Category Archives: cooking

Writers Are People Too

[Note: the italics and bold words are my doing. ~Laura]

In my normal routine, weekends are for domestic stuff, family, taking a breath. There were many times back in the day that I put in time writing on weekends. There are still occasions I work weekends, or go back to work in the evening–but mostly I try not to.

I need to enjoy my home, my family–and tend to both, just like most people.

This weekend, after a fun gathering here on Friday evening, I got in an early workout before hitting the domestic and family. Fun for me that when I started wrapping the last of the Christmas presents, a pretty snow began to fall. Light, fluffy, and the perfect backdrop for my tradition of watching (as Kayla calls them) cornball Christmas movies while I wrap.

Snow through the kitchen window.

 

Done with that, I headed down, put on more cornball as the snow fell and I kneaded bread. And while the bread rose, started making soup. It’s another routine in the life during the fall and winter. Making soup and bread on the weekends.  

Bread
Soup

 

My house smelled glorious. As a reward, during the second rising, and while the soup simmered, I got the book I haven’t had time to pick up for two weeks, poured myself some bubbly and sat in the library. A fire, a snowfall, an adult beverage and a most excellent book. Nice. 

A little space to read

Today, we had a window before Logan’s basketball game to do some cookie baking. Another tradition–one that now had Kayla mostly in the lead. The girl’s a good cook. A double batch of chocolate chip, some peanut butter blossoms, and after they had to head out, I finished up with candy cane kiss cookies.

Worker bees
The finished product, part 1
The finished product, part 2

Yum to all. My kids took a break in there, took advantage of Nana’s soup. Next weekend we’ll add Colt in and do our famous painted sugar cookies. Fun, chaotic, messy, adorable and delish.

If I didn’t take this time for family, for homey chores I very much enjoy, my life would have no balance. All work will, no question, eventually lead to burn out. That’s not beneficial to anyone.

I get readers fall in love with a book or author and want more. And more, and faster, quicker–and often NOW. The book I finished in my library was John Sandford’s latest Virgil Flowers novel. I am a HUGE fan. And now I wait a year to see where Virgil goes next. I’d love to have the next instantly, but that’s simply impossible, and so very unfair to Sandford. I assume he also enjoys having an actual life.

None of us who write can write as fast as readers (myself included) read. We can’t. And we shouldn’t try–because the work will suffer. Readers can and do gobble up a book in hours. Writing that book takes months, and in some cases years.

I’m thrilled many readers enjoyed Year One, are supportive of this new direction I followed. I’m flattered readers are looking forward to the second book.

Where this breaks off is where some readers feel entitled to demand, or are outraged by a wait for a book, or jump to conclusions about the publisher or marketing or whatever. I don’t include in this those who say: Oh, I can’t wait!! Or how will I wait!! Or I wish I had it now. I wish I had the next Sandford in my hot little hands. I’m a reader, too. (And the last line in that book had me going: Hot Damn! But now I wait.)

I’m talking about those who complain the books should be published one after another, or closer together. I can’t write them to suit those readers because these books are longer than my previous trilogies and so very much more complicated to write. And I just insist on having a life in there, too.

I haven’t written the three books in a trilogy one after another for years. I used to be able to do so. I haven’t so longer than I can remember. Same with the Robbs, which I could, at one time, do nearly always, three in a row. Life, creativity and scheduling have made that impossible.

I have not, as some have claimed, written all three already (so my publisher can hold them back). These books are brutal and fascinating and scary to write, and it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort. And so much figuring out, my brain hurts at the end of the day when I’m into one. I want to produce the best books I can, and I can’t do it like a machine that pumps them out on demand.

I think part of the problem is that I write fairly quickly, and readers have gotten used to more and more. I still write four major books a year. Four. It’s all I can do well. Frankly, I think the other part of the problem is that some readers are used to how quickly the self-pubbed produce–and don’t look at the fact those stories are generally a LOT shorter, don’t go through a serious editing process, a cover art process, the scheduling process, the marking issues, and so on.

All those processes take time.

When my editor and agent came here for dinner (and the holiday signing) a bit ago, we sat in my kitchen going over the schedule for 2019. St. Martin’s, like all publishers, have other authors, and consider placement carefully because YES, publishing is a business. If the publisher doesn’t make some sort of profit, the publisher can’t stay in the business of publishing. They can’t pay writers, editors, sales reps, marketing and publicity staff and on and on.

