Saturday, September 30, 2017

Happy days are here again

It’s true—the sun was shining today, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Jordan asked if I wanted to run errands with her and after first declining so I could stay home and write, I changed my mind and went. We went to Calloway’s looking for a small, low house plant for one that died from lack of water and for mums or something to put in a pot outside my front door. She had gotten gorgeous mums at Central Market for $14.00. At Calloway’s, surprise, they were almost a third again of that amount. And the smallest mums were $14.00. Houseplants were all succulents. We gave up and moved on.

I did some odds and ends on my desk—a couple of people I needed to get in touch with, an unexpected vote-by-mail ballot that I needed to figure out (still haven’t), but I did write 1100 words today and hope to do the same tomorrow.

My cooking experiment was pasta with anchovies and crisp bread crumbs. Since the recipe served four I had to cut it down, and I’m not sure I got the proportions right. I love anchovies but this was a bit much. The idea of crisp breadcrumbs on pasta is great though, and I’ll find other uses for it. Meanwhile, I’ll have to refine the pasta with anchovies before I share it

I cleaned out two shelves in the freezer and found, among other things, a large piece of chocolate Bundt cake. Shared it with Jacob, but it was too much even for both of us and a good-sized piece went back into the freezer.

But if you caught the reference to the Democratic Party celebration song in the title of this post, happy days are not here again. Certainly not for the people of Puerto Rico. I read a post tonight about all the aid the sitting president has dispatched to that island, but I find it hard to reconcile with his increasingly vile tweets about the territory, its leaders, and its people. His scorn for the suffering and death there, while he plays golf at one of his estates, is beyond anything Americans ever envisioned in their nightmares. Apparently, his anger can be traced back to a failed investment, a case wherein he left the island territory a debt of something like $32 million.Like many others, I think San Juan’s mayor is a hero(ine?).

Clearly, Trumpf or tRump, whichever you prefer, has committed many impeachable offenses, and there is an increasing level of outrage across the country. But where is the Congressional outrage, even concern? I find it hard to believe that these two bodies of men and women, elected to serve their country, have not risen up in protest against the slow but steady dismantling of everything we stand for. The Republicans control Congress, and he is their problem because he is the titular head of the party.

Are they so blinded by privilege, power, and bribes that they are willing to sit back and watch our country fall apart under their watch? Is there not a backbone among them except for Senator John McCain, that venerable hero, and two or three women? (Hours after McCain told an interviewer that he is probably dying, Trump ridiculed him for going back on his health care promises—what McCain promised was to work for the best solution for the American people, not to support one heartless bill after another, all born of desperation.) I simply cannot believe I live in a country governed by a system of checks and balances and yet this man, whom many believe to be mentally ill, runs rampant and unchecked.

In my rosy, ideal world, Congress would put country above party. On that note, sweet dreams everyone

Friday, September 29, 2017

A funny kind of a day

I accomplished absolutely nothing useful today, but strangely enough I feel better and happier tonight than I have in days, even weeks. Woke to rain, yet another dreary day, and while I knew I should be grateful for the moisture, my only thought was that I really wanted a sunny day to help me improve my disposition. It didn’t happen—either the sun or the improvement. A friend cancelled a longstanding date, and Jordan was not pleased when I told her about yet another doctor appointment. She’s glad to take me, usually wants to be there, but when I first tell her it’s like another chore added on to the many she already has. And there have been too many appointments lately. And where I thought we would have lunch together, I found she had other arrangements—as well she should. She can’t babysit her mom all the time, when I don’t need it except for sociability reasons.

We had joint appointments for facials at Origins, the store where I’ve bought make-up and skin products for at least a decade, probably longer. The ladies who did them were cheerful and fun, and my mood brightened a bit, though I was baffled by the products used on my face. I think maybe I’ve had one facial in my whole life before. Truth is that when Alicia finished, my face did feel better, fresher. But the mood didn’t last, and I was on the edge of tears on the way home.

But the day began to turn around. Black bean soup for lunch tasted really good. I took care of a few details on my desk and then two a solid two-hour nap. Woke feeling like a new person. Not a mysterious turn-around. I had contacted my doctor to report feeling lethargic with no interest in food and a slight feeling of nausea. As I suspected, he suggested I needed to cut back on one medication, and I think the change kicked in today.

Jordan and I have shared a couple of experimental meals since Christian has had other obligations. We do that to try the things we know he wouldn’t like. Last night’s meal was a bust, maybe partly due to my own ambivalence about food, but I’m delighted to report that tonight’s meal was a success, and I loved every bite.

I fixed scallops in a lemon/basic sauce. Got the scallops just right, with a nice brown on the outside and still tender on the inside. The sauce was butter, white wine, lemon peel and lemon juice, and chopped basil, thickened with cornstarch in a tiny bit of water. I sliced a couple of mushroom that needed to be used and threw them into the mix. Jordan made a salad of leftover canned artichoke hearts, diced Roma tomatoes, avocado, and blue cheese, with lemon juice instead of dressing. You’d have eaten every bite too.  Those recipes are keepers, though the salad, I confess, is an off-the-top-of-my-head one remembered from a salad served me probably fifty years ago at a ranch in the Texas Panhandle—watercress and tomato in lemon juice. I just added blue cheese and avocado.

I have scenes in my mind for the novel I’m working on, and they will be my priority tomorrow. In the last week, I accomplished only 1500 words, but now things are looking up.

I’m a happy (happier?) camper tonight. I feel like I’ve come back from someplace far away.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Another blessed rainy day

Apparently, it rained a lot during the night, because it was wet and humid this morning, but blessedly cool. Don’t laugh—I put a shawl over my shoulders while I worked at my desk this morning. And I loved it. The kind of day you want to curl up with a good book—or with your computer.

I tried the routine thing again this morning. No laundry to fold and hang and put away, but it was still almost 10:30 before I settled down to the Work-in-Progress. Maybe I shaved a little off yesterday’s time, but not much.  I timed how long it takes to do my exercises at the grab bar—and I’m embarrassed to tell you what a small portion of my day it takes. No excuse for not doing them every day.

