Friday, February 05, 2016

Food and trivia

I seem to go on food kicks from time to time. There are times when nothing appeals, and I really don’t want to eat. Unfortunately, there are also times when everything appeals, and I have to watch what I choose. Lately I’ve been eating high on the hog. Tonight I sautéed three sea scallops—good big fat ones—for myself and did it better than I ever have. I got a mix of butter and olive oil really hot in the skillet, put the scallops in, and didn’t disturb them for perhaps three or four minutes. Then flipped them and turned the heat down just a bit. Result was scallops with a wonderful brown crust on either side and still soft and tender inside. Perfection. My side dish was a salad of chopped tomato, avocado, and blue cheese, dressed with just a bit of lemon juice.

Yesterday I had lunch at Nonna Tata, a tiny restaurant (six tables plus outdoor seating) specializing in country Italian. It’s one of the places where I always order the same thing—brasaola, the beef version of prosciutto. It served with greens and grated grana cheese, all dressed in a light lemony sauce. So good.

The night before I split a crab cake sandwich with dining pal Betty—wonderful though a bit hard to eat so we both resorted to knife and fork. Jacob was with us and ordered his usual noodles and cheese at the Tavern. He had complained that much as he liked it, the serving wasn’t large enough, so I ordered a side of black beans, which he usually loves. No surprise—the mac and cheese filled him up, and I have the beans in the fridge. I told my brother he must be on my mind because when I mean to say, “Let’s go to the Tavern,” I often say, “Let’s go to the ranch.”

And the day before that, Subie and I had a fancy lunch at Ellerbe’s—a gorganzola and wild mushroom quiche with a salad of I don’t know what kind of greens, but they had a great dressing.

Enough of my gastronomical tour. Today I made real progress on my taxes, which made me feel good enough to be lazy tonight. What I had anticipated as a day alone at home didn’t turn out that way—Socorro Escobar was here cleaning the house and chattering about how dirty it was after our weekend cleaning: Jordan came by and we went to Central Market.

The grandmother of one of Jordan’s longtime friends died Wednesday. Jordan and the granddaughter have been friends at least since middle school, and that family considers Jordan a part of them. So tonight she was involved in taking her friend’s sons to the visitation, then bringing them back here, then taking all the boys to the family dinner. Every time she popped in (three times I believe) we had a glass of wine. I shall have to go to bed early. She will be involved with the funeral, graveside ceremony, and family gatherings all day tomorrow, but I won’t be surprised to see her pop in. That’s how my life goes, and I couldn’t enjoy it more.

Tomorrow more income tax work, but at least I see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Family ties

My brother and sister-in-law came today to pick up the things we found that he should have from all the things we sorted out last weekend. It was another moment of family bonding. My brother is six-and-a-half years older than me, and we share the same mother but his father died when he was two. Still we grew up together. My memory of him when I was young was that he was always my protector. Woe to any kid who tried to pick on me. John went away to military school in high school, then to college and a career in the Navy. We really didn’t reconnect until he went to osteopathic medical school in Kirksville MO and declared that I, living at home and recovering from a broken heart, needed to get out of our childhood home. I went to live with him and his then-wife in Kirksville. In retrospect that says to me that he was still looking after me.

Flash forward maybe fifteen years and we were both in Fort Worth TX, both married, and both heavily involved in the osteopathic community. Then he divorced, followed by me, and our lives took different paths, and we had what I would call a testy relationship for a few years—close but with undercurrents. Now, in our “golden” years (he says we’re fragile), we are close. We don’t see each other often but we talk. Today was a special occasion—they came to visit in my house, drink wine, and prowl through our memories.

