Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sadness . . . but there's always Jacob

A friend's husband is dying today. He's the son of people I knew, and I was particularly fond of his mother, but both are now long gone. And I actually took tai chi from Armin--he said I was a good student, but I think he was just being kind. His wife is a contributor to Grace & Gumption, and since that group of contributors has bonded like family, we are all feeling Ruth's grief. Lately, it seems to me that too many people are seriously ill. Jeannie's husband is doing well but still in the hospital until they can wean him off oxygen; Katie's husband is recovering well at home; Melinda's father faces serious surgery; and Ruth's husband is dying. I am at a loss to know how to help, what to do, but I pray a lot these days.
I think your reaction to illness in a friend's family is a really individual thing. Knowing that Ruth is surrounded by family and has her minister with her, I have not gone, not wanted to intrude. Some of our group have expressed the same feeling to me, but others have gone to her and been welcomed. Today I sent my hugs with one of them. I have emailed and told her I am available for whatever she needs, and now it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And Armin and tai chi remind me that I am going to start yoga. My former student worker (now a long time ago), Elizabeth, has a private yoga practice and comes to your home, so I have scheduled three appointments (you get a discount if you do three at once). I expect it to be magic, of course, and I will immediately be limber, thinner, livelier, all those things. Elizabeth (the whole world except me calls her Beth) will disabuse me of that notion. And the nice part is that after our first lesson, we'll go out to dinner.
The problems my friends are dealing with make mine miniscule, but I have analyzed my mystery problem--though I've found no solution. I have confidence that the mystery is good--it's been read by people who know, and I have a track record of writing successful fiction. Plus I have a really respectable record of awards. So, okay, it's not as though I can't write. The problem is finding an agent, and I don't know how to go about that. Websites are full of generalities and lead you to lots names you can send blind queries to--a process I've so far found useless. And many of those lists cost you money, so that's not good. I've joined Sisters in Crime and then signed up for a senior sleuths chat room, which seems to have both seasoned writers and beginners, all wanting to write mysteries with protagonists who are "senior." That's not what my Dead Space is, but I have an idea for a senior sleuth, and, hey, I might learn something.
Jacob brought his mom for dinner tonight, and my neighbor Jay came for drinks, went home and got his macaroni and cheese which Jacob loved, and he and Jordan planned a Sunday night supper which will apparently feature Jay's veal piccata. Jacob decided Jay was his favorite person in the world and kept calling him B (which may be he's mixing him up with his Austin Uncle B). When Jay was leaving, Jacob ran after him for hug after hug, but my jealousy was modified when he gave me a big kiss as he left tonight. After supper, Jordan, that girl on a diet, announced a craving for chocolate, so she and Jacob shared an ice cream cup with chocolate sauce on it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Putzing and Reading

Some time ago I wrote a piece I titled "On Learning to Putz." (When it was published, it ws "On Learning to Putter" because of the anatomical implications of the "other" meaning of the Yiddish word "putz.") It was essentially on learning to do nothing and enjoy it, an art that's very hard for me to master. But today I putzed or puttered, whichever word you prefer. I slept really late, read the paper in a leisurely way, scrambled some eggs, watched "Meet the Press" (okay, so some people are convinced it will be Obama and others are just as sure it will be Hillary--when will this end?), made a cheese dip that ultimately I didn't like much--it called for ricotta which is too sweet, read through some notes (which thoroughly confused me about any project on Scots in Texas), and read. A lot of reading.
I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert--I think every second woman in this country has read it before I got around to it. It's about the author's quest for spirituality, for wholeness in her life, for meaning, a quest that she decides will take her to Italy (to eat), to an ashram in India (I presume to pray), and to Indonesia (where she must learn about love--I'm not that far into the book). I like Gilbert--she's honest about her fears and failings, her dreams and fantasies. But a part of me is hesitant, The book begins as she is leaving a marriage that no longer makes her happy. In part, from what I read, I thought she just didn't want to grow up and have a baby. Not wanting to have children is an individual choice, but growing up isn't, in my mind. And once you've committed to a relationship, I truly believe you should work to find happiness (and maturity, if need be) within the space of that relationship before severing it. Perhaps that's a reminder of my own marriage, when my husband said he was tired of taking care of others and wanted to take care of himself, a peculiar thought from the mouth of a man with four young children, the youngest of them barely six.
I also got the feeling that Gilbert sees herself as set apart, privileged somehow, maybe just a little bit cute. I thought probably this was my age showing, but my young neighbor just echoed those thoughts to me and said, "You know, if she can afford to go off like that for a year, good for her, but most of us can't." And a friend my age expressed the same reservations. Yet both of them, like me, say they enjoyed the book.
And I do like it. Her adventures in Italy are intriguing, and I truly admire a woman who will set off for Italy, Indian, and Indonesia alone. Especially since I'm the one deemed not capable of traveling alone overseas, which I am the first to admit is true. And I like her quest--like many of us of all ages, I yearn for certainty in my faith but it always alludes me. I am learning, much later than Elizabeth Gilbert, that I may have to look for it outside the church.
Linda came from Granbury for dinner, and I roasted a pork tenderloin, did some oven roasted rosemary potatoes, and a salad. It's good to visit with an old friend (almost 40 years, I suspect) in a leisurely manner--another form of putzing.
I've conducted a scientific experiment, almost accidentally. Ninnie Baird, founder of Mrs. Baird's Bakeries, had a book of household hints, among which was the fact that cucumber peel will get rid of those tiny tiny sugar ants. When I came home from Austin, I found those ants in the kitchen, so I put out some peel. I thought they would run fleeing in the other direction, but the next time I looked they were swarming all over the peel. So much for that, I thought. But the next morning, the peel was thick with very still ants. And today the ants were all gone, so I threw the peel away. Experimental success, though I'm not sure why.
No puttering tomorrow. It's a work day, and I have a long "to do" list.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How old are you?

