Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Perils of Pauline…or a writing oops!

With my daughter and grandson here this week, I haven’t gotten much writing down, so I was delighted this morning when an entire empty morning loomed before me. But when I opened the file of the novel I’m working on, there was a lot missing. Computer search followed, but I couldn’t find it. The most recent file was dated a week ago, and yet I knew I had written the scene I was thinking of. Finally, I decided I just had to bite the bullet and rewrite it. The words flowed because I had the scene so clearly in mind, and eventually I convinced myself that I never had written it, except in my head.

I wrote my daily quote of a thousand words, which just about did the scene, saved it, and then prepared to move on. But when I scrolled down, guess what I found? The original version of the same scene. I thought I’d gained a thousand words today, but when I erased the duplication, I was right back at the total I’d started the day with. I’d essentially been treading water all day—no forward motion.

In a way, I was relieved to know that I hadn’t closed the file without saving. That puzzled me, because the computer doesn’t let you do that. I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless as to click don’t save by mistake. I was fully prepared to think it was something I’d done, and I guess in a way it was. Somehow a blank page had snuck into the text between the previous day’s work and the missing text, so I mistakenly thought I was at the end of what I’d written. Almost too confusing to explain, but I guess all’s well that ends well. And in a week of lost days, another doesn’t matter.

Meantime the celebrations continue. I had a good, solitary lunch of leftovers. I’d planned to fix the girls some Italian tuna sandwiches—tuna with pesto, since Megan dislikes mayonnaise (who raised that kid?). But we have so much food left over that it seemed silly to fix something new. And leftovers are so good.

Tonight, we went to the Star Café, owned by good friends Don and Betty Boles. It’s sort of a family place for us. Can’t beat their chicken-fried steak, and Betty had even baked a cake that had cherry pie filling, crushed pineapple and chopped pecans. Delicious! There’s something about going a place where you always have a good time—you’re in a mind set to have a good time again, and we did. Lots of hilarity. Good times.

Home to a neighbor’s woes with the gas company, a wildly barking dog, and a vegetable salad to be made so it would be marinating. Life goes on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Joys of Family

The joy of having one extra daughter and one extra grandchild continues. The boys are having a great time at TCU baseball camp and posed for the great picture above with the coach. Other than baseball, as far as I can tell, they are occupying themselves with the giggles. And having a wonderful time.

And miracle of miracles, I got some work done today—put together everything I have on the neighborhood newsletter and am just waiting for some regular columns. And did some work on a project I’m most excited about but not yet ready to announce.

Had a nice lunch with three friends, two of us celebrating birthdays, and tonight we went to Joe T.’s at Megan’s request. A friend/neighbor of hers was also in town so her son could attend baseball camp, and they joined us. The three little boys were such wonderful company—two with faces in iPhones, the third in an iPhone. Luckily, I turned my chair and squeezed into the table with the grown-ups. The restaurant was unusually slow, so it was blessedly quieter than usual, so I could hear the conversation. Fun. I never order fajita because I don’t like peppers, and the pepper taste taints the meat. Megan split an order with no peppers with me and I enjoyed.

Tomorrow, a day of staying home and working. I swear. I sure am having a great birthday week. Not a day—a whole week.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Food, friendship, and the doctor

Let me start with the doctor. I had a good appointment with my surgeon today—lots of praise, but I came away feeling a little let down. I asked if I was where I should be, given what my condition was pre-surgery, and he said “Absolutely.” Pointed out my hip had been deteriorating for a long time, I had a major bone deformity, and I hadn’t really walked for six months before surgery. He was, he said with restraint, pleased with my progress. As we left, he, not an effusive man, said, “You’re beautiful today,” and I know he wasn’t referring to my looks. He was saying I’ve made beautiful progress.

But I think I went in there thinking I was healed, this surgery stuff could be behind me, and it’s simply not so. He said he expects full recovery for me to take at least a year—and I’m only six months in. No, I cannot cross my legs. If I bend from a sitting position, I am to do it slowly, with my left hip bent open, because I’m still in danger of dislocating it (x-ray shows it is perfectly in place right now).

And the biggie: he was lukewarm about letting me drive, especially since I drive a VW Bug, with a lower seat than a traditional car. He demonstrated how I’d have to get in and out, a technique I don’t really remember. On the way home, Jordan said every instinct in her was opposed to my driving, so I will wait.

I guess I’m not as invincible as I thought. Lesson learned

Other than that, a pleasant day of working and eating, mostly the latter. My daughters and I went to Pacific Table for lunch. A splurge lunch of crab salad (with avocado, Manchego, tomatoes, sautéed shallot, and a good vinaigrette) plus a dessert of sinful ice cream sandwiches  

Tonight, a friend from the seventies came for happy hour with me, Jordan, and Megan. Nancy’s three children and mine grew up as family friends, so it was great for my girls to get to visit with her. Turns out Megan often distance-works with the husband of one of Nancy’s daughters—small world.

Jordan fixed a magnificent spread, which was our dinner. My contribution was the salmon spread. We talked about everything from kids and surgery to murder and had a delightful time.

Now two boys are out here practicing their cursive writing. I never knew it would be the occasion for such hilarity—old-fashioned, uncontrollable giggles.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Just Call Me Grumpy

I’m not sure if I’m grumpier lately or just more aware and catching myself at it, but after grumping my way through a nearby neighborhood, over the McMansions, I found myself grumpy with my two daughters last night. Biggest grump was over a towel I keep in the kitchen to dry my hair because I shampoo in the sink. They insisted it was dirty; I said it was my towel, and leave it where it was. Ended up putting it in the laundry but replacing with a clean towel, which I suppose was a compromise of sorts. Then there were the two bags of leftover meat filling for the meat pies—Megan handed one to Jordan and put one in my freezer. I said no, I wanted both—I bought the meat, made the filling, would feed everyone with them, but I wanted them in my freezer. Petty? You bet, but I felt I was under siege in my own kitchen, between the two of them, with their quickly exchanged eye rolls.