SMP would, absolutely, be thrilled if I could write a book every month. They’d find a way to publish all of them. I can’t. Physically, creatively, realistically, I can’t just pump them out like gum drops. If I did, the quality would suffer, and every single reader would, rightfully, complain.

Year One is a departure, and won’t appeal to all readers. The In Death series doesn’t appeal to all readers. The stand-alone I write every year doesn’t appeal to all readers. I like the diversity, and I need it to stay creatively fresh. But I can’t write faster, I can’t give more than I do. If I tried, I’d burn out within a year–and spend my time gardening, making soup and bread.

I prefer the balance. I hope readers who enjoyed Year One will anticipate Of Blood And Bone next year the way I anticipate the follow-up to Sandford’s Deep Freeze. And in the meantime, read and enjoy the multitude of wonderful books out there.

Me, I’m going to dive into King’s Sleep Beauty first chance I get.

Nora

Being Home

Summer–my favorite season–is winding down. We’re approaching Mabon, the Autumn Equinox. With that fleeting balance of day and night, most harvesting’s done. My tomatoes sure are. My garden’s got the late summer shabbies though there are some pretty fabulous spots and corners of color and bloom still. Before much longer, I’ll be thinking about making soups, pulling on sweaters and boots.

A little fall color.
Brilliant pots.
Happy flowers.
Thriving nasturtium

So, I for one, am holding tight to these last wonderfully warm days.

We had a busy summer around here. Lots of work, lots of travel. And we capped it off with our annual summer party.

That meant the weekend after we returned from France, we had party prep to deal with (and that’s after unpacking, putting awaying, nose to the grindstoning on the book).

While Jason and BW spent hours on a rainy Saturday setting up outside–awnings, tables, chairs, food stations–Kat and I spent hours inside (with some assist from our Sarah) cooking, baking, chopping, stirring. I think, in one day, we made up for our couple of weeks on holiday with no cooking involved.

Kat brought France back by making the amazing dessert we call pie-cream-pie. Labor intensive, creative and absolutely delicious.

Pie-cream-pie a la Kat.
Fruit salad in Kat’s carved watermelon.

Fortunately, the rainy Saturday turned into a pretty Sunday for the party. Lots of people, lots of food and drink. And that’s a wrap for another summer.

With that wrap, the kids head back to school. Kayla’s back in cross-country training. Run, Kayla! And Logan grew TWO inches while we were in France. We’re now eye-to-eye.

And at last, one completely at-home weekend follows. Nowhere we need to go. BW and I both spent it doing chores around here. It felt wonderful to put the house and yard back in order. But that short spurt of–for me–domestic bliss–led up to this past weekend’s signing at Turn The Page.

I knew going in this would be a long one. We were lucky to host three writers (and personal friends) who rarely come to our area. Our stellar line-up included–in alpha order: Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Susan Wiggs. A nice bonus for me to be able to catch up with all of them. And since some 360 readers–give or take–came through the doors, I wasn’t wrong about the long one. Five and a half hours rates as long–for the writers and the readers.

Pre-signing pano
Nora has readers of every age.
Bottom row: Alisha Rai, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nora.
Middle row: Laura Treacey Bentley, Susan Wiggs, Kimberly Kincaid
Top: John Bede

Thanks to all who came to sign, to buy books, to be there, for their patience and fortitude.

Today, it’s warm and sunny–but I see one of the poplar trees out my window going yellow with September. I’ve tidied my house, done my workout (not easy to drag my butt out to my gym today!), and after I write this, I’m going to do exactly nothing for the rest of the day.

I want to add to anyone who’s had their lives and homes disrupted by Harvey or Irma, you’re all in my thoughts. I’ve been lighting candles for you, and will light one today before my nothing begins.

Nora

Note from Laura:  I came back from the beach to get to the signing. One last sunrise to hold me over until next year:

And in this week’s #randomkatness:

“May I help you?”

At Home

It’s my first full weekend home in about a month, and I’m very happy to be here.

Yesterday, in the middle of May, I turned the fireplace on and made soup–such was the chilly, rainy Saturday. But I like making soup (potato and ham at Kat’s request), and the fire added cheer.

I also had to address the matter of dealing with an incredible amount of stuff that needed putting away. This is a usual weekend task, but due to losing weekends, going here and there, coming back with more than I left with, the amount of stuff grew, grew, grew.

