Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's resolutions

I never make resolutions. I think it's foolish. We set these grand goals for ourselves and forget them long before January ends, partly because they're so lofty we can't attain them.. I've always believed in a more moderate approach--like this year I'm going to be a better person, walk in another person's moccasins before I judge them, an so on.
But this year I've made three resolutions, taking a hint from the man who recently said he was going to make one personal, one business, and one health resolution. I've got mine ready:
Health - I'm going to do my yoga routine at least four times a week, no excuses. I used to do that, but this past year the slightest excuse found me saying, "Not today." My back hurts, I didn't have time, the stars weren't aligned right. You name it, and it was an excuse for me. But I know I'm out of shape, and I know it's important as we age (and I certainly am) to stay flexible and active. Besides I bought a cushy new yoga pad.
Business--I'm going to be more disciplined about my writing. Less time on Facebook, etc., and more time devoted to writing new copy. Although I published three books this year, they reflected in large part writing done earlier. This year I'm going to concentrate on writing new material an finishing the projects on which I have a half start.
Personal - this is the one I'll probably break by January 10, but I am going to resist responding to blindly stated, rock-held (but in my mind erroneous) opinions on politics, social justice, the environment, gun control--all those controversial issues. Sometimes when people post comments that I consider blind belief and not rational exploration I can't resist leaping in. But I'm going to try. The guy who says "You can't take my guns from me" the same day a two-year-old shoots his mother by mistake will get no response for me. Neither will the person who claims climate change is a bunch of hooey. Hardest will be resisting those who blindly hate President Obama and claim he's ruining the country. But I cannot change their minds, and I hope to stop beating my head against a wall.
I saw a post today from a woman who said she will continue to condemn rogue cops, even while she continues to praise the majority of police officers. That, to me, is reasoned discourse, and if folks want to engage in that, I'd be grateful. I want to know when my thinking has veered off the chart of rationality--but only if you, too, are rational about it. Facts, folks, not prejudice.
Yes, I'm a progressive, a liberal, a tree hugger, an anti-gun person--but I'm willing to be reasonable about all--well, most of it.
So there you have it. Wish me luck in 2015. Because I wish you all the best that can be, all that your heart desires. Health, wealth, and happiness for everyone...and, most of all, peace in this sorry old world of ours. I, for one, am most grateful for all the blessings of my life. I hope you are too and that they continue for all of us in the year to come. God bless!

an absurdly happy day

Because there was no school and his parents both had to work, Jacob spent Monday and Tuesday with me. He was cheerful about trips to the grocery both day, though he confessed he hates grocery stores. Such trips are hard on me because I make the mistake of holding out a treat. Monday I had to say "No more cereal when we have two boxes," while he countered "Juju, we don't need that much Kleenex." My explanation that I like back-up fell on deaf ears. Central Market was easier--we came away with a container of six oatmeal/raisin cookies, his choice. They may just be my favorite new thing--we each ate three yesterday. So good. And I rationalized to him that they're good for us.
Last night Jacob spent the night. We went to dinner with friends Jacob particularly enjoys (it's mutual), and his parents didn't want to come get him at eight nor did I want to drive him home. This morning, I delivered him to his mom's office at 9:30 so they could be home in time to watch the TCU bowl game with young (well, they are to me) friends.
And then I was home, absurdly happy at the prospect of a day home alone with Sophie. We are holed up in my office with a heater--cozy when I've been cold all day. I admit to fiddling at my desk and only starting on work late in the morning--still have to do yoga but a nap beckons.
One precious moment with Jacob: when I have my nightly love and tummy rub session with Sophie, on her dog bed  next to my bed, Jacob hangs his head upside down over the edge of the bed and looks at me. Last night, he asked, "What do you want to talk about?" I don't remember now what we talked about, but as I drifted off--and he tossed and turned--he said, "You know what I really like? The conversations we have when you're loving Sophie." Be still my heart. Sometimes I wonder what he'll remember twenty years from now, and I guess that's one thing. May all his memories be that pleasant.
Tonight, weather permitting, I'll go to a bring-your-own-steak dinner with Jacob and his family and the football watchers who will no doubt stay to watch the new year in. Christian is a master at cooking my meat the way I like it--seared on the outside and very pink in the middle. I'm anticipating a nice small sirloin. And an early-to-bed, quiet New Year's Eve.
And to all, a blessed New Year with peace, joy and love.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Poltergeists and other creatures of the night

Do you believe in ghosts? I've always said I do and I don't, but I sort of alarmed two of my grandchildren Saturday on the drive from Tomball when I said I thought there were ghosts in my house. Are they scary, they asked. No. They're friendly ghosts or as I like to call them, using an old country term, "haints." My very first novel had a scene about haints and a dark cemetery, and I guess that's stayed with me. But in at least two houses I've lived in I've felt the presence of other spirits, and sometimes, just for a fleeting moment, I think I see a figure lurking around a corner or peeking through a doorway. I never feel threatened, and often at night I wake with the sense that someone's in the house watching over me. Sometimes it's my mom, gone almost thirty years now.
When I lived in the big house I refer to as my doctor's wife house, two good friends told me they saw people. Winston, the shirt-tail uncle who helped raise my children, once sat in the dining room, looked across the large entryway into the sunken living room, and asked, "Judy, who are all those men in  your living room?" Alarmed, I asked if they were threatening, and he said no, they were friendly. Then a friend who stayed in our upstairs guest bedroom for a while reported that figures walked in and out of her room at night but all were friendly. So, don't count me as a disbeliever. Jacob keeps wanting me to show him a haint, but it isn't as easy as that. They don't stand still for a viewing.
A week ago yesterday, my hot water heater just flat quit. Nada. Not a drop of hot water, once I'd used what was in the tank. The plumber came first thing the next morning and declared he could find nothing wrong. Just to be sure, he blew it out, cleaned it, and said "Call me if it goes out again." It hasn't, so far.
Yesterday my furnace quit, and I woke to a cold house, as I wrote last night. First thing this morning, the furnace guys were here. When I got up this morning, it was 61 in the house; by the time they got here, about 9:30, it was 72. Go figure, because they couldn't. They spent well over an hour (with dollar signs going round in my head) checking out everything they could possibly check out. No problems at all, so they left saying, "Call us if it does it again."
Coincidence? I don't think so. I think there's a poltergeist in the house. A poltergeist (noisy ghost in German) is a ghost responsible for loud noises (okay, I did hear some things go bump in the night last night) and for moving objects around. I think of poltergeists as mischievous, sort of like the Christmas Elf (do you think he hung around?).
I think a poltergeist is responsible for my water heater and furnace troubles. I just hope he doesn't get into a battle with my friendly haints.
What? Me read a paranormal novel? No thanks. I'm not interested. But I suspect in reality the paranormal is all around us.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Poor Pitiful Pearl