I've been reading page proofs on a collecton of profiles written by a journalist friend. In one, she writes about an older woman who was a dear friend. In her late eighties, the woman asked Mary if she knew the secret to staying young. Mary of course didn't, and the woman said, "Pick the age at which you were happy and choose to stay that age forever." She was, she said, 35, though some days she felt 40. Mary has chosen 43. But I think I choose 33--I had two children, a happy marriage, and a life that seemed to offer endless possibilities. Still, the possibilities my life offered turned out not at all to be the ones I expected, but there were some pretty good ones. And I do still feel about 33. I noticed in Austin that I felt younger and my aches and pains disappeared. Can't figure that one out. Can't believe work makes me feel older--it's supposed to keep you younger.
Today I went to the Carter Museum with a friend to see the exhibit on the Fort Worth Circle of Artists and another on snapshots. The Carter is a building that makes me anxious--steep terrazo stairs, high open balconies, the kinds of things I don't like. And the friend I was with has knee problems and walks with a cane, very slowly, so I got uncertain on my feet just trying to slow down to her pace--I need to build up a head of steam and then I can charge right along. So it all made me more than a bit uncomfortable, but I found the exhibits interesting. After a bit (four rooms), the Fort Worth Circle got repetitive, and the snapshots were interesting, mostly for what they illustrated about the change in cameras over the years. The snapshots themselves were fun for a while, but ultimately they don't mean much if you don't know the people. Apparently though it's a big deal--there's a large and impressive book from Princeton University Press to accompany the exhibit.
Back to Scotland. I've about decided to draft an article on Scots in Texas and run it by the state magazine I sometimes write for. Maybe that's a step toward a book. I'm feeling my way here. Meantime I have a list of chores--with deadheading the iris and planning the garden at the top of the list, followed by laundry and other less interesting chores.
I've ordered a book from Sisters in Crime called Breaking and Entering about breaking into the mystery market. I'm not giving up on that project.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What a day!

What a day, indeed! I started it in Austin and ended it in an ER in Fort Worth. Jordan, Jacob and I left Austin about 10:30 and pulled into my driveway before 1:30--good time, considering it was a trip of way too many trucks and erratic drivers who sped up and slowed down for no reason and one who wavered all over the road, crossed two lanes to exit and nearly went into the ditch on the exit ramp.We surmised that at noon he was still at last night's party. Jacob survived the trip by screaming, shouting, laughing, singing, and throwing toys which he then demanded back. I may not have been driving but I was busy. Just after we passed Hillsboro, he fell asleep, woke briefly, then slept again, and we whispered. When I came in the house, I found myself whispering to the cat.
Jordan was strong and tough on the highway today and did a great job of driving, in spite of her declaration that she hates hates hates being between a concrete divider and a truck. But tonight her strength fell apart. She called about five asking how to separate two hot dogs from a frozen pack, and I advised running hot water on them and then using a table knife to pry them apart. At 5:30, she called in tears saying she'd cut herself and needed me to take her to the ER.
Of course, I flew out the door. Luckily I was dressed to go out for dinner and not in my sloppy clothes. On the rushed way over there, I thought about dinner. I had my mouth all set for a Lebanese meal. Second time. First I had it set for that meal tomorrow, when friends were coming in from Granbury. But they had a strange tale: a tree blew down across their drive and in trying to get a loaded truck around it to deliver merchandise, they got the truck stuck in the mud. Don't count on us was the message. So I rearranged my thinking and thought I'd persuade Betty to go there tonight. Instead, I found myself driving in frantic haste and cursing the fact that I was hungry. Once I got to the ER and they spirited Jordan away I also cursed the fact that I hadn't brought a book.
On the way to ER, the story came out: she cut her little finger and ring finger on her right hand right at the crease of the joint. It bled so profusely that she felt faint, which scared her because she was alone with Jacob. So she called 911 and the ambulance came. The EMTs didn't know for sure if it needed stitches and were trying to load her up, asking what hospital she wanted. Wait! She couldn't leave Jacob! So she called a friend to stay with Jacob and me to take her. We got to the ER at six and left a little before nine.
Long story short: the cut on the little finger was 2 cm. deep. They took three stitches in it, and one in the ring finger. She left the hospital with the two fingers splinted and a huge bandage all around her hand. She has a wedding to go to tomorrow and began making up a more picturesque story than cutting hot dogs about how all this happened. She reminded me that when her brother Colin had half his spleen removed and a large scar slanted across his abdomen, he told people it was a shark attack (he was then running a scuba hotel on Grand Cayman).
Me? I came home, gratefully, fixed a BLT and splurged on ice crea with chocolate sauce and two glasses of wine.
And that brings me way away from the important news of this week, which was that we had a great time in Austin, the kids loved playing together, and we wish we stayed longer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Austin--and grandsons

