Monday, July 31, 2017

Nose to the grindstone

I always remember seeing something, way before Facebook so maybe it was so old-fashioned as to be in the newspaper, but it said, “Put your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel, and now try to work in that position.”

But that’s what I did today—nose to the grindstone. I finally, after much travail, got Amazon to approve the files for the cover and text of my forthcoming novel (launch September 7), Pigface and the Perfect Dog. So I had to proof the digital files. I got 40 pages done yesterday, and my project for today was to finish. Which I did. And sent the corrections off to the formatter.

It’s amazing what you see when the book is in print that you missed in manuscript. Humbles me every time. Some of the things I found: the, should be she; walked, should be talked; showoff, should be showdown; want, should be wanted. I had given a girl reddish-brown hair and then subsequently, several times, referred to her black hair. A character asked a question that had been answered pages earlier. And so it went. I made a list and sent them off.

But there were other issues, too deep and involved to change at this point. Changing them would have involved rewriting passages and pages, and that is not fair to the formatter. It also is a slippery slope. There comes a time you have to let go of a manuscript and accept that you’ve done the best you can. I imagine several of the “problems” I saw won’t bother a reader who is not as deep into the characters and story as I am. I hope so.

I’m proud of this book, for several reasons. I walked away from it a year ago, when my health first began to deteriorate. I think in my state then, lacking ambition, I couldn’t see my way to finish it. But in the late spring when I went back to it, I thought, Hey! This isn’t half bad. And I rather quickly wrote the remainder of it. That was maybe in April, and the fact that I’m just now getting files approved tells you that writing is just the beginning of the process.

There will be a cover reveal for Pigface on August 15, after which it will be available for pre-order on Amazon and, as quickly as I can get it posted, on several digital platforms. Official launch day is September 7, and there will be a signing on September 21. Stay tuned for all those details.

The Color of Fear represented my toe dip in the waters of publishing after a year out due to health problems. Pigface and the Perfect Dog is my full-blown comeback, and I’m excited about it for many reasons, including that I think it’s one of the best I’ve done. I’m telling readers, friends, anyone who will listen to read The Perfect Coed, first in the Oak Grove Mysteries, so you’ll know the characters when you read Pigface.

I talked to an old friend today, a woman in her nineties with whom I had not talked in too long, and I told her I was still writing. She said her body was giving way but her mind was still sharp, and I said we would both much rather have it that way. I am grateful that my writing keeps me involved, gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning. And I’m having such fun with it. Nose to the grindstone? Nope. It’s more like a walk in the park, a joyful one.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Summer camp, recalcitrant dogs, and a lovely dinner

Jacob left for two weeks at Sky Ranch today. This will be his fourth year at the camp, and he loves it. I’m happy for him, but of course will miss him. The neat thing: he gave me not one but two goodbye hugs—and they were tight hugs, not what I had been calling his passive hugs where he kind of leaned into me and let me hug him. He came out to say goodbye, hugged me, and I said the usual things about having fun and being careful. Then he hung around the driveway, waiting for his parents to be ready to leave. When they appeared, he came back in and announced another hug. Both times, he also had lingering farewells with Sophie who didn’t understand but welcomed his love. I told him to just imagine how ecstatic she’ll be to see him after two weeks, and he grinned.

He’s been practicing his cursive again a bit, and announced last night that he really wanted to write a letter in cursive from camp. I’m assuming, and hoping, that letter will be addressed to me.

Friends Teddy and Sue, knowing I would be alone tonight, invited me for supper. Teddy came to pick me up and help feed the dogs—his part of the job was to go in the house and bring the dogs out. Easier said than done. Those two balked at coming into the cottage; when we finally got them both inside, we closed the door so they couldn’t wander out. Then they just looked at their food. In frustration, Teddy and I poured small glasses of wine and sipped while we cajoled. After what seemed forever, both dogs ate out of the same bowl and ignored the other one. Sophie, who scarfed down her food immediately, kept looking like, “What’s the holdup here? I want my treat.” Getting the Cavaliers back into the house and their crate was another painful project. I finally gave Teddy small milk bones to lure them.

Lovely evening with good conversation. We talked about everything from friends and family to politics, people they recently met, my work, religion, you name it, and we lingered a long time at the dinner table—the best kind of dinner party. I don’t get steak very often, so steak that Teddy grilled to perfection (quite rare) was a treat.I brought maybe a third of my steak home—lunch for tomorrow.

I am so grateful for the continuing friendship of these two. Sue lived next door to me when her two children were quite young—the oldest is now a senior at the University of Arkansas and the youngest, a high school senior. She was then newly single. Since then she has built herself a strong career as a writer and marketing professional to major international law firms. Sue is Canadian, and her parents are in Ottawa—a long way away—so she named me her Fort Worth mom, a title that honors me. Teddy came on the scene maybe six years ago or so, and is perhaps the best thing she’s found in forever. I adore him.

A bonus: we took my walker, but only in case I had to go to the loo, one place Teddy wouldn’t walk me. I walked from my house to the car, up a medium long sidewalk at their house, from kitchen to dining table, and, at evening’s end, back to the car. Teddy’s strong arm made me confident, and he told me to hold my wrist firm. He’s a chiropractor and said he could feel the bones in my wrist popping. He predicted trouble in that right wrist if I didn’t start holding it straight, so I did. That made me put more weight on my legs, which was good. I was full, happy, and proud of my walking when I got home.

A good day—with lots of work done despite the big events.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Groceries and other excitement

Big outing of the day was to the grocery store. We’ve found a new one—literally a new Tom Thumb, close to downtown where so many urban dwellers live these days. Its aisles are wide, and it’s rarely crowded. Perfect for my motorized cart adventures. Having been out of town most of the past week, I didn’t shop much last weekend, so my list was long today and my basket ended up full. Jordan and I separated, with the result that we bought two of some things, but that was easily straightened out.