When I got out of bed this morning and had my morning conversation with Sophie, I thought I was unusually cold. Temperature in the house was mid-sixties and falling. Now, 64 makes a lovely fall day outdoors; indoors it makes for a darn cold house. Being a natural-born mechanic (not!) I fiddled with the thermostat. The furnace kicked on--for about two minutes and quit. It did that periodically during the morning. Lit the gas logs in the fireplace--they add a cheery sense of warmth but not much heat unless you stand right before the fire. Called my neighbor, Jay, and he brought over a small heater for the office, which was soon a comfortably warm space. When I had to venture out, I felt like a pioneer having to go to the barn to feed the animals in a blizzard. I was debating where to sleep and decided on the apartment. Jay advised me to go turn the heat on right away, and that triggered a belated thought--the apartment is heated with portable electric heaters that look sort of like old-fashioned radiators. Both are now inside, one in the bedroom and one  in the kitchen. Not perfect, but they do take the chill off. This afternoon I crawled into bed under three blankets and had a cozy nap--didn't want to get up. The furnace company called about noon, and I assure them I'd live, so they said they'd be over first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, the temperature inside and out is falling.
Spent most of the day holed up in the office, re-formatting a manuscript. At one point, the screen suddenly went blank, and I tried to remember when I'd last saved my work. Rebooted and discovered a good thing about Windows 8--it saves work even when you don't. So I didn't lose anything.
The final blow came about five when I was at my desk--leaned over to pick up a paper that had fallen on the floor and had a sharp pain in my left hip. Discovered it hurt to walk but gets a little better with movement. I'm still limping but it needs to go away by tomorrow--too much to do.
I limped around the kitchen, watching the news while I made comfort food: tuna/noodle casserole. I'm sure I've shared this before, but here's my secret method of making that dish that so many scorn with bad memories from childhood:

1 c. white wine
Assorted dried herbs—thyme, parsley, oregano, summer savory, tarragon, etc. (avoid Mexican spices like cumin); just throw the spices into the wine
1 small onion, chopped
½ c. celery, diced
2 Tbsp. butter
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 7½-oz. can water-packed tuna, drained
1 c. carb filler of choice, cooked—noodles or rice
½ c. green peas
1 small can French’s fried onion rings
Boil wine with herbs until the herbs turn black (about five minutes). Remove from heat.
Meanwhile sauté onion in butter. Add this to wine, along with soup. Add tuna, drained, or 1 cup diced chicken or turkey, the carb filler, and green peas for color. If there’s not enough liquid for your solid ingredients, add more wine. You can also vary the amount of meat and noodles or rice to suit your taste. Put into casserole dish and top with canned fried onion rings. The size casserole dish you use will depend on how big you make your casserole, but it’s best to have a shallow dish so that more of the casserole gets fried onion topping. Bake at 350° until bubbly and onions are brown.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Home again

No matter how sweet the visit or trip, it's always good to be home again. I've just spent four lovely, restful holiday days at my oldest son's house. We shared a lovely Christmas Eve meal and Christmas day two very excited grandkids got mini iPads and almost anything else they wanted. Christmas dinner, with my daughter-in-law's Norwegian mother at the helm, was nontraditional--Norwegian hamburgers with gravy, mashed potatoes (to go with that gravy), green peas and green beans plus chocolate pie.
I spent much of my time reading, eating, and sleeping-somehow at someone else's house you can put behind you all those chores that rush at you at home. But I did do some work, and I allowed myself time to get lost in books--a luxury of time I don't always take. My thanks to Colin, Lisa, nine-year-old Morgan, seven-year-old Kegan, and John and Torhild Griesbach for making me so welcome.
Today two of my wonderful children played "throw Mom from one car to another." Actually we met in Marlin, Texas, which is about halfway between Tomball and Fort Worth. Only my family could get lost in a town the size of Marlin, but we managed it--separately. We finally all made it to High Cotton, a home cooking restaurant where we had lunch and a good visit. Naturally the three grandchildren wanted to go to one house or the other together, and we had to explain that getting back and forth--a four-hour drive--wasn't that easy.
Now I'm home. I've been welcomed suitably by my sweet dog who probably enjoyed the pet sitter a lot more than me. A teen-age boy, he took her on long walks and played fetch with her. Still she seemed glad to see her family when we came in. I'm unpacked, the mail is sorted, and I'm ready to move on. Think I'll read some more.
I have several days to think about resolutions but I read something from someone today who said he was going to make three resolutions: one personal, one business, and one fitness. Sounds like a plan to me.
Y'all have a nice, lazy evening. I'm going to.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Well, it's Christmas night--is it all over?

I was tempted to write about the letdown of Christmas night and the anticipation of the new year to come. For a couple of months I've been focused on the holidays--I don't know if you start that early--so nothing else much got done. But I was always aware of that new leaf I was going to turn over after Christmas. I probably wouldn't even wait until New Year's--in fact, I did my yoga routine today and that's part of my new leaf. The rest of it really has to do with  establishing a writing schedule, getting serious about all the projects on my computer and in my head, doing some of the cooking and entertaining I want to do.
By Christmas night, with dinner behind us and the dishes done, it's too easy to think it's time to move on. A bit of a let-down, yes, but also, at least for me, a time for looking forward with optimism.
But then I read the weekly Advent message from my church, this written by senior minister Larry Thomas. Larry lamented that he would have chosen to write about the first week of Advent, when we're all gearing up for what he called the "Christmas marathon" and our energy is fresh. By Christmas night, our energy is sapped and it's sometimes hard to maintain the spirit of peace and goodwill toward all men.
But he suggested not rushing past Christmas, not hurrying to put it behind us. Leave the decorations up, even until Twelfth Night. Sit, quietly and peacefully, in front of the tree or the fire, enjoy the company of family or the peace o quiet meditation. Christmas of all times brings us together in a spirit of awe and thankfulness and love--treasure that feeling and let it linger.
No, it's not an excuse for procrastination--I still have to do my yoga and once I get thank-you notes written and finish the novel I'm reading, I have to get serious about that novel in progress. (Maybe that in itself is a bit of procrastination.) But I can carry the spirit of Christmas with me--probably all year long is a bit too much to hope for but I can try. I can be kinder and gentler, with loved ones and strangers. I can pray for peace and for solutions to world problems such as climate change. I can still write that great American novel.
Sit back, smell the scents of Christmas, and linger in the holiday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas wishes from the Alters

We're scattered tonight but my family joins in one voice to wish you all a blessed Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Anyone for brinner?

My little neighborhood group had a really fun get-together for Christmas. Jordan and Jay (the handsome neighbor) concocted the idea of brinner--breakfast for dinner. They did most of they work, but it was potluck--Subie and Phil brought Bloody Marys, Greg and Jaimie brought a delicious fruit dish, Christian made the wonderful potato casserole we both make (so rich--cheese, sour cream,, butter, etc.) but so delicious, and Jay brought pancakes, real Vermont maple syrup (he will hear of no other and scoffs at claims Canada has better syrup) along with an egg casserole. Maybe it was the Bloody Marys but everyone was very jolly, and we decided we had invented a new tradition--Christmas brinner, though Jay suggested we don't have to wait for next Christmas. We could celebrate the summer solstice, though I think we would need lighter food. Hmmm--smorgasbord sounds good, a real traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord!
One hitch tonight--I've had no hot water all day, and the plumber I use doesn't take calls on Sunday. I left a message but will call again early early tomorrow morning. The "experts" among us tonight decided it's the thermacouple, for whatever good that does--except maybe I can give the plumber a heads up. Fortunately I had decided to use disposable plates and plastic flatware, but I always run the flatware through the dishwasher and use it again, which means I have an appalling collection. And some dishes have to be hand-washed, plus I have laundry to do. Most of all I dread washing my hair in ice-cold water in the morning. Shower? Forget it.
This group--eight of us plus Jacob and occasionally a neighbor from across the street--are, I think, one of the reasons I could become a recluse. They gather, always at my house, and we have so much fun, it's so comfortable that I often think why should I go out into the world when I have the wonderful cocoon in which to laugh and enjoy.
But go out into the world I do--several parties last week and today, in spite of a little balkiness on his part, Jacob and I went to church. The sanctuary is so beautiful and the music so familiar and so rich that I didn't want to miss Christmas Sunday.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Blessings for a quiet time

