Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Long day, good dinner


My first attempt at coulibiac

Whoosh! A long day, and I am so done. Started way too early when I got up to get a bit done before a 9:00 a.m. dental cleaning appointment. Dental appointments of any kind raise my anxiety level. My explanation is that I was traumatized by the drill when I was a kid. I had poor enamel on my teeth and, subsequently, a lot of cavities. Back then, in what I almost think of as pre-historical times, the dentist’s drill was a monster—slow and clumsy. Getting a cavity filled was excruciating.

To this day I fear drilling, and I don’t much like that hydroelectric whatever it is that they use to clean. I was happy during the early stages of quarantine when hygienists were told not to use it for health concerns—it sprayed water everywhere and could spray the virus. When they went back to it, I struck a bargain with my hygienist, whom I like a lot: if I continued to take excellent care of my teeth, she would clean them the old-fashioned way, with hand-scraping. The dentist kind of put the kibosh on that today when he explained that it really isn’t as effective. He hinted that they might have to go back to that thing with its high sound and bad memories But, hey, if that’s the worst of his bad news, I’m okay

I forgot the dental appointment when I invited Jean and Betty for supper tonight. Betty and I had dinner together on Wednesday nights for years. In the last few years, as Jean’s husband’s memory failed and he had to be in a memory care unit, we invited her to join us. Jean and I have kept up during quarantine—because she was alone and because we enjoy her company, we invited her over frequently. But neither of us have seen Betty in well over a year—just when we were coming out of quarantine, she fell and broke her hip. So tonight, we a long overdue first.

But the dental appointment took longer than I expected—probably because I insisted on the old way of cleaning—and I came home to cook. It wasn’t hard, but it took a lot of time. I made individual servings of coulibiac, a Russian dish of pastry filled with a salmon mixture There are lots of versions, but usually the dish calls for fresh salmon and one large serving, which is then sliced and served. I have a recipe that has survived my downsizings and sweeping cleaning out of my appalling collection for years. I’m not sure if I’ve ever made it before or not, but I was determined to try.

The recipe called for canned salmon (I have that good canned stuff that I order from Oregon) along with finely diced carrots, onion, and celery, thinly sliced mushrooms, a bit of lemon juice, sour cream, and dill (which I promptly forgot). This mixture was encased in puff pastry (although the recipe is so old it called for pre-made pie dough—many online coulibiac recipes call for puff pastry).

I’m no expert at working with puff pastry. The first sheet made three servings and went fine; the second, not so good. The dough got too warm, soft and hard to deal with. Five minutes in the freezer was not as helpful as I hoped. Finally got it all together and re-read the directions I’d been thinking I’d cook it while we had a glass of wine—but on re-reading I found it was to be served cold.

I finally ended up with six presentable pieces of coulibiac. They aren’t beauties, but they tasted delicious (even without the dill). Served them with marinated veggies, the easiest salad I ever make. And it keeps in the fridge for days. I simply use Newman’s Own Vinaigrette Oil and Vinegar as a marinade. Jordan is anticipating helping me finish the leftovers

Betty brought dessert—her signature banana pudding with real whipped cream So good, so rich, I am so full. Clever woman that she is, she served it in disposable plastic glasses. I have a bit left over for breakfast tomorrow.

So now, once again, I have cooked myself out and am going to rest on my laurels, if any, and do some writing work. But first, I may have to have a nap.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mosquitoes, fossil fuels, and happy hour


Lovely to wake up to a damp and relatively cool world this morning. While the temperatures didn’t rise all that much this morning, the humidity did, and everything felt sticky. Working at my computer, I had the urge to go wash my hands three or four times, just because they were sticky. Tonight, it is almost eerily still, not a leaf stirring, but the temperature is still okay.

We had happy hour outside, with elaborate precautions to avoid mosquitoes. When Jordan told me to keep my patio door closed until she came back out, I knew she had sprayed Yard Guard—and I rebelled. I admit mosquitoes don’t much bother me, and I realize they are a major problem for some—who knows what attracts them? I’ve heard various theories, from sugar in your blood to perfume to the color of your clothing. I also know the threat of West Nile Virus hangs over all of us, and for those of us who are elderly, it can be life-threatening.

That said, I still don’t want to put more pesticides into our atmosphere. I am more afraid of climate change for my grandchildren than I am of mosquito bites for me. I read an article today that linked the scorching, sizzling temperatures on the Pacific Northwest and the collapse of the huge building in Surfside, Florida to climate change, and I am a definite believer. According to the article, humans are cooking the earth with fossil fuels for a short-term gain. I know there are many who scorn science, an attitude I can’t understand, and sometimes I have the unladylike thought that I want to beat their pointy little heads until they understand. We have changed weather patterns, and we are ion for increasingly severe hurricanes, soaring temperatures (which cause people to run their a/c and only aggravate the problem). Ice in the Arctic is melting. I read with horror that Ron DeSantis, that Florida genius governor, has issued an edict that forbids Florida cities and towns from choosing clean energy over fossil fuels. Is he a troglodyte of some sort? (I hope that too can be taken to court—my goodness, the courts will be busy with all this junk legislation Republicans are passing.)

The building in Surfside? From what I read, the collapse can be traced to several things, including building superstructures on sandy landfill. (It is now outlawed—too late for 160-some people!) Experts also say that rising sea levels, due to climate change and melting ice in the Arctic, weakened the underground supports for the building, more so because the water was salt water. And of course, there’s deferred maintenance—the building was inspected several times and cracks in the structure noted each time. The HOA was notified, but residents were assured it was safe. You suppose someone was making money from that?

Though tempted, I won’t say the collapse is all Republicans fault, but in Florida, it’s  a hard conclusion to avoid. In Congress, Republicans, under the devious leadership of McConnell, are united in opposition to extensive infrastructure legislation which would curtail the use of fossil fuels, promote electrical vehicles, and work in other ways to counteract climate change. I suspect they want to encourage fossil fuel use for the sake of the donors who line their pockets. If it weren’t so serious, I would laugh at the objections they bring up, such as that electrical vehicles must be re-charged using fossil fuels.

I urge everyone to read as extensively as they can about climate change and then decide for themselves. Do not listen to Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Ron Johnson (the king of anti-science and anti-vaxxers), Steve Scalise (who learned nothing from a near-death experience), and a host of other.

Rant over, though I have another, minor rant. I spent well over half my morning in “chats” with reps from Amazon and Humana. In truth, both chats were productive, but my goodness they take a long time. I suspect each representative is juggling three or more calls at once. For those of us on the ground, it’s so frustrating!

