Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Huh? The world of the hearing challenged

I had an appointment with a new and very helpful audiologist today. I've been "hearing challenged" for twenty years or so, many of them spent in denial. Not me, I said. I never listened to loud music much. I didn't fly in a lot of airplanes. I finally got over my denial when I read that women who had been given a certain combination of hormone therapy were experiencing early hearing loss. My family pushed, shoved, and threatened not to talk to me if I didn't do something about it. The first EENT doctor I went to said I needed an aid in at least one ear, he didn't care which one, and had his audiologist hand me a pair to take home and try on. No testing, no fitting, no directions. I declined, went to a commercial audiologist and was tested, fitted with aids, and seen every three months. Three pairs of hearing aids later (and they are not cheap!) my hearing is still a problem.
In really noisy restaurants, I might as well rudely pull out my cell phone and occupy myself because I can't hear a word; church is difficult but I catch most of it; even a gathering of six for happy hour in my own home was difficult for me today. I kept waving my hands and saying what we say to the grandchildren, "Inside voices! Inside voices!" The phone is impossible and particularly difficult with my brother who gets upset when I can't hear and don't tell him. And this morning Jordan was trying to say "warm, wet washrag" to me and she might as well have been speaking Greek. I had to hand the phone to Jacob. Sometimes, you can hear the person talking clearly but the comprehension just isn't there. As a result, I'm probably really rude to telephone solicitors, and every once in a while I come close to missing an important call because I don't understand what's being said.
Today I learned that I haven't had my hearing tested in four years; nor have my hearing aids been adjusted to my changing needs. I was tested (actually improved a bit), the aids adjusted. I learned how to hold the cell phone so that the speaker is directly over the receiver of my aid instead of squarely in my ear. I was challenged to wear my aids all day every day so my brain wouldn't have to keep trying to adjust. Other hints included sitting as far from loudspeakers as possible in restaurants, and sitting with my back to the noise. There's more to be done, but I feel encouraged tonight. When I came home at lunch, even the domestic sounds of rattling around in the kitchen sounded loud.
Hearing loss, as I've learned, can isolate you, even from friends you care about, and it frustrates those around you. I'm going to keep working at this. And if you're in denial, as I was, go do something about it. You'll be glad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Worlds of Mysteries

People talk about the world of books, but I’d like to suggest there are a whole lot of separate worlds within that generalization. For you mystery addicts, there are several kinds of mysteries—traditional (traces back to Agatha Christie and beyond), cozies (are they a subset of traditional or are they becoming their own thing?), suspense and thriller (where is the line between those two?), vampire, paranormal and probably ten others I haven’t mentioned. Neither readers nor authors can satisfactorily define any of these, and it’s up to readers to find books they like and authors to write what their instincts—or their heart—tell them. As they say, you can’t tell a book by the cover.

But there’s another division within the world of mystery that puzzles me. I belong to Sisters in Crime, an organization founded way back in the ‘80s to protest the treatment of women authors of mystery fiction. We’ve come a long way, baby, but the group is vital and draws attention to the superb writing of many women, including founding mother Sara Paretsky. Because I monitor for SinC once a week, I’m familiar with many of the names. I also belong to Guppies, a subgroup whose name stands either for Going to be Published or The Great Unpublished. Membership in SinC is required to belong to Guppies, which is a warm, supportive, and informative group, much less structured than SinC. Many of us who are published hang around because of the friendship and congratulations and, sometimes, sheer silliness. Since I’m on the steering committee, I know many of the names of this 500+ member group too. And, wonder of wonders, there are women mystery writers who belong to neither group.

There’s the Dorothy L listserv, named after Dorothy L. Sayers and run out of Kent State University, which has an active popular culture program. It’s sort of an elite list, where friends bond, titles are reviewed, recommended, news shared—usually professional but sometimes private. I consider myself a fringe member—I have timidly contributed a few times but have not really become friends with any of the regulars and never seen a mention of my work. Still, I read it to be informed. Dorothy L. comes out twice a day.

I also subscribe to an online daily newsletter, “Shelf Awareness.” They do a version for booksellers and three times a week a version for readers. I skim both, paying particular mention to the mystery/suspense titles mentioned with brief reviews. It’s rare that I see an author’s name that I recognize from all my other affiliations.