So I apologized for being grumpy, said I wanted it to be so much fun when Megan got here, and it wasn’t going that way. After swearing they weren’t criticizing my kitchen methods and saying I was way too sensitive, Megan said, “We all do that. We get it in our minds just how something’s going to go, and when it doesn’t go exactly as we think it should, we get grumpy. I do it with my boys, you do it your kids.” In truth, I’d already thought of that much earlier but was astounded to find myself still falling into the trap.

My grumpy fit cleared the air, and we had a great evening, augmented by what all (except Jacob) said was a great dinner. Jacob, who ate two meat pies, pronounced them so-so. Turkey! Today I found an online article that I hoped would explain my point of view to the girls and sent a link, asking them to read it. So far, no reaction. But if you’re interested, either as a senior or the child of one, you might want to check this out:

Up early this morning because I felt overwhelmed about all the work that had piled upon my desk—one day of cooking and ignoring the desk side of my life, and I was buried. Getting up early is great, because I got so much done and felt better about the world and my responsibilities. But I sure needed that afternoon nap.

Nice day—fixed a good lunch for the girls, had two doctor appointments, both with praise for my progress, and a delightful dinner with a friend of Megan’s who is here for her son to attend the same baseball camp with my boys. Jordan made it taco night—so good.

Time now to pick up the threads of the novel I’m working on, the neighborhood newsletter, and life in general. I think cooking—and Megan’s visit—distracted me. But what happy distractions.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cooking up a storm

Natchitoches meat pies and tabbouleh
            A friend wrote me today that she spent Sunday morning planting. She knew, she said, she should have been in church, but she wanted to get these plants in and mulched before she left town. I told her she planted, I cooked, and we both worshipped in our own ways. And cook I up a storm I did.

I was cooking for a celebration dinner—oldest daughter, Megan, and her youngest son, Ford, arrived tonight for a week. When I said to Ford we were expecting special company, he asked who, and I said, “You?” Earned me a big grin.

Ford and Jacob will go to TCU baseball camp for four days, the girls and I will work during the day, each of us at our own jobs (Megan is a lawyer and Jordan a travel agent—me? I write!) but we’re looking forward to a lot of good meals and visiting time. Tonight’s menu was homemade hummus for appetizer, cheeses and vegetables.

Notes from the gourmet on a hot plate: I spent the whole morning making the hummus and tabbouleh, both better than what we buy in the store. Hummus was a problem until Jordan discovered I have a large pot that will work on my hot plate. I soaked the garbanzos overnight, refrigerated them for a day, and cooked them for forty-five minutes this morning. The hummus is really easy—you put everything in the food processor with a saved half cup or more of cooking water (I say more because the hummus was a bit stiff). Put spices, oil, and all in and blend. You could easily do this with canned garbanzos—I don’t know if it would be better or not.
homemade hummus

Tabbouleh was more work. You soak bulgur wheat in boiling water. Add spices and let it sit, while you make a lemon/oil dressing, whisking the oil into the lemon. Separately chop four cups parsley, a cup mint, a large tomato. Fluff wheat with a fork, add to dressing, and fold in veggie mix. Chill. Really good—six of us ate the whole thing tonight, and I promise I’m not doing all that chopping again soon.

I asked Ford if he eats tabbouleh, and he said, “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll eat it.” He loved it, had two or three helpings. Such a delight to have a child be such an enthusiastic eater.

Assembly line: me rolling out biscuits, Megan filling them
Main dish: Natchitoches meat pies, a recipe I remember from years ago when I taught a creative writing class that really bonded, to use a trendy, trite word. For the last session, I invited them to my house for a pot-luck supper, and one man brought these pies. I thought I’d lost the recipe during the great downsize, but it surfaced. They are, quite frankly, a pain to make, but we cheated and used refrigerator biscuits that I split in half and rolled out into thin larger circles. The girls filled each circle with meat, folded and crimped the edges. The recipe said deep-fat fry, but we brushed them with an egg wash and put them in the oven. We ate thirteen of them.

Tonight I am tired but happy. Love having more of my “chickens” under my roof.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Let the celebration begin!

My birthday is in another week, but celebrating began today, when Jamie and my second oldest grandchild, Eden, came over from Frisco for the afternoon and dinner. It's not a major birthday, so I didn't expect much of a celebration, but Jamie will be out of town next weekend. Mel and Eden will come over for family birthday.
But first Jordan and I went grocery shopping, which has become a real adventure for me. I drove a motorized cart again. The first time, when I moved but did not destroy a display, the woman who fixed it was grumpy, never looked at me nor acknowledged my profuse apologies. Today we went to a different store, and an employee brought the cart out to the car. After she saw me settled in it, she said, “If you knock something down, don’t worry about it. Happens all the time. Just holler.” I had a great time driving around this store which had wider aisles and fewer dump displays. I didn’t bump into anything stationery nor any customers, and the same woman came to collect the cart at the car. She told me I should have backed up to the car door (I explained I’m not yet good at backing); she scolded me about keeping hydrated in the heat, and when I turned in my seat and reached to close the car door, she said, “Get back in there You don’t need to be doing that!”

Jamie and Eden arrived about one-thirty. They intended to leave Frisco at eleven, but some things came up. Jamie is always later than his original plan and will be the proverbial man who’s late to his own funeral. They were on target for twelve-thirty but didn’t like my lunch options and went to the Mexican Inn on their way in. He had said they’d shop in the afternoon, but he really didn’t know where, Edie wasn’t much interested in Tyler’s, and I’m not much of a shopper, especially now that I’d be using the walker. We pretty much hung out at home, which was better anyway. Swapped “Remember when” stories and had a good time. Jamie wanted to take a Black Forest cake home with him and went to pick up the only one they had—serves 20 and cost a fortune. We had a nice dessert after our dinner.

