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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A food day

Seems like the major thing I did today was eat. Betty, Jordan, Jacob and I went to the Frank Kent Honda dealership for lunch--lunch in a car dealership? Yep. It was great. Good friend David Rottman, who once owned and ran Cafe Aspen, has gone to work there, and they asked him to spiff up their on-site cafe. He's brought back a lot of his classic Cafe Aspen items--the chicken salad, those delicious hamburgers, coriander chicken salad, turkey club, fish of the day, soup of the day--all wonderful stuff in a much more casual atmosphere--you order at the counter and eat at shiny new chrome tables with banquette backs snaking through the space. And you don't have to buy a car. My sense is that it's a serivce to customers while they wait for repairs and to employees but anyone can wander in and have lunch--and an early supper. I think they close at six. We visited with David only briefly, but it was really a reunion. Great experience.
By serendippity, a friend from church was there waiting for her car and she joined us, so it was a lively and interesting lunch time--two hours, thanks very much.
Tonight was neighbors night at the Old Neighborhood Grill, and I had an unexpected date--Jacob. He was the star of the party--kept everyone entertained. He'd start a story with "Hey, guys!" and I frequently had to remind him not to interrupt when others were talking. Aftr all, they did want a bit of adult conversation. But they all seemed charmed with him and his stories. He had corn fritters and alternated between ketchup and syrup on them.
Both our lunch and dinner companions said Jacob really ought to be having a career as a child actor or model--which his dad did. They were struck with his outgoing personality and charming happy face. At one point at lunch he was behind me, and I said, "Jacob Burton, you come give me a hug." I'd turn one way and he'd dart the other; we kept it up for a while, and Genie, who had joined us, said "I'm sure my day is going to be lot better just from seeing his face behind you."
Mr. Charming just tried to convince me he had two broken legs and couldn't get up to go potty and brush his teeth. I told him to crawl, which he did a bit until he bounced to his feet and said, "Fooled you!" He's right now watching the Food Network and appears to be quite engaged in it. Maybe he caught on that this was a food day too.
Glad to report that although I've not found any of my lost items, they've given me a new idea for another Kelly O'Connell novel. And my electronic problems--email on laptop and phone, plus sending pictures on the phone--all seem to be solved. Things are moving in the right direction.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paranormal, supernatural--do you believe?

I've never been one to believe in ghosts or the like, but then I certainly won't deny the possibility. I've been known to tell stories others have told me about the friendly ghosts--I like to call them haints--that live in a house I once lived in. Winston, my almost-brother, saw them in the living room, and good friend Anne reported they woke her when she was sleeping in the guest room. So I'm always in a state of uncertainty, but lately I'm beginning to believe there's one--or at least a poltergeist--in my house.
A tiny unimportant thing this morning convinced me--I couldn't find the yellow dishrag that I used last night. I looked everywhere, even in the trash, but it has simply vanished. I'd attribute that to a senior moment, but there was yesterday morning when I found the grocery list I keep on my desk in the middle of the living room floor. Okay, there's a possibility that I carried a sheaf of recipes from my desk to the bedroom, picked that up by mistake, and it fell out--but I don't really believe that.
So far, this is the list of mysteriously missing items at my house:
1 yellow dishrag
1 paper-clipped sheaf of recipes with a menu plan attached
1 grey T-shirt that I really loved wearing
3 strands of fetish necklaces, intertwined--also much loved
This morning I almost thought I'd lost my pink sweatshirt jacket, but I found it--I'd hung it in the wrong closet. Also, by thoroughly cleaning a closet, I found my favorite gray sweat jacket. But those other items? I have searched and searched and they are nowhere.
And there's another kind of presence in my house--in the moirnings I frequently wake with the sense that someone else, someone friendly and protective, is sleeping in my house. Sometimes of course I know that it's Jacob tucked in his bed in the family room, but other times I most often think it's my mom, who's been gone twenty-four years. And for just an instant I think I am in my bed in the house in Madison Park, where I grew up, and Mom is just in the next room. It's a comforting feeling, but I don't know what a psychiatrist would make of it.
Mom, however, would not steal my favorite gray T-shirt or my fetish necklaces, and she had enough recipes of her own that she wouldn't want mine--in fact some of mine are from her. As for the dishrag--go figure!
I'm enjoying Jacob's vacation, perhaps more than he is. I took a delicious long late afternoon nap today instead of rushing to nap so I can get up at 2:45 to run meet him in the schoolyard. Love it on a dull rainy chilly day like today.
If I weren't very frustrated by phone problems, I'd be a happy camper. I took some pictures this morning with both phone and camera that I wanted to send off with a guest blog tonight. Went to download them from the camera and discovered that Sophie, in her worst chewing stage, had mangled the cord that goes from camera to USB port. So I sent them to myself from my phone--but they just stacked up in unsent items, although I can send email and text messages. A lengthy talk with TCU Help Desk this morning straightened out my email problems but even a talk with Apple support and a forty-five minute session with ATT didn't solve the picture problem. It's like my pictures are frozen in my camera and phone. Maybe it's that polergeist.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Random food thoughts