Plus I had a photo shoot on Thursday, which means a day of hair and makeup, a prep day of figuring out wardrobe. We had fun with it. Laura tried a little Facebook live, and that added more fun.

It takes a team…
and a lot of physical labor.

But then, all THAT stuff had to be put away, too.

On the other hand as BW, Laura and our helpful Kat, were in Boonsboro at Green Fest helping out, I had many solitary hours to accomplish it all. Plus, Thor and then The Avengers happened to be on TV, and if you’ve got to haul, carry, toss, organize, it might as be with superheroes for company.

The sun came out for about twenty seconds so I had a walk around with the dogs in there.

Adding all this domesticity to my Saturday morning workout meant ending the day with more than 20,000 steps.

Whew. (But I’m catching up with Jason who’s currently kicking my butt in Fitbit standings.)

Before the end of the day, BW and Kat arrive, tired but happy. A long day for all of us, but we have the little salad I made, the soup, and a nice round of fresh sour dough bread. And I get to hang out with my girl awhile.

Sunday’s a whole different ballgame. Once the workout’s in the bag, I can head out to the garden. I need a light jacket, but it’s sunny, at last, at last. I weed. I yell at the dogs when I discover they’ve been up and digging in a part of my beds. Parker and Atticus slink away, as they damn well should.

BW and I stake the tomatoes, and he yells at the dogs when he finds they’ve dug up a drainage pipe.

We recently had one of the guestrooms repainted, which meant everything had to come off the shelves and off the walls. I dealt with the shelf stuff during Saturday chores, so attack the walls. I know not everything that was up’s going back. Some I’m taking outside. I like outdoor art. It’s fun–if a lot more steps–to take a piece around, find where it can go, choose another, do the same.

Picking the spot’s my job. Making it so’s going to be BW’s.

I’m ridiculously happy to have all the damn boxes out of my living room.

And happy to wander, sans jacket now, around the gardens taking pictures. My peonies have started to open, like a Mother’s Day gift. I got my kids an RC car from here.

My mother loved peonies (I pronounce it like she did–Pee-O-Nees), so I think of her when I take a deep sniff.

My faerie garden’s exactly right, roses and yellow flags are starting a show out by the water feature. I have dianthus madly blooming, and much, much more. My poor basil is sad after so much wet, cool weather, but I’m hoping it perks up as the rest of the herbs are doing just fine.

Faerie garden
Water Feature

BW gave me the cute yoga frogs, and the lovely reading girl for Mother’s Day. They look happy where they’re now planted.

Yoga Frogs
Reading girl

My pots (yell at dogs again when I discover they’ve dug out a plant from one) are full and colorful. My clematis is pure glory.

Now, I’m about to go out and point so BW can hang things where I want them, then I believe I’m going to sit around with a book or a movie.

It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and I qualify!

To all moms out there, I hope you have a lovely day, as lovely as a peony opening in the sun.

Nora

 

Long Weekend

I finished a book last week, a brain-frying, complicated book, and decided I deserved a little break. The universe cooperated with excellent weather.

So I took Thursday and Friday away from my office and keyboard, and hit the nursery. With excellent timing added in, BW was able to meet me there allowing me to wander, drink in, and basically gobble up enough plants to fill the bed of his truck. And add even MORE to the cargo space of my SUV.

A truck load.

Oh, the smells, the colors, the textures, the possibilities! And what tremendous fun to haul flats out, start placing pots. Stand back, consider, adjust, add more, move some until, okay, that’s going to work for me.

BW was also able to stand in as my under gardener for most of the day–a sunny, breezy day that decided it wouldn’t be too hot or too cool. It decided it could be perfect.

Five full hours of hauling, placing, considering, digging, planting, more considering, more hauling, and the beds looked so, so happy.

Top that off with a nice, tall glass of champagne and a long walk-about to admire the job.

Friday, it’s time for pots, and I won’t have my under-gardener. But he does have time to haul some of those pots out for me before he’s off to work–and I start the process.

Huh. I have a LOT of pots–but I have a lot of plants earmarked for them. Doesn’t that look sweet! How about hot colors for that one? Won’t that look great when it fills out!

The dogs enjoy having me out for two days running, and I love every second. I skip the gym–again–to get all this done, but like Thursday, I get a serious workout with nearly six hours between pots, and finding little spots for the few things left over, also complement it with a complete thyroid support that accelerate metabolism learn more here. If you happen to miss the gym frequently then you should consider getting an hourglass waist trainer that way you will take care of your body while your doing your daily duties.

