Friday, December 29, 2006

To the boys in the band

At a recent Christmas party, I quite naturally fell into a behavior I'd never considered: I gave my name and contact info to a "boy in the band."

Nevermind the party was of the corporate nature, the "boy" was nearly as old as I, or my husband watched me do it... I wrote it all down on a cocktail napkin--of all things!--and handed it over just as they were starting their second set.

The evening had gone something like this: greeting old friends, catching up, small talk, a glass of wine, buffet. Losing track of the spouse while he worked the other side of the room and sitting at an empty table. Others join me. I don't know them.

It's the band.

I've written six books about a rock band, my Texoma series. I deal with stereotypical bad behavior and non-stereotypical redemption and reformation. All of my five bad boys are saved by the power of love. And here I was sitting with a genuine band. How could I resist telling them what I do?

I can't say they were fascinated, but they were good listeners, especially the one who ended up with my cocktail napkin. Come to find out he was the son of an Episcopal priest. He knew all about redemption and reformation.

And if he follows the links on that napkin, he'll know I do too.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What goes up...

Baseballs, arrows, hemlines, the stock market... it's not like we don't all know the rest of it. Once up, it's meant to come down.

The same applies to Christmas decorations.

We were in England last year for Christmas, so I did, essentially, nothing for the holiday at home. This year, with both sets of sons and wives to be here, I wanted to do it up right. We bought a new tree, one of the pre-lit models. It was skinny and fit into the space we have for it very nicely. I lusted over a garland to go over the stair rails but balked at paying the catalog price. A neighbor shopped with me to buy the raw material from a craft store and then helped me adorn the stairs. They looked great. I used my vintage linens to advantage and we hosted a party to show it all off, too.

And by December 26, I was sick of it.

Yes, I know the season can/should go to Epiphany. But live with all this for another 12 days? I think not.

It took much planning and several multi-hour sessions to get it all up. I wanted it down in an hour. I knew that wasn't going to happen, but I thought positive thoughts, put my new CD on the player, and gathered boxes. And boxes. Tissue for the delicate items. I emptied the reindeer collection out of the china cabinet and put the old stuff back in, rearranging it as I went. The same was true of the mantle. I found what all was supposed to be there, but I didn't put it up. Going for cleaner lines this winter, I guess. Some latent instinct coming to the fore. Yeah, right. It's spelled l-a-z-y.

Hours later, I had it boxed and at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for the other half to help ferry it up to the attic or out to the garage for storage. I even labeled the boxes. Noted the year. I was so organized it was scary.

But not to worry. I'd rather blog than dust and vacuum the mess I left.

Some things just never change.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


A restaurant review.

Not that I'm a restaurant reviewer, per se, but I know what I like and I'm willing to share good news with anyone who'll listen. Or read, as the case may be.

And Central214 in the Hotel Palomar in Dallas is good news. We wanted to share a meal with our sons and their wives and asked the girls to pick a place we'd not been. Based on the good news they'd been hearing, they suggested here. It was convenient to both of them and I made reservations for Friday evening.

Some restaurants seem to thrive on self-importance. Even arriving on time with a reservation will have you waiting until you can be seated. So arriving 10 minutes early with only half the party made me wary to begin with. But it was no problem as we were led to our table set for 7, the number in our party. There wasn't any of this pulling the 8th place setting off in a huff. 7 it was. We had been expected. When the rest arrived, our drink orders had already been taken, but someone was prompt to get them caught up with us.

When I ordered a salad, I was told it was big enough to split. I found a partner for grilled Romaine (it was good, although I don't know that I can try this at home). A large portion was put in front of me and I was told that was indeed, half. Thank you, I couldn't have eaten it all and had room for the entree.

Hanger steak must be the beef cut du jour because I've never heard of it before and all of sudden it's all around me. Steak-eater that I am, I tried it, as did several others, and it was melt in your mouth. The other entrees also received thumbs up, especially the rotisserie chicken.

The wine list was not overwhelming and the prices varied, something for everyone. If I have a quibble, it would be that I have had a better Bloody Mary. But that's my particular mission: sampling Blood Marys at each restaurant. This one would be in the top half, but I'd order something different next time.

The table shared 3 of the desserts. I don't know that there was a favorite, but the cannoli was very good.

Go back? You bet! Recommend it?