This morning I was watching the Food Network and restaurant chef Anne Burrell was cooking a turkey--a brined turkey with apple cider gravy to be specific. When she pulled it out of the oven, it was a delicious dark brown color, which she attributed to the brining and then the massage with herb butter. She checked the interal temperature to be sure it was thoroughly cooked and then said she was putting it in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight, to dry out. What? I thought the whole point of cooking turkey was to keep it moist. What's with dry out? Later in the segment (supposedly the next day) she carved it and commented on how moist it was. I'm puzzled, but I guess the skin dried out and became crisp and good--makes my mouth water. I love turkey skin! Apparently the gravy was delicious too--she not only dipped a piece in and took a big bite, she double-dipped. I had just tried to teach Jacob last night that double dipping his cracker in hummus was rude.
An odd eating schedule today--I had lunch at ten-thirty, so I could get a nap before I went to sign books at one at Barnes & Noble. Had a chicken thigh--I had sprinkled it with soy, garlic powder, and seasoned salt and baked for thirty minutes, then turned and did the same thing Thursday night for Linda and me, and I had one left over. Makes the best cold chicken thigh I've ever had. I like chicken thighs almost as much as turkey skin. (Note: sprinkle the soy first, so it doesn't wash away the powdered seasonings.
Jacob and his mom came to visit at the signing. I sold eight books in an hour and a half, which is pretty good for a "cold" signing at a big bookstore. Traffic dwindled, because the TCU footbal game began.
Tonight I fixed mashed potatoes, English peas, and breakfast link sausages for Jacob and me. He said it was the best day ever and the best dinner and he loved me. Guess I'll rush out and get more sausages. After my Scotland trip, I wanted to teach him the terminology, so we practiced saying we'd had bangers and mash for supper.
Then I discovered a recipe catastrophe. I'd spent a lot of time working out the menu and collecting both recipes and the RSVP list for my annual Christmas party. It ws all clipped together. Tonight I was going to make my traditional blue cheese ball and freeze it and came to my desk to look for the recipe. I couldn't find any of the paperwork! Not a panic tonight as I have the recipe in a cookbook and practically know it by heart, but the loss of all the other papers is a big tragedy. I can recover some of the recipes and the guest list but there were some I've never cooked before--and I want those recipes. There was a molded cheese ring with raspberry jam--and I've already bought the jam. I know all this will show up, but I may have to go through the whole file drawer in my desk. It is so frustrating.
But the best part of the day? Jacob just went off to watch TV--at 8:45 mind  you, not as though he's been glued to it all evening. And his parting words? 'Juju, I love you!" Be still my heart.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Odd thoughts

