Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cooking and cleaning

I've been cleaning again--the T-shirt drawer, the Christmas decorations, etc. I lost the things that are usually on the mantel and bookshelves--a lovely Eskimo granite mother and child and all those pictures of our large family at my brother's ranch and of my children and their spouses at Jordan's wedding. They're not that many hiding places in my house, so I was baffled--finally found the pictures on a closet shelf and the Eskimo statue hidden among winter clothes in the guest room chiffarobe. My cleaning is almost done. I still have one more drawer to do and my own closet--ouch!
Jordan and Jacob came for dinner Saturday. I realized that our Saturday night dinners, while Christian is working, give me a chance to cook for someone and yet not the big fuss of entertaining even informally. I defrosted a piece of salmon and sort of mixed a couple of recipes, so that we had baked salmon topped with a lemon zest/bread crumb/butter mixture. I had also splurged on haricots vert--$5/lb.!--and had the bright idea that I'd pan fry them, then add butter and lime zest, with just a bit of lime juice. Result? Tough green beans with great flavor. Jacob meanwhile dined elegantly on chicken nuggets, apple, avocado (he, like his cousin Sawyer, calls it go-go--don't ask. I don't have a clue) and little bits of our green salad. He generously offered me a piece of lettuce after he'd sucked the lemon/blue cheese dressing off of it. Maybe he's going to be a cosmopolitan diner--certainly he's going to be generous.
I do cook for myself, and tonight I had bay scallops in a wine/sour cream sauce (okay, not great) and fresh beets and greens, something my mother used to fix but that's rarely served these days. I forget each time what a mess beets make when you cook them--splatters of red juice and bits of red skin all over the kitchen! But they were good. And I did enough for Cox's Army.
Tonight I'm sort of working, sort of reading, and watching The Sound of Music on TV. I don't understand about that movie--most of us, having seen it a hundred times, still can't tear ourselves away.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Back at Life

I've been reading memoirs--one book and two manuscripts. The book, The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander, is a charming, gracefully written, wry account of how one man's vegetable garden--albeit a huge one--took over his life. Alexander recounts battles with fungi and his slip and slide down the hill away from his dream of organic gardening, his battles with animals, including deer and a groundhog he eventually named SuperChuck. Not content to grow beefsteak or other common varieties of tomatoes, he grew antique varieties, such as Brandywine--and you guess it, when he totalled up his expenses, he figured one tomato cost him $64. A herniated disc--and possibly just general disenchantment after years of backbreaking labor--eventually put an end to his career as a major gardener. The book is both amusing and a cautionary tale--and that's what memoirs should be.
At TCU Press, my usual reaction when a memoir is submitted is to reassure the writer that I know he or she has had an interesing life and explain as gently as possible that memoirs by persons without fame are a drug on the market. I usually suggest self-publishing on the internet for family and friends. Yet occasionally a manuscrpt rises above that, mostly because it has a special hook. The first manuscript I read was "Lost in Austin," wherein the author, a minister, uses the sense of dislocation prompted by a move from the Pacific Northwest to Austin as a metaphor for the dislocation that many of us feel in our daily lives--I dare say all of us if we're at all introspective. I had expected heavy concentration on the spiritual life, but there is none--he was at the time of writing a non-practicing minister and the book is firmly grounded in Austin. It's a good candidate for our press, because of the Texas angle and because it's cleverly written, but the author has written under a pseudonym, and I will have to convince him to change that. How can he promote a book anonymously?
The second memoir, "Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp," is by a woman minister in her fifties who, tired of being assistant minister in a large city church, answered a call to be the only minister at a small church in Dewey, Arizona. This one has much more reflection on the spiritual life as the author tries to figure out her beliefs, her relationship to God, what she believes and what she can say to her congregation. Woven into the narrative are strains of infidelity (her husband had an affair) and death (several parishoners die, and finally, her husband succumbs to leukemia).
But what struck me about this memoir has to do with adoption. The author has apparently carried through life a sense of failure because she was barren; her two children are adopted, and her relationship with her daughter, a Native American, has been anything but good. As a teen, the girl was a runaway, involved with drugs, all your nightmares. Yet late in the book they seem to have reconciled and recognized how they value each other.
As the mother of four adopted children and as a woman who also apprently could not get pregnant, I identified with this part of her story . . . sort of. I have those four wonderful children, with beautiful personalities as adults, and seven grandchildren--how could I possibly feel barren? Honestly my failure to give birth rarely gets a second thought--and when it does, it's usually gratitude that I got my kids the easy way. One of my children is of mixed race, but he, like his siblings, has never shown the desperate need to find his birth family that the memoir writer's daughter felt. Since my son travels often to Hong Kong, the city of his birth mother, I once asked if he liked to meet her and his family. His reply? He'd like to see them from a distance, but he doesn't really want to meet them
Memoir writing is a fine art--and only few can do it successfully. I've written a memoir cookbook, to be published next fall, but that didn't quite require me to come to grips with my life. Sometimes I think I should try--I have not only the story of the happy side of adoption to tell, but that of a lifelong battle with an axiety disorder, the joys and tribulations of a single parent, a career as author and publisher that while it hasn't made me rich and famous has given me great rewards other than monetary. (My friend Bobbie, whom the kids said "always told it like it was," once said to me, "Have you considered that you've had more success than most writers and you ought to be content with that?"--a good thought to ponder.) I may try that memoir--I've made notes about it--but maybe I'm afraid some publisher would say to me, "Why don't you self-publish for family and friends, dear?"

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in the rearview mirror

I woke to an unpleasant surprise--a dead mouse, with either a missing or mangled head, on the family room floor. Wynona the cat has been doing his duty, but I doubt mice come in singles. I suspect it's time to have the attic treated again. It was another case of "there's no one else around to ask to do it," so I disposed of the critter. Wywy had by then totally lost interest.
I spent much of today beginning the process of getting my house back to normal--put away all the things from my trip to Houston, began taking down Christmas decorations (only began!). Then I decided to throw organizing the house into the mix--so I cleaned out the junk drawer in the bathroom, throwing away out-of-date medications. Next came the dishtowel, hand towel cupboard (a mess--threw away a lot of wrinkled paper napkins, etc.), and finally the freezer. Things look much better, but my closet is still to come--and if I can do something about the bookshelves in my office, I'll be really triumphant.
A digital camera was among my Christmas gifts, so I'm facing a steep learning curve. But I can't get the instructional CD to play--sounds like an omen that I'm electronically challenged. The camera and a lot of my other gifts, from shoes to a wallet, was special for my trip to Scotland this spring. I can always get my oldest granddaughter to help me. She understands the new technology. I emailed her and her sister today. They each have their own email address, which delights me. What five-year-old gets email? Those girls are such a mix of traditional and new. Maddie, at 8, goes easily from her American Girl dolls, which she adores, to computer games, at which she excels. What a wonderful combination.
I sense a lazy, cozy evening comiong on--scrambled eggs with that leftover bit of broccoli, the last Roma tomato, and a bit of cheese, sounds like the perfect supper. And then, maybe a mystery.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas as a memory

Where to begin? It seems Christmas becomes a memory too quickly--but such a nice memory. I had sort of staggered visits with my family. Last Sunday Jordan, Christian, Jacob, and I drove to Kingwood, north of Houston, to stay with Colin, Lisa, Morgan (28 mos.) and Kegan (8 mos.). We had a marvelous time, mostly watching Morgan and Jacob in their love/hate relationship--she being more verbal than he gave a lot of orders, some of which he took and some of which he answered in Jacobspeak. We had great food and good visits. Lisa's parents arrived for Christmas Eve and we had Norwegian hamburgers--a tradition in their family that the Alters all love! Christmas morning was so hectic that about 3/4 of the way through the packages everyone sort of gave up and forgot about them, to my great puzzlement. Lisa's brother, his wife, and two sons arrived shortly thereafter and we all had the traditional turkey dinner, which was delicious.
The kids decided to walk to "the bridge to feed the turtles." Feeling housebound I went too. Big mistakes. I went in shoes not really meant for walking, and they walked too fast. I woke in the night barely able to put weight on my right foot. It is much better by tonight, so I guess it was a sprain/strain. But I hate the creeping signs of old age--and that's one of them!
Yesterday, Megan and family and Jamie and family all arrived about 3 p.m. The kids played outside, then inside, and it was noisy and wonderful. We ate leftovers--plus a newly cooked turkey--and had another round of present openings. There's something about the Alter clan--this was much noisier and out of control, until the youngest ones were wandering about kind of dazed. Megan and her family went back to Austin last night--a fact that made me realize how much she wanted to be with her family at Christmas (they'd stayed home because Ford, their youngest one, had croup and we all learned it's contagious).
So there you have it--lots of memories of kids being goofy, silly and sweet, of adults saying and doing goofy things (did someone really have sixtuplets? or were the kids "board"?) but lots of wonderful memories. When Colin told Edie (5 years old) to smile for the camera, she ran over and hugged me tight, and I had to say, "Colin, she's over here smiling." I am amazed at my grandchldren--they are unique individuals but also carbons of their parents. Everyone kept asking if I thought Kegan at 8 mos. looks like Colin, his daddy. Of course he does. He's a mirror image, and the same sort of placid, happy disposition. Edie, lean and lank at five, mirrors her skinny, beautiful mom, and Maddie, who can play equally happily with dolls or computers, is clearly Jamie's daughter.
I really put my cares behind me this trip (though I would always tell you nothing troubles me). But I had no balance problems (except Christmas Eve when we went out in the dark to put out reindeer food) and no shoulder aches--I wasn't carrying a book bag around all the time.
Did we miss the spiritual signifcance of the holday? Yes, in a truly devout sense, we did. There was no recognition of the theology behind Christmas that is important to me. Jamie asked if we went to church--but he knew the answer. But in the sense that this holiday, more than any other, brings families together, no. We got the most out of it--and to me that's important.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Too Busy to Blog