And BW comes home with another flat of impatiens, the five more foxglove–and a favorite I hadn’t found–a flat of heliotrope I asked for. Those will wait for Saturday as it’s time for another nice, tall glass of champagne and a walk-about.

We’re having Kat and Jason up for Easter dinner (and a foundation meeting) so Saturday’s also for baking. Let’s have some fresh bread and my mother’s sour cream pound cake. With dough rising, I head outside. BW’s planting the foxglove, so I take the impatiens.

Plant more flowers, play with dogs, go wash up, punch down dough. In and out, out and in. Eggs on the boil for deviling (a crowd favorite).

I still have some gardening left by the time the cake’s in the oven, so I figure out how to set the alarm on my phone–not a complete snap for me as I don’t use alarms–and go back out. I have sunflower seeds to plant, and want to move some of the madly spreading Black-eyed Susans to some bare spots.

When the alarm goes off I’m momentarily puzzled–What is that noise, and why is it coming from my pocket? Oh yeah.

Cake’s done, and my mother would be proud as it looks and smells pretty damn good.

Now it’s definitely time for that nice, tall glass of champagne.

Sunday there are those eggs to devil, a ham to bake, a couple more spots of spring cleaning that got sidetracked with gardening. And here are my kids! Who’ve volunteered to go down the lane to our storage buildings and haul up all the outdoor furniture and put them up on the pallreoler. Nothing like having strong, willing kids–they deserve some deviled eggs.

Atticus is, of course, instantly in love–and it’s mutual.

Potatoes and carrots to herb and roast, a ham to glaze, meeting time. Our boardroom might be the dining room table, and I might be checking the oven or stirring the glaze from time to time, but we get things done, and do good work.

Saute some fresh asparagus, set the table, carve the ham, and let’s eat.

A good day with family, good food, good work–topped off with pound cake, fresh whipped cream and berries.

Kat shows me a picture of the stone double walk-way she’s built on the side of their house. Yes, I said she built. A double stone walk-way. It’s gorgeous. They plan to plant an ornamental cherry in the center–and that will be spectacular.

I’ve got some stone work on my agenda–I said I should just hire her!

She takes the bags of purged shoes and clothes to haul up to the spa (this Saturday!!!) for me as I have a car load of spa girls. Hugs good-bye to end the long, lovely weekend.

Monday, it was back to the office and the keyboard. But the break did me a lot of good in that area, too, as it cleared the tired brain enough for me to work out how to start the next book. I got a decent enough roll on that yesterday, and I’m ready to go back and see what happens next.

But after work, after work-out, I’m going to continue the weekend tradition, pour myself that nice, tall glass and have a walk around the gardens with my dogs.

That’s a good deal.

Nora


Quick notes from the Cranky Publicist:  You’ll learn more about the just-finished book in a while as you won’t see it until the second half of 2018. Patience grasshoppers.

In case you didn’t notice the sneaky mention of Spa Girls, yes, it’s nearly that time of year.  I’d like you all to practice the Stupid Scoreboard mantra on my behalf.  ~Laura

Ah, weekends

Sometimes they’re pretty perfect. Or, for me, absolutely close enough when they come after a week of nose-to-the-grindstone writing, then decide to offer in March a day like the bonny month of May. One day only as today is much cooler and just gloomy–but let’s not get greedy.

Atticus and I both wake early as a rule, and this is working out well housebreaking-wise. He does, however, tend to wake with a spate of happy barking, which is a jolt. But still. Up and out, boys, up and out, and let me get some H2O and some caffeine into my system.

Then it’s time for good dogs to have some breakfast while I workout.

The only real item on my Saturday list is baking bread, and since it’s gorgeous out, we leave the back door open. Dogs can come in and out while I mix and knead. Why do they almost always want to be in, and asleep? It’s too pretty for that, so while dough rises, I go out–and so do they. I take a small nap and easily block snoring noise with earplugs or even other noises to sleep even better.

First rising, I throw some sticks and hunt up brave little blooms. periwinkle spreading under fallen leaves, baby’s breath almost ready to riot. Peonies pushing out of the ground so they can bloom when it really is the bonny month.

Go in, punch down dough, reform. Head back out.

