Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Odd Mixture of a Day

Church, physical therapy, and a salmon dinner. That strikes me as an odd mixture, but it was a happy day. I’ve been going to church more and more interested in going lately, which seems to me yet another sign of recovery. Today it was an encouraging experience, because several people stopped me to comment on my progress, ask how I was, just generally check in. I got a couple of hugs and a lot of fellowship. Christian, trying to make our way to the exit, finally said, “You’re the most popular woman in church this morning.” Jacob was with us and was detailed to walk with me to the corner, while Christian went ahead for the car. I am here to tell you that the west wind was really cold. I have had the heat on in the cottage today.

My physical therapist came this afternoon. I was surprised when she scheduled a Sunday visit, but I think we both thought PT was over, the insurance wouldn’t approve the doctor’s latest request. After a two-week hiatus, they did, and here she was. She’d been making me walk on the cane, and I expected disappointment, even argument, when I said no more cane. The doctor said so! Instead, she readily agreed. She said if I’m uncomfortable with it, then we won’t do it. We’re concentrating on upper body strength. Nine visits left on this prescription.

Ellen, the PT, made my day when I asked her if I seemed different than when she first knew me, back in February. The question was prompted by all the people who say they see a remarkable difference in me. She put it in terms of my aura. When she came, she said, my aura said, “I’m sick. I’m old.” Today, she said it proclaims that I am healthy and younger—not young, but still I’ll take what I can get.

Twenty-five years ago, I had a good friend who called me his adopted sister. A gay man who would never have children of his own, he adored my children and taught them to drive and ride horseback. He was family. He was also, he was sure, a psychic, and he talked a lot about people’s auras, though it was always in terms of the color of their auras. Ellen didn’t mention that today. What do you think your aura says about you? What color is it?

Tonight, Christian fixed a wonderful salmon dinner. There’s a story there. He has always said he didn’t like salmon, but one night when I fixed it for Jordan and me (and steak for him), he tasted it and liked it. I had done it with anchovy butter. I tried to talk him into miso salmon but he was set on grilling and said miso doesn’t adhere to the surface well enough to grill. He did a marinade of soy, sugar, garlic and I guess oil, and he undercooked mine just the way I like it. With potatoes, corn, and salad, it was a scrumptious meal. I’m finding that Christian and I have fun talking about food, though I’m trying hard to educate both of them about such small things as why you buy corn in the full husk and not semi-husked in a cello packet, why you don’t buy generic honey or olive oil, etc. It’s sort of an uphill battle, makes Jordan defensive, though Christian is a bit more willing to listen.

I’m at a crucial point in the book I’m reading, so good night.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Warm and Wonderful Reunion

Life is funny. Friends come and go in your life. I read somewhere—maybe Anne Lamott—that when a friend disappears from your life it’s because their part in your life story is done. I had a wonderful brunch today with three friends whose part in my life story is definitely not over, much to my joy.

Gayla Christiansen, marketing manager at Texas A&M University Press, Frank Vick, former director of UNT Press, author, past president of Texas State Historical and Texas Institute of Letters, and Fran’s daughter, Karen, were in Fort Worth for a meeting yesterday, came to see my cottage and take me to brunch.

When I was at TCU Press, I was in almost daily contact with Fran and Gayla. They were my “go to” people in publishing, and when I turned seventy they presented me with a certificate about the three world-problem-solving publishing women of Texas. Retirement and life in general has taken us in different directions, though we are sporadically in touch.

Today, over a marvelous lunch of eggs Benedict and roast brisket hash, we picked right up where we left off—catching up with publishing, health, gossip, families, you name it. We lingered over a long brunch—well over two hours. And we’d still be there probably if Gayla, our hostess, hadn’t announced she needed to head for College Station.

I came home on wings of air, much buoyed up to still be a part of the Texas publishing scene. The rest of my day has been a lazy Saturday. Spent much of the afternoon exploring Scotland—how I wish it was in person, but, alas, it was on the internet. Found I had sent a “blatant self-promotion” article to my clan newsletter, The MacBean Clan Register (after all, if you don’t toot your own horn, who will?). In the early early stages of exploring the possibility of a novel set in Scotland. Of course, I’m sure it would require in-person research.

I’ve set myself a goal tonight of finishing a book I’m reading for evaluation for an organization I belong to, so I’m off to bury my nose in the book.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Dancing Shoes

I bought dancing shoes last night. Okay, they’re not—they’re shoes to start me on the road to dancing again, good, serviceable shoes that support my ankles, lessen my tendency to walk on the side of my left foot, and help my feet heal, particularly the swollen left one. They are, forgive me, plain, ugly shoes. Serviceable. That word keeps going through my mind.

They come from a store recommended long ago by the podiatrist I see and known for their serviceable (there’s that word again) shoes. I resisted when the doctor first mentioned, but now I find that tendency to walk on the side of my foot increasing (it’s called pronating). The saleslady, Nita, was skilled, knew what she as talking about. Subie, the friend who drove me there, kept finding cuter shoes, but Nita nixed them—they didn’t offer the right support, they weren’t deep enough for my foot, etc. The ones she showed me were the only ones in the store that she recommended for me at this time, and no, they weren’t the most expensive. Nita held out hope that in six months I can get a cuter pair. She even intimated I might gradually work my way up to sandals.

“You aren’t going to wear these without socks, are you?”

My answer: “Yes.”

She launched into a discussion of how dangerous blisters, etc., are, especially when you have neuropathy and can’t feel them. Dire visions of infection and worse danced in my head.  I succumbed and bought two pairs of diabetic socks (no, I’m not diabetic), which she said would help the swelling because of the way they’re woven. To cheer me she threw in a pair of turquoise laces and a multicolor pair.

Subie meanwhile launched a full pr campaign about how sturdy the shoes are, how much cuter they looked with socks, how much steadier I already was walking while wearing them. All this was good until we were headed home and her car phone rang. It was on speaker, and Subie said “I just took Judy to SAS to get shoes.”

“Oh, sorry,” was the reaction. All Subie’s pr campaign vanished into thin air.

Today going to lunch, Betty laughed heartily and then said how glad she was I’m being so sensible, etc. It was too late.

The best comment came from a young female physician whose birthday we celebrated with happy hour and dinner tonight. “I wear those every day,” she said. “They’re the only thing my feet can stand.”