I've been having a Christmas whirl. Doesn't seem to me that has happened in years, but it has this year. My Christmas party was followed by dinner for neighbors--8 adults and 4 children. They only ate half the huge casserole I made--someone described it as Mexican lasagne, and maybe that's what it is. So I sent everyone home with doggy bags and will serve the casserole again for lunch on Saturday to four of us. The next night my good friends Betty and Jeannie and I had our annual Christmas gift exchange and dinner--hors d'oevres at my house, though the presentatio of a dab of this and a bit of that leftover was abyssmal. Still it tasted pretty good; dinner was appetizers at a wonderful upscale restaurant that we save for special occasions, and dessert--homemade chocolate chiffon pie--at Betty's . A lovely evening. Tonight my neighbor's parents took us to dinner at a local bistro that I really like, and I had two of my favorite foods--pate and white anchovies. Can't live much higher on the hog than that. Now my whirl is over, and I must get myself together for a trip to Houston that could be six or seven days. But this week has really impressed me with the blessings of friendship, and I am most grateful. Now I'm looking forward to time with family.
Work? What's that? I've been going to the office and accomplishing things there, but at home I haven't the concentration for all the projects on my desk--even though my conscience prods at me. I figure it's good to put things aside. Today I made a couple of phone calls to move one project ahead, looked at notes about another, and resorted to reading my mystery. Maybe I will learn, after all, to do nothing for 40 seconds (that's a joke now with Melinda and Susan) but probably it's just the season. After I get back from Houston I know I'll hit the ground running and feel I have way too much to do. I have three projects on my desk--rewrites on passenger ships, finishing the Great Texas Chefs manuscript, and beginning from scratch on the young-adult book on surgery. Sometimes January brings the blahs--but I don't see that in my future this year.
Is it just me, or is there more of an atmosphere of hope in the air this holiday season? I am encouraged that there is so much emphasis on going green and on changing the political climate in this country. This week, there was a Democratic victory in our state district that has sent a Republican to Austin for 30 years--to me, it's less about which party wins than about changing the rigidity of the current administration, state and national. I follow the national campaigns fairly closely and today read the first editorial that made me think possibly Obama might be the right candidate (I've been fairly convinced about Hillary). This editorial suggested that people without a political background are less vulnerable to the slings and arrows a president must endure and that Obama does not ratchet up hostilities but restrains them. He detests anger as a motivating force, and that alone is enough to make me think twice.
How did I get into talking about politics? I'm going bck to my mystery--it's P.D.James, slow to get into but then quite absorbing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Courage, Longevity, and the end of the rosy glow

I was late for work today. It's because I was watching the TODAY show, and Ann Curry was about to take a 120-ft. bungee leap off a 170-ft. bridge, and I wanted to see her do it. Partly this is because Colin once did a bungee jump off a bridge--I didn't know about it until afterward, for which I remain eternally grateful. But there was more than that. During the first hour, Curry was interviewed several times--getting ready, up on the bridge, being put into the necessary safety equipment. She never missed a beat. She was calm, clever, laughing, and yet serious about thanking the people who'd donated to this jump--proceeds would go to United Way. She also admitted to a little apprehension when she approached the edge off which she'd jump. Apprehension? I'd have been terrified out of my mind. I admit I'm phobic about heights, but the sight of her up that high, making jokes, knowing she was about to take a swan dive--literally, that's what she did--off the open end of a walkway really made me think about courage. I've always admired Curry--she seems to have a sense of adventure and daring that carries her through some wild assignments, like a trip to the South Pole or I think I remember her in a high-speed jet and other things (okay, Meredith Viera does some brave things, like rolling around in that plastic ball, and Matt Lauer takes real risks, but, hey, he's a guy!). Somehow I am drawn to Curry's sense of herself and her ease in the face of challenge. She did the jump with what was called "beautiful form"--a real swan dive, and then they left her hanging upside down for so long I would have been screaming, "Get me out of here," but she was laughing and talking into the mike she had on. And when she was finally in the rescue boat, she was completely together albeit a little windblown. I'd like to think I have some kinds of bravery--maybe emotional, maybe moral--but I sure don't have physical bravery, and I truly admire it when I see it. Ann Curry is one of my heroes.
Susan reminded me today that 2007 marks my 20th year as director of the press, and I added that it is also then my 25th year with the press. That got me to thinking about my salad days in publishing. If you want to read my thoughts, please go to
The rosy glow that lingered after tree trimming has been replaced by compulsiveness--I was up early this morning to put away clean dishes and generally recover the house from the party (I haven't run the vacuum yet, which was one of Jordan's instructions, but maybe I'll get to it tomorrow). I spent three hours today getting ready to entertain my near neighbors tomorrow--made a huge Mexican casserole, something I used to make when I regularly cooked Sunday dinner for 10-15 people--and a bean salad, which I'm terrified won't be enough. I'll fluff it out with lettuce, even though the lettuce gets soggy in leftovers. I have several friends--most of them single women--who have said to me that they have no energy, can't do this or that because they can't work up the energy; they blame it on the season, and I want to shake them. Somehow the Christmas season seems to fill me with energy--my theory is the more I do, the more I enjoy it. (I may collapse tomorrow, but so far that's a viable theory). Tomorrow night's dinner will be so casual as to be almost embarrassing--leftover appetizers and desserts. My neighbor, Jay, thought that was all I was going to serve and said helpfully, "I make a terrific lasagne." But I really do have a plan. It's just not very fancy.
I hope you all are enjoying the season as much as I am.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In a rosy glow

I'm in a rosy glow of happiness tonight, because my annual Tree Trimming party was lovely. About 60 people, who lingered and talked. It's fun to have people meet at my house, because they always discover connections--and some come to me with the curous question, "How do you know so and so?" I thought I would have too much food, but it was just about right--brie with an apricot/red pepper topping disappeared, as did queso and almost but not quite every bit of a hot corn dip and a caviar spread. I've a few meatballs left, about half a cheeseball, and some artichoke dip. And a very few desserts. Everyone seemed to feel festive, and although I usually don't get to visit much, I did visit with a few people. Every year there are one or two new people, and that makes it fun. A good friend called this morning to say she couldn't be here and said sadly, "It's the first one I've missed in 42 years." Well, she exaggerates a bit.
My family was here: four of my children (well, actually two I raised and two who married into the clan but they are all my children), three of my seven grandchildren, my brother and sister-in-law, my niece and her three-month-old (dressed up in a plaid dress, she looked like a porcelain doll!) and my nephew and his wife and their baby, Kate, who is the age of of Jacob. There were other children--neighbors--and the playroom was busy and happy, though Jacob spent a lot of time plowing through the crowd, favoring people with his grins, and running his truck into their feet. By the time he went home, he was staggering with exhaustion, and when I asked for a goodnight kiss, he shook his head to say "no."
Now it's almost 9:30. The kitchen is clean, the dishes are clean and waiting to be put away in the morning, the cat has been released from captivity in the office bathroom, and I'm having a glass of wine and some of the food I didn't eat during the party. I'll read a little and then nod off, because tomorrow is a working day.
And it's also another cooking day. Tuesday night I'm having the neighbors in for a VERY casual supper to meet Sue's parents, who live in Canada but always summer in Rockport. There'll be eight adults and four kids, I think, and I've enough appetizers and desserts left over. I'll make a big Mexican casserole and a bean salad, and Jay next door said he'd bring guacamole. After that, I'm going to rest on my laurels until we go to Houston.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lessons from Calvin Trillin

Well, Calvin Trillin stumped me. I'm reading his Messages from My Father, a charming book. But I came across the phrase "Schachtmanite deviation." Schachtman is not in my dictionary, let alone Schachtmanite. Google was not a lot more helpful--none of the sites that came up referred directly to it. I gathered--or guessed--that it has to do with communistic liberal leanings among some European immigrants in the early 20th century. Beyond that I'm stumped. Anybody know? I'm hoping Jim Lee will read this and tell me; and maybe I'll email Fred Erisman and ask him. Both of them always know that odd bit of information.
Trillin is a graceful writer. In this slim book, he tells the story of his father--and his relationship with his father--in just over a hundred pages. My own father was a pretty interesting and unusual man, but I doubt that I could write more than five pages about him that might hold anyone's attention. I read Trillin's book almost in one sitting.
Two favorite stories: Trillin once gave a speech entitled "Making Chopped Liver with Miracle Whip." Afterward, someone came up to him and said the title was an interesting metaphor. He replied that it wasn't a metaphor; that's how his mother made chopped liver. He supposed she thought schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) was declasse. (Well, Miracle Whip does less damage to your system than schmalz or so I would presume.) His father had been brought to this country as a very young child and had only one memory of Russia--of having his foot stuck in the mud. When Trillin's mother first began to suggest a trip to Europe his father, "speaking as one who had once got his foot stuck in the mud in Russia, said 'I've been.'"
As I predicted, I'm ready for Christmas way ahead of time. My party is tomorrow--everything is cooked that can be done ahead of time. Dishes are on the table with little pieces of paper telling what goes in each. I may have told this story before, but Jordan does the same thing, which once led Christian to say, "You and your mother have a screw loose." But he said it with affection.
But that's why I spent the afternoon reading Calvin Trillin and think now I'll start another of the many books Mary Lu has loaned me. It's bitter cold tonight--the chill factor to be down to 2 degrees, so Scooby is inside earlier than usual. The wine is out of my car, so it won't freeze, and the heat is turned up just a bit. I'll drip the faucets outside and leave the doors to the kitchen sink open. Tomorrow of course, this being Texas, it will be into the fifties and by Tuesday into the sixties.
A week from today we leave for Houston and Alter Family Christmas. Time flies, as they say--and, yeah, I'm having fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rainy weather

