Friday, April 30, 2010

Books and Cooks

I seem to be in the mood for zany lately, but here are some books I've truly enjoyed. I think I've read all of the Blackbird sisters series by Nancy Martin (Murder Melts in Your Mouth, A Crazy Little Thing Called Death, Have Your Cake and Kill Him Too, and others). The sisters are zany beyond belief, as are the circumstances of their life. But the main sister, Nora, fall in love with the son of a New Jersey mobster, an alliance deemed absolutely unfitting in view of the sisters blueblood if impoverished status. The on-again-off-again state of the love affair provides a thread throughout the series, but like many amateur sleuth heroines, Nora keeps running into murder after murder--many lead her into danger, from which she is rescued by her mobster boyfriend. All great reading. I emailed Nancy Martin to tell her how much I enjoyed the series and learned to my regret that she is moving on to a new series. But you can find most of them on Kindle, and Martin has a Kindle page.
I just finished the book I was reviewing for Story Circle Network--Ann B. Ross' Miss Julia Renews Her Vows. It's the gentlest of cozy myteries, no murder, no perilous situations (besides great embarrassment) but some serious stuff--a young woman wrongly accused of theft and assault, the heroine's marriage in jeopardy or so she thinks, a smooth-talking, self-promoting marriage enrichment counselor. Through it all Miss Julia (really Mrs. Sam Murdoch) remains charming, slightly ditzy, very southern, cleverly scheming, refined (thought she hints at matters of the flesh), and absolutely charming. After beginning hesitantly, I dove into the novel and tonight sent off my review. Look for it on amazon (maybe) or Story Circle Network Book Reviews, though I don't know when it will be posted.
For those of you who don't know, Cooks' Illustrated is a magazine and a book resulting from kitchen research. The cooks try dozens of methods of cooking one thing, then tell you which is best and what was wrong with the others. They also test products the same way--cocoa, ketchup, you name it, they've probably done it. And yes, they have a TV show--on PBS I think. For some time (years) I've had their best recipe for roast beef in my "Never Tried" file, so this weekend I decided to try it and bought a 4 lb. top sirloin roast. I doubt Jacob and I will make a dent in it tomorrow night, but I had been wanting some lunch meat around and I really don't like the prepackaged kind.
The recipe involves something my mom used to do--inserting slivers of garlic into the roast. But it's much more complicated than Mom's version. You roast the garlic, unpeeled, then peel and insert the slivers. Then rub a mix of salt, thyme, and more garlic all over the roast and let is sit, uncovered, in the fridge overnight--which is where it is now. It's not the first recipe I've found recently that calls for meat to be uncovered--I think I recently did a roast chicken that way, though it was always a no-no to me. Tomorrow, I'll brown it in a high oven, then rub a garlic/oil paste on it and bake. It should come out rare, which will make Jordan stick it in the microwave if she eats the leftovers. But it sounds really good, and of course I like experimenting.  I may even see what Jacob does with corn on the cob.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Delightful evening

Last night, friends Linda and Rodger brought me a ceiling fan for the porch from their store in Granbury. The blades on my old one had drooped so that they looked like a dying flower and wouldn't have moved any air. Rodger brought one that has steel rods in the blades so they won't do that because of humidity--he also scoffed at my remote control, which doesn't work because, as he said, of humidity. The evening began well when he asked, "Where's the ladder?" and I replied, "I don't have a ladder." Rodger: "Linda told me you would have a ladder." Linda: "I should have realized you're not a ladder type of person." We borrowed one from Susan next door, and Rodger spent the better part of two hours on it, coming down occasionally for wine or cheese and crackers. Jacob appointed himself first assist, about which Rodger was good-natured, but clearly Jacob was more of a problem on the ladder than a help. Linda and I sat and visited and drank wine and had a delightful time. Occasionally Jacob would wander off in a foray and in the picture above he's found a spider--he went to examine the coreopsis in bloom and discovered a spider so small that at first Linda and I couldn't see it. But while I was down there looking, I reached to deadhead a bloom and Jacob brushed my hand away, "No, Juju, no!" The spider had a black spot in the middle if its back, and I decreed we wouldn't touch it. After two hours on the ladder, trying to work in the growing dusk, with Linda or Jacob holding a flashlight, Rodger finally said, "Judy, I wouldn't do this for a Republican!" I'm still laughing. He muttered he should charge me $40 labor (which would have been cheap) but I said I was going to fix him a $40 dinner, and he said "You already did that." I had recently served them a veal dinner, which I remember as outstanding though now I'm not sure what recipe I used. Anyway, I have promised to experiment with quail next time, something I've been wanting to do.
All in all, it was a delightful evening for all of us except maybe Rodger. Jacob had arrived in a grumpy mood (fell asleep in the car) and when Linda went to the family room to say hello he ran for me as if to say, "There are strangers in the house!" But in about five minutes they were his favorite people, and he had a great time. I was much impressed when Susan told me this morning that when he walked over with Rodger and Linda to get the ladder, he said, "Hi, Susan. How's your mom?" Her mother has fallen, broken her pevlis, and is in rehab--but who expected Jacob to remember that?
I am so blessed with friends.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Weighty matters and guilty pleasures

A huge load dropped off my shoulders today. I quit WeightWatchers. I'm not criticizing the program at all. Indeed, it helped me lose, at one point, 14 lbs, though now it's only eight. But it also helped me shed some bad, indulgent habits, and now I do measure and weigh food and drink. I don't eat ice cream with chocolate sauce at night, nor bread slathered with butter. But as those of you who've followed the blog know, I was compulsive about points. About two weeks ago I spent a week coming in below my allotted points (19, which is not many) and way above on my exercise points--and still gained over a pound. I decided it was foolish of me. At my age, I should be eating the things I enjoy. I happened to have a doctor's appt. today, and discussed it with him. He said my weight is just about right for my age and height and gave me a 10-lb. range to stay within. His advice: eat what you enjoy, but do it in moderation, with modest helpings. I knew all along I wasn't overweight, but I just kept dreading what would happen. Strangely, since I quit paying such strict attention I have maintained a cosntant weight. But now I feel liberated. I will weigh once a week, watch what's happening, and adjust accordingly. And I'll still eat a lot of tuna fish.
But I've decided I'm compulsive in another area--the guilty pleasure of reading. Guilty only because it keeps me from doing other work. I'm reviewing a book for the Story Circle Network--when it arrived and I looked through it, I came near yawning. But last night I got into it, enjoyed it a lot, and now I've not put it down. And I've not worked on my novel, though I did go to a meeting at the office this morning--I don't procrastinate on that business, just on my own writing. A sign of insecurity, I'm sure.

