Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Good gravy! Get me off the subject of Christmas. I realized that half of what I said in my last blog, I'd said two blogs earlier. I'm tempted to go back and edit, in fact I think I will! Proves that old saying--everyone needs an editor. I can see the red-penciled, "You already said that!"
Tonight is New Year's Eve, and I'm staying home. Actually I was looking forward to a party. My new neighbors had invited the neighbors close by and I guess a few other people--but they called yesterday and are snowbound in Taos, hoping to make it home late tonight but not in time to host a party. I don't mind. I've stayed home many a New Year's Eve and been comfortably tucked in bed by ten or so. I don't believe that how you spend the evening of December 31st is a precursor for how you'll spend the coming year. More likely, to me, how you spend January 1st says something about the coming year, and I'll have warm companionship for that--but before I say anything about ham and black-eyed peas, I'm going back to read my last blog!
Tonight, though I did feel a bit of the doldrums--the mss. I am working on isn't going well, and I'm tempted to spend the evening with a good book written by someone else. But then I decided I needed to brighten up. I turned on the Christmas lights (thank you, Jordan, for making me leave them up!), freshened my makeup, made myself a meatloaf, and, after dinner, will change into cozy lounging pajamas rather than my sweats. Jordan and Christian said they'd drop by about 9 on their way home from a party, so I will, I hope, be bright and cheerful. And you know what, I feel better already! And I'll get to give Jacob a New Year's hug!
I wish for everyone a safe, healthy, and happy New Year--and for this tired old world, peace. Prosperity would be nice, but I'd settle for peace, less vegeance, less anger throughout the world.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Post-Christmas efficiency

Christmas if over, and I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did. I went to Frisco on Christmas Eve to be with Jamie and his family--Mel, 7-year-old Maddie and almost-four Edie, along with Mel's parents and brother, Brent. Christmas Eve we had turducken for dinner, at Brent's request. When his mother saw how much a ready-to-cook turducken was, she decided she could do that herself. (For those that don't know, it's a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey--I'd been wanting to taste it for a long time and was delighted.) Nancy brined the meats (breast only), boned them, layered them with stuffing, and trussed the whole thing. Then she announced, justifiably, that it was the only turducken she was ever doing, so everyone had better enjoy it (I still think I'd like to do one but I'd get a ready-to-cook). Brent took over the cooking--it was delicious, moist, just a bit salty but not too much--and it made great leftovers (I ate turducken sandwiches the rest of the time I was there). I think Jamie was skeptical--he fixed a pot of chili, which was an odd accompaniment. We didn't go to church, which I missed but then I miss that every year.
Christmas morning was as it should be. The girls got American Girl dolls and were ecstatic--they've been carrying them everywhere since. We lingered over present opening--I'd already had family Christmas but was surprised with lovely gifts--and then a lazy afternoon. The girls played contentedly with their toys--Nancy (Nana) is good about getting them crafty things. I did what I don't often do enough of--I just sat and watched my grandchildren play. All three grandparents seemed to be of the same mindset--we were there when the girls came to us, but we didn't beg and smother them. Mel fixed a marvelous dinner--beef tenderloin (she worried about the responsibility of such an expensive cut of meat, but she and Brent did a beautiful job), scalloped potatoes and green bean casserole--she meant to do green beans almondine, but Jamie wanted the traditional. The next day we hit bookstores (always a hit with all of us) and I went to Coldwater Creek for the sales. Then Wed. I was lazy while the kids, big and little, were busy with all sorts of things--lots of time at the computer, working on my Oprah project, and lots of reading--I'm enjoying another Deborah Crombie mystery and am afraid I've about ready the body of her work. Wed. night Jordan and Christian met us at a favorite barbecue place in a mid-way suburb--turns out it was closing the next day--and they brought me home. I was as always glad to be home, no matter how much I'd enjoyed my stay. And I was glad to see my dog and cat--we'd had an alarm crisis, complete with police coming, and a cat crisis--my neighbor found my always-indoor cat on her front porch one morning--so I was glad to get back to my household.
There's something about that post-holiday/end-of-the-year period that inspires efficiency in me--I did a zillion errands today, then came home and finished thank-you notes, made a Christmas card list for next year (I didn't have one this year and was awful about cards!), cleaned up a lot of loose ends, and started on my tax info for the accountant. Tonight I am feeling righteous and tired. Tomorrow, it's the closets!
Talked to Jamie tonight, and he's still worrying with why Christmas isn't like it was. He thinks now it's because he always has one part of his mind on his business and things that should be done. I think the difference is that we were away, out of our routine, sort of transported to a vacation land. When you stay home, you do worry about all the things that need to be done--I didn't do that at his house, but he did. On the other hand, he wants his girls to wake up in their own house on Christmas. Maybe it's a contradiction in terms. And maybe, just maybe, Christmas is different when you're 34, even than when you were 18 or 19 and not just when you were four or five and overwhelmed by a mountain of packages. Maybe too we all remember it as more magical than it really was. Jame said tonight, "I don't want it to be just another holiday, like the 4th of July."
I wonder if others are struggling with the meaning of Christmas and capturing the magic again, as we move on with ever-changing lives and, maybe particularly, in the world today when peace on earth seems a remote impossibility. I still think we have to believe!

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Colin made it safely to Dumas Thursday night. Next morning, he had to turn south a bit because that road through Clayton and the northeast corner of New Mexico was closed. He went to Springer, picked up I-25 and was in Colorado Springs by noon Friday. But he'd lost a day of loading, and they didn't get out of the Springs until noon Saturday, which cancelled any thought of making it to Fort Worth. They stopped in Amarillo, and Lisa called about 8 to say they were almost halfway between Amarillo and Wichita Falls already and expect to be in Houston by mid-afternoon. They'll unload, spend the night in the new house, and then head to her folks' house for a traditional Christmas and--most important--a reunion with little Morgan. When I told Lisa that ten years from now she'd laugh about this, she said, "Oh, I know. I'm already laughing a bit."
I'll miss that Christmas hug from them that I'll be glad to have them settled in their new home--and it's so much closer than Colorado that I know I'll see them soon!
I hope everyone is tucked in safe and warm with someone they love this holiday. And in the joy of the occasion, let us also remember the gift to each of us that comes with Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Mother's worries

I remember one time when I had lunch with a man I was dating. I think we were in the TCU cafeteria. Anyway, his plate had chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes and gravy. I looked at him in horror and said, "You don't have anything green on your plate." He rolled his eyes and said, "Once a mother, always a mother." Well, today, I've had proof of that in spades. In the face of the worst storm Colorado has seen in years, my oldest son, Colin, is driving from Houston to Colorado. Oh, he's got good cause. His pregnant wife is in Colorado Springs alone; they're supposed to close the sale of their house there tomorrow morning, load everything into a U-Haul, and drive to Texas, with Colin driving the U-Haul and Lisa driving their pickup. Now he'll have to tow the Nissan behind the U-Haul. I'm not ready tonight to even think about their drive from the Springs--I just want to get him there to be with Lisa. It's been a day of phone calls, with my brother calling frequently because of his concern after talks with friends in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Once when I called Lisa, she answered with, "Information Central. How may I help you?" But tonight, she tells me Colin is almost to Dumas, Texas--in the Panhandle, a bit beyond Amarillo, where he had promised to stop for the night--and she had already reserved a room for him.
Why do children still try to trick their parents? This morning when I talked to Colin and he was still in sunny southern Texas, he said, "I hope Morgan handles the trip okay. So far she's fine." Now Morgan is 18 mos. old and I knew very well she was in Houston with her grandparents and not in the car with her daddy! I told him not to even go there, and he laughed. But sometime during the day, I said that if they didn't make it to Houston for Christmas, it wasn't the end of the world. Morgan would be with her grandparents, and she wouldn't know she'd missed Christmas with her parents. He told me soundly that was the least of his worries.
I think I've raised a most sensible kid, and maybe I don't give him--or any of them--enough credit. I continue to worry. Colin said to me today, "Mom, I'm not a risk taker," even as I had visions of him trying to cross Raton Pass in the snow in the middle of the night. But, you know, he's 37 years old, he has a wife, daughter, and a son on the way, a responsible and good job, and he's right--he's not a risk taker. It's hard to get rid of a lifetime of worrying about your children, but I need to learn to do it. They're good people, and they can take care of themselves and their families--and maybe even, occasionally, me!
This is Colin with his daughter, Morgan. Naw, he doesn't like her much!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holiday thoughts

Thank goodness for Christmas. I'm anticipating a delightful holiday with my son, Jamie, his wife Mel, my two granddaughters, Maddie and Edie, and Mel's parents and brother. It will be joyous and happy, and Jamie even said no promises but he's looking into taking everyone to a Christmas Eve service--he told me once it was one of his fondest childhood memories, and I told him he could have fooled me because he usually behaved badly (he said he liked the memory because of the anticipation of gifts that went with it). I like going to church on Christmas Eve, and the one year we took the girls, Maddie had a magical look on her face that I'll never forget.
But much of the holiday season is already behind me, and it's only December 19. That's a funny feeling. We had Alter Alternative Christmas two days after Thanksgiving, because we were all together, and it was wonderful--but then it's gone before the season begins. And Sunday night I had my annual party--so that's gone too. My presents are wrapped and mostly given out--I've had a couple of really nice gift exchanges with close friends, and I have several presents to open. I told Jordan I didn't want to sit home alone and open them, so Saturday, she and Christian and Jacob are coming for a present-opening session, followed by lunch at the deli (a nice ecumenical touch--we'll have our Christmas meal at a Jewish restaurant!).
But I'm so glad I'm welcome at Jamie's, even though it's Mel's family's turn to host Christmas. Like custody arrangements in a divorce, my family alternates--one year it's an Alter Christmas and the next it's a year when everyone goes to their in-laws--this is one of those years, only Jamie's in-laws are coming to him. He really wants his girls to wake up in their own house at Christmas and I can understand that--he always did when he was a child.
Jamie said an interesting thing to me recently. He didn't like it that at Thanksgiving two of my children and their families stayed with me and the other two famlies were 20 minutes away. It wasn't, he said, like we were all together. Acknowledging that he loves his life now and wouldn't change a thing, he said he keeps reaching for the years when it was just me and the children and we were in Santa Fe and we were all so close (actually we're all still so close!). I laughed (with a tear or two) and told him I keep reaching for the years when they still believed in Santa and were awestruck. None of us would change the present, but the past calls. I guess it's important to keep it in perspective, treasure the past and enjoy the present.
I think part of the puzzle for a lot of us is that we reach for that high that we expect with the holidays--and it often doesn't measure up to what we remember, or thnk we remember, from the past. If we could spend more time thinking about the real meaning of the holiday, the gift of good news that it bring us that's beyond gifts of clothes and toys and jewelry, we'd stop worrying about whether or not we're having as much fun as we ought to. Maybe that's my tiny bit of resolve for the next week.
I'll stay in Frisco with Jamie's family maybe until Wednesday--we really haven't worked out when or how I'll get home--and then I'll hit my desk. It's nice that I have lots of work waiting for me, work that I enjoy.
Oh, and here's another thought. The day after Thanksgiving, when we all went to my brother's for a reunion with his kids and his wife's family, we took a huge family picture. I showed it to a friend who knows most of us today, and she said, "You are so blessed." And tonight I was writing an identification chart for my aunt in Canada so she'd know who was who, and I had that thought again. I am so blessed. So I guess I'll let go of the past and enjoy the present. It's a wonderful picture!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas party