I have two cases of wine in the trunk of my car, plus a case that has soft drinks, plastic plates, napkins--all for my Christmas party Sunday. But it's been so rainy, and my yard guy hasn't come to get rid of leaves for three weeks, so the path from the car to the front door is strewn with slickery wet leaves, and I'm not about to carry wine in. Yesterday I ran into my neighbor at the local barbecue place and--never one to miss an opportunity--I asked if he'd help me. He treats me like a sweet little old lady (in some ways I love it) and he said of course, he'd be by later in the day. But he apparently forgot. And today, he appears to be out of town--he travels for business a lot, and his wife is also out of town right now. So I'm driving around with all this wine in my trunk. I really don't want to carry it in a bottle at a time, and when I told Jay that was how I'd have to do it, he said, 'Yeah, and the last bottle would never make it!"
Somehow my anxiety has been a little higher the last few days--not unbearable but enough that among other things I'm not sure of my footing. Maybe it's the rain and those slickery leaves; maybe the antibiotics--I just took the last one today. I worry about walking, though I do fine when I actually do it. Okay, I needed a hand up a curb today but that was all.
Tonight I'm feeling really good--I'd ignored the passenger ships manuscript for a week or more and sort of totally lost my place in it, but today I got back to it and have a complete rough draft, have proofed it once, and feel pretty good about it. If I can get it sent off, I can turn my attention to the book on Texas chefs.
But Christmas, always Christmas--my packages are wrapped, my party pretty much in order (but I do have to cook in the next few days). But it's hard to think about writing books in the holiday season. My house is festive--with lights on the mantel and buffet, a small live tree on the coffee table, and a wonderful huge poinsettia, present from my beloved Uncle Charles, on the library table. I've started lighting a fire in the fireplace at night because it's soooo cold outside, and the fire is cheering. I love this season.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Egg-less meals and Christmas trees

My egg-less meal turned out to be just fine and my guest less allergic than I had thought. He said eggs cooked into things don't seem to bother him, but since he mentioned mayonnaise I thought it was best not to use egg nooodles. Here's how I amended the recipe.
I cooked a cup of raw rice in 2-1/2 cups chicken bouillion with a pat of butter and put that in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole. Then I cooked 16 oz. chopped broccoli and layered it next. I baked five chicken breast halves--I always put them in a roasting pan, sprinkle salt and pepper and sliced onion rings, cover the whole thing with foil, and bake at 350 for about an hour. Cubed, the chicken made the next layer. The sauce consisted of 8 oz. Velveeta, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, and 1/2 cup white wine--cooked in a double boiler until smooth and poured evenly over the layers. Then I topped it with grated Parmigiano Reggio and baked for 1/2 hour at 350. It was really good if I do say so. And my guests liked it.
I planned this meeting for home because it was a more relaxed and congenial atmosphere, we could all hear each other without worrying about restaurant noise, and we could linger at the table--which we did. Plus my guests were so pleased to come into a warm house, brightly decorated for Christmas and with a fire in the fireplace, on a cold and wintry day. As they left, I said I thought it worked out better than a restaurant, and one said, "Yeah, and we ate a lot better."
For years I used to have a tree trimming party. It's an old tradition that goes back to the fact that trimming the tree in my family was no fun. We all went to buy it, my father and brother put up the lights and disappeared, and mom and I decorated. It was not the festive togetherness time that I thought putting up a tree should be. So when I had my own home I decided to make it fesetive--and guests did pretty much decorate the tree. But as my kids married and moved away the party became Judy Alter's almost-annual sometimes-there's-a-tree party. And there never was a tree because Christmas Day always found me in someone else's home. But this year I have a live tree! Okay, it's only two feet tall, and it came pre-decorated from Harry & David--with Santas with plaid trim and tiny reindeer and plaid-wrapped packages--appropriate for my year of Scotland. It's really cute. It's also pre-decorated with lights, but I have it on the coffee table and may forget the lights rather than tape an extensio cord down--haven't decided that yet.
After Christmas, the tree can be planted, so I planned to give it to a friend who has a huge and beautiful garden. Jordan said, "Oh, good, we can plant it." My worries about that are that they aren't gardeners and they won't live in their current house forever. The gardening friend was here today when I unwrapped it, and I kept referring to it as her tree. We'll see.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A lesson in allergies, parties, Santa, and a dog's close call

I'm having a business lunch at my houses tomorrow--originally six people, but now only five can make it. I decided to do this at home instead of a restaurant for two reasons--I figure it's easier on the press budget, and we can talk more easily and not feel pressured to "turn the table" the minute we finished. I decided on a beef noodle casserole that my family has always loved--oops, Melinda, production manager, is coming, and she doesn't eat red meat. So chicken it would be--I found a recipe that I'd never tried but sounded good. The out-of-town important person visiting wrote that it was kind of me to offer to cook but I should know that he had a severe allergy to eggs, including mayonnaise. Oops again--the recipe had mayonnaise. So I found another recipe. I was telling Jordan last night she could expect leftovers and reciting the ingredients when I said noodles, and she said, 'You know I can't eat that on my diet," and I said, "Oops. They're egg noodles." So I went to the store this morning looking for whole wheat noodles. None. I read the label on garden twists--no eggs, but a little box that said "allergy information" and warned that this product contains wheat and was cooked in a facility that uses egg products. Shades of my mother, who used to grind her own hamburger, because she knew butchers used the same grinders on pork and beef. She liked her beef rare but not her pork. Egg residue, I figured, could linger in equipment and this sounds like a severe allergy--the kind that causes immediate anaphylactic shock or whatever. So I'm using rice in the casserole. At this point, I've got the rice and chopped broccoli in the casserole dish--and it's full! No room for the chicken and sauce. Once again, I have to rethink--but I'm taking time off from it.
Jamie and Mel's dessert party last night was lovely and creative--they had cards with recipes for various champagne drinks and all the makings lined up; one called for stout and champagne in equal parts, which sounded pretty wild to me. I stuck to chardonnay. For dessert, they had a decadent cake, a chocolate bundt cake, cream puffs, cheesecake squares--all delish, as Megan would say.
The Santa Claus trip wasn't quite so satisfactory. Jacob, like most babies his age, wanted nothing to do with that old man with the white beard, cried piteously and held out his arms to be rescued. A priceless picture resulted from his discomfort, poor darling. But we all enjoyed a huge breakfast, and he perked up enough to mug for the camera.
Before I got back to my chicken casserole, my neighbors were at the door. Truth be told, they woke me from a sound nap, so I was a little stunned by what they said. Yesterday they told me they'd had rats in the bird feeder and had put out poison. "Can Scooby get it?" I asked. "Aboslutely not," Jay said. Today they said they were fairly sure he'd gotten a small piece within the hour--they'd been watching--so they were taking him to the vet ER. I was so stunned I just watched them go. They called and reported, but Scooby didn' get home for about 4 hours--the vet made him vomit and sure enough, there was the rat poison. So they gave him vitamin K, and I have to give him a pill twice a day for two or three weeks. But he shows no ill effects and is going to be fine. Jay and Susan are much more upset than I am--because I was still sort of stunned by the whole thing.
Tonight my casserole is done, greens for a salad are washed, all is ready. And my dog is healthy and happy.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tis the season

So many of you have left comments or spoken to me personally about anxiety, that I am really comforted. Tonight, at a major event, I said to no one in particular, "I'm nervous that the cheese trays haven't gotten here." A friend standing nearby said, "Don't be anxioius." I guess I looked at her quizically, because she explained, "I read your blog." My anxiety is better, but I'm still fighting with my incision--it's puffy and red, and yesterday the nurse practitioner declined to take out the stitches--said they weren't ready. And I can tell they aren't. I'm hoping and praying that the new antibiotic makes things better.
Tonight was the TCU Press Annual Autograph Extravaganza--every year I worry about this event, feeling sure I've forgotten to do something. And every year it's fine. There are always glitches--like the authors who didn't get nametags--but everyone has a good time, and it all seems to go well. This morning I was sure it would be a disaster, mostly because it was one of those mornings when I had to drag myself out of bed and felt lethargic (a mild description) most of the morning. Maybe it was the muggy weather. But once I got to the event and involved myself in it--distributing nametags, welcoming people, worrying about those cheese trays--I was just fine and enjoyed myself. The program was a real hit--five contributors to our book, Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, portrayed characters from their chapters, and the audience laughed a lot and clapped. They were, as one of our guests said, "five hamettees." Then the provost, Nowell Donovan, presented a certificate of appreciation to Elmer Kelton, one of our longstanding and best-selling authors. Everyone commented on what a successful event it was, and I went home to a tunafish supper feeling very content. The campus bookstore, which handled sales, was ecstatic--sold more books than in two or three previous years put together!
Tomorrow is a Christmas-y day. I'm going to a pancake breakfast at the Fort Worth Club so Jacob can tell Santa Claus his wish list--of course Santa won't understand, but Jacob will no doubt talk a lot. He is very conversational, his voice full of inflection--but it's just not a language any of us understand. He is getting more and more words into his vocabulary--including, to my delight, "Juju."
Then tomorrow night Jordan, Jacob and I (Christian has to work unfortunatley) are going to Jamie and Mel's Christmas party. They have always given a Chinese New Year's party but decided to change it this year. It's a dessert and champagne party, and we're much looking forward to it. My neighbor Sue and her children, good friends of Jamie's daughters, are also going, so it will be fun. Over the years I've met several of Jamie and Mel's neighbors, and I look forward to seeing them.
Passenger ships? I've put that off my list for a while. But I did finish the new Dick Francis novel I was reading tonight. I hate to finish a novel I'm enjoying--it's like leaving a world in which I've immersed myself and characters who've become so familiar. Of course, with Dick Francis, the exit is always so nail-biting that I sometimes skip a few paragraphs. Now I'm going to read a paper by one of the three middle-school children I'm tutoring, including a young boy from London.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Anxiety and Other Facts of Life

A quote I found that I really like: "Things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustle."--A. Lincoln.
Anxiety, which I had pretty much conquered, came back to hit me full force yesterday and today. I started out each day feeling great, crashed about noon. I think it's because I'm on antibiotics--I had a skin cancer removed from my arm last week, and the incision looked red and angry, so the doctor prescribed a sulfa antibiotic. I intend to call first thing in the morning and ask if I can quit taking it. Today at lunch with two of my best friends--people with whom I should feel totally relaxed--I could hardly function, hardly walk or sign my name. I had to hold on to Jeannie, and when I did she said, "Your hand is shaking." An absolutely rotten feeling not to be able to control your body. I came home and did what the doctor dislikes--drank a glass of wine. Hey, it works! Tomorrow I'll call the office again and take an anti-anxiety pill. But the whole thing did put a damper on my lunch out--we went to a fancy new restaurant none of us had been to, and it was really good. Betty and Jeannie had shrimp and grits, and I, being allergic to shrimp, had a smoked trout Cobb salad. I enjoyed it, but the whole time I was thinking, "Can I walk out of this restaurant?"
Tonight I'm being extra good to myself. Fixed really good creamed tuna (okay, I know that doesn't appeal to a lot of people, but it was delish, as Megan would say) and will probably let myself read that Dick Francis novel instead of plowing ahead with passenger ships. And I may wrap a couple of Christmas gifts that I got today. I'm almost in danger of being smug about the good handle I have on Christmas.
All the bags and boxes that decorations were in have been piled in the hall, to go back up to the attic until time to repack things. Christian suggested that we put them in the garage apt.--easier than getting them up to the attic. Then Jordan suggested I could do that without them. So tonight, in sort of defiant anger, I put most but not all in the apartment. I'll do the rest night by night, have them gone before I have a business lunch here next Monday.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Learning Experience