When my neighbor, Susan, came in for happy hour tonight she said, "It's so quiet. Usually there's so much going on here." I told her Jacob would be here shortly and that would change...and sure enough it did. Sophie came in from the yard, Jordan and Jacob arrived, and suddenly everyone was talking at once, haggling over who was doing what for New Year's. Good gracious--we haven't even gotten through Christmas yet and they're planning New Year's. Of course, it all has to be planned around those football games, which neither Susan nor I care one whit about.
But basically, it was a quiet day, and I treasure those as we approach Christmas. So many people are rushed, harried and hurried in these last countdown days that I'm almost afraid to say I have it all done and I've been piddling. Emails, Facebook, updating my iPad's Kindle selections, culling through recipe magazines that piled up on my desk. I found so many recipes I want to try that we'll have to have a feast every weekend for weeks to come. But it's a pleasant feeling, and a part of me says that for those of us who celebrate Christmas this is the way it should be: quiet, contemplative, a time to ponder the wonder of the holiday and of God's great gift of love given to us. I'm enjoying it.
I did start the day off at an small but elegant breakfast party with a really innovative menu--a wonderful egg and Gruyere and prosciutto casserole, a distinctive broccoli and cauliflower salad with a hint of blue in the dressing, and some lightly pickled beets--I adore beets and made a pig of myself. My shoes weren't nearly the hit they were last night, but it was a different crowd, one where I knew some but not a lot of the guests. Still it added to my sense of peace and grace about the season.
Home for a nap, a quiet happy hour with Jay (until Susan finished vacuuming) and then Jordan and Jacob arrived. Jay and I have great political discussions--he a conservative and me a liberal but we both recognize logic so sometimes its sort of fun.
Now Jacob is on his iPad in the back room--he who won't sleep back there and insisted on light when he did is perfectly content to work on his iPad in the pitch dark. He's anxiously waiting for me to get off the computer. It's a bit disconcerting that he knows more than I do--yesterday morning he had to restore the sounds to my TV. Tonight he wants to play games so I asked the all-important question: are these games free? "juju, you pull them up on line. Of course they're free!"
Off to sit by the fire and read. I hope everyone also has a quiet and peaceful night.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My dancing shoes

These are my dancing shoes--well, not really. They're a pair of Inkka hightops that I told Jamie I wanted for Christmas and since we won't all be together this Christmas, he gave them to me early. I asked Jordan today if I could wear them, with black leggings and a really cool black top plus my squash blossom to a spiffy cocktail party tonight, and she said, "Go for it!" So I did.
First thing when I walked in, the hostess (who I have literally known all her life), said, "I love your shoes!" And in a few minutes someone behind me said, "Those shoes really make a statement." After that, my shoes were the talk of the evening, and the ham in me came out--I loved it. I even told people I wore the squash blossom to pick up the turquoise in the shoes. I do have to confess that I'm learning to tie shoes all over again--almost walked out of them in the grocery today. But tonight I felt camp, trendy, whatever. And since it was a party where I knew few people, the shoes were a wonderful conversation starter.
I realized today I have a split personality. It was a wet, sometimes rainy, chilly day, and a part of me kept saying what a nice night it would be for a book by the fire. I felt the same way before I went to a dinner party Wednesday night. A small part of me could easily become reclusive, spending all my time at home. In fact, recently I said to a friend that I spent a lot of time at home, and she replied, "Yes, but you bring people to you."
I can't count on that, however, and I always enjoy events when I get myself in gear and go out--I loved the dinner party a few nights ago, and I had a great time tonight. I recognize that the tendency toward being a recluse is neither healthy nor, in the long run, enjoyable. I need people in my life, and if I sat home and expected them to come to me, there are a whole lot of people that I really like but would never see.
Tonight, I saw a former neighbor, now married to the mother of one of Jordan's school chums, and I met new people. I'm learning to be so bold as to slip into the conversation the fact that I'm an author. The woman who'd first commented on my shoes said her husband was writing, and we had a bit of talk about that--as much as I could hear over the music.
It was a lovely evening with spectacular food, and I'm so glad I went. Thanks to friends who took me under their wing so I didn't have to go alone. Tomorrow is a breakfast party and guess what? I'm going to wear my dancing shoes!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A holly, jolly Christmas

Some years Christmas makes me feel like a social butterfly (which I am definitely not!), and this is one of those years. This week I had lunch and dinner with friends Monday and Tuesday. Thoroughly enjoyable, including my lobster fix and taking two little boys to the Old Neighborhood Grill.
Last night I went to a small dinner party hosted by good friends. Three other couples, people I know but not well, made up the guest list. I told the hostess later that I felt like a teenager who'd been invited to sit at the adult table (when my children were young and we all dined with my mom, including my brother and his children, one child got to sit at the adult table each week--it was a big deal!).  I decided it is really interesting to have dinner with people you don't know well--brings a new zest to the conversation. I am often surrounded by a dear and valued cocoon of family and friends--but our conversations--say politics, for instance--are predictable. This was a stimulating evening--no, we didn't talk politics:-)
The social whirl continues with a cocktail party tomorrow night and a breakfast Saturday morning. After Christmas I'll have a hard time settling back down to work. Obviously I'm not getting much work done these days.
Fortunately I have good reading--right now I'm deep in the new Coffeehouse Mystery Once Upon a Grind by Cleo Coyle. I always enjoy that series. Tonight is cold and damp--a good night to stay home with a book and a baked potato for supper.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Please welcome my Wednesday guest. Joyce Ann Brown is a landlady, storyteller, retired school Library Media Specialist, former classroom teacher, former realtor, and a freelance writer and award-winning author. CATastrophic Connections is the first book in the author's Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series. A klutzy Kansas City landlady, with the help of a psycho cat, locates her missing niece who is framed for embezzlement and murder, and the two join forces to bring the true evildoer to justice.

Writing gurus advise, "Keep paper and pen handy at all times to record words, phrases, scenes, characters, and impressions which you might someday need for a story." Such good advice! It's hard to remember all those juicy tidbits unless one writes them down and keeps them handy.
Too bad my right brain is in control of my writing (my life?) and causes me to poo-poo organizational skills. The notes I take when I am out and about end up on old envelopes, backs of business cards, and napkins. (Yes, my friends, some of my best stories started on a fast food napkin.) After I take those notes, of course, I rewrite each in meticulous detail into a fat journal which I keep under lock and key in a desk drawer beside my computer—I wish. No, I stuff the notes into my purse and later into a pile on my desk at home.
It's a good thing my imagination runs wild. If the tidbit is good and is something I know I can use, I bounce it around in my mind for a few days or a few months until I work it into a scene or short story. My mystery, CATastrophic Connections, grew from two bizarre stories which piqued my shiver sensors. My Halloween ghost story, "A Hit and a Miss," placed in a contest and was published by Kings River Life magazine. That story resulted from a story a former neighbor told me, a story so dark and unfortunate that I had to make it even darker and let a ghost help solve it.
Okay, okay, so I have used some of those stories I collected so carelessly. However, there are many more I lost or vaguely remembered. It's hard to reproduce the original delightful inspiration. An enigmatic story I heard some years ago wants to be told in my next book, but I can't remember exactly how it went.
I have an idea, a left brain plan, to combat my right brain randomness. The Smart phone which I've started to use for my calendar, a timepiece, a restaurant finder, my pedometer, a calculator, a compass, and even a telephone, believe it or not, might be the answer. It has a function called Memo with a little picture of a notepad above it. If I can just speed up my one-finger typing or become adept at voice-into-type, and if I can remember I put the notes onto my phone, the little phone notepad could become my portable journal. What a brilliant thought!
Now, let's see, where did I see that Memo app?