I just did.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

From a penthouse to a studio apartment

I had no idea, although one would have thought I was smarter than this. But when I bought a new vehicle this past week to replace my 12-year-old Suburban, I bought smaller, a Chevy Trailblazer, a sort of glorified stationwagon. It's cute, seats five, has storage in the back, handles like a dream and comes with all these little extras I didn't know anything about, like OnStar and XM radio. Heated seats. Side-curtain airbags. Individual a/c controls.

NO ROOM for the trappings of my Suburban life.

I have driven a van-type vehicle for 20 years, starting with a Safari minivan in 1985. There's lots of room for crap in those. Then an 88 Suburban. Ditto. Then my 95. My "car" had become my extra living space. Maps, CDs, travel kleenex, pens, playing cards, duct tape, battery chargers, napkins from every fast-food joint frequented. So when I started repositioning my goods in my new vehicle, I was in for a rude awakening.

For starters, there's no room under the seats in the front, maybe a little in the back. There goes the hiding place for my CD bundles and my umbrella. Where's my portable CB-radio to go? And what, by the way, has happened to my rechargeable flashlight? It was not in the Suburban. Hmmm. The argument could be made that with XM and OnStar, I haven't a need of CD and CB. Well, one never knows what one may need.

Towels for spills. Maps of all the adjacent counties and towns. (I know, Mapquest. Sorry, Mapquest didn't exist when I started collecting these.) More pens and paper, paperclips and safety pins.

But some things I'm not sorry to see go. The heavy-duty chain and hook. Have I been toting that around since our last trip to Colorado? No wonder my gas mileage sucks. What about the greasy flares, the set of screwdrivers longer than my arm? Or, the first aid kit that looks like a refugee from WWI? There may need to be some replacing.

So I have modified my vehicle lifestyle. I pared down the CDs to the 6 that will fit in the changer while I learn what my options are on XM. The big towels are tucked in the back with the golf umbrella and the emergency road kit is safe in its new home.

But I've begun collecting napkins again.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Coming out of the Christmas closet

We'll begin with this: This is not a complaint. Not. Not. Not. I love warm weather and long days of sunshine. But it's December, the highs this week are nearing 80, and while the shortest day of the year approaches, we're more comfortable in sandals and capris.

Which is a long way round of saying I can't wear my Christmas clothes yet. I have a sweater with Christmas kittens and jingles (belling the cat?), several vests, a broomstick skirt (okay, I can wear that if I don't mind parading snowmen while my ice cream melts), a long jumper-dress, and a long-sleeve pullover tee made of something fuzzy. I buy these things (except the kitten sweater, I swear it called to me across a crowded store 10 years ago) when the season is ended and they all go on sale. I wear them for years. They last for two reasons: they're worn for only a month and they're not worn every year because we invariably get a warm spell.

Better than a cold spell.

But I hear that's coming. Next week will be more seasonable and I can crack out some of the clothes to go with my Christmas jewelry which is currently looking really strange with my sandals and capris.

Wednesday night supper, part 2

Okay, so now I'm on a mission. Each Wednesday night, a new Bertolli frozen meal for two. And it's going to take a while.

Perusing the aisle at Wal-Mart, I found many more entries (entrees?) in this sweepstakes for the best than I had remembered, maybe 8. And at over $6 each, I didn't buy them all. First time out, I had merely grabbed the shrimp. Second time, I bought three, a meatball, a chicken, a vegetarian, which, given my household, will probably be a side dish when we have leftovers.

Last night, we tried Meatballs Pomodoro and Penne. Quite good. It would have been better had I not turned the heat up too high and part of it burned to the bottom of the pan. That required a two hour soak in the sink and a dusting of Bon Ami. I would recommend the Pomodoro if you haven't time to make your own meatballs and sauce.

We need a ratings system. If the shrimp were a 9, leaving room for an entree to knock our figurative socks off, then the meatballs would be a 7. I'd buy it again to keep for a back-up on a busy, busy night.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The last words of a Christmas tree

"The only way I'm leaving this place is feet first!"

An overly dramatic plaint from an old man protecting his property? A tired device of B-movies?

The last words of a Christmas tree?

I live in a rural county, one disposed to horses and rodeos, revival-longhorn cattle, and grasslands. There's a Christmas tree farm and on December weekends, if I've been to Dallas, I meet car after car going to its home, a Christmas tree, sometimes two, tied, feet first as it were, to the top. Trussed in mesh like a Thanksgiving turkey, it can't escape no matter how it struggles. Its trunk faces the oncoming traffic and another bit of flora leaves the protection of this earth. No matter how much it wanted to stay and become a bigger tree, it left the farm "feet first."