One of the joys of writing nonfiction for third- and fourth-graders is that I learn a lot about subjects I would otherwise never explore. My current project is to write 3500 words on passenger ships. My first few forays into the library catalog online and google convinced me that I would never find enough matieral (I almost always start out that way, convinced I won't have enough to say and I'll have to pad with fluff; then I overwrite and am reluctant to cut any golden word; somehow I usually end up on target). One requirement of the series for this book is to do brief biographies of influential people who made difference in whatever area--for vaccines, I did Dr. Edward Jenner, first to vaccinate someone for smallpox, Dr. Louis Pasteur, first to vaccinate anyone for rabies, and Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, co-inventors of the polio vaccine. But ships and people? I emailed the editor plaintively: couldn't I do important ships, like the Titanic, instead of people? The answer was negative: the goal of the series is to teach kids about creative and innovative thinking. I despaired. I would never get this book written.
Yesterday I got a book from interlibrary loan (minimally helpful, but it started me on a web search), did a lot of web exploring (being careful of the sites I used), and suddenly I had handle on passenger ships. A wonderful feeling. There's Robert Fulton, who didn't really invent the steamboat, as most people think, but made it a successful commercial venture, and Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of the line that bears his name, and J. Bruce Ismay, owner of the Titanic. And suddenly the linear history of passenger ships began to take shape in my mind--particularly at 4:30 this morning. So now I've written 650 words--a great beginning. And I sure know a lot more about shps than I did a week ago when I was stumbling in the darkness.
A story to demonstrate the perils--and funny mistakes--of multi-tasking. In the mornings I often take a swig of mouthwash, and while swishing it aound in my mouth (who wants to stand still for 40 seconds without doing anything?) I go get a cup of dry food for the cat, fill her bowl, spit out the mouthwash, and return the extra cat food to the container. Only this morning, I filled the bowl, stood over the sink, and instead of spitting mouthwash into it, I dumped in the cat food!

Saturday, December 01, 2007


For six years, give or take a bit, I went every Saturday night to run the cash register at the Star Cafe, a steak, hamburger, and chicken-fried place owned by my good friends Betty and Don. I rolled silverware, seated people, poured water and tea, and generally made myself helpful. At the end of the evening I enjoyed a quiet glass of wine and dinner with Betty and Don. When there was talk of selling the restaurant, I almost panicked--what would I do with my Saturday nights? And then a couple of years ago, almost suddenly, I'd had enough. I had plenty to do at home, friends to go to dinner with, etc., and I was tired of it, which makes me sound frivolous or something, but . . . . Tonight I went back. Don has been bitten by the fly-fishing bug and is in Oklahoma for a class. Betty was afraid they'd be busy and overwhelmed and asked me to go, which of course I willingly did. She called about 5 p.m. and said she was coming to get me earlier because they were slammed and just seated a party of 30. So I jumped into jeans and tenners and was ready and waiting when she pulled up. But the Star had calmed down. I poured some tea and water, sold two beers (and earned a dollar, which come to think of it is still in my jeans), and rolled one tray of silverware. But mostly I sat around staring into space while Betty seated people and visited with guests. I talked a bit with a couple of the wait staff and greeted a guest I used to visit with, but bottom line is I was bored. Betty asked jokingly, "Do you feel superflous?" and I did. I couldn't remember how to run the cash register--it's a new one since my days, wasn't sure which beer was where, couldn't find the right glasses for sweetened tea and plain tea. In short I was a fish out of water. About 7:15 Betty asked if I wanted her to run me home, and I said yes, if she could spare me. She could. So I took a half order of chicken fingers and a bit of mashed potatoes and came home--gratefully. I think part of it was that I have been sort of out of sorts all day--one of those days when you don't feel wrapped right. Nothing in particular, just didn't have that sense of well being. But part of it was that I was superfluous.
Sometimes communication with grandchildren is difficult. When I called Houston tonight, two-year-old Morgan answered with "Hi, Juju!"
Me: Hi, Morgan. How are you?
Morgan: I have a rash, Juju.
Me: That's nice, darlin'. What did you do today?
Morgan: It's ringworm.
Me: Oh, you did? Was it fun?
Her mother was laughing a lot when she got on the phone, but in my own defense, it's only partly my hearing. Morgan is a precocious child but she doesn't exactly speak clearly on the phone.
Jacob and his dad came for dinner last night, and I splurged and got a gorgeous ribeye steak from Central Market, along with two twice-baked potatoes. Jacob, the little glutton, ate a whole lot of mine. We had green beans with bacon (Christian's favorite) and a blue cheese salad. Jacob managed to say Juju once. But when he was told, "No, Jacob, don't throw your food on the floor," he took the next bite, held it in the air away from his chair, and studied me to see how serious I was abut this. Of course, he had a huge grin on his face. Jordan and Christian have interesting times ahead with that child!
Jordan is back tonight from a four-day "fam" trip (familiarizing travel agents with resort properties in Mexico) and she reports that Jacob was very glad to see her, and it was most mutual!
I started the new Dick Francis novel last night, and now it's calling to me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Bad Week Continues

Today, my disasters were all electronic. This morning, I moved the family room TV just a skosh so that it would more face my exercise bycicle--and it quit totally. I exercised without TV, although I had the newspaper for company. Except that today's dwindling newspapers don't occupy enough time for a good workout. I spent almost an hour on the phone this afternoon with the Dish people who finally concluded that the problem was with the TV. It's not a very old TV, and I would hope not. But I'm stymied. At first, the Dish connection in my study--more important than the famiy room to me--didn't work, but after all the things the Dish people told me to do, it's back on. I'm a confessed news junkie, and if I can't watch TV I'll go bananas. Terrible to be so dependent on TVs and computers, but I confess--I am.
Then tonight my computer went crazy. I was looking up things on amazon, when it froze. Ctrl-alt-delete did nothing, turning it off did nothing. Then it began to end programs by itself, but I couldn't use the mouse--the arrow didn't go anywhere. This is where I learned another lesson in patience--it's not my strong suit, and I learn those lessons all the time. I finally just sort of waited it out until it told me that Windows was exiting. Oh, yes, the picture on my remote monitor was sideways--a lovely vision of myself and my brother sitting on the loveseat on the porch, with 3-week-old Kegan (he's now six or seven months) sprawled in my lap sideways. Only you had to tilt your head to see it sensibly. When the computer finally turned itself off, and I could reboot, all seemed well, and John and Kegan and I were once again right side up.
I'm giving up and going to bed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What a week!

It's been one of those weeks when I should better have stayed in bed on Monday morning. As I struggled down the driveway that morning, loaded down with a book bag, purse, gate opener, keys, etc., my cell phone rang. Frantic rush to put everything down and answer it. The doctor's office: the place on my arm they biopsied would have to come off. So I made an appointment for the next morning, but the disquiet of it stayed with me on Monday. Tuesday I was a tad apprehensive--I knew it was caught early, a slow-growing cancer, but still when someone's about to carve into your arm, you can't help but feel a bit of trepidation. All went well, and I had no pain even when the anaesthetic wore off. Today it's more tender, but I have been using my arm instead of guarding it as I did yesterday.
Then this morning I had to have my annual echocardiogram--not a big deal, certainly far from painful, but disquieting, especially when the tech turns the volume on and you hear your heart beating. You can't help but lie there and think, "Is that regular? What's that swoosh sound?" It's the same feeling those of us who are airplane-naive feel when a plane makes a strange noise. But I survived that, too, and go back Monday for the results. Once again disquieting. I hope all is well, but there's always a chance you'll get bad news.
Then this afternoon the retirement home where my cousin lives in Toronto called. Bottom line is that her dementia is getting much worse, and they can no longer safely handle her. A nursing home is the next step, but the process is long. Since I hold power of attorney over her affairs, they're faxing me a bunch of paper work to begin the process. It seems, among other things, she talks loudly--to herself a lot but sometimes abusively to other residents. And she flairs in temper. I have not seen Jenny since we were teenagers, but I am the only relative left, except for our aunt who is 96 and declares herself unable to think about Jenny's problems. So I am left with words my dad said to me probably almost 50 years ago: "If anything happens to us, you will take care of Jenny won't you?" All these years later, those words echo in my brain, and I do my best long-distance.
Tonight my friend Betty and I went to a tiny restaurant that it seems is more fashionable than we thought--clearly the place to be seen, and we almost didn't get in because we had no reservations. But we enjoyed a great meal of Caesar salad and rigatoni Bolognese, and I've decided this is an evening to pamper myself--no work. Surely the rest of the week will be better.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday night supper

This is unapologetically a cooking blog (it's not called Judy's Stew for nothing!). In my family when I was young Sunday night supper was special. Dad built a fire in the fireplace, and Mom wheeled the teacart in front of it. They sat in their chairs, and my brother and I perched on footstools around the table. We had supper, not dinner--a spinach souffle (how John hated that!), a cheese strata, something simple. I often feel the urge to cook something special for myself on Sunday night, though I go beyond Mom's simple supper.
Today I went to Central Market, but I couldn't decide between Dover sole and lamb chops, so I bought both. Tonight I mashed that lone potato that had been looking at me--the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner were so good I wanted more--and heated up a small bit of creamed corn that was in the fridge. Then I made a blue cheese salad. But the piece de resistance was the sole--I lightly floured it, sauteed it in butter and olive oil, and then poured lemon juice into the drippings and put that over the fish--such a treat.
It would be a perfect meal if topped off with Hagen Daz extra light mint chocolate chip ice cream, but I can't get Central Market to carry it any more. Oh well, I don't need dessert anyway. Back to my book explaining vaccines to third graders--yikes! And tomorrow, after this lovely holiday where I've slept sinfully late every morning, it's back to working out at 6 a.m. and going to the office by 8. Thank goodness Christmas looms.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A rainy Saturday

