Friday, July 31, 2015

Time to put my feet up

I have enjoyed this enforced week at home, even if I haven’t elevated my foot as much as I should. I’m ready to move on and get back into the world. My foot, however, is not. The ankle is still puffy, and I still have fleeting but fairly serious pain at night—like what I imagine phantom pain is like if you’ve lost a limb. The doctor said to check back in two weeks if it isn’t better, and it’s only been four days since I saw him.

I’ve been busy at my desk and feel good about what I’ve done. After a strongly positive review from my beta reader (how he’d laugh at that term), I sent “Murder at Peacock Mansion” off to an editor. My chores for today were to write a blurb and a synopsis—I know, I know. The synopsis should come first. But I get involved in the story I’m telling, and it changes so far from any synopsis I did before writing that the idea is futile. I know people who keep chapter by chapter outlines as they go—probably a great idea, but once again it would stop the flow of my story-telling. I read today that we should be open to new ways of editing and revising and I agree—except that I don’t want to. I rely on a good editor to tell me if I’ve run amuck.

Before I labored over a blurb, I checked my file—and I’d already written a better than average blurb (at least in my opinion). Started the synopsis and it went poorly, sounding like “And then this happens, and then that.” My novel disappeared in the mechanical retelling. So I gave up and completed my final chore—asking two authors to write short endorsements of the work. To my delight, the first two I asked agreed. I’m feeling really good about the week’s accomplishments.

I’ve been thinking about the craft of writing a lot lately. I follow the Sisters in Crime listserv and that of Guppies (a subgroup) religiously, and there are lots of posts like the one just referred to about revision and editing. Some authors make elaborate outlines, do extensive character profiles, keep spreadsheets, etc. —in short, they have the book almost written before they type “Chapter One.” Certainly would have helped me with a synopsis if I'd done that. 

I’m a pantser. I get that first sentence, and I’m off. I do believe the old saw that your characters tell you what’s going to happen if you’ll only listen to them. So I write without a clear plan of what’s going to happen or where I’m going next. Of course, that’s why I ended up with a woman having two college-age children in one chapter, four children in another, and then one. She now has one diva daughter, about to go off to a women’s college.

I ask myself often if I truly value the spontaneity of my method or if that’s a cop-out. Maybe I’m too lazy to learn about spreadsheets and Scrivener and One Note and all those writing tools my colleagues talk about. Or maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Random thoughts on the death of Cecil the lion

So much has been written about the slaughter of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion, that I am hesitant to add to the mixture of fact and fiction. But the incident troubles me so much I rehashed it too many times in one of those three-o’clock and I can’t sleep times last night.

The dentist’s apology and protests of innocence ring hollow. He has already been penalized for poaching a bear and, today, revelations hint he may also be a sexual predator (you never know about what you read on Facebook). But this I do know: a man who hunts for sport and trophy heads and his own pleasure, has no soul. I shudder to think of his house, every wall sporting a mounted trophy head. Hunting for food is one thing; hunting for sport totally another.

Please tell me it’s not true (but I suspect it is) that Cecil was lured out of the wildlife refuge by an animal carcass strapped to a vehicle.

Hunting for sport with bow and arrow is beyond cruel. This was not a clean kill, and the wounded lion lived forty hours after first being shot. The hunters had to search for him and finish him off with a rifle.

Selfishly, I hope to see no more pictures of Cecil on the net. He was a magnificent animal, and my heart breaks every time I see him.

It’s time to move beyond outrage to concrete action to stop poaching and curb legal hunting worldwide. I’m glad to see that steps are being taken in that direction. Want to help? Here’s an address: It’s for the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. There’s also a petition going around to put lions on the endangered species list (they may already be—not sure about that). We can do something concrete to help the world by speaking out. My mom used to say that some good comes of everything—making a difference for wildlife may be the good that comes out of this tragedy.

Karma is effective: I suspect the dentist’s life will never again be filled with hunts and trophies and, as one writer said, searches for his manhood. His practice is effectively ruined—who would take their teeth to him? I wouldn’t be surprised if his wife left him, if he has a wife. And he’s cowering in a corner somewhere. Not sure about this, but I read that if the use of a lure to get Cecil on public property is proven, the dentist can be extradited and prosecuted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the case, and the White House has accepted a petition to look into it. One of the hunters who was with him has been charged in Zimbabwe with failure to prevent an unlawful kill.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Overcoming Inertia

Once I told a colleague that I usually got food for the cat while swishing mouthwash around in my mouth because who wants to just stand there for sixty seconds. She howled with laughter. “You of all people would not want to waste sixty seconds.” And that’s been the pattern of my life—maybe a little shy of OCD but not much. I’ve always kept busy.

Lately I’ve been troubled by a lack of energy, an unwillingness to do simple chores around the house, though I’m perfectly content to follow odd leads, read long e-mails, etc. at my computer. Is it the much-dreaded computer addiction? Is inertia a sign of aging? What happened to my ambition? It’s been worse, of course, since my swollen foot. I’ve written enough about that to last a lifetime, but I will say it’s better today—not perfect, but I’m wearing shoes and making a conscious effort to walk normally.

This morning I decided my project would be to dig in to the reader’s “points to ponder” in “Murder at Peacock Mansion”—they were all valid points that added depth to the manuscript, like a reference to Miss Havisham or the subtle difference between using “handgun” and “pistol.” Ten minutes later I’d taken care of all of them, so I decided I would read through the manuscript one more time before sending it to the editor.

About noon, while I ate lunch, I took a break and turned to the novel I’m currently reading. Didn’t take me long to decide my own manuscript was more interesting—is that ego or what?—and go back to editing. It’s amazing what you find even though you’ve read the darn thing countless times. Today I found a woman had two children on one page, one a bit later, and then four. Now she only has one—a spoiled diva of a young woman. I found on my own places where I could add a little depth of character, a little more sense of place—and I was having fun doing it.

Tonight I’m through—my mysteries are fairly short—and pleased with the result. One place I need to go back and tweet and then it goes to the editor. So maybe I’m past inertia. I also did two loads of laundry, tried on a new shirt I’d ordered and decided to keep it (it lay on the bedroom chair for several days), and managed to keep up with the kitchen—not hard when I’m home alone all day and a friend brings supper. But I’m going to keep working on this inertia thing—there are always little things to be done: the dishwasher should be run—it smells musty which may signal the end of my not using the hot-dry cycle; there’s a blue canvas bag on the dining room floor that belongs to a friend but needs to be safely stored for her; a few clean clothes to hang in my closet. Little stuff like that I once would never have overlooked and now I do. I have decided to tackle a bit of it each day.

Sweet dreams, friends.






