Fun, Friends, Frivolity

It began, of course, with packing. And after checking the weather forecast, packing a lot of sweaters. The packing also includes a couple cases of champagne, a BIG Bag ‘o Fabulous prizes, a scoreboard, books and many other necessary goodies for a week of fun with girls.
 
Then there’s the drive up which included passing the new, sweeping, seriously gorgeous entrance twice. Then there’s arrival when everything related to reality just falls away with one big sigh.
 
This is Drunken Spa Girls Week.
 
Unpacking is so much more fun than packing. That first glass of champagne is ambrosia. There is some tech work, ie figuring out the Smart TV and hooking up the Wii for the tournament, but it’s followed by the first glorious treatment in the spa.
 
And best of all, friends trickling in with that same look of bliss.
 
Lots of hugs, chatter, more champagne, ordering room service for multiple women–the really marvelous staff has this delivery down to a science now.
 
Then the games begin. If memory serves the first rounds of Scrabble and Wii Bowling for the first night’s competition. Moans, groans, cheers, sarcastic comments.
 
The first stickers slap onto the scoreboard.
 
Mornings–and they prove cold–mean workouts for me, and with the cold DVDs in the room. My pal Jo joins me every morning at 7:00 for an hour or so before we wander down to the communal lounge and fall in with the others for a light breakfast. Breakfast is not usually on my list as at home no one prepares a lovely display of fresh berries for me. So it’s a special reward for that workout.
 
Some of us scoot off to morning treatments, others slide into a book, some poke around the shops or hit the gym before afternoon treatments. Massages or facials or mani/pedis. We might run into each other in the locker room or the relaxation room pre-treatment.
 
Some make sure they’re back for tea time and scones and strawberries. Some nap. But we’re all together again at cocktail hour(s), a thoroughly relaxed and happy group once again ready (or not) for room service and the next round of games.
 
So it goes through the week, eleven women with pretty toes and happy, naked faces, ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s, writers, professionals, MBAs and Art Majors, wives and daughters, mothers and grandmothers–and all of us sisters.
 
Elaine’s mom has sent along adorable bandanas she made for us. Some of us wear them as do-rags, others as little scarves, still others as headbands or as actual bandanas. It goes to show.20160406_183844
 
The Just Dance round hits high on the adorable scale. Four women trying to coordinate their bods and movements to the animation on TV–with Laura shaking her remote, certain the computer isn’t picking hers up. (Yeah, yeah, I hear you, Laura!) My fave here might be the old Tom Jones number–It’s Not Unusual–we chose. And watching everyone do this little scoot left, scoot right. And this all with infusions of adult beverages.  [Note from Laura:  the remotes worked MUCH better when there were only two dancers.]
 
Competition increases as the week goes on. Those stickers and scores mount up. The weather pretty seriously sucks, so we miss our walks and hikes, but settle in.
 
One day I wandered over to the gym and found Mary Kay, Mary and Elaine having a healthy little lunch at the counter, Pat working out. Another I run into Sarah at the spa shop, Kat in the locker room. Here’s Jo and Jeanette in the relaxation room, and Nicole just back from a treatment. Laura, apparently, in one.
 
We’re going to paint and drink wine. The painting portion of this evening draws reactions from glee to dread. Pat and I discuss our personal talents, which we judge equal. We know how to do box houses and suns–circles with rays–clouds, trees that are lines with what look suspiciously like clouds topping them. And squiggly lines that are birds.
 
But we’re up for this.
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We opted to choose one painting to copy–a fallish woods with a path through it. You can picture eleven women sitting around long tables facing a canvas. We have an that art major (Kat) and have discussed  requiring her to hold the brush with her teeth. But we let that go.
 
Carolyn, our instructor is a marvel. Somehow she herded all these women, walked them through steps and stages, encouraged, praised–and kept those wine glasses filled. I’ve researched how to paint for characters, but doing is different. And fun. A lot of fun. And fascinating. When I get up to walk around the tables and see what others are doing, I’m amazed. Everyone’s look really, really good. Not Kat good–or Elaine good–but really good. And different. Like the bandanas everyone has the same base, but interprets in their own way. Jo’s is vivid, Nicole’s is delicate. Some of the paths are distinct, some mysterious, some straight, some curved. Someone says mine has movement, and when I step back from it, I see my trees lean a little. But I can say I meant to do that!
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Paint night is now on our annual agenda. In fact Elaine and Kat (those show-offs) went back the next day to do another.
 
