Saturday, January 31, 2015

Solitude and conviviality

The "adult" table at the Star Café tonight. So nice when we can have an adult table and a kids table. All of us together.

Today was almost my idea of a perfect day. By nine o'clock, all my family (except one four-member branch) was in my kitchen, kolaches were being served, and there was a great deal of hilarity and fun with some exchange about what child would eat what. But we sat, we chatted, and we were together. Colin teased me about my use of plastic flatware (I wash it in the dishwasher and recycle it) so he took this picture of me when I showed him a fork I was willing to discard. (Please forgive the first thing in the morning, no-make-up look).
By a little after ten they had all departed from the stock show. I cleaned the kitchen, made a casserole for Sunday breakfast, worked at my computer and generally enjoyed the peace and quiet. It was one of those casseroles where you refrigerate it overnight and then pop it in the oven, and I was pleased to have it done. The missing Frisco group came by around noon just to drop off dogs and head to meet the others at the stock show. I had lunch and a good, long nap, woke up feeling like a new person.
Time to get ready for happy hour--a couple of important friends who had known the children as tykes came by to say hello. Then we were all off to the Star Café, where we had an excellent dinner--I never eat chicken-fried steak but did tonight and it was wonderful. Even Megan who dined healthfully on a tenderloin salad had three or four bites of my chicken-fried and I still brought some home.
Now half of them have gone to Jordan's house, and two families are here--and I'm off in my office writing my blog, eavesdropping on their conversation, and  reflecting on how much I enjoyed all the fun at dinner but also how grateful I was for the peace and quiet during the day. I don't think I could have held up for a full day of fun, as they all did. Though there was a time I enjoyed it as much as anyone.
Last night, all the grandchildren went home with Jordan and Christian, so Colin, Lisa and I were left. After they went to bed, even though it was late, I wrote my blog and read my book and realized again how much those late-night moments of solitude mean to me. I can't just go straight to bed from a room full of people. I need those quiet moments to "collect myself." Maybe it's part of aging, but I value solitude more every day...and yet I wouldn't miss a minute of the phone with my rowdy, noisy family. I don't see any conflict between those two attitudes.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Let's rodeo!

It's rodeo night for my family. They arrived in bits and driblets between five and six this evening, snacked on the food I put out (including great sweet potato salad), drank a bit of wine, and were out the door a little after 6:30, leaving me a quiet house and snacks to put away. I may have said this before, but rodeo makes me nostalgic. When the kids were little, it was a rite of passage when a child was deemed old enough to go to the rodeo, though I don't remember what age. We always went with one other family, ate at the cafeteria (nothing fancy like Reata at the Rodeo in those days), watched the show, and came home exhausted. Early on, I realized I really didn't want to watch the bull riding--my heart was in my mouth the whole time, and I think it got so I waited in the hallway. Now I don't want to see man or beast hurt. When the grown children decided they wanted to come for a rodeo weekend, I politely declined. But now it's an annual affair that brings them all home, and I'm all for that.
One branch of the family--the Frisco Alters--will not arrive until tomorrow. Eleven-year-old Eden is an animal sympathizer to the point of being vegetarian and would not go to the rodeo; the rest of her family are not much interested either, so they'll arrive in time to tour the barns, etc. I still remember Eden's father, my Jamie, as a child going through the barn, holding his nose and lifting his feet high with each step  as though he could avoid the muck. Darn rain--Midway won't be much fun tomorrow. Once again, I'll stay home in a quiet house--too much walking and standing. (Gosh, I hate sounding like an old lady!)
In recent years, we've gone to Joe T.'s for dinner, but Jordan suggested a change which I welcome. We'll go to the Star Café owned by good friends Don and Betty Boles. Have a reservation for 17. I can already taste the chicken-friend steak with cream gravy.
Poor Christian has already been to the rodeo five times--tonight is six. He takes clients, plus he went with Jordan's office and took two little boys last Monday night. He's relieved that there's only one more week. I would be too.
Stock show--properly known, I think, as the Southwestern Livestock Exposition and Stock Show--really changes the character of Fort Worth for its three-week run--restaurants and roads are crowded, and there's a general air of excitement in the city. I saw a wonderful picture on Facebook last night of the darkened city with the lights of the Midway blazing in the middle of the picture--thanks to Brian Luenser. To me, that said it all about what the stock show does for Fort Worth.
I know it's a very good thing for the city and its economy, and there are days I miss walking the exposition hall and seeing the FFA animal exhibit--all those little ducks sliding down into the water and eggs hatching. I miss funnel cakes and the heavy smell of fried food and the earthy smell of the barns and the warmth emanating from the cattle. For me, a Chicago native, it's part of an acquired taste; for my Texas-born kids, it's part of their heritage.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hello, old friend

Anxiety has been my lifelong friend. Sometimes things that would ordinarily be a nuisance to some people get blown out of proportion in my mind, because of anxiety...and anticipation. I lost my newly renewed driver's license--or never got it in the mail--so had to trek across town to get a replacement. For some reason, the drivers' license place has always made me nervous. I think I was always afraid I'd be so nervous I'd fail the vision test. Besides, the place is almost but not quite outside my driving limits.
This morning I felt quite confident driving out there, but once there got the shaky legs, had to ask a nice young girl passing by to "get me started"--after the first step I'm okay. Had to fill out a form and my handwriting was so shaky as to be beyond deciphering--besides, I filled it out on a clipboard on knees that were shaking. I rarely used the title "Dr." but figured I needed a little help today (at first couldn't find my old license) so I did. The clerk said, "You have doctor's handwriting." He was chatty and pleasant, and I tried to be equally pleasant back because I think he must have an awful job. It all went well--except when Jacob saw the picture he asked why I didn't smile. When the clerk showed me my picture I said, "I look my age," and he said, "Yeah. Twenty-one." Once I had the temporary license in hand, I sailed out of there with a confident step and went about my business--which included a massive grocery shopping.
The thing about anxiety is that it always passes. You know you'll get through it, usually without unduly embarrassing yourself, because you always have before. But it's hard to tell yourself that ahead of time--anxiety feeds on anticipation. Maybe someday I'll write a book about what a wonderful life I've led in spite of anxiety. Meantime, I'm just glad to have the new driver's license. Besides, how can you be anxious when you drive classy car like mine?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Huh? The world of the hearing challenged

