Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Are you a city dweller or does your heart lie in the country?

My friend Cindy Bonner, who lives just outside Cuero, posted some wildflower pictures from her three acres, and they were so beautiful I replied that they almost made me want to live in the country. Cindy replied that she couldn't understand those of us who enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life. That made me ponder. How much do I enjoy city life? Why don't I want to live with beautiful free vistas, quiet at night (I live on a busy street across from a school), and the slower pace of life. I love going to my brother's ranch near Tolar and sitting on the front porch of an evening watching the cows across the road. I even get a kick out of going with him to count calves, and I love driving around the ranch, looking at the views--Brazos River valley in the distance--and the bluestem gamma grass that is just beginning to come back.
But I am a city child, always lived in the city (except for a few years in a small town that I loved but when I went back for a visit, it seemed claustrophobic). I don't much enjoy the hustle and bustle--in fact, I avoid it. But I love eating in a wide variety of restaurants, having a lot of friends close to me, and neighbors who drop in for a glass of wine. Living alone, I would be not only lonely but insecure in the country, and since I don't like to drive on the highway I'd never go anyplace.
No, I'm meant to visit the country but stay in the city, even with its inconveniences. The other night when I had company for dinner, and we had drinks and appetizers on the porch, the occasional truck that roared by or plane that was slowing for an approach at Meachum Air Field stopped conversation. And in the mornings and mid-afternoons, the traffic from the school is a royal pain--and rude parents park across my driveway and let their children out in the middle of the street, which terrifies me for the children.
But then, my porch is pretty green. I live in an old house (1922) on an old street where the trees are "mature." (I live in terror of losing the big old elm in front of my house that has occasionally lost major branches.) Sometimes at night when the traffic isn't too bad, I take a glass of wine and sit out there and enjoy the green and the peace--no book, no conversation, just me. In fact, I think I'll go do that right now. It's been in the mid-80s today and is wonderful out. Spring is truly the best time in Fort Worth.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cooking, eating, and blowing my diet

I've been cooking lately, experiments, some successful and some not so. Saturday night I sauteed Dover sole and poured a wine, lemon and butter sauce over it--I can't quite get the hang of cooking it until it's crisp but not overdone (darn electric stoves anyway). I did it a week ago and it was crisp and perfect, but this time I turned it too soon and it fell to pieces. Sure was good though, just not very attractive. Dover sole always makes me think of the time my boss included me on a dinner with a candidate for a major position. We went to an uspcale restaurant, and when I saw Dover sole on the menu, I immediately ordered it. It did unnerve me a bit that they cooked it tableside. The next day I mentioned in the office that I'd had it and Susan said yes, she had wanted to order it one night recently until she found out it cost $45. Of course I was mortified for ordering something that expensive on my boss's dime and apologized over and over. I can buy a satisfactory amount for myself for about six dollars and cook it at home. I've found the same thing about lox--I buy it at Central Market and fix it at home, and it's much cheaper.
Sunday night I fixed something that was meant to be served in a small squat mason jar--I just didn't have one handy. But the first layer was a salad made of roasted eggplant, garlic, lemon, olive oil; then a layer of tuna; then tonnato sauce (tuna with mayonnaise, anchovy, lemon and capers--wonderful!) and then halved cherry tomatoes. Well the eggplant was just too much. For the first time in weeks I succumbed and ate a bit of chocolate. It didn't kill the taste, so I brushed my teeth, hours before bedtime. Threw out the remaining eggplant; not something I'll buy again soon, though I do like it parmagiana.
Last night I fixed eggs purgatory for guests-I think I mentioned it here recently. A casserole of quartered baby new tomatoes, artichoke hearts, sauteed onion and thyme and red pepper, capers, and fire roasted tomato bits in sauce. Then you dig wells in it, crack eggs into them, and bake until the eggs are done (which takes twice as long as the recipe says). I like it best without the egg, but it was good and got raves. Kathie Lang Allen brought the richest ever chocolate creme bruelee--of course I wasn't going to eat any, and of course I ate the whole serving which fortunately was small. But it did blow my diet, and I didn't sleep well last night. I blame it less on wine (I really watched that carefully and continued to measure) than on that rich dessert.
Tonight I had leftover purgatory casserole (no egg)--like a lot of dishes, it gets stronger with sitting, and it was even more delicious. With it, I had some of the Sunday night tuna (it's that good albacore Sue and I ordered from a small family cannery in Oregon), and tonnato sauce on it. Maybe the best dinner I had in all these days of experimental cooking.
This afternoon I ended up keeping Jacob--he had a mild case of pink eye and couldn't go to school. He was so happy and content, I let him play with his toys and watch TV while I worked at my desk until about 3:15 when I got serious about naps. He and I both went down about 3:45 and slept a good two hours. But he was a sweet boy today, and I loved having him.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Leaning to Live with Yourself #2

I found a quote today on the booksellers' newsleter, "Shelf Awareness," that I really like. It's from In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life After 50, edited by Emly W. Upham and Linda Gravenson and due out in late April from Atria. It expresses a totally different view of learning to live with yourself--I'm almost there but not quite. Here goes:
I like living alone. . . I like that I can take as many naps as I feel like taking and nobody knows. . . . .I'm seldom lonely. I have three dogs, twelve grandchildren, and four grown kids. I have a friend who now and then drives down with his dog. We've known each other so long we don't have to talk, and when we do we don't have to say anything. When he asks me if I'd like to take a trip around the world, I can say yes, knowing that I'll never have to go. . . . Sometimes I feel sorry for those of my friends who are looking around for a mate. I don't want one, and I don't want to want one. It has taken me the better part of sixty years to enjoy the inside of my own head, and I do that best when I'm by myself."
The author does mention that inertia drives both her and her friend, which I don't feel is true of me. And today, I'm certainly not living just inside my own head. I had lunch with a colleague I've known for some time, but never well, and we recently discovered several things in common. It was a lively lunch with neither of us at a loss for words, and I hope we do it again soon. Then tonight three old friends--publishing buddies--came for dinner. It was the first night for wine on the porch--lovely. We visited and laughed and discussed serious problems, from publishing to the writing Thomas Jefferson out of textbooks--all in all a good evening.
Now the kitchen is clean and I'm tucked away at my desk, which is exactly where and how I like to end each day. Fran was going to spend the night and didn't, and I wish she had--after all I'd changed the sheets on the guest bed just for her. But I was also glad to be able to check my email, finish this blog and read a bit without appearing rude. See? I do like living alone, inside my own head and world.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Learning to Live with Yourself

Years ago, when I was married and had young children, our house always overflowed with people--for dinners, parties, just for happy hour, whatever. Someone said we lived that way to avoid talking to each other and in retrospect it may be true--we didn't really want to know what was going on with the other. Then when I was the single parent of high school and college kids, there was always a houseful. Friends worried how I would do when I lived alone (it came late--some of the kids hung around for a long time, and Jordan came and went until she was almost thirty). But I did just fine, loving cooking just what I wanted, the freedom to keep my own schedule (I keep an internal one and am not real flexible, but, hey, that's how I live best).
Still there were what I called "divorcees' damn dull weekends."
All these years later, this was one of them. Other than keeping Jacob Friday night (which is questionable as a social event) I had nothing on my calendar. I decided I could wallow in self-pity or enjoy it and get things done. And I did the latter. My only outing was to Central Market, where I bought fish for my dinner last night. I spent yesterday doing laundry napping, reading a manuscript and then a book I'm reviewing. By last night I had made a list of things I had to do today--that's the compulsive in me.
This morning, lingering over the paper, I thought that I had better get moving to get all that done by lunch, so I could work and nap in the afternoon (my usual pattern). So one by one I crossed things off the list: finished the laundry, made up the guest bed because Fran is coming to spend the night Monday, cooked a rather intricate dinner for myself (more about that another day), got a start on cooking for three friends tomorrow, set the table, did my yoga, and so on. I was tired by the time lunch time came. Did get my nap and read more on the book I'm reviewing. And tonight I have a really good supper waiting for me.
I don't think I could have happily done this five years ago. I feed on having people around me, and I usually try for some kind of sociability each day. So now I'm ready for social contat. Hmmmm--who should I call?
It's been a satisfactory weekend