We had supper at the Tokyo Café—Edie, my favorite vegetarian, loves sushi. I thoroughly enjoyed lobster roll and salmon sashimi, and Jamie ordered three different rolls, pronounced it a good place to go. Nice dinner, and a bit of serious philosophical talk, mostly about the place of religion in our lives. When I said I didn’t believe in hell, Edie’s eyes lit up and she said, “Neither do I, and all my friends do.” Score points for me as a grandmother.

They’ve gone back to Frisco now, and Jordan is in the house watching two little boys. I’m catching up on the odds and ends of a satisfying day and more than ready to go read in bed.

Friday, July 14, 2017

More cooking experiments. And a clear look at myself

Tonight, I ran into more of the disadvantages of downsizing, mainly that you downsize yourself out of everything you’re used to having on hand. Who lives in a kitchen without baking soda? Apparently, I do and so does my daughter. I wanted to soak chickpeas overnight and cook them in the morning to make hummus. First problem with that was we couldn’t find chickpeas in the large dried bean section at Central Market. Duh! A foodie reminded us they’re garbanzos, and we bought twice as many as I needed for my initial experiment.

Then I didn’t think I had a pot big enough to cook them in 10 cups of water. Jordan unearthed one that works on my magic hotplate, so tonight the peas/gabanzos are soaking in salt water. But in the morning, I need to cook them with ¼ tsp. baking soda. My kingdom for a tsp. of baking soda.

Tomorrow I hope to cook the peas, make the hummus, and make homemade tabbouleh—a big order, since we only did the “exotic” shopping today and still have a long list for the “ordinary” grocery store, plus Jamie says he’ll be here at elevnish—read two or three, but it will be so good to see him and Eden. I hope to let the day unroll as it will. The cooking projects don’t have to be done until the next day or the next. I’m trying to learn that lesson—or unlearn all the compulsive lessons that I carry with me as baggage.

Today, after our trip to Central Market, we picked up Jacob at a friend’s house in a nearby neighborhood, one of seventies and eighties ranch style houses and huge trees, all lovely and comfortable. But people are tearing down original structures and building McMansions that stick out like sore thumbs. Apparently, no thought is given to fitting into the neighborhood. There are neighborhoods in this city where McMansions fit the general style, but not the one we visited this morning and certainly not mine. It distresses me.

But with Jacob in the back seat, monosyllabic as young boys can be, I listened to myself criticizing the big houses and realized how negative I sounded. I fear I do that about other things that don’t fit my standard of how things should be, from frozen hamburger to people (a big leap). I made myself then and there a promise to be more positive and less critical. I can keep those critical thoughts to myself.

I remembered something Colin said to me when I mentioned that the stream of visitors to the cottage had slowed down drastically. He suggested maybe I don’t always make people welcome. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in my work that maybe I’m not fun. Another critical look at myself and another resolution.

Lord, I hope I can live up to all this. Meantime, I’m happy to report I had a wonderful and simple supper tonight. Fresh corn on the cob, steamed asparagus, and filet of sole. I used to have an awful time cooking sole because it fell apart. I dusted this with flour, and it browned perfectly and came out of the pan easily. Such a mild but good fish. Color me happy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The story of my life….and a cooking lesson

The story of my life this week is one of cancelled engagements…yesterday friends and I were to celebrate our birthdays at an annual lunch. Cancelled. Today, I was serving pasta carbonara to an old friend for lunch. Cancelled. Tonight, I was going to dinner with a friend. Cancelled. Not to sound too pitiful, I will admit that I have had company—a good friend brought barbecue last night, and another friend came to share the pasta so I went ahead and made it. But I haven’t gotten out of the cottage—well, since Tuesday night but it seems longer. And that was my only outing this week. I stand in danger of cabin fever, because I am dependent on friends who will come get me—and who can negotiate backing out of my 1920s skinny driveway. Can’t wait to drive again.

I can’t really have a pity party, because there are bright spots on the horizon. Grocery shopping with Jordan tomorrow, which is always fun, and maybe I’ll get to drive a cart again. Colin says I should not consider that practice for driving a 3,000-lb. car. Tomorrow night, Jamie, my youngest son, and his youngest daughter are coming to take me to dinner. A rare treat. And Saturday I will have lunch with another friend who shares July birthdays.

But still I’m afraid to pick up the phone, for fear it’s someone cancelling yet another outing.

It was really just as good my lunch date for today cancelled—he missed pasta carbonara which bombed. Jean came for lunch and wasn’t at all critical, having never had carbonara before. The recipe was a spring one and deceptively simple—diced bacon, green peas, and cut asparagus spears, with a bit of the bacon grease. Cook the pasta, drain it, and immediately stir in eggs, beaten with a little milk. Stir frantically so they don’t scramble. I’ve done that before with aveglomono recipes, and it creates a lovely silken sauce for the pasta.

Jean read the recipe and volunteered to go to the front porch for five or six basil leaves, which I cut into chiffonade strips and added—glad she reminded me of that.

Today my eggs scrambled, despite my frantic stirring. I figure cooking mistakes are learning lessons, so I’m analyzing this. I had eyeballed adjusting the recipe from six to two servings, and perhaps I put too much milk in the eggs. Also, I put the pan on a warm burner while I stirred, and I suspect that cooked the eggs—I should have kept stirring. There came a point when I saw the eggs were scrambled and there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I tossed in the vegetables and bacon, sprinkled them generously with cheese, and served.

Jean loved it, but she’d never had carbonara. I loved the veggies and the flavor, but thought the pasta was too dry. But then, I knew what it should be.

One thing about cooking in the cottage: when a recipe says to keep one pan warm on a burner, and cook pasta on another burner, I can’t do that. I only have one burner, so I have to juggle. I will definitely try that recipe again though. Seems I am accumulating a separate file of recipes to try again, having not quite hit the mark the first time around.

Tonight, leftovers. Tomorrow? Maybe tuna fish for lunch. I had given Jean a can of my special tuna, ordered straight from a cannery in Oregon, and they had it for dinner last night. Now she knows why I rave about it.