Once again, my radio program jinx proved true. I was scheduled to be on a Red River Radio (blog talk radio) show today from 5:00-7:00 p.m. Having goofed once before on time zones, I studied the directions carefully—clearly CDT was different from EDT. So at four I settled down at my computer to get a few odds and ends done before the show—only to discover an email from the host asking where I was. I hastily called in. It worked out okay—there was already one other guest author that I knew would be there plus two more I wasn’t expecting. I’m wondering if they weren’t call-in guests. One of them read a poignant piece about the death of a child, but I wasn’t sure if it was fiction or memoir. Moving, nonetheless. Coming late to the party, I never was sure if the one of the others was a poet or novelist and didn’t learn much about the author who I knew would be featured.

I did read a passage from The Color of Fear, and I got to talk a bit about my mysteries, so all was not lost. But I’m still embarrassed about being late.

Christian wasn’t home for supper tonight, so Jordan and I experimented with a dinner we thought he wouldn’t like. We didn’t much like it either. It was a crab/artichoke hearts/mayonnaise spread on bread, topped with tomato slices and sliced Monterrey Jack and broiled. I instantly knew several ways I’d improve it—toast the bread first was a no-brainer. But it was rich, without a real taste of crab, and not really worth the trouble. Not going in that cookbook I keep talking about.

I did write my thousand words for the day this morning and felt good about them. A sudden twist to the story jumped into my mind last night. I sometimes fear that the novel will be all one sudden twist after another. I shall read carefully to make sure those twists all hold together and are headed someplace.

Now time to read someone else’s writing.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Quiet, wet, and rainy

What do you do on a totally unremarkable day, except worry about the state of the world and pray for the people of Puerto Rico? I tried to follow my new regime this morning. Read email and Facebook over a cup of tea, put away a mountain of clean clothes, got myself dressed and ready for the day, did the standing half of my exercises, took care of a few odds and ends on my desk—and it was 10:30 before I could turn my attention to my writing. I had to quit and finish fixing lunch for a guest at 11:15. Yes, I made a little progress, but not enough to brag.

Lunch was the high point of my day. My friend Heather, who is a chef, came for lunch. I always feel obliged to fix a special, creative meal for her, and I learn while doing it. Today as you might have guessed from last night’s blog, it was black bean soup and Italian style tuna sandwiches made with homemade pesto. Good, but as always, I find things I could have done better.

Spilling some of the juice from the beans made for a really stiff soup, though still flavorful. Then I could have sworn I had sour cream but couldn’t find it—soup would have tasted so much better. Jordan confessed to having borrowed it and not yet returned it. The eggs for the sandwich didn’t get quite hard boiled (got to figure out that new hot plate), though Heather, bless her, said that’s how she likes them. And the sandwiches, terrific in flavor, were hard to hold together.

Still we had a good visit. We talk food and restaurants and likes and dislikes. Heather is a former student of mine, an English major gone astray, but since she strayed into food service, who can blame her? She cooks at the Museum of Modern Art and teaches at Sur le Table.

In the afternoon, the sky darkened and the rain came, gently and softly. But then, as I was about to nap, there were two big bursts of thunder, which set Sophie to barking ferociously. Then, protecting me, she even sat in the bathroom while I used the facilities. No more thunder, so no more barking, and it was lovely to nap with rain drumming on the roof.

Tonight I had dinner with Jordan and two boys—a frequent overnight guest whose parents travel a lot. His father is a Congressman, and he has interesting stories to tell about his summers in D.C. Jacob of course invited himself to visit this summer.

For a day in which I didn’t accomplish much, I sure am tired tonight.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Writers have many ways of avoiding that empty computer screen—some clean the bathroom, others scrub floors or wash windows, a few go for long walks (for inspiration, of course), still others dig in the garden or mow the lawn. My preferred method of procrastination is cooking, so today, the day I had marked to charge back into my work-in-progress, I made black bean soup and pesto.

I’ve shared my recipe for black bean soup here before, so I won’t repeat it. Suffice to say it is one of those things that I cannot make without spraying it all over the kitchen—counter, wall, floor. The pesto went a bit better, but I also cannot cook without spilling, so now my relatively clean jeans have a big spot of olive oil on them. In my own defense, I will say that cooking from a seated walker is not easy—lots of standing up and sitting down, Probably good exercise.

I am not faithful about my exercises these days. I think that hospital stay demoralized me in more ways than one, and my walking program has taken a backward slide. Some days I can’t imagine walking unassisted. When I say I can’t walk, everyone from my daughters to the technologist at a mammogram yesterday says to me that I am walking, just not alone. So that remains my goal, and days like today when the difficulty of cooking, making the bed, even getting dressed when you have to wheel from one place to another fill me with determination to reach that goal.

But then my days are so busy they get away from me, and I realize it’s nine o’clock and I haven’t exercised, and I’m too tired. Mind you, these are not strenuous exercises—some are done in my desk chair and some standing at a grab bar in the bathroom. But they are tedious. I need to put myself on a rigorous schedule where exercise comes first in the morning (my best time), followed by time spent on the work-in-progress until I reach my daily goal of a thousand words. Takes will power to do that.

On a bright note, I wrote about 500 words on the WIP today. Number four in the Blue Plate Mysteries. Some days I think it’s great; other days I wonder what fool wrote that drivel. Tentative title: “Murder at the Bus Depot.”

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lessons in Reading and Writing

The other night I blogged about reading a cozy mystery that started off way too slowly. I’m here to apologize, sort of. I may have made a hasty judgment, but there are also lessons to be learned by both readers and authors. The action did start too slowly—I haven’t checked, but I bet it was at least three chapters until we discovered a body. Before that the reader was entertained with a Bible study group’s afternoon of board games and their all-day picnic. What I as a reader didn’t realize was that this was the fifth book in an established series, and many readers already felt comfortable with the characters. So maybe they were more interested in board games and picnics.