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

A weekend vacation

No, I haven't been anywhere. I've been home, but it's felt like a vacation. Jacob with his grandparents, his parents in Cancun, and me at home--reading, editing, doing whatever I wanted at my own pace. I finished one book, started another, which keeps calling me back, read the edits on a manuscript, and made a brief stab at formatting an older manuscript I intend to re-invent.
But primarily it's been a weekend of my favorite foods. Friday night I made myself salmon croquettes--I've learned to do them a way that is a bit easier than my mom's way, which I've done for years. They're one of my favorite foods, not only because they're delicious when freshly made but because they make wonderful sandwiches the next day on rye bread with mayonnaise. And that, of course, was my lunch on Saturday.
Saturday evening my good friend Sue (Canadian daughter as I call her, after the dubbed me her Fort Worth mom) came for dinner, and I scrambled eggs with diced smoked salmon, chopped tomato, and sliced scallions. It's a one-dish meal and so easy, but so good.
Tonight good friends are coming for pasta--at least that's what they think. But I'm really going to make a family favorite--green noodles. This dish, which my kids love, has a history. When my brother was dating his first wife, she had little money. One night when he was coming for dinner and her cupboard was bare, she melted butter, added spaghetti and lemon juice. Over the years I've added to that bare-bones recipes, first substituting spinach tagliatelle for spaghetti and then adding sliced scallions, chopped artichoke hearts, and mushrooms. A few years ago when I had my first bumper crop of basil and made my own pesto, I added a frozen ice cube of pesto and topped the whole thing with parmesan. It's another one-dish meal, served with crusty bread. Comfort food that brings happy family memories.

Green noodles
1 16-0z. pkg. spinach egg noodles
1 stick butter
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself)
4 scallions, chopped
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1 ice-cube size piece of pesto, thawed (about one Tbsp.)
Juice of one lemon (more to taste)
Grated fresh Parmesan
Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. (Megan, weight-conscious in high school, used to insist that was too much butter, and it may be--use part olive oil.) Sauté the mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add artichokes and noodles and toss to coat. Heat briefly to warm. Top with Parmesan and serve.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Small favors

Sometimes we pray to God for huge favors and dispensations--some pray for health for a loved one, others for love, others for money. For too many of us, prayer is sort of a litany of "Please,
God, give me...." I've been known to ask God's help with problems that are really bothering me, but today two minor things were on my mind and they worked out just fine, without my mentioning them to the Lord. I guess he knew.
Yesterday I left my favorite white quilted vest in a restaurant at lunch. I called immediately and asked how early I could get it this morning. "Nine o'clock," they said. I knew they opened at eleven, so I figured they'd be preparing for the day and it would be hard to gain access, let alone get someone to notice me. I worried about it, and about parking--their handicap parking is the most inaccessible spot I've ever seen. But I got there at nine-thirty and was amazed--barely found a parking space way back in the parking lot, but one that provided me easy access. I forgot they open for brunch at nine on Saturday and Sundays. My vest was at the front desk, and I was on my way in three or four minutes.
Last night a man from the rug company I use delivered a clean rug and asked where it went. When I said under the dining table, he said he'd be back tonight at six with someone to help him. I expected a dinner guest at six and it wouldn't be a big deal--but still not real smooth. Then the owner of the company called and explained they close at noon on Saturdays and could they come about eleven. I told him that worked better for me, and two men arrived and very carefully moved my unstable antique table, took great care to center it on the rug and under the chandelier and went their way.
Small favors but they brightened what was already a happy day. They made me think of Anne Lamott's new book, Small Mercies, which is high on my "TBR" (to be read) list. I don't mean to imply that the Lord is behind every small thing that happens in each of our lives but sometimes I do feel divine intervention has a hand in turning things out right. My happy day ended with a lovely visit with my Canadian daughter (her mom lives in Ottawa so she calls me her Fort Worth mom). Besides, how can a December day when the temperature is in the 70s be anything but good?

Friday, December 12, 2014

A quiet, empty house

I'm feeling a little pensive tonight. My house is quiet and empty after having Jacob here for three days. Even Sophie has chosen to be outside instead of in with me. Jacob's gone to visit his grandparents in Coppell--they are so much better than I am about taking him to football practice and the like. He'll have a good time, and it's good that he's there, but I miss him. He was all dressed up this morning because his class was going to Bass Hall to see a performance of the Nutcracker. At the last moment, he decided against his tie (it was a different shade of red, and I thought the decision wise). I did not make him tuck his shirt in, as his parents would have--I think it looks dorky. The hardest part of having him was making sure he was fed, dressed, teeth brushed, (who cares about that curly mop?) and out the door on time--the school is across the street and I watch until he gets to the crossing guard.
We had good moments in our three days--I realized he's spoiled and wants to eat out every night. We went to the Grill one night and to Lucile's another. Last night he was distinctly disappointed when I said we were staying home--but he settled for scrambled eggs (I almost made an omelet because I turned away for a moment too long). At Lucile's he wanted to taste lobster, so I gave him one tiny bite from my pot pie. He tasted it and announced next time he would order lobster (this child has a supreme disregard for cost). When I asked if he wanted another tiny bite, he said no thank you. Doesn't bode well for a future order of lobster.
Tonight for my solitary dinner I made salmon cakes (a favorite of mine--eating them is enhanced by anticipation of a sandwich with mayo and lemon tomorrow) and zucchini vegetti. A friend gave me a spiral thing that turns vegetables into spaghetti--I sauté the zucchini with a bit of butter-flavored olive oil, salt and pepper. A good dinner--and I could read while I ate.
Tonight I read a seasonal letter from a fellow Guppy that really resonated with me. She quoted Ursula Le Guin who predicted hard times are coming, times in which we will need artists and writers while we live in the grip of capitalism. But she reminded human resistance can change things, and change often begins in art. "The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It is freedom."
The writer of the message went on to say the two things she thought most important are to take care of our planet and not pollute it--sometimes I think we're already too late in coming to that conclusion, but it is so vital. And we need to see all people on our planet as equally human. I wanted to rise up and cheer, though these are two cardinal principles that are being trodden into the dirt right now. It all reminded me of William Faulkner's speech (when we all thought that atomic bombs would wipe life from the planet). Faulkner believed that man would not only survive but will prevail. I have to believe that too, just as I have to believe that Le Guin is right--we need artists and writers in our lives now.
It makes me wonder if what I write is frivolous--and there's a bit of me that vows to change that.
Okay, pensive mood over.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Read the newspaper lately?

Some days, reading the newspaper is so discouraging you just want to go back to bed. Today was one of those. Here are a few things from my glance through this morning, mostly without comment:
Jose Feghali was a suicide--such a waste of wonderful talent
The government may shut down again at midnight--accomplishing just what? Ask Speaker Boehner.
The Republicans are pulling some fast ones--burying a provision to take Arapahoe ceremonial lands for mining companies deep in an unrelated bill; trying to rig the electoral college so it corresponds to voting districts, which are already so gerrymandered there's no opposition; putting in the tax bill provisions that amount to if Wall Street makes money, they keep the profit--if they lose money, taxpayers cover the debt.
Student aid has been cut by $303 million--when what we most need is an educated public
Doctors face a 40% cut in Medicaid fees--no, they don't need to make the great wealth they did in the sixties but today they too have student debts to pay off, office costs, etc. What this means is more and more physicians won't see Medicaid patients--and some won't see Medicare patients these days
Texas schools didn't qualify for competitive aid grants from the Federal government because of large class sizes--but our soon-to-be-governor cut funding for schools
The leader of the House panel on Benghazi now says he isn't satisfied with the results of their study--this makes how many times we've fought the Battle of Benghazi?
What is happening to America? Whatever it is, it isn't good--and I am usually singing the Pollyanna song.
I waited all day for some redeeming piece of good news but there just wasn't any. For me, it was an ordinary day--good, not bad, but nothing remarkable. I did see tonight that Speaker Boehner doesn't have the numbers for his tax bill and has postponed calling for a vote. That's good news.
May tomorrow be brighter for all of us. Wonder where our elf will land tonight?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The elves in my house aren't always on the shelves