Next round, more stickers, more prizes. We complete the Bowling and Dance sections, and the final round of Scrabble proves intense as always.
 
At this point, Kat’s leading the tourney, with Sarah and Jeanette right behind her.
 
Another annual is meeting up in the jewelry store. So you’ve got eleven women trying on earrings, pendants, bracelets, rings, giving each other advice. No one leaves unhappy, and it’s time to top that off with more treatments.
 
More books to read and lazing around, more scones and cookies. Advice and demonstrations of stretching and its importance pre and post workouts. More room service! And more adult beverages.
 
It’s time for Trivia. We do that three at a time as there was whining–that is a discussion–last year claiming the computer didn’t read four remotes well. We use the Wii You Don’t Know Jack here, which is full of silly, punny questions, where leaders can easily fall into minus scores by the final round. I think Nicole had a minus 25,000.

 

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Intense trivia
On our last day, winter came back. Blowing winds, blowing snow–about four inches before it finished. It looked like February. A hot stone massage can counteract that kind of insult.
 
We save Charades for last. Reverse Charades courtesy of Jo. Teams–chosen by eye color in our case–compete by three women acting out the phrase at the same time (unable to consult, it’s see the phrase and go) for the fourth member. You’re scored by how many phrases you guess in a minute.
 
No question we saved the best for last. Competition, frustration and hilarity spike high. I’ll add the rules say you can use actual objects. Seeing Jo stumped, stuck on Apple when Laura grabs an iPad (for Laptop) stood as one of the highlights. But the best, and never to be forgotten moment: Kat instantly leaping onto Laura’s back, waving an invisible crop in her hand. I think Elaine was the guesser, and really who could blame her for not getting Jockey when everyone in the room was howling with laughter. 
 
I regret not having a picture of that one, but who knew?

[Note from Laura: I think Kat got her cue when I dropped down to all fours without saying a word.  We are psychic.  Nora has also forgotten  that I hoisted Jo onto my back for piggyback.  What can I say, I threw myself into it.} 

In the end, Kat was crowned our Queen, and Laura as her lowliest subject. We have a crown and scepter for our queen, and a pair of tacky pink plastic earrings for the lowliest.

 

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Stupid Scoreboard (as per Laura)

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And so the tournament ends for another year. 
 
The morning is packing, stretching out the moments over breakfast, saying goodbye. We see each other off and on during the year–some of us see each other a lot–but this is farewell to the girl spa, and that’s bittersweet. Laura announces it’s 376 days till the next one (we’ve already booked it), so that’s something.
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I treasure my circle of women, their humor, their wisdom, their eccentricities, their innate kindness, their common ground and their differences. My fabulous prizes from this week are, as always, the memories and the moments we made and shared.
Nora
Just two more notes from Laura:  the last official act of the week is the official toe photo.  And the load was much lighter going home.20160409_213320 20160410_124032

Another peek into Laura’s Drunken Spa Girl diary


Thursday, April 7

Dear Diary,

Today we tried something brand new: Create & Sip. We actually left Command Central in the late afternoon to try our hands at painting while drinking wine.   I’d done it here in January with our pal Nicole. and we had such a good time we used the tried-and-true method of peer pressure to make it happen.

I’d herded the squirrels to a group decision on what to paint beforehand so our instructor was ready to guide us through the process.  Two hours of laughter, self-critiques and stepping outside 11 comfort zones later we stood back and admired the results.

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Armed but not dangerous.
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When in doubt, hold several brushes.
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The sofa gallery.

Then it was back to the suite for dinner and games.  I won a small prize for bonus bowling.

It’s still a stupid scoreboard.

