Sunday, January 28, 2007


I've often thought of myself as a sort of naive Pollyana waltzing through life always believing the best is just around the corner. It occurs to me that my blog reflects that. Other people write caustic, controversial, revealing blogs--I could spice mine up with some of the day to day happenings of my life, but the things that come to mind might hurt or embarrass someone I care about or they'd amount to picking on/making fun of people I don't know. So I am writing this sort of calm, perhaps boring blog about what I do from day to day. For me, it's like keeping a journal. One friend, who is sure I am exposing myself to every pervert in the world, said she's just too private to share her thoughts. I kind of like sharing my thoughts.
This has been a wonderful lazy weekend. Got my Oprah Winfrey project completed--waiting for her newest book choice on Friday--and sent it to the publisher; then another project I thought was long gone came back to hit me, needing "reorganization"--took quite a bit of time, but I got it off too. And I went back to my mystery. I expected to have to read the whole thing over to get back into it, but that didn't happen. I picked right up where I left off, could see things that were supposed to happen next, and began writing. I think I'm writing the last chapter of the first draft right now.
But tonight, company, so I cooked today. Meatballs in red wine gravy, buttered green noodles, a wonderful casserole of Brussel sprouts and artichoke hearts coated with a mayo/Parmigiano mixture, homemade double chocolate cookies with ice cream (the cookies have two kinds of Ghiardelli chocolate chips in them--decadent!). I thought to serve homemade pesto for an appetizer but inherited a whole lot of cheese cubes and crackers from a happy hour at the office Thursday, so I've spruced that up with fresh fruit and some wonderful pecans boiled in maple syrup--a neighbor gets the pecans from West Texas and the syrup from his family in New England. What a combination. As a last-minute inspiration I put the whole thing in a ten-gallon hat dish Jordan and Christian gave me several Christmases ago, and it really looks smart--the nuts are in the top of the hat (the crown?) and the fruit and cheese are arranged on the brim. I know, however, that my guests are good liberals, so I hope they don't eat all the nuts and uncover the top of the hat, which says "Western White House, Crawford, Texas"! That's one of my two Republican sons-in-law! How did they happen to a yellow dog Democrat like me? But I love them both.

Friday, January 26, 2007


It's Friday afternoon, and I'm tucked in for the weekend, except for a trip to the grocery tomorrow morning. Some weeks, I dread Saturday and Sunday because they can seem long and empty days to a person living alone, no matter how much work is on the desk--or elsewhere. But this has been an unusually busy week--I've had something to do every night, me, who is used to settling down at my computer after dinner. I did none of that. And my days were filled with meetings, work, obligations. So I'll settle in and do the two things I like best--write and cook.
Friends are coming for supper Sunday. I'll serve some really good meatballs--the large kind, not the little ones you roll by hand--with red wine gravy and buttered noodles, plus a great vegetable dish my neighbor's mother served me--Brussel sprouts and artichoke hearts baked in a mayonnaise/Parmesan sauce. I thought to make a fancy appetizer with my homemade pesto, but we had a happy hour at the press and lots of cheese cubes left over, so I'll freshen those with some fruit. And dessert? Ice cream--I think I'll serve it in coffee cups, because I don't have any small dishes that match the dishes I'll use--and homemade double chocolate chip cookies (Ghiardelli chocolate, of course!). Jordan said I better have some of those left over, and I will, but I think I'll freeze them for the trip she and I will take, with Jacob, to Houston next week to see Colin, Lisa, Morgan, and the new house.
But I also want to clear the decks so I can get back to my mystery. That means sending in my results from judging a novel contest--check! just did that; editing a short piece submitted by an author--check! just did that; doing a final reading of the Oprah manuscript and sending in it--I'm waiting to see what new book she chooses this afternoon. And I really want to finish the Sue Grafton book I'm reading. Then my desk will be clear for the mystery, although my conscience may send me to the office to get the novel I'm editing there.
I wonder if it's a sign of aging--and hope not--that I, who was always willing to go almost anywhere and didn't want to sit home, am now so delighted to have a long weekend at home. But next week it starts all over again--company Sunday, class Monday, out to dinner Tuesday and Wednesday!
A note on my non-gourmet tastes: had dinner last night in an upscale restaurant (a university dinner for a visiting candidate) and the food was too much--the sauce on my steak too rich, the chile in the chocolate mousse too strong. I adore chocolate mousse and thought ancho chile, supposedly light, might add a nice zing Wrong! the first bite was good but thereafter it got hotter with each bite. I quit after five bites. A dinner companion said she thought after this, she'd take her mousse plain, and I agree.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cooking in Cold Weather

