Sunday, January 27, 2008

Counting out, counting back

We're going on a trip, a two-week adventure to the other side of the world, exploring, once again, Australia. Whereas if three years ago, we did a big circle east to west to east again, with a dip toward Tasmania, this time, we're doing the north-south, down to Melbourne, up to Darwin.

So I find myself counting out in time. In one week, we'll be here. In two, there. In three, back where we started. (The good Lord willing and the creek don't rise a given.) Sometimes, but not as often, I count back: three weeks ago we were doing such-and-such, etc.

Is it just me?

If I can find internet access--and I had remarkable success last time--I'll post updates. Photos will be out of the picture (so to speak) until we get back, but just to keep my hand in, here's my favorite photo from Feb. 2005. It's unenhanced, presented as captured. It had rained in the mid-afternoon, and on a stroll of the Central Quay, we noticed everyone rising and aiming their cameras toward the Sydney Opera House. Bathed in gold, with birds flying all around, it was truly digital worthy.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 25, 2008

My 200th post

I was contemplating what to write about today, as I haven't posted since Sunday, which seems, in light of this week, a century ago. This week was going to be busy, but it wasn't going to steal my breath and break my heart.

This week I traveled to play with my granddaughter, started a more serious approach to our upcoming trip, and grappled some more with the complexities of being my father's guardian. And then the world stopped when good friends faced the unexpected death of a grown son, a young man we remember his mother, quite literally, carrying, a child on videotape of church programs, a singular young man with his own world view.

The air went out of our collective small town breath, sucked away, leaving questions and grief. We mourn with the family and gather around them, but of course, we all know that at the end of the day, they are alone with each other and their strong faith.

So, my 200th post. Nothing light-hearted, but still a slice of small town life, draped in winter, but knowing in our hearts and with our faith, that spring will come.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Need a recipe?

Many years ago, as a hostess gift, an overnight guest gave me a clear plastic file "box" for me to pitch recipes in. I gathered manila folders, marked each of them appropriately--beef, chicken, tried dessert, untried desserts, etc--and promptly started cutting out recipes to try. With the advent of the internet, I was able to expand my reach from newspaper clippings and jotted ingredient lists on paper napkins, of which I have more than a few. The file was bulging.

I know that for a fact because I spent one evening last week cleaning and sorting. I do this periodically, but not often enough, since the plastic was threatening to break as I'd stuffed it so full of hopefuls. It took over an hour and I found out a few things about myself and my view of cooking:

1. I'd had some of these for over 20 years and not made them yet. How sad is that? It was like seeing old friends you'd neglected. Forever. I felt guilty. I pitched most of them, but saved those I'd put in for presentation. I may need a fruit tree for a centerpiece at some time. You know, tiers of fruit. Or, the pineapple hollowed to be a sauce server. (You'd think I could think that one up myself.) Obviously not. I also kept the recipes I'd not tried but which I consider heritage: those in my mother's hand or typed ones from family friends. Maybe someday when I figure out what a number 13 can is again.

2. If a recipe has the term 'creme brulee' in yet, I'll cut it out. Whether it fits in with quick breads, yeast breads, or desserts, I'm a sucker for it. I ditched at least half of them.

3. Chocolate and orange in any combination. Half gone.

4. How many ways are there to grill shrimp? Three dozen if my count worked. 35 went into the trash. (I'm certain there'll be more opportunities as the summer magazines start coming out.)

5. The same can be said of beef tenderloin and prime rib roast. Kept the oldest and dearest of each.

6. How Restaurants Cook Your Steak. Saved them all until I have the nerve to spend the bucks to buy the 2-inch steak I have only to sear and roast. (I feel faint thinking about the waste. Maybe I could slice it for stir-fry if it were really bad.)

7. Boneless chicken thighs. Once exotic fare in small town Texas, they can be had at Wal-Mart and I have yet to buy a package.

But I kept the recipe if it added chocolate, orange, and creme brulee.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sorry, wrong number

Back in the good old days before Caller-ID, dialing a wrong number was, at worse, a matter of an apology. Occasionally, you might have hold of someone you'd accidentally dragged out of the shower, but it didn't happen much. You'd apologize, and that was it. At best, you'd realize your mistake at the answering machine message or simply hang-up. No one was the wiser.

But dialing--we still say 'dial', don't we even when we're punching those little numbers--a wrong number now can not only have consequences for your pride but make you feel like a criminal.

