Monday, February 28, 2011

Mysteries Natural and Fictional

A wild-life mystery is playing itself out on the window sill of my neighbors' house, just across from the window over my kitchen sink The previous owners of the house, apparently years ago, had covered every window with some sort of reflective material--they can see out but no one can see in. The new owners (four years?) have done a marvelous job of redoing the house, but they haven't tackled that awful stuff because it has to be hand-scraped off, inch by inch (I wouldn't do it either!). A dove has become fascinated--it paces back and forth on that window sill for hours each day, occasionally pecking at its reflection. I'm puzzled--is it mating season and the dove thinks that's a bird of another gender? Does it see itself and peck? Susan tells me that she hasn't seen the dove but a cardinal contually pecks at the window of Jay's office--must be the same cardinal that comes to my bird feeder, occasionally with the much less colorful female. The birds are fascinating to watch, even the tiny sparrows who can flutter and spar at each other with great vigor.  But I really want to tell that dove that there's plenty of seed on the ground under the feeder and it should go graze there. My wish:  a caged bird feeder to keep the blasted squirrels away.
I just finished Sophie Kelly's Curiosity Thrilled the Cat--what a hoot. Stars of the show are two cats with unusual powers--one is an attack cat with an addiction to catnip, and the other is a Barry Manilow fan that can materialize through closed doors. But when a music festival and murder hit the tiny town of Maysville Heights, those cats help librarian Kathleen Paulson solve the murder and produce the festival on time. This is everything a cozy mystery should be--charming, funny, whimsical, with just enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. Besides, you'll like the cats and characters so well you won't want to put the book down.
Meantime I'm still formatting and ran into a real glitch today--apparently because I m working on a document created in Word 2003 but have opened it in Word 7, there are formatting problems--the huge problem of dark lines of black dots across the page, clustered in a few parts of the manuscript. Trying to work with it this morning only made it worse, so I called the help desk at TCU and they're researching the problem. Mentime I'm struggling on with those unwanted tabs and practicing the paper on writing historical fiction for young readers that I'll deliver later this week.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

It is as it is

To my great surprise, the Cowtown Marathon came right by my front door this morning. In fact, the halfway mark was about two houses down the block. I sat out on the front porch, still grimy with winter dirt, for almost an hour, drinking coffee and watching. Every runner checked his or her watch in passing that halfway point. Across the street several people gathered to clap for each runner, my neighbors were out on their porch, and someone played wonderful, soft acoustic guitar. Sort of surreal, but also nostalgic for me. It made me miss the days when my children were young and I had such different expectations for my life (not that it hasn't turned out wonderfully). But I said to myself as I went inside to read the paper, "It is as it is."
I learned that phrase from the mattress salesman at Sleep Experts a couple of days ago. He was a born salesman, personable times ten, and I couldn't really tell if he was giving me helpful information or I was being fed a pitch (probably a bit of both). But when he said my new mattress (a Dr. Breuss mattress, aka The Sleep Doctor) was guaranteed for twenty years and would last thirty with maintenace (an expensive waterproof protector that thank goodness is not plastic), I told him I doubted I'd need it in thirty years. He said, "Not to be morbid, but it is as it is." Later when he told me my new mattress would feel different than the ones Jeannie and I had been testing, he said, "Thousands of bodies have lain on our store mattresses. Sounds awful, but it is as it is." (Jeannie, fed up with the sales pitch, had wandered away, and I was impatient for him to just finish the sale.) I can't think of all the things that prompted it, but he said, "It is as it is" at least ten or twelve times before we fled to lunch. I am thinking of adapting it as my new favorite phrase.
I've been formatting my manuscript--talk about tedious. I never ever use Spellcheck, although I do sometimes look at their alternative suggestions. But the specific and helpful formatting instructions from Turquoise Morning Press say to run Spellcheck, and I'm a rule follower. Some of the changes it wanted were outrageous--violated verb-subject agreement, made for awkward sentences, etc. Granted, it caught some extra spaces and a few typos, but mostly it was a waste of time. Then I read that the formatting instructions, which I'd followed, should eliminate any need for the tab key. Checked my mss. and it is full of tabs, so I am having to go through line by line--I got four chapters done today and ran out of patience.
Speaking of rule followers, I called my #2 granddaughter yesterday to wish her happy birthday, and she said she was seven, which I thought was right. But on Facebook I found she really turned eight. Her mom explained that she said seven yesterday morning because she didn't officially turn eight until 3:20 p.m. Talk about a rule follower!
Ran out to Jordan's tonight for a glass of wine with them, a friend who's visiting, and a friend who's staying with them, all people I like a lot. Jacob greeted me with a shout, which gladdened my heart. Sitting on the patio chatting, I really wanted to stay for dinner because I was enjoying the company. But I hate driving home after dark. Daylight savings can't come too quickly for me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Cowtown Marathon

Today was the annual Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, an event that inevitably brings back memories, most of them good. Jordan ran/walked the 10K this morning and did it in good time. I was surprised by how quickly she was on Facebook reporting that she was eating at a local bakery/cafe. Christian later told me she beat her friends and wasn't winded. So good for her. She's the only one of my children to do the Cowtown, though I keep hoping Jamie, the triathlete in the family and the only one to inherit his father's competitive spirit, will do it one year. After all, it is an event with family ties.
As my late friend Charles used to tell people, the Cowtown began in my living room. A group of fitness-minded friends from what was then the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (now UNT Health Sciences Center) met in our living room to discuss the planned Institute for Human Fitness (now, sadly, long gone) and specifically the marathon (now grown dramatically beyond their original conception). A good friend, Ann, was living with us at the time, and she and I used to conspire to make the most outrageous, richest desserts we could for these men. They ate every bite and never blinked--so much for fitness.
Needless to say, my ex-husband was one of the founders of the race. I can still see him, sitting in the office part of our bedroom the night before the race, saying, "Sleet! I don't want sleet." But sleet, slippery streets and cold weather were what he got that first year, sometime in the mid-to-late '70s. I was doing some of the publicity for the event, so I bundled all the children up and set out for the North Side on those slippery streets--something I wouldn't do today. What appalls me, as many have heard me say, is that I turned my children loose on the North Side (I don't think Jordan was even five yet) all day. They'd check in occasionally but I really had no clue where they were. All I can say is it was different times. Jamie assures me they were always with a pack of kids, they looked after Jordan and all was well. After Joel and I divorced in 1982, I worked at the marathon one or two more years, just to prove I could, but it wasn't as much fun. In later years I went to the carb-loading spaghetti supper with Charles who was still a marathoner into his seventies and maybe even eighties. It hasn't been too many years since he did the 10K. It was good to see old friends at those dinners, but I didn't fit. I had moved on to new worlds.
Actually I am proud that we had a part in bringing this event to the city. It grew beyond the original vision rather rapidly. The first year it was a one-day event with probably under a thousand runners. This year, it's billed as a three-day event--5K and 10K today, actual marathon tomorrow, and I guess seminars and carbo-loading yesterday. They expected over 20,000 runners.Today was a good day to run--sunny, in the 50s in the morning. By afternnon it was hot, and tomorrow will I fear be hotter than marathoners like.
I don't mean to say that my sons have never run a race. They both ran in a short (5K?) A. T. Still Memorial Race one year. Joel had left for the race long before daylight; I got the children up, and like a good mother fed them breakfast--eggs and I don't remember what else. The result was that Colin had to stop and throw up. But they all three won medals--Jamie for being the youngest, Colin for being the most persistent, and I don't remember what Joel's was for. In a classic case of gender discrimination, the girls and I watched from the finish line. When we split our belongings, I gave the framed medals to Joel.
In spite of that split, the marathon brings good memories of happy times--not happier than today, but happy in their own way.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting lost in another world