I'm in Austin, in a house with four adults, an almost-four-year-old, a 22 mos.and an 18 mos. Our days are pandemonium--screaming, yelling, squealing, giggling, tears--and the blessed quiet of nap time (quiet time for the oldest one and naptime for the grandmother). The boys play wonderfully well together, aside from pushing, shoving, grabbing,etc. Sawyer, the oldest, seems to delight in pushing Jacob in the swing, and Ford, the youngest, plays quietly and then suddenly belts out "Jacob!" At 6 p.m. they are fussy and hungry; by 7:30 they're hyperactive, fatigue coming out in silliness and screams; by 8 all is quiet and they're in their beds. It's a joy to see them together. And for me, it's a particular joy to get to know Sawyer and Ford better--and have them know me. At first Sawyer hung back,saying he wasn't ready to give me a hug, and Ford stared at Jordan and me curiously as though wondering who these interlopers were that were sitting in his front yard. (The fenced front yard is their playground with more than enough toys.) But then he looked at me and said, "Gaga." (That's the Austin boys name for me, while everyone else calls me Juju.) Then he looked at Jordan and said "Jojo." The ice was broken, and we were off to high good times. We don't get this kind of togetherness when the whole family is together,and while I miss the others, I value this.
In between I sneak up to the office,where I'm sleeping, to deal with emails and read on my Kindle. Megan scolded me for reading when I don't see my grandsons that often. So I'm trying to limit it.
Last night after we'd gone out for Mexican food at a riverfront restaurant, Jordan announced that after the boys were in bed, the parents were going to have an intervention with me. My first thought, of course, was "Hey, I like my white wine but I don't drink that much!" I asked if I had to move out of my house,quit my job, quit drinking. She said no, it was something good. But then when we got to it she began with, "We all love you a whole lot, but you can be controlling." I heard those as damning words, because I try so hard not to be controlling. It turns out though that ever since I turned my b'day celebration over to the kids--at their request--I've been bugging her about this person and that who knows it's my 70th b'day and wants to be included. She told her siblings I was driving her wild, and they decided to tell me so I could enjoy anticipation and she could have a littlel peace and quiet. They were in part feeling sorry that I missed Scotland and wanted to give me something to look forward to. So here I am, sort of controlling my b'day party and very excited about it.
But determined not to feel my age. When I woke up Sunday after my busy day with Maddie I was stiff and sore, I hurt and I was tired. Depression snuck in because I thought maybe I really was getting old. But the next day I was fine--and at the end of the drive to Austin I was less stiff than Jordan.Since I've been here I've done better on balance--even on uneven flagstone--and I've been free of aches and pains (well, mostly) in spite of sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I'm back to thinking it's in large part attitude.
Big on my mind: I need a writing project, and I want to find a way to market my mystery. But I'll think about that tomorrow.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cardboard boxes and cousins

They say a cardboard box is the best toy, and Maddie and Jacob proved it today. Before Jacob arrived, Maddie cooked lunch--okay, I supervised a little and chunked the chicken, but she cut up broccoli very small and grated cheese. We boilied the chicken and some egg noddles, added the broccoli after a while, then drained the whole thing and added the cheese, chunked cream cheese, and chicken broth. Maddie got many raves for her lunch, and she cleared the table like a hostess and served Rice Krispies treats on plates for dessert.

She didn't stay in the kitchen when Jacob came about 10:30. Jacob adores her, calls her Moo, a shortening of her years-ago nickname Maddie Moo. Jamie had brought him a huge rocking horse on a metal frame and heavy springs, and Maddie tried valiantly to assemble it before he got here, but it was beyond her. And all such things are far beyond me, though I did figure out one small pice of the directions for her and felt very proud. I am sure it was partly a questions of strength that held her back. But even without the horse, the box was a great thing, and they had wonderful fun with it.

Now they're all gone, the house is quiet, and I'm pooped. Mel helped with dishes and cleanup went quickly, so the only chore I MUST get done is packing for Austin. I am really taking a vacation from work!

Off to nap, then pack, then keep on with the latest Sue Grafton, which I'm really enjoying. Maybe I'll have some deep and noteworthy thoughts tomorrow but not today.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A grandmothering weekend