I know a lot of people dread shopping, but for me it’s fun. I envision all the things I can cook with what I buy, and I have to restrain myself from buying—oh, say, eggplant. Nobody eats it but me. But I bought blackberries, which I intend to pickle. I never heard of pickled blackberries but in the last week I’ve found two recipes for them—one called for fish sauce. I’ll used the other recipe. I think I’ll put them in a salad.

Tonight, we had a dinner specially for Jacob, because tomorrow he goes to camp for two weeks: asparagus, which he just discovered he liked, to my great surprise and delight. And breaded and baked chicken fingers. His Aunt Lisa fixed both the last night we were in Tomball, and he anxiously added items to our grocery list so we could duplicate the meal. Hats off to Aunt Lisa for cooking success. And, since he told me he still likes it, we had sparkling cider, known around here as kid wine. Dessert? Drumsticks, which I bought specially because Jacob liked them. Tonight, he decided he wouldn’t eat them because he doesn’t like them. Then he seemed to change his mind and say later, but not now. By glory, I’m going to have mine now.

My political thought for the day: several senators are up at arms about the way President Trumpf is treating AG Jeff Sessions, and I’ve seen Facebook posts expressing sympathy for him, praise for his hanging tough. I abhor the way Trumpf is treating him, as I would that treatment of any person. It may be political—I’ve seen suggestions Trumpf is waiting until Congress recesses so he can fire Sessions and name a replacement without Congressional approval. I’m inclined to think though that this obvious daily humiliation is more the cowardly expression of a small man’s petty anger.

But I cannot summon up sympathy for Jeff Sessions. He is a holdover from the sixties, at least, a man who believes in the supremacy of straight white men, the degradation of minorities, and the second-class citizenship of women. His stance on immigration, police search and seizure and other things appalls me. He would take us back in time and undo the progress this nation has made, painfully and slowly, over fifty or so years. He must have known what kind of man he was signing on to support, though I will say the depths to which Trumpf has sunk have surprised most of us. But, no, no sympathy for Jeff Sessions.

Besides, he really does look like Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

High Jinks at Camp Tomball

Jordan gave her brother an unexpected push
Home after spending a few days at Camp Tomball, a special treat for four of my grandchildren. Colin’s children, eleven-year-old Morgan and ten-year-old Kegan, along with their mom Lisa, put a lot of time and effort into planning everything, from camp activities to menus. There was even a printed sheet with menu for each meal, available drinks, activities, and so on. The kids swam and fished, had a lesson from a TV Ninja warrior, even tried to sleep at outdoors on the trampoline—they gave up and came in about midnight. One night Colin declared we would all come to the dinner table in our underpants, because he'd been caught doing it the night before. So we had underpants dinner, though Ford declined and was even photographer.

The two moms got in quite a bit of pool and sun time and spent lots of time in the kitchen, preparing meals for grateful kids. I sat, as I planned, at my computer and worked, while watching the activity, but I got some outdoor time too, particularly when Colin was grilling and a couple of nights by the lake.

One day Jordan said while the kids were at the Ninja class, we’d look for a nice little coffee shop. The coffee shop at Target was not quite what I envisioned, but it was good to visit with one of Lisa’s fellow teachers and a friend of theirs I knew from previous visits.

We took Sophie with us, and she behaved admirably, voluntarily sleeping in her crate by my bed, welcoming walks that Jordan and the kids took her on. Her only lapse from grace came with Grace, Colin’s German shepherd mix. Obviously, Grace is a lot bigger than Sophie, and I guess Sophie figured a pre-emptive attack was best. She tried to mix it up with Grace, who only wanted to play and was completely puzzled.
Morgan with Sophie
Sophie got lots of love from everyone

           Long day today. Maybe it was Friday, maybe it was the time of day we traveled—mid-day—but traffic was heavy. Took us so long to go through Hearne that Jacob insisted on asking Siri what the population of Hearne was—a whopping 3,000 plus. We made a couple of stops which slowed us down, but we were in no hurry. One was at Czech Stop in West, where I got sandwiches for my supper. That was sort of a nostalgia trip for me. I can’t tell you how many trips to Austin and College Station ended with me bringing home sandwiches from West. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not (cotton candy white bread), but it’s a custom.

Came home to an infestation of flies—I think they got in when the window was broken. (Thankful that it was repaired when we got here.) Jacob the giant killer got most of the flies for me. He’s ferocious about it, stalking them like a hunter.

Made nice memories this week. Now it feels like summer is over. Three weeks until summer begins.
Wouldn't it be nice if life was one big sleepover?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A little bit disappointed

Rumor was all over the place on Facebook this morning, and many of my fellow citizens were too quick to damn John McCain for accepting Medicare for expensive treatment for his cancer, which well may be incurable, and then voting to take it away from millions. The episode shows the dangers of believing Facebook, a lesson I’ve learned by bitter experience too often.

Initially, McCain voted to open discussion on the repeal bill, a much-needed move since the majority leader had kept the bill his nasty little secret. If senators had voted then, they would have been doing so blindly, voting on a bill they had not read, had not had time to study (in a way that’s what happened anyway).

McCain next gave an eloquent speech, mostly on what the Senate was in the past and what it had come to be. He blamed both sides and urged senators to reach across the aisle, to remember collegialism and cooperation. And he pledged he would not support the bill as it currently read.

Next there was some legislation yesterday afternoon I’m not clear about, but McCain voted with his party. The bill was defeated, and I gather it was a minor lead-up to today’s vote on the repeal without replacement bill. McCain along with others voted against today’s bill.

So, shame on those who damned him for a hypocrite, mocked his status as a war hero, pointed out his hypocrisy in accepting government health care funds but denying it to others. I don’t think the final verdict is in. Last I read—and I hope it was reliable—was that several Senators McCain among them, had voted no on the repeal bill and it was apparently doomed.

I hope it fails. I hope Mitch McConnell loses all his power. I hope Republicans like John Cornyn learn a bitter lesson and stop trying to ram that legislature through. Forty-seven tries now? Or does that make fifty? (McCain pointed out that the ACA wasn’t popular until Republicans got so desperate about repealing it!). They should learn revenge is a poor motive.

