Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gourmet-or gourmand

I'm not sure there's a huge difference between the two words but an editor once worked for me who insisted that gourmand had overtones of gluttony. I looked it up and found it was simply one who enjoyed good food. So tonight I would call myself a gourmand. I had diner at Paco & John's with good friends Carol and Lon.
Paco & John's has been around a while, in a converted gas station. I had lunch there once, and since it was essentially Mexican/South American, everything had too many peppers in it for me. But I began to hear that on weekends they served two menus--same foods, but either French or Mexican versions. I wanted to go for some time. Then we heard that they were closing, and tonight would be the last night--tentative plans to re-open at another location might be announced later. So off we went.
I started with a smoked salmon appetizer, something dear to my heart. Lon and Carol split the mahi-mahi Mexican style, and Lon and I split the mussels French style with a wonderful cream and garlic sauce. So good, especially with bread to dip in the sauce. It was one of those cases where I shouldn't have split, because I could have eaten the whole thing--and so could he. And then dessert--chocolate mousse, while Carol ordered key lime pie and Lon got more than a few bites. Fun evening--since Lon is a former state representative and still much a public figure, there was much talk of politics, education, and the like. Enjoyed the evening thoroughly, although poor Carol, sitting between us, said she had to translate all evening. It was noisy enough in the restaurant that even though I turned my hearing aids to restaurant setting, I couldn't hear everything; neither could Lon though he hasn't yet admitted he has a hearing problem. Good friends, good food, and a great evening.
Earlier this afternoon I suffered from a great case of inertia. I took a late nap, woke about 4:45, and just didn't want to move. You know the feeling? So comfortable, sort of dozing but definitely awake, nice thoughts going through your mind. I think I could have stayed there all evening except I knew I had household chores to do and anticipated dinner plans.
Tomorrow although Sunday is a work day. Got to finish proofing the chili book galleys.
Happy Saturday everyone.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Storms--again

Jacob in his parents' closet
He is generally afraid of storms but there
must be something about being home
The world around me has that lovely, almost preternatural dark quiet about it that comes after a ferocious storm. The trees are leafy, very green, and very still. The schoolyard across the street boasts small lakes. As the sun sets, there's a pink glow to the sky. Lovely time of lovely day--though it is a bit chilly. We had planned a leisurely dinner of BBQ on the deck--didn't quite work out that way. Jordan was a) tired, and b) anxious to get home before the storm. So we gobbled our BBQ at 5:30 (virtually kicking Jay out the door), and by 6:10 she had cleaned the kitchen and they were gone. They barely made it home before it hit--they were more in the direct path than I was--and reported time spent in the closet.
Here, the sky got that ominous color (no, not the green or a tornado--kind of a dark gray-blue), and then came the wind and rain. I think I heard winds of 70 mph--I stood in the front door and watched wind blowing the rain until it danced down the street, fierce gusts propelling little rivulets. I love the power of a good storm--fascinates me. As I may have mentioned, my brother tells me our mother taught us to love storms--so glad she did that instead of frightening us with them. Again, I was lucky--no power outage, no tree damage, just the pure excitement of watching the storm roll through. It was the first time I thought Sophie was a little nervous, for she stayed at my heels. I soothed her with sweet talk, and she went to sleep by my desk.
Just before the storm I had sent all four children and their spouses copies of the proposed cover of my chili book, due out this fall. I loved it and sat back waiting for them to respond. Instead I got a bunch of emails that essentially said, "Why aren't you in a closet?" Big disappointment. When the editor says it's okay, I'll share the cover here.
Meantime, it's a wet, wonderful world, and I am grateful. The contractor who keeps my house together was here this morning and is not so grateful. Asked how he was, he said, "Fine, except for the rain." I launched into the usual, "Oh, but we need the rain. We're grateful for it." "Not when you have the roof off a house," he replied.
Funny, we each see the world from our own perspective.
 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How's your energy level, Grandma?

