Back In The Kitchen With Kayla

But before that I spent all day Friday doing a photo shoot. Sounds glam, right?
 
It so isn’t.
 
Now it’s certainly cool to get your hair and makeup done by professionals, especially pros you know and trust. You provide naked face and undone hair, and they transform you so you look glam. And they have such nifty toys.
 
It’s really nice to have a photographer you know and trust–in this case my husband. And it’s comfortable to do the shoot in his studio, so there’s all that.
 
And Laura’s there to help, and to weigh in on the couple of choices I brought for accessories. Three different set ups, three different outfits, three different hairstyles and three different makeup looks.
 
And you spend your day smiling/not smiling/smiling less or more. Turning this way or that way, hands/arms here or there. The first time I did a shoot I gained considerable respect for those who do so for a living. Having all these pros I know and trust–and really like on a personal level–makes a big difference for a woman who makes her living at the keyboard, mostly in pjs, with no makeup and bed hair.
 

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The team: BW, Tereza, Laura and Harold
Plus, it was a gorgeous day. Sunny, warm, wonderful.
 
Saturday, not so much.
 
But I’d already planned to spend much of it in the kitchen. Kayla’s schedule and mine haven’t meshed in the last few weeks, but we earmarked Saturday for cooking together. When I asked her about menu choices earlier in the week, Logan vigorously suggested deviled eggs. She wanted to do my mother’s pound cake again–and since nobody had an idea for a main, I suggested lasagna. Menu set.
 
She arrives early afternoon on raw, rainy Saturday, and we get down to it. Red sauce first–and she’s done this once, so only needs a little prompting. And only a bit on the cake batter. It’s fun to get back to this weekend duet with her, to watch her handle the measuring and stirring. I’d say she learned a lot of the basics over the winter.
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Cake’s in the oven, red sauce is simmering. A little break, then it’s time to boil a dozen eggs. Tip found by BW for easy peeling:
 
For eight eggs (so math is involved for more) six cups of water, one tablespoon salt, a quarter cup of white vinegar. Bring to a boil, then carefully add eggs one at a time. Lower the heat a bit so it doesn’t boil too fast, boil for fourteen minutes. Immediately put eggs in an ice bath until cool. It really works.
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Kayla comments, as she and her Grandda get to peeling, that it’s not so bad–as she’s used to the three or four dozen required to peel for our parties. I show her how you slice them lengthwise, take out the yolk. She puts the yolks through the mill, adds the mayo, the mustard, the herbs–she has a good hand with this.
 
Taste test. A little more mustard, a little more oregano–I trust her and BW on this as I don’t like deviled eggs. Fill the whites, sprinkle with paprika. She and BW test one each, and thumbs up.
 
Now we need to make the cheese mixtures for the lasagna. I use cottage cheese rather than ricotta. I prefer its texture. And I add a lot of shredded mozzarella, some basil, some pepper.
 
Kayla adamantly dislikes the look and smell of cottage cheese. While I remind her I make a lot of things I don’t even eat, she backs away from mixing the cheeses. You do it, Nana. So Nana does. Into the fridge with it until we’re ready to put the lasagna together.
 
Cake comes out, and oh boy, it looks and smells terrific.
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About that time Logan arrives with two friends, his little brother and his mom. They’re spending this rainy evening in the pool. Kayla’s earned a swim herself, and I believe I’ve earned a little sit down. I tell her 45 minutes, then we need to finish up.
 
I’m impressed she’s back in 40.
 
Noodles go on the boil. Cake comes out of the pan and onto the pretty cake plate a pal gave me recently. And she has the first slice. It’s deemed delish.
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Preakness pre-race coverage is on the kitchen TV. I’ve stuck with my Derby pick here, and had a friend who’s going to the track place an across the board bet for me. My girl’s now invested in the race, so we talk horses and racing while I show her how to drain and cool the noodles. Have her put a little scoop of sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish so they won’t stick. And she layers the noodles, layers on sauce. I layer the cheese due to teenage ick. She layers, layers, I layer.
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The horses are in the gate. We stop everything to watch. Nyquist has the early lead, and as in the Derby, Exaggerator is back in the field. Then I watch his rider weave him through, cut him to the rail. He’s moving up, moving up. And oh boy, when they hit the stretch, he’s gone. Just flying over that wet, muddy track. He takes it running away.
 
