seems so hard-boiled to me, it's hard to think of her cooking and I don't want to think about autopsies.
Virginia Rich may well have started the culinary mystery trend with a book called The Cooking School Murders, published in 1982. Today we have a plethora of culinary mysteries, from bakeries and cupcake shops to caterers like Goldie Schultz in Diane Mott's terrific series. Susan Wittig Albert has her long-standing China Bayles series about an herbalist and then there's Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse mysteries, Daryl Avery's cheese shop series, Lucy Burdette's series about a food critic in Key West, and Julie Hyzy's series about a White House chef. Yep, food is out there in the mystery world.
So many mystery authors cook that Nancy Lynn Jarvis came up with the idea of a cookbook featuring recipes from fellow members of Sisters in Crime. The result is Cozy Food, in which 128 authors share one or more of their favorite recipes.
Yes, I have two recipes in there, one for what my family knows and loves as Doris' Casserole, which for purposes of the book I renamed Keisha's Casserole to refer to the Kelly O'Connell Mysteries, and Gram's Chocolate Cake--better known in my house as Mary Helen's Mother's Bundt Cake, but I wanted it to come from the Blue Plate Café and the series of that name.
Kaye George, author of the Neanderthal mystery, Death in the Time of Ice, came up with a recipe for Dried Mammoth Meat/Neanderthal Mammoth Jerky--she gets my vote for originality, though I don't know I'll be trying it soon.
I will try a lot of recipes in this book--Edith Maxwell's Tuscan bean salad with eggs (essentially salad Nicoise for vegetarians)--but Edith ought to know. She writes a series about locavore farming; Radine Trees Nehring, from the Ozarks, contributed Carrie's Chicken Pie, which intrigues me; Elaine Viets, who writes about various jobs such as dogwalker, contributed pate du Chateau Blanc which turns out to be a pate made of White Castle hamburgers and the trimmings, put in a blender with water to thin (think I'd use wine)--gourmet? No. Intriguing? Yes.
There are recipes for pets--Catnip Burger and Kitty Cat Tuna Crackers. Something for everyone.
Browse through this book--it's fun, and you're sure to find recipes you want to try.
Kudos to Nancy for editing and to her husband who apparently did all the formatting. And they went from idea to publication in record time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cooking as life goes on

This morning I found myself facing a desk with two obituaries, a death certificate, and an article about a long-dead architect. I had to clear my desk of death. My younger son said thanks, but he didn't need the article though the architect, who had broken modernist ground here in Fort Worth, was a childhood friend of his--he used to detail his cars and once went to Santa Fe with him, his wife, and our Uncle Bob.
Next was the obituary of a good friend's husband--she didn't need it she said because it was the first version and contained errors--the second version was published after the funeral, which puzzled me.
I sent the death certificate to the cemetery where my cousin will be buried and ordered a gravestone--modest, with her full name (two middle names!), dates of birth and death, names of parents.
So left is the obituary for my good and close friend, plus an article in a local hospital magazine about her son's family. I've put them on the dining table to remember to take to the funeral Saturday.
So now what's left on my desk is a bunch of cooking magazines, which I think is sort of fitting--life goes on. I haven't cleared these deaths and losses from my mind, but I'm moving ahead...and clipping recipes. Also have a few notes about the final scene to write in my work-in-progress--but it's only a first draft and there is much work ahead of me.
I did finalize the neighborhood newsletter and get it off, late, to the designer today, so I've done some good things. Just have to write that last scene and get in the spirit of the novel.
Meantime I'm more in the spirit of cooking. Thinking poor-boy sandwiches would be good this weekend, and found a recipe for making them with basil and oregano-infused mayonnaise plus arugula tossed in lemon and olive oil. Fanciest poor boy I ever heard of.
Cooking has always been a solace for me, and I think it's only fitting that my mind goes to food at this time. My cousin, whom I never really knew and who was out of touch with reality, would not understand. But the friends I've lost are smiling and approving. I know that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The agony of losing a child

I had nothing on my mind tonight to post except that I've had a case of the lazies today big time. Did manage to do my yoga, run one errand, and mostly fiddle the morning away until it was time to meet a friend for lunch--the one who forgot our date yesterday. Guess what? I sat in Carshon's half an hour before I came home and ate my own good leftovers. A bit more fiddling, a nap. and then it was time for Jacob. We went to the Grill early tonight, ran into good friends and had a fine time. But that was my day, nothing remarkable.
Until I frittered away an hour tonight on Facebook. I saw more times than I could bear the agony of Richard Martinez, whose son died in the shootings at Santa Barbara. It was palpable agony, on the surface, with no attempt to hide it. And I heard his plea, "Not one more." I can't even begin to think about how this grieving man will move on with his life, and yet he had the courage to air his grief publicly, to make his plea in person and on the air. Much as I hurt for this man, I like and admire him.
And then I saw where Joe the Plumber said callously, "Your dead kid doesn't trump my right to carry a gun." Someone said he's either making a grandstand bid for attention or he's an a-hole. I think it must be both. But how can he? What happened to him to make him so insensitive? I cannot even begin to imagine.
And, finally, I saw where the open-carry folks, with their assault rifles over their shoulders, had invaded another restaurant, trying to intimidate a meeting of a small group of Moms for Gun Control. Once again, I am stymied, amazed by the stupidity of people. To those who argue Second Amendment I want to assure them that although I am no constitutional scholar, I know that is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind. No one seems to recall what to me are some sensible interpretations of the Second Amendment--it calls for an armed, "well-governed" militia--that does not mean crazies walking around with assault rifles. And that amendment was written in the day of muskets--you fired, then you stopped and re-loaded (a complicated and not quick process). No one envisioned today's assault rifles.
What scares me most is that I think (and this is pure prejudice on my part) that those who flaunt these weapons of mass destruction (hey, isn't that what we went to war for in Iraq, even if in error?) are the least stable portion of our population. They're the ones most likely to shoot on mad impulse. A friend, a teacher, wrote that one of her most responsible students posted decrying these open-carry demonstrations and another, much less stable student replied, "Hey, I'm with those guys. I have an assault rifle." Point taken.
Our country has made so much progress in civil rights, we're moving ahead in marriage equality, we're changing with the times as we should. I think gun control is the next big thing on the agenda--but how many people will have to die first? If Sandy Hook didn't move hearts--and the NRA--Santa Barbara isn't going to do it.
I have a friend who decries the fact that people are afraid the government is coming for their guns. They're not, people. Even the president has said so. We just want controls on who has access to guns and maybe what types of guns. If you don't think it's needed, read a bit about the mental history of the Santa Barbara shooter.
PS Dating myself, but open carry to me still means the right to carry a bottle of liquor or a drink. Oh, dear, I'm a hopeless old fogy.
Yeah, this ended up being a rant. But at least now I have some energy. Lazies gone.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day and other thoughts