Every Christmas Jean Walbridge and I exchange certificates for the flowers of the month at a local florist. This month I couldn't go with Jean to get them and the month was running out, so she picked mine up. They gave her extra roses and she shared them with me. This one is in full bloom and so beautiful it needs to be shared. I love having fresh flowers in the house!
I'm almost through with what I think is the final edit of Skeleton in a Dead Space before I send it to the publisher, but of course I know there will be more edits to come after an editor gets his or her hands on it. Still, by now I know the people and places of the novel's world so well that I get immersed in it. Familiar places, yes, since it's set in the neighborhood adjacent to mine and makes mention of restaurants where I regularly go. But also those fictional characters have come alive in my mind like old friends--I hate to leave them when I move on to other tasks. And the things I might worry about in my daily world fade when I'm in that fictional world. I hope readers will feel that way about these people and the world they live in. And I hope I can keep on creating mysteries with that feel. I'm having more fun with this writing than I think I've ever had before with projects--again, maybe that's because I'm more relaxed now.Anyway, the world is good.
Today I went to an estate sale at the home of the parents of my good friend Kathie. She and her mom were in the antique business, and her mom had many things she had bought for re-sale. She certainly had an eye for the interesting and old. I was fascinated by antique cooking tools, gardening tools, and a large collection of boxes. Jeannie kept going back to stare at a wall-mounted drying rack for clothes. But we both left empty-handed and then went and bought me an expensive but good mattress, which I really need.
We had lunch at The Tavern, where Betty and I had enjoyed brisket tacos a couple of days ago. Today I had a Maytag blue cheese burger, and Jeannie had a New Mexico burger. Both excellent, and we were both good and ate only half. I had the other half for dinner, and it was still delicious.
Back to Skeleton. Coming up to the climactic scene, which always scares me a bit, even though I wrote it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Long day, short post

I arranged my day today so I could stay home all day and work--and yet it was lunchtime before I got back to editing my manuscript. I had to read email, read the paper, do a laundry, shower and wash my hair, do my yoga. All that eats up a lot of time. But I did spend a profitable afternoon working on my manuscript.
Tonight my memoir class met for the first time for the spring session. Lovely to have all those women together--they are so fond of each other, so sharing. We had one newcomer, but she fit right in and was the only one who had a piece to share with us. We listened spellbound to her reading about her father's descent into Alzheimer's. It sparked a lot of conversation, because many in the group are of the age where caring for parents is a major concern. Beyond that,  we caught up with each other's news and generally had a good time. I know I'm supposed to be leading this group, but sometimes I have a hard time getting control, because they head off in their own direction.
My longtime friend Linda came early, and we had a tuna supper--albacore tuna (that good stuff from Oregon) spread over greens dressed with a cilantro dressing and then topped with an avocado dressing. I decided to omit the chile from the avocado part but keep the curry. Now I think it would have been wiser to omit the curry and keep the chile--it needed that bite! I fixed pimiento cheese sandwiches for the group and, unfortunately, have too many left over. Sigh. I guess I'll have to eat them tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Life in the big city

I ran a thousand and twelve errands today--well, not really, but it seemed like it. Breakfast with a friend, the office to wrap a book for mailing, the post office (whooppee! my passport is not expired!), Central Market, the vet for dog and cat food, and finally gas--figured I'd get it now before prices went any higher (should have gotten it last week). My VW can go a long time on a full tank of gas, with the local errands I run. But as I did all those errands and was cheerfully greeted as a friend in the breakfast restaurant, the office, the vet, even Central Market, I thought about the prediction that Fort Worth may grow bigger than Dallas. I don't want that, thank you. Oh, I know civic leaders boast about population growth, attracting new industries, etc, But I like Fort Worth just the way it is; maybe I even liked it better twenty years ago--though we sure do have more restaurants to choose from these days.
I moved to Fort Worth in 1965, as a fairly new bride. It was a small city then, but we were told not to worry--we'd be going to Dallas for restaurants and entertainment. We never did. We had come from a small college town in northeastern Missouri--12,000 I think if the schools were in session. The arrival of the Dairy Queen was as big deal! There were two, maybe three, restaurants where we liked to eat. My ex was a Bronx boy and I grew up in Chicago, but we thought Fort Worth, with two classic restaurants, several country clubs, and a really friendly atmosphere was just about the perfect compromise between big city and small town.
Today, Fort Worth is still a small town to me in many ways, but  that's because I don't live all over the city. Most of my doings are in my own corner of inner southwest Fort Worth, around TCU. I eat in restaurants where they know me, I shop at stores where they know me. I tried a new cleaners the other day and found the owner had gone to school with my oldest son. It's a very comfortable world. Oh, yes, I venture afield some, and that's fine, but I like my small world. A friend of mine always says there is no six degrees of separation in Fort Worth--two at the most. You always run into people who know people you know, and the connections are fun and funny. A friend of my daughter friended my by-marriage-sister-in-law (I guess that's what she is) on Facebook and asked how Patty knew my daughter. Patty replied that we're all related by marriage. Small world.
Will population growth change Fort Worth, or will I still have my small corner of the world? I don't know, but I view the construction of the new tollway with concern and trepidation. I don't want it to change my back roads around town.
And speaking of restaurants, Betty and I tried The Tavern on Hulen tonight. The menu is different--pork nachos, brisket tacos, a BLT salad with blue cheese, a crab cake salad--so many choices we were hard put. But we split the brisket tacos, with black beans and guacamole so good we asked for an extra side. Moderately priced. And the crowd was our age--saw several tables splitting entrees, so we were right at home. We agree we're going back. The waitress tells me it is not a chain, although the owner has two places in San Angelo.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My heart's in the Highlands

I remember nights as a child when my father would play the piano and we would sing (neither of us could carry a tune in a bushel basket) "Annie Laurie," and "You take the high road, and I'll take the low, and I'll be in Scotland afore ye." (Are they the same song?) Dad was Scottish/Orange Irish and prized his heritage. When I was still young, Houston MacBain, CEO of Marshall Field and Co., was the MacBain of MacBain, the chief of the clan. He'd call Dad and talk about their common ancestry, and Dad always said if Houston MacBain wanted to think they're related, it was just fine with him. Today I have a piece of MacBain plaid carpet that Houston had woven, a hooked wall hanging that my mom did of the MacBain Clan crest, and a wonderful quilt of the plaid, with the crest in the center, that Colin and Lisa made for me one Christmas.  Colin has the sword carried by a MacBain in the War of 1812 (okay, he was on the wrong side but still . . .) I'm not sure what happened to the kilt I had, but I know I couldn't fit into it now. But I am a paid up member of the clan--and maybe of Clan Chattan, the amalgamation of smaller clans of which the MacBean (real name) is part.
I've always said I don't care about London, Paris, or Rome, but I want to go to the Highlands. Well, now I'm going. Colin and Megan, my two oldest children, are going with me this spring. We'll fly into Heathrow just to change planes and then on to Edinburgh. Mostly we'll base ourselves in Inverness--the MacBain Memorial Park is near there, as well, I think, as the family burying ground (I always heard it was above Lochness) and the family homestead--how disappointing, it's a farmhouse, not a castle! I've written the current MacBain of MacBain (chief of the clan) for directions to pertinent spots. But we'll take day trips from there to places like Culloden, where Bonnie Prince Charlie lost his battle against the Redcoats, and maybe Glenco, where the Campbells killed all the MacDonalds (if it's close enough). I think we can go to Pitlochry, which is supposed to be a picturesque town, and there are plenty of castles near Inverness. It won't be a long trip--neither the kids nor I can afford that, but I will be in the Highlands, and I am excited even now.
My children know that I've always wanted to go to Scotland. I almost went three years ago with Jeannie, but then her husband had life-threatening surgery, long times in ICU, and a long recovery. She won't ever leave him that long again. But I had studied Scottish history in preparation and was all ready for the trip. I can't begin to say how wonderful it is that my kids want to go with me and see that I have that experience. I am notably not a good traveler, but in their hands I feel comfortable and safe--and very loved. I may get weepy and sentimental about this, but I am so fortunate.
My mystery is going to be published, and I'm going to Scotland! I'm sure good things, like bad, happen in threes. So what's next? Maybe I'll meet a diashing Scot. I've always been a sucker for a man in a kilt--even unattractive men take on a certain air in a kilt.
Somebody pull me down off the ceiling!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A doggie play date