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lessons learned from a three-year-old

Jacob arrived last night in a grumpty mood--he often does that on Friday after a hard week at pre-school. After sweetly telling me the new flowers on my porch were pretty, he wanted nothing more to do with me other than have me provide milk, snacks, and dinner. Over dinner, he announced he didn't like what I was eating--smoked salmon, cream cheese, and stir-fried vegetables, an odd combination I admit--but he liked his dinner--chicken nuggets, with ketchup of course, and broccoli, though he didn't eat the latter. Announcing he was finished (no, "May I be excused please?) he retreated to the daybed to watch TV. When I thanked him for eating dinner with me, he growled, "I didn't eat dinner with you." All my advances were rebuffed, which I told him hurt my feelings (grandparents will identify). I decided about seven I'd turn on the monitors, leave him in the family room, and retreat to the office to watch, "Who Do You Think You Are," the new program I really like but hardly ever get to watch because Jacob is usually here on Friday nights. I admit it's hard to watch my program with Batman coming through on the minotor loud (very) and clear.
You guessed it. Within ten minutes, I heard him pad through the dining room. He came into the office, looked around, announced he wanted his daddy, and then said, "I want you to hold me." So he climbed up on my lap and we spent over half an hour looking for and finding dog videos on the internet. Sometimes he laughed, sometimes he said, "That's a bad dog," and always he dug his knees into my thighs and whacked my shins and calves with his shoes. At one point, he said, "Juju, I like you."
When he tired of that, it was back to the family room, where I settled down with a manscript I'm reading, and he watched the DVD. But pretty soon, he said, "I want you to cuddle me." So we cuddled the rest of the long evening (his parents stayed out very late, at least for Jacob and me). We watched Beauty and the Beast, and at one point I asked if the beast was going to turn into a prince. He gave me a pitying look and said knowledgeably, "Not yet, Juju!"
But as I lay there on the daybed, with that warm little body cuddling close to mine, sometimes throwing itself across my body, I thought it just doesn't get much better than this. And when he left I got an unusual number of kisses and, as they went to the car, frequent calls of "I love you, Juju."
The change in his disposistion was sudden and dramatic, but the lesson learned is that we have to let chidlren come to us, even our own grandchildren, and not push our affection on them. It's a lesson that the wisest of us know about strange children, dogs, and cats but we forget about it with those we love so desperately. And it's even a lesson probably to be lealrned about friendships--let it be a two-way street. Because I love to cook and entertain, I sometimes think I wear my closest friends (and neighbors) out with dinner invitations, and I'm learning to back off.
Then again I have some friends who never make the phone call, suggest the lunch, take the initiative, though they're always delighted when you approach them. Then you have to decide whether that friendship is a blessing or a burden.
Life's relationships are not easy to puzzle out, but Jacob taught me a good lesson. I'll probably have to re-learn it twenty-eleven times.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Weighty matters

Thursday is my usual day to weigh, and this morning started off really badly, because I had gained almost two lbs. It was, to say the least, depressing, and the cloud has hung over me all day. I reviewed the week in my mind to see what bad things I'd eaten--two pirogues, scalloped potatoes, 2  bites of chicken Kiev, 2 good-sized pieces of Black Forest cake (not all at once--in three meals), one egg over easy, one piece of wheat toast with a tiny bit of butter and jam. That's not two lbs.! I would stop paying attention to the whole thing if I could just stop gaining weight and stabilize, but I envision myself becoming a fat old lady--not an attractive picture. People say to me "Why worry about five pounds?" But now the question should be "Why worry about eight pounds?" and I think that's good reason.
But in a way I blame Weight Watchers. In the good old days, before friends (?) led me to the program, I ate carefully but well and didn't seem to gain weight. For breakfast out, with that egg, I'd have had hash browns and bacon; if I wanted chocolate I ate it. No more Every point adds up. I am measuring and weighing my food, and I wonder if I'm not thinking too much about it. Betty suggested tonight that she has a book about hypnotizing yourself into weight loss, and Jordan is to bring me the South Beach Diet book tomorrow night. Maybe I'll just quit weighing so religiously, entering points nightly, and try to eat sensibly and see what happens. I'll give it one more week, but I am reminded of the book, Life is Too Short: Eat Dessert First.
Even though I like to cook, I'm careful about what I cook and the portions I eat--I do think small portions are a big part of it. But today I was delighted to receive from the Dallas Morning News a book to revieew entitled 97 Orchard. It chronicles the food of five families, immigrants from nothern Europe, who lived in the same tenement in New York City over a thirty- or forty-year span covering the turn of the twentieth century. I can't wait to dig into it tonight.
If we have another freeze--perish the thought--I'm done for, but my front porch is full of greenery. With Greg's help, it boasts hanging baskets (ferns, sweet potatoes, and wandering jew--I don't get enough sun for flowers), there are sweet potato plants in pretty pots on either side of the front steps, and newly planted herbs in my wonderful old concrete planter boxes--I bet they've been here since the house was built in the 1920s. Last year during the spring and summer I was wrestling with the retirement questions, and I don't think I ever paid attention much to my porch--just let things that had wintered through come up as they would. This year I'm paying attention. Porch parties in the near future!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cliche characters and situations

Today on a blog I read an interview with a seasoned mystery writer--been at it 30 years--who said she created her new series featurig a tough woman with a salvage business (read junk yard) because she thought she'd scream if she read one more mystery about a sweet woman sleuth with a cat and a cop for a boyfriend and a meddling mother. Ooops! She just described Skeleton in a Dead Space, which my agent is trying right now to market. Well, Kelly Jones isn't sweet--she's pretty savvy, and she's a harried real estate agent trying to raise two little girls (I think they're the best characters in the story). No cat, but she does acquire a cop as a boyfriend during the course of the novel--and a dog. The blog is making me think outside the box and go back to that series I started on the Blue Plate Cafe.
I was particularly interested to read Martin's comments because I'd just discovered her Blackbird Sisters series, read two (just finished Dead Girls Don't Wear Diamonds tonight), and found them delightfully different, funny, and suspenseful. The Blackbird sisters are about the wackiest trio I've found in fiction recently.
I've been thinking for some time how frustrating I find mysteries in which the protagonist deliberately, for less than believable reasons, cuts herself off from the man in her life--she distrusts him, or she thinks she can't share her secret knowlege about the mystery with him, or she just erects some barrier between them. You just want to shake the woman or scream at her to be sensible. It's a great device for drawing out the plot, but it's a trap I hope I avoided, at least to some extent. Talk about cliches!
Thunderstorms in North Texas tonight. I just got Scooby in before they started--he is terrified by them, and I didn't want to have to try to dry him off--he won't stand still for having his feet toweled, so I have him dance around on some old rugs I put by the back door. But now we're both snug in the study and listening to the rain. Good for all those plants that Greg put in yesterday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sticking to writing