On Facebook tonight, someone quoted, “Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley,” and it came home to me that I’ve never read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. So that’s my reading now. ‘Night.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sleepless Nights and Better Days

Although so many people rave about the pleasure of reading in bed, I never could do it, never could get comfortable. But then my kids encouraged me to get a Sleep Numbers mattress where I can raise and lower the head and/or the foot (it proved important after my hip surgery). Now I’m addicted to bedtime reading. It’s often when I indulge in mysteries, while I confine my daytime reading to meatier subjects (not always). Right now, night and day, I’m reading Sara Paretsky’s Fallout, a V. I. Warshawksi novel. No matter the quality, most books put me to sleep in five pages.

But last night, as I took the cell phone out of its pocket on my walker, I must have done something wrong. It went to huge letters and wouldn’t let me move around nor would it let me turn it off. I gave up and got up for the iPad, which was out of charge. Had to rely on my imagination to put me to sleep.

In a half doze, I remembered words I read to the effect that the president is enraged that a Russian cloud still hangs over his presidency and is further enraged that Donald Jr has revealed the emails. Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall when senior confronted junior? Anyway, the thought of an enraged president, who I already think is unhinged, roaming the White House alone at 3 a.m., red telephone in hand, came to me, and I was suddenly terrified—really truly terrified. I must have fallen asleep—I dreamt of being alone at night and so terrified I couldn’t sleep so I was up changing the bed linen (don’t ask why—I have no clue), checking that lights worked, turning on TVs, and wishing it was morning. I was relieved to awaken about an hour later and realize I was safely in my bed, the cottage was intact, and the world pretty much was going around on its own. I slept fitfully all night.

This morning, Jordan declared that what was wrong with my phone was that I had gone “clackety-clack.” I protested innocence, and we had a testy moment. Then Jacob tried and announced, “Your phone is broke. Take it to the Apple store,” as though I could just jump up and go. I called the Apple store, was connected to a distance tech who said my email didn’t pull up/ She couldn’t wrap her mind around the server name—tcu. First clue she wasn’t in Fort Worth. Finally, she gave up, asked what the problem was, and quickly told me how to fix it. If you need to know: simultaneously hold down the volume and power buttons for at least 30 seconds. Magic!

After that the day went better; I took care of some detail work, including banking, answered a bunch of emails, roughed out a newsletter, and wrote my daily thousand words on the novel in progress. This evening, I’m free to prowl through a cache of recipes I found in my closet. To me, that’s bliss.

A friend brought barbecue tonight—turkey, sausage, pulled pork, potato salad, and good slaw made with red cabbage. Jordan and Christian joined us for conversation. A thoroughly pleasant evening.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sometimes a day is just about right

That’s what I was thinking this morning—that the day was just about right. It was warm but not unbearable, and the cottage still held its nighttime cool. I had the patio door open, and as I sat at my desk I almost felt like I was sitting in that dappled sunshine on the patio. Easy to daydream and forget to work, but I managed to write my thousand words for the day and get other chores done.

It amazes people who don’t know to learn that writing a book involves so much more than getting the story down on paper. If you’re an independent publisher as I am, you have to buy ISBN (International Standard Book Numbers) for each book and register them, so your book will end up in Books in Print. You have to edit, edit, edit, and proof, proof, proof. You send it to someone to format, so it won’t look amateurish. You have a designer do the cover. You write blurbs and pitches. If you have a web page, and every author should, you have to either post the new book there yourself or hire someone to do it. You mount the book on various digital platforms and, if you so choose, post to a service that will create print. The details are endless, and I’m in the midst of all of them---and having so much fun doing them.

If you’re seeking an agent and a publisher, it’s a whole different game, one that usually involves sending out endless query letters and waiting patiently for that one reply that says someone wants to represent your book or, glory be, publish it. I’ve gotten those letters, and they make not just your day but your world.

Either way, being an author involves a lot of scut work. It’s a way of life, and I love it.

It’s been a while since I had dinner with the neighborhood group at the Old Neighborhood Grill. Tonight, friend Mary Dulle took me and was kind enough to take Jacob and a friend with us. The boys refused to sit at the same table as the adults, but for the most part they were well behaved. I ordered meatloaf which was my standard meal for a long time. This time I left enough to bring home for a lunch sandwich tomorrow. The fellowship at the table was good, though much of the talk was about hip replacement surgery and a new technique which has a recovery period of something an astounding like two weeks. Made me feel bad that here I am still on a walker after six months, but I know my hip was an unusual situation, and I wouldn’t have been eligible for this new technique. One more time when I have to learn to be who I am and accept what I can and can’t do and stop comparing myself to others.

So on this just right day, a lesson learned again that I should have learned a long time ago.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Cursive, boys, and a day of minor domestic crises

Jacob’s friend Colin is spending the night tonight, and they are in high spirits. In the interest of giving Christian a bit of peace and quiet, Jordan sent them out to me to practice their cursive. This made Jacob indignant because he’d already done his cursive for the day. But I never knew cursive should be so funny Hilarity ensued. Giggles and high-pitched screams. No wonder Christian needed twenty minutes off.

Even minor domestic crises come in threes, I’ve decided. This morning, I knocked, pushed, shoved, whatever, the control to my bed, the thing that raises and lowers the head and foot, etc., off the bed in the tiny space between the bed and the wall. Before I was out of bed for the morning, I fretted about that, fearing I couldn’t reach down and get it out. Then I’d have to ask Jordan, which struck me as bothering her. But I discovered there really is a small space between bed and wall, and I reached down and got it easily. Lesson learned about those controls I keep on the bed—the thermostat, the bed control, and the cell phone. I will now watch where I put them.

Next I discovered that the commode was running—again. It does that with far too great frequency. Not a major problem because all you have to do is reach in, adjust the flap, and stop it. But it becomes a major problem because the top of the tank is heavy enough that I can’t balance and lift it. Jordan fixed it, and I called our contractor who said it might be a minor adjustment and he’ll come by in a couple of days to see if he can fix it. I’m hoping to avoid the expense of a plumbing call. I adore the man I consider our family plumber, but his company is merciless with charges for every little thing. A trip charge is exorbitant.