I don't dial many wrong ones, but it happens. I'll never forget the woman who obviously had me ID'ed and was ever so rude when she called back to tell me what a bad person I was. She didn't recognize the number, but she called back anyway. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but this gal was way out of line. My mistake was in telling her my name, although she was satisfied with one roasting of me.

So this morning, calling a friend while opening the shutters and pouring the coffee, I hit a zero instead of an eight. The phone rang and rang, which was unusual given the early hour, and finally flipped to an unfamiliar voice mail pick-up. A standard cell phone message and I'd been aiming for a land line. Oops! I hung up, dialed the real thing, still didn't get an answer.

But I knew who was on the end of the line when the phone rang not two minutes later and it wasn't going to be my friend. I chirped a 'hello'.

She asked who was speaking. Now, I've fallen for that line before. I didn't recognize her voice, knew it was my mis-dial, so I plunged into the apology about being all thumbs, etc. She sighed, told me she was afraid it was one of her sons, and then wished me a blessed day. I granted her one in return and vowed once again to be nice to all wrong numbers.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reality check: Meeting my age head-on

It's a good thing I don't mind dining alone, since I do quite a bit of it. I was in the mood for something different Tuesday, so I took myself to a Salvadorean restaurant I'd visited before. I stood at the "Hostess will seat you" and "We seat only complete parties" signs for a while as the waitstaff eyed me to make sure I wouldn't be joined. You could almost hear them sigh: "Oh, no. A one-top. Lousy tipper." before coming to seat me.

In the meantime, I had noticed a table of 5 women, having a happy, semi-loud lunch. That's all that occurred to me. Really. Five women, talking animatedly, obviously good friends, out for a luncheon lark and to see if the margaritas were as good as advertised. I was seated beside them and--ahem--we all know how guilty writers are of eavesdropping.

Well, really, what else was I to do between ordering and eating tostados, trying to decide whether I liked the black bean or tomato salsa best. (Black bean, but I paid for it, if you know what I mean.) So ear attuned next door, I was in a happy haze of their wedding discussion when one exclaimed: "Oh, you'll be a matron!" Must have been a surprise announcement. "A 36-year-old matron!"

Hel-lo? Thirty-six? These women were 36-ish? I was old enough to have given birth to them?

Slyly, I cocked my head to bring the evidence to bear. Young(er) skin. Hair naturally varying shades of brown or blonde, which if dyed or bleached, still managed to suit their skin tones. No wrinkles or bifocals. Their clothes didn't scream a generational difference, but...

Reality check. They were indeed young enough to belong to me. Egad. I had noticed but not noted. Would I had they been a table of women old enough to be my mother?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Now my feelings really are hurt

True to my word to them (although I have my doubts that they believed me), I cut the outside mooching kitties off from their daily feasts at my house on Sunday morning. There was meowing and lashing of tails, even a little bumping on the screen door when they heard me inside and then didn't promptly see me with food dish in hand.

Monday, the hardy souls showed up but neither stayed around as long as on Sunday, nor did they come back as often. As for today... no one was there.

At least they can take a hint. But really now, was I just a full bowl of kibble to them? And it was name-brand kibble too. I guess I was. They've added insult to injury and quickly forgotten me.

Now my feelings really are hurt.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Catch me elsewhere

Today, I'm the featured opinion at Romancing the Blog. Entitled "Dare I Ask?", the subject is what to do when you give one of your books as a gift and the giftee never mentions it again.

So while I'm sending you scurrying about the web, my new website is fully active. The URL's the same, but the color, design, and opening page are new. I'm very thrilled about this change. It was time for a new look.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The empty backyard

I saw a robin today. Perched on the edge of the copper birdbath, the one I haven't dumped the rainwater out of yet, he was having a hi-ho time getting a drink while getting his feet wet. Due to mosquitoes and other nasty flying things, I usually empty the bath immediately, but in the winter I think the risk is minimal. Anyway, why have it otherwise?

I saw the robin because I was standing at the back hall window watching for Little Girl. She's been gone nearly 4 weeks and I've about given up on her. It was a habit to stand at the window and see what she was up to or where she was sleeping, who had joined her in an uneasy truce on the patio. It's a habit I'll have to give up since it's obvious the backyard is not going to cough her up. She isn't going to materialize before my eyes.

Sunday is four weeks and on Sunday I'll stop feeding breakfast (dinner is already gone) to the hangers-on who have a home elsewhere and are merely mooching at my place. I tell them every morning: find Little Girl and the largesse contiinues. Must fall on deaf kitty-cat ears.

Or they can't hear me over the chomping.