I"ve been sitting at my desk, trying to decide if I have any thoughts to blog about. It's almost ten-thirty, Jacob is asleep (he fell asleep with the TV on), the dogs are in their beds, and the house is quiet. A wonderful time of day. Tonight good friends Weldon and Elizabeth came for suppr--leftover pulled pork chili and they brought the salad. Easy way to entertain. We got to talking about people and life, and I said I've decided there are two kinds of people--those who are engaged in life and take charge and those who just let life happen to them. My high school/church/college chum who was here last weekend talked about that when she wrote me that she had enjoyed meeting my family and friends because they were all so engaged in life. I guess I didn't introduce her to those who aren't--and there's probably an obvious reason there. But there are people I worry about because they are so passive--they don't take charge in relationships, health care, whatever. And sometimes those people can drag me down, so I find myself avoiding them--and then I feel guilty. Well, guilt is the first  thing to get rid of, as I preached to my memoir class last night. And often,  you can't help people who aren't engaged in life--they don't see life in the same terms that I do. But I know I'll still keep reaching out, trying to help, trying to change them. I long ago decided I'm a nurturer, a caregiver.
And my memoir class--we had our last fall session last night, and it was a doozie Three people presented papers, and my friend Linda summed it up best when we had our circle closing. We're supposed to say one word about how we feel, but Linda said she couldn't say it in one word because she was so grateful for the women in the room and their depth and complexity. What's said there, stays there but I wish I could share--a short story that led us into a great discussion of the structure of short stories, a woman's comparison of giving birth in the States and England, a cookbook interspersed with memoirs.
Today on Facebook a male friend  said he wished he could find a similar class for men, and I told him to start one. Several women have expressed interest in joining the class, and most of the present class want to come back, so I guess I'll be doing this for a while.
Now, if I could just get those passive people involved. Or maybe I can't save the world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random acts of kindness vs. instinct

Today when I was running errands in the neighborhood, I drove by a woman standing on the side of the street. She had a cane although she was not elderly, and I assumed she was waiting for me to pass before crossing in the middle of a block. It was a gorgeous day--what happened to that rain we were promised?--and I had the top down. She lifted her hand, and I waved back. Only as I passed did I hear her say something like, "Excuse me?" or "Please." I did not stop, and then my conscience beat me up. Yet there was something just enough off that I didn't want to stop. I knew if she asked for a ride, I didn't want to let her in my car.
We're told constantly to listen to our instincts, and I believe it--but that warning conflicts with the idea of random acts of kindess. And I'd been the recipient of random acts of kindness the day before.So how do we know what to do?
A few minutes laters, as I drove by a TCU parking lot, a student shot out into the middle of the street before he looked either way--I stopped and waved him on, which he never acknowledged with a smile or a wave. My stopping was definitely instinct and not an act of kindness, but there was no sense honking angrily and bullying my way through even though I was in the right. There's the middle ground, I guess.
I once read a book, or started it, on the important or value of fear. Many mystery writers tout this book as a great source. I read a bit and gave it up, but the basic point was that fear is a great self-preservation instinct. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. (Oh, how I long to turn that into a comment on politics, but I'll refrain.) I think it's a valid point, but then again we don't want to live our lives in fear nor, heaven forbid, pass that on to our children and grandchildren. I do have a lot of fears like heights and deep water and so on, although not as many as my grandmother, but still I've worked hard at not foisting them off on my children.And the result is that they're a fairly fearless bunch. But I think they too feel the instinct of self-preservation.
Countering that is what we hear in church or elsewhere about being our brother's keeper, looking after our neighbor, thinking of others. That's the kind of person I want to be.
So what wouldy you have done? Would you have backed up to see what the lady with the cane wanted? Would you, as I have, spend much of the day worrying about her? Or would you dismiss it and decide your instincts were right.
Fortunately my day took a much more positive turn with the arrival of Jacob. We went out to dinner with "Aunt Betty" and had a good time. A friend at the next table talked with Jacob and then said to me, "I guess we have no issues with sociability." I laughed and agreed. And Jacob said to me, "This has been a fun day." Makes the whole day worthwhile.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Random acts of thoughtfulness