I got ready to cook my breakfast and blew the fuse in the switch plate where I plug in the hot plate. Try as I might, I never can restart that thing. Christian came out and fixed it for me. He says I don’t push hard and fast enough to connect it to whatever. “An electrician you’re not,” he said, and I told him about a former employee at TCU Press who used to roll his eyes and explain to people, “She’s not handy.”

So crises solved. And no rain today. The Atmos (gas company) crew chief came by and inspected the problems his crew’s work had caused—a sprinkler head that bubbles constantly, two sinkholes in the backyard that get worse with every rainstorm. And they’re fixed. Kudos to Atmos, because the workers are without exception pleasant, willing to help, and the crew chief is really easy to work with, grateful when we appreciate his men.  What a pleasant change from what might have been.

So here I sit, with giggling boys and a dog who wants to be part of the fun but isn’t sure how. Wonder if my twenty minutes if almost up.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

There's a fisherman in the family--again!

This is an addendum to my post earlier tonight, because I just got pictures of Jacob's fish, and I have to brag on my grandson. It's a big moment in any fisherman's life when he catches the big one, and for an eleven-year-old to reel in a 30 lb. carp is a moment of triumph. He and his grandfather were fishing at a small lake in Coppell. They fished all week and Jacob caught some respectable-size fish, from bass to catfish. But the carp, at 30 lbs., was a triumph. It caused so much excitement that other fisherman put aside their poles and came to help him, since his line wasn't strong enough. That was one proud boy, and I'm proud to add that he and his grandfather are catch-and-release fishermen. I hope his uncles, who had their own fishing phases, see this.

Rain, rain, go away

Remember that childhood verse, “Rain, rain, go away/ Come again another day”? Nobody in Texas ever sang that. We are always grateful for rain, even in July. But I’m getting a little weary of this nightly occurrence. My patio floods, my dog is terrified, and I’m terrified she’ll get muddy when she goes out after it stops. Some patio plants are wilting from too much water. The wonderful fresh air is a real treat though.

Such a richness of rain always makes me think of the late Elmer Kelton’s classic Texas novel, The Time It Never Rained. One critic called it one of a dozen or so outstanding novels written in the 20th century. Elmer grew up in West Texas ranching country, and he understood drought. But he also knew there came years when too much rain that meant weeds grew unbounded, sheep got burrs in their coats, livestock got diseases. He once wrote an article, “The Time It Always Rained,” about one of those wet years. But the novel about the drought of the ‘50s is his premiere work, winner of many awards. If you haven’t read it, do so—you'll be the richer for having read it.

A pleasant lazy Sunday. Jacob was an acolyte at the 11:00 o’clock service. In the car on the way home, he was bemoaning that he was told to do his reading and math after lunch, because he hadn’t kept up with his homework while at his grandparents. “No kid wants to read on a Sunday afternoon,” he said. I was sitting there thinking to myself, “Oh good, I get to go home and read all afternoon.”

I did read much of the afternoon but also cooked a Boston butt pork roast for supper. I’d had the butcher cube it (the butcher’s idea of cubes and mine don’t mesh, and I always have to cut the cubes into smaller pieces but at least it’s a start.). You boil the meat in salted water for an hour and a half or more until the liquid cooks away. The meat will be pale, and you keep it on the heat so the pieces brown. Serve with garlic/lime juice. I also made a radish salsa that turned out to be too heavy (literally) for chips. Christian grilled corn, and Jordan made a salad. Lovely supper.

Storm over and the lights go out. Now? Really? Everyone bustled around, made sure I had candles and flashlights, and then the lights came on. Ah, Texas!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

A truism about ambition—or the lack of it

Rumbling thunder again, and Jordan and Christian have gone to Denton for the evening, although I expect them home shortly. I told them, via text, I was going to forbid them to leave town because it seems to trigger these storms. At one point it was raining—only slightly, big separate drops—at the cottage but not the house, only yards away. The heavy rain came soon enough blanketing everything. Patio and back yard under water again. Sophie was intimidated enough by the thunder that I was confident she’d stay inside, so I left the door open to get that good cool air and clean rain smell. And I didn’t pay attention when it stopped—something caught her attention, and she bolted out of the door. I cheated—enticed her back with a treat and then closed the door. Now the sky has that strange pinkish-yellow glow of sunset. No rain. But that's twice within a week. Does the Lord not know that it is July in Texas and it never rains?
You know that feeling that you have all day to get things done, so you fiddle and waste time and get nothing done. That was me today, a wonderfully lazy day. I did a bit of editing and then devoted my attention to a Sara Paretsky V. I. Warshawski novel and spent way too much time. Late this afternoon, after a nap, I got busy—sent the final manuscript of my next novel to the publicist (watch for a big announcement soon) and a sample chapter to the webmaster to post, so you can read in advance of the September publication. Reposted The Color of Fear so that the digital version now includes the first chapter of the next one.
Fixed myself a great dinner, after purging refrigerator and freezer of things that were there too long and/or I wouldn’t do anything with—half a salmon pattie and a frozen vegetable lasagna went into the trash, along with remnants of the squash casserole I’d made and learned a cooking lesson on. So did a small bit of fettucine Alfredo, a takeout that had given me two or three meals—so rich I could only eat a small bit.

Tonight’s dinner? Two beef sliders, sliced yellow squash sautéed in plenty of butter (actually Smart Balance, much as I hate margarine—I do that in deference to my lactose problems), and cantaloupe. May just allow myself a bit of a Hello, Dolly bar for dessert!

Back to the novel!

