Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's stuff

Ignore the goofy look on his face--Jacob was posing. But we had a party tonight--cheddar fondue and kid wine (okay, mine was NOT sparkling cider). He came up with a toast that startled me, "Go, Jesus!" I thought, "Why not?" and toasted with him. He kept saying it was the best fondue ever--not sure how wide his comparison base is. I have promised that if he's very good he may stay up tonight to watch the Times Square Ball drop at eleven our time.
If how you spend December 31 is an omen about the coming year, I'm one happy person. I did some cooking--hoppin' john for tomorrow--but spent most of the day at my computer working on a manuscript. Mostly, it was formatting work which is monotonously addictive, sort of like Facebook--you keep thinking just one more line, one more entry. But I have a lot of work on my desk, and I like that. And tonight Jacob is with me. Makes for a pretty fine day.
Ordinarily I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, because who keeps them? But I have three this year that seem important to me, and I intend to keep them:
1. To exercise regularly, either yoga or my exercise bike. I stopped both in July when Sophie came to our house. At first I was outside so much with her because she was too little to let out alone. But now she spends hours outside and loves it. Meantime I got out of the habit of exercising--and I gained weight. My conscience bothers me more than my body, but for the past two or three weeks I've gotten back to yoga sporadically. In August, too, Jacob started coming after school every day--and I can't do yoga when he's around. See? I have all kinds of excuses. This year, I'm planning yoga into each day's schedule as much as possible.
2. I will get control of Sophie who minds so well at some things and ignores others plus is totally a mess when excited. I need to stop telling myself she's just a puppy. She's almost eight months old and needs to live in the world. Last night when she insisted on jumping on me, I put her in her crate; half an hour later I let her back into the office, and she slept at my feet like an angel. After Sue walked her and announced, "She's used to getting her own way," I called the dog trainer I used with Scooby. He'll come next Friday.
3. This one is harder but lately I've been acutely aware of how blessed and lucky I am--with family, friends, meaningful work, a comfortable home, an income that keeps me fed and warm and allows a few luxuries if not many. But there are so many who are much less fortunate, especially in these economic times. So I resolve to do some kind of outreach, probably through my church. Working at a museum or making visitors calls for the church, which I already do, or some of the other things that interest me aren't the same--they reach those who already have. If I'm honest, I have to admit that I'm probably not suited to work with the homeless--my church has a program called Room at the Inn, whereby homeless people are fed and housed for one night a week. I don't think that's my niche. It may take a while to find it. It may be that being politically active during this election fits part of that resolve. I have been actively trying to find my political voice on Facebook.
My friend Subie ended their Christmas letter with a wish that each of us find meaningful and satisfying work--that, to me, is so important. So I wish that for each of you, along with health, happiness, and love. No, I don't wish you wealth--but I wish you security and comfort.
2012--bring it on!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Two days as a grandmother--and trying to be an author

After a Christmas holiday full of grandchildren, I've had a two-day Jacob experience. His parents went out of town--which really burned him, because he thought they should have taken him with them. We didn't tell him they'd gone to the Alamo Bowl to see Baylor play--and win--because he's an avid Baylor fan. But he was here from six Wed. night until seven tonight. I was never a mom who played with her kids much--they were four of them and they kept themselves busy together. So entertaining one grandchild is a challenge--yesterday we ran errands all morning, which didn't please him except when we picked out special desserts for New Year's Eve at Central Market. Never mind that he was so sad tonight he ate his and I promised to share mine tomorrow--I don't need all those calories anyway. Last night we went to a German restaurant with his Aunt Betty--and he talked incessantly and acted up, but ate chicken strips and fries. The food at Greenwoods, by the by, was delicious. Betty and I shared schnitzel, fried potataoes and salad.
Today Jacob and I had a battle over the Baylor shirt he'd been wearing for three days--it's filthy, but he refused to take it off. So I took this ragamuffin urchin to Origins and Staples and then back home where he decided it didn't matter if he played with the dogs in a dirty shirt. His folks expected to be back about four but didn't arrive until seven--awful traffic on I-35. So we fiddled away the afternoon--I worked and napped, Jacob played and watched TV--and napped. We were both soooo glad to see the parents arrive:-)
My good friend Subie came by this afternoon--haven't seen her in a couple of years (Jacob finally put on a clean shirt for the occasion). We had a glass of wine and a good visit, albeit around a talkative five-year-old. Her visit was a bright spot in a sort of uncertain day.
In my work periods today, I'm checking edits on the second Kelly O'Connell mystery--accepting or declining insertions and deletions on the Track Changes program is always problematic--and frustrating--to me, but I'm learning some things as I go along. My editor is in Wales, and sometimes I wonder if that doesn't lead to a difference in idioms, etc. And I have always followed the Chicago Manual of Style--which she doesn't. She thinks I include too much description about houses and foods, but my feeling is the Kelly books are cozies and people want to have this sense of being immersed in Kelly's world. (Any opinions are welcome!) So I'm battling with these differences and trying to be accommodating. I have miles to go on this manuscript and then on the next one, though I'm lunching with Fred on Tuesday and will get his comments on that one. 2012 promises to be busy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Home again, home again

No matter where you go--be it to an exotic foreign land or a relative's house thirty miles away--and no matter what a wonderful time you have, it's always good to be home. I'm back from a wonderful Christmas in Austin, still savoring memories, but gradually settling into being home--unpacking, sorting mail, loving the dogs (Sophie seems ecstatic to see me, Scooby more contained about it), throwing out a dead flower arrangement. Tomorrow I have several loads of laundry to do, a thousand leaves to sweep out of the house (Sophie is a magnet for dirt and leaves), and lots of other "reclaiming" chores. But late this afternoon, I had a nap in my own bed, which was delightful.
Jordan, Jacob and I managed to make a fve-hour trip out of the three-hour drive from Austin--we stopped at the outlet mall in Round Rock, then at the Elite Cafe in Waco only the parking lot was so crowded we moved on, with the Czech Stop in mind for quick sandwiches. But as we exited another place in Waco to do a bit of shopping Jordan wanted, we passed a Collin Street Bakery restaurant, and I voted for going back there for lunch--it was not outstanding but good.
So now I'm home savoring memories--Ford and Jacob taunting me this morning with mischief in their eyes, then running screaming when I said I'd get them; Sawyer's intense concentration on building a rocket; Maddie's wonderful voice and guitar music; Eden's taattoos that she plastered on each child; Morgan sliding down the pole from the circular staircase I don't know how many times and Kegan finally following her lead. Kegan at four avoids me and some of his aunts--I think he's shy, because he'll grin but back away. They are all wonderful, and I am so blessed.
On to 2012 which will be a good year. God bless one and all.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Family, family, family