Overcoming inertia

 Once I told a colleague that I usually got food for the cat while swishing mouthwash around in my mouth because who wants to just stand there for sixty seconds. She howled with laughter. “You of all people would not want to waste sixty seconds.” And that’s been the pattern of my life—maybe a little shy of OCD but not much. I’ve always kept busy.
Lately I’ve been troubled by a lack of energy, an unwillingness to do simple chores around the house, though I’m perfectly content to follow odd leads, read long e-mails, etc. at my computer. Is it the much-dreaded computer addiction? Is inertia a sign of aging? What happened to my ambition? It’s been worse, of course, since my swollen foot. I’ve written enough about that to last a lifetime, but I will say it’s better today—not perfect, but I’m wearing shoes and making a conscious effort to walk normally.
This morning I decided my project would be to dig in to the reader’s “points to ponder” in “Murder at Peacock Mansion”—they were all valid points that added depth to the manuscript, like a reference to Miss Havisham or the subtle difference between using “handgun” and “pistol.” Ten minutes later I’d taken care of all of them, so I decided I would read through the manuscript one more time before sending it to the editor.
About noon, while I ate lunch, I took a break and turned to the novel I’m currently reading. Didn’t take me long to decide my own manuscript was more interesting—is that ego or what?—and go back to editing. It’s amazing what you find even though you’ve read the darn thing countless times. Today I found a woman had two children on one page, one a bit later, and then four. Now she only has one—a spoiled diva of a young woman. I found on my own places where I could add a little depth of character, a little more sense of place—and I was having fun doing it.
Tonight I’m through—my mysteries are fairly short—and pleased with the result. One place I need to go back and tweak and then it goes to the editor. So maybe I’m past inertia. I also did two loads of laundry, tried on a new shirt I’d ordered and decided to keep it (it lay on the bedroom chair for several days), and managed to keep up with the kitchen—not hard when I’m home alone all day and a friend brings supper. But I’m going to keep working on this inertia thing—there are always little things to be done: the dishwasher should be run—it smells musty which may signal the end of my not using the hot-dry cycle; there’s a blue canvas bag on the dining room floor that belongs to a friend but needs to be safely stored for her; a few clean clothes to hang in my closet. Little stuff like that I once would never have overlooked and now I do. I have decided to tackle a bit of it each day.
Sweet dreams, friends.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Happy Days are here again

This morning I had my first fit of temper since my foot swelled. I was tired of lurching around the house from furniture to furniture, making sure there was a cane handy, not being able to do anything or go anywhere. On the other hand, I was afraid of pushing my luck. So I had a pity party. After much trepidation, I took a French bath—worked better than I thought. Then an early lunch, a quick nap, and a good friend drove me to the doctor—something else I probably could have done but was afraid to.

Now I’m a new person. The doctor said it was probably venous insufficiency (which translates to old age in my mind)—a varicose vein probably burst. Apparently this would account for the pain that preceded the swelling and the swelling itself. It should, he said, resolve shortly. Best of all he advised removing the compression bandage because all it did was push the swelling into my toes. And he eliminated the ankle brace—“there’s nothing wrong with your ankle.” Such a relief. He did take lots of blood to rule out other things,

Left his office and salvaged a bit of my afternoon nap and then ran around the house like the energizer bunny, clearing off surfaces that were cluttered and bothering me, picking up this, that, and the other and putting them where they belonged, Even set out plates, napkins and flatware for friends who brought Tuesday night dinner to me.

Tonight, I admit I may have done too much—just a tad. But Jordan and Christian came in, and she was delighted to see me in shoes and walking well. It’s a whole new me, with a whole new attitude. I’m going to lay low for a couple of days before attempting much, but I’m a happy camper tonight.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The birthday fun continues

Sophie just had to get in the picture
with me, Carol on the left, and Kathie on the right
So far I haven’t had much time to feel sorry for myself with my foot elevated. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve had enough time to elevate it. But I continue to be spoiled by friends and family. Today Jean came for lunch, and we enjoyed leftover layered salad. Tonight Carol and I were supposed to go to Kathie’s in Arlington for a celebration of our shared birthdays. When I said I really didn’t think I could do that, Kathie packed up a delicious summer supper and brought it to my house. A main dish of layers of rice, black beans, cheese and vegetables, with salad dressing. So delicious. And a fruit tart for dessert. If nothing else my inactivity plus all these kind gestures of food are going to make me fat(ter).

I tried to keep my foot elevated as much as I could. Slept with a pillow under it. Got up about seven to let Sophie out and went back to bed for another hour. I figure this week all I really must do is blog and keep up with email. So about mid-morning I went to the sunroom, sat on the couch with my foot on a large stuffed white tiger, intending to read all the material they sent home with me from the ER. Instead I fell asleep. After lunch and a few more emails, I slept again—wakened only when Subie brought me leftovers from their refrigerator (they’re cleaning out for a remodeling). Then it was Jay, who watered my porch plants and put my new inspection sticker on the car; Jordan, who emptied the dishwasher, put a few new dishes in, and straightened the kitchen; then a friend of Jordan’s who was sweet enough to bring me a tiny Bundt cake. As usual, my house overflowed with happiness at happy hour. And for a while I lay on the couch with three pillows under my foot—Jay insisted it has to be higher than my heart. I couldn’t really take part in conversation from that position, so I finally settled for sitting with the foot on the coffee table again. And then my dinner guests were here. Jay left, outnumbered by women five to one. And Jordan and Chandry left soon after.

Carol, Kathie and I had our usual good time—old friends used to being together, knowing the ups and downs of each others’ lives. We chatted, caught up, Kathie and I told grandchildren stories, and we just had a good time.
Tomorrow I go to the doctor to hear what he says about my foot. It was much less swollen this morning but as I did what little I had to do on my feet, it began to swell more. I have iced it twice and hope for a miracle in the morning.

A quick Jacob story: Jordan was talking to him from the ER, reassuring him I was okay. She handed me the phone.
Jacob: Hi, Juju. Do you have it?
Me: It what?
Jacob: You know, the sickness. My dad told me all about it this morning.
All I can figure is that Christian told him about blood clots, so I assured him I didn’t have one and would be okay. But I loved “the sickness”—sounded like TB or plague or some awful medieval disease.

Sleep well, my friends, and keep your feet elevated.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sometimes life throw you a curve

July 26, 2015
My guardian angel
Sometimes life throws you a curve, and it did me this morning. I woke up with my left foot twice the size of my right. I’d been having trouble with the foot for five nights—weird, acute but brief pain during the night. Yesterday via phone my brother confirmed my diagnosis of neuropathy. This morning, when I reported the swelling, he said “There goes the neuropathy diagnosis. Go to ER to be sure you don’t have a clot.” I called Jordan, and she was here in record time. We spent the next three hours in the ER, where by x-ray and ultrasound they ruled out a clot—the good news. Best diagnosis: an arthritic flare-up with possible gout. I’m off my feet for at least three or four days, except for what little moving about I must do.

Not my best picture--no makeup
sloppy clothes hastily grabbed
and an attitude
Here’s a paean to Jordan. She has been my absolute guardian angel all day (not that she doesn’t take good care of me every day). In the ER, she handed me everything from banana to green tea to my phone and the newspaper. She asked the questions I forgot to ask, and she kept her uncle and big brother up to date. The other two siblings were traveling, and she decided not to worry them.