Friday, July 07, 2017

An adventure—and a lesson learned

Jordan and I go grocery shopping on Fridays. She brings the transport chair that I almost never use and plops a basket in my lap, where it gets heavier and heavier. And we often run out of room. So today we turned it into an adventure—my first time to use one of those motorized grocery carts. I’ve been afraid to try, afraid I’d go careening through the store knocking down displays right and left. Well, first of all, it doesn’t go fast enough ever to careen. And second, I only nudged one display and dislodged one Bundt cake from a shelf—no damage done, though the store employee who came to right things was not cheerful about it.

I’m not quite ready to solo yet, but Jordan’s judgment was I did great for the first time. My goal is to be able to shop independently. Next lesson: get better at steering, so I can reach most things from the shelf. Seriously considering taking my grabber for things on high shelves. Lots of fun.

I know better, I really do—but I ordered clothes online from an iffy company that I thought I’d read warnings about before. New Chic offered really cute clothes at a terrific price, so I ordered through PayPal figuring I’d dispute the charge if I ran into trouble. It’s not quite that easy. The clothes take forever to arrive—probably because they are only made when you order, in China, and shipped, apparently by slow boat. Three items, each arrived separately. Two were way too small in the shoulders—I have had tops made in India with the same problem, so I sometimes think we American women are extraordinarily broad-shouldered—or at least I am from years of picking up babies.

The third item is an overall style outfit, knee-length, wide legs. Looks pretty good with a T-shirt, and I’ll keep it. But I’ll sure be careful about washing it!

I finally got a sales person who, thank goodness, spoke English. Turned out not to be a blessing. She was indifferent and inflexible about my options which were to keep the clothes and give them to someone smaller or return them to the plant in mainland China. My pleas that they’d sent the wrong size were denied. She insisted I ordered size 6. Believe me, I’m more realistic about my size than that. Again, I wonder if Chinese sizes don’t translate into English, or the other way around.

So today I had them all packaged up, address to tape on the box and tape to affix it, ready to return. Branch post office doesn’t carry forms to mail to China, and I fear it would be prohibitively expensive. I’ll bite the bullet, gives the clothes away, and pay for them. Costly lessons.

I guess life is still full of learning experiences, some good, some not so much so.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A flood and some trivia

Remind me to be a little cautious next time I exult about how much I love a good storm. Last night, rain which had been all around us final came—first big drops and then a really heavy rain and dark skies too early in the evening. The thunder continued, but we had no wind, no lightning. My kind of storm, and I was a happy camper. Sophie not so much. She was by my side, even if I went from desk to kitchen, a distance of maybe fifteen feet.

But then I happened to glance out the French doors—the patio and the back portion of the yard were under about three inches of water. I wasn’t afraid it would rise and come into the cottage—it still had about five or six inches to go before that. But the portion of the yard that was flooded became a sea of mud—it’s under trees, shady so no grass will grow, and we just hadn’t decided what to do with it. I was afraid Sophie would be desperate to go out, and I didn’t want her in the mud. My fear was reinforced by Jordan who texted from Dallas, “Don’t let Sophie out.” Long story short, Jordan came home, let her out, and watched to be sure she only went on the grass. This morning I called a landscaper for mondo grass.

We have two sinkholes in the yard where Atmos dug great, deep holes and then filled them in. With the rain, they’ve sunk several inches below the sidewalk. Of course, they aren’t yet covered with grass. Atmos will come back and do that. So far, the dogs have not gone near them.

Do you know about the Manitou Incline? Only a mile long, the arduous trail gains 200 feet from beginning to summit, a 68% grade. It was built years ago as a track for a cable car to carry pipeline supplies. No longer needed for that purpose, it has become a tourist attraction. My daughter and her family climbed it a couple of days ago. There are some things I’m grateful my lack of mobility won’t allow me to do. This is one of them, though I’ll probably never be faced with the opportunity gracefully decline.

Festive and fun supper tonight with Betty and Christian at a new wine bistro. We ordered scallops—they were out; we ordered ceviche—the chef didn’t like the look of the ingredients. We ate a charcuterie board and deviled eggs. Delightful!

Why did all this work pile up on my desk, while I was at dinner? And is that really thunder I heard in the distance?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A killer lunch and other food matters

In mystery writing, we talk about blatant self-promotion. The phrase tonight for me is blatant bragging—I cooked a simple lunch today for a friend (former student—love bridging the generation gap) who is a chef but now cooks on the line at Fort Worth’s Modern Museum of Art, which has an upscale dining room with a trendy menu. My menu today—fruit medley and open-faced sandwiches with blue cheese and a celery/scallion salad. Super easy—start with a piece of buttered toast.

Interesting sidelight: The recipe called for Pullman bread. I looked it up and on the old Pullman dining cars, they made bread with economy of space in mind—so the loaves were square in shape rather than the irregular shapes we give bread today. They were kept in metal containers, for freshness I presume, and containers could be stacked in the galley of the dining car. Not sure if Pullman bread is available today or not, but it sounded suspiciously like what I call cotton-candy white bread. I chose sourdough, which proves difficult to cut when toasted. We made it finger food, but my salad pieces kept falling in my lap. Need to work on that.

Take that buttered bread and cover it with slices of a creamy blue cheese—I used a Danish blue. Top with the salad: for two, mix 1 cup celery, thinly sliced on the bias; 2 chopped scallions, thinly sliced; olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Here’s the tricky part: microplane one garlic clove over the salad—we had a large clove and only used about half. At that the garlic taste was strong—we wouldn’t have wanted more. Stir to mix thoroughly.

My fruit medley was cantaloupe, blueberries, and nectarine. For a dessert, I defrosted a thick piece of chocolate Bundt cake—that standard recipe that uses cake and pudding mixes, eggs, sour cream, oil. Heather tasted it and announced that she detected another flavor besides chocolate—it was cinnamon. You grease the pan, then dust with a mix of sugar and cinnamon. After you get the thick batter in the pan, level off the top and sprinkle it with that mix. A family favorite around here.