Another food day: lunch at the relatively new Heim Barbecue, now that the lines have dwindled. I found the chopped beef good, the potato salad and cole slaw outstanding. Still have half a sandwich in the fridge. Then tonight we had happy hour at the Wine Haus (with slices of a decadent mousse cake), followed by dinner at Chadra. Still full from lunch, I had tomato/basil soup and a salad and couldn’t finish either one.

Now I’m toddling off to bed, much work left undone.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sophie and the chicken bone: a tale of gluttony

Last night I gnawed on a chicken leg for supper. Left the bone, the rest of my pasta, and some napkins on the plate next to me as I finished a piece of computer work. When I went to scrape the remains into the garbage, there was no bone. The only possible culprit? Sophie, who is a practiced and successful food snatcher. Honest, it was right by me, and I never saw her execute that little half jump by which she grabs food, but it was all I could think of.

Of course, I was semi-frantic! Mt dog had a chicken bone! I once watched a puppy stagger down a hall, fall over and die because it had chewed on a basket and gotten a sliver in its lungs. You can imagine the visions that were going through my head. Sophie seemed fine and gave me a bland look when I asked if she had stolen the chicken bone. I warned Jordan so that her dogs wouldn’t find it in the yard, and much later I saw her outside with a flashlight looking for that blasted bone.

Sophie apparently has not learned a lesson, because she’s had no ill effects. On the other hand, I am the one who suffered. We’re all familiar with three o’clock in the morning worries. This morning mine were all about Sophie. I thought sure if she was in distress I’d hear her throwing up or laboring to breathe, but the cottage was still and quiet. I got up and thumped around with my walker—couldn’t find Sophie. Pretty hard to lose a dog in 600 square feet but there is one chair she gets behind. I opened the refrigerator and called,”Cheese.” It brought her running, and she seemed fine. This morning she sought me out because it was thundering—I’m never sure if she’s scared or protecting me.

Vet says this morning to watch her for vomiting, but I believe we dodged a bullet. And I learned a lesson about keeping scraps well away from the edge of the desk or table of whatever.

On another food note, I had a delightful lunch with an old friend I reconnected with on Facebook in recent years—one of the great benefits of Facebook. Ellen came to tell me the stories of her visits with elderly Scottish women when she was there in the 1970s and walked from village to village. I was enthralled, and, of course, both she and I are hoping this is material for the book I’ve always wanted to write about Scotland. She gave me a great feel for it, though there’s lots of research ahead of me. An exciting prospect.

I thought a good old Scottish girl would appreciate salmon for lunch, so I did a dish of spinach fettucine, asparagus, smoked salmon, dill, and lemon. The recipe called for whole cream but I decided to make it my own recipe and left the cream out, added much more lemon. It was great, if I do say so.

Ellen and I will talk about Scotland again, with me taking copious notes. We met over Carin terriers—a nice tie to Scotland—and had Western Writers of America in common after that. So nice to reconnect after all these years.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bologna sandwiches and corporate mazes

Did your kids crave bologna sandwiches? I think one of mine did, and I was scornful, even though they’re a standard on the local deli menu. To me, bologna was scraps of leftover meat pressed into a roll and sliced. Guess what I had for lunch today? A bologna club sandwich on a kolache bun.

Fixture, a local trendy restaurant (translate: lots of kale), has offered the sandwich since its opening, and I routinely passed it by. But today the qualifier, “all beef bologna,” got me, and I ordered it. The sandwich was bologna-heavy to say the least—a generous portion. But it was good—Havarti, thinly sliced turkey, lettuce and tomato, no bacon. I was over-served and so full after lunch.

We ate on the patio and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Windy today but pleasant. The gravel path about did me in. At one point, I thought I was going to pitch forward on my walker because the wheels caught in the gravel, but I caught myself. Carol, who was with me, said she thought she hadn’t been watching carefully, but at this point I can’t expect my friends to watch my back every minute. Still, I may not try gravel again. Jordan’s comment, “I don’t think that was very smart.”

I fought the corporate bear today and would like to give a shout-out to the corporations who were easy to deal with, their telephone reps pleasant and polite: Van’s shoes (they will track down the pair I returned and see about getting me a refund); Target (they sent me a new gift certificate for the one that went astray); OpenSky promised to track down my order and get back to me; same thing with Heathen’s Hoard (don’t you love the name?) where I ordered a “perfect” gift for a grandson whose birthday is coming up; Frost Bank helped me figure out why South Side Rotary hadn’t gotten my check for the flags they put at the driveway on national holidays. The kinds of phone calls that usually take hours and involve lots of “Please hold” didn’t happen. What a great day.

And I wrote over 800 words on the revised novella—not much but baby steps; read 100 pages in the novel I’ve been avoiding; had a lively email discussion with my writing group and got lots of advice about memoir. I discovered I was again doing something I do too often—apologizing for myself. Some of those ladies have written memoirs about the death of a loved one, a bitter divorce, and other traumatic events—I thought my surgery paled in comparison, but they assured me that surviving severe pain is in itself an accomplishment, and many women my age will want to hear about my journey through pain, hallucinations, and surgery plus my lifelong battle with anxiety. The other bit of repeated advice was a memoir takes time. It needs to simmer and sit in your brain, and your understanding of events changes as you write and gain distance So I’m making notes and going on with other projects.

A good day. I’ll forgive the friend who completely messed up her calendar and our dinner plans.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Odds, Ends, and Leftovers

Sophie guarding her sleeping boy
My Saturday night sleepover guest was not really talkative. He came in from playing with a friend about 8:45 and did not say three words to me—just got in his bed and on his I-pad. Next time I looked at him, he was sound asleep. He had made me promise earlier to make the room as cold as I could so when I went to bed, I turned on the a/c. In the morning when he woke up, he complained, “Juju, it’s so cold in here.” Today he is down with a sinus infection, and even though I know rationally that a chill doesn't cause that, I'm feeling a tad guilty.

It’s been that kind of weather though, where you want a/c one minute and heat the next. I turn everything off at night but often use a little heat in the morning. Bless my super-duper heat/cooling units up at the ceiling. They are efficient and apparently low energy. Plus they’re out of the way. Yet when I have the a/c on, I can feel it blow down the hallway by the bathroom.

Today I got up ready to edit my novella. Just a few chores first. Hah! Have you ever tried to track down a bank transfer that didn’t make it, a merchandise return for which you don’t have credit, an order that has not been received? Plus just a couple of emails that I had to make—yeah, sure. That stuff can take all morning—and practically did. Plus I had last-minute things to deal with on the neighborhood newsletter before I got it off to the designer. Finally did edit one chapter of the novella, but odds and ends still hang heavy on my desk—a return with the wrong tracking number, another pair of shoes I need to return. Tomorrow is another day.