Lesson for readers: don’t start with the fifth book in a series. Go back to the first.

Lesson for authors: even if your series has an established audience, get right into the action.

After the discovery of the body, this novel, which I’m still not naming out of respect for the author, took off in a hearty manner. There were clues and red herrings, plot twists and turns and blind alleys. I was hooked to the extent that I read the last page reluctantly—I liked these people and liked being in their world (even if they did sing unfamiliar hymns scrolled on a screen—first time I ever heard a logical explanation of that: when singing, people raised their eyes heavenward instead of being alone, locked into the pages of a hymnal).

Long story short: I ordered the first book and found, to my joy, that the action started almost immediately. So now I’m a follower of the series.

Lesson for authors: series really matter a lot. If you can create a world that readers are drawn into, feel comfortable in, you’ve got return readers. I hope to capitalize on that in my future writing. I have seven books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, three in the Blue Plate Café series, and two now in the Oak Grove Mysteries. I’m well more than halfway through the fourth Blue Plate book, and I think I’ll stick to my three series for the foreseeable future.

A final note: Kudos to my unnamed author for thinking to set a mystery series in a Bible study group. The unexpected is one element of the cozy mystery—who expects all those murders to happen in Cabot Cove? Similarly, who expects a Bible study group to be involved in solving murders. Nice thinking out of the box.

Excuse me now. I’m in the midst of a really good mystery.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Those Who Do Not Learn from History

I am sharply reminded today of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, almost fifty-five years ago. Alarmed by the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba asked the USSR to post missiles off the island to repel further advances. Russia, in retaliation for US missiles in Italy and Turkey, agreed. The US effected a naval blockade to prevent more missiles from reaching Cuba, but that was closing the barn door after the horse. So there we were, sitting ducks with short-range and intermediate-range missiles armed and pointed at our country. It was an interminably long thirteen days, as we went about our daily business almost consumed with fear.

I was in graduate school in Missouri, engaged, and looking forward to marriage. My parents were in Chicago, deemed a major target, and were deaf to my pleas to join my brother and me in Missouri. My father’s long-held philosophy held firm—no bullet had his name on it in WWI and if one did now, so be it. I had friends who were expecting their first child, so it was for them, as for me, the wrong time for the world to end. Young, we have a self-centered view of things. Today, much older, I know that it is always the wrong time. Life is too precious to lose to the folly of men’s egos.

Today I want to dig a deep hole and shepherd my children and grandchildren—and yes, our dogs—into it. Remember the bomb shelters of the 1950s? I once knew a family who bought a rambling 1950s ranch house with a bomb shelter. We laughed then but it doesn’t seem quite so foolish today. Until now, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest mankind had ever come to nuclear war. There is one big difference. Both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev recognized what was at stake. They entered lengthy negotiations that eventually defused the confrontation. What we as a nation learned was that quick, clear, full communication was necessary, even crucial.

Today we have two petty tyrants shouting insults at one another, like schoolboys in a sandbox. Wiser heads in Washington are counseling the president that he endangers the future of negotiations with Kim Jong Un’s government, but he, like a school-yard bully, seems not to care, not to realize the fate of millions is in his hand. What seems to matter is his own unquenchable thirst for power, to be the biggest, the best, the loudest. It scares me to death.

But I take comfort in the words of William Faulkner in his 1950 speech of acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Before the Cuban Missile Crisis, yes, but at the height of the Atomic Age, which some call the precursor to the Age of Anxiety, much of which lingers in our national consciousness even today

Faulkner believed it was toxic to creativity to write from a fear so long sustained. Poets, by which he meant all writers, must write from the problems of the heart in conflict with itself. Their words must speak to the heart of long-held values, not of physical fear. His stirring words comfort me to this day: “I decline to accept the end of man … I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail.” I say those words to myself as I pray for peace and for sane heads to prevail.

We owe the NFL a debt of gratitude. The players who are peacefully trying to call attention to huge problems in our country, have diverted the president’s anger from North Korea to themselves, and they seem willing to bear the burden of that anger and its consequences.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A long, lazy Saturday

Okay, folks. I know I was a day off and a dollar short last night when I posted about Friday Fun—I mean Thursday Fun but Thursday doesn’t lend itself nearly as well to alliteration. And truth be told, I was a day off in my mind. Today, I know it’s Saturday.

Because it was a long, slow Saturday for Sophie and me out in the cottage, with only glimpses of Jordan and Christian. I often start Saturday slowly, somehow picking up the vacation atmosphere of the day even though my workdays are far from rigorous. But today I decided to take a vacation and bury myself in a book. It’s been a busy time, and I wanted to empty my mind. Also, just a possibility—I’m avoiding going back to the work-in-progress. I’ve now left it twice, and I’m uncertain about the last 10,000 words or so. I know the ending, but I’m not sure how to get there. Monday, ah Monday.

So tonight, I’m half way through what I think is the first Christian mystery I’ve read. I’ve seen posts about Christian fiction forever and wondered exactly what characterizes it. In this case the novel is not openly labeled Christian but clues give it away, although the author is someone whose work I’ve admired for a long time. This has a Bible study group solving crimes—first clue—and an engaged couple who are far too distant with each other and concerned about virginity (of course they don’t openly say it that way, but in one instance a vague “it” seems to refer to marital relations). In this day and age, I find that a bit unrealistic.

It’s not the Christian elements that made me a little disappointed in the book. I think it was the long buildup to the first murder. I am truly a believer in action (probably murder) in the first chapter. In this novel, there was a long spell of Bible Study meeting and a day-long picnic, with full landscape description, before I got to—aha! a body! In the woods. Meantime I was checking to make sure the book was truly classified as a mystery. After the murder, I was much more engaged in it. No, I’m not divulging the title or author—I really like the woman who wrote it.

