Sunday, October 29, 2006

Autumn falls

We've been in a drought situation for 2 years, currently behind about 13 inches of rain for the year. That doesn't count last year and I think the PTB may have given up on counting that. In previous years, such conditions have given us leaves turning to dry crackles and falling from the branches at the first stiff breeze. Such dry conditions would not seem to foster a beautiful color-filled autumn, but that's not the case. And I'm so glad.

The oak trees are in the middle of a revival. One in particular, a large specimen whose canopy covers its adjoining house and yard, is deep green--except where it would appear someone has tied bright orange pumpkins on the limbs. Splotches of color make me slow down as I pass by and wonder at it. There's another oak on the highway. It was turning red last Tuesday; it was mahogany on Saturday. Its fellow oak has yet to be hit by the turning-color bug and is green.

Our pecans trees are having a bumper crop, although I don't know how edible they are, since they're falling early and with hulls in tact. But there are so many of them. Maybe the tree decided that without water it needed a final hurrah and has manufactured lots of descendents. The squirrels are certainly helping in its endeavor to procreate because they're busy burying the nuts. Next spring I will be pulling fledgling pecan trees out of my flower beds.

The bois d'arcs (Osage orange) are full of their apples. Seems hot, dry weather does not slow them down.

I should have pictures, I know. But I tried that once and it just wasn't the same. So use your imagination: a huge, spreading 30 foot oak tree--with pumpkins tied on!

Happy fall!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

5 things to eat before you die

Thanks to yesterday's "Wall Street Journal" list of notable wine blogs, I ventured to Every Day Wine Pairings and tooled around the site. Found it very interesting, really liked the recipes (I'll have to borrow that idea as the holidays approach), and found I couldn't resist conjuring up my own "5 things to eat before you die", which is the current topic.

1) Homemade coconut cream pie from a country cafe, the kind of place where you know the proprietor got up at 4 in the morning to start the day's baking. I also love this idea because I have yet to be successful with a cream pie of any kind. One sips my cream pies through a straw.

2) Steamed blue crab from Maryland. Having lived on the Texas Gulf Coast for 4 years and having caught blue crab off the jetties, we only knew to boil them. Arriving at a restaurant that spread the table with brown paper and dumped crab steamed and with seasoned salt all over them in front of us, we were in heaven. We returned a second night.

3) All you can eat crab. While pregnant with child one nearly 30 years ago, this special promotion was not uncommon at the local Red Lobster. My husband says I embarrassed him. Nonetheless, if you like crab (and I prefer snow to king), you should have the experience of all you can eat.

4) My mother's ham gravy. Mother would cook a ham until it was leather, but the gravy she made with the drippings was divine. Pass the mashed potatoes and a soup spoon, please. And no, I don't have the recipe. I can't say she took it to the grave with her, but all the instruction in the world did not teach me how. See number 1 above.

5) Next-to-sex, or as it is known in polite circles, chocolate delight. A 13 x 9 pan of this showing up at a church covered dish will have most people sneaking into the dessert line first. A pecan, flour, and butter bottom crust with chocolate and vanilla puddings. I don't remember the exact formula off-hand, but I could find it. I've also had it with butterscotch and lemon and strawberries and cream. One word: chocolate.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My Losing Battle

I'll say at the start that I have won--at least temporarily--my losing battle. 9-10% of my spring 2006 weight is gone. I've lost, depending on the manufacturer, a dress size. For the first time in years, I joyously bought jeans without pleats in the front or elastic in the waist. While not exactly a shadow of my former self, I am nonetheless the me I was more than a dozen, perhaps more, years ago.

So what takes the weight off a woman adverse to diets, for whom traditional counting calories or fat grams or eating "nothing white," has been anathema?

