Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How Did I Get Here?

Maybe it's last Sunday's sermon on transformaton (thank you Dr. Larry Thomas of University Christian Church, Fort Worth), but I am sort of hung up on how I got to be the person I am today, compared to the woman I was forty years ago. I had no sudden transformation, as the one Dr. Thomas described when a  young black lawyer gave up his reluctance to work for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his life was suddenly transformed. I think of my good friend Elizabeth, who just spent ten days or more at a yoga retreat in India--surely her life has been transformed--but then again, she's undergone a gradual transformation in the last seven or eight  years. I think that's what mine has been--really, really gradual which may mean I'm a slow learner.
But the girl I was at thirty put up with and accepted a lot of things the woman I am today never would.  Some of them have to do with issues from my marriage, when I am quite sure I was not the advocate for my chldren that I should have been. From swimming lessons to punishment issues to exposure to substance abuse, I failed to protect them and it is only dumb good luck that they themselves have turned out to be such good citizens and terrific parents--and still loving children. Yes, I gave them love, but in retrospect, that wasn't enough. We tell ourselves love conquers all but it doesn't--for one thing, it needs to be accompanied by security. I would do it differently if I could do it over as the person I am today.
What was different? I think I was scared, mostly of a future I couldn't see through the murk. I'm not sure how I've gotten what I now feel is a much clearer vision that lets me look ahead without fear, even with anticipation. I've found a strength I didn't know I had, never even suspected--and I think I've done it inch by painful inch.
I am also these days more passionate about causes, less insensitive to suffering and injustice in the world. The earlier me, like so many of us, accepted those things as the way of the world. What could I, as one person, do to change things? Today, probably to the dismay of some I love, I do believe I can help change things for what I believe is right. And, as I wrote last night, re-posting on Facebook is one of those ways--I don't just re-post about endangered dogs, I re-post about the current political outrageousness in this country. I am not able to support politicians I believe in financially, but I will do what I can in this coming year, contribute what skills I have, open my house again. I believe strongly that I am my brother's keeper, and I support politicians who show concern for education, health care, the environment, the world we leave for our children. Of course, my concern for fairness, leads me to express great anger at rude drivers, which is probably a waste of energy. Colin said, "You let that upset you?" when someone cut him off. "You're going to be upset a lot if you do that." Somewhere there's a line, but I guess I haven't found it yet. Ah, well, transformation is an ongoing project.
Topic for another night's musings: how did I get where I am professionally, from the frightened young woman who told herself she wanted to be a writer and sat in front of her typewriter--yes, I'm that old!--and thought I'd write if I knew what to write.
Life is so funny--but we learn so much. That's one of the beauties of our golden years. Yeah, there's still a thin, thirty-year-old, carefree girl who lives inside me-she's just much smarter now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Saving dogs

I have a new cause--relax those of you who know me well, it's not political. That would be an ongoing cause. My new one is not exactly new either. I'm reposting pictures of dogs about to be euthanized in hope that someone will say, "I have to have that dog!" A Facebook friend has been posting these for some time--when I said she was breaking my heart, she replied that she couldn't not post them. So now I'm re-posting, plus I've made another friend who is if anything deeper into the cause. Judy Obregon (don't even know where she lives!) posted today about a dog she followed, visited, even gave a collar to--he was euthanized today, and she's in agony over it. Kathy, my first "dog cause" friend has built a small kennel on their ranch so she can temporarily foster some animals.
My Aussie, now 11-1/2, is a rescue dog, from the Humane Society of Fort Worth. I got him at three and a half, and he brought many problems. He'd been a "back-yard' dog--ignored and abused, never given love nor trained properly. To this day, his house manners are not reliable, though he is obedient. He long ago got over snitching food that is not his or chewing--in fact, he's not much interested in toys. He'll come when I call, eagerly--once he got out on the street and I called to him. He came running happily home, with a look that said, "Did you want me?" He's a good dog, and when he looks at me soulfully with one blue and one brown eye, I melt. But he'll potty when my back is turned--and sometimes just because he's being stubborn.
I got a new puppy last summer--for several reasons. Jacob, then just barely five, was afraid of Scooby  because of his size; Scooby needed companionship--he was developing the old-age habit of sleeping all day, had given up chasing squirrels, a chore at which he used to be a master; and I wanted a puppy that I could train the way I wanted. The latter hasn't worked out so well, but I'm persevering. But still, last July Sophie came into our lives. She's a wild mix of border collie and poodle--coal black as a small puppy with just a bit of brown on her muzzle. Now she's getting some silver on her long bushy tail and on her ears.
Sophie is one wild bundle of energy. In fact, sometimes I think she's two dogs--the one that minds me so well and the one that gets frantic with excitement and throws all behavior rules out the window. On a leash, she will stop at the front door, look back at me, look out at the world, and sit patiently until I say "Okay." Off the leash? She's out the door and across the street in a heartbeat and all my cries fall on deaf ears, though a neighbor? A new person to love her? Of course she'll go, which is how I got her back when she escaped recently.
But I've had conscience pangs over buying a kennel dog instead of taking in a stray. When I look at the pictures on Facebook, I wish desperately that I could take in more animals. But I'm realistic and I know my limitations. So I'll keep posting those pictures and watching for people who need a dog. I have one friend who is sort of half-heartedly looking for a second dog, and I often post with her in mind.
My neighbors have strong feelings on the subject too. They own two rescue dogs. Jay said the other night, "I'm not much of a taxation guy"--understatement! he's so conservative he squeaks--"but I think there ought to be a heavy tax on peole who are not licensed breeders who let their dogs reproduce." Go, Jay!
Jacob now adores both dogs; here he loves on Scooby
This is a  plea for two things: give or find a rescue dog a home if you can; if you own non-show quality pets (how many of us have show quality?), have them neutered. It's the only human(e) thing to do.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The day wasn't over

It's not yet noon and I've already had enough excitement for a week. To begin with, when I thought my long day was over yesterday, it wasn't . I finally tore myself from the computer--you know that just one more thing feeling?--and went to tell Jacob he absolutely had to turn off the TV, use the bathroom, and brush his teeth. He was sound asleep, TV blaring. I wrestled his pajama bottoms off to put a pull-up on since heaven only knows when he last used the potty. (This morning he looked down and said, "How did I get this on?") Then I pulled him from the foot of the bed to the head so he could stretch out--50 lbs. of uncooperating dead weight--laid him on his back and told him to close his eyes, put eye drops in, said to open the eyes. "No, three!" he shouted. "Three what?" "Count to three!" "Okay, count to three." At this he scrunched up his face in a cry and said, "No, not me. You count!" When I told him to close his eyes again, he was out, and I left the room feeling like a bad grandmother.
But the night still wasn't over. About one o'clock, he crawled wordlessly into my bed. I really debated whether it was more trouble to endure the kicks, punches, and body slams or to try to maneuver this sound sleeper back to his own bed. I settled for endurance though at times I felt like a battered woman. His favorite place is the middle of the bed, thank you very much. This morning when I asked how he got to my bed, he gave me a look like I am fairly dense and said, "I walked." I asked why, thinking he'd had a bad dream, and he said, "My bed was wet." Swell!
One benefit: sometime during my off-and-on sleep and dreams, the idea for a short story came to me. Project for the day is to rough it out. I've promised to supply a short mystery story for an anthology this spring, and it's been worrying me because I don't write short stories easily unless an idea slams me over the head.
We had one more piece of excitement this morning: Sophie, the nine month puppy, escaped out the door. Before you could blink she was across the street and in the schoolyard. I was so desperate I told Jacob to look both ways very carefully and then follow her. Ran back foir a leash, treats for bribery, and went out the front door calling for my neighbor. The neighbor on the other side said, "She's got her," and there came the neighbor from two doors down carrying Sophie, with Jacob trailing behind them. Said Sophie is so friendly she ran right up to her  with delight! My heart is still pounding.
Jacob has gone to spend the weekend with a friend, the supper is cooked, and I'm looking forward to a visit with good friends. I need peace and quiet.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gardening, a book signing, and kindergarten homework--a Jacob day