Monday, April 26, 2010


My cheerleading team as I began tonight to rewrite my work-in-progress. Granted, I was only 10,000 words into it, but I knew it was all wrong. Reading a series of cozy mysteries that I really liked made me realize my characters were dull, so I've gone back to the beginning and started over again, completely transforming them into what, I hope, are more interesting--and bizarre people. I have felt uncertain, even guilty, about this aborted start for some time, and I've been good at filling my time with other things--lunches, errands, bits of work for TCU Press, whatever. But I guess lesson learned is that things simmer on the back burner in your brain and finally force you back to them. Besides which, I finished the books in the series I was reading and couldn't excuse myself by saying I just had to get back to the book I was reading. The one I'm on now is not nearly as compelling, though I'm not far into it. But I find getting involved in a good book can really distract me--but also inspire. How does one write without reading what others have written?
A friend sent me a message tonight about a new adopt-a-pet center that is having a grand opening soon, a cooperative effort between PetSmart and, I think, the local humane society. I replied that I refuse to go--I'd come home with a new dog or cat, neither of which I need. My current animals are very happy with their situation and they are enough for me to take care of. Susan, in the TCU Press office, took in a foster dog and soon decided she was a one-dog person. I think that's me too!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring weekend, Jacob and cooking

What a lovely weekend. Sunny and a perfect temperature all weekend. Last night, Jay came over with a beer, and we waited for Jacob to arrive and his Susan to come home. When Jordan arrived with Jacob, they joined us on the porch, and then Jordan's friend Julia came to pick her up--so we had an impromptu happy hour. Jay is so good with Jacob--he came inside and sat with us while we ate, and Jacob ate a tuna burger with melted cheddar on it, inside a bun, dipped in ketchup. Hooray! I didn't have to fix chicken nuggets.  Jacob and I had a pleasant evening, but this morning he was a bit of a grouch (he often is in the morning) and his grandmother had not put his nighttime diaper on so that it didn't leak--wet spot on the bed, which made him grumpier and a laundry for me to do.
Tonight old and good friends came for supper--I fixed an al fresco dinner, though we only had appetizers on the porch--store-bought hummus that I'd doctored with olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes chopped up,
marinated feta, and pita chips. For dinner I served a cold platter--strips of chicken and salmon, deviled eggs, artichoke hearts, cherub tomatoes, carrots, strips of Manchego cheese, half ears of corn (so sweet I longed for the whole ear)--the kind of food I love. Mary asked if I could fix that again in August, please. Paula brought gelato for dessert--so good! It's fun to visit with people you don't see very often, because you talk about ideas and concepts and things of the mind, though we lapsed into a lot of talk about cats. Still, it was a lovely evening, and we did talk about the museum district and the parking problem (Ron is director of the Amon Carter) and TCU Press and all sorts of matters. Makes me happy with my life to be with friends like that.
On to next week--once again I hope to work on my novel. I think I've finished my addiction to the series about the Blackbird sisters, but more about that another evening.
Jamie participated in a triathlon in Galveston today--I tracked his time on a website, but I don't know if he will have been pleased or disappointed. Waiting to hear. As always, I'm proud of him for his competitive spirit and his dedication to fitness.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Your Life

Elizabeth and I are facilitating a Writing Your Life class, under the general guidelines of the Story Circle Network (look it up on Google--a fairly amazing organization). The network was established to encourage women to tell their own stories, to write openly about their lives. I've taught classes following Susan Wittig Albert's Wtiting from Life before, but this time it's going to be less structured. I want to let women tell their life stories in their own way, rather than confining them to the topics that Albert suggests, though if it proves difficult I may resort to her topics.
But tonight we took wine, hummus and feta with olives (and I thought I didn't like olives) out on the porch, along with our notes, and sketched out what each of us has to do, including my notes for conducting the first class. Elizabeth, with her yoga training in mind, will open and close each class with a meditation, and I will actually conduct the workshop part of the class. I'm not a good classroom teacher in the sense of lecturing, but I do pretty well with workshop situations. I just hope these ladies will participate--and I think they will. I know two or three of them but not the rest--we had set a limit on ten besides ourselves, and I intend to write alongside them. The key is to get everyone to be honest and open, even about that elephant in their own personal rooms. Should be fun and interesting.
But tonight, of course, though we accomplished our lot, our conversation also wandered a lot and we had a good visit. It was a beautiful night on the porch--just pleasantly warm, little breeze. On the porch we're so surrounded by trees it's almost like being in a forest. My old elm tree that I worry about from time to time has really leafed out and looks majestic.
LIfe is good.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More ranch pictures--and a bit about aviation

I promise these are the last of our wonderful day at the ranch, but they are, top to bottom: the headwaters of the Star Hollow Creek (I called it Shady Hollow in yesterday's post, knowing all along that didn't sound quite right); my brother pouring wine--nothing like a bit of wine in a shady grove by a stock tank--the guineas and some of the calves wandered down to visit us; the pony, Pony Romo--so named by my two-year-old great-niece who when asked what the pony's name was said, "Pony Romo. You know, the baseball player!"; a field of Indian paintbrush that Jeannie simply could not drive by without taking a picture as we headed home in the late afternoon.
Tonight I went to hear a talk on young adult books about women in aviation, given by Fred Erisman who was my mentor in graduate school, has remained my friend all these years, and I guess I could now call a colleague (though I'm still a bit intimidated by that equality). TCU Press has published two of his books--Boys Books, Boys Dreams, and the Mystique of Flight about the young-adult books for boys, and now From Birdwomen to Skygirls: American Girls' Aviation Stories, in which I'm proud to say I'm one of the women to whom it's dedicated as "female role models par excellence." Fred was witty tonight, as he always is, but he made fascinating points: in the first decade of the 20th Century, women in aviation were hailed as exemplars of all that women could do, the possibilities open to them; it began to change as we moved into the '20s and '30s, and one series book about an R.N. who was a pilot, a field nurse in the army, and a public health nurse, ended with the heroine marrying her hero and saying contentedly, "This is what I was meant for" or something similar. By the 1940s, women in aviation had been consigned to the role of stewardesses--when the program began, much earlier, they were all R.N.s but increasingly they were hired for their appearance and social skills--although I know, from Jeannie, they also had lots of training in crisis management. But significantly, the young-adult books about women in aviation stopped in the 1940s. Joyce Roach and I found parallels to cowgirls in his talk--where Fred said women pilots introduced pants for women, we looked at each other and said "Cowgirls." Of course, as Joyce pointed out and Fred confirmed, women were in all kinds of professions, and respected, in the early 20th century. It was the 1940s, post-war era that confined women to the kitchen and the nursery, which Betty Freidan railed against in The Feminine Mystique. It was also in the 1940s that rodeo cowboys edged women out of the arena and confined them to barrel racing. Interesting parallels, and an interesting evening.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wildflowers, cows and calves