I lost a good friend of thirty or more years yesterday. It wasn't unexpected--she'd been fighting for five years or more and I think she was tired. A week ago she just seemed to give up--not eating or drinking or responding. I can understand that, her fatigue, her sadness. She died surrounded by those she loved best, and I pray she is comfortable and at peace now. As I came out of a party last night, we noticed an impressive double rainbow. A friend wrote and said she was sure it was in honor of Jan, and I replied it was God welcoming her to Heaven. I like to believe that.
Beyond that loss, which leaves a hole in my heart that no one else can fill, it was a pleasant quiet weekend. My family was at the Colonial Golf Tournament (it has a better name than that but I don't remember it), and I was peacefully at home.
I rounded the corner on my work in progress. If you want to think in Shakespearean terms, I wrote the fourth act and am now a thousand words into the fifth act, the denouement. I hear in my head all the classic advice--the first draft is just a matter of getting to the end, and I believe it. But oh how relieved I am to get to that end. Now I'll go back, polish, make details fit, hopefully pick up some words because, as usual, it is short. But I have a great sense of satisfaction.
After having Jacob with me much of last week, a quiet Saturday and Sunday were welcome. I read, I did household chores, yoga, all those things I am sometimes tempted to put off. Today I fixed ham salad and a veggie assortment for lunch for a friend--who didn't show up. She phoned tonight, full of apologies, said if she doesn't look at her calendar in the morning she's lost and she didn't this morning. She's newly widowed--two weeks--and I'll forgive her almost anything. I ate my ham salad sandwich in peace at my desk. She and I will meet tomorrow at Carshon's--wonder if I should call and remind her in the morning?
Tonight's dinner guest showed up on time--my friend Mary, who calls me her big sister. The day had been sunny and lovely, in spite of rain predictions, so all the rain from last night dried up and we had a lovely supper on the deck, with perfect temperature and just the slightest breeze blowing. I made the world's best quick spaghetti sauce: sauté a small white onion and a couple of garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil; puree a can of tomatoes in the blender and add to the skillet; add one can anchovy fillets, drained and chopped. Let simmer. I made it enough ahead of time that I thought it needed help and was debating red of white wine when my friend, holding a bottle of pinot grigio, said, "Oh, just use this," and we poured in a liberal portion. Great over fettucine, with a salad I cobbled together from leftovers.
Feeling good about the world tonight--hard to do in these times--but remembering those who have fought for our country. A Rotary flag flew at the foot of my driveway all day, and I thought a lot about my father, who served in WWI (in the Canadian Army, but hey! it was on the same side). And I watched touching pictures of reunions, of graveside ceremonies, of parades on TV. We are a grateful nation, and we darn well ought to straighten up and stop squabbling amongst ourselves. That's not what those men and women died for.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Notes from the home front

Some people like Fall best, but Spring is my favorite time in Texas, with flowers blooming and soft pleasant temperatures. Sure, we could use more rain, and we're due to get it this coming week I believe. But meantime it has been perfect weather for driving with the top down on the car and for sitting on the deck at night with a book on my iPad and a glass of wine. Sophie keeps me company and defends me by occasionally running off to bark at I don't know what threat.
It was not a peaceful morning here. I have acquired a phone stalker--now you need to realize that my younger son, Jamie, is the ultimate prank phone caller. The other day he woke me from a nap, using a voice I didn't recognize, asked what I was doing, and said, "Oh, I called the wrong number. I meant to call Jean (he named a friend of mine). I'll just call her and call  you back later." Anxious to catch a bit more sleep before I had to get Jacob I said fine, and he said, "Mom, I really got you that time!"
So a few days later when the phone rang during nap time and a man I didn't recognize said,, "Mrs. Alt-air?" I assumed it was Jamie, told him if he didn't stop talking that way I'd hang up on him. I don't remember what he said, but I kept waiting for him to say, "Mom, I didn't get you this time." It didn't happen. The man asked how I was and such inanities. Finally I hung up and he called right back. Still no admission that it was Jamie, so I said, "Call me back at four," and he agreed. Later that night I emailed Jamie to ask what happened to "I'll call you back at four." Not unusual there was no answer.
Well, this morning at 6:10 the same voice called to say "Good morning, Mrs. Alt-air. How are you?" I mumbled "Good morning and goodbye" and hung up. It didn't wake Jacob but it sure brought me awake because I knew it wasn't Jamie. Later, I looked on the phone for the name and area code--876. Looked it up, and it's Jamaica--comes with a warning about scam calls. I'm hoping my "friend" doesn't call back.
Jacob got up before I did--I wanted to linger in that half-sleep of a morning when I didn't need to pop out of bed. Sophie would have none of it. She barked and barked at me until I got up. Nope, she didn't need to go outside--she just wanted me up and moving about the house. She knows she is allowed on two pieces of furniture--Jacob's bed and the overstuffed chair in my office--once clean duck, not dirty gray. So last night, Jacob had her up in my bed with him, and today on the couch. I said "I have two spoiled babies," and Jacob replied, "Yes,  you do."
For years, like my father before me, I've fought the squirrel/bird feeder battle. The last few years I've had a caged bird feeder with traps that close up when anything heavy lands on the little perches. Small birds are just heavy enough to open the traps and release seed. Sorry, doves and mockingbirds--eat what falls on the ground. But tonight I found a squirrel on there--three times. I'd bang on the grate on the indoor greenhouse window, and he'd scurry away--only to come back, perch in the tree and glare at me. We did this about  three or four times before he finally gave up. I don't think he was getting any bird seed anyway.
In spite of prank callers and squirrels, life is sure sweet with children, dogs, birds, and lovely weather.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Orchids, golf balls, and old friends