Saturday night, and I'm watching a wonderful new program on PBS--"Celtic Woman." It's full of Celtic music--women singing and dancing and the most amazing woman dancing and playing the violin. Talk about multitasking--a much more difficult version of the old rub-your-belly and pat-your-head routine! But the music strikes a chord with me.
Earlier my neighbor, Sue, and her parents, visiting from Canada, came for barbeque and beans and we had a lively time with talk ranging from pets to religion and politics. I had the Christmas lights on and a fire in the fireplace, so we were cozy. Outside it was cold and rainy. When I let Scooby in tonight he was soaking wet--usually he doesn't get wet because he hides in his doghouse. I don't know what dragged him out into the rain tonight, but he was very glad to be inside.
This morning was one of those times I had to force myself to the grocery store--staying home, even staying in bed, was an enormous temptation. I went to the grocery and hardware and forgot about the other errands I intended to do. I'll save them for a sunny day. Tomorrow is supposed to be equally unpleasant--I'm to meet a friend for brunch and then go to Central Market for a few things. I really need to do some outdoor chores--pull up the basil which didn't survive the cold snap and put new decorations on my car, but those too will have to wait for better weather.
Meantime I'm enjoying the high clear sweet voices of the Celtic singers and the warmth of my house. Wish I had something more significant to say, but it's been that kind of a day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Follow Your Passion--Installmant Two

Yesterday my horoscope said that I should listen to my own thoughts because inside my practical exterior is a philosophical person. Well, I'd been feeling philosophical anyway and meant to post last night but enjoyed my granddaughters too much. But that follow your passion idea is still on my mind.
After my brother, John, read my first post on the subject, he called to say he knew exactly what in my life I was talking about. And then we talked about it. It was, of course, a time when I lacked the courage or conviction or whatever to pledge myself to a man I loved very much but of whom my famiily did not approve because of religious differences. So of course I've wondered about what might have been--but also realized that I have four wonderful children and a rewarding career I wouldn't have had if I'd taken that fork in the road. But then I got to thinking about him. Would his life have been better or worse if Ihad followed him? I've had contact with him quite a few years ago, and he seemed to have had a good life with a successful careeer and a close family, though he wasn't ecstatic about life in general. Perhaps now, in his 70s, he's more content.
And then because I'd been talking to John I remember something he'd said to me one day--that all of us have those "three o'clock in the morning" thought where we think, "Ooops. Wish I hadn't done that one." And some have a lot more of those thoughts, with reason, than others. I think those thoughts too often have to do with relationships and folowing your heart and sometimes mistaking passion for where your heart would lead you. Sometimes I think the Lord rescued me from making a lot of bad mistakes along the way--with the result that I have more rewards in terms of family, friends, and career than I perhaps deserve.
Philosophy aside, I have had a lovely Thanksgiving and hope everyone else has too. I'm in Frisco with Jamie and Mel, Maddie and Edie. Mel cooked a wonderful traditional dinner, and we all ate way too much. We had dinner about 2 or 2:30, cleaned up and went to see Mr. Magorium, which was cute--some of the effects were really magical. I had tried to stay home and read, but when an 8-year-old pouts and says, "Please go with us, Juju" there's no choice.
Tonight the weather forecasts are full of snow, although mostly to the west, and freezes. And two days ago it was 84! Tonight when we went out I bundled up because I expected this Arctic cold, but it wasn't that bad. Who knows what the weekend will bring.
Thanksgiving is behind us, and even though it was early this year, it means that Christmas is just around the corner.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Following Your Passion

A young man whose face and name have become famliar on local NBC TV newscasts has announced he will leave his television career to tour with a rock band that plays a funky mixture of reggae, rock, and calypso. He says the people at the station were wonderful and supportive, but his parents were less enthusiastic and his mother expects him to turn into a "dreadlocked, crazed man." I can understand his parents' concern, but he's young, apparently unfettered so far, and he's taking a now-or-never chance. More power to him. Sometimes I wish I had done that. The announcement this morning got me to thinking about all the times I've taken the safe, "wise" course. There was one big time when I truly didn't follow my heart, and I've wondered many times in the years and years since what my life would have been like if I hadn't be too fearful to take that leap. Those that held me back were sure they were helping me, but sometimes I'm not so sure.
Would I take that kind of a leap today? I'd love to think once again unfettered I might--but the truth is my passion is right where I am. What would I run to? I have my family--the most important thing to me--my home, my job, my writing. If I had to take a leap to recover those things, yes I'd do it in a heartbeat. But go for something new? No, I'm too lucky to be living my passion.
Hats off and Godspeed to Nigel Wheeler. Check out his band at

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another food day--and Christmas

Well, I always rail about how early Christmas decoratons go up and how the season starts earlier each year. I've noticed this year that Christmas party invitations come earlier. But in spite of all that, I found myself decorating for Christmas tonight. Jordan and Christian came to take down my Christmas things from the attic--an appalling collection of boxes, grocery sacks, and black plastic bags. When they had them strewn all over the guest room, I intended to start wrapping the presents laid out on the bed. But I simply couldn't walk around those bags and boxes on the floor, and so I began to decorate. Kept telling myself I'd just do a bit more--but now I have a lot done. The ordinary things are put away (it will take me until spring to find them) and Christmas things are on most but not all of the usual surfaces. I haven't done pine cones and greens yet, but I'm close. And wrapping? I have enough for three or four years. All I need is Scotch tape and I'm in business.

Such a lazy day. Spent a long time with the Sunday paper. To me one of life's luxuries is to read the paper leisurely with a cup of coffee and the Sunday morning talk shows. Went to church, came home to a quick lunch, a bit of reading, and then a nice nap. Jordan and Jacob came about 3:30, and by the time Christian got here at 4:30 we had dinner almost ready. A marinated pork tenderloin from Central Market (I got it free on one of their spend $40 and get a free tenderloin offers)--cooked it just the way they recommend, and it was wonderful, flavorful and tender. I have a horror of getting meats like that overcooked. I had the Southwestern potatoes from yesterday, and Jacob ate two whole potatoes. His father ate two plus a bowl of leftover stuffing that wouldn't fit into the skins. I fixed my favorite blue cheese salad dressing, a recipe I found years ago in a magazine, periodically forget, and then rediscover and wonder why I don't fix it every day. Here it is: rub a wooden salad bowl with a cut garlic clove, salt (I am a devotee of kosher salt now), and dry mustrd. Add a hunk of blue cheese and then some vinegar--careful here because you have to add more oil than vinegar and if you add too much you'll end up with salad soup. Mash the cheese and vinegar into a paste, and then whisk in about twice as much oil as the vinegar you put in. Add cut lettuce and croutons and toss. So good.
Off to bed early. Lazy days make me tired.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Food Day

This has been a food day, which is appropriate for this blog since it's as much about cooking as writing--and grandchildren, though the latter tend to take over. Jordan is on the South Beach diet, and they are coming for an early Sunday supper so that she and Christian can get down my Christmas wrappings and decorations--I do not go in my attic if I can avoid it and do not go at all when I'm home alone. I have visions of falling, breaking a leg, and lying unfound for days. So it's a pain for Jordan and Christian, but they've been doing it for several years now. I mentioned that I had a pork tenderloin in the freezer (I'm trying to eat from the freezer and clean it out) and I'd do Southwestern twice-baked potatoes to go with it. Jordan was a bit put out--she can't eat the potatoes. They're not on the diet.
Today since Christian was going to be at work this evening I told Jord I was going to get myself a splurge of a lamb chop, and if she wanted I'd get one for her too. They are those wonderful thick (and not cheap) loin chops from Central Market. I bought three, and when she arrived I explained that I was really trying to support her diet so I had a variety of fresh vegetables for her to choose from. Baby beets with greens (as I suspected she doesn't eat beets), carrots I could steam (carrots are not on the diet nor is corn which I had planned to cook tomorrow), green beans, peas (not on the diet and she doesn't like them), and broccoli. She chose broccoli, which I steamed. But she didn't eat it all, and I said no problem I'd save it for Christian tomorrow night. She looked at me in horror, "He won't eat broccoli!" I swear--meal planning is a lot harder than it should be. But she'll saute it with red wine and mushrooms tomorrow night for herself and me (South Beach has some pretty good stuff on it!). Christian will have to do with potatoes and salad. Jordan was jealous tonight that I went ahead and heated one of the stuffed potatoes for myself (they're medium red potatoes so not huge) but I did. "Jacob will eat potato," she said, and I replied, "It has green chiles in it." Turns out he loved it and kept pointing for more.
After dinner, because it's dark, Jacob thinks it's time to go to bed. Jordan emphatically does NOT want him to do that, because he's been getting up at 5 a.m. So she took him home for bath and play--"I'll try to keep him awake until at least 8," she said. So they've gone, the kitchen is cleaned, and I've settled down with a cat at my elbow who desperately wants affection.
A while back I bought three Scottish mysteries, sort of in anticipation of the trip next spring. The first one was okay; I gave up on the second, though it is by an author lauded as the master of Scottish PI fiction. Now I'm trying to read the third--a police procedural set in Aberdeen, where we plan to go. Rough going, and I am not drawn in. I guess I like cozies too well. I have two books squirreled away to take to Frisco this week when I go to have Thanksgiving dinner with Jamie and his family. I had offered to make Jamie a sweet potatoe/pecan pie because he loves sweet potato pie, but I specified I would NOT bring it on the train. So maybe the pie goes by the wayside--I am going on the train, and he wants mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, like his grandmother used to make. I told him she always put bourbon in them, but he wasn't interested in the bourbon or cloves--wants butter and cinnamon.
Tonight seems to me a good night to relax and watch the food channel. Right now I'm watching some guy try to be funny while brining a turkey.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Vaccines and chefs