My two sons have a running "thing" about who is my favorite. Colin will call me with "Hi, Ma, it's me, your favorite son" and Jamie will post on Facebook, "Mom, I know you love me a lot but we have to remember you have another son and we don't want to hurt his feelings." So I got two shirts that said, "Mom likes me best" and made them open them simultaneously. They thought I had scored, so thanks to friend Sally for finding these.
Have you ever slept on an air mattress? One with a leak? We air it up before I got to bed but it gets quite soft during the night--then it's hard to move in the bed because it seems to envelop me, and it's hard to get up. I can't get the support to stand up. I finally decided it's best to roll off, get on all fours, and stand up from there. But the corker came this afternoon when I took up a nap. I had pushed the mattress close to the bookcase and put the phone on a shelf so I could check the time. Rolled over to do that and the whole mattress came with me, standing on its side. I was trapped by the covers. After two tries I extricated myself but I had visions of having to call the children, which would have a) made them laugh, and b) convinced them I need a keeper.
The funny thing about all this is that my grown kids are on a protective kick about me. Yesterday, as I took rolls out of the lower oven, my hand brushed the rack and got a tiny burn, momentary discomfort. Meantime Megan demanded that I let go of the pan--she was sure I was falling and about to put my hand on the oven door. In truth, I only needed someone to push the rolls back onto the rimless cookies sheet. But it was "Mom, after this, let us get things out of the lower oven!"  My reaction was a vehement "No! I'm capable." I've had a cold, the kind that makes you snort and snuff in the morning and leaves a lingering cough. So I've dealt with threats to take me to an ER clinic in spite of my protests that feel fine and it's just a cold.
I'm protesting that if they keep this up, they'll make me old before my time. Their argument--mostly Colin--is that I'm of an age where a fall can have serious consequences (didn't tell them I tripped on bed clothes yesterday and took a hard fall) and pneumonia can be serious, etc. Compromise: I will call my doctor's office tomorrow.
A Christmas Eve photo that I find beond sweet: They're staring at the reindeeer food they put out, waiting for reindeer to appear. Unfortunately it rained and as someone said the reindeer food turned to oatmeal. Still, the hopefulness of children is so much a part of Christmas and its joy. I've read posts that say "Okay, we're done with Christmas. Let's move on." I'm not ready to let go of the spirit. The first child left today, a whole family will be leaving in a few minutes, but we've had three glorious days together.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas and grandchildren

I started to write that Christmas is all about grandchildren--but of course, it's not. It's about the gift of Jesus and God's love for his people. Jordan and I agreed tonight that the thing we miss in our big family gatherings is the late night trip to church--but no one wants to keep the children up that late. And I'm afrad the magical "reason for the season" gets lost in tracking Santa Claus and begging to open just one present.
But an underlying theme to this sacred holiday is the joy of children and family traditions. All seven of my grandchildren have at most a two-minute reacquaintance period and then they're off and running. The noise level in the house is worse than ten jet planes and there are of course occasional tears, accusations, and fits. But on the whole it's happy. Their Uncle Colin made a gingerbread house for each child and each decorated his or her own today--and each won a prize in a different category. Then there were running gun battles throughout the house not only encouraged but led by two men in the forties. The children hardly stop to be loved or hugged.
This is an Alter Christmas--every other year my children go to their in-laws but on "our" years we celebrate the way I grew up and the way my children did. That means no, you don't open presents until  Christmas morning--Sawyer announced we were take a vote tonight but I nullified the vote.
We've had chicken parmesan (my turn to cook), chili (Brandon's turn but Megan made it) and tonight I made my mom's everlasting rolls and turned them into sticky buns that are waiting to rise enough to be baked. I set the rest of the dough on the porch--it will be in the 30s--and will make dinner rolls tomorrow. I haven't done that in years--it's a lot of work--but my children were ecstatic that I'm doing this. And you know what? It felt good to work the dough. Jordan offered to stir and I said no, I have to do it by how it feels. Megan said she had no idea how I knew what I was doing, not measuring. I protested I measured--milk, surgar, oil, baking powder, baking soda. But then I do add flour by the feel of the dough. I so hope I can pass that on to my girls.
The nice thing about my family is that everyone cooks, so it isn't a burden on any one. I've gotten to read and work a bit at the computer and sleep late in the morning. Tomorrow we'll have a huge breakfast and then presents and then launch into fixing turkey  dressing, green bean casserole (a must!), mashed potatoes and gravy, and mac and cheese. The apple pie is made, guests are bringing appetizers, and it will be a jolly day. I hope I can get them all to go beyond the funny blessings at the table to give serious thanks for the day and all it represents and for our good fortune in being together.
May God bring each of you similar blessings this season and in the coming year. And to all, a good night.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas is coming, fill the cookie jar

Jacob wanted to make cookies last night but I explained we were going to dinner and evening wasn't a good time. Then this morning he wanted to bake them right away so he could have cookies for breakfast. Instead I greeted him with "Put on your jacket--we're going to the hardware" at 8:15 this morning. We rushed to get floodlight bulbs before Lewis came to replace all the burned out ones--and we rushed without breakfast or coffee for me. Once he adjusted to the idea--a slight bribe was involved--Jacob was a good trooper. Then we made coal cookies--Jacob was enthusiastic about measuring and mixing and putting spoonfuls into mini muffin tins--what a great way to make cookies. But with the tin about 3/4 full he decided that was enoiugh--there was an entire second tin worth of dough left. I ended up finishing  the cookies. We're working hard on not double dipping--don't lick a spoon and put it back in the dough, don't dunk the beater back in the mixture because you like licking it, etc. I'm sure baking killed whataever germs were there, but it's the principle of the matter. He's gone off to McDonald's with his mom--a real treat.
Sophie does it again--I was using one of my cane-seat chairs to keep her off the duck upholstered chair in my office--she chewed a huge hole in the cane and gnawed away part of the seat. I had a dog die from a splinter in his lung once; Sophie has chewed on everything wooden she can find and survives quite nicely. This morning Lewis said, "She hadn't calmed down at all. We need puppy Prozac." I will have to get serious about this after the holiday. My plan to have a well-trained, companionable dog overlooked Sophie's high spirits. Not sure how long I can go on with the excuse that she's just a puppy! But I've had friends offer to take her for a run, which is probably just what she needs.
Lovely evening tonight at the home of my friend and former neighbor Sue. Her parents live in Ottawa, Ontario, and we get to talking about eastern Ontario where once upon a time I had lots of relatives. Also being of the same age and political opinions, we talk about a lot of things. I am always truly glad to see them. And truly glad to catch up with Sue and her two children Alex and Hunter, who are growing way too fast for me to keep up. I took them each a lump of coal (cookie) even though they both claimed they'd been nice for the year-and on the whole, I bet they had.
Came home, ate tuna, and tried to figure the loose ends I had to tie up. Why is there always something we forget? Tomorrow, the Christmas rush begins. Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pre-Christmas trivia

