Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A New Year!

I'm looking forward to it. Not that things are magically going to be better, but because--well, just because. It's new. And shiny. And that makes things more hopeful.

We had a good Christmas. The Texas grandsons came to visit--with their dad. ;) The boys are still here, but their dad had to go back to work. We have toys, shoes, candy, clothes and other little-boy paraphernalia strewn from one end of the house to the other. Ain't it grand!

I got a new laptop computer for Christmas. (So did the fella and the youngest son.) This is the first laptop I've ever had--and I need to find that wireless mouse I have somewhere, because using the touchpad is giving me mouse elbow... Don't know how moving my thumb and fingers makes my elbow hurt, but there it is. Still, I love it. It will go with me on the next trip to the parents'. Not that they have a wifi set up, but I can get a router to go on Daddy's cable. :)

I made pecan and buttermilk pies for Christmas, and yesterday, we went on a cookie-making binge. Well, actually, I started by making snickerdoodles (again), and then the boy's girlfriend, who's spending a few days with us, made chocolate chip cookies, and then broke out the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix. The gf mixes from Betty Crocker & co. are pretty good stuff.

There's even gf Bisquick! The fella got all excited, because he could finally, after nearly 30 years, have
chicken and dumplings again. We always made the dumplings out of biscuit dough or actual canned biscuits--totally wheat flour, which he can't eat. So he got busy last night, mixed up two boxes of gf Bisquick dough and made himself (and us) chicken and dumplings. Pretty good, if I say so myself.

In parental news, Daddy seems to be responding well to his new medication. Even he says he's not having so many "crazy ideas" or wild dreams. I did have to make the trip up twice last week, because Mother's next older sister was very ill, and passed away Tuesday evening. They had a quick graveside service on Thursday for family and close friends, and will have a memorial service in another few weeks. The fella and I drove up to get Mama & Daddy and take them to Waco for the burial. About every 30 minutes, Daddy asked where we were going, and where exactly we were again, but overall he did pretty good. He did have lunch twice. We got there early enough to eat at a Chinese buffet before the service, but my brother and his wife didn't, so we went with them to a Denny's afterward, and Daddy had a big hamburger. Mama and I shared dessert.

It was good seeing all the family we haven't seen in a few years--cousins and aunts and uncles. Daddy remembered some of them--didn't remember my brother's name, but remembered several of my cousins. Now of the four sisters, only the oldest and youngest (Mama) are left. Aunt Joyce is just as sharp as she ever was, which aggravates Mama half to death, because she has so much trouble remembering things. But we've been blessed to have them as long as we have.

Love your family as hard as you can while you can, because you don't know how long you'll have them. That's my motto for the new year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Still scrambling

Well. Another busy, busy week. While on the road from south central Texas (SE of Austin) to the Texas Panhandle (about an 11-hour drive) for her father-in-law's funeral, my sister got a call from the home health nurse about our dad. Seems the nurse was present for one of Daddy's melt-downs and it worried her. She thinks it's time to see about moving Daddy out, possibly into an Alzheimer's facility. So Baby Sister called me, once she reached Borger and got out of the no-cell-phone access areas, and I got up Saturday morning and headed up to the parents'.

In just the two weeks since I was last there, the Alzheimer's has gotten worse. Mama hadn't taken her Aricept every day, but she was so thin it alarmed me. (Loss of appetite is one of the side effects of the medicine.) And I could scarcely leave the room without Daddy losing his temper about something. I wound up staying four days instead of the three I'd planned, because there was a doctor's appointment on Tuesday I needed to stay for. Plus, the nurse had referred the parents to their social worker who came by Tuesday and helped us get the claim started on their long-term care insurance policy, which will cover home care as well as a nursing home. (Best thing they ever did! Besides signing power of attorney forms several years ago.) So, we've got things started. We'll just have to see how it goes from there.

We haven't finished our Christmas shopping, and we need to get gifts mailed to Pennsylvania soon. We haven't even drawn names for my siblings' families. We've been too busy putting out fires. And yet--it's still Christmas. I'm trying hard not to get too stressed--and it's working somewhat. I'm just going to focus on family and the absolute necessities, and forget about everything else. (Of course, when the fella's volunteered our house for the Lion's Club Christmas party next Thursday... But I'm making him do the cleanup!!) Keep praying, y'all. We sure need it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Wild and woolly

It was a wild weekend in Dallas/Fort Worth with all the in-laws, kids, grandkids--the whole horde. We were celebrating the fella's parents' 60th anniversary. The nephews were back from Australia--the one in grad school down there has finished his Master's degree in oenology biochemistry, and brought back wines he'd made. (Very tasty.) His brother just went down to visit. The daughter also came with her family from the "frozen Northland" (aka Pennsylvania), including the escape artist (aka her son).

That kid is really fast! The in-laws' house, where we were staying, backs up to a big park, with baseball fields visible from the house and a playground beyond them. Several times during the visit, Mowgli (he has autism, and occasionally behaves as if he were raised by wolves) would take it into his head that it was time to go to the park, and zip! He'd be out the door and dashing for the gap in the fence. And he was often faster than the adult chasing him, so his Mom would have to go out and yell at him and make him come back. I foresee a track star. If the coach can convince him to actually run on the track, and wait for the starting gun/bell to start running. Honestly, he was very good during the whole visit, except for one or two escape attempts. That's not bad for a week's visit not even at his own Gigi & Granddaddy's house.

We celebrated Thanksgiving, then we celebrated the anniversary. The daughter got everyone to tell a family story. ("Dad--we need a broom, and a bandaid." and "New constitutional amendment about green beans.") We took all the grandboys to the zoo where everyone had a great time. We took the little boys to see "Tangled." It went over well, once the action started. (The opening was a little talky.) We raked up a century-old pecan tree's-worth of leaves (plus I saw a few oak tree leaves in there) and let the boys jump in them. One tree made a ginormous pile of leaves. We even did a little Christmas shopping.

Now the older son has come to the island for a conference. We're going to Dickens on The Strand tomorrow. It's basically a street festival to celebrate Galveston's historic Victorian-era downtown, where people dress up in Victorian era costumes, pirate costumes, and even costumes from Dickens stories (like Jacob Marley from "A Christmas Carol") and hang out downtown. They're having steampunk stuff this year, along with the usual parades, street urchins, bed races, mummers, etc. I don't have a costume, but hey--it's fun. (I have stuff to make a costume, but... Good intentions and all that.)

Can't get into my office right now, with guests in town. I'll start revisions on... Sunday? Sounds good to me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Banking Emergency

Emergency and banks don't really seem like things that go in the same sentence--unless your accounts have been pillaged. Or unless your parents both have Alzheimer's. My mom's is progressing relatively slowly, but Daddy's seems to be going downhill more quickly these days.

One evening last week, Mama was paying a bill when she realized she didn't know what the bill was for. Or rather, it was for a line-of-credit loan she didn't know had been taken out. Because Daddy was asleep, she took it next door to my sister, who called me, and we got online to see what was going on. And nobody knew, except that nearly $10 grand had been used from their line of credit, and who knew what the money was used for. When I called the parents to tell them I was coming down the next day, I asked Daddy if he knew anything about it, and he thought somebody must have got into his banking and messed with it. Mama had a morning doctor appointment, so I got up in the way-too-early hours of the morning and made the trek through Houston and beyond to their little town, only to learn that Mama had gone to the emergency room with chest pains only that Monday, and yet again had failed to tell the sister--who lives Next Door--and yet again had allowed Daddy to drive her there, when he's not supposed to be driving at all. (This is now the perennial fight when I go visit. He has to bring it up at least once while I'm there.) Sigh.

So. Baby Sister got a substitute for her high school English classes and we all trekked to the county seat, where the bank is, and we discovered that the money had just been transferred into their savings account. Of course, this was still a problem, since the loan was at 10% interest, and savings is at--what? 0.25%? Terrible interest. So we paid back the loan--at a cost of $150 or so--got Baby Sister and me added to the accounts, and changed the password on the online banking to keep it from happening again.