When Megan was five or six, the mother of a classmate called to ask if Megan was available for a play date a week from the next Thursday. She was the mother of an only child. I on the other hand had four children and hardly knew what they would be doing the next day, let alone a week from Thursday. I never ever thought about play dates for my children. They had each other, and there was always a string of neighborhood children around the house. Play just happened--it wasn't planned.
Today my grandchildren have play dates, events scheduled far in advance. It's really a foreign concept to me, but then again none of them have three siblings--I have three families with two grandchildren and one with so far an only child. Nor do the children seem to have neighboring friends who live on the same block, etc. like my kids had. A new world.
Scooby, my dog, had a play date tonight, though it was really arranged so the other "mother" and I could visit over wine. But I have occasionally thought that playing with other dogs would be good for him, and he is never inclined to fight. He's a lover, not a fighter. Sue came over, bringing her new, year-old black lab that she and her kids rescued from the humane society. Jack is lovely and sweet, though he was so busy smelling new smells that he didn't let me love on him much.  We put him out in the back yard with Scooby, and they danced around each other, sniffed bottoms, and began to chase and run. Scooby, an old man at eleven, held his own with that younger, bigger dog.  Both dogs occasionally came to the glass door and looked in as if to say, "We'd rather be in there with you." I laughed at Sue--she, with a teen and a pre-teen, was much more nervous about the dog than I've ever seen her about her children. She'd hop up and look out the door every so often, once or twice calling to the dogs when she couldn't see them. She was nervous about going to the restroom because Jack might worry if he couldn't see her. Jack was of course fine, it all went well, and we decided we'd have to repeat the play date.
Bonus: Sue and I enjoyed a long overdue visit.
Computer troubles: my remote mouse quit a week ago but the keyboard still worked; Logitech said they'd send a replacement; it arrived today, sans the remote connector. Now neither keyboard works and I'm typing on my laptop, which is not a happy situation for me. I could never write a whole novel on this keyboard. Logitech has promised to overnight new equipment. Please pray for small favors.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Good friends, good food

I fixed the best spaghetti ever tonight--pardon my modesty, but it was so easy and so good. I got the recipe from Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, where I believe it came from guest blogger Wendy Lyn Watson, author of ice cream shop mysteries who lives in North Texas and will be visiting TCU this spring. I'm looking forward to meeting her. The original version was vegan with Gimme Lean sausage, but I used grass fed beef.
I discussed the meatballs in the last post. The sauce is simply diced and crushed canned tomatoes (a large can of each), a small can of tomato paste, 1/4 cup red wine, and basil and oregano. True plain Italian taste without fancying it up. Made the sauce last night and refrigerated it. This afternoon, I stirred in the meatballs and put the whole thing in the oven to cook. My guests munched on provolone, Genoa salami, and gherkins (maybe an odd combiantion) until I boiled the pasta and called them to dinner. Served a huge green salad, bread that no one ate, and that was it. Good dinner.
Better conversation. Bright, literate, involved people. We talked about everything from cats (all cat lovers, which Wywy took advantage of) to constitutional theocracies and a lot about the current state of the Episcopalian church, since they are all members and Katie is active on the national council. We laughed and told stories and generally had a good time.
Note the new picture on my blog (how can you miss it?). Taken at the Botanic Garden by my friend and neighbor Polly Hooper, who was dismayed that even the evergreens at the garden are brown. She took lots of shots, but I liked this one because I thought it made me look happy, which I am.
Wywy gave me a scare today. I left the office to find he'd thrown up between the living room and dining room. When I went to clean it up, I saw him (and heard him) lying on his side in the door to my bedroom on the wood floor--totally unlike him. This is a cat who likes soft surfaces. He was meowing pitifully. I picked him up and found he left behind two pieces of poop (fortunately not on me). I loved on him, then set him down to see what he'd do. He was wobbly, but then seemed to get "at himself." After a bit, he was asking to be fed, and I noticed he jumped up for his food and then up to my bed. Tonight he's the same old self. One possibility: a tummy distress, though I can't think whate he ate. But I'm also wondering if cats have mini-strokes. He showed all the symptoms. I'll call the vet in the morning just to ask. Wywy is almost nineteen, and I know his time is limited.
Good day. I'm tired and going to read a bit, then go to bed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Searching for adverbs on a sunny day

Jacob had his first ride in the convertible with the top down today. When I put it down, he said, "Oh! My! Gosh! I didn't know your car did that, Juju!" And when I had to maneuver his suitcase between the car door and a tree (I hadn't been smart about where in the driveway I stopped), he said, "You can do it, because you're so strong!" Then, this child who's always telling me I'm old, looked at me with new respect and said, "You're not old, Juju!" There, that's the whole reason I bought the car (well maybe not entirely)--I didn't want to be a stodgy old grandmother.
Aside from that trip to meet his mom and an outing to the Botanic Garden late this afternoon, I spent the day inside, at the computer, searching for adverbs. Turquoise Morning Press sends out a most helpful style guide, with a self editing section on things to do a gobal search for: "ly," "ing," "had," "to be," (I didn't have many of those), and "was." Folks, if you don't think that is mind-numbing work, you don't realize how many times we all fall into those traps. Sometimes it's a challenge to find, for instance,  you've used an unnecessary adverb and then figure out how to write around it. But the biggest surprise to me was to search for exclamation points. I know you shouldn't use them, I've removed them by the thousands from other people's works, and yet I can't even begin to estimate how many times I found them in my own manuscript. This is not a one-day job--more like a week or two, but I'm plugging away at it and keeping the Food Network on while I do it.
One of my most favorite blogs is "Mystery Lovers Kitchen" where several mystery authors share recipes. Sure, they promote their books along the way--fair practice--but I've gotten some wonderful recipes from them, especially a beef company casserole from Riley Adams. But tonight I fixed myself creamed spinach--thank you, July Hyzy. The neat thing about this fairly simple recipe is that you don't have to use cream--I used chicken broth and white wine. Meant to add a dollop of sour cream, but it was out of date so I poured in a bit of 2% milk. You saute the spinach with garlic in olive oil, remove, and make a roux of butter and flour. Then add liquid, stir until smooth and the right consistency, and put the spinach back in the pan. With it I had a loin lamb chop, seasoned only with salt and pepper, grilled medium rare (more rare than medium). It was so good, since no one was watching, I gnawed on the bone. Right now, spaghetti sauce is simmering on the stove, and my house smells lovely.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Glorious weather, easy meatballs, and a cranky grandchild

Today by 11 a.m. it was 76, and Greg, who does my lawn, was mopping his face and complaining that he shouldn't be sweating in February. But we agreed we love this weather. I've had the top down on my convertible for three days--gives me such a sense of freedom. I have, however, heard friends say they're planting their vegetable gardens and I want to say hold on! We're not out of it yet. Greg says at least one more cold spell is forecast, and I know traditional wisdom is not to plant before March15, the last date on which we can expect frost. Someone said today, however, they remembered frost in April. Meanwhile, my chives and tarragon are poking up bright new shoots. A lot of things that usually make it through, like my oregano and sage, didn't make it in this year of severe weather.
I am always thankfull for what a good life I live, and today I give thanks to the people who help me keep my house running. Two of the "men in my life" came by today--Greg, who began cleaning out flower beds and did some basic trimming of the herbs on the porch to see what's going to turn green--the mint definitely will. We could smell it. And then Lewis Bundock came by--I'd called him with a small list of chores. Lewis is a general contractor who remodeled my house in 2000 and adopted me--now he honestly does come for a light bulb (okay, it's a long flourescent light above a soffet near the kitchen ceiling). He also took one chair from the family room to take apart, re-glue and re-assemble. Is it coincidence it's the chair Jacob usually sits in?
Tonight I made meatballs, quickest, easiest recipe I've ever tried. I know I like to cook, but browning meatballs is to me drudgery. With the recipe I tried tonight you mix beef (I used grass-fed ground beef) and add panko, parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, basil, parsley and a bit of ketchup which struck me as incongruous--no egg. But here's the best part--you roll them into small balls and put in mini-muffin pans. Bake 20 minutes and you're done (okay, except for washing the pan, which I left for tomorrow--a lazy thing I don't often do). I'll see if they hold together in spaghetti sauce that I'll make tomorrow.
Jacob arrived unhappy, because he fell asleep in the car. He informed me, "I'm not talking," so I told him okay. Then he talked enough to say he wanted to watch a DVD. When I got so frustrated with all the trailers, he patted my shoulder, and said "Calm down, Juju." Later he told me he needed tea and wine because he had to go home for a meeting at his house. Where do they come up with these things?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Backaches, Crossing Guards, and an amazing dinner