We had put aside Blue Willow china for him—he ended up taking it for my niece and for himself the heavy Appalachian pottery my kids didn’t want. He took, at my suggestion, a painting that hung over the fireplace in our childhood home, a couple of cookbooks Cindy wanted, and a framed quote from Owen Wister: “The West is dead, my friend. . . .” I think the things he most treasured were battered small photos of our maternal grandparents—he remembers them and I don’t, a small journal our mother kept when he was a toddler and his father died. He kept saying, “I’m very pleased” and “Thank you.” If I’d known how happy these things would make him, I would have given them earlier—then again I didn’t even know that Mom’s journal was in the attic.

Two articles remain in limbo—the tea table given to my folks when they married and a wonderful small wooden footstool. My kids love the sit on the low stool in front of the fire, and the tea table is an occasional table in my living room. Mom used to roll it into the living room, in front of the fire, for casual Sunday suppers.

We had a lovely visit. Jacob is in awe of Uncle John and even let him treat his injured wrist—must have worked because Jacob left the brace behind when he went home.

I am glad to share these things with family who will treasure them, but I am going to live with gaping holes on my walls where art work has disappeared. If I entertain, it will be with my everyday china, because other sets of china are gone. I am ready to move into my new quarters and let the Burton branch of the family move into the main house. We are making progress-got the architect’s elevations two days ago. It’s exciting to be moving ahead, bit by tiny bit.

But still, it’s all an emotional time.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Parenting and the cozy mystery

Several reviewers have questioned my choice of a single mother of two as the heroine of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. Kelly, a realtor/renovator, has two daughters, ages four and six, in the first book of the series, Skeleton in a Dead Space. By book six, Desperate for Death, the girls are a teen and pre-teen. Traditionally heroines of cozies are single women, often involved in a romance which provides a subplot. And they don’t have children. Some reviewers who objected to this change in the status quo found themselves liking the books, for which I am grateful.

Putting those girls in the novels was not a conscious decision. It just seemed to come naturally, perhaps because I was the single parent of four—and now am, though they’re all in the forties. My oldest daughter explained the book to her mother-in-law ass ‘highly autobiographical.”

This morning I sort of figured out why—parenting is what I’ve been doing my whole life and still am. Nine-year-old Jacob wasn’t awake five minutes before he complained that his stomach really hurt. I told him to move around and eat a banana. He did, but called his mother and said he felt worse than the time he had to cancel being an acolyte at church. She told him to lie on the couch for a bit.

All this on a day when I had gotten up extraordinarily early to get both of us out the door at eight o’clock. I had visions of cancelling my PT appointment and lunch date—the first of which would have relieved me and the second disappointed me. After lying not on the couch but on the big chair in my room, he declared he didn’t feel any better.

Me: Jacob, if you can’t go to school, no TV or iPad.

Jacob: I’m grounded from the iPad anyway.

After a pause, he asked: What would I do?

Me: I guess lie on the couch, read a book, and sleep.

Jacob, after another pause: Juju, I am going to school. I just may be a little late.

Me: No, darling. I have to leave at eight for an appointment.

Jacob, startled: I guess I better go get dressed.

He was soon dressed and out the door, probably ten minutes earlier than he’s ever gotten to school before. And with a cheerful disposition.

Tonight he’s sure he fractured his wrist. I told him probably not and gave him an ice pack.

See? That’s why I include children. I know how to weave them into a story. I hope you like Maggie and Em of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. I think they’re pretty darn cute and fun for their ages.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Iowa and politics

 I didn’t sleep well last night. I was in the midst of the Iowa caucus all night, though I have no idea what I was doing. But I have been fascinated by the rhetoric and conflict leading up to this evening’s vote…and just now I saw on TV that Hillary is ahead of Bernie by a close one point, too close to call, but Cruz, with much lower numbers, leads Trump by three points and is the projected Republican winner. Marco Rubio is in a close third. Those are the “big name” candidates, the competitions that matter. And while I’m scared to death of Ted Cruz, I’m not displeased with the Democratic numbers. I was prepared to support either one of the two leading candidates. And I really like Martin O’Malley, who only got 1% of the vote. He’s made a lot of sense in the debates. He is expected to end his campaign tonight.