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xoxoxo

 

Excerpts from Laura’s Drunken Spa Girl Diary

Sunday, April 3

Dear Diary:

Nora’s SUV was so packed on the way to the spa I had to sit in the narrowest seat and hold back the deluge of stuff sliding about with my left shoulder!  But since I didn’t have to drive and the first treatment loomed, I held back my complaints with heroic inner fortitude.

We arrived as hordes of guests were leaving.  Excellent!  More room for the Spa Girls.

Before any of us even unpacked, the empty scoreboard went to its place of honor on the fireplace.  Did I mention I’m not fond of games, dearest diary?  The blank slate looms over me like a thunderhead on the horizon.20160403_124104

But I will somehow survive.  Sigh.

Off to my first appointment! xoxoxoxo

Monday, April 4

Dear Diary,

Nearly everyone arrived yesterday, thrilled to be among friends for a solid week.   Since Nora is Master and Commander of the games, she’d arranged the fabulous prizes in the entry of the suite that serves as Command Central for the week.

I didn’t allow myself to look at them.  Stupid scoreboard.  I didn’t suck at Wii Bowling, but I didn’t win either.  Good, I’m on the middle of the road.

We arrived to cold air and brilliant sunshine yesterday, but the weather took a wet turn today.  I ran out to take photos of the brilliant tulips just before the rain set in.20160404_103224 20160404_073921

And yes, that’s snow!  A good day to be inside — I think that’s how most of the week will go.

The game for me tonight was the first round of Just Dance.  Stupid scoreboard.  xoxoxox

Tuesday, April 5

Dear Diary,

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I hate Scrabble.  *Sigh* Stupid scoreboard

But the week is wonderful otherwise.  We start our days in the lounge on the floor — everyone trickles in at their own pace for coffee and sustenance. Mary pointed out we all bring something to read then abandon it as soon as conversation starts.  Nora supplied us with ARCs of The Obsession and Bay of Sighs.  But I’m talking so much I haven’t finished Annika and Sawyer’s story.

AND Nora dedicated The  Obsession to the Spa Girls.  Fun!

Then we separate and head to different treatments or quiet spots for reading for most of the day.  Evenings are spent in Command Central, laughing, playing games and eating food prepared by other people!

xoxoxoxo

Wednesday, April 6

Dear Diary,

Ever wonder what a room service order for 11 women looks like?This:

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Piles of plates and abandoned pool shoes are the order of the evening.

Cookies and milk are more sedate.

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I thought I’d be game free tonight since the latecomers had to catch up, but Mary Kay chose me to dance for her in the semi-finals.  It didn’t go well for either of us.

Stupid scoreboard.

But I cheer myself up with the photos I love to take.  Here’s the view from the lounge the other morning.

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And one of the floral arrangement in the lobby.

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More to come.

xoxoxoxo

Laura

One Whole Glorious Week…

is about to begin. The minute I finish this blog, I’ll head for the shower, get dressed, slap some makeup on a face that hasn’t seen any throughout winter hibernation. My strong, considerate husband will load the rest of my stuff in the car.
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I’ll have timed it fairly well to the arrival of my traveling companions, Laura and Mary Kay. Then we’re off. Off to girl week, spa week, Drunken Spa Girl Week. Friends, pampering, exercise, laugh, games, prizes, cookies, and courtesy of Mary Kay two nights of ice cream sundaes.

 

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Mary Kay, Nora, Laura
This is a long spring tradition, and one all of us look forward to like kids at Christmas. Probably more.
 
I’m leaving behind greening trees, sprouting blooms (and weeds), dogs and man and work. I took this shot of my cherry trees yesterday, and hope I come back to them in bloom. I hope to start digging in the dirt before much longer, taking after-work walks with the dogs, filling tubs with weeds. But for now, it’s pals and massages, room service and morning workouts.
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I expect my man and my dogs will enjoy their week in a female-free house, too.
 
My girls will trickle in to the big room that serves as a kind of HQ for the week. We are eleven women of varying ages and backgrounds and interests–and game-playing skills. We’re young mothers and grandmothers, wives and daughters, writers and professionals. And we are friends. As a woman who grew up outnumbered by men (four brothers) and had two sons, having this wonderful circle of girlfriends is a rich, shiny treasure.
 