Once we got home she went to the drugstore for a prescription and a compression sock, fixed lunch—Christian and Jacob had joined the party by then—and she and Christian made the salad I was supposed to make for supper tonight.

Because here’s the kicker—we had fifteen people to celebrate my birthday and that of Susan Halbower, my neighbor and close friend. A salad buffet—everyone brought a salad, and Jordan made a wonderful antipasto. Good meal for a summer evening. Jordan cleaned the kitchen and started my new dishwasher on its maiden run. My house is in almost perfect shape, my plants watered (thank to Jacob), my dog fed and happy.

It was a lovely evening, and I sat on the couch, with my ugly foot on a cushion on the coffee table, the entire time while people brought me food and drink. I know in 24 hours I’ll be itching to be on the go, but tonight I felt like a queen and was quite content. And now am very tired.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who, me? Waste time on Facebook? You bet!

Since my writing projects are on hold, I decided to tackle Pinterest tonight. When I first discovered it. I spent too many hours scrolling through. I created duplicate boards. I mean, really, what’s the difference between Judy’s Bookshelf and My Bookshelf? Both became a mixture of my own books, other books I liked, and clever quotes about the world of books. But mostly I found recipes—oh, I pinned and copied like a mad fool. And then one day I decided this wasn’t at all an avenue for marketing my books, and I dropped it.

But I read about authors who created boards for each book, using Pinterest almost as a way of keeping notes. I envied their ambition and went on my way. There’s only so much one can do with social media, I told myself, a sentiment echoed by other authors on various lists.

Facebook? When others scorn it and rant because they keep changing the rules, I am an unabashed fan. Sure I use it to tell people when I have a new book, but it is so much more—I post my blogs on it, I comment on other people’s posts, I make observations of my own, sometimes political. My morning ritual consists of reading emails, followed by the newspaper on the days I take it, and then by Facebook. I can easily spend an hour on Facebook and then wonder where the morning went. But Facebook is often the place I learn about breaking news; it’s where I read a lot about politics and politicians—although some of my family will howl, I’m pretty judicious about what columnists, etc. I follow. And friends—I’ve made so many new friends, kept in better touch with acquaintances, reignited old friendships. If I’m going to spend time on social media, Facebook is it.

Twitter not so much, although once in a fit of creativity, I fixed it so my Facebook posts go to Twitter—I have a son-in-law who does it the opposite, so that his FB posts are usually incomprehensible to me. But other than occasionally retweeting, I don’t do it. Linked In is, to me, for people who want to advance their careers in the professional world, and I don’t know about Google+ though I always follow back. Same with Goodreads. Instagram? What’s that?

Now I read that Pinterest is second only to Facebook in terms of traffic generation and way ahead of Twitter or Google+. So that’s why my concentration on Pinterest tonight. I did post a couple of new book covers but the main thing I got was a recipe for smoked salmon dip with bacon and jalapeno. I posted it to Potluck with Judy.

I don’t think I’ll ever master social media, but who really does?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Time on My Hands

I read today somewhere that readers aren’t interested in blogs about writing—those only appeal to other writers, and few of them at that. But I thought you should know that much of the writing life consists of waiting. At least, that’s where I am now. I’ve sent off the proposal for the Chicago novel and this week, nudged the publisher by following up with a marvelous endorsement from a major Chicago author. Waiting to hear.

At the first of the week—or was it the last of the previous week?—I gave the mystery manuscript, “Murder at the Peacock Mansion,” to a reader. He promised to return before the end of the month, so I’m waiting. After all, that’s not so long.

The editor of the chili book wrote yesterday with three questions, which she swore were the last. So until it’s time to promote, there’s little for me to do. And Texas Tech seems to be such an efficient press, that I’m sure they’ll guide me through promotion. And so I wait.

This week, there was suddenly some renewed interested in a children’s history of Fort Worth, a project I’ve been trying to push one way or another for thirty years and in the last ten years Carol Roark and I have collaborated on—she will do image research to accompany my text, which is drafted. So I sent the manuscript off to the interested publisher…and we wait.

Most people who are as OCD as I am would promptly get busy on another project and, indeed, I have one awaiting my attention. I have 30,000 words drafted on the second Oak Grove Mystery (following Susan Hogan in The Perfect Coed). It’s timely in our era of gun violence because it deals with open carry. But I’m reluctant to get into the middle of that when other things might call me away.

I’m well aware that a month from today school starts, and I will give up long, lazy lunches with friends followed by long lazy naps. I should enjoy this time while I have it, and to a great extent I am. For one thing I’m reading mysteries that I have let backpile—Julie Hyzy’s Grace Calls Uncle, which I reviewed on this blog recently. Now I’m reading Terrie Moran’s Caught Read-Handed, the excellent sequel to her Well Read, Then Dead. But reading is always a luxury to me…and I suffer from the itchy feeling I should be doing something more productive.

I suspect this uncomfortable waiting periods come to most writers, though many probably handle them better than I do. Meantime, I know this too shall pass. And I have a bit of cooking to do.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Judy's Stew--Writing, Grandmothering, and a Dash of Texas

As I begin this year of dedicated blogging, I thought it appropriate to reprint the first post I ever wrote. A lot has changed: I've been retired since July 2010; I have seven grandchildren; I have published nine mysteries, with plans for many more.  My world keeps moving on. But this is where I was nine years ago...and how Judy's Stew came about.
July 1, 2006
When Melanie, long known as my fifth child though she’s married to my third child, suggested I needed a blog, I scoffed. I knew little about blogs and, as I told her, had nothing to contribute. “Jude,” she exploded, “you have lots to write about.” So I began to explore, the idea intriguing me more and more. There are things I want to talk about, things on which I’d like feedback, things I wish I could talk over with someone who shares the same outlook and frustrations as a writer. And then she came with that wonderful title that reflects all the things that fill my life--writing, my grandchildren, cooking, and Texas history. So this is for Melanie . . . and for me.
I am just shy of sixty-eight, the grandmother of five and a half children, the mother of four. Those are my most important roles, but I’m also the author of about sixty published books, though I always demur and add the qualifier that the majority were slim books written for third- or fourth-graders on assignment. Still they took research and work. And I've written fiction for adults and young adults, articles, essays, book reviews. Right now I do a monthly column on Texas Writers for the Dallas Morning New. In 2005, Western Writers of America honored me with their Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement, so the writing life has been good for me.