This morning I promised Jacob we would do two things after school: plant a garden and go to a bookstore. He was delighted. We planted the garden right after school before we let the dogs back out--I couldn't see doing it with Sophie dancing around. The plants look wilted and sad, but they had just been rudely jolted out of their little containers. The sections of our container garden at the far end have seeds for lettuce, mesclun, and spinach. Saw this garden idea on an email that made the rounds with lots of helpful household hints. It suggested nailing gutter to your house for a container garden. The indispensible Lewis Bundock did that and drilled drainage holes in it. The only south exposure at my house is the back yard, domain of the dogs. Sophie would destroy anything I planted in the ground, but this is nicely above her notice. Jacob really got into planting, and we both made muddy messes. It will be fun to watch it grow though, and I'll enjoy the fresh greens. Too early to replenish my herb garden, trim and feed the ones that wintered over. As Greg said today, we're probably due one more cold spell. He came by and we discussed things that needed to be done in the yard and with the porch plants.
When I feed the dogs I leave Sophie in my office, with the chair pulled tight up to the desk so she won't walk on the top of the desk, sniffing out what she wants. I really thought we were past the chewing stage and recently put a nice Kilim rug back down in the office. After I fed her I found her chewing the rug--she bunches it up so she gets a nice, chewable edge. The rug has now been put away again. She also reached up on my desk--perhaps from the chair on the other side--and snatched the grocery list I thought I'd lost and a pamphlet the podiatrist gave me the other day. Guess we're not past chewing.
After dinner we went to the local Barnes & Noble where Deborah Crombie was signing No Mark Upon Her. I was delighted that when we drove up Jacob said, "Oh, I love this place." He views it  as a toy store, however, not a book store. We arrived a few minutes late and stood in the back, which was good so Jacob could wander a bit. But he kept whispering to me, "Is she almost through talking?" We finally wandered over to the children's section where he wheedled a fairly expensive Star Wars Lego watch out of me and we got a small gift for a neighbor child. Spent the rest of Deborah's talk sitting on a stool between two rows of magazines--I could hear but not see. Enjoyed what I heard, but then I'm a big fan. We've met a couple of times, have some friends in common, and share a love of dogs and concern for rescuing dogs--and we've been Facebook friends for some time. There was a good crowd and a long signing line. Jacob:"This is going to take a long time. Let's just go home." Me: "She's a friend of mine, and I want my book signed and I want to say hello." I promised him ice cream if he'd be patient. Jacob: "I don't want ice cream." A friend in front of us turned around and said, "That's the first time I ever heard a little boy say that." The line moved nicely, I got the book signed and a brief visit--Deborah was charming to Jacob who she knows from my blog. She said, "I know about you, Jacob," and the store's community relations manager standing nearby knew him from the Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books--Jacob's on the cover--and said, "He's famous, er, infamous." Deborah and I talked birefly about dogs, and she gave me a nice hug. One of the better parts of the day because things get worse.
 When we walked in the front door at home, Jacob said, "Finally." I reminded him he hadn't told me he had home work until just before we left, and he had promised to do it first thing. So there we were, nine o'clock at night, struggling with kindergarten homework. We both lost our patience, and were not gentle with each other. This was one of those tricky pieces they throw at kids--we finally did the easy side first, which calmed both of us, and then Jacob said, "Let's save the hard side for morning." So that's the plan--chocolate chip waffles and homework.
 I sat down a few minutes ago and kind of sighed as I did. Jacob asked what was wrong, and I replied that I was just old and tired. Jacob: "See? I told you you're old." Long day.
So looking forward to reading No Mark Upon Her but saving it for next week when I plan to treat myself to some free time. Leisure time? What's that?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More doggy stories

Kenny the dog trainer came today. Sophie learned "sit" in a snap, but hey! She already knew it. The question for her is "Do I want to sit right now?" Then we worked on not going out the open the front door--she was pretty good about it, but we'll have to see how she does in future practice sessions with me. And always the jumping--we worked as much on my correction technique as we did on disciplining her. She had a real workout, and I expected her to be exhausted tonight--great expectatons don't always pan out. She has found a new chew toy--the Kilim rug I just put back down in the office. Took it up when she wasn't potty trained, had it cleaned, and moved it. Put it back for the fundraiser last Sunday. She bunches it up to make a nice, chewable edge. I'll give it a couple of days with trying discipline. I need to teach her not to chew on it, but I don't want to sacrifice a good rug.
Tonight was memoir class and as always I planned to feed Linda. This time I thought I'd get sandwiches from the artisan bakery in the neighborhood--on their website they list several really enticing combinations, but a tiny note warns that they have different sandwiches on different days. I called. They had a muffaletta with green olives (of course) and another, maybe turkey, with tapenade. I really really do not like olives. Asked if they could make a couple with the olives on the side and was told they were already made (at one o'clock in the afternoon). Hmmm--not sure I want sandwiches for supper that were made in the morning. Called Linda. Helpfully, she said, "I love olives!" When asked if she wanted to go to the Neighborhood Grill (made famous in my Kelly O'Connell mysteries, as if it weren't already the favorite neighborhood hangout) or have salad at the house, she said, again being helpful, "It doesn't matter to me." I said we'd go out; when she got here I had thrown everything in the vegetable drawer into a tossed salad, added a can of tuna, and made a quick dressing. Linda added an avocado she'd gotten in a quick stop at Sam's. Really good.
The snack at memoir class was finger sandwiches made with thinly sliced bagels--sliced vertically and not horizontally as  you normally would with a bagel. One class member works at a church where they have a kitchen operating all day every day (my dream for our church). The cook slices donated bagels and fills them with various things. Tonight we had ham salad on jalopeno bagels and chicken salad on whole wheat. I loved the jalopeno/ham and now have the leftovers--thank you, Claudine. The church also uses this profusion of bagels to feed the homeless once a week.
Memoir class was good as always. We went from a straightforward and well done piece about a family member to a fall-off-your-chair funny excerpt from a novel and ended with a thoughtful and provocative piece about family relationships and not rushing to judgment. Then we all got to talking about yoga, hot yoga, dangerous poses, careless teachers, etc. Tonight the laughter sticks with me and echoes in my ears.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thuoghts on dogs