To end on a happy note: we had three guests for happy hour, our regular Tuedsay night get-together plus a guest, and best of all one of them brought a wonderful array of meats, cheese, and fruits, including really sweet blueberries and some homemade Parmesan crisps. Deet had apparently banished the mosquitoes, and I kept my mouth shut about that. A good time was had by all.

I realize I digressed tonight, and ranted, and lectured, but I can’t help ending with a question: what did you do today to save the environment?

Monday, June 28, 2021

A doggie reminiscence


Jordan and Pierre
Note the unusual eyes--on the dog, not the girl

Last night on their way home from taking Jacob to camp, Jordan and Christian stopped to see Christian’s college buddy, Gary—and made me jealous. I like Gary, but the jealousy comes not from wanting to see Gary but from getting to visit with his new dog, Pierre. Gary’s a real dog person, and he has lost two dogs in rapid succession. Still, we were surprised when he announced he had gotten a new puppy almost immediately.

Pierre is a doodle dog, a cross between a poodle and an Australian shepherd. I’m partial to doodles because Sophie is a bordoodle, a cross between a border collie and a miniature poodle and you don’t have to read this blog many times to figure out how much I love my dog. But I also have a huge place in my heart for Aussies. My last dog before Sophie, Scooby, was a rescue Aussie and had perhaps the sweetest nature of any dog I’ve ever loved (Shhh! Don’t tell Sophie I said that!). He came with problems, partly because he was an Aussie and partly because of his background.

Scooby had been a back yard dog, confiscated by the city for violation of the code that says three pets per dwelling—apparently, he was one of many kept in a back yard, with food occasionally thrown to him but no affection. He had been abused—if you grabbed his collar, he would cringe. And he was always always hungry, a terrible counter thief. Once I watched him put his paws on the kitchen counter and delicately take a leaf of lettuce from one of three salad bowls being prepped for dinner. The salads were for me and my daughters, both of whom immediately yelled, “That’s your salad, Mom!” Another time, I found him standing in puzzlement over a banana he had scarfed from the counter. The look on his face clearly said, “Okay. I got it. Now what do I do with it?” And there was the time he did a high jump to grab an apple out of granddaughter Maddie’s hand which she held high in the air to keep it away from him. Maddie swore he tried to bite her, but that wasn’t it—he wanted that apple.


Scooby was as enthusiastic about people as he was about food, and he alarmed more than one guest with his rowdy, jumping affection. He was so anxious to give a doggie kiss to one friend that he made her lip bleed, and she swore he was a danger around my grandkids. She just didn’t appreciate his brand of affection. But if it was just me, Scoob would lie by my desk—there is actually a spot where the surface of the wood floor is worn away from him lying there. And he always slept by my bed. I loved that dog.

Aussies are, by nature, energetic, and that's putting it mildly. When I first got Scoob, I hired a trainer to help me calm him. The biggest gift the trainer gave me was to teach him not to jump on people. We did that by always keeping a leash on him in the house when I was with him to be sure he didn’t get caught. If he jumped, I jerked on that leash and gave him a firm, “No.” Aussies are as smart as they are energetic, and he got the message. I asked the trainer when he would calm down, this three-year-old dog who was new to me, and the answer was, “When he’s about ten.” I didn’t believe him, but it turned out to be an accurate prediction.

So, I wish Gary luck with his pup. He says he’ll bring Pierre to Fort Worth next time he visits, and I have promised to cook Chicken Divan for him—Gary that is, not Pierre. Gary and I have a retro food thing going. Last time he was here I made him tuna casserole. He and I loved it. The rest of the family not so much

I also did a sort of retro thing for happy hour tonight. A friend I hadn’t seen since quarantine came for happy hour, laden down with wine and chocolate. What a welcome kind of friend! I guess I pretended we were having tea instead of wine, because I fixed finger sandwiches. Trimmed the crusts and cut them in shapes, just like the fancy places do. Square ones were cucumber and seasoned cream cheese (just the right amount of dill); triangles were egg salad with capers. I thought they turned out well. We had a delightful visit—Mary Kay had lots of good stories to tell and insight into city politics and social causes. A pleasant evening.

And I got lots of work done today, have lots more on my desk for tomorrow. Life is just the way I liked it—busy.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

I went to church in my nightshirt


We’ve been going to church in pajamas and whatever since quarantine began, so it’s not that unusual, but I decided early this morning my clothes would set the tone for the day. I’d had lots of excitement with Colin and his family here Friday night and part of yesterday, and today the Burtons were driving to East Texas to take Jacob ot camp. A chill day for me—I wouldn’t wash my hair, get dressed, etc.(My Puritan conscience kicked in—I did make the bed.)

But what I did do, even before church, was to empty the garbage, sort out laundry, put away the dishes from last night, and generally do a straightening job in the cottage. You wouldn’t know it, because laundry, in various piles, is strewn across my big coffee table, waiting for Jordan to return tonight.

But the other thing I did that pleases me is less tangible—I revised and rewrote a short essay that has been on my desk for a week. As my friend Fred says, the short pieces are the hardest. This one, which I will submit for a volume on Texas mysteries, has a limit of 1,500 words. I’d written it and sent it to Fred for review; to my surprise he rejected my thesis and suggested an alternative—well, he suggested I modify the piece. It all has to do with agrarian or rural literature vs city or urban. I have never in a long writing career disagreed with Fred—and he reads everything I write (except blogs!). But the more I chewed on it, the more I wanted to stick to my original point.

Today I reached sort of a compromise, and I wrote to the end—1,300+ words. Tomorrow I’ll read it again, edit as needed, and with some temerity send it to Fred again. I hope he’s not tired of reading it. He was the prof in graduate school who shepherded me through the Ph.D. program, championed me when I faltered, and has read my work since. He is also a treasured friend.

But I am ready for this to be off my desk, so I can move on to what I am now thinking of as the “novel in waiting.” So that’s my plan.

Meanwhile, Sophie and I have had a quiet, lazy day—long naps, a gentle rain this afternoon, and cool temperatures. If we can trust the weather forecast, I just found online, we are in for a week of cooler temperatures and rain! Hooray! I had leftover steak and squash casserole for lunch; my dinner menu is leftover steak and mashed potatoes.

The steak and mashed potatoes were a special celebratory, send-off meal for Jacob before his departure for camp. But he woke sick yesterday morning—temperature, sore throat, etc. Jordan took him to Urgent Care where they found nothing beyond the symptoms of a summer cold. But he slept most of the day away, including missing dinner, and I suspect that cured him. I also suspect it was allergies. But late last night, I saw him in the family room folding clothes, no doubt doing some last-minute packing. I am delighted to eat his leftovers.