There's an elf floating around my house. He's not your standard Elf on the Shelf in red. Rather, he's a clown who looks like he might do mime. Dinglebell--that's his name--belonged to Elizabeth the year she lived in my garage apt. and I guess when she came to visit at Thanksgiving he flew back hidden in her suitcase. Anyway, he appeared right on target Dec. 1 and has been flitting around at night to odd places in the house. The first thought on Jacob's mind every morning is to find his elf--if he's at home, he looks for Jack, his Elf on the Shelf; at my house he looks for Dinglebell. On his way to school from home he has to find Dinglebell at my house. This morning when I woke him for school and asked what he wanted for breakfast, he said, "I'm not telling you until I find Dinglebell." This took a while. (Note to Dinglebell: please don't hide in such obscure places.)
The other elf in my house is my adorable eight-year-old Jacob. I have to say Dinglebell is a lot easier to deal with sometimes. But Jacob is staying from Tuesday till Friday after school when he'll go to his other grandparents (I get the school and homework duty but then they'll take him to football, and I'm mightily glad to be relieved of that). I woke at three this morning, worrying about getting him out the door to school on time--a worry he doesn't seem to share.
(Jacob can be a bit of a ham)
So far all is pretty smooth. Last night he played with a friend, then they both came here where I cracked the whip about homework and then took them to the Grill. Tonight Betty and I took Jacob to Lucile's for Lobsterama--he tasted a tiny bit of lobster and declared he was ordering it next time but no thank you, he didn't want another bite. He liked his six-inch cheese pizza. I had lobster pot pie which was delicious but didn't really give me my lobster fix. I'm going back for lunch Friday and will probably have the lobster BLT.
I enjoy having Jacob here--though I lose patience at times. This afternoon he did not want to do his math--it was too hard, he'd do it tomorrow, it wasn't fair, it was stupid (I cautioned against using that word again). I explained if it was that hard, he might not finish it in one day and should start today. When he got into it--with my help--he enjoyed it. Same thing with a shower--begged and pled to put it off until tomorrow, told me no one at school would smell his hair (I did). Once he got into the shower, I thought I'd never get him out. He uses the hand-held shower head to spray water all over his body until I call enough.
Lessons learned: tonight I'm discussing breakfast choices before he goes to bed. And if he wallops me in the eye with his elbow again, all bets are off. Meantime I wonder where Dinglebell will end up tonight. Big sigh.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A marketing puzzle

One of the sad truths about the writing life these days is that writers spend as much time or more marketing their books than they do writing them. Or worrying about marketing and how to improve it. Gone are the days when your publisher handled marketing--all the author had to do was write, revise according to edits, and then smile and look pretty on book tours. Today we do all the work--and it's a big cause of worry. If I don't have many reviews on Amazon, how can I increase them? Is my blog attracting readers? Should I do some paid advertisings? Sponsor a giveway? Help!
I have a puzzle that is a bit different--I'm not at all worried about it but I wish I could figure out the secret so I could apply it to other titles. In the late 1970s Doubleday published a short novel of mine, Mattie, about a pioneer woman physician on the Nebraska frontier in the late nineteenth century. It was in the DoubleD series, which sold primarily to libraries and prisons, and as those books did, it sold modestly. It went out of print and was picked up by Leisure Books, which subsequently went out of business and the rights returned to me. I put it on Kindle at 99 cents, not expecting to have many sales. Within months, the book's sales ballooned--I got what I thought were large royalty checks, and they kept coming.
Today the royalty checks are a lot smaller, but that little book keeps selling and every week it gather two or three new reviews--it now has over 300, mostly 5-star. I do nothing to promote it because I'm not sure what to do. Perhaps it's the 99-cent price; I'm sure it's not the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, though I was mighty proud of that when I received it. The subject matter isn't in-your-face enough to sustain this long interest. A book of short stories, posted to Kindle at the same time, barely has any sales and maybe ten reviews.
I wish I knew the secret. I'd apply it to The Perfect Coed, which is the only other book I have control over. But it's a good dilemma to have.
Here's the opening paragraph of Mattie:
My mother was an unmarried mother, fallen woman, they called her back in Princeton, Missouri. They called her that and a lot worse names, most of which I didn’t understand at the time, thank goodness. It wasn’t just that Mama made one mistake—me—but I had a little brother, Will Henry, and neither of us had a father that we knew about. Will Henry was seven years younger than me, and you’d think I’d remember a man being around the house about that time to account for my brother’s appearance, but I didn’t. I used to wonder if Mama had somehow gotten caught in the great war just passed or if my father had fought in that war. For much of my growing-up years, Mama never told us if we had the same father or not. When either of us asked, Mama became flustered and impatient and usually just said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” There would be tears in her eyes that made me feel guilty and cruel, so I would abandon the subject

Monday, December 08, 2014

A Blue Monday--not!

Today was all the good things that Monday should be--a day to recuperate and gather myself after a great weekend. Went out to breakfast with a friend (as she said, breakfast out seems almost decadent), came home and dug into the things I need to do--lists and emails and putting away dishes and folding the laundry that's been in the dryer for four days. Linda said at breakfast that her mother once said if she ever built a house, it would have two dishwashers--one for clean and one for dirty. And no shelves. Sometimes it sounds good. Wish somebody would invent a dryer that folds clothes.
A wonderful weekend--three of my four children and four of my seven grandchildren were here. The Austin bunch came for the last TCU game and, as is almost ritual, insisted on dinner at Joe T.'s. So Jamie and his oldest daughter, Maddie, drove from Frisco--with Maddie proudly driving her brand new red Jeep. Talk about growing up too quickly! She's sophisticated but sweet and can sure hold her own in a teasing conversation. We missed her mom and younger sister, who wasn't feeling well.
I learned a trick about eating at Joe T.'s--take my hearing aids out. It cuts the background noise, and I can pretty much hear those sitting close to me. Had fajitas but I think next time I'll go back to "the dinner." Our good times continued too late Sat. when we came home. In the morning, with the Austin folks at Jordan's house and Jamie and Maddie in the guest apartment, my house was blissfully quiet.
We were among the many sorry that neither TCU nor Baylor made the playoffs but even so, TCU had a stunning season and we're proud of the Frogs. Much much talk about football at my house yesterday. I had to remind everyone it was Pearl Harbor Day which is, at my age, emblazoned on my memory from childhood--I was three at the time and don't remember the actual day but for the years of my growing up it is a huge memory.
In the evening I had a few friends in for happy hour and appetizers--people that Jamie and Megan haven't seen in years and were glad to see. Friend Linda from Granbury spent the night so she could enjoy the evening and not worry about the drive back. She has known the kids almost all of their lives and has funny stories to tell about them. So proud of my children now that they're grown and can greet old family friends as adults. The little boys--in this case, Jacob and Ford--vanished from our sight after eating hot dogs, but Sawyer, now ten,  hung out some with the adults.
In other words, folks, my cup runneth over and I'm taking today to be thankful and get back in my routine. Even made a little progress on the chili books. So close to the end!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The good times are rolling