The other bit of news that fired up the internet was Trumpf’s pronouncement about banning transgender troops. Again, I don’t know what transpired this afternoon, but this morning, when people were aflame about it, our tweeting leader had done just that—tweet about it. He had not issued an executive order.

I was grateful for one balanced explanation of what’s going on—and scorn again for the alt-right. Apparently, some senators are upset about using Federal funds to provide medical treatment, including hormonal therapy, for transgenders in the service. They are pressuring Trumpf, threatening his pet programs, if he doesn’t pull transgenders out of the military.

This is America, the land of the free, and what medical care an individual receives is no one else’s business. The men and women these legislators condemn have offered to serve our country and, if need be, die for it. We didn’t ask their sexual preference when they enlisted, and we have no business meddling in it now.

Honestly, one wonders why so many alt-right people, Trumpf and Pence included, are so unhealthily preoccupied with sexuality. You’ve got a country to run, folks. Stop being prurient and get on with governing our country in a sane and sensible manner, if you’re capable of that.

Tonight, the full story isn’t in. Apparently everything now hangs on the CBO report, and there’s a vote on Skinny Repeal yet to come. I’ll watch the New York Times and the Washington Post and take what I read on Facebook with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Meanwhile, I’m a bit disappointed in some of us as Americans. Some days I really do think I’d like to move to Scotland—universal health care and, as far as I know, not all the extremists and greedy people. Maybe I’m fooling myself.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Not one of my better days

A wonderful thunderstorm last night, or so I'm told. I have a vague memory of hearing distant thunder, and I think I once heard the patter of rain, but what I really know is that Sophie spent the night on my bed, "protecting me." Today she seems reluctant to be away from me, and when I napped, she napped on the bed again.
I'm packing for a brief trip to see my oldest child and his family, and I think the bag I pack in makes her nervous. I tried to explain I'm leaving the Burtons behind to guard the fort, but I am most definitely taking her with me. I guess she's not yet reassured.
This day started out just fine--I spent the morning and early afternoon doing various chores at the computer, some of which were frustrating--like countless tries to put my next novel on Amazon for pre-order. The designer and I can't get the specs right and have concluded that Kindle Direct Publishing is picky. But in the afternoon, shortly after Sophie and I napped, I could not get into my email. Then, briefly, I could not get on the internet, nor could I save something I typed. My conclusion is that the TCU server, which hosts my email, is down. Of course by the time I figured that out, the whole university was closed for the evening. You'd think they'd leave someone on the switchboard to answer questions like mine!
Just before the computer quit, I found a calendar note that I was to do a distance radio interview at four--it was 4:10 by then, and I had no phone number for the podcast station. Panic ensued, and I frantically emailed the publicist who had arranged the interview, tried to find phone numbers--and finally thought to check my calendar. Sure enough, I'd double entered it because the real date is August 24, and all the information is in that entry. Be still, my over-beating heart.
Tonight, the Burtons have taken the two little boys to a Rangers game, so I'm left at home, which doesn't bother me, except that I'd really like to check my email, thank you.
I did fix myself a really good dinner--emptying out the vegetable drawer. That darn drawer freezes things, and I have yet to figure out how to raise the temperature. Asparagus is particularly susceptible to frost. I'll have to ask Christian, but anyway tonight I found about a third of a zucchini and some asparagus, half of which was frozen. I used the remaining half. Cooked a handful of spinach fettucine, rinsed it, added a bit of olive oil, and set it aside while I sautéed the asparagus and zucchini and some diced ham in butter. (Cooking on a hot plate, you cannot do the sauce while the pasta cooks because you only have one cooking surface; innovation is necessary.) Put the pasta in the pan to heat--and got it so hot I had to let it cool before I could eat it. But it was a great meal, and it occurs to me that pasta is a good way to use leftovers. You can fix any number of combinations. I topped my meal off with a bit of dark chocolate with sea salt, a gift from Megan.
Now I'm back at my computer, still wishing for email, but grateful for the internet connection. Next I'll try to save what I typed in Word. Life is always fun with computers--but some days my frustration tolerance is not good.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Time out

Do you ever just step back from your world for a day and recharge? I did that today—didn’t sleep too late, maybe eight, but was slow and lazy about getting going, didn’t event think about going to church. Lunch and dinner of leftovers—I’d cooked so much last week, I swore I wasn’t going to cook today. I piddled and fiddled at my computer, did odds and ends of business, wrote some personal emails, and spent way too much time on Facebook.

One thing that was fun for me: a neighbor and her family are going to Scotland Tuesday, and I sent her a bit of information about the MacBain Clan and our memorial park, plus sites I enjoyed when I was there. Just writing about it made me want to go again. I probably sent more about Culloden and Urquhart and Dore and the Clearances than she ever wanted to know, but writing it was fun for me. That Scottish novel beckons.

And, the big indicator to me that I needed to recharge: I slept two hours this afternoon. I usually take a nap in the afternoon, often as short as 30 minutes and just as often lying still with my eyes closed but not sleeping. But yesterday I slept an hour and a half, and then two hours today. All those birthday festivities and all that cooking of the last week wore me out.

I have always told myself I didn’t not get worn out by things. I thought I had an inexhaustible supply of energy. I’m terribly afraid my fatigue this weekend is a sign of age, but I’m too tired to battle it.

Starting a fresh week tomorrow. How about you?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Reflections on a birthday

Me and all the young girls
They look bright, but I'm ready to fade

I am seventy-nine years old today, or, as my father would have said, in my eightieth year. A childhood friend with whom I’ve been in close touch all these years regularly writes on my birthday to twit me about being much older—from July 22 until her September 15 birthday, I am a year older. But this year, she added, “Can you believe we’re looking at eighty?” No, the truth is that I can’t. I won’t repeat the mistake I made twenty years ago or so when I told Jamie that I didn’t feel any older than the coeds on the TCU campus. He went into hysterics. But the truth today is that I do feel older—and wiser.