Today I'm grateful for the kindness and caring of people around me. I thought my only feelings about today would be that it was an expensive day--and it was. The puppy was spayed; the plumber replaced the corroded pipes under my house that had meant no hot water in the kitchen--and predicted I'll need a new hot water heater soon; the electric gate was broken and a gentleman scheduled to fix it. Plus I went on fairly major shopping trips to Origins cosmetics and PetSmart, where I thought I as buying a 20 lb. sack of dog food and bought a 35 lb. one--clearly too big for me to manage.
The crossing guard at the school corner by my house has taken it upon himself to watch out for me--and I'm grateful. This morning, as I got in my car, he yelled, "You be carefull"--the same thing I say to my kids all the time. Then when I went to back into the street, he stopped traffic and yelled, "Granny, come on!" (Colin says his kids will now call me "Granny.")
This afternoon when the plumber arrived, he carried in my sack of dog food before he got to work on the plumbing. Since he knows the house and was mostly working under it, I went ahead and took a nap, only to be awakened by knocking on the door and "Are you all right?" It seems Booker, the crossing guard, became alarmed when I didn't answer the door and there were trucks in the driveway, so he came in, found the plumbers at work. They told him I was asleep, and he said, "She's got to approve what you're doing"--as if I'd crawl under the house to check on them! When I went out to talk to the gate man Booker came up and said, "You scared me. You need to get me your daughter's number so I can call her if I get worried about you again. I got to take care of you. You're the only Granny I got." (He's probably at the most 15 years  younger than I am!) But I really was touched that he was concerned. We hugged and he went off to shepherd children across the street. He's everyone's friend and stops to have conversations with lots of the parents. When I went to get Jacob, he repeated he wanted Jordan's card.
And the final act of kindness--the gate man said I had a bad battery charger. I asked if he didn't just put that one in and he said in June; it was defective. When I asked how much I owed him for the service call, he said, "No charge." Apparently he'd had several of them go bad, but Ithoiught it was kind of him not to charge for his time.
I'm tired tonight--it's been a hectic day. Sophie, my recovering surgical patient, is lying quietly sleeping, but she gets up every time I do. Scooby has given his new bed a complete sniff examination and is apparently satisfied with it. It's supposed to be orthopedic foam, whatever that means, but I'm afraid his old legs sink into it so that he will feel unsure of his footing. Oh well, I think I'll go "examine" my own bed soon.

Can't resist posting these pictures of some of my brother's cattle--Pam, one of my weekend guests, took the pictures, and I thought they were striking.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Today I'm grateful for ...

I may get repetitious in this daily gratitude thing, but today, once again, I am grateful for friends, old and new. Today my "new" friends (we've been friends at least ten years) Jean and Jeannie came for lunch with my "old" friend, Barbara, and the new friend she so nicely brought to me, Pam. I made a pot of pulled pork chili--watch for the recipe on Potluck with Judy soon because it was really good and also easy. We had a good time visiting--they found lots to talk about, lots in common.
After dishes were done--not hard at all--I took Barbara and Pam on a short tour of my corner of Fort Worth. Barbara had wanted to see Fairmount because it's the setting of Skeleton in a Dead Space, She asked why I chose Fairmount and I tried to explain it's the interesting nature of the neighborhood--all those imaginatively redone old houses with fewer and fewer falling down ones, but still some--and the history. So pleasant and comfortable in its day, Fairmount began a slide into rental and neglected property in the last half of the twentieth century but then was reborn as a fashionable neighborhood because of its proximity to downtown and the hospital district. For a while there, newcomers moving into the neighborhood called themselves urban pioneers. We drove by Lili's, which is mentoned in the second book, and Nonna Tata, mentioned often in the first book. Of course, we'd eaten at the Old Neighborhood Grill last night, which is the most frequently mentioned restaurant in the book.
Tonight we went from folksy neighborhood grill to upscale Patrizio's. Barbara treated us to dinner, and I suggested Italian. She and I had cheese-filled ravioli with artichokes and tomatoes in a lemon/butter sauce--delicious. Pam had penne caprese--a similar sauce on penne. We came home with doggy bags and sat in the living room exchanging stories about our lives and laughing a lot. I can't believe two naive young girls from Chicago have had the adventures and complications--mostly with relatives--that we have had. What's nice is that we're upbeat about it, optimistic about the future, and so lucky to be surrounded by children.
Barbara's visit, made possible by Pam, has been a real blessing for me, and I am so grateful to both of them. It's wonderful to talk with someone about a life now long gone and to remember its joys and even its funny, embarrassing moments. And this is repetitious too, but I feel so thankful that we're so "in sync" probably almost sixty years after we first became friends. Doesn't happen often!
I will see "the girls" (Jordan's term for them) off with a bit of sadness tomorrow but the hope they'll be back soon.
And then I'll get back to work! I've had fun but I have a full week ahead of me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Seeing Texas through Mississippi eyes