That day, Daddy accepted that he had probably done it. Next morning? He had decided that I had gone into his bank accounts and messed them up, because he certainly hadn't done it. We'd convinced him to take the bills next door to Baby Sis so she could make sure everything got paid, but the next day, he was all gritchy again, because he'd paid the bills all his life and didn't see why he couldn't keep on doing it. So I just took care of it without telling him.

By the time I headed home, he'd accepted again that he'd done it himself, and had decided that he would be in the "nuthouse" before I came back, because when I said I'd see him when I came back again, he said "Probably not."

It's time to get a guardianship set up, though. We need to protect them from themselves, but that's going to take a little while. Pray for us. We need all we can get.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

At last!

Yes, at long last, I have finished this book I've been working on.

Well, mostly. Except for a necessary epilogue. But that will be easy, once I decide what, exactly, happens. All the emotional turmoil is done, the angst is de-angsted, the decisions are made. (The characters' decisions, I mean. Mine aren't quite finished.) The last little bit is just the happy ending part. And yes, it has a happy ending. I'm a romance reader, and a romance writer. I insist upon the happy ending. Happy. Not perfection. 'Cause, you know, you don't get perfection this side of glory. But you do get happy.

I also still have to type the rest of the book into the computer in the first edit. And then I have to print the sucker out and go through for revisions. I already know some stuff I'm going to cut out. And there's more I probably need to punch up. But I like it. And it's done. Mostly.

Go Me.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Niagara & beyond

Yes, for the very first time ever in my whole life, I got to go to Niagara Falls. You will notice that there are no pictures of the falls, or of the beautifal fall leaves in Canada (we stayed on the Canadian side of the river, because after 3 days in Niagara Falls, we went to Toronto for 4 more days). This is because I left the camera in the rental car when we got back to Buffalo to fly back home. We took lots and lots of pictures, but... I am sick about it, but what can you do?

Anyway, we had a wonderful experience. You can see Niagara Falls in movies and on TV, and it looks really amazing and impressive, but honey, believe me when I say that it still doesn't prepare you for how much MORE impressive and amazing and everything it looks when you see it in person. We went on the Maid of the Mist boat ride. We went in the tunnels behind the falls (not much to see, really, but white water & mist). We drove up the river to Fort Erie, Ont. to look at the fort, but it was closed. Still, it was a really nice drive down the river. When we left Niagara Falls, we drove north, down the river (it really felt weird to be going downriver, and north at the same time), to Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped at one of the ice wine wineries, then on around Lake Ontario to Toronto.

At Toronto, I wrote a little bit, but it's a very interesting city, and we were right in the middle of it--across the street from city hall. I did not realize that Hudson's Bay Company was still in existence. It is now the largest department store in Canada. I went. Didn't buy anything, except breakfast one morning. I went to the Bata Shoe Museum, and while it did have some gorgeous and glamorous designer shoes, I found the "history of shoes" exhibit and the rotating exhibit on native American moccasins the most fascinating. Flip-flops have a Loooooooong history. ;) (Egyptians wore flipflops)

We did Chinatown, and rode across to Toronto Island, which creates the harborfront in Toronto. Their seawall, along the island, was a LOT chillier than our seawall... We just had a good time, and ate at a lot of good places. I had rabbit pasta--first time I ever ate rabbit... I just hate that I lost the dadgum camera. Sigh. (I also lost an earring. One of my new black ones. Grr.)


Okay, I can't do it. I have to put at least one picture in. Yes, the water really is that green. And there's a lot more city around the falls than I thought. I had this mental image of the falls being isolated way out in the country, somewhere you had to drive to for hours and hours, but it's not. You fly into the Buffalo, NY, airport, and 20 minutes later, you're there. Niagara Falls. With city on both sides of the river. Though the US side has a state park. We stayed in a hotel next to a casino with a fabulous view of the falls. I just loved it.

And now I am back home in sunny Galveston, where the cold front takes the temperatures down to a balmy 72F/22C instead of the 50F/10C it was while we were in Toronto (which was the coldest it got--really, it was lovely most of the time. They still had roses blooming at the botanical gardens!). I admit it--I have lost all my antifreeze. I am a wimp when it comes to cold weather. But really--we had a great time in Canada.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Life's a beach, sometimes

Those are the flip-flops I wear when I go to walk on the beach. I only wear them while I'm walking on the seawall before I climb down the stairs to the sand, or sometimes when I cross the rock groins built out from the seawall for wave control during storms. I carry them most of the time. But when I come back from my walks, they're all sandy, and I don't want to wear them in the house, so they tend to live on the front porch, waiting for me to come back and put them on again for another walk.

I usually walk in the morning, after breakfast, before I start working on whatever I'm working on that day. It's a nice way to clear the head/commune with nature before having to focus and use the brain.

The seagulls have been sitting actually IN the water the past several days, I assume because the water is still warm. If you look, you can see the seagulls, and someone who's taken the challenge of walking out on the rocks. People like to walk to the end to fish, but it's not easy to get all the way out there, because there can be big gaps between the rocks, and they aren't always level.

I've been dealing with parents earlier this week, and really needed a beach walk or two.

My parents both have Alzheimer's, but it manifests differently in each of them, and is progressing at different rates. Because of some worrisome things that happened recently--Daddy losing his temper abruptly in inappropriate places, and having trouble remembering people--I made him a doctor appointment so I could go with them and talk to the doctor about these worries. I couldn't figure out how to talk to the doctor without Mama and Daddy present, until I realized I could write a letter, which I did. The doctor had the nurse call me out, and we discussed the things I'd written, then I went back into the exam room first, and he came in after a minute. It's nice that people with Alzheimer's are as easy to distract as toddlers, because when Daddy started to get upset that I'd "snitched on him," I was able to shift the conversation to how skinny they were, and whether Mama really weighed 112 lbs. (She didn't--weighed in at abt. 126, but Mama is 5'9" or 10" even after "shrinking" so she really needs to weigh around 145.)

Anyway, the doctor really hammered in that Daddy needed to stop driving, No Matter What. We'll have to take his keys, and maybe even disable the car to get him to stop, though. He's got it in his head that he HAS to drive, and that he's just fine doing it. He can't remember who his granddaughter is, and gets ideas that people are beating on him, but he can drive. (ARGGHH) And, the doc wrote an order for a home health nurse to come by and check that they're taking their meds.

The nurse came yesterday, and although Daddy was pretty crotchety the whole time she was there, it sounds like she's going to get them all organized. Transportation when they need it, meals once a week at the rec center, check-ins about their meds, blood pressure checks--all kinds of things. I'm just tickled.

It's still likely they'll have to go to some kind of assisted living sometime in the new year, so we're starting to talk that up, but we can keep them at home a little longer now.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Program break for political rant

I'm in a bit of a pother. Actually, I'm pretty outraged.

Money for hurricane relief was allocated to the Texas Gulf Coast--this is for relief of Hurricane Ike from TWO YEARS AGO. But the Feds fooled around and didn't send the money for months and months, and when it finally arrived, the agencies helping the people who got Iked only had about 6 months to spend the money, while following all the red tape and guidelines of the Feds. The deadline could have been extended--and routinely has been for Hurricane Katrina victims and other disaster relief.

But ONE representative--a Republican from Kansas--somehow blocked the bill that would have extended it. With no comment as to why.

Once again, Ike is the Hurricane America Forgot. Just because Lehman Bros. went bankrupt two days later... Yes, Galveston is a smaller city than New Orleans. No, the flooding did not stay for week. BUT, 80 percent of the houses on the island flooded. (Mine was not one of them.) A lot of people are STILL out of their homes.

Don't Americans deserve as much consideration as Haitians? Don't Texans deserve as much help as Louisianans? Galveston's pretty purple, as much Democrat as Republican. It's about as bi-partisan as a city can get. Is that why this Republican cut off the grants? That's $40 million my neighbors aren't getting. Money they deserve and ought to have.

I don't have a dog in this hunt. My house wasn't damaged. We're doing fine. But so many are not. Still. Cutting off the grant isn't the way to fix bureaucratic problems...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Epicurean adventures

The fella and I went to the Epicurean Evening event at Moody Gardens in Galveston last night.  We've gone to it the past three years and always enjoy it a lot. Last night was no exception.