My day today was filled with wildflowers, beautiful Texas scenery, cows and calves, wine and lox and cream cheese, and most of all good companuy. Jeannie and I drove down to visit John and Cindy on the ranch outside Tolar and had a wonderfulday. We spent two hours just riding around the ranch in John's new vehicle, which is a big improvement (for passengers) over the old mechanized mule--I'm not sure what to call this one but it has a windshield, roof, two bench seats, and rides a lot more smoothly than the old mule. And mucky as it was from all the rain, we didn't get stuck--Cindy ws the only one who had on boots for the muck so she got to open and close gates. On the old mule one person could sit in the passenger seat and two others could dangle their legs over the back of the bed and duck whenever branches came by. This was a lot more comfortable.
We stopped of course to visit the cows and calves The bull, with the dark face, came up close and personal to visit, as did some of the cows. The calf above wasn't quite sure and kept his distance.  But we watched them milling around for some time--they of course associate the vehicle with food and were looking in vain--it wasn't food time! Then we drove all over the ranch--saw the headwaters of Shady Hollow creek or river, a beautiful spot I'd never been before, and John went out of his way to show us their one lovely patch of bluebonnets (we had seen quite a few bluebonnets on the way down as well as fields full of Indian paintbrush and some yellow wildflowers I don't recognize). Plus I swear I'd never seen their dumping ground before--it holds an old tin building that has collapsed, some old chairs, etc. From some points the view over the Brazos River Valley is simply spectacular. We stopped at a picnic table by a stock tank in a grove of trees and had a glass of wine. John is a great narrator telling us all about what we're seeing, though I had a bit of trouble hearing over the motor (Jeannie and I were sitting right over it) and something in the back clanged and reminded me of Jacob belting out "Who let the dogs out?" But it was wonderful just to be riding along, ducking the occasional branch, looking at the little bluestem which is still brown at this time of year.
Then back to the house to sit on the porch and eat lox and bagels. We talked geneaology, which I didn't realize John is interested in but Jeannie has recently been pursuing, and John and I got to telling old famiily stories and some not so old. It was just a lovely day, way out of the routine, and much enjoyed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good food and beer cans

Had a delicious dinner tonight. Betty and I went to a restaurant I'd been kind of avoiding becauses I thought it was all steaks. But on the way there I directed her by the beer-can house--it was in the paper a week or so ago and really is remarkable. It's a modest house, to say the least, in a mostly industrial neighborhood,, but the owner--obviously a devotee of Miller Lite--has decorated his yard with countless long strandes of beer cans. He threw rope or whatever or tree limbs, strung the cans and secured them to the fence posts. Then he learned to make Christmas-style ornaments by cutting slits in the cans and crushing them, so those ornaments dangle from the strands and every other imaginable surface. It is absolutely amazing. Apparently people like us drive by all the time and some leave him six-packs. He says when he's short of money, he just cashes in a strand.
Then we went to Lambert's for dinner--every bite was scrumptious. We ate on the patio which was nice. I had grilled quail with chorizo/cornbread stuffing in a cactus pear vinaigrette (an appetizer)--delicious, but next time I'll ask for the sauce on the side so I can pick up the quail and get every bite of meat. Betty had shrimp in a barbecue, white wine and butter sauce and loved it--she delights in ordering shrimp because she knows I can't eat it. We split a side of green chile cheese grits--smooth, creamy, and wonderful. The side was huge, and she took the remainder home to Don. We decided it was one of our best eating adventures ever, and we'll go back. Next time I want to try to wild boar ribs--and the grits again.
My neighbor Jay (you know, the handsome one) took Scooby for his summer haircut today. Scoob is always glad to be rid of that heavy winter coat, and I am always glad to be rid of the great clumps of hair that fell out all over the house. Besidees he looks adorable--Scooby that is,not Jay.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cooking My Way through the Day

Yesterday I thought I was so smart. I made my barbecue sauce, set the table for eight, and just before I went to bed put a chuck roast in the crockpot, covered it with barbecue sauce,and let it cook all night, thinking I would have very little to do in the morning. Hah! Dealing with the barbecue took a lot of time--you know how recipes say to let 4 cups cook down to one cup and indicate it will take ten minutes. Hogwash! Took the better part of an hour! And then I had to shred the meat, combine the rest of the barbecue sauce, pour part of it, carefully measured over the meat and put it all in the fridge. Then came the bean salad which reqauired lots of  chopping--tomatoes, onions, grated cheese, etc. And I forgot I planned to make cucumber salad, so I peeled and sliced the cucumbers and let them soak in salted water, made the sour cream dressing, and went, gratefully, to eat my lunch.  By that time I had spent almost two hours in the kitchen, and I figured I'd count that as moderate housework for WeightWatchers points--after all I was on my feet, and I was tired. Must mean something.
But dinner was a snap to put together at the last minute--put the meat in a low oven to warm, make the onion dip, open the potato chips, heat the barbecue sauce in the microwave, chop lettuce and avocado into the salad (Jordan and Elizabeth helped). We were celebrating Elizabeth's birthday, a milestone one at 40 and she was well aware of it and appreciative of where she is at that age, as well she deserves to be. We were also belatedly celebrating Jay's birthday (40 plus some) of a couple of weeks ago. The barbecue sandwiches were delicious, if I do say so, and Jordan made a wonderful Bundt cake. A jolly evening. Christian, bless him, had all the dinner dishes in the dishwasher by the time we cleared the table and put the cake on. And Jacob was absolutely charming all evening. Weldon brought him superheroes comic books and figures (Weldon's always been a comic book collector and source of knowledge and now his new job puts him right in that field). He may just be Jacob's best new friend.
Now I'm tired and glad tomorrow is a long day at home. And look at the good leftovers I have! One thing I don't like about aging is that I can't cook straight through a day--I have to take tiny breaks to rest my back. But I still spent a lot of time in the kitchen today, and that's a joy to me.
And, no, I didn't forget my recent resolve not to let Weight Watchers rule my life--I loved the whole meal and ate heartily.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The best laid plans . . . .