But writing doesn't support nor did it provide for raising four children as a single parent. For almost twenty years I've been the director of TCU (Texas Christian University) Press, a small academic press in Fort Worth, Texas--it's work that I love and so far, I refuse to really retire, though I've cut back. I also like to entertain and cook for guests (usually an experiment), and I'm a homeowner with a garden, a cat, and a dog, a churchgoer and a volunteer, and fortunate enough to have many many good friends.
So what are my concerns? How to be a good grandparent, how to be a good in-law, what to do about my writing career (which I'm always sure has stalled), what to do about global warming, how to improve the United States’ image abroad—a wide variety of things. And I love trading cooking tips and recipes. Sometimes I may show you pictures of my grandchildren (when I figure that out) and sometimes I may try out a prospective writing project. Who knows? Sometimes I may rant, but this is not an in-your-face blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Year's Worth of Judy's Stew

Today I am seventy-seven years old or, as my father would have said, entering my seventy-eighth year. I am blessed with good health, a wonderful and close family, a comfortable life and home, complete with a faithful dog. I still have a career—writing—and an avocation—cooking. Still, I feel about thirty-five, and it amazes me to think of my age. And, yes, scares me a bit too.

I’ve been blogging almost daily for nine years, and I have a fairly good following. From time to time, someone suggests a book of my blogs—a publisher gave me free rein on organization (writing, my life, cooking, etc.) and my brother wants me to pull out family-related blogs. Both would be great projects, but I didn’t keep Word files—just wrote on the blog—and it’s a mess to retrieve.

So I decided to keep Word files of my posts for a year, and my birthday seems a good place to start. I don’t want to creep into my new year; I want to stride confidently. Maybe with that thought in mind, I’ll come up with enough meaningful posts.

Yes, there’ll be some blatant self-promotion, some cooking, some posts about family. Jacob starts fourth grade this year, and I’m hoping it will go more smoothly than third, which has had its rough spots. There may be some book reviews, if I read books that not everyone else has read. I may even recycle some posts I’ve written about my own work for other blogs. I won’t avoid politics. If you read my blog at all regularly, you know that I’m a liberal or progressive. This should be an interesting year, with a crowd of candidates on the Republican side and some interesting debates shaping up on the Democratic. If I feel moved to comment, I won’t mince words. Sometimes I’ll simply post my observations on life around me. If it’s a truly dull day, and all I could post was “I did this, and then I did that,” I’ll simply skip—but I hope there won’t be many of those.

I’ll try to include pictures as often as I can. Need to get in the habit of taking a photo of most meals.

Anyway there it is. At the end of a year, I’ll publish, probably though Create Space. If nobody wants a book, so be it. Maybe my children will each buy one.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Yoga again

This is so not me!
I probably haven't done yoga for four months. Physical therapy threw me off track--it was a shock to my self confidence to think that I needed it, and much as I appreciated the program, it threw me to realize I was in a balance program for the elderly--hate that term, though with a birthday fast upon me, it applies. I cannot say enough about what the program did for me--main thing is now I walk, not shuffle. I didn't realize I was shuffling, but several people have pointed out that improvement in my walking. And I am bolder about where I walk. I assume my self-confidence will gradually return.
But meantime therapy so occupied me that I put yoga out of my mind.
I don't know if the two are related or not, but my brother noticed that I have gained weight--and he was right. His words, "Don't talk to me about carbohydrates and diets. It's all a matter of intake and output. You need to move more." The physical therapy exercises weren't doing that.
So yesterday I did my yoga routine for the first time in forever or so it seems. I was pleased at what I could still do--and dismayed by what I couldn't do. Plus I forgot some of the major poses as I went through the routine--omitted Warrior, which would stretch the leg muscle that's been giving me grief.
Jordan is already discouraged that I didn't do it again today, but the day went by--a doctor's appt, followed by a desk full of small chores, birthday lunch with a good friend which included wine and sent me straight to a long and lovely nap. Dinner with neighbors at the Grill and now getting Jacob to bed--he has showered and memorized his Bible verse for tomorrow, so I feel pretty efficient.
My immediate goal: yoga three times a week. More if it works, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it. And I am eating less--couldn't finish a good chicken salad at lunch and brought home a piece of meatloaf tonight for lunch tomorrow. I know we older folks don't need as much food and do need movement. Working on it, but not going to let it dominate my life.
What I really think I need to work on is the meditative, calming aspect of yoga--training my mind to go blank and recharge. It is always to busy, jumping ahead to the next thing I need to do. I'm working on it.
 To repeat my new motto: I am who I am.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The wisdom of an old horse

My brother has a mare, Blondie, who is forty-one years old. Yes, that’s a very old horse. Her blood lines trace back to the first registered Quarter Horses, hence the name Blondie. Every time I visit I expect her to be gone but there she is grazing behind the house. Pastures are so green this year, you’d think she’d be fat, but she’s skin and bones. She’s well cared for, fed and watered, but just has that old-age skinniness that some get (alas, I get the opposite). She seems quite content, always glad for a nose rub. She must know that she is no longer beautiful and that her days of running across green pastures are over, but she clings to life.

John and his wife, Cindy, live on a road that makes a loop back onto the state highway with only a few houses on it, so there’s little traffic on the road. But Cindy told me one day Blondie was grazing in the pasture beside the house, close to the road. A car stopped and the people stared at the horse for so long Cindy was afraid they would report animal cruelty.

It strikes me that there’s an analogy there. Blondie makes no apologies for her looks or slow movements. She accepts who she is at this stage of her life. It’s an attitude I’m working on. To people who wonder why I work so hard at my writing, I want to say, “I am who I am.” Same answer to people who questions my anxiety symptoms—no, I won’t ride in an elevator alone. It’s who I am.

I told friends of forty years or more last night that my new motto was “I am who I am.” Phil said, “We’ve always known that about you.” That startled me, because I feel I’ve spent a lifetime doing and being what others wanted. It’s only with age that I’ve learned to be forthright and honest—like calling a doctor’s office to ask if someone would come walk me across the parking lot (now Phil and his guide dog are going with me). But there’s a fine line to draw there—I can easily become too reliant on others to do things I’m perfectly capable of doing. Like asking son-in-law Christian to carry out recyclables because I let the bin get too heavy. Now I just do it in two trips.