Sit is a non-negotiable command for dogs in my world. Atticus has learned this quickly. He’s a bright as well as a happy dog. Parker is, truly, the love of his life. I’m a close second. They sit nicely for a photo while Pancho–back in the Donut yet again–photobombs.

Pancho’s fine with the new guy, but the only time Pancho moves at anything but a meander is when you throw a ball. A thrown ball, and he’s–donut included–lightning. But he doesn’t play manically with Atticus as Parker does. I dig up three balls, throw them. If Pancho could’ve gotten all three in his mouth at once, he would have. He did manage two a few times.

I introduced the rope last weekend and watched Parker and Atticus go wild. I know this picture is blurry, but they were moving so fast, and I was laughing too hard. The puppy clamped onto the other end of the rope, and like Roller Derby partners, Parker took Atticus on a Crack-the-Whip from one end of the house to the other. Parker’s about 85-90 pounds of pure muscle, and when he races through the house, eyes wild, it’s like a horse free from the paddock. Atticus may be small, but he is pure game. Pancho, ball firmly clamped in his mouth, just watched.

Back in. Since I’m making Italian bread this takes one more short rising after I form the dough into footballs. So back out again. BW helps me haul a new pot and dirt as my lemon tree needs it. And I can leave it out in the sun for a few hours.

Baking time, and hey, it’s Saturday, so it can be glass of wine time, too. And since we seem to have broken winter’s back, we decide to start up our water feature. BW blows out the leaves, does whatever manly thing he does with the pump. As the water starts to trickle, then to fall, then to stream, I’m very happy. So are the dogs. It’s old hat, and a favorite spot for the older guys, and a brand new adventure for the little guy.

Flowers starting to bud, sun shining, ball-chasing dogs, fresh bread, my pretty water feature singing, a second glass of wine. I suggest to check comparisons on this site about the best water filters, it is important because drinking filter water can save you tons of money.

A pretty perfect weekend.

After my workout I should probably pick up around here as that didn’t get done yesterday. And since it’s cool and gray, maybe light the fire, sit down with a book for a couple hours. Seems like a pretty good endcap to an excellent weekend.

Nora

Bright Spots

We’ve had a gray and gloomy couple of weeks. The sun took a winter holiday and left us in dim and dank for far too long. Cranky rain, a little ice storm, and late night a dusting of snow.
 
I’d rather have the snow. At least it’s white and bright.
 
I may not notice the gloom so much when I’m into the workday, but before and after–gloom, gloom, gloom.
 
Gotta find those bright spots elsewhere.
 
A friend gave me some narcissus she’d started forcing–so sweet. And now they’re tall and lovely and give me one of those little bright spots. Another gave me an amaryllis I’ve just started. Can’t wait to see it grow and bloom.
 
I’ve been purging every weekend–and leaving myself brighter spots as I go. I really have to stop buying scarves–I won’t, but I really should. And jackets. I try not to leave the house, so why do I need so many scarves and jackets?
 
And yet.
 
A big bright spot was dinner with the kids. Not much brighter than happy, chatty kids–and all with excellent report cards. As Nana pays for As, they’re currently rich, happy, chatty kids.
 
Kayla came to hang with me on Saturday–more bright–and I had bread dough rising, a pot roast with the trimmings on the simmer. Since I had the girl, why not purge the bathroom–and my makeup drawers? Much more fun with a girl pal, and one who loves samples (I had a ton) and makeup as much as I do. She left with a bag that made her happy, and I’m left with more organized drawers and baskets, making me happy.
Sourdough with sesame and poppy seeds.
Pot roast for BW.
And BW’s happy with a pot roast for dinner. Good deal all around.
 
More purging Sunday–one more weekend should do it–then . . . is that the sun? I believe it might be. For a minute or two anyway.
 
Logan asked me to come to his basketball game–and how could a Nana say no to that? BW had a photo commitment. He’d entered some photos in the annual contest the Washington County Museum holds. He’d meet us if he could.
 
Lots of games scheduled in the Boonsboro High School gym. I get there as one’s nearly over. Nice for Logan his mom’s parents came, too. And his sister and little brother. We can hang out on the bleachers until it’s his game time and form a solid rooting section. And just before, here come’s Grandda–feeling pretty bright himself as one of his photos took best in Washington County.
 
Logan’s not a big guy, but with his recent growth spurt–he’s just past the five foot mark now–I note Number Two is no longer the shortest on the court. He’s little, but he’s fast and feisty!