I’ve heard it said that for every individual there is an age at which you permanently place yourself. Mine has always been in my early thirties, when my babies were young and I was, so I thought, happily married. I wouldn’t go back that far any more. In fact, I’m perfectly content with the age I am now, though of course I want to live, in good physical and emotional health, at least well into my nineties. I have to take advantage of the accumulated wisdom of the years, what I’ve learned from heartbreak and, more importantly, what I’ve learned from joy, happiness, and love. I’ve thought a lot about it today and concluded I don’t quite know how to put what I mean in words—a writer at a loss for words. But I think, hope I am a better person—less quick to judge and demand, more compassionate, more understanding.

After all these years, I don’t regret my single state either. Marriage was good—it gave me four terrific children and a taste for kosher food—but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I find myself these days dreaming about a couple of past loves—I wish I could reach out and tell them that I have learned a lot, that I would have reacted differently to our relationships, that I miss them still and they are in corners of my heart. But that isn’t possible, and it’s a slight regret to live with.

I wish I could bring my parents back, for I would be a far better daughter, far more understanding as they aged. And oh! I so wish they could see my wonderful grandchildren. I keep their memory alive with stories and reminiscences…and my mom’s memory lives on in my cooking.

I am a happy, mostly content woman—loved by my family and more friends than I ever deserved, happy with my career choices, which were mostly happenstance but enable me to look back on a professional life well lived and continuing to this day. Lord deliver me from being smug but thank you for blessing me with the riches I have, tangible and intangible.

Tonight, Jordan and Christian welcomed a small crowd to their house—a few neighbors I’m fond of and lots of their friends, who are always glad to see me. That’s another blessing—Jordan has always included me in her circle of friends, and the girls are like daughters to me, the husbands good friends.

Susan and I blow out our candles.
For several years I have shared a birthday with neighbor Susan, who is twenty years and 3 days younger. Tonight, Susan was there to share the fun…and cake.

That's it, folks. The birthday is over. Finis.

The Kindness of Strangers the Love of Family

Dating this post July 21 is a bit of a cheat. It was meant for last night, but I was just too tired to write. So I’m playing catch-up fairly early on Saturday morning. If I had posted last night, here’s what I would have written:

Donald Trump can rant and rave and create havoc in our country, Greg Abbott can legislate against trees (how ridiculous is that?), and Dan Patrick can fight all those imaginary rapists lurking in women’s restrooms, but I’ve had evidence once again that the world is full of kind and good people.

When we came home from dinner Thursday night, an anonymous post on my blog told me to look on my front porch. There we found a bottle of white wine, chilling in a small bucket and gaily decorated with ribbons. Three wine glass were set out and waiting on the porch table. But no note, no hint who I should thank. So this is a public thank you to anonymous—we do wish you’d come forward and let me and my daughters acknowledge your thoughtfulness. PS: we got a fourth glass and shared with Christian.

Megan returns to Austin today. She’ll leave a hole that she carved in our daily lives this week as well as leaving her ten-year-old son. With her absence looming, we had family birthday last night. We’re a close family in spirit, but spread out to the point we rarely see some members. My brother, John, and his wife, Cindy, came in from the ranch near Tolar, and my daughter-in-law, Melanie, drove from Frisco with granddaughter Eden. We see them all too infrequently (thought this is my second visit from Edie in a week—such a treat). It’s hard to get John off the ranch, away from his cattle and dogs and beloved country quiet, but he always seems to have a good time when he’s here. We sat telling family stories, some of them pre-dating Christian, but he said he’d heard one at least ten times. We do repeat the stories we love.

Special bonus—longtime (would you believe forty-some years?) friend Linda arrived unannounced in time for happy hour—I thought she was in New Mexico but business called her home to Granbury. She is family to us, and we welcomed her gratefully, overriding her protests about not wanting to intrude.

When I was a kid, I always requested cold turkey and potato salad for my birthday, so that’s what we had last night, via a local barbecue place that serves much better potato salad than the usual bbq version. I made a large salad of marinated vegetables, a family favorite, in deference to those who don’t eat meat—and didn’t eat anyway. The girls ordered roses for the table and my favorite Black Forest cake. A truly festive evening.

One more party and my birthday is over. Whew! I feel older.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Perils of Pauline…or a writing oops!

With my daughter and grandson here this week, I haven’t gotten much writing down, so I was delighted this morning when an entire empty morning loomed before me. But when I opened the file of the novel I’m working on, there was a lot missing. Computer search followed, but I couldn’t find it. The most recent file was dated a week ago, and yet I knew I had written the scene I was thinking of. Finally, I decided I just had to bite the bullet and rewrite it. The words flowed because I had the scene so clearly in mind, and eventually I convinced myself that I never had written it, except in my head.

I wrote my daily quote of a thousand words, which just about did the scene, saved it, and then prepared to move on. But when I scrolled down, guess what I found? The original version of the same scene. I thought I’d gained a thousand words today, but when I erased the duplication, I was right back at the total I’d started the day with. I’d essentially been treading water all day—no forward motion.

In a way, I was relieved to know that I hadn’t closed the file without saving. That puzzled me, because the computer doesn’t let you do that. I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless as to click don’t save by mistake. I was fully prepared to think it was something I’d done, and I guess in a way it was. Somehow a blank page had snuck into the text between the previous day’s work and the missing text, so I mistakenly thought I was at the end of what I’d written. Almost too confusing to explain, but I guess all’s well that ends well. And in a week of lost days, another doesn’t matter.

Meantime the celebrations continue. I had a good, solitary lunch of leftovers. I’d planned to fix the girls some Italian tuna sandwiches—tuna with pesto, since Megan dislikes mayonnaise (who raised that kid?). But we have so much food left over that it seemed silly to fix something new. And leftovers are so good.