It's one of those bone-chilling days, not really so cold but so wet that one is perpetually cold. Compulsive that I am I was out early to two grocery stores--Central Market for meat and lettuce, Minyard's for canned goods, etc. Now I'm home with chicken cooking for King Ranch casserole--Jordan's choice for tomorrow night--and an acorn squash baking for my supper tonight. Last night I went to a German restaurant and was served way too much excellent schnitzel, so I'm thinking of creative ways to use it today--in a sandwich at lunch and refreshed under the broiler at dinner. I'm in for the rest of the day--too cold to venture out again if I don't have to.
It occurs to me that I'm always rewriting my cookbook in my head and should get it down on paper. For instance, Megan said she doesn't make King Ranch because she hates shredding the meat. I need to change "boil an old hen" to "salt and pepper 2-1/2 full chicken breasts, top with a few onion rings, cover the pan with foil and bake." Much easier and better for you. And every time I visit Megan I learn--or relearn--something. This time she reminds me to use Kosher salt in cooking and at the table--much better.
I'm also adding new recipes. My latest is shepherd's pie. Megan and Brandon remembered the English version and were distinctly uninterested, but I persevered and made a great casserole they both loved. Just ground meat and vegetables in a beef gravy (added some ketchup), topped with sour-cream garlic mashed potatoes and then with grated cheese. Brandon didn't even mind the broccoli he says I snuck in, but I think Christian is afraid I'll put peas in it.
A wonderful day for reading and writing, and I plan to do both. I'm tired of being perpetually cold and am really bundled up--three layers on top, cozy flannel pants and knee socks. Torn between letting Scooby in out of the rain and having a fire--the two aren't compatible.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Home Again

Home again, and already missing the grandsons and their parents. We left Austin yesterday morning, and other than closed freeways in downtown Austin, the trip was uneventful--dry roads almost empty of traffic most of the way. Even saw the sun a time or two, but only briefly. We stopped in the heaviliy Czech town of West for lunch at a small cafe, which was fun.
Today, it's rainy and cold--may not be below freezing, but it feels like 10 or so outside. I'm cold inside the house all the time, even though I'm bundled up and have turned the heat up. This afternoon, I brought Scooby inside, and the two of us had a long, lovely nap, both warm and comfortable. I'm about to go back to bed, just to get warm.
It's hard to get back into routine--I feel that I've lost track of a thousand threads of my life and am only slowly catching up with them. The week ahead looks busy--house guests, some down-home cooking, a mosaic class at church. The latter interests me--we're to make wooden crosses, and although the tiles will be supplied, we can bring chipped dishes if we want. I have eaten off Blue Willow all my life, so I'm taking some chipped plates. A Blue Willow cross sounds lovely to me.
The only other accomplishment I can think of is that I astounded Megan and Brandon by singing "Mairzy doats and doezy doats" to them--they spent an entire evening trying to learn it. Brandon still hasn't mastered it, but his botched attempts send Sawyer into hysterics. And little Ford, at 3 mos., would crinkle his face in a smile when I sang it to him. Megan found a website that said the song was written in 1943, but my brother, John, remembers that his father taught it to him--and his father died in 1934. Somewhere we found a reference to it as an "old English ditty." The little things that make family memories.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dreams and Difficulties