The two buds on my Mother's Day orchid have finally opened up, one almost magically today. This morning it was a bud, though I could see the petals loosening and moving toward opening; tonight it's in full bloom. Notice the lower two blooms, though the one that bloomed this morning is turned so sideways it's hard to see. Christian said it's purple in honor of TCU.
This week the annual Colonial Golf Tournament started--it has a corporation name in front of it but I can't remember that. But the course is not far from my house, and the whole event messes up traffic in my corner of the city. This year they're being much more strict (security concerns, I hear) and several roads are blocked off unless  you have a residential pass. I heard on officer advise, "Just stay off University." Well, this morning I was going to get my hair cut, and there was simply no way to stay off University, so I was filled with anxiety--and on a tight schedule. It all worked out fine--I got my haircut, went to Central Market, and was home in plenty of time to go to the PEO luncheon with Subie.
Most people don't know about PEO. It's an international sisterhood for the cause of education, with chapters all over the country and, I believe, the world. They sponsor Cottey College among other things. I can't tell you, on pain of..well, not death but something awful...what PEO stands for. My father called it Poor Emancipated Oldsters, but it was a great thing for my mom when she moved from Chicago to North Carolina to Texas. She made friends in each place through PEO. I joined at a young age because it made her happy and have kept my membership as a tribute to her, though I never go. I did get a fifty-year pin (now that's a shock) but went inactive a year or so ago. Subie and I both belonged to the same chapter in Fort Worth, and now that she's back in town one old friend said they really wanted us "girls" to come to the final luncheon. We did and loved visiting with the few familiar faces there, though many had moved on, often to Chapter Eternal. Still thanks to Patty Walker for inviting us, her daughter Dana for welcoming us so heartily, and Pauline Blossom whom we both adore and was one of the few we remembered. Time marches on. We were astounded to find ourselves almost the youngest women at the luncheon.
After that busy day, I've settled down to a quiet evening with Jacob. Feels good. Jacob's parents have been at Colonial all day, and he will go tomorrow and Sunday. I'll have a quiet weekend, which is okay. Maybe I'll get some work done.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dinner at the Star--a trip back in time

Jacob and I had dinner at the Star Café on West Exchange last night, in the heart of Fort Worth's National Historic Stockyards District, better known as Cowtown. It's the oldest continuously operating restaurant/bar in Fort Worth. Best way I can describe it is "western funk." The ceiling is stamped tin, with a swing and other things hanging from it. The walls are covered with photographs (a few signed), signs ("Eat here. Get gas."), and everything from hats to crosses. Checkered tablecloths, mismatched wooden chairs, neon signs. It's a step back in time.
My friends Don and Betty Boles own the Star--no they haven't owned it since it opened! But they've had it about twenty years now, with an earlier stint in the eighties. Last night we went to meet Betty, since she and I have a weekly dinner. Because I had Jacob we knew he'd like it--he had grilled cheese, his usual diet.
The Star proudly brags about it's steak cuts, chicken-fried steak (hand-floured and deep-fried--none of this frozen pre-done stuff), and it's hamburgers. It's all delicious. The ranch dressing, made from scratch, may just be the best I've ever had. My family has celebrated birthdays and weddings there. It's home to us.
About fifteen years ago I was bored with my academic life, and I began to work at the Star on Saturday nights. First I seated guests, but then my routine post became the cash register. In between customers I rolled flatware, an endless job. I met fascinating people--and some unpleasant ones. But I loved it--such a break from my usual atmosphere. A majority of the people who came in wore western clothing--but not all. TCU people came often; so did people from University Christian Church, in the days before Betty retired as organist (after 40-plus years of service). It was  real mix of people...and it was almost always fun.
My favorite part of the evening was about 8:30 or 9:00 when I'd see Betty get herself a glass of wine. It was the signal the evening was over, and we could have wine and supper. I used to choose chicken fingers, or sometimes I'd bring a jar of kraut and Betty and I would share a Polish sausage plate. Or she and Don would share a steak, and I'd take half of mine home. Much as I love the chicken-fried steak, I rarely ordered it--it's a huge helping, and I'm always weight conscious.
There are daily specials at lunch, and friend Jeannie and I used to go on Wednesday (when we were both still working) for meatloaf and banana  pudding. In fact, I looked forward to Wednesdays in those good old days gone by because there was a hefty food section in the newspaper, it was meatloaf day, and "West Wing" was on at night. Days long gone now with a meager restaurant section and no "West Wing." The meatloaf is still there but we never go for lunch anymore.
So last night was a chance to visit with a good friend, a trip in nostalgia, and some good food.
Go for the atmosphere, and go for the food.
(Photos by Betty Boles)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I’m my own guest

I usually welcome a guest author on Wednesday, with the suggestion that he or she tell us a bit about their life and work. This week, I have no guest, so I’m going to be my own guest and tell you how I ended up writing almost 60 books, a Chicago-born Midwesterner living in Texas.

I think I always knew I wanted to write—wrote my first short stories at about eight, submitted a story to Seventeen in high school (gosh, did it come back in a hurry) and in college began writing nonfiction articles for small magazines. The zenith of my magazine career was a small piece on adoption in McCall’s. By then I was the parent of two or three adopted children. I am now the proud parent of four, grandparent of seven.

I got my interest in the American West while working on my Ph.D. at Texas Christian University. One of my professors taught a class in Western American lit.—I liked him and liked the class. And I’m glad to say nearly fifty years later, he’s still a good friend.

After I got that degree, I stayed home, wanted to write and had no idea what to write about. By serendipity I read several novels that featured young girls as protagonists, and I knew what I could do—turn my friend’s mother’s memoir into a novel. It was a great leap for me, since I’d had no training in creative writing—they didn’t teach it back then.

But I did it. I wrote After Pa Was Shot, which was published by the then-prestigious New York house, William Morrow. A succession of young adult novels followed—I was cast into that pigeonhole. Most were published in Texas, but one, Luke and the Van Zandt County War, won the annual award for the best juvenile from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Then I decided to write for adults, and my first attempt, Mattie, was published by Doubleday in their Double D Western series which I truthfully think was sold to a subscriber list of mostly prisons and maybe some libraries. But it won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America and today it does nicely on Amazon these days. I published another Double D and then moved (up?) to Bantam, where I published longer historical fiction—lives of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall (under the name Cherokee Rose), and later Etta Place—from another publisher.