It's five days before Christmas and, according to my usual habit, I have everything done, so I'm kind of fiddling the days away on trivia--a grocery store trip that wasn't needed except that I decided to bake coal cookies for all my grandchildren. I figure not a one of them  has been an angel every minute of the year so they get a lump of coal in their stockings--the directions say to shape the still-warm cookies in your hands until they resemble a lump of coal. They sound delicious, with dutch-process cocoa (none other), espresso powder, and chocolate bits.
I still have odds and ends to do--the kinds of things that you figure if you don't write them down, you'll forget. For instance, where is that wonderful fancy Christmas stocking someone made me years ago?
Tonight Jacob and I went with Betty to the Star Cafe, the Stockyards restaurant she and her husband own. Jacob has been clamoring to go to the Star and see Aunt Betty and Uncle Don. Uncle Don never did show up while we were there, but we had a good time. Highlight of the evening: Aunt Betty got Jacob a real Wrangler cowboy shirt. That became even more important because when we got out of the car, three riders on horseback moved up Exchange Avenue. Jacob ate a grilled cheese, and Aunt Betty kept refilling his sundae with more chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I told her if he's awake at midnight, I'm calling her. I also told her she was evil, and Jacob asked, "What's evil?" Betty sat back in her chair and said, "I really want to hear how you're going to answer that." Thanks for the support!
My project for tonight is to find just the right books to download for Christmas reading, which means reading first chapters to make sure I haven't read them before and am interested.
Something that puzzles me: I thought North Korean leader Kim Jong II was listed as one of the world's worst dictators. But I saw TV pictures tonight of thousands of North Koreans weeping in the streets. Was he evil and they loved him anyway? Was he a benevolent dictator--I can't believe that. Another thing that puzzles me: Texas law contains a provision saying a person who collects a pension must step down from their position, be it elected or appointed. So why do people dismiss what Rick Perry's doing with a wave of the arm and "Everyone does that!" I don't think so.
The world is full of puzzlements, and I know there were one or two more I was going to post about--but I forgot to write them down. Maybe they'll occur to me tomorrow.
Meantime, my granddaughter Maddie can tell you to the day, hour and minute how long until Christmas. If you haven't done your shopping, it may scare  you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

V is for Vengeance

I just finished what must be Sue Grafton's 22nd outing in her alphabet series of mysteries featuring P.I. Kinsey Milhone. This one took me a little longer to read--partly because I had a lot of other things, like Christmas, going on but also because it was slow to draw me in. But once I got into it--and once Kinsey appeared on the scene, I was hooked as usual. This is a suspense novel in the classic sense--the reader knows the good guys and the bad guys--and what they're up to. It's just a question of when their paths will converge--and Grafton is a master at building complications and suspense. Just when you think there's no relation between this character and that, a small fact makes you realign your thinking. It's finger-nail-biting, read-into-the-night stuff.
Kinsey Milhone doesn't seem to change--if she ages, it's not obvious; she still eats at Rosie's and hangs out with Henry, her spry elderly neighbor who's a great cook. But in this volume Grafton creates some characters of real depth, like Pinky, the petty thief who can't seem to reform and can't seem to win at anything he tries. He's a loser but the reader soon feels Kinsey's concern and, yes, affection, for him. Perhaps the most interesting is the mastermind criminal Dante--don't call him a gangster because he resents that. But he's efficient, almost ruthless, and runs a huge smoothly operating resale business--as in reselling shoplifted and stolen goods. He's also charming, ethical in his own way, and an entirely sympathetic villain if there is such a thing. Dante is the kind of bad guy you find yourself rooting for.
The novel opens, as most suspense novels do, with a series of apparently unrelated scenes. Grafton soon links them, so that you sense what's going on. What bothered me was that I couldn't relate the first scene to the rest of the action until late in the novel--perhaps a more astute reader would pick up on it, but when I finally read what linked it to the plot, I'd almost forgotten that opening scene. Puzzled me a bit.
But Grafton remains a master of her craft. I think she and Kinsey will make it safely through the alphabet, and I look forward to the last letters--Z is for ?????

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is blogging passe?

The Liptstick Chronicles, a collective blog by several mystery writers, is closing down as of January 1. Blogging, they say, has seen its day. "The party's over." The authors behind this blog feel that other social media--Facebook,Twitter, Goodreads--have taken the place of blogging. (I am active on Facebook, barely alive on Twitter and confounded by Goodreads--can't figure out how to post). The Chronicles didn't aim to teach wannabe writers to write or writers to sell. These bloggers wanted to show the world that writers are human, with a sense of humor and everyday adventures just like the rest of us. Hats off to
They did an admirable job, and many of us will miss them. But their "party's  over" message emphasized a rumor I've been hearing. Blogging doesn't sell books, it's old-fashioned (boy, that happened quickly). Of course, now I'm wondering if I'm a luddite since I've been blogging for five years and have some 32,000+ hits--not all that many for such a long time but still respectable.
Bloggers probably have to examine the reason they blog. If it's to sell books, forget it. No one likes a hard sell. Sure I announce my books and report good things from time to time, but I don't blog to sell--except in a roundabout way. Nor do I blog to teach--what I could teach would barely fill one post. Sometimes I do reflect on writing and various aspects of it, sometimes I report on books I've enjoyed. I almost never mention books I didn't like.
But a lot of the time I  report the high points of my life and the trivia. Are you really interested that my two major accomplishments of the morning were to put Draino in the bathroom sink and re-season my cast iron skillet--I think in the process I may have ruined the latter, and now I've got to do something about the slow drain the tub. Hardly high points in anyone's day.
So why blog? First of all, it's a challenge that's fun--what can I talk about  tonight? I blog almost every night, except those days when my mind truly is a blank or the rare occasion when I'm so busy all day and evening I don't  have the energy or time. I blog about what's happening in my life--if you're a regular reader, you must feel like you know grandson Jacob and my dining pal Betty and my neighbors. I blog about random things I read in the paper or on Facebook. The temptation to blog about politics is almost  not to be withstood by this dedicated liberal but my conservative son-in-law says I'm always political. I think the point behind this kind of blogging is to make and keep friends. I had an email this morning from an old and dear friend who said she was so glad I had a blog so she could keep up with me but then she realized she doesn't have a blog and should write. Wonderful reaction.
My oldest daughter says Skeleton in a Dead Space is a highly autobiographical novel, so that's a minor reason for my blogs. If you like me as a person, perhaps you'll like my autobiographical novel--wait! most of those things never happened to me; I was a single parent, but I've never found a skeleton nor been in a physical fight. Future novels will be less autobiographical as Kelly's life takes turns mine didn't but maybe you figure if you like me, you'll continue to like Kelly. She does, after all, reflect the kind of person I am.
I'm not too busy too blog--in fact, I'm at a hiatus in my writing right now, which is a whole other story. And I'm not ready to quit blogging. I hope you're not reading to stop reading, even if only occasionally.
Cheers and Happy Holidays! I'll be a at Potluck with Judy tomorrow with some kind of holiday recipe. Haven't decided what. Oh,  yeah, I forgot to mention that blogging is a spur-of-the-moment thing for me and not something I labor over. Perhaps you already guessed that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday trivia