See that picture? That's only a quarter of the room. Or less. Now imagine that stretching in all those directions. With food and drink booths all the way around. And in the middle. There were only a few booths in the middle, but there was still plenty of room for silent auction tables, and tables for people to sit down for a minute or two to catch their breath, talk a little with friends or digest for a minute.

All the hotels had beautiful presentations. Moody Gardens has some wonderful watermelon carvers, who also make parrots out of squash and sweet potatoes. They also had fish carved out of sweet potatoes and some other things I couldn't figure out what they'd used. But I didn't post the picture of the carved vegetable fish. (The coral was carved out of potatoes. Just regular old potatoes that turned brown creatively to make them look more like coral and sponges.) When I took the picture of the fish, the waiters who were standing there ducked out of the way and made my picture look all blurry. Oh well.  (I can't figure out how to get rid of the big gap here, so you're just going to have to live with it.)

Then there was the display of fish and shrimp and crabs (with bell pepper flowers) that Fisherman's Wharf had. I thought it was gorgeous. But then anything with seafood is gorgeous, IMO.

The food was fabulous. The booths had little tiny servings, and I ate till I was filled to my eyeballs. I tried to keep up with the fella, who eats shockingly fast, which wasn't smart. We had crab cakes and shrimp with watermelon gazpacho and salad (Fisherman's Wharf had a salad with fresh lump crab, shrimp and...something else) and in all kinds of sauces.

We had shortribs with polenta and prime rib with a tiny scoop of garlic mashed potatoes. I ate a raspberry chipotle olive pizza, and a smoked chicken salad sandwich (out of this world) with a slice of pork tenderloin with a spicy apple barbecue sauce from Capital Q Barbecue.

I had an Asian chicken salad from the Mosquito Cafe, and a fruit skewer from Southern Produce. That was really good, and I should have gone back for another... The fella ate sushi from the Sky Bar, and I got gumbo from the Gumbo Bar (I think they're owned by the same people). I also got some crawfish etouffee from... Hmm. Don't remember. But it was good. And they also had red beans and rice.

There was a chicken-crawfish-shrimp in wine sauce thing from one of the Mexican restaurants, and a broccoli-rice casserole that had barbecued sausage in it from one of the barbecue places. That was really good too. We tried pretty much everything, unless the line was too long. Except all the wine. There were a LOT of wine and spirits booths, and two with beer/hard lemonade type things. I like the Smirnoff Cranberry Lime malt beverage. I also tried a taste of cherry rum. Yes, I was a two-fisted drinker (as you can see).  This was before I dropped the barbecued sausage down my shirt and got barbecue sauce on it.

They also had bibs, because it was really hard to hold a cup and a little plate, and try to eat off it. But I couldn't get the bib to stay up, so I got barbecue sauce on me. Ah well. Oh--and desserts! There were biscotti and cupcakes and pumpkin bars and cookies and this mini-volcano thing from the Rainforest Cafe that was ice cream in the middle, brownies around it (as rocks) and caramel and chocolate sauce dribbled down the sides. DEElicious.

I tried to keep up with the fella, who eats lickety-split, and I hurt myself eating too fast. I did slow down after the first or second booth. There was plenty of food, and it was all good.

I AM writing. Or revising. That's all good too. Also, I don't have to run my genre-review column by the editor before putting it in the paper any more. It's all good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Presenting the Plotting Workshop

So, my friend Belinda came to town this week, and we did a workshop at the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter on storyboard plotting with Post-It Notes.

We do our plot brainstorming this way. It's very visual, and some of the HBA members had heard about it, but couldn't figure out how to do it. So we did a joint workshop and showed how we do it.

We probably don't do it like anyone else. B is a little on the anal side (she has a whole Justin cowboy boot box full of different colors of Post-It Notes), and I'm a whole lot loosey-goosey about things, so when we're doing our brainstorming, we get a lot of "You need some more internal conflict in there," from B, and a lot of "I'll just figure it out when I get there," from me.

Don't get me wrong. I DO plot before I write. I just don't plot very deeply. I want a one-page skeleton/roadmap to hang my story on. B, on the other hand, would plot right down to the individual scenes if she could do it. (Not that she can't, but she usually doesn't, because I'm fussing at her to "Write the dang story already!")

Anyway, we had a good time doing the workshop. We plotted a paranormal story, so we could have more plot threads to keep straight, and use more colors. But as one person said, it probably would have worked better if we'd done a plot from a movie--something well known.

It rained most of the time Belinda was here, but we did get to eat some nice shrimp, and went downtown to The Witchery on Postoffice Street so she could buy a crystal for meditating. The fellas--because B always comes down with hers (he doesn't trust her driving in Houston traffic)--went fishing while we did our workshop. They caught fish too, but gave them all away. I'm glad they had fun too.

And yeah, the visit with my folks went fine. The Alzheimer's is getting worse, so I'll be talking with their doctor in the near future to see what needs to be done. But this weekend, I'm being sorta lazy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Out and about


I took this picture last week, but I'm posting it today, because I haven't uploaded the pictures I took this a.m. when I went out to walk on the beach. It was pretty windy this day. Today, it was still, not much wind at all. But still fabulous.

There was a snowy egret out fishing on the beach. I gave it a wide berth so it wouldn't fly off, but I wasn't the only one out walking...still, it seemed pretty calm with 3 or 4 people out and about.

So, the fella and I have had our birthdays. We went to Saltgrass Steakhouse for his birthday and ate steaks, and to Landry's for mine, where I had shrimp fresca (because I love that stuff) and he had fish. Tilapia, I think. The oil spill hasn't seemed to interfere with the local shrimping, but I'm wondering if it's messing with the fishing. Haven't seen as much snapper or redfish lately... We are still discussing our birthday present. (We usually get One present, because there's all of 8 days between the two events, and we might as well.) I think we're going to get a refrigerator. As in, not getting rid of the old refrigerator, but adding one. We have a 30 year old freezer we're going to retire. (It runs all the time and uses a lot of 'lectricity.)

The fella has bought himself a pistol. He is taking the class to get himself a license to carry a concealed weapon (it's legal in Texas to carry concealed, not openly) (If you take the class and get the license), and you have to have a handgun in order to take the class. He's not taking it because he intends to carry the thing. But at the state capitol, folks with a license can get into the building without having to go through all the metal detectors and searching. (There is a logic to it...) And since the lege is meeting starting in January, and he has to be there frequently during the session, he wants a license. And while he is taking his class, I'm going to visit the parents.

I was talking to them today, telling them I was coming up to visit. I mentioned my daughter by name--and Daddy couldn't quite remember who she was. He knew she was family, but couldn't place how she fit in...and was totally embarrassed when I told him. He hasn't seen her for a year--they live in Pennsylvania and don't get back to Texas often--but, well, it's breaking my heart, and I hope we do get them to the end of the year in their own house.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shrimp salad

I mentioned before that my mother-in-law loved this shrimp salad from a now closed restaurant. Occasionally, we get a salad that's sorta similar, but usually, no. So we worked to try to recreate it, and I believe we've gotten close. It's mighty tasty, at any rate. And I've promised to share. So here it is.

I started with my leftover shrimp. I had lots. I bought 4 pounds, and we might have eaten half of them. Maybe. This was less than I had for the first salad I made, but still probably more than we really needed. Amounts may be adjusted according to your taste, and to how much shrimp you have/how big a salad you want to make. This makes a great main dish--but the fella likes to have it "on the side" as an actual salad. (I think he's silly.)

So. Shrimp. At least a pound, boiled (or steamed in the microwave--whatever).

Then, you'll want: celery (this is the majority of the salad), cucumber, green onion and green bell peppers. I peeled, seeded, chopped and salted the cucumber, (I used a whole one) then put it in this colander to drain. When I made this before, I didn't do the salt-and-drain thing, and the salad got a little watery. Draining it helped. It takes a while to do all the peeling and chopping, so if you do the cuke first, it'll have plenty of time to drain.

I used 5 celery stalks for this salad. I used more for the first one I made. The tender heart of the celery is the best in this, but I didn't use it in this salad. It was still good, and I don't even like celery, which I may have mentioned before. I like it in this, though.