The late Erma Bombech once wrote that when she rolled a blank piece of paper into the typewriter, she'd rather scrub windows or floors. That dates her, but many of us feel that way faced with a blank computer screen. Last night at a dinner I sat at a table that included Newell Williams, president of TCU's Brite Divinity School. He is taking a semester (maybe a year) from his duties to write a history of the Campbellite movement. When I asked how it was going, he said fine and then went on to say that the big thing was to find if he could really spend three days a week in isolation writing. And he found he could. More power to him.
I write sporadically. I was an enthusiastic 9,000 words into a new manuscript when life distracted me--a manuscript to edit, a crisis at TCU Press that required some work, blogging, Facebook, paying bills, the ordinary things of life--plus reading this or that mystery I'd gotten involved in. (I hope my agent isn't reading this!) I have every good intention now of getting back to it, because when I do I'll be carried away with it and find, like Newell did, that I can indeed write for long stretches--and it's a joy. No, I can't write for eight hours as some do, but I write fast and can get a lot of words on a page in a three-hour session. But every day so far something has distracted me. Yesterday was a hectic day, and today lots of piddling things--both at my desk and still straightening my house from having 14 people for dinner Sunday--kept me busy all morning. Plus I dutifully bagged up a lot of dog poop to put out for the garbage tomorrow--maybe you didn't want to know that, but it about killed my back.
After a nice lunch with Sue and her son Hunter, who explained that he was going with us because he was sick (coughing all night from allergies), I came home and called Greg, who came down and planted all the things I'd bought yesterday--herbs, sweet potato plants, etc. He hung a hanging plant and pointed out that two pots didn't have drainage holes, but he thinks he can drill them. The porch is already looking so much  better than it did last summer, when I paid it little attention.
But then again, the afternoon was too far gone to start anything, so I took a nap, and tonight I'm back to that novel. Tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday don't look much better for writing, but it's on my mind.
Good dinner tonight--leftover sirloin strips from the taco party with goat cheese and cilantro. Maybe because the meat was warmer tonight, the cheese kind of mushed up and was delicious. I stir-fried some sugar snap peas and sliced mushrooms, and then spluged on half of the piece of Black Forest Cake I had left. Weight Watchers has no points for it, but I had two points for the day and arbitrarily assigned it two points--probably not enough but self-delusion is great.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pretty much a professional day

No writing today. I was more a work person, though Jeannie and I went plant shopping this morning. I got lots of pots and some herbs, plus one hanging basket. Still need two more baskets, plus oregano and mint. Not sure why I walked by all the varieties of mint the nursery had, but the oregano was huge pots and I wawnt 4".  Greg is coming tomorrow to talk about what to do with what.
After lunch at Carshon's with Jeannie, I came home for a quick nap--it's an addiction by now--then to a 3:00 p.m.meeting at the press. I sure hope they don't do that often because it messes up my day.But it was a meeting I couldn't miss, mostly talking about the acquisitions list, which is my baliwick.
Then home for a quick change and off to the annual Friends of the Library dinner. Over dinner, I had a most interesting and far-ranging talk with the assistant dean of the library and one of the members of the Friends board. Talked ranged from the little lizard that crawled out of the hanging plant I bought today--Jeannie did NOT want it in her car--to contractors, travels, and phobias.
The speaker was Deborah Dean, author Madonnas of Leningrad, and she was fascinating. Her book is aboiut the crating and shipping of the valuable art to get it out of the Hermitage before the Nazis bombed and how some of the museum staff lived in bomb shelters under the museum during the bombing. One man used to give tours of the museum, pointing to empty frames and speaking eloquently about the works of art that belonged there. They have now, of course, all been returned to their frames. But Deborah's talk about how she became a writer, how she researched and wrote the novel, and her trip to Russia was inspirational. She wrote the book without having been to Russia but went there three weeks before the final manuscript was due to "make sure I got it right." A really pleasant evening, with a Russian meal to accompany it--pirogues instead of salad (there went the diet) and chicken Kiev.
A long day,and I'm sleepy. No deep thoughts, except that folks should read The Madonnas of Leningrad. Jeannie dropped off her copy of The Help today, which I think everyone but me has read. Mel, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where it's set, says it's dead one, so it's next on my list after I finish the Kate Carlisle mystery I'm reading. Such a lovely luxury to have time for reading in retirement.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

You can't beat a family get-tgether

 A potful of pictures, probably way too many for those who don't know the family, but we gathered tonight to celebrate Jordan's birthday--she has had, as she always does, a weeklong celebration. It was pandemonium, with nine adults, and children rainging from ten (okay she counts as an adult) to 8 months, everyone talking at once, laughing and having a great time. I'm indebted to Jay (sitting in the chair with a beer) not only for providing sirloin for the tacos but then slicing it thin and cooking it. The birthday girl is wearing a cowboy hat brought by the Frisco Alters from Kemah. I don't know who the frowsy blonde with the wine is, but next to her is my neighbor, Susan (married to Jay). For years (since she was six, maybe) Jordan has wanted tacos on her birthday, and I have gotten weary of seasoning hamburger with those packets (although I do have recipes for home seasoning), chopping tomatoes, onions, lettuce, grating cheese, etc. So tonight we had Oaxacan taxos (I will have to verify that with one of our authors)--sirloin strips (delicious) with goat cheese and cilantro, plus Jordan's layered bean dip, queso, guacamole, salsa, and a dip of cream cheese and salsa. For dessert: a huge Black Forest Cake--the kind with meringue and whipping cream layers, no cherries, not cake--absolutely delicious. I got a cake big enough for 20 and fourteen of us ate almost all of it.
The children had a high old time--Maddie and Edie are so good with little ones. Everyone was laughing and talking at once and it was the kind of family gathering I relish. I refused clean-up offers because it's really easier for me to do it, and I can relive the fun while I do. I did enlist help beforehand in tossing the salad, reheating the queso,etc.
Jacob was here from a little after noon Saturday until noon Sunday--the longest stretch I've kept him. We got along fine--okay, one meltdown over his clothes; he has a real thing about what he will and will not wear and would prefer to go naked, which we just don't quite accept,especiallyh when it's as cold as it was Saturday. He has new threats when he doesn't like what I'm doing:: "You're not my buddy, and you're not my best friend anymore" followed by "I'm going to tell my mommy and daddy on you," to which I always say, "Please do." This morning he was feeling pugilistic and said, "I'm going to punch you or my daddy." I replied, "Oh, good, punch your daddy." He looked at me quizzically and said, "But Daddy's not here!" He has much more sunshiny moments than dark, and even when he was sobbing in his meltdown yesterday he would cling to me. Maybe the times I like best: when he first wakes up and, still sleepy, sits in my lap and curls against me, quite silent and still.
Tomorrow is another day, back to the world of business, though I am looking forward to going plant shopping with Jeannie. I sincerely hope we've had the last of winter. As I fixed supper I could see tiny flakes of snow falling, and this morning there was a dusting of snow on the garage roofs when I looked out back. Jamie, farther east and north, had a good two inches and posted pictures on Facebook. Tomorrow is supposed to be back in the 60s and the next day the 70s. That old cliche about Texas weather is certainly true. I feel safe though in getting herbs, sweet potato plants, fountain grass, and maybe wheat grass tomorrow, plus pots to replace those that froze. It's good that spring is here.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I often send emails, particularly to my children, with a tag line of "stuff." Jordan doesn't like it, preferring to have one subject per email. But today's blog is about stuff.
This morning on the TODAY show I saw a segment about the Museum of the Little People in China. It's apparently one of the country's most acclaimed theme parks, and people throng to it. The "little people" or dwarfs (Help? what is the politically correct term these days) do gymnastics and slapstick comedy to amuse the audience, and they apparently are grateful for a steady job and regular income. The park is beseiged with applications from little people all over China. But one can't help wondering if this is making a spectacle out of challenged human beings--or is it genuinely offering them an opportunity? The little people interviewed seemed quite cheerful and happy about their situation, but a lingering doubt remains in my mind. It's makes them sort of like the the bearded lady or the fat lady in midway side shows.
The Texas SBOE continues to be a subject of concern, now getting national attention with some very good points. For one thing, Texas buys more school texts than almost any other state (California isn't buying new ones until 2014), so what Texas demands is likely to go into texts that go to smaller states and school districts.So the nation will be raising a generation of kids who believe that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president ever, global warming is a myth,and Jefferson Davis, not Thomas Jefferson, a model of leadership. Jefferson is out because he coined the phrase "separation of church and state." The head of the SBOE was quoted as saying the way he judged a book was by first looking at how it handled Christian values (i.e. right-wing Baptist). These people are not historians, and I am bothered that historians (and apparently teachers) have no say in the content of textbooks. Makes me want to start writing supplemental texts for Texas schools. Hmmmm--wonder if there's a market there.
My cooking experiment of the evening: spinach, mushrooms,and an egg, baked at a high temperature in a parchment paper envelope. I tried this once before, and ended with a hard fried egg (I like them runny), which I attributed to Jacob dallying over something and saying, "Be patient, Juju, be patient," when I told him my dinner was overcooking. Tonight I had no Jacob to blame it on, but I still didn't think it was a success. The egg was partly hard-cooked and partly too runny, even for me, and it was sort of without a spark of flavor. I won't give up cooking in parchment--fish are wonderful done that way--but no more eggs. Speaking of cooking, I was reading Bon Appetit tonight and found a recipe for sole meuniere. Delighted to read that it was the way I've been cooking Dover sole for years--one of my favorite dishes!
Texas weather is about to triumph again. Today it was in the 70s (not sure it ever quite got there because it didn't feel that warm to me, and I was out in the morning but didn't venture out much after noon). Tomorrow it is to thunderstorm and go to the 30s by late afternoon, with possible snow. Ah, the first day of spring!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Working and eating