This hasn't been a really busy week. When other people's pre-holiday schedules get frantic, my life seems to slow down. I've got Christmas done, as much as I am going to do, and I'm at a hiatus in my writing. Still have to reread the work-in-progress and make sure it hangs together, but I've incorporated Fred's suggestions and feel good about it. At this point, I have three books under contract, but there's no urgency--one is in the hands of an editor and the next two are written and only need polishing. So I'm sort of on a holiday vacation.
Went to a lovely Christmas party in the early evening--nibbled on such goodies as a brie cheesecake and endive stuffed with beets, carrots, fennel and a bit of salmon roe. Came home to nibble on more mundane fare--cottage cheese, chicken salad, and cucumber. Sleepy--but it's too early to go to sleep. Dogs are fed and outside playing.
I did a moment of reflection today on how comfortable and lucky I am, and I said a prayer for all those less fortunate--along with a resolve to do more community service. I had a pricey dinner last night with a good friend at an upscale restaurant; I shopped in an upscale grocery today and bought luxury items--fancy chocolate bars, Kobe beef, hearts of palm--and then I went to Origins, my favorite cosmetic store--no drugstore cosmetics for me! I bought "staples" but we won't talk about the price tag. I worry about money a lot as a retired person--but today I had a real epiphany about how many ways I could cut down my expenses if I felt desperate. I know there are so many people in the world--in this country--who are desperate, that I feel selfish. And resolved to do more.
Some things that struck me today:
I found a recipe for taking sliced roast beef, simmering it in French onion soup with Worcestershire, and melting provolone on it--then turning the whole thing into a sandwich. But when I went to the market, the deli person said he only had well done beef and, forgetting that it would turn well done in the soup, I said no, I wanted rare. So he sold me Kobe beef--so lovely and pink--for the price of the regular. Of course, there's no way I'm going to cook that in soup. I want a sandwich with mayo, tomato, provolone, and good sourdough bread. This is for Sundaty lunch, and I guarantee Jordan will microwave her meat--maybe we can talk her into sauteing it.
In the current issue of Southern Living, I found directions for refreshing your iron skillet so that it doesn't stick. I admit I've used  mine so much for--who knows how many years?--that foods stick. The instructions say to scrub it well in hot soapy water. I thought soap was a no-no, but  I'm willing to try. Then dry thoroughly and coat with melted shortening or vegetable oil. Of course I do that every time I put it away. But here's the second new step: Put the skillet upside down on a rack in the middle of the oven (place foil on a lower rack to catch drips) and bake it one hour at 375. It's on my agenda for tomorrow.
Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Inns and Dives--or whatever it's called--has been in the Metroplex. Of course, all the food lovers have suggestions of places he should have visited--too late! But he did go to one of my favorites--Tolbert's Texas Chili Parlor, managed by Kathleen Tolbert Ryan, daughter of the legendary chili king and entrepreneur Frank Tolbert. Their chili is wonderful and Tolbert invented what one food critic calls the first junk food--donkey tails. That would be sausage-beef franks and cheese wrapped in a tortilla and deep-fried. Dunked in chili, it's wonderful and so filling. I never know whether to order the chili or the donkey tails though to order both makes me feel gluttonous.
Enough trivia for Friday. The sun came out today,and it surely changes one's outlook on the world. It's been a good day.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Off days and gloomy weather

Do you ever have an "off" day? You're not sick, but you just don't feel right. I like to think of myself as the perpetual Pollyanna--always bright, always looking on the good side, seeing the glass half full. But yesterday my system was out of whack--maybe it was the scratchy throat and stuffy nose that Jacob gave me, maybe it was my stomach which was in turmoil all day, maybe it was that I drank coffee and didn't eat anything for an hour or more in the morning. Maybe you can never figure out what causes an off day.  But, oh my. am I a new person today, though it's been an uneventful day.
Highlight was supper at Sapristi's with good friend Sue Boggs--we split the tapas and I had a Caesar salad while she had roasted mushrooms--and wine. We talked so long the waitress came and added a splash of wine to our glasses, saying, "It looks like such a good conversation I think you need just a bit more." Courtesy of the house. Wonderful to have neighborhood places like that.
Rainy and cold all afternoon and tonight--the kind of day that makes you shrink into yourself. I got out in spite of it but am glad to be home. Sorting through recipes, loking for a good sandwich I haven't fixed before. Nice way to spend the evening.
Stay warm and dry, everyone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writerly matters

 A cookie for writers! Patti from Baked Ideas made this amazing edible gingerbread typewriter for benefit of City Harvest, and it is displayed at NYC's Parker Meridien Hotel. From Shelf Awareness this morning.
And did you know that today is St. Lucia's day--the patron saint of writers? Celebrate by writing an extra 500 words, with Saint Lucia guiding your fingers over the keyboard.
I've been pondering series in the mystery genre. I'm reading number twenty-something in a highly successful series, but I find it's not as compelling as the earlier books were. I don't know if that's me or if the heroine had run her course about five books back. I do know of several series that are up in the twenties now. Some that I still follow ardently--Deborah's Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series and Julia Spencer-Fleming's Rev. Claire Ferguson and Russ Van Alstyne series--have ten or less, but there are several others I quit reading. I now have three books written in my Kelly O'Connell mystery series--number two is due out in April and number three in August--and I'm pondering the future. Both my beta reader (I've finally learned to use that term instead of mentor) and publisher both say I'm not through with Kelly and I do have ideas for number four which means I'll have to do number five, because I have that Oriental thing against even numbers.
But I also have a first in another series, and I'd like to see if it would fly. My publisher suggests interspersing the first of the Blue Plate series with the Kelly O'Connell books, and I'm liking that idea. How about you? Do you like to read series? Write them? When is enoiugh enough?
My beta reader sent his notes on the third Kelly mystery today. He pointed out I had a man and a dog both named Gus--I was aware of it but Gus the dog was in previous books, and Gus seemed to fit the new character. But Fred said he had quite a turn when Kelly hugged Gus after a particularly traumatic scene--I meant the dog, of course. So Gus the man is now Otto. I remember once writing three books in a y/a series; in the first two, the young boy's name was Davey; in the third book, for some inexplicable reason, I called him Josh. The editor wrote to ask, "Who's Josh?"

Monday, December 12, 2011

One author's success story

Today's mail brought me an advance reading copy of Roll On, a novel by Fred Afflerbach. Fred is a former independent truck drive who left the road--something not all drivers can do with grace--and graduated from college at fifty and went on to become an award-winning journalist. His novel reflects his belief that American literature has overloked an important twentieth century figure, the long-haul truck driver who is, Afflerbach says, the descendent of sailors, explorers, mountain men and cowboys. Fred's novel gives you a chance to ride shotgun with one of these fiercely independent road warriors--and this author know of what he writes when he describes one trucker's battle against a changing world. Technology, business and family areall pushing truckers off the road.
Just before I retired from TCU Press, I was working with Fred on his novel. With a reader's appraisal in hand, I had suggested rewrites which he successfully made. My successor decided not to move forward with the project, so Fred and I corresponded, and I tried to encourage him, counseling persistence in trying other publishers. Fred and his wife came by the house and had a glass of wine when they were in Fort Worth.  Academy Chicago Publishers accepted the manuscript and are touting it as a unique portrait of an American individual. It will be available in ebook and trade paper later this month.
If Ubi Sunt (the trucker of the novel--the name is a long story, well explained in the book) is an American individual, Fred Afflerbach is the eitome of many of today's authors. Believing in himself and receiving encouragment, from his wife, from me and others, he persevered and his dream of being a published author is coming true. I hope he has other books in his mind or head or whatever.
Look for Roll On in your local bookstore or online and give it a try. It's very authenticity will make you glad you read it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My almost-always annual no-tree tree trimming party

