Monday, December 31, 2012

The good kind of New Year's party

Jacob hosted a New Year's party this evening. Okay, it was his mom's idea, but she served six young children formally at the dining table--with my best china that I had given her. Confession: I did not mean her to serve six-to-eight year olds, and at least one mom was heard to say, "You're not serving my two-year-old on good china." But Jordan did it up proud, with carrot and celery stick appetizer in tiny glass cylinders on small plates; mac and cheese, hot dog bites in crescent rolls, and meatballs, plus chocolate pudding in flutes with the rims studded with multicolor shot. Jacob was very proud and told me he was the boss of the party. But he nearly pigged out on the chocolate/banana bread I was trying to slice beforehand--it did not slice well, and he picked up a huge piece and said, "This is a crumb. I'm so hungry!"
Normally I don't go to New Year's Eve parties--it's home in pjs for me. But tonight I really enjoyed myself. While the children ate, the adults gathered in small groups in the kitchen and noshed on a bunch of things from cheese and fruit to veggies and hummus, drunken meatballs, spanikopita, all kinds of good things.
I stayed just long enough--about an hour and a half. Had some wine, nibbled, talked with various of these young people all of whom I've known for years. They are so kind and welcoming, and I'm flattered to be included in their gatherings. When it was time for me to head home, I got warm hugs from them, and I came away thinking, "Now I want to visit longer with this one and that." I had a good chat with Christian's sister who is in graduate school and has moved her husband and two girls into student housing--she says, "We live in the dorm." But I am so proud of her. One of Jordan's friends married a history teacher--high school--this past year, and I so enjoy talking to him but we get distracted. A group of us had an intense conversation about first-grade homework--wow!
I was barely in the door at home when the phone rang--Jordan checking to be sure I got safely home. I took back roads and figured it was too early for drunks to be out. Many of the people at Jordan's will spend the night there rather than brave the roads.
So now Sophie and I are settled in for the night. I wish for each of you a healthy and happy 2013. I don't know that there's anything more important than that. For our fragile planet, I have so many wishes--peace, an end to global warming, an increased guardianship of what the earth gives us, an end to senseless gun massacres, an end to bigotry and hatred. That's a tall order but maybe in 2013 we can take more baby steps toward that. I do believe we grow a little better each year, not worse, and I can only look forward with positive hope.
A P.S. I can't resist: Jacob said the other day, "I kind of wish we weren't having the party. I'd like some of that melty cheese Juju made last year." I'd forgotten that he spent New Year's Eve with me last year, and I fixed cheese fondue! I've promised to make it for our Twelfth Night Supper when we, following family tradition, each throw a twig of greens into the fireplace and make a wish. Do you know how hard it is to find someone with a live green tree these days?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Home again, home again

Not sure why my family feels compelled to make weird faces at a camera
Oblivious of the camera--at a restaurant, drawing on the kids' menus
I'm back from almost a week-long visit with my oldest son and his family in Kingwood, north of Houston. A good time--my Houston grandkids have now been around me more and are more open about hugging and loving. They really seemed excited to see me, which delighted me. Watched them jump on the Christmas trampoline, demonstrate karate sidekicks (wicked), draw, and be silly. Had some good visits with my son--like any mother I'm so very proud of him but not above suggesting a thing or two. Colin is an accountant, so once again we discussed my finances and figured out where I am which he says is better than I think it is. I will remain penurious. Lisa, my daughter-in-law, really didn't feel good all week--recovering from the gift of flu from one of her seventh-grade students. I did a lot of computer work, got a book read (couldn't put it down) and reviewed, wrote a proposal for a novel. Somehow being away from home frees me from all those small chores and allows me to focus on some bigger things.
We shared Christmas Day with Lisa's parents, who are good friends of mine. Torhild brought Norwegian hamburgers for Christmas Eve--a family tradition--and John helped with the dinner. Colin flattered me by specifying I was to make the gravy--and it did turn out well if I do say so. The rest of the week I had a fondness for dressing covered with gravy, and I nearly cried this morning when they threw it all out. I had salvaged turkey so I could have a sandwich on the way home.
Christmas Day was a bit marred by tornado warnings in the morning--the sirens went off--and power outages in the evening due to high winds. Power would go off, then come back on, then go off.  We didn't get any of Fort Worth's lovely snow--it was just wet and cold.
Jordan and Jacob came down Thursday, and the cousins were wild--I should know, because I got to babysit them Friday morning. Colin thought he was taking time off, but it just meant he came home at three instead of seven--still was up at five, cleaning the kitchen (he allows no one to touch is the night before, no matter how I itch to at least rinse the plates), going to work by 8:00.
Each time you visit one of your children, you get to know that family a little better--and I am aware of that after this trip. It's a good thing. I am also aware lately that my sons seem more solicitous of me--hope it's not that they sense my mortality or something. I think they're just good guys.
So Christmas is over for another year. I hear the talking about Santa Fe next year (it will be an all-Alter Christmas) which would delight me, though they love to tease and say, "You know, we'd all really like to take a cruise." They know I have a list of twenty reasons, some rational and some not, why I don't want to go on a cruise.
Tonight I'm grateful for a good week but glad to be home with Sophie and untangling my life and getting it in order again--no small task. I said something to Lisa this morning about fish and guests, and she was puzzled so I had to explain that both grow old in three days.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Once a day is not enough

If an ideal world, I would tell you I do my yoga routine once a day. Truth is, I'm doing well if I do it four times a week--as with a lot of other things such as writing, life gets in the way. What with Christmas and family and cooking and excitement, I didn't do any workout Sunday through Tuesday. Yesterday, Wednesday, when I did my routine I could feel how tight my muscles were and how good it felt to stretch and twist and loosen things up. My yoga routine was designed for me by my teacher--she knows what I'm capable of and what I shouldn't try. I can't, for instance, ever do a full plank because my old feet just won't bend that way; but I can do a half plank and do mini-push-ups in that position. And I can do some poses I'm pretty proud to have accomplished. Just can't remember the name of anything but boat. Elizabeth, who is tenant, friend, and yoga teacher, always pushes me to go farther: if I can hold boat for a count of twenty, I should begin to hold it for a count of thirty. Is she kidding? One thing I cannot do is sit and clasp the bottom of one foot with that leg flat on the floor--too many years (my entire professional life) spent at a desk have irreversibly shortened my hamstrings or whatever those muscles are. I've been doing yoga four years, more or less, and I still can't come close to straightening either leg. When I sit with legs flat on the floor, I can reach maybe mid-calf, and that hurts.
No matter, until today I felt quite righteous about my physical routine.Then I read an article on Facebook about recent research entitled "Don't Just Sit There." (see it here: A research study has suggested that if you sit at a desk all day and then get up to exercise in the evening, you're still not getting the benefits of movement--.and you'll find it hard to lose weight. (Amen! I can testify!) It suggests getting up at least twice an hour to move about and taking phone calls standing up instead of sitting.
I thought about my daily routine and because, as I said, life gets in the way, I don't really sit at a desk all day. That's another ideal world that, for me, doesn't exist. I always have errands to run; there's the dog to care for, play with, let in and out; there are meals out with friends; and then there's my daily trip to the elementary school, and believe me, when Jacob's in the house, I don't sit still: I'm up getting snacks, homework supplies, etc. I'd get more written if I did sit at a desk all day. And I suspect during those rare times when I am at my desk for two or three hours, I get up once or twice an hour--a trip to the bathroom or hungry or thirsty or check the laundry.
How about you? Are you sedentary for hours? Maybe at a desk? Reading a book? Watching TV?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Twas the Day after Christmas

And just as the day should be--long and slow and lazy, a time for recharging. I did a tiny bit of work--polished a proposal and a book review and sent them off. I fiddled on Facebook and even thought for a change I'd go to Pinterest. I almost never do that because you get stuck on it forever--it's addictive. But today it was almost all photos of classic movie stars. Nice but I could scroll through pretty fast. So I dove into the new Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle, Holiday Buzz. Spent an enjoyable evening reading. Just not ready to get back into the routine of the real world, though several projects beckon.
Going to read a bit more, go to sleep early. Sweet dreams, everyone. I hope you too recharged your batteries. Sorry for those who had to rush back to work early this morning. Once again, something that makes me realize how fortunate I am.
LIfe is good--grab it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How far does your Chrismtas spirit go?