I'm tired tonight, too tired to do much of anything, so I thought maybe it was a good time to write a blog. Tonight at 5 p.m. was my annual Tree Trimming (no tree) party. I've been doing this since the first year Joel and I moved to Texas--1965. I figured we didn't know anyone, and we were alone, and trimming the tree was always more of a pain than a joy when I was a kid, so I'd make a party out of it. When I was young, we all went to pick out the tree, though I can't imagine it was a joyous trip--no forays in a sleigh to cut down our own tree for us. We went to a lot on the South Side of Chicago. My father and brother got the tree into the house, into its stand, and put up the lights. Then they left, and Mom and I decorated it--not exactly a family celebration. Mom spent the holidays worrying about fire--keep water in the well, don't leave the lights on when you leave the room--and I'm sure she had to "undecorate" it herself, because I don't remember that part of it.
That's really why I make a party of it every year, and now, even though I don't have a tree, the tradition of the parties continues. For years, people really did help trim huge trees, and they brought ornaments by the dozens. I have a lovely, eclectic collection of ornaments that sits in the attic because I rarely have a tree--I'm always out of town.
I always cook all the food--no caterer for me. I was laughing at myself tonight. In September, I begin to think, "No, I just don't have the time or energy to do it this year. I'll just send cards." By the first of November, I'm planning the menu, and by Thanksgiving the freezer is full of cheeseball, desserts, and Texas trash, and the rest of the menu is planned. Tonight I served, as I usually do, cold cuts from Carshon's, my favorite deli, the cheeseball we've had every year since I was a kid, a brie with apricot jam mixed with cayenne and topped with sliced almonds, a pumpkin dip served with gingersnaps that Jeannie brought and everyone raved about, a spicy corn/Rotel tomato dip that I made that really disappeared fast, and a dried beef dip that I had doubts about but thought I'd try--it was really really good. The sweet tray had a chocolate cake and several kinds of dessert bars. Some of those were new, and Jordan was very put out with me because I didn't serve the peanut butter balls I "always" fix--for the life of me I can't think of what she's talking about--and something else she always wants, but I do try to keep some things standard and vary the rest. Tonight it worked. A Rent-a-Frog (okay, for those not from Fort Worth, the school's team is the Horned Toads, shortened to the Frogs, and some enterprising entrepreneur started a business called Rent-a-Frog whereby people could hire students to do valet parking, etc.) served the wine. His name is Raymond and he was great--cleaned up for me, was Johnny-on-the-spot in serving drinks and replenishing the table. Jordan used to do that sort of thing, but this year she declared she was off duty, mostly because of Jacob, though Jacob had lots of willing relatives to hold and love him. The party was at 5, everyone left by 7, and by 8:30 I was eating leftovers and drinking a glass of wine. Yeah, there's still stuff to be sorted and put up, but . . . .
The food was good, and people raved as they always do, and it made me feel glad I'd done it, as it always does. But the party's not about food, it's about people, some of whom have been coming to this party for thirty years or more. I laughed at one friend, younger than me, who was standing by when someone asked how long I've lived in this house. I said fourteen years, and his eyes grew wide. "I don't believe it," he said, "I remember the other house." I told him we're all growing older. Each year there are new people, and I delight in those new faces, but I also value those who've been coming for years. When one or another "old-timer" can't make it, I miss them. I am truly blessed to have garnered so many friends over the years.
Alter Alternative Christmas and Tree Trimming are now both over and done, and yet there's still Christmas Day with my granddaughters to look forward to--and perhaps a visit with Jacob. He was here tonight, all dressed in his best, but spitting up all over his bibs. He laughed and carried on for us, but he didn't like being passed to strangers and, when the party was at its height, he didn't like all the noise. Still, until he was very tired and cranky, he would favor me with grins. Once when we sat on the guest room bed, he rolled over and pulled himself up to look at me. I have a picture from Thanksgiving that I treaure--he's in my lap, and I'm talking to someone over his head, and Jacob has his head thrown back, staring up at me in rapt attention. Nice to be the center of someone's universe, even if only for a moment.
So that's it. A nice evening, and I'll go to bed happy. Oh, and better balanced. I have gotten over much of my unsteadiness, though I still keep a walking stick by for security. Life is good. Seems like I end the blog that way a lot.
Oh, and another PS: I am through with chapter 11 in my revision of the novel to first person. Once the holidays are past and thank-you notes written, I'll have to abandon it for some assignments--who can resist paying assignments? Have to revise a juvenile bio of Mirabeau B. Lamar, second president of Texas, and write a y/a bio of Oprah (by February 15th) plus send a column to the Dallas Morning News and a piece to Texas Electric Coop. I thought recently of those long-ago days when I said I'd write if I knew what to write about. Not that way now.
Enough. I really am going to bed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More family musings

Today I went to the drugstore to print out some of the electronic pictures from our family reunion the day after Thanksgiving, and it set me once more to musing about family connections. There are wonderful pictures of all my grandchildren--laughing Jacob, exuberant Maddie, pixie-sh Edie, Sawyer with his Bob the Builder hat from which he will not be separated, lovely, energetic Morgan--only one picture showed tiny Ford, and you could barely see him. But the picture that made me really think was a group one--we were all arranged on the wall around one corner of the John's porch, some standing behind the wall, some kneeling in front (I'm too old for that and sat on the wall)--it was one of those pictures where someone sets the camera and then makes a mad dash to get into the picture before the camera clicks. But there we were, my brother's family and mine. His two kids, their spouses, one grandchild, his wife and her family, and all my gang--seventeen adults and seven kids ranging from seven to five weeks, if I did the math right. And the wonderful thing is that we're all close. We care about each other, keep up with what's going on, are delighted when we can be together and go out of the way to make it happen. I don't know if we've worked at it or it's just luck that we have such a big, close family--but it's sure great. It was especially wonderful to watch the six young couples visiting on the porch. When they were young, my children and their cousins saw each other every week at Sunday dinner (at my house) and they still laugh and tell stories about those times. Maybe it's partly happy memories that hold them together.
My children have only one other uncle--their father's brother and his famly in New York--and we remain long-distance close to them, though we don't see them as often as we'd like. My kids have all gone to see them, and I am in email contact with them often. They talk to the children on the phone, and we know what's going on in their lives. Again a blessing. I guess family is like friendship--you have to work at it.
I have friends who never call me for lunch, but because I value them, I call them--and then they're delighted. Family's the same way--you have to make the effort. Somehow in my family, it seems everybody makes the effort.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Family Musings

I was getting things out tonight for my annual Christmas party, and I polished the large silver tray given to my aunt (my father's sister) and uncle on the occasion of their marriage by the provincial secretary of Ontario--it's so inscribed, and it's beautiful. I felt badly because I barely remember them. Their daughter has problems and is in a nursing home and not capable of taking care of herself, so I've gotten power of attorney and am trying to handle her affairs long distance, though her bank is very balky. But then it struck me that somewhere in my teens I stopped seeing the Canadian branch of the family--my father's people. I remember my grandmother fondly, though she was most neurotic when I think back on it, and the spinster aunt who lived with her and suffered severe rheumatoid arthritis. One aunt, at 95, is still in Toronto, in assisted living, but she thinks I'm practicing medicine (that was my dad). And I knew my mother's sisters and brother, but one of those aunts died young and I only saw the other sporadically--I do remember that when the three sisters got together, they giggled and were very silly. And I remember once in graduate school, my brother and I and Joel drove all night from Missouri to our cabin in the Indiana dunes--and we stopped to see my uncle, who was a favorite of my brother's. But my memory there is vague. I never knew either of my grandfathers, and when I was very young my mother's mother was in her own home in Kankakee but my only clear memories of her are when she lay in a nursing home in Chicago. I look at my relationship with my grandchildren--and even my parents' relationship with my children--and realize how different it is. I don't think--and I hope--my grandchildren won't forget me quickly. Of course I plan to be around for at least another twenty years, so that too makes a difference--I do have the long-life genes on both sides. But it's sad that I never felt that closeness to the people from whom I came. I feel the heritage, especially the Scottish side from my father--my mother was German, and I love the food but feel no affinity for the culture, as I do for the MacBain clan. But the people are only vague shadows, and that saddens me. Is it that we live differently these days? Was it distance? What made the difference. I don't know that I'll find out.
Christmas is not a time for sad memories, so I'll move on. I got a hurry-up young-adult book assignment today (though not yet the topic) and have a column and an essay, all due in January, so there goes revision of the mystery. And I've still got to read all those westerns. I'm too busy to dwell on the past. And too happy about the present.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More Idle Saturday thoughts