I have "liked" the Dogs Against Mitt Facebook page, but I don't consider myself active in that movement and I'm (probably) not buying a T-shirt. What Mitt Romney did to his dog Seamus is shameful, and I do believe you can tell a lot about a man, or a woman, from the way they treat their dogs. But in the overall political chaos of this year, let's move on.
I am trying to be active, or at least helpful, in efforts to save lovely dogs who are about to be euthanized for no reason except that the shelter where they are is overcrowded. New dogs come in--older ones must go to make room, and as a result some wonderful sweet animals have been put down.
I have a Facebook friend, Kathy Edwards, who has made this her cause. Kathy is also the wife of western singer Don Edwards, one of my all-time favorites, and I knew her in that context years ago--we used to compare notes on our first grandchildren--but I haven't seen her in a long time. Now I feel like I'm getting to know her again. Kathy posts as many as ten pictures a day of dogs from various shelters who are on the EU list. Each one breaks my heart. Some are "owner surrenders"--another poster asked how an owner can do this? Give up a creature they've known and loved? I look at my two, and I know I couldn't do it--someone in my family would take my dogs if I couldn't care for them. But my two are also the reason that I can quell the impulse to rush out and save every loveable dog on Facebook. I've got my hands full. But I hope by posting, I'm showing the dogs to some caring people who can fit one or more into their lives. I am newly friended with Judy Obregon who also posts about dogs in jeopardy.
Today there was a darling cross breed, rust colored with a long coat, who does tricks--and was doing one on camera. And a beagle with the most soulful eyes you've ever seen. Both were owner surrenders. Both had apparently known loving homes--and now they're in a cold, impersonal shelter. Tore me up.
A couple of things I've learned along the way: the Fort Worth city animal shelter (not to be confused with the Humane Society of North Texas) keeps animals in deplorable conditions. I know budgets are tight everywhere, but surely comething can be done. And the local humane society--where I got Scooby--is NOT a no kill shelter. Makes sense--eight years ago this month when I got him one of the staff said to me that it was amazing he had not been put down since he was a big dog (I call him medium at 55-60 lbs) and was "older"--three and a half. I looked at him and wondered how anyone could put down such a beautiful, loving creature.
Meantime, my two are keeping me busy. Timing is of the essence in the morning--I have to schedule things just right so Sophie doesn't get impatient to go out in the yard before Jacob comes to get his "good morning love" from her on the way to school. I put Sophie out to do her business, bring her in to eat in the study while Scoob goes out to pee and eat his breakfast--the one time he will not tolerate her is when he has food, even a treat. Once Sophie's eaten, she wants to go outside, and no amount of discipline so far will keep her from jumping on me. Most mornings I've got the timing down, but this morning, I got up too early, ended up putting both dogs out, and once she's out there with Scooby she won't come in until she wants to. Who's running this show anyway? Neither one of them ate until I came home at noon.
Sophie's a lot bigger now, but this was taken when Scoob first decided maybe
he could tolerate her. She barks, runs and jumps at him until he tells
her firmly to back off. After all, he's the senior citizen.
At night Scooby sleeps on his foam bed next to my bed and Sophie sleeps in her crate at the foot of the bed. I love knowing they're there, and I hope they love knowing I'm close by. Neither makes a peep--except Scoob sometimes snuffles like an old man. I don't know that I could live without a dog.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Got chili?

This is a picture of Tolbert's Restaurant in Grapevine, an iconic and authentic chili
parlor. Frank Tolbert was the founder and moving spirit behind the annual chili cook-off in Terlingua, Texas. He first opened his restaurant in 1976. Today his daughter and her husband serve forty gallons of chili a day. They still use her father's recipe. Pardon the white car--I'm not a good photographer.

I was scheduled to have lunch with Melinda from TCU Press today, so I called to ask how she felt about pink eye. "I hate it!" was her vehement reply. But Jacob had developed pink eye and would only be sent home from school if he went, so he was mine for most of the day. I thought I'd take him to lunch with us, but his mother came and got him about eleven, took him to the doctor and fed him while Melinda and I indulged in wine and salad at Patrizio's--our favorite lunch. Jacob was a lamb all day--mostly watched TV, played with his Legos, and every once in a while came to the office to visit or make an announcement. His frequent question, after determining that everyone else was in school: When will the children be out of school? My first answer was six hours. But about three, when I had gone to nap with a stern warning to wake me only in emergency, he came calling, "Wake up! Unlock the door! I want to wave at my teacher." I'm afraid I said no. Good thing I had locked the high-up dead bolt.
All this quiet had a great benefit--I got a good start on revising and finishing my chili book. Decided on the organization and did a new outline,sorted out recipes, and saw that I have a lot of work ahead of me. I've been talking to the folks at Texas Tech about this for over a year--we get close and then one of us backs off. But I think the editor is ready to send it for outside appraisal if I'll just get it done, and we're talking about pictures, etc. My big chore now is mostly going to be cut and paste without losing attribution--I'm a little daunted by the prospect. But there is quite a bit of new material I want to add.
It's been a fun book to research, but I will still welcome recipes. So, if you have an unusual chili recipe (I have plenty of traditional, thank you) or a suggestion for something to do with chili--like Frito Pie, nachos, appetizers, etc.--please do send it to me at, and I'll be sure to credit if I use it. Can't promise to use every recipe and can't promise a comp copy of the book. That's all out of my hands. Recipes from all over are welcome because I make the point that chili may have begun in Texas--it really did, and not in Mexico as many people believe--it is now almost a naitonal dish. The title of this book at this point is still Texas is Chili Country.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oh what a wonderful wonderful day

The lyrics to that old gospel song pretty much sum up my feelings about the day. It was the day of my big fundraiser for Lon Burnam--I gave this party only in part because Lon is my friend--more because I think it's important to keep his clear, strong voice in the Texas legislature. Lon's office brought me some Paschal High School mementos for decorations--the selection of a representative for the new ISD district is big news right now--along with much appreciated beer and wine. I fixed most of the food--liver pate, a salmon spread (not the smoky one I usually do but I really liked this and have eaten a lot of it tonight), and a crudities tray that was I thought the peak of my cooking accomplishment for the day--or week. For those with a sweet tooth, I made mini chocolate muffins--I've mentioned this before, but it's the Weight Watchers recipe that calls for a box of cake mix, a can of pumpkin, and a cup of semi-sweet chocolate morsels. I told Jordan a whole cupcake is only one point, and these are tiny. "So I can eat five?" I also made a pound cake and some experimental lemon-basil cookies. I thought they balanced the other things well, but I'm not a fan of lemon desserts and I couldn't taste much basil. Jay and Susan came for leftovers tonight (lots of beer in my fridge right now) and Jay said he could taste the basil. Only things I didn't make: guac and chips, and ranch and roasted tomatillo salsa for the crudities.
And I had my own very special party angel. Jordan whizzed through the house, catching details I had missed or that were more important to her than to me. She kept up with discarded dishes, refilled dishes as necessary, and was charming to everyone. She has a special talent for that.