We've had a lovely, family Christmas with all the trimmings--"out" presents and stockings for excited kids,and thoughtful stocking gifts for adults, a lazy big breakfast, and then an attack on the mountain of gifts undere the tree. Seven-year-old Morgan told me tonight it's the best Christmas she's ever had. Dinner was early--turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, a new version of green bean cassereole--nobody wanted apple pie. Now, at eight, it feels like midnight and the house is quiet.
I kow there are many who did not share these blessings of Christmas, many for whom this day was just like to many others or worse--perhaps they were lonely, hungry, cold, frightened. A disturbing incident that happened to my daughter and her family has set me thinking about those less fortunate--and how you know who is real and who is a scammer. It's a cycnical attitude but symptomatic, I fear, of the times in which we live.
They were coming home from midnight services, delayed first by the need to wait while ambulance attendants cared for a woman who fainted toward the end of the service (it's always crowded and it gets hot in there--easy to faint at this season of too much stress and fatigue), then by a wreck. I'm not sure I have the story straight but a tow truck followed them home--perhaps from the wreck?--and into their driveway. A woman got out and asked for money. They had their six-year-old with them and reacted as any parents would I think--with fright and concern for the child, and for themselves. They closed the electric gate and the garage doors, bolted all the doors and turned on the alarm system (what a world we live in!). Sorry to say I think I would have called the police--my neighborhood association has trained me well that it's better to be suspicious than a victim (again, what a world!).
But for some reason, hearing this tale today, I thought of Halloween and the trick-or-treaters who came to my front porch. I was touched and delighted by the mothers who said to children who grabbed, "No, no, only one piece." And I was slightly outraged by the mothers--and a couple of grandmothers--who grabbed handfuls for themselves. Until someone said to me, "Judy, perhaps that is all they had to eat that day" and anger turned to curiosity, open to the possibility that compassion was called for.
I live across the street from an elementary school and occasionally harried parents block my driveay. It's rude and inconsiderate, and it makes me angry. I expressed that to the crossing guard one day when I went to pick up Jacob and he said, "She's handicapped. I told her it was okay. Told her you don't ever go anywhere this time of day." Of course I don't--I'm doing first-grade homework. I felt humble--and a bit humiliated.
So how do you know, especially with all the horrific tragedies of the last few weeks, when the need is real and compassion is the answer and when caution is the prudent expedient. Remember when the initials WWJD were popular--what would Jesus do? What would he have said to the woman in the tow truck? I'm afraid I'd have reacted just as my kids did and probably also called the police...and then I'd have spent a sleepless night worrying about whether or not I had done the right thing. Maybe she had hungry kids at home or she wanted money to buy at least one small Christmas surprise. We'll never know.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all,
and to all, a Good Night!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Larry L. King--a small tribute

I didn’t know Larry L. King well. In fact, in later years, I had to re-introduce myself to him every time I saw him. But I had the pleasure of working with him on several projects when I was director of TCU Press, and it really was a pleasure. Sure, I found him to be everything his obituaries say he was—larger than life, hard-drinking, hard living (though by most of the time I knew him  those days were over), and loud. I still remember standing in the hallway on the top floor of what was then, I think, the Texas Hyatt Hotel and cringing with embarrassment while he bellowed at the top of his lungs, “This is the goddamndest worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in!” And there was the night someone convinced the then-director of the press (thank heaven, not me) to pay an outrageous sum of money so we could bring Larry to Fort Worth to speak for an evening. Ten people showed up, and the book review editor from the newspaper fell asleep—a fact that Larry did not allow to stay secret. Yes, he had an ego—what writer doesn’t?—and he craved an audience, preferably a paying one. But he was one of the good guys.

The only major project I worked on with him was Larry L. King: A Writer’s Life in Letters, or Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye. It’s a remarkable book, and I recommend it for a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a truly complex man. He was a prolific correspondent and kept carbons—remember those things on onion-skin paper?—of every letter he wrote. After he donated all his papers—an unbelievable number of cartons—to the Southwest Writers Collection housed at Texas State University-San Marcos, he and Richard Holland collaborated to compile this collection of letters. Larry lived in D.C. since the 1950s and worked with Democratic politicians, knew the political scene, and was astute about it, as shows in many of his letters and some other writings, like the play The Dead Presidents’ Club. But he never forgot the West Texas of his childhood; it was the place that gave him identity and his strong identification with the Odessa-Midland area gave rise to some of his best writing, including many of the letters in this collection. They reveal a warm, tender, outrageously funny side to this man as he recounted, with love and irony, stories of his family and of his growing-up years. Some of his best essays also spring from his deep knowledge of the people of this region, their likes, prejudices, fears and joys.

When Willie Morris died, Larry wrote a heartfelt tribute to his old friend—no, not an obituary--a whole book. He sent it to TCU Press, and I spent a long weekend reading the manuscript and making editorial suggestions. Ultimately it went to a bigger, more prestigious press (that paid better than we ever could) but Larry wrote a kind letter of appreciation for my work and suggestions—and he sent me a signed copy of the book.

There were other, smaller crossings of our paths: once I was so bold to ask, and he blurbed a book for me. We re-published one of his plays—The Golden Shadows Old West Museum, based on a short story by Mike Blackman. He was the first emcee of the celebrity dinner at the Texas Book Festival, and he made a rousing good time out of what has become now a much tamer  event. From time to time, I saw him at later festivals. At every turn, I found him, under that bluff surface, to be a good, kind, and caring man.

I suspect in later life the hard living of his early years caught up with him—his obituary says emphysema—and I’m sorry about that. RIP Larry L. King. You brought a lot of humor and common sense to politics and to our view of Texas and Texans. You done good!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Best party of the season

Probably the best party I went to all this season--the first-grade Christmas party in Jacob's classroom at Lily B. Clayton Elementary. They watched The Polar Express and got to wear their jammiese to school. Jacob carried his fuzzy blanket but his mom said no to the pillow pet. Still I saw some one little girl lugging a huge pillow and an equally large stuffed toy.
The hour-long party at the end of the day was in the classroom--parents and grandparents invited. Mass confusion. There were four activity tables--decorate a cookie (Jacob devoured the one above just after a fellow grandparent took the picture), color a snowman with cotton to glue on for his beard and hair (Jacob declined to take his artistic creation home), bingo played with M&Ms (they ate all the M&Ms and started over), and a table for making reindeer food. There was also face painting--maybe you can see the reindeer on his cheek. Lots of sugar, lots of yelling, excited children. I'm afraid the teacher had to stay until suppertime to clean up, but everyone had a wonderful time. It convinced me I could not teach first grade though I was most impressed by the learning charts and decorations in the classroom. It's a cheerful, lively environment with a reading corner, reached by climbing stairs, a rocking chair for the teacher. Fun, but I was glad to come home.
That followed a delicious lunch at the new Magnolia Cheese Company. I had something called Happy Cheddar Turkey on five-grain bread--it was small but delicious, had aoili and other things I couldn't identify--served with kale chips, which were really good. It was our annual Christmas celebration lunch for Melinda (TCU Press production manager) and me, so we each had a glass of wine. Nice space, a fascinating counter of cheeses, good food and several sandwiches I wanted to try, like the Twisted Spaniard--ham and brie. But it was pricey and the service was slow. They may work that out when they've been open a little longer.
And here's the scene when Jordan came to pick up Jacob. She had a lap full:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Vine: good Greek food--and great hospitality

This is sort of a post for Fort Worth friends because it's about a local restaurant, but my experience there tonight says a lot about the importance of gracious hospitality in a restaurant. Two friends and I had our annual Christmas dinner at The Vine, a relatively new, small Greek restaurant on West Seventh, just west of Montgomery Ward Plaza on the north side of the street. I'd seen it reviewed favorably, but I'd heard it described as a hole in the wall. It's not really, but neither is it one of the sleek modern places that have so taken over the So7 area. Don't get me wrong--I like Patrizio's, Terra, and others, but this was a mom-and-pop operation in a small but bright, clean space. Pop was very visible; didn't see Mom.
Our first faux pas--we walked in unbashadely carrying our own bottles of wine because we heard it was BYOB . Wrong--they have wine on the menu! I apologized to the owner when he seated us and he said no problem, graciously brought wine glasses and opened our wine. I assured him next time, we'd drink his wine.
We studied the menu--all kinds of things I love: spanikopita, dolmades (in tomato sauce--new to me), keftedes (meatballs), saganaki (notice I got stuck on the appetizers). Several varieties of kebobs, pastitso , moussaka, Greek salad. More than I could possibly contemplate.
We ordered--my friends both ordering chicken kebobs which seemed to me to waste the experience of good Greek food. I ordered two appetizers--spanikopita and dolmades--and it was way more than I could eat. The owner took our order and was graciousness personnified.
We chatted, had a lot to catch up on, though it finally dawned on me that it was taking a long time for our food to arrive. Between chatting, we watched the presentation of saganaki (flaming cheese) which my friends had never seen. I've had it several times and seeing it made me wish we'd ordered it. After what seemed forever, the owner, a tall,dignified man, appeared at our table to apologize. He himself forgot to turn in the order. He would comp the dolmades if we could wait five more minutes. We assured him we could and that comping that one appetizer wasn't necessary--it was part of my meal. When he came back, after we'd finished, to present the checks, he said he was giving us a 20% discount because of his mistake.
As we left he ushered us out, still apologizing with grace and dignity. We assured him we'd be back.
Carol, who had once chatted with him, said he's a retired engineer, worked at Lockheed and complained about the lack of really good Greek food in Fort Worth. So when he retired it was time to put up or shut up. I think and hope that he'll succeeed, and I sure intend to go back, not just because the food was good but because he was so nice to us. And no, I won't take my own wine next time-how gauche!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday blues