All this means I receive about 300 emails a day. And you wonder that I don’t write the great American novel? But what puzzles me is the lack of overlap in these various lists. I sometimes wonder if there’s a caste system, where Shelf Awareness speaks only to Dorothy L (or the New York Times Book Review) and so on down the line. It’s a mystery to me.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy Hour--cleaning the fridge

We had a happy hour gathering tonight--Jordan and neighbor Jay cleaned out my refrigerator, while I sat, answered questions, etc. I mean really, when they ask you when you bought a jar of pickles, do you remember? It seems I had about ten kinds of mustard, half of them way out of date--Jay kept asking incredulously, "How much mustard so you need?" Truth is, different recipes call for different kinds of mustard. I apparently had them all. We did agree that sauerkraut lasts forever, and we lowered a shelf because I had to buy a new brand of box wine (shh! the shame of it!) that wouldn't fit in the existing space. Out went jellies, jams, chocolate sauce from 2008, and dabs of undated pickle relish; horseradish got a pass even though there were two open jars, and I fought for a jar of white honey (forgot it was there and it's so good). Bread and butter pickles stayed though I can't imagine why I ever had them in the first place. Jordan scrubbed the shelves, particularly those in the door that get messy and sticky and awful. Result is I have a shining refrigerator with almost empty shelves, cottage cheese, eggs, and a few other things...and lots of condiments in the door (plus a few bottles of wine). My gratitude to Jordan and Jay knows no bounds, though I have the uncomfortable thought that as I age I'm more willing to sit back and let others do these things for me. It's a tendency I must fight.
Christian took Jacob and a friend to the rodeo tonight because the friend's father was competing in the calf roping. So Jordan and I had a girls' night after Jay left. Jordan asked for a seafood dinner, and I cooked things Christian won't eat--sautéed mushrooms on toast (oh, so British!) and sautéed scallops. I did better on the scallops than sometimes, although I cooked them in the mushroom skillet, so they picked up a bit of the juice which only made them better. Jordan made our favorite blue cheese salad. Great meal. And now I'm munching a couple of homemade peanut butter cookies.
There are still things to be done before my family arrives this weekend but I have a clean kitchen (well, we didn't touch the freezer) and the linen is all clean and the guest room closet presentable for the first time in a long time.
It may take two years to clean all the nooks, crannies and bookshelves in this house...and as Jay said then it will be time to do the refrigerator again. Jordan said she feels it's her obligation to tell me if I become a hoarder. This over a multi-faceted class jar that no longer fastens securely enough for food storage but is way too pretty to discard. May become a planter.
Really, when was the last time you looked at all those jars in the way back of your fridge?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday dinner

For years, twenty or more, Sunday has been my night to cook a good, often experimental dinner. When the kids were home and my brother's children were also around, I often had twenty at my table. Once my brother really didn't like the entrée--I think it was a cornbread/hamburger concoction--and fixed me with a direct question: "Sis, is the budget the problem?" But I remember once serving leg of lamb, so the budget wasn't as much of a problem as my tendency to experiment. I don't remember when the kids drifted away one by one but I clearly remember when Jamie moved to Dallas and was incredulous that I expected him to come home for Sunday dinner every week. His loss, and I moved on. I invited friends I rarely see and should get back to that, but now it's pretty much down to Jordan and her family and a few close friends.
Tonight there were six of us--counting Jacob who usually has his own separate meal (don't ask my opinion on that, though I recognize he really doesn't like meat). We had tourtiere, a French-Canadian meat pie. My Canadian daughter, Sue, mentioned that she and Teddy had made that over the holidays. I'd never heard of it, and she sent me a recipe. Then all of a sudden I started seeing recipes everywhere. Oddly, the new issue of Bon Appetit devotes an entire section to meat pies but doesn't mention this one. Anyway I decided to try it, though I am notably bad at making desserts look pretty and why I thought a meat pie would be different is anyone's guess.
The filling recipe I used was fairly straightforward--onion, garlic, ground beef and pork, grated potatoes, a bit of water (I used broth), and a wild array of a pinch of this and a pinch of that--rosemary, curry, savory, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, salt, etc. One recipe called for sliced mushrooms, and after I got them all sliced I realized that the recipe I was using didn't call for them and Christian won't eat them--Jordan and I will have sliced mushrooms on toast (how British can you get?) tomorrow when Christiana takes two little boys to the rodeo.
Back to the tourtiere, another recipe said to refrigerate meat mixture overnight, which always sounds good to me--all that about letting the flavors blend and mellow. So I made it last night and let it sit in the fridge. Tonight I struggled with the frozen pie crust--and I think part of my trouble was being either too lazy or too intimidated to make my crust from scratch. I had difficulty, to put it mildly, with the upper crust and did so much patching that it looked like a quilt.
The finished pie (above) looked quite appetizing, but it didn't cut well at all. The crust crumbled and the meat didn't hold together. I think another time I'll put a handful of instant tapioca in the meat mixture--it doesn't change the taste but it holds meatloaf together, so why not this? Long story short, individual servings were a mess but the flavor was delicious. Opinion around the table was unanimous, though I think Christian had never heard of meat pie. I'll cook this again--but with variations. We had roasted asparagus and a blue-cheese salad with it. Thanks to friend Subie, strawberries with ice cream for dessert. Really good supper if I do say so myself.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The rodeo's in town!