The event was from two to four, and Lon seemed pleased with it. I was bushed, but Jordan and I got the kitchen cleaned in record time. It worries me a bit that an event like that wears me out--what, me aging! No never! But I figured out it's as I told granddaughter Edie years ago--my feet have grown old, but I haven't. If my feet didn't hurt so badly, I'd have been fine. Tonight I have my energy back--and I only had a brief nap.
I wouldn't overshadow Lon for anything, but my big excitement of the day was the cover to my next Kelly O'Connell Mystery, No Neighborhood for Old Women. My publisher, who did the cover, emailed it today, and I love it. It perfectly matches the cover of the first one, Skeleton in a Dead Space, and you know what they say about branding. Watch for the digital launch April 8 and print editions a couple of weeks later. Now to begin my pre-pub publicity. What fun.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rainy day blues--and a seminar

Rain today all day, varying from a light drizzle to a steady gentle rain. Not cold, but if the humidity is 95% and the temperature in the 50s, it always feels chilly. A good day to stay inside with a good book and take a long nap, but that's not what I did. I was at TCU at nine o'clock for a mass media communications career conference presented by the Society of Professional Journalists (Fort Worth chapter) and TCU's Schieffer School of Journalism. College students and others from all over North Texas attended--I'd say at least 175, and the keynote speaker, a woman I greatly admire, gave solid information on sending out your resume, doing the all-important interview, etc. From my point of view, I should have stayed in that warm bed an hour longer, but I admired the very practical information she provided. It's just that I doubt I'll be sending out any resumes soon.
Then the breakout sessions--on pr, broacast, online work, newspapers, visual communication, and magazine and book publishing--the latter where I was on a panel with Skip Hollandsworth of Texas Monthly and Bob Francis of Fort Worth Business News.
It was fun. There was a moderator, but Skip, a talkative and gregarious soul, did the actual moderating and kept things moving--blessings on him. The students were focused and responsive, anxious to talk about their varying goals. In the first session, most of them wrote daily--journaling, a couple of bloggers, etc. I was surprised that in the second session only one wrote with any frequency--a young woman who had a blog about what she and her children did. We tried to stress the importance of writing daily and of discipline.  I thought maybe the second session was less sucessful than the first, but as I left a young woman who had been honest in revealing her uncertainty about what she wanted, thanked me and said, "You really inspired me." That made my day, and I told her so.
Home to lunch, some odd work at my desk, a bit of reading, and that long nap the day deserved. Woke up so loggy that I haven't been much good all evening, but I did make the last spread for tomorrow's fundraiser.
Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and pretty--perfect day for the thirty to forty people at the fundraiser, though I haven't cleaned the porch. I'll consider that in the morning. But today is muddy and wet, and I have dirty dogs. And a very clean house. I've worked hard all day to make the two compatible. My old dog is content to lie on his bed most of the day, although he refuses food if it's raining--haven't quite figured that one out, except that maybe he considers the rain a personal affront and his way of protesting is to refuse to eat. The young one gets bored and wants to go out every so often. Then she doesn't like it, especially if she's alone, so she sits by the door (under the eaves fortunately) and looks pitiful. Cross your fingers please that I can avoid muddy footprints until tomorrow evening.

Friday, February 17, 2012

TCU's "big drug bust"

My thoughts about this tonight are in a scramble, but I feel compelled to put them in some kind of coherent order. Those of you in Fort Worth know all about it--or the media version. Long-story-short for others: in the early morning hours of February 15, Fort Worth police, working with TCU police, arrested 15-18 students and former students, some on campus and some not. Charges ranged from selling small quantities of marijuana to selling cocaine, fake ecstasy, and prescription drugs. A few undercover buys were made on campus; others in various parts of southwestern Fort Worth but there was always that connection to TCU. Not many out of a student body of what? 8,000. Still it means drugs on campus, which is against TCU policy and against the law.
Apparently TCU got complaints six months ago from students, faculty and parents about drug activity on campus. They alerted campus police, who called in city police, and an undercover campaign began. Unrelated, in January Coach Gary Patterson offered a football scholarship to a recruit and was turned down because of drug activity on the team. He ordered an immediate surprise drug test of the entire football team. First reports, from four football players mong those arrested, said as many as 80 failed; truth seems to be that five players tested positive, and a few others showed trace amounts within the margin of error. The name of those who tested positive have not been released so no one knows if the four arrested football players were among them or not.
There are so many facets to this. Many claim the punishment for dealing pot is out of proportion to the nature of the crime--and that may well be true. The analogy between alcohol and pot is a whole seperate subject. But marijuana is still illegal, and these students knew it, as did those who sold controlled substances. Yet some in the media and on social media have claimed that TCU blew the whole thing out of proportion by immediately calling a press conference and going public with it. Drug problems exist on a lot of campuses and presumably are often downplayed or ignored in the hope they'll go away. TCU chose a pro-active approach and, to use an awful old cliche, nipped the problem in the bud. I say cheers to them.
A long article in today's paper quotes a lawyer who wants the charges reduced so they don't ruin these young people's lives. Do we do that for other drug dealers? I think not. These "dumb young students set up by the cops," as one Facebook post said, knew exactly what they were doing and knew it was illegal. They got caught, and they need to pay the penalty. A slap on the wrist? Not likely to change anything.
There have been contradictory cries of "nothing will happen because they're rich and white" (there is a black boy charged and no one has any idea of the economic status of any of the charged students) to they'll be persecuted (not prosecuted, mind you) because they're TCU students and will be made an example. Probably the truth lies between. There has long been a sentiment in the Fort Worth community that TCU students, often because they are rich and go to a privileged school, think they are untouchable--my daughter, who grew up in that culture, said that to me yesterday. I can only attest to it from having driven on campus, in constant danger of having my small VW squashed by student-driven SUVs whose drivers think they own the road and the rules don't apply to them. Maybe that's the problem here--students didn't think the rules apply to them.
What will happen to these young people (two women included). A retired Canadian law enforcement officer suggested to me that they will be charged and probably given probation, but the offense will be on their record and follow them all their lives. Does that ruin their lives? Not necessarily. Many people have risen phoenix-like from much worse situtions and charges. Yes, it will forever affect their futures--no military service, etc.
Will they be repentant and try to make something of their lives, taking this as a warning sign? I'm not sure. One football "hero" shouted profanities at reporters as he left the jail after making bond--did himself no good and his school no credit. A few others--three I think--of those arrested have priors such as DUIs. Doesn't indicate lessons learned.
Bottom line for me: actions have consquences. I remember when my then-sixteen-year-old nephew locked himself out of his truck and had to walk sixteen miles back to the ranch. All the way he repeated "Actions have consequences." He learned the lesson, and I'm now trying to teach it to a five-year-old. But young men and woman from nineteen to twenty-one: they know. They took the risk, and now they should take the punishment. I wish each of them well. I hope they can rehabilitate their lives--and their educations, though they're pretty much out of TCU.
To the TCU administration: I join with others across the country who applaud the pro-active approach.
And a question: perhaps it wasn't TCU but the media who blew this out of proportion? That's hard for me, because I have friends in the media, and I know some disagree with me. But that's my take on it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