Nor was the mystery quite enough to take my mind off the troubling news of the day I saw someone refer to Trumpf as President Embarrassment, and I may start using that title. But like many today, I am struck by his vitriol against sports players and his pardon of Joe Arpaio. Add to that his apparent unconcern with rescue efforts in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Besty DeVos has changed rules about campus rape to give rapists more respect—is she truly serious? And the Trumpf/Kim Jong Un war of words escalates. We keep hearing that conclusive evidence of Trumpf’s collusion with Russia is near—could we please have it before he and the North Korean dictator blow the world up in fits of ego? And always once again, there is the suspense about what greedy Republicans will do about the Obamacare repeal. The website for Obamacare will be down for maintenance during the enrollment period—did I really hear that correctly? I do know Republicans have tried to bribe Senator Murkowski by allowing Alaska to keep Obamacare. Can they legally do that?

So much in this world to worry about, and I find it more on my mind these days.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fun Friday in Funkytown

Jordan and me getting ready for the party
I should have subtitled this “Fun leads to fatigue,” because I was flat out too tired to blog last night after the signing. But for those who couldn’t make it, I’m sorry you missed a good time. For those who joined us, my deep thanks for being part of what turned out to be a really special evening. We sold a fair enough number of books, but that wasn’t the point. What mattered was that people came, lingered, laughed, and appeared to have a riotous good time. Folks who hadn’t known each other before hooked up, friends who hadn’t connected in a long time visited, and newcomers found new friends. The atmosphere was happy and welcoming.

Various writers’ blogs and online discussions often suggest that blogs have passed their usefulness, they don’t promote your career, they don’t sell books, they don’t enlarge your audience Not so! There was at least three people there last night who came to meet me because they follow my blog. Turned out they had things in common, and they ended up visiting with each other. Warms the cockles of my heart.

I’d like to list everyone who came and why they’re special but that’s beyond me. Still, thanks to Randy for whom getting there was a real effort—I’m so glad he went above and beyond to be there. And Elaine, who brought that darling granddaughter I’ve been wanting to meet. And two friends—Sharon and Gretchen—each of whom was just back from long and arduous trips and who should have been resting at home. I’m flattered by all these and more.

A special shout-out to daughter Jordan who engineered the whole thing, did the running around I can’t do these days. She arranged for the place, ordered the food, got the money to make change, made the sales, and kept track of the money. She is a jewel beyond measure and I rely on her every day, but asking her to put together a signing party seems like an unexpected burden. She did it beautifully.
  The Wine Haus was the perfect place for the party--there was an article in the paper recently about how Fort Worth got the Funkytown label (in addition to Cowtown) and this wine bar is the best of everything funky implies. It's odd mismatch of décor and furniture is irresistible and makes everyone comfortable whether wearing stiletto heels or jeans and boots. Y'all come. Thanks to Chadra for a great spread of snacks. 
Food from Chadra

Lots else going on in the world—John McCain’s decisive announcement that he can’t support Graham/Cassidy (yay for an elder statesman!); ongoing rescue efforts in the Caribbean and Mexico—Mother Nature has inflicted so much damage on our hemisphere, you know she’s pissed, and yet the powers that be seem oblivious—the secretary of the interior wants to return some national lands to what he calls their original purpose of mining—huh? North Korea is still rattling its bombs and increasing the war of words (honestly, Trump and Kim-Jo Yun or whoever are like two five-year-olds in a sandbox, except that they hold the lives of millions in their hands. So much to worry about in our world, and sometimes in our own small private worlds, but as Jordan said to me today, we could put it aside last night and simply enjoy ourselves. Praise be to God.
My T-shirt got lots of comments

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Celebrating and a Dream

I’m proud as punch of the picture above. The lady is Jude Walsh, another internet friend I’ve never met. We belong, with Pat Bean of last night’s blog, to a small writing group within the larger umbrella of Story Circle Network. And three of us published books this month. Jude found a way to celebrate all three in one picture. Yay! The other two are Pat Bean's wonderful Travels with Maggie, reviewed yesterday in my blog, and Linda Marshall's memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, next on my reading list.

And that of course segues easily into my excitement for tomorrow night’s signing. I hope it’s on your calendar and in your plans. 5-7 at the Wine Haus, 1628 Park Place. Cash bar with snacks provided. I so hope you can come join the fun. I may even have a special costume for the event.

Pigface and the Perfect Dog is the second of my Oak Grove Mysteries, following The Perfect Coed. You may remember Susan Hogan—she is associate professor of English at Oak Grove (Texas) University; her partner, Jake, is Chief of Campus Security. Aunt Jenny, the maiden lady who raised Jenny, came to Oak Grove to help Susan, who was accused of murdering a coed in The Perfect Coed. How much help Jenny was is debatable, but she made a fast friend in Judge John Jackson and stayed in Oak Grove.

This time around, Susan thinks she’s about to meet her maker when she confronts a rifle-carrying man, who looks like a pig, in a grocery store. Jake investigates the body of a young college student, shot in the back and found in an empty pasture. Aunt Jenny showers love on the new puppy a young man from the grocery gave her but she must get rid of that heavy collar.

Before it’s all over, there’s a shooting, breaking and entering, threats and an attempted kidnapping, a clandestine trip to the woods late at night. Will Susan land in trouble…or the hospital…again? Will Susan and Jake survive this as a couple? Susan is still prickly but she learns some lessons about life, love, and herself. And which dog is the perfect dog? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Writers lives may be solitary, but they are never dull. I had the craziest dream last night. It had to do with a crime that could only be solved by a horse. If the horse was scared when left alone with a certain person, then everyone knew that person was the villain. In my dream, I read that final scene in a book—a real cliffhanger, and the scene only came at the last two pages. In a semi-awake stage, I tried to remember what book it was because I wanted to go back and re-read it. But then it dawned on me that it was not in someone else’s book—I wrote it. For much of the night, asleep I’m sure, I wrote and rewrote that scene And then it grew into a story that branched off from the first scene, although I don’t remember much of the story.