The western market, at least the one I’d written for, seemed to either wither or pull away from me. I’d all along written a bit of non-fiction for young-adults—companies that published for school libraries--and in the early 21st  century, that was all I did. But I itched to write novels, so I eventually turned to mysteries.
But that’s another story for another day.
Note the contorting covers for Libbie--above is the Bantam version, which shows Libbie looking like a 19th-century version of Madonna, standing in a Kansas field of lush grass fenced with barbed wire--never mind that barbed wire had barely been introduced by the time General Custer died and there was no way that Kansas was fenced. Behind her is the ubiquitous West of Arizona's red, dry land--but with a stockade fort. Libbie made the point in her writing--and so did I--that she was surprised that forts had no walls, fences, etc. Of course, the West had no sturdy logs as shown in the illustration--those might have been found a century earlier back east when the "dangerous" Native Americans were the Mohawks or Mohicans. Below is a more historically accurate cover.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I am lucky to live in a neighborhood where there is a sense of closes neighborliness. As editor of the neighborhood newsletter, I maybe get more sense of that closeness than others. During my moment of insanity when I was considering moving, neighbors said, aghast, "You can't leave Berkeley!" Maybe they're right--I can't. This is the second time I've lived in this neighborhood, and now I live across the street from Lily B. Clayton, the elementary school that roots the neighborhood and around which many of our activities revolve. It's a neighborhood of old trees that arch over the streets, carefully maintained gardens and lawns, and a mixture of stately two-story homes and early 20th-century bungalows. Where occasional old houses have been torn down and replaced, the new houses look slightly uncomfortable.
Another neighborhood landmark is the Old Neighborhood Grill. I've made frequent use of it in the Kelly O'Connell Mysteries. Kelly and her family eat at the Grill a lot; her sidekick Keisha and her boyfriend, Jose, have breakfast there every morning, and when the question of where to lunch comes up, the answer us often the Grill. Kelly is partial to the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans--because I am!
A neighborhood tradition I particularly like is Tuesday night dinner with the neighbors--even if it's usually only a handful. It was started by neighbors on one street, but they generously let me and another resident join them. The Barrs, the Harrrals, Lyn Willis, and Mary Dulle are regulars. Lately my friends, Subie and Phil Green, just moved back to the neighborhood, have joined us every week.  Talk ranges over a wide variety of topics--current events, movies and plays, politics, grandchildren, you name it. Sometimes there are few people; other times, lost. One night it was just Jacob and me, and he kept asking, "Where are the neighbors?"
A couple of times I took Jacob with me, hoping they wouldn't mind a child. Instead, they enjoyed him, and he kept them entertained with wild stories. One night when he wasn't there I asked if they really didn't mind, and someone said, "He's the most interesting conversationalist at the table." He loves going and now wants to go every week, particularly if Subie, Phil, and Santiago (Phil's seeing-eye dog) will be there. Tonight, because the Harrals and Barrs are Baylor fans, he proudly donned his Baylor shirt. And, as always, he had grilled cheese, fries, and Sprite.
But there was a rather different crowd--the Baylor people weren't there, but there were eleven of us, and conversation flew all over the table. I was lucky enough to sit in the middle, so I got the conversations at either end of the table, and we all got to chatting and stayed lot longer than usual.
A good city neighborhood has all the good of the proverbial small town and all the advantages of city living. I love it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sanity...or close toit

My sanity has returned to a degree--I am not going to move. Fascinating as the structure is that grabbed my imagination, it's not for me. I crunched the numbers today and it would take most of my nest egg, even if I sold this house. At my age I'm not willing to live without a financial safety net, and I'm lucky to have it. Plus it would need work to adapt it to my needs...and those of Sophie. It is not completely fenced, has no covered parking,etc. And I really don't need a two-story house when I reach my dotage. Plus I'm not sure I wouldn't feel rather alone and rattling around in 3500 square feet--twice the footage I have now. And friends and neighbors might not drop by as they do now. Seven of us had dinner on the deck the other night--something that wouldn't work in the grocery store-turned-house. I do find that a picturesque idea though--converting an early-twentieth-century store..
On the plus side, I have a perfect situations where I am now and a house that I really do love. It's suited to my needs--garage, perfect back yard for Sophie, good neighbors, across the street from Jacob's school for three more years. I may use a fraction of the money I'd spend to do some sprucing up to my house. But I've been sprucing up all along. Not sure what I'll do next.
I am grateful that my children did not scoff but encouraged this fantasy of mine. They seemed to think if I wanted to do t, I could. But the idea of cleaning out my house, especially within thirty days, does intimidate me. I'm sort of pleased that I even had the energy and imagination to think seriously about moving.
So calm, rational thinking prevails. But it sure was fun to think of entertaining in that great room. I think that's something I've always wanted--a house with a great room. Perhaps it's because I love having company.
This house will be open Sunday, and I'll go see it. But I'm comfortable in my soul with my decision.
If I have the energy to move, I'd be better served using it to write!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Help keep me sane!

I love my house. I've lived in it 21 years and spent most of those years doing small updating things. I've about got it like I want it now, though son-in-law Christian says it needs updating before I consider selling it. It's just the right size for me, with a guest house for the kids. I've got wonderful neighbors nearby to whom I'm close. It takes me one minute to get to Jacob's school. I've sworn I will never move out of this house--couldn't bear to clean it out. My kids will have to deal with an attic full that I've moved from house to house plus what I've accumulated here. I am, in short, a happy camper.
So why am I even thinking about moving? Because I fell in love with a house I saw on the internet. It's terribly impractical, out of my price range (though I could do it), twice as big as this house, about half a mile way from my neighbors and the school. I'd have to do some things to it--like fence a safe place for Sophie, install an electric gate. But it's gorgeous inside, very open floor plan, updated kitchen with gas stove, xeriscaping all around, secluded garden with no grass, nice patio.
When Christian looked at it, he said, "It looks like an office building." Jamie said, "If it was in Dallas, I'd buy it and move my office there." Truth is that it was built in 1912 as a grocery store. You'd never know from the outside, but it's a beautiful home inside.
I sent the website to Jamie, expecting him to say, "Mom, you can't be serious." Instead he said, "I love it. I'll come to Fort Worth this week, and we'll look at it." Big help he is.
There are so many reasons I will not move: money, age (do I really have the energy--I've spent this week thinking how tired I am but it was a bad week), things I'd miss, people I'd miss--would they still stop in for happy house? Come for Sunday supper? Oh, and it's two-story with no ground-floor bedroom--let's be realistic. I'm seventy-five years old. Many of my friends are talking about assisted living, and I'm talking about moving to a huge, two-story house?.
On the other hand, maybe moving would energize me, set me off in a new direction, give me a new life. I've long said I didn't want to sit still and grow old. This might give me a real boost--do I need one? I'm sort of pleased that I even have the energy to contemplate it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Conflicting emotions...and a big to-do-list