I read posts on Facebook today from people who were sick to death of hearing about Iowa and some who said, boastfully, that they hadn’t watched a single debate or caucus. I find that sad, because I think it’s the duty of every responsible citizen to keep informed and vote. The person who hadn’t watched a single caucus obviously doesn’t understand that Iowa is the only state that caucuses and it’s not something you watch, like a debate. An uninformed, uninterested citizenry is why we have most of the inept people in government that we do—no names mentioned, but I have strong personal opinions. I don’t care however how you vote—please just vote. (Okay, I care, but that’s not the point here.)

I went to college in a small (read really small) town in Iowa for two years and went back to the University of Chicago and home because insularity and 3.2 beer were too much for me. The only good thing I took away from Iowa was the notion of turkey sandwiches and blue cheese. It strikes me as strange, after fifty years or so, that Iowa, with its rural culture, looms so large on the political scene. But maybe that’s the reason—Iowans still tend to be close to the earth people with simple needs. I like the farmer I heard saying on TV that Hillary’s emails didn’t matter one bit to him—he was interested in what she would do for the ordinary citizen like himself.

So here we go, folks, into a campaign that’s liable to be as bitter and vitriolic as any in memory. Keep your hats on and your judgment clear. And, please vote! In the last presidential election, almost two-thirds of the eligible population didn’t vote because “my vote doesn’t matter.” It does.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Of children, dogs and fear

Having spent all of yesterday outside playing with grandchildren and an aging but still agile chocolate lab, Sophie is strangely quiet today and not interested in her food. But she reminds me of the things I fear these days. I guess I have always had fears. Lord knows, anxiety has been a constant companion. But these days I fear two things and both have to do with the extreme cruelty some people can show to the most helpless among us—children and animals.

Sex traffickers: I’m going to become a helicopter grandmom, just as my grands are at the age to be developing independence. I read a truly frightening account of an incident at one of our malls where, from the report, I truly believe that mom saved her children from traffickers stalking them. An older man, a woman, and a young Hispanic man sat near their table in the food court and kept staring at the children. The mom’s intuition kicked in and escalated when the threesome left when she and her sister and the children did. They called for security to escort them out but no security personnel were available; finally she went to her car alone, planning to pick the others up at the loading zone. In the parking lot she saw the three people in a van, with the sliding door open. When she drove away, they sped off. I’d call that a narrow escape.

Jordan has told me of other incidents at other malls, even one in which kidnappers were apparently after an infant but the mom managed to escape with the baby. Apparently human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes, driven by Mexican cartels and national gangs. Main targets are teenage girls in their early teens—oh good, that fits two of my grands. But I worry about the younger ones and the boys too. I cannot bear the thought of them yanked from their safe and comfortable homes and subjected to things I don’t even want to think about.

Dog fighters: I’m active on Facebook posting pictures of lost and found dogs, but I hear too many stories about bait dogs. I used to think Sophiedoodle was safe because she’s only 30 lbs. but now I now that dog fight people will use small dogs and even cats as bait. That cruelty is beyond my comprehension. Facebook recovery stories only intensify my fear (maybe I should get off FB?). Now I hesitate to post pictures of found animals because men in dog fighting often send their innocent-looking girlfriends to claim animals. I do post lost dogs but I shudder when I hear of one stolen—who took it? Did it really just escape to explore? I understand dog fighters send people out to snatch dogs out of back yards; they leave the gate open so the owner will think the dog escaped.

My Sophie spends her days inside, which she prefers. When I let her out I watch her like a hawk. I have two locked gates. Unfortunately, she loves all people, and if she gets a chance to escape she runs like the wind. She doesn’t know my fear; all she knows is love.