I used 5 green onions--all of them, end to end. The green parts are really good. And I used about half the bell pepper. I used less in the first salad, and could taste it more in this one. I like bell pepper, so I liked the "more."

I may go for an "English" cucumber next time. Those are the really long cucumbers sold wrapped in plastic wrap. I think more would have been good, and the English ones are supposed to have fewer seeds and maybe be a little drier. But I just used one whole regular cucumber.

I chopped everything to a fairly small dice, maybe 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch. I peeled and chopped the shrimp after I did all the vegetables. It was really pretty, I thought, when I piled it on top like this.

But we are not done. This is not a layered salad. This is a scoop-it-onto-your-plate-in-a-mound salad. It needs the dressing, and then to be all stirred up.

The dressing is like for a tuna or chicken salad. Mostly mayo. (We use real mayo, because of gluten issues.) You have to judge the amount according to how big your salad is. Everything is adjustable in this salad.

I used two big spoonfuls of mayo, and then added another couple of little spoons of sour cream. (This is a big salad, people.) I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper and a good dusting of Cajun seasoning.

I could have used a ton more, and probably still have barely tasted it. I could scarcely taste any spice at all. All those vegetables, I guess. The shrimp are naturally salty, and I did cook them in the Old Bay. But this is a very mild-tasting salad.

You could probably experiment with seasoning--but the vegetables and shrimp are all so cool tasting, I don't know that you could change that very much.

At this point, I'm sure you know the rest: Stir it all up, and eat it. You might want to stick it in the refrigerator a while to let the flavors blend, but they blend pretty good from the very beginning.

I also imagine that you could do this in a food processor, if you're careful not to puree things. I think the restaurant had smaller chunks of food, and it did take me a while to chop all this stuff up. (The first time, I had the fella peel and chop the shrimp for me.)

It took us three days to eat all this salad, and there were four of us eating it. Of course, until Monday (Labor Day) lunch, we didn't eat it as a main dish for the meal.

Yeah, it looks a lot paler, not so pretty and colorful, with the white dressing stirred all into it, but take my word. This is really good stuff.

My foot is almost well. I've been out walking the dog twice this week, but I let her walk around the neighborhood with me off leash. She's been very good about staying with me and not trying to leave the street. I let her out of the backyard the other day to run while I brought the trashcan in, and she was so cute. When I had the can in the back, but the gate still open, she came and peeked around the corner of the house at me, just to double-check I was there, and maybe to see if I was going to make her come back. She saw me look at her, and dashed back to the front yard, in case I might call her. She came back to check on me again, before I got back out front to watch her. She stayed in our yard, except for running across the street to see if Tony (the owner) or Sheba (the dog) were home. Tony loves Dolly the princess pitbull. Sheba tolerates her. So she's allowed to go in Tony's yard. As long as she's a good doggie, I'll take her walking with me. We both could use the exercise. :)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Shrimp feast tonight!


So. I've been wanting to make that yummy shrimp salad again. I almost bought frozen shrimp at Kroger, but the fresh ones are so much better--and I've been in there mornings to see them opening the Exact Same bags of frozen shrimp they have in the freezers and pouring them onto the ice in the "meat market" area. Therefore, this morning, I got in my bus and drove down to the fish market.

Yes, the two markets at Galveston harbor are right next door to each other. And just to the right of Katie's (where I bought my shrimps) are the shrimp boats. Some of them anyway. More of them are farther east.

We are in Texas. The oil spill has not come this direction. We have had no oil, no dispersants, none of that mess. The seafood here is Just Fine. Excellent, in fact. Just FYI.

Today, I forgot my ice chest. It's better to take an ice chest with you to buy fish and shrimp, because then you don't have ice melting on your floorboard while you drive home. Anyway, the first job in fixing shrimp anything is to select your shrimp. In the front, you have your medium sized "head on" shrimp. They're usually a tad cheaper, but you have to pinch the heads off. (This kind of "pinch" is pronounced "peench" which is the correct Southern pronunciation for something vicious enough to take the head off a shrimp, or make your little brother squeal in church. A pinch of salt is just a "pinch.")

I hate pinching the heads off shrimp, because they have these poky spine things that stick out in front, and they stab me. Also, I don't like shrimp hairs. You get a few hairs in de-headed shrimp, but not enough to comb. So, I bought the medium-sized shrimp in the middle--30-35 shrimp per pound. The ones in the back are the extra large (11-15 per pound), but they're not as good for a shrimp boil, and would require a Lot of chopping for salad. (Also, they're about $5 more per pound.) The large shrimp didn't make the picture. They're about $1 more, and today, they were the pink Gulf shrimp, instead of the "brown" Bay shrimp. They didn't look enough bigger to make me want them. I bought four pounds, because when I mentioned making shrimp salad, the fella wanted cold boiled shrimp for supper. I mean, if I was going to the fish market anyway, I might as well buy enough for supper too, right?

The first thing you do, whether you're going to eat them plain, boiled, or make them into a salad (or into enchiladas or sundry other things), is to boil the shrimp.

For this, you need a big pot, with lots of water, some "shrimp boil" (we like Old Bay seasoning), and shrimp.

I like to rinse the shrimp before I put them in the pot to cook. You don't necessarily have to do this, but I did. You can maybe get a better idea of their size and color in the "rinse" picture. It's something to do while you wait for the water to boil, and gives you a chance to pick out any stray shrimp hairs that might have got into the bag.

Shrimp don't take very long to cook. I add the Old Bay (or other) seasoning to the water when I put it on to boil, about a tablespoon for every couple of pounds. The fella likes more, but I think that's plenty.

You'll want to get the water to a really big rolling boil, then dump the shrimp in all at once. It will stop boiling, and the shrimp will all sink to the bottom of the pot. You can sort of see them in this picture, despite all the steam. They're done when they float, and turn pink. Generally, that's about when the water comes back to a rolling boil, and boils over.

So you have boiling water, and floating shrimp, and they're pink. It's time to take them off the heat. Pour them carefully into a colander in the sink--I haven't burned myself yet in this process, but give me time. This is me. Run some cool water over them--this is problematic here, since our cold water is mostly lukewarm this time of year. Then put them in a bowl--our big one is glass, but plastic works just fine, and metal probably would too.

See how pink they are? Since these shrimp were brownish-gray to start with, they turn a more delicate pink. The Gulf shrimp start out about this pink, and get a really bright pink when they're cooked. Almost neon.

So then, you pile ice on top of the shrimps and stick them in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat them. We love to have people down to visit, because it gives us an excuse to have a shrimp boil. We do "peel-your-own" shrimp dinners. The first time the youngest boy's girlfriend came to eat with us in Galveston, she had never peeled her own shrimp. We had to teach her how.

The easiest method is to grab their legs and peel one way around the back of the shrimp, taking off as much of the shell as you can. Usually, it breaks off at that tail joint--the one restaurants leave on. Then you take hold of the tail, squeeze that tail joint shell just a bit, and gently pull, to pull all the good meat out of the shell. If that method doesn't work, just wrestle that sucker off the best way you can. Set out bowls at every place to hold the shells, and have lots of napkins handy. (You can buy bottled cocktail sauce, which I like just fine, or you can mix your own with ketchup, horseradish sauce and mayo.) Corn on the cob goes real well with a boiled shrimp meal, also cantaloupe and sliced tomatoes.

Our youngest grandboy is six. He's loved shrimp since he got his first ones at his first birthday. He is just now learning how to peel his own, but can't peel fast enough to suit him. Dad still has to help. His big brother doesn't like shrimp. (He's the picky eater in the family.) Won't touch them. We don't mind. Just means more for the rest of us.

I'll take pictures of the salad making when I get there, but this is obviously step 1. :)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I has an Owie...

So, I went walking with the dog last Wednesday, because I walk faster when I take her. Except sometimes I walk too fast, and I don't see all the hazards of the road. And Wednesday, I wasn't paying attention to a place where the asphalt didn't cover the whole street, and made a little 2-inch curb. My foot rolled over, sprained itself, and I hit the ground. Rough asphalt made holes in my knees, etc., etc., etc. (There was bleeding.)

