Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dither Days and Dog Days

Sophie has decided it's play time
With Thanksgiving so late this year, I realize that Christmas is less than four weeks away. Tis the season to be in a dither--what to do first?  Should I begin to wrap presents, worry about the grandchildren for whom I have no presents yet, start a grocery shopping list for holiday cooking? I get so dithery about it I'm sure I'll end up reading most of the evening and accomplishing nothing. Some years I set myself a goal of wrapping four presents a day but then, when I get into it, I'm surprised at how quickly it goes (my packages are nothing fancy to write home about).
Not that I didn't accomplish things today--two groceries stores and the hardware (where I bought the wrong size light bulbs so I'll have to go back--I was so intent on getting soft light rather than bright white that I didn't look at the size of the socket they were meant for). Edited a blog, took care of details on my desk--a cooking magazine I'm marginally interested in just tried to double bill me and I was proud of myself for tracking it down. Did my yoga (while Sophie slept through it).  Did read and nap.
Now, with one eye, I'm re-watching the National Dog how--still missed the Irish Wolfhound. I love those gentle giants. But it's fun to watch and say to myself, "I used to have one of those...and those." Cairns, collies, bearded collies, Irish Wolfhounds, an Aussie, an English cocker--there are so many dogs waiting for me on the Rainbow Bridge. I loved every one of them but some more than others.  I talked to someone the other day about that classic dog we each have--we love all our animals, but for many of us there's one that stands out. For me, it was a magnificent, regal male mahogany collie named Shea who adopted us. We kept him for a year for friends who had a temporary teaching assignment abroad. They came back and collected Shea, but he kept returning to us. I'd hear a rustling in the bushes outside and know Shea was back. When my then-husband and I were ready to move to Texas, we oh-so-tentatively asked the owner if we could take Shea. And he said, "I thought you'd never ask!" For my brother it was a wonderful German Shepherd who followed him to class in medical school--John would take him out of the building, but every time someone opened the door, King was right back at John's side. Finally, John would tell the teacher, "If you just let him stay, he'll lie quietly by my side." And he did.
Don't get me wrong--I adore Sophie. She's as sweet as she can be and probably smarter than Shea and King put together, but she'll never reach that height of dignity. Maybe it's big dogs, but Sophie was never meant to be dignified. And she'll never be in the National Dog Show--Bordoodles, like so many of the "designer" breeds, aren't recognized by the AKC.
Sophie has funny habits. When I call her to come in, especially after dark, she seems to think I'm winning if she comes right in. She either looks at me or runs in the other direction. If I leave the door open and get out of sight, she'll come in. But the rules of her game are that I can't watch her. Lately she barks at me when I eat my supper, a sign she wants her supper. This is the dog who used to ignore her food until ten o'clock. I can't figure her out a lot of the time, but I sure was glad to get home to her yesterday.
Back to my dither, think I'll map out a cooking and grocery schedule--that is, when Sophie decides I don't have to play any more.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Reflections on the blessing of the season

I'm just back from two days in Frisco with my younger son, Jamie, his wife, Melanie, two granddaughters, Maddie and Eden, and Mel's parents and brother. I've spent holidays with them before and am grateful for the warm hospitality I feel. Jordan arranged a meeting spot on the road where they could hand me from their car to Jamie's (my kids take good care of me) but it was later than we expected. Jamie's family had already eaten, so he and I went to his favorite pizza restaurant--and it is really good. When you have four children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren, time alone with one child is a real blessing and I reveled in his company, hearing about his work, and his lessons on how to use my new 5s iPhone--that was to be a theme of our time together.
Thanksgiving Day was lovely and calm. We watched the Macy's parade and then the National Dog Show, which I loved. Mel had prepped for days because she didn't want to spend all day on her feet, and we had a lovely meal of turkey, ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, dressing and coconut pie. After we cleaned up from a late lunch or early dinner, everybody went to the movies--except me. I didn't want to spend my holiday watching either Gravity or Hunger Games II. I read (Wrong Girl, by Hank Phllippi Ryan) and napped, kept company by a wonderful chocolate lab and an itty bitty Morkie who has finally decided she'll let me love on her.
Today was more of the same--hanging out, visiting, checking Facebook, and readings--I'm hooked on the book). Jordan and family arrived about one, adding  one more child and two dogs to the mix. Jacob had a lively game of football catch with his oldest cousin, Maddie. It was after three before we finally left for home and four-thirty before I got home--side trip to Central Market (wish I'd had my list for tomorrow with me!).
Sophie was overjoyed to see us, and frankly I was pretty happy to see her. I hated to leave her for two days, but she survived just fine. She seemed more interested in Jordan than me (not unusual) but we both smelled of other dogs. We quickly settled back into routine and had a fierce game of tug of war tonight--followed by fetch when she finally let go. That dog has obviously wormed her way into my heart--though when I said I'd thought about asking if I could bring her to Frisco, there were horrified cries of "No!" "She's too hyper!" Why does everyone always think my sweet, loving dogs are hyper?
Came home tonight to things that cheered me--a lovely, thoughtful note and gift from my former tenant and longtime friend, Elizabeth. And neighbors Jay and Susan had decked my deck with lights. I am so grateful to be surrounded by people who are so thoughtful.
And after days of being dependent, asking Jamie about this, that and the other on my phone, I was most proud that I figured out my data plan and bill by myself--upped the number of data minutes. And the stuck door that I called Jay and told him would need "brute strength"? I figured out a shot of WD40 and medium strength would do it--and it did. Feeling very self-sufficient.
It's been a good holiday, and I may milk it all weekend and not get down to serious work until Monday. Meantime, I'm most thankful for family and friends, especially those of you I only know through the net. God bless.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Life picks up the pace