Saturday seems to be my day to blog. Also to go to the grocery, clean out the catbox (I got Wynona a bigger one since he kept missing and leaving lakes on the floor that smelled awaful), water all the plants, reconnect the hoses since it seems the extreme cold is gone for a while, wrap some presents, and bake a cake. Gosh, I'm tired, and it's only 1:00 p.m.! It was cold here this week--21 night before last, which put me in a funny mood because I felt trapped, worrying if pipes would freeze--especially in the gueset apartment--and just worrying in general. Yesterday it warmed up--well, sort of--but my good friend Jeannie and I went shopping. She had no list; I had a long list. By the time we were done, she'd bought as much as I had. But we had a really good time, topped by a lunch at our favorite restaurant--and even a glass of wine with lunch. Somehow we don't get to do those days as much lately as we used to, so this was especially nice.
I don't know if I've mentioned the mystery of the pillow shams (no, it's not my next novel). But after Thanksgiving when everyone was here, the shams for the daybed in the grandchildren's playroom just flat disappeared. Melanie swore they didn't have them; Maddie said they weren't swept up into a suitcase; I turned the house upside down and couldn't find them. So yesterday I got new shams--a different color--and another throw pillow for that bed (the pillow cases looked ridiculous!). Now the shams will turn up. Just talked to Mel, and they were out shopping, so she sweetly offered to get me shams but I thanked her and told her I'd already done it.
I've cleared my desk and am ready to get back to Dead Space. I think turning it into first person is working well, and I'm pleased with the result. But not much time to work on it--Christian and Jacob are coming by shortly, and I want a nap before I got o a girls' gabfest dinner with two friends.
My thank you of the day goes to Larry L. King. When I emailed that I urgently needed a signed copy of his biography of Willie Morris for a Christmas gift, he wrote back saying it would go in the mail today and I was not to worry about replacing the book. I love working with authors who are so nice and gracious.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Progress--or at least directions

But first a question: why is it that when in good faith you post a blog some fool leaves comments that offer you Viagra and other "enhancements," (hardly what I need or want). The current anonymous who's responding says things like, "Cute, man . . . thanks!" The perils of the internet are not at all overstated!
Bot today, progress is on my mind. My mentor, mentioned a blog or two ago, has finished the draft of the mystery, as far as it goes, and emailed that he likes it, pointing out the things he likes such as the distinctive but likeable protagonist, the ex-husband who's objectionable enough that no one minds when he's "offed," as they say, and the opening discovery of a skeleton which gets things off to a good start (he always begins with the positive, bless him). But then he moved on to his suggestions, which were what I really needed to hear--more backstory. I race through things, without lingering to savor the environment, flesh out secondary characters and their relationship to the protagonist. It's his opinion readers like a little diversion if it fills in the story. And just as personal preference, he said this cries out for first person. I've always written my best work in first person; the only things I've done that worked in third person are a few short stories--but I think my best stories are even those in first person. I was writing in third person because I thought that was a convention of the genre, but my teacher (I hesitate to name him because of the occasional kook who reads this) pointed out that Patricia Cornwall's best work is first person. So tomorrow, I'll print the whole thing out and begin a rewrite.
A note on first person: after I"d written three or four novels, someone told me beginners always write their first novels in first person and then "graduate" to third person. I asked the then-book review editor of our newspaper what he thought about that, and he said, 'I think if Judy Alter never graduates, it would be a good thing."
Of course it's the wrong time of the year to be serious about writing. I'm barely keeping up with anything except the holiday season. TCU Press had their annual event Friday--a great success but poorly attended, Saturday I went to an afternoon party and an evening one (made me feel like a social butterfly), and Sunday I fixed a pot of chili for Jordan and Christian and my neighbor. Jacob sat on the dining room table in his bumber chair or whatever it's called and kept us all in laughter. He is adorable. And I've been cooking--so far two batches of cookie/bars, a cake, a cheeseball, and two bags of Texas trash. Jordan has requested more trash so that I can give it to her--might as well use up all that cereal!
Tonight I'm going to finish the mystery I'm reading (and almost done with) and then banish Deborah Crombie from my mind. I've got to dig into the huge pile of books for the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the best traditional novel--I've read some, marked a few that I liked, discarded more than that. But there's an appalling number I haven't cracked the cover on. Tonight I hope to do a quick sort into priority piles.
Too bad I don't have enough to do . . . and then there's that manuscript I'm editing. And I went to work this morning with the longest "to do" list I think I've ever had. But did it all! I guess I don't have to worry about going senile because I don't keep my brain active. Better than crossword puzzles, which I always heard were good for warding off incipient senility.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Idle Saturday thoughts

Sometimes I think I'll just pull up blogger, sign in, and see what comes to mind. Today balance still comes to my mind, like a gnawing problem. In public, I laugh about it and make a great show of my walking stick. In private I worry about it. I am to go to a party at a home where I've never been this afternoon, and I know there are extensive gardens--will I have to walk on uneven ground? Should I tell the friend who's driving, so I can grab her if need be? Last night we had our annual Autograph Extravaganza at the Botanic Garden and I did great--took my walking stick, showed it to a friend who really needs one, and made great jokes. But I worried during the brief program about walking out after dark, especially where there were still wet leaves. Fortunately Christian came along and I latched on to him. I fear he was astounded that I had suddenly become senile. I think being iced in set me back. I know these spells of anxiety come, and I also know that if I fight back, they move on. So I'm fighting back and waiting. Tonight I'm going to a party at a house that sits high on an embankment. The only stairs are in the middle of the two "lanes" of the driveway--not a railing in sight. I didn't go to the party for years because I couldn't do the stairs, but last year my good friends Margaret and David parked next door (their kids, the hosts, had bought that house) and we crept through the front yard in the dark--almost as perilous as the stairs! This year the house is sold but we have leave to park there and go down the side of the house, which is better lighted. So I'll go to a party I really enjoy!
We had a smaller crowd than usual at the Extravaganza. I suspect many people, like me, were still in storm mode. But Carlton Stowers gave an excellent and moving talk on why he wrote a "happy" book--Where Dreams Die Hard--about the tiny town of Penelope and its six-man football team after years of writing true crime fiction. And I signed a lot of copies of Noah's Ride, so there were probably enough book sales to make the bookstore happy.
On a happier note, I've begun cooking for my annual no-tree tree trimming party (okay, there was a tree for years when the kids were around)--and other things. When we were ice-bound I desperately wanted chili, even if it wasn't homemade, but discovered someone, maybe me, had eaten the jar of Bush's chili (I may not like the president but I sure do like the beans with his name) that I thought was in the cupboard. So this morning I made a big pot of beer chili--Jordan, Christian, and Jacob (Jacob at 5 months won't eat any) will come as will Sue next door and maybe her friend who just moved into her garage apt. (Sue's kids apparently don't eat chili!) But I also made a big batch of Texas trash--homemade is just plain better!--and some bars with graham cracker crumbs, Eagle brand milk, chocolate chips, coconut and nuts--wow! These go in the freezer for the party.
The mystery languishes on the back burner--I'm thinking!
It's funny but these days someone unexpected will tell me they've read my blog and enjoyed it. So here's a thank-you to Mike Blackman who said that last night. And another thank-you to Glenn Dromgoole, who probably doesn't read the blog but told me he liked the first two chapters of my cookbook! There's always something to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Winter Weather

Tonight I am reminded of that song with the lrics, "For the weather outside is frightful." We in the Metroplex are locked into dreaded anticipation--how bad will it really be? Tonight it's cold and wet but predictions are for frozen bridges and overpasses and freezing rain tomorrow. Makes me most uncertain about getting about--I am less concerned about driving (after all I grew up in the Midwest) than I am about walking. But the whole thing, like extreme heat in the summer, makes me feel trapped. The major thing I don't like about Texas--most of the time the weather is okay, but the extremes are really . . . well, inconvenient.
Thankgiving seems long behind us. We had a joyous time with all my children and grandchildren here. Jordan hosted the dinner at her house and did so with great efficiency--we arrived about 2 p.m. and stayed until 8 or later--a long celebration, but all good. A roasted turkey (which I prefer) and a fried one. Lots of good side dishes, including my pumpkin tiramisu which I thought was outstanding--not sure how many others ate it.
The next day we went to my brother's ranch for a reunion with his kids and his new grandchild and his wife's family, of whom we're very fond. To break the turkey monotony, Cindy served a marvelous beef tenderloin, and I took potato casseroles. The kids played in the barn and on the front loader (under supervision) and rode in the "mule" around the ranch. They had a high old time. In the car going home, we didn't even make it to the highway before seven-year-old Maddie was asleep on my shoulder. The next day she complimented me on the comfort of my shoulder!
And Saturday, we had Alter Alternative Christmas, with all the excitement that goes with nine adults and four kids (Ford and Jacob were too young to understand) opening gifts. All in all, it was great family togetherness. Having a group that big and diverse together is not without its stresses and strains--you can't have six kids together without some snotty noses, but we managed to come out of it with a sense of how much we love each other. And that's a blessing. Megan said she liked having alternative Christmas so early because you necessarily had half your shopping done by Thanksgiving, but I don't think I'd want to do it that early ever year. Then again, Jordan and I are planners--Meg claims she missed that gene.
So now it's on to planning my Tree Trimming party (no tree--I'm going to Jamie's family in Frisco). My gifts for friends are all wrapped and ready to go.
I'm still working on the mystery--need a good long winter's nap tonight to ponder where it's going next. Meantime I'll sit here and wonder if I'm going anywhere tomorrow or not. TCU Press has a big event Friday afternoon--but the weather is supposed to be in the mid-40s, so I suppose it will be all right. I felt more comfortable with winter when I lived up north and my balance on ice was better. But then I remember, in Missouri, how the roads rutted but the ruts didn't fit my VW and I bounced along on the ridges. I think I dislike the heat of Texas summer, but I dislike the occasonal winter more. Or maybe that's just tonight.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Writing and Cooking