Happy dance, hoots. And back to layering. Kayla tops the casserole with slices of mozzarella, and we pop it in the oven.
 
Damp boys come up for drops in their water-clogged ears–and are reminded to hang up their wet towels. We have experience here.
 
Young Colt–whose picture I took on the pretty Friday evening with a promise I’d post it here–commandeers my iPad for games, and asks if he can have a piece of chocolate for later. His mom and I share a laugh when later turns out to be ten seconds.
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Lasagna comes out to rest. Divvy up deviled eggs and cake to go home with the cook and the boys–they’re getting pizza delivered.
 
Hug my kitchen pal–who is now a solid smidge taller than I am.
 
If the sun comes out at all today, she’ll come be my gardening pal–and have some of her own lasagna. Her grandda and I sampled it last night. Yum!
 
I hope our schedules mesh again soon. I like to cook–especially on the weekends. But cooking with Kayla is pure pleasure. 
Nora

Weekend Whirl

It sure felt like a whirl as I’m sitting here and it’s already Monday.
 
But during the whirl I had some sunshine and some gardening. I hit the nursery early Saturday for a carload. Truckload already planted, and this was mostly for pots. And what a lovely start to the day. All those lovely plants to choose from on a cool May morning.
 
Cool enough (come on, May!) I kept a jacket on while I played with design and execution, only ditching it as it warmed–finally–in the afternoon. Oh, I had pots to fill, and fun doing it. But miscounted, it seems. But there are always a spot in the beds, here and there for a little more.
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And more fun and satisfaction as I see nasturtium and sunflower seeds starting to sprout. The basil looks a little sad–just too much rain–but I’m counting on a come back.
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I’m leaving two barrels and some bits in the faerie garden for Kayla, otherwise, flowers are done.
 
So it’s onto vegetables. These we grow in bags on the lower patio–more sun. I cut eyes and sprouts for two bags of potatoes, while BW mixes peat in with soil. We have three varieties of tomatoes, and in they go with so Epsom salts for a good start. And peppers, too.
 
Next weekend–barring more stupid rain–I hope to divide and transfer some perennials to spots that need a little boost.
 
This long day of work needs to be celebrated with an adult beverage and a stroll around to admire the fruits of all that labor. Ah. Smell that dianthus, the heliotrope. The star flowers are just starting to bloom.
 
Then my girl arrives. Kayla is going to her Eighth Grade Formal. She looks so pretty, so grown-up. She’s taller than I am–how did that happen? Nana does her makeup, Grandda gets some pictures, and off she goes. Rite of Passage. High school is around the corner.
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The day ends with proofing galleys. I sleep like a rock.
 
Sunday’s downright cold for May. I have inside work.
 
I have a photo shoot on Friday, so must now gather wardrobe for the three different shots, three different looks. This is, I don’t lie, a PITA for me. Many more things I’d rather do than spend a couple of hours in my closet figuring out what to wear. Enjoying my clothes doesn’t preclude PITA. I think I’ve got it, but we’ll see.
 
Remember that a fourth deal’s been added, to be dealt with at Girl’s Night Out on Thursday. Need to select yet one more outfit.
 
And since May decided to be March, it’s kitchen time. Much more enjoyable for me to bake bread, make soup. Not as enjoyable as being outside, but I’ll take it.
 
Now, since I didn’t get to them on Saturday, there are tubs of books to sign. Then those galleys won’t proof themselves.
 
Still, the weekend that just flew by with little break in the action ends with Game of Thrones–the Mother of Dragons is BACK!–and Penny Dreadful, so gloriously spooky.
 
Now it’s Monday. The sun’s shining, and may it continue. I’m ready to work, and since today schedule includes grandkids after school, adjust my day to get the workout in before 4:15.
 
I want to hear what Logan’s been up to, but–I’m a girl, after all–I really want to hear about the dance.
 