For weeks now, I've had an essay about Elmer Kelton hanging over my head. Maybe I'm still too close to the subject, still astounded at a world without Elmer, but I couldn't get to it. I wrote about a thousand words and stalled, distracted by other, easier projects--well, not easier but different. But today I resolved to get back to it and wrote about 1500 words. My assignment is the preface to a festschrift (a volume of essays in honor of the subject), so really I'm writing an overview of Elmer''s life and career, and I have to avoid stepping on the toes of those who are writing about various aspects of his work. I cannot for instance venture into the humor in his novels, nor the commentary on race relations, and I fear I may have trod on the toes of my friend Ruth McAdams, whose subject is "Kelton on Kelton." But an editor can sort that out, and I am now delighted that I see the end in sight. Tonight I'm tired and don't want to tackle summing up Elmer's career (as if that was ever in my capability), but I can see where it is going. Confession: much of what I have written comes directly from Elmer Kelton and West Texas: A Literary Biography, by one Judy Alter, published in 1988. The trouble is that Elmer had a full and prolific career between 1988 andhis death in 2009. Writing it, and reading my own words about Elmer, has brought him back full force into my consciousness,and as I said in an memorial piece I wrote, "There's a hole in Texas literature that will not be easily filled," and I cannot get used to the thought of a world without Elmer Kelton.
The highlights of my day were, I'm afraid, meals. I met two TCU friends for lunch--women I've known but don't often lunch with. We ate at an Italian restaurant and I went in determined to have a salad, except I didn't see one that appealed to me. The special of the day was lamb stew which almost broke down all my resolve, but I settled on a veal dish and ate very little of the pasta. It was delicious. Then Betty and I had sushi for dinner--I had the house salad at Tokyo Cafe (our favorite place). The salad has a semi-sweet plum dressing, which I would think I would hate but I don't--I really like it. I had salmon sashimi, so without the rice it isn't too many points. The good news is that I lost a pound last week, so I hope to continue that this week. Lots of tuna fish salad, which is fine by me. With Jordan's b'day dinner and the Frisco Alters here Saturday and Sunday, I may break my diet, but I'll keep trying.
Spring is trying to happen in Fort Worth, but it doesn't really make it. A predicted high of 70 never reached beyond 64, and when I went to lunch it seemed cool to me. Tomorrow is supposed to be lovely, but Saturday and Sunday will be rainy and cool. Monday I'm going plant shopping with Jeannie, so I sincerely hope we'll have no more freezes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Birthdays and Bookstores

Jordan, my youngest child, turned 35 today--fortunately, she's not yet at the point of being sensitive about her age, but I can hardly believe it. Sometimes I think we should celebrate her birthday in April, since she was 30 days old when we brought her home, a placid, happy baby. That night, friends gathered to see the new baby, and she slept through it all in the midst of the crowd. That sort of set the tone for her life--well, in a way.
Today we celebrated with what has been a tradition--the two of us going to lunch. We have gone for years to our "family" restaurant, Cafe Aspen, which has now closed. But David, the owner and our good friend, is now at Mira Vista Country Club and invited us to come out there for lunch, which we did. It's a lovely place, and we enjoyed lingering over lunch and a glass of wine, plus a good visit with David. I was a little intimidated--new spaces sometimes do that to me, and I felt a bit like I was barging in where I didn't belong, so I held close to Jordan while we walked across the parking lot.
After lunch we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond to look for the makeup mirror she wanted but didn't see what she wants, let alone at a reasonable price. I found one I thought might do but Jord thought $40 was too much and she would "research" online. It was amazing how much better I walked at Bed, Bath & Beyond--didn't need Jordan, didn't need my stick, etc.
It was a satisfying outing and a good visit with my baby-child. As the youngest, she has always been petted and spoiled and has sometimes earned her nickname of "the Princess." We'll have family birthday Sunday with the tacos she always wants but a a twist on them--I am tired to death of hamburger meat seasoned with that packet taco seasoning. I'm going to experiment.
A piece in the mail yesterday told me that a local independent bookstore, founded and now owned by friends of mine, is closing. I'm not surprised in this day and age and wonder how it held on so long--I suspect by school book sales. Connections has always been about more than selling books--it was about bringing people together, introducing them to new ideas, people, groups, activities, whatever. For a while I led a book group that met there. The store was new age when that was new, but as Peggy said to me today, "I'ts time. Times are changing." Since she never bought a computer, I guess she's right. Sad, though, to see another indie go under.The book trade is changing so fast, as is the business of publishing. Makes me glad I retired.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grandmother on duty

Jordan called this morning at 7:14, woke me up, then said, "Call me when you wake up. Jacob's sick, and I need you to come over here for a couple of hours." Half an hour later I called back and said, "I'll watch him all morning if you'll bring him here." Ended up I had Jacob all day, except for the hour his dad took him to the doctor. He was pretty cheerful for a kid with a temperature and a cold, and after he came back from the doctor he ate a good lunch. I put him down for a nap and had to go back much later to issue a strong warning: no more playing with his toys. So he slept for an hour and a half, and I slept for a little less, but not a peaceful sleep. I kept hearing him cough and slept with one ear open. When he woke up he complained he didn't feel well, kept pointing to his throat, so I guess he had a sore throat. Then we had the scene of trying to get him the medicine Jordan brought, and all the while Elizabeth was patiently waiting because she and I were going to work on a joint project. Then both Colin and Lisa called, and I didn't have time to chat with either of them.
Jordan left with Jacob, Elizabeth and I poured ourselves some wine, and had a good meeting.
It was a wet, raw day, and I didn't mind staying in at all--though I canceled a lunch appointment. Jacob was good company most of the day and much of the morning, he watched a DVD while I worked at my desk--so we were companionable yet in separate rooms.
But I will confess at the end of the day I'm tired. All that step and fetch it business--I want water, I want milk, I need to peepee, no I don't want to peepee, no I don't want to change my clothes (his pants were not wet but damp). Each time he said, "I want," I said, "May I please,"' and he repeated it. I've just forgotten how much work three-year-olds are.
Tomorrow I have a meeting at ten and cannot keep him, plus Jordan and I were going to lunch to celebrate her St. Patrick's Day b'day, but who knows? I may take her Doris casserole for a stay-at-home lunch. Maybe I can manage a little wine too.
Anyway it was a good day, nice to be needed as a grandmother and to be able to help. Even though Jacob did say, "You're a bad girl, Juju!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Are you ready to retire?