I'm back to two thngs I love--writing and cooking.
It takes, so an agent tells me, about 75,000 words to make an adequate mystery. I have about 50,000 so I'm two-thirds through. But I'm afraid I'm more than two-thirds through my plot. I know how it's going to work out and I can see several really good scenes in my mind's eye (at least I think they're good), but I'm afraid of untangling it too quickly and ending up with a 60,000-word manuscript. Not good. But then, just when I think, nothing else can happen, a middle-of-the-night idea comes to me. So I keep writing. I had only shown the first chapter to a couple of people but now I've sent all eleven chapters to my "mentor," the man who years ago (I don't want to think about how many!) shepherded me through graduate school and continues to be a source of wisdom, advice,and counsel. He liked the first two chapters but said it was too early to comment. He does happen to be someone who knows a lot about mysteries and has taught a university mystery course.
Meantime I have other projects--including a 5,000-word essay on how Texas impacts my writing. That's really hard, and I decided it's hard because it's writing about something intangible. Makes me realize that I don't envy ministers who preach weekly sermons on such intangibles as faith. I'm afraid of coming up short on my 5,000 words, in fact probablywill, but I have a great title, "Notes from an Outsider."
But today is the day to give thanks--I am surrounded by family, and I'm cooking--I've made cranberry, the roll dough is rising, the pumpkin tiramisu (an experiment!) is in the fridge, cheeseball is done. Colin is busily making an apple pie, though he kept me busy as first assist until seven-year-old Maddie took over the job. And I've still got to make the pesto/cream cheese appetizer and the pistachio salad that Jamie remembers from his childhood. Some of the others are turning their noses up at it, and I'm afraid this may be like the time Jamie waxed so eloquent about how much he liked gefilte fish that I got him some one Passover/Easter seaon not too many years ago. One bite, he looked at me and said, "It doesn't taste like it did when I was a kid."
Meantime, I wish for everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and filled with whatever good food you particularly love. For us, always traditional, it will be turkey and green bean casserole.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The walking stick

I have my walking stick. It's cherry, about five feet tall, and fancifully turned toward the bottom. Now that I have it, I don't need it--which is just what I expected. I carry it up and down the driveway, walking with assurance, and never put it to the ground. But that's because I know I have it. I had it in the car this morning when I went to the office (don't need it there), two groceries stores, and the bookstore. I was a little embarrassed about it, not being used to it yet, so devised other ways to cope. I'm an old master at finding ways to get around my fears, but I hope some day I'll be comfortable enough to take it to the grocery, the bookstore, restaurants, etc. I think it's kind of interesting looking. Maybe it sort of goes with the daisies on my VW convertible.
I came home and cooked, which is always a pleasure. Tonight I'm entertaining my neighbor, Sue, and her parents who are visiting from Canada. I warned her it would be a "down-home" meal but I don't know if she's prepared for meatloaf. Still, it's a recipe I found in Texas Co-op Power, a magazine I write for sometimes, and I've been wanting to try it. You cook the meatloaf, in the oven, in your iron skillet--and it has more seasonings than I usually put in meatloaf (okay, okay, I left out the bell peppers!). I also saw a recipe for mashed potatoes topped with sauteed mushrooms, which sounds terrific to me, so I'll do that--only serve them separately since others may not think it sounds as good as I do. I made homemade tomato sauce for the meatloaf--was easy and smells like it will be really good. And I'll do Christian's bacon-and-vinegar green beans--shhh! don't tell I'm doing them for someone else. For an appetizer, I'll do the pesto-cream cheese in a crescent roll shell that Jordan had commanded for Thanksgiving, and since I'm firmly told these are not dessert people, we'll have cheese and fruit. I sort of like my menu, if I do say so myself.
I've also made and frozen two potato casseroles to take to my brother's the day after Thanksgiving--and Thanksgiving lists from all the children have sent me back to the store three times after I did my "big" shopping. The other nght I dreamt I spent $1470 in the grocery store--it wasn't quite that bad, but bad enough (no wonder grocery stores are one place where I feel off balance!). And I still have to get the turkeys on Wednesday. We'll roast one--I have to have it all ready for Jordan to pop into the oven, as she's squeamish about touching raw turkey--and Brandon will fry the other.
I'm looking forward to a very happy holiday. Jordan thinks my recent attacks of anxiety may be related to the approaching holiday--she may be right--so her advice is to sit down, enjoy my family, and quit washing dishes. I'm going to try.
Meantime I've made a pass at a rough draft of an article that was just assigned (yes, Texas Co-op Power) and am loving the Deborah Crombie mystery I'm reading. Wish I'd read them in order. This is one of the earlier ones, I think. And I know my mystery is percolating in the back of my mind. It's just that having killed off that one character . . . well, where do I go next?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Off Balance

Well, I'm having what I call one of my anxious spells. They come on me for what reason I don't know, and they take various forms--beeen happening all my adult life. Each time of course I think it's the worst, but I also know it will pass. This time it has to do with my sense of balance--I frequently feel that I can't walk from here to there without falling (agoraphobia is traditionally defined as a fear of open space and that probaby enters into it). But as I have done in the past, I figure it's best to say to those close to me, "I'm having a problem and I need help." If I hide it and fight it, it gets worse. So I'm saying, "I need to hold your arm when I go down that step" or, as I did in Austin going to the guest house, "the ground is uneven, Brandon, and I need to hold on to you." It doesn't take much--just a touch and the sense that someone is next to me. (I am very aware that it would not be good for a 68-year-old woman to fall.)
Well today I decided I absolutely could not walk across the open part of my driveway (once I'm next to the fence, it's ok). So I took the broom, figuring I could put it down to steady myself if necessary (which of course it wasn't). But in an email exchange with Fran--who rescued me the night of the cat bite--I recounted the broom story. She thought I could get away with the broom in my own driveway--if anyone came along, I could start sweeping--but I'd look darn strange taking a broom into Central Market or some such place. So tomorrow I think I'll go buy myself a walking stick. I saw some wonderful natural wood ones in the hardware store and considered getting one for Brandon, who likes odd gifts, but now I'll get one for myself. Fran referred to it as a cane, and I said, "No, no" a cane has no elan, no class, this will be a walking stick. And the nice thing? I know this spell too will pass. They always do.
Meantime I'm busily getting done all the things I've put off--such efficiency helps me feel less like an incapable person. This morning I tore up to the service station to get my car inspected, only to learn they don't do inspections--so tomorrow I'll go where I know they do them. And this afternoon I got a flu shot (okay, I asked the pharmacist to hold my hand while I went down his curb--but getting the shot made me extra nervous). I've been to have my echocardiogram and to the dermatologist and I'm going to a new podiatrist and I have appts. with the cardiologist, a new primary care physician, my gynecologist, and the eye doctor. Lord, will I be healthy. Maybe all that is what's making me nervous.
Other things are good. I've done some really good work at the press, acquiring manuscripts, consulting my board, etc. And I've written quite a bit more on the mystery--its wonderful how new ideas develop as I write, almost like magical writing where someone else is guiding my thoughts. I really hope this mystery is salable, but I find myself resisting sending sample chapters to the agent who said he'd read them.
This Wednesday the kids and their families will arrive for Thanksgiving. We'll also have a famiy reunion at my brother's ranch and we'll have Alter Alternative Christmas, so it will be a big weekend. Colin's family and Jamie's will stay with me, while Megan and her bunch stay with Jordan. Jordan will host Thanksgiving, which doesn't excuse me from cooking at all. And meantime I have my neighbor, Sue, and her parents for dinner Saturday and Jordan Sunday so she can pass on my holiday decorations. I am as always ahead of the game--my house is in Christmas mode, but only because I wanted it to be festive when the kids come because it's our Christmas celebration. Most of my presents are wrapped, and I've planned my annual Tree Trimming (no tree again) party. Now tell me why someone with all that good going on should be nervous about walking down a driveway! Beats me! but I figure it's better to share and laugh.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For Melinda

Melinda, the production and web guru in my office, has just announced that she'll be a new grandmother in the spring. She's so excited she's dancing at her desk, but I heard her tell someone, "I don't know a thing about being a grandmother!" At the time, I thought, "What's to know? They're your grandbabies and you love them--and you cook and clean for their mothers when you can." But this weekend, with four of my six at my house, I reflected that it's not that simple. So this is unsolicited advice for Melinda.
I've only seen fifteen-month-old Morgan four times now in her life--she's lived those months in Colorado, too far to travel easily. Her parents have been wonderful about talking to her about me, showing her my picture (which she sometimes carries around and kisses), and calling me on the Skype so she can see me. But in the flesh, she doesn't know me. Friday night she brushed me away if I tried to hold her hand or rub her little leg, and when her father said, "Here, hold her for me a minute," she cried. (She did the same thing for Uncle Jamie who thought he had the magic touch!). A year ago at Thanksgiving, we were great friends but now she knows about "separation anxiety," that phrase I never heard when my babies were little and one I've come to dislike. (To be fair, Morgan had been in the car for two days and was missing her mom who was still back in Colorado.)
Maddie never really rejected me. As an infant, she knew my voice and she smiled at me. There were times I was a favorite, like the night she cried halfway to Dallas when she figured out I wasn't going home with them. Or the times she'd run around chanting, "Night, night, darlin'" because that's what I said to her. But sometimes when she was two or three, she wouldn't have a thing to do with me--it hurt my feelings, but when I mentioned it to Jamie, he said, "Mom, she's only three!" Nowadays we're friends all the time, and if I ask for a hug and she refuses, it's a tease. Her sister, on the other hand, eyed me with suspicion almost from the first. Edie was a momma's girl, and she would not let me touch her or hold her until, I swear, she was half grown. She's close to four now, and we're good friends, but it hasn't been too long since she'd still occasionally tell me in determined tones, "No! Mama!"
I didn't see Sawyer enough to know that he was more than shy with me, but one day when he was just beginning to talk, he pointed to a picture of me and said, "Gaga!" The name has stuck, in spite of the fact that the other famlies call me Juju, and Sawyer seems to like me, like being at my house. Once at the way home, he said, "Go home," and his parents assured him they were going home. He said, "No, Gaga's home!" And when I last saw him he gave me a big kiss and said, "Make Gaga happy!"
The first couple of times I held tiny Ford, he cried--I didn't feel, smell or sound like Mama--but he quickly got to where he'd cuddle on my shoulder to sleep or if I put him in my lap he'd stare intently at me as though he was trying to figure out the world and me. I can't help but wonder how he'll change, and I'm grateful I'll see him again in two weeks--and Sawyer.
And then there's four-month-old Jacob, who once he got beyond a couple of weeks cried every time I held him. I gave up and loved him from a distance, pecking kisses at his nose, talking to him in his car seat, but not trying to hold him. All of a sudden, after I was in Austin for a week, he's decided I'm okay. He grins when he sees me and kicks his feet and waves hs arms in excitement, and he sits happily on my lap, turning to crane his neck so he can see me.
So my whole point is it's not uncomplicated love--you're not the parent, you're the grandparent, and though each child is different, each will occasionally break your heart with rejection--something we never knew from our own children, at least until they were teenagers!
Another lesson learned: much as your kids love you, they don't want you around all the time. They need lots of time together to become a family--once again, you're the grandparent, and it's not the same as being the parent. They are a unit and while close, you're not part of that unit. And you're not the first person the babies turn to. In some ways, having grandchildren has made me nostalgic for the days when mine were babies and I was the center of their universe.
Of course raising babies--and the gadgets available--has changed so much in twenty or thirty years, that your ways of doing things won't work. You have to listen, watch and learn. I've yet to see a bottle sterilizer (how I hated that thing!) or a playpen (don't hamper their development!) or the homemade baby food I used to whip up in the blender.
Seems to me I had one more sage observation, but I've lost it. And there is the other side, grandchildren bring great rewards and wonderful love. Maddie said to me once recenty, "Juju, I just love being at your house. I'm never bored here!" I wouldn't trade anything for a minute or two with any of my six grandchildren--and I look forward to the seventh, due in April.
Melinda will make a fine grandmother, and she'll love it every bit as much as I do.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

