On 43, 9/11, and Northpark Mall

My dear friend was in town this weekend to see my play. It was a quick but delightful trip, eating and talking and exploring a little bit of Dallas.

The normal places I like to take first-time visitors—White Rock Lake, the spot where JFK was assassinated, Clyde Warren Park, and Bishop’s Art District—were all off the table this time. It was just too hot outside for walking.

Instead, we visited the Bush Library and had lunch at Café 43 on the grounds of the SMU campus. I highly recommend the café, and you don’t have to go into the library to eat there. The service is lovely, the space elegant but welcoming, and the food was mighty tasty.*

My friend and I did opt to tour the museum/library. It’s extremely well laid-out, with a special exhibit on humor in the White House that was quite funny. I enjoyed talking to the docents in the replica of the oval office, and revisiting some of the history I remember from President Bush’s two terms in office.

That time includes, of course, 9/11.

It was not pleasant per se to revisit that morning when the towers fell. The memory is still crystal clear. I’d been at home with my boys, the oldest of whom was five at the time. My husband called me on his way to work and told me to turn on the television. I did so right as the second plane flew into the south tower. My little boy turned to me, his brown eyes so wide and earnest. He said, “That’s not special effects.” You should know that I worked in the film industry, so my son’s comment was based in solid knowledge. I sent him to go play with his brother and sat glued to the television, the images we were seeing seemingly impossible.

The Bush Library has created a respectful, solemn memorial to that day and the days that followed. The featured image on this blog is chilling to see in person, that twisted metal looking almost like modern art, but so terribly, horribly real. I realized I’d not “forgotten” any of it, that the memories of that time in our history is etched deep. I knew a couple of folks who died in the towers that day, and while the anniversary of the date always makes me think of them, this was an impressive, immersive, resonant section of the museum that gave a bigger picture.

Can you be glad you saw something, yet saddened by it too? Evidently.

We had a few hours before my friend needed to catch her plane, so I suggested we stay in air conditioning and took her over to the always visually interesting Northpark Mall. I used my turn signal aggressively in the interior covered parking lot to get one of the hotly contested spaces.

The mall itself is a big 2-level square surrounding a large inner courtyard. Inside are some 250+ mostly upscale shops and restaurants, along with a food court and movie theatre. What makes it unique is that it houses a fantastic collection of Modern Art that has been bequeathed to the place by Nasher family.

It also has beautiful planters inside and out that boast different flowers seasonally. The mall and its art are run by Nancy Nasher, the daughter of Ray Nasher, who refused to put the collection in a museum. Instead, he put it here, scattered throughout the mall. His reasoning? “Maybe 90 percent of people will never go to a museum, but maybe they’ll be inspired to learn more about art and study art, just by coming here.” I like that and hope he’s right.

After wandering the mall and browsing in my favorite store, Sundance, we stopped at Eataly for a beverage. It’s also a fun place to people watch and goggle over all the food choices there. Both the museum and the mall got high marks from my friend, so if you’re looking for something to do while its nine million degrees here in Dallas, you might give them a try.

*You should make reservations, and you have to pay for parking in the lot across from the Cafe. It’s $5 for the first hour and $2 every hour after that. Or maybe just cruise around and find street parking, if you’re not worried about melting before you get inside.

On Urban Hiking in the Suburbs

If you’re a constant reader (thank you!) of this blog, you know I love to go for walks. While most of the time, its best for me to be out in nature, I also enjoy a good urban hike. It’s a great way to get to know your own city. We’ve been to downtown Dallas several times, and still have a lot to see there, but the suburbs also have plenty to offer.

Recently, my husband and I visited the Dallas suburb of Carrollton. As is usual for us, the initial lure is discovery of a different cuisine. Afterwards comes the wander-about in the area. I forgot to wear my watch, so all the steps weren’t counted, but by the way my legs and feet felt, I bet we did a good five miles of strolling. Plenty to make up for the yum food we found.

In this case, it we ended up visiting two large malls. One was exclusively Korean, the other had multiple Asian restaurants to try. There was a huge supermarket with all sorts of interesting foods. I loved the pre-packaged section.

The fish section always intrigues me. Everything seemed super fresh.

These are some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen.

I admit, I always want to buy them and then set them free. That would mean a trip to Alaska, I believe. Which might not be a bad thing…

There was a fantastic bookstore there, with lots of Anime and Manga, as well as art supplies and candles and journals and inks and stamps. As with any bookstore, it takes a group effort to get me out of it.