I had an appointment with a new and very helpful audiologist today. I've been "hearing challenged" for twenty years or so, many of them spent in denial. Not me, I said. I never listened to loud music much. I didn't fly in a lot of airplanes. I finally got over my denial when I read that women who had been given a certain combination of hormone therapy were experiencing early hearing loss. My family pushed, shoved, and threatened not to talk to me if I didn't do something about it. The first EENT doctor I went to said I needed an aid in at least one ear, he didn't care which one, and had his audiologist hand me a pair to take home and try on. No testing, no fitting, no directions. I declined, went to a commercial audiologist and was tested, fitted with aids, and seen every three months. Three pairs of hearing aids later (and they are not cheap!) my hearing is still a problem.
In really noisy restaurants, I might as well rudely pull out my cell phone and occupy myself because I can't hear a word; church is difficult but I catch most of it; even a gathering of six for happy hour in my own home was difficult for me today. I kept waving my hands and saying what we say to the grandchildren, "Inside voices! Inside voices!" The phone is impossible and particularly difficult with my brother who gets upset when I can't hear and don't tell him. And this morning Jordan was trying to say "warm, wet washrag" to me and she might as well have been speaking Greek. I had to hand the phone to Jacob. Sometimes, you can hear the person talking clearly but the comprehension just isn't there. As a result, I'm probably really rude to telephone solicitors, and every once in a while I come close to missing an important call because I don't understand what's being said.
Today I learned that I haven't had my hearing tested in four years; nor have my hearing aids been adjusted to my changing needs. I was tested (actually improved a bit), the aids adjusted. I learned how to hold the cell phone so that the speaker is directly over the receiver of my aid instead of squarely in my ear. I was challenged to wear my aids all day every day so my brain wouldn't have to keep trying to adjust. Other hints included sitting as far from loudspeakers as possible in restaurants, and sitting with my back to the noise. There's more to be done, but I feel encouraged tonight. When I came home at lunch, even the domestic sounds of rattling around in the kitchen sounded loud.
Hearing loss, as I've learned, can isolate you, even from friends you care about, and it frustrates those around you. I'm going to keep working at this. And if you're in denial, as I was, go do something about it. You'll be glad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Worlds of Mysteries

People talk about the world of books, but I’d like to suggest there are a whole lot of separate worlds within that generalization. For you mystery addicts, there are several kinds of mysteries—traditional (traces back to Agatha Christie and beyond), cozies (are they a subset of traditional or are they becoming their own thing?), suspense and thriller (where is the line between those two?), vampire, paranormal and probably ten others I haven’t mentioned. Neither readers nor authors can satisfactorily define any of these, and it’s up to readers to find books they like and authors to write what their instincts—or their heart—tell them. As they say, you can’t tell a book by the cover.

But there’s another division within the world of mystery that puzzles me. I belong to Sisters in Crime, an organization founded way back in the ‘80s to protest the treatment of women authors of mystery fiction. We’ve come a long way, baby, but the group is vital and draws attention to the superb writing of many women, including founding mother Sara Paretsky. Because I monitor for SinC once a week, I’m familiar with many of the names. I also belong to Guppies, a subgroup whose name stands either for Going to be Published or The Great Unpublished. Membership in SinC is required to belong to Guppies, which is a warm, supportive, and informative group, much less structured than SinC. Many of us who are published hang around because of the friendship and congratulations and, sometimes, sheer silliness. Since I’m on the steering committee, I know many of the names of this 500+ member group too. And, wonder of wonders, there are women mystery writers who belong to neither group.

There’s the Dorothy L listserv, named after Dorothy L. Sayers and run out of Kent State University, which has an active popular culture program. It’s sort of an elite list, where friends bond, titles are reviewed, recommended, news shared—usually professional but sometimes private. I consider myself a fringe member—I have timidly contributed a few times but have not really become friends with any of the regulars and never seen a mention of my work. Still, I read it to be informed. Dorothy L. comes out twice a day.

I also subscribe to an online daily newsletter, “Shelf Awareness.” They do a version for booksellers and three times a week a version for readers. I skim both, paying particular mention to the mystery/suspense titles mentioned with brief reviews. It’s rare that I see an author’s name that I recognize from all my other affiliations.

All this means I receive about 300 emails a day. And you wonder that I don’t write the great American novel? But what puzzles me is the lack of overlap in these various lists. I sometimes wonder if there’s a caste system, where Shelf Awareness speaks only to Dorothy L (or the New York Times Book Review) and so on down the line. It’s a mystery to me.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy Hour--cleaning the fridge

We had a happy hour gathering tonight--Jordan and neighbor Jay cleaned out my refrigerator, while I sat, answered questions, etc. I mean really, when they ask you when you bought a jar of pickles, do you remember? It seems I had about ten kinds of mustard, half of them way out of date--Jay kept asking incredulously, "How much mustard so you need?" Truth is, different recipes call for different kinds of mustard. I apparently had them all. We did agree that sauerkraut lasts forever, and we lowered a shelf because I had to buy a new brand of box wine (shh! the shame of it!) that wouldn't fit in the existing space. Out went jellies, jams, chocolate sauce from 2008, and dabs of undated pickle relish; horseradish got a pass even though there were two open jars, and I fought for a jar of white honey (forgot it was there and it's so good). Bread and butter pickles stayed though I can't imagine why I ever had them in the first place. Jordan scrubbed the shelves, particularly those in the door that get messy and sticky and awful. Result is I have a shining refrigerator with almost empty shelves, cottage cheese, eggs, and a few other things...and lots of condiments in the door (plus a few bottles of wine). My gratitude to Jordan and Jay knows no bounds, though I have the uncomfortable thought that as I age I'm more willing to sit back and let others do these things for me. It's a tendency I must fight.
Christian took Jacob and a friend to the rodeo tonight because the friend's father was competing in the calf roping. So Jordan and I had a girls' night after Jay left. Jordan asked for a seafood dinner, and I cooked things Christian won't eat--sautéed mushrooms on toast (oh, so British!) and sautéed scallops. I did better on the scallops than sometimes, although I cooked them in the mushroom skillet, so they picked up a bit of the juice which only made them better. Jordan made our favorite blue cheese salad. Great meal. And now I'm munching a couple of homemade peanut butter cookies.
There are still things to be done before my family arrives this weekend but I have a clean kitchen (well, we didn't touch the freezer) and the linen is all clean and the guest room closet presentable for the first time in a long time.
It may take two years to clean all the nooks, crannies and bookshelves in this house...and as Jay said then it will be time to do the refrigerator again. Jordan said she feels it's her obligation to tell me if I become a hoarder. This over a multi-faceted class jar that no longer fastens securely enough for food storage but is way too pretty to discard. May become a planter.
Really, when was the last time you looked at all those jars in the way back of your fridge?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday dinner