More Grandmothering

Okay, okay, I'm going to get back to writing. But last night I had almost 3/4 of my gang for dinner and most of those overnight. (This morning at the local deli for lox and bagels, I felt like the matriarch of a huge clan and a friend who came in said, "You are!") Once, months ago, when I complained (yeah, I really did!) that the house gets so messy when they're all here, Mel put it in perspective for me by saying, "Of course we're messy. We're home." I've never forgotten those words, and last night I saw that in action, and not just that it was messy.
Colin and Morgan were on their way to Houston so stopped for the night; the Frisco Alters and the Burtons came to visit. All afternoon and through dinner, it was rowdy, noisy, everyone talking at once, but after dinner everyone was tired, and the house became quiet quickly. Everyone sort of peeled off to do his or her own thing, and that was what made me think, "Yeah, they're home!" Christian took Jacob home to his own bed, Jordan left for Austin, Colin and Jamie settled down for a discussion of computers and hi-tech telephones that I didn't even want to think about--like strangers talking in tongues, Morgan said "Night, night" and went down in the crib. I caught Maddie softly singing "Rockabye Baby" to her--sweetest thing I've seen in a long time. And Mel, exhausted from three days of traveling, got into pjs, cleaned her face, and took off for the guest house with her book.
Not that it was all quiet and peaceful after that. The neighbors' dog was baying at the moon right behind the guest house, so Jame went to ask them to bring him inside. No one home. Then when everyone was asleep, the entire Frisco clan trooped back into the house--and Jamie either forgot or didnt' know the new alarm code, so that alarm went off. Sleepy as I was I remember Maddie saying in awestruck tones, "Morgan didn't even wake up." After that, it was hard to go back to sleep.
Now it's 2 p.m. Saturday and they've all left. Colin did a good job of cleaning up his part, and Mel and Jamie are always good about seeing that the girls put up toys and everything is returned to its place. I didn't have to do much--and last night I wouldn't have given you two cents for this messy house. I think I'm still learning to be a grandmother gracefully. But one big lesson I've about got down is "Don't worry about the mess. It's not permanent, and it's more important to enjoy their company." Hard stuff for a compulsive like me.
One fun touch: I bought magnetic flowers and happy faces to put on my VW bug convertible, and the girls and the kids from next door had a high old time decorating the car. Jamie predicted the flowers would begin to disappear one by one, and I was appalled. What lowlife would steal my flowers?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What direction is this blog going?

When I started this blog, I meant to write about three things--writing, cooking, and grandmothering, in that order. It hasn't exactly worked out that way--I've written a whole lot about grandmothering but maybe that's because my children are reproducing like rabbits, to my great joy. I've written very little about cooking, which makes me think I need to entertain and start experimenting with some of the many new recipes I've clipped. I'm always a happier person when I cook, so there's a hint for me.
I've written some but not a lot about writing--those who follow the blog may know that I'm now into chapter ten of the mystery, but it comes in fits and spurts. I had some middle-of-the-night great inspriation in Austin, as I reported, and then on the train coming home I had lots of ideas which I scribbled down--including the fact that a skeleton isn't enough and someone has to be killed, so now I've killed off one of the least likeable characters But those moments of inspiration don't come too often--and I'm sort of stalled right now. Sometimes when I'm stalled, I take refuge in small writing projects--my column for the Dallas Morning News, a piece on how Texas impacts me as a writer (I think I'm stalled there too). I don't know that this is writer's block, though it could be. I rather think it's maybe too much else going on, especially in anticipation of the holidays. But I find myself reading a Deborah Crombie mystery in the evenings rather than writing, and I'm sure that's not how "real" writers discipline themselves.
I also vowed that this blog would not be about politics but I can't help expressing my great relief over the outcome of Tuesday's elections. And my great joy at Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, though the President would have done a lot of Republicans a huge favor to have done that a month ago. I get a lot of middle-of-the-road to outright left-leaning blogs, but one yesterday said something important: that the real winner in the election was the environment. I hope it's true. I hope the election was a victory for the environment, for human rights (including gays and suspected terrorists who are incarcerated without counsel or trial), for the very young and the very elderly in our society, for the have-nots and not the have-a-lots, and, most of all, a victory for peace. I hope it was a victory for all of us, but now we have to see what can be done in two years. There's a Gordian knot that will not be as easily untied as it was tangled.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Grandchildren change so fast, especially infants. When I went to Austin, I hadn't really connected with Jacob. He tended to cry when I picked him up, and so I was content to love him from a distance, kiss him when he was in his car seat, talk to him so he'd know my voice. But yesterday and today, Jacob, now four months plus, has come to see me in the afternoon. Today we went for a long walk (and fast--his mother about wore me out!). And at the house, Jordan tried to feed Jacob--but all he wanted to do was turn and look at me. And when I'd talk nonsense to him, his face crinkled into a huge grin. Sometimes he stiffens his little body and waves his feet and hands with excitement. It's like he has suddenly discovered that I'm fun and to be trusted. I love it! I can sing to him (in my notably offkey voice), chatter, peck kisses at his nose, and all the while he's as happy as can be. When he sits in my lap, he twists around to look at me. And when he leans back until we're both upside down, he thinks that's the funniest thing ever. I said tentatively to Jordan that his disposition had changed suddenly, and she agreed. So now I wonder what tiny Ford will be like when I see him again in three weeks.
This Friday night I'll have Colin and Morgan (15 mos.), on their way to Houston. They'll live with Lisa's parents while Lisa stays behind to finish the school semester and sell the house. I worry about her being alone, but I know she's tired and maybe she'll get the rest she needs. Friday night for supper Jamie and family will join us as will Christian and Jacob--and Jordan briefly. I am so blessed that my family gets together so often and so happily.
Tonight I had dinner with my neighbor Sue, who shares my rather firm political views. We watched the election results with suspense and measured joy. Finally we decided we'll have to wait until tomorrow to know how much to rejoice. Having been disappointed so many times in recent years, I'm leery of getting my hopes up.
As the holidays approach, I think of my various roles in life--writer, press director, mother, grandmother, a woman blessed with friends--and I think the personal relationships begin to dominate. It's the season to be close to those you love.
Oh, yes, my Christmas presents are wwrapped--we'll have Alter Christmas at Thanksgiving--and I'm planning my annual Chirstmas party, thinking about getting Christmas cards done. I'm halfway to Christmas and it's only early November. And Thanksgiving does loom--Jordan will host at her house, but she doesn't do turkeys. I do. Once a mother, always a mother. And ain't it great!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I've been too busy to post on my blog. Came to Austin Friday, spent Saturday at the Texas Book Festival, where TCU Press had an exhibit--made some good contacts, saw old friends, met new people, did some good for the press I hope. That night Rue Judd of Bright Sky Press hosted a lovely dinner--more fun, more new people.
But since then I've been really busy--holding a newborn, trying to interpret the constant flow of chatter from a two-year-old, folding laundry, washing endless dishes, and cooking. Megan wants a double batch of everything, which makes it complicated. Ford, one week today, is as his father said, "absolutely perfect." He's also sweet and, so far, an easy baby. At first he cried for me--I didn't smell or feel or sound like his mom--but now he'll burrow in on my shoulder and sleep. And Sawyer requests to "rub noses with Gaga" though he's sort of a passive recipient of nose rubbing. He is, however, busy from morning to night. My days have already settled into a pattern--I'm up fairly early and in the main house from my guest quarters by 8, check emails (I'm running my office with my left hand), have some breakfast, and do what chores need to be done. Then maybe it's the grocery store and sometime during the day it's a cooking project--last night we had Norwegian hamburgers (recipe courtesy Lisa's Norwegian-born and raised mother); tonight it will be beef and bean, an old favorite of Megan's. She's also asked for salmon croquettes and beef stew.
But somewhere in the day I fit in computer time to keep up with those emails and yesterday I did some good work on the novel. The second night I was here--after the long day at the festival and the lovely dinner--I was once again too wound up to sleep well, so I soothed myself by plotting and came up with amazingly good ideas. I had to rush into the house and write them down next morning.
By 8:30, I'm exhausted and ready for Brandon to walk me out to my hideaway over the garage--the footing is uncertain, especially at night and he is sweet about letting me hold on to him. I was uncertain about the whole apartment experience--it seems far from the house, the stairs are steep, and I worried about the uncertain footing. But I've come to think of it as a hideaway, and I've mastered the stairs. I am settling in.
A friend emailed me a warning not to get too settled. "You have to come home, you know," she said. I'll take the train home Friday and no doubt be glad to be back in my routine. Meantime I'm enjoying.--and I hope I'm helping Megan.