And this week we can all celebrate girlfriends.
 
When you have smart, savvy, loving, interesting women in your life it deserves celebration.
    
Can’t wait to start.   
Nora
Note from Laura:  There was so much stuff in the car, I had to sit in this small space.  🙂20160403_100323
Will post details about the week from my perspective too!

Easter Blessings

Birds sing this morning, and the pink blossoms still fill the view out my bedroom window. When I let the dogs out–and yelled at the herd of deer all but standing on my back patio–I stepped out into cool air. But spring cool, not that bitter bite of winter.
 
I think we made it!
 
April snows happen, and I wouldn’t bet against another frost or two, but on this Easter Sunday, spring rules.
 
On Friday after work, post work-out, I poured myself a well-deserved glass of wine and took a walkabout with the dogs. That’s a definite sign of spring as I do not do walkabouts in winter. The dogs were ecstatic, and so was I when I found some candytuft blooming, then a lovely clump of lungwort in bud. Peonies sprouting up, forsythia a cheery yellow sweep on a hillside. A Bradford pear I planted from essentially a twig years ago blooming out.
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To celebrate these little treasures, I spent a good half an hour throwing sticks for deliriously happy dogs. Parker is about two and a half, all muscle, long-legged and fast as lightning. Pancho is about nine, tubbier than he was, and hampered by the doughnut around his neck.
 
Backstory. Years ago, Pancho had a little scrape on his hind leg, around the ankle area. Not a big deal, and we treated it. But he gnawed at it, made it worse. We took him to the vet–and he wore The Cone of Shame. Which he escaped with distressing regularity. BW designed The Super Cone of Shame–this involved extending it with a round from another CofS, duct tape, staples. It failed. We tried wraps, boots, none of which defeated him. Sprays, meds, lotions, vet visits. Nothing. In fact, he only made it worse.
 
Every time we managed to get it healed–which was no mean feat–BW would insist now, obviously, the dog would leave it be. I would object, but be overruled by BW’s pity for the dog. And the dog would quickly prove BW’s pity misplaced. And the whole process would start again.
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Now the doughnut–this has been successful, and is more comfortable for him, and prevents him from bruising the back of my legs with the sharp edges of the CofS. He looks ridiculous, but it works. He has an impressive scar, but the wound’s healed. My edict was–over soft-hearted BW–the doughnut stayed on for the rest of Pancho’s life. If BW took it off for a short period, fine, as long as he was right there to catch it if Pancho started licking and gnawing.
 
A few weeks ago, I walked out to the living room to see the doughnut-less Pancho enthusiastically gnawing, the wound opened again, and blood on my rug. Where was BW? Down in his office. Just for a minute!
 
Well, they both learned their lesson.
 
In any case, Pancho is older, fatter and wearing a stupid tire around his neck. But his fierce love of fetching trumps all. Not once did the younger, faster, unhampered Parker get to the stick first. Doughnut Dog is canny, so I had to start throwing two at once, in opposite directions.
 
I could probably have done that for hours if my arm held up as they never tire of running after a stick or a ball. ButFriday was egg dying and hunting evening.
 
With my kitchen counter covered by an old plastic cloth, eggs already hard boiled, dye kits ready–pizza delivered and wine for the grownups, the kids dived in.FullSizeRender (1) - Copy FullSizeRender (2) - Copy FullSizeRender (3) - Copy FullSizeRender (4) - Copy FullSizeRender (5) - Copy
 
It’s sweet to watch a girl quickly approaching fourteen, a boy on the edge of twelve decorate eggs as enthusiastically as their five-year-old brother. All those cups of color to play with, and glitter and gloss to add. I had plenty of dippers, but they all preferred their fingers. So we had colorful digits by the end as well. And really pretty Easter eggs.
 
I have plastic eggs as well–I think I’ve had this bag of plastic eggs since Kayla was a toddler. I used to fill them with a little candy, a little change. But the older kids (and the younger who takes his cues from his sibs) like the folding stuff. I had to hunt the house for dollar bills earlier in the day before I stashed eggs around the living room. Dogs and cooler weather keep the hunt indoors.
 