There was also an “everything” store that sold all sorts of different things. Great for a wander to get out of the heat. We were actually looking for ice cream, but ended up just going to Braum’s later for a double dip, as the lines for the soft-serve place we found were out the door.

We had some pretty good Korean food the first time we went up. It tends to be a little spicy for me, but the kids all loved it. I will definitely try more another time. The second time we went up we decided on Japanese food.

I had a new-to-me street food this time, along with my usual Ramen. It is called Onigiri. It is a large rice ball, wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with various things. I had the salmon one and it was delicious. As in, I need to go back up and eat it again. I might try the sour plum one next. The Ramen was delicious as well.

Below are a couple of great recipes for Ramen and Onigiri. You can try these at home, or do your own urban hike and get your steps in. Not that you have to justify what you’re eating, of course. It’s all about balance.

https://www.forkknifeswoon.com/simple-homemade-chicken-ramen/

On Rebuilding and Writing a Book

The five-year anniversary of The Fire passed without much comment a few days ago. If FB hadn’t reminded me with its “on this day” feature, I would have missed it. That’s a good sign. Five years removed from the blaze that ate everything we owned, we’re still standing. Still moving forward. Resilient.

I don’t wish the dire crucible that creates resilience on anyone. But if you are experiencing one—and they can take so many different forms—I can stand as your hope that someday, your upending won’t be all-consuming. That you’ll be defined in different terms other than the daily effort of putting one foot in front of the other on the climb out of disaster.

It seems impossible that five years have passed. The first was a blur as we navigated the changes that encompassed internal feelings, our faith, and general replacing of stuff. The kindness and generosity of friends and family got us through that. You know who you are. Utter strangers stepped in to help in that first year too, even if it was simply sitting us down in the employee lounge with a cup of coffee when we were in the midst of overwhelm.

It restored my faith in humanity. And I started writing. Perhaps first out of a weird survivor’s guilt, that since being saved from death, I needed to make something of my life. Thus compelled, I challenged myself by writing a book, something that utterly terrified me. That’s how “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” came to be.

It was well-received, and I’ve gotten messages that it’s helped folks through their own crises. That feels good. You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Rescue-Dogs-Losing-Everything-Uncovering-ebook/dp/B07P1GHW7L

I got to donate a bunch of money to animal rescues and shelters from the proceeds too. That’s ongoing, by the way. The cool thing about writing a book—and the disturbing part of it, too—is that once it’s written, its out there. No turning back.

This past May, I reached a point where I wanted to try on a new career as an author/publisher. Evidentially terrifying myself by doing new things has become a habit. I took a class in YA (Young Adult) writing. Being an inveterate rule-follower, I always feel better after I’ve taken a class in something. Legitimized.

I wrote a YA dark fantasy book, which is my personal reading jam. Other people whose jam is also dark fantasy liked it. So I wrote another in the same world. Then a prequel novella to use as a free book for folks who either read my book or joined my author newsletter that goes out monthly. I’m finishing up the third in the Darkwood series this week. There are at least two more books to go that I’ll finish this year.

Some days it’s torture, but most of the time I love my new job.

 Being an Indy writer/publisher stretched me and continues to do so. I joined groups to help me wrap my head around the craft of putting little black words on white pieces of paper while also doing the jobs of a publisher and publicity person. Actual creation of new words takes about three hours daily to hit my sweet spot of 2,000 good words—that’s about eight pages of book. I write a book in a couple months, with another month for making it better and, you know, grammatically correct with the commas in all the right places. I spend two hours a day learning to get better at the skills I need to be successful. Such as Ads on Amazon and FB. Oy. My head may explode. Implementing the marketing and publicity takes another two or three hours daily. It’s not a little part-time hobby.

For those of you who think that self-publishing is a “lesser” route than going for traditionally published books by one of the big five publishing houses, I hear you. I was secretly in that camp myself until last May. While there are some absolutely terrible self-published books, there are also millions that are great. There are good reasons to self-publish. The income is better, by a lot. You control the look of the book, from the cover to the interior formatting and front and back matter. Getting your book in the hands of readers is in your control.

Traditionally published books (if they take your book, which is a long shot) take between 2-4 years to be published. And they dole the advances out over that time. Can’t feed your family on a $5,000 advance stretched out over 2-4 years. And at the end of all of that, the author is still doing most of the marketing and publicity work themselves unless they are a “biggie” like a John Grisham or a Steven King. There are new folks that make it work, which is fantastic. I’m a voracious reader, and the more books I have to choose from, the happier I am.