At Loose Ends

Yesterday, I handed over my latest mystery to Fred, my beta reader/most honest critic/mentor (he doesn't like that last term) when we had lunch at Carshon's. Today I mailed my tax information to the accountant. Whew! Two big things off my desk, but I'm now "between projects"--you know how some people rationalize that they are "between jobs"? Not that I don't have work to do--it's just hard, even for compulsive me, to jump right from one biggie to the next. And with a couple of weekend events looming on my mind, I think I'll take a break.
I don't take a break gracefully. Yesterday I putzed--read, explored Pinterest on the web (something I'd avoided), almost got deperate enough to polish silver or something equally unlike me.  I read a book, but it wasn't one I particularly enjoyed--tonight I'm going to stick with it. Sometimes they get better.
I've shopped and made lists for the event I'm hosting this weekend, so can't count on that to help, though tonight I did get out serving dishes, kind of eyeballing what would go in what. I often put notes in the dishes, but today I piled them on the sideboard so Socorro could polish the table when she comes to clean tomorrow. And I'm at the point of noticing little things that need to be straightened or put out of sight--the unhung picture leaning against the dining room wall, the dog medicine, an extra table leaf sticking out awkwardly from under my bed (needed to be moved anyway because I keep stubbing my toe on it). Jordan will come early Sunday and whiz through the house spotting a hundred other things and lighting candles everywhere. She's terrific at that. She's going to be my party angel and emailed today to ask if I had an outfit for her--if I'd thought ahead, I'd have had the black dress (short of course) with white cap and organdy ruffled apron. Darn!
Today, I went through my bulging file titled "Entries Not Tried" looking for something to serve company in a week and a half (now that's desperate), but the good I did was to be hard-hearted about looking at recipes and saying to myself, "That sounds good but I'll never cook it." Discarded about a third of the recipes. Also found about fifteen recipes that belonged in other folders in my appalling collection. I love to sort recipes when I'm planning to entertain--I pull out maybe ten choices, then go through those again and again, gradually narrowing it down. Tonight I have made my choice--not telling as it would ruin the surprise for the dinner guests. And besides, I've got a week and a half to change my mind. I almost always cook something I've never tried before for guests--part of the adventure. I once knew a woman who had her cook try out the entire menu twice before any dinner party. Not me--I just rush right in.
Yoga is not part of my puttering. I try to do it everyday, but today the only way I could work it in was to have an audience. I do my yoga in the room that Jacob considers his own, where he watches TV and sleeps. He didn't want to be budged; my explanations that yoga required silence and concentration fell on almost-deaf ears but finally he said he just wanted to lie on the bed, watch, and maybe fall asleep. He was pretty good--muted the TV and only talked to me three or four times. Once when I was doing a seated pose, with him supposedly on the bed behind me, I felt these gentle little arms around me. When I said, "Jacob, get back up on the bed," he said, "I was helping you, Juju." He wanted to try some poses after I finished, and of course at five he can stand on one foot a lot better than I can. "It's because I'm young," he said phlosophically.
I almost replied, "Well, I can entertain thirty people, and it's because I'm old and have had lots of experience." But I just hugged sweet boy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to Write a Novel--or Not

I've been reading a lot of raves lately for Scrivener Publishing Software--apparently it allows you to write a document in chunks, lay them out in any order, integrate in various ways, and get an overview whenever you want. You can keep track of chapters, scenes, page numbers, etc.Other writers have been using Excel for those same features for a long time. I'm bumfuzzled. By the time I figured all that out (I don't master new software easily), plotted out the scenes, etc., I suspect I could have written the novel twice. I am also puzzled by story boards, white boards, etc. where people keep track of each scene and character. Too much trouble.
It's probably the reason I'm a minor novelist at best, but I just sit down and write. Granted, I have a very rough outline--maybe a page of handwritten disconnected notes--before I begin. But then it's important to me to get a first sentence that gives me some momentum and propels me into the story. I may go back and rewrite that opening ten times, but it gets me going.
And then as new ideas occur to me--they appear all the time as I write--I think, "Hmmm, if this happens, I have to go back and change that." The find function in Word does that for me. When I get all through I read for plot inconsistencies--and find many--among other things. And off it goes to a beta reader, who will find more inconsistencies and problems.
I'm trying to be a storyteller, not to write belles lettres, let alone the Great American Novel. But I will always remember the examples of two Western storytellers I was privileged to know. One was Dorothy Johnson--if you're old enough, you may remember A Man Called Horse, The Hanging Tree, or "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Dorothy had a long career in New York and was there during WWII. After she returned to her native Montana, she worked on a novel, never published, called "The Unbombed," about New York's preparations for the enemy bombs that never hit the city. Once she wrote me that she'd just had a terrible shock: she'd just found out that the man she thought was going to be the hero of the novel was going to be killed in the war. Would that have happened with Scrivener or Excel? Somehow I think not.
And Elmer Kelton always preached to listen to your characters and they'll tell you what's going to happen. He started out to write a novel about a buffalo soldier--it became The Wolf and the Buffalo--and he incorporated a Comanche chief as a minor character. But the more he wrote, the more that Comanche demanded equal time, until the novel paralleled the disappearing lifestyle of the Comanche and the rising circumstances of the buffalo soldier, once a slave. In another instance, he sat at the bedside of his dying father and began to write about his father's young cowboying days, and, to paraphrase, as he wrote the characters took hold of the story like a horse takes the bit in its teeth and ran away with it. The words--and the tears--flowed. That became The Good Old Boys, adapted for TV by Tommy Lee Jones. Both are among the classic works of Kelton's large canon.
To me, that lesson about listening to your characters is about spontaneity in storytelling. It just doesn't happen if yoiu have all those moveable scenes and chapters and characters. A story flows--or it doesn't.
In a way I envy my fellow storytellers who can use these programs to plot--it must make the first draft a lot less painful. But they don't have the fun that I recently did of getting almost to the end of a novel still wondering how it was going to turn out, who is the villain, who the victim? And then--Eureka.
I think I'm old-fashioned.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day? Too much chocolate.

I have gotten over-tired of chocolate on the Food Network in the last few days, and I'm the original chocaholic. But enough is enough. However, my neighbor Jay (you know, the good-looking one) brought over three heart-shaped double fudge buttermilk cakes--each a more than generous serving--with butter cream frosting. The man is trying to sabotage my diet! But it was delicious. At Jordan's request, since Christian was just returning home tonight from a business trip, I fixed salmon (Christian doesn't eat it) with green goddess dressing--oh so good! Had that cauliflower/vinaigrette dish and a green salad. Jacob would have none of it, of course.
Made a lunch reservation last week with a popular bistro that has just started serving lunch. Their sign says 11 a.m., Tues. through Fri. So I left a message making a reservation, along with my phone number. It was a good friend's b'day and we wanted to be festive. Got there and the place was locked, not a soul in sight. Too late to try a couple of other celebratory spots, so we went to King Tut--and I ate too much!
It's been a food day. Made another batch of lemon-basil cookies, but cut back on the lemon and added more basil--these did look kind of green before they baked. Also made a Bundt cake, scrubbed the grill, and  fixed that dinner. No yoga but I probably got my exercise in--and my back hurts a bit tonight.
Darn--can't find the Westminster Dog Show tonight--I thought it went on all week. Guess not.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Taxes and dog shows

