Tuesday, November 06, 2012

October in Review

Yes, October was very busy. See? It's November now.

Boston was fabulous. As was New England. We pretty much ate our way through Boston and New England. Loved it. :) It rained on us several days, but we went out in the rain and saw the city anyway. (For those of you who aren't familiar with Boston, that's the clock tower on the left.) (Please do not ask me what clock tower... It's downtown.)

We ate lobster. Lobster is good, but it's rather labor-intensive, if you just have a boiled/steamed lobster. Personally, I want somebody else to crack the thing open and pick all the meat out for me. I feel the same way about crabs and crawfish. I will consent to peel shrimp, but only if they're boiled without heads. Those heads have to come off before I sit down to eat.

(I will de-head shrimp to freeze, or to prepare them for cooking, but I do not like it. Shrimp heads are pokey--meaning they will poke you with their sharp pokey things. They are also hairy. Not like a bear, but they have those long feeler things that are like coarse hairs. Ick. It's a good thing shrimps are so tasty.)

Anyway, I ate lobster bisque, lobster mac & cheese, lobster roll, and something else lobstery. The fella did the boiled lobster eating. It was a lovely division of labor. Or whatever.

I also went to Valley Mills for the annual Heart of Texas RWA chapter fall retreat and wrote for several days. And now I have posted a new/old book--I wrote it a while back, but I still like it... It's the sequel to one of my old Silhouette Desire books, Her Convenient Millionaire, which was published back in '03. Poor Little Rich Girl was never published until now. It's another marriage of convenience story set in Palm Beach, about the sister of the heroine in the first book. It should be up at Amazon and Barnes & Noble tomorrow or the next day, so take a look.

What else? Daddy wound up not having any surgery--we decided it would just upset him for very little result. And besides, we had to move him out of the nursing home where he's been for the past year & three-quarters. They couldn't handle him any more. So we moved him down here near me to a place that specializes in assisted living for Alzheimer's patients and other folks with dementia. It's a really nice place, and he seems to be responding really well.

We kind of hate having him where Mama can't visit when she wants, but he can't really carry on a conversation any more and it upsets her to see him so bad. And then she can't remember going. Or thinks she did when she didn't. But it's been good for him, so we're okay with it. I took some pictures of him with my tablet, but haven't figured out how to do the upload thing from it, yet.

The daughter wants her dad to come see their new house in Georgia, so we're going there sometime this month. And since he occasionally has meetings in Georgia, we'll get to go visit more often. That's happy-making.

Well, it's election day (I voted early), so I guess I'll go see what Jon Stewart has to say about it all...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making it fun again

I've got a very busy month coming up. Between having to drive up to take my dad to his cataract surgery appointments and other stuff going on, I'm not sure I'll have time to get my clothes washed. And the month will be capped off with a lovely colonoscopy on the 30th. Joy.

So, I've been thinking about things like coping with being tired, and trying to get the writing done along with all the regular stuff, and about having fun too, because some of the things I have on my schedule are fun. And then I'm thinking about writing and thinking "That should be fun, too."

It's really hard for me to write when I'm not having fun. And the stuff I write is no better than pedestrian. It's not good writing, it's just kinda going-through-the-motions writing.You may motivate yourself through a fear of failure, or a drive for success, and that's great. For you. Me? Not so much.

So it's important for me to figure out how to grab hold of the joy that writing was for me back when I first started writing. I'm one of those people who wrote her first story when I was still in elementary school. I was reading a lot of animal stories back then and the one I wrote was about a cat, I think. It was about playing make-believe, but a more intense kind of make-believe. One with more detail. And it was all about the story.

I was having fun when I wrote those stories. Once, when I was telling my fella (who is in the community college business) about a novel-writing class I was teaching, and about the writing exercises I had the students do, he said, "And they do them? They write? Voluntarily?"

Well, yes. Because it's fun.

Apparently, there are a lot of community college students who don't see writing as fun. It's more of a chore, to them. But to me, it's fun. Really. It is.