Hopefully, we’ll all take a walk in the sunshine, and take some time to admire the gardens.
Nora

Horses and Hats, Music and Magic

Derby weekend has them all. Derby, for me, becomes its own world, and little that goes on outside it penetrates its glow. It’s all about color and pageantry, glamour and grit, bourbon and brilliance.
 
It packs a ridiculous amount of fun into a whirlwind.
 
This year our Derby companions are first-timers Laura and her husband, Mark. There’s an added kick of introducing Derby virgins to its unique and myriad charms.20160505_114945 20160505_115004
 
We leave Thursday morning in the downright raw, damp chill this spring can’t seem to throw off. After a short–and thankfully pretty smooth flight–we arrive in chilly, overcast Louisville. But I see a few hopeful breaks of blue in the sky–and best of all our Louisville pals Kathy and Brian. Kathy stands as our fearless leader, Brian our cop–and they’ve become members of our Derby family over the years.
 
Two seconds with them, and we’re back in the rhythm.
 
Off we go to lunch, which for me is not only about food and catching up, but smoothing out the edges traveling invariable frays for me. Smoothed out, fed and watered, and we step outside into actual sun! I could do a happy boogie right on the street.
 
At the hotel, Kathy’s already smoothed the way a bit more by checking in for us. We have to pause and admire the enormous Chocolate Pharaoh in the lobby. Where else will you see a life-size chocolate sculpture of a Triple Crown winner but Derby?
 
Unpack, hang out, take a walk, have a drink. Then it’s time to polish up for Club Night. Party time with more Derby family. Food and drink, betting tips, music and dancing. If you’re not ready to kick off your shoes and dance, you should’ve stayed home! We’re ready. So we dance and laugh and reconnect with friends we’ve made through this marvelous event.
 
Then go home and fall into bed.
 
Friday dawns beautifully. Sunny and warm and pretty. A perfect Oaks Day for the men, a perfect Girl Day for Laura, Kathy and me. Our men look pretty damn dapper, and show some pink for Oaks Day tradition.
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But we girls are heading off for our own fun. We start at City Nails for mani/pedis. I love this place, one that’s become part of that Derby family. It’s–like Louisville–warm and welcoming and fun. Plus they have the most amazing pedi chairs. Your eyes could roll back as the chair massages every inch of you while you’re getting your feet rubbed. If I had one of those chairs at home I’d live in it–and in a coma of bliss.
 
They also have big screens with the Oak’s races on. In bliss I watch the field for an upcoming race, pick out one. And he wins. This could bode well for my betting on Derby Day. I love my pretty toes, admire my classic French manicure. I think how it’ll be too bad to mess it up gardening in a week. Then remind myself that’s reality. This is Derby.
 
Let’s go have lunch and lots of champagne!
 
We do just that, have lovely food in a lively place with a charming waiter. Girl talk, and what the hell, we’ll go for dessert. If you can’t indulge at Derby, when and where? Plus, we’re sharing and shared desserts, as everyone knows, don’t count.
 
Another traditional stop on Girl Day is Rodes for shopping. I never walk out empty-handed or disappointed, and this year is no exception. Scarves! Why can’t I stop buying scarves? And oh, look at that red bag! And that jacket! And . . . well, definitely not empty-handed. Following tradition, I hit the men’s department for BW’s Father Day shoes. They know I’m coming and have a selection in his size. Size 14 isn’t a snap to find! And fun socks to go with my pick–voted on by all three girls.
 
Being girls we spot a young woman trying on dresses. She’s got a lovely, slim build. We learn she’s buying her Derby dress, and chime right in with opinions. Laura talks her into trying on a cute red hat–as she’s looking for a hat as well. When she talks about just not wearing one, the three of us gasp in shock. LOL. We all voted for a pretty, springy print dress, and I hope she bought it–but she looked a little shell-shocked by the time we left.
 
Now it’s back to the hotel when Kathy’s wonderful hairdresser Sarah will glam up our hair for the gala. So it’s hair and makeup and pretty dresses, sparkles and shoes. All girls until the men come back to get their manly glam on.
 