Well, I had a funny picture to post, with everyone raising a toast at Joe T.'s and two earnest little boys raising their soft drinks--but it didn't transmit from my daughter's phone to my computer. My oldest daughter and her husband and two boys came to town today for the TCU football game. Meg is a loyal Frog alum, roots for them all season, and wanted to come for the last game. Somehow when my family is all here they think they should eat at Joe T.'s, which is okay with me but I would like to introduce a little more variety into their restaurant choices. Still, I had a lesson tonight is what kids remember from childhood--so my grandchildren will all remember Joe T.'s.
Jamie and his oldest, Maddie, met us for dinner, but his wife Mel and youngest Eden stayed behind in Frisco. Eden has been having stomach issues and they were bothering her today. Jordan's husband, Christian, ever a bear fan, is in Waco for Baylor's game. Still we were a jolly crew--Jordan and Jacob, Jamie and Maddie, and Megan and her family. Part of our happiness came from TCU's smashing victory today but there was endless speculation on who would rank where and who would go to what bowl game. My children are amazed that for once I know a smidgeon of what they're talking about. I'm not a football fan but TCU is so on fire this season that even I have been dragged in.
Everyone gathered back at my house for a brief while, and Jamie pulled up notes he's made on their childhood. Apparently he notes these things on his iPhone as he thinks of them, because his list was endless. Most of them set off hysterical giggles but there were some less than pleasant memories in there too. The grandchildren listened attentively, surprised I think to hear this side of their parents. Jamie remembered the Christmas they got a giant Tinker Toy set, and the years they peeked at their Christmas gifts, and times their father disciplined them for not doing the chore he'd sent them to do. And lots of other things. I added some memories too. Nice to recall the good times.
But for me, the good times are now. I sit and watch my children and grandchildren in awe at how wonderful they are, how much they enjoy being together and how much they love each other. Dysfunctional families are common these days, and we hear stories of how a dysfunctional family hampers an adult who is unable to put that behind. My family was and is fully functional. My kids had several strikes against them--they're adopted, which means someone gave them up; they suffered irrational and harsh discipline at times (their father was raised that way, though I did everything I could to be a buffer--the person I am today would have done more); and they lived through divorce and being raised by a single mom from the time most of them were young. I've never heard a one say a negative word about their childhood--except in jest: Jamie swears he's suing because we didn't care enough to make them wear seatbelts (in an era went seatbelts were generally ignored). I am so proud of those kids and so blessed. This time of year makes it even more poignant to me.

Friday, December 05, 2014


Here I go again—welcoming my Wednesday guest on Thursday. Nonetheless, please extend a sincere welcome to Kait Carson, author of the newly released Death by Blue Water. Kait has been writing mysteries since the fourth grade when she penned the words, “pop, pop, pop, here comes the cop” for a story poetry assignment. She opted for a career as a paralegal practicing in the area of probate, tax, and probate litigation. When she’s not writing, you can find her scuba diving or in the air with her pilot husband. Kait and her husband live with, eight (count ‘em) rescue cats, a conure (parrot-like bird in case you, like me, didn’t know), cockatoo, and a harlequin macaw at an airpark in Fort Denaud, Florida. In addition to the Hayden Kent series, Kait has written the Catherine Swope Mystery Series, Zoned for Murder and Murder in the Multiples, available now from Amazon. She is hard at work on Death by Doubloons, the second in the Hayden Kent series, and a third Catherine Swope mystery, tentatively titled Murder is a Mistake.

I’m a country girl. No matter where I go, or where I live, or how I live, I take the country with me. My roots were planted on my great-grandparents farm in upstate New York. A farm without running water, electricity, or piped in heat. I can cook on a Queen Anne stove, know how to take care of chickens, milk cows, and care for the horses. The first thing I ever drove was a Farmall Tractor circa 1930 or 40 something. My husband and I own a house and acreage in northern Maine, and we live in an airpark in South Central Florida. Right in the heart of cattle and citrus country. This girl has not wandered far from her roots. Our roots inform us. They give us a foundation we can build on.

I believe that in fiction, especially mystery fiction, characters drive the story. Hayden Kent, the protagonist of my newest series, makes her first appearance in Death by Blue Water. Hayden is a Conch. She was born in Fisherman’s Hospital in Marathon, one of the Florida Keys (first in her family born in a hospital, she’s proud to say). She comes from a long line of Conchs. Her people, like most of the people in the Keys prior to the 1970s, were fishermen and divers. They made their living from the sea.

The Florida Keys were a hard place to live. Oh, there was year-round summer to be sure, but there were also hurricanes and floods. Mother Nature extracted a hefty price for living in paradise. Many Conchs rarely left what they refer to as “the Rock.” Homes, after the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, were built to withstand the annual blows that came. Hurricane houses, only a handful of which have survived urbanization, had anchor chains running from roof to reef. Many surrounded the chains with brick cylinders that concealed steps and a loft. A safe place to crouch above the floodwaters while the storm raged.

These realities formed Hayden’s roots. Is it any wonder that she is a rabid scuba diver? Or that when
she found a body on a deep wreck and found herself accused of murder, she took destiny into her own hands. She, along with Officer Janice Kirby and Mallory Corbett, determined to discover who killed Richard Anderson, and why. The investigation nearly cost Hayden her life. She continued because, even though she felt sure she was safe from prosecution, she wanted to give justice to Richard, and his family. That’s the code of the Conchs. Hayden knows that in the Florida Keys, life
can change in an instant, and under water, no one hears your screams.


Find Kait at

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Marrow bones and picky eaters

By next Monday, I figure most of my Christmas celebrations will be over, but boy have I enjoyed this week. Lunch yesterday with a friend at Swiss Pastry Shop, where I love the tuna salad. And we splurged in honor of the holidays and had slices of Black Forest Cake. Dinner last night at Piola, a small Italian restaurant in a refurbished older house--I had what I always have: lasagna. So good. But I mentioned my dinner plans for tonight which were the Clay Pigeon and marrow bones. One of my companions said she'd never eat marrow bones, and that led to a discussion of other things she wouldn't eat. I can't remember what they were now, but it set me to thinking about picky eater who won't try anything new.
Just as an aside: at Clay Pigeon I had a terrific roasted beet salad with goat cheese, watercress, and a balsamic vinaigrette, along with roasted marrow bones. Not sure when I've had a better dinner. Marrow bones are trendy right now, and if you haven't tried them I advise you to do so. When my brother and I were young, we used to have round steak with just a dab of marrow in the middle of the bone, and I remember we fought over it. (He may deny this). I was delighted a couple of years ago to find marrow on the menu at an Austin restaurant, but it was just a dab and hard to get at. Tonight I had a four-inch bone, split in the middle--a generous helping.
But back to picky eaters. I love to experiment and eat odd things--the only things I can think of I haven't tried are brains and sweetbreads--a bit hesitant about those. But I love pickled herring, foie de gras, liver pate, tongue sandwiches. Used to eat kidneys as a child but tried to order some at the market and was told I'd have to get a case. Not quite ready for that.
On the other hand, we have picky eaters in the family. Start with Jacob. He doesn't eat meat, and his taste repertoire behind that is limited. Once he asked for spinach, so I served it to him and he said, "I'm not eating that." Any variation from what he is used to is met with skepticism. His dad is the same way in spades--even picks the celery out of chicken salad (how offensive can celery be?)
What I dislike most is that some people sport their picky eating habits, from my dinner companion last night to my beloved son-in-law. They seem to think it's cute to be picky or firm about what you won't eat, whereas I want to say "Try it. You might like it.." I got my son-in-law to eat cabbage one night and the comment was, "It didn't do much for me." Folks, there's a wonderful world of food out there. Try things, find new adventures.
One of my dinner companions tonight said she'd never thought of eating marrow but was glad to see how it was served. "I think I'll have to try that," she said. Yay for her...and yay for adventuresome eating.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

What hat am I wearing today?