I knew the quote but wasn't sure how to spell the last word. Google at first told me that it was "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." No, that's not how Roberts Burns wrote it! I knew the words but wasn't sure how to spell the last word. Good old Wikipedia came through. It's "The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang agley." That's it--agley! A wonderful word. I like the quote in the Scottish dialect so much better--but that's me and my heritage.
Anyway, that's what happened to the best laid plans of my local family today. I had Jacob last night (thank you, he didn't go to sleep until midnight and then had the audacity to wake up at 8:15 and tell me he was tired!). Christian was to come over, we'd put my new booster seat in my car, and take a trial run--I wanted company the first time, but there was nothing to it--except Jacob pushed the release button on the seat belt at a stop light! I guess if he does that to me, I'll just pull over as soon as I can.
We were going to go to Central Market, where I had shopping to do and Jacob and Christian could play in the playground. Wrong! It rained all day sometimes lightly, sometimes quite steadily. And that's what did in the rest of the plan. Jacob was to come back to my house for a nap, and then I was to take him home and make King Ranch supper for everyone. Christian was going to dig at the site of their big sprinkler system leak until he had to go to work, and Jay would go repair the pipe. Susan would go with me, and we'd have a jolly supper. Not so! Rain ruined all the gardening plans, Christian got bumped from his job because the patio was closed and they didn't need part-time waiters, and Susan was busy with her mother who fell and broke her pelvis a few days ago--plus Susan's sisters and various other relatives had arrived in town.
So Jacob went home for his nap (note my sigh of relief) and I did what any sensible person would do on a gray, rainy day like this--I read and napped, ate meatloaf for supper (so good!), and that's all I intend to do the rest of the evening. It's that old thing about we need the rain, in spite of a wet winter and spring, and I am grateful,, but . . . .
A first for me: I never wear my hearing aids at home unless I have company (Jacob, Jordan and Christian don't count) but tonight "Celtic Women" is on PBS, and I could hear the soloists but not the background music, especially the violins. So I put my hearing aids in, and the sound is so much richer. That haunting, lilting music really speaks to me. I often have the TV on as sort of background noise, but tonight I find myself looking up from my book to watch the singers. Their rendition of "Amazing Grace" was--no other word forit--amazing. I also particularly love the woman who skips and dances while playing the violin--I can't even rub my stomach and pat my head at the same time and though I took violin lessons as a child, I was dismal at it (a tin ear) and surely could never play and dance.Maybe someday I'll get to Scotland yet--in the meantime, I go there in my mind and through programs like this one.
PS: I just discovered tonight that when you brush your teetch with an electric toothbrush whle wearing hearing aids, the sound is incredible! Like the first time I ate a crunch dill pickle with those things in my ears!
Tomorrow? More rain!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Enjoying LIfe

Today Melinda coerced (bullied? she didn't have to work hard at it) me into going to a Mexican restaurant for our favorite spinach enchiladas, and I of course cannot resist the refried beans, though it's easy for me to pass on the rice. Still that wasn't exactly a Weight Watcheers meal, but I enjoyed every bite of it, just as I did the Greek salad and crab claws last night. Coincidentally a dear friend sent me one of those messages that circulates on the internet about enjoying life as a senior citizen: things like (and I'm not quoting exactly) I will stay up until two if I want and sleep to noon; if I want the second cookie I'll eat it. It has dawned on me that I've really been stressing about losing that last five lbs. but as long as I don't become obese, at my age who really cares if I'm five lbs. overweight? People keep telling me how good I look. And I've been denying myself some foods that I really really like--crab claws and spinach enchiladas for starters. So I'm turning over a new leaf. Maybe I can think myself thin, but I'm through obsessing about points. Last week I stayed way under my limit on points and racked up a lot of exercise points--and I still gained. I have the sinking feeling that I've made this resolution before, but . . . .It may just be that, in combination with some medications I take, the good Lord intends me to weigh a bit more as I move further into my seventies.
I'm making the same resoluition about writing. I read all the posts on Agent Quest, from members of Sisters in Crime who are mostly unpublished and seeking agents, and I marvel at how much effort they dedicate to their writing, their query letters, their research of agents. And most of them are not spring chickens. But at 71 I've had a good career, so if I don't publish again, it isn't the end of the world. Don't get me wrong--I really really want to see my mysteries in print and to move on with the one I'm working on. But facing a weekend of good times, many with Jacob, I'm not going to try to squeeze in writing nor the one chore I have to do for the office. I'm going to enjoy family and friends, cooking, partying, and having a good time. And if I have a spare minute? I'll probably pick up that mystry I'm reading.
Good resolutions, and I hope I can keep them. I'm having a good time, and life seems good to me, so I'm not going to ruin it with compulsion and obsessions. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who Let the Dogs Out?

I didn't intend to blog today. It was a full and good day, but not the stuff of a blog--nothing thought provoking. We had a long staff meeting this morning, productive but not of interest to others, and then I met with Jim Lee about the festschrift we're doing about Elmer Kelton. Jeannie and I had lunch at Pei Wei and my Mongolian chicken was delicious, and Jeannie and I as usual had a good time. We drove all around looking for a house decorated with thousands of beer cans--I'd read about it in the paper--but we never found it. Home to work, nap, etc. Meanwhile a nice young man was washing the outside of my windows, and my house sparkles. Then dinner with Betty at Pappadeaux--Greek salad, crab fingers--delicious and filling. First time I have ever been asked about my shrimp allergy--when they showed us the ingredients of the salad, I said, "She gets the shrimp." The waitress immediately said, "Are you allergic?" and I answered that I was. Then she said, "We have to start all over," and that they did with ingredients not touched by shrimp (we had to ask for Betty's shrimp later). Then the manager was at our table, inquiring about my allergy because they fry the crab fingers in the same oil they use for shrimp. I assured her I wasn't super-sensitive, and all was well. Delicious meal. But I found their new caution most interesting, probably the result of a bad experience. I know some people are so sensitive that if they have a drop of water that shrimp have been boiled in, they can go into anaphylactic shock. The worst I've ever gotten is red streaks on my face, and I just prefer not to push it. But truly sort of a "And then I did this, and then I did that"--not a day worth blogging about.
Until Jordan called about 9:15 this evening and said Jacob wanted to talk to me. His question was about the song, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" To me, it's not a song, just a repetition of those words over and over, almost shouted rather than sung. But Jordan wanted to know why he was going around the house singing--or shouting it. I explained that he likes to have me Google dog videos, and that song was the background on one we watched last week. He came back on the line and said, "Hey,Juju, . . . ." I don't even know what he said because I was so struck by the "Hey, Juju"! We had  three-way conversation, in which Jordan explained to me it's a rap song and said, "You're way more cool than you think, Juju!" What a nice compliment from my daughter and grandson. But why was he still up at 9:30--I'll have to look into that:-)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The problem of voice in fiction

