Thursday, March 28, 2013

I've Been Thinking

I've been pensive all week, traveling back in time in my mind, trying to formulate the words to tell you about "the big reunion" with my high school friend. I went to Houston last week and we spent two days and nights catching up on our lives over the past thirty-eight years. It was an emotionally exhausting experience for both of us, one I can't get off my mind. 

Let me say that seeing her was wonderful, but it did not play out as I had imagined it during the weeks leading up to the visit. During that time we had spent hours talking on the phone and texting one another; I became more anxious and excited as the visit approached. For reasons too tedious to go into here (they don't affect the story at all) I booked a room at a hotel near her house and we had our visit there. Here's a brief commercial for the Holiday Inn Priority Club: I booked a deluxe room so that we would have extra space. When I arrived, the clerk told me they were sold out for the night so, because I was a Priority Club member, they upgraded me to a suite. It was wonderful, with a living area, dining table and chairs and separate bedroom. I've lived in apartments smaller than this suite, so it worked out perfectly for us. Now back to the story. I called her when I checked in and, shortly thereafter, came the knock on the door. I thought I would be girly and giddy, squealing with delight, but when I opened the door, we both just stood there, looking at each other, buffering ourselves against the woosh of years flying by. "You look the same," she said.  "You don't," I replied. Then we laughed and hugged. 

We talked for hours, falling easily into a feeling of comfort and companionship. We talked of the people in our lives, weaving the past and present together to explain who we had become. It was gut-wrenching at times; life has dealt some hard blows to each of us, more to her than me I think. But here we were, survivors with a sense of humor. She went home at night to feed her dogs and sleep in her own bed, giving us some time to decompress and process what we'd heard. 

The next day we ventured out for lunch and later, to Starbucks to pick up a cappuccino for her in the drive through. "Stop!" she cried as I started to drive away. "I need a bunch of Splenda and a straw," forgetting that I didn't know that. I didn't know what she put in her cappuccino, but we both agreed that it felt like I should. We had reconnected so quickly and seamlessly that it was hard to believe almost forty years had passed, that I didn't know her favorite foods, drinks or personal obsessions. As we reflected, we remembered that we had not known each other all the way through high school. She had moved to Baytown during middle school and went to a different school from me. It wasn't until our Junior year, when we both were on the staff of the Gander Gazette newspaper, that we connected and remained best friends until we graduated. She and I were a little different than most of our peers. Both of us had an enormous degree of freedom and independence from our parents. Mine were divorced and I lived at home with my Dad and younger brother. My older sisters were already married and gone; she never met them. Her parents were on the verge of divorce and she had forged a level of independence necessary to survive. Even then I thought she was a warrior. She worked several jobs as well as giving private lessons to younger flute players, bought her own car and clothes and excelled at everything she put her mind to, except being organized. We laughed a lot about that, remembering everything she did was either at the last minute or late. The fact that neither of us had a "stable" home life, one where the mom and dad sat down with the family over dinner at night, where the kids had assigned chores and were guided in their endeavors by involved parents, somehow made us closer. We knew we were different from most of our friends and felt somehow that we were stronger and better prepared for life ahead of us. I think it was safe to say that, even in high school, neither of us believed in fairy tales.

So here I am, days after my return home, trying to assimilate it all. I found out that her brother has lived very near my brother all these years. Their sons have been in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts together and go to the same school. She and I worked and lived near each other for years, liking the same restaurants and probably passing each other time after time, leading similar lives and never connecting. I keep thinking what it would have been like if we had kept our friendship after high school. Most likely our differences would have led us to drift apart -- I got married, she stayed single; I raised children, she didn't. Maybe the best solution is what has played out, two old women, both banged up and bruised by life but still kicking, reunite and recapture the love and friendship they always had and searched for during the intervening years. Sounds like a good novel, doesn't it? Maybe I'll add it to the list. 

So here's to you, A.K.L. You were my hero in high school and now you are again.  I know the years ahead of us will be filled with hours of talking, writing, laughing and drinking coffee. Hurry up and get well so you can come up here to visit me, meet Scottie, the dogs and the rest of my family and you and I can continue our journey.