In a word: disgust. After my annual April physical, and the once a year torture therein called "let's get your weight", I was disgusted with myself. I weighed more than I had with either pregnancy. The doctor (bless him, although my husband says he has experience with middle-aged women and just knew better than to broach the subject) never mentioned it. Perhaps that was the biggest shame-inducer. I know what you weigh. You know what you weigh. Are you going to put on 5 again by next spring?

How had this happened? Beyond the fact that I'd grown comfortable with the extra pounds and we'd thrown out the bathroom scale when it broke 15 years ago? Or beyond the fact, that the evidence of eating anything I wanted without care had centered around my middle? I walk two miles a day and lift weights, but something wasn't working.

So, in total disgust with myself, I bought a new bathroom scale, a digital model. Scales have vastly improved since I'd last cared to look at them, over 25 years ago, and I found one that measured within two-tenths of a pound. I thought that was close enough. After stepping on it the first time, I had the truth about my suspicions: the doc's scale was weighing heavy by 4 pounds.The smugness was temporary. I didn't want to weigh the four less either.

One might call it a self-imposed come-to-Jesus meeting. I would not starve myself. I would not tell anyone that I was dieting. I would set myself a goal of a half-pound a week. This extra didn't come on all at once and would not disappear for good by going all at once, either.

I made myself accountable for every bite and two-tenths of a pound. I weighed each morning when I got up. I exercised harder. I banished avocadoes from the house, not because they're not good for you by the sliver, but because I could eat a whole one at every meal. If I wanted something sweet, it would be fruit. If I wanted to snack before dinner, I would wait 20 minutes and see if I was still hungry. Oftentimes, I was not. And I set myself a goal: I would lose 8 pounds by my August birthday, putting myself on the border of where I really wanted to be.

And it came off! Sometimes it came back on, especially on Monday when we had eaten out over the weekend. I would put my ascetic cap back on and battle it again. Four weeks before my birthday, I'd lost 10 pounds. It was a good place to be. My slacks were hanging better; zippers went up without protest.

I leveled off, then dropped another two. And maybe another two. Can't really tell. I thought the scale was being unusually nice with its pronouncements this morning so I brought up two 5-pound sacks of flour. Sure enough, they weight 9.2 pounds. I moved the scale around to a more level place on the tile and got the 10 pound reading.

Tomorrow's weight may be a shocker so I'd better warn my husband that he'll have an extra eight-tenths of a pound to account for.

Me--I'm ready for it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Nature's many calls

Something awakened me at 4:15 this morning. It wasn't the cats, as warmly ensconced at the foot of the bed as they had been five hours earlier. It wasn't my spouse. Nature's call could be ignored.

The wind had died down from its October cold-front howl and maybe that was it. It was too quiet. The temp had dropped into the 50s, but my window was slightly cracked. I wasn't cold but...

I was hearing something, the hauntingly beautiful sound of geese flying overhead.

We're not a big goose area, unless you count the semi-domesticated Canadians my friend introduced to our lake many goose-generations ago. As we're on the Central Flyway for migratory birds, we get geese twice a year, going north, going south.

These were the sensible headed-south geese. And they were up early. I had seen a vee formation last week about 30 miles from here, but I hadn't heard them. This morning, in the calm, cold air, I heard not one, but two pass over. Haunting. Lonely. A reminder of the changes that are coming.

I laid there and listened to them fade away. Then answered Nature's call, disturbed the cats and accidentally woke up my husband.

Oh well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Work habit

Last week I submitted an essay, "Why I don't write in my pajamas" to Open Blog Night at Romancing the Blog . Imagine my surprise and delight when I checked it out on Monday and found it posted! Then, there were 10 comments, most of them of the "get dressed first" persuasion.

Dressed and ready to write. Yep, that's me!

Monday, October 16, 2006

If I had a dog, would I buy this?