No question they had fun at the Oaks so it’s talk of horses and who they met, what they won, what they lost. And by the time we’re spiffed up, we all look marvelous.
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The Unbridled Gala seriously sparkles–and for a most excellent cause. Blessings In A Backpack. There’s little more vital than seeing that children don’t go hungry. I’m so proud to be a part of a night that recognizes the importance of filling that need. And the York Sisters–Tonya and Tammy–know how to throw a party.
 
BW and I walk the Red Carpet. A question often asked: What’s your Derby pick? This one’s easy for me this year. Before we left home I settled on Exaggerator–I appreciate a good exaggerator. It’s how I make my living. So I’ve chosen him on his name alone. Completely unscientific and silly, but there it is.
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The ballroom shines spectacularly. All while and silver and crystal. I can’t imagine how much time, creativity, effort goes into putting all this together–the sheer organizational heft is beyond me.
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The silent auction’s yet another integral part of the night, and I’ve already spotted what I MUST have. There are two old iron doors, narrow, runged, a wonderful rusty look to them. They speak to me, and say: Nora, we belong in your garden.
 
I agree.
 
A couple other things pop out as we wander, but the doors are IT.
 
We enjoy dinner, the people watching–so many gorgeous dresses. At one point, Laura and I were outside, and this pretty young couple hopped out of a car. He’s in black tie, she’s in a short, frothy white dress. They’d been looking for a red carpet for a picture.
 
Laura makes their wish come true, takes some pictures of them on the red carpet. Then she spots another couple. I want that woman’s incredible silver dress. They are simply gorgeous, elegant, perfect, somehow retro with a contemporary edge. Laura asks if they’ll just stand where they are for a minute more, backs to us, so she can take a picture of them. She does it in black and white, adding to that timeless elegance. And they’re so taken with it, he asks if she’ll send it to him.
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I check my phone app excessively–I’m not losing those doors!
 
The entertainment this year is jaw-dropping. Wynonna Judd opens, and rocks the house. I’ll add she looks fabulous. People crowd onto the dance floor to take pictures, videos.
 
My jaw drops another few inches as Dennis DeYoung (Styx!) takes the stage. Holy crap! He’s incredible, and when he performs Lady, I’m seriously transported. I can’t count the times I’ve listened to that song, sung along with it on the radio. And here I am watching and hearing him perform it in person.
 
Check the doors, check the doors. I will not be outbid.
 
But we’re not done yet. I can’t believe it. John Elefante (Kansas!) comes on stage. OMG! Dust In The Wind. This is Elefante singing Dust In The Wind right here, right now. Carry On My Wayward Son? Are you kidding me? This is actually happening.
 
This is the amazing world of Derby. By the time Robin Thicke comes on, people are crowded onto the dance floor–dancing as well as taking pictures. They’re (including us) dancing at their tables. It’s sound and color and joy, everywhere.
 
Turns out BW and Mark spent some time with John’s lovely wife Michelle at the Oaks, and they come over to our table. It’s a big thrill to meet them–and learn they’ll be at our table at Derby. As Laura says, Michelle is definitely One Of Us–and would be welcomed into our tribe.

 

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Unbridled Eve co-chair Tonya York, John Elefante and Nora
We dance and talk and enjoy until midnight–but tomorrow’s Derby. Time for bed.
 
A truly fantastic evening. And I got the doors!!!
 
Derby dawns a little overcast, but they’re promising sun and warm–with some serious storms in the evening, after the race. We get our Derby on–fun hats, comfortable shoes, pretty dresses and handsome suits. I’ve become the Pocket Square expert (You just Google it) for both men.
 
We four look smashing!
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We go early. We like the full day, and arrive during the second race. Another Red Carpet, and I’m sticking with Exaggerator for my main pick. Through the green room–the excitement’s already building. The crowds, the voices, the color, the energy. And Brian’s whisks us up to Millionaire’s Row. I do what I always do–head straight outside.
 
Because there it is, that rich brown oval, that vivid green infield grass already peopled with color. The pure white, the spires, the red roses, the rush of it all, and the classic tradition under a blue sky. I’d come back, again and again, for that one moment.
 
We have our favorite server, Amy–more Derby family. And we have time to place bets on the next race. There’s a gray, so following my mother’s advice, I bet on him. And chalk up my first win of the day. It’ll be awhile before I chalk up another.
 