So I let the dog off the leash--she got a little running in, but she was very good about coming back home with me. (We hadn't gone very far before I fell.) I walked back home--I knew the foot was just sprained, not broken, because I could walk on it. The picture--that's the foot I didn't sprain. The other foot. It swelled up too, but not as bad as my right foot.

Anyway, I was amazed by the purpleness. The bad foot hasn't turned purple, but it swelled up pretty good. And hurt a lot. I have been hobbling the last several days, but today it's better enough I climbed all the stairs to get into the library.

Yes, I know. I need to give up this falling business. It's no fun. Back to exercising with the Wii.

Not much else to write about. I need to get back to writing this week. I'm kind of in a reading slump, so I need to write.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I've been Manga-ized!


We've had a package at the post office (we use a P.O. Box for most of our mail) waiting to be picked up for better than a week, because nobody could manage to get by there during "window hours." Finally, the fella went by to get it. It was a box from Harlequin, and I figured one of my old books had been translated into a new language. (Though seemed to me they've already hit most of them--Czech, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese (twice for one book), Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. Maybe not Polish yet, or Hungarian--though I'm not sure.)

Anyway, when I opened up the box, there was one book inside. A manga edition of my 2003 book, Her Convenient Millionaire! (Yeah, I didn't crop the image very well. Oh well.)

They had the beach scene and everything! There were people I don't remember clearly--I wrote this book well before 2003, in case you didn't know how slow publishing worked. And they turned it into Manga!

I have another picture to show, but I'm afraid I'll wind up overlapping them. I haven't tried to show this many pictures with this new "widescreen" format.

The other picture is from later in the book, after the "romance part" begins. Since this is Japanese manga, the love scenes are R-rated. ("Soft-focus" with upper body nudity. Does it count, since it's just pen and ink?)

I also have a picture of a couple of the grandboys taken while they were visiting. I'm not sure who took the picture, because I did not pick my camera up Once the whole time they were here. (I know. I'm going to lose all my "good Gigi" credentials.) The boy in the picture took more pictures with my camera than I did. Pictures of his stuffed cow, and the electronic photo frame, and a fuzzy blanket. He did take a picture of his cousin. Pretty good one, except the kid had his hand in front of his face. Silly boys.

I want to do some recipes in a blog soon, but I want to take pictures of the process, which means I need to fix them again. For years and years, there was a restaurant the in-laws just loved up in Fort Worth, which served a chopped shrimp salad-- Not salad greens with a few shrimp tossed on top, but tons of shrimp and celery and other chopped-up things so thick they served it in a mound, like it had been shaped in a bowl and turned upside down. Shrimp in every bite. We loved that salad. And when the restaurant closed, spent ages trying to figure out how to make it.

Well, I think we finally figured it out. When the family was down, we had a shrimp boil. (That's one reason we have company. So we have an excuse to go buy shrimp from the fish market and eat cold boiled shrimp.) And we had leftover shrimp. And the dairy allergic boys can't eat shrimp enchiladas. (We have three gluten-free eaters, two of whom are also allergic to dairy (one only mildly so, and one extremely so), and one additional non-dairy person in the family. It's kinda nice that there are enough people to have double menus...) Anyway, with all the dairy allergies, we decided to make shrimp salad instead. So, one day soon, I will cook some more shrimps and make the salad, and post pictures with the recipe. And that's just one I want to share...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fun in the Sun

It's August in Texas. That means it's hot. Very hot. Extremely hot. As in-- folks would pay a visit to hell because it's bound to be cooler there hot. And the daughter, s-i-l and grandson came down for a week from Pennsylvania last week.

We did some beach going. The Dallas grandboys came down so the cousins could have a little time to play together. We went to "Slitherbahn." It was no harder keeping up with the autistic kid than the other two--they all wanted to run off and do their own thing.

The second time we went to the beach, there were itchy things in the water. We thought at first it was seaweed--but there was less seaweed (sargasso) than the first time, so maybe not. Then we fished some of the itchy things out of our swimsuits. It looked a little like tiny speargrass--maybe the size of a mustardseed. Round, with spiny things sticking out, and kind of clear, but not. Then, I got to wondering if it might be alive in a different way--like maybe tiny baby jellyfish or something... About this time, the daughter pulled out another one of the itchy things and looked at it--and yelps because it has pinchers moving around. Pinchers! Like maybe crab claws. Like the itchy things were tiny, transparent, baby crabs.

I have since looked up crabs and such, and apparently blue crabs (and possibly others) have a tiny, mustard-seed-sized, transparent phase. There are many blue crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as stone crabs and others. So we all had (probably) tiny little crabs up our swimsuits. Needless to say, we did not stay in the water long for our second trip. (The water wasn't as warm either... Not like bathwater trip earlier.)

We also went for a ride on the Galveston-to-Bolivar Peninsula ferry. It's free, and if you walk on, you don't have to wait in line. There's a high observation deck where you can go inside and stay cool in the a/c, or you can go outside and stand in the wind (strong enough to knock me down that day) which helps with the heat, and watch for dolphins.

And we saw them. On the Bolivar side, there must have been a big school of fish, because the birds were swarming the spot. And so were the dolphins.

Too many to count--we guessed we saw somewhere around 20-plus. They were moving too fast to count all of them--and yes, it was obvious that it was that many different dolphins. They don't move that fast. And they were all sizes, including some obvious babies. I saw them jumping out of the water--I saw a trio horsing around, with their noses up out of the water--head up type jumping, and some of the others with bigger-than-usual curving jumps, so their entire bodies came up out of the water, not just their breathing holes and fins. It was SO COOL. I have never ever seen that many dolphins at once.

Most of them surfaced in pairs or trios. I actually have never seen a dolphin swimming alone. I guess they follow the "buddy system." (You know, like Boy and Girl Scouts--you never swim alone, always have a buddy, and always know where your buddy is.) It did make us wonder whether we had more dolphins because of the oil spill, because we haven't had any oil "upstream" of the Gulf current. The picture is not one we took. I forgot my camera. In fact, I did not take A Single Picture the whole time the grandkids were here. (I know. I may lose my "good granny" status. But I was busy playing with them!) The daughter may have gotten some pictures. I hope so, but they were kind of far away, so maybe not.

I have a new computer, but since I'm on jury duty this week, I'm having trouble getting everything loaded and set up. Sigh. But I'm working on it.

I spent all morning today in a county courtroom for the jury questioning (voir dire), knowing I wouldn't get picked, because I was sitting on the last row. I'm still apparently "on call." I have to call a phone number when I get home to see if they need me tomorrow. If I make it through till Friday, I'm off duty. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts on gothic vampires


I read a book yesterday. It was by an author who was not new to me. I've read Deanna Raybourne's "Silent" books and enjoyed them. This book, The Dead Travel Fast, is her newest release, and not in the same series as Raybourne's earlier books.

I have no idea of Raybourne's motives for writing this book, so I really don't want to guess. To me, it feels like it wants to be a vampire book like vampire books used to be before vampires got all sparkly and sexy. Like the original Bram Stoker Dracula.

The heroine is a small Englishwoman--she grew up in Edinburgh, but does not self-identify as Scottish--who travels to Transylvania in the mid-Victorian era to stay with a friend in anticipation of her marriage. The friend lives at the top of an isolated mountain as part of the Dragulescu family, but when the heroine gets there, she finds things are not what she expected. The friend is not marrying her count Dragulescu after all. And the heroine is quite attracted to the man.

About halfway through this book, I really had to drive myself to finish it. I just wasn't having any fun.

I read a review fairly early on, and decided it didn't really sound like the sort of book I enjoy, so I didn't hunt it up. However, I was at the local library earlier this week, looking for Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging, ran across it and decided--what the heck--it's at the library. I might as well read it.

Except I was right. It wasn't really my type of book. It was the kind of vampire book that reminded my why, for the most part, I really don't like vampire books much. And why I really don't like gothic novels much. It was all mood and atmosphere and language--and I'll be honest here--I really prefer clear, straightforward, workmanlike language with only flashes of artisticness. I am not much of a lover of lush prose. I don't hate it, but sometimes, I think it gets in the way. Or when used, you wind up with a book that's mostly atmosphere and not much substance. Which I really can't say about this--there is substance. But there's an awful lot of atmosphere and brooding and such.