Tonight was my tree trimming party, a party I've been giving in one form or another since 1965. I do it because I always thought trimming the tree should be festive and fun, and it wasn't when I was a kid. Nowdays I don't have a tree--never home at Christmas, etc., though I sometimes think I'll get a small table tree and a couple of years I've had really small trees that fit on the coffee table. I've been giving this party since 1965--sometimes a Sunday night, one year desserts only, sometimes at 8:00, tonight at 5:30 so people who had other plans could move on. I like the way that worked and may do it again.
Every fall, about October, I debate whethr or not to have the party, and a howl goes up from some of my friends because that's the only time they see each other. I always end  up having fun at my own party, getting lots of hugs. Many of these people are ones I don't see often, others are part of my daily life. These days, there's a big contingent of family--some direct relations, some by marriage--and there are lots of kids. My brother brings his side of the family which has grown larger than mine, since most of my kids are not close enough to come for an evening. Jordan is a whiz at planning the kids part of the party--pigs in a blanket, pretzels, chips, ranch dip, carrots, and Christmas trees to color. I don't know if any kids ever did color them tonight, but they all seemed to have a good time. The kids were all my grandnieces and grandnephews, one grandson, and two distantly related  by marriaige.
For the adults I served my traditional cheeseball, the one my mom made, liver pate, a caviar spread, cheese with curry that you top with chutney, a cheese ring topped with strawberry jam, veggies and a Caesar dip, persimmon bread, a reuben dip (always disappears).
After the food was put up and the dishes done--I hired a "party angel," a lovely woman who did a great job--I got to thinking about the business of giving a party. It's an expense for my limited budget, no doubt about it, and it's a lot of work, because there's the house to decorate, even with no tree, and I make all the dips and spreads myself and serve wine and soft drinks--no mixed drinks, no beer. Tonight folks drank a case of white wine and almost a case of red. But to me, in some strange convoluted thinking, giving this party is part of staying  young and not growing old, not saying "I can't do the party this year. I'm too old and don't have the energy." That day may come, but I hope not soon.  
As I say every year, in the afterglow of the paty, I'm doing this next year and I begin planning. There just so many people I wish I could invite and don't have room  for because of all those regulars. Hmmmm--next year, caviar dip, liver pate, cheeseball, and some surprises. And Jordan wants those meatballs that are really sausage, cheese, and Bisquick. Okay, not gourmet but good.                                                     

Friday, December 09, 2011

My own joy of cooking

Nice, lazy evening tonight browsing through the new issue of Food & Wine, a magazine that's often a bit esoteric for me. But tonight, because I didn't feel my usual sense of rushing, I lingered over travel articles and other pieces. Found in one a description of a tart made of fresh (just from the earth) lettuce, herbs and oil topped with anchovies and baked--sounds heavenly. The writer wasn't sure how she'd feel about cooked lettuce but praised it. Here are the recipes I cut out to cook: trout schnitzel with lemon-chile butter; crispy potato galette with smoked fish and dill creme; open-face sardine sandwiches with tangy aioli; pork-and-cheese arepas with tangy cabbage slaw. I may have to find adventurous eaters to share these meals with me--I can't see Jordan and Christian waxing enthusiastic about open-faced sardine sandwiches. Jeannie? Jay? Rodger?
I didn't know what an arepa is, so I went to my trusted Food Lover's Companion--only to be disappointed. Found the following on Wikipedia: An arepa is a dish made of ground corn dough or cooked flour, popular in Colombia, Venezuela and other Spanish-speaking countries. It is similar in shape to the Salvadoran pupusa. Arepas can also be found in Panama, Puerto Rico and the Canary Islands. My daughter says she doesn't need the Food Lovers Companion because she has a computer, and I told her she was wrong. Maybe I'm wrong..
I've been cooking today. I"m having a group in for cocktails (read wine) and snacks tomorrow, and on the menu, among other things, is a liver pate that a friend told me about. She swears even non-liver eaters will go back time and again for this.  So I think I'll keep count of how many non-liver eaters will overcome their prejudice and try Sally's recipe which has madeira, allspice, thyme, and too much butter. It needs to sit overnight, but I tasted it--rich but oh so delicious.
I'm also making the caviar dish that Jamie loves--caviar on a base of cream cheese seasoned with onion, mayonnaise, and lemon. Jordan is upset that I didn't make the sausage balls that you make with Bisquick. You can't please all of the people all of the time.
I'm watching an episode of Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives"--much of that food is way too far into the category of "fat food" for me, but it sure looks good. Right now, it's fried chicken. Fieri doesn't feature the food I cook, but I do like that show. There's been a flurry on Facebook because Fieri's show has been filming in the area--but not in Fort Worth, in spite of the fact that we all have suggestions for him.
I love writing, reading, especially mysteries, but cooking holds a special place in my soul. When I get to heaven, I'm asking for an apron.
Sophie just drew blood again--she paws at my arm for attention, and we're fighting the"Off!" battle. I say "Off" in my sternest tone and turn my back on her--she refuses to accept that command, and a few minutes later a sneak attack I'm not expecting bloodies my arm.. As a consequence lots of my T-shirts are blood-stained--on the left sleeve. She's also alienated at least one person who was prepared to adore her--8-year-old Edie, a real softie for animals, was so excited about seeing her again (she was with me the day I got her) but lost interest because Sophie jumps so much. Jacob roughhouses and wrestles with her and never seems bothered by her wildness--six months ago he was afraid of dogs. Now, he comes in after school and wants to play with the dogs right away. He sits on the roof of the porch to the doghouse and sometimes hoists Sophie up there with him.
Right now, Sophie has gotten the message, belatedly, and is sleeping at my feet. Puppy, puppy, puppy.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The puppy chronicles continue

 Jacob in the doghouse.
Sophie in a quiet moment--don't be misled!
This week I applied the word "fractious" to Sophie. I think the cold weather makes her frisky, but she's ended up spending way too much time inside to work off her energy and probably too much of it in her crate, especially yeserday when the plumber was installing a new hot water heater. But it began the night before--I came home late from a book club meeting, tried to take her out, and she balked, didn't want to go. So I thought she didn't need to go and left her in the study, while I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. She peed and pooped. Next morning, I put her out for a good bit, she came in and peed and pooped.  She was out of control when one of the men went out to wrap the outdoor faucet in the back yard and he, usually a gentle soul, lost patience with her. In the afternoon I knew I was going out for supper, so I fed both dogs early--Scooby outside and Sophie in the study, our usual pattern. Instead of eating her supper, she ate a basket I had put on the floor. I thought with company coming this weekend it would be neat to collect all her toys in the basket. Yes, she'd scatter them but I could just throw them back in half a second. I scolded, put her out and cleaned up the mess. When I came home I put her out and she tore all the rags off the faucet that Jim had carefully wrapped in the morning. I put her in the study and cleaned up the rags. Fed her (she hadn't eaten earlier) and thought I had her settled when I looked down and she was chewing a book--one that I'd written, no less. Scolded, re-shelved the book, and she got a picture of one set of my grandchildren down.  She's spirited, delightful, and sweet--but I sure will be glad when she grows up. She's seven months now. Today she seems much better and now is playing contentedly with her toys--I know by saying that I'll jinx it.
Christmas dinners with two different sets of friends the last two nights--I'm feeling like an overfed social butterfly. Last night Kathie, Carol and I went to Winslow's, where Carol and I had roasted chicken with sage gravy, scalloped potatoes with gruyere, and a mix of spinach, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Absolutely wonderful Tonight Betty, Jeannie and I went to Lightcatcher Winery and Bistro in Lakeside, about 30 minutes from here.It's a working winery and we dined surrounded by oak barrels with other winery equipment all around. They have an excellent chef--we began with lobster ravioli with a rich, creamy wine sauce; each of us ordered Celtic Lamb Shepherd's Pie, which was wonderful, and we shared a chocolate tart with red wine/raspberry sorbet and red wine ganache. All delicious. Lightcatcher serves only their own wines, and we ordered a bottle of chardonnay but uniformly agreed it was too sweet. Still, we soldiered on and drank it--well, most of it. The gift shop is intrigiuing, with many items related to wine, some not, and of course the ubiquitous T-shirt.
I spent two mornings doing grocery shopping and guess where I'm going tomorrow--the grocery. Forgot the extra cup of sharp cheese I need and parsley to put around a cheese ring. It's that time of year!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Vacation is here