I had the ideal retirement day today. Still enjoying daylight savings, I slept until almost 8:30 (as did the cat and dog--the latter didn't want to go out until almost 9:30). By the time I got myself ready for the day, read the paper, dealt with emails and phone calls, it was 10:45 before I got out the door to the office to do just a couple of things. Then home to pay bills, do some email ordering (yes, I do that) and it was lunchtime. This afternoon, I'm reading--part studying, part fun.
The rest of the day has gone the same way--a bit of work, a lot of relaxation, good veal leftovers with asparagus and mushrooms. But I honestly have been using my brain a bit too. I found a quote that really hit home: an editor wrote about occasionally, reading a proposed manuscript at home, his hair stood on end, and he thought, "I could publish that and do it right, and it might amount to something." I've had manuscripts that struck me that way, and I've had fair success with them. I won't try to list them, but the Calvin Littlejohn book I've wanted to publish for twenty-five years and just did, thanks to Bob Ray Sanders, has met with tremendous reception and today we have word that a donor has funded buying a copy for every Fort Worth middle and high school. Littlejohn was the pioneer black photographer who chronicled the black community when newspapers, etc., wouldn't. His photogrpahs are striking, both in terms of photography (he was inventive, even making his own enlarger) and of the history he captured. A truly remarkable story, and we've brought it to the public. There have been other books I've felt that way about--books that thrilled me when I held them in my hand finally, after all that went into them. I really wish others could understand that feeling.
I am both amused and incensed today by the ongoing controversy over the decisions of the State Board of Education in Texas. Apparently they have decided to make Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson heroes of leadership, while omitting all mention of Thomas Jefferson as a Renaissance man. Of course, Stonewall Jackson fits the right-wing conservative stereotype perfectly--he was a Puritanical Christian who cared neither about his own death or that of others, which is why he fought so valiantly. The whole teaching of human values is messed up in this state, and I wonder who appoints the SBOE. Governor Perry? Textbook publishers are going to either have a hard time getting their books into the state's curriculum or they're going to have to skew history so much that other states will be left reeling. Much as I love Texas and its history, sometimes I wonder why I live here. Canada sometimes looks pretty good, if it weren't so far from family and friends. Mexico is out as the violence escalates and now has targeted Americans with connection to the Embassy in Ciudad Juarez. I even worry about friends in El Paso, though a friend who takes frequent tours to Mexico told me he felt completely safe on his last tour. The world is not a fun place these days.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daylight savings and a gourmet meal

"Spring ahead" may distress a lot of people but Scooby and I loved it this morning--slept until almost nine o'clock, which meant I felt like that morning was almost gone by the time I read the morning paper with my coffee. It doesn't take me long to read the paper these days, even on Sunday, because I find little I want to pause over. But two things caught my notice this morning: one was that the cartel violence in Mexico has moved as far south as Acapulco, where thirteen people, including a police officer, were found dead, some beheaded, others "riddled with bullets" (nice image over Sunday coffee). Jordan's work keeps taking her to southern Mexico. I worry, and she assures me the tourist places are safe. So I left her a message that she absolutely cannot go there any more. I don't care if she is going to be thirty-five Wed., I am still the "boss of her," as Jacob would say, when I want to be!
The other item that caught my eye was that the State Board of Education has voted that the history curriculum in schools will contain no mention of the fact that Tejanos died at the Alamo! Talk about rewriting history. I guess that third-grade book on Enrico Garza that I once contemplated is not a good idea. Besides, even if they didn't die, Martin de Leon and Juan Seguin must present problems for history teachers. If it weren't so sad, I'd laugh.
After my slow start this morning, I moved slowly--and it was a luxury. But about four this afternoon, I got busy cooking for friends Rodger and Linda Preston from Granbury. I was fixing a meal that was supposed to take 20 minutes to prepare at the last minute, but I wanted to sip a glass of wine and visit during those twenty minutes, so I figured how to make it ahead. I decided to concentrate on one dish at a time, instead of having two many pans on the fire at the same time So I made a simple version of pasta Alfredo (I know, not at all on my diet)--I used wild mushroom pasta,, made a sauce of butter and cream (yikes!), tossed the pasta with the sauce and a bit of the cooking water, added good parmesan, drizzled it with truffle oil, and set the whole thing aside. Next I turned to veal scallopine (a real splurge but I so enjoyed the veal I had the other night). Dusted them in flour and sauteed them in olive oil--Linda asked me how you cook veal, and I said, "Quickly," which Rodger, the main cook in that famly, echoed with "Very quickly." I removed the scallopine from the pan, drained off the grease, and splashed in a good bit of white wine to scrape up the brown bits, then added butter and a about 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar. Poured the sauce over the veal, topped it with a lot of capers, covered it tightly in foil and put the whole thing in a warm oven. Washed and cut asparagus, cut up the salad greens I had washed in the morning, and got out the salad dressing I had made (basic olive oil, champagne vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dry mustard, and worcestershire). I laid out a small basket of tiny toasted bread squares and filled a small pottery bowl with whipped cream cheese--hint to the wise: whipped cream cheese is about half as fattening as even light brick cream cheese but do not use it for cooking. The moisture content is completely different, and it won't cook up correctly.
So when Rodger and Linda got here at six, after closing their shop, Almost Heaven, on the square in Granbury, all I had to do was put smoked salmon on the appetizer platter. We had wine and salmon with cream cheese and toast squares on the porch--remarking on how lovely and warm and light it was. After an hour, when we were ready for dinner, all I had to do was heat the pasta,stir fry the asparagus, and toss the salad. It was, if I do modestly say so, a terrific meal. And I have leftovers, but I'd love to give away the pasta--too fattening. After dinner we took a last glass of wine to the porch, but with the sun down it had gotten too cool for comfort, and we didn't linger long.
Linda is a longtime friend, dating back to the early '70s; our children grew up together, Colin being the age of her oldest daughter and Jamie and the younger one matching. Linda remembers that Megan would come to their house and make a beeline for her dressing table because I wasn't much into cosmetics but Linda was, and Megan found lots of experiment with. Rodger came on the scene after Linda was widowed--we all grieved because Lynn was a wonderful man--but now she and Rodger have been married ten years, and I'm crazy about him. He's funny, he likes good food, and he's a staunch and realistic liberal. So it was a pleasant evening.
The coolness of the evening reminds me that we're supposedly due one more realy cold spell late this month. I'm holding off on buying herbs. Linda and Rodger are in a house that's new to them, and they have found volunteer arugula and basil growing in the grass. They've already made salads, but how do you mow with greens like that sprouting?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Museum of the Americas