There's a lot of "are there vampires, or is it only criminals trying to make you think there are?" and "Is the hero an evil vampire SOB, or a victim of his childhood?" That sort of thing. The sort of thing gothic romances are full of.

Gothic romances are famous for having a hero whom the heroine suspects of dastardly deeds. This one follows along those lines, although here it's mostly wondering whether vampires exist. I've always thought gothic heroines a little dim, because they were attracted to men they thought might be killers (or vampires?). Never have been able to get into that mindset.

There are a lot of people out there who like moody, atmospheric, gothic romance-type books. If you do--if you liked The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova--you'll probably like this book.

I am not a fan. (Did not like the Kostova book at all--this one is Much better than that one.) I know I'm not a fan, and yet I picked this book up anyway. It was wrong of me, and about halfway through, I knew it.

So, I am writing this I suppose to remind myself that I honestly do not enjoy gothic romances, or old-style vampire novels (I really don't like any horror books at all), and I prefer prose that's more straightforward than lush. So it's okay if I don't read them.

Really, there's nothing wrong at all with Raybourne's book. It's quite well done. But it's still a gothic, old-style vampire novel full of lushly lovely prose. Not my cup of tea.

Now, notice I'm not calling it crap, or trash, or anything of the sort. Nor am I bashing the taste and/or intellect of those who read it and loved it, unlike many of those who criticize the readers of romance and/or science fiction and fantasy. I'm just saying--it didn't work for me, and this is why. Everything is subjective. We just have to recognize our own areas of subjectivity, acknowledge them, and especially, admit that we ourselves are not the arbiters of all taste and good books and allow others their own preferences.

I guess you can tell I'm getting sick of romance bashers again. Anyway--The Dead Travel Fast--gothic vampire novel. You might like it, if you like that sort of thing. (Hey, it's better than The Historian, though it has much the same feel.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writer's Weekend


I said I was going to go, I went--didn't even have any cell phone access for texting, unless I walked out of the cabin and waved my phone around near the cars--and now I'm back to tell you all about it.

The picture is of a central Texas river, not where we stayed--although the Bosque River flows through Valley Mills. But there was a cattle-watering pond, known as a tank pretty much throughout Texas, just outside the back door with overhanging trees and banks that looked a lot like this. The water had a lot of duckweed in it, and the water level was about 2 feet down from when we were there in the spring, but it was just as clear as this, when you could see around the weeds. Lots and lots of dragonflies.

Which we didn't see much of. It was hot as blue blazes--around 100F (38C) when I was driving out there. The cabin had air conditioners, and this was supposed to be a working weekend. We stayed in the cool as much as possible. Took three or four walkabouts around the cabin or along the drives in when we just couldn't sit any more. And yes, we ate LOTS of fruit salad. Friday night, B went over her notes for the novella she was working on and did some tweaking, while I went through my research book which I dug out and brought with me so I could be sure what I wanted to do corresponded with what was really happening.

Saturday, we got up, had breakfast, and started writing. That's pretty much the whole weekend, actually. Every so often, I would get stuck, and we would talk out what I'd got stuck on. Mostly, it was me interrupting B, but once or twice she wanted to talk something out. Saturday night, we had a big salad at the cabin, then did some plotting for two ideas I had, then talked some more about B's story. Then we got out the Tarot cards and did a little reading on her characters and suchlike. Sunday, we got and wrote, had lunch and wrote, and then went home. We got to stay a little later, since the new people weren't coming out to the C-Bar till Monday, and we took advantage by writing.

I came home with 20 pages, which is the most I've ever done in two days. Also a bad case of butt fatigue. The book still isn't finished, but I'm a lot closer. There may be only one big scene left. I think this book is going to need an epilogue. Deal with it. I have my fingers crossed. I have also written some both days so far this week. I think I can keep that up, until all the relatives come. Which is Saturday.

We will have ALL the grandboys here. For a few days, anyway. :) Also, their parents. =8^O

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Coping mechanisms


We all have them. Sometimes they are coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult people, or for doing things we don't want to do, like housework. There are all kinds of coping mechanisms. The little spiral notebook I carry around with me is a coping mechanism for getting the stuff done that I keep forgetting to do, like remind the fella to refill my windshield wiper fluid. (Living on the coast requires gallons and gallons of the stuff--I don't know if it's the salt in the air or what, but I have to wash my windshield off nearly every morning.)

So--I blogged a couple of weeks ago about keeping on, and being a slug and how I ought to cut myself a little slack. Well, I have been. I have been slacking up, down and sideways. I am ALL about the slack.

Which is where the coping mechanism comes in. I am so good at slacking, that my friend B asked if I needed a writer's weekend to make myself finish this stinkin' book. (I am Soooo close to the end.) (Well, maybe not quite that much...) (but almost)

With the daughter coming, and jury duty lurking not far beyond that, I wasn't sure I could get away--then I realized that I had THIS weekend free. B and I have not yet discovered a cheap place between our two cities, so we are going back to Valley Mills and the dude ranch with its plywood-walled cabin to write all weekend. Time away from the world and its expectations so I can make myself write.

I am taking a folding chair. The chairs in this place are Hard. It's August, in Texas, and while I think this place has a window unit a/c, it's still bound to be hotter than blue Hades (which you know is hotter than regular Hades...) Maybe I will take a fan. We have fans.

I have bought chips and dip and fruit and cookies and Coke Zeros (vanilla and plain). Tonight I will cut up fruit (hence the picture above) and put the Coke Zeros in the fridge to get cold, and I will pack. (Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of fruit salad with no kiwis in it? My salad will have none. Nor will it have watermelon, though I wanted some, because all those other people on the island bought them. It will have cantaloupe and honeydew melons, grapes, strawberries and pineapple. Also maybe peaches.) Tomorrow, I will go to work in the a.m. so I can get out of town early (before bad Houston traffic). Then I will go home and load the ice chest and the car, and buy gas, and lunch to eat in the car, and I will drive to Valley Mills. And when I get there, I will write.

So. Now I have put it down in electrons on the Interwebs. I have to do it, because y'all will know if I don't. One way or the other, I will get the writing done. I have pulled out one of my coping mechanisms. But, boy, am I glad I'm not on an actual deadline...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wallowing in slugness


I have the midsummer blahs. Even though it's not midsummer, whether one calculates by the sun (which makes midsummer June 21 or so), or by dividing in half the number of days off between the end of school and the beginning of school in the fall. Either way, we're closer to the end than to the beginning of summer. I don't know whether that makes me nostalgic, desperate or just tired. Maybe all three.

Anyway, we've gone up to Dallas for a birthday party, we're home again, and I'm having a whole lot of trouble getting motivated to Do Anything. Alas.

It's not just the writing that's been left gasping by the wayside. Pretty much everything else is too. Exercise, cooking, shopping for groceries--I just want to be a slug and read, or maybe sleep. Sigh. Gradually, I am forcing myself to get things done. I went to the grocery store yesterday. I've folded most all the laundry (except for what is still in the dryer, and the fella doesn't really need his underwear that bad--he has more). I do go outside and comb the granddog. (She has short pit-bull fur, but likes to be combed, cause it scratches her itches.) But she will let me sit on the glider and read while I comb/scratch her. (When I scratch her, my fingers come away with dirt on them, she gets so dirty. And yes, she gets baths. And immediately goes to dig/roll in the dirt and replace her dirt.)

Anyway, yes, I am a tired slug who is doing as little as possible and feeling terribly guilty for it, but not enough to stop being a slug. I'm wallowing in my slugness. It IS easy being a slug, and I like it. So there. I may have to take a "writers weekend" to finish this dang book. I could definitely stand to escape to Valley Mills or some other similar place for a few days. Even though I just did... Ah well. Hopefully I'll be able to scrape the slug coat off soon. :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Keeping on with the keeping on


Those of you who check in periodically with my blog may have noticed how I've really been fighting to get the current Work in Progress finished.

This is different from the fight with the previous book. That fight began because I was trying to put two books' worth of plot into one, and because I had 50 bazillion relatives (okay, only 25) show up in town the month I was trying to get the book finished. I think I may have mentioned on this blog that I wondered whether it was more of a psychological struggle than an actual "work time" struggle. That I've had this book living in the background of my life for so long (years) that I'm ambivalent about actually finishing it and sending it out into the cold cruel world. That doesn't mean it's any less frustrating.