Food on my mind: last night, Christian made miso chicken. As I’ve written before, I’m fascinated by miso, especially since I had some wonderful miso salmon at a local restaurant. Christian’s chicken was delicious, though he confessed that it was swimming in butter. I fixed an orzo side dish with directions from a friend who is a chef—but I deviated. My grocery shoppers didn’t find crème fraiche and my attempt at homemade failed. So at the suggestion of my chef/friend I tried cream cheese—worked like a charm. I left the artichoke hearts out of the original dish because Christian really doesn’t like them, but I included the chiffonier spinach. And the feta. I thought it was good, but today for lunch I added more feta—and it went from good to great.

Now Christian wants to grill salmon with miso. I’ve found two recipes for him to consider.

Saturday night I had fixed myself some creamed chicken on toast—some will turn their nose up at that, but I like it. Toast however gets kind of tough and hard to cut. Tonight I put it over a medium-sized boiled potato—really good. I just make a cream sauce of butter and flour. Add milk and wine to get it to the right thickness; dump in chopped scallions, frozen green peas, and diced leftover chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Can’t beat it.

Tomorrow is another day to track down those missing shoes I returned and edit the last chapter of the novella. Who am I fooling? Edit, as in totally rewrite.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Living in a Book’s World

Do you ever finish a book and find you’re not only sad to leave it but you’re reluctant to leave the world created in the book? That has happened to me tonight. I just finished Ruth Reichl’s Delicious, her first and as far as I know only novel.

I meant to work all weekend. I had a lot I was going to get done, mostly editing a novella. If I had applied myself I might be almost through with it tonight. But yesterday, seduced by Saturday’s delicious laziness, I spent most of the day reading the novel. Today I went to church and did some household chores, a bit of cooking, but every other minute, I read Delicious.

Confession: at first I wasn’t drawn into this book. Through most of Book One, which details a young girl coming to New York looking for a writing job and lucking into an interview with an old and revered food magazine. The editor sends her on a deliberate wild goose chase, during which she discovers many wonderful tastes, the unique small food places of New York, some unusual and distinctive characters—and demonstrates that she has a remarkable palate, able to distinguish subtle flavors in almost any food. Okay, so much so good but where is it going in the rest of the novel?

In Book Two, she discovers a cache of correspondence during WWII from a thirteen-year-old girl in Akron, Ohio, to iconic American chef James Beard.  Clearly Beard held up his part of the correspondence, because his suggestions, recipes, and ideas are referred to. The letters are lively, and the readers comes to believe Lulu is a real person, her mother and boyfriend only a little less so, and then there’s the father, missing in action. You can’t help but be embroiled in the story.

It would be a spoiler to reveal too much about Book Three, but it brings together wonderfully intriguing threads—not only food. The Underground Railroad, WWII, romance, architecture, transformation, forgiveness and acceptance. All those things floating through the book are made clear in surprising ways.

So tonight I find myself reluctant to start another book, though the stack on my desk is high. Editing my own work? I’ll dig into that tomorrow, but tonight I’m still floating in Lulu’s world.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl—find it, read it, and then try some of her nonfiction food books. She’s addictive.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Ode to Saturday and to my oldest child

Colin and his family
probably four years ago at least

Why are Saturdays so delightfully lazy? There’s something about the nature of the day. My schedule isn’t much different on a Saturday than any other day of the week, except for Sunday and church. I get up when I want, spend the day at my computer, reading, cooking, and napping—all on my own schedule.

But somehow, emotionally, I feel a difference. This morning I slept late, stayed in those magic pajamas, scrambled some eggs instead of wolfing down a bowl of cereal, decided my hair doesn’t really need washing nor do I need make-up. Some Saturdays I have social somethings planned but not today.

I don’t even feel compelled to work, though I’m sure before the day is over I’ll edit that third chapter, maybe explore those blogs I want to mine for a possible memoir about my journey of the last year. The great thing about my work is that it’s all things I want to do, goals I set for myself. The world will not stop in its orbit if I never do any of it.

I spent way too long on Facebook this morning, following this lead, clicking on that bit of information. Facebook rarely returns you to where you clicked away, but starts you all over again at the beginning and the posts are always different—tells you how many posts we never see. I feel compelled to keep reading because I never know what gem I’ll miss.

For instance, a colleague mentioned her short story, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” (featured in the current edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine—Debra Goldstein is the author). That reminded me of the Joan Baez song I loved, “That Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and sent me in search of the history of the song. I could fiddle my day away following trails like that.

Today my oldest child, Colin, turns forty-eight. I can’t believe it. Poor boy suffered from all I didn’t know about babies, and raising children, and being a single parent. He survived it all, explored life on his own terms (sojourns to California and the Caribbean) and turned into one of the loveliest adults I know. A good citizen, a hard worker, a loving husband and firm but loving father, a caring son, a man still close to his siblings (not all are so lucky and loyal). The Lord blessed me the day the adoption agency called and said those magic words, “You have a son.” They said he might have red hair and did we mind? What? We were going to say, “No, thank you,” because of red hair? His hair is brown but his beard, when he lets it grow, has a touch of red—and now gray. I love you so much, Colin David Alter.

Tonight, Jacob is spending the night. His sleepover makes a shambles of my comfortable living area, but he’s worth it. On the other hand, I have to consider that he shushes me if I turn on the TV or talk on the phone, though he talks freely on the phone.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Good luck pajamas—and a lovely evening

Do you have a good luck piece of clothing? I’ve decided my pajamas are mine. (No, no picture.) They’re cotton, long-sleeved, plain-Jane pajamas except that they have books all over them. I remember how proud my brother was when he and my sister-in-law found them. I don’t sleep in them because I get too hot—sleep in a T-shirt and panties (TMI?) but take the pajamas off last thing and put them on first thing in the morning. Jordan washes, dries and returns all in one day so they are my only jammies.

Some days I never get out of my pajamas until late afternoon. If I’m not going out and no one is coming over, why bother? Those are the days, like today, that I get a tremendous amount done. I’ve decided there’s a connection between the pajamas and the amount of work I get done. I may get downright superstitious about this.