After my three-days of cabin fever, life got a little more exciting this morning. When I opened my email, I found several messages from FB Friends who had received a friend request from me. Some were puzzled, but others weren't...and neither was I. I had an impersonator. Someone had copied all my pictures and information and sent requests to people who were already my friends. Apparently they do this to collect information on others and to send harmful links, hoping  you will open them because you trust me. Somewhere along the way, this impersonator changed his/her name from Judy Alter to July Alter which gave some a clue. I changed my password and tried to report the site to FB--but I never could pull it up, so apparently the impersonator was smart enough to block me.
But what thrilled me was the support from my FB friends--many, many wrote to tell me about it, some with helpful suggestions, others saying they had reported it to FB. Some joked, some took it seriously, but it took me all morning to answers messages and deal with this problem. Not sure I've done that successfully yet, but I do want to thank everyone for their support.
My day of deception wasn't over (Deception is a keyword in the title of a forthcoming Kelly O'Connell Mystery). My daughter, grandson, and I left for lunch about 11:30, only to find a shabby green car with no hubcaps, scraped paint, and lots of signs of abuse, parked in front of my house for no reason. The man driving was on his phone, and there was a woman in the back. Couldn't tell who was in the passenger seat.
In my neighborhood we have recently been warned of an increase in break-ins between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. A special warning was out for a car with no hubcaps and three Hispanic males. Naturally I was a bit concerned and suggested Jordan drive around the block (I often do this when I see suspicious cars). Confusion ensued, not helped by Jacob's continuing comments--apparently, as I didn't realize until later, the whole episode scared him. Finally we parked at a stop sign where we could see the car and called 911--we have been repeatedly urged to do that when something is suspicious. Better safe than sorry. As we finally took off for lunch, Jordan called my neighbor Jay, and he said he'd go check it out. By the time he got there, the car was gone. The police said they would check the neighborhood. Calling was good for two reasons: it shows people we're serious about neighborhood protection, and the more calls police get the more attention they pay to the neighborhood.
Jay joined us for a beer where we were lunching, and we rehashed the whole thing. Jacob spent the lunch hour watching for police cars--finally saw two--and was ecstatic when he saw a helicopter, which he assumed had taken the bad guys. When we got back to the house, the first thing he did was rush inside and reassure me that my computer was still there.
Wow! More excitement than I'd had in three days.
About cabin fever, I've decided the Lord helps those who help themselves. I knew I was a couch (maybe computer) potato those three days. So today I resolved to take charge of my life--a lesson I learn over and over. I did my yoga, did a lot of household chores, especially taking plants back outside and watering, and resolved to watch what I eat and drink. Fell down a bit on the latter--when we went to lunch at a hamburger place, Jordan ordered us each wine, though I had a chicken salad sandwich which was really good. Then she came back after Jacob's play date about 4:30 and wanted more wine. Then at 5:30 I went to supper with Betty--meatloaf, black-eyed peas, and green beans, and another glass of wine. I'll be going to bed early tonight, but it sure beats days of isolation.
Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cabin Fever

This is day three of a self-imposed stay in the house for the storm that a whimper and not the expected bang. I just set my mind to staying home Saturday through Monday but by tonight my own company is wearing thin. Even Sophie is bored with me. Not that I haven't accomplished things.
I've unpacked the Christmas decorations and got the house in fairly good shape--ready for Jordan's inspection and oh-so-tactful suggestions. Most of it is the same as it is every year, but this year I wanted to do something different on the dining table. This is what I've tentatively come up with:
His name is Santa Mac, because my father, a good Scotsman, was called Mac, although I doubt Dad ever wore a kilt. Friend Jeannie Chaffee happened on him on a shopping trip somewhere and knew I had to have him. Jordan may well object to the absence of candles--we'll see. The table stymied me for two days--waiting for inspiration to strike. I had put Santa Mac in his usual place on the bookcase and just happened to glance at him tonight. Voila! I don't think all my decorations made it out of the attic but since I need Santa's helpers to get them, I won't complain--my helpers did a good job. I can't go search for missing items because I'm not allowed to go into the attic--one of the few rules of living alone that I'm happy about.
I know you're not supposed to decorate before Thanksgiving--whose unwritten rule is that?--but this year Thanksgiving is so late that when it's over, Christmas will be upon us.
I've written a guest blog, assembled the neighborhood newspaper, and am almost done with a last trip
through the fifth Kelly O'Connell novel before I send it off to the editor. I think its title is Deception in Strange Places. I've made a pot of soup, which I froze, and served dinner to guests. It hasn't been an unproductive time at home, but I've had enough, thank you very much.
I could have gone out today because of the storm that wasn't, but I had no plans, nowhere to go unless I spent money, and the damp cold didn't inspire me. By the time Jordan invited me to come for wine, I was set in my at-home mode.
Getting out tomorrow for lunch and dinner--it's about time! And by this weekend it will be sixty!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Well, that's what daughter-in-law Melanie called it, though I may have the spelling wrong. But there's something about North Texas ice storms that leaves us in anticipatory tension long before they're due. Maybe it's modern forecasting techniques that warn us so far in advance. Or maybe it's just the bone-chilling cold outside. But I've already felt ice-bound today though the bad weather isn't supposed to hit until tomorrow night.
What I thought was to be a day at home alone, brightened by dinner guests, turned out to be quite a sociable day. Moksha, who has taken care of my pets for several years, came today to check out his key to the front door and get an update on Sophie's needs, and we talked for a long time about all kinds of issues, mostly political. And then neighbor Jill came to pick up packages UPS had left here--I gave her all the extra diapers I had left for her year-old son. And we visited briefly A nice conversation with my brother, and it was lunchtime before I knew it--or got any work done.
I mentally prepared for housebound days, so I slept late and lazed through the day. Ashamed that I served my guests prepared food--I always cook for company--but it turned out well. I did tiny bits of work but somehow things like emptying the dishwasher, setting the table, making ham salad for lunch took up most of the day.
Tonight, newly discovered good friends came for supper--I've known the husband for years in a professional relationship but we only recently discovered each other socially, and they are both a delight. Della, the wife, is a dog whisperer and Sophie was entranced. A fire in the fireplace to ward off the chill, talk of old times and people we'd known--he's a physician and she's in health care and we had lots of friends in common and lots of memories--made for a delightful evening. Watch for the dinner menu tomorrow night on Potluck with Judy.
Life is good, and I am blessed.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Whoa! A norther blew in