I just have to remember that. And maybe rest up when I get tired. It's hard to have fun when you're falling asleep over the keyboard/paper.

And just so you know-- I plan to collapse once November gets here...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rainy Days and Wednesdays

It did rain today. I thought I'd miss my walk this morning, but the rain was over in a couple of minutes--on my end of the island, anyway--so I got out and walked. It rained after lunch too--really hard, for longer. Maybe half an hour. And then it moved on, and I went to the grocery store without getting wet. I was out of cereal. ;)

This is a great time of year here on the Gulf coast. It's still hot--though it was down below 80F/26.7C early this week, which can feel darn cold when you've been at 90F (32C) or hotter since May! The magnolias in the front and back of the house are getting lots of ripe cones on them. Our yard magnolias bloomed like crazy this year, so lots and lots of cones. The picture I found had a squirrel in it--squirrels and birds love the seeds on the cones. They also like the --I guess they're dates on a neighbor's palm tree, but they're not the kind of dates people eat. They look like little fibrous dates, though, and they grow on a palm, so they must be related. It's high living for the birds this time of year.

All the seabird babies are getting big enough to go out and find their own food. I saw an actual Vee of pelicans this morning when I was walking. Usually pelicans don't fly in vees. They seem to be always in straight lines--unless there are lots and lots of them flying together, and this group had 30 birds. Usually, they're in lines of a dozen or less, but 30!! Might have been more--I was counting really fast. I saw a baby laughing gull this morning too. The babies are as big as their parents this time of year, but their feathers are still brown, rather than gray and black. The white's coming in, but not the gray.

I went to see the parents at the end of last week. Daddy's cataracts are apparently pretty bad--he's very uncertain in his walking, especially going up and down steps, because he just can't see where he's going. He sticks close to the wall and holds onto the handrail for guidance--which is better than just blithely strolling down the middle of the hallway. If the doctor thinks he'll leave his eye alone after the surgery, we'll probably have at least one eye operated on. He just can't be picking at it afterward, and since he won't be able to remember he had surgery, it's an issue. Still, he hasn't been picking at his face lately, so maybe he won't. Mother's about the same...she's starting to read her books over again because she can't remember what was in them. But I read books over too, so-- I do it because I can't remember if I've read them before or not, and then I read them and realize--yes, I've read this. Oh well.

I've been writing a little bit. I'm kind of in a "what do I want to work on now" situation. I'm not sure what I'm in the mood to write--and unfortunately, right now, I seem to have to be in the mood, or nothing gets done. So I'll think a little and get out files and re-read a little and see what strikes me. Maybe I'll clean up my desk too.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Scary Tumble

Okay, so I spent the first week and a half of August helping the daughter and son-in-law move from Pennsylvania to Georgia. I was the grandkid wrangler and the relief driver.

The wild child--aka Mowgli--is 9 years old now, and doing pretty well with his autism, as long as you keep him busy. His parents prepared him really well for the move--by the time we were packing things up, he was mostly worried that we might not get the basement television in a box. We found him trying to pull it up the stairs by its electric cord...

Rocket Girl is 18 months old, and very busy too. When the movers came and we were desperately throwing things in boxes as fast as we could go, she got her own little shoe-box-sized cardboard box and carefully put Bob the Tomato, a book and a stroller toy in it. She was packing too.

So, we drove to Georgia--a day late because one of the cars broke down and had to spend a day in the shop. Then the same car wouldn't start after our overnight stop in Virginia--but after we jumped it off, it started every time after that. (Turned out, the connectors were bad, not the battery.) The daughter didn't make orientation for her new job, because of all the car issues, but we got there before school started.

The bridge--with boy
The new house is down a slope from the street--a fairly shallow slope with a straight driveway, and a parking area at the bottom. Then the lot drops steeply down to a really cool creek behind the house, with a curb at the edge of the parking area to keep cars in place. There's a bridge over the creek, and wild child spotted it immediately. He loves that creek, and that bridge. When she was house shopping, the daughter described this house to me as "The Calvin & Hobbes house" because it's the kind of house C&H would have loved--the back yard slope is one of those Calvin would go sledding down, complete with "terraces of death."