So far, my weekend with Maddie is going great. I thought she would arrive in time for supper last night and was prepared with cuisine choices--Lebanese, Mexican, hamburgers, or seafood. But, in true Jamie fashion, they didn't get here until slightly after nine. Jamie hung out for a while, and it soon appeared that Maddie was reluctant to let him go--more than a little bit. She hung on to him, with tears said, "I don't want you to go," and finally sobbed outright. He was good and had several private talks with her and finally left with a promise to call from the road. She was teary and didn't want to do anything else until her daddy called. She came to me panicky because she'd lost one of the things he gave her--turned out they were acorns. So when he called, he sent her out to the driveway to find another, and she was happy. After she talked to him, she was completley herself, and beat the tar out of me in a short Scrabble game.
We did have another bit of excitement as Jamie left--a possum ran down the driveway. I got a flashlight, and we could see it watching us, all curled up high in an oak tree. The dog was going bananas. Maddie didn't much like the possum, but Jamie and I were fascinated. My house is close enough to a big park, the zoo, and the river that was do often have critters. I worry about coyotes but figure Scoob is big enough to hold his own.
Today we shopped for a birthday present (Webkinz which I'd never heard of), went to Central Market, and spent a fortune at what Maddie called "the plant store." She was a big help--fetching things, pushing the cart, etc. Then we had lunch at the deli, where she declared she could eat every day, and a short quiet time at home during which Juju snatched a nap. Then off to play with Jacob for two hours. The power at their house kept going out and when it came back on the alarm wailed, which scared Maddie to death. She was not happy, but she loved playing with Jacob--and he was in hog heaven. Then it was supper at the Lebanese restaurant--dolma, stuffed squash, and a canelloni--my grandchild is cosmopolitan! Now we've made Rice Krispies treats (okay, not cosmopolitan all tlhe time) and settled down quietly.
I'm reading the newest Sue Grafton novel and haven't gotten much done today, except when Maddie was playing with Jacob. Work, what's that? My job is being a grandmother!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Storms . . . and a fun weekend ahead

We're having a Texas storm tonight, the kind that keeps you glued to the TV--only my Dish connection went out. By then, though, I knew it was a severe storm, and almost immediately the hail started. I worried about my windows--single-paned with the old glass that is bound to be fragile (the house was built in 1922 and most of the windows are original). Apparently it's all okay, and the hail has now been replaced by thunder. Scooby is at my feet but is remarkably calm for such a stormy night. I actually enjoy a good storm (as long as I feel pretty sure there's no tornado). I went out on the porch before it hit to watch it approach, forgot I'd already set the alarm, and set it off.
Maddie, my oldest granddaughter at almost nine, is coming to spend the weekend with me--it's a first. Just Maddie and me. We talked about it last week, and she said she really wanted to do that. Edie, at five, was put out but Jamie explained it as a rite of passage thing. What five-year-old understands that language--only one who would holler, "Juju, a little help here please!"
I've been thinking of things to do with Maddie--the Main Street Arts Festival is this weekend, but that means thousands of people and miles of walking. Scratch that. We'll go shopping for her birthday present and a little consolation prize for Edie, and I'd like to go to the nursery--I think she'd enjoy choosing plants for my yard. And then Central Market, to plan our dinner for Saturday night (Maddie loves to cook and says she's going to be a chef). And we'll have to go play with Jacob.
And then Monday Jordan, Jacob and I are going to Austin. I don't know the grandsons down there--Sawyer, almost four, and Ford, about a year and a half--as well as I'd like, nor do they know me. We'll spend two nights, and I'm looking forward to it. So I'm having a grandchildren spell, which I love.
Not doing much work. I find it's easy to busy myself with reading for the office and neglect my own writing. It's a kind of inertia, and I need to overcome it. But since I'm without a defined project right now, that's hard--the Scotland book is shapeless (I could probably go to work and give it shape), the mystery sequel holds no interest until I get a nibble on the first one, and I have no assignments for children's books. So it's a dry period, as though I am waiting for something to happen that will give me a project. I do think--and this comes clear to me as I write--that I need to take myself in hand and make something happen! Pro-active--that's the term. Probably tomorrow . . . no, Maddie will be here. Probably next week. See how easy procrastination is?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mysteries and various musings

Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles mystery series, came to TCU today to talk to a luncheon. She was entertaining, erudite, and informative--in short, a terrific speaker. She talked about her own career, but she put it in the context of the genre and traced the development of women writing mysteries, from P.D. James to Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi to the present when there is a real explosion of women writing mysteries, so much so that they have an international organization, Sisters in Crime. I'd met Susan before and was pleased that she remembered me. When we chatted briefly, I mentioned that I'd written a mystery and didn't know what to do next. Her instant answer wa Sisters in Crime, so tonight I've joined, written a check, and am expecting miracles to happen. Albert's story is one of great luck--an editor who just happened to look at her proposal and liked it--but also one of incredible hard work and of believing in herself. Back to what Jamie said: if you believe it will happen, it will. Okay, I really believe my mystery will sell, and I just have to find the righ path. Maybe Susan Wittig Albert set me onto that path today. Meantime, I'm a big fan of her books. She passed out a bookmark with all the China Bayles books listed, and I realized I have a lot to read.
Oops. I don't know what I hit, but the above posted long before I was ready. I wanted to muse a bit on things tha puzzle me. Tonight I watched the Pennsylvania Clinton/Obama debate. I'll be darned if I can tell their basic positions apart, and I'm glad I'm no longer called on to vote for one or the other. I listen to all the arguments about which one could win for the Democrats, and I don't know what to think. I do know that John McCain is about the scariest man to come along since George W. Bush. Josseph Galloway's column the other day described Bush as not just a disaster for our country but one of Titanic proportions, and I certainly agree. And, unfortunately, I feel McCain would follow the same path and is as unpredictable and unreliable as Bush.
But other things puzzle me too--the seizure of all those children from the ranch in West Texas. I am torn. I probably really think those children were not living healthy lives--abused or not. But is it the state's business to take children from their mothers on such a mass scale? And as a mother, I sympthize with those mothers. On the other hand, I long to protect the children. I wish life came with easy answers.
And then there's the case of those teen-age girls who savagely beat a classmate. How have we raised a generation of children who could even think of that? I am appalled. I watched those videos with horror, and I wondered how I would feel if my child had done that. Except I have perfect confidence none of my children would have. How is the victim going to go on with her life? And what kind of future do the girls who did the beating have? It's almost too frightening to think about--and yet, as the grandparent of young children, soon to grow into teenagers, I have to think about it.
One a lighter note: I'm watching what I eat. Had salad plates for lunch and dinner yesterday, a small quiche and salad today at the Albert luncheon, and tonight I cooked a really good dinner for Jordan (Jacob ate his own things). I floured and sauteed chicken in wine and lemon, then sauteed a stir-fry of sugar snap peas, haricot vert, and sliced mushrooms. The peas were especially crunchy and tasted green and fresh. The big thing is that I sauteed them in a small amount of butter and added olive oil--as opposed to the tons of butter I usually use. And I haven't had a chocolate sundae in four days. Of course I expect the weight to have melted away, but I know that's not true.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The trip that wasn't and other things