Life is not always fair. Last week I had that stomach thing, and this week it's that scratchy throat, head cold kind of thing. I really don't feel bad, but today whenever I opened my mouth, I squeaked, and I found that depressing. Megan called in the morning, and when she heard my voice she said, "Mom, why don't you let Susan answer the phone?" Stubborn is my middle name--I kept croaking out, "TCU Press. This is Judy Alter."
Came home at noon and got really busy. I've finished another chef's profile, this on Lanny Lancarte who two years ago opened a "high end" Mexican restaurant, blending French techniques with Mexican ingredients and coming up with dishes like you've never tasted before. He and Jordan went to middle school together, and it's been fun to follow his career.
Then I added some more, quite a bit more, to my vaccines manuscript and discovered that though I haven't said everything, it's already too long. So as usual with a children's manuscript, slimpifying and cutting are in the future. But it's a great feeling to have a rough draft.
Jamie called tonight, and I am going to Frisco for Thanksgiving. I had offered to make a sweet potato/pecan pie but did refuse to take it on the train. He isn't so much interested in the pie but wants sweet potatoes with marshmallows when I get over there. No bourbon, though I always used to put bourbon in them. I think I'll just give up the idea of dessert--nobody eats it on Thanksgiving anyway.
Had dinner tonight with good friends Elizabeth and Weldon--she was a work-study student (nontraditional) in our office for over two years. As she reminded me tonight, it's been over twelve years ago! But I love it that I've kept up the friendship with her and welcomed Weldon when he came into her life. My friend Carol Roark happened into the restaurant, and she joined us. A thoroughly pleasant evening--though I still croaked and squeaked. I'm better at home where I don't have to talk to the dog and cat.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Being a grandmother

Maybe this is a decadent week all together. I am not as pushed at work as usual and have taken advantage of that to come home at noon two days in a row. I'm nursing an annoying scratchy throat and cough--don't feel bad, just have those othersome symptoms. Today I kept Jacob for two hours while his mama went to the doctor. He is tireless! If he's inside, he wants to be outside; outside, he wants to be in. Really he wants to open the door and walk up the step countless times. I did take him out on the porch--built barricades of porch furniture so he wouldn't tumble down the steps. But I thought he'd enjoy seeing the kids leave the school across the street, and he did. He waved and waved--I swear the kid will be a politician--and it didn't seem to bother him that no one waved back. Bothered me though. I wanted to shout, "Don't you see how cute he is? Wave, for goodness sake!" By supper time Jacob had a major meltdown--he loves to suck on lemons, and his mom forgot he has a cut on his hand and gave him a lemon slice from her plate of salmon. Predictable results--he screamed and screamed . . . and then screamed some more. When we finally got him settled down, he ate an entire chicken thigh and lots of salmon, plus broccoli. Good eater. They were both tired--Jacob rubbing his eyes and Jordan rolling hers heavenward--so they went home early.
I had a letter to the editor in the newspaper today. Always fun--I usually hear from one or more people, liberal friends all, saying how much they liked my letter. This was about the futility of writing my Congressmen in a state where they all follow the White House line.
Last night I was far from decadent. I wrote about 1500 words, nearly half of a children's text on vaccines. I thought I had it all laid out in my mind, but when I got to writing I found that it was not nearly so straightforward. I think tonight I'll put it aside.
Last night I also finished the Margaret Truman mystery I was reading--Murder at the Opera. I really do like her books. Next I want to investigate the new subgenre of gardening mysteries. Susan Wittig Albert is probably the leading name, but there are others.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A decadent Sunday and other pleasures

This has been a decadent Sunday. Jordan and I took Jacob to breakfast at Lucille's Stateside Bistro. In a restaurant, Jacob is sort of like a political candidate--he smiles and waves at everyone with complete confidence that the only reason they are there is to see him. He paid little attention to his food until we were through--and then he decided to eat everything in front of him. This afternoon I had a bit of wine and chocolate and a nice nap, and then tonight I had a sip of wine on the front porch with my neighbor--it's as warm as early September but the early dark makes you know winter is coming even if the temperature doesn't. Tonight I plan to finish the Margaret Truman novel I started yesterday--yeah, a decadent but lovely Sunday.
I'm in an accomplishing mood, after being sure Christmas would sneak up on me unawares. My freezer now holds a cheeseball and two sets of cookies; my Christmas card envelopes are addressed, as are the envelopes for a Christmas party; Christmas presents are spread out on the guest bed, waiting to be wrapped--Jordan will come Tuesday to get down my Christmas stuff. In turn I'll feed her salmon and broccoli--she's on South Beach. And I did a lot of those little things that boggle this weekend--packed up some of Jordan's china so I could put the new china I bought on that shelf, found a place for some new books, and swore that I would weed my bookcase. I am being overrun with books--and parting with any one is so hard!
What mood I'm not in is a go-to-church mood, and I'm a bit puzzled about that. It's not a lack of faith or a change in faith, and I am well aware that faith is best nurtured in a community of faith. I know those arguments and believe them, and I value the support and warm friendship I feel at my church. Yet I can find more things to do on Sunday. I think a real part of it is that I am tired of going to church alone. Someday, I'm sure, Jordan and Christian will put Jacob in Sunday school, and start going to church--you can't put a child in church without attending yourself--and I have friends who intend to start going to my church. When they do maybe I will. Meantime, my conscience bothers me--but not enough. I've talked to the Lord about it but I have no idea what his response is.
Busy week coming up with lots of work at the office but not many extracurricular activities, which is good. Oh, yes, TCU Press had a signing yesterday--13 of the 14 contributors to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women were in Barnes & Noble signing the book. We sold an astounding 72 copies in the first hour, sent out for another 12 copies, and sold all but two of those. Read about it at
Have a blessed week.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Random Thoughts

I'm watching Bill Moyers interview Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilzation and other important books. Cahill is writing a book now on the death penalty, a departure in subject matter for him. He's following one Texas case of a man executed in 2004, and he makes a lot of good points--change in society comes not from governments from movements within countries (such as Desmond Tutu and his group in Africa), that the urge for violence, to execute is some primitive instinct that lingers in all of us but the mark of civilization is to live in peace. Lots of lessons for our country, domestically and internationally. Cahill is a learned, erudite and completely accessible and likeable man. And as a longtime opponent to the death penalty, I applaud his views--and his forthcoming book.
Met another likeable man today--one of our authors who came all the way from Wyoming to take the office staff to lunch (he'd already sent us a beautiful bouquet) and sign his new novel at three bookstores. I wondered a bit--he has been so persistent about promotion, although he's done it all himself and on his own nickel, that I feared he might be pushy. He turned out to be a really nice, down to earth guy who has done some amazing things--like starting a radio station in a small Alaskan town where he taught English for some 25 years. Bob Cherry's novel, Moving Serafina, is set in his native West Texas and is well done (of course it is or we wouldn't have published it!). But it's a pleasure when an author turns out to be so pleasant to work with and so willing. I bet his book will sell well. What an author is willing to do makes all the difference.
I got in the Christmas mode today. Did my first baking--oatmeal brown sugar bars with dried cranberries, a bit of orange juice, chocolate bits, and pecan pieces (I'm relishing the crumbs that didn't cut smoothly.) Then I emptied what I call my "gift closet" onto the guest bed--of course, I found things I'd forgotten I'd bought and had no idea who I intended them for. I try to keep a list on my computer but it usually gets away from me. I also found I had three and four gifts for some people who are easy to buy for--the kind that so many things you see strike you as "just right" for them--and none for some of the not-so-easy people in my family. I know my early start on the holidays frustrates some of my family who do things at the last minute--Megan, I'm sure, has barely begun to think about shopping--but it's the way I get things done. By the week before Chirstmas I predict I'll be all done and back to working on my writing.
I am, with many thanks to the powers that be, back to myself after whatever bug hit me earlier in the week. It's like coming out of a great fog but it sure feels good. Tomorrow is a luncheon with all the contributors to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women followed by a signing with all of us at a nearby Barnes & Noble. Should be fun.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sick days

Yesterday was not my finest day. Monday night, really about 1 a.m. Tuesday, some sort of intestinal but attacked me and I got no sleep the rest of the night. Yesterday I wandered around like a zombie, though I did manage to change the bed and do a wash, take the garbage carts to the street, shower and wash my hair, and answer a few emails. But I kept going back to bed. when I was up, I thought I wanted to be down; when I was down, I thought I wanted to be up (down generally won). Went to bed at 5:30 last night, and except for brief upright periods, stayed there until 7:30 this morning. It's funny what a day like that does to you--kind of draws you into yourself so that you can't imgine ever feeling different or ever caring about what's going on in the larger world.
Today I am feeling much better (although my stomach hasn't quite gotten that message--I'm eating lots of yogurt and drinking ginger ale, the remedy from my childhood.) But I'm more on top of my world, dealing with office issues, writing a short piece, etc. My normal routine would have been to rush back to work but maybe age does bring a bit of wisdom. When I got up this morning, I thought, "No, I'll give myself one more day." And at 1:30 I have already had one nap and am about to take another.
Back to the world tomorrow.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Grandkids, weddings, and leftovers

By all reports the Texas Book Festival was, more than anything else, almost unbearably hot. Various presses display their books in large white temporary tents, and I've been in those tens when they were wet and freezing. This year, they were sweltering. Still, even with crowds in the thousands, it sounds a little more peaceful than Saturday night at my house. Five of my grandchildren and two sets of their parents were here. Four of those kids are four and under so there was lots of yelling and running and occasional tears and metldowns. It was a lovely, happy, absolutely exhausting time. Jordan left Jacob with us while she went to a birthday dinner, so we all took turns watching him--he is busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. Jamie, whose girls are four and eight now, said, "I'd forgotten how tiring it is." Then, almost puzzled, he said, "I don't remember the girls being that busy." Jacob is used to my house being a lot quieter, and he loved every minute of the fun but by the time his mommy came his eyes were glazed over and he pointed to the door, as if to say, 'Okay, let's go now."
Sunday we went to breakfast which stretched into an hour-and-a-half and then to the bookstore and by then it was time for everyone to clean up for my sister-in-law's wedding reception. I was one proud mom with the five parents and five grandchildren sitting at the table with me. Kristine, the bride, said it really delighted her to look over and see our branch of the family there. It's nice to see someone look as radiantly happy as she did, and I'm delighted that both she and my brother have built new happy lives and marriages for themselves. There were funny moments--when the bride and groom were about to cut the cake and everyone stood around watching them, three-year-old Sawyer ran right up to the table like he was going to taste the icing. Megan crept up to get him. And there was a moment of crisis--Jordan in the lady's room with a baby with a dirty diaper, no wipes, no paper towels, trying to call our cell phones (none of us had them on). She got so distracted chasing Jacob, she left for my house, set off the alarm, and had to deal with the police. It was not her day. But it was Kristine's day, and here's to her happiness.
We planned to come home and eat leftovers before everyone departed for their own homes but we ate too much at the reception--good appetizers, veggies, cheese, etc. There were artichoke bottoms garnished with chopped tomato and herbs. Edie dumped the tomatoes (which she used to love) off about five of them and ate the artichoke part. And the cake! Ford and Sawyer ate chunks of icing off their mother's fork, and Sawyer ate his own piece of cake.
We were too full and too tired by 6 p.m. to think about barbecue--the Austin family left, Christian came by for two seconds, and they all left. I was home alone with way too much barbcue and a big bunch of marinated vegetables, to say nothing of brownies and a tub of ice cream that I don't want! I sent an SOS to Sue next door to send over her kids to collect it. I'll have to deal with the barbecue somehow.
By 7 p.m., the house was pretty much in order--the little kids do a great job of taking it apart and the big kids are equally good at putting it back together again. I sat at my desk eating veggies (the same kind that Madde ate for breakfast, a huge bowl!) and a half a barbecue sandwich and reflected on a truly great, if short, weekend.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blogs, cooking--and an almost disappointment