Onstage at Bass Hall

I should have posted this last week when the event was fresh in my mind. The only excuse is that I left a day later for Austin and have been out of my routine ever since. But on Wednesday evening, October 25, all thirteen contributors to the collaborative novel appeared onstage at Bass Hall, Fort Worth's premiere and very classy performance hall.
Background: I think I've mentioned it before, in connecton with promotional travels around the state, but TCU Press has published a collaborative novel, just like Naked Came the Stranger, which appeared in the '80s--well, no, not just like. Ours is a western, called Noah's Ride. Thirteen authors contributed twelve chapters to what turned out to be an amazingly coherent story and a pretty darn good read. And Wednesday we had our moment in the stars.
First there was a small reception--to my great joy, Jamie, Jordan and Christian were there, and I was able to introduce everyone to my kids. And there was an old friend from long-ago who hadn't seen them since they were little. When he hugged Jamie, Jame looked at me with some alarm as though to say "Who is this man and why is he hugging me?" But then, from his always-impressive memory, he pulled up the name. When I pointed out Jordan, the old friend said, "You're kidding me!" Fun!
I was, I admit, a basket case in advance of this event--I am not the onstage type. I worried most about unsure footing walking out, because when I'm nervous my footing falls apart. I am afraid I made a stink about the issue but everyone was overly solicitous, Susan from my office walked me out and handed me over to Jeff Guinn, former book editor of the Star-Telegram and a contributor to the novel, who was host for the evening. And once I got talking with Jeff and good friend Jim Lee, I was completely comfortable. (A friend who goes to a lot of such programs praised my poise and my voice--I'll get the big head!) We were onstage in groups, then all came back from a q&a, and it was over almost too soon. Then we signed books for nearly two hours--180 books (that delights the publisher side of me!)
To my everlasting delight, Jamie hung around, was almost last in line buying three books, and took me home. On the way we rehashed the evening, which was fun. And I got an email still the other day about my "drop-dead handsome" son.
No, I didn't sleep well that night. Too wound up. But it's a night that will live in my memory.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My grandchildren are so different from my children, yet very much alike. Their
laughter and smiles blend together into a palette of memories I shall cherish forever.
--from a cheap picture frame I bought someplace

What a day this has been! When my phone rang at 7:15 a.m., I knew it was Brandon to announce that they had a baby boy--a day and half before the C-section scheduled for tomorrow. Ford Wright Winston Hudgeons is, according to his dad, "absolutely perfect." And I'm sure he is. Although I haven't talked to her, Megan is doing well. I would love to go to Austin today, but it will be Friday before I get there--which is okay because they'll all still be in the hospital. Megan and Brandon's first son is Sawyer Wright MacBain Hudgeons--the MacBain being my maiden name. Now this one has the Winston in his name after the beloved uncle who, now gone from us, helped me raise the children, including teaching them to drive and ride horses--and a few things I wish he hadn't taught them! He would be so pleased we'd have to tie him down to the ground.
And then this afternoon's mail brought a wonderful letter from the man who hand carried me through graduate school and whose book TCU Press has just published. He quoted Walt Whitman, "he most honors me who spreads a broader breast than my own," and said that I've made him proud. Made my day.
To the mundane (well, not really): Jordan, Jacob and Christian are coming for supper. Jordan and I will make pesto--the basil really is looking droopy and needs to be harvested, even though there's been no hint of frost. And Christian will get down the Christmas bags, because Thanksgiving--the Alter Christmas--will be upon us soon after I get back from Austin.
Life is really rich, and it's a good time of the year.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wind and sun

I had a great weekend! Went to the book signing in Granbury. The panel was on a terrace outside the City Hall building--a wonderful rock building with stamped tin ceilings. The terrace overlooks a small branch off the Brazos that has now been landscaped and rocked and is really pretty. There was a breeze but the temperature was good and it was pleasant. Not a huge crowd, but a nice, responsive group. And I thought the panel worked well, everyone was pleasant, some even funny. The audience seemed to laugh a lot, which is my sign of a good program.
Then I went home with my brother, had a really good visit, a great steak dinner, and a good night's sleep. Turned down an offer this morning to go while they moved cattle because it was cold and I didn't really have the right clothes--so I sat and read my mystery, watched political shows, and thoroughly enjoyed it all. But later today I regretted not spending the time outdoors. John dropped me in Granbury at friend Linda's store and we went to a Jazz on the Green outdoor concert--it was cooler, the breeze was stiff but the sun on our backs was warm and the music was great. I loved it. We came back to Fort Worth, bought a take-out dinner at Central Market, intending to eat it with a civilized glass ofwine on the front porch, but the sun had gone down, the wind had come up, and it was too cold. Still, in retrospect I think of it as a weekend spent outside, and being outside made me feel great. Yeah, I tool around town with the top on my car down on nice days but it's not the same. I think this raised my spirits and made me think I need to spend more time outside. My sister-in-law, Cindy, spends most of her days outside, tending gardens and animals, and she's one of the healthiest, happiest people I know. Lesson learned though, unfortunatley, not necessarily put into practice.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Onward and Upward

I reread some of my recent blogs tonight and decided that I sound down, depressed, all those negative things. Wrong impression! The cat bite got me on the wrong track, but it's not the only thing going on. There's lots of good. In fact, the time between now and New Year's looks so busy that I feel like my motor will run overtime for two months or more. This weekend we do a signing in Granbury for the collaborative novel--have I mentioned that? If not, it's a whole different story. But I will stay, go on to Tolar and spend the night with brother John and his wife Cindy, his daughter Jenn and her husband Carlton. A nice family get-together. Then Sunday I'll come home with a good friend from Granbury and we'll have dinner and a visit. All good stuff.
And then next Wednesday all the authors of the collaborative novel will be onstage at Fort Worth's prestigious Bass Hall. We'll go on in groups of two, three or four, and I'm in the first group with good friend Jim Lee. I told him if I could walk out holding his hand, I'd be fine, but Jeff Guinn who emcees these evenings said no, I had to come out by myself. We'll see. Jeff doesn't understand how the antibiotics destroyed my fragile sense of balance. But once out there, I expect to have fun. And then two days later I'm off to Austin for the Texas Book Festival and, more importantly, to celebrate the arrival of Ford Wright Winston Hudgeons, Meg and Brandon's second little boy. He's scheduled to arrive Oct. 25--wonderful when you can schedule ahead. Meg said, "Mom, I'm so glad we can do this at your convenienece." Was there a touch of sarcasm there? Not my Megan. Never. I'll stay a week with them.
Who said I was retired and bored? Yes, I'm working on the novel, and I am convinced that it percolates on the back burner when you're not actively working on it. But I'll take a computer to Austin.
And today I got to go to Bed Bath & Beyond with Jordan and Jacob. Pushing a baby in a shopping cart is a great way to visit with him. Every time we stopped for his mom to browse (I'm a rotten browser--I got for what I want and get out of there), I'd talk to him, poke him on the nose or cheeks, and finally got some smiles from him. Besides, he was hearing my voice--and at 4 months, that's important.
This is me sounding more upbeat.
Oh, yes, the collaborative novel. TCU Press published it, 13 authors contributed (well it has twelve chapters but one contributor enlisted a buddy), and I edited--as best I could. It's a traditional western, about a runaway slave in the 1860s, just before the Civil War ended. Title? Noah's Ride. Noah eventually makes it to Fort Concho, Texas, and joins the army but boy, oh, boy, did we go through trauma getting him there. The good news? It's gotten good reviews, including one that called it the best novel by a Texas author in 2006 even while saying that a novel with 13 authors ought to be the worst novel of the year. Others have called it "rollicking good fun." And best of all for TCU Press, sales have soared beyond what we ordinarily see with new books. At various times, various contributors have been all over the state promoting it. It's been fun.
Yeah, life is more good than the other way.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Night Thoughts

I didn't sleep well last night, mostly I think because I'd slept too much over the weekend and by 4 a.m. my body said, "Okay, enough!" Even so I did give two successful dinners Friday and Sunday--one a casual and simple supper for a couple who are good friends, the other a more diverse group to welcome a friend whose employment needs exiled her temporarily to Anchorage. She was back for a visit, and we let talk of literary Texas swirl around her. To her great pleasure, I fixed a Tex-Mex meal--chicken/tomatillo enchiladas, salsa and chips, fruit, and ice cream. It was a good visit, with great and interesting conversation, and I was very glad to see her.
I think I slept too much over the weekend because I felt crummy. The cat bite is healing, though ugly, but I am still on antibiotics. They have made me tired, stolen my appetite, increased my anxiety level to the zenith (with me, that doesn't always take much), and destroyed my already fragile sense of physical balance. Thank goodness tomorrow is the last day on them.
But when I wokeI didn't have those bleak, four-in-the-morning thoughts that almost propel you out of bed. I was writing my novel, and, my goodness, the things I figured out that will happen in the life of Kelly, my central character. I'd spent some time over the weekend rereading the first chapters and decided they weren't nearly as bad as I imagined. So in my mind I forged ahead with complications. The big trouble is I already know all the solutions--who committed the murder, who is trying to scare Kelly away from trying to figure it out. But if I start dragging in solutions in Chapter 8, I won't have much of a novel. Have to keep piling on complications until, in true Shakespearean terms, things can get no worse--and I get at least 60,000 words (this is not going to be an 800-age doorstop). Then I start bringing in the answers. But I am once again excited.
The dark thoughts did come after I must have drifted off again about 6:30. I was sure I would be forever clumsy, unable to walk across open spaces in a confident and even manner. Of course when I got up and got going, all was well. But I do wish the newspaper carrier would stop throwing the paper on the grass, where there are lots of roots to stumble over in the dark.
As I write this, the cat that bit me is sitting right next to me, watchng me type, occasionally trying to rub noses with me, sometimes rubbing his head on my shoulder--the most loving, affectionate thing you've ever seen!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Cat Bite Chronicles Continue