Tonight I should be on a plane to Scotland. It left, without us, at 5:20 from DFW. By now I've grown accustomed to the missed trip and almost put it behind me, but the day does have a certain poignancy. Jeannie's husband is doing well, will be moved from ICU to Progressive Care tomorrow and probably to a rehab facility late in the week. He's out of the woods, and that is the greatest blessing. And, I must confess that excited as I was about this trip, I am not a comfortable traveler. It was a challenge for which I'd worked myself up, so now I have that feeling of "Whew! I don't have to worry about getting on a long flight across the pond." Granted, excitement over the trip was a much more dominant emotion that uncertainty about travel, but that element is still there. Jeannie said Jim looked at her today and asked, "Is this the day you were going to Scotland?" and when she said yes, he said "You'll go later." We will, and maybe the exchange rate will be better. Meantime I've got a new book to read: The Creaky Traveler in the North West Highlands of Scotland: A Journey for the Mobile but Not Agile. Boy, does that fit me!
I've read my first novel on my Kindle, amazon's hand-held reader, and I liked it a lot. I had stockpiled books on it in preparation for Scotland and now decided I should start reading them. So I read an Aurora Teagarden mystery called Real Murders and got hooked on it. Found the Kindle every bit as easy to read as a book, though I'm sure I'm underusing it. I keep meaning to read the directions but that hasn't happened yet. Also anticipating Scotland, I'd sloughed off on the projects on my desk, but tonight I worked on my chapter for Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook and tomorrow I'll get back to being seriuos about Scots in Texas. I don't like not writing. Writing is a whole big part of who I am.
My cat and I are at war. He wants fresh food every time he's hungry, while I maintain he should eat the perfectly good food that he left behind in his bowl. I even take a spoon and fluff it up so it's easier for him to eat. Sometimes he doesn't even check the bowl. He just comes to stalk me, sits at my desk and stares at me forlornly. If I get up for anything, he leaps head of me and heads for his food dish. Now I know he's old--sixteen, I think--and needs indulging, but he's carrying it way too far. There was a period when I thought he was fading--his once luxurious tail looked like a rat's tail, he was thin, and he just didn't look well. The vet couldn't figure it out. But I sent the fantastic pointsettia I'd had since mid-December home with Melinda for her to plant, and Wywy improved quite quickly. His tail filled out; I think he gained a little weight; he was interested in my tuna fish and scrambled eggs and almost anything I ate. No poinsettia next year!
Speaking of food, I was in the doctor's office last week and I've gained eight lbs. So I'm cutting down on the outrageous amounts of butter I've been cooking with and cutting out the chocolate sundae I loved in the evening. No more Girl Scout cookies in the afternoon. And pretty much I'm off red meat, though not a strict thing. I bought a ton of vegetables when I shopped this weekend. My goal is seafood and vegetables--sounds good to me. Oh, yes, I'm off cottage cheese. Once before I quit eating cottage cheese and lost so much weight my brother was alarmed. But these days I'm not eating so much of that for breakfast and am eating oatmeal, which is supposed to make you lose weight. If I'm gaining because of oatmeal, I'm going to feel really cheated.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thoughts for the Day . . . plus some food thoughts

Occasionally I run across musings, quotes, Biblical verses, prayers from the Common Book, things that set me to thinking. These came today in an email from one of the Sunday school classes at my church, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Six ecojustice principles
1. The Principle of Intrinsic Worth
The universe, Earth, and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.
2. The Principle of Interconnectedness
Earth is a community of interconnected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survivial.
3. The Principle of Voice
Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.
4. The Principle of Purpose
The universe, Earth, and all its components are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall goal of that design.
5. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship
Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners, rather than as rulers, to sustain a blanced and diverse Earth community.
6. The Principle of Resistance
Earth and its components not only suffer from inustices at the hands of humans but also actively resist them in the struggle for justice.
Seems to me there's food for thought, much thought, in those six principles.