For years, twenty or more, Sunday has been my night to cook a good, often experimental dinner. When the kids were home and my brother's children were also around, I often had twenty at my table. Once my brother really didn't like the entrée--I think it was a cornbread/hamburger concoction--and fixed me with a direct question: "Sis, is the budget the problem?" But I remember once serving leg of lamb, so the budget wasn't as much of a problem as my tendency to experiment. I don't remember when the kids drifted away one by one but I clearly remember when Jamie moved to Dallas and was incredulous that I expected him to come home for Sunday dinner every week. His loss, and I moved on. I invited friends I rarely see and should get back to that, but now it's pretty much down to Jordan and her family and a few close friends.
Tonight there were six of us--counting Jacob who usually has his own separate meal (don't ask my opinion on that, though I recognize he really doesn't like meat). We had tourtiere, a French-Canadian meat pie. My Canadian daughter, Sue, mentioned that she and Teddy had made that over the holidays. I'd never heard of it, and she sent me a recipe. Then all of a sudden I started seeing recipes everywhere. Oddly, the new issue of Bon Appetit devotes an entire section to meat pies but doesn't mention this one. Anyway I decided to try it, though I am notably bad at making desserts look pretty and why I thought a meat pie would be different is anyone's guess.
The filling recipe I used was fairly straightforward--onion, garlic, ground beef and pork, grated potatoes, a bit of water (I used broth), and a wild array of a pinch of this and a pinch of that--rosemary, curry, savory, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, salt, etc. One recipe called for sliced mushrooms, and after I got them all sliced I realized that the recipe I was using didn't call for them and Christian won't eat them--Jordan and I will have sliced mushrooms on toast (how British can you get?) tomorrow when Christiana takes two little boys to the rodeo.
Back to the tourtiere, another recipe said to refrigerate meat mixture overnight, which always sounds good to me--all that about letting the flavors blend and mellow. So I made it last night and let it sit in the fridge. Tonight I struggled with the frozen pie crust--and I think part of my trouble was being either too lazy or too intimidated to make my crust from scratch. I had difficulty, to put it mildly, with the upper crust and did so much patching that it looked like a quilt.
The finished pie (above) looked quite appetizing, but it didn't cut well at all. The crust crumbled and the meat didn't hold together. I think another time I'll put a handful of instant tapioca in the meat mixture--it doesn't change the taste but it holds meatloaf together, so why not this? Long story short, individual servings were a mess but the flavor was delicious. Opinion around the table was unanimous, though I think Christian had never heard of meat pie. I'll cook this again--but with variations. We had roasted asparagus and a blue-cheese salad with it. Thanks to friend Subie, strawberries with ice cream for dessert. Really good supper if I do say so myself.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The rodeo's in town!

Fort Worth awaits this annual event with bated breath--it brings tremendous crowds and lots of income to restaurants, shops, and the like. But it also traditionally brings bad weather. So far we've had semi-cold and one really rainy day, but the prediction for next week is the high sixties. Pray the weather holds. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show began last week, but today was the first day of the professional rodeo.
When my children were young, it was a rite of passage to be old enough to go to the rodeo. We always went with one family of good friends, and if memory serves correctly we ate beforehand because we didn't like rodeo food. It was a time of high excitement, and we all loved it.
Today, my children and grandchildren come for a rodeo weekend--it's become a ritual. This year, next weekend, I will put out snacks--veggies, hummus, cheese, wine and beer. I figure they'll eat corny dogs and whatever at the show.
I've written about rodeo, been to countless performances...and today I no longer want to go. Don't want to see man or beast hurt. (I always used to sneak out during the bull riding, which terrified me.) So part of old age is I don't go. Neither do I go when the family does a walk-through of the barns, the exposition hall, and the Midway. Used to love that too. Last time I went, it killed my feet. Nowadays I don't think my back would take the walking. So I send them off with blessings and nap while they're gone. Then we gather for a Saturday night dinner--usually at Joe T. Garcia's but this year Jordan suggested a change, and we're going to the Star Café, owned by dear friends of mine. The kids and grandkids love my friends Betty and Don and also love the Star--I can already savor the chicken-fried steak.
Jacob went to the matinee rodeo today, with his parents, an event sponsored by Jordan's employer, Gulliver's Travels. Jacob came in about 5:30 full of tales--it seems during the bronc riding, on bronc came out of the chute with a small leap, and then apparently looked around and saw the crowd. He stiffened his front legs and refused to move, as if to say, "They're people out there. I'm not going." In fact, that's what the announcer said, and it made me nostalgic for a moment--rodeo announcers keep a fast pace, but they are always ready with a quip.
Then at least one, and maybe two, bulls in the bull-riding bucked their way through the required eight seconds without dislodging their riders. Then they simply sat down. Needless to say the riders dismounted and made a bee-line for the safety of the sidewalls. Sounds to me like the funniest rodeo ever.
Jacob will go again Monday night, with his friend Hayes whose father will ride in the calf-roping competition. Imagine what a thrill that is for an eight-year-old boy--to see his friend's father, whom he knows, ride. Christian, who has already been to the rodeo twice and will go again several times next week, is taking the boys. After that I don't think we dare mention rodeo to him for a year.
And then after the first week in February, life in "the Fort" will settle back down to normal. And then we all think, with stock show weather behind us, spring is here. Doesn't usually happen that way.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Was history your favorite subject?

They say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I've been delving into the history of Chicago in the Gilded Age (late nineteenth century) when capitalists got richer and richer and the working people toiled long hours at difficult work for substandard wages. Talk about class warfare! In Chicago one of the outcomes was the Haymarket Riot. Workers gathered peacefully to protest police brutality, specifically the deaths of several workers the day before. As police worked to control the crowd, someone threw a bomb into the police troops. In the resulting gunfire several police and civilians were killed. Later, the "anarchists" accused of inciting the riot were hanged. It was not Chicago's finest hour.
I'm a native of Chicago, which perhaps accounts for the fascination all this history holds for me. I grew up in a house built in the early 1890s for the Columbian Exposition (1893), and I learned to skate in the Midway left behind by that exposition. I shopped at Marshall Field's and while I never stayed at the Palmer House I certainly knew of that legendary hotel. My study delved into the stories of George Pullman (as in Pullman railway sleeping cars), the great meat packers like Augustus Swift, newspaper editor and publisher Joseph Medill--all the names associated with making Chicago one of the most powerful cities in the nation.
Today I see that history being repeated--the rich increasing their wealth on the backs of the poor, an increasing polarity of society between the haves and the have-nots. As Congress cuts backs on health care (or tries to), veterans' benefits, women's rights and health care, wage increases, I wonder how long it will be before some spark ignites riots.
A riot in the 1880s was to be feared; such an uprising today, with increased communication and the easy availability of all kinds of weapons, could be a major disaster. It's no secret that I'm not happy with the make-up of the new Congress, and I think there lies the blame. I wonder what Speaker Boehner would say if you asked him what he knew about the Haymarket Riot?
I want to say to him and his colleagues, "Quit trying to outsmart the President and go read your American history books."
Yes, I'm writing a novel about Chicago. More news on that to come.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dogs and people--maybe kindness is the answer

A post on Facebook yesterday described a New Zealand program to rescue dogs from shelters. Instead of showing pitiful pictures of dogs in cages with dire predictions as to their fate, the shelter invited nearby office workers to walk a dog during their lunch hour (they were fortunately near a green space). It became a program whereby the dogs saved the people, getting them out in the air to exercise and have fun. The bonus? All the dogs were adopted.
It made me think of a program for the homeless that I read about somewhere. Instead of outlawing them and forbidding people to feed them, one city (wish I could think which one) provides start-up homes for them. The results were an amazing decrease in homelessness and an upswing in formerly homeless people who could now help and support themselves.
My thought was a little compassion goes a long way.
Today at lunch I was telling a friend about all this and the connection I see between a caring, helpful approach vs. a  hostile, punitive one, and he told me about a fancy hotel (NYC maybe) that has a dog as a greeter. The dog is eligible for adoption, and the hotel has placed something like twenty-four dogs in homes. And then there's New York's Algonquin, where they always have a resident cat, and the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where ducks parade through the lobby to the fountain, marching to a John Phillip Sousa tune. By contrast think of the Florida law officer who had a ninety-plus-year-old man arrested for feeding the homeless.
There is so much anger in the world when a little creative positive thinking can lead to solutions that benefit everyone and don't punish the less fortunate. States that have raised the minimum wage have been proven to improve their economy dramatically--and yet conservatives predict joblessness and despair if it's raised.
How about you? Can you think out of the box for solutions to society's problems, solutions that benefit everyone and punish no one? It takes a lot of love for man and animals, I think.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Suburbs in Fiji?