Strange for me, a committed dog person who’s more than a bit uncertain around horses, to have that dream. Perhaps it will show up again tonight, and I can figure it out.

Hope to see lots of you tomorrow at the Pigface celebration.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A radio interview, a travel book, and a nothing day

I did it! After striking out twice I did a successful (at least I think it was) radio interview today with Barbara Hodges on Red River Radio. I shared the spotlight with fellow mystery writer, S. L. Smith, and as soon as we finished I ordered the first of S.L.’s Culnane and Tierney mysteries. The interview lasted an hour and covered everything from how we came to write up to marketing. Lots of fun. You can listen to it here:
              Pat Bean is one of many delightful friends I treasure but have never met in person. We’re internet pals, this time through Story Circle Network. Pat has recently published a travel memoir, appropriately titled Travels with Maggie, and reading it I found out she is my kind of traveler. Having spent too many years of my life with a man who thought the point of road trips was to see how fast you can get from point A to point B, I was delighted to read about her meandering travels. And in awe of the courage, bravery, wanderlust, whatever it took for a woman “of a certain age” to set off alone, driving an RV, with only a canine companion, for a six-month trip of some 7000 miles. She stopped where she wanted to—state parks, RV sites, but never a motel or hotel—and if she liked it, she might stay two or three days. Some days her travel was only 60 miles, but she went as far as she wanted. As a reader, you get to travel from Arkansas to Maine and back to Texas, sharing stops in Mark Twain country, Carthage Missouri (takeoff point for the Mormons headed west), Niagara Falls. You can get lost with Pat in Logan Airport, picking up her son, and take a commuter train into NYC, a place she’s “always eager to visit and always eager to leave.” Me too.

My particular favorite stop was Chesterton, Indiana, and the Indiana Dunes. I spent many a youthful summer there and still treasure memories of Lake Michigan, especially when roiled by a storm, the woods, the dunes, the swamp (okay marsh, but we called it a swamp).

Birding is a big part of this travel book, and I, not a birder, learned a lot as Pat listed the birds she’d seen. I’d have liked to see more about Maggie the dog, but it comforted me to know she was there.

Writing a book about her experience is another act of bravery. Our travel literature is full of the adventures of men—Paul Theroux, John Steinbeck, Bill Bryson, William Least Heat Moon, Charles Kurault. Joining that all-male club didn’t faze Pat Bean for one second.

Let’s hear it for adventuresome women and their dogs!

Other than the radio interview and writing the above book review I didn’t accomplish much today. A visit to my doctor assured me that I am doing well and not malingering—comforting but also time consuming. I’d say I’m going to charge around and set the world in order tomorrow, but, alas, I have a dental appointment. Too late tonight for writing, but I do have a neighborhood newsletter to put together. Whoever taught me that idle hands are the devil’s work sure did a good job of instilling that lesson.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A working day

Not much remarkable about today It’s hot and dry in North Texas, as though we’re making up for the remarkably cool and wet August we had. It’s not quite middle-of-the-summer, drown-yourself-under-the-sprinkler hot, but it’s enough—mid to high 90s during the day, upper seventies at night. Tonight, we sat on the patio briefly, and it was pleasant. No bugs bit me, at least I think that’s the case.

Working day. Realized last night that I had let an important character in the work-in-progress be murdered, and then had not given him a proper funeral, which would be sort of a test for the main suspect. So back I went to insert the funeral, but without a plan. I told myself that old lesson of writers: just get some words on paper. You can edit later. Already I have ideas to go back and inset tomorrow. For me, it’s always a good feeling to have something concrete in mind when I sit down to the keyboard.

So between my ideas for moving the novel ahead and a radio interview—plus a doctor’s appointment—my day tomorrow is planned. I’m hoping this interview will break the jinx. It’s with Red River Radio, which to me means North Texas and Arkansas, but the interviewer is in California. I’m prepared this time—I know it’s 5:00 p.m. CDT. Good thing I checked, or I’d have called at 3:00 p.m., probably gotten no answer, and given up. This hostess asked for a list of ten questions in advance—should make it easier (I hope).

Tonight was also a cooking night. I made stir-fry but had misgivings about it. My stir-fry has vegetables that Christian doesn’t like—squash and mushrooms leap to my mind. But I cut up lots of roast chicken with him in mind. As it turned out, something came up and I ate a solitary dinner, which was fine. I left it as a vegetarian stir-fry just for me and loved it. It goes in my cookbook, which grows oh so slowly. And at this point, the cookbook is unbalanced—lots in light suppers but very little in entrees and only one recipe in desserts. I confess: I am not a dessert person. If it’s chocolate, my interest goes up; in rare instances, a fruit pie, cobbler or crisp calls to me.

Are you feeling what I am? That we go about our daily lives with whatever characterizes us, from joy to boredom (always your choice), but that we are playing out our petty lives against a larger and very uncertain backdrop. North Korea remains a threat, and daily there are suggestions that Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in our election was severe, suggestions that will supposedly lead to a choice for Trumpf between impeachment and resignation. Meanwhile, he remains himself, tweeting about his golf ball knocking Hilary down—a tweet that put his unofficial disapproval rating on the internet at a high.

And the mood of the country remains belligerent. I read today of a young man sentenced to 30 years for killing an Arabian immigrant who raped his seven-year-old sister. The writer thought this a terrible miscarriage of justice, but what makes it that? The rapist was Arabian? We can’t operate with discriminatory laws like that. The victim was seven? Oh that would be so easy to justify, and the punishment should be severe. But it wasn’t the young man’s place to take vengeance into his own hands. One prays that prison life will be merciful to him and that he will get early parole, but we cannot simply praise him and send him on his way. He has to take responsibility for his action. Neither discrimination nor immigration should be part of the case.