Fort Worth awaits this annual event with bated breath--it brings tremendous crowds and lots of income to restaurants, shops, and the like. But it also traditionally brings bad weather. So far we've had semi-cold and one really rainy day, but the prediction for next week is the high sixties. Pray the weather holds. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show began last week, but today was the first day of the professional rodeo.
When my children were young, it was a rite of passage to be old enough to go to the rodeo. We always went with one family of good friends, and if memory serves correctly we ate beforehand because we didn't like rodeo food. It was a time of high excitement, and we all loved it.
Today, my children and grandchildren come for a rodeo weekend--it's become a ritual. This year, next weekend, I will put out snacks--veggies, hummus, cheese, wine and beer. I figure they'll eat corny dogs and whatever at the show.
I've written about rodeo, been to countless performances...and today I no longer want to go. Don't want to see man or beast hurt. (I always used to sneak out during the bull riding, which terrified me.) So part of old age is I don't go. Neither do I go when the family does a walk-through of the barns, the exposition hall, and the Midway. Used to love that too. Last time I went, it killed my feet. Nowadays I don't think my back would take the walking. So I send them off with blessings and nap while they're gone. Then we gather for a Saturday night dinner--usually at Joe T. Garcia's but this year Jordan suggested a change, and we're going to the Star Café, owned by dear friends of mine. The kids and grandkids love my friends Betty and Don and also love the Star--I can already savor the chicken-fried steak.
Jacob went to the matinee rodeo today, with his parents, an event sponsored by Jordan's employer, Gulliver's Travels. Jacob came in about 5:30 full of tales--it seems during the bronc riding, on bronc came out of the chute with a small leap, and then apparently looked around and saw the crowd. He stiffened his front legs and refused to move, as if to say, "They're people out there. I'm not going." In fact, that's what the announcer said, and it made me nostalgic for a moment--rodeo announcers keep a fast pace, but they are always ready with a quip.
Then at least one, and maybe two, bulls in the bull-riding bucked their way through the required eight seconds without dislodging their riders. Then they simply sat down. Needless to say the riders dismounted and made a bee-line for the safety of the sidewalls. Sounds to me like the funniest rodeo ever.
Jacob will go again Monday night, with his friend Hayes whose father will ride in the calf-roping competition. Imagine what a thrill that is for an eight-year-old boy--to see his friend's father, whom he knows, ride. Christian, who has already been to the rodeo twice and will go again several times next week, is taking the boys. After that I don't think we dare mention rodeo to him for a year.
And then after the first week in February, life in "the Fort" will settle back down to normal. And then we all think, with stock show weather behind us, spring is here. Doesn't usually happen that way.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Was history your favorite subject?

They say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I've been delving into the history of Chicago in the Gilded Age (late nineteenth century) when capitalists got richer and richer and the working people toiled long hours at difficult work for substandard wages. Talk about class warfare! In Chicago one of the outcomes was the Haymarket Riot. Workers gathered peacefully to protest police brutality, specifically the deaths of several workers the day before. As police worked to control the crowd, someone threw a bomb into the police troops. In the resulting gunfire several police and civilians were killed. Later, the "anarchists" accused of inciting the riot were hanged. It was not Chicago's finest hour.
I'm a native of Chicago, which perhaps accounts for the fascination all this history holds for me. I grew up in a house built in the early 1890s for the Columbian Exposition (1893), and I learned to skate in the Midway left behind by that exposition. I shopped at Marshall Field's and while I never stayed at the Palmer House I certainly knew of that legendary hotel. My study delved into the stories of George Pullman (as in Pullman railway sleeping cars), the great meat packers like Augustus Swift, newspaper editor and publisher Joseph Medill--all the names associated with making Chicago one of the most powerful cities in the nation.
Today I see that history being repeated--the rich increasing their wealth on the backs of the poor, an increasing polarity of society between the haves and the have-nots. As Congress cuts backs on health care (or tries to), veterans' benefits, women's rights and health care, wage increases, I wonder how long it will be before some spark ignites riots.
A riot in the 1880s was to be feared; such an uprising today, with increased communication and the easy availability of all kinds of weapons, could be a major disaster. It's no secret that I'm not happy with the make-up of the new Congress, and I think there lies the blame. I wonder what Speaker Boehner would say if you asked him what he knew about the Haymarket Riot?
I want to say to him and his colleagues, "Quit trying to outsmart the President and go read your American history books."
Yes, I'm writing a novel about Chicago. More news on that to come.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dogs and people--maybe kindness is the answer