I have a friend who, when asked how she is, replies cheerfully, "I have my usual holiday neuroses" (she has good cause but that's another story). Lots of people suffer from the blues in one form or another during the holiday season--maybe it's loneliness, maybe it's remembering holidays past and fearing this year won't be as good. I suspect for too many the holidays are tinged with bad memories--sad events, dysfunctional families, you name it.
I am blessed in that I have nothing but happy memories of the Christmas holidays--from my own childhood, from the years when my children were young (we celebrated Hanukah and Christmas with four children--if you don't think that takes logistics, think again). There was the year one of the kids found the hidden presents and showed the others--they all agreed it ruined Christmas. There were Hanukah suppers with latkes and a friend's father who used to peel dollar bills off a huge roll and hand them to the children. There was that unbelievable mountain of presents under the Christmas tree every year. When the children were older, I took them to Santa Fe for several years and even after they married Christmas meant Santa Fe to us. In recent years we've alternated--Alter Christmas one year, Alter Thanksgiving the next, and we've gone different places--like a trip to Breckenridge when everyone got sick--not so much fun but even some pleasant memories out of that. And this year I have Jacob and the magic of the Elf on the Shelf, and I'm looking forwarad to being with other grandchildren.
But somehow this year I feel my old friend anxiety hovering just under the surface. Maybe it does that every year and I just don't realize it. Or maybe this year is different. A couple of weeks ago I woke in high anxiety worrying about a speaking engagement in January--for Pete's sake, why now? I can worry about that in January. Recently I had another bout with the "I can't walk from here to there" kind of anxiety following what I thought was going to turn out to be a debilitating nosebleed--I did finally get it under control, and I'm sure it was due to cold weather and dry heat. And I had in-the-night anxiety after Newtown, but who in this entire country didn't? But I figure two steps backward demands at least one step forward, and I'm working on it.
The good thing is that I find myself these days better able to deal with anxiety, to recognize it for what it is, and to know that it will pass. I'm not always sure analyzing what is behind it is a good idea, and I don't try. I'm learning to say that's how I am--other people have allergies or stomach problems or migraines: I have anxiety.
And it hasn't stopped me from enjoying the holidays--a lovely lunch at a boutique hotel, a warm and caring get-together with some members of my memoir class (and the best food--thank  you, Anne Kane), dinner tonight with Betty, lunch with old friends. My life is full, and I feel truly blessed. Get thee behind me, anxiety.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Moving on but never letting go

I sense a subtle shift in mood in the media, maybe even in the people now that Newtown is five days behind us and the absolute shock is wearing off. We have too often grieved over tragedies for a few days, while they were prominent in the media, and then moved on. This time is different. We will never ever forget the children of Sandy Hook, but we are moving on. The media is beginning, slowly of course, to cover other subjects, and the national mood is turning toward dealing with the issues raised by this tragedy.
I read that Senator Diane Feinstein intends to introduce a bill on the first day of the legislative session proposing banning assault rifles and large magazine clips (I may not even get the terminology right here). Some conservatives are also proposing sensible gun control measures, including restoring the ban on assault rifles which Congrees, to their shame, let expire without action.
There is also a lot of attention being paid to mental health. The letter known as "I am Adam Lanza's mother" has gone viral on the internet and the author appeared on the TODAY show. She emphasized the helplessness of families, a feeling I'm sure Nancy Lanza knew only too well as she tried to deal with her disturbed son. Perhaps her mistake (in addition to stockpiling weapons) was to keep her trials a secret. One of the lessons we must learn is to wash away the stigma of mental health. We cannot deal with what is hidden in the closet.
Another facet of the whole problem is raising its head--the violence that pervades our culture on TV and in the movies. I see it in some of my grandchildren who accept violence as a part of life. Too often, on cartoons, they see people shot, fall down, only to rise again. Censorship is an ugly word; self-censorship is strength, but profit and greed too often rules the day.
Of course the past weekend brought out the worst in some people, like the Texas legislator (of course it would be Texas) who proclaimed that what we need is more guns and the people who advocate arming teachers. And then there's the appalling story of a man who said on Sunday, "Get the nigger off TV. We wanat to watch football," when major networks pre-empted programming to show President Obama's talk in Newton. I hope that story isi apocryphal but probably it illustrates that deep vein of hatred that runs throughout our nation.
No, we will never forget but we are beginning to work together toward healing by taking action. I so hope I am not wrong in saying this time we really will look at ourselves as a nation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Poignant letter to Santa

Over this long weekend, I have wondered how many elves in Newtown were left on the shelf. That little elf has wormed his way into our Christmas celebration big time and consumed much of my attention over the weekend. Jacob's traveling elf (he has two) came to my house and demonstrated he is magic by flying during the night from Jacob's bed to the Christmas rosemary tree on the coffee table. And he confirmed that magic by taking a picture of himself and putting it on my computer.
So tonight Jacob dictated a long letter to Santa. It was in truth a series of "I want, I want." He wants to see Rudolph, to keep Boogie (the traveling elf) after Christmas, to see Donner and Blitzen and Mrs. Claus again and Santa through the window on Christmas Eve. He says his main elf, Jack, isn't very funny and could Santa please make him funnier, and he says he has been a good boy this year.
It strikes me as the strangest of contradictions that this child, who sometimes knows his way around the computer better than I do and certainly understands the cell phone better, also believes so firmly in Santa and the magic of elves. It is a great gift--to him and to those of us who love him.
But writing the letter almost made me cry all over again, thinking of the children who won't write their letters this year and those who may write but their faith is shattered and their innocence gone. One more reminder that this tragedy, horrific at any season, is just a bit worse, if that's possible, at the time of year that is all about children in most faiths and, for Christians, about welcoming the Christ child.
Our former minister wrote in his blog today that if we have a candle of joy to light, we should light it today because life is fragile. I think spending my evening writing Jacob's letter instead of reading the galleys I should be proofing is my way of lighting that candle. But we will never forget the children of Sandy Hook, the letters they won't write, the elves who sit quietly on shelves no longer flying.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown

I didn't blog last night. There was nothing to say, and as one friend put it, I was rattled. There is still nothing to say, nothing we can do to ease the pain of the people of Newtown. We can send prayers and thoughts to those who lost loved ones; we can send donations to the mental health services of Newtown for counseling for survivors. But for a long time, none of it matters. There are families for whom there will be no Christmas this year and life will never again be the same. I cannot wrap my mind around the agony of sending a child off to school and then learning that he or she will never be coming home again.
Almost all that can be said has been said on Facebook--and some that should never be said. Like a declaration that there always has been evil in the world and always will be. Really? Should we just sit back and accept massacres in public places as a fact of life? Or, even worse, the pronouncements that the reason this happened is because there is no prayer in schools. That insults the God I believe in. I do think a moment of quiet in school would be appropriate so that each child could pray or meditate in the religion in which they are being raised. But the folks who bring this up mean Christian prayer, and that is wrong in our increasingly diverse culture. And I was outraged by a columnist who suggested that in his news conference President Obama faked tears. The hatred in this country runs so deep it's no wonder we have mass killings.
Sensible public opinion seems to come down to two things: mental health and gun control. The first is tricky. How do you legislate mental health, which to my mind includes the deep vein of hatred? Apparently we can't rely on family and friends to identify a problem and seek help. But we can't institute laws whereby I could say, "You know, so-and-so isn't acting right" and cause "so-and-so" all kinds of grief. It's called invasion of privacy or violation of civil rights. But somehow we have to get a handle on this problem of young men (for the most part) who harbor such irrational anger at the world that they kill strangers in large numbers.
Gun control is almost easier, except it's not. The NRA and its lobbyists are powerful and have deep pockets. Legislators who tabled consideration of extending the ban on assault weapons should hang their heads in shame. There is no reason for citizens to have assault weapons. Apparently none was used yesterday--I got into a long Facebook thread about what kind of weapon was used, until I finally threw up my hands and asked, "What the hell does it matter? Children are dead." I hope President Obama will show as much courage and determination in dealing with this problem as he is showing about the fiscal cliff. Now is the time for action, while the public is outraged. The NRA has held us hostage long enough.
Personally I would ban all guns, except perhaps hunting rifles, though I was amused today when someone pointed out that hunters only shoot at things who can't shoot back. So do terrorists who kill young children. Yes, there will always be illegal handguns but the more we can control, the better. I was appalled to read this morning that a Texas school district has armed its teachers. Wrong solutioin, so wrong.
Last night I shared a post of statistics about deaths by guns in this country compared to the number in other "civilized" countries. Apparently, the statistics were hopelessly out of date, and I apologize (one of the dangers of Facebook). But it is still true that more people in this country are killed by guns than in any other country in the "civilized" world. Yesterday over twenty school children and a teacher in China were attacked by an assailant weilding a knife. No one died. If that doesn't speak volumes, I don't know what does.
There is still nothing to say. My heart is still broken as I think about the families in Newtown and as I watch six-year-old Jacob decorating a gingerbread man and think how precious he is. That's what this season should be about--joy and wonder--not death and grief that will never go away. No I don't think we as a nation are lost and beyond hope. But I do think it's past time we took a good long look at ourselves and then moved to action.
Happy holidays everyone, and as you hold our loved ones tight, remember the people of Newtown. They will never again be the same, and Christmas will always be bitter for them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One of those days