Today, I deviled eggs, made tuna salad, all in my jammies, and then got to my desk where I dealt with emails, edited two chapters of a novel, and made copious notes and even an opening page on a memoir I may or may not write. Plus read the novel I’m in the midst of. It was a good day’s work.

Tonight, old friends from TCU came for happy hour. I’ve known Dick for at least twenty-six or seven years, lunched with him frequently, known his wife Kristi less well but enjoy her thoroughly. It was a pleasure to have them on my patio tonight. Jordan knows them but they had not met Christian. It was an instant match with lots to talk about.  I made an antipasto platter—deviled eggs, cheese, salami, asparagus, carrots, and cherry tomatoes, plus a tuna dip and hummus. It almost all disappeared.

We’re under a storm watch tonight There are apparently severe storms to the north of us and tornados possible in our area. The air feels heavy, but before the sun went down the sky didn’t look particularly threatening. We were glad to sit on the patio with a watchful eye on the sky. Now, Jordan has taken all the blooming plants inside for protection. A good rain would be welcome; a pounding, blowing storm, not so much.

Stay safe if you’re in the storms’ path.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A grown-up lunch

April 20, 2017

Today I had a lunch experience—not just the food, but the whole experience—that made me feel like a grown-up. My friend Subie has known Fred, my mentor, for years since their children, now fifty or more, were in kindergarten together and later through TCU. The three of us had lunch at Ellerbe’s, one of Fort Worth’s upscale restaurants with an emphasis on local foods.

I had a spring hash—smashed potatoes, asparagus, greens, all topped by a poached egg. I’m really intrigued by the fairly new trend of eggs on top of dishes, particularly salads. Subie and Fred both had the Louisiana chopped salad topped with grilled chicken. They declared it delicious but without a trace of Louisiana seasonings about it.

We talked about grown-up things—books and art, the manuscripts Fred and I are separately at work on, the subjects that interest us. An interesting instance of what goes around comes around—in the late ‘60s, I did a lot of the research for my dissertation at the Amon Carter Museum of Art, then still using the adjective “Western” to describe its art. My study focused on Remington, Russell, some minor artists, and issues of Leslie’s Illustrated and Leslie’s Monthly, both on microfilm at the museum. Today, Subie is a docent at the museum and Fred volunteers in the library weekly.

A note about Fred: he was my major professor and dissertation supervisor at TCU. Since, he has read and critiqued almost everything I’ve written. I told him today I wouldn’t have a career without him. When I was housebound, he faithfully brought lunch for two and we visited in my cottage. I have tried to think of a term to describe our relationship since he doesn’t like the term mentor. I’ve taken to calling him my beta reader, a term trendy in writing circles, but today when Subie asked about his relationship with me, he said, “Guru.” And then laughed.

Tonight my Canadian daughter came for wine, an appetizer, and as she said, sage advice--I don't think she got much of the latter, but I tried. She and her kids lived next door to me for several years, and we became close friends, sharing glasses of wine late at night on my front porch. She called me her Fort Worth mother because I am about the same age as her mom, but her mom is far away in Ottawa, Ontario. Ours is a relationship I treasure, and I now include in that circle of love her partner, Teddy. A wonderful, kind and caring man.

What a good day! In between I managed to do most of the editing for the neighborhood newsletter, so I’m ahead of the game and can start first edits on my novella in the morning.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reading your own works, writing about food, and a new taste

One of those days where I didn’t get out of my pajamas until late afternoon. I get so much done on such days! Today I finished proofing the last of my mysteries to post to several ebook platforms, wrote a guest blog, planned an antipasto platter for guests.

I don’t know if it’s a good sign or not but proofing the final chapters of Murder at the Tremont House I found myself tearing up this morning. Those chapters contain one of the most suspenseful climactic scenes I’ve written—I’m not long on suspense, which is probably why I write mostly cozies. But this one involves superficial injuries to a child and a car chase, with the protagonist forced to drive, probably to her own death. (No spoilers there.) And there I was, dabbing at my eyes with a Kleenex. The novel also has an epilogue. I know that, like prologues, they’re out of fashion now, but I think readers want to know how the loose ends tied up. I do when I read mysteries.

Right after lunch I wrote a guest post for a blog on learning to cook again—neat way of calling attention to my three foodie books—Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, Texas is Chili Country, and Extraordinary Texas Chefs. With the move to the cottage and my confinement to a walker or wheelchair, my cooking really had to change. The cottage has no stove or oven—just my super-duper hot plate on which at first I burned everything. And I blame the wheelchair for the fact that I’m the messiest cook in five counties. But I am gradually getting better. And as I feel better, my interest in food increases. If I hadn’t had an established career as a writer, I’d have become a chef somewhere along the way. As it is, writing about food gives me an outlet for my interest in all things culinary.

And I had a new culinary experience today, a new taste: shark. My neighbor had a sharkfest last night, and Jordan brought some to me. There were fried pieces, chunks cooked in milk, and some grilled plus ceviche. I particularly liked the grilled. Tasted like chicken with a bit of sweetness to it. Nice firm texture.

Tonight we’ll go to Macaluso’s just down the street—dinner tonight supports our local Lily B. Clayton elementary school. Sweet Lily B. Sad this is Jacob’s last year there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A good day after all

The world hit me square on this morning with a myriad of problems: two health agencies with such similar names that I’ve paid the wrong one, and the one I should have paid sent me to a collection agency. Lord deliver me from that harassment. Think I got it sorted out, but my bank account shrank in the process. A computer back-up program wanted me to renew, but on investigation I found they hadn’t backed up my files in 224 days and won’t make restitution. Bills I thought I’d paid—a food magazine subscription and AARP; a survey to fill out about my primary care physician; a discussion with the home health care people wherein I offered to part amicably and they said, “No. Let us see what we can work out.” But then I didn’t hear from them again. And that’s how the morning went—a whole bunch of none of my own work done.

This afternoon made up for it. A visit with the surgeon earned me an excellent report—he’s pleased with my progress. He relieved me of some burdens—now I can cautiously bend to put on my left shoe, though the rest of my life, he warned, I should not push my luck. My confession that I am awkward and clumsy and nervous using a cane brought forth, “You’ll never hear me advocating for a cane. A walker is much safer.” If I use it longer than usual, well and good. He says one day walking will just happen. (I demonstrated later that it has not happened yet—pushing a grocery cart made my leg buckle and I limped.) Finally, he said I look better, have more facial expression. The whole thing made my day.