Meanwhile, it’s raining and snowing in the northwest, and the fires may finally be dampened. José missed Florida and remains over water, but Maria is gathering strength and heading for poor battered Florida. Pray for our country, and then go out and do one good thing, just one, for someone else.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Good news and a lazy day

My conscience bothers me on a Sunday when I’m too lazy to go to church, but today I told myself that I was still tired, recovering from the hospital stay. I’ve got to stop giving myself that message. Resolve: to get out more, to exercise more.

Because, tonight, good news. Our neighbors, who are both doctors, came over to catch up with my health. It was extremely kind of them, but we wanted them to know so that if I have an episode and want immediate help, I can call them. The good news part is that my heart rhythm is regular—no a fib. I pray that it stays that way. A little learning is a dangerous thing, and of course I have a theory about what caused the a fib and why it’s gone, but I won’t go into that. I honestly do feel better—but still tired.

Wrote my thousand words today and piddled the rest of the day. We had a picnic tonight—that’s sort of what we call it when we eat in the cottage instead of at the dining table inside. But the dining table apparently is still full of now-clean dishes from last night’s dinner party, and homework has been added to the mix. Christian fixed barbecue chicken in the crockpot and, lacking any other buns, served it in hot dog buns.

A belated thought about last night’s dinner party: I entertained often in the house, with frequent dinner parties of six or eight (plus me, always adding the odd number). I am delighted that Jordan and Christian have taken up that custom, and invite me most of the time—It’s truly a pleasure to still sit at my usual place by the kitchen door (Jordan calls it my princess chair) and enjoy the conversation and good food. Christian is a good cook and also an adventuresome one. Last night we had bulgogi, a Korean dish he made of flank steak. Megan had given him the recipe, saying her boys loved it. It was the first time in a long while that I’ve had flank steak that wasn’t too chewy—and I attribute that to Christian’s carving it really thin. The marinade made it delicious, so thanks to Christian and, secondhand, to Megan.

After the picnic, Jacob brought his homework out. Christian was puzzled by some grammar questions, but I found a secret long ago to pronoun usage. Suppose the sentence given is “We and them wanted to go to dinner.” Instead of trying to remember the rule, break it into two sentences. You would say, “We wanted to go to dinner,” but not “Them wanted to go to dinner.” Clearly it should be “they.” I thought my explanation was wonderful, but I fear Jacob was a bit confused. Oh well, I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll repeat that little lesson.

Busy week coming up. Doctor and dentist, a radio interview, and the biggie of the week—my launch/signing for Pigface and the Perfect Dog. I hope if you’re close by, you have it on your calendar. At the Wine Haus just down Park Place and across the tracks, closer to Eighth Avenue, 5:00-7:00 p.m. Come enjoy fun and fellowship. I’ll post a graphic on Facebook tomorrow.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A day of writing, cooking, and conviviality

I haven’t felt like a writer lately. First it was Hurricane Harvey, which we all waited for with dread, holding our breath for friends and family in the Houston area. That distracted me longer than I like to admit, as I watched recovery efforts. And then it was, oh I don’t know, a variety of things, capped by my unexpected five days in the hospital. Then, of course, it took me a few days to get back to my normal routine. And I had to read the work-in-progress to get myself back up to speed on it.

But today was the day I set to get back to my daily goal of a thousand words a day—and I’m delighted to say I wrote two thousand words. And they weren’t all bad. Now I’m geared up to go again. Hope this productive spell lasts.

The doctor’s advice last week was to take it easy and admit I was tired. I took that to heart in my own fashion and began to sleep a lot—early to bed, late to rise, and a nap in the afternoon. That “admit you’re tired” message bothers me, because I’m never sure if I’m really tired or just being very suggestible. At any rate, along with writing, I eliminated my ongoing cooking experiments.

So today, I also got back to cooking. My effort was black bean soup. I cobbled a bit from this recipe and that and was pleased with the outcome. I contributed it to the dinner party Jordan and Christian had tonight, and it got a highly positive reaction. See the recipe below.

The dinner party was the climax of my fruitful day. Guests were two couples, one Hilary who Jordan went to school with and now studies core exercise with, and her lawyer-husband Brent; the other was SuperDave who is family to the Alters and has been since he and Jordan were in high school, and his girlfriend, Kelly. I like them all a lot and was delighted to spend an evening in their company.

Christian fixed bulgogi, a Korean dish of marinated flank steak slices—wonderful flavor from a marinade that had a lot of things in it including brown sugar and soy—what’s to go wrong? He served it on a bed of rice but with mashed potatoes and salad. My black bean soup was the amuse bouche. All in all, a terrific meal.

So here it is, the end of a most satisfying day, and I’m up past my bedtime. ‘Night all.

Super-easy black bean soup

Warning: I blended this in small batches in my countertop food processor, but the first time I did it, I put too much soup in at one time and it ran all over everywhere. Caution is advised.

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

2-3 cloves garlic

1 Knorr beef bouillon cube, dissolved in 2 c. boiling water

or 2 c. beef broth in a box, low sodium

2 cups boiling water

1 32 oz. canned black beans

Rinse beans and let drain in colander.

Sauté onion in olive oil. When it is translucent, add cumin and cook until spice releases its flavor. Add diced garlic, and cook a minute more.

Separately, dissolve bouillon cube in boiling water, if using. Otherwise, just had beef broth. Some recipes call for chicken stock, rather than beef, but I like the heartiness of the beef.

Add half the beans, bring to simmer, and take off the heat and let cool.

When cool, blend in batches. Return to burner. Add remaining beans and simmer.

Serve warm with sour cream and chopped cilantro or chives for garnish.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Chicago memories and an anonymous friend (I think)

My children on the steps of my
childhood home
A year ago today, my four grown children and I were in Chicago, staying at the Drake Hotel (a childhood symbol of luxury for me), dining in new and interesting restaurants, and, best of all, touring the city I call home. I hadn’t been back in at least twenty years, maybe more, and it was a joy to show “my” neighborhood to my children.