The photo I picked up today
along with a suitable frame
Today simply was not one of my better days. I set out early on a bunch of errands, so I'd be in plenty of time for a TCU Retirees Luncheon. Went to CVS, where there was some confusion--apparently I paid online for the prints I ordered but didn't realize it and tried to pay again. Nice that they're honest. Then on to my regular groceery store for the things I forgot yesterday. Next to Central Market where I buy my fresh meat--got a boneless pork shoulder roast for tomorrow's chili but they didn't have chicken livers. I wandered around th store in no particular order, looking for chutney, and managed to buy two chocolate bars that weren't what I wanted at all. Honest, I don't need chocolate--Jordan et al gave me chocolate covered orange peel and I have a freezer full of desserts. But it seemed like everything in Central Market moved at the speed of cold molasses. Then back to Albertson's for the chicken livers. At first they didn't seem to have any either but a nice butcher said they just got a truck last night and he would check--took him ten minutes, while I tried really hard to be patient, and he appeared with a pound of frozen chicken livers. I thanked him but said I really wish they were unfrozen--that truck will be there Satruday night late. Too late for me.
Everywhere I went there were slow drivers, hesitant drivers, construction that brought traffic to a dead halt. Finally got home with all my groceries and a bit of time to spare. Somehow that time got eaten up and I was late to the luncheon. Good thing I had elected to mee Jean there--she likes to linger and visit, and I'm out the door like a shot so I can nap before I get Jacob. But sitting there I suddenly had one of those "I can't walk from here to there" moments, so I worried about getting out of the building and to my car during what should have been a pleasant program--and was. And a delicious lunch--ate way too much chicken with a rich sauce and risotto. As it turned out a friend was also hurrying out, and I asked her to walk me to my car. Which makes me feel awkward, dumb, all those things. "Is it your inner ear?" she asked. "No," I said truthfully, "it's anxiety." Since she travels all over the world alone, I'm not sure she had a clue what I was talking about.
So glad to come home, get my nap,, and collect Jacob. But then we didn't have the spelling list...and the test is tomorrow. Jordan emailed it when she got home. Meanwhile we had reconstructed it as best we could from memory, which I thought was a good exercise. Then came math--Jacob and I had different interpetations of the assignment. I have absolutely no idea what skip counting is and I figured he'd been told in class but opted to leave it for his father--who was equally puzzled but thought I was right. Sad day when you can't do first-grade math.
So here I sit, having had a great salad for supper, prepared for a long lazy evening. All the ingredients for crockpot chili are on the counter, the table is set, and I've done what I can do. Tomorrow will be a better day.
When I think of all the horrible problems, physical and emotional, that so many people have I feel like a wimp for getting all in a snit about walking across an empty parking lot. But it happens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Grab bars and gracefully aging--or falling

The other night good friends gathered at my dinner table. As I often do, I felt a little out of the conversation--maybe my hearing, maybe the fact that my family and friends are loud and all talk at once, and I get drowned out. But suddenly the conversation turned to me and safety in the shower--and I no longer felt left out. I was clearly at the center of the talk. (Jordan later said, "I didn't know you fell in the shower. When did you do that?" I explained I haven't--they were anticipating to the point they almost scared me out of taking showers.) Did I have grab bars? No, I have a towel rack in the shower. Oh, that would pull right out of the wall--they haven't seen the cement used to secure it in this old house. How did I get out of the tub? I hold on to the towel rack on the back of the bathroom door and step onto a rug. That would never do--too flimsy. Where was my monitor? Hanging on the doorknob within easy reach. And there's a non-skid rubber mat on the bottom of the tub. No, I need grab bars--can't figure out where I would put them that they wouldn't just make it harder to get out of the tub, but I will ask the contractor next time he's here.
I have fallen three times in recent months--once tripping over a flipped-back rug, once tangling my feet in the dog's leash, and once simply not paying attention and missing a single step down. None of those have to do with age; they do have to do with not paying attention, a lifetime habit. In fact, Colin, my oldest, said he would forgive me that single step fall in Jamie's house because he himself almost missed it a few times.
I'm grateful to have the concern of these loving friends but I suddenly felt like the really old lady at the table--the next oldest person is twenty years younger than me, almost to the day. And I was not at all sure how I felt about being in that role--no, I knew. I don't like it. I don't feel any older than these friends.
Over Thanksgiving, my oldest daughter fell while running--she tripped, as she said, "over nothing." Bunged up her knee, broke her cell phone, and put her hands out to stop herself--wrong, wrong! I know to roll with a fall and have not--knock on wood--injured myself badly. But no one made Megan's fall the subject of a major discussion.
I really don't want to be the old lady in the room. But then I appreciate concern. A dilemma.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home for the holidays

As the holidays approach, I get sort of sentimental about Christmases gone by. I remember the days when I automatically expected my grown children home for Christmas. Sure, when they married, we alternated years with in-laws and frequently we went to Santa Fe, but still they sometimes had Thanksgiving and/or Christmas in my house. Those days are gone—my family has grown too large to fit comfortably in my house; their houses are larger, and I admit dinner for sixteen is an effort for me. It’s all part of changing family dynamics that have been on my mind lately.

I raised four children, as a single parent from the time they ranged in age from six to twelve—those years I call the “casserole years” when I was in the car chauffeuring more than I was out, years when I was still at the core of their world and I knew almost everything they did (okay, there were some stories I heard years later that singed my hair).

I remember what a great shock it was to me when I realized that my children, now scattered across Texas, were communicating with each other without going through me. One would tell me the other was traveling, and I would bristle: why hadn’t they told me? Or some such similar thing. I thought I was Telephone Central, just as I thought I was Holiday Central. But I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that they have their own families and their own loyalties—they love me, but I am not at the center of the universe.

Today I have seven grandchildren. Each in his or her own way shows me affection, but I know it’s not the same as when my children were those ages and I was the center of their world. I remember babysitting Jacob one night when he was maybe eight months old. He woke with a bad dream, so I rocked him and he clung to my chest tightly and eventually went to sleep there. I hadn’t had a baby sleep on my chest and so look to me for comfort in years and it brought tears of joy. But if his mommy had been there, he would have gone to her—no question about it. And I know as much time as I spend with Jacob and as much as he loves me, his parents are the center of his world. He’ll ask, “When are my mommy and daddy coming?” I can never nor would I ever intrude on that relationship. I’ve had my day and it was wonderful. Now I’m grateful that I am still so much a part of the family and still so loved by my children and grandchildren.

IF you ask me my priorities in life, I’ll tell you always I’m a mom and a grandmom first, then I’m an author, and my third role (in order of significance) used to be that I was a publisher. Today I’m grateful I have an independent life that doesn’t depend totally on my family—I rather imagine they’re grateful for that too.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Lighten Up, Folks

The other day I posted a short notice on how dismayed I am at the Facebook posts that exhibit a gut-level hatred of President Obama, a hatred that goes far beyond disagreement with his political philosophies and is instead aimed at the man as a person. He is our elected president and deserves respect as such. I find it personally offensive when people are that bitter...and at the core, I always supsect racism, though most would deny it.
Today I'm a bit dismayed in a lighter manner, but I've been following a thread critical of the attention being paid to the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge. I have seen such comments as "I thought we weren't part of England any more" and "Is this more important than the fiscal cliff?" In answer to the latter, not it's not, but it's a nice diversion.
In spite of the fact that we separated ourselves from the monarchy almost 250 years ago, most Americans are still intrigued by the pomp and circumstance of English royalty. Look at the way we have followed Queen Elizabeth's years on the throne, from her coronation to her marriage and the recent celebration of her sixty years (is that right?) on the throne. And isn't she wonderfully regal and yet at the same time sort of salt-of-the-earth real? I remember my daughter and I watching coverage of the funeral of Diana into the wee hours of the night, and most of us were, more recently, glued to the TV on the happy occasion of the wedding of Will and Kate, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We seem to like all the ceremony that goes with the monarchy and is missing from much of American life. So why not follow the pregnancy, rejoice with the young couple, and worry when Kate is dehydrated enough to be hospitalized. Sure, hundreds of young women in this country have severe, acute morning sickness and it doesn't make the headlines, but hey, she's married to the heir to the British throne, the last great glamorous monarchy (yes, there are others but they don't have the same allure).
And yes, the whole thing took a tragic turn for the worse with the death, an apparent suicide, of the nurse who fell for a hoax and released information about Kate's condition. The journalists' desperation to get information, by hook or crook, reinforces my point about worldwide interest in the pregnancy but it also says something dark about journalistic integrity. My prayers go with the family of the nurse. NOw that's tragic news, worth complaining about.
But why not let the pregnancy be in the news and not grouse about it? Makes me think people are just looking for something to complain about. So complain about hungry, sick children in this country, abandoned dogs and cats, abused wives, gay couples who can't marry, cancer and HIV patients, wars we shouldn't be involved in--there are any number of causes. And after you complain, go out and do something--contribute to a canned food drive, adopt an animal, there are any number of ways to help in this world. The Duke and Duchess provide a light moment of relief.
.In this season of joy, let's share Will andKate's joy and stop complaining. And, hey, act like grown-ups and stop hating the man who has the heavy burden of steeering this country through troubled waters.
Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A very good day