Last night in memoir class we talked about the idea that you cannot tell another person's story. You can only tell your perception of it. So I can't tell you for sure how my houseguests reacted to the mini-Texas tour today--but from my point of view, it was a great success and they enjoyed it thoroughly. We first drove to Granbury, where they admired the picturesque courthouse, newly cleaned up and now glistening, and the charming buildings around the square. My eyes have seen the Granbury square many more times than I can count, but I thought it looked lively, a bit more spruced up today. We browsed for quite a while in The Panhandle, my favorite cooking store--and I did a little Christmas shopping. Then on to my friend Linda's store, Almost Heaven. Actually Linda met us at The Panhandle and gave a walking tour as we ambled along the block and a half to her store. Linda's store is a delight with beatiful and clever decorative pieces, mounted sayings--Barbara bought one that said, "Grace is not something we say before meals. It's a way of life"--purses, throws, all sorts of things, but all tasteful.  Linda has a terrific flair for display these things in an eye-catching way.
Then it was on to the old house that Linda and Rodger have redone with the same flair they show in the store--it's a delightful residence. Dee Gormley, who ran a knockout bookstore and put on wonderful literary events for years, joined us for lunch--chicken tortilla soup, salad, cole slaw and pumpking cheesecake. Wonderful company, wonderful food. The ladies came away thinking I have really great friends--which is true.
We went on to Tolar and Musick Road and my brother's ranch. He practically met us at the door with wine glasses in hand.We visited for a bit and then John and Cindy gave us the deluxe tour of the ranch--it is so dry and the stock tanks down, but they still have pastures of little bluestem, now dry and straw-colored, and something I  think he called King bluestem, which lies close to the ground. Both will make excellent forage for the cattle in the winter. John loves to explain the geography and ecology of his land--how they brought the pastures back, the view of the Brazos River valley, the menace of feral hogs--and Barbara and Pam asked intelligent questions, plus Pam took some incredibly good pictures of the cattle feeding. My idea of their story is that this was a day unlike any other they'd ever spent, and they enjoyed it. Pam has traveled extensively to Europe and places in the U.S., Barbara has traveled but not quite so extensively. Still I think this was a new and totally different day for them. And I always enjoy riding around the ranch--the land is beautiful, and today was a perfect day. Back at the house, I rushed us off to Fort Worth fairly quickly, worried about my puppy who had been in her crate all day. She seems none the worse for it.
We went to the Old Neighborhood Grill for supper with Jordan, Christian and Jacob. Barbara knew about the Grill from reading Skeleton in a Dead Space and hearing about my two signings there, so she was delighted to visit it.  And everyone seemed to enjoy dinner.
My house is quiet again--dogs asleep, guests gone to the apartment. But as they left Pam said to me, "Wonderful family, wonderful friends." Yep, that's how I feel about it too--I am blessed with family and friends. And it's fun to share my little corner of Texas with others, particularly with someone who like me grew up in Chicago's South Side. John felt that too, and at one point said, "It's not the South Side of Chicago." Other times he referred to growing up in the city, as we all did, and once said you couldn't see weather coming in the city but out there, you can.
Yes, Barbara and John, we've come a long and good way from Chicago's Hyde Park.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Golden times

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver, the other is gold.