Betty and I went to Belk for our weekly Wednesday night dinner—I know, I know. It’s Tuesday. Food was good—delicious spinach bites, fried kibbeh good but not outstanding, a really good tabouli, and nice wine. It’s a chain restaurant, and I didn’t sense a chef in the back hand-preparing our meals.

A nice ending to the evening: usually I have to nag Jacob to take out my garbage, and we both end up angry. Tonight, one reminder and a bit of patience on my part, and he came out and announced, “I am so happy right now.” It seems he was writing a letter to his girlfriend. After he took my garbage out, he came back and read it to me—pretty darn eloquent. If he can do that at ten, the girls of his generation better watch out. He’s cute, charming, and now I find out he can write. And how many boys read their love letters to their grandmothers? I am blessed indeed.

You know what? I echo his statement. “I am so happy tonight.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

Something Old, Something New—Something FREE!

Everyone loves something free—or at least I hope so. My web page was redesigned several weeks ago, with an eye to making it fresh. But recently I realized that some of the content was out of date. My webmaster, a wonderful woman named Lisa (I love her email because it begins with TabbyCat), suggested that old news wasn’t always bad because it shows readers what I’ve been doing. You judge.

But we added two features that I am wildly enthusiastic about: a list of free offerings. I hadn’t realized it until Lisa organized the material, but I offer no less than five either complete short stories or excerpts of novels. So please—download, read to your heart’s content, and maybe you’ll like my historical work or my mysteries or both. The whole idea, dear reader, is to connect with you

And there’s another addition—a list of what’s to come. I may enlarge it with descriptions of the work in progress, but for now I want you to know that I am writing again, after almost a year of very little activity.

On the web page you can read about recent—and not so recent—activities, subscribe to my “only occasional” newsletter, follow my Tweets, check the blog, and read about me and my work. I’d love comments, suggestions, things you’d like to see on the page. Check it out at .

What it doesn’t say is that today I’m proofreading, one more time, the second Blue Plate Café Mystery, Murder at the Tremont House. I’ll post It to a site that provides digital books to such platforms as Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and others, some I’d never heard of. And then I’ll be able to say all my mysteries and most of my historical work is (are?) available in digital form. It’s a project that kept being put on the back burner, but this week I moved it forward. Believe me, when it’s done, I’ll crow about it.

And while I’m sharing secrets about my writing life, here’s another: novelist Susan Wittig Albert published a year-long journal, An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days, and when she mentioned it on a list today I had a thought: I should write a memoir of my recent year-long journey through debilitating pain, surgery, and now recovery. Separate friends have said to me on a few occasions, “You’re back. I’m so glad.” I really didn’t realize I’d been away, but in retrospect I know I did some things and made some decisions that weren’t me. I did blog fairly consistently during that period, and I may mine that material for a memoir. Interested?

You know how I know I’m back? I’m writing again, I’m cooking, and I’m wearing makeup. What more does one need to know.

I invite you to my revised web page:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Hope in dark times

Is it just me or are more people aware of the Easter message this year. Perhaps it is me, with my world often consisting of church folk. But I thought they were more messages of hope on Facebook today too. It seems to me in these troubled and often scary times people are turning to the hope of the holidays—in my case, the risen Lord. At church this morning, for his benediction, the minister threw open his arms and proclaimed loudly, “Christ is Risen.” The congregation spontaneously and loudly replied, “Christ is Risen indeed!”

We had a memorable service with majestic music, ending with Handel’s “Messiah,” an Easter tradition in my church. We made it to the nine o’clock service with time to spare, in itself a minor miracle. Friends joined us, and we exchanged greetings with many In the congregation, including most of our happy hour guests from last night.

Then home for brunch. Kudos to Jordan, who set a lovely table and served a terrific brunch—meatballs, potato casserole, corn dip. Thanks to Amy for the great deviled eggs—what is Easter without deviled eggs? And to Marj for fruit in appropriate dishes that looked like little Easter baskets. Conversation around the table was lively and occasionally descended into gossip. At one point, I looked at Marj’s husband and said, “It’s time for you to repeat, ‘Christ is Risen!’” He did, and the table echoed the response. It wasn’t sacrilegious—it was a way of drawing us back to the reason we were all gathered.

Give me a glass of wine at noon, and I’m done for the afternoon. Had a lovely nap, except that some kid—wonder who?—was practicing pitches. He’d occasionally miss the target and the ball would whack into my bedroom wall with a resounding “Thwack!”

Now I’ve been trying to straighten up—not easy to do from a walker. I cannot reach the upper hanging level in my closet, so I couldn’t get everything hung up. Looks like an evening for reading to me.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter reflections, hysteria—and a bit of matzo

Tonight we hosted happy hour for neighbors. Susan’s sisters were still here, after their father’s funeral, and I wanted a chance to visit with them. My patio is so inviting and comfortable on these spring evenings—temperature just right and, knock on wood, no bugs. We had leftover appetizers—shh! They’ll never know—and a jolly good time.
There is something wrong either with Fort Worth groceries or my children, but after two trips, one to three stores, they could not find matzo. Isn’t is still Passover or has everyone already bought all they’ll need? I wanted it for an Easter dessert—topped with butterscotch sauce, melted chocolate bits, chopped pecans, and coarse salt. In extremis, I suggested graham crackers. So that’s our dessert for tomorrow. But I plan a lesson in Jewish food—my children’s father was Jewish, but he left home when Jordan was six, and I guess she doesn’t remember Seders, Hanukah, or the traditional foods. She needs to know.

Now preparing for early church. Yes, I have my clothes picked out—not the frilly Easter outfit of my childhood, but a chiffon vest that as Jordan says “screams Easter.” And we’ll have guests for brunch—pleasant to look forward to.

Not everyone has the Easter message today. This morning, the first thing I saw on Facebook was a post on nuclear war and did we have our hazmat suits and anti-radiation medicine (is there such a thing? I foresee a run on the market). Had we protected our pets? How do we do that? Tiny gas masks over their faces? The post went on about not wanting animals to die that gruesome death. Then a sensible friend of mine asked, “Will we see Easter or will be wiped out?”

I was somewhat comforted to read in a Washington Post article that China had strongly warned both the United States and North Korea to back off, advising that war costs everybody and does no one any good. Who ever thought that China would be the peacemaker? I hope both parties take the advice seriously, though I realize that our two governments are run by hotheads—a scary thought. And tonight I saw an unsubstantiated post that North Korea’s missiles proved to be duds. “We live!” wrote whoever posted that.