And there are Easter bags–or in Kayla’s case a box. The box we dub Kayla’s Kitchen as she asked for kitchen tools. Logan gets his Under Armour (really all he wears) and the Nike basketball shoes he designed. I swore they’d be too big when I opened the box, but no. The boy has big feet. Colt’s got his Under Armour, too, and Wii games his sibs selected for him.
 
The pizza may be cold by this time, but it’s delicious.
 
We box and bag up the haul, we hug and end what’s been a pretty perfect day for me. Good work, awakening gardens, happy dogs, and kids who really are the brightest blossoms in my life.FullSizeRender (6)
 
And today the birds sing, and the deer are–for the moment–dispatched. After my workout, I’m going to settle down in the quiet with a book, enjoy the quiet and the blissful lack of chores.
 
When I count my blessings on this day of hope and color and rebirth, they are legion. So I wish the same for all of you.
Nora

Happy Ostara

Today we celebrate the change from dark to light, the earth’s rebirth. It may be a chilly 32 degrees out there in my world at this moment, but the spring equinox is all about hope and potential.
 
This turning, for me, is a lovely reminder that all things come around again. And beauty will bloom.
 
Whether you dance around the fire in tribute to The Horned God or check out those seed catalogues, whether you carry palms after Sunday Mass or plant some pansies, today the world shifts. And in the Northern Hemisphere, it turns to spring with longer days, warmer air and awakening life.
 
On Friday, I walked outside (to clean up dog poop on the pavers) and found some spring. Little Johnny-Jump-Ups volunteering by the outdoor faucet, periwinkle blooming under the still winter-bare trees, daffodils blowing their bright trumpets. A woman can smile even while shoveling up poop.IMG_1368
 
My very favorite spring beauty is the tulip magnolia right in front of the house. I tried to talk it into waiting as the forecasters warned of snow, of freezing temps. Don’t come out yet!! Just wait. Give it another week.
 
It didn’t listen.
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I shot a few pictures, not only for this blog but for me as I anticipated by Sunday morning all those gorgeous pink blooms would be black from frost.
 
Saturday was for chores and anticipation–and sighing as the forecasters were right, and rain turned to snow. But inside I had Easter bags and boxes to fill for grandchildren. I don’t do baskets as some of the gifts (including the little-guy basketball hoop Kayla urged me to get for her little brother) are just too big. Into the One More Room to sort and organize, to add the candy every kid is entitled to for Easter. We’ll do our little Easter next Friday, dye some eggs, have a hunt. Another celebration of spring and rebirth, of hope and renewal.
 
I also sorted out the Fabulous Prizes for the tournament–our much-anticipated Drunken Girl Spa week is coming right up! Then there’s the bags of clothes from my closet purge to deal with as the annual clothes swap is only a month away.
 
Lots of sorting, bagging, boxing up. And no cooking as BW is away this weekend, skiing. Why anybody would escape winter for more winter is a puzzle to me, but there you go. For me, just a day of quiet, chores and the dogs, with the fire going. And my pretty pink tree every time I stopped to look out the window. I stopped to look out a lot, looking at my pretty tree as snow fell, wet and steady, blurring those bright blossoms.
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Oh, and the deer–six of them–I chased off, as I’ve had to do routinely all winter. There will be an epic battle come planting time. Epic.
 
When I let the dogs out for the last time last night, it was shivering out there. Cold, cold and still damp. I thought of my poor magnolia and those brave, impatient blooms.
 
And this morning, against all odds, I saw this filling the window over my bed. Beautiful, bright and defiant, this celebration of rebirth, this symbol that we can bloom even in the harsh, even if it’s just for one more day.
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So I’m taking that symbol into my day, will light the fire, will light the candles, will give thanks in my own way for the beauty outside my windows as the world wakes in flowers for another year.
 
Happy Ostara. Happy Spring. And bright blessings–and blooming–to you all.  
Nora
 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

For the past several weeks, I’ve been house hunting–publishing houses, that is. While publishing’s a business, a house is still a home, and moving is stressful, complicated–and for a creature of routine like myself–just fraught.
 