This is a post for my colleagues--those beleaguered grandparents across the nation. Yesterday afternoon, eight-year-old Jacob and his classmates finished two days of the SPAAR tests. Jordan left work early to get them at school and bring five little boys here for treats. You could almost reach out and touch the energy in that room as they ate, drank bottled water, joked, screamed, laughed. Jacob got so excited he choked on who knows what. Jordan took it all in stride, laughing with them, joking, encouraging them to remember manners. There were all good boys--I've known them for four years now or most of them, and they're generally polite and well behaved. But they were on an energy high.
I stood in the doorway and watched them, admiring my daughter's patience. Okay, I raised four children, all close in age--been there, done that. But now, I don't know I have the energy or patience for it. Jordan loaded them all into her car and took them to Central Market where there's a wonderful playground, and the moms can sit and order wine. She reported they had a blast. I took a nap after they left, before I went out to dinner.
The night before I took Jacob to a happy hour. The group that regularly dines at the Old Neighborhood Grill had been invited to one couple's new condo for wine before dinner. It just so happens that Jacob really really likes the guy with the new condo, so he was excited about going, cancelled baseball for himself, and brought his favorite new shirt to wear. He was charming during the happy hour and afterward at the Grill--talkative but not too much, fairly informed on what he was talking about--school testing, etc. Quiet, well-behaved, the perfect gentleman.
I on the other hand was out of sorts--long story--but when we got home, all of Jacob's pent-up energy burst loose. He sang, he shouted, he danced, all while he was supposed to be doing a bit of homework and getting ready for bed early. His joy was not a good combination with my irritability--I didn't have the energy for patience. But we got it together, and he went to bed at nine. Earlier than I can ever get him down. Then at 9:20 he was back--the neighbors' party was keeping him awake. So he danced around, doing silly imitations of the people at the party. By then, he made me laugh. Finally both the party and the child quieted down, and when I went to bed he was sound asleep.
This afternoon I mentioned to Jordan that I was tired--I had been to physical therapy, which tires not only your muscles but your brain and emotions as it challenges you to ever more difficult tasks. That was close to an hour and a half. Then I did a huge grocery shopping--we had apparently run out of every cleaning product we use--and I hauled it all in and unpacked it. And you know what my daughter said when I mentioned I was tired? "We have to work on getting your energy level up."
So, come on grandparents, speak up! How's your energy with grandkids under ten? Not what it was forty years ago when you were raising their parents? I'm sort of proud at my energy level at my age, and I took offense. I think I'm doing pretty darn good. How about you?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Recipes & remedies


Recipes & Remedies                   

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Connie Spittler. Her writing is found in twenty anthologies next to the words of The Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu and Barbara Kingsolver. She’s written two award-winning nature books, a previous novel, a creative nonfiction book, and The Wise Women Video Series, archived in Harvard University’s Library on the History of Women in America. A graduate of Creighton University, she lives with her husband in Omaha, NE, next to a secret pond visited by mink, fox, a Great Blue Heron and other lurking wildlife.  

****

Like colorful, connective threads, the power of recipes and remedies tie a family together. As a grade schooler, I remember picking radishes from our garden and thickly slicing them for a bread and butter sandwich. The most important part of the recipe was sitting on the back steps savoring the buttery crunch experience as the sun went down. This recipe, including back steps and sundown was passed on to my own kids.

I’ve heard of family members who go to great lengths to keep their food traditions alive, like the Mexican/American women who crossed the border with sprigs of moistly-wrapped herbs tucked in their bras. Plucked from relatives’ back yards, the bits of green were rooted and planted in their U. S. garden plots. My apologies to the USDA and rules prohibiting such smuggling. The sentiment that appeals to me is the importance of keeping heirloom ingredients intact for family recipes and remedies.

In The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies, my cozy mystery, the recipes and remedies belong
to Aggie, one of the club members. She’s an old gypsy turned herb and vegetable farmer who stirs up boiled parsnips with rosemary butter, oxtail stew, nut pudding, and a headache-curing tea of ginger, honey, lemon and cayenne. Her mixtures come from her own family recipe book, handed down from European ancestors. The scent of dill, the bitterness of yarrow, garnishes of dandelion greens and chive blossoms flavor the pages as she cures and cooks for book club members. Perhaps her most unusual recipe is for an aphrodisiac tea, an elixir composed of five herbs, one of which is imaginary. I didn’t want to be responsible for any bizarre reader reactions, in case an exact recipe was included and worked.