Busy week ahead, but I’m looking forward to it. And a dental appointment I’m not looking forward to. Hope y’all have a good week planned.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Wonderful Weekend Surprise


Left to right, Jacob, Colin, Kegan, Juju
Lisa, and Morgan

Last week I texted Jacob a message that said, “Please come see me.” I meant for him to come from house to cottage for some trivial thing. But I goofed: I sent it to Colin, my oldest son who lives in Tomball, Texas. I am sure he was alarmed and thought the worst, though as soon as I discovered what I’d done, I confessed all. Still, Thursday evening he called to say, “We’ll be there in time to go to dinner tomorrow night.”

And so they were—all four Tomball Alters. Wife Lisa, teens Morgan and Kegan. We scooped up Jacob and all went to Lucil
e’s for supper. There was one too many of us to fit in the cab of Colin’s truck, but luckily my VW, which sits idle in the driveway, started right away. Colin drove, with me, Morgan, and Jacob as passengers.

Colin shepherding Juju to the car.

We had a grand time catching up—Kegan has gone from soccer, which he’s played for years, to a promising career in high school football with a minor in track. He’s a tall, thin string bean, and I can see the pole vault, but I worry about football. Morgan, almost sixteen, is beginning to think about college but is somewhat interested in a culinary career—she fixed her dad a Father’s Day dinner of Beef Wellington, salad, and key lime tarts treated like crème brulee. Colin, a CPA, is what you would call handy, and he always arrives to a list of chores—this time he replaced a faucet head, reorganized my bedroom to better accommodate my new upright walker, rolled up a rug I’m replacing—and locked his keys in his truck! All ended well, and they were on their way back to Tomball by two this afternoon.

A short visit, but I’ll take what I can get. Hope they’ll come back soon. Sure made my weekend.

Sophie probably enjoyed the visit the most of all. Somehow she recognizes family when they visit, and she has always been partial to Morgan, who once tried to scoop her up and tell me, “I think we’re all packed now.” Colin roughhouses with her, and she runs in circles, then flops down for a belly rub.

Today I attended a webinar from a Florida bookstore, Murder by the Beach. Hank Phillippi Ryan, acclaimed author of thirteen thrillers, spoke on the “Muddle in the Middle”—that middle of a book where many authors bog down. It was inspiring, and I scribbled madly, taking notes of ideas for the Irene mystery I’ve left in a muddle. The webinar was two hours, and I left a bit into the second hour because Colin and family arrived from breakfast at Ol’ South Pancake House. I will get a recording of the entire thing in a week or so. Just another block in a good day!

Tonight we’re having a special dinner—steak and baked potatoes, in honor of Jacob’s departure tomorrow for ten days at Sky Ranch Camp in Colorado. I’ll miss that kid something fierce.

Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend. Here in North Texas the temperatures are cooler, and it’s a pretty patio night. Maybe we’ll get to sit out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Dogs, family, and work


Obi at my feet

Neighbor Amy brought her new pup to visit tonight. He’s an 11-month-old British Golden Retriever, which means he’s white, not golden. He is one of the rare ones, however, that has one big black spot on his side. I’d love to know the story behind that. He’s sort of not named yet—in fact, Amy alternated between calling him No-Name and Obi, because she says his name is to be Obi as in Obi Kenobi. I think she should start calling him by that name to get him used to it, but it’s not my business. At any rate, Obi seemed to like me, and several times ended up under my chair At one point, he gave one of my feet a thorough licking cleaning. He also didn’t seem to like the steps up to the deck, so he’d stumble through the pentas—which did neither him nor the pentas any good. Once he got stuck halfway onto the deck and looked for a minute like he was just going to relax in that position and forget about going anywhere. I love Sophie, but I do miss big dogs.

My family is home tonight. They’ve been in Granbury for two nights. Rented a lake house with a pool, scooped up two of Jacob’s buddies, and went off to celebrate his fifteenth birthday. The boys swam, fished, and prowled nearby parts of the lake in a paddleboat.

Boys paddleboating on Lake Granbury
The way a fifteen-year-old should celebrate his birthday

The paddleboat brings back memories, because my boys spent hours fishing from one in a friend’s lake in East Texas. Jordan sent one idyllic picture of the deck at daybreak when she sat, quiet and alone, having a cup of coffee. It made me wish I was with them.
Jordan's quiet, early morning moment on the deck

When they’re gone, I always feel like I’m not quite relaxing, not putting my full weight down, and I’m glad when they come home. Tonight, I thought we’d all have supper together—the plan was to order our favorite sub sandwiches from Great Outdoors. A bit of disappointment when Jacob brought my sandwich out to me, and I realized I was not going to have company for supper. Shoot! I had more company when they were out of town.

Otherwise, an unremarkable day. I finally got the neighborhood newsletter off to the designer and printer. Somehow this time that stretched into a three- or four-day project, when it usually takes a day or a bit more. But I did also rough out an essay I want to submit for a volume of Mystery Readers Journal that will be devoted to Texas Mysteries. So I feel I have accomplished some things today. No cooking, which was a relief for a change.

After a one-day respite, we are back to hot and humid weather—so still that when I felt the least stirring in the air and said, “Oh, there’s a bit of a breeze,” the kids laughed at me.

Stay cool, everyone. If you’re in Texas, staying cooler is a bit easier if you turn off as many lights as possible. We’re still, supposedly, protecting our fragile electric grid.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

From fried chicken to Texas politics


Sophie, who will never be tethered outside
and will never ride in the bed of a pick-up

What I did today: ate leftover fried chicken for lunch. And ate leftover fried chicken for supper. For lunch, I had a bit of the tzatziki potato salad but didn’t like it any better. I’ve got enough Scottish blood in me I hate to throw out food, but I think I’m going to put it in a baggie and dump it in the trash just before it’s emptied. But tonight, I had a casserole I’d made of yellow squash—so good. And about one-eighth of an enormous chocolate chunk cookie that Prudence brought when she came for happy hour.

My other accomplishments were minor, though I did get the neighborhood newsletter off to the designer—and tonight it’s already back in my inbox which means I have to proof first thing in the morning.

My Gunga Din moment of the day came when I killed a huge cockroach that had crawled under my hot plate. Too close to food! I will sometimes just let them go their way for a variety of practical reasons—I don’t want to smush them on my wall or counter, and I don’t want to have to spray chemicals to get rid of them. So, I am sort of in denial. But, I am glad Jordan was not here to see this fellow. Actually, I’m wondering about their life span—I think he’s been hanging out in the wall between the kitchen and my bedroom, because I’ve seen him before. I’ve also seen one occasionally in the bathroom.