Tonight, we went to the Star Café, owned by good friends Don and Betty Boles. It’s sort of a family place for us. Can’t beat their chicken-fried steak, and Betty had even baked a cake that had cherry pie filling, crushed pineapple and chopped pecans. Delicious! There’s something about going a place where you always have a good time—you’re in a mind set to have a good time again, and we did. Lots of hilarity. Good times.

Home to a neighbor’s woes with the gas company, a wildly barking dog, and a vegetable salad to be made so it would be marinating. Life goes on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Joys of Family

The joy of having one extra daughter and one extra grandchild continues. The boys are having a great time at TCU baseball camp and posed for the great picture above with the coach. Other than baseball, as far as I can tell, they are occupying themselves with the giggles. And having a wonderful time.

And miracle of miracles, I got some work done today—put together everything I have on the neighborhood newsletter and am just waiting for some regular columns. And did some work on a project I’m most excited about but not yet ready to announce.

Had a nice lunch with three friends, two of us celebrating birthdays, and tonight we went to Joe T.’s at Megan’s request. A friend/neighbor of hers was also in town so her son could attend baseball camp, and they joined us. The three little boys were such wonderful company—two with faces in iPhones, the third in an iPhone. Luckily, I turned my chair and squeezed into the table with the grown-ups. The restaurant was unusually slow, so it was blessedly quieter than usual, so I could hear the conversation. Fun. I never order fajita because I don’t like peppers, and the pepper taste taints the meat. Megan split an order with no peppers with me and I enjoyed.

Tomorrow, a day of staying home and working. I swear. I sure am having a great birthday week. Not a day—a whole week.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Food, friendship, and the doctor

Let me start with the doctor. I had a good appointment with my surgeon today—lots of praise, but I came away feeling a little let down. I asked if I was where I should be, given what my condition was pre-surgery, and he said “Absolutely.” Pointed out my hip had been deteriorating for a long time, I had a major bone deformity, and I hadn’t really walked for six months before surgery. He was, he said with restraint, pleased with my progress. As we left, he, not an effusive man, said, “You’re beautiful today,” and I know he wasn’t referring to my looks. He was saying I’ve made beautiful progress.

But I think I went in there thinking I was healed, this surgery stuff could be behind me, and it’s simply not so. He said he expects full recovery for me to take at least a year—and I’m only six months in. No, I cannot cross my legs. If I bend from a sitting position, I am to do it slowly, with my left hip bent open, because I’m still in danger of dislocating it (x-ray shows it is perfectly in place right now).

And the biggie: he was lukewarm about letting me drive, especially since I drive a VW Bug, with a lower seat than a traditional car. He demonstrated how I’d have to get in and out, a technique I don’t really remember. On the way home, Jordan said every instinct in her was opposed to my driving, so I will wait.

I guess I’m not as invincible as I thought. Lesson learned

Other than that, a pleasant day of working and eating, mostly the latter. My daughters and I went to Pacific Table for lunch. A splurge lunch of crab salad (with avocado, Manchego, tomatoes, sautéed shallot, and a good vinaigrette) plus a dessert of sinful ice cream sandwiches  

Tonight, a friend from the seventies came for happy hour with me, Jordan, and Megan. Nancy’s three children and mine grew up as family friends, so it was great for my girls to get to visit with her. Turns out Megan often distance-works with the husband of one of Nancy’s daughters—small world.

Jordan fixed a magnificent spread, which was our dinner. My contribution was the salmon spread. We talked about everything from kids and surgery to murder and had a delightful time.

Now two boys are out here practicing their cursive writing. I never knew it would be the occasion for such hilarity—old-fashioned, uncontrollable giggles.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Just Call Me Grumpy

I’m not sure if I’m grumpier lately or just more aware and catching myself at it, but after grumping my way through a nearby neighborhood, over the McMansions, I found myself grumpy with my two daughters last night. Biggest grump was over a towel I keep in the kitchen to dry my hair because I shampoo in the sink. They insisted it was dirty; I said it was my towel, and leave it where it was. Ended up putting it in the laundry but replacing with a clean towel, which I suppose was a compromise of sorts. Then there were the two bags of leftover meat filling for the meat pies—Megan handed one to Jordan and put one in my freezer. I said no, I wanted both—I bought the meat, made the filling, would feed everyone with them, but I wanted them in my freezer. Petty? You bet, but I felt I was under siege in my own kitchen, between the two of them, with their quickly exchanged eye rolls.

So I apologized for being grumpy, said I wanted it to be so much fun when Megan got here, and it wasn’t going that way. After swearing they weren’t criticizing my kitchen methods and saying I was way too sensitive, Megan said, “We all do that. We get it in our minds just how something’s going to go, and when it doesn’t go exactly as we think it should, we get grumpy. I do it with my boys, you do it your kids.” In truth, I’d already thought of that much earlier but was astounded to find myself still falling into the trap.

My grumpy fit cleared the air, and we had a great evening, augmented by what all (except Jacob) said was a great dinner. Jacob, who ate two meat pies, pronounced them so-so. Turkey! Today I found an online article that I hoped would explain my point of view to the girls and sent a link, asking them to read it. So far, no reaction. But if you’re interested, either as a senior or the child of one, you might want to check this out:

Up early this morning because I felt overwhelmed about all the work that had piled upon my desk—one day of cooking and ignoring the desk side of my life, and I was buried. Getting up early is great, because I got so much done and felt better about the world and my responsibilities. But I sure needed that afternoon nap.

Nice day—fixed a good lunch for the girls, had two doctor appointments, both with praise for my progress, and a delightful dinner with a friend of Megan’s who is here for her son to attend the same baseball camp with my boys. Jordan made it taco night—so good.

Time now to pick up the threads of the novel I’m working on, the neighborhood newsletter, and life in general. I think cooking—and Megan’s visit—distracted me. But what happy distractions.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cooking up a storm

Natchitoches meat pies and tabbouleh
            A friend wrote me today that she spent Sunday morning planting. She knew, she said, she should have been in church, but she wanted to get these plants in and mulched before she left town. I told her she planted, I cooked, and we both worshipped in our own ways. And cook I up a storm I did.