I'm on vacation--well, sort of. I finished editing, rewriting the third manuscript in the Kelly O'Connell series tonight. I'd procrastinated about this, thinking I couldn't bear to read it one more time. But when I finally made myself do it, I enjoyed the process, enjoyed plugging the holes where something didn't work, fleshing out a scene that I'd cut too short, correcting the inevitable typos--I'm sure there are more. That's always beta reader Fred's criticism to me: stop rushing through the story. Fred is reading it--I gave it to him last week--and I will of course wait for his comments and go through it one more time. I think those times of procrastination or staying away from it are good--they give new perspective. When I went back to this one it seemed better to me; in fact, I was quite pleased with it. Oops, pride goeth before a fall. Tentative title is Wild Things in Kelly's Neighborhood. I would surely appreciate comments on that title. But having done what I've done in the last few days, I feel like I'm on Christmas vacation. I plan to read a lot of mysteries. And maybe cook a lot.
Today started out cold and rainy. The rain stopped, but the cold has intensified, and we're due a hard freeze tonight. My cactus plants are inside, and everything outside will either die to be discarded and replaced next year or survive--some of my herbs survive bitter weather and strong heat. Amazing  plants. It was a split pea soup kind of day, but when Jeannie and I got to Carshon's we decided to share a reuben sandwich. It was also a hot cocoa day, and I fixed that for Jacob after school--he was delighted. We did his homework and he fell asleep in front of the TV. Dry weather tomorrow, but very cold.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Old friends

Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.
I know, I've recently done a post using that quote but a call from Santa Fe today made my day and emphasized again the value of old friends. My longtime friend (I started to say old, but she might take that personally) Nancy Olson called to say she was loving Skeleton in a Dead Space. Of course she would--she recognizes many of the players. In fact, she says it's like I was personally taking her by the hand and leading her along. Nancy and I have been friends for forty-six years, a long time in anyone's book. We don't talk often these days and she's not real good about emailing, but I discovered today she's on Facebook, so maybe we'll be in touch more. But today, we laughed about old and good times, talked about cooking and books. For me, it was great to hear her voice and her distinctive, happy laugh. It really did give me a happy glow the rest of the day.
Facebook has already connected me to another old friend--Sally Jackson, who was my neighbor in Park Hill, took her life in a new direction about the same time I did, and moved away from the neighborhood. Now on Facebook we trade recipes, news of our kids, and bits of political wisdom. I'm so enjoying having her back in my life.
So make new friends but keep the old--they are, indeed, gold.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Thoughts on dogs and rain, supper, and the search for birthparents

I think anyone reading this knows how much I love my old dog, Scooby, and my puppy, Sophie, but this has not been a good day to own dogs. Rain all day, sometimes heavy, and the backyard is a sea of mud. The path from the back door to the kitchen is lined with old rugs, and I am finally getting Sophie to the point where I can dry her feet and legs without a ferocious battle. But I think she decided this morning to be fractious today: the first thing she did, as I stood right there with the door open for her to go out, was to go to her favorite spot in the playroom and pee. I caught her mid-act and practically threw her oiutside. Then all day, if she's out, she wants to be in; if she's in, she paws at me desperately until I put her out. And of course every re-entry from the outside means all that toweling. I really need to wash their towels and rugs, but when's the chance? I have to leave them down.
Scooby has never let me touch his hind legs, though he'll suffer me drying his front paws. I usually get a treat and make him dance back and forth on those rugs until he doesn't leave footprints. Hmm, maybe if I turn that big rug over I can start fresh. This afternoon I put him in his bed while I napped, and since then every time I inquire politely if he'd like to go out and eat his dinner, he gives me a baleful look. I know when eventualy I put him out he'll dump the dinner all over and it will turn into a soggy mess.
I ate leftovers for lunch and told myself I could have salmon cakes, deviled egg, and pea salad for supper--some of my favorite foods. The eggs didn't come out of the shell easily and were hard to stuff; the salmon cakes never got brown--okay, Mom, I ignored your dictum about soda crackers and used panko, not the same; and I gave up on pea salad and had the broccoli that was in the fridge. None of it tasted quite like I imagined it would. I guess I'll have to eat chocolate.
I'm reading, for review on the Story Circle Network, The Night Sky about about the daughter of two Dachau prisoners, . Her parents were sent to forced labor on a German farm. Though they worked hard and had slight acommodations, they fared much better than most Dachau prisoners. Raised by her mother and stepfather in the U.S., Maria Sutton spent almost forty years searching for her father, in spite of red flag warning that he was not the dashing, courageous, brave and generous Polish military officer she imagined. I suppose such a fantasy is hard to let go of, but as the adoptive parent of four, I wonder about that desperate search for a birth parent. My four seem, as far as I know, to be content with me as their parent, and they are--watch me boast--happy, productive people who are wonderful parents and seem quite well adjusted, always have, to the fact of adoption. I'm not sure how I'd feel if they suddenly, now most in their forties, had to search. I think I would be afraid it was symptomatic of some deeper crisis in their lives. But maybe I'm judging without walking a mile in the other person's moccasins.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A riveting memoir--and the Bookish Frogs

Let me tell you about Gerald Duff. He's the author of fifteen books, with five coming out this year--poetry, novels, short stories. But I want to talk about his memoir, published (of course) by TCU Press. Home Truths is a memoir about growing up in Deep East Texas. Gerald spoke tonight to the Bookish Frogs, the friends group of the press, and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had in a while.
Home Truths, when I first read it, was titled Home Lies, because much of it is about  the lies he had to tell--and tell himself--to cope with growing up in a land of narrow-minded, fierce opinions where tradition rules over intellect or common sense. It's both a humorous book and a bittersweet one. Tonight his talk had  listeners laughing out loud, but there was much serious truth to it. He talked about the therapy of writing a memoir--how it makes you examine your life and get to know yourself, although he admitted there are some things in his life he still won't talk about, won't deal with. He quoted Socrates: "The unexamined life is a life not worth living." And he talked about guilt, that emotion that few of us escape.
But he also told funny stories--he believed his mother lied when she said she played basketball with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, until years later he saw a picture of the high school team that included both young women; the time he finally relented and confessed his faith in the Southern Baptist Church--well, I mean his faith in Jesus Christ but the confession was a ritual of the church--and he didn't feel any different afterward; the wedding of a cousin where the groom had a cigarette behind his ear, ready to light at any minutes. He was honest and forthright about the things that made him uncomfortable, but he could joke about the time he didn't recognize his second wife. He wove in advice he gave to students as he told anecdotes and read from the book, and he said that when he writes fiction, he gets one or two sentences down and sees what develops. He writes not plots but characters and sees where they will take him. It's a maxim I've heard all my writing life: listen to your characters. Now retired as a university administrator, Gerald used to write from 5:30 to 9:00 a.m. when he was working, and he believes that it's perspiration not inspiration that gets books written. It's also discipline--he aims for two pages  a day but now, with more time, he sometimes writes six or seven if the words are flowing. So, this was part memoir, part lesson in writing, and a lot of humor--a delightful evening. And the book will provide you with the same wonderful mix. I heartily recommend it.
A postscript about Bookish Frogs: for those of you who live in Fort Worth, it's a group that meets about every two months for a potluck supper--the food is delicious!--and to hear an author. Once a year there's a dinner, where every member gets a free copy of the press' "big" book from the year before. Interested? Write me at We'll be sending our information shortly after the new year.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thoughts on Facebook, exercise and dogs