Some things are good, some are not so good. On the not-so-good side, it's tax time. I have spent more time than I wish for about a week trying to gather information for the accountant. Every year, I think I'm being so organized--but what I really do is dump things into a folder that says "Taxes." Then of course by the time I hold this piece of paper or that in my hand, I wonder what it's about. For instance, I found an the stub for an honorarium payment that I can't identify--why don't institutions put their name on their check stubs? And every year my accountant's questionnaire changes. In truth, I think it's my interpretation of it that changes. I found a whole new section tonight. I forget what is deductible and what isn't, though I've finally learned political contributions are not. So what's that presidential fund on the questionnaire? And when you gather all the figures together, it's appalling how much you spend on some things--like utilities! I finally get to a point that I just give up and send it to him--but at least I've made a start. My accountant is a patient and gentle man.
The good tonight is the Westminster Kennel Club Show--love watching it. Of course, my Scooby is better looking than the Aussie in the show. And when are they going to start a show for all the "doodle" dogs like Sophie. I do like hearing the history of the breeds--and loved just seeing a bearded collie. We had them once, but believe me ours were never groomed to the fare-thee-well that this dog was.
Did some baking tonight--lemon/basil cookies and chocolate mini-muffins.I'm preparing for a Sunday afternoon fund-raiser for good friend Lon Burnam, for his re-election to the Texas legislature, and I'm a little awed by the prospect. People will pay to come to this party--will my food make it worthwhile? I give a lot of parties, but people don't usually pay--hmm, maybe I should rethink that. I'll save the menu discussion until after th event. I was sort of proud of the lemon-basil cookies but after I got started on the recipe I was startled to realize it only makes sixteen cookies. I made them smaller and got twenty-six but I'll have to do it again. Nervous about making a totally unfamiliar recipe, I rebuffed Jacob's offer to help--which sent him into tears. He eventually settled for getting to "squish" the round balls of dough--recipe said to use bottom of a cup, but he liked his palm better. Yes, I made sure he washed thoroughly first.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On (not) living alone, or my (not) lonely life

In the days after my ex-husband's death, I heard from many old friends, some of whom I'd lost contact with over the years, several of whom I am still close to. Without exception, they remembered our house as a party house with good times for all. One wrote that it was a "beacon of hospitality" and recalled Joel cooking, while I ran around barefoot (and ruined my feet). Another said she as always so pleased to be invited because she knew it would be an exhilarating evening. It was a rare evening that there wasn't at least one extra for supper. I remember one man who batched it for a year before his wife decided to move to Texas and join him--he sat in the dining room and moaned that the only responsibility he'd had for months was to show up at our house on time for dinner, and he wasn't sure he couldn't handle more. A single pediatrician drove in the driveway so often that one night the teenage daughter of friends who lived with  us (another long story) fumed, "Why does he always come when we're having salmon croquettes."
The partying didn't stop when Joel left--but it changed and wasn't as frequent or as frenetic. Some friends drifted away, but many remained, and new people joined their ranks. I remember one friend at a party saying she didn't know anyone and then telling herself, "Of course, Judy has made new friends."
I was busy, working during the day, taking kids to this lesson and that and scout meetings in the evening and often not putting the car in the garage until nine-thirty or so. And then suddenly (so it seemed) I had four teenagers, and the house was full of young people coming and going. Plus there was family and a few who were extended family. It wasn't unusual to have fifteen or twenty at the Sunday dinner table.
As my chickens began to leave the nest, many friends worried how I, used to such a crowd around me, would survive living alone. The answer is "Very well, thank you." Oh sure, there were nights I stared at the TV but I was never pitifully lonely. And now the tide has turned. I love my life but sometimes I want long stretches of aloneness. This afternoon, from 12:30 until 5:00 I had no obligations--got a lot of work done and had a nap.
I have Jacob a lot;I have lunch dates, errands to run, an occasional meeting, classes to teach; I'm giving a fundraiser for one of my favorite local politicins, and I invite people to dinner frequently because I enjoy entertaining and cooking. I wouldn't give up any of this, but I do long for stretches of time when I can get something done. How will I write those next two books, for which I'm obligated?
Lonely? Not at all. Sometimes I think it's a sign of growing up, but these days I always have things waiting to be done, never succumb to "what shall I do tonight?" or watching TV out of boredom. There's too much to be done, and I love all of it.
So tomorrow morning I'll throw together a vegetable soup in the crockpot, go to church, bring Jacob home and fix lunch for two dear friends. Then tomorrow night I'll fix scallop cakes with lime/cilantro mayonnaise for Jordan. Think I'll get a handle on the Great American Novel? Not likely. I'll be lucky to keep up with email, Facebook, and my nap.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sometimes life gets ahead of you

By 11:30 this morning, I had tired myself out. Been to the office to wrap a package for mailing, to the grocery, the post office, and the printing store to pick up a manuscript, to the audiologist to get new ear molds (honest, when they called I thought they said ear mites and I wanted to say, "No, thanks!"), and to Old Home Supply to drop off five more copie sof Skeleton in a Dead Space. I think that marvelous hardware store, which specializes in fixtures for old houses, is my best retail outlet! They keep sending me messages: "We need more books!" It is of course in the heart of the Fairmount neighborhood, setting of my novels. By 11:30, I was at the Old Neighborhood Grill (frequently mentioned in the book) for lunch with an old friend and her daughter. It's still a bit of a shock to realize that this child is forty-five-I knew her parents before she was born, for Pete's sake. Georgia, the one I've know almost fifty years, bought two more books--so of the ten I received yesterday, only three are left on my bookshelf. Woohoo!
I snuck a nap between lunch and picking up Jacob and slept so soundly that I haven't been much good the rest of the day. I woke suddenly, misread the clock and thought I was late to pick up Jacob--turns out I was early. But I spent much of the rest of the day feeling sleepy and ready to go back to bed. Jacob went to the neighbor's to play and then went out back to play with the dogs--only came in when it dawned on him it was darn cold (he's slow to realize such things). We had supper and Sue, my former neighbor who calls me her Fort Worth mom, came for a drink and catch-up session. We both have a lot going on in our lives, and I was super glad for the exchange--plus we agree about politics and social issues. Good discussion.
Made real headway on tax stuff tonight but am far from done. How I hate doing that!
Cold tonight--in the twenties. No wonder I feel like hibernating.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

What in the world is going on?

Two headline events loom large in my mind tonight. The first is a picture on the front page of this morning's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a huge picture, above the fold, crowding out side stories. It shows Rick Santorum praying with about a hundred pastors in a town north of the Metroplex and, yes, they're laying on hands. Santorum claims he doesn't want to be the "pastor of the United States" and yet that seems to be the office he's running for. Is he one bit familiar with the Consitution? You know, that pesky business about separation of church and state? Put aside the fact that I disagree with him on every social issue, from abortion to gay marriage, and that I shudder to think of him as an international representative of this country--well, I disagree with his policies there too. But I can't believe Americans would ever think of electing a man who runs on an openly religious--and bigoted--platform. It scares the you know what out of me. The only laughable thing to come out of his North Texas visit was that someone gave him a cowboy hat--doubt it was a real Stetson--and local columnist and raconteur Bud Kennedy quipped that it probably had the worst crease of any cowboy hat ever. But that badly creased hat won't save us.
The other thing that bothers me is the new book telling all about a woman's affair with JFK when she was a nineteen-year-old, virginal intern at the White House. I am horrified by Kennedy (who is one of my heroes). As the resident medical authority on the TODAY Show said today, he was the president of the United States, forty-five years old, and he took her into a bedroom; she was nineteen, inexperienced, and not in a position to resist power. It was rape. There go the clay feet of one of my heroes, even though we already knew he was an outrageous womanizer.  This was extreme, making you want to say, "Pick on somone one your own size."
But I am bothered about all the hoorah being made over this woman and her book. Sure, she was outed in 2002 or thereabouts and it caused her great pain in her life. I've heard there have been more "outings" but I don't remember ever hearing about it. If she hadn't written this book, which is getting a ton of play in all media, it might have remained a quietly forgotten episode. Now it's a "big thing." How does the author feel about Caroline Kennedy hearing about this?  How does she feel about her own place in history--pretty shabby. Sure, she wanted to tell her side of the story--don't we all after affairs gone awry? But maybe she could have kept a diary. Or, hey, I know a memoir class where she could have told all and it wouldn't have gone beyond the room. Sorry, folks, but I see it as a publicity grab.
The good things out of the day: went to Half Price Books and got $29 for six grocery bags of books. Sorry but I expected more. So Jeannie and I went to Winslow's Wine Cafe and had a good lunch--I spent most of my $29. Easy come, easy go. The good thing? My book shelves are relatively neat.
And tonight was my memoir class--a powerful one in which women shared some heavy stuff. I was both grateful and inspired. Linda came for supper beforehand, as she usually does, and I fixed what I thought was a classic light supper: tomato basil soup, tuna salad, cherry tomatoes, and hearts of palm. Notice the funny color of some of the tomatoes--I didn't like those as well. But notice the new stoneware I bought at a garage sale double bargain.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Gone to the dogs