I'm a coupon-clipper and have been all my life since my mother did it, and therefore I don't know any better. From saving a nickel on toilet paper 30 years ago to $2.00 off my favorite shampoo offered solely because it has new packaging (and a new description and size and yes, price), I regularly cut and sort. I have my own category system and take my envelope with me to the grocery store. I do get disgruntled because the best and biggest coupons hit the Sunday section of the newspaper and then expire before the item makes it into our stores. I try to be selective: yes, I'll try new products, but no, I won't clip and use just to be clipping and using. Not only am I brand-specific about many things, I'm downright loyal!

So, there I was yesterday, turning the pages of the Sunday coupon insert, pulling those I wanted when I stopped at what looked like a new brand of breakfast sausage. I'm not extremely brand-specific on this item and the magic word--FREE--was in about 100-point font. "All Natural". Good. "High protein". Good. "Gently Cooked." A bit unusual.

But not if it's refrigerated dog food.

My eyes whipped back to the top of the page. (I'd been sidetracked by FREE.) There, in an even bigger font, complete with a smiling, happy golden retriever, was: Fresh Dog Food, Homestyle Select

I don't have a dog, so of course, I don't want this, but I wondered, if I did and I bought it and put it in the refrigerator and didn't tell (as in warn) every member of the household what it was, would someone open it and cook it? Not that I think it would hurt them, but still...

Then I remembered one of my favorite stories from childhood. An elderly woman lived on the street behind us, and she could walk across her backyard to ours. My parents had a direct line to Dallas because of work (this was the 1960s and such a line was rare) and the woman liked to call her sister. So one day she came in the back door, walked through the kitchen on the way to the bedroom where the phone was, and grabbed herself a nibble of the snack on the counter. My mother watched in horror as she crunched on the cat's dry food, nodded, and went on about her business. We never told her and she lived a quite healthy decade longer.

What can I add to that?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Three Re-Dress Day

While a "three dog night" describes what it takes to keep warm on a cold night, a "three dress day" is more typical of north Texas weather. (And around my house we'd keep warm with cats anyway and good luck if you think you can get three of them to agree to do anything.)

Let's take today. Cold morning. In the 50s. We had a college homecoming breakfast to attend, so I dressed for weather and situation: slacks, shirt, jacket. Everything I had on screamed: autumn has arrived! And this worked.

Until noon. Now it's in the 70s and I don't feel very fall-ish. The knee-hi stockings are cloying, the loafers are cramping my sandal-loving feet, the slacks are hot and I ditched the jacket an hour ago. Instead of wearing this to a bridal shower--and looking like the calendar says I should look--I dig out the high-heeled sandals and a lightweight skirt to match the shirt. Whew! At last--free!

Until five and it's over. It's going to cool back down. Goodbye, skirt. Goodbye, sandals. Hello, jeans. Same top. No jacket. Yet. Can I get by with canvas shoes and not full-blown athletic wear and--egad!--socks?

Maybe. I should know by now because this is a normal day in the fall (or spring) around here no matter if one is going to work or staying home. You change clothes or wear layers. In the car is no better: heat on in the morning, a/c in the afternoon.

You know the weather's changing when you have a "three dress day."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Time for adventure

Just when I think my life devoid of adventure, the weather changes and I have to move closets.

Most men, such as my spouse, cannot relate to this. While my husband's things may be scattered between the bedroom closet and the one in the guest room, the division is along the lines of what-I-wear-everyday and coats-jackets. The everyday closet encompasses golf shirts, dress shirts, long-sleeved shirts, shorts and slacks. To him it is a year-round wardrobe, with the shorts being pushed aside for the winter months--except he needs them close for that possible warm Saturday in February.

But for me and most women I know, the first change in the weather heralds a call we heed like salmon to the river. I don't have a year-round closet; I have a hot closet and a cold closet with transitional pieces scattered in depending on color and fabric. This urge comes on the heels of not only the first blustery day, say like today, but also as my mother's dictum of no-white after Labor Day finally gets through my skull. Just because the first Monday of September rolls around, does not mean it's suddenly too cold for shorts, crop pants, and white slacks. But by mid-October, even I am tired of them (after all that I did struggle to get them into the closet at the spring version of this) and even more tired of the 90-degree temps. Grateful for the excuse, I bundle up the crops and sleeveless tees and cart them into the other room, fruit basket turn over for the closet.