Thanks for stopping by today. I'm deep in thought about another post and will be back here soon. 

 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Need Some Texas Names

I told y'all last time that I'm getting serious about writing on my book again and I've been true to my word, at least this week. I'm trying to flesh out some of the minor characters in the book, naming them and creating back stories to set the stage in my weird little Texas town. I need some suggestions for good, solid Texas names for both men and women. I don't want any cliche Hollywood names, like "Billy Bob" or "Clementine." I want real names of real people like your grandparents and their ilk. Would you take a few minutes to send me some candidates?

Here are some of the characters I need names for:
  • The brother of the local police chief. He owns/operates the town's only pharmacy, inherited from their father.
  • Matriarch of the town. Everyone respects and defers to her. She is kind and compassionate, but has iron rules and lines that you just don't cross. Her name would probably have a "Ms." in front of it anytime she was addressed, like "Ms. Lillian."
  • A group of "philosophers" who hold court in the town's cafe every morning, drinking coffee and dispensing wisdom to anyone who gets within ear shot. Texas-sounding nicknames would be good here, too. Any ideas?
My sweet husband, who is now playing the role of my business manager, has been doing some research on the changing world of publishing. He saved me this very interesting article last week from the Wall Street Journal, about the rise of self-publishing and electronic publishing and how it is redefining the relationships between authors and publishers. Those of you who are writers or hope to be may find this trend very inspiring. It means that just about anyone can write a book, publish and distribute it, rather than being one of the very few who can find an agent, get their book accepted and actually onto the shelves of bookstores. If you have a story to tell, one that you want your children or grandchildren to know, or one that has just been burning a hole in you for years, you can write that story and share it with others, and maybe make a little money to boot. It's an exciting time to be living in. 

Please note that I am changing with the times, too. Today's grammarians have decided that it is finally acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition, making the last sentence of the preceding paragraph totally OK. My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Enderli, is turning over in her grave. Because of her, I can still recite sixty-six prepositions in alphabetical order: aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, amid, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between . . . . 

I've got to get back to the book now because the juices are flowing. Thanks for stopping by today; send me some names when you can. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Challenge - Final Day, #28: "Nature"

A few days ago when I wrote about the great lunch we had in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I spent some time going through the photos I had taken on that vacation. As I mentioned in the "lunch" post, I got sick shortly after we returned and didn't write much of anything for several months, much less about our trip. Since today's topic is "Nature," I'm going to cheat a little on the writing challenge and let the photos speak for me. I've gone through and selected a few of my favorites which show some of the natural beauties of the Caribbean Islands. 

This first batch was taken at a butterfly farm on the island of St. Maarten. The first photo is an Atlas Moth, as large as the exhibit worker's hand. Notice how the markings on the top curve of the wings look like a snake head or something else menacing -- predator defense.





This blue morpho stayed on a visitor's shirt for about ten minutes, while all of us snapped away.




The next few shots were taken at the El Yonque Rainforest in Puerto Rico. The first one, showing a giant fern frond starting to unfold is my favorite. These ferns are everywhere in the rainforest and grow very tall, way over my head. Don't miss the large snail crawling on the ginger bloom in the second photo.



These are just some of beautiful blooms you see on every island. 








Virgin Gorda was my favorite spot. We swam a while in the crystal aqua water and then hiked through the "caves" on the beach, which are giant rocks that have fallen or shifted through the years, creating an exotic passageway. At the top of the caves is a restaurant with a spectacular view and the largest plumeria plant I have ever seen; it's like a tree.


The natural beauty of the Caribbean is the main reason we continue to make trips there. Scott, in particular, loves tropical flowers like orchids and plumeria and grows them here, even though we have to start over when they don't make it through a freeze. Every time we come home, we both go on a search for homes or real estate for sale on a particular island we loved and talk about moving there. Can you imagine being surrounded by all this beauty all the time?