I had always told them that I grew up in modest circumstances, so they were unprepared for my childhood home. I can still see the sign as we turned into Madison Park, the small enclave on Chicago’s South Side, We passed the Caverswall apartments, then the Early house, the Wieland house, a new house built on my father’s garden, and there it was—1340 Madison Park. Jamie said, “Mom!” Madison Park has been gentrified, and the house sparkled—a brownstone only of red brick instead of brown stone, the wood porch of my childhood gone, the small patch of land in front landscaped.

We toured, by car, the University of Chicago neighborhood, which again astounded the kids with its wonderful architecture, the Gothic buildings of the university, the lovely, tree-lined streets—I don’t know what they expected of Chicago, but this wasn’t it. We drove down 53rd, the business street I remembered, andsaw my church—good gosh, it looked small.

We ate at Rick Steves’ restaurant, two upscale places, one Italian and one steak, that were owned by the same people, a small bistro across from the hotel, Berghoff’s, and a cutting edge place with a weird menu. My historical Chicago novel, The Gilded Cage, was still relatively new, and a highlight for me was lunch at the Palmer House, a big part of the novel, and the historical tour afterward.

We gawked at the beauty of the city, explored the riverfront (including a picture they tricked me into in front of Trump Tower). They explored the beach opposite the hotel and marveled at the lake—I think Megan expected to see the other shore.

I came home from that trip with a basket full of memories that I will treasure forever. With two hospital stays and a long stretch of questionable health, I may have used up my travel credit card with these four, but I hope not. Toronto beckons, and maybe, a tiny bit, so does New York City.

Meanwhile I, a mystery writer, have a mystery one my hands. Anonymous, that ubiquitous guy, responded to my blog last night, suggesting I let go of my anger (I’m sure he meant political, but it wasn’t really an angry blog). In the back and forth that ensued, I learned that I had once, in his younger years, yelled at him (but he said he deserved it), and he was always just a bit of afraid of me (I’m just assuming a male writer). He liked my blogs about work and family, kids and grandkids, better than political ones. In the middle of the night, I had an aha! moment and decided it was Megan’s high school boyfriend, but she shot that down with, “He was never afraid of you.” So, I’m left with this puzzle, and it bugs me—someone I felt comfortable enough with to chastise (I’m sure I didn’t yell), and someone who knew the family well. Jordan says it could be any of their boyfriends, but I can rule out several right away. Anonymous remains a niggling puzzle to me.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A day of trivia

There’s nothing like being completely relaxed and confident of your safety, as Sophie demonstrates in her favorite chair. I’m thinking of switching chairs around, so that the two matching club chair wear evenly from her attachment to them. This thought became more insistent today when I crawled into my unmade bed to nap. Did you ever sleep in a beach bed? One with sand that you could not brush entirely away? That’s what this felt like—gritty, only there’s no sand around. It was grainy old dirt from the back yard. My bed is another of Sophie’s favorite spots. She’ll teach me to make it earlier in the day, though my mom taught me to let a bed air out before you pulled the covers up.

I come from a family of nappers. We believe in good, solid afternoon sleep. My dad walked a mile home from his office for lunch every day, took a 20-minutes power nap, and walked back. My power nap today stretched into an hour-and-a-half of solid sleep. In my own defense, because such a long nap makes me feel lazy or guilty or something, I will say that I didn’t sleep well last night. But I dreamt heavily this afternoon. My family was caravanning in several cars—no idea where we were going, but we were in mountains. And I ended up in a small pickup, going at a high speed down a steep mountain road, with son-in-law Brandon driving. It was not hairpin curves but a road that clung to the side of a mountain and wound around it. B is and was in the dream a good driver, but the dream was so intense that I lay in bed for 30 minutes, trying to get rid of it. I think it may having automatically converted my heart back to a sinus rhythm!

I am a bust at radio interviews—there’s no way around it. After confessing the mix-up on my last interview and detailing the preparation I’d done for today’s, nothing happened. I called the designated number two minutes before the show was to start and got a recorded message that the show had not yet started; please call back within 15 minutes of show time—did that mean 15 minutes before? After? For the next 17 minutes, I called at least 17 times—and got the same message. Emailed the publicist who said to let it go; she’d find out what happened.

My rant for the day: every day I think the man in the White House cannot do anything more outrageous, but he exceeds my expectations. Now he’s demanding a rush to a tax bill because it is urgent after the hurricanes. I’m sorry, but how were the rich damaged, other than a few wrecked Caribbean second homes? It’s the poor, those who live at the edge of poverty, who were pushed over that edge. The bill does nothing for them, not one blessed thing. The NBC coverage of the devastation on Tortula only emphasizes where America needs to put money—and it’s not in the pockets of the rich.

And I’m puzzled as I can be by the news of the deal Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi made with Trumpf about DACA recipients. Trumpf alternately denies it and confirms his support for DACA recipients. How do we know what’s true?

I’m now following the daily newsletter of high-school student Gabe Fleisher, and I’m in good company—a lot of well-known political journalists also read “Wake Up to Politics” every morning. I’m hoping young Gabe can do what others can’t and get us the straight of the story.

Not a rant but a sad obituary: I know many of my friends disagree with my stand that we are being hasty in dismantling Civil War statues, but I am saddened by today’s removal of the General Robert E. Lee statue in Dallas. Fellow mystery author Janis Patterson put the case best here:  Read it and weep, because I really believe we will come to regret this haste to change history, which cannot be changed. A GIF on Facebook also says it well: We will change nothing by taking down statues until we can change what’s in people’s hearts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Reading out loud    

Do you have any idea how hard it is to read your own writing aloud? Some people do it with easy grace, but I am not one of them. I’m to do a radio interview tomorrow that includes at least ten minutes of me reading from Pigface and the Perfect Dog. I’ve chosen two passages—one the opening scene and the other a chase scene, sort of—and printed out the passages in large type. And I’ve practiced three times—each time, I stumble in a new and different place. I’ve decided I’ll just have to laugh off the stumbles. I’ve practiced breathing at appropriate intervals. I’m not sure what else to do in preparation except be nervous.

