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!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rethinking my world

Maybe the holidays are a good time to stand back, look at your life, and rethink what you're doing. I've been charging merrily ahead, eyes always on the mystery I'm working on or the next one, but suddenly I've begun to wonder if that's what I want to do, if that's what I do best. All sorts of questions arise--if not mysteries, what? I won't, can't, don't want to give up writing, and I'd like to make money at it, but do I want to be in the oh-so-competitive world of cozy mysteries? Don't get me wrong--mystery writers are more supportive of each other than any group of people I've ever known, but there are so many of us that all except the stars are little fish in a big pond. When I was at TCU Press, I focused the list on Texas literature because that ultimately made us a big fish in a small pond. Is that my problem? Is it an ego problem?
In this day when independent authors are so much more accepted, and some making big bucks, do I need a publisher? Can I do for myself what they do? The answer is I doubt it, unless I come up with a smashing, unusual idea for a series. So far my cozies are, if I do say so, run-of-the-mill--they fit the genre nicely, they have interesting characters, they are a good cozy evening's read--at least I hope all those things are true. But they aren't breakthrough, mind-bogglingly wonderful.
I've just read the second of Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope series, about a young woman in England in the early years of WWII who ultimately becomes a spy--first a private secretary to Prime Minister Churchill where, believe me, she's privy to all sorts of secrets, and then in the second book as a "maths" tutor to Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) and a spy sent to protect the young Lilibet. The history behind these books is solid, the plots good, and I'm hooked. It's the kind of thing I'd like to come up with.
When I first determined to write a mystery, I wanted one published mystery under my belt. Then, I told myself, I'd be happy. Of course it doesn't work that way--I've published three, a fourth is at the publisher, the fifth is written in draft, and I have plans for the sixth. Is that where I want to stop? I have no idea.
But the holidays are a good time to put all that on the back burner, where I truly do believe things simmer in your subconscious. I've started wrapping presents, and tonight I did my first baking--chocolate banana bread. This weekend, with everyone else already out of town, I'll decorate the house. I do love this time of year, and I do tend to put everything aside and focus on the holidays.

Friday, November 09, 2012

One of those good days

To me, today, everything is coming up roses. Started the morning early to get a new black ink cartridge for my new printer--gosh, the one that came with it went fast! But I successfully installed it and am back in business. A minor triumph. Then to the Container Store for Christmas wrapping supplies--just a few things that cost a whopping $60. It's that thick yarn I love to use instead of ribbon--because I like the way it looks and because I never can make a pretty bow.
Then met two friends who date back to the '60s for lunch at Z's Cafe--terrific sandwiches as always (I love their ham and cheese). Georgia is gluten free, so she brought her flourless chocolate b'day cake, which is like eating fudge. I ate a modest amount and somehow ended up with the rest to bring home. Jacob had some after school and loved it, but tonight he chose some gingersnaps I'd found cleaning the freezer. Said, "I love those cookies."
This afternoon plans suddenly came together, and it looks like Jordan and I will have a week in Hawaii this winter. Excited. I never thought I'd go there. I think the trip to Scotland has given me more impetus for travel--I'm getting it a little late in life, but what fun. We'll go to Kauai and Maui.
And then Jacob was running all over the house, taking photos with his phone (an old one with no service) because, he said, my house is so interesting. He wrote "I love you, Juju" on a post-it, posted it on the edge of my desk, and took a picture. What  more could I ask for?
A minor tragedy: when he wasn't looking Sophie sneaked a piece of his favorite large-piece puzzle off the table and mangled it. He as so clearly mad at her (and threw a kick her way before I caught him) that now she's scared of him. I've told him he'll have to make amends. Hard to make a six-year-old understand that two minutes after she chewed it she didn't understand why he was mad.
And a peanut butter story: I've finally wised up that hydrogenated peanut butter is not good for him (he eats tons of it) so now I buy the kind with oil on top. You have to stir the oil in and then refrigerate it. Yesterday when I made him the requested sandwich, he shoved it away and said, "I'm not eating this healthy peanut butter any more." I mildly answered that yes he was because that was all I had...and he ate it. Want to buy it? Try Smuckers or Central Market Organics. I'm sure there are other brands.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Blogging--a personal history