Still I remember the ‘60s and ‘70s when we thought nuclear attacks were imminent—all those school drills in the hall or hiding under your desk, for all the good that would do. The Bay of Pigs showdown when I urged my parents to leave Chicago and come to small-town Missouri to avoid missiles that were surely headed our way. They weren’t, and I have come to take seriously William Faulkner’s words when he declined to accept the end of man, “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.”

And that folks, is part of the message of Easter—redemption, salvation, faith in God. Yes, we live in scary times, and there are lots of rants in my mind—about Congress, about Republicans, about Trump—but I believe not only in God but in the resilience of the American spirit. We will survive and prosper.

While I’m at it, I’d like to add a word about Melanie Trump. I certainly hold no candle for her, and I believe she’s made some really bad choices, but she’s paying for them in spades. I suspect she’s one miserable, trapped woman, trapped by the man she married and by her love for her son. But posts blaming her for ruining the White House Easter miss the point.  There’s a whole staff there that could have planned the event, especially if they’d consulted Michelle Obama’s staff, but they didn’t. That’s the folly of the Trump White House, consumed by hatred of all things tainted with Obama. But to call Melanie a soulless commie hooker is uselessly mean.

Many American children, those of servicemen, the underprivileged, and others, will miss the extravaganza on the White House lawn, but hey! This is only one year. As I said above, the American spirit lives on, and there is always next year.

Be of good faith.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Cooking up a storm—and praying a lot

Spirituality—yours and mine—has been on my mind a lot on this Good Friday. I am only the least bit knowledgeable about two faiths—Christianity and Judaism—but I know for both this is the season of renewal and hope. Yet to get to that hope we have had to suffer through darkness—for Jews, it is bondage in Egypt, and Passover celebrates the release; for Christians, it is the crucifixion and Easter celebrates the Resurrection and Risen Christ. For all of us, it means our God, whoever, blesses us with hope. And I for one am deeply grateful.

Tonight Jordan had a b’day gathering for a friend, a girl I’m particularly fond of. I wasn’t invited—young women’s gathering—but assured the regulars would come see me. At 9:30, none have come to the cottage except one with whom I had a good visit.

I have been cooking a lot or so it seems—maybe some of it is anticipatory. Last night, Betty came for supper and we had a frozen spanakopita that Jordan baked for me. It remained pale and today, with leftovers, I discovered the trick—put the pieces in my toaster oven, they browned, and the result was much better. I had made a smoked salmon spread for an appetizer.

Tonight I made myself salmon cakes with an ear of corn and sautéed zucchini. So good, though it’s a fair amount of work in my small kitchen and a lot of dishes to wash. Tomorrow I’ll make pea salad to go with my leftover salmon cake.

Tomorrow I’ll make meatballs for our Easter brunch, and what a recipe calls “Crack Matzoh”—topped with brown sugar/butter/chocolate/chopped nuts and baked. Sounds yummy. We’ll go to 9:00 services and then have friends for brunch. Looking forward to it, as Easter is always a special day to me

I remember my Chicago childhood. I always had a fancy new Easter dress, often some light transparent spring-like material. And then had to wear my heavy winter coat over it. We usually had ham for Easter dinner, though maybe a time or two we had lamb. I wasn’t as menu conscious as I am now. In fact, I’m surprised that my memories, beyond the dresses, are so vague.

This year, in this household, we have outgrown egg hunts, for the first time. Another milestone to be greeted with sadness and joy.

Blessed holidays to each and every one of you, no matter your religious stripe. Take heart in this season of renewal and hope.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From the lamb chops to hash…

My day was a study contrast when measured against yesterday. I started the day with breakfast with son Jamie at Ol’ South. It’s become a ritual we both enjoy on those rare days he can break away to visit me. He orders a Dutch baby, and I have corned beef hash—no egg, thank you, but lots of ketchup. On the way in we met a church friend—I introduced Jamie, and we chatted a minute. She told Jamie that yesterday I had eaten like a queen, referring to my blog post about my wonderful lamb chop lunch at the Modern Museum. That’s why I almost called this post “From the ridiculous to the sublime…”—I went from a sophisticated and gourmet-like lunch plate to hash for breakfast and loved them both.

Jamie had come to install my new computer, so when I left at almost eleven to go to my neighbor’s funeral with Christian and Jacob, I left him here.

David, Susan’s 93-year-old father, died suddenly last Thursday night. I haven’t been to my church much lately—transportation and mobility problems—but I went on the walker today, with Jacob and Christian. The service was lovely although the congregation was small—I realized that what my mother used to complain about was true of David: he had outlived most of his friends. Our neighborhood group was there though, and several people I knew. The homily was perfect, saying when people heard David died they said, “Why, I just saw him.” Making the point that he will always be with us, the minister said, “David sightings will continue.” The family had chosen two of my favorite hymns: “How Great Thou Art” and “Here I am, Lord.” I realized something that’s been creeping up on me—I can no longer sing the old hymns as robustly as I once did. I attribute this to my hearing aids which distort sound—my voice in my head sounds neither like I think it should nor like the hymn. Easter Sunday I’m going to take the aids out for the hymns and see what happens.

A nice touch: the family did not have the funeral home roll the casket out. The pallbearers—three sons-in-law and three grandsons—carried it. David’s three daughters, arms around each other, walked behind it. Hardly a dry eye in the congregation, certainly not mine.

The rest of the day was quiet—Jamie was busy with distance office work, and I was at my computer. He owns his own toy manufacturers’ representatives company and works from dawn to dark and beyond. It was evening before he worked on my computer and nine o’clock before he headed east to Frisco. He always apologizes for spending a day with me with his nose buried in his computer—or else on the phone—but like any mother, I am simply glad to have him here and grateful for the occasional bits of conversation and the visit over that ritual breakfast.

Tonight, for the first time since I committed to a thousand words a day, I didn’t get it done. I figure the new computer and Jamie’s company are worth it. Tomorrow I’ll get back to what seems to be my routine—my words written by noon, a nap and then odds and ends, and, after supper, reading—oh blessed luxury.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Living High on the Hog

My daughters are enjoying a girls-only trip to Chicago, primarily to hear a John Mayer concert, but they took in a little of the high life. Dinner last night at RPM Steaks—we ate at RPM Italian in September and loved it.