Years ago an osteopthic physician I treasured yelled at me (in a public waiting room), "Nose and toes in the same direction--no wonder your back hurts." I've thought of that often since--I never turn to back out of a driveway but sight with my sideview mirrors. Last night I thought of it because I was doing search and find work on the computer, only my mouse is broken. So I was working with a keyboard and monitor in front of me, and a mousepad on the laptop to my right. Somewhere along the line, apparently not soon enough, I became aware that this wasn't going to do my back any good, and modified my position. Sure enough, I woke in the night with my right side so stiff and sore I could barely stand to turn over. It hurts to take a deep breath, cough or sneeze. So today I'm being very careful.
But because I felt crappy and because Jeannie was frantic with her car out of commission and trying to unload bags of dirt and fertilizer for a vegetable garden, we rescheduled our lunch and mattress-hunting expedtion. (I really need a new mattress--torn between Tempurpedic, Comforpedic, and plain old pillow-top). I stayed home, ate tuna fish, and--ta-da!--drafted a really difficult book review. I'm early with it, so I can let it sit and even send it to Fred for comments if he'll be so kind. But, whew, I felt a load slide off my shoulders.
The school crossing guard at the corner by my house and I have become friends. He brings my garbage carts up from the curb, occasionally asks if he can park in the driveway if there's no place on the street, and once came in to use my fax. Earlier this week, he stopped to ask about putting his car in the driveway and told me he'd lost his mom, either the night before or that morning. I told him about my granddaughter, Edie, asking if my mom was dead "Yes," I said, "for a long time but I still talk to her." Edie smiled and said, "I still talk to Boppa" (her great-grandfather). Today I gave Mr. Brooker a copy of his mom's obituary out of the paper, thinking he could use extras, and he said, "You look after me, just like I look after you." It's a nice, reciprocal relationship, and I value it.
Betty and I had an amazing dinner experience tonight. There's an email list called Groupon that Jordan somehow got me associated with. Every day I get a Groupon offer, and most days I ignore them. But I have joined the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame for half price and gotten $20 worth of books for $10 at Barnes & Noble. Then I bought a $35 certificate for $70 worth of food at Bonnell's, one of Fort Worth's upscale restaurants that specializes in game dishes. We went tonight, and each had an appetizer sampler--eight items, so I had two each of elk tacos, venison carpaccio, oysters Texasfeller, and fried quail. Hard to say which was the best. WE had small Caesar salads and dessert--I had chocolate mousse (is there another dessert?) and Betty had Key Lime pie (the recipe said freshly squeezed Key Lime pie and I had this vision of somebody in the kitchen squeezing the pie). So full, but so good. Our bill was $14.01 apiece (wine is not included on the certificate) and we each tipped on the basis of the full meal and not what we paid. Wonderful bargain, even though I'm stuffed and probably won't even tell Weight Watchers about the meal. For next week, I have a certificate, purchased for $20, for $40 worth of food at So7 Bistro, a French restaurant where we went once before. There were some things we weren't sure about, but for a half price meal, we'll try it again. Not much work done tonight--but, oh, I have so much of it on my desk.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dogs, cats, and exclamation points

A Scottish Deerhound took Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show this week, and I was thrilled. These huge gentle dogs  are beautiful in their own way, and this one had a marvelous gait. She reminded me so much of the Irish Wolfhound that we once had that I nearly cried. The breeds are similar in size, though the Deerhound has a more pointed nose and the Wolfhound, a more square one. They are absolute pains as puppies, destroying everything in sight, but they grow into delightful loyal and affectionate dogs. I once tripped over ours--Claudine was her improbable name--and couldn't walk for a week. Claudine, a champion bred to a champion, gave us one litter of puppies, and I vividly remember the "limp" puppy in the litter. I wore him in a pocket on my chest, much as mothers wear their babies today, but every time I put him down for her to nurse, Claudine would hide him beneath a sofa cushion or some other out of the way place. She knew what I didn't want to accept--he wasn't meant to make it. And he didn't. I have a lot of dog tragedies in my history but also some very good memories.
My current dog, Scooby, is calming down a bit now that he's eleven-and-a-half. Five-year-old Morgan went happily out to play with him last weekend--she's grown up with a big dog and wasn't one bit intimidated. Jacob, however, is leery of dogs--I think he needs one. He talks about loving Scooby but offered a chance to pet him, he pulls away--makes Scooby nervous, understandably.
On the other hand, my almost-nineteen-year-old cat is more and more like having an infant in the house. He wants to be fed frequently, on demand. Mostly when I'm home in the daytime I can stand it, but he sometimes gets right in my face on my desk, and that's a bit disconcerting. But the other night I was up at two and four-thirty to feed him--now something's not right about that. I put in my time with night feedings a long time ago! Wywy can, however, be very insistent--he works his paws on my legs so that it feels like I'm getting a message. Might be okay if I weren't sleeping soundly. I'm not sure how to handle this problem. A couple of weeks ago I decided it was easier to feed him and go back  to bed than to try to ignore him. But I'm afraid I set a bad precedent.
Turquoise Morning Press sent me a style guide, and I started making my manuscript conform tonight. As a longtime editor, I know you should rarely if ever use exclamation points--I have taken thousands of them out of other people's manuscripts. So I was astounded at how many I found, most of which could easily be replaced by a period or a comma. I left a few--the older Greek man who keeps exclaiming, "Mother of God!" Now that deserves an exclamation point. I may also have missed a few. Next on my list are checking for parenthetical expressions and passive voice. Then a complete read through, checking overuse of italics, ellipses, numbers.Oh, my. I think I know this book by heart! (exclamation point deliberate).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A gorgeous spring day, tie-dyed clothes, and Cabbage Patch dolls

We simply can't be fooled into thinking spring is here in mid-February, yet today it was sunny, a bit breezy, and in the upper 70s. I clamped a visor cap on my unruly hair, put the top down on the car, and purely enjoyed. Ran errands and then met a friend for lunch at Tres Joses, where they serve the best spinach enchiladas I've ever eaten. One enchilada and a side of refried beans is enough for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lunch--and the company.
I continue to be delighted with Turquoise Morning Press. Last night I was deluged with helpful emails--an author info sheet, a cover art and blurb sheet (both of which I had to fill out, which was no big chore), a style guide, an FAQ sheet (most of which was obvious to me, but then I've had along career in pubishing and I'm sure many of their authors haven't), and, most helpful, a spread sheet indicating what Turquoise Morning Press would do in promotion and what I need to do--which means I need to start yesterday.  Still have to clear other projects off my desk. Oh, and I was linked to the authors' listserv and soundly welcomed. A nice feeling, and I look forward to getting to know a new group of authors.
This morning I saw on the TODAY show that tie-dye garments are coming back into style. I always kind of liked them, and the New York Alter Aunt Amy sent a bunch to one of my gandchildren that I thought were delightful. I realized they are now out of style, but I am glad to see them back. Wish I hadn't gotten rid of two of my favorite shirts! The other thing that's coming back: Cabbage Patch dolls! I can't remember which of my girls was crazy about them, but I suspect it was Jordan--Megan was never much of a doll-playing child. This resurgence makes you wish you hadn't given those old dolls to Good Will. They might be worth something today. I'll have to ask my toy manufacturers sales rep son Jamie about them.
Meantime, it's nose to the grindstone, er, computer. I'm reading a book titled The Uses and Abuses of Literature--heavy going but most interesting. The kind of book you concenetrate on a chapter a night and then move on to lighter fare. But I will review it for the Dallas Morning News, and I'm grateful for the assignment. So back to work.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My big news