A post on Facebook yesterday described a New Zealand program to rescue dogs from shelters. Instead of showing pitiful pictures of dogs in cages with dire predictions as to their fate, the shelter invited nearby office workers to walk a dog during their lunch hour (they were fortunately near a green space). It became a program whereby the dogs saved the people, getting them out in the air to exercise and have fun. The bonus? All the dogs were adopted.
It made me think of a program for the homeless that I read about somewhere. Instead of outlawing them and forbidding people to feed them, one city (wish I could think which one) provides start-up homes for them. The results were an amazing decrease in homelessness and an upswing in formerly homeless people who could now help and support themselves.
My thought was a little compassion goes a long way.
Today at lunch I was telling a friend about all this and the connection I see between a caring, helpful approach vs. a  hostile, punitive one, and he told me about a fancy hotel (NYC maybe) that has a dog as a greeter. The dog is eligible for adoption, and the hotel has placed something like twenty-four dogs in homes. And then there's New York's Algonquin, where they always have a resident cat, and the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where ducks parade through the lobby to the fountain, marching to a John Phillip Sousa tune. By contrast think of the Florida law officer who had a ninety-plus-year-old man arrested for feeding the homeless.
There is so much anger in the world when a little creative positive thinking can lead to solutions that benefit everyone and don't punish the less fortunate. States that have raised the minimum wage have been proven to improve their economy dramatically--and yet conservatives predict joblessness and despair if it's raised.
How about you? Can you think out of the box for solutions to society's problems, solutions that benefit everyone and punish no one? It takes a lot of love for man and animals, I think.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Suburbs in Fiji?

In an idle moment this evening, I was scrolling through Facebook. Occasionally I fall for those online quizzes, and this time I took two. The first was what country I should live in. It seems there's an epidemic of people who should live in Fiji because I noticed several acquaintances also got that answer. I don't know much about Fiji--my daughter and son-in-law were there once but were both too sick to enjoy it and just missed that nightclub bombing by a week or two. Other than the South Pacific-like visions I conjure up in my head, that's all I know about Fiji. I'm not particularly fond of semi-tropics and probably wouldn't like tropics. I've been to the Caribbean three times and while I loved the turquoise water and sunny skies, I was not particularly intrigued by the culture or the people (with due respect to the son and his wife who lived there). Maybe it was because I said I liked weather that was slightly warm and sunny--well, we had that today in Fort Worth. No Fiji is not for me. I wanted it to tell me I should live in Scotland, which is not at all warm and sunny.
The next quiz I took was illustrated with a beautiful, Victorian mansion--painted an unusual soft rose or pink. I wanted that house. I think in that quiz I hit one button by mistake--it doesn't allow you to go back. For celebrities, since I'm not knowledgeable about them, I chose Kate Middleton, perhaps with visions of an old English manor dancing in my head. The answer I got was a spacious, two-story rather spare house in the suburbs. Suburban living has always been an anathema to me. I've never lived in any suburbs, ever. I'm an inner-city girl, comfortable in older houses--I grew up in Chicago in one built in 1892 and I live in one built in 1922. To me, suburbs are all about conformity, while I like to think of myself as slightly individualistic--nothing in my house "matches" and I have some odd pieces of art, all important to me in one way or another. The quiz said I should have a white picket fence (daughter had one, son-in-law hated it and got rid of it), two kids (I have four), and a dog (got that right).
The moral of this tale, which I should have learned long ago, is don't put stock in computerized match programs--they don't work. Me? Date online? Not on your life. is not for me.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Much Ado about Nothing