On a brighter note, I found the two socks I had blithely accused the new dryer of eating. I should have known it wouldn't have shown bad manners so soon. They had fallen behind the dirty clothes basket in the closet. Sorry, dryer. The dryer rack came and I can hardly wait to try it out.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A new wash day

Last Wednesday my washing machine started a squeal-thump and then water poured equally into the drum and onto the floor. Well, not quite equally, more was in the drum, but it didn't sound/look good for the Sisk household. I got online and found that the basic service charge was going to be $55. My history with washer repairmen is that the part to fix said machine was not going to be on his truck. It would be ordered and he'd be back in a week.

That meant a week at the laundromat, shoving many quarters into washers and dryers because I wasn't bringing wet loads home to dry over hours and hours.

The internet being most useful (or most frustrating), I went to the washer's manufacturer site and looked up the serial number since I couldn't remember exactly how old the set was. They were rolled off the assembly lines in 1987. Hmmm. We wouldn't have bought them much later than that.

Twenty years old and I was on the cusp of easily spending a couple of hundred to get it fixed? No. I went in search of replacements.

This seemed to be a good time to go. They were all on sale. Most importantly, top-loaders were still available and since I didn't want the coming-mandated front loaders (and they were way more expensive--where's the sense in that?), I bought.

Believe it or not, washers and dryers have changed in 20 years. The drum on the washer is much, MUCH deeper. So far, it doesn't walk across the room as it spins since it leveled so nicely. The dryer drum is white so I can actually see what I'm leaving in there. (Typical dryer, it's already managed to lose half of two pair of socks.) It should have a drying rack (it'll be here shortly since I called and asked where it was) which I can put sweaters, shoes, etc., on and the drum will spin around it. Imagine!

So I've welcomed these new ones into the home. It's only our third pair in 35 years of marriage. The first were by Norge which we bought at Montgomery Ward's. They lasted about 12 years, but were called into the heaviest duty since I used real diapers with both boys. The second set by General Electric lasted 20. I have high hopes for the Maytags. After all, their repairman is the loneliest guy around, right?


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Setting a time: an interview with Lorraine Heath

New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath has graciously agreed to be my next interviewee for why she sets her books in the time period she does.

So I asked, "Why Victorian England?"

"I began my career writing books set in Texas but I always wanted to write a book set in England—mostly because my heritage is both Texas (my dad was a Texan) and British (my mom was a Brit). I’m fascinated with both aspects of my heritage. When my editor suggested that I take some of my Texas ladies to England, I was thrilled with the opportunity. I’m fascinated by the Victorian time period as well as the American influences. Six of my novels have involved American heiresses.

"When people think of a Victorian lady, they most often bring forth images of the English aristocrat. She was well known for her regal carriage and her quiet, dignified mien. Being reserved, she was also, unfortunately, dreadfully dull.

"In New York, one could find the "old family" American version of the English lady. Born into a family with generations of wealth behind it, the woman was proud to be known as a Knickerbocker—a name that came as a result of the knee-length trousers worn by her ancestors, the Dutch who settled in New York. This young lady, however, was also as frightfully boring as her English counterpart. Her family did not believe in flaunting its wealth. It was unfashionable to wear the latest fashions. Rather, when her Worth gowns arrived from Paris, she had to set them aside for a year. Her coming out or debut was "little more than donning a white dress, putting up her hair and receiving guests at tea." (To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace)

"And then shortly after the Civil War, the newly wealthy American lady arrived. In New York, she was referred to as a Buccaneer. And to say the least, she bucked the old system. She was flashy, not at all bothered by letting it be known that she did indeed possess money. She wore her gowns as soon as they arrived from Paris and had no qualms about filling her house with gaudy excesses.

"She was not, however, welcomed into the Knickerbocker society. She was shunned, never invited to balls or dinners because the old hierarchy felt it was their duty to ensure that these young upstarts understood they did not "belong."

"The Buccaneers were not to be outdone. They went to Europe, and soon realized that the grass was greener in England where noble titles still carried weight.

"Because of the English law of primogeniture, wealthy British heiresses were few and far between. American ladies, on the other hand, often inherited—not only money, but land, businesses, investments. During the 1870's and 1880's, the aristocracy found its coffers dwindling as its agricultural based economy began to flounder with cheaper goods brought in from abroad and the increase in industrialization causing the farm workers to head to the cities.