In an idle moment this evening, I was scrolling through Facebook. Occasionally I fall for those online quizzes, and this time I took two. The first was what country I should live in. It seems there's an epidemic of people who should live in Fiji because I noticed several acquaintances also got that answer. I don't know much about Fiji--my daughter and son-in-law were there once but were both too sick to enjoy it and just missed that nightclub bombing by a week or two. Other than the South Pacific-like visions I conjure up in my head, that's all I know about Fiji. I'm not particularly fond of semi-tropics and probably wouldn't like tropics. I've been to the Caribbean three times and while I loved the turquoise water and sunny skies, I was not particularly intrigued by the culture or the people (with due respect to the son and his wife who lived there). Maybe it was because I said I liked weather that was slightly warm and sunny--well, we had that today in Fort Worth. No Fiji is not for me. I wanted it to tell me I should live in Scotland, which is not at all warm and sunny.
The next quiz I took was illustrated with a beautiful, Victorian mansion--painted an unusual soft rose or pink. I wanted that house. I think in that quiz I hit one button by mistake--it doesn't allow you to go back. For celebrities, since I'm not knowledgeable about them, I chose Kate Middleton, perhaps with visions of an old English manor dancing in my head. The answer I got was a spacious, two-story rather spare house in the suburbs. Suburban living has always been an anathema to me. I've never lived in any suburbs, ever. I'm an inner-city girl, comfortable in older houses--I grew up in Chicago in one built in 1892 and I live in one built in 1922. To me, suburbs are all about conformity, while I like to think of myself as slightly individualistic--nothing in my house "matches" and I have some odd pieces of art, all important to me in one way or another. The quiz said I should have a white picket fence (daughter had one, son-in-law hated it and got rid of it), two kids (I have four), and a dog (got that right).
The moral of this tale, which I should have learned long ago, is don't put stock in computerized match programs--they don't work. Me? Date online? Not on your life. is not for me.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Much Ado about Nothing

I've not blogged lately because I have nothing to say. Oh, there's the usual calamitous news all over the world--Charlie Hebdo and Boko Haram. I sometimes fear we live in such complacency that it will never happen to us, that we may be in for a rude surprise. And I continue to watch both Texas and national politics, not particularly encouraged by either. The open-carry movement bothers me, as I wrote before, on many levels, and I'm disheartened that it's our new governor's first cause. Texas lags behind other states in education, health care, insurance--I wish he'd turn his attention to one of those vital problems. Apparently our outgoing governor, as one of his last acts, vetoed a bill that would have investigated no-bid contracts, effectively closing that ethical door. Oh well, he's not free and clear of the law yet and has reportedly spent close to a million dollars in defense--do you suppose that was his money or ours? On the national front, the Republicans came out of the gate with all guns blazing--abortion, social security, tax cuts for the middle class, Keystone Pipeline. Nice guys--but I am encouraged the what seems to be new resolve on President Obama's part. Maybe he's thinking of his legacy.
On the home front, Fort Worth is all excited about Stock Show--which means most of us avoid that part of town, the museums, even favorite restaurants that draw stock-show crowds. For me, the brightest aspect is that all my kids will come home for a stock show weekend--it's become a family tradition. I used to go with them, and we'd do the barns and exposition hall and Midway. I've given it all up--I send them on their way and look forward to dinner with them. We usually go to Joe T.'s whenever one or more are gathered in town, but at Jordan's suggestion we'll vary our routine and go to the Star Café. A long, really long thread on Facebook today on the best chicken-fried steak since Massey's is dust--the Star was mentioned several times. Our good friends Betty and Don Boles own it, and we're pretty loyal, think the food is terrific.
On my own little home front, all goes peacefully along. I am writing a thousand words a day and feeling good about it. Plus cleaning closets and started tonight on the disgraceful bookcase in my office--it truly has been a mess beyond belief. One small supply cabinet and three shelves and I was done for the evening.
We had hoped for a day at the ranch today with my niece, nephew and families plus Cindy's family, but Cindy came down with a bad case of flu. Went to church, wrote my thousand words and napped. Now Jacob is here for the night while his parents are at the rodeo--window seats in the Backstage Club no less. I am most impressed--Backstage Club never impressed me because I always sat in a crowded back room where you couldn't see anything. But my rodeo days are over--sort of a been there, done that feeling. Oh, Lord, I hope that's not old age creeping up on me.
Hope you all are having more exciting lives! 'Scuse me, I got to go to bed now.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pistol packin' and open carry

This week's open-carry demonstration at the Texas State Capitol was pretty frightening, and one legislator deserves a shout-out for ordering armed protestors out of his office. I am really tired of this battle over who can or should carry a gun, and I am sick to death of the argument, "Read the Second Amendment." People! The second amendment, written in the time of muzzle-loading rifles, called for people to be armed as an orderly militia should the need arise. The framers of that document could not foresee a society where every third person wants to carry an AK-16 or whatever it is.
People crow about their individual rights--the "guv'mint" can't take those away. I believe it was John Stuart Mill who wrote that we are free to do as we please as long as our actions do not endanger the common good.
I'm not against guns, especially for hunting. If you want to keep a gun in your home for protection, God bless you. I hope you're among the few who are truly responsible. The statistics about home guns, children, and fatal accidents are truly appalling. I don't own a gun, wouldn't if I could. I'm not sure, even with training, that I could bring myself to shoot another person, unless to protect my children or grandchildren. Even then, my aim would probably be off because of nerves, and I'd only make a bad situation worse.
I do think it's mandatory that we have much better control over arms--no sales at gun shows or on the Internet, strict background checks that are enforced. It's not a cure-all, but those would be steps in the right direction.
But what disturbs me most is the attitude manifest by a gun-carrying society. If you feel so in danger you have to carry a weapon, concealed or otherwise, it indicates, to me, a hostile attitude toward your fellow man. An armed society is almost bound to be an angry society that cannot live in peace. An atmosphere of hate and distrust would prevail. Those open-carry protestors yesterday were angry, rude, frightening. Is that the kind of world we want to live in?
I am also disturbed that somehow there is a link between Christianity, at least fundamental Christianity, and the right to carry. It brings up that phrase so popular a few years ago: WWJD. Do you really think Jesus (or Mohammed) would walk around with a loaded assault rifle?
I promise not to respond to any hateful, angry comments on this subject. If you'd like to express an opinion with an open-minded, let's talk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Friendship--writing for and about women

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Darlene Deluca, who writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance and likes to explore relationships—what brings people together or keeps them apart. Her characters have a real-life quality with issues and situations that readers can relate to. Darlene has just released her new women's novel, Second Wind.
Darlene released her debut novel, Unexpected Legacy, in January 2013, and it advanced to the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. She has been a reader and writer since childhood. With a degree in journalism, she started her writing career as a newspaper reporter and later moved into corporate communications. “Writing fiction is a lot more fun,” she says. “It’s liberating. I can make up the people, places and the pertinent facts.” She has a daughter who just graduated from college, and a son who just started college. Darlene enjoys summers in Colorado. She tolerates living in the Midwest (that’s where the fam is), but when the temperature plummets and the ground turns white, she often longs for a distant sunny beach. Among her favorite things are books, chocolate, and a good cup of tea!