My cousin died Tuesday night in a Toronto nursing home. She'd been in nursing homes for ten years or more and before that lived unhappily, sometimes almost homeless, dumpster diving and all when she'd get off her meds. I never have known a specific diagnosis but I'm sure she was bipolar. I have not seen her since I was twelve--a long time ago, believe me--but for at least seven years I've been taking care of her affairs. I could not understand her on the phone since she had a stroke and my hearing is bad, and her handwriting is illegible (which caused some legal problems). I know she loved dogs, live and stuffed, and she was a pack rat, her room crowded with "stuff."
When I was about twenty, my parents were taking off on a road trip and that morning my dad fixed me with a solemn look and said, "Judy, if anything happens to us, you will take care of Jenny, won't you?" At twenty I didn't want to even think about something happening to my parents, but about ten years ago, when the aunt who watched over Jenny as best she could, began to fail, my dad's words came thundering back at me.
When people offer sympathy, I'm a bit at a loss. She was happy where she was, in a provincial home where people loved her. They've written me about her laughter and her sense of humor and I'm sad for her that's gone. I'm sad too for her miserable life and all that she missed. But she left no hole in my life, no personal sense of loss--and that too is sad.
What I am left with is all the details of administering estate, complicated greatly by the fact that she was in Canada and I am a non-resident. I now have a Canadian lawyer, have sent an obituary to the Toronto paper, have filled out cemetery papers, and done all sorts of other paper work. Yesterday, every time I did one thing, five more ran through my brain. I was exhausted last night but have a better handle on things today.
Colin, my oldest, will go with me to Canada sometime soon for a graveside service. To my surprise, the staff of the nursing home want to attend. I thought we would be the only mourners, and I am pleased. But I somehow just couldn't let her leave without some sort of farewell.
And we're going to see if my grandmother's house is still standing. I have such lovely memories of it. It will be good to be in Ontario again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Thinking of moving? Read this... then put your feet up with a good mystery

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Susan Santangelo. She has a message and helpful checklist...and a good book.for those of us in our "twilight" years, contemplating downsizing.

Hello from Susan Santangelo. I write the Baby Boomer mysteries, a series of humorous cozies that follows the adventures of Carol Andrews and her long-suffering husband, Jim, as they navigate their way along life’s rocky road toward their twilight years. With one dead body thrown in, just to make things more interesting.
May is National Moving Month. Yep, that’s right. Turns out that more people move during the month of May than during any other time of the year according to realtors, moving companies, and relocation specialists. With that in mind, I decided to blog today about the second book in my series, Moving Can Be Murder.

Here’s the back cover blurb: Empty nester Carol Andrews would prefer leaving her beautiful antique house in Fairport, Connecticut “feet first” to selling it and moving on. But her Beloved Husband Jim convinces her that a nearby active adult community is the best fit for them at this time of life. Their house sells, and Carol returns alone the night before the closing for a “pity party” farewell tour. And discovers the dead body of the buyer in her living room. Wow. Talk about seller’s remorse!
Selling a house and moving can be very stressful, even without a dead body involved. So, to make the ordeal a little easier, I included a quiz at the back of the book, which I’m happy to share.

The Moving Quiz

Are you (and Your Beloved) having the Relocation Conversation? Should you stay in your current home, or strike out for someplace new?
To get the conversation started, here are some things to consider.

How do you rate the community where you now live? Include factors like public safety, property taxes (and the possibility of an increase), access to public transportation, availability of senior services, and trash/recycling collection.  
Do you love your current home? Is it convenient to stores, dry cleaners, your faith community, and other things that are important to you? If you live alone, is there someone you can count on to check on you to be sure you are okay?    

Does your current home have potential for a first-floor master bedroom and bath, with no stairs involved? Ditto a convenient laundry area?  Are doorways wide, or could they be widened easily if necessary?
Could you close off some unused rooms and save on energy costs?

Is your mortgage paid off? Can you manage the property taxes, insurance and maintenance expenses?
Does the idea of cleaning out closets and packing up belongings overwhelm you?

Could you keep your house in “company” condition all the time? Could you tolerate showing your house to potential buyers at a moment’s notice?
Are you prepared to move away from family and friends? Your doctors and dentist? (Your hairdresser?)

OK, let’s say you’ve thought about all these questions and you’ve decided to move. Let’s think about where to go.
Do you have a bit of wanderlust and want a complete change in lifestyle, climate or even country?

Do you prefer to live in a city, suburb, small town, or rural area?
Which of these appeals to you the most: a golf community, beach resort, over-55 development or a diverse, mixed-age neighborhood? None of these?

If you are a couple, do you both want to move, or is one of you doing it for the other? (Be honest with this answer. This is a big step and both partners should agree.)
How quickly do you think you’d  develop friendships in a new location?

Do you have hobbies or other activities that will get you out of the house in your new community? Does your partner?
Realistically, could you have a change of heart and want to move back home before too long?

Would you want to try a new location for a year or two or make this a permanent move? If the former appeals to you more, perhaps you should consider renting for a while to be sure you really love your new location.
What happens if your partner dies, and you are on your own in a new town?

Everyone’s answers to this quiz will be different, of course.  And there are many other factors which may play into whatever decision you make about where to spend the next part of your life.
If you decide to stay in your current home, here are some resources that can help.

CAPS is a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist program developed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in association with AARP. Check out
The National Aging in Place Council’s website has information on all matters relating to safety and Universal Design. Check out

The American Society of Interior Design (ASID) also has an aging-in-place component on its website:
Good luck!  





Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oh those Scots and their kilts

I've been keeping an eye out for books set in Scotland because I want to write a book set there. I'm not sure what kind but I'd like to explore the history of my clan, Clan MacBean. Several MacBeans fought and died at Culloden (picture at left is Gillies MacBain, a martyr/hero of that battle), and I've been to the Memorial Park above Lochness, seen pictures of the family homestead (alas, it was no castle). I'm not sure what form the novel will take--toying with a contemporary mystery, or maybe--branching out for me--a time-travel book.

(MacBain plaid to the right)
Right now I'm reading In The Time of Kings by N. Gemini Sasson. It's a time-travel, and I wasn't sure I'd like it but I find I'm anxious to get back to it. The main character, Ross Sinclair, falls off his bike, hits his head and wakes in the 14th century. What I like is that he maintains his 21st century identity in his mind, and thinks only about how he can get back to his bride who is in a coma in a hospital. At first he thinks he's fallen in with a bunch of whacko re-enactors but gradually it dawns on him he's really been transported back in time. And his fellow clansman know exactly who he is and where he's been--imprisoned in England. They attribute his lack of knowledge of family (including a wife) and current events to loss of memory. I'm only halfway through, but so far I like Roslin in the `14th century better the besotted, neurotic Ross of the 21st.
Next on my reading list is To the Hilt, the only book the late Dick Francis set in Scotland and one of the last he wrote before he began collaborating with his son or son-in-law.
One thing I know I won't write is a lusty romance of unbridled passion. There are a lot of contemporary romances that fit into that narrow genre and do very well, gathering awards and readers both. I've long held the theory that (almost) any man looks sexy in a kilt and I gather the idea is not unique to me. There's a fictional image embedded in the public consciousness of the lusty Scottish warrior brandishing his claymore. After the Clearances when so many were deported to America, they brought with them a reputation for fighting hard, drinking hard, and playing hard. What better heroes for romance?
I do believe I'd blush if I tried to write such a novel.
A final anecdote: the MacBain Memorial Park is on the banks of Lochness, above the village of Dores.  The other day I said if I went back to Scotland, I'd d want to spend a couple of days in Dores. Son-in-law Christian was incredulous: "Why would you want to stay indoors?"