If you wanted to use a slightly pejorative term, you'd call Weatherford's store-front Museum of the Americas a "mom-and-pop" museum, but it is so much more. Owners Harold and Elizabeth Lawrence have an amazing collection of artifacts from the Americas, and their displays are inventive, clearly labeled, and absolutely fascinating. They have a huge collection relating to the Day of the Dead and do an annual exhibit that outdoes many larger museums. I once listened in awe as Harold described the assembly of the arrowhead collection--it arrived in unlabeled pieces all jumbled in a box. Countless hours of research went into identifying each piece, labeling all, and mounting them for exhibit. It's fascinating to stand there and study them.
Tonight was the opening of an exhibit on Majolica pottery, with clear signage tracing the transition of the pottery technique from Europe to Mexico. Several pieces were of 16th-Centrury origin in Europe but much of the exhibit was pieces, both historical and contemporary, from Mexico, many of them absolutely stunning, a few whimsical. There were floor tiles--I was interested to learn that the edges of the colors were slightly raised to prvent running--and there was touristware from Mexico (what it sound like) and petatillo pottery characterized by a peculiar cross-hatch background, talavera pottery with its intense colors. Guanajuato Mexico is a major pottery center, but Puebla was the first to use the pottery wheel (introduced to Mexico by the Spanish) and to high fire pottery peices. I learned a lot time and loved it.  Of course I could see a book about it, but it turns out Harold is working on two other books.
The museum also has a small gift shop, with a wonderful and unusual collection of greeting cards. I came away with cards for many of the spring b'days among family and friends.
Harold and Elizabeth are gracious hosts, and there was good cheese, salami, wine, etc. Usually at these gatherings I see more people that I know, but tonight I only saw a few. Carol Roark and I had a good visit on the way out and back and agreed we were glad we went. Carol's husband, Lon Burnam, was tied up with family matters, and Carol said she probably wouldn't have gone alone. I wouldn't have gone without one or both of them, so it worked well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friends, after a bad week

It's amazing how friends can raise your spirits--as can good food. Last night Betty and I had dinner at a new Mediterranean restaurant which shall go unnamed because we weren't much impressed--hummus was bland, not enough garlic, dolma with lamb didn't have much flavor (I couldn't taste lamb at all!), and Betty said her Greek salad didn't have much character. So, even in spite of a good review in the paper and one friend's opinon that the hummus was the best in town, we won't be going back. Still we had a good visit and laughed a lot.
Tonight Jordan, Christian, Jacob and I met friends Elizabeth and Weldon at Chadra, a Lebanese/Italian restaurant down the street from me (the hummus is wonderful), and had a great dinner and lots of fun. Jacob was in an awful mood before we got there, but he decided he liked Elizabeth and Weldon a lot and was charming during dinner. Christian had never eaten at Chadra and was curious, so he had the buffet and loved it--this from the picky eater. I've had the buffet and eaten way too much, so now I'm cautious, but I love some of their lamb dishes. Tonight I split a kid's order of spahettini marinara with Jacob, and we were both more than satisfied.
Besides that, it was fun. Elizabeth is someone I brag about--she was a student worker in our office for about two and a half years some sixteen years ago or more, and we've stayed close. Family and friends were cautious about Weldon at first but have now heartily welcomed him into the family--an evening spent with them is always a delight to me.
It was good to have such an evening, after a week that has been awful. I went to the dentist, gynecologist, and haircut person--who told me I had lice eggs (fortunately not hatched) in the back of my hair, we had a major crisis at TCU Press, and I gained quite a bit of weight last week. So today I felt down and out, ready for the boost of an evening with family and friends. I did buy the special shampoo, wash all the sheets, the dog's bed, etc., and spray everything that couldn't be washed. We inspected Jacob's hair but he is not guilty. Don't know where I picked the critters up, but Rosa, who cuts my hair, said lice love a clean head. Some small comfort.
Sometimes you're just down, when a series of not-so-pleasant things happen.To me, that's the time to draw back, reassess, and not push yourself. I didn't do anything constructive at all today--just read a mystery. I have an essay to write, a class to plan, and a mystery to write. I blew it all off. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A lovely interesting evening

I simply cannot resist posting this photo of Jacob in the outfit he wore to the neighborhood dinner last weekend. Those are his mother's cowboy boots (a tad or more too big for him) that she had worn to a "Cowboy Chic" party the night before. Not sure where the hat came from, but the shirt is the tops from his Halloween pajamas. The child is addicted to wearing pajamas everywhere!
Tonight I went to the second annual Bookish Frogs dinner. Such a delight! I saw many people that I was really glad to see and got lots of hugs and kisses. It was a warm, wonderful evening, with everyone in good spirits. Susan Petty (TCU Press editor) had put it together and did an outstanding job, including a great menu. The speaker was Bob Ray Sanders, talking about his book, Calvin Littlejohn: Portrait of a Community in Black and White. Littlejohn was the first--and for many years the only--photographer to chronicle the black community in Fort Worth. Bob Ray knows that community--or communities, for there was no one area--inside and out and did a tremendous job of research, writing cutlines, and pulling the book together. Plus he's a great natural speaker, so the evening was memorable. The book itself is a wonderful gift to the Fort Worth community, a precious record of a part of its history not often recorded. It was one of those nights that made me proud to be part of TCU Press, very proud.
I've been reading Phyllis Theroux's The Journal Keeper, a book for which she edited the journals she'd been keeping for several years. I dip my toe into it now and than, because it's not an upbeat book, but it's strikingly honest about the things that bother her--depression, worry about finances, uncertainty about writing--things that bother a lot of us. I found one quote that struck home to me: "God, remove my fear and direct my attention toward what you would have me be."
Chalres is for some uncharacteristic reason very interested in the problems and case of Tiger Woods, so I also found a quote that applied there though I think Theroux was quoting someone else: "Fame in this country is a religion that demands human sacrifice." I think it's true, and in spite of the fact that Tiger behaved abominably, I'm pulling for him to get his life--and his family life--back in order.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Reva's good beans

For years, Reva Ogilvie and I cooked together--she is the late wife of my friend Charles, mentioned often in these pages. We would fix good, homestyle dinners for our families and eat on the porch of their ranch house, overlooking a small lake. At sunset, it may be the closest I've ever come to heaven.
Reva and Charles had a series of guest cottages on the ranch, and the Alters always stayed in the first one, about a quarter mile from the main house. To get there and back, we passed a pen where Charles kept a steer named Houdini, so named for his ability to escape. The kids loved Houdini, stopped to talk to him, and pet him. One night at dinner, Charles asked, "Kids, how's your meal?" They responded with various versions of "Really great, Uncle Charles." And then he said, "You're eating Houdini." I think appetites went out the window.
Several of the recipes I got from Reva, before Alzheimers took her out of her kitchen and our lives, are in my cookbook, Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. One of my favorites was what I call "Reva's good beans." I haven't fixed it in years--it serves an army--but I took it to a pot-luck dinner in the neighborhood Sunday night. Monday morning I called Charles to say that I had fixed it and everyone loved the beans. Well, he waxed eloquent about how much heloved them and how he hadn't had them since Reva stopped cooking. So this morning I took him a styrfoam cup of Reva's beans and a plastic spoon to eat them. At ten o'clock in the morning he ate them right then, exclaiming about how good they were.
Tonight for supper I had Reva's beans and steamed spinach--a great dinner.
So here's how you do it (so easy):
Take one of the super-large cans of Ranch Style beans, rinse, drain, and put in crockpot
Add one 28 oz. ( or is it 32 oz.?) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 chopped onion
1/2 chopped green pepper
Simmer all day in the crockpot, stirring occasionally
This is absolutely the only recipe in which I put green pepper--I don't like it, my stomach resents it--but in this recipe I don't taste it, and my stomach doesn't seem to object.The other night there were 20 people for supper, give or take, including middle school kids who seemed to eat a lot of beans. I made a double batch, and both Christian and I took home good-sized servings. One batch really will serve Cox's army

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ho-hum weather, a new restaurant and an experimental dinner