When I first moved to Texas I thought "norther" was some sort of a nonsensical term. And then I experienced one of those dramatic and severe drops in temperature when, sometimes, the air turns blue. I'm not sure last night brought a blue norther--too dark to tell--but it sure brought lots of thunder, lightning, and rain along with cold temperatures. This morning I braved the cold to go to the grocery store, and now with predictions of freezing rain and the like, I'm glad I did. The only other time I had to go out was to get Jacob and a pal from school across the street. (Their much anticipated play date left them both saying they were bored, so they passed the time by wrestling--though Jacob had brought cards, action figures, and all sorts of things for this occasion). I think I scored because I fed them chocolate covered donuts with sprinkles.
But now it's evening, I have a fire in the fireplace, and I don't intend to go anywhere. Probably not for the next two or three days. Church on Sunday is iffy. I have company coming for supper Sat. night and everything in the house to prepare supper, and Sunday I feel a pot of soup coming on, even if I have to eat it by myself and freeze the rest. It's cabbage soup, and I seriously considered substituting sauerkraut--there used to be an old restaurant on Fort Worth's North Side that served wonderful tomato/sauerkraut soup.
Tonight I'll work on that manuscript I'm editing and I'll watch some of the JFK tributes. I've been surprised that I've not been more interested in those than I am, but I think the memories of living through that tragic weekend, glued to the TV, are still raw enough that I don't want to see much of it again. Was he a great president? I don't think the votes are in even yet, but there's no denying he had a vision and a dream for America, and he was compassionate and charismatic--and in that sense he brought us magic. The magic died when he was shot down,  and we've never reclaimed it. In the few programs I've seen, I've been surprised by the great pain he lived with daily and the measures he took to be able to be "on" constantly when he campaigned. Maybe he took a lesson from FDR, another of my heroes.
Elsewhere on Facebook I posted that I see similarities between the dreams, vision, and compassion of JFK and President Obama. I expect to get slammed for that opinion, but I'm just not going to answer.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Down dog gets a new meaning

Sophie on alert against that pesky squirrel in the tree
outside my office--he keeps taunting her and she falls for it every time
I've always been told, in training dogs, that once you're on the floor, all bets are off and you're a toy for the dog. So I try to do my yoga routine when Sophie is outside, but a few times I've left her asleep in her favorite chair and she's ignored me. Not so tonight. She'd just been out--my daughter let in her in not knowing I didn't want her. And since it's a damp night, Sophie wasn't interested in going out again. I worked a bit at my computer until I thought she was comfortably asleep and then went off to do my yoga.
All was fine during the standing and sitting routines, but about the time I knelt on the mat, she came, found me, and began to lick my face. To give her credit, when I said "No," she backed off. She'd watch a bit in curiosity and then come lick my face again. Saying "Sit," had no effect--and she's usually good about it. She just stood and watched me as though trying to puzzle out what I was doing. Then she settled for lying on the floor, watching over me as though she had to be sure I had not gone insane and put myself in danger. She'd wander away for a bit, but then she'd come back--but she never bothered me, and I didn't encourage her by talking to her.
When I came to the relaxation phase at the end of the routine I thought she'd gone away, but as I lay there with my eyes closed she began to lick my face--attempting to revive me? I told her she was good but to go on, and she did. I did a rather shortened version of the meditation (which often turns into prayer for me) and sat up, only to find she had fallen into her relaxed sleep pose--on her side, all four legs stretched out in front of her. She never budged when I told her how good she is.
Thinking I may get a dog as a companion when I do my yoga from now on, and I like that thought. Of course I didn't have my camera, so I didn't get a picture of how cute she was.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Omigosh! I look like a MacBain!

The MacBean Clan Plaid
Don't get me wrong. I'm inordinately proud of my Scottish heritage and my membership in Clan MacBean. My house is dotted with Scottish items--a rug in the clan plaid, two hangings featuring the clan crest, a picture of Gillys MacBean who was a hero/martyr at the Battle of Culloden in the 18th century. But my aunts and grandmother had a definite MacBain look, and while I loved them dearly, they were not particularly attractive women--their faces long, with bags under the eyes. An air of sadness or resignation hung over them and showed on their faces. They'd had hard lives--my grandmother gave birth to five children, saw four survive to adulthood; an Anglican minister's wife, she moved her family from one parsonage to another every two years and probably they were as poor as church mice. I have few memories of one aunt, but warm and wonderful ones of the other two--one was crippled in her twenties by rheumatoid arthritis and lived a pain-filled life, a spinster until probably her sixties when she married the widower next door who helped her turn faucets and jar lids that her disfigured hands couldn't handle. I spent more time with the third aunt--I called her Ha, though I don't know why. Ha took a cynical attitude from her difficult childhood but she married a sophisticated fun-loving man, enjoyed life, and one summer when I stayed with her for two weeks, treated me more as a friend than a child.
That MacBain look worked well on my dad--a man of great moral certainty, a leader with great self confidence, strong liberal leanings, and an inbred sense of right and wrong. Even the jowls looked okay on him. But I didn't want the MacBain look and yet I find it on my face more often as I age.
This all came up today because I was trying to take a picture of Jacob and his anteater project with my new iPhone 5s that I don't really understand. He took it from me and took about twelve videos of himself, which I managed to erase. But the phone was stuck on that mode where it tried to take a picture of me, rather than what I was looking at. If the phone is just below your face, it's not an attractive look.
Jacob and I practically fought over the phone, with him assuring me he knew how to fix it--he didn't. I finally wrested it from him, switched its focus, and got a good picture of him with his project. It really is impressive, depicting the habitats of anteaters--forests, swamps, and grasslands.
Hard to settle down to homework after all the hilarity with the camera. No, I'm now showing those pictures.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The holidays are upon us