I reminded them that today is my mother’s birthday. Jordan remembered one year when we headed to the cemetery but to my dismay she insisted on stopping at 7-Eleven. I demanded to know why, and she said, “Grandmother loved it when I brought her blow pops.” So, she apparently bought a blow pop and sent this picture.

Meantime, back in Fort Worth, I was living the high life too. Breakfast with Book Ladies this morning at Old Neighborhood Grill. Book Ladies is a group of women, mostly retired, whose work and lives have centered around books. One other woman and I are the only members of the original group that met over 25 years ago, when we were all far from retired. This morning there were at least 12 women at the table—too many for me to easily follow any conversation over the noise of the ladies and the background noise of the restaurant. But I had one egg over easy, toast, and hash browns, the latter a luxury I’ve only recently begun to allow myself. And it’s lovely to see this happy, vibrant group together, going strong after all these years. I think I can rightfully call myself a founder.

For lunch, friend Carol and I went to the Modern Art Museum, where a former student of mine is sous chef—I guess that’s her title. On Tuesdays, the kitchen is hers and she is responsible for the special. I asked in advance what it was and could we have a window table on the water. We had the table, and I had the special—lamb chops, orzo with artichoke heart pieces, spinach, feta and a wee bit of crème fraiche to hold it all together. Absolutely delightful! I plan to try to duplicate it. The plate was brightened with a small salad—tomatoes, cuke, and endive. Hats off to Heather Hogan Holt—I’m still sorry she didn’t follow her original leaning toward a bookish career, but she sure makes a great chef (and good friend).

Saw the doctor about my lactose intolerance (after all that feta and crème fraiche) and was told I was doing so well he didn’t need to see me again unless I need him. I’m to go back to my primary care physician. Love those words from a doc, “You’re doing so well, I don’t need to see you!”

In between all that I wrote 938 words on my work-in-progress—sixty-two words to go to reach my daily word count.

Tonight? I’m tired and headed for another evening of reading.

Monday, April 10, 2017

  Ambivalent no more

From Facebook: We bomb Syria after Syria bombed Syria to show Syria not to bomb Syria, but we still won’t accept Syrian refugees after we bomb Syria for bombing Syria? Makes no sense, does it?

I’m piecing things together as I read them—yes, they’re mostly from Facebook and no, most of them are not substantiated but there’s enough for concern. Something stinks. We bombed a Syrian airfield at a cost of about $55 million in bombs. But the air field was virtually empty except for a few planes under repair. At best, we pockmarked the runways and even that is in doubt because a day later Syrian planes took off from the same field to bomb the same town that Assad had gassed earlier—causing our retaliation. So we wasted in the area of $55 million. Well, not wasted—somebody profited. Namely a company called Ratheon that manufactures the bombs. And guess who owns Ratheon stock? The president who didn’t divest himself of his investments as promised.

There are strong indications—like an empty airfield—that Syria was warned. The logical thread? From the White House to Putin to Assad. Too many hints to ignore, but Congress goes placidly amidst the haste (or is it waste?), sitting on its collective butt. This country is doomed to go up in smoke if someone of moral courage doesn’t step up and demand that Ryan and McConnell instigate independent reviews of the bombing and a lot of other suspicious things. Who? John McCain once seemed the man who spoke truth as he saw it, yet he denounced the nuclear option and then voted for it. No one dares oppose Ryan, McConnell or the party. We are effectively trapped unless we make our voices effective. Joe Kennedy is young, but he sure bested Ryan on medical care.

A frightening side effect for those who thought our so-called leader showed compassion for the children who were gassed in Syria: reportedly he is now considering a nuclear option for North Korea—this time a literal nuclear option, not a symbolic one. Other than being generally offensive, I can’t figure out what North Korea has done recently to threaten us. There’s always the possibility that the president liked the shock and awe, when his air strike was new and believable, and wants an even bigger bang.

Where is the media in all this? Going along with the justified, successful air strike line, that’s where. We don’t have a media voice to speak the truth. Yes, we have some effective and cogent columnists, but I suspect few people read columns—they read headlines. We need media people in the trenches to remember their commitment to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Too much is at stake.

And this is why I was awake at three in the morning, with a sense of terror for my family, my friends, and my country.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Life is always interesting

I expected a dull weekend but it didn’t happen that way, and I struggled to get in my 1,000 words a day. But it was a happy struggle, although the things that distracted me weren’t always happy.

Megan, my oldest daughter, drove up from Austin on Saturday with Ford, her youngest son, now ten. Ford is a confirmed TCU baseball fan—absolutely loves it. So Saturday, because they couldn’t leave Austin until Ford’s soccer game was over, they went straight to TCU and ended here about 5:30. So glad to see them. Missed the family daddy, Brandon, and older brother Sawyer, but I’ll settle for what I can get.

A couple of friends dropped by for happy hour, and one went with us for dinner. We tried Press Café, hoping to eat outside, but the wait was long. We went to the Tavern, ate on the patio—I’d always thought I didn’t want to sit on the patio because of its closeness to busy Hulen, but we were unaware of the traffic. I was, on the other hand, acutely aware of the blasted loudspeaker, though both Megan and Ford said they didn’t notice it. And the conversation level was loud—as a result, I could hear Megan but nobody else (she has always spoken loudly and clearly—great for the lawyer she is!).

Home and in bed by ten, shades pulled, lights out. Jordan came home by a little before ten to visit with her sister and was dismayed to find everything dark.

Despite the happiness of a surprise visit, it was not a joyous weekend. My neighbor, Susan, lost her 93-year-old father suddenly, and her husband was out of town, couldn’t get back for over 24 hours. We knew and loved and admired her dad, David. We spent Friday evening with Susan, alternating between tears and laughter as we remembered him, an unusual man and a true gentleman.

Sunday we cooked a casserole for the family’s dinner, but it didn’t go quite as planned. I had this happy little vision of me cooking and Jordan and Christian doing all the necessary chopping, of which there was quite a bit. So I was astounded to wake from a nap and find Christian had deposited some but not all of the ingredients in my kitchen. Called Jordan and she said she’d be home shortly. I set about chopping two large onions, three ribs of celery, and grating three large carrots. Unbeknownst to me, she came home, started the hamburger to brown, and came out to say, “I need the vegetables.” I said I was the scullery maid in the auxiliary kitchen, but she didn’t find it funny—until late tonight when she came out and said, “It smells like onion in here.” Nice joke, Jordan.

