Category Archives: cooking

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

October 31

I’ve always had a fondness for the last day of October. I remember the pumpkins my mother carved every year and set out on the porch. The big bowl of candy for Trick or Treaters, getting to dress up and go around our neighborhood begging for candy (and wondering what was up with the house that always gave apples!)
 
When I had kids, as neighbors are few and far between in the country, I held a Halloween party–decorated our lower level with cobwebs, fake blood, fashioned a haunted house maze. As my parents were in the theatrical rental business, we even had a smoke machine.
 
Scare the kids–good times! Good enough I’ve had those grown kids share their spooked memories of those parties.
 
October 31 has other connections for me. It’s the birthday of my late, adored mother-in-law, a woman with the best laugh ever. Big, bawdy, infectious. You couldn’t spend ten minutes in her company and not laugh with her. She loved her family, old movies and coffee, could talk about anything. But when I think of her, I think of that wonderful laugh first.
 
It’s also my parents’ anniversary. They were married 63 years when my father died. Together they built a home–some of that literally as I still remember the day my father took a sledge hammer to a wall when they’d decided to build a sprawling addition to the house–raised five kids, welcomed over twenty grandkids and a scatter of great-grandkids. They built a business together, lived, loved and worked together for more than six decades.
 
So today, on Samhain, the day the veil thins, the day we celebrate the end of harvest, I light candles and think of three people I’m  blessed to have had in my life.
 
Happy Birthday, Sally.
 
Happy Anniversary, Bernie and Sis.
 
The last week of October equaled work week for me–including today–but a week also includes a weekend. Saturday Turn The Page held a signing, and as it was close enough to Halloween, some of us dressed for the occasion. I decided to go as Black Widow–mostly because, hey, easy. All I had to do was buy a Black Widow wig, then pick the appropriate clothes and footware from my own closet. Laura’s costume? A Cranky Publicist pin Kat made her last year. Talk about easy. [I go with my strengths, Laura]20160209_143924-2
 
BW dressed as a mechanic he called Vern. Also easy as he had the coveralls, the gimme cap, the shop rag, and fireplace ash to smear up his face.
 
The winner here, and it should be no surprise: Our Kat as Wonder Woman. No wig needed–she already had the super hero hair–and the costume? Awesome. When she left here early Saturday morning for TTP–wearing just that awesome and scanty costume, the temperature was still nippy. I might have been dressed as Black Widow, but under it, still a mom.
 
You need a jacket, I say.
 
But . . . I’m Wonder Woman. And out she went, hopefully into her heated invisible jet.20161029_105340
 
A fun, happy signing.
 
Sunday I finished up some on-line shopping, and now have just bits and pieces, stocking stuffers and the like to deal with. And since Kayla’s already on board to help with wrapping, I’m feeling pretty smug about the holidays.
 
img_1750Got a solid workout in as the only thing I exercised on Saturday was my signing hand–wandered outside in the spectacular gift of the summer in October day to cut flowers still happily blooming. BW harvested our little crop of potatoes. Sweet! We planted them late this year, so yes, little crop, but for me, adorable and satisfying.img_1746
 
So I made potato and ham soup–not using our crop, as I’ll save them for Friday dinner with the kids. With all the weekend chores complete, I sat down with a set of galleys.
 img_1747
I whined a little about having yet another set of galleys to proof over post-signing champagne and pizza. Cranky Publicist pointed out I had no business whining. I wrote the damn books, didn’t I? 
 
Cranky Publicist is annoying when she has a point.  [Note to self: mark the day in ther record book and hunt up smug emoji. ~L]
 
Tonight Boonsboro has it’s Trick Or Treat night. Businesses stay open late, hand out candy to the swarms of spooks and faeries and all the rest. This year Kayla won’t be part of the swarm but part of the handing out at the bookstore.
 
Time flies.
 
It might be fun to become Black Widow again, go into town, see that swarm, but I’ve got a full workday ahead–and galleys to proof, books to sign in the evening. I have a feeling I’ll be home in my pjs.
 
Maybe somebody’ll bring me some candy.
Nora

October Blur

It’s been a fast, colorful month so far–and it’s nearly over!

Every October, we spend a week in New York, and this year the city gifted us with perfect weather start to finish. In tune with the fast pace, we tend to cram a lot into that week. Shopping hits top of my list. And yes, I’m now all but finished my holiday shopping.img_1735
Country mouse goes city mouse to spend urban time with friends and family–heading up with BW and Jason, meeting up with Laura, rounding it out when our pal Sarah arrives to spend a couple days and our adventurous Kat flies in from a hiking trip with some of her adventurous family in Hawaii.

The gorgeous weather also provided a pretty amazing backdrop for the party with my new publisher. The rooftop and its amazing views ticked the box of most popular spot for the evening. Fun food, lots of wine, engaging company and a sunset worthy of Spielburg added up to a really lovely evening.

A day with the girls–including my editor and agent–(shoes! boots!) rounded out with a happy early dinner and the energetic, marvelous, ridiculously entertaining School Of Rock on Broadway.

Lots of urban hiking, uptown, downtown, midtown, scoring those holiday gifts (plus shoes! boots!), spending time with some of my favorite people. Yeah, a most excellent week.

