Routing the Cat

I went a few rounds with my work computer this morning, and in the end came up with a remarkably low tech solution (and without the help of the fellow with the thick foreign accent who called out of the blue claiming to be from the “Windows support service”—I didn’t stay on the line long enough to find out how he thought he was going to fix a problem that we didn’t have).

The problem we did have seemed to involve QuickBooks, the bookkeeping software we use for almost all our clients. I’d been having occasional problems with QB locking up or otherwise misbehaving lately, but I just blamed it on the ever-increasing size and complexity of the software. This morning I had entered several long, complicated deposits when the software began locking up on me and then, after I closed the program and/or rebooted the computer, coming up with one excuse after another to keep me out of the client file. QB couldn’t find the file, or I didn’t have permission to use the file, or there wasn’t enough space to record the transaction. Or there was just plain no connection to the office WiFi network and the client files stored on another computer.

After numerous rounds of frustration (and after losing the long, complicated deposit twice), I realized that all the trouble might be related to the network connection. So I went into Jo Anne’s office to see if she was having problems. She was working on the cloud-based version of QB. She hates the cloud-based version, but it was working.

Kiko playing paperweight

Kiko playing paperweight

When I looked around the office to the network connections a few feet from Jo Anne’s computer, I saw Kiko the bad-tempered calico, one of our three Scorekeeper office cats, sitting on the wireless router. She loves the tangle of cords and cables under that table, and Jo Anne and I don’t understand the mess well enough to move the router and the print server to a less feline-accessible location (assuming, of course, that such a place exists). Kiko has been suspected of disconnecting my computer from the print server by sitting on that, so I shooed her off the router, set it upright, and went back to my desk, perhaps thirty feet away. The bars on my network icon had jumped from two to four.

I tried moving the router to the top of a nearby storage carton, but Kiko sat there staring at it, clearly plotting to drag it back down as soon as I turned my back. “Put a box over it,” Jo Anne suggested.

That required laying the router back down on its side on the floor—it may be a “wireless” router, but it’s connected to the rest of the tangle by at least two cables—and covering it with a smallish cardboard carton.

I had no more connection trouble for the rest of the day.

We have no idea what draws Kiko to the router and the print server—warmth? vibrations? secret electronic messages from feline aliens headed this way in spaceships resembling empty grocery bags?—but when I left work this evening, she was sitting on the box over the router. I have a feeling my low tech solution may not be permanent.

I Am Not a Foodie, But . . .

No one would call me a foodie. I live out of my microwave oven, and when my six-year-old oven cratered last Saturday night, forty-five seconds into nuking a baking potato, I kicked it to the curb (well, actually the garage, and one of these days I will take it to the electronics recycling place), ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for supper, and went to Target for a new one the next day. My wine-conscious friends think I’m hopeless because I’m perfectly happy with grocery store whites (bottled, not boxed).

But this week I had a rare opportunity to enjoy a carefully planned six course dinner, with appropriate wines, at a wonderful restaurant, and I can’t express how amazing and wonderful it was.

My friend Jo Anne had given her brother, Ed Banker, and sister-in-law, Anne Newtown, a Chef’s Day at Brennan’s of Houston for Christmas last year, and they finally scheduled their day for August 22. Ed and Anne, who are both devoted foodies and excellent cooks, spent the day in Brennan’s kitchen, dressed in their new chef’s jackets (with their embroidered names), learning about the management of a fine restaurant kitchen and choosing their own special interests (sauces and stocks, I believe). Here they are about to eat the lunch they prepared, a giant Louisiana crab cake.

Ed & Anne at Brennan's

The package included dinner for six, and Ed and Anne were kind enough to include me, along with Jo Anne and two of their close friends, Chris and Judy. None of us knew what to expect (although all of us knew that one can always expect the very best at Brennan’s), but Ed and Anne had been told it would be a six course dinner. Jo Anne and I joined them at seven o’clock, in time for the first glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I pretty much lost track of the wines, although the sommelier came out with each bottle to tell us about it. I know there was a second Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay from South Africa (delicious, and I don’t usually care for Chardonnay) at least two bottles of Petite Sirah (a favorite of Ed and Anne’s), and one of a blended white from the Willamette Valley (my favorite). Fortunately the waitstaff was adept at removing just the right glasses at the right time, but each of us had three glasses (one water and two wines) in front of us for most of the evening.