When the movers arrived, Mowgli was anxious to get "his" television out immediately, and so climbed up in the cab of the truck. Three times in 30 minutes. His mom took him bicycle riding around the neighborhood to distract him. When they got back, she watched him pedal around the moving van, watching the car coming down the street, to make sure he was careful. Then when she got around to the end of the van, she saw him riding his bicycle down the driveway. And apparently he forgot about brakes.

Mom's hollering "Brakes! Brakes!" He's going faster and faster. The movers are yelling. And Mowgli speeds across the parking pad, hits the curb and goes airborne. He landed about five or six yards down the hill.

Do you see the tire tracks???
He got a bad bruise in his crotch, and tire tracks across his forehead. The bicycle fork got bent. Other than that, he was fine. And the next day, as we went out the garage to the scene of all the excitement, he informed us that we needed to be careful of "the scary tumble." That may now be the name of the hill...

I stayed in Georgia a few more days, long enough to get Mowgli registered for school and go out to meet his teacher. And now life goes on.

I'm going to be doing some traveling this next month, getting Daddy's cataracts seen to. He apparently doesn't remember how he's supposed to see, so he doesn't realize that he can't see now. But I do have time for writing, between trips to Austin. I've been very good and written every day this week. Even when we had our fire adventure.

I took a half day (after writing) and went shopping yesterday. I am now outfitted from the skin out, head to toe. I bought a new hat, shoes, draws, jeans and shirts. I bought a present for my niece's wedding shower--but the shower is on my birthday, so while I'm going up there sometime next week, I may not stay through Saturday, because the shower is so late in the day. If I come home, the fella will take me out. We went out to Benno's on the Beach for his birthday today. For the next week, the fella will be older than me. ;)

Which reminds me. I need to go get my driver's license renewed. At least they've reopened the DPS office on the island, after our last hurricane.

Surf's up this weekend because of Isaac, but fortunately, that's all we've gotten from it. Y'all take care.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where there's smoke...

I'm a little embarrassed, it's been so long since I posted a blog, but we had some excitement at the house this a.m., and I can't settle down until I talk to somebody about it, and I can't get to my office where the e-mail is, and I've already talked to everybody around here about it...

We had smoke, but we didn't actually have a fire.

We've been fighting with an air conditioner that doesn't want to stay fixed for almost two months now (of course, in the hottest part of the summer--and it hasn't been that hot of a summer...). The fella turned it off last night, because it had apparently frozen up, and when I turned it back on this a.m. (When are the dang hot flashes supposed to stop??), I smelled a little burnt smell, like dirt burning off maybe. Went on to eat breakfast, and about an hour after I turned it on, I smelled a serious, big burnt smell. And it looked kind of hazy, like maybe there was smoke. So I texted the fella that I was turning the a/c back off, and that it smelled bad. He called me back and asked about smoke, but I just wasn't sure. Sometimes my glasses get hazy... So I walked around and looked, asked him to come home...and when I went to see if it was any worse at the attic access (where the a/c is), there was smoke all in that back hall. That's when I called 911.

They sent two rescue units, four police cars, three or four fire engines (don't know if the picture is actually one of "our" trucks, but it is GPD), and the battalion chief. They could smell the smoke. They could see the smoke. They couldn't find the fire.

The first two policemen to arrive went in the house--I assume to make sure I was the only one home. (I was already out on the front lawn.) Then 6 or 7 fully turned-out firemen went in. I think they did finally decided it was something in the a/c that burned up. They opened up both units (we have one for the bedrooms and one for the front of the house), turned them off, turned off the breaker, turned off the gas lines running by--pretty much turned off everything a/c related that they could turn off. Three of the four trucks stayed until they'd checked everything and decided it was the a/c.

The firemen were so nice. They appreciated that I called them to come check it out, rather than trying to do it myself. They'd rather come out on a nice cool-ish, breezy day--and then not have to fight a fire... (Cool is a relative term in Texas, in August. It doesn't start cooling off until October, here. But it might be 88F (31C) instead of 98...)