That saying has real meaning for me tonight. My best friend from high school is visiting for the weekend. Barbara Bucknell and I even went to off to college in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, together. As she said tonight, she loved it and I hated it. Small town, really small, really strict school--and I was in love with a young man in Chicago. Barbara jumped in to the social life and loved it; I, being a bit shy, never did as well. We still have to have the discussion about what happened to our college roommates--I  remember the name of hers, but only the first name of mine!
Today Barbara is Barbara Bucknell Ashcraft, recently widowed, mother of five, grandmother of fourteen. She and a friend, Pam, came today from Jackson, Mississippi. Neither Barbara nor I are much on driving on the highway, so Pam is the angel that brought us together.
We picked up right where we left off. Barbara's beloved husband, Don, used to complain that all we ever talked about when we got together--there have been lots of visits over the years--was things that happened in the past. I hope he was listening tonight, because all we talked about was children and grandchildren. We really caught up on each other's families, although we semi-keep up all along. I think it's wonderful that our friendship has endured for over fifty years. I was in Barbara's wedding party, and she and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary a couple of years ago. We have so many ties, so many common memories--and yes, those come out over a glass of wine too. Some funny, some nostalgic, all treasures.
Tonight was also my memoir class, a class where we've agreed what is said there goes no farther. But the class willingly invited Barbara and Pam to sit in. Pam faded midway through and excused herself, but Barbara stayed, participated in the comments, and said she enjoyed the whole thing immensely.
And of course guests give me a good chance to cook. Tonight it was black bean soup with feta and fesh cilantro--colorful and good. I had made some of Jacques Pepin's fromage fort (strong cheese) and I spread it on a portobello mushroom and broiled it, then cut it in small wedges. Great appetizer, if a bit garlicky.
All in all a lovely evening. I'm basking in a happy golden glow. I guess maybe it's all golden, because we are in our golden years. Who would ever have believed when we were going to church together as teenagers that we'd still have so much in common and be so compatible almost sixty years later. I'm tempted to quote one of my mom's favorite sayings: "The Lord works in mysterious ways!"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Writing as discovery

I've talked about pantsers vs. plotters before, but essentially pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They don't plot--they just plunge in and see where it goes. I'm a pantser and, as I wrote recently, that habit often leaves me adrift in the broken middle of a manuscript. But the other day I confidently told Fred, my beta reader, that I had been writing the "climactic" scene of my work-in-progress. Of course when I got back to it, I found that just summarizing the remainder of the events was not going to do at all. I hadn't really finished writing the book. I had at least a chapter and an epilogue to go.So yesterday, I wrote over 2500 words--I didn't really keep count--and I burned myself out on it. This morning, as I lay in bed contemplating getting up and starting the day (I do that a lot) I realized that I had to milk that final action scene--there were a lot of details I hadn't accounted for and some things that could heighten the suspense and also add to the emotion, even the humor. But I'm not ready to go back to that work yet. I think that's a good sign--it's percolating on the back burner in my brain.
Meantime, I started reading a novel I'd written after Skeleton in a Dead Space. I wasn't getting much encouragement with Skeleton, and I felt the need to be writing something. When Turquoise Morning Press enthusiastically accepted Skeleton, I put the new work aside, polished the one they contracted for, and went back to the sequel I'd also started. The new work languished, and in my mind it became more amateurish, the protagonist more of a Pollyanna. The more I was distanced from it, the less enthusiastic I became.
Well, last night I started re-reading that work, and you know what? I kind of like it? I see a lot of work to be done on it, mostly cutting which is a problem because it's already on the short side. But I'm making notes and correcting small things as I go along. But Kate isn't a Pollyanna--she's a singlel woman in her thirties with a background. I can't judge about amateurish--who can judge their own work? But I'm kind of hooked on reading it. I intended it to be a culinary mystery, but I'll sure have to beef up that aspect and, yes, I think I'll add recipes. That thought makes me miss my dear friend Reva, for she could tell me how to cook turnip greens and poke sallet and chicken-fried steak and the other delicacies that they servce in a small-town East Texas cafe. After all, I'm not sure Paula Deen could make  decent chicken-fried steak!
Of course, there's that old question: is it better to continue a series or take off in a new direction? I'll worry about that tomorrow!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Frogs and snails, and puppydog tails