The moon and stars must be aligned just right today. One friend on Facebook said she feels like shouting "I love the world!" and others echoed similar sentiments, indicating it was a good day. Here in Fort Worth it was a beautiful sunny day--a little cool when Jacob and I set out this morning and a little windy, but, as a woman I used to know said, "it faired off" and was delightful.
Jacob was home one more day, though maybe he could have gone to school without infecting anyone. Yesterday I thought I was a failure as a grandmother and he would grow up remembering me as the mean one--yes, you have to do your spelling. "Turn off the TV and pay attention." "No, you may not open the front door and wave at your friends who are leaving school when you've been home sick all day." "No, you can't go out to the apartment to see Elizabeth. She hasn't had a flu shot." I will say to his credit, he forgot, went into the apartment, was there about two minutes and said, "I can't stay. Juju said I can't come out here." So they talked through the door. But when he left last night I felt it had not, to say the least, been one of our better days.
Today I had a wonderful companion who was sunshine, laughter and giggles all day. We ran the errands I'd been itching to do all week--the jeweler's for a watch battery, Michael's for votive candle holder (where in the attic are mine?), Staples for an ink cartridge and paper, the liquor store for wine to last over the holiday, and--the treat, the surprise!--McDonald's for a happy meal. Only we got there too early--they were still serving breakfast. He decided he wanted hotcakes and then was dismayed that they don't come with a toy. Jacob spent a good part of the afternoon in the yard playing with the dog. I looked out once and the two of them were huddled together, their backs against the outside wall of the apartment. So sorry I didn't get a picture. Tomorrow he goes back to school and then to his other grandparents' for the weekend. Yeah, I'm relieved--but I will miss him.
Other good things happened--a preview of a great review of Trouble in a Big Box, lunch with a friend I've known for forty years, talk to on the phone frequently, rarely see--a real treat, and plans beginning to come together for the book signing Monday night. Yes, world, I'm a happy camper too. Hope the moon and stars stay wherever they are!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The amazing Nancy Drew

Especially for her time--the fifties and sixties--Nancy Drew was an amazing young lady. She could swim, dance, hike, do all manner of things. As one reviewer at today's Nancy Drew Luncheobn said, she could do anything.  She had amazing survival skills, living through being shoved overboard on a cruise and being buried in a cave-in, among other disasters. For a young lady in a time when people didn't travel as freely as they do today, she was surprising well traveled--from the Netherlands to Arizona to Istanbul and other exotic places--in over 48 mysteries, she could do a lot of hopping around the world. Her mystery solving skills are beyind comparison; never mind that she relied on coincidence and lucky happenstance for a lot of her solutions. When us oldsters were reading her books way back then, we believed she could do all those things and that all those adventures could happen to her (we hadn't become cynical about the Cabot Cove Syndrome yet)--and we wanted to be Nancy Drew with her red convertible. In a room of over fifty women, only three had never read the books--and two of those just read their first to be on the discussion panel. Fascinating stuff, and it took many of us back a lot of years.
The menu at today's luncheon was pretty much from the fifties--high in carbs. There was Scarlet Slipper Raspberry Punch from The Scarlet Slipper Mystery; Crooked Banister Corn Bread from The Crooked Banister; Shadow Ranch Barbecued Beans from The Secret of Shadow Ranch (one of the earlier books); Mannequin Casserole from The Mysterious Mannequin; and Brass-Bound Trunk Candy from The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk. I didn't taste the punch but others said it was pretty good; the cornbread was just that--cornbread; the barbecued beans were really really sweet--what we in Texas call northern beans. They were made with two cans pork and beans, not from beans soaked overnight, and cooked only two hours. Good, if you like sweet beans--and I do. The main dish, Mannequin Casserole, was a melange of ground beef, macaroni shells, tomato sauce, creamed corn and cheese with onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. Good, but as a friend next to me said, "It's sort of what we call ghouash," and another said "It's like the Doris' Cassereole you make, Judy." Still, if I weren't on the small portion kick, I'd have gone back for more.
Presenters synopsized each book from which a recipe came but they were hard put to tie the recipe to the book--the cornbread was actually mentioned on a specific page in Crooked Banister, but the reviewer for Shadow Ranch could only surmise that when they packed a picnic lunch for a day's outing, it included the beans. And the reviewer for The Mysterious Mannequin, in which Nancy finds herself in Istanbul, guessed that it was based on a dish from that region of the world. Hmmm. With canned corn?
 The cookbook was originally compiled in 1973 by Carolyn Keene, the pen name used by the several authors who compiled the mysteries; a later version, Nancy Drew: Clues to Good Cooking was published in 2005 and was the book the recipes came from today.
Highlight came when Tracy Thompson read from Nancy Drew's Guide to Life which contains such gems (roughly paraphrased) as "If you see a bleeding injured man swimming toward your boat, be sure to stop and help him; he may be fleeing evil pursuers." Or, "Never disregard fine lines on a piece of paper--a microscope may reveal them to be fine printing."  Or "If you see something resembling a shark in the water, don't fret. It's more likely a small submarine operated by thieves." Words to live by.
Fun event, and now I think I even want to reread one of the books--don't I remember a title about a winding staircase? And another about an old clock? The friend next to me said she still has all thirty-six of her books. If you want to delve more deeply into Nancy and her history, there are scholarly books today, such as Nancy Drew and The Women Who Created Her, which I suppose talks about The Stratemeyer Syndicate that created not only Nancy but the Hardy Boys and other series. A great era in young-adult literature--and we got a welcome glimpse back into it today! Kudos to Susan Oakley, Shari Barnes, and Human Relations at TCU for a great luncheon .

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The flu, cabin fever, Nancy Drew, and the end of the world

Yesterday I said to Christian, "No, of course he doesn't have the flu. He'd feel a lot worse, achy, and his stomach would be involved." Well, that shows what a good diagnostician I am. Jacob has the flu, diagnosed by a nose swab at the doctor's office today--no wonder my brother always says, "Don't tell me if they feel hot; take the temperature." So Jacob and I are stuck with each other at least through tomorrow. He's still coughing, still has fever though lower, and is contagious. (Yes, I've had a flu shot, and I figure if I haven't gotten it by now--it started Friday when he spent the entire night breathing on me--I'm not going to; hope that's not faulty logic.)
Yesterday I had him all day; this morning he was at the doctor's most of the morning, and then Jordan came to let me keep a lunch date. And I had a good nap in the afternoon, so it wasn't hard. Tomorrow she'll come to let me take almost two hours to go to a luncheon at TCU. But Jacob and I are both tiring of each other's company, and we have cabin fever. I have a bunch of errands I'd like to get done, so I keep telling my compulsive self that the world won't end if I don't do them for a few days.
The luncheon tomorrow is one of a series sponsored by Human Rrelations and I'm looking forward to it. It's a Nancy Drew luncheon, with dishes made from recipes in the Nancy Drew Cookbook--who even knew there was such a thing? I only have one granddaughter young enough to be interested--the other two have outgrown Nancy Drew, though I don't think I did until I was twelve or so. Kids are so much more sophisticated today--blame it on social media, cell phones, iPads, and the like. That aside, I'm just interested in the whole Nancy Drew canon and am curious about the luncheon. Should be fun.
I've also gotten some work done while Jacob's been here--a new final scene to the novel I've been working on. Now to proofread it one more time, and then I'll send it off. Nice closure for the end of the year. Not starting a new proejct until January.
So life goes along, and Christmas won't be cancelled or even delayed because I may not do my errands till Friday or Saturday. The world will still revolve. Which reminds me--I was delighted to receive an invitation to a party for Skeptics and Optimists. It says,, "If the sun rises on Dec. 22, we'll party." Dec. 21 is of course the day the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world. I feel a bit about that as I did about the millenium when it approached--a little apprehensive, not that the world will end, but that something bad could happen.. But I'm an optimist--it probably won't.
Just looked at the labels for this post--the wide array really indicates that I've rambled. Bear with me folks, it's cabin fever...and the season.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A cooking weekend