I told my brother recently that while physical therapy improved my walking a lot, the need for it made me feel fragile. He, some six years older than I, replied, “We are fragile.” I don’t like to think of myself that way, but the truth is I’m probably a wild mix of strength and fragility. I am who I am. Gosh, it took me a lot of years to get there.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I just finished Julie Hyzy's Grace Cries Uncle--in fact, it caused me to stay up too late and drink an extra glass of wine last night, but it was worth this morning's slight headache. I like Hyzy's books, whether they be about Ollie, the White House chef, or Grace, the curator of Marshfield Manor. The settings of both series are both believable and not, requiring a little willing suspension of disbelief. Really, does the chef at the White House get involved in diplomatic affairs to the point she saves lives? Still, Ollie is likeable, and there's enough food, menu, and food prep stuff to make it seem like a real world.
And Grace? Who gets a job at a place like Marshfield Manor? The building is huge beyond belief--with room for a ballroom large enough for three thousand and a sizeable apartment for owner Bennett Marshfield. And priceless art and artifacts. We can't even begin to guess the extent of Bennett's collection. And yet Grace comes across as someone I'd like to know, and Bennett for all his wealth and property is a kind, fatherly figure--though capable of cunning to see that the good guys win.
In this episode, Grace and Bennett, having learned of a link in family history, submit to DNA testing to see if they are indeed related--the results may well make Grace heir to his vast estate. Bennett has always treated Grace as family, but much hinges on the test results...and the suspense is carried throughout the book.
At the same time Liza, Grace's wayward sister (that's an understatement) turns up on her doorstep, destitute and in need of a place to stay. Reluctantly, Grace takes her in, knowing she can never ever trust Liza. And indeed when suspicious FBI agents and then real ones turn up, it appears Liza is involved in something far more dangerous than she has confessed to Grace. (Regular readers may remember that Liza ran away with Grace's fiancé, Eric, though she now claims she's left him.)
The plot turns on stolen artifacts and antiques of great value, and Grace is always in the middle. While Hyzy's novels usually end with a nail-biting, suspenseful scene, this one is perhaps the tightest I've read--which is why I stayed up so late last night.
Heartily recommended for cozy readers.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A cooking triumph

I did it! I got a perfect sear on sea scallops for supper tonight. Sorry to be so excited about what may seem mundane, but it was a big deal to me. The trick with sea scallops is to get that brown crust on the outside without cooking the inside until it's rubbery. I did it tonight in a skillet with a little olive oil and a little butter--and high heat. Then it requires patience, but not much really. They sear within maybe three or four minutes; flip and let the other side sear and you're done. Maybe a little salt and pepper but that's all. I used to put soy sauce on them--now I wonder why I hid that delicate flavor. It was a perfect dinner--scallops, corn on the cob, and fresh fruit. A trick I just learned about corn--stick the whole thing, husk and all, in the microwave and cook four minutes. When it cools enough to handle, the husk and silk peel right off. It doesn't have that carmelized taste of corn cooked on the grill, but it's fast and easy. My fruit was blueberries, raspberries, and mango chunks. I don't buy whole mangos--they're so darn hard and messy to deal with, so I buy the already cut-up chunks. But sometimes I think Central Market chunks them before their time--these were a bit, uh, al dente. Darn, I should have taken a picture of this really good supper for one.
A nice quiet day--what with being gone two nights, running like a mad hen to do errands and meet friends for lunch and dinner yesterday I needed a quiet day. Went to the grocery and was astounded at how little I bought. Mailed packages at the post office, picked up some medicine to treat Sophie's itchy dry skin, and I was home for the day.
I've been working on second edits for The Gilded Cage--mostly pretty routine stuff by this point, like accepting comma insertions, changing figure from Arabic to written out, etc. So I take frequent breaks to read Grace Cries Uncle by Julie Hyzy.
I think one thing I learned on my ranch getaway was that I don't have to work every minute. I can take time to watch the cows or read a novel. So far, with two days under my belt, I'm loving it!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Can you tell a book by its cover?

I'm delighted to reveal the new cover of Jessie, my fictional biography of Jessie Benton Fremont. Jessie was a fascinating figure who played a huge role in American history--but always behind the scenes, while her father, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and her husband, John Charles Fremont, captured the headlines. Missouri Senator Benton was a major power in the manifest destiny movement; Fremont was an adventurer and explorer who led the Bear Flag revolt in California; he was first a successful miner and then a failed one; an officer in the Union Army, he had the audacity to announce emancipation before President Lincoln did--a major gaffe in his career. The first Republican candidate for the presidency, he lost the election; the governor of the Arizona Territory, he was once again a failure. But Jessie remained loyal, having gone from a heady household of power and a beautiful ocean-front home on the Pacific to hard times during the Civil War, abject humiliation in trying to absolve her husband, and, finally, poverty. Jessie left us a legacy in writing late in her life. Hers is a story of passionate love, loyalty--and failure. She was one strong woman.
This is the fourth of the longish fictional biographies I wrote in the '90s, and it's being reprinted by ePub Works which has created the series, Real Women of the American West, for my biographies. They sent me proposed art work for the cover--some southern belles with ruffles and laces and fluttering eyelashes that I deemed totally inappropriate. Jessie was involved in serious national matters, and I assume her demeanor reflected that. We finally settled on the portrait above, with a background that I hope looks like the mining mountains of California. Watch for the digital book in mid-to-late August.
I learned a strong lesson of the importance of covers when the first of these biographies was published. It was Libbie, the story of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, culminating in her husband's death at Little Big Horn. I wasn't sure about the cover sent me by Bantam, the original publisher, but I was young and green and thrilled to have a book coming from a big New York publisher. I didn't protest. In retrospect, there are several things wrong with that cover: Libbie stands in knee-high grass (the lush prairies of Kansas) next to a barbed wire fence--barbed wire was first introduced in Texas about two years before Custer died, so there's no way Kansas was fenced. In the background is a wooden stockade on bare brown earth--Arizona, not Kansas. And there were no stockades in the West--not enough lumber. In fact, Libbie wrote about her alarm that most western forts were simply a collection of buildings with no perimeter, no fences, nothing between her and the "savages." One friend said, "She looks like Madonna in 19th century dress" and indeed photographs show a much more demure Libbie than this one. Ah, what we do for sales. Here is the current cover of Libbie, much more suited to the real Libbie.
I've learned to be critical about covers, and I'm pleased about this one for Jessie. I hope  you like it too and want to read the book.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Contemplating cattle and country life

Here it is mid-July, and Texas pastures are still lush and green—unheard of for many years. I’ve spent the last two evenings sitting on a comfortable, breeze-blessed porch, wine in hand, and contemplating a herd of cattle—beautiful, fat Red Angus with heifers and steers still among them and one happy bull. Periodically they wander up to the water tank by the fence and fix us with long stares. Their occasional bellows are contented sounds. (I probably have made several errors in that description which belie me as the city girl I am.) But there is something so relaxing about the late afternoon experience. Birds nest at the top of the porch posts, with most babies trying their wings but a few stuck in the nest, not yet brave enough to venture out and complaining to the world about it.
I’ve been visiting my brother John and sister-in-law Cindy at their ranch outside Tolar, Texas. A lazy wonderful escape from my daily routine. I’ve slept late and napped long—it’s the country air my brother insists. I’ve eaten marvelously and too much—steak and twice-baked potatoes, homemade spaghetti. Not only does the spaghetti taste wonderful, but I am so impressed by someone whips up a batch in the afternoon for supper. Like much of their cooking, making spaghetti is a two-person affair in this household. I've also enjoyed long visits with both of them. Cindy and I talked about cooking and food, and John and I recalled our very different childhood experiences, explored a newly found scrapbook that had many people we knew as youngsters--yes, we did a bit of living in the past, one of us recalling what the other couldn't.
Two German shepherds wander in and out at will, as do two or three cats (they hide and I’m never sure how many there are). There’s a noisy parrot, presumed to be male for years but who recently laid two eggs. Outside, chickens and guinea hens wander the property. The guineas are a hoot, scolding one cat in clear terms when it dared into the yard. It’s a city girl’s country delight, with computer and reading time.