A nice light ladies lunch, and I had so much fun with it I got out a couple of my recipe files and began sorting recipes. When I downsized my house to move to the cottage I even downsized my appalling recipe collection, but now I’ve got a good start on a new collection. Today though I went through the older recipes I’d saved and was amazed at how many of them no longer interest me. My cooking conditions and my tastes have changed. I’m not sure how to describe the change, but it’s definite. I don’t necessarily go for easier—maybe more unusual, less traditional; lighter, not heavy. After all, I’m pretty sure my days of cooking for huge crowds are over. Makes me only a bit nostalgic. And I know cooking without a stove or oven dictates what I fix.

It’s a sign not only of my recovery but the adjustment Jordan, Christian, and I have made to our new way of life that we are talking about entertaining again, and they’ve given their first big party in my house.

The only other note of the day: I was interviewed by phone for five minutes on KJON Radio in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where I know absolutely no one. Wouldn’t it be nice if I picked up a reader or two? The host was good about making my website URL quite clear.

Now it’s thundering, and Sophie won’t leave my side. Rain all around us but none here yet. One brief power failure sent me into a panic because I don’t know that I have any candles—besides my reading material is all on my computer. Here’s a thought I hate; what if I had to read traditional print? Me, who espouses the importance of doing books in print. Shame on me.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Fourth, with all its glory

My Fourth of July feast for one—homemade potato salad, a hot dog with kraut (the way I like it), and corn on the cob. My family is off to watch the fireworks at the country club, a huge display, beautiful but noisy right on top of you. And crowded. At lunch today Jordan asked earnestly if I was all right staying home alone. If not, she said, she’d make it happen for me to go with them. Sweet of her, but the last thing I want is to sit on the ground (probably not physically capable, certainly not of getting up) in the midst of a huge crowd and have fireworks thunder in my ear. And stay out too late. No, I’m happy at home, with the TV showing Macy’s fireworks show but the volume muted—I can look but not listen.

I have friends who are staying home because, as they said, “We have dogs.” So many dogs are terrified, and the number of frightened animals who end up in shelters is appalling. Sophie bless her sleeps through the nightly display that ends each Concert in the Garden, not far from us.

Maybe being alone on a holiday makes you nostalgic, but I’ve been thinking about past Fourth celebrations. When I was a teenager, I went with the older kids to Soldier Field in Chicago where there were stock car races—amazed now that I found that entertaining. Also a bit amazed that my parents allowed those outings. But what was then a marvelous fireworks show followed—I suppose it would pale in light of advanced pyrotechnics these days.

When the kids were little I remember going to the 8th floor of the medical school where their dad worked and watching the city display. Later, single, I took them to various places all over town with a good view—the parking lot of the same medical building, a bridge over the Trinity River (their uncle and I both suddenly became uncomfortable on that high bridge, and the kids had to lead us off). Traffic coming home was always a tangle, and it was a late night. One year I went with friends to a historic cemetery on the river—we had a good view. And for a few years I went to the country club with Jordan. But I really don’t like to have fireworks explode in my face as it were—makes me think my heart is going to stop with the next loud boom. I am content at home with my dog. I may watch on TV, but only with one eye—I’m deep into a good mystery, What You See, by Hank Phillippi Ryan. She’s a master at capturing tension—or maybe what I mean is angst.

Jordan, Christian and I went to lunch today at a relatively new place, HG Supply. I’d not yet been there. Split a club sandwich with Jordan—one of the best and most flavorful of those concoctions I’ve had. French fries were unusually good, and the lemon aioli/ranch dressing out of this world. Christian had Frito pie which was huge but looked delicious—I may try it another time if I can get someone to split it with me.

You have to park a ways from the restaurant, so I got some good walking in, albeit with the walker. We passed an attractively landscaped area that sent my antenna up immediately. “That’s not grass!” It was fake. Christian said he loved it. “You don’t have to mow or water.” Still protesting that it was fake, I said, “It’s not contributing oxygen to our environment,” and he replied, “That’s why they put in these other plants” which is clearly not true. They put in some succulents for appearance. Jordan, ever our arbitrator, commanded us both to stop, and Christian said, “Your mom always starts it.” It’s a good thing it’s all light-hearted. But, damn, that was ugly fake grass, a color green God never created. Makes me so angry!

Happy Fourth everyone. Go plant God’s green grass, water it, and mow it.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Computer blues…and cooking adventures

A shout out to Colin and Lisa Alter who were married 17 years ago today on the beach at Grand Cayman Island. Wish I had a digital copy of the wonderful picture of the entire wedding party, guests and all, standing barefoot in the water on the beach. Lisa always said she wanted to be married barefoot on the beach, and she was. In deference to her, we all shed our shoes. Colin looked adorable (oh, how he’ll hate that word) in a tux and bare feet!

My day was marked by computer frustration—formatting problems. As they always say, you have to turn the computer off and let it collect itself. I did that several times, and each time I turned it on either another problem had solved itself or I was able to solve it. Finally got that manuscript back to the editor for a second go-round.

The rest of the day was spent cooking. I’ve been cooking now for between forty and fifty years, yet every day I learn something new. Much of it has to do with adjusting to my current kitchen with a hot plate, a small toaster oven, and a small microwave. No stove. Tonight, I made a squash casserole. My kids always say I get into trouble when I don’t follow the recipe, and that was true today. I’ve made squash casseroles off the top of my head for years, but tonight I printed off a recipe and followed it—sort of. It called for Ritz crackers in the topping, and I didn’t have them. I used panko crumbs out of the freezer. First of all, not monitoring the toaster oven closely enough I burned the topping. Second, the combination of grated cheese and panko crumbs, when cooked, turned into something resembling concrete. The squash got swallowed up in it. Lesson learned. One squash actually made two casseroles, so I will take the topping off the remaining one and simply use grated cheese.