Every year, we all bemoan the fact that Christmas things come out in stores the day after Halloween, but this year it seems to me more people have begun to prepare for the holidays earlier than ever--and that includes me I suspect the reality has sunk in that Thanksgiving is really late this year and after that it will be two winks before Christmas.
Eighty-plus temperatures did not create a Christmas feel last night, but I bribed Christian and Jacob (Jordan was out of town), Susan and Jay to come for supper and get my Christmas decorations out of the attic. It's an annual chore they all dread, but none of them will let me go into the attic. Sue and Teddy came by before supper for a drink, and we all sat on the deck and talked, laughed, and drank too much wine. Dinner was, ahem, delayed. I fixed a Mexican casserole which was okay but probably not a keeper and a killer black bean/corn salad--really good. Jacob even ate the casserole because we all laughed at him when he said, "How about if I go straight to the ice cram?" Susan and I cleared dishes but Jay and Christian lingered at the table until I wondered if they'd forgotten the mission for which I fed them. Just as I was about to remind them, they got up and got to work. It was accomplished in no time--but now I have to deal with all those plastic bags in the guest room! And wrap packages.
I have, as I've mentioned, started cooking. Some satisfactory sausage balls are in the freezer, along with some that will have to be thrown out. Jacob and I made chocolate mini-muffins, and today I added my family's traditional cheese ball to the freezer--with the result that the front of my T-shirt is green with parsley. I have butter softening, hoping I'll at least get the dough made for peanut butter cookies tonight. Then maybe this weekend Jacob can help me dip the ends in melted dark chocolate and then crushed peanuts. A lot of work but oh so good.
I am almost through with shopping but with sixteen in the family I keep thinking,, "Oh, this one is getting more than that one" and I worry and buy more. Got to stop that.
I enjoy the holidays, love them, love having my family together as I will this year, but along about now it looks like a lot of work. And how did it get to be mid-November already anyway?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Foolish Frugality

Our heavy frost of earlier in the week has been replaced by temperatures in the 70s and predicted to go to 80 by Sunday, so I spent some of the day carting plants back outside and discarding those left out that had frozen--vinca can easily be replaced. Everything else seems to have come through intact--even the dusty miller that Jacob insisted he had to have. We hid the Boston fern and plumbago in a sheltered corner of the porch and watered them thoroughly and while they don't look happy, they don't appear damaged.
Greg carried in my lush pot of basil for me, and I brought in the skinny one from the deck. It seemed senseless to carry them back out, because eventually they'd have to come in, and I know I'll start over in the spring with new plants. We've had about enough pesto around here so I decided to preserve the leaves, using a method I'd read about online. Blanch the cut basil in boiling water, then plunge into ice water. Dry, pull of the leaves, and freeze in a single layer. The whole process took the better part of an hour--talk about the watched pot that never boils! And want to bet I never use them? That's what I call foolish frugality.
My whole day was a foolish waste of time--thinking I had nothing to do today but pick up Jacob and keep him overnight, I piddled my way through the day and accomplished nothing. I did finish the book I was reading. Now I'm feeling more ambitious. I've made salmon cakes for supper and cleaned a small head of broccoli. After Jacob finishes his allowed time on the iPad, I'll enlist his help to pot some herb samples I got on my last trip to Origins and to make mini-muffins for the freezer.
Then I've got a manuscript to read one last time--a reader worries about the shift from past to present tense and what she/he sees as one big gap in logic. I can easily work around that but must read for tense. There is also the allusion to a possible affair between a female high school teacher and the student she coaches in both math and basketball. The reader said this had to be brought to the publisher's attention but the publisher is fine with it. One line in particular bothered the reader--the other boys were jealous just based on their suspicions. Well, come on, that's how seventeen- or eighteen-year-old male minds operate. A senior editor said she thought that line added veracity, so I feel vindicated on that score. After all, we read about this every day in the paper.
Still don't like that it gets dark so early.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A cooking misadventure

I was all prepared tonight to write a jolly blog in the nature of "Heigh Ho! The Holidays are coming. Time to cook." Went to the grocery and loaded up on ingredients for things to stock the freezer for family and friends. Tonight I decided to make what would be easy--sausage balls. Everyone know that recipe, right? Ground sausage, grated cheese, Bisquick (hate to use it, but....) and a bit of pepper. Recipe warns the mixture will be crumbly. Wow! Was that an understatement. Shape into a ball in your hand--okay I could do that. Then roll into a bill--not a hope. I finally put the individuals balls onto the pan, where they recrumbled. I re-shaped them. Recipe said to move with spatula halfway through cooking to avoid sticking--you got it! They crumbled. And it took them three times as long to brown as it should have. I thought the few cohesive balls were a bit burnt and tasteless. They'll probably go in the garbage. The best part was where the cheese had oozed out and fried on the pan--like the little bits that do that on a grilled cheese sandwich.
I will admit to one error on my part--I bought a small box of Bisquck because I didn't want any left over--turns out it only had 2.5 cups while I needed three. I added a half cup flour. Now, really, what could that hurt?
I have a theory, however, that a little white wine makes everything better, so I put in just enough wine to bind the dough and made two more pans. They were so much easier to do and look so much better out of the oven. They're cooling, so I haven't tasted one yet--and since there are now so few, I'm reluctant to do that. Of course, the wine probably improved them.
But if Christian, my son-in-law, wants to know why he doesn't get sausage balls anymore, he better read this blog.
Next I think I'll tackle the big project--chocolate chip bars, a recipe that makes two 9x13 pans--but not until morning when I'm fresh. And tomorrow night, Jacob and I will make some chocolate mini-muffins that have only three ingredients and are like zero points on Weight Watchers. If all those fail, my Christmas entertaining will be catered.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Absorbing reading and other excuses