In the bathroom I’ve had one lonely ant for a long time. He crawls around the electrical outlet and doesn’t bother me. But today he had several companions, which alarmed me. I have long had a leak at the base of the faucet, and now I wonder if the water is attracting them. Trying to avoid another out-of-sight plumber’s bill, but I may have to relent.

Tonight, the neighbors came for happy hour, and Prudence’s husband, Victor, joined us. Sophie was ecstatic because Victor spent almost the entire time loving on her. We had a lively discussion of Maria’s (I liked it, Pru hated it) vs. Revolver Taco (Pru loved it, I didn’t like it but haven’t been in years and it is in a new reincarnation now). We did agree on The Rim.

I am incensed tonight that Texans can now leave their dogs tethered outside in the summer heat or riding in the bed of a pick-up in danger of life and limb. Gov Abbott vetoed a bill that would have made those third-degree misdemeanors—not bad enough to ruin anyone’s life—because he didn’t want to micromanage pet ownership. But he found time to sign a bill naming some obscure new mushroom the state fungus.

I have friends who have left Texas because of the politics and others who talk about it. I stay here because it’s been my home for almost sixty years, my kids and grandkids are all in Texas (except that older grand who stays in Colorado), and so much of my career has been built around Texas history and literature. I seriously am too old to put down new roots somewhere else. And I don’t want to.

But I am angry (yes, Colin I’m an angry old woman) that Abbott, Patrick, and Paxton are ruining my adopted state and making it a laughingstock elsewhere. I will work as hard as I can to turn Texas blue in 2022, and I hope you will too. We have too proud a heritage to become a joke because of the egos of some small men. Oh, how I wish for Ann Richards and Molly Ivins.


Monday, June 21, 2021

A bit of gazpacho for breakfast


Obviously, it was a cooking weekend for me. Gazpacho was on the menu. Megan called from Austin and asked if I put bread crumbs in my gazpacho, and when I said yes she said she did too, but she’d never heard of that until recently. I hadn’t either, so this was a first for me. The gazpacho was probably my biggest success of the weekend.

I also made broiled wedge salads—I have not been a fan of charring everything, even romaine for Caesar salad. And don’t talk to me about burnt ends. But this sounded good, the slight brown on the leaves giving it a different taste and texture. Contrary to what I thought at first you don’t broil the whole salad—coat the wedge(s) with dressing and top with Parmesan. Broil that. Then add all the things you put on a wedge, along with more dressing. It was good.

Chickenburgers turned out nicely but proved hard to eat—buns, tomatoes, lettuce, all fell apart as you tried to eat. Part of the problem, I think, is that I cut the sandwich in half—unequally. And got a lot of meat in one half, not so much in the other.

The final item on my agenda was tzatziki potato salad. It was okay, but I have had potato salads I like better, such as daughter-in-law Lisa’s with lots of dill pickle or the lemon version I make with new potatoes. I am enjoying an online daily email from “Kitchn,” and yesterday it had a big headline about the one trick you need to know about potato salad: dress the potatoes while they are still hot. Credited to Bobby Flay. Well, good for Bobby but my mom learned that trick back in the fifties from the Italian cook who ruled the kitchen at my dad’s hospital. Trouble for me is that potatoes cooled in the fridge peel so much more easily. Anyway, don’t look for more tzatziki salad from me.

This morning the workermans (a granddaughter’s term) next door started hammering at seven o’clock, so I got up much earlier than I intended. And there was that leftover gazpacho and a half an avocado calling my name. Made a great breakfast.

Last night I had delightful company for dinner—a minister from our church and her mother. We talked about everything, from my books to her sermons and lots of talk about cooking and food. Sophie was on center stage and knew she had an audience—she played it to the hilt, with cute demands for more food and more attention.

Sophie is at the center of one big thing in my not-so-big life lately. She had her annual checkup. Despite my dire predictions, she is maybe just a little bit overweight. I kept accusing Jordan of overfeeding by indulging those demands for seconds. It’s a relief for me to get that vet visit over, though I really like our vet. And it’s nice to know that my nine-year-old dog/companion is healthy, from heart to teeth.

Yesterday was also a milestone in the Burton family: Jacob’s fifteenth birthday. Hard to believe. He had a rough year—spending his freshman high school year at a computer in his bedroom instead of in class with his buddies. After spring break, he got to go to classes three days a week, but it wasn’t the same. He handled it with grace and good humor. I enjoyed his company at dinner more nights than not—he was an interested participant in discussions of everything, especially politics, and I caught him trying to modify my tunnel vision on the subject. His Uncle Colin just cautioned me against becoming an angry old woman because I am so passionate about what’s wrong with Republicans—but everything I said he agreed with. Anyway, I’m proud of Jacob, his basic good nature, and his developing skill at golf.

Dinner tonight with Phil and Subie Green at The Rim. We went for the fried chicken—at least I did, because it’s the best I have ever had. A distinction I didn’t realize most people don’t know—chicken-friend chicken is boneless, skinless chicken, usually a breast, heavily battered and fried. It’s a whole different taste than fried chicken, which is bone-in, skin-on, and lightly battered. I don’t like chicken-fried chicken, but I love good fried chicken. Tonight, I asked for dark meat and got three thighs—a feast with leftovers. Accompanied by good, mashed potatoes and mushy green beans. If you’re gonna’ eat green beans with chicken, they should be mushy—none of this crisp vegetable stuff. But that’s only with fried chicken.

I am going to sleep a happy camper tonight. Hope you are too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A day that just bumped along


To me, roses mean someone wants you to be happy
These, from a neighbor, make me happy,
and note they are not bending their heads like to so many do today

Starting the day with a 9:15 appointment for blood work was not exactly my idea of a good way to get going. I was traumatized by this diagnostic clinic during quarantine because walking from car to clinic (not far) was hard for me—and I hate to have to pee on demand. So the place is one of my “I-don’t-want-to-go-there” places. But I am stronger now and even the pee part was okay, so the visit wasn’t as traumatic as I dreaded. (I’m good at building up anxiety about something that doesn’t merit it.) By ten, Jordan and I were home. But as we left the clinic, we saw an amazing sight.

Ever since I was hospitalized in January, I’ve had trouble swinging myself up into Jordan’s SUV—one of the older, high-up kind. I can’t figure out if it’s a lack of muscle or a lack of nerve, but we’ve solved it with a little white plastic stool I had. I step on that and land in the seat perfectly.

But what we almost walked into was this incredible bright red pick-up that was on such big wheels, so high off the ground, that I don’t even know how to describe it. My instinctive questions was, “What would we do if I had to get into that?” Jordan’s answer was to take a picture. When we got settled in her car, I wanted to hang around and see how the owner got into it, but she had too much to do, and we came home. I’m still in the phase where I’m always glad to be back home.