Seems like I spent most of the weekend cooking--and I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend. Friday night, with two little boys for supper, I fixed hot dogs, canned corn, and potato chips (okay, that's not really cooking)--neither boy ate well, and it turned out that both had slight colds. By the next morning, Jacob was really sick but that's another story.
After Max went home and Jacob was settled I made peanut butter cookies, the old recipe that my mom handed down--gosh but they smell wonderful fresh out of the oven. And made myself salmon cakes for supper--have enjoyed them all weekend and am sad to say I was piggy enough to eat two for lunch today so they're all gone.
Saturday's big project was coq au vin made the old-fashioned way, so that it simmers a long time in the sauce. There's much reduction of sauces involved--something that my impatience usually makes difficult, but I did it right this time. One of the tedious things about this dish was chopping--carrots, celery, onions and eventualy mushrooms. But I got it all together, cooked it and put it in the fridge.
This morning I woke with the jitters--can't explain it, but I was just plain anxious. Cooking is often a good antidote, so after I talked to Jordan, found out Jacob had a 102 fever, and they weren't going to church, I finished off the coq au vin. Fished the chicken out, sauteed the mushrooms, reduced the sauce once again and put it all back together. And then back in the fridge. Spent the rest of the morning wrapping Christmas gifts. I'm way ahead of the game--not unusual for me.
Tonight, Jordan and Christian came with Jacob--now 102.9, though medicine took it down and he felt okay but not great. Did eat dinner with us, and Elizabeth came in from her yoga classes in time for supper. Chicken was so tender it fell off the bone--one piece (I had used thighs) literally did fall apart and got lost in the sauce, which was rich and good the way only a sauce cooked for hours can be. It was also chock full of  veggies--carrots, celery, onion and mushrooms. Christian of course wanted nothing to do with the veggies but the rest of us loved them.
My neighbors put new flickering white lights on the arbor outside my dining room window, and we lit the Christmas lights inside the house for the first time this season. I used my red-and-green plaid china, and we felt festive. Lovely evening--so nice to have family around and so nice to have Elizabeth as part of the family. Counting my blessings once again.
Tomorrow is a babysitting day, though he requires little attention. I shudder to admit I'll park him in front of the TV, but his parents will bring some movies, and maybe we'll do a puzzle or two, but, please Lord, not Spiderman again! Jacob can't go back to school until he's been fever-free for 24 hours.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Do you live in an old house?


My house, cozy and snug in a 2011 snowstorm
The decorative dentil molding over the porch gave way to age several years ago
My house was built in 1922. It wears its age proudly and well. Over its ninety years, it has softened and gentled until it wraps itself around me in a way new houses never do. More than a house, it's home and has been for twenty years. The floors are scuffed and scraped—you can see where my Aussie slept every warm night, preferring the wood floor to his bed. I guess the oil from his coat gradually wore away the finish. Same thing in the spot in the office, where he always slept at my feet. And under my rolling chair—and I do roll from desk to credenza to get this, that or the other—the floor is similarly scraped. Some previous owners weren’t smart about water damage from plants, and there are some huge circular stains in the dining room. Even the new floor that was put in the add-on family room ten years ago shows stress and strain by the back door to the yard—too many muddy dogs and children have gone in and out.  When one of my daughters suggested I have the floors redone, my answer was ready: too difficult to live through, too expensive, and shiny would floors would make this grand old lady (the house, not me) uncomfortable. The next occupant will have to redo the floors—but I hope that’s a long way down the road.

When something breaks in an old house, it really breaks. It seems like I have a water leak somewhere all the time which means high water bills and even higher plumbing bills. Commodes are big offenders—they leak, they run, they periodically re-flush themselves even if you’re not in the room. The plumber explained that one to me and it sort of made sense. Most recently the commode in the guest apartment sprang a leak—and warped the wood floor so that several boards had to be placed. I could not live in my old house without Bundock Construction—brothers Lewis and Jim. They did some major remodeling in 2000, taking out a partial wall and putting in French doors, redirecting duct work, giving me a new attic staircase because they said the old one would kill me, and finishing with a much needed paint job. When they finished, they said “Call us. You’re one of ours now.” I’m sure they’ve lived to regret those words, because I call almost every week, for everything from a light bulb high above the kitchen soffet to a broken bird feeder.

I’m convinced old houses get dirty faster than new ones—they have cracks and crevices through which dirt sifts, windows don’t fit tightly (vines have been known to grow in those little windows over the bookcases that flank my Art Deco fireplace). There’s a crack between tile floor (those old tiny octagonal tiles) and baseboard behind the bathroom sink, and most mornings a gecko comes through to visit with me. I wait for him and welcome him. Thanks to Socorro Escobar who keeps my house clean. Love old houses, hate to clean them.

At night I lie in bed and look at a ceiling with so many cracks that it looks like a road map. I listen to my house creak and groan and it settles a tiny bit. Occasionally there’s a loud, unidentified noise, but I figure if the dog isn’t alarmed, I won’t be either. I’m home, safe, and comfortable.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mercury in retrograde, bad moon--and all that gone

This week has been really difficult with Jacob and homework--we knew it would be hard to get him to re-adjust after DisneyWorld and a weekend with his cousins, but I had no idea how hard! Yesterday was the final straw--he "tricked" me about his homework, pouted his way through spelling, demanded I not watch him. It went from bad to worse, and I'm ashamed that I lost my patience. Then when his dad seemed to be running late I told him to put on his hapkido clothes, and he threw a tantrum, threw things on the floor, was rude to me when I tried to help him. He did not, he emphasized, want to go to hapkido. He was too tired. I will say when Aunt Betty arrived, he brightened within two minutes and began telling her all about how wonderful DisneyWorld was. But clearly, this was not the way either one of us wanted to spend our aftrnoons, and I was left in a bad mood--to say the least.
Then Elizabeth, my garage dweller and yoga guru, posted something about doing moon salutations because of the bad moon. When I queried her today it seems the bad moon was with us for a month but now is gone--gosh, I'm glad I didn't know that for the whole month. And I'm still not sure what a "bad" moon is. I also read that Mercury has been in retrograde. I don't think you can effectively Google "bad moon," but I did Google Mercury in retrograde, and it seems that Mercury has been going backward, not forward, from Nov. 6-26. According to the source I read, it's a time when your plans go awry but also a time of strong intuition and high coincidences.
Did any of that account for my Jacob difficulties this week? Not sure. But today he told me his dad had talked to him and said if he was ugly to me any more, he'd begin to lose Christmas presents--now there's a realistic approach. I talked to him and worked out some guidelines--no "tricking" about homework, because homework is serious business; when I am helping him, he cannot hide his work from me; when we're doing a pre-test, he may set up a carel like they have at test time at school. Result? Today we did the homework easily, with laughter and smiles. Copied his spelling list, putting consonants in one color and vowels in another--and he did it without any guidance from me. Then we did the pre-test, and he got them all right!
It may not have been Mercury in retrograde--today I fed him a huge banana and a great glob of peanut butter which he happily ate with a fork (the way he requested it--sounds awful to me). He eats lunch at 10:30, so I'm sure he's starving at 3:00 and he didn't eat his usual peanut butter the last couple of days. So low blood sugar may well have been as instrumental as Mercury or that bad moon.
But I'm glad Mercury is no longer in retrograde (I like using that phrase now that I know what it means) and the bad moon is gone. I expect good things from December.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Revisions, agony, despair--and light at the end of the tunnel

It's no secret that I've struggled with the fourth Kelly O'Connell mystery--struggled, agonized, torn my hair, given up and gone back and decided it was all awful. You name it, I did it. But at long last I finished the draft, read it through a couple of times, revising, correcting as I went. Then I gave it to Fred--I keep explaining who he is, but Fred was the prof who saw me through graduate school when I wanated to specialize in western American literature. He taught genre fiction classes among other American lit subjects--westerns, mysteries, sci fi. And in the years since--would you believe 40?--he has remained friend and advisor. He reads everything I write--or almost everything.
I knew that after all that struggle I had sort of galloped across the finish line in a rush. Fred spotted that and made some suggestions, and throughout he saw things that I simply needed another pair of eyes to see. He sent one single-spaced page of suggestions, mentions of time warps that weren't meant to be, discrepancies, etc. I thought it would take weeks of work.
This morning, after a late start, I turned to Fred's list--and finished all but one huge major part. It went much more smoothly than I anticipated, and I had fun doing it. Now I have an important concluding scene to write...but I decided enough was enough for one day. Then I'll re-read a couple of times--but by now I'm afraid I know the thing by heart. It will take a brand new proofreader to catch errors.
While rewriting and correcting, I noticed a couple of things: I thought I had proofread this manuscript until it could not possibly contain an error or a typo--and yet today, even in casual glancing, I found all kinds of both. In one place, early in the book, Fred suggested that I pick up some information from previous books--for the reader who hasn't met Kelly. I went back and the best passage I found was in the very first book, Skeleton in a Dead Space, so I copied it, put it in place and went in to edit it to fit. I was amazed aat how my style has changed--dare I say improved--since that first book. After all these years, can it be that I'm learning to write? Fred says this is a more complex book than the previous ones, which surely is a step forward.
Being back in Kelly's world has revitalized me. I'm seeing ahead and finding more Kelly stories in my head. My editors had asked how many I planned, and I didn't have a clue. At the time I was struggling with number four and more seemed hopeless, but now I have several ideas. I like Kelly, and I like the people around her. I had even considered--sort of--giving up mysteries and writing about Scotland, perhaps a time travel novel (I know, Diana Gabaldon did it and can't be equalled) partly because I thought such a book would have more depth than my cozies. Certainly it would require more research. But Fred's use of the word "complex" made me think twice. Sure, I may write about Scotland some day--always a dream--but for now I'm happy with Kelly and her soon to-be-introduced counterpart, Kate, of the Blue Plate Mystery Series. Watch for Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe in Feburary.
Meantime, Kelly number four is tentatively titled Dogs, Drugs, and Death. I'd love your comments on the title.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Post Thanksgiving doldrums--and recovery