 

Nana’s action shot from the bleachers.
Ready for the rebound.
The kids are good, and I like that the bleachers clap or respond to good plays by both teams. Good sportsmanship starts with coaches and parents. These are good sports.
 
Logan’s team won, both teams played hard and well. More bright spots in him getting many rebounds–and scoring two baskets. Biggest bright spot of the day, his flushed and happy face when we hug goodbye.
 
Now the weekend’s behind me, and the workweek begins. In the gray, apparently. No sun out there today. So my bright spot will be the book that’s going pretty well, no need to put on a scarf or a jacket and–at least on this Monday morning–a reasonably well ordered house.
 
That’ll do. I hope if you’re caught under these gray skies you find the bright here and there.
Nora

2017

It’s here. All new, 365 blank pages waiting to be written–and won’t that be fun?

Around here we ended the book of 2016 with friends and family, cooking and chopping and stirring for our annual New Year’s Day open house feast. For me New Year’s Eve starts early. Time to get those red beans I soaked overnight on the simmer with a ham hock, spices peppers and onions, and let’s add some wine to that water. Eggs to boil for later deviling. Can’t forget that old standard green bean casserole, but lets add some grated cheddar this year. Keep those herbs and spices out for a whole buncha ground round for meatballs.

Laura arrives in time to help roll 151 meatballs–I counted this year–and Sarah and Kayla are close behind. With a kitchen full of helping hands and girl power three dozen eggs are peeled, veggies peeled, chopped, sliced for roasting. Kayla makes brownies for the trifle, and my pop’s bread pudding.

Sarah and Laura at the Waldorf salad chopping portion of the day.

Kay;a on bread pudding duty.

And here are Kat and Jason with more supplies and more helping hands. My men head down to hang the gorgeous new sign by our bridge before they run out to get ice for all the coolers we’ll stock in the morning with soft drinks, beer, wine.

The new sign.

They have manly work to do, and I’m more than happy to be in the kitchen with my girls. There are two big-ass hams to bake, a million more veggies to chop for the crudite–and Kat’s got a design in mind for that. She is Kat, after all.

Champagne for the big girls and ginger ale for Kayla as we work through the afternoon. Chop, chop, chop fruit for a Waldorf salad. Girl pals are the best of the best.

Please keep those dogs out of my kitchen! Especially after we discover Parker has snatched what was left of the now discarded hamhock (that hadn’t quite made it out of the kitchen trash to the outside trash) and is gnawing on it on the living room rug.

After Laura and Sarah–thanks ladies–leave for their own New Year’s Eve celebrations they rest of us finish up. Let’s boil up some pasta and test out those meatballs. Mmmmm!

Hams glazed and done, food stuffed in fridges, with spillover outside–with dogs locked off the deck. And since Kayla’s staying over it’s time for games. A little Wii bowling–I am champ–a lot of Pictionary–BW and I are soundly defeated.

And the ball drops–three, two, one. Happy New Year.

2017 starts early for me, too. Get those hot dishes in the oven to warm, tidy what didn’t get tidy the night before, and soon my girls and boys are pitching in. Dogs banished from the kitchen. Up the stairs for this bowl or platter, down the stairs for this or that. Haul up the little bar, fill those coolers, light the candles.

From Kat’s brilliant mind and hands.

Kat’s crudite is, naturally, a piece of cheerful art.

Food everywhere–on the table, on the counter, the buffet the little server. And before long we have a houseful to enjoy all that labor in a big, noisy, happy celebration. Kids in the pool or game room, football fans in front of the big screen, friends here, there, everywhere. It’s time to spice some shrimp. Always time to open another bottle of champagne.

Lots of hugs, lots of laughs, LOTS of wine and food–a fine, fine way to write that first page on the book of 2017.

By ten the house is quiet. By about ten-fifteen I’m out for the count.

Up early again, but today I pack for a week at the spa. And let me say ahhh. The 31 pages of December, 2016 were written with the busy and the bright, with the happy and the occasional panic, were written with friends, family and a couple of tons of cooking time. I love ending the year with girls in the kitchen, beginning it with a houseful of friends.

The family holiday photo.

And love knowing I’m going to have a week–again with family and friends–where I won’t so much as boil a pot of water and at some point on any given day somebody will rub every kink and knot out of my body. I may write. I will definitely read what someone else sweated over. I expect to come back recharged, ready to hunker down and hibernate and write my way through the rest of the winter. Stories, on the literal page and the symbolic one, are waiting to be written.