I am getting better. Last night I stepped into the shower for the first time--with a plastic bag over my right hand and arm. But French baths just don't do it. This morning I went to work without the bandage--my two coworkers both winced and grimaced but they were relatively calm. When we went to a luncheon, I bandaged it but I think tonight I'll go out to dinner with it unbandaged--it needs the air, they tell me. And when I got home from work just now, I dismantled the first-aid station on the dining room table.
But it's my head that has to get better too. I who, as friends and family will tell you, harbor all kinds of fears and anxieties, have been realtively calm and strong about this, at least I think I have. I didn't panic that night and haven't since, though sometimes I'd wake at 3 a.m. with scary thoughts of how bad it could have been. But I find myself acting as if I were fragile, which I'm really not. I haven't worked out since, though I could easily ride my stationary bike and just not do the stretches. Instead I'm sleeping a little later in the mornings. I cancelled a business trip today, but the man who had arranged for the program I was to be part of was incredibly kind--he told me how sorry he was about the bite, not to worry about the programs because others would fill in. And then he said he'd be in town next weekend and could he run any errands for me! The neighbor's children, whose cat so enraged Wywy, feel that they must help me because it was their cat--and last night Alex, who's 9, rolled my garbage cart down the drivewayfor me and rewarded me with a shy smile when I thanked her. Six-year-old Hunter has come over with his mom to change the bandage, though now I can do it alone. Word has spread, and I get calls from friends who heard from friends. It's like "let a cat bite you and become an instant celebrity, if however briefly."
Maybe I'm still off center because I've heard so many stories about people who had to be hospitalized for a cat bite and I am afraid to trust that mine is healing and now infection free, or maybe it's the thought that it's my own adored cat that bit me--I can't tell you how many people have been incredulous when I say yes, I still have the cat. But it wasn't his fault. I was dumb to try to pick him up. Maybe a little of it--the disinterest in food especially--is the result of antibiotics, which I presume are fairly heavy and strong. Or maybe it's just that sense that things can go so suddenly wrong.
This weekend I'll have good friends over for a very casual supper on Friday and then a more diverse group of six for Sunday supper to celebrate the brief visit of an old friend who now lives in Alaska. Last weekend I couldn't have entertained. I didn't have the energy or enthusiasm. Yeah, I'm getting better.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Another lesson learned

My third lesson in as many days: Just when you think things are going well, they aren't. Yesterday was Saturday. The cat bite was a day-and-a-half old, and I thought I was better, though I was enormously draggy in the morning. I attributed it to too much sleep (trying to compensate for lost sleep) and maybe a tad too much wine the night before. Did the grocery/hardware/etc. trip, ate lunch, worked, had a nap, and then geared myself up and went back to the ER alone. (Jordan later demanded, "Why didn't you wait for me?" and has made me promise she can go next time, for which I am most grateful.) What had been a not-too-bad hour-and-a-half visit the night of the bite turned into a five-and-a-half-hour ordeal (I read an entire Robert Parker mystery cover to cover). Mosstly I sat and waited, but there was the moment the doctor said, "Hmmm. [Why do even the young ones say that?] I thought so. It's infected. We'll do blood work, and if your white count is high, we'll keep you." I wanted to shout, "No, no, I have other things to do, other places to go." They gave me an IV drip, and finally I had to call to a nurse walking by and tell her the IV was done and could someone please unhook me. She did, the doctor said I was free to go but come back Monday, and I got home at 9 p.m. So much for the lovely piece of salmon I'd bought for supper--I scrambled a couple of eggs, answered a few phone calls and went to bed.
Today, Sunday, I'm in low gear. I think the infection is better--hand is swollen but not as much and not as hot as yesterday. I feel ok but the actual wound is still VERY ugly. And the directons they sent home with me gave me my first real scare. So I did a few things around the house--and discovered that made my hand swell, so I've been at my desk. My mom used to say everything has a silver lining--this one has been thatI've worked on the novel. Made drastic changes that set me back some in terms of chapers finished but are, in the long run, for the better.
And now for a nap. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Up and Down

Yesterday was really an up and down day. All four of us from the office went to the Tokyo Cafe--I love Japanese food, and this is my favorite place. Then last night the Friends of the TCU Library hosted "An Evening with Judy Alter," where my good friend Jim Lee interviewed me about my short story collection and my career. I was worried about it but needn't have been--there was a nice crowd, in spite of the fact that some of my nearest had to cancel at the last minute. And Jim makes it so easy to be clever and amusing (because he is to the extreme)--everyone laughed a lot, which is always to me a sign of a good program. One friend said later that just when she thinks she knows everything about me, she learns more--as she did last night. I was extremely proud to have Jordan and Christian sitting in the front row, smiling, and taking a bit of a part in the geniality. And there were others there--too many to mention--that I felt gratified to see.
Fran Vick, my good, longtime friend, came from Dallas for the occasion, and afterward we sat on the porch and had a good visit--over wine, of course. Early to bed, but Scoob barked about 11:00 and I got up to investigate and found the neighbor's cat was harassing Wywy through the front door. I picked him up--that adorable, sweet, over-affectionate cat I've had for 14 years--and he bit a huge chunk out of my right forearm. I ran screaming through the house to the kitchen sink to wash it with water--later I discovered I had flung blood everywhere. Meantime I was screaming for Fran, who slept peacefully on. Finally, I turned on the light in her room and yelled at her. We went to an Emergency Room just blocks from my house where the wound was appropriately treated (it didn't hurt at that point). At least two nurse/techs looked at it and went, "Omigosh!" I asked them please not to have that reaction. By 12:30 we were home in bed again, but of course sleep would not come, and by morning the arm hurt like hell.
I was not a happy camper today--exhausted from no sleep, my arm throbbing, a brief stint in the office almost unbearable. But tonight, after a good solid nap, I think I'll be back to normal or close tomorrow. Sue, owner of the cat, came and dressed the wound, and we agree it's healing well. And Alex, her nine-year-old daughter, made my bed, because I could not struggle fitted sheets on to corners, pillows into pillowcases (I had washed out the blood). And while it's still sensitive, the arm doesn't hurt so much. Wywy appears contrite and anxious to be in my good graces again. I've put cayenne out to discourage the neighbor cat and have my hose armed and ready, should I be outside and catch her. The shutters on the windows have been secured, so Wywy can't bust through, and the door is beveled glass--he'll never get through it. But picking Wywy up last might remains one of those moments you wish you could roll back in time just 20 seconds and do differently.
Life's lessons: Don't pick up a crazed cat, no matter how well you think you know the animal; and even the best of days can end badly. But I'm still savoring memories of "An Evening with Judy Alter."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A New Day and a New Person

Yesterday was one of those days! I describe it as a day I'm just not wrapped right. Felt just awful in the morning--allergies, draining, symptoms you don't want to hear about. In fact, I felt so bad I "flunked" the audiologist's hearing test to see how much improvement my hearing aids are giving me. I told him my brain was simply to foggy to play, "Repeat this word." Things got a little better as the morning wore on, and by noon I was anticipating a nice lunch with two old friends. Until I lost my keys. They simply vanished into thin air. I had to call Jordan to bring me a house key so I could go get a spare car key, and she said she'd foist that chore off on Christian. Before all that happened, the keys turned up--in one friend's car where I'd sat for two minutes just to chat. He brought them to lunch. I was finally able to sneak home about 3:30, but when I got there the electric gate wouldn't open--again. Fed the cat, got into comfortable clothes, and turned on the computer--only to find that I was due back on campus for a meeting in seven minutes. I skpped that meeting--and the church Assembly that night to stay home and lick my wounds. Lisa called me on our Skype program (wonderful, if you don't have it) and I could see and hear her and adorable Morgan; they could see me but couldn't hear me, so they hung up. Then my computer told me I didn't have an A drive, when I know perfectly well I do. I took a glass of wine to the porch and sat and tried to empty my mind, think about nothing, watch the trees sway in the breeze, listen to the cars going by. I kept telling myself I should go inside, I had phone calls to make, things to do--but I just at there. It was wonderful.
And today I'm a new person. My gate works. My computer works (rebooting fixes all things, even the sound device), and the world looks petty good to me.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hello again

Well, maybe as the saying goes, I've got my groove back. I've had a wonderful weekend, with Megan, Brandon and two-year-old Sawyer arriving Saturday. We all went to Frisco for dinner with those Alters--Jamie, Mel, and my two granddaughters. (I took Norwegian hamburgers, a recipe from daughter-in-law Lisa's mom--don't family connections get involved?). We left Brandon in Frisco to do a triathlon this morning with Jamie. Megan, Sawyer and I had a lazy morning on the porch--he was happiest opening and closing the lid of the trash can, while I read the paper and commented frequently to Megan--I'm not sure she was always interested in my interpretation of the news. Then we met Jordan, Christian and Jacob for brunch. Jacob (three months) proved true to form and cried the minute I held him. But it was wonderful to be with all of them.
Meantime, back at my desk, the cookbook has gone off for consideration by another publisher, and I feel good about it. I've sent off a couple of ideas for the Dallas Morning News column, and the new editor seems receptive to continuing the column, for which I am grateful
The coming week promises to be busy capped by a Thursday night event wherein the Friends of the TCU Library will host, "An Evening with Judy Alter," and my good friend Jim Lee will interview me about my newest book, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories and about my career. An ego trip, but a small one amongst people I know and love.
But maybe the best news is that I've gotten back to the novel. I had ignored it for almost a month because other things pressed--and I don't know if that's good or bad. You lose momentum no doubt about it, but I am always a believer in the subconcious--and maybe my back-of-the-burner brain was working on it. At any rate now, tonight, since I've read over the opening pages, my brain is definitely tuned into it again and I hope to work away, though the fall promises to be busy.
My new crusade: buy those flourescent light bulbs that take the place of everyday incandescent bulbs. Yeah, they're more expensive. But they last 5-7 years, and if you read the statistics about what you save in electric bills and, much more important, what the world saves in fossil fuel, you'll be converted. It's as much a global responsibliity thing with me as it is cost-saving, and I intend to start buying one or two bulbs a week until all the light bulbs in my house are replaced. I hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nothin' much

I have a new favorite Dorothy Parker poem courtesy Jim Lee who recited it for me--in particularly meaningful circumstances. I have now committed it to memory.