Today I signed a contract with Turquoise Morning Press. They will publish my first mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space, though I have no pub date yet. Hoping for 2012. Turquoise Morning is a young press, founded by two women who write romances. The list at first was all romance, but they are branching out into mystery, I gather particularly cozy mystery. I think they will publish in trade paperback and e-book formats, and I'm happy with both. In correspondence, the staff has been responsive, friendly, and enthusiastic. I am truly looking forward to the experience of working with them. And of seeing my first mystery in print, although it is far from my first book. I've always been an avid reader of cozy mysteries, and for the last few years I've told myself if others could do it, so could I. But it's been a long and difficult road, with many disappointments along the way. The world of publishing is changing so fast,(especially the focus on the New York "big" pubishers) and though mystery writers aren't quite competetive with each other (we call ourselves sisters, after all), there are a lot of us. It's easy to get lost in the crowd.
Most publishers want a series, usually at least three books, and the second in my series, tentatively titled No Neighborhood for Old Women (with apologies to Cormac McCarthy) is in its second draft, and I have ideas for the third book rattling around in my head.
I'm not sure this feels real yet. You'd have thought this was another snow day--actually it was a beautiful day in the seventies--but I never did venture beyond the house and back yard. I had plenty to do--haven't yet done all of it--and I was content to stay home. Tomorrow I'll get out. But I have serious work to do--the chili book, a review book, and then back to fiction. But my point is I didn't celebrate. I did announce the contract on the listserv of Guppies, a sub-group of Sisters in Crime. After all, I found Turquoise Morning because of an in-depth interview on the listserv of the Guppies sub-group Guppiespressquest, which studies small presses now publishing mysteries. When I announced it, I was deluged with wonderful, warm congratualtions. A lot of Guppies are toasting me tonight with their Valentine wine and chocolate. They are the ones who truly understand what a big thing this is. It also means lots of work--writing, promotion, etc. But it's what I retired to do--and I'm happy. And lest they feel slighted--I have to say my family is full of praise and excited about this. I think Thursday Betty and I are going to a posh restaurant, so that will be my celebration (I have a coupon:-).
Five stars to Lorraine Bartlett's A Crafty Killing, a cozy set in an artists' mall. I love the concept of a huge building, like an antique mall, devoted to artists' work. The building is in Victoria Square (in a fictional town near Rochester--NY, I suppose, but maybe Minnesota). So the whole atmosphere is Victorian, and there are lots of wonderful characters--and a few bad ones. I decided this afternoon, with my desk piled high, that finishing that book was the thing I had to do first. My reasoning was that if I finished it, it would no longer tempt me. Now I'm reading a serious (and probably heavy) book on the place of literature in today's culture. Good to stretch the mind.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Minor catastrophes and a major computer problem

Kids at breakfast

After a make-your own burrito breakfast this morning, my kids and grandkids packed up to leave. Their departure was not without catastrophes, however. Everyone was concentrating on getting Colin 's dog to put his feet inside his space so the hatch door could be closed. Kaibo finally complied, door was closed--on Morgan's hand. Lots of tears, bags of ice, lots of love, chocolate ice cream, and a bit of children's aspirin. At last report, in the car, she was drawing and could bend and wiggle her fingers, though they are swollen and red. By the time they left, we were getting a few smiles out of her.
Maddie had brought her regulation basketball, and she and Christian went to the school playground to shoot baskets. When they came back Christian and Jacob were playing with the ball and somehow Jacob got smushed in the face with that heavy ball. He recovered fairly quickly but was indignant that this had happened to him.
Everyone was finally off, I finished cleaning the kitchen, ran the dishwasher, started a laundry and settled at my desk--only to find that after about an hour my wireless mouse quit. The keyboard still works, but I have to use the mousepad on the laptop--and I prefer an old-fashioned mouse. Spent a lot of time tonight on the Logitech support page, tried to call but they were closed. I'll call in the morning but I have a feeling that I am only postponing the inevitable new keyboard and mouse. That was Brandon's advice, but I swear I haven't had mine long. B. says they need replacement because the letters on my keys have all worn off--doesn't bother me, because I learned touch-typing the old-fashioned way. My kids don't like my keyboard. That doesn't bother me either.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


 Jacob's first sleepy words this morning were, "When are my cousins coming?" I told him lunchtime, and group by group they arrived for a late lunch, all six cousins, three aunts and an uncle. The cousins were rowdy, happy, deliciously excited. An afternoon playing hard in the park did nothing to dampen their energy (while their grandmother snatched a nap), and by 5:00 p.m. we were off for a party with the extended family at Joe T. Garcia's. We counted--there were 17 adults and 17 kids. Someday they may outnumber us! The occasion was to give everyone a chance to visit with my nephew Russell, who was supposed to deploy to Iraq in March. He says now the word is May, but you never know--they could say tomorrow, "Pack your bags. You're leaving in a week." Whatever, it was a great occasion for a get-together and wonderful to see all those generations. There was a great-grandmother there, so we had four generations. I think she and my brother were the eldest, in their late 70s, and five-month-old Madelyn McClain was the youngest. Wonderful, happy, noisy, all talking at once. The kids ran wild but fortunately stayed in our corner of the restaurant--we had a nice secluded area--and then after supper went outside to play on the patio (with supervision).  I can't say enough about how blessed I am with family--some of us there had been through tough times together and joyous times, we've "grown up" together, as if we ever really get there, and now we're raising grandchildren. And the adult children are all such wonderful, family-minded people, who care a lot about each other. It was fun to watch my children with their two cousins--that sense of belonging that comes with having cousins is being passed down from generation to generation. I have very few cousins and have lost touch with all of them, except the one in Canada whose affairs I'm responsible for--an entirely different relationship. So I am so grateful that my children and grandchildren have this strong sense of belonging to a large family  that cares about all of them.
Jacob went off tonight to sleep in the garage apartment with Uncle Colin and Aunt Lisa. He had maybe a brief moment of hesitation when he kissed his mom and dad good night, but he will sleep soundly, knowing he is in safe and loving hands. Family. What more is there to say?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Peace to the world

It's a quiet, peaceful night in my little world. Jacob is watching TV and when I suggested we do something, anything, he protested, "I'm happy." So I've let him be. Scooby is happily in his bed, and Wywy sitting on my desk, a sure sign he wants more food.
Our snow has melted except one stubborn patch on the sidewalk leading up to my north-facing house. At one point in the late morning I swear the thermometer in my car told me it was 64, but I can hardly believe that. The other stubborn patch of snow, about three feet just before the garage door, is gone. But if it isn't one thing it's another. We lost water for about three hours this afternoon--a water main broke near the hospital district (which isn't far from our neighborhood)--I wondered and worried if the hospitals also lost water.. And what provisions do they have for that contingency. It's fixed tonight, and all is well. When much of Texas had rolling blackouts, we were spared and I wondered if it was due to our proximity to the hospitals.
As I sit in my own quiet world, I think of the unrest spreading across Arabic countries (and others where dictators rule). Apparently dictators round the world are getting nervous--a good sign. It was wonderful today to see on TV that a peaceful revolution had ousted Mubarak--it was peaceful on the part of the protestors, who only fought when attacked by what seem to have been hired goons. One can't help think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King--peaceful means triumph again. Prayers for those who were killed or injured, but still it was a remarkable show of peaceful protest. Now of course the long road--what will happen to Egypt? And how will this affect the entire Arab world? We live in interesting times, and we have just seen history made.
Texas, as always, provides an ironic contrast: it seems some of the parents of the Mansfield ISD object to a Bush-era plan to teach Arabic culture and language to students. Their timing is impeccable--and so wrong. Mansfield is also the district that had a notable protest against integration of schools in in the late '60s. I guess some people never learn, and as someone pointed out to me preaching--or even rational explanation--does no good because their minds are made up and closed. What scares me is that they are passing that attitude along to their children. One parent wrote indignantly that parents know what's best for their chldren to learn, which makes about as much sense as our Texas Board of Education, which is appointed and includes not one professional educator. I love Texas, but sometimes I really really want to leave.
A funny note: my friend Jeannie Chaffee is working endlessly on her family geneaology and announced today that she had traced one side of her family back to Robert the Bruce of Scotland. I told her that makes us cousins--I'm pretty sure that in my reading about Scottish history and the MacBain clan that we have a connection to Robert the Bruce (what a wonderful name!). Jeannie wonders if she'll soon start talking with a brogue--I told her she could do worse.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Food Network, Star Cafe, and how to know when you can leave a book behind