It is also, for two relatively quiet people, the noisiest household I can imagine. The washing machine runs much of the time; the dishwasher probably twice a day. The “magic oven,” a commercial one that cooks a succulent chicken in 25 minutes and a turkey in an hour and a half, makes a screeching noise every time it needs adjustment and otherwise contents itself with a loud exhaust. Today John vacuumed his office with an automatic vacuum that is not quiet. So many gadgets, so much noise. And yet when I wanted to nap, I closed my door and didn’t hear a thing.

I’m reluctantly glad to be home, with Sophie, back in my routine—hitting the door running but maybe these two days will carry me through in serenity for a while. We stopped for lunch at CafĂ© 1187—wonderful atmosphere and food.

Tonight, Betty and I went a day late for our weekly Wednesday dinner. As we frequently do, we chose the Tavern—split the deviled eggs appetizer and the vegetable plate with carrots, red cabbage, wild rice salad, and spinach. Even splitting it was too generous and she boxed some to take home. We got in the car—and the battery was dead. Calls to the insurance emergency service and her husband resulted—while waiting, we went back inside and had another glass of wine. Eventually the car started but it was shaky—no a/c, and the windows would not roll down or up. Always an adventure.
I’ll sleep well tonight.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Playing hookey with recipes

My vegetable recipe collection
I never claimed to be neat or organized
I played hookey tonight and had more fun with what to me is a delightful pastime--looking through recipes. I have my personal collection sorted into types of dishes, each in its own folder. Tonight I was looking for a light salad supper for friends and a layered salad to feed the multitudes--I've promised to do that in a couple of weeks.
Going through my "Vegetable" folder is no quick or small chore. The folder is at the least four inches thick, and tonight I spent an hour or more fingering every recipe. Found amazing things, and was determined not to give up until I got to the end. Sometimes I'd find a recipe I really treasured but have no immediate use for--yet I know to find it next time will take me another hour. I need a professional assistant to do many things--including computerize my recipe collection. The scope of the project boggles my mind almost as much as organizing my bookshelves.
Apparently my curiosity went in spurts, because there'd be a whole group of cauliflower recipes (which I'll eat but don't much like), and then a bunch of Brussel sprouts recipes, with broccoli scattered through. You could almost do a timeline by the recipes in that folder--though some I think of as fairly new have sifted to the bottom. Still at the back are congealed salad directions--mostly congealed gazpacho. Does anyone make congealed salads anymore?
I found several recipes from our late and beloved Aunt Reva--asparagus casserole (canned asparagus but I remember loving it), really good pinto beans, and a chili rellenos casserole that Colin  loves and Lisa fixes to this day. Some from my mom, though most of hers are in my entre folder.
Every time I go through recipes I try to be hard-hearted about what I will and won't cook--and tonight I threw away lots (maybe a quarter of an inch). Like chicken liver salad--dated. Sounds good to me, but I don't know anyone who would eat it with me.
There are countless recipes for potato salad, but I am fixed on one or two that I really love--and so many seem to repeat each other. Threw those out. Also tomato pie--sounds so good but has turned out so unsatisfactory every time I've tried it.
There's a recipe for finger Caesar salad that Jordan and I loved. It was, I think, the original way Caesar salad was served--a dollop of dressing at the base of each Romaine leaf. You picked it up with your fingers and ate it.
You'd be surprised at the variety of layered salads--an antipasto one that calls for roast beef, when I expected salami; a Cobb layered salad; and what I think of as the traditional--with ham, peas, lettuce, Swiss or cheddar, hard-boiled eggs, etc. Another dishes from the past but sometimes I long for it.
As for that casual salad supper? I'm leaning toward tortellini salad with smoked salmon.
Now the evening's gone, it's too late to start something new, so I'm going to read.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Random thoughts on a Sunday

Funday Sunday
Jordan, Christian and I went to Fuzzy's for tacos tonight. I've developed a craving for their ground beef tacos, since our Fuzzy's stop in Lubbock a couple of weeks ago. Jordan has apparently developed a craving for beeritas, which I have not. As shown above, I'm drinking plain old white wine. We went from the sublime to the ridiculous, because all three of us were in church this morning. Christian started his duties as an usher. Jacob is with his other grandparents, and we missed him--especially since he likes Fuzzy's. I came home and got lots of work done tonight--all those odds and ends--insurance matters, yet another letter to Canada, a myriad of details. 
I read a discussion this morning of the "F" word--no, not that one. "Fear" is the really powerful "F" word--it fuels hate, wars from local to global, all kinds of evil. And fear is too often born of ignorance--people fear what they don't understand, people who are not "us." How can we make people understand that politicians are fanning the flames of fear and hate? In Texas, it's Jade Helm--the coming "invasion" by Obama's troops, for which some unknown militia is prepared so we're told. On the national scene, Donald Trump, the most outrageous presidential candidate I can remember, is fanning the fear of Mexico and immigrants. I wish we could live in a world of peace and love, not fear and hate. Pollyanna speaks again. Significantly, the need for showing Christian love was the sermon topic this morning.
As most bibliophiles, I'm fascinated by all the hoopla around Harper Lee's new novel, Go Set A Watchman. Like others, I'm both dismayed and intrigued by the revelation of Atticus Finch as a racist.  I'm troubled by the stories that preceded the book--it's culls from To Kill A Mockingbird; it's unedited. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the first chapter, released online this weekend. It didn't,, as one essay pointed out, do a successful job of setting up plot structure, but it has its own charm. The big point that critical essay made to me was that we wouldn't give a fig about this new book if we didn't all love Mockingbird. I can't help thinking someone at HarperCollins is getting a huge career break for their masterful handling of the marketing campaign for this book, and probably a lawyer, whoever, is making a lot of money. No coincidence that publication was delayed until after sister Alice died. Alice looked after Harper Lee's affairs and resisted publishing this manuscript. I wish we knew how much Harper Lee is in control of her faculties--you hear different rumors. Will I read it? Not sure. My TBR list is long and this isn't at the top of it.
Right now, I'm going to read Grace Cries Uncle, by July Hyzy--favorite author, favorite series. Sweet dreams, all.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer--where is time going