Exciting, too, because once you work through the fraught, there are new possibilities, a fresh page, a new start.
 
There were changes in the house I worked with, lived in, was part of for more than twenty years, and with those changes I no longer felt at home there. Home, for me, is the center, the core, personally and professionally, so I need to feel comfortable and in place. I need to fit and feel connected.
 
So it was time to pack up, move on, and take memories of those twenty-plus years of good work with good people with me to somewhere new.
 
But where?
 
I’m fortunate to have had choices, to be able look at the landscape, the architecture, the personality and foundations of what was available to me. Each had its own distinct appeal and advantages, and since I don’t move lightly, all had to be carefully considered–with the invaluable and level-headed guidance of my agent. Amy Berkower of Writers’ House has been my agent since 1980. Not only don’t I make changes lightly, but I know when I have the best and I hold onto it. She knows and understands me, values for me what keeps me content, keeps me happy and creative, is not only my agent but my very good friend.
 
In the end, though we both determined I could do good work and be satisfied settling into other houses, one could be a real home, a place of contentment and creativity, one that suited my wants and needs at this time in my life and career.
 
For those reasons and many others, I’m unpacking my bags in MacMillan–St. Martin’s Press. Their landscape, architecture and personality all fit so well I already feel at home. I already know some of the family, and that’s a path to contentment. I’m looking forward to meeting and making connections to the rest. Best of all, I can now concentrate on the work I’ll do for them, and for you. I like to think, within this new house I’ll create some rooms readers will enjoy visiting, spending some time in.
 
They’ll begin publishing me next year (it takes time to write those books, create those rooms), and I’m looking forward to what my new family and I will do together.  (Note from Laura: there is still work to be done arranging the 2017 schedule.  While I know readers would love to continue with a schedule that’s familiar, there are bound to be tweaks up ahead.  We’ll share as we know what’s what.)
 
Penguin Random House will publish The Obsession this April, Bay Of Sighs in June, Apprentice In Death in September and Island Of Glass in December, as scheduled.  I’m grateful to everyone I worked with there–and to those who continue to work on my books for 2016, and my backlist.
 
Happily, with the move made, I could spend my Saturday with Kayla in the kitchen without the distractions of what should I do, where should I go eking into the day.
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She wanted to learn how to make my red sauce–and she and Logan voted for fudge. My girl learns well, and learns fast. She’s learning the names of herbs and spices–and that no sauce is complete without a good dose of wine.
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Once the red sauce is simmering, it’s fudge time. I don’t have my mother’s recipe, sadly, but I found one on-line that uses Marshmallow Cream–we called it fluff. And when I pulled that out of the cabinet, her eyes lit. Fluff! And the two of us had a little taste from the jar. I was ten years old again. She mixed, she stirred, stirred, stirred until the fluff, the sugar, the evaporated milk–a little salt, if I remember right–were all combined and smooth and boiling. And that’s a LOT of stirring. Add the chocolate, a dash of vanilla. Stir, stir. Pour into a foil-lined dish, and into the fridge it goes. Which leaves the spoon and pot to be licked and scraped–just like I did as a girl in my mother’s kitchen.
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It’s not quite my mother’s fudge–a little sweeter, I think–but it’s awesome.
 
The kid also ate a bowl of soup, one of my baker brother’s sourdough English muffins (christened by Laura as J’muffins for my brother Jim). She helped me pick out Easter presents for her younger sibs, helped me sign four tubs of books. Then learned how to make another of her favorite things. Garlic bread.
 
At the end of the day she took home a container of red sauce–just add pasta!–a plate of pretty amazing fudge and a bag of garlic bread. I suspect her family ate as well and happily as BW and I.
 
I think of my professional (and personal, because my work and my house are) change. It happened relatively quickly. I look at my granddaughter, stirring, chopping, creating meals, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me instead of boosted up in my arms. That’s a gradual change that seemed to take five minutes.
 
And find myself, a creature of routine, not only okay with the changes, but delighted by them.
Nora

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