Resuming this weekly blog is part of my renewed determination to make a real go of this writing thing. I want it to be the career that gives back to the world. That sounds grandiose, but this is what I know for sure: Books saved my life as a lonely child, and sinking into a good book remains a refuge for me on tough days, or when the world becomes too loud. I’ve got to believe I’m not alone.

My goal is to write forty to sixty excellent books in this next decade.

That’s a solid bookshelf. I’m seeing it in my head right now. The next book in the Darkwood series comes out Thursday March 10th. It’s the 2nd in the Darkwood series but can be read on its own with no issues. You can read it for free on KU, or order it from Amazon in paperback or eBook here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NH45625

So, that’s what The Fire sparked, five years ago. Those themes we see in fiction, of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, or in nature when new growth springs out of a terrible forest fire… they can be real in your life too.

Take a look at my author page. Come join me on the journey. I’d love to have you along.

Just click this https://www.subscribepage.com/m2f4a3 or scan the code below for access to my author page and get the free book that comes with it.

On Visiting an Asian Market and Bitter Lemon

Wednesdays have become the day my husband and I go out for lunch together. The aim is to try new-to-us places, as Dallas is packed with them. This past week found us at a revolving sushi restaurant that used robots to bring your drinks to you. I was so bemused by the little R2-type thing that I didn’t get pictures, but it was super cute. It sang to itself as it delivered beverages, and then you could dismiss it by saying “thank you.”  It must be based on Roomba technology. I wonder if they hum about after the place is closed brushing up crumbs? Or perhaps they become robotic guards. The possibilities are endless.

After our tasty lunch, we wandered over to the Chinese market called Jusgo.

We’ve been there several times in our years living here. It has great prices on things like sesame oil and dried seaweed (I make my own California rolls, I’ll post about that in another blog, but it’s really easy). You can find interesting fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh fish.

The first thing I noticed on this visit was that everyone both working in and going to the store wore a mask while inside. Everyone. I believe this to be a cultural difference, as here in Texas the swing of the needle usually goes the other way, towards the “why are you wearing a diaper on your face” end of the spectrum.

Just an author observing.

The next thing I noticed (through my mask, when in Rome…) was how different this market smells as opposed to, say, Trader Joes or Kroger. It’s a wonderful experience, as if it’s magically transported you to a new continent when the sliding doors open. The scent of vegetables, meats, seafood, and spices combine to let you know you’re in for a different sort of experience. There’s also a wonderful takeout place in the far corner where you can get a bowl of stir-fried rice or noodles with veggies and meat for next to nothing.

We always end up trying a new type of cookie or cracker when we come here. We found some great brown rice noodles this time around that we’ve been enjoying the past few nights.

If you like fresh fish, it’s here both on ice and swimming around in tanks in the fish section. If you’ve been missing the seaside and that delightful salty, fishy scent, just walk through this section and inhale. I watched a customer ask for one of the fish swimming around in the tanks. In a matter of moments, they had scooped the fish out, cleaned it, and prepped it for him.

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For me (even as an admitted hater of vegetables) it’s the bins of produce that catch my fancy. This is what whole jackfruit looks like. They are bigger than two people’s heads put together. My new “what’s this?” was the quirky bit of fruit that’s pictured at the top of this blog. It’s called bitter melon and although it is a fruit, it’s mostly used in stir-fry recipes. Its cousin is the cucumber.

It’s known for its crunchy texture, and biting, astringent taste. It is definitely bitter, like an old uncle whose best girl married his brother back in the day and he’s never gotten over it. But. Bitter Melon has also proven itself as a warrior-type that lowers blood sugars and fights viruses. There is a study out from the University of Colorado Cancer Center that shows that bitter melon juice kills cancer cells.

It really is bitter. I can see why those cells might have just given up.

Not to say you should eat boatloads of it though. It can be harsh on your insides; it can give you heartburn pretty easily and have you “taking out the trash” a little too frequently if you follow my analogy.

I have yet to try any recipes with this fruit, but there are lots of them online. Indian, Thai, and of course Chinese food use it often. Let me know if you give it a try!

And, if you’re lucky enough to have an Asian market near you, pop in and take a look. You never know what you might discover.