And that is when the adventure begins.

Where did all this dark winter stuff come from? Some of it still has tags! Ah, the end-of-season sale I indulged in. What am I doing with two long-sleeved brown tee shirts? I don't remember buying two. Is that a yellow I can wear between now and Thanksgiving or should it be shoved aside until January? Will I forget it then? (Most likely.) How long has it been since I bought jeans? (Three years. I keep waiting for pleats to come back.) These are really worn out. (Yes, they are. They're in such bad shape I can't even give them to the secondhand store. I relented and bought new--sans pleats--at Wal-mart yesterday.) Why, with a black cat in residence, did I buy a fluffy white shawl?

Then there are the drawers in the chest. Do I not own a pair of socks without a hole? And the shoes! Why can't I wear sandals year round? Well, I can if I don't mind blue toes in January. Which I do. As I haul out my second pair of short black boots (different material), I realize it might not be a bad idea to have an inventory sheet. I forget from season to season and I do love the shoes on sale. Can't resist a look at 75% off.

Which probably explains the two brown tee shirts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One down, X to go

I've added a couple new links to the side bar: Romancing the Blog, a wide-ranging view by authors, editors, agents, and guests about the industry and The Rejecter, written by a literary agency gate-keeper who gets your query letter first. Also, The Rejecter uses the same Blogger template as I do, which I just think is interesting, that's all.

A few days ago I detailed what our household was watching on TV, the new and the old, the tried and proven, and the yet to be seen how well it will do.

We've long thought we were new-show-death. If we liked it, it wouldn't last a season, although there were notable exceptions such as Lost and Grey's Anatomy. Most of the time, we get in on a show's second or even third season, Boston Legal being a prime example. It's as if when we stay away, it has a chance.

Well, we've had our first cancellation: CBS's Smith has bitten the ratings dust and disappeared from the screen last night. Now I'll never know if they got away with it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Because I Said So

Several years ago, for the fun of it, I began a newsletter for my email friends called Because I Said So, or simply BISS. In it, I reviewed movies and TV shows and anything else that caught my fancy. It was not unlike a blog before there were blogs and I'm going to revive it.

As any good review site should have, I had a rating system as to the entertainment's worthiness. Tweaked for the times, here it is:

I'll see it again: So good that I missed some of it with the first viewing. I might even buy a copy.
Full fare: Worthy of dinner and a baby-sitter.
Matinee: Still worthy, but save the extra bucks for that $3.50 bottle of water.
Rent it: Not worthy of PPV in a hotel but solid enough entertainment for when there's nothing on TV.
TV: You've paid for the cable anyhow, and you'll want to get up and stretch during the commercials.
Read a book instead: Self-explanatory.

The selection of movies playing in general--and the selection at my local theater in particular--has been so miserable, that I've not been able to cash in on the locally reduced ticket price afforded me since I had a milestone birthday. For someone who loves movies, that's sad.

But there is hope on the horizon and although it's been out a while, the movie I saw yesterday is sufficient impetus to start BISS again. The Illusionist is fine story-telling. Unfortunately, to explain why you should see it is to give it away, much in the way that friends could only tell you to see "The Sixth Sense" because it was an excellent movie. "The Illusionist" is most assuredly that.

I'll see it again.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A new TV season--hope rises once again

Pumpkin Patch having met our expectations in monetary and kudos terms (100 pumpkins and 3 laden tables of baked goods wiped out in less than 3 hours will satisfy a board's ego that the work was worth it), I am now sufficiently recovered to lament and applaud the new TV season.

I like TV. Always have. Growing up it was the merry background to playing cards or working a puzzle with my Dad or sewing new clothes for myself or my sister. We rarely just watched TV; we did something else too.