Monday, May 12, 2014

You're Never Too Old for a New Idea

Radine Trees Nehring was supposed to be a guest on Judy’s Stew in late April, but neither of us know what happened to the post. So please welcome her as a Wednesday a guest on a Monday. Radine is a member of Sisters in Crime, Ozarks Writers League, Authors Guild, and has served on the board of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She is a 2011 inductee into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of fame, and her most recent book is A Fair to Die For from Oak Tree Press.

But that’s only half the story. Here’s more about Radine in her own words

A writing career can start at any age--I'm one who has proved that, even if I was much younger than people like A. Carmen Clark (The Maine Mulch Murder) who sold her first novel to a publisher when she was in her eighties, and Millard Kaufman, who was eighty-six when he began his first novel, A Bowl of Cherries, and ninety when it was published. I was a mere fifty when I began writing for paid publication. It all happened because I fell in love with the Arkansas Ozarks. My husband and I bought land here in 1978, and my first essay about an Arkansas happening burst out of me in 1986. It sold almost immediately and was followed by dozens of published essays and magazine features, as well as a weekly fifteen-minute radio program of Ozarks news. Everything I wrote was about the nature, people, places, and events in the Arkansas Ozarks. In 1990 I began forming a number of my published pieces and other material into the non-fiction story of the Nehrings' transformation from city career people to happy Ozarks hillbillies. The result, Dear Earth: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow, was released in New York in 1995, earning the Arkansas Governor's Award for best writing about the state.

I wondered, "What next?" and decided I'd like to try writing a cozy mystery series. A Valley to Die For came out in 2002 and has been followed by six more "To Die For" novels, each of them showcasing the adventures of Carrie McCrite and Henry King and their friends. The Carrie and Henry adventures feature real Ozarks locations, real Ozarks history, plausible crimes, (given the locations), and a cast of fictitious characters--some of them Ozarks natives--who could be real folks--but aren't. Number eight in the series is in work.

I am so grateful to say that others must enjoy these visits to Ozarks tourist spots as much as I do, because the series has earned over twenty-five writing awards, including a Macavity nomination, and a National Silver Falchion from Killer Nashville. The biggest thrill was being chosen the 2011 inductee into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame.  (Who? ME?)

And now here’s her post on the age-old question that makes most authors cringe: Where do you get your story ideas?

Published authors are sometimes asked "Where do you get your story ideas?"  Many folks seem to think getting ideas is the most difficult part of writing fiction, and sometimes they offer to sell writers their story ideas, or give them to the author and then share, half and half, in the earnings.

Authors reading this will probably agree with me that it doesn't work that way. In fact, sometimes too many story ideas can be more of a problem than a lack of same. (Right now, an idea for novel number nine is tickling me while I'm still writing number eight. Sheesh!)  Ideas for my novels come from my life experiences, from what I read in the news and elsewhere, and from listening to and watching people in public places. They come from Ozarks history and the people who lived it. But, most of all, they come from locations in the Arkansas Ozarks that shout “story at me.  Though the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism has made location suggestions, as have others, I have to visit potential destinations and spend enough time there to find out which of them do shout “story.”  (And then I have to be sure park employees, business owners, and others in those locations are going to be comfortable with having a mystery novel feature their special place. With one exception, all have been thrilled. In each case, employees and/or park rangers have entered into story research so thoroughly that they began living plot creation with me as we explored possible crimes and perils. Now that's fun!)

In addition to all of the above, plots now have to fit my major characters, especially Carrie McCrite and Henry King. (Once cautious friends, now a married couple--see A Wedding to Die For.)  I know them better than anyone walking the earth with the exception of my husband and sister and brother-in-law.  Shirley Booth, Carrie's best friend, and her husband Roger, are dairy farmers “down in the valley” and, as fourth-generation Ozarks dwellers, they are able to offer both wisdom and humor.

I love these people, love spending time with them.  Author Marilyn Meredith once said she kept writing more of her series novels because she wanted to learn what was going on in her characters' lives.  I know just exactly what she meant.

If you'd like to come along on this adventure for the fun (and suspense) my books are available through traditional book stores, and on line at, B& and others, in both e-book and print formats.  Links are offered on my web site:


Saturday, May 10, 2014

How do you live your life?

I've been thinking a lot the last couple of days about how we live our lives. Someone once said to me that I acted as though I expected something wonderful to happen any minute--and in my life so many wonderful things have happened that I guess my expectations are justified. I have a good friend who has been ill for several years and has gradually withdrawn into herself, staying home, allowing select people into her life but very few of them. I have feared for some time she suffered from major depression as well as the diseases that beset her. But for along time invitations to lunch or dinner have been accepted and then declined at the last minute--she forgot, or she didn't feel well enough. Attempts to suggest that getting out of the house would make her feel better were met with, "I suppose you're right" but no action followed.
I know another woman, an author, who has a diagnosis of an extremely viral kind of cancer, yet she has produced two books since that diagnosis, is all over Facebook and other social media sites, runs a happy household with her husband and three children, and holds down a full-time job. Sometimes when we correspond she's forthright about her uncertain future, but mostly she's upbeat, full of plans, bubbling with joy at her life and her recent writing success. What she almost never mentions is the days she's so sick from chemo she can hardly raise her head. She gets over them and goes on with life. I have great admiration for her--and she's half my age. Well, almost.
None of us can walk in another person's moccasins, and we don't know how we'd react to circumstances such as dire illness. I for one am lucky that at 75, I am beset only by problems mostly managed by medication and the minor aches and pains of aging--a tremor in my left hand, a slight insecurity sometimes when I walk across difficult terrain--but I am basically healthy and happy. I don't know what 'd do if confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis or a shortened life expectancy. But I like to think I'd rush out and do all the things I enjoy--being with family, eating out with friends, cooking for family and friends, as long as I was able.
There's an old saw that appears on Facebook frequently, and now I can't think exactly how it goes but in essence it says happiness is not something you seek from the outside; it's something you find within yourself. And I think research about the relationship between health and happiness is well established.
But I ache and cry for my friend who is so miserable. I guess we all live our lives to our style, and we can't enforce that style on others. So it would do not good now to shake her and say I told you to get out of this house. I can only pray for comfort for her.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The joy of family