Yesterday I accomplished two big things. At the office I created the official TCU Press blog, "The Bookish Frog" ( and even at home I continued to fiddle with it. I was inordinately proud of myself for learning to add hit counters to that site and this one, put in links to other blogs, etc. I know blogs can be complicated and there are people who make a science out of managing their blog. I tend to do what I do with all computer technology--learn just enough to get by. When I get stymied, I sit at my office desk and yell, "Melinda!" She always rescues me.
Yesterday I heard from one of the people for whom managing a blog is a science. Her name is Cheryl, and she manages a western romance writers blog called Petticoats and Pistols ( She asked me to be a guest blogger in February and explained the technicalities--sending a picture or telling her where she can "grab" it on the net. She also talked about the relative merits of varous site counters, which took a bit of the wind out of my sails because I felt lucky just to have discovered how to do any old one.
Cooking was my other accomplishment yesterday. I made a huge pot of crockpot barbecue (even made a double batch of sauce) and a large salad of marinated vegetables, which all my kids and most of my grandkids love. By the end of the day, the kitchen was clean, barbecue and sauce was in the fridge along with the vegetables, plastic plates ready--all set to go. My plan included asking grandchildren to make brownies and sour cream dip when they get here. Effortless entertaining--well, not really, yesterday was a long kitchen day and my back ached at the end of it.
But this morning Megan called from Austin to announce she thought she had strep throat and they probably wouldn't come. She was terribly disappointed, and so was I. She went to the doctor--and called a while later to say it's not strep and they are coming. Meantime I had jumped the gun and alerted Jordan and Jamie that the Austin group wasn't coming, so I had to reverse course and say it was a false alarm. One-year-old Ford has a cold, though, and Jordan is not so sure about her plan to leave Jacob here while she goes to a friend's birthday dinner. Knowing Megan, she had not even thought about packing for herself or the boys (except to lay out the book I asked her to bring) so she said it would be "hours" before they left (this at 11 a.m. to a mother who firmly believes trips should start no later than 7 a.m.). She had said, "Don't freeze the barbecue--we're coming" but then I asked if they'd be here for dinner and got the disconcerting answer, "We'll try." I'm practicing my relaxed mode--que sera, sera.
I have a new children's book assignment. I was offered a choice of a long list of topics in three areas, and I chose medicine and the specific topic of vaccines. It's a fairly short book and shouldn't be hard--there's lots of valid information on the web--but it's due mid-January. With the holidays looming between now and then I decided I could only take one topic. After all I have to put together a tree trimming party, wrap presents (most are purchased), and, of course, worry a lot about getting everything done. My prediction: I will have it all done the week before Christmas and spend that week working on the vaccine project.
I'm also working away at my small book on Great Texas Chefs and having lots of fun. I have no idea how to gauge length--recipes do take a lot of pages. I've done several--have to track down the chefs and get their approval. This project got me into correspondence with a woman whose cookbook I admire above all others: Terry Thompson-Anderson and Texas on a Plate.
Enough. I'm going to start reading about vaccines and not even wonder when my wandering family will get here.
You know, I could pack myself and two kids for an overnight trip in half an hour--hour at the most! Oops, there I go again!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Books, food and Halloween

It's always fun to get one of my books in finished form. Today I got author's copies of Audie Murphy: War Hero and Movie Star, a short book for 4th graders. It's part of the Stars of Texas Series from State House Press. The topics of these books are determined by the list of people Texas 4th graders are expected to be familiar with for the TAKS test. I'm not sure, personally, about Murphy in this category. He fought bravely in the European theater of World War II and was such an excellent marksman that the number of enemy soldiers he killed is high. Discharged, he went to Hollywood and became a movie star--but it was sort of an on-again, off-again career that spiraled downward, in large part due to his problems with what we now call post-traumatic stress but which then was generally unrecognized. Still, young boys will probably revel in the tales of his war adventures. I just don't think I'd have liked him if I met him, although he was supposedly charmingly boyish and shy. And he did have to work hard to overcome his farmer's drawl--and the walk that looked like he was in the cotton patch. If you check back here in 24 hours, there'll be a picture of the cover.
Yesterday was a long day that made me realize how much I count on my afternoon nap. Just about the time I was getting ready to take a nap, the Dish Network guy came and stayed, for two long hours. The first receiver he put in didn't receive or whatever. But he finally left, and I spent a very happy evening watchng the food channel while sitting at my desk--I'd never been able to get the food channel before, and I loved it! This new addiction, which probably means I'll never write another word, began when I was in Frisco babysitting four-year-old Edie. We watched idly on Saturday, but Sunday morning, after watching Meet the Press which she couldn't possibly have understood, she said, "Juju, I'd like to watch the food channel now." We watched it all day, me with one eye while cooking dinner and occasionally stopping to sit with her on the couch. I've asked her folks to tell her we can watch it here now.
Tonight is Halloween, not my favorite holiday. I think way too much is made of it. I know that sounds curmudgeonly, but TV programs (even the food channel) are full of Halloween, and today I went to lunch at a restaurant where a huge contingent of costumed people filled the sidewalk tables. At Central Market the other day I was studying a shelf of something and looked up to see such a realistic straw man that I almost threw my hands in the air in surprise. Halloween seems to me a celebration for young children (yes, I know the religious tradition from which it comes--we just did a book on the Day of the Dead, which is slowly turning into a Mexican Halloween instead of the religious festival it was meant to be). When I had small children, I enjoyed it, and I've loved the few Halloweens I've spent with grandchildren. But generally I bring the dog in, turn off the lights, and ignore those few trick or treaters who don't take seriously the signal of my dark porch. Jacob is having a party tonight--such a clever child at 16 months!--and I was going to go, but the more I thought about it, the more it didn't feel right. I want to bring Scooby inside so he doesn't bark all night, and I don't want to come home to stumble across a dark front porch (peppered with this year's acorn crop, and if you stop on one in the dark, you're liable to go flying). So I called Jordan with my regrets, and she didn't even protest. I'm savoring the thought of a lamb chop and green salad.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stuff about nothing

My brother complained last night that I don't post as often as I used to, and I replied that if I did it would have "and then I did this . . . and then I did that" quality, which is a red flag to me in a manuscrpt. I've been busy but some days it beats me if I know doing what.
Sunday was a hectic day with two signings for the brand new book, Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, but they were the kind of signings a publisher dreams of. I took 24 copies to a Sunday school group at Trinity Episcopalian Church, where Katie, the editor, was speaking. Sold 23 (one was damaged) and could have sold four or five more. Then in the afternoon all the contributors were at a funky small gallery on the East Side. They requested 30 books, sold the 35 I brought in the first half hour, and took orders for another 25.

I came home and put the finishing touches on supper for Linda and Rodger from Granbury. We sat on the porch, drinking wine, eating salsa and chips, and laughing a lot. The pinto bean soup for dinner was delicious--I doctored the recipe by browning the chopped onion and garlic before adding it and adding four boullion cubes to the cooking liquid. But Linda was in severe pain from a bad knee, and it got worse when she tried to stand up at the dinner table. Seems she's facing double knee replacement but the surgery can't be scheduled until late January.
The Scottish mystery wasn't quite as exhilarating as I expected. It's set in Glasgow, not the most picturesque place in Scotland, and the people are dysfunctional (they call it mental of knackers). There's a slight bit of drug dealing--the protagonist's brother--and lots of use of the F-word, along with dialect that I sometimes have to guess at. but I'm hooked enough that I'll finish it. Maybe today, since I'm stuck at home waiting for the DISH man to hook up my office TV and upgrade my service, so Edie and I can watch the food channel. I do however have work to do--am ready to draft a piece on Merrill and Paul Bonarrigo, owners of the Messina Hof Vineyard and Restaurant.
This weekend Megan and family are coming, and, I hope, Jamie and his family. I've bought a huge chuck roast to make barbecue, and if there are only three adults, I'll have a lot left over! I haven't seen Megan's boys, Sawyer and Ford, since August, so I'm anxious to see them.
A note about how lucky I am to have good friends: tomorrow morning at 8:30 I have to have a routine echocardiogram, but it always makes me nervous. When Jordan has to have hers, Christian goes with her. So Betty is going with me, and I'm most grateful. Besides, I don't like self-service elevators alone, and by the time I climb to the fourth floor, I'm out of breath and my blood pressure is high, not auspicious in a cardiologist's office!
I just got the signing check for leasing the gas rights to my property. It's worth about two-and-a-half children's books, which strikes me as funny. I work so hard on those books and this money I got for just signing my name. Off to the bank tomorrow morning!

Friday, October 26, 2007

What a Week!