I am not as efficient a multi-tasker as I once was and in part that's because an Evening of TV is almost unheard of. Rarely can I find something to watch from 7-10. And this year is no exception although there is hope.

Everyone else is a critic, so I'm going to join the ranks, a show by show review of what's on in our house. Or at least, what's being taped.

Sunday: Desperate Housewives seems to be back in fine form, so perhaps the sophmoric sophmore year is behind us now. We're giving Brothers and Sisters a few more weeks. I do like seeing Sally Field back. After all, she was Gidget! Over on PBS, I tape Mystery since I don't always like them. Anyway, the time conflicts with Housewives.

Monday: Until Antiques Roadshow comes back after the first of the year and Vanished from the FOX baseball hiatus, we're relegated to Studio 60 on Sunset Strip . We're not sold on it yet, but week 2 was an improvement over week 1.

Tuesday: Here's where the VCR comes in handy. Friday Night Lights. Kyle Chandler has held a place of admiration from me since Early Edition , so it's good to see him back in a fine production. Veronica Mars just about wore us out last year with the repeats and the meandering story lines, but I've read that will happen no more. We'll see. I liked the first one. Boston Legal's quirkiness captured us in the second season. I'm taping Smith and watching it while I exercise. Ultimate multi-tasking.

Wednesday: Bones is better than last year but again FOX has it on hiatus until all the pitching is over. I read a couple Kathy Reich's books upon which the series is based, but I have to admit to liking the TV better because they are SO different and I'd already bonded with the series. Lost. Again, a promise not to repeat episodes which of course means we're only getting 6 until February sweeps. I'm giving The Nine a chance.

Thursday: My Name is Earl easily made us fans last year, but there's a bit of a change this one. I'm along for the ride, but I hope they don't lose sight of the original. Ugly Betty seems to be The Devil Wears Prada for the small screen, but I'm giving it a chance for the secondary characters to develop. And Gray's Anatomy. I need say no more.

Friday: Meerkat Manor is back in favor after branching out to two more meerkat families and telling a larger story. Plus they're running two each week. Of course that makes for a shorter season, but we'll adjust and just wonder what else they have up their sleeves.

Saturday: Nothing, but then that's date night, no matter your age or marital status. Right?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Where I've been

Where does time go?

Well, if I had the answer to that, wouldn't I be the go-to wise woman of my dreams. But it's been a few days since blogging (I'm over the meerket snit) and I owe you an explanation. Or at least, I feel the need to explain.

Pumpkin Patch. Two simple words that rule my life the end of each September and first of October. Over a dozen years ago, the Library Board of our public library, of which I am nearly the oldest (purely in terms of service, mind you) member decided to raise money the best way we knew how: craft items, baked goods, and painted pumpkins. We save ideas year round, then in August, our chairwoman and craft guru Carole rounds us up, puts us in her garage with a sander, paint cans, and a saw (which she uses), and we get started.

This year, our simple we-need-money projects included Mr. and Mrs. Santas made from old fence board, turkeys of stumps and old fence board, little decorative trees (no fence board) that jangle with all the bells we've attached, clay Santa ornaments, and over 100 hand-painted and frou-froued out of their gourds pumpkins. Plus personal projects. Mine include mosaic crosses from old pottery and mah-jongg bracelets. Baked goods will fill three library tables and a used book sale will take over the meeting room. I am somehow in charge of it. Why? Because I write books.

Which of course I haven't been doing a lot of lately. I haven't typed but 200 words on the current WIP in two weeks. Life has interrupted. I'll get back on course once the pumpkins have new homes and the baked goods (I'll bake tomorrow and Friday after the books are set up) are gone. Three tables of pies and cakes will reduce to one in less than an hour. It's phenomenal and gratifying.

My blog and my writing will wait but Pumpkin Patch waits only for October and it is here.