Difficulties first--I've had a terrible time logging in. Somehow didn't recognize my username, even though it pulled up the name, and it didn't recognize the computer I'm using because I'm in Austin on my daughter's computer. Iit looks like I may be in Austin half the tomorrow. I love being here and playing with my grandsons and cooking for the big people, but I feel the pressure of things to do at home. Meantime half my mind is in Fort Worth, worrying about my house and dog. Now the storm has passed there but is getting worse here--what a weekend to pick to travel. We have a cozy fire, and I'm reading a good mystery, keeping up with various TCU projects via email.
This fall I had a chance to meet briefly, over a glass of iced tea, with one of my heroes, a top-selling mystery author whose work I particularly enjoy. I really looked forward to it and, I guess naively, thought we'd have lots in common and chatter away like magpies. Instead it was an awkward meeting, and I was sorry I'd gone. Onstage that night, she was brilliant, funny, witty, all that I'd hoped she'd be in person. (To be fair I later learned she had just found out about a family tragedy.) The other night though I dreamt I met another author--not the same one--and we became instant friends, part mentor/protege. I don't now remember it all, but I think she decided to come teach at TCU. I woke with a glowing feeling--at 3 a.m. When I went back to sleep, I met someone who liked to cook, as I do, and we were in a huge, very modern kitchen in a strange city--Seattle?--cooking with a group of people. Some of them were related to me, but I surely didn't recognize them. I can still see one man's face. So what do these dreams mean? I'm not one who goes in much for dream analysis, like the theory that the dream we all have of failing school relates to childhood feelings of inferiority. I used to dream all the time that it was time for finals and I'd never been to class, couldn't even find the classroom. More recently, I dreamt that it was a class I was teaching but I kept forgetting to go to it. Sure, I had childhood insecurities, but I tend more to think dreams reflect what's on our minds at the time. I distinctly remember going to sleep that night thinking about the next development in my mystery, and cooking was on my mind because I had been talking to Megan about what she'd like me to cook for them. Then, too, the fact that I'm sleeping on an inflatable air mattress may have something to do with strong dreams! It's pretty comfortable, but I make quite a sight trying to get up from it. At any rate, I hope no dream analyst comments on this post!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Green Noodles

Two good friends came for supper tonight. We meant to go out, but things got tangled--I thought one of them was too sick for supper--and I ended up cooking, which suits me fine. I fixed green noodles. Years ago, before I ever had children, my brother's then-wife told me that one night when he was coming to dinner and she had nothing to serve, she melted some butter and added lemon, cooked some pasta and coated it with the lemon butter, and that was dinner. I used to serve it to my kids, only I used spinach fettucine, and then I added sliced green onion and mushrooms--the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. The kids knew it as agreen noodles. In recent years, I've embellished it more. Since I've been making and freezing my own pesto, I add a cube of that and then, if I have it on hand, I add a can of quartered artichoke hearts (I had that tonight). Just before serving, I put a liberal amount of grated Parmeson (Parmigiano Reggiano, not the canned stuff--I keep it in the freezer, which probably freaks cheese gourmets but works for me). If I do say so, it was great. We ate in the living room, on our laps, with the fire going, and had a lovely relaxed evening. I had emailed Megan earlier and mentioned that I was going to fix green noodles, which is the way she remembers it, and she wrote back, "Green noodles--yummmm." I may fix it for them this weekend in Austin.
I went this week to have my hearing aids adjusted and boldly told the audiologist (a really nice man) that I wasn't a happy camper. I didn't like the way they sounded--it sounded like I was in a wind tunnel, and everyone's voice sounded hollow to me; I couldn't tolerate the aids in restaurants or small crowds, even in my own living room; in the car, I heard the road noise but not what someone was saying to me He disappeared with the aids, came back and said, "I don't like the way they sound either." He adjusted them, and they are ever so much better. So tonight, just for the three of us, I put them in--and lo! I could hear what the others were saying clearly, without having to ask, "What?" It was a great revelation.
I'm going to Austin this weekend to see Megan and Brandon, Sawyer and Ford, before Meg has to go back to work from maternity leave. Meg has been really pushing me about the hearing aids, so I'm sure she'll be glad of this new "hearing" me. I called today to make sure it was all right if I came on short notice--my good friend Jim Lee is driving down and I can hitch a ride. Brandon answered with, "We were just talking about you and when you were coming to see us." When I said how about this weekend, he said, "Great. Come on." It's nice to be genuinely welcomed by your children-in-law, and I'm lucky in that respect So I'm looking forward to a good visit--and the chance to cook for them.
My writing is at a standstill. I'm stalling on a book review I have to do, because I can't get a handle on the book; I'm stalled on Oprah because I'm waiting for interlibrary loan books--although I've got a good rough draft complete and am no longer in a panic about that project; I've got to think about the class in Texas lit that I'm to teach in February, but on the way to Austin, I'll pick Jim Lee's brain and take along the book I've chosen as text; and the mystery languishes, because I can't think about it until I've got the other projects off my desk. But the other day I drove by the house that gave me the original idea--besides the configuration of my own kitchen--and the remodeling is now complete and the house is for sale. I quick called Christian--he's a vice-president of a title company--and he said it's listed at $349,000. I'm astounded--if you ever read the mystery, you'll know that it's not in that good a part of town, but it sure is lovely now.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Jacob came to visit this afternoon, while his parents went to the opening of a hot new pub. Sunday afternoon seemed a strange time to open a pub to me, but maybe that's because I'm in my sixties and they're in their thirties. Anyway, Jordan gave me directions, strict ones, on what I was do to and not do. I asked timidly what happened if I had to leave him to go to the bathroom, and I was told to lock up the cat, make sure Jacob was in the middle of the blanket on the floor, surrounded by toys, and hurry! But the big thing was that she said he would play by himself with toys but that every once in a while I should get down on the floor and play with him. (She doesn't seem to consider that it's hard for me to get back up once I'm on the floor!) I thought about it and realized I had run into a generation gap--or something. I honestly don't remember playing with my children when they were six months old--of course, after Colin, the oldest, there was always a sibling to play with the little ones. I think I thought I was there to love and nurture them, keep them clean, see that they ate and slept--but mostly love them. I didn't think I was there to play with them. Maybe it was that my generation didn't do that, and maybe it was that, as is still true today, I always have too much to do, too many things I want to accomplish--not that the world would collapse if I didn't accomplish them. Or maybe I did play with them and just can't remember it. I called a friend, a few years older even than I am, and asked her. She agreed. She never played with her babies. But I know my daughters and daughters-in-law--and the fathers too when they can--all spend long hours playing with their babies, and Lord knows, those little ones are blossoming.
Jacob and I had a pleasant afternoon--he played, and every once in a while I put down my book and went to sit on his blanket and talk to him. I had been told to give him a bottle at 5 p.m., but he started to fuss at 4:50--tried putting him in the crib and he screamed. So I thought, "Okay, what's ten minutes?" and gave him his bottle. He drank half of it and fell asleep. So I put him in his crib--and he screamed. Long story short, he took a half hour nap in my arms, frowning and snorting if I changed positions. It was a lovely, comforting experience--but I'm sure not keeping him all night. When he woke, he took the other half of the bottle and seemed happy for a few minutes--but then he was clearly unhappy, and I wasn't sure why. When his parents came home, they knew why--I'd missed a dirty diaper. I felt that I failed at babysitting, but Jordan said, "He slept in your arms, didn't he? That's love!" And she's right.
Jacob gave me a 2007 day-by-day calendar about grandmothers. I peeked just now at what it says for tomorrow, and I love it: "The family--that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Back into the routine