"Marriage was an acceptable means to acquire funds . . . and American heiresses took England by storm. Unlike their British counterparts, they were not boring. Assertive, they enjoyed life, wanted to have fun. They'd been brought up in American society where chaperones were rare and all the "rules of etiquette" forced on the British were non-existent. Ladies and young men went on picnics and engaged in other forms of entertainment. They were often left alone in the parlor, a practice absolutely forbidden by the English. "Unhampered by constant parental surveillance and suspicion, they could launch themselves into the London season with a confidence that simply could not be shared by their shy, inexperienced English sisters." (To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace)

"And they were often breathtakingly beautiful. Unlike an English heiress who might have a gown or two designed by Charles Worth, the American heiress might have as many as two hundred. Money was in abundance, and the Americans spent it.

"When an American heiress snagged herself an English lord, her father put an announcement in The New York Times. This action allowed her mother to flaunt her daughter's elevated status at the Knickerbockers who'd considered them not quite good enough.

"And lest you think these Americans really didn’t have much influence, note that one of Princess Di’s great grandmothers was American. And American Jenny Jerome, fell madly in love with Lord Randolph Churchill, the “brilliant, unruly second son of the 7th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.” Their firstborn son, “that half-breed American” would become Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940 and be known as one of the country’s greatest orators: Sir Winston Churchill. And the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons? Nancy Langhorne of Virginia who married William Waldorf Astor, later 2nd Viscount Astor.

"I’ve recently begun delving into the early Victorian time period—1840’s and 1850’s—which were a much darker time, but equally fascinating. My next novel, In Bed With the Devil, is actually a twist on Oliver Twist. No American heiresses are in this novel, but I still had a wonderful time researching and writing it."

Thank you, Lorraine.

Here's the cover of In Bed With the Devil.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 04, 2008

Whew! It wasn't just me!

I can't say it was with great relief that I read the article in the Dallas Morning News today about the HOV lane mess on North Central. Instead, it was with a sense of "Huh--I didn't know they were looking for an article. I just wrote one!"

That aside (and the fact that theirs has maps and other people's opinions), I did learn a few things:

The posts are rubber and therefore, if desperate (like after the accident in the HOV lane the article mentions), can be driven over. Entering freeway traffic from a dead stop after knocking over rubber posts. Ooh. Bad.

The up-and-over-and-down to the frontage road I experienced getting off on Saturday heading south was caused by a reversible HOV lane going, then, in the other direction. Well, that warms my heart for safety and security.

Fans are few. And we all know which side I'm on.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 03, 2008

HOV, anyone?

HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes would seem to be such a good idea. Two or more people in a car, (and there are others permitted but the sign is small and I'm trying to drive, for Pete's sake!) and off you go in your own special little lane with none of the worries of all those big trucks and three other lanes of traffic crowding in on you. In theory, it's great and I've been in some HOV lanes where one just wants to thumb one's nose at all those people driving by themselves and not going as fast as I am.

However (you knew it was coming), the new HOV lanes on Highway 75 north of Dallas leave a lot to be desired. They are "managed", which means that instead of a double white line to keep someone from sneaking in and out of the HOV, they are blocked by posts. These posts we've watched being erected for months, thinking we'd never see those darn lanes open. Now I have another definition of "managed": trapped.

I've had the opportunity to be in the HOV on a Saturday. Granted, that's not as high a traffic day as say, Friday, but it would do for the purposes of experimentation. In we popped at the first opportunity, heading south. Immediately, our speed limit was 60 while everyone over in freedom-land was doing 65. Or more. (I know, shame on them.) And there were little bits of debris in my managed lane. Where was I supposed to go to to avoid BIG debris? What if there were an accident in my managed lane? I'd be stuck.

One has to be in the HOV lanes on 75 for the long haul. No newbies to the area need apply. Once on, you have but one opportunity to get off before the end, that in north Plano. Granted, you have plenty of time to make it across the lanes to the George Bush Tollway. But if you stay (or get) on, you are whizzing through Richardson with no chance of leaving until I-635. Then it's a left exit and an up-and-over-and-down to find the rest of 75.

I was not impressed.

And it struck me, that I'd met very, very little traffic going north in the HOV. More on the shorter, Plano-Allen route, close to none on the longer stretch. So, heading north yesterday, I ascertained why.

Truth be told, I had heard on the news the day after it opened that there was a glitch in the signage. Like, it didn't exist. In order to get on the 8+-mile stretch, one has to exit right and then do a down-and-over to get to the HOV. No wonder no one--and I mean no one--was in it yesterday. I found a few in the easier to get on Plano-Allen piece. However, if you're going north and want to use the HOV and then exit to the George Bush, no dice. You're not allowed out until you are past the exit.

This is certainly a case for having to do your homework before you set out.

Like I said, I am underimpressed.

You are warned.

Labels: ,