And other thoughts--I was watching the food channel tonight, as I often do, and in one of those contests for aspiring chefs the plated dishes shown were fanciful--but I wasn't sure what the food was And it struck me that I don't want to cook fanciful. I want to cook enjoyable food, the things people like to eat. Sure, I want it to look pretty, but taste is most important. Tonight I fixed lamb burgers for Jordan and Christian--Jacob liked the lamb! But the recipe called for topping them in the bun with a salad made of spinach leaves, red onion, feta cheese nd olive oil. I'm sure the salad was for the presentation, but in truth it was hard to balance that salad on top of the burger and keep it there long enough to slap the top of the bun in place. And I'd probably have put feta on lamb anyway, but . . . . The lamb, seasoned with mint, paprika and cinnamon, was delicious but I can't see that the salad added much.
My babysitting night with Jacob went well. His mom had filled me with instructions about his bedtime routine and how to ignore his crying when put down, what to do if he woke in the night, what to do in what order in the morning, etc. Does she think I didn't raise four children? Upshot though was that I put him in his port-a-crib, kissed him, said good night and I love you, and left the room--and never heard a peep out of him Nor did he wake in the night. By 6 a.m. I thought I would have welcomed a slight bit of crying just to know he was okay. At 6:45, having let the dog out and fed the cat and had a bit of an extra nap, I peeked at him. And he was sitting up quietly, looking at me. No crying, no fuss, just sitting there. Of course, the morning went downhill from there as his energy kicked in and he managed to fall off a chair, spewing the pureed prunes he was eating everywhere and earning himself a red "booboo" on his face. By tonight he has several "booboos" on his face. Jacob goes at life full force and top speed--and frequently it comes back to bite him. Jordan and Christian have some interesting times ahead.
I'm off to bed early, sleepy, but got to finish that mystery.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Quiet night

Shhh! Quiet! Jacob's asleep. He went down without a peep. This is his first time to spend the night with me, and his mother was more worried, I suspect, about my sleep than his. But so far, knock on wood, we're off to a good start. It's been a babysitting weekend. Yesterday I went to Frisco, got a brief glimpse of Maddie and Mel before they left on a Girl Scout camping trip, and then spent the evening with Jamie and Edie. This morning, Jamie had a sprint triathlon (he took second in his age group and sixth overall--pretty darn good!), and I stayed with Edie. At one point, she fixed me with her direct look and said, "Are you babysitting me?" I told her yes, and she asked where she would be if I hadn't come. I told her that her daddy wouldn't have done the race, and that seemed to staisfy her. Together we watched a lot of the food channel, though she insisted on turning it off because two programs in a row featured shrimp and she doesn't like shrimp.
It's been a good two days for me. Disgruntled authors and pesky business reports and all the things I worry about all the time are in the way far background. I slept heavily last night, albeit with weird dreams of which the only one I remember is that I was at the Democratic National Convention as part of Hilary's team. Is that a message? But this morning I woke feeling really good about the world, me, everything. I counted my vacation days, and I have more than I thought stockpiled, so I may take them to get that "being away from it" feeling. But I'll have to leave town! Wish I could find someone who wanted to go to Santa Fe for a week!
Weighty matters on my mind? Not many. I'm afraid I've also been escaping into mysteries. I read two more Cleo Cloyce coffeehouse mysterires, and enjoyed them, and now I'm reading--on my Kindle--an Aurora Teagarden mystery called Real Murders. I'd been saving the books on the Kindle for the Scotland trip, but now I feel I should be reading them. I find it easy to read on, though I know I'm under-utilizing all the marvelous things it will do. And I have to watch, because I occasionally hit the wrong button and it bounces from book to book. Sort of like Jamie's laptop when I tried to answer an email and it kept bouncing from line to line. I gave up.
Jamie talked to me again about his conviction that you have to believe in your goals, believe they'll come true, or they never will. That bounces me back to my mystery--I am convinced it's as good as many on the market (though the last two I've read are really erudite in references and solid in constrauction) and yet I'm not sure I believe I'll ever get it published. In a way, to me, it's like religion--a part of me would like to have a "born again" experience so that I could believe without a doubt, but I remain a liberal Christian who questions and doubts and always wonders if I've found true faith. It seems to me, in both cases, the burden is on me. And so I struggle with my mind, trying to convince it to believe.
I may start tomorrow very early, depending on Mr. Jacob. But his mom will come to get him about 9:30, and I'll go to Central Market to get stuff for dinner that night and for supper all week. I have gained some weight, and I'm going to start watching it much more carefully--all that butter I use to cook, the chocolate sauce I pile on ice cream at night. It's salads and veggies for me for a while. But tomorrow I'm cooking lamb burgers for Jordan and Christian--maybe Jacob will eat a bite. There's always an excuse for putting that diet off. But I really am going to watch. But after that Central Market trip--a good nap!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I wish I had weighty thoughts to share, but I don't have a one. My real feeling is that too much has landed on my plate in the last two weeks, and I'm tired. I thought that when I went to the grocery today about 1:30 and my legs felt incredibly tired. Came home, put away groceries, tidied up some details, and had a good nap.
It's no good detailing what all has hit me. Most of you know about Jeannie's husband's aneurysm and our cancelled trip to Scotland. The good news is that he is doing wonderfully well, pretty much a miracle--last night he was sitting up in bed watching CNN. He has a long haul ahead of him, lots of rehab, but it's all positive. I've spent the last week cancelling railroad tickets, airline tickets, b&b reservations, etc. The great good news today was that I can apply for a refund for the tickets without going to the airport--considering that there were thousands and thousands of disgruntled people at DFW because of American's cancelled flights, this was really a good thing. Lightened my load a lot.
Tomorrow I'll go to Frisco. Maddie and her mom are going camping with her Brownie troop, so I'll "hang out" with Jamie and Edie. Home again Saturday to babysit Jacob--first time we've tried having him spend the night. I'm probably not as apprehensive as his mom is. But I do know that I have somehow killed my right shoulder--it's hurts all the time, sometimes acutely, sometimes a dull ache. So picking chunk-a-munk Jacob up will be a challenge. I think I've figured out a left-handed way to do it, if he cooperates. Being with children and granchildren is the kind of relaxation I need--and takes me away from office matters, which have been a bit frustrating lately. I discovered I have 21 days of vacation accrued--I may just run and play for three weeks. Wish I could make myself do that, but I will take some time.
Tonight I experimented and fixed myself a sort-of version of middle Eastern stuffed zucchini. My sort-of version turned out to be bland, so I put a bunch of salt on it--ah, bad. I discovered today, at the doctor's office, that I weigh a whole lot more than I want to, so I'm going to watch cooking with butter, etc., and some of my other bad habits. Ground meat? It's going to be buffao, except that I think I'll make lamb burgers for Jacob's parents Sunday night. (There's always that "except" . . . .)
I found an author whose mysteries I relaly like. Cleo Cloyce who writes a series set in a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village. Such fun to discover a new author. Problem is I zip through all the books. But I have a lot of books on my Kindle that are unread--I was saving them for Scotland, but now I'll start on them--and I'll take the Kindle to Frisco tomorrow.
I'm also going to carry a backpack instead of a purse. I think that might ease my shoulder. We'll see. Maybe I'll look like a college student :-)