Years ago, I remember when a Texas college was going to pay me handsomely to read an entire, long short story (oxymoron) to an audience. Shyness and anxiety overcame me, but I practiced on a friend who had a theater background. Her important advice was to slow down, way down. When we read too fast, the pitch of our voices can become unpleasantly high. So that’s another thing I kept in mind in my practice sessions.

My track record with radio shows is not great. The last one, I forgot about the time difference between Texas and Florida and was late, very late, in calling in. They graciously put me on in the second half of the show, but there was so much static on the line I couldn’t understand the questions and managed bumbling answers at best. I checked the time of this show carefully, and the instruction sheet says 11 a.m. CDT, 9 a.m. PDT, which makes me think the show is in California. Wish me luck, please.

This was the first day of my new, take-it-easy policy, and I felt like I was malingering. I was not rushed in checking emails and Facebook this morning, fixing myself some breakfast, taking my time. I caught up on some banking information—really keeping track of tax information. I practiced reading, and I dealt with a few odds and ends that landed on my desk. And I napped this afternoon with no sense of urgency to wake up and get back to work.

I’ve decided for the time being to limit myself to one outing a day—so I cancelled my dermatology appointment and went to dinner with Betty. No problem guessing where my priorities are. We ate at a wine bistro and shared appetizers—deviled eggs and mac and cheese with truffles. Good and small portions, even if the mac and cheese was rich.

Now to spend the rest of the evening reading. This lazy life might become a habit.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Breakfast, Lunch, and Oops—the doctor’s office

When my friend Carol picked me up for breakfast this morning, she sagely announced that when I’m worried about my health, my blog is about me; when I’m feeling confident and good, I branch out. It was her way of complimenting me on recovering rapidly from my recent stint in the hospital. I’ve been blogging about people who annoy me, computer woes, the suspense of waiting for Irma to strike, and so on. I’m about to trash all Carol’s praise. Today was an ill health day.

I enjoyed breakfast with Carol—we went to the Book Ladies, a group of women who have been meeting for breakfast the first Tuesday of the month for at least twenty years and maybe thirty. I was one of the founders of the group, but I can’t tell you for sure when it started, only that it was mostly women from TCU. We decided to welcome anyone who’s life calling focused on books—librarians, teacher, authors, booksellers. It’s a compatible group, all progressives politically. Years ago, we unintentionally ran off the one conservative, a bookseller I really liked. I enjoyed breakfast this morning, even if I did indulge in hash browns with lots of ketchup.

Jean picked me up for lunch on the TCU campus. We had to park a bit away from the entrance, so I had a long (for me) walk, up a medium incline. I had to sit and rest partway there, and again when we reached the room where the retirees luncheon was. Jean had to leave early, and we agreed we’d see who would take me home. But I got so winded, I decided I wanted to leave when Jean did—home was right on her way to her appointment. I missed a speaker I would have enjoyed, someone I know from the Texas literary scene. But I came home and collapsed in a fit of depression and dark thoughts.

Upshot was Jordan took me to our doctor’s office. He was reassuring. Those finger meters don’t work with a fib, so I should stop being worried about my low heart rate. Okay, yes, I was worried. And my body will take a while to adjust to the new normal of a fib, so I will be tired and that’s okay. I of course with my strong Puritan streak thought being tired a week out of the hospital was self-indulgent malingering. He gave me permission to be tired, and I came home and slept the rest of the afternoon.

Long story short, I am much reassured tonight. I think being a novelist has something to do with my anxiety—I give in to my imagination too easily. I used to know a man who said to me, “Go on, bring that bridge right on up here so you can jump it.” He had a point.

I shall now spend my days reading Silver Screen (is it even published today?) and eating bonbons. That used to be our phrase that epitomized the self-indulgent, lazy life.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Some people annoy me

I like to think I’m fairly accepting about people, but lately I’ve noticed some people want to complain about something all the time. I think they work hard to find new things to complain about. For instance, the people who want Hillary Clinton to quietly fold her tents and go away, and for gosh sake, don’t publish that book. Why shouldn’t she speak her mind? She’s been the victim of unbelievable negative scams, accusations, conspiracies—you name it. I’m not at all convinced she lost the last election fair and square—in fact, I think she probably didn’t. And I wish daily she were the first woman president of our country.

But she’s not. Still she has opinions to express, opinions that come from a wide and deep knowledge base. I truly believe some people think she should shush because she’s a woman, she’s been un-womanly all along, and why won’t she learn her lesson. God bless her for persevering. Others want her to fade into the wallpaper because she might hurt the chance for progressives to carry the 2018 election and the all-important 2020 one. I think what she has to say might help progressives, might expose some of the unfair tactics used against her. Preach it, Hillary!

And then there are people who criticize the journalists who brought us on-the-spot reports from the middle of Harvey and Irma. I think particularly of one image of a young man in blue fighting the powerful winds of Irma and being blown back. Some say that was grandstanding, entertainment for the masses. Really? Who finds a storm of that magnitude, with all its destruction, entertaining? I worried, instead, that the man should have a guy rope to keep him from being blown helplessly away. I admire journalists who take those chances--many of their colleagues lost their lives in dangerous situations, and they know it. But they do their job, bringing us news up front instead of from behind a desk.

What have you found to complain about today? On this day of national remembrance, we should all be grateful that our nation survived the 9/11 attacks, albeit not without loss of life that grieves us to this day. But as a nation, we were not crushed, as our enemies hoped. We will come back from these devastating storms too, dragging all those complainers with us.

My mom taught me we each have a choice between happiness and unhappiness. I would add a third choice in there—anger. Which have you chosen? I know which choice calls me.

Y’all have a blessed night. In North Texas, the temperature is in the 70s, though I hear the cicadas, which I always think mean hot weather. While much of the country suffers through storms, we are blessed with wonderful weather. It almost makes a person feel guilty—oops, no, that’s a word I’m erasing from my vocabulary.