Everyone talks, blogs, texts about how much time we waste on Facebook. I always thought it wasn't so much. I can whiz through postings. Emails too. Because I'm on several listservs, I get upwards of a hundred emails a day, but I can pretty much whiz through them too. But this week, with exercise on my mind, I realized what I was really doing. If I had an odd hour or so in the day--not long enough for serious writing or reading--I'd sit at my desk and think maybe emails and FB would keep me occupied for that period of time. Wrong! That's plenty of time to ride my stationary bike or do a good yoga workout. (Okay, spelling freaks--I know I spelled it stationery the other day, and I apologize for my great lapse!) So that's what I"ve been trying to do--exercise in that odd hour. Didn't do it today because I didn't have that odd hour in the day and I was busy every minute (except for my nap), much of it on my feet in the kitchen, the house, the grocery store, so I figure that counts toward something. I expect to have spaces of time in the next few days. And I will work out. Determind. So maybe it's not so much about Facebook as it is how we (at least, I) look at time.
Exercising Sophie doesn't get me much exercise, but it sure is funny. I throw the ball, she runs to get it, runs back close to me, and issues this funny low growl. For a small dog, she has a deep growl, even though her bark is yappy. Fortunately, she's not a bad barker. But she'll growl at me, I'll reach for the ball, and she'll take off to the far corner of the yard again. We do this many times over. Meantime, Scooby is practically in my lap, enjoying lots of love. He finally gets tired of her competing for my attention and really disciplines her--but she jumps and dodges and taunts him. You can see the border collie herding instincts at work in her.
A big lesson I'm trying to teach right now is "Off" which means "Don't jump on me." She's chosen this as her signal to let me know she wants to go out, so I never am sure if she wants out or attention. In the morning though, waiting for Jacob, I know she wants to go out on the porch and on cold mornings I won't go until it's time for him to be here. When she continues to jump, I tie her to one of the supports of the bookcase. She howls--a really funny sound--and then she gives her deep growls. Finally she realizes nothing is going to work, and settles down to watchful waiting. It's like having a two-year-old in the house, lots of fun but oh my the patience required.
Tonight was my memoir class Christmas party--fun way to start the season. Several people brought wine and appetizers. We had two propsective members, who really seemed to enjoy the evening, and we all sat around and talked. HIghlight of the evening was a Chinese auction--everyone brought a book they were through with. I ended up with a Jodi Picoult title, and since I have never read her I thought that was good. I made a really simple appetizer--pimiento cheese spread over a rectangle of crescent rolls, sliced and baked. Only I didn't re-read the recipe and put in twice the cream cheese and more than the cheddar called for. Thought that was really ample filling for the rectangle--no wonder! Result was oh so messy--but oh so good!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Exercise--do you have a regular schedule?

For some time, at least a couple of years, I either did my yoga routine at home or rode my stationery bike. But all that changed with the puppy--I had to be out in the yard with her because she was too little to leave alone, I was housebreaking her, which meant a lot of cleaning up and going back and forth. The first week was like having a newborn in the house--I was exhausted. She gradually got better, though she's got a long way to go before she's a "grown-up" dog. But the demands on my time aren't as great. There is also the Jacob factor--he is often here in the late afternoon when I would normally do my yoga. If I have no errands, I can do it in the morning when the dogs are out, but such days are fairly rare. Result: no exercise. I did my yoga two or three times, sporadically, and worried about not exercising. I rationalized that I'm active, out in the world running errands, eating lunch, etc., cooking at home, and so on. But I knew it wasn't active enough. And Sophie? She has too much energy, so at night when I want to work at my computer, she pesters me.
This morning I sat on the back steps and threw a tennis ball for Sophie, intending to play fetch. She doesn't fetch well--gets hold of the ball and runs in mad circles around the yard, then ventures close to me, growling. When I reach out to pretend to take the ball, she's off in mad circles again. She got lots of exercise and finally quit, winded; I got no exercise, but Scooby got lots of love.
Jordan developed an exercise plan. When she came over today to get Jacob, she would walk Sophie. I suggested we all go. We couldn't get the gentle leader on Sophie and Jordan was impatient to go, so we settled for the regular leash. I didn't even make it from the porch steps to the sidewalk before I gave Sophie to Jordan--I simply do not want to be pulled down and break a hip. So Jordan walked her mother, her son, and her mother's dog. Actually they were all about ten feet ahead of me the entire way, with Sophie pulling on the leash constantly. Once around our double block, part of which is uphill, and I retired from the field. I found as I had in Scotland that uphill is hard for me. Jordan, Jacob and Sophie ran around the block the second time.
They left about five, and I had dinner plans at seven--two hours with no specific chores. I did my yoga routine, and it felt good. So I hope I'm on a new track. I know I won't work something in every day. Tomorrow, I have errands in the morning, a lunch date, Jacob in the afternoon, and a dinner date. But there are many days I could do the yoga, and when Jordan can walk, I will too. Her plan is to walk once with me, run once with Jacob, and then run once by herself, taking Sophie on all three trips.
Sophie is sleeping peacefully in my office, and I expect to sleep well tonight. I hope I'm not like the new convert who gets religion for three months, but as I sit in peace at my desk, I see the benefits of exercise.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Deck the halls

I spent today decorating not halls but surfaces--the mantel, two buffets, a library table, and the dining table. For years, I had a huge tree but since the year one fell over in the middle of a party, I haven't had another tree. The kids all have trees at their houses and it doesn't seem worth it to put one up in my house. If that's curmudgeon-like, I apologize. But I do like to give the house a festive spirit--at least, the living and dining rooms, the so-called public spaces of the house.
When I was a kid, decorating the tree was not the happy family affair I thought it should be--I recall the entire family going to pick out a tree. Squabbles surely followed, but we brought a home the best tree most of us could agree on. My father and brother trimmed the lower branches, put the tree in a stand (Mom was always particular about keeping lots of water in the stand), strung the lights and retired from the field, leaving Mom and me to hang decorations. One year, after John and I were grown, Mom got a flocked table tree and decorated it in pink--I remember my father was distinctly displeased. I decided when I had a home, trimming the tree would be festive, so for years I had a tree trimming party. Although gifts were not requested, many guests brought unique ornaments and I ended with a marvelous collection of ornaments, many of them Texas-themed from those who knew my interest in Texana. So now I have all those ornaments and no tree.
To me, the fireplace mantel is always focal--and always the hardest to do. Today it was the last thing I did, and I thought I'd need Jordan's help to pull it together, but tonight I did it. The main items are the tall red vase, part of the decorations from the Christmas wedding of Jordan and Christian seven years ago, and the Jim Shores Santa with its 12-days of Christmas motif. Newly added is a tiny Jim Shores angel, meant of course to hang on a tree. At the other end of the mantel and is a creche handmade in a small village in Guatemala. Making these creches has brought sustainability to the village, so I like the idea as well as the finished product.
Next on my agenda was the buffet in the living room. Every house should have a toy train at Christmas, so here's the one I put out every year.
I try to make the dining room table different every year--fairly easy because I can never remember what I did the year before. This year I decided to go with a fairly spare look--no greens except the wreath, which has four holders for tapers that are on my shopping list. The bowl was also part of the wedding decorations. And finally because Christmas should be a time of cutter and randomness, I put out a display of ornaments. This is just a portion of my large collection.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Lost is Found ... and an unexpected day