The food was even more amazing, and one or another of the chefs came out with each course to tell us about it. I wish I could remember the details of the sauces and seasonings (I hope Ed and Anne caught them all, because I get invited to their house for dinner now and then), but the menu was so overwhelming I can’t repeat it all. But here goes:

First Course: Crab salad on a thick slice of beefsteak tomato (locally sourced, as is much of Brennan’s food), with bits of watermelon and cantaloupe and a dollop of caviar on top. The tomato was the kind we all say we remember from childhood but haven’t seen in the grocery store for forty years, the kind that reminds us that a tomato is technically a fruit.

Second Course: One large, whole (with head) barbecued shrimp and two smaller shrimp (I think they were sauteed; they certainly weren’t boiled or fried), over Texas grits made with goat cheese, all with a marvelous sauce that I can’t even describe.

Third Course: Half a quail, roasted, with cornbread dressing, served on a wedge of waffle and topped with a quail egg, sunny side up (one perfect mouthful—I don’t remember ever eating quail before, and I know I’ve never had a quail egg), and another amazing sauce.

Fourth Course: (And here I really tipped into dining paradise) One lamb chop, cooked as rare as lamb should be, served over rice and mushrooms, with asparagus. (Lamb may be my favorite meat, but it’s not particularly popular, or readily available, here in Texas.) Oh, how I wish I could describe the sauce!

Fifth Course: Three perfect pieces of cheese. One of the chefs came out and told us what order to eat them in. The first two were cheeses I’m not familiar with, and I wish I’d caught the names (maybe someone else remembers), but the third was a small, and very strong, square of bleu cheese. I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat that one in quantity, but the size on the plate (beautifully embellished with berries, nuts, and a small piece of bread) was perfect.

Sixth Course: And then came dessert. Instead of identical plates for all, as in the first five courses, a stream of waiters delivered what seemed like an endless stream of dessert plates to the table. As Catherine the Pastry Chef described each one (the word sugar was particularly frequent), our eyes expanded like children’s in a candy store. Five minutes earlier, we’d all been too full to eat again all weekend, but now we managed to pass the desserts around the table and sample every one, leading to a lively discussion of their merits (no two of us arrived at the same ranking). We tasted pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream, peach cobbler with cream cheese ice cream (made on site), lemon meringue pie (about four inches high), white chocolate bread pudding (my personal favorite), Grand Marnier creme brulee, Mississippi Mud Pie (a towering stack of chocolate delight), dark chocolate bread pudding, strawberry shortcake, and Brennan’s classic Bananas Foster.

We were far too happy eating, drinking, and talking to take pictures of the food, but Anne did take this one of Jo Anne and me (behind all those wine glasses) before we left, about three and a half hours after we sat down to dinner. Definitely one of the most remarkable meals I have ever enjoyed.

Kay & Jo Anne at Brennan's

RWA 2014

I spent last week on the San Antonio Riverwalk at the annual Romance Writers of America Conference, and I’m still recovering. Too much fun, too little sleep. I had no special reason to go this year, but my friend Jo Anne Banker and I signed up as soon as registration opened. In fact we’d been planning to go to this one since we went to New York in 2011. San Antonio! Road trip!

RWA 2014 toteThis year I had a completely stress-free conference. I wasn’t involved in the Golden Heart contest, and I didn’t make any editor or agent appointments. I went to have fun, hang out with my long-distance friends, and learn something about independent publishing, and that’s exactly what I did.

I went to a lot of workshops on independent publishing, picking up ideas and inspiration. I have yet to decide whether I want to follow that path, but I think I’m leaning that way. Humorous paranormal stories don’t seem to be in high demand in New York these days—one respected agent I spoke to said that she sold no paranormals at all in 2013—but there are readers out there who enjoy them.

I heard inspiring—and often very funny—talks from wonderful writers. Cathy Maxwell stepped in at the last minute to give the keynote address at the Golden Network Retreat. Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave a great workshop on character development (the characters in our manuscripts, that is), and she and Jayne Anne Krentz, long-time friends, told us about their adventures as writers.