No blog tonight, because I've let myself spend the day reading Through the Evil Days, the newest Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery. There's an old philosophy about writing--back to Shakespeare maybe?--that a good story begins with the principle character[s] in a terribly complicated, dark, hopeless situation...and proceeds to get worse by the minute until it seems no solution is possible. Spencer-Fleming has mastered this technique in her Russ Van Allstyne/Clare Fergusson books, and her characters are complicated people drawn to each other by an irresistible attraction. No, this is far from a happy-ever-after love story--the universe throws one complication after another at them, and half the time they're irritated, irritable, irrational. A friend of mine put it well when she said what attracts her to the books is the moral dilemmas and complexities that Russ and Clare face.  Both are military veterans and the survival skills they learned on duty serve them well in the impossible physical situations they get into.
No, I'm not ready to write a review. I'm not even halfway through the book, but I find myself neglecting my own work, desperate to turn to the next page, the next impossibility. So there. That's an excuse for reading all day. It was a cold, cold day but under a brilliantly sunny sky. I ran one errand this morning--amazed at how the sun warmed my car--and then was content to stay in and read, eat a meatloaf sandwich, and nap. Surprised at how cool it was when I went to get Jacob. We did his homework--as usual, he unfocused and me harping (that's literally the word) on paying attention. We differed on the approach to one math problem (I know I am right) so we deferred it to his father.
Betty, Christian, Jacob and I ended the day with a wonderful dinner at a new Mexican restaurant--small, quiet, clean, and terrific food. Lots of fun. Fort Worthians, try Trevino's.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Anteaters, first frost, and why am I so compulsive?

Thanks to Jacob, I now know more about anteaters than I ever thought I would...or really cared to. He gave his oral presentation today and apparently it went well. I remember dry throat, shaking knees, all that anxiety when I had to stand up in front of a class at his age. He's so much more assured and self-confident.
Preparing for the freeze had me all in a tizzy today, but I realize I owe so much to people who take good care of me. The Bundocks, Lewis and Jim, came and wrapped my pipes, some of which are where I can't get to them. Then Greg came and we put plants inside, put hanging baskets in sheltered corners, and I watered them well. Praying for the best. Watered everything but I know the vinca, fountain grass and other things will go. Brought in all the basil and will preserve it some day soon. (Rally meant to do it today). Harvested parsley (wonderful crop this year) and chives. Guess I've done all I can.
I was also being my most compulsive worst this morning. Needed to go to my doctor's office--20 minutes away-to get something, and decided I absolutely had to go there before my 8:30 breakfast group. So of course I woke up at 5:30, couldn't go back to sleep, got up at 6:30 and was at the dr.'s before they opened up. Back home with ten minutes to spare for a Book Ladies breakfast, which was thoroughly enjoyable. Back home with 45 minutes--the time Greg came--before a 10:00 a.m. interview. The neighbor who interviewed me said I seemed like a very patient and calm person, and I wanted to say, "Boy, have you got the wrong girl!" Then rushed off to an 11:15 lunch with a cheesemonger friend--interested to hear all her reports and exciting plans for the future. She has evidence that cheese makes us healthy, not fat, and she's lost 11 lbs. in 11 mos. A good steady rate
The day went back to normal after that--nap, homework with Jacob--he had a hard time focusing--a brief visit from Jordan, and then Jacob and I were off to the Old Neighborhood Grill for supper with the neighbors. He was delighted to see them, and it was apparently mutual. I am grateful for neighbors who welcome him to an adult dinner and include him in the conversation.
Now, Jordan has been to pick up Jacob, and Sophie and I are settling down to our routine. An early night, I think.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Foodie adventures

Last night I reported on my relatively unsuccessful attempts to cook simplistic meatloaf and pasta sauce. The meatloaf made a great sandwich today, and I added crunch with the semi-cooked onions from the pasta sauce. But I think the sauce will go in the garbage. The lesson learned is that I should have simmered a pasta sauce with herbs the way I usually do and made meatloaf the way I do with celery, chopped onion, ketchup, mustard and all those good things.
I got to reviewing in my mind what I've eaten in the last couple of weeks and it's been a varied diet--starting with white anchovies, lamb carpaccio, and a marrow bone. Then homemade chili, not too hot but with a kick, two nights in a row and a generous helping; tuna in a restaurant where I knew better than to order tuna--I think they just opened the can, put it on some wedge lettuce and covered it with tomatoes and grated cheese and served it with a side of ranch. Then there was sushi with generous wasabi, more marrow bones with foie gras mousse (very bland, tasted like whipping cream), fried oysters, and a Greek meal--ate just a little vegetable moussaka, all the green beans, spanakopita, and Greek salad. No wonder my stomach is in an uproar. I'm sticking to comfort food for a while. And lots of yogurt.
I'm still finding it gloomy that it gets dark all day, and today had only small bits of sunshine. I had nothing I had to do--no shopping or errands, no deadlines--and as a result I spent the day piddling on the computer or reading a novel that I'm really enjoying. But it made for a lazy, non-stimulating day and I felt draggy. Glad tomorrow is Sunday--church and probably Jordan and Jacob for lunch, then dinner with friends.
Got out of the doldrums tonight to have dinner with good friend Mary Volcansek. You know what? I felt brighter already when I put make-up on! We went to Pacific Table and had a fabulous meal--she had scallop salad and I had tuna carpaccio (so much for sticking to comfort food). We split a grilled artichoke--so good!
The world looks brighter to me tonight. Jordan and Jacob were waiting when we got home, and Jordan's gone off to a dinner party. Jacob and I will go to bed early, though he's hungry but doesn't want any of my offerings. Surprise!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Pasta, dog food, and other grandmotherly woes