Call me paranoid but these things truly frighten me. What is wrong with some people?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

One attic, twenty years

People say, often in extreme circumstances, that their whole life flashed before them. Today, my life paraded slowly by me, nostalgic bit by bit. The kids cleaned out the attic--to the right is the clean, empty attic. It's a remarkable change. Getting boxes and things out of the attic turned out to be the least of it, though everything was so dusty the kids put scarves over their faces. But it was the sorting that was most difficult.

The attic work crew standing in front of
the trash pile
My role was to sit and sort, which may have been the most tiring. How do you decide what to keep, what to donate? Some of it was easy—Jamie for instance put aside a whole collection of T-shirts, sizes 2-6 or so, one of which said “Kiss me, I’m Greek” and another, “Alter’s Cherub.” He was sentimental about almost everything he found. Colin, the accountant in the family, sorted out records carefully and, I think took some home to be shredded. Melanie it seems is fascinated by genealogy, particularly since we both share Scottish heritage, and she sorted out two bins of papers, etc. that gave hints of my family background. She left with those plus two family Bibles for their genealogy—she will bring them back after sifting out the information.

They found everything from my baby doll—which we plan to send to a doll hospital—to my MacBain plaid kilt, which probably fit me when I was eighteen. I think we were all surprised by what an emotional and nostalgic day it turned out to be. In the process of sorting, we relived my childhood and theirs—it made Jamie sad for times gone by but it gave me the sense of a life richly lived. Colin is less likely to talk about his feelings, but I said to him tonight that today reassured me they had a wonderful childhood (left unsaid were the words in spite of adoption and divorce), and he replied, “Oh, yeah, we’ve had a terrific life.” I also realized as they sorted file folder after file folder, that I have research and written an awful lot in my life. Deciding what to do with the multitude of magazines I had articles in was one problem.

It’s been a day of accomplishment—they all kept looking at each other and saying, “I can’t believe we got it all done.” But also a day of looking back with gratitude, especially to my parents and the life they created for us, the memories they left us with. And most of all a day of realizing how close we all really are, how much we love each other. I am a rich woman.
Tomorrow I'll start reclaiming my house.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Remembering my father

 My father’s been gone since 1977, but I never fail to mark his birthday which is today. I hesitate to tell you how old he would be but will say he was born at the tail end of the 19th Century and fought, for Canada, in WWI. Obviously I was a late in life baby. Dad was a dignified, disciplined man with a firm sense of right and wrong and a deep love for his family, though I don’t remember that he often played with us. He loved to tell the story of taking me sledding in the park in front of our Chicago house when I was probably three or so. Another man happened along and said, “I guess I’ll go get my granddaughter too.” Dad was crushed. In my teen years I worked for Dad—he was director of a hospital and president of an osteopathic college, though the former took most of his time. I eventually became his executive secretary before I went off to graduate school. What I learned from him has stood me in good stead through the years, and I could still be the best executive secretary you ever saw.
Dad’s avocation was his garden. On weekends he’d be out on his hands and knees, working in his garden as shabby as any homeless man. His appearance never bothered him, even when neighbors, friends or students came by. In retirement he had a lavish garden in the foothills of North Carolina. And he adored his grandchildren, laughing at their antics, taking them walking in the snow, showing them flowers. He always said Megan brushed her teeth with such enthusiasm she was going to brush them right out of her head. Jordan was six months old his last summer—none of us knew then about the aortic aneurysm that would kill him. He would sit on the porch in North Carolina and watch her on her blanket on the floor for hours—he seemed to think she was created for his amusement.
He would be proud of my children today though there are some aspects of their lives that would worry him, and he’d probably sneak me off in a corner to tell me what they should do, as though they were still children. I try to talk to my grandchildren about him to keep his memory alive. He was a proud member of the MacBean clan (actually we spelled it MacBain) and I feel that Highland heritage strongly. My two oldest children took me to Scotland a few years ago, and we visited the MacBain Memorial Park, high above Lochness. Nope, no sighting of Nessie. But my house has many Scottish things, and my oldest son is the keeper of the tradition. Grandfather would be proud of that. My youngest son is a devotee of good Scotch, and his grandfather would approve that too.
Dad was also a newshound and devoted Democrat—we dared not talk during the news. I often think of what his reaction would be to today’s politics, but I know he would applaud President Obama. His heroes were FDR and Winston Churchill. To me, that speaks to the character of the man.
I was always in a bit of awe of him, I admired him, I laughed at his foibles—once when he thought it was time for guests to go home, he began to run the vacuum. But above all I loved him, and I miss him. I often wish he was here so I could consult him. I remember when he died thinking “There goes the last man who will take care of me.” (I was supposedly happily married at the time.) I will say my brother has stepped into that role nicely, not that I necessarily need a man to take care of me.