I've been trying to recall the mischief my boys got  into. They accuse me often of just not remembering their squabbles and tricks. I do still have the mental image of Colin who at about 18 mos. covered himself thoroughly with corn starch or baby powder or some similar white stuff--I can see him standing in the hall, a dusty white ghost. At about the same time he stuck one foot in the commode and flushed, watching intently--I did get a picture of that. And the time Jamie wrote on the wall--but what child doesn't do that? Jamie was always into something, from stepping in every puddle he could find to dragging home a stray cat by the tail. But in my mind they really weren't mischievous.
I had a lesson in inventive mischief this weekend, with three little boys, ages 5-7, running loose Sunday morning. When they were supposedly playing with the dogs in the backyard, they took Scooby, my big old Aussie who was muddy, into the guest house--forbidden and unfamiliar territory for him. They proceeded to freeze wet balls of toilet paper in the small fridge out there. Then they froze acorns and leaves and finally they filled an ice cube tray with mud and froze it. Megan defrosted and cleaned, bless her! Then she swept out the mud they'd tracked in.
If those boys went in and out the back door once, they did so a thousand times. My alarm system does a little jingle when a door is opened and closed--I find it nice for monitoring Jacob but yesterday the system seemed to sing all morning. Muddy dogs streaked into the house, Sophie once making right for her favorite chair in the living room, followed by my two screaming daughters. If someone let her in wherever Ford was, he began to scream because she jumped on him--well, of course she did: he was screaming. The boys climbed on tables, rode the ancient trike at breakneck speed, and chased each other. They had a wonderful time, punctuated of course by quarrels and spells of yelling at each other. The quietest thing they did was to pore over those advertising inserts that come in the Sunday paper, pointing out toys for their Christmas lists: "I want that . . . and that . . . and that" until each boy had a list of dozens of items. I never did find out who smashed rocks on the porch steps by the driveway, creating a white powdery dust I did not want tracked into the house. You've never seen such expressions of innocence. And Jacob opened the driveway gate and went out to talk to a neighbor--I didn't even know he knew how to open it, but now that he does, it's forbidden.
In retrospect they were adorable and wonderful and fun; at the time, maybe not so much:-)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Family days

Whew! Family days are wonderful, and I bask in having them all around me. But they are exhausting too. This afternoon I had three grandsons ages 5-7, and one wild excited puppy. Tonight we all went to Joe T.'s for dinner--six adults and five children--well, Maddie at twelve hardly counts as a child. But Joe T.'s is noisy, and though I turned my hearing aids on the setting that was most meant to block out extraneous noise, I could only catch words, not the thread of a conversation. Some folks find it fashionable to say  that the food at Joe T.'s is sub-par and its only attraction is habit and luxurious grounds. Not so--I think it's all good, and I sop up too much of it. Cheese enchiladas in a mild tomato sauce--I love to mush my refried beans into that sauce. Those wonderful cheese nachos--okay, I scrape the chillies off but I still love them. Great guac, and tonight I liked the tacos, though I often pass them by. They didn't seem as greasy tonight.  Somebody at our table ordered sopapillas, and I loved the sweet--the sopapillas weren't particularly crisp but the honey/cinnamon combination was great. All in all a good meal. The kids clustered around Jamie, as kids are wont to do, and it s a wonder he got any dinner. He was, as always, impeccably dressed, and I worried about about all those greasy young handprints on his jacket. But, hey, that was his problem.
It was a semi-lazy, semi-frantic day. Sawyer and Ford were around until about ten--into everthing, curious, questioning, full of it. They left about ten and I had about an hour of peace before i took Sophie to training class--always an anxious time for me. Lesson went well. In fact, I feel we made some progress. And then home to a blessedly empty house--lunch and a nice nap. And then it was time to go to dinner.
So it's been a very different day from my usual routine, and I'm grateful for the change, the confusion, the happy voices, the joy. Tonight I have Megan and her family in the guest house and Jordan and Jacob in the guest room--love to have some of my chickens under my roof at night.

Friday, November 04, 2011

There's something about Fridays

Today I felt like a balloon--if you let a little bit of air (or energy) out of me, I'd collapse in a puddle on the ground. I was home after errands early, had an early lunch and a nice nap--the kind where the alarm comes as a grand intrusion when it's time to get up and go get Jacob from school. After Jordan picked up Jacob, I went back to bed for a second nap. Never did really sleep, just dozed, but I was so comfortable I had to make myself get up, feed the dogs and myself. It's a nice lazy feeling, and I'm wondering how many of you find Fridays give you that sense? I think I had some obligation every night this week, plus I was trying to write furiously and I have come to a stopping point on that--not finished but much more comfortable with where I am. So maybe that's why I'm like a deflated balloon tonight, but it's a nice feeling, and I intend to enjoy it.
My Austin kids--Megan Brandon and the two boys, Sawyer and Ford--are probably about at Hillsboro now on their way to Fort Worth, so it won't be that lazy a weekend. But I'm looking forward to it. I think life will keep getting busier between now and the holidays, so I can enjoy an evening of laziness. Hope you are too.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sleep while you solve problems--yours and others