Hooray! I have found my fetish necklaces, missing for some months now. This morning, as I was dressing, I suddenly remembered that they had tangled so much in the drawer that I hung them on a hook in my closet. I looked, and sure enough, under a sweatshirt and something else, there hung my necklaces. Overjoyed. Also have a small compensation for the lost gray shirt--I ordered pajama jeans and they came with a free T-shirt. It's short-sleeved, scoop-necked, and a nice shade of gray. Not the J.Jill one I've lost but better than nothing. So now I have hope for the good gray shirt. And the yellow dishrag? Who cares!
Book signing this morning was not a success--people don't come to a funky hardware store full of old, really old and good stuff expecting to buy a book. I made one sale, just as I was leaving, to a man who hung around all morning because his wife/partner/whatever was the sales clerk, general factotum in charge. I think he did it out of pity, since she'd already bought a copy. But she gave me lots of information on the house that first inspired Skeleton in a Dead Space--and some great ideas for the fourth book. Can  you believe that--one book out and I'm already thinking about #4. The second is done, and I need to edit the third, which is complete in draft. So here I am thinking about the fourth book. Wow! What a change from two years ago.
My friend Sue and I intended to lunch at Carshon's deli today but it was closed. So we ate Mexican at Esperanza's--Sue had tortilla soup, which I should have had, but I had the enchilada platter--one chicken, one cheese, a taco and beans. Tonight I had an upscale dinner with Mary Volcansek--steak tartare but of course I sabotaged myself by eating chocolate mousse. I got to figure out this eating thing and get more disipline.
As if it would help my discipline, I came home and made "dirt pudding" for dinner tomorrow night--oreos, Cool Whip, powdered sugar, cream sheese, and milk--oh yeah, and a stick of butter. I tell myself I made it for Jacob, and I will only have a small bite.
Tomorrow is a cooking day. Haven't really been cooking in a long time, and I'm looking forward to it. But when I'm cooking, am I avoiding editing? Oh, that blasted Puritanical conscience.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The day after Thanksgiving

Today, my thoughts are on re-living yesterday's family fellowship--and a spirited political discussion--plus the wonderful meal. But lots of other folkls are thinking about shopping and movies and, well forgive me, but crass commercialism.
Jamie's father-in-law said he was thinking about going to WalMart at midnight because they had something--computers?--at a super price he wanted to get. And my 12-year-old granddaughter was all too ready to go with him. They didn't go, of course, but this morning, he was bummed to find out WalMart actually opened at ten. I'm still relieved they didn't go. There's been lots written lately about Thursday night shopping detracting from the family atmosphere of the one day in the year when we gather together to give thanks. (Jordan and I went to church last Sunday, and I loved singing those old familiar Thanksgiving hyms, including "We gather together.") I think Thursday night shopping is pushing it too far. Okay, I'm a curmudgeon.
But I've read tonight that there were riots in several stores and in one WalMart in an upscale neighborhood in California a woman pepper-sprayed fellow shoppers to get an advantage. This, when we're all still reeling about pictures of the pepper spraying at UC-Davis! She apparently got away, and people suffered "only minor injuries." I'm sure if it was you or a loved one, minor would become a relative term.
We went to lunch today at Buco di Peppo, a free-standing restaurant on the outer fringe of Stonebriar Mall in Frisco. Although I expected a wait, Jamie called ahead, and we were all nine seated immediately. Jordan and I ordered salads and asked for instant delivery, since we had to rush--oh, double that instant delivery on our wine. My chopped salad was delicious and was both lunch and dinner, and Buco di Peppo has improved the quality of their wine since I was last there. It's a good Italian place, where you go through the kitchen to get to your table. But the traffic getting in and out of the mall was awful.
We rushed away from lunch, leaving the others, to go to a nearby movie theater and pick up Jacob who had gone to see "Happy Feet II" with his other grandparents. Jordan said, "Everyone in the world is at this theater," and I reminded her that no, the other half were at the mall. I would not have gone to a mall or a movie today for all the tea in China, and I'm a bit bothered by those who did.
Yep, I'm a curmudgeon (is that a gender specific term?). I hate it that Christmas carols and decorations go up before Halloween and the biggest thing about Thanksgiving is bargain shopping. For me, it is family and turkey and all the trimmings and the wonderful family time that comes when everyone is full of turkey and sides and wine and relaxed yet not ready for bed.
It's a special holiday. Let's keep from ruining it. Remember Small Business Saturday. As I posted on Facebook, I'll be signing at Old Home Supply tomorrow, a small business if there ever was one, and then having lunch at Carshon's and dinner at Sapristi's--both independent, small restaurants.
We discussed and argued and carried on last night about the 99% and the Occupy movement--I'm wondering how Small Business Saturday relates to that, if at all. Somehow I have a Pollyanna-like notion that ordinary people are making their voices heard. If so,  you all shout--especially in the voting booth!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Those fried turkeys

My sons and sons-in-law have been frying turkeys with enthusiasm for several years--Colin and Brandon have fryers, and so far we have avoided disasters. Then I saw a truly frightening video on the TODAY show about the disasters that can occur and how many people are seriously injured a year frying turkeys--also houses fried by mistake. So I was relieved I'd be with with Jamie and Mel, where I could expect a tradtional turkey done in the oven. Imagine my dismay when Jamie last night announced he was going to WalMart to buy a fryer. I lectured about dangers to no avail.
Mid-afternoon today he discovered that his fryer came in a hundred parts and had to be assembled. All hands turned out to help--except me. I was having a lovely long nap. There was much prep and the moment came--the fully defrosted turkey was lowered into the hot grease without incident, and the cooks congratulated themseles.
Thirty-five minutes later it came out looking golden and good--okay, the legs and wings were burned, but it looked good. Jamie knows I love skin, so I got the first bite. I usually o.d. on skin and am too full to eat the meal. This was crisp and succulent. Then came the carving.
Jamie complained an audience made him nervous but he did a beauatiful job. And the meat was moist with just the right texture. Mel fixed excellent sides--we are a traditional family, with green bean casserole, dressing and mashed potatoes and gravy. For dessert, coconut pie and chess pie--I love the latter but one bite will do you. I've seen all kinds of recipes but Mel's is the traditional old-fashioned kind with white vinegar and cornmeal. And mostly sugar. I'm trying to get her to do a blog post about it.
So we had a happy Thanksgiving, with not all my family but Melanie's family and my Frisco Alters, and we have much to be thankful for. Maddie is learning sign language and she signed that she was thankful for family. Her younger sister tried to valiantly to sign "What Maddie said."
And here's our budding fashionista in her holiday outfit--she wouldn't get out of her pjs until the last minutes because she didn't want to reveal her outfit!
I hope everyone had a blessed and happy holiday, and I pray for those who were lonely, hungry, sick this holiday. May God bless them.
Now, lickety-split on to Christmas.