Aggie is one of three (it’s a small town) book club members. There’s middle-aged Lily, the fired and lonely librarian; and Piper, the young beauty shop owner, who’s fearful after finding a lump in her breast. Since they’re nice ladies, their erotica selections begin with Emily Dickinson’s Wild Nights! Wild Nights! But meetings are often cut short because of crime and a murder or two as the women become entangled in a search for a stolen ancient book of herbal cures.  

Called “a fantastical romantic mystery of friendship, science, sex and literature” by Sallly Deskins, editor of Les Femmes Folles, the release date for The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies is May 1, 2015. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, print or eBook. http://www.Amazon.com/dp/0991409361

Susan Wittig Albert, author of Bittersweet, the newest China Bale mystery, described the book as “an intriguing, herb-seasoned page-turner” while Margaret Lukas, author of Farthest House found elements reminiscent of Alice Walker’s magic realism.

For more book info: www.conniespittler.com 

 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Outhouses and other inconveniences

The other night when it stormed, I blogged about our family cabin in the Indiana Dunes and how I loved to watch storms roll down the lake and how I treasure the memory of summer times at that cabin. The outhouse was a memory I don't treasure so much. The cabin fronted, high on a dune, to the lake, but out the back windows was woods--lovely, Midwestern woods with lots of undergrowth and tall trees--dark and beautiful during the day but scary at night.
The outhouse was maybe a quarter of a block down the path into the woods--it seemed like a mile. I hated having to go down there in the middle of the night. You never knew what would jump out of the woods at you or what you'd step on or if there was a spider on the seat. Flashlights, always kept at the ready, were minimal help. I was well grown before I stopped making my mom go with me.
Last night I had sort of the same experience. The only working toilet was the one in the guest house. I wakened at three or so and knew I needed to go to the bathroom. Lay there fighting it and considering my alternatives until four. Then in a burst of--I don't know what--I jumped out of bed, grabbed a flashlight and cane, the key to the apartment and my cell phone (I was a Girl Scout--Be Prepared) and went out there as fast as I dared. Came in and slept soundly, congratulating myself on my bravery. I'm not a particularly brave person--in fact, I'd say I scare easily. My balance is bad and gets worse after dark, so this was an especially courageous move for me--or not. Necessity is necessity.
Today the toilets are fixed--well, they were, until Jacob demonstrated accidentally that the tank in the small half bath off my office didn't fill and he couldn't make it flush. Another day with the plumber tomorrow.
I'm in a patch of self-doubt, anxiety, whatever--and one thing I know is I should keep congratulating myself on the things I do instead of dwelling on what goes wrong. The other day I had a difficult time driving to physical therapy, although once I got there I was fine. I have overcome my driving woes--or thought I had. So when I headed home, I considered longer routes but "safer" ones. Then I told myself if I did that once, I'd never go the direct route again, and I can't let anxiety rule my life. I drove fairly calmly, but oh my, was I glad to be home. The dark of the night trip to the apartment falls into that same category. I know my stride is better and my muscles stronger--so why hasn't my self confidence kept pace?
Tonight I went with friends for happy hour at some other friends' new condominium, and I was so awkward about going up the tiny steps or the grassy slope that I made Jacob hold my hand and he complained I was holding too tight. Really miserable. But I enjoyed the camaraderie, and once I was back on familiar territory--the restaurant where we dine every Tuesday--I was just fine.
Another thing I'm trying to tell myself is not to worry about going to physical therapy Thursday. Don't bring that anxiety up here and let it build. Tomorrow? I wait for the plumber, go to the grocery, fetch three little boys from school, and have dinner with Betty. Oh, and there's that next-to-final proof of a manuscript to read. I don't have time for anxiety.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mexican night at the Alters