The repairman, Phil, came by and said it was the blower motor that burned up, plus the insulation inside the unit. They're going to replace the whole thing.

In other news, the summer has pretty much been a bust, writing-wise. I figured out that from the third week in July through the third week in August, I either had company or was out of town (mostly wrangling grandkids) except for about four days. In which I pretty much lay around and ate bonbons. Or Cheetos. Whichever.

I discovered the e-book lending at the local public library. I've also been doing some freelance editing, and between the two of them, I've been inspired to get back to work, however. I've written one whole day in a row. I'm going to try to keep it going. Wish me luck. I've got a lot of work to do. And now that I've vented to the world--I shall remind myself to write a blog about the grandboy Mowgli's "scary tumble," and then get to that work. The windows are open and there's a fan going, and I've kind of gotten used to working in 80F temperatures. It should be good.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Strange dreams

I had one the other night that still lingers. This one was more bittersweet than funny (like the cows at the high school).

Just before I left town to go stay with my daughter and babysit for two weeks, my cousin Scott died. He was the first of our generation to leave us, and he was only four months older than me. That year was the only year that my mother and all three of her sisters had a baby. Scott was the last child of the oldest sister, and I'm the first child of the youngest sister. Paul's a month older than me, and David is two weeks younger. (My mamaw told Mama they'd better never do that to her again. She was exhausted, helping with all those babies.)
Scott in 2004 at family Thanksgiving gathering

I hadn't seen Scott in a while--not since our aunt's funeral in Waco a year and a half ago. (Now only the oldest and youngest sisters are left of the four sisters.) I could have delayed my trip to go to the funeral--Mama wanted to go and couldn't drive herself--but I decided it would have delayed it too much. My daughter needed me, and my brother and brother-in-law had already volunteered to take Mama. And I was okay with that decision.

So, the dream. I don't remember when exactly it was--either just before or just after I got home. But I dreamed that Scott, David, Paul's baby brother Matt and I were in Colorado working on a house. It wasn't any of the houses where we met and played when we were growing up, but it belonged to the family somehow, and I've dreamed about this house before. We all looked like I remember us looking years ago--just out of college, maybe. Scott and I both had dark hair (we are the grayest of all the multitude of cousins), and we were all skinny.

In the dream, after working for a while, we all sat down at the kitchen table to have a soda and rest and visit. And I remember thinking, "But Scott's dead, isn't he?" and looking closely at him to see if it might be one of his brothers. But no, it was Scott all right. And then I wondered why Matt was there, instead of Paul--since Paul was the one born the same year as the rest of us. Never have figured that one out. But in my dream, I got a hug from Scott. A long, strong, big cousinly bear hug.

Now, maybe it was just my mind deciding I needed to work things out, but I like to think that Scott decided to drop in to say goodbye.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Steel City times

I'm up visiting the daughter, helping out with the chilluns while she tries to get her PhD finished. I'm filling in for the nanny until she comes back from having her new baby. (I don't know if the baby will come too or not.) and baby grandgirl is now 1 year old and wants to help me. I have to keep her from typing with her feet, standing on the table, falling off the bench, and putting her apple in the crayon box. She's absolutely adorable. :)

I'm having adventures in driving in Pittsburgh again, too. I dropped my daughter off at Carnegie Mellon so she could go to her seminar and I could come back home to meet the grandboy from the bus and take him to his social skills therapy. I got lost before I got off the CMU campus. But the daughter was available by cellphone and got me straightened out and where I needed to be. We even made it out to therapy without mishap.

Then came home to discover that the dog ate a whole bag (less about 6 kisses) of dark chocolate kiusses, foil and all. She's a medium sized dog (the one in front, in the picture--the other is her cousin dog who came to visit) so maybe it won't be too big a dose.

And yet, I am still writing, believe it or not. I'm not getting a whole lot done at a time, and when I can't turn on the heater (we can't run the heater in my room and baby girl's room at the same time or it will blow a breaker), I can't write, because it's cold enough for this Southern wuss with no cold tolerance that I just get under the covers and go to sleep. But I am writing.