I hope you all write happy and well through the year.

Nora

Happy, Merry and Bright

This weekend all the wrapping, planning, prepping, baking come together for the big crescendo.

I started my holiday weekend yesterday by knocking off at noon to get that workout in (likely the last of the weekend!) and baking a couple of sour dough rounds for Christmas dinner with Love, Actually on the kitchen TV.

Now that’s a happy day.

Today I’ll bake Italian bread and lasagna for Christmas Eve with the kids. We’re going to set up a sundae bar for dessert. I suspect they’ll care little–even Kayla at fourteen–about what’s on the plate. It’s all about what’s under the tree, what’s in those bulging stockings.

Santa Bruce buys scratch-off cards for the stockings every year. Hope springs.

I’m looking forward to the untying of ribbons, the ripping of wrapping, the happy faces.

A part of me might miss those late Christmas Eve sessions dealing with the Some-Assembly-Required for little guy Santa gifts, but those are memories in the bank. And Nanas get more sleep!

Tomorrow, it’s my Pop’s pancakes–a long-standing tradition– bacon, sausage, eggs, a pretty bowl of berries and mimosas for Christmas brunch. Then the adults get to empty stockings, untie and rip wrapping.

Then it’s hang-out time, hauling out the trash, doing whatever strikes until dinner. (Gotta marinate that pork loin tonight!)

Lots of food, lots of family, lots of happy.

Before the day begins I’d like to wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever celebration you use to mark the season. May your day be all you wish for, and just a little more.

So light the candles, pour some wine (or the libation of your choice) embrace the magic with the wonder of the child in all of us. And grab some moments to bank those memories.

Nora

A quick PS from Laura:  Thank you to everyone who stops by, comments, commiserates and celebrates  with Nora (and me) on a regular basis.  Here’s to a wonderful holiday season and the happiest, healthiest of New Years.  

In the Spirit

It’s hard to be otherwise around here, despite breath-taking cold with some ice tossed in. In the middle of a busy, scattered week, we took a little time off for fun, and a new tradition.

BW and I invited the employees of our Boonsboro businesses to a little progressive holiday shopping. It’s a good, happy way to gather other busy people together, make connections, and let everyone see what the other businesses have to offer.

Just add wine and camaraderie.

The crowd at Turn the Page.

From Turn The Page to Gifts Inn Boonsboro, from Gifts to Fit In Boonsboro, and from Fit to the inn. It’s a nice way to give managers and staff a chance to show off their own and socialize.

The Gifts Inn BoonsBoro display.
The Fit In Boonsboro staff.

We ended the evening hosting a dinner for all at Vesta. And boy, did Vesta show off its own.

The Inn, dressed for the season.
The Courtyard at Inn BoonsBoro.

Good times, good people, and an excellent new tradition.

Saturday was for long-standing traditions. Cookie baking at Christmas has been part of our holiday festivities since my boys were just little guys. I have memories of them at every stage from pre-schoolers to teenagers.

Measuring.

We continued on with grandchildren. A big part of my enjoyment this time around was watching Kayla and Logan instruct Colt as I had instructed them. How to measure and stir, how to break an egg. (Nana picks out shells when necessary.)

Cutting.

It’s a full, fun-filled, messy day with happy, calorie-loaded results. Chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, mint blossoms, peanut-butter blossoms, and the traditional finale of painted sugar cookies.

With, naturally, much tasting included.

I see how cooking with Kayla has paid off as she competently puts the snickerdoodle dough together while I clean up behind–and deal with the ovens that have chosen today to go wonky. Just won’t hold the temperature.

Everyone paints the cookies.

Appliance repair, stat! I have a lot of cooking to do the following week.

We cap this tradition off with another–the early Christmas present. One gift, chosen pretty much at random for each kid to help them hold off for the endless week before the big day. Colt gets Legos, Logan a Risk game, Kayla some sweatpants.

And with that along with a big bag of cookies to take home.

And just about that time BW gets a call. Water is pouring out of the door of his studio in town. Uh-oh. Off he goes, so I push up my sleeves and deal with the mess, which is usually his job. Obviously he’s dealing with another mess which could be a lot more trouble than washing dishes and cleaning off counters spotted with cookie paint and sprinkles.