Years ago--twelve or more to be exact--when Jordan was still single and living at home, we used to have Mexican night on the front porch (no deck then). Jordan invited all her friends, and sometimes we ended up with as many as thirty people on the porch. It was strictly BYOB and pot-luck, and we had some amazing dishes. A few of her friends were married, most single, all childless--I remember well the first couple that arrived with a baby. We all thought the idea of any of them being parents was amazing.
Last night we had a mini-version of Mexican night. Seven adults and Jacob, who arrived late having been to a birthday party. Sat on the deck, and appetizers were queso and giant nachos that the girls made. For a main dish I made an enchilada casserole, new to me. It amounts to layering a chicken/tomato/black bean/cream cheese mixture with large tortillas and grated cheese in a pie plate. The recipe makes two "pies" (three tortillas each) but my challenge was that one of our guests is vegetarian and Jacob doesn't much like meat, never has. I cooked frozen corn and substituted it for the chicken in one plate--the vegetarian really liked it, though I never did hear much from Jacob (except for a few things, he's rarely enthusiastic about food though he's always starving). The recipe called for a tub of Philadelphia Santa Fe Blend Cream Cheese cooking crème. I have never seen such a product. I bought chive-flavored cream cheese spread, augmented it with a little plain cream cheese, and about a tablespoon of homemade taco seasoning (I always make my own these days--never sure about preservatives, etc. in the prepackaged kind). Beat it with a mixer until smooth.
It was a lovely evening, though it began to grow chilly just before we came in. To my embarrassment, two of the guests, both newcomers to my home, cleaned the kitchen, leaving me relatively little to do. So I read cooking magazines--a real indulgence on my part--and still didn't go to bed early.
Today was an off day. Woke up out of sorts and kept telling myself dreams don't have any relation to reality, which of course is not true--I firmly believe they come from our deepest thoughts. The rash that appeared on one side of my neck now covered both sides, in spite of my treatment with an OTC steroid cream and Jordan's with lavender drops. I'd dreamt heavily but my sleep was interrupted by a tapping noise that puzzled me. Figured out it came from my antique bed and this morning found the headboard and side rails were about to part company.  The night before we'd had a couple of episodes of the toilets running over, and even though they behaved all right this morning--if used sparingly--I called the plumber. He worked a long time, so long that I snuck off to nap before getting Jacob, and realized dimly that I didn't hear him any more. Too late I discovered the note that said not to use the toilets in the main house tonight; he'd be back in the morning. He could clear the main line, although he did show me some roots he'd pulled out.
So here I am, in a house without toilets--no, I will not go out to the guest house in the dark of the night--with a rash on my neck and a bed that makes noises of its own, even when I lie still.
To add to my woes, the publisher from the press I wrote in Chicago has not responded to my query; the next publisher on my list is not open to queries right now and promises that after you query, if there is a request for the next three chapters there is a subsequent six-month wait before they decide if they want the entire manuscript. I don't have that much time in my career, let alone my life. At that rate, I'll be in my eighties before if and when they publish. Self-publishing looks better and better.
Tomorrow, I'm convinced, will be a better day. I'm having lunch with a good friend who always cheers me. She loves turquoise--jewelry but also the color. I have a new brown and turquoise top, and I'm going to wear is on the theory I'm happier when I think I look good. And she'll be so jealous.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My two minutes of fame