One way I got through all our snow and ice days--five in the last two weeks--was to watch the Food Network channel. When I was doing idiot work at my desk, I kept the volume on; when I needed to concentrate I muted it but kept the picture so I could check every once in a while. Some of those chefs have become friends of mine, though they don't know it. Ina Garten is cheerful, soft spoken, and the kind of person you'd like to eat lunch with (if she catered it of course). For any who've read the Diane Mott Davidson catering mysteries, I've decided Davidson had Garten in mind when she created Goldie the caterer. In my mind's eye, Goldie is Ina. Then there's Guy Fieri with the spiky hair and all those weird concoctions he eats at Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dumps. It makes the mind boggle that any one man could eat so many high fat, high calories, high everything concoctions, but I've heard that he says the bite you see him take on TV is the only bite he takes. Still, the old-time, down-home, far-out cooking he discovers is mouth watering.
Lately I've been fascinated by two Robert Irvine programs: one is America's Worst Cooks, in which people who claim they can't cook apply for the class. Irvine and his fellow chef, a woman whose name escapes me, are merciless on these people, but those who aren't dropped out of the program end up  pretty good cooks. I think I'm a good cook--and most people who eat at my table agree--but I don't think I could live up to that program. Irvine also does a program where he has 48 hours to rescue a failing restaurant. He redecorates, re-invents the menu, trains the staff, and generally turns a failing restaurant into a new one. Last night, he demoted the head chef, derided the prepared foods they were using (the canned corn beef hash tasted like dog food [I love it with ketchup] and another prepared item was costing them ten times what it would if made from scratch in the kitchen). And, of course Bobby Flay is everyone's hero these days. I wish the recipes they cook were more accessible. I'm often too pressed for time to check them on the  web.
And who can talk about Food Network without mentioning Paula Deen --I have never seen one woman, even with that outrageous southern drawl, use so much butter, sour cream, heavy cream, you name it and it's fattening. I would never dare cook--er, okay, eat--half the things she cooks, but they do look delicious.
I admit a few cooks irritate me, like the lady who prides herself on the inexpensive menus she cooks--too cute. But then Giada and her Italian food--yum!
While I'm on the subject of food, Betty and I wanted comfort food tonight, so we went to the Star, the restaurant she and her husband own and where I used to work once a week for several years. We both had our mouths set for a bacon cheeseburger, which we split, and a salad. Wonderful! Bino cooked it just right, so it was pink in the middle and juicy. I have sent an email to Guy Fieri saying he needs to check out this restaurant--I may send another describing the Star Burger, which tops a burger with cheese, chili, onion,  pickles, jalopeno, and bacon. Now who could eat that?
I read today about a longtime boookseller who invented the rule of 50. Read 50 pages of a book, and if you decide it's not for you, you can set it aside without guilt. But as the woman aged, she realized her time to read was limited and there were still so many books, so she changed the rules. After you reach 51, subtract your age from 100 and that's the number of pages to read before you decide a book is not for you. I so rarely abandon a book--it has to be really bad--but I have been known to do it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A snow day, a lot of work, a nap and an unusual dinner

Another snow day, although this one was mild compared to last week. By late afternoon much of it had melted, in spite of temperatures in the 20s--the sun came out and did its job. Still, this morning when I got up it was snowing steadily, even if tiny tiny flakes. Just not a lot of accumulation. I'm not sure if there's ice beneath that snow or not. It was a good day to stay home and at my desk. I dug in again to my chili book. The trouble with having several projects going is that I have long absences from some--spent much of the morning reacquainting myself with the chili text. I did move ahead quite a bit, not so much in terms of word count but cleaning up references, adding details here and there, checking facts. Back to work on it again tonight after this.Once I get into a project I thoroughly enjoy it--but getting back to it after a long absence takes discipline.
Today would have been a great day for chili but I had a bowl of soup left over from the weekend for lunch. It was delicious and warming. Tonight I had an unusual supper. Last weekend when I went to Central Market to stock up, I was waiting by the poultry for the butcher to cut my chicken when I spotted quail stuffed with chicken sausage, feta, cilantro, and pine nuts. Of course I had to have one. Tonight I roasted it at 350 for 30 minutes--it didn't get brown and crispy on the outside, as I would have liked, and it was a little heavy on the feta but still, it was really good, a splurge I'll repeat.
I napped today--which is no different from most days. But today I lay in bed and thought how warm and comfortable I was. Even awake, I'm reluctant to get up and leave that warm, cozy nest, with a cat curled at my feet warming them and a dog snuffling contentedly by the bed to give me a sense of company. I can lie there and spin stories and dreams forever. Today I forced myself up to see the evening news and put that quail in the oven.
When I'm working at my computer as I was today I often check Facebook as well as my email. It occurred to me tonight that Facebook, for all its detractors, is a good source of information--today I learned there of the death of a prominent local artist, read an inspirational email, a current events email about parents objecting to the teaching of Arabic culture and language in their schools (give me a break! what narrow vision), and a Wisconsin journalist's reprise of his adventures in the Metroplex last week (the SuperBowl ice storm appears to be a story that won't go away). But I never would have found any of this without Facebook. No, folks, it's not all idle chatter. Oh, and my children's half-sister posted that she made a bacon and chocolate cake--now that boggled my mind.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Old Neighborhood Grill

Somehow I ate two meals at the Old Neighborhood Grill today. The Grill is about two blocks from my house, a concrete block building that years ago was Rick's Locker Room which always looked dark and smoky to me and I avoided it. For several years now it's been the Grill under Peter's ownership--in the mornings and at noon he is there to greet everyone personally, and he seems to know a lot of us.
This morning I went for breakfast with the Book Ladies, a group of women whose careers have involved books--authors, librarians, booksellers, and a few readers. We've been meeting for probably twenty years now, and our numbers are dwindling--people retiring and moving away, we've lost a few to death including one of my dearest friends, and then there are some who don't want to get up that early or come that far. But we still have a core--six of us this morning, one out because of illness. Sometimes we talk books, a lot of the time we talk politics--we are all liberals and without meaning to drove off the one conservative who used to join us. And sometime we talk about aging, health, grandchildren, traffic, what have you, and books never come up. Peter knows we meet on the second Tuesday of the month at 8 a.m., and he always has a big table waiting for us. Breakfasts at the grill are wonderful, particularly the hash browns if you ask for them extra crispy. But I confine myself to one egg over easy and a piece of wheat toast. The oatmeal is pretty good too. A nice way to start the day even if a bit early for me.
On Tuesdy nights some of my Berkeley neighbors gather at the Grill for dinner, and Joe and Mary Dulle have been kind enough to pick me up a couple of nights to join them. Tonight my mind was on a turkey burger--and it was as good as I anticipated. I had no sides with it--no fries or beans or whatever. Conversation ranged from family get-togethers to cooking--Mary's nephew who is in training at Central Market, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, joined us, so it was fun to hear his tales of food. I didn't catch much of the neighborhood news from the other end of the table, but it was fine to enjoy a good dinner and visit with people, both some I knew and some I didn't. I do live in a great neighborhood--wait! Have I said that before?
Tomorrow, ice and snow and probably a housebound day again. Sunday, when I went out for the first time in six days, I realized that I felt like an invalid emerging from a long seclusion--a bit tentative about being out in the world. By yesterday and today I was scooting around the streets and in and out of stores like always. Now we have to start all over again. It's supposed to be horrendously cold tomorrow and Thursday, but  sunny on Thursday, and thaw Friday. Good thing, because all my chickens are coming home again Sat. Meantime I have lots of work on my desk, and a day at home will be good for me.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Upscale restaurants