Today is the official end of my self-imposed writing challenge and I've learned some things about my nature over the past few weeks as well. My brain is "writing" all the time, coming up with great sentences or story ideas when I least expect it. Sometimes I can keep them in my head until I get to the computer, other times I have to make notes before I forget. I think that doing a post every day has intensified this process, that the creative part of my brain is tuned-in and turned-on. It will be up to me to keep all those neurons firing. I'm resolved to blog more frequently and to get back to serious work on my novel. Isn't that why this blog started in the first place? It was supposed to chronicle what I went through while writing the book, but somehow the blog became a substitute for the book, with all my writing energy directed there. I've got to get that process in balance now, working on both and letting the two projects feed each other. That's my new challenge.

Thanks for stopping by today. I probably won't be here tomorrow, but I'll be back soon.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Challenge - Day 27: "Inside Your Fridge"

Inside my fridge, what a jungle. I endeavor to keep it neat and organized but I don't often succeed. We have some staples - milk, eggs, butter, deli meats, cheese, Fage split-cup 0% Greek yogurt -- that rotate all the time. Then there are things that live there that only get used occasionally, like beef, chicken and mushroom demi-glase, finely chopped ginger in a tube, a jar of cilantro cooking base and Redi Whip in a can (I know, it expires.) I try to keep all these things on the top shelf so I can find them when I need them. The second shelf is supposed to hold things like, deli meats, tortillas, cheese and bread that needs refrigerating. I say "supposed to" because I have one of those husbands who opens the door and sticks whatever is in his hand in the first place he sees, which is usually on the second shelf. It doesn't matter where he picked it up from when he first opened the door, it goes back wherever his eyes spot a space. So I am constantly rearranging things. On top of it I have to endure his teasing me about being obsessive when he is standing with the refrigerator door open, calling across the house to ask me where something is and I can tell him, exactly, without getting anywhere near. 

Eggs and fresh meats go on the third shelf and the bottom one is reserved for containers of leftovers. Fresh fruits and vegetables obviously go in the drawers. That's as far as my organization goes because, when it comes to the shelves on the door, I'm hopeless. Condiments and jellies have lives of their own which they live, unharrassed, in my refrigerator. I'm convinced they reproduce, thriving in the cold, dark environment. No matter how many times I clear those shelves to make some room, throwing away old bottles of cocktail sauce or horseradish, the next time I need a space I can't find any. I have to turn a bottle of spicy mustard sideways and move the mint jelly down so the stoneground mustard I just used to make a vinaigrette will fit back where I swore I just took it from.

As I write this I can smell the marvelous aroma of beef short ribs, slowly braising in the oven in a sauce of red wine, onions, garlic, herbs and beef stock. I can tell you one more thing about my refrigerator, there won't be any leftovers of this dish in there tonight. 

Thanks for stopping by today; wish you could be here for dinner. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Challenge - Day 26: "Light"

I grew up in Baytown, Texas in a house built by my grandfather. It sat on Danubina Street, about half a block east of James Street. About three blocks away, heading north, was Highway 146, a major four-lane highway. Across the highway on James Street sat a water tower owned by the City of Baytown. We had a clear view of the tower from our house. It was one of those whose tank was round and fat, not the tall and thin variety. Most of the year this tank was basically invisible to us, just part of the scenery. But at Christmas time, everything changed. The City workers covered the tank with colored lights, strung very close together, and it was a glorious sight. There must have been thousands of them, turning the steel gray tank into a jewel sitting high in the sky.

I don't know how old I was when I discovered these lights, but I know I was very young. After seeing them once, I was hooked. I waited each year for the lights to go on and then would sit on our front steps, if it was warm enough, and stare at them. If too cool to stay outside, I peered at them through the slats of our wooden venetian blinds. I have often wondered what it was about these particular lights that fascinated me and I don't have an answer. I remember fixing my stare on the lights and then slowing closing my eyes a little, so the individual lights blurred and became a glowing orb, like something descending from heaven. I imagined that the lights were really jewels whose sheer fabulous-ness made them light up, like a giant crown sitting in the sky.

We would see other lights at Christmas, driving around the "rich" neighborhoods of Roseland Oaks and Country Club Oaks, seeing how the other half lived. I loved doing that and loved seeing the displays, but somehow they didn't measure up to the gorgeous tower.