On to its new home, where hopefully its feet--foot?--is immersed in water and the bowl not allowed to run dry. There it's decorated and lit. Maybe tinsel is thrown, a star attached to the top. A kitten may climb it, a dog knock it over. Presents gather under its branches and on Christmas morning, the lost gift, the tiniest of boxes that slid under the tree skirt (have to cover a tree's feet, y'know) is found after a panic-search. Maybe it gets a few more days to enjoy its new home, its new family after the farm it has all but forgotten. Then, the decorations are taken down, the lights unwound. The tinsel stays because it's useless to retrieve it. And, although the family cannot hear it, the tree is lamenting, "The only way I'm leaving this place is feet first!"

And it does. Dragged out to the curb, picked up by the City to be mulched, applied to other trees in parks and around lakes, trees determined not to leave but feet first.

Sheesh, that's sad. I'm going to find some eggnog.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday night suppers

As a child, Wednesday nights--or so it seemed--were always devoted to church. We started with a covered dish supper in the basement (it was an OLD church), followed by a program. It might not have been every week, but the people who could tell me are all gone from this world, so we'll just assume it was.

Somewhere along the way, either those suppers stopped or we stopped going. Perhaps Mother grew tired of taking whatever it was she did. I have no clear memory of any particular food making its way from our kitchen to the church basement, but given Mother's culinary skills, it probably alternated between jello and baked beans. And they're very good baked beans.

Wednesday supper now is held in a rush: I have church bell choir practice at 6, followed by chancel choir at 7. The spouse bowls or, if it's the summer, golfs. I hurriedly put leftovers on the table, or something I can quickly clean up, and that's about it.

Until now.

The new temptation in our kitchen is both quick to fix and quick to clean up. I can't believe it's been in the frozen food aisle for a couple of years and I'm just now finding it. In truth, I wouldn't know about it yet, if a friend had not let me in on the secret.

I don't peruse the frozen food aisle. Convenience is not my middle name. With the exception of frozen corn, I cook fresh vegetables, slice fresh fruit. If the time ever comes when we're to rely on what's canned in the larder, this household could be in trouble. I'd better get out the flour and start making bread to trade!

So, I really didn't know about Bertolli Complete Skillet Meal for Two. Open package. Put in skillet. Cover for 10 minutes (ours took 15). Eat. Make a salad to go with it. My gosh. Where have I been?

Needless to say, after a trip to the store, we are supplied for 3 Wednesdays, and that's just because I decided not to push my luck. Having already tried the Spicy Shrimp, I've picked up the Spinach, Meatball, and one of the Chickens.

I'll let you know. Next Thursday.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Our Christmas tree saga

As we pulled the Christmas storage boxes from the attic this year, I determined that just because a decoration was in my possession, I did not have to display, or even keep, it. Principle among these items would be gifts I’d been stuck with, uh, won, at gift exchanges. True to my word, I found several such to donate to Second Time Around and many more that, because of condition, just went into the trash.
Our new tree this year is tall and skinny, not tall and rotund. There’s simply not room on it for all the ornaments I’ve accumulated over 34 years of marriage. Our favorites went on the tree, as did the better looking ones, both old and new. Everything else went back in the attic to be passed to the now-grown children who brought them home in the first place.
Going into our attic is a bit of a time-warp, not just for the things we’ve tossed up there, sure we’ll use them again someday, but also for the things I brought from my parent’s home. In particular, green glass Christmas balls, placed after use, into their original store packages.

Mother was particularly fond of single-color trees. I remember these green balls because they hung on an aluminum tree and later on a white flocked aluminum tree. Our black cat, Snowball, always looked fetching sitting under this tree, posing for us, hoping we’d go away so he could go back to his very real business of knocking the balls off the lower branches and promptly disappearing. It was his winter exercise routine.

Those aluminum trees define our Christmases in the ’60s, just as the live ones Daddy would bring in and soak in water in the garage defined the ’50s. By the ’70s I had my own tree, small and sitting on a bookcase. I handmade the ornaments and this year, for the first time, they didn’t make it to the tree, although the Christmas tree skirt did, albeit turned upside-down.
Oh, my. That’s kind of sad. I think I’ll go back into the attic and find the old ornaments--and turn the tree skirt over.