These are my Mother's Day flowers from my Frisco kids. When I wrote a thank you to Mel, she said, "I thought they were bright and cheery, just like you." Isn't that a wonderful thing for a daughter-in-law to say about me? (I've always said she was my fifth child.)
Tonight's post is a shout-out to the sister of my son-in-law, Christian. Julie Wyatt received her master's degree in urban studies today from the University of Texas at Arlington. No small accomplishment to complete an advanced degree while raising two girls she and her husband fostered and finally, after some drawn-out suspension, were able to adopt. Julie's husband, Aaron, an elementary school librarian, has been a huge support, but still, the mothering fell on Julie. And I am mightily impressed and proud that she carried on with both roles. She has a job in Denton and they have a contract on a house there, so the future is looking good for them. Their daughters were brought to them, without notice one night, almost five years ago--filthy dirty, malnourished, and at least one physically abused. That they have turned life around for those sweet girls is no small accomplishment; that Julie also got an advanced degree is pretty remarkable. I'm glad to have people like that in my family.
And then there's my oldest granddaughter, Madison, who just turned fifteen and got her driver's learner's permit.--have you ever seen a prettier or a happier girl? Her mom posted on Facebook, "Be kind when you see us coming," but then added that Maddie is already an awesome driver. I haven't yet ridden with her but I'm looking forward to it. She's one of the nicest teenagers I've ever known (with all due respect to my two daughters, who didn't always fit into that category). Being the oldest of seven grandchildren on my side of the family, she has shown remarkable kindness and caring for the little ones who came behind her--and she was an only for four years. Now her interests, as far as I can tell, are basketball and signing for the hearing impaired. Makes me pretty proud.
And then there are my Houston kids. Morgan did a project for school on Grace, their German shepherd (who I suspect is a shepherd mix). I do not have fond memories of Grace--the one time she was here she wanted to eat Sophie, who only wanted to play, but they tell me she has settled down since. Not sure I want to risk Sophie on a trial run, but cheers to Morgan for her project.
And then there's Kegan who's most remarkable accomplishment (off the soccer/baseball/football field) seems to be eating chocolate and scowling--not an easy combination. He is, I'm sure, going to be every bit as good-looking as his dad who used to be compared to Tom Cruise Personally I think Colin is better looking, and he didn't jump on couches and act crazy. But I am crazy about this boy, the youngest of my grandchildren.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Texas weather and family tidbits

It's sunny and a pleasant temperature outside, a lovely evening. Jacob has asked three times if it's still too wet for him to go outdoors, and I've assured him it is. The weather must have had a grudge against school children today--it rained steadily as they scurried to school, but quit soon after. By then, though, Field Day was off. The day was dark and dismal but barely any rain. I went to lunch with friend Mary Dulle who worried about getting her new/old Porsche Boxter convertible back home before hail hit. Hail never hit here, but it rained again fairly steadily just at three when it was time for the kids to get out of school. I chickened out and asked neighbor and good friend Don Lee to get Jacob when he got Max. He arrived wearing Max's coat over his head and announced he look like a flying nun, said one of the boys offered to call him "Sister." Once everyone was safely home, it stopped raining again, and is now pleasant again. But I hear--hope--there's more rain to come.
But it made a nice morning. I loved staying home, watching the slow steady rain, even enjoying the darkness that came with it. In the afternoon, one loud clap of thunder startled Jacob, though he said "I'm not afraid of tornadoes anymore." There followed a discussion about the difference between being afraid of tornadoes and of thunder.
East of us there were heavy storms and property damage. I am grateful for the gentle, nourishing rains we had.
My family never fails to amuse. The Austin family no longer had mail delivery. This fearsome dog has driven off the mailman. Brandon called to thank me for the birthday present he should have gotten two weeks ago--Megan had to go to the post office to collect their mail. As one who watches daily for the mail, two weeks without would drive me crazy but they are wired differently than I am. Anyway Edie is a loveable sweet ten-pound thing, and I can't imagine what occasioned this. I've always believed you should trist a dog who doesn't like a person but never trust a person who doesn't like dogs.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Tax Season Is Terrific for Murder

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, D. R. Ransdell, author of Mariachi Murder and the upcoming Island Casualty. A native of Illinois who opted for warmer winters in Arizona, she bases many of her novels on her own experiences and travels. For example, she actually played violin in a mariachi band. Read about her adventures at  I guess we’ll have to wait a while for the novel inspired by tax season, but her thoughts on it will give you a chuckle…and maybe some ideas.


To write murder mysteries, you need victims. On an everyday basis, sometimes I find these in the form of ex-boyfriends. Sometimes I borrow bad bosses from my friends. But in the tax season, I don’t need any help. I can find plenty of murder victims all by myself.

This year was a case in point. My taxes got me so flummoxed that I was ready to kill Turbo Tax and anybody else in sight. I was especially ready to kill the creator of the K-1 Corporation. The paperwork required to successfully create a K-1 is denser than a dissertation. There couldn’t be any easier way?

While I was working on my taxes, I started procrastinating. I started thinking of all the different ways I could use my tax woes inside my novels. I could easily kill off an evil supervisor who didn’t send a tax form in time, an accountant who purposefully made mistakes, a banker who “mislaid” papers, and a postal worker who accidentally on purpose lost returns on the way back to the mail truck. And that’s just for starters!

Some mystery writers use reprehensible serial killers and other miscreants, but in my own mysteries, I find more horror in the ordinary, everyday detail. Almost everybody has to pay taxes, so murdering off a tax consultant is something that many readers can relate to. Those of us who are normally mild mannered entertain wild fantasies of robbing banks to pay unexpected tax fees. We imagine spying on procrastinators as they race to the post office on the evening of April 15th. We can imagine auditors who come to our houses never to be seen again.

In short, the tax season is useful. While I find it painful to figure out and pay taxes, it’s always best to look on the bright side of things. As a writer, I can turn routine problems into material for writing. Thus instead of complaining bitterly about doing my taxes, I’ll plot my next story about someone too cheap to pay to have taxes done or somehow who goes crazy when the electronic tax program says “error, please check line 24” for the nine-hundredth time.