The day bumped along, nothing unusual. I had odds and ends on my desk that kept me busy. I decided for lunch to have some of that tuna in olive oil with oregano that Jordan served at happy hour last night. Mixed it with cottage cheese—so good—and made myself a salad with the bit of Caesar dressing left from last night. Jacob had complained that the dressing was so “stout” (my word, not his) that it burned the roof of his mouth. Last night I thought it was okay, but today I agreed with him. Sometimes I think those flavors intensify overnight. That scuttled my plan to write about Caesar salad in my cooking blog tomorrow. Will have to think about what we’ve cooked recently that was more successful.

Jordan and Christian are at a big open house at her office this evening, so Jacob and I are on our own for supper. We planned to order sub sandwiches from Great Outdoors—my absolute favorite. He came out to the cottage about six, and I pulled up the website only to see that delivery was not available. So, of course, hamburgers were the next choice. I rejected his half-hearted suggestion that he drive his mother's car, with me in the passenger seat, and hope that we didn't get stopped, since I am not a licensed drive, and he is not a licensed learner yet--one more week. I like the Tavern and thought I could order their club sandwich, but Jacob said they appeared to be closed. So we had Hopdaddys burgers—good but not great and not at all what I had my taste buds set for. I ate a lot of chocolate to compensate.

Recently I read a reference to the good old days, “when life was slow and deliberate.” I really liked that phrase, and at first relished the thought that it describes my life. Slow, because I set my own deadlines; deliberate, because I do what I want to do. But then I realized slow and deliberate is also part of my current discontent. I have no major project on my desk. Oh yes, I’ve kept busy with blogs and critiques and other small thing, including ignoring the novel-in-progress that has me baffled. But I have no big thing on my desk.

No, don’t tell me what you think I should write. Do you have any idea how often someone says to a writer, “Let me tell you the book you should write,” and how much writers dislike hearing that? Whatever your idea is, it’s your book to write, not mine. Mine has to be something I am passionate about—and those subjects just don’t come along easily or often. I guess I’m waiting for some response, some encouragement about the Helen Corbitt manuscript. Or for some new inspiration to grab me.

Meantime, life is slow and deliberate. But I guess that’s okay for a while.

Stay safe, stay cool, turn off lights and a/c when you can. At this point, railing in anger at the Texas electric situation is non-productive. What we need to do is tough this one out, conserve as much energy as we can to avoid blackouts and vote the greedy men who are profiting from our discomfort out of office. Once and for all.


Monday, June 14, 2021

A collection of bizarre news


North Texas is gradually drying out, though for a bit this afternoon it looked like we might get dumped on again. Now, with rain behind us, we’re in that season when weather forecasters talk about the heat index. When I was a kid, they simply told you what the temperature was. Nobody thought about heat index. You knew it was hotter in the sun, cooler in the shade—what more did you need to know? I do not want to be told it feels like 107—if it’s not really 107, don’t go there. Tell me it’s 91 and humid. I can handle that. Unfortunately, the heat index is supposed to be high for the next several days. I am going to ignore it.

But no rain until maybe Friday. I don’t know if that’s true in England or not, but did you read that the ark is dry-docked in Ipswich, England? It seems that British marine authorities are not sure it’s seaworthy and won’t let it depart. The ark is a 21,000+ square foot “replica” structure built on a flat-boat that houses a Biblical museum—I’m not sure what kind of artifacts it holds but I am almost willing to bet they aren’t genuine from the time of Noah’s Ark. In fact, the owner, appaarently a man from Ipswich, admitted that he had live animals on board but they proved too difficult, and he settled for carved imitations.  

The ark has no power of its own and must be towed wherever it goes. Before landing at Ipswich, it had visited the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. Once in England, it began to accumulate detention fines, etc., so that now moving it will be an expensive proposition, unless some compromise is reached. The owner(s) want to tow it back to the Netherlands but are held up by paperwork requirements and the need for fire equipment, life jackets, small boats, etc.

Where is Noah when you need him?

And speaking of weather-related phenomena, there’s always last winter’s extreme snowmageddon. Governor Abbott has assured us Texans that the legislature took all necessary steps to ensure that the power grid was ready for any emergency, and we would never again have the catastrophe we had. Comforting—until ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) today urged Texans to willingly turn off some power to preserve the grid, which is approaching a breaking point because of high use during this hot weather. Wait. A. Minute! What happened to that legislative fix?

The only bright spot I see in this is that now when Jordan complains that my cottage is too hot and musty and surely, it’s not good for me, I can tell her I’m being patriotic and protecting the grid.

Thanks to Avis Herndon for the new word for today. It’s drachenfutter, which is straight from the German. The literal translation is dragon fodder. Today, it means a gift given to someone who is angry with you in an attempt to soften that anger—in other words a peace offering. It occurs to me I should be keeping a list of these new words; otherwise, they will slip from my vocabulary, and I’ll never use them. Then again, I doubt few of us will slip drachenfutter into our daily conversation—so much easier to say peace offering. I have enough trouble with schadenfreude, which is fairly common in use—to take pleasure is someone else’s pain or difficulty. And then there’s doppelganger—look alike, or “double walker.” We owe the Germans a lot of language debts.

So gute Nachtschlaf eng. Sleep tight, sweet dreams.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

A banking failure, a cooking almost-failure, and Sunday is Sunday


You learn something every day, but sometimes it’s not fun. My latest lesson has involved the intricacies of banking. Last week I had two unauthorized charges on a bank account—one to an “aesthetics” business in Ottawa, Ontario, and the other from an author I’d never heard of who ordered me several of her books, though I never saw them. The only thing I could figure out was that Jacob had used my debit card to order  a hamburger, and somehow it was compromised. Except the charges were made on different debit cards.

Our bank is on top of things though and notified me of the suspicious charges. So we closed that account, opened a new one, and they said a new card would be held at the bank for me. But then I asked for a second card to go to Jordan, since she does grocery shopping and other errands. They could not issue two cards on one account number, but they could give her a second card with a different ending. I asked for that, and then we got all mixed up.

The new card wasn’t at the bank, mostly because they were confused by my name as cardholder and Jordan’s name as my daughter. Many phone calls ensued, and a new card was mailed. I got the first card that had been mailed, originally for Jordan, which left her without a card. So today, for a grocery trip, she took mine. Are you confused yet, because I sure was.

She called from the grocery store, not a happy camper: the pin didn’t work. I had no idea what the new pin was/is. I do not remember a thing about changing it, etc., though you’d think I would have made a record. While she went to the back of the cashier’s line, I changed the pin, called and told her what it was, and she eventually brought groceries home. Even in a good mood. Meantime I had locked myself out of the bank for too many log-in tries (don’t ask how because I have no idea).

Tonight, we have it all straightened out (I hope and pray), I have a new pin, there are no more fraudulent charges on the account, the second card is in the mail, and we have needed groceries. Whew!

Menu tonight was some chicken/spinach/feta sausages I like from Central Market, asparagus, and potatoes. Not being interested in boiled potatoes, I suggested I make scalloped. I must have forgotten that I’ve never successfully made scalloped potatoes. They are either undercooked or soupy. As a precaution, I used a recipe billed as easy that was like nothing I’d ever seen: you boiled everything together—potatoes, half and half, garlic, salt, pepper, butter. Then you simmered until the mixture began to thicken—only it never did. Finally, I spooned the potatoes and much of the liquid into a baking dish, put it in the oven, and turned the whole thing over to Jordan. She eventually added the rest of the liquid and topped the casserole with Parmesan.

Result was potatoes with really good flavor but no eye appeal—the Parmesan browned, I had used just the right amount of salt and pepper, but the creamy sauce lay in little clumps on the soft and mushy potatoes (that texture was not a bad thing). I still have to master scalloped potatoes, but so much for a recipe that promised 15 minutes prep and an hour cooking. I started peeling and slicing a little before 5:30—we ate at 7:45.

Otherwise it was Sunday all day. I went to church, at my computer, alone, and contemplated going back to in-person church. I am not afraid of covid contamination, but I am afraid that getting into the church and up the long aisle will require a longer walk than I could do. Like a lot of other things, it was not a problem before quarantine. But now I find my stamina so reduced. Or is it my confidence in my stamina?

I finished PT this week—again. But I have a feeling I’ll be seeing those folks again. Meantime, I try to keep up with the exercises, and Jordan promises me that once end-of-school activities are over, we’ll talk seriously about the best way to get back to church.

Meantime, may the good Lord hold you in the palm of his hand. Sweet dreams, everyone.


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Boys and rodeo, solitary Saturdays, and my income tax—whooppee!


Jacob and two buddies headed for a local, small-town rodeo last night. Christian captured this picture of them, and I couldn’t help but think they didn’t look like rodeo kids. I guess I expected jeans, a western shirt, and a cowboy hat. Jacob has almost never shown any interest in the western side of our local culture, although I am a big fan (and student) of it. And he wasn’t all that enthusiastic today when I asked how it was. His answer was that too many people were crowded into a small arena, and he couldn’t see what was going on.

I was reminded, though, of a book TCU Press published several years ago—Before Texas Changed, by David Murph who is, incidentally, an ordained minister. The book was an account of David’s growing up years in the shadow of TCU, years that encompassed unbelievable high jinks, including attempts to ride the bulls at small rodeos like the one Jacob just attended. Christian tells me not to worry—that is not on Jacob’s horizon.

David Murph, on the other hand, had so many outrageous adventures that when I was editing the book all I could say was that I was glad I was not his mother. He drove a car through the back wall of the family garage, rode freight trains to far east Fort Worth, started at least two accidental fires, got shot in the foot (or was it his buddy)—anyway with one injured boy, two or three of them ran away, after harassing a teacher and causing serious property damage. They made it as far as Oklahoma before they were apprehended. Want to read about life in Texas for a young boy in the Fifties? I cannot recommend this book too highly. You’ll laugh, and you’ll weep, because there is a strong element of the importance of family. And a father who frequently looked at him with a puzzled expression and asked, “Why?”

Yikes, how did a picture of three wonderful boys get me so far off track?

Today was a solitary Saturday, something I’m noticing more and more since the world opened up again. When the Burtons lived across town, I thought nothing of going without seeing them for several days. Now that I live in their back yard, literally, I am a bit disappointed if I don’t see at least Jordan two or three times a day, preferably around happy hour. I sometimes go several days without seeing Christian or Jacob. Today I saw Jordan briefly around mid-day, and that was it.

All was not lost though. Last night Jean took home a pair of pants to hem for me, and this evening she brought them back, cleverly timing her visit for happy hour with the statement, “I’ll drink just a small glass of wine.” And she did, and we got to reminiscing about childhood in the Midwest when houses were heated with coal and mothers did their own canning. Such fun to find someone whose background is so much like mine.

I fixed my favorite solitary dinner—a salmon croquette and a blue cheese/tomato/avocado salad dressed with lemon juice. So good. My mom taught me to make croquettes in log shapes and roll them in crushed crackers. I’ve found all that a nuisance, so I make them in patties and mix the crumbs in. And a recent discovery—Ritz crackers work better than saltines. I love making them from a small can of salmon because I have one for supper and two left over for lunches. Salmon patties make the best sandwiches.

My accountant called this morning. He’d tried twice to submit my return electronically, and the IRs wouldn’t accept it. Nor were they answering their phone. So he decided we’d submit the old-fashioned way. He was on his way to the post office and could he drop by, have me sign, and take it to mail. I said of course and by the by will you take a package I have to mail? He was willing; Jordan was horrified. “You don’t ask your accountant to mail a package for you,” she said. But he repeated that he was perfectly happy to do it, and I reminded her it saved her a trip to the post office. So my taxes are now off my worry list—and so are the books I was sending to a former editor.

Our sunny days continue—a bit hot, more than a bit humid, but not summertime miserable yet. Enjoy while the good weather lasts.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Fire plugs, walkers, and another new word


My friend Carol a the base of the world's largest (tilted) fire plug

Fire plugs don’t enter my consciousness much. I was never one of those kids who opened one on the streets of Chicago in summer to get a cool shower. And nowadays, I don’t think they are found much on city streets, are they? But a fire plug gave me a good laugh last night.

Subie and I went to dinner—a whole different story—and she mentioned that our friend Carol and her husband are in the Carolinas. Subie suggested that the highlight of their trip would be a visit to the world’s biggest fire plug, located in Columbia, SC. I was mildly interested, though I hoped they would have other and better reasons for driving all that distance. I love the Carolinas—having spent summer vacations there for several years when my folks retired to Tryon, NC. But I never went to see a fire plug.

After our supper, I went home, cleaned up details on my desk, and started the new entry in the long-running Murder, She Wrote series. Killing in a Koi Pond is something like fifty-fourth out of fifty-five books in the series, but it is the first one that my virtual friend Terrie Moran wrote. She and I are acquaintances through the Guppies subgroup of Sisters in Crime, and we use the same webmaster. So I feel free to fall her friend even though we’ve never actually met. I wanted to read Killing in a Koi Pond to support Terrie and to see how she handled jumping into a long-running series. I think it’s a coup to be asked to “co-author” with Jessica, and I am, as most cozy writers are, a fan of Jessica Fletcher, Cabot Cover-syndrome aside.