Years passed and they eventually quit putting the lights on the tower; it was probably a safety issue. I was in middle school then and the loss of the lights didn't seem to matter too much. Had it happened in elementary, I would have been crushed. I often wish that I had a photo of the tower to help me remember, but, on the other hand, I'm glad I don't. I doubt that, in reality, it was as wonderful as it is in my memory. I'm afraid the photo would show that it was a little tacky, lights burned out here and there, and not nearly as many of them as I thought. I'm content for the jeweled crown of light to live just as it is in my mind.

Thanks for stopping by today. Two days are left on the challenge, so I'll see you tomorrow. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Challenge - Day 25: "Lunch"

Last March Scott and I left on a truly wonderful visit to Puerto Rico, followed by two weeks of cruising around most of the Caribbean islands. I haven't written much about that trip because, about two weeks after we returned, I developed an intestinal infection that felled me for about eight or nine months. Even today, almost one year later, I'm still having a few effects. Don't let me scare you off cruising; my illness had nothing to do with that. It was just one of those things. But, let's talk about something happier. 

While we were in Puerto Rico we had some great food and since today's topic is "lunch," let me tell you about a memorable one. Scott and I always talk to local people when we travel and ask them where they like to eat. We've had some really great meals as a result of this and our luck held out in San Juan. We were staying at a Marriott resort in the Carolina section of San Juan, on Isla Verde beach. Let me tell you, when you picture "tropical beach" in your head, you are seeing Isla Verde.


Beautiful aqua blue water and almost white sand



One day for lunch, we walked a few blocks from the hotel to the Metropole Restaurant, one that had been recommended for good local dishes. Scott and I love Caribbean/Cuban food and have eaten it many places. We were introduced to it in Houston, by Cuban friends of ours who took us to a place where they cooked "just like our mama." We were hooked and since then, have found a Cuban/Caribbean style restaurant near wherever we live. Our current local favorite is Cafe Havana on South Congress in Austin. Back to the Metropole. Scott ordered a sampler platter and I asked the waiter what he would recommend. Cudos to me because I got a great meal. 

  

This is a smoked chicken breast, served with white rice, maduros, black beans and a little fresh relish. The chicken was smoked first so that it was juicy and pink (the good pink) inside, then flash fried so that the skin was extra brown and crispy. Maduros are plantains that have been grilled or sauteed until the sugar carmelizes on the surface, leaving the fruit inside soft and yummy. 

Here's a view of Scott's plate with three different meats that I can't remember, congris (a mixture of rice and black beans) and yucca. His was good, but mine was better.


We liked the Metropole so much that we ended up going back for dinner the next evening. We both tried something different, but nothing was as good as the smoked chicken I had for lunch. Just thinking about it makes me want to hop a plane for San Juan. It only takes four hours from Houston....

Thanks for stopping by today. I'm off to rustle up something for lunch. Whatever it ends up being, I'm sure it will be lacking compared to the Metropole.     

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Challenge - Day 24: "Color"


I love red. Is it possible that just looking at a color can lift your spirit and make you feel happier? If so, then red does it for me. Particularly sparkly red.

As I sit here and try, I find it difficult to find words to describe why red delights me. Maybe it is purely an emotional thing, hidden somewhere deep in the reptile part of my brain, something I can't explain. But I am definitely drawn to red. 

My closet is full of red and every time I do laundry I have a white load, light load, dark load and a red load. I look good in red, but even I will agree with the "color experts" who tell me it is not my best color. So I can't say I choose to wear red because of vanity reasons. I just like it and it makes me happy. 

Maybe that's why I love to decorate for Christmas so much -- red, red, red. For years after our son died I didn't decorate at all and we usually went away on a trip or cruise to avoid everything. But after we sold the ranch and moved to this house, I started decorating for the holidays again. You should see my house these days during the Christmas season.

 My tree is covered in red . . . .


Santa is everywhere . . . .
 



And even "my girl" gets a new red dress from me. Look at that face, that girl can work it!
 

Today I am looking at some red and white carnations arranged in an ice cream sundae glass. Whenever I see it, I almost laugh out loud because it makes me so happy. That's why I love red.


 Thanks for stopping by today. See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Challenge - Day 23: "Something You Made"

It is 9:15pm, a little late for me to be alert and writing, but I have struggled all day with this topic. What have I made that would be interesting to write about? I still don't have an answer. That's why it is 9:15pm and I'm sitting here in front of my screen. 