Some of my fans ask how I come up with so many ideas for my murder mysteries. The truth is that I have plenty of ideas. The only problem is that during tax season, I don’t have any time for writing!

Please read about MARIACHI MURDER and the upcoming ISLAND CASUALTY at




Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Orr maybe a lot.

I have been delinquent about blogging but mostly because I don't have much to say. There is so much in the world to be distressed about but most of it has been all over Facebook and some in the media. The missing schoolgirls in Nigeria for instance--finally the media has taken up the cause and now the horrifying mass kidnapping is getting plenty of international attention. But where was the outrage when it happened?
Or the House investigation of Benghazi. Really? Again? I thought that was a dead issue--the White House even admitted that security was lax. And nobody seems to realize there were something like eight raids on embassies during the Bush administration with sixty people killed. But now the House (Republicans) are alarmed because four people were killed in a raid on a consulate, where the ambassador just happened to be visiting. Could the House more profitably spend its money on climate research--which the President made into a big media deal today--and recovery efforts from the devastating winter we've had, with costs in the billions?
Meantime my little insular life seems to go along peacefully, and it almost makes me feel guilty. Life at my age seems to consist of a lot of doctor appointments, though I think I've gotten them over in a batch now--family practitioner, dermatologist. dentist, audiologist tomorrow. Today it was the vet for Sophie's annual checkup, and she was pronounced a healthy, happy dog. And lunch with friends takes a chunk of my days but I am so grateful for that--lunch today with a longtime good friend. Our paths have diverged--mine as much as hers--but it's good that we catch up every once in a while. And tomorrow my favorite colleague (and now good friend) from TCU Press is coming here for tuna salad. We have lots to catch up on.
Somewhere in all this I have a novel to write, blogs to write, and all the other stuff--and  a new life plan I may be ready to talk about soon. Meantime, my life is good--I wish I could say that for the world as we pray over wildfires in Okahoma, drought in Texas, and man-made disasters that threaten our world.
Be safe everyone.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Another day of trivia

I have frittered away the day with trivia...and oh, boy, does it feel good. I spent two long grueling days fixing formatting on a manuscript (not mine but one I was editing). Haven't heard from the managing editor, so not even sure if I did it right, but that is surely not the creative part of writing or editing. I love to edit, to catch little things, suggest better ways of saying something, ask what a passage means. Fiddling with extra spaces and track changes and all that, not so much. So I guess that's why I decided to take a vacation today.
Went to the grocery, where my outrage was that they carry Centrum Silver for Men but not for women--had to buy a generic. But my daughter-in-law just told me Centrum Silver is recommended by her ophthalmologist for eye health. Any idea what would happen if I took Centrum Silver for Men--no, we won't go there.
Lunch with friends but I forgot to put my hearing aids in which was a definite handicap. Still fun and good. Home to nap, and spent the afternoon fiddling with small things on my desk, worrying about whether or not I can afford the pants and shirt I want from a catalog, fixing a really special parfait for Jacob--strawberry yogurt, blueberries, granola, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce, all in layers. He didn't make it was far as the blueberries.
Quick visit with Jordan, nice happy hour with Jay and Susan who kindly invited me to go with them for barbecue. I declined, ate zucchini, asparagus, and smoked trout--low calorie but good. But oh my, that barbecue was tempting.
Now I've spent an inordinate amount of time on Facebook--did you know there's a breed of dog named Boerboel? One of the best guardian breeds--bred to fight lions in Africa. And Caucasian sheepdogs? I thought I knew about dogs but I keep learning about new breeds. In truth, these bits of trivial knowledge are one of the things I like about Facebook.
And now? I'm going to read. I know, I know--there's a novel to be written. But not tonight. However, I now have a grand plan for my writing career for the next few years. Watch my dust if I ever get over this spell of self-satisfied laziness.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Jane Austen and Donna Fletcher Crow

Please welcome my Wednesday guest on Thursday—Donna Crow, whose new release is A Jane Austen Encounter, an Elizabeth and Richard Mystery. Donna is the the author of 43 books, mostly novels of British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave, A Darkly Hidden Truth and An Unholy Communion as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the literary suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have four adult children and 13 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:  You can follow her on Facebook at:


Every story has a back story. Perhaps, though, A Jane Austen Encounter has its roots deeper in my subconscious than most. To get to the bottom we have to go back more years than I care to count to my sophomore year in high school when my English teacher, little Mr. Hodgsen— who looked like Charlie Chaplin— knew me better than I knew myself and insisted that I delve into the English classics—while everyone else in my class was allowed to choose their own reading. I’ve never looked back. Nor have I ever quit saying thank you to Mr. Hodgsen because my love for Jane Austen has grown and flowered for more than half a century.

Long before the current craze for Jane Austen spin-offs in movies, television and books and the popularity of “I heart Darcy” book bags, I was curled up in a comfy chair with a book (not an ereader) walking across a green English field with Elizabeth Bennett, traipsing the streets of Bath with Anne Elliot, or attending a strawberrying party with Emma Woodhouse.

 When visiting Bath— first as a side trip to various other projects— I always tried to see it through Jane’s eyes. And then, when researching A Jane Austen Encounter I had the fun of tracing all of Jane’s steps, as well as those of Catherine Moreland and Anne Elliott, through the consciousness of my literary sleuths Elizabeth and Richard.

That trip, following the Jane Austen Trail with my fictional literature professors, took me from Bath to the charming Chawton cottage where Jane’s writing flowered and the nearby Steventon church where her father was rector and her own faith established. I stood by her grave in Winchester Cathedral and had a wonderful personal tour of the lovely country estate of Godmersham, home of Jane’s brother Edward Knight. That trip was the fulfillment of a lifetime dream for me— as it was for Elizabeth and Richard. And I didn’t have to cope with any dead bodies.
Godmersham to the left; Chawton Cottage above

Then, as a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, last autumn my husband and I attended the JASNA annual general meeting in Minneapolis. The lectures, classes and teas were all wonderful, but few things in my life have been as much fun as the Regency Ball. Stan and I took an English Country Dancing class to be primed for the intricate steps and I costumed in full Regency dress, including an ostrich feather in my hair. It was truly as if the characters had stepped out of all my favorite books. And I was dancing with my own Mr. Darcy.
Donna and her Mr. Darcy to the right; tea with Colin Firth, left.

 There couldn’t have been a more perfect place to launch A Jane Austen Encounter, but I remembered to warn readers, “Beware: Evil lurks even in the genteel world of Jane Austen.”

 “Playful mystery featuring an engaging pair of amateur sleuths.”
                                    Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine