Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pooches on the patio

Left to right: Jay with Santiago, the retired guide dog;; Christian with their two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Phil, with Porter the brand new guide dog; center, Jacob with my Sophie
With eight people and five dogs, it was definitely pooches on the patio night at my house as we celebrated neighbor Jay's birthday. The dogs love their evenings in the back yard with everyone on the deck except Jacob who plays with them, throws the ball, climbs on the dog house and then retires to the kitchen to love Santiago. Santiago is nine and just retired as Phil's guide dog. If you think about it, most of our dogs spend their days pretty much sleeping; working dogs spend their days working, and they tire out. Santiago likes nothing more than to sleep on the cold stone floor, and Jacob loves to oblige by getting down there with that gentle giant.
Porter, the new guide dog, is two years old, fresh out of training, and has been in his new home about four days. He visited last night and ran and played with Sophie--she'd been waiting for someone with more energy than Santiago. Sometimes she'd bark at him because he wouldn't play with her, so Porter is just right. They run, chase balls and have a wonderful time, with Sophie all the time making her growling noises.
The two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are another story--quiet dogs, not interested in running and playing, thank you. They'd much prefer to sit on a lap. Without that alternative, they sit right close to the people's feet. Sophie finds them a little boring too, and I think they find her a bit intimidating. She is twice their size and has much more energy than they do.
Jay even picked the menu for his birthday dinner--a casserole of rice with cream of mushroom and celery soups, dry onion soup, and chicken. I almost blew it because I thought, "Oh, a chicken casserole, bake for an hour at most." Luckily about four I looked at the recipe and found it was to bake for two hours. It was really good, chicken most and tender and the rice delicious. I don't like to use prepared foods much but this was worth it. We had green peas, which Jay loves and most of my family won't eat, and salad. Jordan was already to bake a cake but Jay wanted store-bought brownies, the kind with thin frosting. Jacob of course had to help him blow out the candles. All in all, it was a delightful evening with much hilarity. And I think the presence of five dogs made it even better.
The irony was that the birthday boy, who loves dogs, didn't bring his two. We haven't yet tried to socialize them with "the pack" and may not ever.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Reading the news

I admit it--I'm a news junkie. When I was young, our entire household fell into a hushed silence when the evening news came on. Who was it in those days? Huntley and Brinkley? At any rate, no one spoke, and certainly not to my father who listened to every word intently. I guess we absorb those things.
Today I read our daily newspaper, which grows slimmer by the day. Thanks for all the suggestions that I take The New York Times but that's not the news I want--I want Texas and Fort Worth. I watch the TODAY show, though often with one eye. But still I try to pay attention particularly to the news portions that open most segments. On weekends I enjoy sleeping late but then am distressed that I slept through the major news of the day.
Facebook is often the first place I hear of things--like yesterday's collapse of a bridge on I-35 at Salado. I know FB isn't always reliable--Love that quote from Lincoln (tongue in cheek) about not believing everything you read on FB, but they do seem to have major news quickly.
Today, as usual unless it's a really slow day, there's much to ponder. I am relieved for Amanda Knox, finally cleared of all charges in the 2007 death of her roommate. I read a comment who said the roommate has been all but forgotten in this tragedy, and I agree--I grieve for her parents. But I never thought Amanda Knox was guilty, and she's been through a horrific ordeal. I wonder how much of a normal life she can lead now, but I hope she will go forward. And a bit of me hopes she won't succumb to the many book deals that must being pitched her way.
The story of the German Airbus that went down in the Alps will haunt us all--how could a man willingly take all those people, many of them youngsters, to death with him. It's one thing, a very sad thing, to take your own life, but to take so many others with you? The news media is playing the story for all its worth without really adding new material. A tragic indicator of our times.
I'm enough of a Midwesterner (Illinois) to be horrified by Indiana's new law essentially sanctioning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, religion, whatever--don't like someone? You don't have to serve them. What a hateful world we're living in.
Which reminds me of the woman legislator (I forget what state) who talked against a proposed anti-abortion bill by revealing that she had been raped, impregnated, and had an abortion. And her male colleagues laughed. Once again, I wonder what this country has come to.
Some of the news is so far out that, tragic as it is, it makes you laugh--the Arizona legislator who thinks church attendance should be mandatory. One wonders if she has any familiarity with the Constitution. And somewhere there's a legislator who thinks gays and lesbians should be summarily shot in the head. Appalling doesn't begin to cover the enormity of that kind of thinking.
I'm going to start watch for good-times news in the media--will report back. If there is any.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting for thunderstorms...and going through recipes

We've had wonderful warm sunny days--in the high seventies and low eighties--the last couple of days. A little bit of heaven. Everything seems to have come out at once--redbuds all over town, that beautiful light green of new leaves on trees, the white blooms of pear trees. Even the air smells fresh. But tonight they say we're due thunderstorms with possible high winds and hail. If God would reach down and promise us no tornadoes I'd delight in that forecast. I love waking in the night to thunder and lightning but the possibility of a tornado lurks in my mind. Before it grew dark, I didn't sense that ominous quiet nor see that gun-metal gray in the sky to the west. Who knows? My car is in the garage, my dog is inside, I've done what I can.
Meantime, having written my requisite thousand words for the day, I spent a bit of time going through recipes, looking for something to cook Sunday night. I love the concept of Sunday dinner, always have, but my audience has dwindled (when my kids were at home it wasn't unusual to have 16-20--I don't think I'm p for that now), and sometimes I'm afraid my guests will tire of dinner at Judy's. Still I'm thinking ahead. Some of my possibles for this weekend:
Grilled chicken pan bagnat--those wonderful French pressed sandwiches, originally tuna but this one calls for chicken (I might do tuna sometimes if Christian isn't here)
chicken chilaquiles casserole--think I've made it before and it was good
King Ranch chicken--always a favorite, though I think I've learned that it has no relation to the King Ranch
Greek baked pasta with ground lamb--I have a hard time resisting anything with lamb
chicken enchiladas with tomatillo-cilantro sauce--really good, but ho, hum, I've made it a lot
Sunday chicken with two soups, white wine, rice and onion soup powder
Foil pack chicken--think I've about discarded that
If only my children come, I'll cook Dead Man's Bones--ribs cooked with garlic, apricot preserves and soy sauce--so good
I'm leaning toward the pan bagnat, which is a lot of work but can be done a day ahead. Which would you choose?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The words that come out of our mouths

The other night I was talking yoga with a friend of Jordan's, and said I did my yoga routine alone in the sunroom. My neighbor walked up and said, "Why don't you go to class?" I retorted, "You know I don't like to go out!" The minute I said it, the words echoed in my head. They weren't exactly what I meant--I don't like to do yoga with a lot of other people, and I don't want to deliberately take the chunk out of my day that it takes to come and go.
But did I really mean it? I love people, I feed on company, and too much time alone makes me a tad depressed. But as a friend said to me, "You don't go out. You bring people to you." I've long been aware of a tendency toward reclusiveness that lurks in me, even though I love to go to small parties, restaurants with friends, etc. Increasingly I don't like to go out alone.
Almost forty years ago I was housebound by agoraphobia--sometimes defined as a fear of open spaces but best defined by me as a fear of fear. Phobics gradually draw the circle more tightly around them--the limits of where they'll go get closer and closer until one day you just don't go. If you don't understand panic, you'll have to trust me on this one--I  understand it too well. I spent years pushing back that circle, enlarging it.
But recently I've felt it closing in a bit, and especially during the two weeks I had whatever I had. I stayed home--and pretty much liked it. So when I heard those words--at a party significantly in my own comfortable "safe" house--I knew it was time to start pushing back again. Jacob got caught in my push and we went to church yesterday (once you're out of the habit of going, skipping church gets easier and easier). He tried mightily to talk me into leaving before the sermon, but I insisted and he went grumpily off to the children's sermon. I was glad I stayed because the sermon was good and the music glorious.
Today I had errands to run but found myself contemplating putting them off. That's when I got high behind, dressed and set off to Goodwill, liquor store, grocery and cosmetics store. A bit conscious of myself as I did those things (am I anxious or not?) but I did them. And each small step is a victory. This week, I will make it a point to get out of the house every day.
I'll get my balance back, and my circle will grow. Many people have problems so much worse. How can I complain?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Shirt-tail relatives

As a child I had many shirt-tail relatives--people who were connected not by blood but by love and shared experiences and mutual affection. Today, as an adult, I am still blessed with several such relationships. People have told me they don't understand or have never heard the term, but to me it makes perfect sense.
Jacob is also blessed with several such relationships--many of his parents friends adore him but a few stand out as special. One is Elizabeth, who has been my friend for well over twenty years and who lived in my garage apartment for a year. Jacob's first question every day coming home from school that year was, "Can I go see Elizabeth?"
A year and a half ago she moved to Pennsylvania to be with the man she loves, and we all grieved. But last night Elizabeth was back for a visit, and we had a party. I fixed dinner for neighbors she'd been close to, and Jordan and Christian came by on their way to a fancy party. We had a joyful dinner, but for Jacob the best part was when everyone else went home, and he and Elizabeth had a lively conversation--I was strictly an outsider. But they chattered and giggled and had a wonderful time. At one time they tried to Facetime Brian, Elizabeth's love, but I don't think they were successful. When Jacob left the room briefly, she said, "I wish I could just put him in my pocket and take him home with me." And as he drifted off to sleep last night Jacob said, "Tonight was really fun."
Elizabeth came into my life twenty-some years ago when as a non-traditional student she applied for
a work-study job in my office at TCU Press. It wasn't instantaneous bonding but almost that quick. Over the years I've watched her transform herself from an overweight, maybe a but insecure person into a svelte yoga instructor, highly skilled and certified, and a confident person who enjoys life. If beyond my own children, I have a success story, she's it, and I couldn't be more proud of who and what she has become.
Oh, dinner! Elizabeth is gluten- and dairy-free--not a diet I fully understand or am sure I agree with but it works for her, and I am glad to follow her rules. Except it makes menu planning difficult. I was more into it when she lived here. But last night I served corned beef and cabbage (my belated tribute to St. Patrick's Day) only with a twist--it was a cold salad--cubed corned beef, blanched haricort vert, cubed potatoes (I cheated and put a bit of salad dressing on them), and sliced raw cabbage, all with a mustard vinaigrette. To our amazement, Jacob loved it and asked for seconds. I wish I'd learn to take pictures of food before I serve it, because it really made a pretty platter.
This morning the sermon was on joy, and I'm not sure I agree that happiness is transitory and joy is permanent, because for me--and I think for Jacob and Elizabeth--last night was one of those moments of joy, a memory to treasure, in the midst of lives of happiness.
Photos by Jay Mitiguy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Random thoughts on a rainy day

We are being blessed in North Texas with another rainy day--and more tomorrow. While it may be a downer to a lot of moods, it is a much-needed gift. I worry a lot about California which has one year's water supply left--and Nestle Inc. is still bottling and selling their spring water. Get it together, people! That's so wrong. Anyway I spent as much of today as I could inside alternately reading and watching it rain and thinking random thoughts.
Reading the newspaper, I realized it's brackets time again--and I dimly figured out that had to do with betting on "March Madness"--since I know little to nothing about basketball or brackets that all goes over my head. But I guess I'm in for a month of such things dominating the headlines.
One thing about rainy days--and that bad cold which still lingers just a bit--is that I discovered the blessings of tea--or re-discovered. When green tea became "the" thing to drink, I scoffed. But you know how when you're not feeling well, coffee tastes awful? That's where I was. So I began to drink green tea sweetened with honey--I've never put anything sweet in tea or coffee but somehow this seemed right. And I sat savoring my honey-sweet tea this morning and thinking how good it is.
Texas is about to okay open-carry on state university campuses--a move opposed not only by me but by such knowledgeable people as the chancellor of the University of Texas (who had a shooting scare on his campus a year or so ago...and if you're old enough to remember Charles Whitman, enough said). But all this loud protestation about second amendment rights leaves me puzzled: I don't think any of those people really read the amendment or else they adjust it to fit their circumstances. The Second Amendment calls for a "well regulated militia" which is a far cry from open-carry. It's fine to say the militia concept is outdated, but then, with our armed forces and law enforcement, so is the need for individual firearms. Where are our constitutional scholars? Where, for that matter, is the Supreme Court?
On a lighter matter, Jacob brought home geometry homework today--I should have found it in Tuesday's homework, since it was due today. But because nobody discovered it until last night, the teacher gave him until Monday. I worked as well as I could on the first page with him; the second page had us both stymied. It showed a trapezoid and asked what shapes you could put in it without overlapping? Shoot, I was doing well to remember what a polygon is--or was. Jacob said, "It's okay, Juju. It's been a long time since you went to school." Damn straight, and I didn't understand that stuff then.
I read of a school district lately that is outlawing homework on the grounds that kids should be kids. Jordan tells me the reason I don't remember doing homework with my kids is not that I was a bad mother (be still, my heart) but that they didn't have any. They did it all in school. I'm checking to see if the school that's outlawing it is someplace we could all move. Praise the Lord!
Happy rainy weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My TBR and other reading

I'm delving into a new book tonight--The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies. Beyond that marvelous title, I can't say much--I'm only forty pages in. But I thought it might be fun to mention a few titles I've recently enjoyed...and some on my TBR (to be read) list.
In light of the fuss about Harper Lee's forthcoming sequel (is that the right term?) for To Kill A Mockingbird, I read The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills' account of the eighteen months she spent living next door to Nelle Harper Lee and her sister, Alice. It's a charming book, well written, with nice and surprising insight into the lady we thought was a reclusive author. Not so in her hometown. There was a bit of celebrity name-dropping about it, but I enjoyed it. I also liked Sheila Connolly's An Early Wake, about Maura Donovan's continuing immersion in an Irish small town and the pub she inherited--this time Irish music provides the thread that bind the murder mystery together. In The Book Stops Here, Brooklyn Wainwright, bookbinder and appraiser, appears on a TV show where people bring old books for her to appraise. When some turn out to be unbelievably valuable, trouble ensues. Kate Carlisle is the author. Poisoned Prose, by Ellery Adams, brings one of my favorite characters back on stage, Olivia Limoges with her dog (whose name I can't remember but who is a great character). This time Olivia invites storytellers to meet with the Bay Writers--only one of them is dramatically murdered. You'll see that my taste runs to mysteries.
But on my TBR: Leslie Budewitz's Assault and Pepper, first in a new series about a spice shop in Seattle. I've enjoyed Budewitz's previous books (Crime Rib, etc.) and look forward to this one. Julie Hyzy is one of my favorite authors and I'm looking forward to the newest in her series about Grace Wheaton. In this one Grace's estranged sister shows up at Marshfield Manor, where Grace is curator, and all manner of trouble follows.
I have a strong love of all things Scottish so Juliette Blackhurst's Keeper of the Castle is on my list. Juliette specializes in renovation of buildings but gets drawn into her boyfriend's project of renovating  a building shipped from Scotland. I think there's a ghost involved. And then there's A Wee Murder in My Shop, in which an American tourist buy a Scottish shawl only to find it comes accompanied by a spirit from the past. Once home in Vermont, she runs into murder--and asked the spirit for help.
One I'd like to read but am not sure about is Not My Father's Son, a memoir about a brutal boyhood under a harsh Scottish father. Then again, we can't think of Scots as always happily playing the bagpipes--a touch of realism should be good.
Happy Reading everyone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On perfect people

The Perfect Coed got a strong review the other day on Lelia Taylor's Creatures 'n Crooks. The reviewer had good things to say about plentiful suspects, twists, turns, and red herrings, threats and tension-filled scenes, and a satisfying ending with just the right amount of explanation. Such comments always thrill an author's heart.
But one thing puzzled this reviewer: "why Susan is so prickly...especially with her loved ones and her supporters." She wrote, "I found her reluctance to accept help or even to discuss measures to preserve her own life distracting at times."
It's not a new criticism for Susan. The reader/friend/teacher who has read almost everything I've written for nearly forty years didn't "warm to Susan," which led another early reader to say, "Of course he didn't. He's a guy!"
I had carefully constructed a blurb that warned readers of Susan's prickliness:
"Susan Hogan is smart, pretty—and prickly. There is no other word for it. She is prickly with Jake Phillips and her Aunt Jenny, the two people who love her most in the world. And she is prickly and impatient with some of her academic colleagues and the petty jealousies in the English department at Oak Grove University. When a coed’s body is found in her car and she is suspected of murder, Susan gets even more defensive.
"But when someone begins to stalk and threaten her—trying to run her down, killing the plants on her deck, causing a moped wreck that breaks her ankle—prickly mixes with fear. Susan decides she has to find the killer to save her reputation—and her life. What she suspects she’s found on a quiet campus in Texas is so bizarre Jake doesn’t believe her. Until she’s almost killed.
"The death of one coed unravels a tale of greed, lust, and obsession."
Apparently that didn't satisfy all question. I have tried to explain that characters mostly spring into our minds full blown--they are who they are, without much direction from an author. If I had any control over Susan, though, I would have left her prickly, mostly because it fits the story. And another friend wrote to say, "Nobody's perfect. We all like characters with flaws." Isn't that the theory behind Shakespearean tragedy? Not that I would ever dare reach for that comparison. As the author of cozies, I think sometimes our cozy heroines are too good, too naïve, too forgiving. Susan stands out. That and those "tension-filled" scenes are the reason I call this a traditional mystery instead of a cozy. But even in cozies, most readers like strong female characters who will take matters into their own hands--not women who are ordered around by the men in their lives.
But what about you? Do you like prickly or strong heroines? How about love-struck ones? I'd really like to hear some opinions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The never-ending birthday celebration...and a glimpse of what makes Fort Worth so special