If you be innocent,
Never trouble to deny.
But if you be guilty,
Weep and storm and swear they lie!

And I have a new Winston Churchill story, courtesy of Steve Munday. Seems a lady sailed up to Churchill and said, "If I were married to you, I'd poison you." Churchill replied, "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

That I'm reciting poetry and jokes may reflect the fact that I haven't had much to post on my blog, although I've been acutely aware all week that if you have a blog and want people to read it regularly, you need to post regularly. Melinda, my web guru in the office, remarked that I haven't posted in over a week, and I said, "I haven't had much to say." And it's the truth.

My week has seen a good trip to Abilene to appear on a panel about our colalborative novel, Noah's Ride, and attend a luncheon honoring my friend, novelist Jane Roberts Wood, for lifetime achievement--Jane is one of the nicest people I know, and I was glad to be there to honor her. But it was a long day.

I've had business lunches--to discuss a series of books on ranching in Texas, another to talk about the history of Fort Worth women's contribution to the city, tomorrow one to talk about a possible book on the artist as Christian. Today, though, a wonderful lazy lunch with Jordan, Jacob and Jean Walbridge, who hadn't seen Jacob since the day he was born. He screamed--and then he smiled charmingly--and then . . . . well, you know how three-month-olds do. But his grin is irresistible--he grins with his eyes as well as his mouth.

My novel has languished for two weeks, put on a back burner by the rejection of the cookbook. I'm adding a little to the cookbook, proofing--since one accusation was sloppy editing--and getting it ready to submit. Another publisher has agreed to look at it but stresses that everything they do has to have a historical aspect. Okay, I'm old enough that some of my recipes are historical!

And that's it, no deep thoughts--unless I talked about things about President Clinton's marvelous performance on Fox TV and politics and the state of the world, which Charles tells me is really in awful shape. I reminded him it has gone through periods like that for centuries. And he said, "Yes, and something wonderful usually comes out of it." Keep your fingers crossed.

It's Wednesday. I notice that on Mondays my motor really runs fast--I go to work with a long list of things to be done, and I work like mad. By Wednesday, much of it is done, and I'm more mellow. Looking forward to a lazy dinner on the porch with Jeannie Chaffee. Life is still good.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I just finished reading Marley & Me, by John Grogan. It's about the Grogan family's life with Marley, a golden lab who crashed through screen doors, gouged through drywall, flung drool on guests, stole women's undergarments, and ate nearly everything he could gets his mouth around, including fine jewelry. But he was also lovable, gentle, and loyal, and the family adored him. It's a good read, and I recommend it.
Marley was an extreme version of Scooby, my Australian shepherd. Fortunately Scoob and I have come to a better accommodation with each other. But it took time. When I got him from the Humane Society, he jumped on me all the time, stole food from wherever he found it, pottied in the house whenever out of my sight. Like Marley, he was paranoid about storms. During our first thunderstorm together, he hid under my desk and pawed my legs nervously until I had great bruises. Nowadays, three and a half years later, he feels secure enough that he only hides in the closet during storms.
But most of our accommodation has been on my part--I've taught him not to jump by stern use of a leash to pull him down. I've learned to keep food out of his reach, to keep him beside me whenever he's in the house. He sleeps leashed to a leg of my bed, which he seems to thoroughly enjoy. When I say "Go to your bed" he runs to his pallet and stands there until I come to hook the leash. He also knows "Go to the office." I can't cure him of everything--he still eats soiled tissues out of the wastebasket inches from me and, when given a chance, raids the cat box. And I don't walk him because twice, in his urge to herd strollers, motorcycles, bicyclists, school buses, etc., he pulled me down--now he gets his exercise chasing squirrels in the backyard.
Scooby has done his part. Once a nervous and scared abused dog, he has calmed down and now lies peacefully at my feet for long periods of time, rising occasionally to nose my elbow and let me know it's time to love him. At night he puts his nose on the edge of the bed and stares at me with huge, adoring eyes.
And protective? Terrorists will not get me if Scooby has anything to do with it--nor will the mail carrier, the UPS driver, and a few hundred other people that he thinks need to be warned off. If you're inside the house, he's your best friend; step outside on the porch and you're his enemy (but not me or the family).
My friends and family are not as wild about Scooby as I am--he gets excited when there are other people in the house, and once in his early days he jumped up to love a friend, hit a tooth against her lip, and caused bleeding. She swore he was trying to bite her and no amount of talking could convince her he is not a threat to my grandchildren.
In a lifetime full of dogs, I've only had one other, 35 years ago, that I bonded with the way I have with Scooby. With my comfortable house, my one dog, and my one cat, I'm one happy camper. The cat? That's another story for another time.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

West Texas up close

Yesterday was a long day but a good one. My friend Mary, an experienced and talented journalist, and I left at 7:30 to drive to San Angelo for a signing. Both of us are contributors to Noah's Ride, a collaborative novel just published by TCU Press. We were going to San Angelo because it's the home of Texas' most beloved novelist, Elmer Kelton. He wrote the first chapter of the novel, and we wanted to thank him and honor him by having a signing at the bookstore in his town, where he has a large following.
The drive, both there and back, was long--about four hours--but on a cloudy day it was most pleasant. Mary drove and I knit--got to finish that baby blanket by late October. We yakked about everything from family to writing to West Texas. The land of West Texas can offer surprisingly breathtaking views--no, it's not all brown and dry. I was in the hands of a native, because Mary grew up in San Angelo--she knew the back roads, though I have to say we got lost when we got to San Angelo itself! They had, she explained, built new roads. Anyway soon we saw a sign saying we were headed to El Dorado, and Mary said, "El Dorado! I don't want to go there! Where am I?" Then she looked at me and said, "You didn't want to hear that, did you?"
The signing started off slowly--at most such events everyone who's going to come is there at the opening minute. This time, people drifted in all afternoon in twos and threes. They came to buy the book, but mostly ranchers, dressed in jeans, really came to jaw with Elmer. They talked about the drought (Elmer would spell it drouth), and they talked about hard economic times--I heard someone say they figured San Angelo was about a "ten-dollar-an-hour" town. Women talked about how the small towns were losing people--one person from Sterling City said the number of schools had shrunk, because there were not enough students for, say, two elementary schools. Mary's brother-in-law talked about having to sell off all the cattle because there was no water and no graze.
Mary reverted right back to small-town Texas ways, holding out her hand and saying, "Hi, I'm Mary Rogers," which prompted the rest of us to introduce ourselves to each visitor. Mary got each person's name, and when they left, she thanked them for coming. If the visitor was a woman, she addressed her respectfully as "Miz Jones" or whatever the name was. I wasn't certain, but I thought she developed a bit of a drawl that I never noticed in Fort Worth.
I didn't get to see much of San Angelo but enough to show me that it was yet another town that was trying to develop something to attract tourists--it boasts the Concho River winding through the middle of town, and now on Concho Street they have interesting boutiques--we only got a pass-through on the largest, but I would have welcomed more time. And of course there's Fort Concho, one of the best preserved western forts--it's where the 9th and 10th Cavalry, buffalo soldiers, were stationed.
A word about the bookstore--it was fascinating. Except for Elmer's work and a few other new titles, the wooden shelves were loaded with rare, out-of-print books of Western Americana. The Cactus Bookstore, owner Felton Cochran told me, does a big mail-order business from catalogs he sends out monthly. No, he doesn't have a web page. If you want his catalog, you'll have to write hm at 6 Concho Street, San Angelo. But his knowledge is amazing--Elmer and I were talking about ranch histories, and Felton immediately produced two or three helpful references. He's a bookseller with a passion, and he's found his niche.
We went home by another back route so we could go through Brownwood and eat at the legendary Underwood's Cafeteria. Mary insisted that we had to have the barbecued steak, even thoughI protested and ordered fried chicken (Jeff, who was with us, told me I'd hear about that for so long I'd regret it). The chicken--a huge helping of three pieces--was good, and so were the usual sides--pinto beans, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. And of course there was cobbler. All too much for me. Two huge pieces of chicken are still in my fridge in a to-go-box.
About thirty minutes out of Fort Worth, Mary and I looked at each other and acknowledged that we were tired. But it was a good tired. And when I got home I felt that I, an outsider, had seen West Texas up close and personal, even briefly. Fort Worth may be "Where the West Begins," but San Angelo is a different world.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts on Flight 93

We've had a day, two days really, of immersion in 9/11. And last week we had the same with Katrina. Anniversaries are tough, and those of us who were relatively untouched by these monumental tragedies still feel the horror even if we can't begin to comprehend the grief of the victims, survivors, those left behind. I am reminded though of seeing a TV segment of children of 9/11 victims who asked why it had to be on TV all the time--good question. It's not as though without the rehashing we'll forget.
But tonight I watched a tasteful segment on NBC's Dateline that chronicled the last minutes, hour, whatever of Flight 93, including those phone calls--varying in tone from bravado to desperation--back to family. We've all praised the passengers on that flight--as did the president tonight--for their bravery, for refusing to die like cattle led to slaughter. But there's an aspect I haven't heard much mentioned: have you thought about what would have happened if that plane had crashed into the Capitol, taking out most of the Congress? Where would our country have gone? Would the surviving administration set martial law in order, which might well still be in effect today? Would the government simply have disappeared, leaving us rudderless and then really vulnerable to attack? It's beyond imagination to think of the ramifications, and yet I'm surprised we don't hear that, even in the president's heart-rending speeches about patriotism. Do I think the people on flight 93 thought about that? No, I don't. I think they thought about thwarting the terrorists--their focus was on the immediate. But we owe them such a huge debt of gratitude that one can hardly speak of it. And when President Bush speaks of American's determination and courage--okay, I'm no fan of his--I don't think he comprehends that the action of those people on that plane were the ultimate in American spirit.
Sometimes these days it's hard for me to be proud to be an American--I'm so proud of my country and so loyal to it, but the current administration gets in my way. (And I vowed my blog would never be political!) But the people on #93 make me really proud. And they make me wonder if I could possibly have had their courage. A sobering thought.