Some months ago a friend who runs an academic press casually mentioned the possibility of publishing a collection of my blogs. Flattered, I thanked him but said I was in the midst of a novel. The idea however stayed in the back of my mind. Today, having finished the first draft of that novel, with many revisions along the way, I put it aside to send to a beta reader and probably won't go back to it until after the holidays. So it's a good time to start reviewing blogs.
I've been blogging since June 2006--over six years, which means I have a lot of blogs to review. Today there's controversy over whether or not blogs are good marketing tools and I admit I blog in hope that peole will like me enough to want to buy my books. But six years ago blogging was still new, and I only got into it because daughter-in-law Melanie said she thought I had a lot to say. When I protested I wouldn't know what to write about, she said, "Writing, cooking, grandmothering." And she's the one who come up with the name Judy's Stew. I didn't have books to promote, so I began because it turned out to be fun, not because it was a marketing tool. It will be interesting to trace the change over the years, but the early blogs I read tonight are highly personal.
My brother wants me to pull out the family blogs and compile them separately as long as I'm going through, and one of my surprises was how many of my posts have to do with grandchildren and family. I had thought they were mostly either random thoughts or a chronicle of a writer's journey toward mystery. So I'm trying to separate them into those categories. It's kind of daunting to keep the files straight in your mind--and on your computer, and I didn't get anywhere near through 2006 tonight but I'm ready to give up for today. I'm also trying to edit a bit as I go--excerpting relevant bits and pieces but not including an entire blog. It's work, I tell you.
But it's fun to think how much things have changed, how much my family has changed, in six years. My oldest grandchildren was still a child--now she's a sophisticated teen. My youngest wasn't even born. A family picture shows many fewer of us than when we last gathered for a reunion.
Of course my writing has changed dramatically too--I was working and struggling with my first mystery and now I have three in print, one more at the publisher, and one in draft form.  Six years ago I was still working and my daily life was very different--today it's all about writing and cooking and keeping Jacob and going to lunch with friends.
This is going to be an interesting--if long--project, and one I'll do in bits and pieces between other things. But if nothing else I should get a good family chronicle out of it. And I'm enjoying the nostalgia. It's like reading anything else you yourself have written--sometimes I think, "Damn, I'm good" and other times I shudder that I signed my name to something an idiot wrote.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

My post-election thoughts

I have a Facebook friend whose political philosophy differs from mine. We've acknowledged that and are still friends, mostly because we both write mysteries and are members of Sisters in Crime. After Obama was called as the winner last night, she posted something to the effect that this is the end of America as we have known it. I think she's absolutely right.
Where we differe is that I think it's also absolutely appropriate. The 21st Century has brought us new times, a rapidly changing world with global interdependency, technology and rapid communication, climate change and its resultant extreme weather. New problems for a new era, and government like everything else has to adapt and change. The old ways won't work...we cannot for instance go on thinking Russia is our biggest enemy. Climate change requires a different way of legislating energy, a different mindset.
Conservatives, by definition of the term, resist change, yet change is what is needed in today's world. In my humble view, the re-election of President Obama represents that change. The transition may continue to be rough, folks, but we'll get there. I sincerely believe in the Obama campaign slogan, "Forward."
A few conservative friends posted gloom and doom messages today but most said although this was not their choice they wanted to work with the President to move forward. I hope others can be reassured and adopt that attitude. As for the few bitter postings and the unnecessary crowing by some liberals, I choose to overlook that.
Friends, we are all Americans and we are all in this together. Let's work to let our legislators know that we want negotiation, compromise, and action. We're tired of a stalled, do-nothing Congress. And above all, be hopeful. I am.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

How did you spend election night?