Wow! I started out to write about a day split between work and family and ended up with a paean to my father. He’s worth it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jordan's on a mission

Jordan is a woman on a mission these days, and as a result we have a new happy hour routine—it’s called work and sort. She works…and I sit and say yea or nay. She’s gone through most of my drawers and closets, kitchen cupboards, and everything but the fridge. The result is five bags for Goodwill or Berry Good Buys, plus a dining room table laden with dishes for her siblings to take or decide against. She’s gone around the house and put stickies on the art work, either with someone’s name or “Stay.”

It’s an interesting process. I don’t think most families even think about this until a loved one is gone. I am glad to be part of it, getting to keep some things that matter to me, being brave about things I can live without—she told me today she was proud of me. For me, it’s a chance to share a lot of family history with her—like my mom’s silver grape-leaf pattern covered dish. I remember yet the time she put it too close to a flame on the stove and melted one of the grape leaf clusters. And my grandmother’s wedding ring—tiny and the rosiest gold you’ve ever seen.

We are putting some things of Mom’s away for my brother, who will come some time soon to collect them. But tomorrow, all my kids arrive—they’ll go to the stock show and rodeo tomorrow, but Saturday will be a work day. Jordan intends to send them up to the attic to sort and clean. I remain grateful that they don’t allow me to climb that pull-down staircase any more.

It’s hard to tell at this point what will fit in my new cottage (we haven’t even gotten the architect’s final plans yet though they’re promised for this weekend) and what Jordan and Christian will want to keep in the house and what will fit with their furniture. We’ll end up putting some of both in storage.

Jordan said tonight she feels good about this process. She ought to because she’s already worked her tail off getting us as far as we are. I feel good about it too—perhaps a little impatient. But it’s an exciting time to live through. And I am so grateful to Jordan for all her work—where does she get the boundless energy after a day at the office?—and to all my children for their enthusiasm and support for this project.

What a lucky woman I am!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My personal political dilemma

I feel the Bern. If we could live in the world Bernie Sanders envisions, I would be a happy camper. Not that I’m rich enough to qualify as one of his targets, but I would gladly give up some of my material comforts to help those less fortunate. I think the wealth of the 1% is obscene, and greed has overtaken this land. I support almost every position he takes. But Bernie Sanders is an idealist, not a political realist. I doubt he could get one-quarter of his program approved in one term—and then only if he had a progressive Congress, which I pray for but know we can't count on. And I’ve heard him say almost nothing about international relationships, which is a big part of governing this country. Let’s just say I’m a big Bernie Sanders fan.

But, ah ,Hillary. I think she’s been followed by scandal ever since Bill was elected, much of it trumped up. There was health care reform, for which she was rudely shot down; Whitewater, which never came to much; the Monica Lewinsky affair in which she behaved as any hoodwinked wife would and then recovered gracefully—the state of the Clinton marriage is not part of our equation in deciding whether to vote for her or not. More recently, there’s the Benghazi disaster, which has been done to death and yet people don’t seem to understand the blame lies not with the Secretary of State, who had been pleading for extra funds to protect our embassy staffs, but with the Republican Congress who refused to grant their funds. And now she’s under a barrage of attacks from the right, saying the FBI has evidence to arrest her for treason or espionage or something. The right will do anything to defeat her, including false accusations and building up Bernie because they know they can defeat him and they can't defeat Hillary. One symptom of this: I’ve begun to see the most unflattering photos of her on Facebook.