Okay, time to go pick up the boy and then go get his mama and then go get some supper. Y'all take care. And wish me luck. I do not want to get lost again.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Catching up

Okay, this was back in September, but it's not a whole lot different now.
Okay, trying to get back into the habit.

I'm trying to get back into lots of habits. The habit of writing every day. The habit of walking nearly every day. All those other daily things that need to be done--and I'd rather write than --oh, dust or wash mirrors. Than wash pretty much anything. (Hmm, reminds me--I need to wash knives.)

I have been in a non-writing, non-reading, non-pretty-much-everything mood for a while now. Not sure why. But I went to Valley Mills for a writing weekend with three friends, and found the writing-is-fun mindset again. It took me a while. I read several books, and goofed off a lot, but I also brainstormed plots with "the girls"--theirs and mine--and wrote through the bad moods until I discovered the way out of the parts where I got stuck. And I've been having a good time this week with the writing.

Also, I discovered that the ripple in my vision is from a genetic anomaly--an extra blood vessel in my eye that leaked, but no fluid is collecting, it's not macular degeneration, and the doctors say that no other treatment is needed until and unless it gets a whole lot worse. No shots in my eye. It's my right eye, which isn't the good eye, so the ripple is hard to notice. Good news.

I'm doing Weight Watchers online for at least the next three months. Wish me luck. I've been on it for a whole week, and have lost 0.2 pound. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, though. Fixing to head out for a walk up on the seawall.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Etouffee and Mardi Gras (mostly etouffee)

Typical me. I set a goal of posting blogs more regularly, and then I don't. But I'm back. Don't everybody get all excited at once.

I have to get up and find a box to pack my grandbaby's birthday present in (she's almost one!) and wrap it and mail it, but it's raining and I don't want to go out. Not even into the garage, the retirement home for boxes. But I will, because grandgirls only have a first birthday once. Before I do, though, I'm going to post this blog. I am determined to post it.

This is Mardi Gras weekend in Galveston. I don't think there are any parades tonight, but there will be parties, drinking and merriment downtown. I'm going to the local Boy Scout council Eagle Scout appreciation dinner, where we will have either barbecue or rubber chicken and appreciate this year's crop of Eagle Scouts. Bound to be better than all that hoorah-ing downtown. :)

Anyway, the thing that really motivated me to post this blog was the food we ate last night. We ate at home. You see, I went to Target yesterday afternoon to buy fish oil tablets and shaving cream and stuff, and wandered over into the new food section to see if they had anything interesting that I could cook for supper. I wasn't feeling inspired by the stuff I had in the freezer at home. And in the freezer section, where the fish and frozen shrimp was, I saw a package of crawfish tails. Suddenly, I was inspired and struck by a desire for some crawfish etouffee.

I realize that some might be put off by the idea of eating something with the nickname of "mudbug," that looks like a mini-lobster. Crawdads, as we used to call them when my brother and his friends would go crawdad fishing when we lived in Houston, aren't exactly seafood. They don't live in the sea, but--well, in the mud. Still, they are some mighty tasty eating, though I am far from a purist. I will not boil and peel them whole, or eat them whole. Somebody else has to do the peeling and picking for me. And lo, and behold! Here was a whole package of tails that somebody had done just that to, just for me. :)

Sometime last year, we went to one of our favorite restaurants--one just around the corner--and I ordered their crawfish two-ways dish, with etouffee and fried tails. And I was shocked to the bone because their etouffee was BLAND! It didn't even have much in the way of salt in it, much less that Cajun "kapow!" This is a good restaurant, with food we enjoy, but I had to break out the Tabasco and pepper to get it up to edible level. So, I figured I could come up with a decent etouffee, making it myself.