One workshop I attended focused on the challenges and benefits of being a “mature” writer. I think all of the women at that presentation were over fifty, some published, some not yet. One attendee was 83. I went to numerous talks by and for independently published authors (definitely a new alternative for us mature writers), until they all ran together in my overworked brain. In fact, by Friday afternoon everything was running together. Fortunately, most of the sessions were audiotaped, and I am awaiting my copy so I can listen to sessions I attended and sessions I had to miss.

RWA 2014 booksThere were books everywhere, and I brought home even more than I usually do, one advantage of driving rather than meeting the packing requirements of airline travel. (The FedEx store at the hotel was constantly busy, shipping boxes of books home for those who were limited to their suitcases.) The tote bags we received at registration (imagine two thousand women wandering around with the same tote bag!) were filled with books, and there were more on the chairs at the general sessions.

The Readers for Life Literacy Autographing was the only Conference event open to the public, and people began lining up at 2 PM for the 5:30 opening. The hall was filled with five hundred or so authors signing books donated by their publishers, and countless enthusiastic book buyers, filling the shopping bags handed out at the door. The book sales raised over $58,000 for literacy programs. I went in intending to say hello to women I only see once a year, but I ended up buying a few books, too. I also went to several of the publishers’ free book signings during the conference and collected more books (including some for the neighbor who looks after my cat when I travel and refers to the conference as “Kay’s Book Thing”).

On the social side, I visited with many friends I’ve made through the Golden Heart at the Golden Network retreat, shared dinner one night with the Firebirds (at Tony Roma’s) and another night with the Lucky 13s (at the revolving Chart House atop the Tower of the Americas, with a panoramic view of San Antonio), as well as smaller dinners with friends. Houston writers filled at least three tables at the awards ceremony so we could cheer together for our finalists.

Next year the RWA conference returns to New York City. I may need a Really Good Reason to make it to that one. But that’s what I said in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and the reasons turned up, so who knows? The RWA Conference is the kind of vacation that leaves you needing rest when you get home, but it’s worth every minute.

Changing Habits

Today is the first day of the rest  of my life.  All of us can (and probably should) say that every day, but this week marks real change for me.  Some months ago, Jo Anne and I started planning for change at the Scorekeeper.  In May Jo Anne gave notice to our largest client that we would be parting ways at the end of September, the close of their fiscal year.  Jo Anne and I both want more time for writing, reading, and sleeping.  The third Scorekeeper, David, has passed all four parts of the CPA exam (on the first try!) and needs to work for a year for a CPA or the IRS in order to be certified himself.  So it was time for change.

This week we spent wrapping up reports for the big client, packing up boxes of their records and a computer that belongs to them, and today is the first day on our new schedule of three 7-hour days (usually Tuesday through Thursday) a week.  Two less days I have to make the 60-mile round trip commute into Houston.  And, since we’ve decided to open at 10 AM instead of 9, no more days of getting up at 6:15 to fight the 8 AM traffic.

Flowers 100313Jo Anne has been referring to this as “semi-retirement,” but I’d rather think of it as a new phase, with more time for all the things that have been hard to pack into weekends.  I have my usual to-do lists on virtual post-it notes on my computer screen, things to do now that I’ll have a couple of weekdays free:  a couple of doctor check ups for me, the vet for Nutmeg, get the roof inspected.  The Houston area is expecting its first noticeable cold front this weekend, just in time to push Tropical Storm Karen away from us (sorry, Gulf Coast neighbors to the east), and we’ve had some decent rain lately (if the rain gauge didn’t show it, I could tell by the toad stools popping up in my lawn), so maybe I can get back to that extensive clean-up-the-overgrown-back-yard project.  The front yard needs mowing, if I’m careful to avoid the hurricane lilies.

I have plenty of writing projects:  this weekend I want to polish the first chapter of my work-in-progress to send to the West Houston RWA Emily contest.  I have an edited manuscript waiting in Scrivener to be compiled into a Word file and sent to an agent.  My critique group is back on track, with a new member.  I have Ideas waiting in line.