I was cooking for a celebration dinner—oldest daughter, Megan, and her youngest son, Ford, arrived tonight for a week. When I said to Ford we were expecting special company, he asked who, and I said, “You?” Earned me a big grin.

Ford and Jacob will go to TCU baseball camp for four days, the girls and I will work during the day, each of us at our own jobs (Megan is a lawyer and Jordan a travel agent—me? I write!) but we’re looking forward to a lot of good meals and visiting time. Tonight’s menu was homemade hummus for appetizer, cheeses and vegetables.

Notes from the gourmet on a hot plate: I spent the whole morning making the hummus and tabbouleh, both better than what we buy in the store. Hummus was a problem until Jordan discovered I have a large pot that will work on my hot plate. I soaked the garbanzos overnight, refrigerated them for a day, and cooked them for forty-five minutes this morning. The hummus is really easy—you put everything in the food processor with a saved half cup or more of cooking water (I say more because the hummus was a bit stiff). Put spices, oil, and all in and blend. You could easily do this with canned garbanzos—I don’t know if it would be better or not.
homemade hummus

Tabbouleh was more work. You soak bulgur wheat in boiling water. Add spices and let it sit, while you make a lemon/oil dressing, whisking the oil into the lemon. Separately chop four cups parsley, a cup mint, a large tomato. Fluff wheat with a fork, add to dressing, and fold in veggie mix. Chill. Really good—six of us ate the whole thing tonight, and I promise I’m not doing all that chopping again soon.

I asked Ford if he eats tabbouleh, and he said, “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll eat it.” He loved it, had two or three helpings. Such a delight to have a child be such an enthusiastic eater.

Assembly line: me rolling out biscuits, Megan filling them
Main dish: Natchitoches meat pies, a recipe I remember from years ago when I taught a creative writing class that really bonded, to use a trendy, trite word. For the last session, I invited them to my house for a pot-luck supper, and one man brought these pies. I thought I’d lost the recipe during the great downsize, but it surfaced. They are, quite frankly, a pain to make, but we cheated and used refrigerator biscuits that I split in half and rolled out into thin larger circles. The girls filled each circle with meat, folded and crimped the edges. The recipe said deep-fat fry, but we brushed them with an egg wash and put them in the oven. We ate thirteen of them.

Tonight I am tired but happy. Love having more of my “chickens” under my roof.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Let the celebration begin!

My birthday is in another week, but celebrating began today, when Jamie and my second oldest grandchild, Eden, came over from Frisco for the afternoon and dinner. It's not a major birthday, so I didn't expect much of a celebration, but Jamie will be out of town next weekend. Mel and Eden will come over for family birthday.
But first Jordan and I went grocery shopping, which has become a real adventure for me. I drove a motorized cart again. The first time, when I moved but did not destroy a display, the woman who fixed it was grumpy, never looked at me nor acknowledged my profuse apologies. Today we went to a different store, and an employee brought the cart out to the car. After she saw me settled in it, she said, “If you knock something down, don’t worry about it. Happens all the time. Just holler.” I had a great time driving around this store which had wider aisles and fewer dump displays. I didn’t bump into anything stationery nor any customers, and the same woman came to collect the cart at the car. She told me I should have backed up to the car door (I explained I’m not yet good at backing); she scolded me about keeping hydrated in the heat, and when I turned in my seat and reached to close the car door, she said, “Get back in there You don’t need to be doing that!”

Jamie and Eden arrived about one-thirty. They intended to leave Frisco at eleven, but some things came up. Jamie is always later than his original plan and will be the proverbial man who’s late to his own funeral. They were on target for twelve-thirty but didn’t like my lunch options and went to the Mexican Inn on their way in. He had said they’d shop in the afternoon, but he really didn’t know where, Edie wasn’t much interested in Tyler’s, and I’m not much of a shopper, especially now that I’d be using the walker. We pretty much hung out at home, which was better anyway. Swapped “Remember when” stories and had a good time. Jamie wanted to take a Black Forest cake home with him and went to pick up the only one they had—serves 20 and cost a fortune. We had a nice dessert after our dinner.

We had supper at the Tokyo Café—Edie, my favorite vegetarian, loves sushi. I thoroughly enjoyed lobster roll and salmon sashimi, and Jamie ordered three different rolls, pronounced it a good place to go. Nice dinner, and a bit of serious philosophical talk, mostly about the place of religion in our lives. When I said I didn’t believe in hell, Edie’s eyes lit up and she said, “Neither do I, and all my friends do.” Score points for me as a grandmother.

They’ve gone back to Frisco now, and Jordan is in the house watching two little boys. I’m catching up on the odds and ends of a satisfying day and more than ready to go read in bed.

Friday, July 14, 2017

More cooking experiments. And a clear look at myself

Tonight, I ran into more of the disadvantages of downsizing, mainly that you downsize yourself out of everything you’re used to having on hand. Who lives in a kitchen without baking soda? Apparently, I do and so does my daughter. I wanted to soak chickpeas overnight and cook them in the morning to make hummus. First problem with that was we couldn’t find chickpeas in the large dried bean section at Central Market. Duh! A foodie reminded us they’re garbanzos, and we bought twice as many as I needed for my initial experiment.

Then I didn’t think I had a pot big enough to cook them in 10 cups of water. Jordan unearthed one that works on my magic hotplate, so tonight the peas/gabanzos are soaking in salt water. But in the morning, I need to cook them with ¼ tsp. baking soda. My kingdom for a tsp. of baking soda.

Tomorrow I hope to cook the peas, make the hummus, and make homemade tabbouleh—a big order, since we only did the “exotic” shopping today and still have a long list for the “ordinary” grocery store, plus Jamie says he’ll be here at elevnish—read two or three, but it will be so good to see him and Eden. I hope to let the day unroll as it will. The cooking projects don’t have to be done until the next day or the next. I’m trying to learn that lesson—or unlearn all the compulsive lessons that I carry with me as baggage.