I wear tennis shoes a lot and make no apologies. They're comfortable for my warped, aging feet--somehow the feet have gotten old before the rest of me. Tennis shoes also make me feel comfortable about my footing, which is sometimes a problem. But I do try to wear attractive, semi-designer tennis shoes--not just plain white dirty tenners. So today I was wearing brown plaid slip-on tenners, with brown pants and a brown turtleneck, brightened by a turquoise sweater vest and covered by an L. L. Bean coat that looks like London Fog. I went to an upscale restaurant where I had been invited for a longtime friend's birthday lunch. A sign of the door stopped me: something to the effect that guests were expected to dress appropriately for fine dining (I forget how it was worded), But it explicitly said no tank tops, t-shirts, sandals, or tennis shoes. Oh, oh! When I announced to the maitre d' that I was there for a birthday lunch, I swear he looked at my feet He raised his eyebrows and said "Really?" I knew the celebrant's name, but he didn't; I couldn't remember the host, but we finally decided it was Jeff. He immediately shunted me off into the bar area to wait--I presumed to hide my tennis shoes. I was early, they were late, and I spent a while reading. But at long last I saw a party come in and could see my friend Connie. But the maitre d' didn't come for me, so finally I went up to him and said I believed my party had arrived. Again, that surprised look. "Really?" I nodded in their direction, and he escorted me to my seat.
We actually had a delightful lunch--I was glad to be with Connie, who I only see from time to time since she's moved to a suburb, and to visit with her daughter from Denver who is a real delight. Jeff turned out to be most conversational and interesting, and I thoroughly enjoyed a long lazy lunch. But I kept my feet tucked under the table. I won't go back to that restaurant voluntarily. Actually I had a similar experiene there before--twice warned should be enough.
Our Texas world has completely thawed--I went to one grocery yesterday and another today. But in my mind I was stocking up for Wednesday when we're supposed to get socked again with a bit of ice and then quite a bit of snow over it. Temperatures the next day will go from 14 to 32, but by Saturday we'll be at 60 (if predictions come true). I'm hoping since all the children and grandchildren are coming home again for a party for my nephew, who will deploy to Iraq. I am so ready for spring!
Meanwhile I have lots of work to do if I'm housebound Wednesday, which I fully expect to be. I guess I'm getting to be a vetran at it.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Making a soup out of nothing

I had invited eight people (plus three kids) for supper tonight and had planned a wonderful meal, using a beef casserole recipe that I love. Pull apart bread seasoned with parmesan, mozzarella, bacon, and green onion was in the freezer, along with a chocolate/coffee/mint ice cream pie with cookie crumb crust and topping. Trouble was,  because of the snow, I couldn't get to the grocery until late this afternoon, by which time it was too late to go shopping and make a big meal. So I decided on a pot-luck pot of soup and urged everyone to bring something to throw in the pot. Jordan made a bean/cheese dip and brought chips and salad makings (and made the salad, bless her). I was talking to Amy Sutton this morning, and she said they had carrots and celery . . . we were sort of fiddling around with that when John said they had two lamb shanks and he would cook them. He braised them with wine, carrots, celery, onion, and they were heavenly--I asked to be invited for dinner soon. But the lamb made all the difference in the world with the soup--it was sort of like eating lamb stew. I put everything but the kitchen sink in that soup--chicken breasts I'd baked, some leftover pork roast, a yellow squash, a red onion, two mushrooms (I was cleaning the veggie drawer and inspecting while I did it--discarded a bit of zucchini and a lot of celery but saved some for the soup), a bit of pasta too small to make anything else. I used chicken and vegetarian broth, a can of beef broth, packets of chicken and brown gravy, a half a small can of English peas left from creamed tuna the other night, a half can of Wolf lean chili left from my supper another night, and a bunch of frozen corn. Never did salt or pepper anything, and the final product didn't need it. Talk about cooking with what you have. But it would have been so-so, good but not great, without the lamb. As it was, it was delicious, and a great evening. Unfortunately I have about a third of the pot of soup left.
This was what I called my young people's dinner--guests were Jordan and Christian, two girls who are daughters of 40-year friends of mine with their husbands, and my next-door neighbors, who are a bit younger than the others. The three girls, of course, have grown up knowing each other but they all quickly took in the neighbors, and everyone laughed a lot and had a good time. Jordan was an immense help, from making the appetizer and bringing the salad goods, to doing almost all the kitchen clean-up. Oh, and she cut the pie--I hate cutting desserts. I did tease her later that she had the messiest place at the table.
The big thaw has come, and the streets and sidewalks are clear--my north-facing front porch is still a bit icy, but I have a path. I'm going to the grocery tomorrow--hooray! Just too late for tonight's dinner.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Day Four--and more snow!

When I got up this morning about 5 a.m. to feed the persistent cat (no, I did not stay up!) I wondered why my neighbors white stucco house seemed to almost glow. Then I realized there was a white glow to the whole outdoors--yep., 4.5 inches of fresh snow on top of the ice we already had. Above is the view from my front door, looking down the street that sort of dead-ends into my house. I didn't venture beyond the front door and never did get a newspaper. What that new snow meant, of course, is that the snow, pretty as it was, covered up the ice, so you couldn't tell what you were walking on. Christian's proposed grocery trip for me disappeared, as did my date with Jacob tonight, so it's been another long day at home.  A bright spot in the day was another bit of neighborhly concern--I looked out to see the young teenager, maybe fourteen, from across the street shoveling my walk. I called my thanks and asked if I could pay him; he declined. The next time I looked, his mom was out there with him, throwing rock salt on the sidewalk. It is lovely to live in this neighborhood where people care about each other. Thanks to Atticus Johnson and his mom, Margaret, and to Meredith Latimer for visiting me yesterday at some peril to herself and her three-year-old--that icy driveway was difficult for a very pregnant young woman to navigate.

Don't get me wrong--I have plenty of work to do and spent a lot of today working on marketing my e-books. Pretty good success in following some complicated (to me) directions. Even found an almost-free picture for "The Art of Candle Dipping." The wax vat looks like one the pioneer housewife would have used--and sort of like the one in our Log Cabin Village where I got the story. But that housewife hand dipped candles one at a time, without a fancy rack like this. Still I think it's a good picture, and I sent it to a designer with about ten words of copy and the challenge to make it a vertical cover at least 600 pixels tall.
I also bought a round-trip plane tricket to El Paso. I'll go with Carol Roark for two days at the Texas State Historical Association meetings--never thought I'd go back to El Paso, having been there once thirty-some years ago. I was asked, sort of last minute, to write a paper on juvenile historical novels, filling in for someone who withdrew. My first response was that I'd be glad to do the paper but there was no way I was going to El Paso. A friend agreed to read it for me. I began to realize a lot of my friends will be there, and Carol said she wanted to go and share a room, so I began to think about it. Flying is a big deal for me, not something I do gracefully, nor do I walk into strange situations with ease. But I'm determined to widen the circle of my experience--and to gear myself up for a possible trip to Scotland with Colin and Megan. So this mini-trip is a practice run. I've been known to make arrangements before and cancel them, but I'm determined no to do that this time.
Meantime I set the table for nine tonight, which meant dragging out the leaves from under my bed--my goodness, were they dusty! And I got one I could not fit in--it had pegs on the wrong side everywhere I put it. I began to feel that I was working a Chinese puzzle. But I finally put it back and got out another one. I have four leaves in the table and a tablecloth meant for it to have five leaves (which won't fit in my dining room anyway). But the cloth drags at either end, and I shall undoubtedly trip on it and yank all the dishes off the table.
The menu? I'm still going through my cupboards and freezer, seeing what I can put together without going to the grocery--which would probably be okay tomorrow afternoon but not in time to cook for dinner. There will be three children, and I have cheese, hot dogs, clementines, and ice cream for them.  Should be an interesting evening--just hope all those four young men don't go away hungry. More tomorrow night.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Day Three of the Ice Siege