As for reading, the supply is endless.  I have a list here on my desk of new books I want to pick up, several by my Golden Heart friends, and Diane Kelly’s latest Tara Holloway mystery.  Not to mention the book shelves in my bedroom and all those blogs and articles waiting in my email box.

Last night when I went to bed at my usual midnight I turned off my alarm clock.  This morning I slept until almost 8 AM (no thanks to Nutmeg, who climbed on and off my chest, purring and washing my face and generally suggesting it might be time to get up).  I’ve already received five work-related emails this morning, but I’m thirty miles from the Scorekeeper and my work computer; the work will keep until Tuesday.

I haven’t decided yet what to do with this first day.  Go shopping, maybe with that book list, and have lunch out?  Work in the yard, starting with collecting all those mushrooms?  Read a book?  Catch up with a couple of TV shows I missed last week?  Two extra days a week, and the possibilities seem endless.

Weekend With Writers

I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my blog lately.  We’ve been very busy at the Scorekeeper, and I’ve been judging Golden Heart entries and keeping up with Gwen Hernandez’ excellent Scrivener class.  I don’t seem to have much time or energy left over.

I didn’t catch up on much this weekend–my grocery shopping and laundry remain undone, I’m behind on email and the rest of my Internet activity–because Jo Anne and I drove to Shreveport on Friday to attend the NOLA Stars RWA chapter’s Written in the Stars Conference.  We went because Jo Anne’s manuscript was a finalist in their annual Suzannah contest, and because we have friends in the Shreveport chapter.  RWA is a close-knit world.

The weather was beautiful, cool and sunny, and the roads were clear.  The only problem we had with the trip to Shreveport came when we got off Interstate 20 on the west side of the city to discover that Google maps is behind on updating street names.  The left turn on our driving instructions simply didn’t exist.  We had to call the hotel to ask for directions.  “What can you see?” the desk clerk asked.  “Wendy’s on the right and an Exxon station on the left,” I replied.  “Turn left at the Exxon station and keep driving until you see our sign,” she said, and that worked just fine.

The conference opened Friday evening with a panel of editors and one agent, a Q&A session on industry trends, the editors’ individual interests, and some funny (and valuable) advice on what doesn’t work for them.  Electronic publishing, whether through an established New York publisher, a smaller/newer press, or done independently on line continues to be a topic of major interest to both writers and editors.  After the panel, the members of the North Louisiana chapter really outdid themselves with a buffet supper, featuring local recipes from their own kitchens.  The crawfish pasta was to die for.

Saturday was a mix of workshops, editor/agent appointments, and visiting with fellow writers.  I missed some workshops I would have loved to see because of appointments, but I did enjoy Sarah Hamer’s presentation, “Intimacy: Not Just Sex,” Liliana Hart on “The Indie Revolution,” and the full-time hard work that has gone into her publishing success, Liz Talley on “New Twists on Old Plots,” and Christa Allan on social media (more on that topic another evening).

One of the best aspects of an intimate writers’ conference like this one is the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones.  The conference attracted writers, most but not all of them women, from Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, as well as Louisiana.  I was delighted to find fellow Firebird Pamela Kopfler there–she and a friend drove up from New Orleans via a computer generated route she described as “the theme from Deliverance played Zydeco style.”   A charming expatriate Englishwoman named Mavis, who decided it was time to write a novel when she turned 80, wasn’t the only lady there who reminded me that it’s never too late to try something new.

I also met the wonderfully witty Barbara Vey, an out-spoken and often hilarious lover of books in general and romance in particular, who blogs on the Publisher’s Weekly site.  I had a ball visiting with her, and I’ll be following her blog, Beyond Her Book.

It was about 40 degrees in when we left Shreveport at 11 AM this morning, and about 70 when we rolled into Houston this afternoon.  This is Texas: if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour or drive fifty miles.  It was a lovely day and a fun road trip (especially the stop at the Catfish King restaurant in Livingston), but now I have Friday’s Scrivener lesson to do so I don’t fall behind, and one more contest entry to judge.  I stopped for milk and produce (and one more box of Girl Scout cookies–those little sales women are hard to resist) on the way home, but there’s no telling when the laundry will get done.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

I spent a pleasant afternoon with my neighbor, her daughter, and some friends at the Thanksgiving buffet at Moody Gardens down in Galveston.  It was a nice day for a drive, the food and the company were good, and there was no cooking, cleaning, or football involved.  (We might have been seated a trifle too close to the singing piano player and his repertoire of early Christmas carols, but he wasn’t bad, just a bit loud.)