Today, the steady slow drizzle that so benefits our gardens was getting old. It was chilly and damp, though not really cold. I suspect we're in for a long spring of this, and I try to be grateful. But sometimes I long for sun. And about 5:00 tonight I got my wish--the sun was shiny bright, even though everything was still soggy and wet and the schoolyard across the street was filled with puddles.
Still the day was brightened by lunch with my friend Carol. We tried out a new restaurant, Cat City Grill (so named because of Fort Worth's old reputation as Panther City--too long a story to repeat here), and enjoyed it. I passed on the hamburger, though she said hers was really good, and had a spinach salad with gorgonzola, dried cranberries, and bacon. There was much more spinach than the latter goodies and the dressing was a tad sweet, but I still ate every bite. They have wonderful appetizers, like fried lobster bites--what a temptation!
Carol and I share a lot of professional interests, especially the history of Fort Worth, and she is reading a manuscript for me now. But we're also longtime friends, and she said a most interesting (and flattering) thing to me. When I was telling her about my renewed difficulty with open spaces, she said, "For me, it just makes you human." She said that she admired what I'd done and accomplished in my life but was glad to know I had a very human weakness. I laughed, demurred, but said, "Can I lean on you?" and she gave me a big hug and said, "Anytime." Aren't friends great?
Tonight I had an experimental dinner. I've really been trying to eat up the food in my freezer, and I came across a small portion of ground veal, left from I know not what. I sauteed it with some garlic, breaking up the pieces as I went, and then threw in sliced mushrooms, asparagus pieces, and sugar snap peas. When it was all almost crisp-done I seasoned it with salt, pepper, a bit of thyme, lemon, and a splash of white wine. Then I ate it out of the small skillet I'd cooked it in (oh, what would my mother say!). But it was so good. I may have to buy more veal! And I have very few dishes to wash.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A contented cat

This is a contented cat, sleeping happily on my desk, where he prefers to spend most of his time. Wywy (full name Wynona Judley) is 18, an old man now. When he was a kitten, Jamie found him on a back rural road in Minnesota and named him Wynona Judley. Only months later, we learned he is a he not a she, so now we have pronoun confusion--he, she, it. It doesn't bother Wywy a lot, but it bothers us--Jordan hates it when I say he, and half the time I say she. We are pretty sure he's part Maine Coon and is surely the most affectionate, attention-needing cat I've ever known.
Today is my brother's birthday. I won't give away his age, but he's six-and-a-half years older than me, so you can figure it out if you want to. I called early this morning with birthday greetings, only to find out I owe him a public apology for last night's blog. He never thought I had a brain tumor--that was my interpretation of what he was saying (give me a little medical knowledge, from having been around doctors all my life, and I am dangerous). What John didn't realize was that I don't have an awkward gait when I'm not suffering from my fear of open space--I walk as well as anyone else (and probably more smoothly than he does, since he has that sort of bowleg-old-cowboy gait). He thought I had some neurological deficit, but I assured him that isn't true. When I'm confident, walking next to someone, I can walk with the best of them. Anyway, he's a wonderful brother--I looked long and hard at brother b'day cards but they were all so sappy I couldn't buy one. And as I told him, nothing jumped out at me and said, "John would like this for his birthday." So he may get a present in May or July. Who knows? But I am delighted to see him, at an age he never thought he'd live to see, happier than he's ever been in his life.
And speaking of age, I visited my friend Charles last night. Since he's been on the nursing care floor of the retirement home, he's gained almost twenty pounds and is one happy, bright camper. Friends from his Unitarian church were there, and we had a really fun time visiting. Charles is a delight and an inspiration.
Lovely wet day with slow, drizzly rain that really did a lot for the plants that Greg put in yesterday. I spent the morning cooking (what else on Sunday?), but it really wasn't much. I put together a tamale pie casserole that I'd made the sauce for last night--you make it with polenta instead of masa. And I made a pot of Reva's good beans (Reva was Charles' wife) and took both to neighbors Margaret and Dennis Johnson for a going-away party for Sue and Alex and Hunter. The Johnsons are wonderfully hospitable in a beautiful house, and it was a really pleasant evening.
But I'd spent the rest of the day doing stuff--running and emptying the dishwasher, riding my stationary bike, showering, checking emails, and, of course, reading. Then lulled by the rain I had a good nap and was up and ready to go to the 4 p.m. party. Jay and Dennis came to get my casserole and pot of beans (the latter was really heavy), and Susan walked across the street with me. I managed to send the rest of my casserole home with Christian (Jordan stayed home sick and Jacob arrived wearing her boots and a cowboy hat--wish I'd gotten a picture of that!). I also sent some beans with him but brought quite a bit back with me.  So I've got leftover to start the week, but they are non-fattening. I don't want to talk about all the cheese in the tamale pie, but it sure was good.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

An old bugaboo comes back

Lately I've been having my fear of open spaces again--it's a bugaboo that has come and gone through most of my adult life.My doctor tells me I'm just not wired like other people, and my brother (a physician) thinks it's either a brain tumor or too much wine, but I know what it is. The classic definition of agoraphobia is "an abnormal fear of open spaces." I have been particularly aware of it this past week and wonder if it's not because I've been spending more time at home. I realize I could easily become a recluse, and then agoraphobia would close its tight circle around me. I've fought this battle before and will fight it again, but sometimes when I look at an open space it's like having a panic attack, thinking I can't do it. If I'm walking next to someone, I'm great and stride along with the best of them; if I work up a head of steam, walking along next to something, I can almost sail across an open space, but don't ask me to strike off cold across an empty parking lot.
It's been on my mind today because I went to breakfast with Jordan, Christian and Jacob, and as we left the house I said,"Wait for me. I may need an arm." Well, of course, I didn't--I walked next to Christian, down two sets of stairs, a short sidewalk and across a patch of grass laced with tree roots and did just fine. When we came home my neighbors were working in their yard and my neighbor, Greg, who takes care of my yard, was dividing iris and planting Mexican marigold and lamb's ear. Jordan stopped to talk with them, and I longed to but couldn't make myself step over the hose and down the walk alone. Then, when Greg was through, he asked me to come look, and I know he noticed that I stayed by the railing or the tall rosemary--anything I could grab on to. (I neither had my cane nor had taken anti-anxiety medicine, both of which make it better.) But I've been more conscious of it this week, which is not good--just makes me lose my confidence all the more.
Oh, I do go places alone--the groceries I like, the office, the drugstore, doctor's offices (well, some), places I'm familiar with. New territory is a lot worse. But tonight I went to visit Charles at Trinity Terrace, the assisted living facility. That trip was really hard for me at first--he's on the same corridor, same floor, where my mom died. A couple of times I took friends with me, but one day I gutted up and went alone, and now it's easy--even walking across the open area between the parking and the entrance. And was I glad I went--friends of his from the Unitarian Church were there. I was pleased to meet them, and we had a great visit, swapping stories. Charles started going to church there three or four years ago, and I have absolutely never seen a body of worshippers reach out to someone like they have to Charles. They visit, take him to lunch, take him to church, and fill his life.
I tell myself this too shall pass, and it will--it always has before. A big part of it, since it's stress-related, may be getting used to retirement. I just finished a big project and am ready to go back to writing my novel--but that's like a shot in the dark. Who knows if anyone will ever want to read it?
Okay, I'm going to quit being morose and go back to the British novel I'm reading. Tomorrow is a new day.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Dogs, weight, and my hero of the day