I also sort of followed a recipe for my loin lamb chop—I adore lamb, and those thick chops are a real treat. I could never afford to feed them to a whole family, but for just me they are a splurge. I sautéed it in olive oil and got it a tad more cooked than I like—I like it very pink in the middle. But it had a good brown crust. Took it out of the skillet, and added a scallion to the skillet. The recipe called for ramps—a pungent wild onion found in the East that tastes like a combination of onion and garlic. If I’d had a leek or a shallot, I’d have used that but I didn’t. Then I squeezed in a good-sized dollop of anchovy paste. I couldn’t tell a lot of difference in the lamb, but the scallion soaked up the anchovy and was delicious.

Bored on a long weekend? I recommend cooking. Now I’m off to read a mystery.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A disreputable relative…and a cooking adventure

If you know much about me at all, you know I’m inordinately proud of my Scottish heritage. I’m a registered member of the MacBean Clan—my maiden name was MacBain. You also know that I’m a staunch progressive liberal, lifelong Democrat, and appalled by our current administration and Congress. Today, on Facebook, I read that Donald Trump is descended from the MacBains—you can imagine my horror. Someone poohpoohed that, saying everyone knows the Trumps are from Germany. Not so. His father’s people may be German, but I just read an article that claims his mother came from Scotland as a young woman—not, as he claimed, on a vacation but as a young, poverty-stricken woman seeking work. She apparently found it, and a rich husband. God bless her for that. Sorry about her son. But do  you suppose his notorious greed and acquisitiveness is simply a manifestation of good old Scottish penuriness? Nah, I don't think so.

But this Facebook posting (which could be a joke, but I suspect not) drew MacBains out of the woodwork. Years ago I was told by a Scotsman that we were one of the lesser clans—you’d never know it by the responses the post evoked. And they ranged all over, from “Yippee! I’m related to the president” to “Every family has its black sheep.” Enough said about my response, except that my son-in-law laughed heartily and said it was the ultimate irony.

On a happier note, I cooked a full dinner in my tiny kitchen tonight—well, I did ask Jordan to boil noodles, but I made chicken in a creamy sun-dried tomato sauce and wedge salads, mostly because I had a head of lettuce to use up. The chicken sauce was flavorful but more like a thin gravy than a creamy sauce. I think Christian had the right idea when he used cream of mushroom soup with his pot roast the other night. We may talk about avoiding processed food, and it’s one of my big themes, but those soups make wonderful sauces. I’m toying with the idea of trying it again but making a white sauce and flavoring it from there.

I sort of devised my own recipe for blue cheese dressing for wedge salad. All the recipes I saw called for buttermilk, which I love but didn’t have. One called for a quarter cup red wine vinegar and a startling teaspoon and a half of sugar. I combined equal parts mayo and sour cream, added white wine vinegar (all I had) and a generous pinch of sugar to round it off—but not anywhere as much as that recipe called for. Plus, of course, lots of blue cheese. Got raves from my two guests, Jordan and Christian, and there’s enough left over for another wedge salad for me.

My family was out of town overnight last night, so no church this morning. Home alone, I got an amazing amount of work done. A good day. The week looms empty—Jordan has lots of social obligations, since Jacob is with his other grandparents—but I know somehow it always fills up. I’m a happy camper tonight.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The long holiday weekend looms

Can you believe it’s July already? We had such good, cool rain last night that it’s even harder to believe than usual. Still, the spring has gone by in a rush, which is at best a mixed blessing.

I got to wondering today why the word “looms” always jumps into my mind when I think about a long holiday weekend, and I realized it’s because when my kids got old enough to be independent, they went off and did their own thing for the holiday. I was used to a bustling household full of activity, and suddenly I had not just a weekend but a long weekend with no action at home. I used to get lonely and bored. I finally learned to counteract that by planning a lot of activities for me—Concerts in the Garden, meals out with friends, meals in with friends.

Jordan started early last week reminding me that I should make weekend plans. And I did.  Subie took me to Central Market today, which was a real treat. I had a medium-long list. We decided to take the wheelchair, because all the aisles of Central Market would be a long walk for me. We shopped the way Jordan and I do—grocery basket in my lap. First things we bought were two large cantaloupes, and as the basket got heavier, Subie joked I’d have bruises on my legs. I told her no, creases from the ridges on the bottom of the basket.

Central Market makes me feel luxurious, or pampered. I buy things I wouldn’t buy elsewhere. I love the fresh fruit and vegetables and have more confidence in them than in most stores. I didn’t buy meat or seafood today, but I never buy it anywhere else, especially in this day when chicken goes who-knows-where to be processed. Subie bought amazingly large and beautiful shrimp. My shopping list included creamy blue cheese (I found one that should do), pickled herring, lox—things I couldn’t get elsewhere.

We went home to pick up Phil, Subie’s husband, and head to lunch. An unpleasant experience: we went to the new Bread Winners in University Village, but when the young hostesses saw Phil’s seeing-eye dog, they said the dog couldn’t come in. Subie explained he’s a service dog, but they said some gobbledygook about corporate rules and it wasn’t their fault. Subie and Phil asked to talk to a manager, and one of the girls came back to report they had been wrong and the dog was welcome. We left anyway, probably won’t go back. Good lunch at Pacific Table.

My long weekend was further brightened when friends Sue and Teddy came for happy hour. We’ve been talking about mushrooms on toast for a while—my mom served that, and I think it’s a British dish. I said tonight was finally time for mushrooms, so for an appetizer, I served mushrooms sautéed in butter—nothing else, no salt or pepper even—and baguette slices. Just put the skillet on the table, so we could help ourselves. Really good but quite rich.

Lively conversation, but as they were getting ready to leave I asked Teddy to walk with me. Although he doesn’t practice now, he’s a chiropractor and knowledgeable about the mechanics of the body. I thought he’d be a good judge of how I’m doing walking. Big boost to my ego—they were both surprised and impressed at how I’m doing. (I was holding Teddy’s arm the whole time.)

So now I’m back to work. Finished the book I was reading, sent off an important email, and am ready to dig into another project. The weekend somehow doesn’t seem to loom so much tonight.