I was about 10,000 words into a new novel and a bit stymied when I put it aside for other projects--some office work for the press, an editing project for another press, some book reviews, and life in general which, happily, always gets in my way. During that time I read a couple of mysteries by Nancy Martin about the Blackbird sisters, who are zany beyond belief and lots of fun. Aha, I thought--see light bulb going off in my head?--I need to make my characters funnier, more zany (like that word). So this week I've gotten back to the novel and guess what? My characters have told me they don't want to be zany. The grandmother who raised them has just died suddenly, possibly under suspicious circumstances, her inheritance is at stake, and each of the twin sisters has an agenda--their agendas don't come anywhere near meeting. Besides, at three o'clock one morning I figured out who murdered Gram and why, and I could see the whole novel in my head. Well, sort of. It's a long way between 10,000 words and 80,000.
But it's a truism of fiction, repeated to me by many successful authors, that if you listen to your characters, they'll tell you what's going to happen. Elmer Kelton talked of it with The Wolf and the Buffalo, a novel he intended to be about a buffalo soldier, freed slave, just after the Civil War. But a Comanche chief kept working his way into the story, and eventually the novel was about both--one on the rise in the army and the other losing his way of life and his culture. Elmer also said the characters in The Good Old Boys took over like a "cold-jawed horse grabbing on to the bit and about all I could do was hang on for the ride." I've even had it happen to me, notably in Mattie where as I neared the end I was astonished to realize that the man in her life was going to ride away and leave her (it also proved to be a forecast of the man in my life at the time).
Point of all this: I'm not writing a humorous cozy. Yes, it's a cozy, but the characters, while sometimes light-hearted and fun and even rebellious, aren't zany. I guess that's just not my voice.
I talked with my agent today, an encouraging talk--he has sent my manuscript to his top four picks (I forgot to ask when) but he said the good news is that he hasn't had a rejection yet. We also talked about getting some of my older books into e-book format for all the different platforms out there--not much money in that, but I think the name recognition would be good.
Thanks to the anonymous reader who posted a comment about yestrday's blog and how our children are statistically mch safer today than years ago. It's just that the media focuses on every kidnapping, every case of bullying, etc. I'm sure it's true, but I'm still a bit worried about my grandchildren. But I want to thank the reader, whoever, for adding that nice comment about my children. Yes, they are indeed wonderful. And that blog sparked a long Facebook conversation with an old friend I never see any more--fun!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The news is not good

I am distrubed--devastated?--by some of the things in the news these days, though I rejoice that the 11-year-old Florida girl was found alive and well (except for dehydration and mosquito bites). We hear so many cases of children disappearing that it is truly a blessing to have one with a happy ending. Makes me so scared for my grandchildren, I can hardly stand it. I look back with amazement at the things my chldren did 30 years ago, and I never worried about them. Today I'd panic if my grandchildren wandered around the neighborhood alone.
Adoption is a big issue for me, with four wonderful adopted children, so I am seriously disturbed by the story of the 7-year-old Russian boy who was put on a plane by himself and returned to Russia. There's been a lot on the news about how children raised in orphanages, with little human contact, have not learned to trust and may lash out. It seems to me that adoptive mother was not properly prepared for what she was going into nor did she get counseling when it went wrong. I suspect she expected a grateful, perfectly loving child, which is unrealistic. I am glad to hear that several Russian families want to adopt the child but think how scarred he is for life. I have however known famlies that adopted Russian chldren, worked at it, and their family life turned out okay. I really am angry at the adoptive mothr in this case. Again, I look at my grandchildren, and think how they are hugged and petted and talked to, told they're wonderful (and, of course, they are!) and I grieve for the children, even in this country, who do not have that kind of love. The director of the Lena Pope Home for disadvantaged children told me once, "No one ever told these kids they were okay," and his words stuck with me. A friend told me about her ex-husband's children's mother who would not allow anyone to touch her children as babies, talk to them, hug them, etc. They were simply in their cribs. By the time the oldest was five--when my friend inherited him--he was incorrigible.
And then I read in the paper that El Paso is about to be "ground zero" for a war between two gangs with cartel connections. I have several friends who live there and I emailed one to ask if she was okay. She is, but she said she's careful. She's noticed that the stores are not fully stocked, and the city is full of refugees fleeing Ciudad Juarez. She's seen more Chihuahua license plates than ever before, and every night on the news there are reports of more murders in Juarez, many of innocent people. The people of El Paso wonder how our government can stand by and do nothing, and I do too-although there are probably plans being laid that we know nothing about. Still, it is a horrendous situation.
And today there was news of a 17-year-old boy in Fort Worth shot in the head when he went home for lunch and surprised burglars.
Is there no end? I want some good news. I guess the nuclear arms treaty with Russia rates pretty high on the good news list, but then there's Rep. Boehmer's assertion that the Republicans will take over Congress in 2010 and roll back everything the Obama government has accomplished--like international goodwill? Health care (for sure)? Unemployment compensation? Environmental controls (okay, forget off-shore drilling--it's a trade-off)? It boggles the mind--and scares me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thinking about mothers

I just finished reading Ruth Reichl's For You, Mom, Finally. I'm a big fan of Reichl's writing, but in earlier books she's always referred to her mom as eccentric, bizarre, hard to understand, sometimes an embarrassment--like the time she gave food poisoning to a crowd of guests at an engagement party for Reichl's older brother, because she prepared all the food way ahead or the time she was asked to step down as a Brownie leader after a particularly disastrous snack she served. You sensed, as you read, that Reichl was a tad embarrassed by her mom.
But then, after much hesitation and procrastination, she read through a stack of letters, notes, clippings, whatever that her mother had kept over the years, and she began to understand the woman behind the bizarre behavior. She was a woman who wanted a career, wanted to do something meaningful in her life, and yet the times and her situation kept her from it. She survived one brief, bad marriage and divorced, a shocking thing in the day; then she married Ruth's father, a man she truly loved and who adored but couldn't understand her. Through all the notes and letters is the wish that her daughter have the opportunities denied her. Even in her senior years, she kept trying to re-invent herself, and somehow she made me think of the people who can never answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" For Ruth Reichl, admiration for her mother and for the sacrifices her mother made for her sake came too late for acknowledgement, but that they came is a blessing.
My relationship with my own mom was very different. She was, for one thing, the great cook that Reichl's mom never was, and I credit her with my love of cooking. And in my adult years, she was one of my best friends--we shared a lot of laughter and good times, and she adored her grandchildren. But I suspect she, too, was a bit frustrated.Widowed early, with a young son, she was at first unable to cope but eventually had a career as the secretary (a word used in those days) to the chancellor of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins, the man who, among other things, started the Great Books program, of which Mom was a devotee. After she married my father, Mom never worked but she put her considerable talents to work as manager of the gift shop at the hospital where Dad was the administrator and as a charming and gracious hostess. Still, she knew it would have embarrassed my old-fashioned father for her to have an independent career, and so she never did. I never heard her complain, and all the years I was growing up I thought her the happy housewife in a way that I would never be--she showered and put on a fresh dress every night before Dad came home, she set the table with white linen every night (we had napkin rings), and she served his favorite meat and potatoes meals. I was never more proud of her than at the reception when she turned a sprightly eighty. But now I wonder if there was a corner of Mom that held a bit of disappointment, a bit of unhappiness. And I wish she'd left a trail of letters and notes.
By the time I achieved career success as director of a small academic press and modest success as an author (and was raising four children as a single parent), a series of TIAs had eroded Mom's mind to the point that I've never been sure she understood or was happy for me.
My kids are proud of my professional accomplishments, sometimes proud to bursting, and I am grateful for that, but Ruth Reichl made me think of my mother.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When you teach a little one something new . . . .