Jacob and I have had dinner, read Boxcar Children for 17 minutes, and  written a long overdue letter to Elizabeth--well, that is, he dictated and I wrote except he signed it with a flourish. He's played with his leggos so that they are now scattered all over my desk and is watching something inane but harmless on TV. The last few nights he's been reluctant to go to the back of the house by himself, so here he is--in my office.
Dinner was not a success. A picky eater, he really likes red sauce on pasta. I found a simple recipe and made home-made sauce. He announced he wasn't hungry, and I knew why: he left four, yes four, snack bar wrappers in the playroom. I told him if he was going to sneak food without permission, he should at least be smart enough to put the wrappers in the trash. I swear the child has radar--he said, "Can we have the other kind of sauce?" Every time I make something from scratch for him--my preferred way of cooking--he wants the canned or preserved or whatever. Discouraging. Except I would never have admitted it to him but I didn't think the sauce was very good--I'll perk it up with some more salt and Italian seasonings. Meanwhile, no snack, no dessert--when he announces he's hungry I'll put more sauce on the pasta and reheat it. And we're going to bed early tonight...very early.
We had a mystery while we were eating dinner. When I was setting the table I noticed dog food scattered on the floor of the playroom. Neither of us could figure out where it came from--the lid was tight on the can (he checked for a rat inside); if Sophie had gotten into it the lid would be off, and she would have eaten, not scattered it. Jacob decided it was a ghost, which led to a discussion of ghosts--I fully believe in good ghosts and told him I'd seen some in the house. Of course he wanted to know date, time, full description, etc.--details I didn't have in my mind. Then when I went into the kitchen, he saw a whole family of ghosts in the backyard. The motion sensitive light in the way back went on just then, but my suggestion that ghosts activated it alarmed him a bit. Hope this doesn't mean he wants to sleep in my bed tonight.
Sophie obligingly cleaned up the scattered dog food, though Jacob had a great game of finding small pieces she'd missed and hand feeding them to her. Then she ate every bite of her usual dinner, so I don't think she got into the food can. And Jacob swears the scattered food was not there when he came home from school. A real mystery.
I tried new yoga poses tonight--chair sit against a wall went well, but have you seen those Facebook pictures that advertise a simply way to lose belly fat? The picture shows an alarmed-looking woman sitting in what looks like a "V" pose--legs straight up at an angle to the back, which is also straight up at an opposing angle. I want to tell you that's hard to do. However, if that old lady can do it, I'll master it. And I practiced hunkering, which is a yoga pose but has a more mysterious name. Whatever, hunkering is hunkering, and I never could do it but now can. Not easily, however.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Facebook and obituaries

Guess you can tell from the heading how I spend my first minutes at my desk every morning. I read email and then the newspaper. I would attribute my habit of poring over obituaries to my age--friends and acquaintances show up more often than I like--but I've always read them. I grieve over the children and wonder if the teenagers died natural deaths, were suicides or overdoses (ah, the society we live in). I look at people's ages--those younger make me feel lucky and those older give me hope for a long life yet to come. Sometimes I think it's ghoulish to read the obituaries, as though in the back of the mind lingers the thought, "At least it's not me." And yes, I've rough-drafted my own--when the time comes my children will find it on my computer.
But today I really studied the faces in those pages, and I concluded the photos often give you a clue to the lives the people have lived. Some are joyful, even playful, and you suspect the person lived a good and happy life. But others are plain--no smile, no hint that life was good. Did the family just not choose the right picture or was that how this person lived life? It's like a window into their past, and I hate to make quick judgments. For my part, I leave the photo choice to my children, although one not very flattering photo makes me look very contemplative, like I was a deep thinker. I like that but I think they may choose one of me in western garb looking young and happy. It's sadly out of date but maybe it speaks for my life.
If obituaries are a bit depressing, I find Facebook fun and interesting. I've developed more rapport there with several people I've known for years than I ever had when I saw them frequently. There's a colleague from TCU, now retired and living in Alabama, who reposts all my pictures of dogs in need of forever homes, joins in political discussions, and recounts some of her own adventures. And there's another acquaintance, now semi-retired from Baylor, who reposts those dog pictures, talks about her own dogs, teaching and other matters. Even my best friend from high school--we've kept in touch all these years but FB has brought us closer together and now we also exchange personal emails frequently...and we've had several good in-person visits. There's a man with whom I could not disagree more vehemently about politics and religion, but he reposts my dog pictures and sends me nice, appreciative messages on my non-political posts and wishes me a blessed day. I think I'd like to sit down over lunch with him sometime. And a new friend I picked up because she liked my reply to something the aforementioned gentleman posted. The web of friendship spreads, and I love it.
Sometimes FB is the first place I learn of breaking news--like today the Senate passage of the ENDA bill (wish I knew what that stands for--Employment Non Discrimination Act?). I can't think of other instances but there have been many. I know you have to take posts with a grain of skepticism (and check Snopes), but I still find it a good way to keep current on events and controversies--like the many opinions, facts, and misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act. Things I don't get from our diminished daily newspaper.
I got on FB to keep up with my children but they now post only occasionally. I also thought it was a good way to tell people about my books, and it is. But a friend who posts liberal, feminist messages said she also posts about her grandsons and animals so people will know she's really a nice person. And I guess that's what I want--for people to know me as a person and not someone who is just pushing her books. See you on the 'net.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Small victories and other trivia