I've not blogged lately because I have nothing to say. Oh, there's the usual calamitous news all over the world--Charlie Hebdo and Boko Haram. I sometimes fear we live in such complacency that it will never happen to us, that we may be in for a rude surprise. And I continue to watch both Texas and national politics, not particularly encouraged by either. The open-carry movement bothers me, as I wrote before, on many levels, and I'm disheartened that it's our new governor's first cause. Texas lags behind other states in education, health care, insurance--I wish he'd turn his attention to one of those vital problems. Apparently our outgoing governor, as one of his last acts, vetoed a bill that would have investigated no-bid contracts, effectively closing that ethical door. Oh well, he's not free and clear of the law yet and has reportedly spent close to a million dollars in defense--do you suppose that was his money or ours? On the national front, the Republicans came out of the gate with all guns blazing--abortion, social security, tax cuts for the middle class, Keystone Pipeline. Nice guys--but I am encouraged the what seems to be new resolve on President Obama's part. Maybe he's thinking of his legacy.
On the home front, Fort Worth is all excited about Stock Show--which means most of us avoid that part of town, the museums, even favorite restaurants that draw stock-show crowds. For me, the brightest aspect is that all my kids will come home for a stock show weekend--it's become a family tradition. I used to go with them, and we'd do the barns and exposition hall and Midway. I've given it all up--I send them on their way and look forward to dinner with them. We usually go to Joe T.'s whenever one or more are gathered in town, but at Jordan's suggestion we'll vary our routine and go to the Star Café. A long, really long thread on Facebook today on the best chicken-fried steak since Massey's is dust--the Star was mentioned several times. Our good friends Betty and Don Boles own it, and we're pretty loyal, think the food is terrific.
On my own little home front, all goes peacefully along. I am writing a thousand words a day and feeling good about it. Plus cleaning closets and started tonight on the disgraceful bookcase in my office--it truly has been a mess beyond belief. One small supply cabinet and three shelves and I was done for the evening.
We had hoped for a day at the ranch today with my niece, nephew and families plus Cindy's family, but Cindy came down with a bad case of flu. Went to church, wrote my thousand words and napped. Now Jacob is here for the night while his parents are at the rodeo--window seats in the Backstage Club no less. I am most impressed--Backstage Club never impressed me because I always sat in a crowded back room where you couldn't see anything. But my rodeo days are over--sort of a been there, done that feeling. Oh, Lord, I hope that's not old age creeping up on me.
Hope you all are having more exciting lives! 'Scuse me, I got to go to bed now.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pistol packin' and open carry

This week's open-carry demonstration at the Texas State Capitol was pretty frightening, and one legislator deserves a shout-out for ordering armed protestors out of his office. I am really tired of this battle over who can or should carry a gun, and I am sick to death of the argument, "Read the Second Amendment." People! The second amendment, written in the time of muzzle-loading rifles, called for people to be armed as an orderly militia should the need arise. The framers of that document could not foresee a society where every third person wants to carry an AK-16 or whatever it is.
People crow about their individual rights--the "guv'mint" can't take those away. I believe it was John Stuart Mill who wrote that we are free to do as we please as long as our actions do not endanger the common good.
I'm not against guns, especially for hunting. If you want to keep a gun in your home for protection, God bless you. I hope you're among the few who are truly responsible. The statistics about home guns, children, and fatal accidents are truly appalling. I don't own a gun, wouldn't if I could. I'm not sure, even with training, that I could bring myself to shoot another person, unless to protect my children or grandchildren. Even then, my aim would probably be off because of nerves, and I'd only make a bad situation worse.
I do think it's mandatory that we have much better control over arms--no sales at gun shows or on the Internet, strict background checks that are enforced. It's not a cure-all, but those would be steps in the right direction.
But what disturbs me most is the attitude manifest by a gun-carrying society. If you feel so in danger you have to carry a weapon, concealed or otherwise, it indicates, to me, a hostile attitude toward your fellow man. An armed society is almost bound to be an angry society that cannot live in peace. An atmosphere of hate and distrust would prevail. Those open-carry protestors yesterday were angry, rude, frightening. Is that the kind of world we want to live in?
I am also disturbed that somehow there is a link between Christianity, at least fundamental Christianity, and the right to carry. It brings up that phrase so popular a few years ago: WWJD. Do you really think Jesus (or Mohammed) would walk around with a loaded assault rifle?
I promise not to respond to any hateful, angry comments on this subject. If you'd like to express an opinion with an open-minded, let's talk.