Sometimes I think short work weeks, like the one we've just had, seem longer. All day Wednesday I was convinced that the next day was Friday. Now it finally is Friday, and I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning and getting up to read the paper without feeling that I have to do my workout (ten minutes of stretches and 20 minutes on the exercise bike--not a lot, but I do it five days a week). I really don't like getting up at 6:15, but when it's a work day I wake up automatically and, of course, can't doze. Being compulsive is sometimes good, lots of times a pain.
I've also been fairly compulsive about working on the young-adult biography of Oprah Winfrey, havent let myself been too distracted by the Deborah Crombie novel I'm reading (I'm afraid I've now read my way through the body of her work). What a complex, complicated, hard to grasp person Oprah is--I applaud so much of what she does and says, and yet a little part of my wonders--perhaps about ego, perhaps about extravagance. If her academy in South Africa were less lavish, would she be able to help educate more children? How can you criticize someone who does so much good in the world?
My feelings about Nancy Pelosi are less complicated. For now, I'm a convinced fan. I think the lady is stylish and smart and tough and I hope she can stand her ground, especially about Iraq. It's going to be an interesting two years.
Six-month-old Jacob has become my best friend, the only person I know who ALWAYS smiles when he sees me! Such fun. He is, of course, the only grandchild close enough that I see him once or twice a week. Yesterday his mother and I took him to our favorite nice restaurant for lunch. The owner, a friend with a new baby of his own, made Jacob giggle by chewing on his fingers. Tomorrow night, Jacob will bring his parents for Twelfth Night. When I was a young child, a so-called aunt who lived two doors away used to have me burn a small bit of the Christmas tree on Twelfth Night and make a wish. So my family has continued the tradition. Of course, I didn't have a tree--and the kids have an artificial one, as does almost everyone. But we talked about the tradition at New Year's dinner, and my neighbor's father spotted a real tree put out by the curb on a neighborhood walk. He appeared at the front door with a handful of greens for me. Sue's parents are leaving tomorrow morning or I'd invite them to join us in making a wish.
My wish will involve safety and happiness for my family and friendsd and peace on earth.