It’s so much fun to see the outfits, the hats, to see familiar faces, do more catching up. But it’s thrilling to watch the horses, to step outside on the terrace, watch them in the gate, watch them spring out and do what they were born to do. Just run.

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Nora and Michelle Elefante

We eat, and bet. We drink, and bet. John and Michelle join us, adding to the fun. I’m sticking when grays when I see one–and with the same cute young guy at the betting window. Though I lose several in a row. We have a racing pal who sits with us awhile, tells us who to bet on in this race–won’t make any money, but he’ll win it. Suggests we make a bet I’ve never made before. Betting on this horse overall. That means he wins, and we’ve also put money on the rest of the entire field, so the amount we win depends on who pulls in second.

 
We do it, and win a dollar. LOL. He was right, on all counts.
 
I win a little, lose a little, enjoy my time outside in the air, the warm, with those horses thundering by. The stands are full, the infield alive with people.
 
I meet Diego Klattenhoff of The Blacklist (big fan here), and I HAVE to ask him if Lizzy is really dead. He will neither confirm nor deny, but I have to forgive that. He’s so handsome.

 

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Nora and Diego
And Mike Mills (R.E.M.!) is back. We connected with him a couple Derbys ago, and it’s so great to see him again. And the delightful Warren Moon, always so warm.

 

Michelle Elefante, Mike Mills, BW, Nora, John Elefante
Michelle Elefante, Mike Mills, BW, Nora, John Elefante
Mark’s in heaven meeting Mark Sanchez.
 
Lots of photographs, lots of chatter. Our table is just so much fun. The Dust In The Wind genius is sitting at our table, and Laura and I have bonded with his wife. That’s Derby magic.
 
And the big race is coming up.
 
We have lots of bets here. Bets for our grandkids, for friends at home. And I have to figure out my own. Exaggerator’s my major bet, but not the only. I think I’ll box a couple–with the favorite Nyquist. And there are grays in the field. I pick one to bet.
 
I pocket my tickets, and pretty much forget about the bets. Win or lose, I know what’s coming.
 
Honestly, every time the first strains of My Old Kentucky Home glide into the air, I’m caught by the throat. To be standing there on the terrace, now packed with people, looking out at the crowds, hearing the voices of so many united in song–it’s such a feeling.
 
Then the cheers, the energy and excitement.
 
Watching those gorgeous athletes taking their walk on the oval, riders up, silks brilliant. I pick out Exaggerator. He looks so proud. Let’s see what he can do.
 
So much noise, such universal enthusiasm for this one slice of time as the horses are loaded into the gate. And boy, they’re off. That rising, sustained wall of sound. Cheers, shouts, thundering hooves all blurred together. And the sheer, stunning beauty of it. Dirt flying, long legs pounding, jockeys clinging like brilliant burrs.
 
I note my horse is falling back. Way back. Oh well.
 
Just look at them. All of them, every one, vital and strong and fast.
 
I see, to my astonishment, Exaggerator is moving up, and really moving up. Okay, that’s unexpected. Go! Go! Go! Just wow, look at him. The field is gorgeous, but I’m struck–and would have been without the bet–at how he pours it on, coming from way behind, moving up, up, up.
 
The crowd, thousands of voices, at a frantic pitch, as they round that curve, come down the stretch. Nyquist captures the Derby, but Exaggerator, picked on a whim, takes second–and to my eye, magnificently. What a show, what a horse–I take nothing from the champion, or any in the field. But number eleven had all the heart in the world to me.
 
Plus, I bet him across the board!
 
I cover my day’s bets, and then some with my whimsical pick, and go in for the post-race talk with our Derby family. And to collect my winnings.
 
We always stay for the last two races. Too much fun, and outside, far too much traffic. The rain’s coming. You can see the storm brewing out there. The light edges toward drama. But we sit, talk, have another drink, and I pick a horse–a long(ish)shot gray–for the next race. What the heck, across the board again.
 
Wander outside to watch the horses walk to the gate. Oh, my gray is so, so beautiful. I talk with Mike Mills and his so, so beautiful girlfriend. She’s also bet on the gray. We are united.
 