I was particularly impressed with the display at the head of the buffet.  I wonder where one goes to learn the art of fruit carving?  Amazing what an artist can do with a watermelon, and I don’t even know what the birds are made of.  I think the flowers are mostly melon.

I’m working a short day tomorrow, avoiding the Black Friday sales, stopping by to see a friend who’s stuck in the hospital over the holiday.  Last year at this time I was writing furiously to finish a manuscript by the Golden Heart deadline.  That turned out to be well worth the effort, as Bathtub Jinn was a Golden Heart finalist.  This year I don’t have a new manuscript to finish, but I think I’ll enter the one I’m revising.  The deadline dates have changed, though, so I’m not tied to my computer chair for the rest of the holiday weekend.  I may even find time to read.

Today (and every day, I hope) I’m thankful for my health, my home, and my friends, so many of whom I have met through writing (my next-thing-to-a-sister, Jo Anne Banker, and my critique group, Barbara Ewing, Carl Miller, Charles Russell, and Jim Stanton)  and through Romance Writers of America (the members of my local chapters, West Houston and Houston Bay Area, and my Golden Heart sisters, the Starcatcher, the Firebirds, and the Golden Network).

Here’s wishing a happy holiday season to everyone.

Catching Up

Actually, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up ever since I got back from California, and that was that was seven weeks ago!  But I’ve had a lot going on since then.  Let’s face it, life never really slows down, does it?  And would we really want it to?  All that busy stuff keeps us up and moving.  I haven’t been bored, I’ll say that much.

Last week I had a birthday–let’s not worry about which one it was–and Jo Anne, Sarah Andre, Lark Howard and I celebrated by driving out to Katy Budget Books for a launch party for our friend Shana Galen’s latest book, When You Give a Duke a Diamond.  It says a lot about Houston traffic that it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to get out to Katy at rush hour and about twenty-five minutes to get back two hours later.  But the time navigating through traffic (Jo Anne was driving, but she got a lot of advice from the back seat) was well spent.  At dinner later we realized that without our writing connections, the four of us would probably never have met, and that would have been a loss.  Lark gave us her take on the evening last week at Reading, Writing and Rambling, the blog she shares with our friend Pat O’Dea Rosen.

Later in the week I had a second birthday dinner with my next-door neighbor and her daughter, a lovely meal at a charmingly old-fashioned Italian restaurant, Antonio’s in LaPorte, Texas.  Seafood fettuccini with lemon garlic sauce, yum.  LaRue gave me this charming little porcelain kitten box.  It’s less than three inches long, so I’m not sure what it’s meant to hold, but for the moment it’s sitting on my monitor stand, after becoming yet another victim of my attempts at photography.

Books:  not much reading this week.  I did finish Tera Lynn Childs’ Just for Fins, the third book in her Young Adult mermaid trilogy.  I don’t read a lot of YA fiction, but I’ve enjoyed this series, a light paranormal tale set in Florida (and underwater, of course).  I started Cheryl Bolen’s Marriage of Inconvenience, which I am enjoying.  I have an early copy; the book will be released October 2.

TV:  This afternoon I finally watched last week’s SYTYCD, a pure performance episode.  I don’t know, or really care, who’s going to win the titles Tuesday evening (and I’ll have to record that one, too–I have a meeting that night), but all four of the remaining dancers are amazing.  Who would have thought a few weeks ago that Cyrus the Animator would be in the final four?

This evening, of course, I watched Hell on Wheels.  Another bloodbath.  This is the most violent show I watch–I was going to say the only one, but Major Crimes last week ran up a pretty substantial body count–and I remain completely hooked.  By the characters, and the background, not the bloodshed.

This week I’m looking forward to the return of Bones, the premier of Revolution and the season finale (alas) of White CollarWarehouse 13 has three more episodes to run, and Castle will be back next week.  There is no standard TV season these days, is there?  But there are always new stories to enjoy, and, I hope, to learn from.

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