My mother's 110th birthday is today. One year, on her birthday, Jordan and I decided to visit her grave, but Jordan had to stop at 7-11 first. I asked why, and she said, "I want to take her some blow-pops. I always used to take them to her, and she loved them." Maybe, or maybe she just loved Jordan. Today in church we sang "In the Garden." Mom always used to cry when she heard that hymn, because it had been played at the funeral of her brother who died in his early twenties, long before I would have known him. So I found myself singing, "For he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own," with tears in my eyes. Mom was a great lady, and I owe much of the good in me today to her (including the cooking).
Today was mostly a Jacob day after church, and it was one of sunny disposition punctuated by storms of tears. He cried bitterly when his mom left, got over it, ate a pbj sandwich, and then wanted me to wash the sticky off him. However, he went into another hissy fit because he thought I was going to wash off his nail polish (no comments here please about boys and nail polish--it will not warp him in future life). He was so hysterical that I tried loving, ignoring--nothing worked, so I asked what he wanted. Time out? TV in his bed? In his bed without TV? Each elicited a screaming denial, but then through sobs he said he wanted time out. So hand in hand we walked to the time-out chair in my bedroom. I kissed him and said I hoped he felt better soon. Within 10 minutes at the most, he was in my office, wanting to sit in my lap and watch doggie videos on YouTube. He had collected himself, which I find pretty remarkable for a three-year-old.
But the accomplishment of the day: we have a hand-me-down tricycle that must be seventy years old. Along the way, someone did a medium job of painting it red, and there is a huge hole in the front tire (which is probably irreplaceable). But the grandchildren ride it around the house in circles, becoming a hazard to adults. Jacob has never paid it much attention, even though Ford, his cousin six months younger, is already riding a two-wheeler with training wheels. I didn't worry--Jacob is a bright boy--but it puzzled me. Tonight he got it out, and we worked together to figure out the moves--at first he went backward as often as forward, but we worked on it, and by the time Mommy and Daddy came, he proudly rode the trike the length of my kitchen, Great cheers ensued. When he was very little, I taught him (through repeated efforts) to wave bye-bye, so now I feel I've contributed two things to his education.
Did I get any work done today? Ah, no, but that's okay It was a neat day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How do You Fill an Empty Saturday?

Today, the only thing on my "to do" list (in my mind only) was to go to the grocery store, so the day yawned long and empty before me. Here are the things I did to fill it:
1. Browse at Barnes & Noble. I'm not a good browsing shopper but I do better in bookstores than clothing stores. I came away with a  book for a gift and a copy of Ruth Reichl's newest book, For You, Mom--Finally. Reichl, once restaurant reviewer for the NY Times and then editor of Gourmet, is one of my favorite food writers.
2. Browse at the nursery. I bought some impatiens for a shady spot on my porch--bought two and found only one wiill fit in the pot I brought from the garage--have to rethink that. I also bought more basil--who can ever have too much of that? And some cactus--ah, now that's an experiment. Really pretty and should look good in that shallow bird feeder on my porch table--but how to plant them without sticking myself to pieces. My solution: ask Greg to plant them (I warned him to bring gloves!)
3. Go to the grocery.
4. Do the little household chores you've been putting off.
5. Read a good mystery--always a given for me. This time it was Michele Scott's A Toast to Murder. I've become a big fan of Scott's winery books, started this brand new one last night and finished it tonight.
6. Do your volunteer calling for the church, which you've forgotten for two days.
7. Take a nap--another given for me.
8. Do a yoga workout.
9. Cook for yourself. Tonight I roasted two chicken thighs with soy, garlic powder, and seasoned salt. Mark Bittman cooked some on the TODAY show the other day and it reminded me how much I like chicken thighs. Of course, he used soy, fresh ginger, and I can't remember what else. I also roasted a butternut squash I'd had in the fridge for a while--wonder if I put enough butter and brown sugar with it if Jacob might eat it tomorrow night? I also sauteed myself some sugar snap peas. A delicious dinner, probably not too many points, and all good for you, except the skin on the chicken.
10. Catch up on other people's blogs and write your own.
There's probably more, but it's been a most satisfying day. Tomorrow I'll probably go to church, and then Jacob is mine from noon to 8 p.m. He still takes naps, so that's okay. Rue the day he stops napping. I'll put him in a cage for "quiet time" so I can nap.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Reading is addictive

I've lost myself in reading lately, and not even the mysteries that I constantly consume. But I have so many books I want to read that I'm ignoring other things I should be doing--like working on my new novel. It started with a book I am to review for the Dallas Morning News, titled 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Families in One Tenement. Set in the lower East Side of New York City, it spans the 1860s through the Depression. I won't be a spoiler for the review, except to say that it chronicles the way various cultures--German, Irish, Jewish, and Italian--contributed to American foodways and in turn, the habits they assimilatede from American culture. I read it avidly and had the review ready a month before it was due.
Then I became probably the last person I know to read Katherine Stockton's The Help, about the relationships between white women and their black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s. It's hard for me to believe some of the white women, and I thought perhaps they were caricatures, but friends who lived in the South assure me it's true. Stockton, who grew up in Jackson, turned the material into a riveting novel, and although I ached for the black women, the one who gave me the most pain was a little girl named Mae Mobley who thought her nanny was her real mother because the mother never gave her any love or attention. When the maid is fired, for becoming part of an imaginary tell-all book, she walks away hearing Mae Mobley's anguished screams. It's a book you can't read without being moved, and I spent almost all of last weekend reading it.
The Help made me think of GeeGee, the black nanny we had in Chicago when I was a toddler. Relations between her and my mother were much more cordial, though I can remember Mom recalling her amazement (and disapproval) when GeeGee let me eat four eggs for breakfast one morning (maybe that's why I didn't like them for years!). I asked my brother the other day when GeeGee left and how old I was, but he just shook his head and said he didn't now. "They're so many questions I didn't ask and now wish I had," he said. I remember GeeGee coming back once for a visit and how happy we were to see her. In retrospect, I wonder if the death of my younger sister at six months (probably SIDS, though I was told she had a heart defect) didn't contribute to GeeGee's leaving.
Now, I'm reading an advance copy of Spilling the Beans, by Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of BBC's Two Fat Ladies who wheeled about the countryside in a motorcycle and sidecar cooking at various locations and gatherings. If you ever watched the show--and millions did--the picture on the cover will be familiar: a dumpy, slightly rumpled English woman in a  funny hat with a big smile on her face. The inside of the book reveals a far different and intriguing story. I'm reviewing this one for the Story Circle Network, so don't want to be a spoiler there either.
Speaking of the Story Circle Network, Beth Knudson and I are going to coordinate a class on Writing Your Life Story, based on the principles of the Story Circle Network beginning in early May, You don't have to join the network to be part of the class, but there is a fee. And we're going to ask everyone to participate in pot-luck snacks and wine. If you'd like more information, e-mail me at And if you're interested, you might search for Story Circle Network on Google. It's an international organization designed to help women tell their life stories. I've taught the class twice for the TCU community class program.
A food note: I've had a delicious day and still come out ahead on points. For lunch I had a tuna salad plate at a place I rarely go--it was really good, came with a quarter hard boiled egg, a bit of tomato, one thin slice of avocado, and a fruit cup. Tonight Betty and I went to Nonna Tata (I was prepared and took a bottle of wine and two plastic wine glasses), and I had braseola (the Italian cured beef version of prosciutto) dressed in lemon and olive oil, with grana cheese, and a vinegar based German salad. One of my favorite meals.
Okay, back to Spilling the Beans.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Berkeley neighborhood in Fort Worth