Some days I feel like I wear a number of different hats. Today was one such day. It began with a dental appt. at 9:50--only the hygienist called at eight and wanted to know if I could be there by nine. I actually made it, throwing on yesterday's clothes, and was there ten minutes early. What I expected to be a long appointment wasn't, even with x-rays and a visit from the dentist. I was home shortly after ten, cleaned up odds and ends, had an early lunch and took a really early nap--noon--so I could be ready to go to a 2:00 funeral at the church.
Toni Newton was the assistant (read executive secretary, though I'm not sure she ever attained that title) for Chancellors Moudy and Tucker at TCU. I met her when my office was in the administration building but then I got to know her through church, the Church and the Arts Committee (which she claimed had more fun than any other committee--and she was right). Toni was one of the most upbeat people I've ever met--always cheerful, always welcoming, always concerned about you. Many of us said today, "Toni was always so good to me," but I always added, "and she was so good to my children." Once in high school my oldest daughter wanted to join the church, but she had never been baptized (long story) and didn't like the idea of immersion. Toni told her, "Oh, honey, just fudge. God won't care." She lived a full life, dying Nov. 22 at 97--someone said "Leave it to Toni to die on a day of national significance." For me, it was hard to see that wonderful, vibrant life summed up in a brief memorial service--but I was glad I went.
Home for a few minutes, intending to get Jacob and a friend by 4:15 but Jay came by with wine in his hand, and it was five before I got the boys and started them on homework--first we had to go back to Hayes' house because Jacob left his binder with all his homework. They actually worked diligently (well, pretty much) and I wonder if there might not be something to this shared homework. Then we went to meet the neighbors at the Grill--a big crowd. To my great joy both boys were well behaved, ate well, and didn't cause any fusses.
Hayes' parents came for him about 8:45--they'd been to a party--and it's all quiet now. Jacob is getting a last few minutes on his iPad.
Is it okay if I go to sleep as early as he does? I'm tired, but it's kind of nice to wear different hats--except maybe for the dentist. Nice as those people are, I always dread it, a hangover from my childhood. Otherwise, though I felt hurried, it was a good day.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I've spent today thinking a lot about families. I came home yesterday late morning after three glorious days with my four children, the wonderful spouses they had the good sense to marry, and my seven unbelievably marvelous grandchildren. Okay a bit of hyperbole, but they are really great...and they so love when we are all together. We have three little boys who are for a brief while the same age each year, and they have a delightful time together--out the door after breakfast and we don't see them again till lunch. The three girls alternate between the boys and their own deal, and the oldest boy is perfectly happy to go his own way and play the guitar. I get great hugs from all of them, and one whispered in my ear, "I love you so much!" What else can I ask for?
I came home with the rosy glow of that experience still about me--though tired, I must admit. Had a really long, deep nap and then Sat. night hosted ten for dinner to welcome a visit from Elizabeth. She was my work-study student in the early '90s, and we've remained friends over the years, through transformations in our lives, though greater in hers than mine. In Sept. 2012 she moved into my guest apartment and stayed a year before moving to PA to be with her love, Brian. In that year, she wove herself into the hearts of some of my closest friends, so they came for dinner, and neighbor Jay (yes, the good-looking one) made a pot of stew. All I had to do was set out bowls, etc.
It struck me last night that the people here--neighbors, a former neighbor, and Jordan and her family--were family of a different sort. The family I'd chosen--and who had chosen me--and we have a bond, a closeness that is akin to that I have with my immediate family. I am so fortunate to have these people in my life--like my own family, they take care of me, like my parties, are comfortable in my house, make my life bright.
I'm not a proponent of the theory that blood ties are what bind. My four children are adopted--no blood relations there--but I don't know of a family that is closer or children that are more caring and kind about their mom, proud of what I do, loving me for who I am, even when--as I did on Thanksgiving--I spill turkey blood all over myself and the floor. I think we choose those we feel are like family--and they choose us. So I'm not only lucky with my immediately family, I am fortunate with my little clutch of neighbors. And I have known the people here last night (except Jordan and Elizabeth) for less than ten years.
I guess the only way to go happily through life is to reach out to new people and make them part of your life. I'm back again to that verse I quote so often: Make new friends, but keep the old/ The new are silver, the old are gold.
Written with a thankful heart.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hymns of thanksgiving

All day these words ran through my mind, "Come ye thankful people, come/Raise the song of harvest home/All is safely gathered in/Ere the winter storms begin." This hymn of thanksgiving was particularly appropriate today, as is the other one I kept hearing in my mind: "We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing/He chastens and hastens, his will to make known." Last Sunday in church I started off singing that one heartily, but the second line threw me--the hymnal has changed the words. I wanted the words imprinted in my mind since childhood. Maybe that's why it's been so much on my mind.
I have much to be thankful for tonight. My entire family is with me--eight other adults and seven children. We make a formidable, noisy crew, and it takes a lot of food to keep us going. Here's the snack table. We had enough food to feed two homeless families--and I wish we had.
Son-in-law Brandon complains that the civilized time to eat Thanksgiving dinner is 2:00 p.m., but his in-laws never eat until five-thirty. I thought for a bit today he might get his wish--everyone wanted to be through for the TCU game at 6:30. But, alas, it was 5:45 before we all gathered at the table.
We assign dishes to everyone, with the result that the kitchen is a beehive of activity and periodically the order goes out for everyone not directly involved in cooking to clear the area. My girls are all good cooks, but they are each squeamish about turkeys--so it falls tome to take out the innards, throw away the bloody bags, etc. As we often do, we roasted one turkey--with herb butter, which made delicious gravy--and fried one. The boys love to fry turkey but I mostly prefer roast. It was all delicious--I am responsible for gravy, and Megan said it was exceptionally good this year. They like gravy from pan drippings but in recent years I augment it with gravy from Central Market. But mostly the girls do the cooking and I help where I can--a reverse from years ago.
After dinner we sat around a fire in a pit outdoors, and the two guitarists among us--Brandon and his son Sawyer serenaded us with everything from Willie Nelson to Christmas songs. Granddaughter Eden said it's her favorite time of the year--because it means it's now the Christmas season. She's delighted that her older sister now has an after-school job because she thinks it means she'll have more money to buy Eden Christmas presents.
There's a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that I can never commit to memory but it has to do with asking the Lord to be with those who weep and worry and those who wait. I know that I am so blessed that I can't even begin to talk about but I wish the impossible--peace, happiness, food, shelter for everyone. It's potent request in these times.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Love of Mystery Comes Full Circle

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, award-winning author Paty Jager. I was delighted to learn recently that Paty and I share a love of the American West and a history of writing about that land.
Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon.  On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.
All her work has western or Native American elements along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.
My writing has come full circle. My first attempts at writing a novel started with two mysteries. I couldn’t find a writing group at the time to help me hone my skills. The one agent I sent the first manuscript to took advantage of my newbie status. I didn’t realize this until I’d switched to writing romance and joined Romance Writers of America.

I spent years with RWA learning the craft of writing, the business of writing, and how to navigate the publishing world. I finally found a publisher for my historical western romance books in 2006. I wrote ten novels, some historical some contemporary, with them before deciding to jump on the self-publishing wagon.