Today is Jordan's actual fortieth birthday, and we celebrated as we always do at a restaurant we both like. We went downtown over my protests about parking difficulties, long walk, etc. Jordan is so much smarter than I am. We parked at free valet parking a block from our destination, Del Frisco's Grille, and within minutes were settled on the patio which overlooks Sundance Square.
The specials of the day sounded heavenly but too rich and heavy. Jordan ordered salmon, and I split a deviled egg appetizer with her and then had a Caesar salad. The oh-so-nice waiter sent leftovers home with me, with extra dressing and anchovies.
Of course, celebrating, we had wine, and Jordan took a picture of the wine glasses against a backdrop of Sunday Square. it is the most marvelous space--I'm probably really late to the party praising this development in the center of our downtown. But it's a bright and sunny oasis (with umbrellas for some shade), fountains, trees, brick paving. The contrast of old and new, both in the materials used in the square and the design of the buildings around it, is amazing and so sophisticated. Today we heard bagpipes playing in honor of St. Pat's Day but couldn't spot them. It's a wonderful, sunny day with the temperature just right for sitting outside in the shade. Neither of us could have been happier.
Jordan wanted dessert--which I balked at until it came. The waiter said the chef had made a special cheesecake with whipped cream topping and curls of white chocolate, set in a raspberry sauce. Turned out that dessert was complimentary to the birthday girl. Here it is, after we had both eaten as much as we could. It barely looks touched. Wonderful and good, but so rich and filling. Jacob and I can nibble on it tonight; then we'll send it home for Christian. Jacob will stay here tonight, and we'll have our usual Tuesday night dinner at the Grill. His parents are going on a romantic date to celebrate her birthday.
Two best parts of the day to me: lunch with my ever-charming, considerate, loving, gracious daughter on her fortieth--I still can't believe that, but she's optimistically looking forward to her forties, and I believe they'll be great.
The other great reminder for me was what a fascinating city we live in. Planners have worked hard to move Fort Worth into the twenty-first century, while preserving our historical heritage. The result is an eclectic, diverse city with something for everyone. I learned again that it's not that hard to go downtown, park and walk to any restaurant in the city. I learned that my city's core is accessible to all who want to share in the  fun and excitement.
One thing I notics: There were obviously many businessmen in the crowd that crossed the patio or milled around it or stopped to eat at one of several restaurants. But there were few suits and ties. We've come of age as one of Texas' casual, informal cities...but don't dismiss us lightly. We're powerful competition for any city our size.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some days just don't go like they should

With Jamie, my younger son
Note the macramé which made him say I'm still a hippie at heart
Today was supposed to be one where routine just flowed, things went smoothly along. Showering in the morning, yoga, writing--ah yes, the idyllic life of a writer. It didn't work out as I intended at all. I really didn't feel well. Can't tell if the cold I thought I had banished came back (that's part of it) or if I perhaps over-served myself with wine last night in my zeal for visiting with Megan and family (I confess I'm pretty sure that's part of it). Saturday night I stepped off a curb that was deeper than I thought (good thing I was holding on to Jamie) and I truly think I jarred the whole left side of my body. Today I'm limping again and feel like I need to hold on to things to even get around the house.
Subie interrupted my yoga (which wasn't going well) and we had a nice visit in the morning; when she left, I went back to the yoga mat, coughed so hard I gagged and gave up on yoga.
Good things did happen: the dog groomer came much earlier than I expected and was through by one o'clock; I wrote my thousand words for the day; just settled down for a nap when the plumber called and was one his way to replace the dripping kitchen faucet--the new one is high and rounded with a soap dispense and one of those nozzle attachments you can pull down--carefully. Jordan arrived to get Jacob from school and stayed for a visit. I did a load of laundry (still not folded) and ran and emptied the dishwasher. Subie came back bringing pasta for supper. Now that I look at it, it wasn't a bad day. I just didn't feel good. Maybe it was the chicken salad I ate last night in a restaurant? A friend once warned me that she never ordered chicken salad because somewhere, sometime, someone had to bone that chicken by hand.
Sophie is a new dog--about half the dog she was before. She looks so skinny and little. The groomer got all the mats without shaving her (my big request) and now you can see her pretty eyes. I'm relieved, because she was really shaggy. Spring better come because she now has her spring haircut.
Tomorrow is Jordan's actual birthday, and we're all set to celebrate at lunch. I would like to be through feeling about half myself. I'm rarely sick, and when I don't feel well I always look for something to blame it on. Compulsive about much of life, I can't even relax enough to accept that I don't feel well. I am grateful that the extreme tired feeling of wanting to crawl back in bed at every chance is gone. But my conscience always tell me if I'd just straighten up and fly right, I'd be okay. Please, Lord, I'd like to feel better tomorrow.