I was flattered some time ago to be asked by interviewer Dan Schneider to be part of a program he planned on the life and work of the late Elmer Kelton, Texas novelist who transformed the western genre. TCU Press was fortunate enough to reprint many of his books, and I had the privilege of working with him on those reprints as well as a nonfiction title and writing a literary biography--which came out before its time because he went on to write many more books. Elmer died in 2009, but his legacy and his literature live on. Literary critic Jon Tuska called his The Time It Never Rained  "one of the dozen or so best novels by an American author in the twentieth century." He raked in honors--Best Western Author, chosen by Western Writers of America, Inc., Spur Awards, Western Heritage Awards, Lifetime Achievements Awards, even from the Texas Institute of Letters, which usually doesn't recognize westerns. He was simply a great writer, one who transformed genre writing into literary achievement. But he was always absolutely humble about the recognition he earned.
He was also a nice guy, cowboy throughout though he would tell you he never made a hand. But he retained that courtly politeness of the cowboy. A gentle man. And a terrific story teller. Those of us who heard him talk often grew to know his stories by heart, but we never tired of hearing them again. I was delighted to consider him a friend and to think that he considered me one.
We taped the show Saturday morning--after my mistakenly thinking it was Friday morning and sitting around waiting for the call that never came. On Skype with me were Steve Kelton, Elmer's son, Joyce Roach, my good friend and a fast friend of Elmer's, and Dan Schneider, the interviewer. Let's say I was a bit nervous--okay more than that. I was afraid of not getting Skype to work, afraid of relying on my memory--but what could I study? There wasn't time to review all of Elmer's work nor even my paltry book on him. So I winged it. But I did get Skype to work.
Joyce did not, so we have an hour and ten minutes of her with her hand on the nose of a horse. But her comments were spot on and revealed a deep knowledge of Elmer's sixty-some books as well as his personality. Afterward, Steve said hers was the most patient horse he'd ever seen--any he'd ever had would have knocked his block off by then. Schneider was well prepared to lead the discussion.
I thought we would only be visible when we were on camera--not so. You can see me scratching, checking something else, eyes wandering. But it was okay. I didn't realize how jowly I've become--my father's daughter. But all in all I was proud to be part of it and hope I held up my end of the discussion well. IF you want to watch it in bits and pieces--it's an hour and ten minutes--you can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muhWkrEPquU or
https://vimeo.com/125382848. Dan Schneider Video Interview #14.
Steve Kelton summed it up best when he said, "It's strange to talk of Dad in the past tense. He's still with us." And through his books, he still is and always will be. Like many others, I think Kelton's work will easily stand the test of time.
There's a postscript to this story. I showed the video to Jacob this morning, and he went wild. "You talked to Dan Schneider? He interviewed you?" He went whooping and hollering about the house, stopping occasionally to give me unprecedented hugs and showers of affection. I had really gone up in his estimation. Turns out there are two Dan Schneiders--the one I talked to and one who writes for Nickelodeon productions. "My" Dan Schneider said the other one is richer and more famous, but he's the smart good-looking one. So there went my two minutes of fame.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Storms and mysteries

Last night's storm paled in the face of the onslaught we got tonight, brief though it was. High winds--did I really hear 60 mph?)--blowing heavy rain, thunder and lightning.  No hail, but a tornado watch, a few sighted quite far from us but nothing close. Jacob is here tonight, and he is terrified of storms, so we had a few tense moments. He was sure we were all--him, me and Sophie--going to die. I assured him not. Finally I went into the office bathroom with him because he felt secure there and better with my company. Sophie, who is not fazed by storms, went because she was curious. Jacob accused me of not caring, and I asked if he'd feel better if I went around wringing my hands, moaning and going into a panic. He said no. As such storms do, this one passed within--oh, fifteen or twenty minutes--though distant thunder and lightning could be heard a long while after. To me, the good news is that no trees went down, though I've heard reports of them down in various areas.
So now I worry a bit about my kids in Frisco, where it was headed, and my kids in Tomball. I saw where severe storms passed south of them but it looked like they got good rain. Their small lake/big pond is up so high it flooded the meditation spot on their property. Next time I'm down there, I'm going to look for the specific meditation spot--to me, just sitting by the water, under the trees, is blessing enough. I didn't know there was a specific place.
Meditation was not on my mind tonight, what with the storm and the fact that my back hurt and I was tired. I meant to get a head start on tomorrow night's dinner but just didn't do it. It took all my oomph to fix bacon and tomato sandwiches for us, clean the kitchen, and slink back to my desk. After the storm, as a reward for good behavior (?) I gave Jacob ice cream.
But I did manage my thousand words, plus a couple of emails, and I feel productive. And tired.
 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Twas a dark and stormy night