Day three--and it seems to get worse. I definitely have cabin fever, and I notice some anxiety, that old friend of mine. I'm working hard on it, trying to remain positive, but I really want to get in my car and go to the grocery store. The general consensus among those who care about me is that I should not do that even tomorrow, so Christian is going to get what I need to cook for company on Saturday night (the company includes him). They don't seem to realize that I grew up in Chicago and lived in northeast Missouri, the "icebox" corner of the state, for several years. I can drive on ice, even if I'm leery of walking on it. And I'm sure the handicapped spots at the grocery are ice-free. But no one else believes that, and I am left to savor the feeling that they care about me. It's not worth a battle.
My neighbor, Meredith, came over for an hour this morning, with her three-year-old daughter, Abby. She too is feeling housebound. Abby likes to play with the toys at my house because they're different from her own, but her attention span is short and she tires of them quickly, so she went through all I had to offer in a half hour. Another neighbor, Linda, was going to go to the new Sprouts grocery this afternoon and asked if I'd like to go, which I jumped at. But she went out on another errand and lost her nerve. Then Meredith, who is very pregnant, was going to Target when Abby woke from her nap. But by then it was almost 5 and I declined, much as I want those blasted groceries.
For one thing I wanted to watch the national news at 5:30 to see what's going on in Egypt. I'm  devotee of Channel 5, so I feel like Brian Williams and Lester Holt and others are friends, and when I heard they were beating and/or detaining foreign journalists I was concerned. I can't understand why we don't just pull our journalists out of there--and the story of the 76-year-old woman who is stranded in an apartment in central Cairo is horrifying. We're watching significant history, as uprisings spring up all across that region, like a contagion. Meanwhile, if you watch the local news you'd think nothing is going on in the world except the SuperBowl.
To make the day longer, I had no email. A pipe burst in the basement of the building where tech services is housed, and the server was down all day. When I finally got into it about 8:30 tonight, I had 105 emails. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to go through them--most needed no attention or response. But I have a stack of papers to take care of by email--tomorrow.
My big accomplishment today: I followed Smashwords directions carefully and created a Table of Contents with links to the short stories in my collection, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance. Tedious work, but the instructions are clear and I am really proud that I got it done. I'll post it on Smashwords in place of the version that's now up.
Ho hum. Another day at home tomorrow. I don't know that Scooby and I can either one stand being inside that long. He loves being out but I'm afraid to leave him for very long. I've noticed that he doesn't go in his house these days as he does in the rain--he lies in the snow and looks around alertly. He seems to really enjoy it. Wish I did.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The World is Closed

Again, and no hope for the next two days! I don't much mind being here by myself, but I don't like the feeling that I can't jump in the car and go if I want to. I try, with medium success, to tell myself that what will be will be, and if you can't go out, you can't. I think the streets are clearing up, at least the major ones, and I would be comfortable driving, but I'm cautious about walking across my porch even to empty trash. Today I had a couple of catastrophes: my washing machine won't work, and I suspect the pipes are frozen. I called for a repair appointment, but I think I'll wait and try it Sunday night, hoping to cancel the appointment. The machine is in an add-on part of the house and not the regular, well-insulated brick portion. Then the dog ate the pie crust for the chocolate cookie pie crust I was planning to fill. I gave him stern lectures, to no avail--when allowed back in the kitchen, he busily searched for crumbs my sweeping had missed. I posted this incident on Facebook and got lots of suggestions on how to handle dogs who ate chocolate, toxic to them. But he shows no signs of distress. And he's a dog who shows distress easily when he feels it. I started from scratch and remade the pie, so the crust will be better than the one I bought.
Tonight my young neighbor next door called just to chat. Being home with a three-year-old, she had cabin fever and wondered if I did. She had gotten out with her husband and said even a ride around the neighborhood would make a difference. We had a good long visit about a lot of things, and she says they'll come for a visit tomorrow. I have invited them, with three other young couples (including Jordan and Christian), for supper Saturday night, and she says they'll take me to the grocery if need be. It's supposed to snow Friday--snow, not ice--and be middling-to-pleasant Saturday, really defrost by Sunday and SuperBowl. I do feel sorry for the merchants and people of downtown Fort Worth who worked so hard to prepare for this week--and now nobody can get out and enjoy the fun.
I've made good use of my housebound time: I finished critiquing a manuscript I was reading in the Guppies critique program, where authors are matched with others and reach each other's manuscripts.I really liked the one I read, but I had lots of comments and suggestions. Critiquing it was a learning experience for me and made me aware of things I need to correct in my writing.
I also posted a short story on Kindle--"The Art of Candle Dipping" should be up in a couple of days. It's a story that has always made me choke up the few times I've read it aloud. Based on a true account in the files of Fort Worth's Log Cabin Village. I'm puzzled though as to how to price it at 99 cents--Amazon didn't seem inclined to let me price it below $2.99, which seems a bit high for one short story. I'll have to investigate that.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An ice-bound day

The arctic blast has truly come to North Texas, with ice everywhere. I could no more navigate my front porch than I could fly. I even slipped a little just reaching around the corner to get the mail. My car might as well be a million miles away. There's no let-up in sight--10 degrees tonight, not much better tomorrow, highs in the twenties. By Friday it should get to the mid-thirties. Whoopee! My dog has been inside since about 1:30 and shows no inclination to go outside when I invite him, even when I offer supper. He just lies on his bed and looks at me. I predict  an emergency "Go outside" call at about midnight, but we'll see. I may force the issue before I go to bed and then welcome him with treats.
It's even cold in Houston, far south of us. This shows my Houston grandkids, Kegan and Morgan, huddled up with their mom, Lisa--all in snuggies. They sent me one, and I am enjoying it a lot.
Jamie has confessed that  he was the one who set my thermostat at 69 Saturday night, but he blames it on his sister for leaving Jacob with us while she partied. Jacob would not go to sleep and kept wanting to get into bed with Jamie and look at his iPad. In his frustration, Jamie got overheated, turned down the thermostat, and forgot to turn it up. I was a little cool today but didn't really notice it until I napped. When I got up it seemed really cold. I've lit the fireplace and turned up the heat and, with my snuggie, am fairly cozy.

This is what I spent most of my day doing. It's pull-apart bread, stuffed with mozzarella and seasoned with bacon, sliced scallions, parmesan, chili powder, and garlic powder. It's supposed to have Kalamata olives but I don't like them and, being the cook, I exercised the privilege of choice. When it came out of the oven, it smelled heavenly, and when it came out of the pan a few bits were left behind. Naturally I had to taste them--wonderful. Oh, I forgot to add it also has almost two sticks of butter.The downside: when I finished, every bowl in my kitchen was dirty, and it literally took me from ten this morning until three this afternoon. Granted, some of that time was for letting it rise--it's obviously a yeast bread--but it was a time-consuming project. You have to roll small bits of dough around small bits of mozzarella, then dip them in butter and next the parmesan seasoned with chili and garlic powders. Much as I hate to do this to fresh bread, it went into the freezer for a supper party Saturday night, assuming I can get to a grocery store between now and then. I got this recipe from my longtime friend Sally Jackson, and I'm quite sure she wouldn't mind if I shared it, but you'll have to email me. It's too long to type here.
This morning, regular programming went out the window for constant coverage of the ice-covered roadways, and there were some spectacular scenes--like three FedEx trucks stuck next to each other on an access overpass and motorists turning to go the wrong way down the access to get out of there. My neighbor saw someone on our street, a sheet of ice, gunning his pickup with his back wheels spinning--she said if he ever got traction, he'd go flying into someone's front yard. Little bits of sunshine were small encouragement in light of the forecast. When it's like this I have a tendency to think I can never walk across my front porch again, but of course I know that's not true. Before I know it, I'll be buying plants for the front porch and planning porch parties. But for now, this may get old by tomorrow and surely will by Thursday. Enough of my own company.