Monday, April 07, 2008

My mind is still boggled

I had lunch with my friend and mentor Fred Erisman today--he hand-carried me through graduate school and remains a good friend and source of advice and incidental knowledge (as well as a TCU Press author). He invited me to lunch as a send-off for my trip to Scotland that now is not to be. But when he asked about my gut feeling about TCU Press, I answered in terms of the energy I felt I didn't have, at least not as much as ten years ago. When I got home I realized I was exhausted, my shoulder hurt, my foot hurt, and I was hardly worth worrying about. I had answered out of the depths of not being myself. It's been that kind of a week, from the grant application to the author who claimed I was ruining TCU Press, from Jim Chaffee's emergency surgery to the cancellation of our much-dreamed-of Scotland trip. And top all that off with a garden party for 200 people. No wonder I'm exhausted!
Jim Chaffee is holding his own, not out of the woods, still critical, but, amazingly, still with us. His doctors are calling him a miracle man. That's the most important news, and the only thing that really matters. But the worry is not over, and Jeannie's reaction tonight was, "I'm okay," a sort of controlled okay. She has lots of family around her, which is a blessing.
Ah, but the party. We had 200 people wandering through the most wonderful garden. Set on an acre and a half, it is full of trees, seating areas, a patio here and a pergola there, sculpture everywhere. And the spring bloom was out--redbuds already gone, but wildflowers blooming, a marvelous climbing rose, lots of color. One friend said to me, "Look. There's a piece of sculpture that broke, and they set the two pieces near each other, and it looks great. If I did that, it would look like two broken pieces of sculpture." Eclectic is a mild way of describing this bit of paradise. We served lemonade--a huge hit--and white wine, cheese, crackers, chip and dip, grapes and cookies, and were almost on target with the amount of everything we bought--except we had a lot of wine left over. The TCU Bookstore sold books; two students played harp and violin--perfect garden music, and I could have lingered and listened all afternoon--but I was busy checking on this, that and the other, making more lemonade, being sure the ticket takers were okay, etc. etc. No wonder I was tired today, but the party was a huge success. Many many guests, as they left, commented on what a good time they'd had. And they bought lots of books.
I'm beginning to regroup. I've put away all the Scotland stuff that I had piled on the guest bed, and I'm thinking about short trips to Austin to see my grandsons there and to Tolar (out in the country) to stay with my brother and his wife for a night or two. As all the relatives involved said, it's a poor substitute for Scotland, but these short trips will be getting away.
Tonight Jordan and Jacob came for supper, and that was a great pick-me-up. Jacob is a little flirt--he cocks his head and looks sideways out of his eyes, which are dancing with laughter. Then he grins and laughs aloud. I gave him a surprise--a delicious shortbread cookie left from yesterday--and he threw his arms up exuberantly and yelled, "Juju! Surprise!" I fixed blade steaks tonight--a cut I knew nothing about until I found a recipe somewhere. It even puzzled the butcher, but he figured it out. I cut them in chunks and coated with olive oil, rosemary and garlic, and then threaded the meat onto bamboo skewers that I had soaked for about 30 minutes. They still burned under the broiler, and Jordan went all over the house trying to figure out what was burning and smelled soooo good. I didn't realize until I took them out of the broiler (5 minutes, no turning, and they were a shade too well done but very tender). Steak with buttered broccoli and blue-cheese salad--so good. Jacob ate his first steak and kept saying, "Mo. . . mo . . . "
My energy level is coming back, and I expect to be myself tomorrow. Now if my darned shoulder would only cooperate!