It's beginning to dawn on me that summer is half over. The schools recessed in early June and will take up the new year August 24 (I think). So we're halfway through summer. In North Texas, we haven't hit 100 degrees yet, but it's coming Monday and Tuesday. Still, for us, it's a mild summer.
And for me, it's a pleasant summer--I can eat late lunches, take late naps, and not go across the street at three o'clock to pick up my grandson. I've enjoyed having my own schedule and being slightly lazy.
I haven't really been slacking off though. I'm reading Murder at the Mansion (I've decided to all it Murder at the Peacock Mansion--more zing, and peacocks figure in the story) for the second time to edit; I've sent off the index for the chili book; and second edits on the Chicago book are waiting for me. I'm rolling right along and happy about it.
Jordan and Jacob have still come for happy hour many days, so I've gotten my child and grandchild fix--would the others were so close that I could do that with all of them. All in all, so far it's been a lovely summer, and I'm reluctant to see it pass.
I always hark back to that line from 17th-century poet Andrew Marvell: "But at my back I always hear time's winged chariot drawing near." I sometimes wonder if age makes time pass more quickly, just when you'd like to slow time down. I'm usually amazed when the weekend comes around--where did the week go? And this month I face another birthday, another reminder that I am far from a spring chicken.  People say to be grateful that you woke up this morning instead of the alternative, and I do feel that. But somehow I want to cling to each precious moment. And they go by too fast.
A good friend came for supper tonight--green noodles (with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, lemon, scallions, and a bit of pesto) plus fruit salad and sliced tomatoes--good dinner! But out life views are so different. I forget what I said but she replied, "So what? If it's your time, it's your time." I said I wasn't ready to go yet, but she scoffed. Then we got to talking about possessions--she, much younger than I, intends to get rid of everything in her house so her children won't have to sort through it. I said I loved being surrounded by furniture, paintings, books etc. with memories and meaning to me. She scoffed again. "It's just stuff." No, it's not--it's the wingback chair my mom always sat in and the bed my parents slept in and the autographed books and the lamps my mom had and....I could go on and on. I like my "stuff." I have a list of what kid wants what, but I realize someday they'll have a lot to deal with. Meantime, I'm busy and happy.
Okay, August, hold off a bit, would you please? And that winged chariot--don't hurry.

Friday, July 10, 2015

One Encounter, One Chance

Oops. Please welcome my Wednesday guest on Friday. B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published almost fifty short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Some of her stories have been nominated for awards such as the Agatha and the Macavity; another won a Derringer; and another won a suspense-writing contest judged by Mary Higgins Clark. Her first novel, Interpretation of Murder, published by Black Opal Books in April, is a traditional whodunit. Her second novel, Fighting Chance, is a martial arts mystery for young adults and will be published in October by The Poisoned Pencil / Poisoned Pen Press. Website: Bonnie also hosts the innovative blog, The First Two Pages, in which authors write about how and why they wrote the first two pages of a novel.


You’ve probably seen it happen in movies or on television. Late at night, a woman walks into a

nearly empty parking garage, her eyes fixed on her cell phone as she reads a text message. Suddenly,

a man emerges from nowhere and grabs her arm. “Keep quiet,” he says, “and you won’t get hurt.”

Terrified, she tries to pry his hand away. It’s no good. He’s too strong. He shoves her into his car and

drives off. She feels helpless, doomed—and at this point, she probably is.

But did things have to reach this point? Not necessarily. Not if she had followed some basic principles of self-defense.

She wouldn’t have to be an expert. Jane Ciardi, the protagonist of my recently released mystery novel, isn’t an expert. She’s an American Sign Language interpreter who gets into some dangerous situations when she accepts a part-time job from a Cleveland private detective. But she’s taking a martial arts class, and she learns enough to protect herself.

  Interpretation of Murder offers readers insights into deaf culture and the subtleties of sign-
language interpretation. I hope it also offers them some insights into self-defense, ones they can use even if they’ve never studied martial arts. (I got the insights from someone who’s studied martial arts a lot—my husband, a fifth-degree black belt.) Here are four basic principles:

·       Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re walking into any situation that could conceivably prove dangerous, focus only on the situation, not on your cell phone or anything else. Before you take one step beyond safety, look all around for possible threats. On a Sunday afternoon, Jane strolls blithely into a parking garage, caught up in her thoughts, and finds herself face to face with someone who wants to harm her.

·       Make some noise. It’s easy to be scared into silence, especially if an attacker orders you to keep quiet. But getting noisy is often the best way of getting help. Also, yelling gets your spirits up and helps you feel stronger, and it’ll probably startle your attacker: Attackers expect victims to be passive, so a confident roar might send them running. In the parking garage, Jane ends the danger by shouting a greeting to a stranger passing by. The stranger clearly thinks Jane’s crazy, and maybe the shout wasn’t necessary—maybe Jane’s enemy wouldn’t have attacked anyway. But risking embarrassment is better than risking injury.

·       Don’t be predictable. Although any resistance will probably take an attacker by surprise, unexpected moves are especially effective. In our opening example, the woman tries to pry the man’s hand from her arm—utterly predictable, and since he’s stronger, he simply has to tighten his grip. It would’ve been better to pull his hair, claw at his eyes, stamp down on the arch of his foot. In one desperate battle, Jane fights back from a hospital bed, improvising wildly and using everything within reach—including a potted cactus—to defeat an opponent determined to kill her.

·       Don’t get in the car. In her martial arts class, Jane learns the Japanese principle of ichi-go, ichi-e—“one encounter, one chance.” In general, it means making the most of any opportunity. Applied to life-threatening situations, it means realizing you may not get more than one chance to defend yourself. If an attacker tells you to get in the car, it might seem smart to obey. Maybe you’ll placate the attacker by cooperating; maybe you’ll get a better chance to fight back later. That’s a mistake. If attacker tries to do anything that will reduce your ability to resist—tie you up, force you into a car—that’s the time to fight back. Fight as hard as you can, as long as you have to, until you can get away. It’s natural to try to avoid fights, and no decent person enjoys hurting somebody. But if your life’s in danger, delay can be fatal. Treat any chance to save yourself as the only chance you’ll get. For all you know, it is.

You can learn about more principles of self-defense by reading Interpretation of Murder. (And I definitely hope you do read it!) Undeniably, though, taking a martial arts class is the best way of learning more, and of building the skills and confidence that could make a crucial difference for you some day.

Interpretation of Murder

When American Sign Language interpreter Jane Ciardi takes a freelance job from a Cleveland private detective, she thinks it’s just a way to earn extra cash. Soon, she’s facing tough romantic choices, ethical dilemmas, and dangers that put her martial arts skills to the test. Jane must sort through secrets and lies as she tries to help a deaf African-American teenager—and to uncover the truth behind two murders. 

