Today was dog day at my house. About nine, I took Sophie to the grooming parlor, Glamour Paws. Asked for a shampoo, trim around the eys and bottom, nails cut, and agreed to tooth brushing for another $10. I sure can't brush her teeth!
Next Scooby went to the vet. His bark has gotten hoarse lately and he has a bit of a cough, plus he isn't eating well and I was sure he had lost weight. Wrong--he gained ten lbs. in the last year!The vet talked about all the possibilities behind the hoarseness but I choose to think it's kennel cough--and so does she. So Scooby is getting antibiotics and cough medicine. Physical examination showed him to be in very good condition for his eleven years--no apparent structural problems causing the occasional collapse of his back legs and he was nimble getting in and out of the car--no small trick for a good-sized dog in the back seat of a VW bug. The vet said the leg problem could be neurological--another thing, I'd prefer not to think about. She called this evening with results of blood work--outstanding for his age. Neither diabetes nor hypothyroidism can be blamed for his weight gain (I  know just how he feels!)  So I have a geraitric Australian shepherd with a cough, a hoarse bark and a tendency for his back legs to give out.
Sophie is another story. They called to report there would be an extra $20 charge because she was matted--I could have told them that. But when I went to pick her up, I nearly laughed. I took one dog and got back another. Here are before and after pictures:

They trimmed her face like a poodle! Okay, I know she's part poodle, but I like the au naturel--just wanted the hair right around her eyes trimmed back. And she's so fluffy and huge--we always joked that the before Sophie was mostly hair and probably really skinny soaking wet. Now's she's twice the size and so fluffy, her coat, once coarse, is soft beyond belief. It won't stay that way. I learned one thing: we can attribute her smelly coat to the trrait that's supposed to make her desirable. If she doesn't shed, she smells. Apparently the day at the beauty parlor exhuasted her. She's tapped out at my feet.
When Jordan came by, she showed me pictures from the weekend memorial service for her father. He lived on beautiful land, and though many of the pictures showed a world so different from my world,  it made him happy and for that I'm glad. All of my children felt the weekend was a moving experience and were so glad they went, especially because they went together. And they were glad to see their Califiornia sister again. I think they came home enriched and probably a bit changed.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Where is Chaper Fourteen?

Yesterday, after the family left about noon, I hit the computer and was pretty much there until 9:30, with time out for a short nap, feeding the dogs, and a quick supper--which I ate at the computer. I was doing a final run through the work-in-progress and sailed along through chapters four through thirteen. Then, about 9:30 I hit chapter fourteen. As it should, it started on a new page, with "Chapter Fourten" properly dropped down and centered.
And then it was one pagraph, and there, centered in the next block of text was "Chapter Fifteen." I searched frantically--the files on the computer, backup files on jump drives. Chapter fourteen just flat doesn't exist, and I am left wondering if it ever did and trying to reconstruct what should be in it. And in Chapter Fifteen, everything is gallywumpas--passages out of order, repetitions. Whatever I did, I must have done it over time, because you simply couldn't do that much damage at one sitting.
Today was one of those days, and I really didn't get back to revisions until suppertime, so I haven't made a lot of progress. I'm sure I can put all the pieces together again, unlike Humpty Dumpty, but it sure will need at least one and probably two more readings.
One thing that tickles me--I have a tendency to take some passages from the reality of my life. The heroine in this one takes her niece and nephew to look at a dog at the humane society. The niece has been studying available dogs online and found a Labradoodle she really wants--that, of course, reflects my interest in those "doodle" breeds. They ask if they can see the dog on a leash, outside the cage.  But when the attendant goes to put the leash on the dog, he begins to jump all over her in enthusiasm, and Kate, the heroine, has second thoughts about his rambunctiousness. The attendant says over her shoulder, "I"m telling him he's not making a good impression." That really happened eight years ago when I got my Aussie, Scooby. He was three and a half and full of it. He's turned out to be a good dog, so loving, but he never did calm down till he was about ten. Now eleven and a half, his age is showing and he's docile. So I have the wild Indian Bordoodle puppy to deal with.
There's another incident that comes from reality, but I realize telling it would be a spoiler, so I can't share that one--only after you've read it.
Meantime, wish me luck. I think reconstructing a novel is harder than writing it in the first place.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A leftover day

That's the kind of day it was--leftover from rodeo, stock show, Joe T.'s, leftovers for supper, leftover work--plenty of the latter.
Nobody got moving quickly at this house. It was 9:30 before the gang from the apartment came in; meantime Sawyer and Ford asked every ten minutes when Jacob would come inside. I explained he sleeps later than they do--they're really early birds. I puttered and was ready for the day when everybody came in and Christian joined us. Big, lazy, late breakfast of eggs and bacon and, for some kids, chocolate chip waffles. By noon, they were all gone, kitchen was cleaned, house was picked up and I was at my desk.
Had lunch (?) about three--cottage cheese--a nap about four but couldn't sleep, so got up and took a much-needed shower and fed the dogs. Dinner was leftovers--two dabs of potato salad, one dab of egg salad, baked beans (cold), and, for some reason, hummus--an odd combination but good. For any out there who may be expecting Potluck with Judy on Sunday nights, I have decided that trying to post that every Wednesday and Sunday is too rigid. I don't always have a good food topic to write about, and sometimes there are other things to blog. I will post it sporadically, although I just now thought of a topic. I will always welcome contributions, so email me at
I have not heard much from my children in California except a bit second-hand from Brandon, Mel, and Christian when they talked to their spouses. The weekend went well and my kids had a good time, partied hard which they father would have applauded, had fun with their Califiornia sister. Today they spread their father's ashes on his land, as he requested, and Megan sent a picture of herself flinging some in the air. I know that was a significant occasion for them. Anxious to get fuller reports.
And a word about my "other adopted children," Lisa (who couldn't join us but wanted to), Brandon, Melanie, and Christian. I know they came for the stock show, but I feel incredibly blessed that with their spouses (my kids) out of town, they want to spend the weekend with me. It'a a  real tribute to the kind of people they are. And yes, as I lost my stamina (and therefore my balance) at the stock show, they took incredibly good care of me. I am blessed.
As a farewell to the annual stock show, here's Jacob with his dad and the cow he, his dad, and his mom created for his school project. I thought it was pretty cool. You can't tell from the picture, but it's three-dimensional. Kindergarten gets so complicated these days! Jacob is wearing the cowboy shirt that my good friend, his Aunt Betty, gave him. Christian has convinced me he wouldn't wear a cowboy hat if we got it.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Alter family stock show day