Over the holidays I had the opportunity to get together with several different groups of friends, and it got me to thinking just how lucky I am to have these people in my life – some of them for quite a long time. Even though I don’t see some of them very often, maybe only two or three times a year, there’s an important connection that I want to keep.

Friendship. It’s a common theme in books, movies and television. Why? Because we can relate. We all want friends. We all need them. We all want people in our lives we can laugh with and share experiences with, and depend on. Families often provide the most important people in our lives, but with families, you take what you get. No choices. Families come with history and maybe some baggage.

Friends are people you choose to hang out with. How many times have you orchestrated or attended a girls’ night out or recreational shopping to get away from family – away from the kids, maybe. Friends are often our escape!

As I reflected on these groups of girlfriends, I found that common bonds keep us together. These are people I have a history with. Some of us bonded over children and school situations. Some over a bad working environment. Others, a shared love for books and writing.

The host of a women’s radio talk show recently asked me, “What’s the most important thing you want people to remember about your books?” What immediately came to mind was friendship. I want readers to know that when they open a Darlene Deluca novel, they’re going to find characters they can relate to—people they could be friends with in real life. My books, whether they are straight women’s fiction or romance, are primarily about women and for women. The stories relate to women’s careers, parenting, home, and family—issues of interest to women—and always friendship.

Meetings of Chance features sisters as friends. In The Storm Within, the main character deals with death and divorce, and it’s the love and support of her friends that get her though the dark times. My most recent romance, Something Good, is a contemporary romance, but it’s not just about finding romantic love. It focuses on Mandi’s concern for others, her generosity, and her friendships. It’s about digging deep, as women often do, to overcome struggles and keep going even when times are tough. My characters are well-rounded women who juggle careers and personal issues and find love whether it’s through romance or solid I’ve-got-your-back girlfriends. As I said, the kind of women you’d want to be friends with!

The next book in the Women of Whitfield trilogy, which features a group of friends in the small fictional town of Whitfield, releases this month. The story focuses on Dana, and includes Mary and Claire from The Storm Within. A great place to find a friend!

Second Wind

When a devastating tornado rips through the small town of Whitfield, Dana Gerard’s home is reduced to rubble and her well-ordered life to chaos. In the wake of the disaster, she finds herself in financial straits and confronted by challenges that test her limits.

With support from longtime friends, Dana begins the daunting task of rebuilding, but that’s not her only worry, and may be the least of her concerns. Change greets her from all directions – at work and within her own family. At a crossroads, Dana is forced to see her life with a new vision and to trust the one person she’s determined to push away.

Find Darlene here:




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Some days are longer than others

Long day, and I'm tired. But good things have happened. The Perfect Coed got a highly positive review on Long and Short Review ( Who can complain when a reviewer praises your quick snappy writing style and fast-paced storyline? Not me! Nice start to the day.
I had other good news on the writing front that I don't feel at liberty to share yet, but I will soon. Not only is it a nice accolade, it's an event that evoked surprising enthusiasm from my kids. They are always and ever my best fans and I so appreciate their loyalty, but they're going to go to Lubbock for me! Now that is above and beyond.
And I finally got my cousin's estate settled today. It's been difficult because she was in Toronto and I'm in Texas and she died without a will. She had breast cancer and was so afraid she was going to die that I never would have asked about a will--it would have freaked her out. I figured it was no problem because I knew I was the only surviving relative. It turns out there are third cousins on her father's side, but I am the closest relative and therefore executor of her estate, as the Canadian courts decided today. I've probably spent as much in lawyer's fees as I stand to gain, but it's settled and I hope Jenny can rest in peace after a life that had precious little happiness in it.
Other than that a pleasant if scattered day--breakfast with the Book Ladies, a group of I suspect at least twenty-five years endurance. Some of us originals are still there, and we do talk about books but we also talk about lots of other things (liberal politics high on the list) and there is a real bond among us.
Lunch with a dear friend of longstanding--we went to my new favorite Mexican place, and I ate both my spinach enchiladas, something I rarely do. After a lazy afternoon I picked up two energized eight-year-old boys about 5:30 and tried to corral them into doing homework. They would rather hit each other in the head--"that's what boys do" Jacob's friend explained. We got the bare minimum of homework done and then went to the Grill for dinner. Now there's a sleeping eight-year-old in my house and a sleeping dog in my office. Life is good, and tomorrow will bring another adventure.
I read an interesting piece tonight that said essentially that God does not play with our lives, he does not put roadblocks in our way to see how we'll react. He stands beside or behind us, giving us grace to deal with the roadblocks that life puts in our way. I like that thought. Peace, y'all.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Faith, Grace, and "Why me, God?"

Here I go, blogging about something I almost never share--faith. I think I said recently that I would occasionally blog about politics because sometimes circumstances--like the current Congress coming out as if they'd been named king of all things--drive me to the point that I can't be quiet. You'll notice that so far I've shown great restraint--wait for it, it's coming.
But faith is pretty much a private matter. You have yours, I have mine, and we each respect the other. But tonight I read something by Anne Lamott that I am compelled to share. I recently commented to a friend that my faith had deepened in recent years. I'm not sure how. It's not exactly church-related, though I have been a churchgoer (often irregular) most of my life. But what I sense lately is a deepening sense of faith that doesn't depend on the ritual of the church, which I have always valued. Anne Lamott said it perfectly in an article in the new issue of the AARP Magazine: ..."by faith, I don't necessarily mean religious conviction. I'm talking partly about belief in the existence of a divine intelligence but also about faith in goodness, in things mostly working out. And let's not forget faith in ourselves--the conviction that we are loved and chosen--which is such a component of the spiritual life."
A lot of people in dire circumstances, wonder "Why me, God?" Classic story of Jonah and the whale. On the other hand, I often wonder, "Why me, God? Why am I so blessed when there is so much misery in life?" We were talking about this the other night, and another woman and I agreed we could have been born in Afghanistan or Boko Haram territory or any number of other places; we could have been born homeless or in abject poverty in the good old U.S. But we weren't. I believe to a large extent that we make our own fortune--not exactly the doctrine of good works, but more that what happens to us that is good is of our own making--through ambition, education, kindness, inquisitiveness (ah, the open mind). You get the idea. And yet going almost back to John Knox's Calvinism I have come to believe in Grace as a strong component of my faith. In, as Lamott says, the essential goodness of things. So when I say of someone suffering some horrible misfortune, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I," I really mean it. And I am grateful.
But with grace comes, to my mind, obligation, the obligation to help those less fortunate than we are. And that may indeed lead me back to a political rant. But not tonight.
If you've not read Lamott, I suggest you do. Her book that most impressed me was a wonderful one on writing and life, Bird by Bird. When she was young her brother postponed a big project on birds until the last minute. Then he sat at the kitchen table, overwhelmed by the scope of his project. His father advised, "Just take it bird by bird, son." That's a good way to take life. Lamott's latest title is Small Victories, which is on my "To Be Read" list. But there are others you might want to explore.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Potluck with Judy