I brought my crawfish home and hauled out the recipe books. On a trip to New Orleans a couple of years back, I bought a cookbook called Best of the Best from Louisiana Cookbook, that culled the best recipes from the Junior League and church cookbooks across the state. It even has a recipe for squirrel in it. Really. I figured it would have etouffee recipes in it. I also have a set of cookbooks full of Southern Heritage cooking from the publishers of Southern Living magazine. I found three recipes for crawfish etouffee in the Louisiana book, and two more, plus recipes for crawfish bisque and crawfish stew in the Southern Heritage books. (The Louisiana book also has recipes for stew, pie, fried tails, Gouda crawfish (in puff pastry) and even Rice-a-Roni crawfish...)

All the recipes called for chopped onion and bell pepper. Most of them called for chopped celery too, but I didn't have any. Not all of them called for celery, though, so I figured I could leave it out. Some recipes didn't call for any cayenne or anything spicy. In fact, some recipes didn't call for any additional spices or herbs, or anything but the onions, bell peppers and celery, and I wanted Spice! There was one recipe that called for cream of celery soup and Rotel tomatoes. I don't have anything against Rotel, but we don't use cream-of soups here because they have wheat flour as a thickener and the fella's gluten-free. And in fact, most of the recipes called for a roux--flour and oil cooked brown. Which means I had to sub something else.

I decided on the first Crawfish Etouffee recipe in the Louisiana cookbook, mostly because it had the most spices in it. It also explained how to boil the whole crawfish, and called for "crawfish water" (aka, the water you cooked the crawfish in) in the recipe. Since I didn't boil my own crawfish and didn't have any crawfish water, I didn't drain the frozen crawfish, but put them en masse into my skillet, with the water from their package, and threw in a couple of seasonings from the boiling pot--like a bayleaf and some cayenne.

Not my recipe, but it looks similar
It turned out WONDERFUL. So, without further ado, here is the recipe for:

CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE, adapted to be gluten-free

1 pound (or so) cooked crawfish tails
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped (or sub 1 tsp celery seed/salt)
3 cloves garlic, crushed/minced/pressed
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (I had some frozen, leftover from a previous recipe)
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (yes, really!)
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup crawfish water (here I added the 1/2 cup water, plus:
(1 bay leaf, and
(1/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper, or to taste--I did just a smidge less than 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon cornstarch stirred into 1/4 cup cold water

The recipe also called for 1/2 cup chopped green onions and 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley for a final topping. I didn't have any, so I didn't use any. It also calls for 1/4 pound of butter, which I didn't notice until I was copying the recipe. I thought it said 1/4 cup, and so used a half-stick of butter, instead of a whole one. Half is plenty. (Actually, I reduced the recipe quite a bit, because this starts out with 10 pounds of whole crawdads.)

Start your rice cooking first. (If you're using a rice cooker--be sure to plug it in! I didn't notice mine wasn't, and probably simmered things too long.) Then start the etouffee.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet. (I was afraid my cast iron skillet wouldn't be big enough, but it would be.) Add onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic, and saute over low heat about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. Add the crawfish tails, tomato paste, seasonings and water. Mix well and simmer while your rice is cooking.  (You may want to add more water. I did. It didn't look liquid-y enough. I probably added about another cup.) Taste it and adjust flavorings--after you are through dancing around and crowing about how tasty it is--it will need at least a little salt, maybe some pepper, though with the cayenne, maybe not. Cover and let it simmer another 5 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch and water mixture, cook and stir until the etouffee is slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat and allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes, covered, to allow the seasonings to blend. Serve over rice. (My rice was really moist and sticky, because I put in 2 of the little measuring cups of rice, and then forgot, and added water to cook 3 cups. It was actually really nice with the etouffee, all sticky like that.)

If you don't need gluten-free, or have a corn allergy, or something--add 2 Tablespoons of flour to the melted butter and brown it a little before you add the onions and such. That's the only difference. You can always substitute 1/2 the amount of cornstarch for flour, up to 1/2 cup of flour. And don't brown the cornstarch. Makes it taste funny. Kind of floury. Just add it at the end, like this.

Oh, and this would be really good with shrimp too. Crawfish is a little bit sweet (like lobster), but anything you can do with crawfish, you can do with shrimp. Go for it!