We got the casserole fixed and delivered, dined ourselves on roast chicken and asparagus, and wrapped up the evening. One of those weekends when you’re grateful for family in several different ways and pleased to squeeze in bits of time for your own business.

Ready for a new week, though it will be broken with a doctor appointment, the visitation and funeral for Susan’s dad, and some lunch and dinner dates. Life isn’t quiet and dull even when it’s not totally happy.

Friday, April 07, 2017


I read something on Facebook this morning to the effect that all it takes for the evil man to triumph is for the good man to do nothing. It’s as true for nations as it is for the man on the street. The part of me that cries out for justice knows that is true. The U.S. could not ignore Assad’s heinous chemical attack on his own people, the women and children who died. That part of me is okay with the air strikes, though I did read, unverified, that what the planes bombed was a repair and storage facility not an active air field. Talk about planning.

But this attack comes after Trumpf first said there would be no repercussions to Assad. So why now? Trumpf has been obviously looking for a war since his inauguration. The man has no patience to wait for a war, so he’s going to begin with strikes, perhaps justified, on Syria. Abhorrent evil cannot be ignored.

But wait! Why is he so concerned about Syrian women and children when they are the very ones he turned away from our borders, on the grounds they were probably terrorists. And last night he was on TV, sentimentally bemoaning the deaths of those innocent children. I suspect he blows with the wind of popular opinion.

My fear is that he will have last night felt a surge of excitement, a sense of “Hey, this is fun,” that will lead him to order other attacks. Having seen once, in apparently a spontaneous move, how easy it is and the thrill that results, why stop now?

No matter the justification, war begets war. Air strikes make that many more Syrians hate us and long for vengeance. Where are the scales of justice balanced? Must we avenge or should we think ahead and protect our own people? What if this leads to conflict with Russia, though I doubt it will come to that.

I am ambivalent. I remember coming out of church one sunny Sunday morning only to hear that we had bombed Iran. I was devastated, especially by the irony of the moment, and I still think it was a huge mistake, although there was a meme on Facebook showing George Bush essentially saying, “I told you Iran sent chemical weapons to Syria.” That would take a lot more investigation to be proven.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but I fear not. A sense of dread fills me tonight.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Enjoying a good snit

The physical therapist handed me my cane, and I began to walk, not more shakily than usual I thought but no better either. “Why are you so unsteady this morning?”

“I’m in a snit,” I replied. Between the balance on 2016 taxes, the first quarterly payment on 2017, and the accountant’s fee, I had just paid out what seemed to me the family fortune. And, yes, I was in a snit about it.

“You can’t do anything about it,” she said. “You have to pay the taxes, so just forget it.”

That’s when I connected my snit with poor physical performance. Right or wrong, I don’t think we can just turn off our snits at will. It takes time to work through them, to let the facts that caused them fade into the past. And we aren’t at our best—physically, emotionally, whatever.

I actually did pretty well through much of the therapy session—astounded her by the way I could lift my left leg onto the stool, and she complimented me on the time I started to fall forward and caught myself. But then I caught my foot on the edge of a stool and for the first time since surgery fell with no control—fortunately, Ellen, the therapist, had a belt around me (I forget the name of those belts) and my chair was right behind me. But it scared me.

I don’t like to say we’re victims of our own moods—that sounds like a cop-out to me. But I do think our emotions on any given day govern our reactions, attitudes, the way we do our work, even the way we interact with others. Ever have a pissy day? Of course. We all have. We try not to let such days get the best of us, but they are a force to be reckoned with.

Tonight I’m more reconciled to the outlay of cash, but I’m edgy, out of sorts, not concentrating. I think it’s just one of those days. Tomorrow will be better.

And the tax problem? I blame it on what I now call my “golden hip.” I felt so awful most of 2016, in true pain, that I didn’t pay as much attention as usual to my writing. The result was my income was down not drastically but some, but so were my professional expenditures. Unwittingly, I made a larger profit than usual. Not all good news.

I laughed at Colin, my oldest and a CPA, who reviewed my taxes. “I was sorry to see your income was down. Let’s work on that this year, okay?”

There, my sense of humor is back.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time

I’m going to change the cliché in this post title to “So Many Good Books, So Little Time for Others.” Recently I’ve found myself reading two books, both by noted and established authors, that simply didn’t engage my interest. And I gave it the old college try, kept reading. No, I’m not going to reveal either author or title.

 Somewhere I picked up the notion that it was well not quite immoral but maybe a minor sin not to finish a book once you started it. I’m here to tell you that is not true. Most of us have a TBR list that is too long to waste time being bored.

Both were fiction. The first was set in an area of Chicago I know and love, peopled with names and places familiar to me and in an era that I barely remember from childhood. I looked forward to plunging into that world. It didn’t work. The heroine, who had an interesting and suspenseful story, kept wallowing around in her own mind, blaming herself for all the ills of the world. It finally came down to God was punishing her through the Holacaust. Yes, bad things happened to her and her family, but no they weren’t God’s punishment to her. That seems almost egotistical to me. At any rate, I got tired of her extreme introspection.

The second book was a cozy mystery. I’ve enjoyed several books by this author and was surprised by this one. For nine chapters I read about the author’s background, profession, details of the field of work involved, places visited—it was an information dump. Finally, Chapter 10 introduced a body. I am not of the school that says a body is required on the first page or even in the first chapter, but I think almost a quarter of the book is extreme. I stuck with it but found even unraveling the mystery went slowly, with, again, lots of introspection.

I don’t think introspection is wrong by any means. And a book that was action only would be lightweight. We do want to get to know the characters, but we do that through their words, their attitudes, the way they interact with others, a thousand ways. We don’t have to spend pages in their minds.

Two lessons I’ll take away for my own writing involve basics: plot and character. I like to think I write character-driven fiction, but I’m also aware—and will be even more aware--of pacing, of keeping the reader’s interest. A well-known writing instructor has decreed that every scene must contribute to the whole—that may set a high standard but it’s good advice. I also believe chapters should end with a hook so that the reader can’t wait to start the next chapter.

I have a Facebook friend who was reading a book that bored her but she was determined to finish it. At one point, she posted, “Only 60 more pages.” I told her to give up, but she triumphantly soldiered through to the end. Not me. No more.

PS I see that I’ve used this title for a blog post before. Ah, old age—forgetfulness is one of the first symptom. If I repeat myself, forgive me. I guess I just feel the need to revisit the idea occasionally.