The people of this country saw small victories last night. No, it's not partisan--yes, I'm glad some Democrats won but I also rejoice for Chris Christie (can't quite figure him out). I think the small victories go beyond the partisanship that is so destructive these days. Last night, many Americans said no to the extremists of the right wing who would force their opinions on us. Terry McAuliffe may not be ideal, but he's better than Cuccinelli. And there other signs across the country that some Americans are coming back to their senses.
President Obama is in Dallas tonight. I've seen several derogatory comments on Facebook, such as "All hat, no cattle." Texans have an amazing ability to show a lack of respect for our president, and it bothers me. Whatever you think about his policies, he is the duly elected leader of our nation. With so many programs on the forthcoming anniversary of JFK's assassination, I felt a bit of trepidation as the president landed in Dallas.
On a happier note, Jacob is running around the house playing football with a foam Baylor football. Makes me nervous and scares the dog--I always knew she was a smart dog. We have done our homework, though this afternoon after he did his spelling, I said we'd move on work on his project--he has to research anteaters.
Jacob: Can't we take a break since I have a bad attitude?
What does one say to that? Bad attitude is all the more reason to say no to Minecrafter time out, but how much progress are you going to make with a kid with a bad attitude? I caved. But now we have worked on the project and he's read The Boxcar Children for fifteen minutes. And we are through with Minecrafters for the evening--two  hours digital is his max these days.
I'm babbling. Enough. Happy Wednesday evening everybody!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Bad day at Black Rock

Yesterday was indeed a bad day at Black Rock, mostly because of computer glitches. I decided, after long procrastination, to tackle some insurance matters, but my scanner wouldn't send me an email--said it had no connection. Call Staples where I bought it and was told to call Hewlett Packard, which I did--I thought. Turns out I let some outfit called Dial-a-Tech take over my computer and tell me it's a mess, thoroughly corrupted with viruses, etc. and for only $369 they would fix it and give me virus protection for two years. Scariest thing to me was that the tech asked if I did online banking, and I said yes. In retrospect I am banging myself in the head and saying, "Dumb, dumb, and dumber."  I thanked the tech, who I think was in India, and told him I'd call back. Called my son-in-law, the computer consultant, who told me it was horribly wrong and who I'd gotten. All that time I thought I was letting HP take over my computer and that's why I answered the question about online banking. Said son-in-law was so focused on how they got control of my computer and what they did that he never addressed the scanner problem. I changed bank info as best I could, and then I called an official HP tech--who was in India, and I couldn't understand a word she said. She promised to talk more clearly and louder, but I said it was no use In desperation I went into the official HP site and figured out how to scan from there--more trouble than the printer, but it works and this morning I got the insurance business submitted.
But the thought that someone could hack my bank accounts made me so frantic that I was not patient with Jacob and his homework...and he had lots of it. We did the math (a breeze for him), the spelling (a breeze for me), the reading (a pain for him), and then began research on his project on anteaters. We looked at and he took notes on the National Zoo site and we both learned a lot about anteaters--which was not my primary interest at the time. And he wanted instant attention, when I was focused on son-in-law's emails and what to do to protect my bank account.
I fixed grilled cheese for supper, only to be met with "I don't like your grilled cheese. Can I have something else?" I said no, try it. He took a bite and said, "Not too bad actually." But then he didn't eat it or the apple slices because one slice had the husk of a seed still on it--how careless of me! I wouldn't let him get anything else to eat and about eight when he said he was hungry, I offered him the dinner still on the table and he ate half. Mean Juju!
Today was a much better day, though I sort of lazed through the rainy, drizzly hours. Got some work done but not a lot, and ended the day at supper with neighbors at the Grill. It's truly a neighborhood meeting place--ran into a good friend, and then another neighbor joined us and we had a truly interesting discussion. Stayed an hour and a half which I never do.
Ready for bed. The change in time leaves me sleepy in the morning and sleepy at night A no-win situation.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Alaskan adventures

When I was maybe nineteen, a friend and I decided to drive the Alcan Highway to Alaska--can you tell we were bored with our lives? The plan was patently ridiculous. For one thing, I drove a VW Bug and she, a French major, had a Peugot, neither car suited for the trip. Our parents kept quiet about this great plan, apparently knowing it would never happen. And it didn't. Our attention turned elsewhere. Since I have turned out not to be a great traveler, it  was a good thing.
I had lunch today with two friends--both former book review editors for the Dallas Morning News. Bob retired before the great newspaper layoffs, but Cheryl got caught and eventually accepted a job with the newspaper in Anchorage. Periodically she sent back tales of life in Alaska--vegetables preserved somehow so they turn black almost as soon as you get them, wild animals roaming in the streets. Today her tale was about two teenage girls who banged on her door, begging for help--a mama moose was after them. Apparently they had gotten between mama and her babies. Cheryl let them in and slammed the door, but the moose hit it so hard it bowed. Cheryl herded the girls through the house and into the car in the garage thinking if the moose got into the house, she'd just drive away. But she had visions of the moose tearing up the inside of her house and said it was the only time she, a totally nonviolent person, ever wished for a gun. Except if she killed it, it would be her responsibility to salvage it--skin and butcher the carcass. You can't just call someone to do that for  you. I decided once again I was glad I didn't go to Alaska.
Bob and I actually spent a lot of time talking Texas politics, and Cheryl has apparently been keeping up because she chimed in. Then we got to "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" I finally asked Cheryl if she'd had enough Texas talk and she said quickly, "No. Keep right on." I think that girl is homesick, but it was good to see her.
Hearing her moose story also made me realize how fortunate I am...and how dependent. I rely on the contractor who takes care of my house (he would have done something with that blasted moose!), the friend who takes care of my yard (and removed the dead possum, which was surely above and beyond the scope of yard care), and the woman who cleans my house. People ask all the time when I'm going to give up my house, and I guess the honest answer is when they all retire. It takes an army...or at least a village to run my house, and I'm grateful for them. I'm also glad I don't live in Alaska.
Thanks for a lovely lunch, Cheryl, and a delightful visit, Bob. I am flattered you came all the way from Dallas.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