I’m really just about soaking up the rest of the day by now, watching those gorgeous horses for the last couple times. I don’t know if anyone was more surprised than I was when the gray came in.
 
Woo!!
 
Last race, last bet. The place is emptying out, the storm’s closing in. Laura points out there’s an Irish horse in this last field. Race Me Home, at five to one. I always bet the Irish horse, and I like the name. Across the board. Perhaps influenced by my luck toward the end of the day, BW follows my bet. Part of me is sad it’s the last race–the last of a marvelous experience. Part of me is ready to get on regular clothes.
 
So I soak it in yet again, this last race. And bam! We hit. Up the Irish!
 
A very nice way to close out Derby Day.
 
By the time we head to the car, the rain’s started. And the wind. And the lightning. They meant serious storm, and they didn’t lie. But Brian gets us through, gets us home, where we fall on the food we’d pre-ordered from room service, then pretty much fall into bed.
 
Overcast Sunday morning, and feeling lazy before it’s time to pack. Packing to go home takes a lot less time. Louisville shines for Derby–and as I know from years past when I stopped on book tour here–is welcoming and full of easy hospitality all year. I’m ready to go home, but I’ll look forward to coming back. 
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Nora, Kathy, Laura — the day after
The flight home’s short–bumpy toward the end as we come over my mountains–so nothing’s better than stepping onto the ground again. Big hugs goodbye for Laura and Mark, our fun and happy Derby mates.
 
And home where it’s warm and sunny, my dogs are happy to see us, the gardens are blooming.
 
Reality is just fine–especially after a weekend of magic.
Nora
 

Rain, Rain, Enough Already!

Other than approximately six minutes yesterday afternoon, we haven’t seen the sun above my little world for six full days.

 
Six.
 
I don’t mind a rainy day, or two. But six running strikes me as overkill. The universe should take note. Overkill. Give it a rest!
 
Plus, I whine as during those six days I couldn’t just hunker down at the keyboard.
 
Early last week I had an afternoon meeting, so BW and I took advantage and hit my very favorite nursery for a truckload of plants. On this cool morning I now realize I was too enraptured (as always) by the glorious spread of flowers, and the delight of their possibilities to appreciate the sunshine. Plus I spent a lot of time in the greenhouses loading flats of bedding plants into carts–with BW warning me (as always) they had to fit in the truck.
 
Honestly, I’ve got a pretty good gauge of how much we can jam in there after all these years–though I do tend to push it some. But who would blame me? I’m delirious with the scents, the shapes, the colors, the textures. The annual spring trip to the nursery just lifts my spirit. My place is owned and operated by Mennonites. They also lift my spirit as they’re unfailingly helpful, soothingly pleasant and cheerful, and offer some of the loveliest flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables in the area.
 
I could spend days there.
 
But we’ve got a meeting. It’s as I’m checking out–carts lined up, two delightful women counting my plants, BW rolling carts to the truck–the sun says bye-bye. The wind whips up, the clouds roll in.
 
By the time we finish jamming the plants in–and I don’t mind holding a flat of heliotrope on my lap–it’s gone from cool to chilly. Before we get home, the rain’s pattering.
 
I think, that’s okay, it’s good for the plants and I can’t play with them until the weekend anyway.
 
I think the same when I’m back at my keyboard the next day, and the rain’s falling.
 
But the next, I’m heading into Boonsboro–another afternoon meeting, this one with my new publisher, my agent and my editor. I’m delighted they’re making the trip, had hoped to offer them a pretty day. But it’s chilly and raining. We’ll make the best of it.
 
This day starts early for me as I’m trying out Talon Studio, a fairly new shop in town. Here we have fascinating artwork, cool jewelry, interesting bits and pieces. And tattoos. I’ve thought long and hard about my third tattoo–what, where, why. Initially I’d figured on waiting for it until we visit Ireland again, as I’d gotten my others there. But I’m all for supporting local businesses.
 
Laura meets me there for the fun and support, and the owner operator, Raya, has everything set up. She’s also wonderfully pleasant and easy. I pick my colors, she places the stencil–inside of my right forearm, just below the elbow. Exactly right.
 