Anyway, over the weekend, I went to a workshop/writer's retreat event. I had planned to go with my best buddy Belinda, but she had to stay home and take care of grandbabies while their mama was in the hospital. I thought about canceling when she couldn't come, but decided no, I really needed to go, even though the grandboys were in town all week, and I went to Slitherbahn on Thursday and wore myself out and had to get up really early on Friday to get all the way across Houston to the event... Yes, that is a long-ass sentence. Deal. End result is, I went, and I was glad.

It was structured with workshops in the morning, and writing time in the afternoon, and yes, I did have to lie down on the sofa where I was writing and take a little naplet so I didn't fall asleep over the writing. Afternoons are not my best writing time. But I wrote. And I listened. And I took an appointment with the creativity coach person, Kathryn Lorenzen. Her reaction was that--yes, you may be resisting the end of this book. Because I'm dealing with an awful lot of transitions and things right now, including my youngest graduating from college. It may be easier to send him out into the world if I hang onto the book I've been "raising." Basically, I need to be nicer to myself, while still showing up to work as close to every weekday as I can.

And, even though I had my naplet every afternoon I was there, I got about 3 pages written every day I was there. Maybe a little more. I pushed through a lot of the "buildup" stuff, and started getting excited about reaching the ending. And in my writing this week, I think I'm there. My hero has had his plane shot down. He's been captured. The heroine is sailing her little sailboat closer. She's had a fight with her dead husband. Things are happening, and I'm hoping I can get this all wrapped up, 100-plus words at a time, before the daughter, son-in-law and grandson come to visit in August.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Texas Hill Country


So I spent the last half of last week in the hill country southwest of San Antonio. We went on a wine tour Thursday. I've never been on a wine tour before. I've never tasted so many wines (3 wineries and 16 wines) and found so many I actually liked. (I'm not much of a wine drinker, and I tend to have plebeian taste...)

We went to Becker Vineyards, Torre di Pietra Vineyard, and Rancho Ponte Vineyard. If they were having a contest and whoever bought the most bottles of wine was the winner--we were definitely in contention. The fella has aspirations of being a wine connoisseur. (How in heck do you spell that word?) But mostly, we bought stuff we like. Fleur Sauvage (which just means Wildflower, even if it sounds like Savage Flower, which I like much better...) from Becker, and 5 others, including a port; Red Flirt from TdP, and Sorreline from RP. I don't think we've broken any open since we got home.

I've read all these Regency historical romances--and other Regency era books and histories--for years, where all the gentlemen linger around the dinner table after the ladies withdraw and drink port, but I never knew what it tasted like. That stuff is dang good! No wonder they sat around and drank it.

We also went out to a dude ranch-type place for barbecue and hangin' out. They had a big tournament of Washers--where you try to throw washers into cans in the ground. BIG washers. My teammate and I lost first round, with a big fat goose-egg. I am not athletically inclined, even when it comes to tossing washers into cans. But then, I knew that.

In other news, the Dallas grandboys are visiting this week, going to sea camp. It's really hectic in the mornings getting them up and dressed and ready to go, AND getting myself ready to go, because I go in to the dayjob while they're at camp. Yesterday, while driving from Pelican Island, where sea camp is, to the paper, first I had to wait for the drawbridge, while a barge passed through, and then got stuck behind the biggest oversized load I've ever seen. I've seen really long ones, when they transport those huge power windmill blades. A single blade is as wide as a truck trailer (plus a little) and almost as long as two trailers. But this thing was two trailers side-by-side. Took up the whole road, loaded with a big tank of some kind (painted baby blue), and drove 20 mph. all the way down Harborside to the freeway. I have no idea how they got it ON the freeway. They let us pass before they tried turning.

And yesterday, I got in the water at the beach for the 1st time this year. Mid-July...not too bad. It was lots of fun, and I was exhausted when I got home. No oil where we were, though there has been a little on the beach down from our house. All cleaned up for now. Hope it stays that way.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Black Moments and Grand Finales


When I analyze book and movie plots, I can get very clean and structured. This is the crisis, that over there is the climax, and this other thing, it's the resolution.

But when I'm actually in the midst of the writing? I have no clue. Once I'm done, then I can look at what I've done, and see where the various pieces fall, but in the midst of the writing--I suppose it's that I've internalized it so well I don't have to consciously think about it, or something. Because I haven't ever forgotten any of the pieces, so far, anyway.

Every story has a black moment--that moment when all seems lost, the bad guys are going to win, and nothing will ever be right again. I don't care what kind of story it is, there will be a black moment. Little Red Riding Hood has a black moment ("All the better to EAT you with!"). The Wizard of Oz has a black moment (the wizard's hot air balloon leaves without Dorothy). Sweet romances and women's fiction and urban fantasies and every story has a black moment that sets up the climax--the point where the story begins rolling downhill to the resolution of all the conflict.

Each black moment, with its attendant climax, resolution and denouement, suits its own story. All together, these things create the conclusion of the story. The ending. Each thing has its own part to play. I have written endings that were 3 pages long, and I have written endings that were several chapters. Because I write adventure stories--romance or not--I tend to write big "grand finale" type endings. (I have a picture of an airplane on this post, because there are airplanes like that one in the current story.) There's usually a big final confrontation with the bad guy that coincides with the black moment and all the rest. I often stick in my characters' "dark night of the soul" and their "moment of realization" into the middle of this big battle/what-have-you. (Sometimes it's a battle, sometimes it's sneaking around, sometimes it's hand-to-hand combat or a rescue.)

I am in the midst of the "grand finale" of the current book. I'm not sure I've quite reached the blackest of the black moments yet--just the kickoff one. Things will get blacker yet. This particular story is a big, sprawling adventure and needs a big sprawling ending. I really don't want to rush it, and yet, I can't drag things out either. But, it's partly why I need this 100 words a day to get through it. There's a lot to it. Lots of action. Lots of emotion. Lots of character turmoil.

So, there you have it. Adventure stories need adventurous endings. Romantic stories need romantic endings (you can have the romance in the adventure--or at least the "thinking about romance"). Emotional stories need emotional endings. Quiet stories need quiet endings. If they're quiet and romantic, then both those things need to be there. In this book, I have to have adventure, and romance, and emotion, and...

Huh. Didn't realize I was doing all that. I'd rather not think about it. It will scare me into not writing again.

Yeah, I'm on Day 9 of the writing. Go me!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hurricane Season


Hurricane season officially begins in the Gulf of Mexico on June 1, which (the Gulf, not June 1) as I type is either about 3 miles away, or 400 yards (you can do the conversions to metric, my brain is too tired to look up a website to do it for me). It depends on if Offuts Bayou counts as the Gulf--which I guess it doesn't, since it's really off Galveston Bay. So--3 miles from the dayjob. Two blocks from my house. (The picture is from "our" hurricane, Ike, at Fort Crockett Park, about 6 blocks from my house...)

However, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it until a tropical depression forms somewhere and the Weather Channel starts to get excited about it. On June 1, our hurricane supplies are only beginning to dwindle from last year (I think we still have pinto beans from 2 years ago), and we're probably not riding anything out anyway, so... yeah. No need to get really excited about it until there's something to get excited about.

Which means that last week, when "The tropical depression that will be named Alex if it ever gets winds above 50 mph" was fooling around in the western Caribbean, the fella went out and replenished our hurricane supplies. We now have TWO 40 lb. bags of pinto beans. One of them is half used. We just don't eat that many pinto beans... Plus a humongous bag of rice, which will probably have to be replaced before the season is over in November, many cans of tuna, chicken, green beans, etc. and 4 or 5 cases of water bottles. We may have to replace those too. We drink the water.

Unless weather patterns change drastically, tropical storm Alex won't mean anything to us here except rain and maybe some waves for the local surfers to get excited about. The rain is pretty exciting too. It's been dry. And the oil spill cleanup shouldn't have to stop working either.

Anyway, now that there actually IS a hurricane in the Gulf, it feels like hurricane season has arrived.