Guess it was a hard day all around. Jacob and I did much better on homework today, but we took frequent breaks--I had until seven o'clock, so I could stretch it out. Got everything done except the third read-through of his book (you have to do three a day--yikes!). I went through the kitchen about six calling "Okay, pause the TV. We're going to read that book," and the above is what I found. I let him sleep until about 6:30 but, knowing he's an awful grump when he wakes up from an unexpected nap, I began to nudge him then. First he was almost crying because he was soooo tired; then he was starving and could not wait ten minutes until we went to the Old Neighborhood Grill. By the time we got there he was quiet but okay, ate his grilled cheese and seemed to brighten. Then neighbor Mary Dulle charmed him by getting him to talk about DisneyWorld and by the time we left he was as effervescent as usual.
It was that kind of day--up and down. I got a lot done but in retrospect couldn't tell you what. Still I swept a lot of small stuff--from paying my cousin's bills to personal notes of sympathy and thanks--off my desk. And I was much more patient with my friend above about spelling and reading. Got a few errands run--bank deposit, gas station, books delivered to a store--and a bunch of work landed on my desk in emails, so I'm busy. I'm always a happier camper when I've got work to do. So maybe we're all getting past the post-holiday doldrums.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A walk back in time

I spoke to a book club tonight at a new restaurant/caterer/cooking school in Fairmount. Actually they're not up for restaurant service yet but the catering, cooking school and chef's evenings seemed to be doing great. It's called Bastion, and the fascinating thing to me is that it is housed in the complex built in 1918 for the Edna Gladney Home for Unwed Mothers. I know the place well--we made four trips there to bring home babies.
I'm pretty sure that the room we spoke in is the same one where my ex- and I used to go talk to the girls because they wanted to know what kind of families would be raising their children. I could picture those evenings, and I could see the room--in a wing to our left, I think--where they brought the babies to us. I remember them handing me Megan--she was crying furiously, and her little legs were drawn up to her tummy in pain. I thought if I could just get her home and love her, it would all be all right. It wasn't--she had severe colic for the first six months of her life. I'm not sure where the maternity hospital and nursery were though I remember going to the nursery. It was all nostalgic, and I began my talk recounting my history with Gladney. My children never asked, "Where do babies come from?" They knew: you go to the adoption agency and bring home a new baby!
Dinner was delicioius. The Bastion has gardens, with fresh lettuce, arugula, and herbs. We dined on a green salad, goat cheese tart, quiche Lorraine, and a bountiful offering of desserts--chocolate bourbon praline torte, panna cotta with raspeberry coulis, and baba rhum torte. I tasted but I didn't finish anything. I've spoken to this group before several years ago, and I know several of the women, so it was fun--and informal.
Other than that, I did not do one productive thing today--just seemed to float through the day. Emails, Facebook, kind of getting my feet back on the ground after having been gone for five days. That post-vacation effect was evident in Jacob this afternoon too--I could not get him to concentrate on spelling. He ran out of attention span, and I ran out of patience--not one of our better afternoons. Still, I think we parted friends. Tomorrow I'll work on my blog book, but excuse me now: I'm going to read.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Family dynamics

Family dynamics change all the time as children grow into adults, marry, have children, and those children—in this case, my grandchildren—grow and change. Over Thanksgiving I had a chance to reassess my place in the family structure.

In Austin in October I had a minor meltdown one night when all my kids gathered in the kitchen, and I felt left out of the loop. So I sat at the end of the kitchen island, read my book, and—yes—sulked. Later, I blamed it on my hearing aids. But I’ve had lessons in adjusting the aids, and the other day I picked up on a conversation across the kitchen, to the amazement of one son and one son-in-law.

This time I had the same problem—I sat at the kitchen table or sometimes the pass-through to the family room for informal meals and to read. My son Jamie, the host, kept saying, “Mom, if you want to be involved, go sit on the couch,” or “Mom, everyone’s taking their food outside; if you want to be involved, go out there.” For several reasons, I didn’t.

For one thing they all move about, so I’m likely as not to find myself alone on the porch in ten minutes. More importantly, I’m happier eating at a counter rather than out of my lap. And—whoa! the big revelation!—much as I love them, I don’t always want to be in the center of their circle. When they are all together, they watch sports on TV, loudly; they talk about contemporary books and music foreign to me; they play (loudly again) a wide variety of video games which delights the grandchildren and dismays me. Where are my conservations about books and ideas and politics and world events? I’m happy as can be knowing they’re there, occasionally wandering over one by one to talk to me, For instance, when Jamie cleans the kitchen in the evening (he’s compulsive about it) we have good visits.

And then there’s cooking. I’m used to being the one in charge but hey—this is a daughter’s kitchen or a daughter-in-law’s, and all the other second-generation girls are in the kitchen. Too many cooks—I trip over them. and get in their way. So I do specific things as asked, and when they call out, “Juju, advice please!” I’m there and on hand. I guess we have to all accept a new role for me. I don’t exactly feel like a senior matriarch who needs to be sidelines but maybe in some ways I am. The picture above was meant to show off the beginnings of the holiday feast but since I was in my customary spot at the kitchen table. The results is a picture in which I look—gulp yes—matriarchal.

Life changes, and we all move on. What we make of it is up to each of us.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The circle is complete--almost

Today my youngest daughter and her son--Jacob, who I keep after school--joined us so the family circle is complete except for son-in-law Christian who will be here tomorrow. That's us above, the picture taken by a willing stranger at Buca di Peppo, which is absolutely the wrong place to eat the night after Thanksgiving. But it sure was good.
Buca di Peppo is noisy, and my gang is noisy, so I missed a lot of the conversation, but I got snatches. Even Melanie said she misses a lot of what goes on at a long table when we're all together, so I didn't feel so bad. More importantly, I loved being in the midst of them--they were once again recounting high school and college hijinx (why am I subjected to this all the time?). I am so grateful they have happy memories and that they all laugh together so happily. We are blessed to be a truly close family without many undecurrents--okay, all families have some and we do but not many.
The grandchildren were at one end of the table, enjoying as it were their own private party, with two 13-year-olds--Maddie and a friend--acting as a buffer and occasionally correcting a younger child. I was glad to see Jacob who reported he had a wonderful time at DisneyWorld. Most important? "I saw Mickey Mouse!" Oh to be six and a believer again!
So tonight I go to sleep with the rare joy of knowing that all my chicks and grandchicks are under one roof. For some reason, I find that  really comforting. Now if only my dog were here....

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christopher Columbus and student letters

The other day I got a large envelope in the mail from a children's publishing company I've written for. The editor wrote that a class in Arizona had sent her these student letters and whether or not I answered was up to me. I wrote back happily that I was always glad to get fan letters from kids and of course I would anwer.
Then I read the letters. They were not fan letters. These seventh graders are members of the Tohono O'odham Nation (I think a sub-group of Navajo) and they had read a book I did in 2002 on Christopher Columbus. Oh boy, did they take me to task. An example: Your book does not do a good job of representing the native perspective.  Or, "I want you to stop making fun of us Indians. We are not Indians. We are Native Americans." They were right, of course.
In 1987 Patricia Limerick, a groundbreaking historian, published Legacy of Conquest, the first book of the "new" history of the Americn West, the first to suggest that the history of the American West had been told as an Anglo man's story when there were so many other peoples involved--Native Americans, women, etc. By 2002 I am sure I knew better than to say Indian instead of Native American, so I could do nothing but apologize. I also know that I wrote the standard story of Columbus, and these bright, articulate students told me he was not a hero.
I wrote a letter of apology, saying they were right and I accepted their criticism. I did point out that Columbus did not make it far enough into the country to enslave and torture Native Americans of the Southwest but he opened the door for later conquerors. And I pointed out that this has been the unfortunate pattern of the world's history--strong invaders taking over weaker peoples. But that is no excuse.
I agreed with the students that a new book about Columbus needs to be written from the Native American point of view and even that perhaps some of their letters could be incoprorated. I wrote the teacher that it is obvious she is doing a great job, for her students are bright, thinking young people who do not simply accept what they read. I'll mail the letter tomorrow. I doubt it will make them feel a lot better.
The publisher agrees that a new book needs to be wirtten and promises me a crack at it if it happens. The whole subject opens up such a Pandora's box that it would be a difficult y/a book to write. But,  yes, I think I'd like to try. She of course made no promises and said the series the Columbus book as part of is going out of print.
This was a wonderful, if humiliating, experience for me. Hats off to the seventh graders at Baboquivari Middle School on the Tohono O'odham Reservation near Tucson--and a big black mark for me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Print books available--hooray!