The Alter family stock show day was a long day. There's  no other way to put it. It's become a tradition that we all tour the stock show grounds the day after the children and their families go to the rodeo--I have long since given it up, though I used to love it. This year, of course, we were missing my four children who are in Califoirnia for a memorial for their father. But the rest of us, mostly, remained undaunted. Colin's wife has a bronchial infection and didn't want to make the drive from Houtson with two kids. But Brandon and his boys came last night, and Mel and the girls arrived today after getting stuck in horrible traffic and spending two and a half hours in the car between Frisco and Fort Worth.
But about 1:30 we headed for the stock show--and we didn't get home until 5:15. That, my friends, is a long day on your feet. This being the last weekend of the show, our visit to the livesetock barns was fruitless--they were empty. We did tour the barn where the winning cattle were--hot, smelly, close atmosphere but interesting, and the kids loved the baby cattle. Then we headed for the midway. I have to be honest: the midway holds nothing but negative appeal for me except for watching my grandchildren have fun. I get tired, grouchy, and, today, cold as the sun faded and the wind picked up. It did have its high moments--Edie won two stuffed fish, and Jacob won a live goldfish; Maddie, Brandon and the Hudgeons boys rode the Ferris wheel, and Maddie and her mom rode The Big Kuhauna. Edie, it turns out, is her grandmother's child and doesn't like rides, though she did some fun and horror house things. Jacob loved some rides, didn't like the others so much. On one, called the Avalanche, people sit in a row and the whole backdrop rotates up and back--looked harmless, but Christian said it had a free fall sort of feeling and Jacob didn't like it at all. There were several most of the adults agreed we would never  try.

My reaction? Too much midway, not enough animals--we missed the FFA exhibit with the baby chicks and ducks and by the time we got back to it we were too tired. We missed the exhibits with western furniture, clothing, jewely, and TV kind of food and cooking products. All the parts I love best. Next year I'll rethink this. And next year: note to self, wear walking shoes, not tennis shoes.
We relaxed over dinner at Joe T. Garcia's, but even then three little boys, ages seven and five, can get into enormous mischief and trouble. So now we're all home. Mel, bless her, has taken all the kids out to the apartment, Christian didn't go to dinner with us--another party, which is a long story--but he came by and we re-hashed the day.
My house is quiet--hmm. That makes me a bit nervous. Guess I'll go investigate, but we are done, tired, sleepy, all those things.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Rodeo day

Today was a holiday, at least for me. Jacob had no school and was in a day-care play program all day. That meant I could do "stuff" in the morning--a haircut, a quick run through Central Market, and a stay at a mechanic's while I got a new headlight bulb. VW never makes such things easy, and it took almost an hour, but I'm legal again. This afternoon I could work at my desk cleaning up odds and ends--I keep thinking I'll do that and leap into editing the next book, but somehow more odds and ends appear. Took a late nap and flew out of bed to fix supper for two sons-in-law and three screaming young boys all of whom arrived at once. The excitement of being together got to the boys--two five-year-olds and a seven-year old, all of whom like to launch into long (and boring) stories. If we said it once, we said it a thousand times: "Don't rock in your chair," "Use indoor voices," "Eat your supper," etc. I am so thankful they've gone off to the rodeo and the house is peaceful and quiet. I'm going to start any minute on that manuscript. For the time being I've run out of odds and ends.
In fact, that's all there is to this blog. I"m off to work.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Book clubs and the way they see your characters

I spoke to a book group last night, eight ladies, about Skeleton in a Dead Space, the first Kelly O'Connell Mystery. The subject of Kelly's character kept coming up. Most of the ladies liked her a lot. The hostess, my friend who had invited me (Joyce is on the far right in the picture above), found her a bit rash, though she didn't use that term in any derogatory way. But the discussion set me to thinking about how different people perceive a character in contrast to how the author (creator) perceives him or her. A recent review had good things to say about the book but found Kelly remote, snobbish, self-absorbed. Since I incorporated so much of myself into Kelly's character that came as a shock. So did rash, which I would never apply to cautious me. Others in book groups have thought Kelly placed her children in danger by bringing Teresa into her house (this only makes sense if you've read it). In one group, when I was trying to define a "cozy" by saying sex and violence take place off-stage, a woman said "Oh, that's why she never goes to bed with Mike." I had to bite my tongue to keep from revealing secrets of the second book.
My oldest daughter told her mother-in-law that Skeleton is a "highly autobiographical" novel, and of course in many ways it is. The single parenting, the conflicted feelings about an ex, the love of old houses, all come from me. I am puzzled that I, loving to cook, created a heroine who isn't a cook and takes her kids out to eat or orders pizza--but Kelly gets better at meals in subsequent novels. And no, my ex wasn't murdered--he died last week of natural causes--and he was never as slimy as Tim in the book. Nor have I ever been in a physical fight, which Kelly is in the book. So there's some me, some not. And, sigh, there was a Mike Shandy in my life but only briefly. I should be so lucky!
In another sense, I like to think that Kelly is the kind of person I am. One reason I blog and blather about family and Jacob and daily life is to give readers and potential readers a sense of who I am,
what kind of heroine they can expect. So when she comes out rash, snobbish, self-absorbed, I'm befuzzled.
Last night I said to the group, "Oh, but she helps Mrs. Glenn...." and then I realized that's the second book. Kelly and her world are so famliar to me now that I forget there are two books others haven't read.
But I hope Kelly grows and changes in the subsequent books (two are written, and No Neighborhood for Old Women launches as an ebook the week of April 8, probably appears in print a month later). You'll have to tell me. Meantime, most of last night's wonderful women liked Kelly, didnt' think she was rash, selfish, a poor parent, any of those things. And I think I made some more friends for Kelly.
Speaking to small book clubs has been one of the most rewarding experiences about publication of Skeleton. Women in these groups (I've yet to speak to one with a man in it) are open and honest in their reaction. Yes, they criticize but mostly they're very enthusiastic about the book--and I think they've helped me make Kelly's character grow.
About men as readers: I've wondered if the Kelly books are chick lit, wondered if men would read them. Several have and have told me good things, plus several women told me their husbands enjoyed the book. And last night, Joyce, the hostess, said her husband and son were both looking forward to reading it. I asked if she thought it was chick lit, and she said not at all, it had a lot of elements that both men are interested in. So another worry down.
A bonus today: I took out an ad, yet to appear, in the newsletter of a neighborhood that borders Fairmount, the setting of the Kelly mysteries. The woman I dealt with wrote today, apologizing for not getting in touch sooner. She was absorbed in getting the newsletter out and now she's reading a mystery that she can't put down and so can't be bothered with email, etc.--it was Skeleton. What a nice compliment.