This, that and nothing

Sunday is the day I post Potluck with Judy and usually don't do Judy's Stew, but I have to say something about how amazing the service was this morning at University Christian Church. The entire service was John Rutter's Requiem with full choir and orchestra--all as background for the offering and communion, with the usual prayer and a brief homily. I'm not a good listener--movies, concerts, events which require me to sit still for long make me antsy. But I went to church alone this morning, resolved to let the music just wash over me--and it did. It was, of course, an All Saints Day service of remembrance for those we've lost, and many people went forward to light candles. Heartbreaking to see one young woman, holding the hand of a child, come back down the aisle in tears. I didn't light candles but I thought about two friends who lost their husbands this year, and then I thought I haven't been touched much by death, except for losing my parents. But as I meditated, with that glorious musical background (The Twenty-Third Psalm was part of it), I realized that over the years I've lost many people who were important and special to me. It was indeed a good day of remembrance, to hold treasured memories close.
And a beautiful fall day, though I still found it chilly. I had the sinking feeling I may be too cold all winter. Sophie has reacted to the cold weather by spending the day sleeping in her favorite chair--I've given up the battle of telling her to get down, because the minute my back is turned she's up there again. So now she can get on three pieces of furniture--the chair in my office, Jacob's bed, and the couch if Jacob invites her.
A bit of unpleasantness--turns out there was a dead possum behind the garage apartment. A neighbor called both me and Jordan, afraid that Sophie would chew on it--I suspect she's far too refined a dog. Jordan suggested I call the next-door neighbor, but I said he's more squeamish than I am. I called Greg, my friend/yard guy, and he came down and disposed of it while I was at church. Grateful for good friends and concerned neighbors.
Depressing to me to have it turn dark at 6:30. I fixed a comfort meal--scrambled eggs and bacon, a roasted slice of cabbage (see Potluck with Judy for this amazingly easy treat), and a Clementine--I bought a whole bag of them and it turns out Jacob won't eat them.
Off to write a book review and maybe turn on the fire in the fireplace. Good night to feel cozy.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Cynthia Ann and other old friends

I was astounded today that my youngest daughter has no idea who Cynthia Ann Parker was. I've read books about her, edited a novel about her unhappy East Texas years, included her in anthologies about women of the West. But today I heard a most interesting talk by Glenn Frankel, new director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas/Austin. His latest book is The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend. I knew The Searchers is considered one of if not "the" classic western movie--how can you beat the combination of John Ford and John Wayne? To me that movie set the tone for future movies, just as The Virginian set the tone for novels for years to come.  But I didn't realize the connection to the Cynthia Ann Parker story. Frankel's talk touched on Ford's career and the fortunate, for him, timing of this project, what Ford did to build Wayne's career, but mostly Frankel talked about the many and varied iterations of the story, and I learned a lot. One thing I learned is that nobody knows much for sure beyond the basic facts. Frankel has obviously done thorough research and is immersed in his subject, but few Parkers left any record--one distant cousin interviewed some of the principals in the 1880s and left her interviews, meant for family only. Cynthia Ann of course left no journal--as some other captives did--and her family didn't seem inclined to publicize the misfortune of their poor relative who had obviously met "the fate worse than death."
The talk, followed by a showing of the movie, was part of a series of programs sponsored by Preserve Granbury. Simultaneously there was an exhibit of artifacts, photos and other items shedding light on the lives of Cynthia Ann and her son Quanah, who had the wisdom and foresight to lead his Comanche brethren on the white man's road, having seen that resistance was futile. The whole story is an amazing piece of history of the American Southwest--and we should all know it. Praise for Preserve Granbury for organizing this educational series. Future programs will deal with the treatment--historical, fictional, cinematic, etc. and probably literal--of the Comanche in Texas. A program right up my alley.
I was there because of my friend Linda. Our friendship goes back to the early 1970s when we were doctors' wives raising young families. We've always felt a bond, though I think in the last ten or fifteen years I've seen more of her than I did for a while. When her second husband died suddenly last week, I knew Linda would  need me not so much at the service (which I was unable to attend) but later. Last night she came for supper--one of our traditions has been that I cook something unusual but something she likes. Not much meat, but anchovies, pasta, etc. (For last night's recipe, see tomorrow night's Potluck With Judy.) She spent the night, and we went to Granbury this morning. Went to the program (lunch was included) and the movie, though I ducked out and spent that time in the adjacent Hood County Library contentedly reading on my iPad. Linda felt obliged to stay because she was one of the organizers of the series--and because she wanted to see the movie. We went back to Linda's house to sit and visit some more--we'd done a lot of that last night--and wait for Jordan and Jacob, who came for an early supper and brought me back to Fort Worth.
Jacob was puny but my, it was amazing what two orders of kid spaghetti did for him--perked that child right up. Linda and I split baked whitefish--really good and half was enough.
All in all, a satisfying twenty-four hours, one which reminded me once again of the strong ties I have with old friends and how much they mean to me, how they are there in my dark hours and I can be there for them. No, it wasn't at all maudlin--Linda and I laughed and joked a lot. It was fun, but underlying it was that layer of support, that sense of "I am here for you."