I could write about some of the great dishes I have cooked, but I've already done that. Check out this blog about my prize-winning coconut pie and this one for a gourmet chocolate cake made for my husband's birthday. I used to knit, crochet and embroidery, making pretty things with my hands, but I don't do that anymore because of arthritis in my thumbs. They go numb when I hold them in the same position too long, like you do when you hold knitting needles, crochet hooks or embroidery needles. And it hurts. 

Something that I consistently make are mistakes, but who wants to write or read about that? I might write about one if it was funny, but most aren't; best to just put them behind and move on. So that leaves me with just one thing, something I try to make every day -- an effort. I am making an effort to stick with this writing challenge, even though some days I draw a blank or produce something that's just so so. I make an effort every day to read several versions of the news and keep up with what's going on the world so that I will recognize a "spin" on an event when I hear one. I make an effort to exercise, either in the pool or on my bike, making up for all the years I didn't make effort. I make an effort to play word or number games to keep my mind sharp. I just started a new game on iPad call "Seven Little Words." It is a daily puzzle where you construct seven words from hints given using specifically lettered tiles. We need to do these things to keep us sharp and functioning. Remember, an idle mind is the devil's workshop and the devil's name is Alzheimers or Dementia. So jump into "Seven Little Word's" free download on the App Store. 

And I will make an effort to keep writing this blog more frequently after the daily challenge is over. Maybe not every day, but I'm shooting for three times a week. It is helping me develop the discipline to do the tasks that I must do to complete my novel, which I really feel is going to make it. My current frame of mind says yes and so do my husband and good friend, Andy. She has volunteered to be my drill sargent and keep me on task. It's probably just what I need. Everyone else is too nice to me.

I go to spend a couple of days with Andy in March and we will talk about the last forty years as well as my book. She will get me moving faster, I know. I'm so looking forward to it. I will post then and now photos of us when I get back. It shoud be very interesting.

So I've made an effort today and wrote this post. Not a great post but one that is here because I promised myself it would be. That counts for some success, doesn't it? If it doesn't, it's Andy's fault.

Thanks for stopping by.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Challenge - Day 22: "Guilty Pleasure"

I have several guilty pleasures, but most of them are just "a little ping of conscience" rather than full-blown guilt. Stuff like eating Jack in the Box tacos and unplugging the phone when I don't want to talk to anybody. But here it is, my truly guilty pleasure -- I watch "Real Housewives of Atlanta" (RHOA.)

The Real Housewives of Atlanta


These women are crazy and I just love watching them get closer and closer to the straight jackets.They are all beautiful women who deck themselves out in designer fashions, loaded with class, who then fall into hollering and fighting every time they get together. So far I haven't heard any of them scream, "Prostitute whore," while turning over a table in a restaurant like Teresa on Real Housewives of New Jersey did, but this season's "Donkey Booty" controversy is cracking me up. One of the women, Phaedra, is a tiny woman with a really big booty and she's very proud of it. She and her husband, Apollo, decided to produce an exercise video to show women how they could get a "Donkey Booty" like hers, and that's what they called the video, too. Another of the ladies, Kenya, is a former Miss USA. (Don't say Miss America or you'll get bitch-slapped.) Apparently Kenya has all kinds of movie and production experience, although no one has seen anything she talks about. Kenya tells Phaedra she can help her produce the video and proceeds to "make some calls" to her contacts and "has a deal on the table" that she brings to Phaedra. Now Phaedra is an entertainment attorney and starts asking for specifics about this "deal" because Kenya is asking for a pretty hefty percentage of the video proceeds as payment. The fur flies, as you would expect, and the next thing you know, Kenya is producing her own video about how to get a great butt and calling hers "Stallion Booty," because a stallion is SO much more classy than a donkey. Can you see why I'm mesmerized? 