Sundays were always when I posted Potluck with Judy, my now defunct food blog. But today I thought it just might be a good time to post about food (rather than rant about our new Congress, which I probably won't be able to restrain myself from doing for long). I bribed Jordan, Christian, and Jacob to come put Christmas back in the attic if I fixed brunch/lunch. Jacob, being old enough now to be allowed in the attic, loves to help his dad get things down and put them back up. I, being old enough that I am not allowed in the attic, am grateful.
I fixed croissant sandwiches--but only Christian and I ate croissants. They're not on Jordan's diet, and Jacob prefers what I call Jacob bread--Pepperidge Farm extra thin sandwich slices. At least I get them in whole wheat. Jacob has recently discovered that bacon/tomato/mayonnaise sandwiches are his very favorite. But the for 'dults, I followed a recipe I found online.
Spread mayonnaise on the bottom of a croissant; top with greens lightly dressed with raspberry/chipotle dressing; then thin slices of Pink Lady apples (so good!), followed by thin slices of brie, and finally bacon.  Wonderful combination--the flavors just go together.
I had raspberry chipotle sauce but not dressing, so I made a bit into dressing by mixing it with oil and vinegar--decided I'd made something good to keep in mind for future salads.
I was being cagey, I thought, when I bought six mini-croissant for$3.00--instead of three large for $4.00. I reasoned Christian would eat two, Jordan and I would each eat one, and Jacob could try one if he wanted. Problem was that there was simply too much filling for such a small roll. I ordered a croissant chicken salad sandwich when we stopped at the High Cotton Restaurant in Marlin a couple of weeks ago and it was huge, so big I took half home. The mini left me half hungry. I'd advise the full-size for this sandwich. I do have chicken salad in the fridge and that's probably what I'll have for supper.
The recipe said marinated vegetables were a perfect accompaniment, and I just happened to have those. Both recipes came from High-Made Food ( the Web site for a café in the Texas Hill Country. The site features basic foods with easy to follow instructions--minestrone, vanilla bean crème brulee, hoppin' John, chicken stew--you get the idea. Check it out. Sometimes I think, "No, I already make that my way and I like it," but other times I print and save.
The BLAB, as they call it (bacon, lettuce, brie, and apple), is definitely one I'll keep and try again. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Banishing the Saturday night blahs

I decided to banish the Saturday night blahs by cleaning a shelf or two in the pantry. Jordan has been after me to do this for some time, claiming there were probably things back there ten years old. Let me tell you first that this turned out not to be a way to banish the blahs--but it sure did make my sore back ache. At first, I was quite smug--didn't find much that needed to be thrown away--a couple of individual packets of board-stiff prunes, a stray lollipop, an individual cup of applesauce that had turned a really funny color. So I washed the first shelf--hadn't thought to buy fresh shelf paper nor extra garbage bags because I knew I wouldn't have much to throw out. I'd just straighten a little.
When I went to put things back, I began to examine the sell-by dates which they often make way too hard to find--and loaded two garbage bags. The worst offenders were Crisco (who uses that anymore?) and CoffeeMate (ditto--no one uses it) with 2002 dates. Even in this house, with a grandson who inhales peanut butter, I had to throw out an unopened jar--out of date (I thought the label looked different!).
Once I offered my oldest granddaughter some dry cereal. She took the box and then went over and whispered to her mom, who said to me gently, "She doesn't want to eat it. It's out of date.' At tne or eleven, Maddie was smarter than I am.
Tonight I picked up an open bag of ziti wrong side up and it scattered all over the floor. Had to stop and sweep--in spite of my efforts I heard Sophie crunching away on dry pasta I'd missed. Hope there are no gastric repercussions from that. I could feed an army on the partially used packages of pasta I have. Why do I have two unopened bottles of malt vinegar, two bottles of chocolate sauce, and a barely used, years old bottle of red plum vinegar (must have been a dilly of a good recipe). I think things got pushed so far back in the pantry (it's very deep, which is bad) that I thought I didn't have any and bought new--like two out-of-date bottles of Worcestershire.
I've barely made a dent in the storage places in this house where I've lived for twenty years but I quit for tonight. Maybe that old advice to move every five years or so is good--makes you clean things out.  Periodically I clean my closet floor and straighten all the shoes into neat pairs--pretty soon it's a mess where I have to hunt for the mate to the shoe I want to wear. Wonder if this will be the same?
I'm going back to my manuscript. I'm convinced writing is easier than cleaning. Erma Bombeck once wrote that she'd rather scrub the floor than face a blank sheet of paper in her typewriter (okay this was a while ago). You got it wrong, Erma! I'd rather look at that blank screen.

Friday, January 09, 2015

A rewarding day

I spoke to the Friday Fellowship at my church today--never mind the fact that I had it on my calendar for Thursday until a friend pointed out the flaw in my logic. The fellowship is a group of older adults who meet weekly for a program and pot-luck lunch. I think I'll keep going back just for the lunch--it was so good. I munched on several kinds of homemade salads and veggie dishes.
These days I rarely speak to groups and when I do, I don't do all the preparation I did twenty years ago, writing out talks in their entirety. I had a really rough outline today--I guess I've done it often enough that the adlibbing part comes naturally to me. To meet me, you'd never think I was a comedian--and I'm really not--but I find a lot of wry humor in some of the ups and downs of my writing career. So that's what I talked about--how I got from believing I could never write fiction to having over twenty novels to my credit. There was a good-sized group, several of whom were familiar with my work, which made it nice. They commented, they asked lots of questions, they contributed favorite books to the discussion. It was great fun.
At the lunch table, one of the women, a longtime friend, said something to the effect that it was a good situation for all of us. They had an enjoyable program, and I got positive feedback. Besides, I sold seven books.
Sure brightened a dull, cold day.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Powder your nose!