I took my dog to the vet today for his annual check-up. This is not as easy as it sounds. Scooby is a ten-year-old Australian shepherd who still thinks he's two and has the energy and enthusiasm to go with the age of his imagination. Getting him into the car is no problem--getting the collar around his neck is more so, and keeping him in the back seat is a major undertaking. Last night on the phone Colin said to me, "Be very careful," worried about Scoob interfering with my driving. This morning the dog was absolutely beside himself because we saw bicyclists and another dog--he knew he had to get out there and herd them! When I got to the vet's office (on a very busy street corner), I simply called and asked if someone would come get him, which they most obligingly did. Then mid-morning the vet called to say he needed his teeth cleaned, which always scares me. I once lost a dog to cardiac arrest after he had his teeth cleaned (he had other health issues, although he was a young dog), but then I also once lost my mom's old dog to systemic infection which came from infected teeth. So I now grit my own teeth and go ahead with it. After lunch, however, I had a moment of panic and called to tell them he'd eaten this morning. He'd already had his teeth cleaned and was waking up, so tonight I have a healthy, shots-up-to-date dog and a much lighter wallet.
I asked about Scooby's weight, because he looks so much heavier to me, but it's just his winter coat which needs to come off. With the weather we've had, I'm afraid to have his summer haircut yet. I had hoped he'd gained a bit so that I could say, "Well, that makes two of us." But he hasn't. I have. I was appalled when I stepped on the scale yesterday--after losing the week before, I had gained almost two pounds. And I thought I was doing so well. I've gone back to watching my points according to the Weight Watchers system and fear it will be a lifelong process. The minute I step off I gain a pound or two. After that strict vow, a friend talked me into Chadra for lunch today, and I had the kids' portion of spaghettini with meat sauce--huge! I ate half, feeling guilty but managed to stay under my points for the day. And, darn, that spaghetti was good.
My hero of the day (really yesterday) is former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, now a trade ambassador or something for the Federal government. At a news luncheon with reporters, he was asked about Governor Perry's comments about secession, and his answer was spot on about the poor state of Texas, the lack of money allocated to education and health care for kids, and a lot of other concerns for human beings that are lacking in our state. And he concluded by saying he'd grown up under Jim Crow, and he didn't want to go back to that. He was so lucid and clear about what he was saying that I cheered silently at my computer while reading. I really really hope he campaigns for Bill White, though some say he's positioning himself for a run for senator if Kay Bailey Hutchison steps down (which I don't think she'll do). But Kirk is a voice to listen to, and like most Texans I know, I'm ready to get rid of Governor Good-Hair and his macho two-faced talk about how good things are in Texas.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Do you, Did you read to your children?

I'm feeling  yet another load of guilt about my parenting skills, and it's all Jamie's fault (my third child and second son). He told me yesterday that he and Maddie, his oldest daughter, almost eleven (can that be?), were going to dinner to discuss a book they'd both read and compare their reactions to it. They take turns choosing the books and apparently go to dinner once a week. Am I impressed or what? I think that is such wonderful parenting! Maddie is a voracious reader--I've seen her bury her nose in a book at a party. That delights me, but I think their reading group of two is a wonderful idea--for fostering her intellectual growth (about which I'm not worried at all) and for strengthening the already-strong bond between parent and child. I'm so impressed I want to shout to the world that I raised two sons, both of whom turned out to be terrific fathers (okay, my girls are also terrific mothers, but that's another story).
But the guilt: I don't think I read to my children. I think what I did was work at my computer, say "Go on,now, I'm busy" and leave them to find books on their own. Jamie did it early and with intensity, reading fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons kind of things in his bed with a flashlight. Now grown, all of them except Jordan are avid readers. Megan's husband is a bibliophile--all he ever wants for a gift is a book. Colin's wife, Lisa, was not a reader, but he has converted her, and now we discuss the books we read. Jamie's wife,Mel, is a nonfiction reader but reads a lot--and with some interesting reactions.  But I don't think I did anything to foster the love of reading in my children except to raise them in a household where they knew books were important--their mother wrote books, published books, and read them.
Jordan's son, Jacob, wants to be read to every night--something Jordan has insisted on (does she feel the lack from her own childhood?). But lately he chooses my book and his, so I once figured if he was reading his book I didn't have to strain my voice reading mine aloud. Wrong! He insists I read aloud, and I suspect he finds the sound of a voice reading to him comforting. He has his favorite books--good heavens, some of them are long! But he's solidly "into" books, and I credit Jordan with that. He always arrives with five or six in his suitcase and it's an evening ritual to choose the two (my limist) he wants. Jacob is great at postponing bedtime, and I have to be firm.
Funny how easy it is to look back at all the things you would do differently if you were parenting again today--and all the things you do differently with grandchildren. Friends often compliment me on what a great job I did of raising four childen as a single parent--and  I will say without blushing that they are all wonderful adults, each accomplishing much more than I could have hoped and each a person who makes me proud of their daily lives, their parenting, their integrity. But I often think they grew that way in spite of my blunders or, the best I can hope for, because of the example I set. It certainly wasn't because I read to them--and now I regret that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What Wakes You Up?

Sue, my former neighbor, remarked on how quiet it is at night in her new house, tucked away on a residential street. My houe and her old one are on a thoroughfare, with railroad tracks a little over two blocks away. Apparentlyshe heard the street cleaning machine that comes by at 3:30 (couldn't prove it by me--I've never heard it) and the driver who empties the dumpster at the school across the street (I used to hear that but go right back to sleep), the trains as they blew their warning whistles and the banging and clanging of the railroad yard a bit to the south of us. I never hear any of it, but then I'm a child of the city and have always lived with city noise except for one four-year stretch in a small Missouri town (I don't remember much about the quiet). Where I grew up there was a main street a half block away, and we heard sirens at all hours of the day and night. My friend Barbara's family had a second-floor apartment on a level with the elevated railroad tracks just four doors away, and I learned to sleep soundly there. (I'm also much more security conscious than Sue, which I attribute to a Chicago childhood vs. hers in a small Canadian city with a policeman for a father).
Sue's being awakened by noises made me think of my best friend in grade school and high school--Eleanor Lee. She lived in a huge old house with her mother and sister, and some stalker discovered there were three women alone. One night Elizabeth, Eleanor Lee's sister, awoke in their second-floor bedroom to see a man head and shoulders inside the window next to her bed. She screamed, he ran away, the police were called, and a long night ensued for everyone. It was early daylight before the girls could go back to bed, and Eleanor Lee sat up in bed and demanded, "Are those damn birds going to sing like this every morning!" She was probably ten.
No, it's not city noises nor birds that wake me. It's my own body. Sometimes I need to use the restroom; other times I have a cramp in my foot or leg. In recent years I've noticed that my hips ache in the morning, so that I toss and turn to find a new position, and sometimes if I lie on my right side,my bad shoulder suddenly complains. When peole ask how late I sleep now that I'm retired, my standard reply is, "As late as my body will let me."
Lately though I've discovered a trick. I get up when the cat starts yowling (or more particularly when the dog indicates he's ready to go out). I feed them both,  use the restroom, and go back to bed. I've been up just enough to work out the aches and cramps, and I can doze peacefully. My mother taught me to always sleep with my bedroom door open, so I can listen to my house. So I hear those comforting sounds of the furnace, the refrigerator, etc., and I'm alert to out-of-place noises like when one of the kids let the commode in my office bedroom run all night.  But city noises? I find it comforting to think that while I sleep the world is still working, there are people out there making life better. I wouldn't do well living in the country where dark is dark and quiet is really quiet.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Are You Ready for Winter to End?

I think this is the endless winter. Cold rain and wind today, although the predicted snow flurries didn't seem to materialize unless I missed them hiding in my house. I heard that we can expect the possibility of snow for three more weeks, which is really weird--we always say March 15 is the safe date for planting, when there will be no more freezes, but not this year! It was the kind of day you want to hide in your bed all day and forget the world, though I did get out for lunch with Fred Erisman. We decided it was also a perfect day for split pea soup at Carshon's, though he chose lentil. We had a pleasant visit, discussed projects we're both working on, and talked about what worries us--tea parties and other things--but didn't solve the world's problems.
Other than that, I've really had a working day. The manuscript I thought I got off yesterday came back to bite me as I suspected it would--had to redo some notes and re-check one of the longer chapters. I think this may go on for a while. But I got an excerpt from a novel off to our editorial board, proposed a class on doing your own cookbook to Story Circle Network, and read most of a neighbor's manuscript. Will finish that off tonight and write up some notes for her.
Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and much warmer,and I have a bit of work to do at the office and a lunch date, so I'll get out. Last week I was too much of a recluse!