Today, after our trip to Central Market, we picked up Jacob at a friend’s house in a nearby neighborhood, one of seventies and eighties ranch style houses and huge trees, all lovely and comfortable. But people are tearing down original structures and building McMansions that stick out like sore thumbs. Apparently, no thought is given to fitting into the neighborhood. There are neighborhoods in this city where McMansions fit the general style, but not the one we visited this morning and certainly not mine. It distresses me.

But with Jacob in the back seat, monosyllabic as young boys can be, I listened to myself criticizing the big houses and realized how negative I sounded. I fear I do that about other things that don’t fit my standard of how things should be, from frozen hamburger to people (a big leap). I made myself then and there a promise to be more positive and less critical. I can keep those critical thoughts to myself.

I remembered something Colin said to me when I mentioned that the stream of visitors to the cottage had slowed down drastically. He suggested maybe I don’t always make people welcome. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in my work that maybe I’m not fun. Another critical look at myself and another resolution.

Lord, I hope I can live up to all this. Meantime, I’m happy to report I had a wonderful and simple supper tonight. Fresh corn on the cob, steamed asparagus, and filet of sole. I used to have an awful time cooking sole because it fell apart. I dusted this with flour, and it browned perfectly and came out of the pan easily. Such a mild but good fish. Color me happy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The story of my life….and a cooking lesson

The story of my life this week is one of cancelled engagements…yesterday friends and I were to celebrate our birthdays at an annual lunch. Cancelled. Today, I was serving pasta carbonara to an old friend for lunch. Cancelled. Tonight, I was going to dinner with a friend. Cancelled. Not to sound too pitiful, I will admit that I have had company—a good friend brought barbecue last night, and another friend came to share the pasta so I went ahead and made it. But I haven’t gotten out of the cottage—well, since Tuesday night but it seems longer. And that was my only outing this week. I stand in danger of cabin fever, because I am dependent on friends who will come get me—and who can negotiate backing out of my 1920s skinny driveway. Can’t wait to drive again.

I can’t really have a pity party, because there are bright spots on the horizon. Grocery shopping with Jordan tomorrow, which is always fun, and maybe I’ll get to drive a cart again. Colin says I should not consider that practice for driving a 3,000-lb. car. Tomorrow night, Jamie, my youngest son, and his youngest daughter are coming to take me to dinner. A rare treat. And Saturday I will have lunch with another friend who shares July birthdays.

But still I’m afraid to pick up the phone, for fear it’s someone cancelling yet another outing.

It was really just as good my lunch date for today cancelled—he missed pasta carbonara which bombed. Jean came for lunch and wasn’t at all critical, having never had carbonara before. The recipe was a spring one and deceptively simple—diced bacon, green peas, and cut asparagus spears, with a bit of the bacon grease. Cook the pasta, drain it, and immediately stir in eggs, beaten with a little milk. Stir frantically so they don’t scramble. I’ve done that before with aveglomono recipes, and it creates a lovely silken sauce for the pasta.

Jean read the recipe and volunteered to go to the front porch for five or six basil leaves, which I cut into chiffonade strips and added—glad she reminded me of that.

Today my eggs scrambled, despite my frantic stirring. I figure cooking mistakes are learning lessons, so I’m analyzing this. I had eyeballed adjusting the recipe from six to two servings, and perhaps I put too much milk in the eggs. Also, I put the pan on a warm burner while I stirred, and I suspect that cooked the eggs—I should have kept stirring. There came a point when I saw the eggs were scrambled and there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I tossed in the vegetables and bacon, sprinkled them generously with cheese, and served.

Jean loved it, but she’d never had carbonara. I loved the veggies and the flavor, but thought the pasta was too dry. But then, I knew what it should be.

One thing about cooking in the cottage: when a recipe says to keep one pan warm on a burner, and cook pasta on another burner, I can’t do that. I only have one burner, so I have to juggle. I will definitely try that recipe again though. Seems I am accumulating a separate file of recipes to try again, having not quite hit the mark the first time around.

Tonight, leftovers. Tomorrow? Maybe tuna fish for lunch. I had given Jean a can of my special tuna, ordered straight from a cannery in Oregon, and they had it for dinner last night. Now she knows why I rave about it.

On Facebook tonight, someone quoted, “Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley,” and it came home to me that I’ve never read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. So that’s my reading now. ‘Night.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sleepless Nights and Better Days

Although so many people rave about the pleasure of reading in bed, I never could do it, never could get comfortable. But then my kids encouraged me to get a Sleep Numbers mattress where I can raise and lower the head and/or the foot (it proved important after my hip surgery). Now I’m addicted to bedtime reading. It’s often when I indulge in mysteries, while I confine my daytime reading to meatier subjects (not always). Right now, night and day, I’m reading Sara Paretsky’s Fallout, a V. I. Warshawksi novel. No matter the quality, most books put me to sleep in five pages.

But last night, as I took the cell phone out of its pocket on my walker, I must have done something wrong. It went to huge letters and wouldn’t let me move around nor would it let me turn it off. I gave up and got up for the iPad, which was out of charge. Had to rely on my imagination to put me to sleep.

In a half doze, I remembered words I read to the effect that the president is enraged that a Russian cloud still hangs over his presidency and is further enraged that Donald Jr has revealed the emails. Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall when senior confronted junior? Anyway, the thought of an enraged president, who I already think is unhinged, roaming the White House alone at 3 a.m., red telephone in hand, came to me, and I was suddenly terrified—really truly terrified. I must have fallen asleep—I dreamt of being alone at night and so terrified I couldn’t sleep so I was up changing the bed linen (don’t ask why—I have no clue), checking that lights worked, turning on TVs, and wishing it was morning. I was relieved to awaken about an hour later and realize I was safely in my bed, the cottage was intact, and the world pretty much was going around on its own. I slept fitfully all night.