I realized the other day that since the holidays I've slipped into being a real slouch. I went around the house in jammies--well, a T-shirt and cotton knit pants--without makeup (but always with freshly shampooed hair--I have a fetish about that!). When it was time to get Jacob, I'd throw on sweats until he finally asked one day why I was wearing the same clothes three days in a row.
So the other day I resolved to mend my ways. I showered and shampooed first thing and then put on makeup. My good friend Melinda was coming for lunch, and it would have been easy to say, "Melinda won't care." But I put on makeup and clean slacks and a shirt. Set the table with place mats and cloth napkins and acted like a grown-up. Amazing how all that improved my outlook on life.
Then came dismantling Christmas--it's not such a bad chore once you get to it. It's the idea that you have to do it. At this point, I have all the decorations down, about half packed away, and the rest staring at me waiting to be boxed up. To add to my woes, I can't remember what went where before I put it all down for Christmas. I'm sure that will come with time and meanwhile I am certainly avoiding the cluttered look. Hope to get it all boxed and put away this weekend.
But then there's the matter that my house is falling down around my ears--Jordan claims that some of the food in the back of my deep pantry is probably ten years old, and she may be right. The bookcases in my office desperately need cleaning, rearranging, and thinning of books--there are a lot I could give to the Friends of the Library. The linen closet in the kitchen needs straightening, and if I'd relieve the toy chest of all the things the grandchildren have outgrown, I could use it for a blanket chest. Truth is, for one person, living alone in 1800 square feet, I have too much stuff. Don't talk to me about tiny houses, though I think the idea is charming.
Now my grown kids are talking about redoing my house, putting pull-out couches where sofas are (sofas do need re-doing), adding a big-screen TV, etc. They're all coming home the end of the month, and I guess will have a conference about what to do with Mom's house. I'm willing to go along for a bit--I know it needs updating--but when they start talking about removing bookshelves, I will have to remind them it is my house. Besides, do you realize how ugly most sleeper sofas on the market are?
I think one of the big problems in life is that there's always something else to be done. Excuse me now, I'm going to read a book.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Retreat Time

Thanks for having me back, Judy!

Despite being a full-time fiction writer, its often hard to be super productive while sitting in my office at home. During one stretch when I really needed to pound some word count, I found a Quaker retreat house in West Falmouth, which is on the near edge of Cape Cod, on Buzzard's Bay, a couple of hours drive from my home. The house is just across a Friends graveyard from the West Falmouth Friends Meetinghouse that was built in 1842. I reserved a room for $25 per night, but no one else was going to be there, so that was the price of the entire house.

I drove down  on a Friday with a bad cold and stocked a few simple provisions. I set up my netbook, made some tea, and set to writing. My only distractions were my own: going for a walk, reading, thinking. The house did NOT come equipped with internet. This turned out to be a huge blessing. I crossed the street to the library once a day to check for any messages that needed acting on and otherwise left cyberspace alone.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. I took care of my cold and kept writing. I gazed out the back window at the remnants of the Meeting garden, moseyed out to pluck some bits of parsley for my soup, and kept
writing. I went for a walk down to the bay and sat and listened to the calm winter lapping of the bay, then went back and kept writing

I had recently re-read Rachel Aaron's post on how she writes 10,000 words a day (and thanks to Ramona DeFelice Long for reminding me of that post last week). One of her secrets is to leave home for few hours. Check, in spades. Another is to only write the interesting scenes (and really, if you aren't compelled to write it, readers probably won't be compelled to read it, either).  I had plotted a few scenes ahead. So I jumped to the really interesting one and wrote that. Then I went back and wrote the scenes leading up to that one, making them more interesting, too. Check.

I took meal breaks at the kitchen counter and read a mystery, but I only let myself read as long as I was eating. Then, guess what, I kept writing.

I walked through the graveyard to sit in worship with Friends on Sunday morning, then got to know a few of them, talking casually about why I was there and what I was working on. Then I went back to write.

My cold was still pretty bad late Sunday night (despite adding a bit of brandy to my tea with honey and lemon) and my cough wasn't fit for human company. I canceled my plan to drive home on Monday morning and stayed at my writing station until midday on Monday. Final tally for just under 3 full days of retreat? 15,071 words. Wow!
Quaker House, I will return to thee.

Readers, what's your favorite retreat center? Where are you most productive in creative endeavors when you can grab a stretch of time, whether it's three hours or three days?

Amazon best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Lauren Rousseau mysteries under the pseudonym Tace Baker, in which Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau solves small-town murders (Barking Rain Press). The second book in the series, Bluffing is Murder, released in November 2014. Edith holds a doctorate in linguistics and is a long-time member of Amesbury Friends Meeting.

Til Dirt Do Us Part is the latest in Maxwell's Local Foods Mysteries series (Kensington Publishing, 2014). Her Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day (also from Kensington), will debut with Flipped for Murder in November 2015.

Maxwell’s Carriagetown Mysteries series features Quaker midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 with John Greenleaf Whittier’s help. Maxwell also writes award-winning short stories.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, Maxwell lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors (, and you can find her at, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest, and at

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Epiphany--the Christmas season is done

We celebrated Epiphany tonight, the night that legend tells us the Wise Men arrived at the manger, having followed the Star. It's a wonderful tale--you can see them in your mind, bowing down before the babe, awestruck by his holiness. My church does an annual Boar's Head Festival celebrating both the birth of Christ and the medieval banishment of evil. The arrival of the Wise Men is always one of the most dramatic moments.
In my family, we have a tradition that began who knows where? Probably in the imagination of a neighbor/aunt when I was a child. But I've carried it on with my own children and now with at least one grandchild. Each individual throws a small evergreen branch into the fire and makes a wish. It's done by age, though we couldn't remember if the eldest went first or the youngest. Clearly, there's no question about which is which--I am the eldest, and Jacob is the youngest. I went first, threw my branch too far back, and it didn't light. I was given another twig and it burned, but I really think that's cheating. Of course, you can't tell anyone what your wish was. But I think mine will come true anyway. Of course I'm very curious what Jacob wished but I'll never ask.
We had vegetable soup--easiest group dinner I've ever fixed--but still by the time I set the table, cleaned up from last night, did a laundry, emptied the garbage, made a delicious smoked salmon spread, made the soup, etc., I was exhausted. I woke up tired today and never got over it. Looking forward to an early bedtime tonight. Since this is the tail end of the holiday season, I got out my plaid china (it's red and green) and used green place mats. All festive looking. I'll get my groove back on tomorrow.
Once again, my wish for you is everything you want 2015 to be. I feel in my bones it's going to be a good year--but then I wonder how much damage the Republican Congress can do!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Just what Sunday should be