Then I’m on the table, and we chat as we go. My first tat–the Trinity Knot on my ankle hurt stupendously. The ohm symbol on my shoulder blade, not at all. Ankles are bone, and shoulder blades have a lot more muscle. I’d say this one fell between, much closer to the ohm than the knot. And, as Laura timed it, we were done in 12 minutes. And it’s exactly right, exactly what I wanted. I love it.IMG_1404
 
Because you’ll ask–it’s the five fold symbol. There are various meanings, and my particular favorite has the four outer circles representing the four elements, with the center circle representing the magick that connects them. This suits me all around.
 
Getting inked isn’t for everybody, but for those who may be considering this sort of body adornment, I can attest Talons and Raya offer a comfortable, clean, efficient and happy experience.
 
Off we go back into the rain, do some shopping. Then New York comes to Boonsboro. I’m delighted to see my girls again, and to meet my new guy. Also delighted to offer them lunch at Vesta (Vesta has a terrific new menu), spend time with them. Fortunately by the time we finish, the rain takes a break. It’s cool and cloudy, but no need for the umbrellas so we can have a little tour of the town. And there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours on a damp cool spring day than drinking some wine in Inn Boonsboro, snuggled up in front of the fire in The Library.
 
BW and I topped off the day by attending Boonsboro High School’s spring musical production of Godspell. It’s so bright, so happy, so colorful–and the kids are so obviously having the time of their lives. I love seeing the house is packed–Boonsboro supports its arts as well as its sports. I love knowing Mr. Baer–who taught my Jason and sparked his interest in Theater–continues to do the same for this generation. So from tattoos to a visit from New York to high school musicals, a really good day. Even when the rain came back.
 
But it’s still raining on Friday. I’m at the keyboard again, telling myself the forecast for the weekend can’t be right. I’ve usually started gardening by this time, but my weekends have proven jammed with other things. This is my only shot! Next weekend is Derby. The universe will surely cut me a break.
 
Saturday morning. Rain, chilly, breezy. Damn it! By late morning, the rain’s taken another break–though not the chill or the breeze. But we head out, my man and I.
 
I love the process. Taking plants, placing them–still in their pots–where I think they should go. Adjusting, fiddling, deciding. Then digging in. My gardening gloves get soaked, the chilly and raw breeze isn’t welcomed. But . . . look how lovely, how happy. And how satisfying it all is. Possibility becomes reality with some good, steady work. All that color, those shapes, those textures begin to blend together in my gardens, along with the perennials, already growing lush in this strange, teasing spring.IMG_1393
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Planting the faerie garden I think of Kayla, leave some impatiens for her to plant if she wants–and leave the bulk of the little decorations for her to place. It’s pretty amazing to look back at the truck, see it’s nearly cleaned out–and to realize I’ll make another trip to the nursery after Derby weekend.
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Normally, after a full day of planting we’d have ourselves an adult beverage on the back patio and survey some of the fruits of our labors. Saturday evening, we have those adult beverages inside, and I turn on the fireplace.
 
That night it pours.
 
And is pouring when I go out to the gym to work out in the morning. I still have pots to plant, but I can do that under the cover of the back carport. In the chilly damp. With two dogs in my face half the time.
 
No question I need another trip for more, but I so enjoy playing with the pots, deciding what looks best with what, how they’ll look once they begin to fill in, trail out.
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The rain stops, and for about five minutes I see the sun–there is hope! Light and shadows, birds singing. I can go around to the front patio, start playing with those pots. Count the ones I’ll need to fill after that second trip. And the vegetables will have to wait as well. But it’s now warm enough (barely) and though it’s clouded over again, it’s not raining so I can pour an adult beverage and walk around to see all we’ve accomplished in one wet weekend.
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And when I take my walk on this first day of May, on Beltane, I’m grateful for spring, for the flowers that will make me smile for months, for all the walks and patio sitting and throwing balls for dogs yet to come.
 
We had a wicked thunderstorm last night, and the rain poured as I wrote this. But just now, the sun’s pushed through the clouds, and my woods are gorgeous and green. Maybe, after the work day, the work out, I’ll take a walk in the sun and smell the flowers.
Nora

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!

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