So I started the book, and within the first six pages, Jessica is in Columbia visiting the world’s largest fire plug. I have lived all the long years of my life without hearing of this monument and suddenly I hear of it twice in the space of a couple of hours. Naturally I googled it and discovered it was done in 2001 by an artist who calls himself Blue Sky. He had done a mural in 1985 and placed the fire plug so that it complemented the mural. The monument is forty feet tall and weighs 675,000 pounds. It is deliberately off center, imbalanced, as the Leaning Tower of Pisa—in Columbia, it looks like maybe a truck ran into it. Originally it was meant to be a fountain, but the spigots stopped flowing and repair became too costly. If you’re ever in Columbia, don’t miss it.

In other news of the day, I tried out the upright walker, now that it is assembled. And I am devastated to say that it will have to be returned. The base is much wider and larger than my seated walker, so that it is a clumsy thing to manuever and has the turning radius of an eighteen-wheeler. On my one trial I felt it was unmanageable, and the physical therapist likened it to a huge monster. This is one case where Jordan gets to say, “I told you so.” I’ll  stick with my rolling walker with a seat.

So now, Christian and Jacob must disassemble it, though Christian tells me it really is in four large parts held together by only two screws. That alone gives me pause—sounds like it could easily come apart and drop me on the ground. Amazon has a good returns policy, and we will get it off to them shortly.

And today’s new word is—ta dah!—“sockdolager.” Hats off to retired Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Roger Summers who used it in reference to an upcoming local election. Our mayor announced her retirement some weeks ago and has been duly replaced by a young woman who has the support of “establishment Fort Worth.” Then this week, county judge Glenn Whitley announced his looming retirement, and outgoing Mayor Betsy Price immediately announced her candidacy for the judge’s position. And then we hear that the new mayor, Mattie Parker, has political aspirations beyond the mayoralty and will be running for the House of Representatives seat now held (for a long time) by Kay Granger, when Granger retires. I wonder if anyone has told Granger that gleeful hands are rubbing together in anticipation of the retirement she hasn’t yet announced. All of that is a digression from the word sockdolager, which means a forceful blow or an exceptional person or thing. Hmm—hope Mr. Summers tells us which definition he had in mind.

And life goes on in Cowtown, where it is now hot and steamy. Summer has come, and I’m already wishing for the rains of earlier in the week.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

A day of trivia—and one big thing


So nice to wake up to sunshine this morning. No rain forecast until sometime next week. Everybody seemed to like the better weather--the yard guys came, having been delayed for two days by the rain, and Sophie stayed outside much of the day. The only glitch came when Jean came for happy hour. I put together a cheese tray with the Hunter cheese and Port Salut I bought at Central Market yesterday and the herbed goat cheese spread I made. Jean carried everything out on the patio but soon had to carry it back in. There were flies everywhere! I had little covers on the wine glasses, and we put a sheet of wax paper over the cheeses, but it was hugely ineffective. So we ended up inside. I do hope this is not the end of patio weather, though I admit it was pretty steamy out there this evening. The humidity is still high, even if it has stopped raining.

When I turned on my computer this morning, the first thing I saw was Richard Rohr’s meditation for the day: “Clearly, what this world absolutely needs is more love.” Anyone else hearing the Beatles in your head? There’s your earworm for the day. Speaking of earworms, the other day I woke up with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” repeating in my mind. I have no idea why, but I, who these days can only do the first verse from memory in church, could clearly remember all the verses. My childhood must have been coming back to me.

More trivia: my new word for the day: collocation. I was writing my once-a-month column for Lone Star Literary Lifestyle and found myself writing about a woman who calls herself an authorpreneur. She referred to a collocation, so I looked it up—being able to do that at the computer is such a blessing to me—and found it means the repeated use of two words cobbled together to make one word. This woman used the collocation because she is an author and a publisher—the indie imprint under which she publishes her books is Black Mare Books. (She once had a black mare mustang.) Well, shoot, my imprint for indie published mysteries is Alter Ego Press. I just never thought of calling myself an authorpreneur, but now I am grateful for the word.

On Wednesdays, in a small online writers’ group, my tradition is to ask where everyone’s bookmark is. Of course, I have to start off with my own, and this week I had a rather weak explanation that I hadn’t settled on a book for over a week but had been toe-dipping in several. I forgot to explain that I picked up a Scottish mystery solely because the housekeeper in a castle is the amateur female detective. Her name is Alice MacBain—my mom’s name, even spelled the same way. The clan is usually McBean, but my dad changed his spelling to what he thought was more authentic. The book unfortunately was a spoof that didn’t quite come off—a closed room murder in a castle, and all the family members were snobs. I didn’t get very far.

I also tried Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, figuring that a foodie like me should read some Bourdain and that title is probably his classic. He has an incredibly sensual way of describing food—like his first encounter, as a young boy, with a raw oyster. But as one critic said of his writing, “It’s too masculine.” There was all that testosterone fueling the dialog. It quickly became too much for me, too in-your-face. I know that will not sit well with Bourdain’s many fans, and I truly recognize that he earned his place as an icon in today’s world of chefs. I just don’t want to read about it.

So now I’m going to explore Killing in a Koi Pond, by Jessica Fletcher and Terrie  Moran. Terrie is a friend, recently anointed the latest collaborator on the long-running series, and I’m anxious to see how she handles stepping into those very big shoes. And I really want to cheer for her. And then, I want to read While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams. I wanted to see if she does as well at writing mystery as she does in getting out the vote.

But the big excitement for me today was a haircut. I’d been thinking about this for some time, and when Rosa came this morning for our appointment, I told her we needed to talk. She knew instantly what I wanted to talk about, and we reminisced about the days when I had short hair and lamented my present shagginess. Next thing I knew I had a new, short haircut. I admit I didn’t look in the mirror for some time after she left, but when I did, I was pleased. Rosa has been doing my hair for over seventeen years, and she’s pretty tuned to what I want and need. And she long ago told me when I couldn’t come to her, she would come to me. I am so blessed.

Sweet dreams, everyone. Dream of sunny skies for a few days.



Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Rain turns into sunshine


Once again, we woke, early, to heavy rain and loud thunder. Sophie cowered by my bed, and evening gray seemed reluctant to turn to daylight. But If I thought we were in for another rainy day, I was mistaken. By ten o’clock, the sun was shining, and the world was beginning to dry out. Now they tell us we’re pretty much through with rain. Not sure I trust that, but we’ll see.