I'm doing the happy dance because print copies of Trouble in a Big Box will be in my hands as of Dec. 3. It will probably take them longer to make it to book stores, if indeed they ever do. But after a four-month gap between the appearance of the e-book and that of the print copy, I'm delighted. This long gap speaks more eloquently than anything I know of the change in publishing. My publisher assures me they sell ten e-books for every print copy, so it only makes sense to do the e-book first and the print when it can be fit into the schedule.
This is a complete reversal from the traditional world of publishing in which I cut my teeth and toiled for many years. We printed hardcover books, held a huge launch party--well, okay, when we could and when the book or the author had the potential to draw a crowd--and when the print copy was exhausted, we went to paperback. Not until I retired did the TCU Press ever make any progress toward e-books, though I pushed for it a lot, especially for fiction titles, during the last years I was there.
I don't mind publishing e-books first; I do mind the long gap until print, because in my mind a big party still launches a book. I may be more fortunate than most in that I seem to have a ready market for print copies and a lot of people who want to come help me celebrate. Believe me, I am so grateful. Still, to me, there's something anticlimactic about having a print book months after some have read the novel as an e-book. I hope none of you feel that way.
Christmas may be a bad time--or a good time--to launch a belated print copy. We'll see. I'm hoping lots of you will want print copies for yourself for holiday reading or for gift giving. And, of course, I'm hoping you'll spread the word to friends and family about the Kelly O'Connell mysteries.
For those in Fort Worth, I'm scheduling a signing in early December. I'll announce the date in a couple of days, so watch Facebook please. For those of you elsewhere, ask your bookstore to order it from Amazon or Turquoise Morning Press.
The other day, talking to a group at the Fort Worth Woman's Club, I found that the ladies were most interested in the whole subject of the changing publishing world--what e-books, print-on-demand, and independent publishing mean to them as readers. Please let me know if you have questios about these things--I'd love to give you my own view, though I can't guarantee it's comprehensive.
Meantime, I'm a happy camper tonight.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Some good, some not so good

All those errands I worried about yesterday got done today in a timely fashion--which shows me what happens when I sit back and stop being compulsive, controlling, whatever. That message came through again loud and clear when I had lunch with Fred, my lifelong reader and advisor (he does not like the term mentor though that's what he is). I told him I was rethinking my career, and he agreed that since I have no immediately pressing deadlines, it's a good time to sit back, pull away and consider. I mentioned a possible new project I was interested in, and he did not throw up his arms in alarm. Instead he said, "You've had that on your mind a long time. This may be the time to do it." He also took my latest Kelly O'Connell manuscript for a beta read, so I'm not even going to think about it until he returns it to me. So that part of my day was good, and I came home ready to pull back, do some serious study and considering on some things that intrigue me, and read some of those marketing books I've been meaning to read forever. Basically, I'm going to try to keep myself from feeling so pressured.
The less good part of my day wasn't that bad after all. Jordan and Jacob (and Christian, though I didn't see him this afternoon) left today for Coppell and will fly to DisneyWorld tomorrow. Jacob is excited out of his skull, and I'm delighted for him. I hope it turns out to be every bit as wonderful as he wants it to be. Our difficulties of yesterday weren't repeated after school today--I secretly threw out the blasted sugar-laden donuts and rejoiced that Hostess would stop producing such atrocities--though I grieve for 18,000 people out of work.
But I think the green-eyed monster has bitten me, or at least nipped. I was feeling bad all day that Jacob's other grandparents are now the literal incarnation of Disneyland grandparents. They have taken him to the State Fair, Legoland, movies, and all kinds of places, so this is kind of the penultimate. I don't do that for several reasons--I'd need another adult to go with me (a lot of things are harder and less enjoyable when you're alone with a young child), I can't afford most of it, and such places as DisneyWorld and the State Fair have no appeal for me--at all! In fact, I think I'd be fairly miserable. But I am left feeling like the grandparent who instead of offering great excitement says "No,  you can't go out to play. You have to do your reading and spelling." Jordan assures me this is a figment of my imagination...and I suppose it is. I really hope they have a good time.
Meantime after they left I decided to float through the weekend. I did my yoga slowly (can you hear Elizabeth applauding?) instead of always feeling that I had to get it done to move on to somethng else. Then I did some kitchen chores, watched the news, and made myself pea salad and salmon croquettes--yum!--for dinner. Tonight I've caught up on emailing friends, and I'm about to read a book about how to grow your audience (I hate that use of the word grow, but the book is pretty helpful!).
It will be a good weekend. I hope yours is too.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A grandson is different from a son

Sometimes spending a lot of time with a six-year-old is wearing--I love him, but my string gets short. Tonight he was playing with Sophie in the kitchen while I was trying to fix supper. Jacob gets excited and his voice goes to a high pitch and he runs at Sophie. I'm sure deep down she knows he loves her, but she sometimes wants refuge, so she gets between me and the cupboards where I'm standing. Then Jacob comes after her. Upshot is I'm caught between a dog and a child, one of whom is screaming, and I'm liable to trip over both of them. Yes, I lost my patience.
One of the great advantages of my temporary tenant--she happened in to do some laundry and invited Jacob out to the apartment for a visit. He was there a half hour, and Sophie and I enjoyed a peaceful time in my office.
But back in the house, even after his mom arrived, Jacob still wanted to play roughly with Sophie and still raised his voice in excitement. And then he got his feelings hurt, which always makes me immediately contrite.
Elizabeth and I talked about it, and when I said, "I feel so bad when he gets his feelings hurt," she asked if I was that way with my children. I thought about it and said no, I didn't think so. Your children are yours, they love you through thick and thin--for my children, particularly, I was the only security they had. Grandchildren don't automatically love their grandparents. I didn't love my maternal grandmother. I didn't even know her except as a grim, silent woman who sat in a dark house and later as a woman with dementia, though I didn't know the term at the time. I want Jacob to love me and associate me with laughter and fun--but I am the disciplinarian who makes him do homework and scolds when he yells and.... oh,  you name it!
Yesterday he told me "on accident" (my kids always said that too) that the bird feeder fell down. Truth turned out to be he swung a stick at it. The bottom fell off, all the seed fell out, and he came to get me. So I set him to cleaning up with a broom, dustpan and garbage bag. When he asked, "Are you going to help me?" I said, "No. I didn't break it." "Well, it's not fair!" was his reply, but he dutifully cleaned up the fallen bird seed, more with his hand then the broom. I figure he has to learn that actions have consequences, but it's a hard lesson to teach--hard on me. My good friend Betty thought I was so doing the right  thing, but I worry lately that I am always on his case and rarely the "fun grandmother." Where do you draw the line?
I want to be fun, but I can't let him get away with inappropriate behavior (one of his favorite phrases). I hate to be always disciplining, but he so often plain doesn't listen until the fifth time I say something and by then my patience has run out.
I guess the bottom line is I never worried about my children loving me. I worried about feeding them and clothing them and teaching them and, yes, loving them, but maybe I ws too harried to worry about them loving me--or maybe I assumed they did. I worry about it with my grandchildren, maybe even more with those I don't see daily. Or, then again, maybe more with the one I do see. Oh, my, you can see I'm confused.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Christmas a little early

I know many people say "Let's get past Thanksgiving before we think about Christmas," but not me. I have a lot to do for Christmas--some of it by Thanksgiving when I'll be with all my children and can deliver gifts so I don't have to mail. So I begin to think about the holidays early--many of my presents are wrapped, my lists are all made.
And I have started baking. This year I did something really smart. I made a list of what I wanted to bake and then made a list of all the ingredients I'd need. But instead of rushing out to the grocery, I rushed to my cupboard to check in back corners and see what I already had. Narrowed down my shopping list a lot and saved myself from buying some fairly expensive items such as chopped pecans and good dark cocoa powder.
Last night I made double chocolate banana bread--cocoa in the batter and chocolate chips in the final dough. Of course,  it didn't come out of the pan smoothly, so  there were bits for me to taste. Good, but I thought the banana was overpowered by the chocolate.
Today, chocolate chip/dried cranberry cookies with an astounding two-and-a-half sticks of butter. I never can cook without making some major flub, no matter how careful I think I'm being and how carefully I think I'm reading the recipe. Got the batter all made--a good, stiff one, hard to stir. Put in the nuts and the cranberries and thought, "Wait! It's supposed to have chocolate chips." You got it! I put in nuts that weren't in the recipe. Too late to retrieve them so I added the chocolate chips and now have chocolate chip/dried cranberries/pecan cookies in the oven. You know, if that's the worst mistake I make, I'm pretty well off.
Still to come--good old-fashioned peanut butter cookies, because Christian likes them. One year I dipped two edges of each cookie in chocolate and crushed nuts. He'd really like me to do that again, but it's too much trouble and work. Then I'll do some chocolate bars with a basic dough bottom and chocolate spread on top. Recipe calls for Karo syrup which should make them both good and different. And Oreo cookies truffles (hide that idea and the cookies from Jacob!) but they have to be made just before I serve them.
I can hear those Christmas bells ringing already!