In North Central Texas, we've had welcome predictions of rain all week--but nothing. Tonight it finally materialized. Predicted for six o'clock, which made Jordan rush home at five to be sure her car was in the garage and she wasn't driving in a storm. Nothing at my house (maybe 20 minutes away) until seven, when there were a few rounds of thunder and some drizzle. And then the heavens opened--not a storm but just a nice heavy rain. We can use it, although we've been blessed with rain quite a bit lately--something like nine inches opposed to a comparable period last year with three inches. Our lakes are filling up. But it will take more to end the drought in West Texas, and I worry about California--though I can't worry too much until they stop letting Nestle (a foreign-owned company) export bottled water under a contract that expired several years ago.
I see by the TV that the threat of severe storms has already moved east of us, and I can hear the rain slowing to a gentle drizzle. It's a wonderful night to be safely at home, tucked in with my Sophie, and about to write what  I hope is the last scene in Murder at the Mansion, the book I seem to have been working on forever. Wonder if I could work in the phrase, "Twas a dark and stormy night"? Naw, too corny.
When I was a kid, we had a summer cabin high on a dune at the very foot of Lake Michigan, and I used to love watching storms roll down the lake, with the water dark and roiling with huge whitecaps and the sky almost equally dark. I never feared storms--somehow my mom convinced me tornadoes didn't hit cities near water, and since we lived in Chicago we were safe. Now, of course, I know that's not true.
But I learned to fear tornadoes in Texas. I remember once when the sky turned green and my ex and I were running errands, with all four children at home with the nanny. At the time, we lived in one of those rare Texas houses with a basement. So I called and asked, "You do know what to do if there's a tornado, don't you?"
"Oh yes, ma'am." Long pause. "What?"
We hurried home.
The closest I ever came to a tornado was one night when restaurant adventurer Betty and I were having dinner at Pappadeaux. The sky turned black and then green, and rain poured down. So though we'd finished our meal, we ordered more wine. Later her husband would say "I can't believe the two of you just sat there and drank wine." What were we supposed to do? Go out in it? It turned out the great tornado of 2000 which leveled parts of Fort Worth and even damaged the downtown area had passed less than a mile from where we sat. I was sort of surprised the restaurant didn't tell us to take shelter under tables or something, but there was no change in pace.
When I got home, the phone was ringing. Jordan was living with me at the time, and she said, "I'm okay." Far cry from tonight when she has already emailed to see if I'm all right and warned me to charge my phone, get out candles, matches and flashlight.
Just while I wrote this, the rain has stopped and the thunder is distant. I wouldn't be sorry if it rained all night--thunder and lightning allowed but no tornadoes, please.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Taking baby steps

Today was my fourth physical therapy session, and by golly I think it's a winner. My regular osteopathic physician referred me to a colleague because I asked about a brace to support my back, particularly when I cook. The brace expert was sort of off hand about the brace--any sacroiliac brace would do--but was much more concerned about my lack of balance and a recent fall (not the first). This time I landed on my left hip and really hurt it. He recommended physical therapy.
I have taken a few classes in my life--yoga, tai chi, and the like--but I really don't like them. I finally had private yoga tutoring at home. A workout was established and that's what I do. So I was resistant to the idea of physical therapy--and besides most programs are for sports injuries, which mine was definitely not.
The doctor's nurse scouted around, found a place not too far from my house, and I checked it out. From the outside, it didn't look inviting--and the lone handicapped spot was clear across an empty parking lot from the door. At that point, I couldn't have done it. So I let my fingers do the walking and found a place that interested me. It pains me to say that I'm in a program to rehabilitate the elderly so they don't fall--could we substitute senior citizens for the word "elderly"?
The people are kind, and though there are other patients there, and I get individual attention, beginning with wonderful, soothing heat on my back and then exercises that don't seem strenuous but are designed to loosen up my sacroiliac (which is apparently stiff as a board) and build strength in my legs. I am usually wiped out when I come from those sessions, and at first I wasn't sure it was helping. The therapist is a really kind young man, he keeps assuring me he won't let me fall, but I was tentative about the walking part, especially where he tried to teach me how to use the cane.
Today I think I finally got it: because I was afraid of falling, I was stiffening up and taking small steps--at one point I said I felt like I was doing the hesitation step and getting married all over again. What he wants me to do is lead with the cane and my weaker leg, take longer steps, knees bent, feet rising off the floor. When I said my goal was to get rid of the cane, he said that would happen but he wanted me to develop a loose, easy stride. And those were the magic words that gave me self confidence. I've been striding around the house all day, bending my knees and lifting my feet. It feels exaggerated, but I'm sure in time I'll modify that. But tonight I'm a really happy camper. Almost can't wait to go back Monday and report all this.
And my anxiety level has plummeted. What a wonderful transformation if happening to me.