Since I started self-publishing, I’ve been slowly going back to the genre I’ve read since middle school. First with my Isabella Mumphrey Adventure Series. A cross between a female Indiana Jones and MacGyver. Those books have mystery and adventure with some steamy romance. ;)

Now, I have the first book of a new mystery series up for pre-order. The Shandra Higheagle Mysteries have my signature either cowboy or Native American elements. In this case it’s Native American. Shandra Higheagle is a potter who sells her wares in galleries as art. She lives on Huckleberry Mountain in Idaho and uses the clay from her mountain to make her wares. Right before the first book opens, Shandra loses her paternal grandmother, a Nez Perce shaman. When Shandra finds a gallery owner murdered and sees her good friend fleeing the scene, she takes it upon herself to prove her friend’s innocence. Her grandmother comes to her in her dreams, giving her clues.

Double Duplicity Blurb:

On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she’d witnessed fleeing the scene is just as innocent. With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever but just as determined to discover the truth.

Detective Ryan Greer prides himself on solving crimes and refuses to ignore a single clue, including Shandra Higheagle’s visions. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Ryan believes in them and believes in her. Together they discover the gallery owner wasn’t the respectable woman she’d seemed. Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

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About Paty Jager:


You can learn more about Paty at her blog; Writing into the Sunset  her website; or on Facebook;!/paty.jager , Goodreads  and twitter;  @patyjag.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson still on my mind

I've been a Facebook hack today. My tendency toward OCD leads me to get everything done way ahead of time that I can, so now I'm preparing for Thanksgiving with all my children and grandchildren--all 16 of us--but I've got everything done ahead of time I can. I can't focus on writing that novel I've put away temporarily, and I've got the chili book all ready except for three images--and they're promised either for tomorrow or Saturday. I even have shopping lists done for next week in preparation for the arrival of my kids for a second family gathering.
So what's a girl to do with that extra time, besides read--which I've done--and troll Facebook, where of course I've read more about Ferguson that I ever needed to. I recognize there's something fascinating about violence, even for those of us who abhor it, and I've watched the fires burning looting, running, shouting, on the news with a sort of fixed attitude I can't explain. It's immeasurably sad to see people burning their own people's homes, cars and businesses. It struck me today that in the 1920s at the Greenwood riot in Tulsa it was whites burning black homes; today it is blacks burning their own community. It speaks of a deep frustration that goes way beyond the killing of Michael Brown. He has become a symbol and a martyr for a cause--and not an unjustified one.
I have friends on both sides of this particular fence--those in law enforcement who praise the decision and talk of the police right to defend, of Michael Brown's offenses (being huge is one of them), of the fact that he had just robbed a store and beaten the owner. My liberal friends talk of racial injustice, an unarmed kid against a trained officer with a gun, a white against a black.
The truth is we'll never know the truth. It's kind of like JFK's assassination--all those pages and pages of documentation, and I don't think we'll ever know what really happened. But it points to a crying need in our country--a need for racial justice, for police officers who don't stereotype and don't shoot first, a need for minority communities thate responsibility for their actions--and their neighborhoods.
I've also read today several poignant pieces by black parents who write about their fear for their children, for sending them out into a biased world. With four children, I already know the fear of letting them go as teenagers--I cannot imagine adding in the racial factor.
America has lost its way on several fronts, and I pray God we are strong enough to put ourselves on the straight and narrow path again. But for now, I have no answers about Ferguson nor about how to fix America. But fixing it needs.

Monday, November 24, 2014

National tragedy

Everyone has their say on the Ferguson decision tonight, so I hesitate to add much except to say that I see the whole sad affair as a national tragedy for America. The tentacles of this will reach so far in so many directions. When you are distant from the facts, didn't see what went down, and aren't privy to the Grand Jury deliberations, it's foolish to voice opinions. But I still have some.
Yes, I think Darren Wilson probably feared for his life--but he was the one with a gun and with police training and, supposedly, discipline. He blew it. On the other hand, Michael Brown tempted fate--unarmed, he shouldn't have threatened the officer (do we know that he did? Stories conflict).  But the story goes far beyond those two men--one trained and armed, one young, maybe impetuous, and unarmed.
I've heard many black mothers say how they worry every time their sons leave the house. They are targets--for gangs, for police, for all kinds of violence. I worry enough when my innocent Anglo and well protected grandchildren leave the house. Can you imagine that kind of fear? Living in a society that forces that fear on you? Clearly, as President Obama said, we in America have a lot of work to do. He of all people knows that racism is not dead.
I'm sure to the African-American community of Ferguson--and perhaps around the country--this decision supports what they already believe: black lives don't matter. Our society tells them that every day--in wages in social situations, living conditions, etc. And it's not just African-Americans; it's the poor of America. While the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Bernie Sanders says revolution is coming, and I saw a post on Facebook that predicted that a storm is coming. I pray that Ferguson is not the spark that ignites it, but I also remember riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, jr., and the beating of Rodney King. I fear for America.
To counter that thought, the black population needs to work to improve their situation themselves, shed the deliberately "in your face" resentment, do worthwhile work, get off welfare--each of us can make our life better if we try, and the color of our skin doesn't limit that. We have countless examples.
Darren Wilson, new bride and all, is a doomed man. He will live with this episode--probably nowhere near St. Louis--the rest of his life. It will follow him, tarnish his reputation, limit his future options.
There is no justice, and once again I pray for America, land that I love. Can you tell I'm still trying to figure out how to interpret this?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The geese are getting fat...

I know, I know--it's not even Thanksgiving yet, and here I am with my house all decorated for Christmas and most of my Christmas presents wrapped. It is, as I may have explained before, that most of my family will be here the weekend of December 6th. I have this feeling of rushing to get everything relevant done by then, and afterward lying back in leisure. Probably a false dream.
The wreath above was done by a neighbor--sorry, no, she doesn't sell them, and I won't give out her name. She offered to show me how to do it, if I bought the materials. I pled, not untruthfully, that I had no idea what materials to buy and I am all thumbs with craft projects. She said she'd do it, if I paid for materials. She and I both think this wreath is the prettiest one she's done. And I know she was underpaid for her time in shopping and constructing. But I love having it on my front door. She has my undying gratitude.
Previously, for over forty years, I had a red plastic bow, which every year I washed and then tried to fluff and straighten out. Over that I hung a green wreath. I am overjoyed now with the beauty of this wreath--keep glancing at the door to make sure it's still there.
Inside my house is decorated too--mantel, buffet, dining room table. When the kids arrive, it will be very Christmas-like, and I will feel very festive. I already do.
I went to church this morning because I love the Thanksgiving hymns. I got mixed up in what we were singing when, and the one I love--"Come ye thankful children, come" turned out to be a bell choir arrangement which left me all ready to sing it when I realized the congregation was bursting into "For the beauty of the earth." I'm not big on bell choir arrangements--can't follow the tune. And I had a hard time hearing parts of the service, but I was still glad I went. I do indeed have a heart full of gratitude for the beauty of the earth and for God's blessings on me.
Not a very festive dinner today--but hero sandwiches out of pita bread layers and lots of fillings--salami, ham, cheese spread (I used sharp cheese with port wine), mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, salad dressing, cream cheese. Really good, though a bit awkward to eat. I made these years ago when I was feeding the multitudes on Sunday nights, and now I wonder how many of the things I made. Four servings (six pitas) took a while, though I don't remember that the pitas before were as large or as fragile. The recipe actually says, "Buy deli potato salad," so I bought Aunt Pearl's from
Central Market. Wonder who Aunt Pearl was? I like her potato salad.
Jordan comes home tomorrow--in fact, she's probably on her way to the Milan airport as we speak. She'll have a long day--six-hour layover at JFK-and won't be home until late Monday night, no doubt exhausted. Tuesday I know first on her agenda will be to get Jacob from his grandparents. I'll be lucky if I get a glimpse of her even Tuesday but I'll be glad to have her back home.