I don’t think Hillary is as guilty as all the above accusations would make her appear, evil and corrupt, but neither do I think she’s lily-white and pure. She’s a practiced politician, with an effective knowledge of the recent past and a practical ability to play the system. I may be a liberal, progressive idealist, but I am also practical, and I believe Hillary is the one with the experience and background to get things done in DC (and she’ll have her husband for advice—no small asset; he may have lapsed in moral judgment but he’s a terrific politician dealing with domestic and international affairs). For Texans, no—I’m not suggesting a Ma and Pa Ferguson kind of government. I think Hillary is her own person, who speaks out and doesn’t kowtow (which may be what has involved her in scandals).

In the long run, I believe I will vote for Hillary (as if it makes any difference in pure red Texas) because I think she is the one who can move us ahead and has the guts and will to do it.

I may be an unabashed liberal and yellow-dog Democrat, but that relieves me from worrying about the clown car, except to say that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz scare the living bejesus out of me. The rest, except maybe Kasich, are undistinguished and probably all scary.

And oh, yeah, I think Michael O’Malley would make a terrific vice-president and probably a pretty good president.

Just one woman’s opinion. When I started t write this, I was torn between Bernie and Hillary. As I wrote it, as you can see, I worked it out in my mind. And now, Texans, please vote for Lon Burnam for Railroad Commissioner—the job has little to do with railroads and lots to do with energy sources in the state. It’s important, and Lon has lots so say about turning around what has been a pretty shaky and sometimes corrupt public office.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Voices, Bells, and Alarms

Yesterday afternoon when I was napping, dozing really, I heard voices that sounded so close I thought someone was in the house. Decided it was probably people talking in the neighbor’s driveway, which is right outside my bedroom window. Pretty soon the phone rang—it was the medical alarm service calling to see if I was all right. I must have rolled over on the alert wristband I wear. And the voices? Probably the alarm system, but it’s two rooms away, and I take my hearing aids out to sleep. Must move that alarm central box to my bedroom.

All day yesterday, the house alarm control panel told me the back door was open. I checked it frequently, and it was closed and locked. Last night when I turned on the alarm, it was showing a green light indicating all was well. At 3:00 a.m. the screaming alarm woke Sophie and me—I turned it off, but it told me the back door was open. I checked again, came back to reset the alarm, and the phone rang. The system had called Jordan and Christian—I assured him everything was all right, and he put her on the phone. Apparently she was already half dressed and headed for my house. We all went back to bed…and the darn thing went off again at 4:15. I called the company today, they did a reset, and I’ve been watching it all day. So far it seems fine.

Meantime, this morning I heard much more pleasant voices—often a cacophony of them. I spoke to the Biscuits and Books Book Club at the home of a friend. Lively, fun ladies who really are interested in books. We discussed everything from the peacocks in my latest book (Murder at Peacock Mansion) to whether or not I listen to my characters when I write.
Me, between Joan Hallford and Marietta Slater, both
Volunteer Field Editors for Taste of Home Magazine
and members of the Biscuits and Books Book Club-
we did have biscuits and books both today--well, sort of.
Don't know about the expression on my face--
I look like a bulldog about to snarl
The hostess prepared elegant food—cinnamon rolls, sausage bites, salsa with chips, grapes and little square of toffee. Then she was surprised no one wanted to go out to lunch! I came home and napped after my rude awakenings in the night.

Tonight I have taken my two favorite dates—ages nine and ten—to the Grill for supper. They were thrilled that they got to sit at a table by themselves because the neighbors table was full, and they behaved well. Jacob is settling down for the night, and I’m looking forward to joining him soon. Must be up early tomorrow to get him off to school and me to PT.