The physical therapist came this morning. I thought it was his last day, but he said no, he would be here again Thursday. Nothing personal, because he is a nice guy, but I was a little let down. I have to get up and going earlier than I like on the days he comes. Still, I can tell that I am much stronger since we’ve been doing the exercises. I am fairly religious about doing them on the days he doesn’t come.

My upright walker is finally assembled, and I will admit it looks like a giant insect of something in my bedroom. I fully expect nightmares. Jordan does not like it, does not trust it, did not want me to try it tonight. It’s been a long day, and I am tired, so I readily agreed to wait until Dan the PT man comes on Thursday.

My busy schedule of appointments—Dan today, a haircut tomorrow, Dan again Thursday, the home health nurse on Friday—means that I open the driveway gate most days, at least for a while. It becomes a problem only because the tiny dog next door has discovered she can crawl under the fence. But then she finds herself in our driveway, bewildered, without any idea of what to do next. It’s only a danger when the gate is open and we don’t notice, because she could go wandering off into the world. Thank heaven, Sophie seems to have outgrown that urge. Soph knows she has a pretty good deal where she is.

The highlight of my day was a trip to Central Market, courtesy neighbor Mary Dulle. First time I’ve been in a grocery store since March 2020 when quarantine began. Just being there, looking at all the produce and grocery items and meat in the butcher counter, was a treat. I had a long list, Mary not so much, but she was so good about getting things I could not reach from the handicap cart which I drove. I must admit I love driving that cart, me who does not particularly like to drive a car. I’m good at maneuvering the cart, even backing it up. I spent way too much this morning, simply because I saw things I couldn’t resist—the biggest, most beautiful beefsteak tomato ever, chocolate truffles, a wedge of Port Salut cheese. What I didn’t buy: Wagyu steak that looked three inches high.

I was delighted that the store requires masks—if you don’t have one, there is a lady just inside the door with a supply. A few customers were unmasked, but not many. We went at ten-thirty, which appears to be an ideal time—very few other customers, no need to maneuver crowded aisles, etc. A great outing, and each time I leave the cottage, whether to dine or grocery shop, makes me more comfortable about getting out in the world. I wouldn’t say I have a case of pandemic anxiety, but I would definitely admit I’ve been way too comfortable staying at home.

Tonight we had a wonderful happy hour spread—the Port Salut I bought along with a cheese that is cheddar with strips of blue embedded (can’t remember the name) and an herbed goat cheese spread that I made this morning. Mary came to enjoy that with us. And then what amounted to a picnic supper—chicken burgers with a lemon basil sauce on potato buns with a slice of that huge tomato from today’s shopping, and a black bean/corn/feta salad. I am full and happy.

Though I have another confession: I didn’t sleep well last night for worrying about balancing the time schedule today. Dan was coming at 8:45, Mary at 10:30. I wanted to get the goat cheese spread into the fridge so the flavors would blend, and the bean salad was to chill at least six hours. In the wee hours of the morning I told myself over and over that the world would not end if none of that was done. But I couldn’t turn my mind away from it. And, of course, I got it all done in good time, read all my emails, did a little bit of business work, and had a good nap. I really need to master this compulsive, middle-of-the-night worrying. It’s only occasional but so annoying when it visits.

Sunshine all day tomorrow. Hooray!


Monday, June 07, 2021

Moodling on a rainy day


Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day

Surprise! It’s raining in North Texas—as it has done almost every day for weeks. Most people are complaining, and rightly so—we may grow webbed feet (anyone remember the story from Owen Wister’s The Virginian? IF not, the book is worth exploring or revisiting, origin of the myth of the American West, and all that. But I digress.) The Metroplex is in serious danger of flooding if a lot more rain falls on already-saturated ground. And in Frisco, where one branch of my family lives, they have or had loud, frequent lightning. Since the house was hit last week, killing most  of the televisions, my daughter-in-law reports she is no longer a fan.

But unlike everyone else, I have thoroughly enjoyed this morning. The rain has been steady but gentle, the sky dark as night, and the thunder softly rolling (not at all how Sophie interprets it—at one point she was trapped between the twin evils of thunder outside and the vacuum cleaner inside). I have been at my desk all morning, happily keeping busy[JA1] .

Actually what I’ve been doing is moodling. Thanks to mystery writer Joanne Giudoccio’s blog where Catherine Castle taught me this new word and concept. In Castle’s words, “The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Another author suggests, “What you write today is the result of some span of idling yesterday, some fairly long period of protection from talking and busyness.” Castle advises, “Give yourself permission to daydream and reflect without too many expectations. And don’t be disappointed if a spark or epiphany doesn’t emerge quickly.”

To the immediate right of my desk is a large window that looks out on part of our small back yard, including the deck with its profusion of flowers. So that’s what I’ve been doing—gazing out the window a lot and letting my mind wander. For days. It’s gotten to the point that my conscience is bothering me, because I know I’m avoiding my work-in-progress, a mystery, and hoping inspiration will suddenly strike—and that I’ll recognize it. It’s not all gazing out the window, and some of what has occupied me can legitimately be called work. Answering emails, posting about the newly reprinted historical novels, taking care of such business as a dental appointment and figuring out how to renew my handicapped parking tag. All that is done with some frustration—I cannot crack the secret of getting an identification card once you don’t have an active driver’s license. Then someone involved me in a quest for the name of a novelist from the 1970s, so I’ve spent time wracking my brain, fruitlessly. There’s a must-write column due this week, so I have to get to that.

Still, what I’m doing is putting “busy work” between me and the novel. I told myself that I would get back to it this week, but things are not looking good. This morning, my most productive time is almost gone; tomorrow I’m going on a big grocery expedition, I think, the Lord willing and the heavens don’t open again. Maybe Wednesday?

It was a kind of stare-out-the-window weekend too. The only excitement I can report is a trip to the new restaurant, The Rim, at Waterside. Carol and I went because we have never found better fried chicken than what Keith Hix produced at his Buttons location. We were crushed when Buttons closed and overjoyed when he and investors opened The Rim. The fried chicken was as excellent as ever, so hot you had to poke steam vents in it and let it cool; the potatoes, smashed not mashed, were maybe the best I’ve eaten (Jordan, the queen of mashed potatoes in our house, is offended that I even thought that). The Rim is not an upscale, white-tablecloth kind of place. Whoever designed it was striving for retro—and almost made it. But it’s sure worth a trip to Waterside. I came home with two drumsticks for my lunch but lost one to Jordan the minute I hit the door.

Ho hum—lunch and then a nap and more moodling. Christian is fixing dinner tonight—a roast with all the veggies.