Elizabeth, my temporary tenant, volunteered to "babysit" me, because I was nervous about the election--days ago. But today I was sort of philosophical. I made black bean soup and a salad, and then we worked on the jigsaw puzzle. When she gave up and went out to the aaprtment, it was late--all of 7:45! I'm back at my desk, with the television muted. Honest, I found out more on Facebook than I did on the news, and I've decided I probably just want to find out in the morning. Will go to bed early.
Do I think it's a crucial election? Of course. Anyone who knows me knows that. I've been threatening to move to Scotland if the Republicans win, but everyone knows I won't leave my family. (If it weren't for them, the idea has great appeal!) I am cheered now--just glanced at the TV and see that the President has pulled ahead in electoral votes.
This may be as bad as 2008, where we don't know in the morning, but you know what? I've done what I could. I've been vocal in person and on Facebook, I voted early, and, yes, I've prayed. I feel a bit guilty because I didn't walk blocks for the President or other candidates I care about, but that was beyond my precarious balance these days. I've honestly tried to have intelligent discussions with others--not always possible, on either side.
A wise friend wrote that all she wanted was for the country to unite behind whoever wins. Easier said than done, and I fear that our country is so polarized that won't happen. But maybe that's good. Maybe checks and balances will work out and prove the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.
I'm babbling. Sign of tension. 'Night  all.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A voice from the past

One of the wonders of Facebook is that you reconnect with old friends, some from a really long time ago. A few weeks ago a woman sent a friend request. I responded by asking if she was the Ellen I  remembered from years (forty or so) ago. She was. And she liked my mysteries. Better yet, she posted about how much she liked them. I remembered her and her husband, had two tags in mind--photography and dogs. I finally met them when I spoke to Rotary South in Fort Worth but we had no time to visit. Today, she and I caught up over lunch.
She remembered more than I did. We met in 1969 when she and her husband, still in their early twenties, moved to Fort Worth and bought a Cairn terrier from us--we were raising them at the time. We were, she said, their first friends in Fort Worth. I do remember tht we saw a lot of them for a while but then drifted  apart. She had new perspective on my ex-husband,  reminding me that Fort Worth was then still a small town, and she told me things people said. Nothing surprised me, except that it was such general knowledge--like, "Don't go into business with him. You'll lose your shirt."
But beyond that she's had an interesting life and she recounted stories of her trips to Scotland and Norway, apparently the lands of her heritage--well, Orkney to be exact. We shared stories of adoption--she was adopted but did not have the happy experience my children and I have had. We talked about writing and research and wannabe writers who get it wrong. And, oh yes, in this day of limbo, we talked about politics (she actually cheered me with her surness that the President will be re-elected). The whole lunch and reacquainting was lovely.
Tonight a friend came for leftovers, and we visited much longer than either of us meant to, but it was good and fun. And the leftovers were even better today.
No work done, but I've finished the draft of the novel and this afternoon I wrapped Christmas gifts. I can goof off with a clear conscience.

A voice from the past

Saturday, November 03, 2012

A great day with a sort of down ending

Note to self: now that it's getting dark, don't take late afternoon naps. I did today, woke up about 5:30, and was discouraged by the early arrival of twilight. Felt sort of sluggish. Tomorrow, of course, will be even worse. I was expecting Jacob about 5:30 for the night, so I flew out of bed...only to discover his baseball game was cancelled, he fell asleep, and wasn't spending the night tonight. So all in all I felt a bit letdown...but I cheered myself with large sea scallops, a half ear of corn, and a small salad for a late supper. So good.
Until that nap (maybe there's a lesson there), it had been a great day. Temperature this morning around seventy when I went to Central Market, so I put the top down on the car. Got all sorts of good things I didn't really need, came home and made a huge Greek casserole, sort of a version of pastitsio with ground lamb, penne pasta, and a ricotta sauce instead of bechamel. Cooking is my idea of a perfect Saturay morning, though the casserole is for tomorrow night's supper.
Read a book--Hank Phillipp Ryan's The Other Woman--while I ate lunch and then settled down to write. Got the scene rattling around in my brain finished--we'll see how it reads tomorrow. But I have one scene to go to finish the first draft of this novel, and, now rejuvenated by supper, I think I'll tackle it tonight.
After writing came that long, late nap, so I got to do all my favorite things today--cook, write, read, and nap. Still missing doing the puzzle with Jacob but there will be many other opportunities. And who knows? I may go work on it by myself. All in all a good day.
But I'm not happy about the end of daylight savings time. I rather like dark in the morning, and I love light evenings, dread the dark of winter even here in Texas,