Friday, April 04, 2008

A mind-boggling day

This has been a day when three big--and I mean big--things demanded my attention, and my mind is reeling tonight. This morning about 8, Jeannie called in hysterics--I couldn't get much out of her except that her husband was in surgery and she was at the hospital just down the street from me. I ran to the hospital which, like most hospitals today, is a conglomeration of buildings added on then and now and the most confusing place I've ever been. Trying to find Jeannie involved a comedy of errors including opening what I thought was a second-floor door only to almost walk out on space and a construction site. I finally found her, pacing the hall. Jim was in surgery for a ruptured aortic aneurysm, and the surgeon told her it didn't look good. When we went into the waiting room, she introduced me to her daugher-in-law as the friend she WAS going to Scotland with--of course, the trip is off! I stayed for an hour, but Jeannie had family around her--and I had things to do. Tonight I'm pleased to report that Jim is in ICU although he doesn't look like himself at all--Jeannie says she's never seen so many tubes. But he's apparently holding his own after a long and traumatic surgery--and a brief return to surgery.
Sunday TCU Press is giving "Books & Music in the Garden," an event I hope will be memorable. The garden is an acre-and-a-half that belongs to a member of our advisory board and was on the Nature Conservancy Tour in 2006. We'll serve wine and lemonade, chip and dip, cheese, and cookies, and people can wander in the garden, talk with the authors, etc. BUT Jeannie was catering the event--which now means I'm catering it, which is a scary thought. I went shopping today and sort of blindly bought all the food. Wine was easy, because the liquor store guides you but food was a pure guess on my part. We'll see on Sunday.
And, meantime, there's Scotland. There trip we planned for months is indefinitely postponed. We agreed this morning that we'll go--just not right now. But it requires a lot of re-thinking. Suddenly my calendar is bare for two weeks, when I thought I'd be gone. The guest bed is piled high with things to be packed for a trip that now won't be. There are people to notify, tickets to cancel, reservations to change--I've waded into it and done pretty well, but it's daunting. And the most daunting is that it requires a major major change in thinking.
I keep thinking to myself, "You're not going to Scotland. You can relax and fritter away the time." Wrong! I have those 150 people on Sunday to worry about. So before I begin to put away all that stuff on the guest bed, I have to get out serving pieces. Jeannie knew in her head what she was going to use where--but I don't have any such sure knowledge.
I have good support--a good friend and a TCU Press author went shopping with me today, another friend and member of our advisory council is helping with serving dishes and going with me to greet the rental table people tomorrow. We'll all muddle through this, Jim will get well, and Jeannie and I will go to Scotland later. But it sure is mind-boggling tonight--and I'm tired.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Sushi and other stuff

Betty and I went for sushi tonight. We like to go to the Tokyo Cafe, where I am in a real rut--I order salmon sashimi, the appetizer portion of chicken yakitori, and the dinner salad, which has a slightly sweet dressing that I would dislike anywhere else but really like there. But they have a new chef, who's brought new ideas, and they got a great review in the newspaper, along with several recommendations for dishes I didn't know they had. So both of us branched out. I had the abalone tostada--an abalone salad (much like I'd make crab salad but with a real subtle kick of spice) on a fried wonton--absolutely wonderful. Betty had something with shrimp (she always does that, and I say she does it to spite me because I'm allergic) in an avocado half, which she declared was equally wonderful. Then we split a "Crunchy Roll"--salmon, scallions, cream cheese, and I don't know what in rice topped with panko crumbs to make it crunchy. Terrific! I particularly liked that the roll didn't have seaweed around it--I do try to be "trendy" but I don't like dealing with seaweed (texture, I guess, not taste) and I don't like seaweed salad.
Old age is fast creeping up on me. The latest sign was that I went to the podiatrist today to have my toe nails cut. If you'd told me a year ago that I couldn't cut my own toe nails, I'd have scoffed. But they get tough and thick, and I have one unmanageable nail--it grows so thick I can't cut it. He cut, trimmed, and generally cleaned up all my nails and my troublesome corn and told me to come back in two months. I remember a podiatrist friend who said if you can keep elderly feet comfortable you can keep patients happy and functioning. I think it's true, and I intend to take care of my feet, which I took for granted for too many years.
My Scotland trip is almost upon me, and I'm making practical plans all the time--someone to stay in the house, getting the sprinkler system repaired, animal care, etc. And I'm making travel plans--checking the medication supply, laying out clothes, etc. I've never been "across the pond" so this is a biggie for me--and one of the longest vacations I've taken. I have lots of mixed feelings--mostly excitement and anticipation, but a bit of anxiety that is accompanied by a wish that it would just get here so I could stop anticipating. I truly know that once I'm there I'll have a wonderful time, and I'm envisioning all kinds of happy scenes in ancient castles and on windswept coasts--okay, I'm a bit of a romantic!
Meantime, I can't settle down to much work, so I've given up the idea of serious writing for the next two weeks. And I've requested that Jordan and Christian come for a send-off dinner the night before I go--and maybe Jamie and his family. I feel about this trip like I do about my approaching 70th birthday--it's a big, once-in-a-lifetime deal!
This weekend TCU Press has its big springtime event--Books & Music in the Garden. We've got about 150 people registered, so I'm pretty excited. And I need to marshal my thoughts on that and not Scotland. Someone asked if it was being catered, and I replied, "Yep. Jeannie and me." Lots to be done.