We used to live in Tornado Alley. All my adult life, actually, I've lived in Tornado Alley. I don't get too worked up about tornados, because most of the time, they go somewhere else, and if they hit--well, there's not a whole lot you can do about it, except get in the bathtub or closet in the middle of your house, because usually there's not much warning, and they'll probably go somewhere else anyway. Hurricanes give you a lot of advance warning, and it's easy to leave town to get away from them. (For us, anyway. We have lots of inland relatives to stay with, too.) But when they hit, they really hit.

So. Yeah. It's Hurricane Season. There's an actual storm in the Gulf. It's going somewhere else. Life goes on.

Still writing, little bits at a time. Those little bits will add up.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eating the elephant one bite at a time


You write a book the same way you eat an elephant. One bite--one bit--at a time. It's a long hard slog. (Okay, an elephant reading a book doesn't have anything to do with eating or writing, but it is an elephant, and a book...)

I was going to say it's probably a good thing that stories aren't exactly like elephants, because a whole elephant would go bad before one person could eat the whole thing. (Not that I can imagine one person actually trying... A whole tribe of people, maybe...) Except, it's entirely possible that stories might rot a little before one finishes writing it. Or go stale, anyway. Still, that's not my point here. We don't want to stretch that metaphor right out of shape.

The point is that when you take on a task that is going to take a while, you just have to keep doing the next thing. Keep writing the next words. And the next ones, and the next ones.

I have fallen out of practice of doing the writing First, and I need to get back into it. If not First, then Whenever I Can.

And in pursuit of that, I have joined a "100 words" loop. The goal of this loop, generally, is to write 100 words every day for 100 days, no excuses, no exceptions.

There are some members who have slightly different goals--one is writing 300 words a day, with weekends off. (This will put her ahead of the 700 words a week pace...) One of the main rules is that, if you get More than 100 words, you can't say so. Just say that you got your words for that day. That way it doesn't turn into a competition, or something for someone to beat themselves up over. Oh, and if you miss a day--you have to start over with Day 1.

One of the members, Kay Hudson, has made it up to Day 300-something. Or maybe 400-something. She's now burning up the contest circuit with finals and agent/editor requests. And she's on Day 52 of the new cycle.

I'm on Day 3. I had to squeeze my words in yesterday between the dayjob in the a.m., and the dentist in the afternoon. (I now have my permanent, gold crown on my back tooth, and the sharp, hurty temporary crown is no longer hurting my tongue, and the tooth has calmed down and is no longer crazy sensitive to cold. I am happy.) But the words are squozed. I have made it through the scene I was unsure about, and I think it works. I am on the verge of the black moment, crisis, climax, etc. etc. and the end. I do tend to write extended black moment/crisis scenes, so we will see whether I can soldier through this before the grandboys come for sea camp.

I did get all their paperwork done and turned in and fees paid, so we are all set for them to come and stay and dissect fish and such in two more weeks (or three). It will be fun. And until then--the writing.

One bite, 100 words, at a time...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Seaweed Season

So, while we really haven't had any oil on the beach so far--none at all, from what I can tell--it is seaweed season. Every year, huge blankets of sargasso seaweed drift into shore. The picture is of Padre Island National Seashore, but our little sandbar island looks much the same during seaweed season. Except a lot of mornings, the blanket of seaweed is thicker, and wider.

It's perfectly natural. The seaweed is actually GOOD for the beach and part of the Gulf coast ecology, and it's interesting to walk on (though you don't want to much, because you can't see what's under it). It can be kind of stinky. Here, they tend to rake it up and pile it against the seawall to help anchor new sand dunes. Other places, I'm not sure they do that much.

Thing is, it's kind of a red-brown color, once it washes ashore and dries out. Very similar in color to the red-brown oil they're showing in the pictures on TV. Consequently, a number of folks in hotels along the beach would see the sargasso clumping up on the beach, and call downstairs in a panic to ask "What's that stuff on the beach?!?!!" It's seaweed. It belongs there. Just step over it, if you don't like the crunchy, textury way it feels. It'll be gone soon, and then it will be jellyfish season, and you'll be missing the seaweed. (Yeah, the jellyfish come ashore after the seaweed mostly stops. It doesn't really ever completely stop.) Still, when there's a choice of oil on the beach, and seaweed--give me the seaweed!

I did get some pages written today. Not many. I'm going to join a 100-words-a-day group and try to get this dang book finishes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sum-Sum-Summertime


Summer just seems to be made for fun, bouncy songs. "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and "Under the Boardwalk" and "Up On the Roof"--they're all about summertime. They're all really old songs, (Not as old as "In the Good Ol' Summertime") but I don't know if any of the newer songs (I listen to Breaking Benjamin and Avenged Sevenfold, thank you, and even Lady Gaga, among others.) specifically mention Summer. The 60s beach party songs just seem to be suited to "summer songs."

Anyway--I'm not sure why I'm riffing on summer songs, except that it seems to have suddenly become summer. It was a cool spring, then all of a sudden--Wham! Ninety degrees and 900% humidity. (Yes, I know that's not technically possible, but...) And the oleanders have been blooming like crazy for better than 6 weeks now. I am very impressed. I mean COVERED with blooms. Plants almost solid pink, or white, or red. I'm amazed every time I drive down any street in town. (We have lots of oleanders because they are salt-resistant.)

And so far, I really haven't had time to enjoy the summer, so far. I've had to make a couple of trips to check on the Alzheimer-y parents. Then I caught a case of The Flu That Would Not Die. And it's just been really busy. I haven't even had time to go out for a swim in the Gulf.

Yes, I know the Gulf of Mexico is full of oil. But the oil is east of us, and so far, it hasn't come west. Haven't seen a single tarball, much less that oily gunky stuff, along the shoreline. I want to swim before we get any--if we do. The current runs east, not west. It's going to Florida, not Texas. I have a lot of sympathy for Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, and Florida, too. But I can't be sorry it's not coming this way.

So, yeah, it's summer. Lots of stuff to do, lots of places to go. So I'd better get my writing done, huh?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Art & Music

I've always loved both art and music. I took oil painting classes when I was in junior high and early high school, and piano lessons for years, as well as participating in band in high school and college. In fact, the fella and I met in the Baylor University Golden Wave Marching Band, following family traditions. (I played flute (not very well) and he played trumpet and B-flat baritone.) (One does not play instruments very well if one never practices.) I got back into the painting while I was in the Panhandle--haven't managed to pull it out again since I've been on the island, though. Sigh. Anyway...

So we encouraged our children to be involved in art and music--or at least music. The daughter has taken up watercolor. That's one of her paintings from her trip to Sardinia. Yes, the Sardinia that is the island off the coast of Italy where Italians (and apparently many Germans) go to vacation. (Statisticians must have really good conferences. She got to go to Dublin too. I am totally jellus--except for the statistics conference part. Don't particularly want to go to one of those, just to Dublin, or Sardinia.)

All three of our children were in band (trombone, trumpet and baritone). They have variously taken up guitar and singing. The oldest & youngest have played with learning keyboard. They are able to sing because they have not been handicapped with the allergies their father has had. They can hear and match pitches.

And now, the next generation is coming along. The middle grandchild loves to play with his parents' trombones. (We moved seven of them the last time they moved.) He loves music, especially the songs in Disney's Fantasia, both volumes. He is so enamored of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that one of his favorite birthday gifts was a book about the Gershwin brothers and how that music came to be written. And he's Seven years old.

He also wants to know why there isn't a Rhapsody in Purple. (This may be why he colored himself purple with markers the other day...)

He wants to jam. Not in those exact words, but he does. This is his picture of the instruments in a jazz band. Okay, so the trombones look a little like pregnant, one-legged camels, and the trumpets look like they could play from both ends, but I think they're recognizable. I guess there are so many trombones because his parents have so many. (They met in the Texas Tech Marching Band, in the trombone section, just FYI.)

I just like the look of the picture. I think it could make a cool all-over fabric print, or something. Not bad for a 7-year-old, is it?

In other news, I had the Flu that Would Not Die last week, and am only now finally getting myself vaguely back into the swing of trying to get my book finished. I am so glad I don't have a deadline. :)