My marinated veggies, ready to give as gifts
Today was everything a Sunday should be. Went to 11:00 church--wore my high tops, after a moment's pause, but as I left an older woman (probably my age) commented how much she liked them. I said I'd worried about wearing them to church, and she said good for you! The text and sermon were about the Wise Men and their gifts. Since Epiphany is Tuesday night, I hoped Jacob heard at least part of the message, so he'd understand why we celebrate...and what we celebrate: the gift of our dedication to God.
Home for lunch, kitchen work--bottled my marinated veggies, emptied the dishwasher, set the table--and then a good long, deep nap. I thought the Burtons would be here about six--they didn't arrive until almost seven because they'd been watching the Cowboys game in a local hangout. Not a good excuse in my book, but we all made nice, had happy hour--I pulled some blue cheese ball out of the freezer. And then dinner--the spaghetti I'd labored over last night and simmered all day today. Good, if I do say so myself. Jacob, the little pill, refused to eat green noodles with butter. I used a recipe I've used many times before--just never noticed it called for green noodles.
Now, at ten o'clock, the dishes are done, the dog is fed, and I'm sleepy. Reading a book I don't like at all, so don't know how long I'll last tonight.
School starts tomorrow, I have lunch plans every day but Monday, dinner plans three days--we're back into the whirl of usual activities. Almost seems the holidays were more calm. Cold weather all this week.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saturday night cooking...and improvisation

Tonight was the kind of Saturday night I enjoy. I cooked. Jordan invited me to go with some of their friends to Fred's (locally famous hamburger joint) but I elected to stay home, eat leftover lamb meatloaf (next time: leave out pinion nuts) and a cabbage steak. So wonderful, if you haven't baked a cabbage steak, you must try it. The recipe has been all over Facebook, but if you've missed it, email me a So simple and so good.
Tonight I made a big batch of marinated vegetables, following (sort of) a recipe I found on highmadefoods. I signed up for their blog, printed out several fascinating recipes, but this is the first one I've tried. And, of course, I made substitutions--forgot the green beans, added a turnip and cucumber, omitted the jalapenos though in retrospect I think that may have been a mistake. The recipe called for bay leaves--who doesn't have bay leaves in their cupboard? Apparently me! I put in
dried thyme and basil. Called for black peppercorns, and again I fell short so I stole some from the pepper grinder. And finally it called for coriander seeds which I flat didn't have--considered adding a bit of cumin and decided against it. It took two hours to make this--all that chopping--and by the time I finished my back was screaming. I'm seriously considering a back brace just for cooking, though I'm not sure what kind to buy. Anyway my veggies are marinating and tomorrow I'll bottle them in jars I'm running through the dishwasher tomorrow morning.
Dinner break and Jordan and Jacob came by on their way to Fred's so I had a brief but appreciated moment of sociability. Christian didn't feel well, and I worried about that.
Then on to spaghetti sauce. Got the veggies chopped and in the food processor but was dumbfuzzled when it came to ham. I know a bought a slice early this week for ham salad--thought I'd just use part of it for the sauce. Could not find it anywhere in the fridge or freezer. Substituted bacon which should give the same smoky taste and instead of a half lb. of hamburger, I added a whole lb. After all it was defrosted. Tomorrow, before church, I'll put it in the crock pot and add the tomatoes, etc., and let it simmer all day. I plan to serve it on spinach noodles because I have an abundance of them. And that's what the recipe calls for. This is the only recipe for Bolognese spaghetti I've ever seen that does not have milk in it--and I like that.
Whoosh! I'm tired. Will settle down with a book for the rest of the evening.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Chicago's Gilded Age

I'm living in Chicago's nineteenth-century Gilded Age right now as I rewrite my historical novel. Once titled Potter's Wife, I think it will now be titled "The Gilded Cage." The story of Potter Palmer, who created the Palmer House hotel, and his society-born wife, Bertha (Cissy) Honore, is set against the background of Chicago's fascinating history. The Great Fire, the Haymarket Riot, and, finally, the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It was an era of tremendous wealth on the part of a few and abject poverty on the part of too many. Potter Palmer was a capitalist who believed that any man could achieve the wealth he had--he didn't realize how extreme poverty holds a man down. His wife, Cissy, was one of the first to recognize the social obligations of great wealth, and she worked at Hull House, had poor young woman into her house for cooking lessons, took food and clothing to those less fortunate than she, and ultimately was the president of the Exposition's Board of Lady Managers.
I'm fascinated by all this. I grew up on Chicago's South Side, not too far from the Midway created for the Exposition --it's where I learned to ice skate--and I attended the University of Chicago, which sits on the edge of the Midway. The history of Chicaago is part of my life story.
I'm noticing great parallels between that age and ours: the wealthy got wealthier, and the poor suffered incredible hardship--working ten or twelve-hour days for a pittance. Cries for shorter work hours and pay raises went unheeded by capitalists like Palmer, Marshall Field, Gustavus Swift, Philip Armour, George Pullman--all names famous in industrial history. So far, our situation today is less desperate but I can see how despair leads to civic uprising...and it makes me pause for thought.
Propriety was a big thing in those days--women of fashion did not bob their hair or wear bloomers nor protest for women's rights. Potter Palmer was always afraid his wife would become a suffragette. And Cissy, social-minded though she was, enjoyed the luxuries of wealth--I'm amazed at the ease with which these people traveled to New York City and to Europe. Chicago was also trying to prove itself to the East, where the Gilded Age flourished and people thought Chicago was still a rough outpost on the plains.
Fascinating stuff. If you can't wait for "The Gilded Cage," read Renee Rosen's What the Lady Wants, a novel about Marshall Field. And then read "The Gilded Cage" when it's published--sorry, no pub date yet. But I am really enthusiastic about this work. Thanks for letting me share.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015 is here

We saw the new year in properly tonight with ham and black-eyed peas--including a black-eyed pea salad that Jordan made. Plus stuffed mushrooms for appetizer (my contribution) and cheesecake for dessert. Jordan set a formal table with chargers and her Spode Christmas china, newly given to her by Christian's mother, on red chargers (should have taken a picture). Made us all feel like grown-ups. The evening was a bit marred by Jacob's good buddy who got sick, but they cleaned up, put him in the tub, and his mom came to get him. As those of us with children know all too well such things happen and you just move on. Not an omen for the new year.
It's been a lovely holiday season, and I got to thinking today that new traditions are born all the time. I think we might have started two this year. The first was our "brinner"--breakfast for dinner. We're all so enthusiastic that we're talking about next year's. Christian found a cheese-heavy egg casserole that he promises to make. To my amusement, it has cottage cheese in it. Didn't seem to faze Christian. My mom always scrambled eggs with cottage cheese, but only Colin and I will eat them. My other children scorn the idea.
The second is the "bring your own steak" dinner Jordan and Christian hosted last night. It was for their friends, and I was strictly an interloper, but I sure did think it was a nice idea. I brought myself an 8 oz. sirloin--something I could not afford to serve to guests and yet would not have bought to eat by myself. Jordan (and Christian) worked hard, serving six meals over two days (several of their New Year's Eve guests spent the night), including chili for lunch yesterday (during that great TCU game), a sumptuous breakfast this morning, and who know what during the disappointing Baylor game. But I give her credit--she planned simple meals well. Last night, people brought appetizers, and she served their steaks and homemade potato salad plus sopapilla cheesecake a guest brought. Tonight we had ham, black-eyed peas, salad, and cheesecake.
When other guests tonight asked why she went to so much trouble, she said, "I like to entertain." Hmmm. Wonder where she learned that?
I do feel 2015 is off to a good start. Hope yours is too.