Today, I filled my garbage carts about noon, but when I went to take them down to the curb around two, they were already there. I waved at the school crossing guard and shouted my thanks, and he waved back. Tomorrow, even before I'm out of bed, he'll have one of the carts back up by the side of my house. I never asked him. He saw me with a cart one day and said, "Let me do this for you." I hope he does it out of the goodness of his heart and not because he thinks I'm a little old lady with a cane, but either way I'm grateful. And he's a nice, nice man.
And Jay came over tonight to show me where the cartridges are on the printer/scanner/fax he handed down to me. Then he went in to check the commode that runs if you use it and decided he needs to get a new something or other for it. And we spent a long time at the side fence discussing what to do with the barren spot between our houses, the way he and Greg were going to take out some junk trees and put in a drip system for whatever ends up planted there. (Not sure Greg knows about this!)
I live in a neighborhood where I feel well taken care of, and it's a good feeling. I also try to take care of my neighbors, though I'm better at feeding them than caretaking (they're all a lot younger!).
Our neighborhood newsletter came out today, complete with a full page feature on Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, including the ubiquitous Doris casserole (I really must develop another signature dish!). But also in the newsletter was a note about the class that Elizabeth and I will be facilitating in May (okay, she's Beth to the rest of the world but she will always be Elizabeth to me). It's called Writing Your Life Story and springs out of the Story Circle Network (call it up on Google) and Susan Wittig Albert's  Writing From Life. I've taught noncredit classes from that book before at TCU but this time I'm going to teach at my home, with pot-luck food and wine. It's a class for non-writers who want to tell their life story--for themselves, for family and friends, for the world at large. I've already had one inquiry from a neighbor I've not yet met. If you're interested, email me at
Yes, Berkeley is a nice neighborhood to live in. Jordan said the other day, "I want to live in this neighborhood." Of course, she'd have to pay more for less space, and it's too soon for them to do that, but I do hope someday they will move close. We have an active neighborhood association, guardian patrol service, a strong voice in civic matters to protect our neighborhood--and lots of activities, mostly for families with young children. It's a great place.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Celebration of Life

I am so glad we don't talk much about funerals any more or even memorial services--we call them celebrations of life, and that's what the occasion should be. I took Charles this morning to the celebration of the life of William Russell Jenkins, surgeon, educator, husband and father, and good friend. We sat in the back, with my brother and sister-in-law, and I missed much of what as said (I did have my hearing aids in!) but I heard loud and clear when the minister said, "We were fortunate to have him in our lives." There were two eulogies, one by a young surgeon he had encouraged and one by his brother, himself in his 80s. The high point of the service, for me, came when Ray Jenkins led the congregation in singing his brother's favorite hymn, "Love Lifted Me." Ray led in an amazingly strong voice for a man of his age. And once again I found myself singing the familiar hymns, "Holy, Holy, Holy," and "Amazing Grace." It was truly, as John said, a meaningful service that gave you something to take away with you.
A good-sized crowd turned out, though of course afterward John and Cindy and I commented on the people who weren't there. But at the reception beforehand, I saw many people I hadn't see in a long time, and it was nice to be greeted. I always feel in that crowd of physicians I'm known these days as my brother's sister, which is okay because I am warmly welcomed. I got hugs from Russ' wife, Connie, and his daughter, Jerry, and son, William. I agreed with Charles--I was very glad I had gone.
Charles was tired after the service, so I hurried to get him back to Trinity Terrace, though several people wanted to stop and greet him. But he said he just wanted to be back lying in his bed. So I rushed him down there and signed him back in, then rushed home and arrived only a few minutes before John and Cindy. We all went to lunch at Carshon's and that visit was the icing on the cake of the day. They even sat for a while and visited on the front porch before they headed back to the country. At the deli, where I'm a fixture, I said to the manager, "This is my brother," and John said, "That's true." So I said, "I think we're both proud of that," and he grinned and said, "That's true, too."
It was a day on which I said goodbye to a man who had been very good to me, but it was also a comforting and most satisfying day.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Music of Easter

One early Easter morning,
I wakened with the birds.
And all around lay silence,
too deep for earthly words.

When I was in children's choir, a century or more ago, we used to sing that on Easter morning. Those first lines are all I can remember. I can hear the melody in my head, but awful singer that I am, it didn't come out that way when, in the privacy of my car this morning on the way home from church, I tried to sing it. I really can't carry a tune in a bushel, I breathe at the wrong time in a line, and my voice quavers. My friend Betty, organist at my church forty-plus years, says I'm the only person she knows who reads music while singing a hymn (unless it's one I know well).
But I've never been able to find the complete anthem. Betty has never heard of it, and I even googled it--only to find the first two lines, which I already knew. If someone knows anything about it, I'd be grateful to hear it.
I haven't been to church in, probably, two years--no one factor and maybe a combination of several. When I was having a bad time with anxiety, that was one thing I didn't want to do--though it's the logical place to go for solace. But I never ever liked going to church alone, and it's way too easy to get out of the habit, especially since I can get the 11:00 o'clock service on the radio. But this morning I got myself together and went to church alone. Somehow I didn't want to miss the joy of Easter--and I didn't want to miss the music.
Don't get me wrong--I have a deep faith in the message of Easter. The minister this morning said that the quesiton so many ask is, "Is the resurrectoin real?" It's the worng question; the question really is, "Where is the resurrection?" and each of us must work that out ourselves. He said he never berates an Easter congregation but he does ask, "Are you here as a tourist or a pilgrim?" and I truly am there as a pilgrim, finding my way on the journey.
But University Christian Church is particularly known for its spectacular music program, and this morning it was glorious. We sang "Jesus Christ the Lord is Risen, Allelluia!" and "Crown him with many crowns"--I can sing most of both from memory going back to my childhood. Sometimes I have been known to sneak out of church during the last hymn so I can "beat the crowd"--don't ask why I'm in a hurry, because I don't know. But today the choral benediction was the "Hallelujah Chorus" and I stayed for every last magnificent minute. I may be literary not musical but I enjoy strong vibrant church music. I am really glad I went to church this morning.
Lovely Easter dinner this evening, though I sort of got the dregs of the Burton family. Jacob had played hard all day at his grandparents house (I'm not a grandparent--I'm Juju),  fell asleep when they were almost at my house, slept for a long time in the car while we had happy hour on the porch with Jean Walbridge and Jim Clark. And, of course, when he woke up, Jacob was cross, grumpy, whiny, awful. Christian kept saying, "He's really charming at his best." We ate without him--if I do say so, the butterflied leg of lamb was delicious--I made slits in it and inserted a mixture of fresh rosemary (I have huge bushes in my yard), chopped garlic, olive oil, and anchovies--then let it sit in the fridge. I seared it in the oven, then runed it down but somehow I took the meat out, I turned off the oven when I meant to turn it up and put the tiny new potatoes and onions back, so the potatoes were a bit crunchy though the boiler red onions were really good. Jordan's salad was delicious, and I sinned and had a small chocolate cupcake for dessert. I lied and told WeightWatchers it was low calorie--figure that made up for the size.
Jacob suddenly became charming as we were finishing dinner, ate his supper, chatted gaily and told Jim he'd like to come to his house some day to see his workshop. No telling with three year olds, but the rest of us had a really pleasant evening.