Whoosh! What a week! I came home about about two this Friday afternoon and thought gratefully that I don't have to do anything I don't want to for the next day and a half. My week was filled with small chores--a flu shot, cooking two company dinners, turning in my rent car and getting my VW back (thank heaven). I'd been driving a PT Cruiser while my VW bug convertible was getting the dent pounded out where a woman driving an "old lady's car"--a steamboat she couldn't steer--gently bumped into the side of my car. It may have been gentle but it left a good dent. Both my brother and my younger daughter thought it was embarrassing that I was driving a PT Cruiser, and truth to tell I didn't like it nearly as well as my car. In fact, I got so flummoxed by getting the car switch done and then rushing to the grocery to have supper supplies for Jordan and family that night I forgot an appointment with my boss--not good politics, but she was very understanding.
But there were bigger things in my week: a meeting of the TCU Press Advisory Council (went well, came up with good suggestions and ideas), a talk to a senior level marketing class, a talk to a local women's group of about 20 on one of our new books. I had a couple of important business lunches--always looking for projects and partners in publishing--a meeting about finances, and a conference with a woman who's done a children's book on cleaning up our rivers. As an academic press, children's books are not our thing, but this might be a public service project.
Tonight I'm home itching to read a good book, though first I may work a bit on my book on great Texas chefs. I drafted a piece on Terry Thompson-Anderson last night. She cooks with Creole and French influences and does a lot of game, like quail with black coffee gravy (sounds wonderful!)
The week also brought interesting possible projects to the press, particularly the idea of a book on Texas Congressional legislators--Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Jim Wright, and a host of others. In general I am out of patience with politicians, from national to local. I read with amusement this morning that the White House press secretary justified the "editing" of the recent report on the environment to emphasize the positive aspects of global warming. Excuse me? It seems she did a spin that said it was good for the world because it keeps people from freezing to death. Makes me feel we're living in the dark ages of superstition.
And then there's the local city council member who "outed" a candidate for the council at a public meeting. That particular candidate has been public about his lifestyle for many years, but to bring it up in a joking manner at a fundraiser was unbelievably crude, and I resent that the man who did it (I won't use the term gentleman) serves on our city council. I write letters to the editor and try to make my voice heard so often that I am sure they're tired of me and grateful for their once-a-month rule.
Tomorrow I'm going to Central Market, a trip I always enjoy, and I'm going to cook a huge pot of pinto bean soup for company Sunday night. And I've got a new mystery to read--Garnett Hill by Denise Mina. It's set in Glasgow and was one of several Scottish mysteries I found listed in an article by a friend in the TCU Retireees Newsletter. In the spirit of my learning about all things Scottish, I thought I should read it. Strictly duty, you understand.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Museums and Presbyterians

Last night I went to the signing for the Day of the Dead book at the Museum of the Americas in Weatherford. The museum is one of those undiscovered treasures that exist throughout America--and it's fun to discover it and then share it with friends. Owner Harold Lawrence gave us a little background--a retired professor of English, he's been collecting for over 50 years and his wife for over 30. Their collections complement but do not echo each other. The front half of the museum--one huge room with magnificent old wooden display cases--is "his." It showcases artifacts from all over North America, almost exclusively Native American things but not just the Southwest. All areas of the country are recognized, particuarly Harold's native Northwest. Clothing, food vessels, an amazing collection of arrowheads, too much to mention and certainly too much to absorb in one visit (this was my second visit). And all of it carefully labelled. The labelling of the large arrowhead collection most amazed me--they arrived all jumbled together in a box. Harold sorted, identified, mounted and made signage.
The back half of the former storefront displays Elizabeth's interests in Latin and South America, especially Mexico. There are four smaller areas back there, and last night one room was devoted to a wonderfully colorful and authentic Day of the Dead altar, modeled in part on one of the photographs in our book.
Ward, author of the text, gave an informal but charming and informative talk on the custom of the Day of the Dead, and then people milled, looked, drank wine and ate Elizabeth's wonderful food--and generally had a good time. (I hope they also bought books!) It was an eclectic crowd--mostly older (look who's talking) but wonderfully friendly and enthusiastic.
Afterward my neighbor Sue and I had supper at Sapristi's--she ate mussels, which I'm a little bit leery about trying but might well love, and I had a Caesar salad and a decadent chocolate mousse.
This morning I went to nearby St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church with my friend Betty. We wanted to see the Kirken O' the Tartans (Blessing of the Tartans). Eight bagpipers were accompanied by several drummers and followed by a parade of tartans--wish I knew more about identifying the various plaids, but I don't. The thunderous music was thrilling, reason enough to be there. But I found the church interesting--I know of course that the Presbyterian church traces back to Scotland, but I didn't realize how heavily they rely on Scottish creeds and prayers and how often they refer to Scotland. I've been to other Presbyterian churches--indeed grew up in one that was a combined Presbyterian/Congregational congregaton--and still don't remember that. So it may be this church and this particular service. Otherwise, the service was more formal and full of ritual than mine, although the Disciples are an offshoot of Calvinism. Still I'm used to hearing ministers pray from the heart rather than read a prescribed prayer, and I'm not used to the congregation reciting so many creeds. And then there's the issue of that focus on how sinful we are . . . . well, I won't be transferring my membership but I enjoyed the morning immensely.
The service ended with the recession of the tartans and once again, they were escorted by the pipers and drummers. Betty offered to leave early but I wouldn't hear of it. Somehow though we were the first out the door, to be greeted with the people bearing tartans on standards lining the walk away from the church--nobody followed us, so we made that long walk (I suspect there was twenty tartans displayed) by ourselves feeling a little as if we were walking the gauntlet, though all the tartan bearers smiled and greeted us happily. I sort of wanted to linger and ask each what clan they represented.
Now a quick nap and then off to a party at a friend's lake house. Quite a weekend.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


This is a lovely weekend in Fort Worth--sunny, beautifully clear, cool this morning, almost 90 this afternoon. But lovely enough that I served cocktails on the porch last night and lunch--leftovers--today.
The photographer and author of our Day of the Dead book are in the area promoting the book. Late yesterday afternoon good friends Sharon and Bill Benge met them at my house, and Sharon did an interview for the arts show she does weekly on WRR FM. Then I served wine and antipasto and sent them off to sign books for two hours at Barnes & Noble. Turns out Sharon's favorite place is Oxaca, with most of Mexico coming in close behind, so they all had lots to talk about. Denis, the photographer, has in recent years, also made three trips to Cuba and is proposing a book to us called Capturing Cuba. Day of the Dead, after two months, is a rip-roaring success, so yes, we're interested. Now that we have cracked--okay, Melinda has cracked--the secrets of publishing four-color in China, we're lining p all kinds of coffee table projects that should help our bottom line immensely. Also they're lovely, books that make me glow with pride that we did them. Of course, I can't retire!
Today I called a friend who has had knee surgery and picked her up--we hit DSW Shoe Warehouse and Barnes & Noble and then came back here to eat leftover pickled baby corn, salami and cheese, southwestern tuna, olives, dolma, whatever was left from last night. Made a satisfying lunch, and once again it was lovely on the porch. This afternoon I'm playing catch-up, but I find myself putting off my great chefs project. I'm just going to have to get firm with myself and get it done.I have all these gorgeous cookbooks sitting on my desk, waiting to be written about! But I keep getting distracted by mysteries, and today I bought three set in Scotland. Which reminds me that tomorrow, I'm going to a nearby Presbyterian church to hear the Kirken on the Tartans--I'm not quite sure what it is, but I know it involves bagpipes, so I'm excited.
Tonight a small privately owned museum in Weatherford, about 30 miles away, is opening their annual Day of the Dead celebration, and there's a big reception. Our book, our photographer, and our author are featured. My neighbor Sue and I will go and then stop on the way home for a glass of wine and a snack. I hope, of course, that they sell a lot of books. Check it out on and see how beautiful it truly is: Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos with photography by Denis Defibaugh and text by Ward Albro.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book clubs, mineral rights, and baby kisses

Oooh--I just got back from eating chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes at the Star Cafe, where I used to work. I'd forgotten how good it is--and how full it makes me feel.
This morning I talked to a book club, at the invitatoin of a friend from my church. Ten ladies, including my good friend Betty. I was to talk about my short story collection, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and Other Stories, which I did but then the conversation veered off into books in general and publishing in detail. The ladies had questions about self-publishing, electronic books, all kinds of things. For me, the conversation was an ego boost. I think that what I do every day is just plain common sense and anyone could do it, but they kept talking about my knowledge of an entirely different world--the books I referred to, the terminology I used, the knowledge I had. And it made me feel good, like "Hey, I really do have an area of expertise!" I am really comfortable and at ease talking to small groups like that where I can perch on a footstool and have a conversation--just don't put me before a podium and a formal audience. These ladies had read the short stories and were enthusiastic about them, asking questions about specific stories and their origins, and so on. I came away feeling good about my career and my storytelling.
Ever since the Barnett Shale was discovered in North Texas, my neighborhood has been in a dither about mineral rights. Companies planned to put a drill pad on 8th Avenue, uncomfortably close to some of my distant neighbors. The neighborhood association urged us to act as a group and wait while a committee, including several lawyers, hammered out an agreement, which they did. It includes a more distant drilling site and a much better signing fee, plus the company donated a nice sum to the neighborhood park that we're building. So we're all set to sign. But today I got a contract from that company, plus one from a company that had not negotiated with the neighborhood and did plan to drill on 8th Avenue but was offering $1,000 more for sign-up (about $250 for most of us). So the dither began again, with a flurry of emails on the neighborhood news. I voiced my opinion that we should stay with the people who listened to our quality of life concerns, and most seemed to agree. But there it is--that uncertainty again. Given my druthers, I'd not sign at all. But I see that as a gesture as futile as spitting in the wind--drilling is inevitable, and if it's going to come anyway I might as well take the signing fee. Yes, it's going to be an enormous boost to the economy of this area--but you can't help worrying about risk and disruption of our peaceful neighborhood. I'm all for progress, but sometimes it's really painful to know which is the right course.
Jordan and Jacob were playing at a friend's house close to me tonight and ran by for a hug because Jordan knows I like to either hug my children or at least talk to them before they leave town. And all of the kids fly to California tomorrow for a weekend with their father. So after I gave Jordan a hug, I called the others. I somehow feel it's important to say, "Be careful, be safe, enjoy." A bonus tonight: Jacob has started giving kisses. He says "MMMmmmm" and puckers his little mouth. So adorable!