Mystery author Sandra Parshall (Under the Dog Star, The Heat of the Moon, and others) recently wrote about her method of working on knotty plot problems. Before she goes to sleep, she fixes her mind firmly on the problem and often wakes aware of the solution, the direction the plot should take. Well, I had recently written myself into a corner in the broken middle of my novel--I was moving along with the crime, only I didn't know who was the villain or why he or she was doing things. Major problem at 50,000 words. I've always had vivid dreams and remembered them clearly the next day, so I thought Sandy's method was a shoe-in for me. Years ago I used to dream articles and novels and short stories, but I rarely remembered them or the "perfect" way they worked in my dream. Unlike a lot of people, I don't keep a pad and paper by the bedside--I'm afraid what I write would be gibberish, and I don't want to wake up enough to turn on the light and write intelligibly.
Sandy's method was not a shoe-in at all. I tried it for two nights and woke as puzzled as ever. Then I got a stomach bug in the evening which kept me awake and in and out of bed for too much of the night. In between trips, I'd doze and found myself writing the entire end of the book, inventing characters--one really great one, sketching out scenes. Next morning, I got up, wrote it all down, and it really held together. Sleep therapy or whatever had worked. Of course, after I fed the dogs, checked my email and took a quick look at the Sunday paper, I was back in bed by 8:30.
But I was so elated by my success that I didn't write for two days. Then, yesterday, I began to write and the story came tumbling out of my brain and onto the computer. I've now written the climactic scene and simply have the wrap-up to do. Granted, it's a first draft, and I have a lot more work ahead of me, but I am so relieved to know how the story works out.
As my mother always told me, all things work to some good end. In this case, there was a plus side to having a stomach virus. Not that it's going to become my preferred way of plotting. But sleeping might be.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Book Clubs Book Buzzed and some pictures

Here's the Halloween mask I didn't wear last night--susan made it and I think it's wonderfully clever. Note the blonde hair--but I do not have a moustache.
And here's how Sophie and Jacob spend their afternoons. A love affair for sure.
Years ago my friend Jane Roberts Wood had a novel, Train to Estelline, published by a small Texas press (run by friends of mine). The book took off and landed Jane contracts for future books with big national publishers--but I've always thought the reason was that Jane spoke to every book club in the Dallas area that she could find. If  you haven't read that novel, you should. It's available from UNT Press these days and is a classic of West Texas lit.
I've been following Jane's example and spoken to or booked as many clubs and groups as I can. I've spoken to a group at TCU where I sold nine books, a neighborhood group where I sold five or six, and tonight a group in the Fairmount neighborhood, setting of Skeleton in a Dead Space, where I chatted informally with five people and sold one book. They asked if I'd come back for the second book if they promised to have more people, and I assured them I'd not only come back, I'd remind them when it came out. It's not how many books you sell at any one of these meetings--it's the people you meet and get to know. If they like you and your book, they spread the word, and the grapevine grows. Marketing at its most basic level.
One of the women tonight said to me, "I love to get so involved in a book that I can't bear for it to end," and that's something for all authors to remember: create a world in your book that makes the reader want to stay in it. That's a big reason I write cozies--people like the cozy world with its absence of overt sex and violence.
A new website called bookbuzzed launched today (http://t.co/p8HRjoKm) and I was delighted to be the inaugural featured author, thanks to an arrangement made by my wonderful publisher, Turquoise Morning Press. The site urges people to publicize by tweeting on Twitter, and my fellow TMP authors were great about tweeting and retweeting. Bookbuzzed also gives away a free book and sends questions to the author throughout the day--what are you reading now? what's your favorite book? career if you weren't writing? dream vacation? character you most relate to in  your book? These questions are important, just like the book groups above, because they give readers a sense of you as a person, hopefully someone they like. That makes them want to read  your book.
So it's been quite a good book day and I wrote 1500 words on the third novel. Moving right along and feeling good about it.