Plus I have time to catch my breath and have a glass of wine before he gets back. Sprinkler system busted, rained down. Water now shut off, mess dealt with and yet another repair coming.

Breath caught, it’s time to clean myself up, do a little prep for another tradition. My girl managers holiday party. A cheerful gathering of smart women’s a fine way to spend an evening. Some wine, some pretty food–and lots of home-made cookies along with easy conversation and plenty of laughs.

Today, after I write this, it’s time to workout. Maybe add a little extra cardio considering cookies. Then BW is off to a football game with Jason and pals.

I intend to do a whole bunch of absolutely nothing. A nothing-filled alone day to recharge the batteries for the rush and spirit of this last week before Christmas.

I wouldn’t mind making that another tradition.

Nora

Weekend Countdown

While I always get an early jump on the holidays, I invariably end up squeezing bunches into the last couple weekends before Christmas.

I don’t mind so much. I have an agenda, and it usually works.

It even works, usually, when life–as is will–tosses out extra stuff. Right now, we’re in the process of redoing the backroom of Vesta, transforming it into more of a loungey, cozy feel with sofas and chairs, board games, new lights. New paint, new art. This means those sofas, chairs, tables, lights, paint colors and so on have to be found, chosen, ordered.

I am a goddess of on-line shopping, and after BW grew frustrated in his search, I took over. About thirty minutes later, in my pjs, I’d outfitted what will be Vesta’s new space. You gotta love when it works. With the furniture ordered, I could get out the paint fan and find the tones and colors to compliment it.

And done.

In addition we found a fun and fabulous surprise when the crew tore off the drywall and plaster so we could expose the old brick. A fireplace! A little dance of joy! We’ll install electric logs–no open flames–scrape and paint one of the old mantels that came out of the building during one of its renovations, and have a terrific focal point.

Under-the-drywall surprise.
Under-the-drywall surprise.

It’s a busy time of year to deal with this, but it’s coming right along. I especially like that my part of it is complete.

Then there are parties and events–a booksigning, a Girls Night Out, a traditional shopping get-away with girl pals, prep and plans to entertain friends and family at home.

Girls shopping trip.
Girls shopping trip — Elaine, Pat, Mary, Nora, Mary Kay and Laura

Decorating. I want the festive around me, and was pleased to be able to schedule this year’s tree trimming when the kids were around.

Then there’s the wrapping. The wrapping. The wrapping. The most excellent Kayla did a big chunk of this for me–and she actually wants to! But I still have what I think of as wrapping marathons on weekends. Today, I hope to have my last of the season. I wrap in The One More Room with schmaltzy Christmas movies on the little TV. I also appreciate the schmaltzy this time of year.

This marathon was on yesterday’s agenda, but one must be flexible. I worked out, baked bread (on the agenda). BW requested pretzel bread, and that takes a bit more time with those extra steps. And he requested tortilla soup, which is fine as it can be put together while the dough rises. BUT, he also found a rack of ribs he’d somehow stuck in TTP’s freezer, and decided they really needed to be cooked. The way I make them requires they marinate overnight in the barbecue sauce I make, so add those to the late afternoon list, and reschedule the wrapping marathon for Sunday.

Pretzel bread.
Pretzel bread — candle and bubbles.

Being flexible means I’ll make herby roasted potatoes to go with the ribs BW will grill tonight–but the upside is between the soup (which was most excellent) and the ribs, I shouldn’t have to cook this week–especially as we have an outside event mid-week that involves pizza.

Maybe I spent six full hours in the kitchen (with schmaltzy Christmas movies on the TV–the pool for them is not shallow)–and I expect to do a schmaltz double feature before the wrapping’s done. But, I see a little window for Absolute Me time today, and I want it.

The work week’s coming right up, and next weekend is cookie baking with the kids–a long, fun, interesting day, and some at-home entertaining.

Then boom, it’s The Solstice, then it’s Christmas, and before you catch your breath, New Year’s.img_1771

So I don’t mind the busy weekends, the long hours in the kitchen or at the wrapping table, writing Christmas cards (done and dusted), the on-line shopping or poking through crowded stores. Because time moves fast, and appreciating, embracing, enjoying the special times–no matter the work–are what make it last, make the memories, bring the joy.img_1770

I hope you find and take those moments with all the rush and work and carve out time to embrace and enjoy the holiday season.

Around here, we got a light dusting of snow overnight–the first of the season. It’s a little icing on the holiday cake.

Nora