Friday, April 02, 2010

How will you age?

My friend Charles is 92. A year ago he was running the streets of his Fort Worth neighborhood and riding his bike, although he hung up his car keys voluntarily a couple of years ago. Today he spends much of his time in a nursing home bed, but he gets out--oh, boy, does he get out. He goes to the Unitarian church, and friends pick him up; then they all go to lunch afterward. He goes to lunch on Wednesdays at the Black-Eyed Pea with a church group, and today he and his youngest son had lunch at the Swiss Pastry Shop which he loves. Tonight I took him to a local bistro that serves mussels, which he remembers eating as a very young child. He told me several times how much he was looking forward to the evening, and enjoy he did.. He ate a small serving (looked pretty big to me) of mussels in Italian sauce (wine, cream and pesto)--I tried my first mussel and thought it was neither good nor bad but not something I'd order. Then he had a crab cake, and I could tell he was only avoiding dessert because of my diet, so we finally compromised on chocolate mousse with two spoons. He ate 3/4 of it, while I happily took a few bites and ate the raspberries. When I asked if he was going to have wine, he said, "Oh, yes, that's part of the meal I'm looking forward to." He savored every bite, eating slowly and enjoying--something I should learn to do. I should mention that he arrived with his mouth set for crab cakes but they weren't on the menu--I too wanted crab cakes but the waitress said they had only one left from yesterday, so I gave it to him. I ate Caesar salad and steak tartare. We had a lovely evening, teasing each other as longtime friends will do, and when I took him back to the retirement center he guarnteed me he'd be asleep in an hour. I enjoyed the evening, doubly because he enjoyed it so much. But it made me thinnk--I want to age like Charles. Even though he now uses a walker, confesses that he's gotten clumsier, and refers to himself as disabled, he has an absolute zest for life and thoroughly enjoys the string of visitors who come and go from his room. Obviously they enjoy him too, and except for moments of forgetfulness--he called me last night to ask if we'd missed our date and I explained it was tonight--he's as lucid and brilliant as he always was, one of the smartest men I ever knew. I want to age like Charles.
Funny thing, but when I go to the retirement home to see him I keep running into some old acquaintances who now live there. One said tonight, "I wish we could get you down here,"and I said, "I enjoy my house too much." I guess I made a faux pas because when I walked in I saw a woman I know, we spoke, and I asked if she was working there. "No," she said, "I live here now." Charles laughed when I told him the story.
But on a sad note, we lost a good friend who died last night, a surgeon who had been my ex-husband's senior partner and who, when I was left alone with four children, kept a close watch to see that we were all okay. We've remained friends over all those years, and I lunched frequently with his wife. She was the one who called this morning to give me the news. Charles says he wants to go to the memorial service, so I'll go pick him up Monday morning.
I realize, with some shock, that all that is not that far away for me--twenty years, and I'll be Charles' age. I truly hope to do it gracefully, as a joy to my family and not a burden. But I know it ain't easy.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Fool's and Facebook

I guess I'm a little dense about April Fool's now that all the pranking kids are out of my house. Couldn't figure out why Google said Topeka today until a librarian sent out an email to the whole staff to check it. Then I had to ask him what the deal was, and he explained. Then I saw it on NBC Nightly News, which really made me feel dense. I also get a booksellers' newsletter online called Shelf Awareness. This morning it was all about sweeping changes in publishing--what's in and what's out--due to President Obama's recent triumphs, health care, arms treaty, etc. One publisher was changing its name to Armegeddon and publishing works by Sarah Palin and others of the same ilk. About halfway through, I got the gist of it and had a good laugh. Then there have been funny posts on Sisters in Crime. Maybe I'm not used to April Fool's jokes being so intellectual.
I searched for an old friend today on Facebook and invited her to be my friend. She replied by email that she didn't do any social networking any more (she must check Facebook to know that I tried to contact her) but she was still my friend. So I emailed.
My kids used to tell me I should get on Facebook, and I scoffed. But when I finally did I realized it's a good way to keep up with them--except the Houston Alters who have given it up (and not just for Lent). Now my complaint is almost the opposite--some of them are on Gowalla (whatever that is) where posts show up on Facebook showing where they are every minute--lots and lots of bars and restaurants, maybe more than I want to know. One son-in-law's Twitter posts automatically show up on Facebook, and he's a software engineer, so the posts have to do with stuff I have no inkling about. But then he does go to bars and restaurants.
What I've really found wonderful about it is that I do indeed connect with old friends with whom I'd lost touch--a former neighbor to whom I was close when our kids were young, my best friend from high school, writers I knew in the past but have lost touch with. And I keep up with friends and authors I probably wouldn't any other way. I'm aware of the dangers--one friend says her daughter-in-law got a horrible virus, and I know not to reveal too mch personal information--but I enjoy it.
On the Sisters in Crime listservs they emphasize the importance of Facebook, Twitter, blogging, You-Tube, etc. for publicizing your book. The big new thing is not an author tour to many cities, but a virtual tour online (thank goodness--who wants to sit, looking forlorn, in bookstores across the country while patrons try to avoid looking you in the eye!). So, in case I ever have a mystery published--please cross your fingers, eyes, and toes simultaneously--I've got a good start. I even took a class in Twitter (Jamie told me I was wasting $55), but it's still a mystery to me and I've given up on it. And You-Tube--no, I'm not going there. I'm very happy with my little corner of the social networking world, plus the listservs and blogs I follow. I truly do try not to let it take up too much of my desk time!