Friday, November 02, 2012

Keyboard woes and now great joy

After I killed my wireless keyboard by spilling wine on it (not the first time I've done that), I immediately ordered a new one from Amazon and paid dearly for one-day delivery. It didn't come, though they showed it delivered to my front door at 1:47 p.m. Wednesday. We searched the porch--no keyboard. Called Amazon, and I have nothing but praise for their customer service--at first I got a woman whose English was heavily accented, and I explained I needed someone in the States. After some delay I got a gentleman who was more than helpful.  He refunded the cost of the keyboard plus shipping, helped me order a new one that was more what I wanted (with a mouse--I had worried about how an independent keyboard would work with my existing mouse), and waived the one-day shipping fee when I explained that I had a deadline and I am lost without a full-size keyboard.
Yes, sure, there's a keyboard on my laptop, but I don't type well on it. The smaller size bothers me, but I could get used to that. What I can't get used to is the way the cursor seems to jump from where I want it to be. I'll be typing along and suddenly the word I'm typing is four lines up in the middle of another word (proofreading the little bit I wrote yesterday is going to be fun). I'm sure it's something I'm doing wrong, but I'll be darned if I know what. I try going slowly--still happens. I fear if I had to use a laptop all the time I might never write another novel. As I wrote yesterday, probably a measly 400 words, my thoughts were flying, and I couldn't help thinking if I had my keyboard, my fingers would be flying too.
But tonight I am typing on a new keyboard and mouse. Installation these days is a breeze--install the batteries (they come with it), plug the connector into a USB port, and you're in business. There's an added advantage to getting a new keyboard every so often. I wear the print off my keys, probably something acidic in my system but the white letters disappear. It doesn't bother me much because I'm a touch typist from way back--those high school typing classes were one of the best things my parents every made me do. Others who use me keyboard are sometimes confounded, however.
So I'm back in business and happy. Friends dropping by for a quick glass of wine around seven. Wonder how much I can write after they move on to the dinner date? I'm writing the climactic scene of that novel, and it beckons.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Adam's Off Ox

My children have always been wonderful about including me, as have their friends. So it came as a shock last weekend, when most of us gathered in my oldest daughter's Austin home, to realize they were all in a circle in the kitchen...and I sat at the far end of the huge granite kitchen island, clearly out of the loop. The few comments I tried to add to the conversation went unnoticed. I was isolated  amidst a sea of noise. With the grandchildren and TV in the background and the grown children all talking (they get louder with a drink or two) all I heard was a cacaphony of sounds that I could make no sense of. If I took my hearing aids out, I heard a faint rumble. I felt about as useless as Adam's off ox.
I think it's a circular problem. I have a hard time hearing, so I retreat to my book or my iPad. The children think, "Mom's reading her book or Facebook" and count me out. They think I'm not interested in their talk, not realizing how much I want to be part of it. I don't think this is my problem alone--hearing people don't realize the isolation of the hearing impaired.
I certainly don't want to demand that they all talk directly to me, but yet I want to be part of their conversations. It was, after all, a family gathering. I talked to Colin, the oldest, about it the next morning, and he said, "We'll figure something out." But I think the solution is up to me, and I'll begin by making an appointment with my audiologist. And then I think I'll make it a point at Thanksgiving to put my book aside and slide right into the middle of that circle.
But I have a plea for those of you who have a hearing-impaired family member--don't lose patience when they don't understand--a funny thing about hearing loss: sometimes I hear the words but they don't transmit to my brain as anything meaningful. And maybe go out of your way to see that they are in the conversation.
And don't choose noisy restaurants!
This is not a problem I ever expected to have. I have not flown in a lot of noisy planes nor listened to a lot of loud music--neithr is my style. I suspect, from things I've read, that my hearing loss traces back to a combination of hormones that I was given in the '90s. But that is neither here nor there--my hearing is getting worse, and I don't like it. It's up to me, no one else, to learn to deal with it. But, gosh, guys, I'd like a little help...and a lot of love.