Another big deal is that one of the original cast members, Kim, walked out mid-season and left the show. Kim is married to a NFL player and just had her second child with him, a boy, who she named Cash. Another of the "Housewives," Kandi, who is not and has never been married (figure that out) had told Kim that if she ever had a boy, she wanted to name him Cash. Kandi mentions this on one of the episodes after Kim has left the show and now Kim has challenged Andy Cohen (who moderates the "Reunion" show at the end of each season) to bring a lie detector to the reunion taping so they can see who is lying about the name "Cash."

I can't find any redeeming qualities to the show, yet still I watch. I watch "The Real Housewives of New York," too, and feel the same way about them. What is it in me that makes me not only watch these crazy women but actually enjoy it? I don't buy the explanation that people watch this kind of stuff so they can feel morally superior. I don't feel morally superior, I just feel entertained. I never tell people I watch RHOA. Whoops, I guess now the cat's out of the bag. Guilty. I guess people like me are why Bravo is such a success. You gotta' love it.

Thanks for stopping by.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Challenge - Day 21: "Something Old"




Those of you who are my friends know that I am a classic movie fan. I love old movies and can recite lines from many famous scenes. When the present time is just too much for me, when I'm frustrated by the world, chaos and tragedy, the perfect escape is something on Turner Classic Movies in black and white, starring Joan Crawford, Cary Grant or Bette Davis. Even though these movies presented some harsh realities, they did it in a way that wasn't as jarring as modern movies. I get the same message, someone has been killed with a gunshot, without having to see half a skull blown away or blood and brain splatter on the walls. 

I know a lot of classic movie trivia. I have a friend who once tried out for "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" He told me if he made it on the show and got a classic movie question, I would be his "phone a friend" choice. I could do it, as long as it was a movie made before 1960; things started getting a little too real about then. If pressed to choose my favorite movie classic, I'd have to say "Now, Voyager." Made in 1942, it starred Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Gladys Cooper. 

 

Bette Davis plays a spinster in her mid-30's, Charlotte Vale, who has a psychological breakdown due to the mental and verbal abuse and domination of her wealthy widowed mother, played with chilling evil by Gladys Cooper. Over her mother's protests, Charlotte is admitted to a private mental hospital, more like a luxury mountain resort, under the care of Dr. Jaquith, (Claude Rains, Davis' favorite co-star.) Psychotherapy, encouragement and kindness change Charlotte's life and Dr. Jaquith sends her back home armed with Walt Whitman's words, "Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find." She takes them literally, deciding to go on a cruise to South America to bolster her courage to go home and face her gorgon of a mother. On the cruise she meets and falls in love with Paul Henreid, playing an unhappily married man named Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance. Could there be a more romantic name, especially one spoken with Paul Henreid's enchanting accent?

This is what Charlotte looked like on her way to the looney bin:

 

And this is what she looked like on the day she re-enters the world and goes sightseeing with Jerry. The scene where she steps onto the gangway and lifts her head so you can see how perfectly beautiful she is, from the top of her wide-brimmed sun hat, down her impeccably-tailored suit, to the tips of her peek-a-boo spectator pumps, is one of my all-time favorites. It takes my breath every time. 

 

Cigarettes abound in this movie, playing a major role and, of course, all kinds of drama ensues. Charlotte and Jerry are madly in love but realize they can never be together. They decide to never see each other again and Charlotte goes home. Yet Jerry has fresh camellias delivered to her every day, to remind her of his pet name for her, Camille, and of his love. (Violins here.) Armed with flowers and dressed in a gorgeous designer gown, Charlotte finally has the courage to tell off her awful mother, which causes her to have a stroke and die, sending Charlotte straight back to Dr. Jacquith.  There she meets a young girl, Tina, who is there because she has suffered at the hands of her terrible mother, much like Charlotte has. Turns out Tina is Jerry's daughter and Charlotte takes her under her wing, giving her love and attention. She gets permission (!) to take her on a camping trip and then brings the girl home to live with her. Jerry comes to see them and agrees to let Tina live with Charlotte for Tina's sake and also so that he can pretend that he and Charlotte are raising her together. 

Then, here it comes, the most famous cigarette scene ever. Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes, gives one to Davis and they smoke them together, as the camera focuses on her limpid eyes and the music swells to a climax. 


"Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." Melodrama at it's finest. "Now, Voyager." It may be old, but it's never old.

Thanks for stopping by today.