Thursday, July 09, 2015

Old times and memories--life is good

A friend of forty years was my houseguest last night. We had a gala dinner, with dining pal Betty, at Fixture--so good. I laughed--almost every table had those roasted beets on it. If you haven't tried them, you must.
But later, Linda and I sat in my study and talked--inevitably we talked about old times. We've seen each other through some rough patches--divorce and single parenthood for me, widowhood twice for her. I told her about the first love of my life, how devastated I was when we saw (well, he saw) it wasn't going to work out. But talking about it and reliving the good times and bad, I realized that what my mom always said was true: things work out as they are meant to. If I had married that first true love, I would never have had the life--nor the children--that I have now. And if my ex had not decided it was time "to take care of himself" (with four children under twelve?) I would never have developed into what I like to think of as the strong, independent woman I am today.
I belong to a writers' listserv that is made up mostly of women writing their memoirs. Lately there's been much conversation about exploring the deep, hidden, dark part of your life and the growth that comes from such examination. Sometimes I wonder if I'm Pollyanna or in deep denial, but I think I've already explored those parts--realizing that first love affair wouldn't have worked out, finding that the children and I were better off emotionally after their father left. Oh, yes, there are some blips along the way that I'd just as soon not think about, but they weren't life-changing. So I don't think memoir is in my future.
I could tell funny stories about my marriage and the break-up but I don't feel a need to do that. My ex did a lot of good for me--opening up my world--even if he hurt me badly. And that was all along time ago. I've had a good life, one I'm proud of and happy with. I have four wonderful children--such nice adults who enjoy my company (or so they say) and I love theirs. I have seven of the best grandchildren in the world.
There were days of course that you never could have told me that, but these days I really do feel the Lord works things out for the best--with our faltering help. I'm a sunny optimist about the future.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The iPad family

You know all those cartoons bemoaning the family who has no interaction, especially at the dinner table, because they're all absorbed in their phones or iPads or whatever? Well, tonight I lived that discouraging picture.
On Tuesday nights, Jacob and I go to the Old Neighborhood Grill, just down the street from my house, because "the neighbors" gather. They're mostly neighbors, mostly from Pembroke a block behind me, but the crowd has grown, and we have folks from other parts of our Berkeley neighborhood as well as some just plain outsiders. Many are Jacob's friends, and while it's not a kid's dinner, they welcome him, talk with him, and he's perfectly comfortable. He enjoys their company.
Tonight I knew there would be few if any neighbors there. Some were out of town, some had tickets for a concert at TCU, some just plain had other plans. It looked like just Jacob and me...and indeed it was. As we arrived, some of the concert-goers were leaving and called, "We warmed up the seats for you."
We had our traditional orders--meatloaf (the last half will make a great sandwich tomorrow) and green beans for me; grilled cheese, fries, and a cookie for Jacob. As we left the house, he handed me his iPad and I put it in my purse--against my better judgment. But, hey, the child played golf all day and no doubt needed down time. I might have wished for a bit of conversation but in defense I took out my iPhone, read messages, etc.
So there we were--the perfect digital family. No conversation. I'm going to work to make sure that doesn't happen again--but I can only take so much of the rolling of the eyes.
Now we're home, and I'm going to have to take out my hearing aids so I don't have to listen to his iPad. But later, he, Sophie, and I will settle down to a bit of companionship and then a good night's sleep.
Parenting--and grandparenting--are sure different than in my day.

Monday, July 06, 2015

For cat lovers

Yesterday I read two books--one was a manuscript, a dark noir novella about drugs and dealers and addicts and life in post-Katrina New Orleans. It was well done, and I was driven to read to the end. But I needed something sweet to get blackness out of my brain (I'm not generally a fan of noir). I picked up a small book that had been challenging me from my desk for a couple of weeks--Anne Kaier's Home with Henry.
Written as a journal, it chronicles her experience finding a wounded cat in a busy road, rescuing it, and then taking it home. Taming a one-year-old feral cat is neither easy nor quick, but Kaier was smart. She let the cat live under the bed in her guest room for a long time. Gradually, she got him to eat out of her hand, and then she began to leave the door open so he could come out of the room--at first he went only as far as the guest bedroom but eventually she began to see signs he'd been wandering the house. And long story short, he settled comfortably in, so much so that she was afraid the cat she'd had for ten years felt cast aside.
Several themes here resonated with me. Kaier, a single woman of fifty, had a dread of being alone. First Lucille, the older cat, and then Henry gave her a sense of companionship, a creature to love and talk to. I am so familiar with those feelings--Sophie, as I've written in a blog, shapes my days, and I live by her schedule.
Kaier, single and never married, longed for children. She often had her ten-year-old nephew, Tommy, as an overnight guest, occasions that made her both glad for his presence and nostalgic for the children that would never fill her house. I on the other hand raised four wonderful children, as a single parent, and wouldn't trade a minute of it. Now I have seven grandchildren, one of whom spends a lot of time with me. But I realize it's a different bond--not as close as that of a parent and child, and sometimes I long for the days when my babies were young and--sorry--dependent on me.
Kaier weaves in themes of open and closed spaces--she refuses to consider a gated community that a realtor shows her because she doesn't want to be shut in. But at the same time she is obsessively concerned about her cats getting away--it takes a lot for her to let Henry out into her garden,  though it is arranged so it only opens to neighbors' gardens (no alley). Still she worries that one or both cats simply won't come in. I am obsessive about Sophie getting out--but then, given the chance, she'll run like the wind, letting whoever is chasing her get just not quite close enough, and then taking off again. She has absolutely no car sense, and I am terrified each time she gets out anywhere except her own safe back yard.
Home with Henry is a study in bonding with wild animals, living as a single, and a lot more. I recommend this small book to anyone who loves cats--or dogs for that matter. The writing is gentle, thoughtful, and honest. Illustrations (line drawings) by Carol Chu add immense charm to the book.
You ma remember Anne Kaier from her guest blog last week on whimsical writing.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Three o'clock in the morning thoughts

Do I look like an old woman? Hush--don't answer that!
Sometimes blogging is my way of working out a problem, and so it is today. Let me begin, though, by saying this morning the sun is shining, my family are all safe and well, the world appears to be in place, and I am a happy but tired camper.
But at three o'clock this morning I would have told you I knew unequivocally what aging is like. My hip ached so badly that no position was comfortable for long. I tossed, I turned, I was too hot, I was too cold, I went to the bathroom more than once.
Two thoughts dominated: first, this is aging--first your feet hurt, then your hip, then your low back. It's always something, and you're losing mobility and never going to be independent, happy, and well again. My second bizarre thought sprang from my unproven belief that in some people the body goes, in others the mind. If my body felt this awful, my mind was going to stay alert--I considered that a blessing. I also toyed with the idea that I had done more permanent damage than I thought when I fell a few months ago and envisioned a scenario where I had to go for x-rays. Didn't quite work myself up to the stage of a hip replacement, but I was close.
IF I feel "off" or bad or whatever, I always want to assign a reason, so in the dark of the night I blamed the exercises I'd done that day, straight from the physical therapist's directions, or perhaps the fact that I'd been on my feet cooking the last two days.
Finally about six, I put the dog out and did what I should have done hours earlier--took two aspirin. At three, I would have protested that I didn't have a headache; at six, I told myself aspirin is good for muscle aches. Went back to bed and woke at 8:45, feeling chipper and fine. A few tentative steps and the hip was fine too.
Yes, I know I must exercise, but I'm going to take it easy for a few days. And yes, I know I have to--and want to--stay active. Strange how we have those dark nights of the soul, only to emerge feeling healthy, happy and grateful for God's good world and his love.