This morning, Jordan declared that what was wrong with my phone was that I had gone “clackety-clack.” I protested innocence, and we had a testy moment. Then Jacob tried and announced, “Your phone is broke. Take it to the Apple store,” as though I could just jump up and go. I called the Apple store, was connected to a distance tech who said my email didn’t pull up/ She couldn’t wrap her mind around the server name—tcu. First clue she wasn’t in Fort Worth. Finally, she gave up, asked what the problem was, and quickly told me how to fix it. If you need to know: simultaneously hold down the volume and power buttons for at least 30 seconds. Magic!

After that the day went better; I took care of some detail work, including banking, answered a bunch of emails, roughed out a newsletter, and wrote my daily thousand words on the novel in progress. This evening, I’m free to prowl through a cache of recipes I found in my closet. To me, that’s bliss.

A friend brought barbecue tonight—turkey, sausage, pulled pork, potato salad, and good slaw made with red cabbage. Jordan and Christian joined us for conversation. A thoroughly pleasant evening.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sometimes a day is just about right

That’s what I was thinking this morning—that the day was just about right. It was warm but not unbearable, and the cottage still held its nighttime cool. I had the patio door open, and as I sat at my desk I almost felt like I was sitting in that dappled sunshine on the patio. Easy to daydream and forget to work, but I managed to write my thousand words for the day and get other chores done.

It amazes people who don’t know to learn that writing a book involves so much more than getting the story down on paper. If you’re an independent publisher as I am, you have to buy ISBN (International Standard Book Numbers) for each book and register them, so your book will end up in Books in Print. You have to edit, edit, edit, and proof, proof, proof. You send it to someone to format, so it won’t look amateurish. You have a designer do the cover. You write blurbs and pitches. If you have a web page, and every author should, you have to either post the new book there yourself or hire someone to do it. You mount the book on various digital platforms and, if you so choose, post to a service that will create print. The details are endless, and I’m in the midst of all of them---and having so much fun doing them.

If you’re seeking an agent and a publisher, it’s a whole different game, one that usually involves sending out endless query letters and waiting patiently for that one reply that says someone wants to represent your book or, glory be, publish it. I’ve gotten those letters, and they make not just your day but your world.

Either way, being an author involves a lot of scut work. It’s a way of life, and I love it.

It’s been a while since I had dinner with the neighborhood group at the Old Neighborhood Grill. Tonight, friend Mary Dulle took me and was kind enough to take Jacob and a friend with us. The boys refused to sit at the same table as the adults, but for the most part they were well behaved. I ordered meatloaf which was my standard meal for a long time. This time I left enough to bring home for a lunch sandwich tomorrow. The fellowship at the table was good, though much of the talk was about hip replacement surgery and a new technique which has a recovery period of something an astounding like two weeks. Made me feel bad that here I am still on a walker after six months, but I know my hip was an unusual situation, and I wouldn’t have been eligible for this new technique. One more time when I have to learn to be who I am and accept what I can and can’t do and stop comparing myself to others.

So on this just right day, a lesson learned again that I should have learned a long time ago.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Cursive, boys, and a day of minor domestic crises

Jacob’s friend Colin is spending the night tonight, and they are in high spirits. In the interest of giving Christian a bit of peace and quiet, Jordan sent them out to me to practice their cursive. This made Jacob indignant because he’d already done his cursive for the day. But I never knew cursive should be so funny Hilarity ensued. Giggles and high-pitched screams. No wonder Christian needed twenty minutes off.

Even minor domestic crises come in threes, I’ve decided. This morning, I knocked, pushed, shoved, whatever, the control to my bed, the thing that raises and lowers the head and foot, etc., off the bed in the tiny space between the bed and the wall. Before I was out of bed for the morning, I fretted about that, fearing I couldn’t reach down and get it out. Then I’d have to ask Jordan, which struck me as bothering her. But I discovered there really is a small space between bed and wall, and I reached down and got it easily. Lesson learned about those controls I keep on the bed—the thermostat, the bed control, and the cell phone. I will now watch where I put them.

Next I discovered that the commode was running—again. It does that with far too great frequency. Not a major problem because all you have to do is reach in, adjust the flap, and stop it. But it becomes a major problem because the top of the tank is heavy enough that I can’t balance and lift it. Jordan fixed it, and I called our contractor who said it might be a minor adjustment and he’ll come by in a couple of days to see if he can fix it. I’m hoping to avoid the expense of a plumbing call. I adore the man I consider our family plumber, but his company is merciless with charges for every little thing. A trip charge is exorbitant.

I got ready to cook my breakfast and blew the fuse in the switch plate where I plug in the hot plate. Try as I might, I never can restart that thing. Christian came out and fixed it for me. He says I don’t push hard and fast enough to connect it to whatever. “An electrician you’re not,” he said, and I told him about a former employee at TCU Press who used to roll his eyes and explain to people, “She’s not handy.”

So crises solved. And no rain today. The Atmos (gas company) crew chief came by and inspected the problems his crew’s work had caused—a sprinkler head that bubbles constantly, two sinkholes in the backyard that get worse with every rainstorm. And they’re fixed. Kudos to Atmos, because the workers are without exception pleasant, willing to help, and the crew chief is really easy to work with, grateful when we appreciate his men.  What a pleasant change from what might have been.

So here I sit, with giggling boys and a dog who wants to be part of the fun but isn’t sure how. Wonder if my twenty minutes if almost up.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

There's a fisherman in the family--again!

This is an addendum to my post earlier tonight, because I just got pictures of Jacob's fish, and I have to brag on my grandson. It's a big moment in any fisherman's life when he catches the big one, and for an eleven-year-old to reel in a 30 lb. carp is a moment of triumph. He and his grandfather were fishing at a small lake in Coppell. They fished all week and Jacob caught some respectable-size fish, from bass to catfish. But the carp, at 30 lbs., was a triumph. It caused so much excitement that other fisherman put aside their poles and came to help him, since his line wasn't strong enough. That was one proud boy, and I'm proud to add that he and his grandfather are catch-and-release fishermen. I hope his uncles, who had their own fishing phases, see this.