Back home to the current chaos of a first draft which meant ignoring the chaos of my house. Boxes and bags, deliveries of more. Middle school math–and thank God Logan understands it as I don’t and never will.

The end of the marking period means a day off school. Kayla scared the life out of me by poking into the gym while my entire focus centered on sweating through cardio. I don’t see my girl as much as she’s running Cross-Country, so this is a treat. Once I finish the sweating.

She promises to come back Sunday to help me clear out the chaos.

Because Saturday is a most special day. My long-time friend’s wedding.

It’s a blustery day full of fall color. Inside the venue the warmth, the love, the happy glow just as much as the bride. She’s beautiful, and the handsome groom nearly as radiant. Those attending reflect the happy. The bride’s niece tells me while she did the bride’s hair and makeup that morning, the groom wandered around the house singing–and peeked in from time to time to tell his lady how beautiful she is.

Awww!

The big day feels like the couple it celebrates–the warm and loving and the sweet. We have time to mingle and bask before heading out to a patio for the ceremony. The prettiest of pretty flower girls, a lovely, simple arbor where the obviously (really obviously!) adoring groom waits, the lovely happy bride walks to him.20161022_124758

A sweet, simple, heartfelt ceremony where the bride drips happy tears. And the groom brushes them from her cheeks with his fingers. More aww. The groom slips the ring (given to her mother by her late father) on the bride’s finger. And the kiss.

Some people are meant to find each other as just the right times in their lives.

20161022_144651
Nora, Mary Kay, Elaine, Mary and Pat

That’s the feeling that carries through the day of as simply perfect a wedding I’ve been privileged to attend.

The best of best wishes to Elaine and Enrique.

That leaves me Sunday–and this time Kayla scares the life out of me as she slips in after my workout and the start of chaos clearing. She needs a snack! The kid’s running those calories off with training and meets. While she eats, I harvest the rest of my basil. Bumper crop!img_1736

Then she helps me haul, hang, organize. And for the first time in a week, the house looks like a house instead of a storage bin stocked by a crazy woman.

Since fall’s definitely arrived it’s a good day to make soup, and I love my favorite teenager wants to just hang out with Nana. Soup needs bread in my world. No time for anything but a quick one, so I get a can of beer and whip up some beer bread.

Bread on a Sunday. Photo by Kayla.
Bread on a Sunday. Photo by Kayla.

img_1744

It’s still warm when Kayla, hungry again, has a slice with a bowl of soup. She approves both.

Now there are four tubs of books to sign–it’s nice to have her company while I get that done.

Fall flowers from the garden. Photo by Kayla.
Fall flowers from the garden. Photo by Kayla.

Nobody gives better hugs than my girl, and I’m treated to one before she heads out the door.

Now I’m late getting started on my Monday. It’s rare for a book to keep me up at night, but this one’s done that a few times. So a late start while I try to finish this damn first draft so I can see what the hell’s in this story.

I can’t cross my fingers or I can’t type, but I might just light a candle for a solid, productive work day. And hey, leftover soup means no cooking tonight!

Nora

Inside and Out

Eventually the weekends won’t be my catch-up and/or get-it-done time. Eventually. But for right now?

Saturday morning I think to get my workout done early and clear the rest of the day. But I’ve forgotten the window washers are here to finish up this annual deal. We’ve got a lot of windows in this place.

It’s just a little weird to be dancing around the gym, doing down dogs and sweating through biceps curls when a bunch of guys are washing the windows thereof.

Change of plans.IMG_1692

I have a big bunch ‘o beautiful tomatoes courtesy of my pal Jo, so we’ll start off the day making red sauce. A large pot of it this time around, and I can freeze it in dinner size portions–and won’t that be handy down the road? This ties me to the kitchen long enough for the window washers to get close to finishing.IMG_1695

Why not let them do that while I weed my sadly neglected garden? Three large tubs of weeds illustrate that neglect–and remind me that’s something that kept getting backlogged in the catching-up area of my weekends. I like weeding–it’s therapeutic. The dogs like me weeding since it means I’m hanging out with them. God knows the gardens like me weeding, and it gives me time–though many of my beauties are fading as summer winds down–to plan where I’ll divide things up, transfer, try to fill in some areas next spring.

IMG_1698 IMG_1700 IMG_1702Windows clean, garden tended, red sauce simmering low. NOW we can hit the gym. I’m rewarded there–not only by the benefits of regular exercise, but by the hummingbird that flies up to the–very clean–window while I’m sweating it out.

Pretty!

Then you know what? I’ve earned a bellini, and make myself one to enjoy while signing the four tubs of books waiting for me.IMG_1696

A second bellini seems the appropriate celebration for completing Saturday’s chores.

But Sunday has an agenda. My One More Room is a disgrace. Some of that’s due to bags of purged clothes on hold in there. Next Sunday I’m having some pals over for a late summer clothes swap, so that’ll not only be fun, but help clear out the OMR. And I need to store the Christmas presents from Italy rather than just dumping them on the counter.

But the big one I’ve put off for gardening, then vacation, for too long. Our down-the-lane neighbor decided to downsize and relocate, and we bought the house. BW’s using the house as his photography studio–a great space and convenient location for him. But I claimed an outbuilding for my own. I think of it as The Big Closet. Storage!! Storage, for me, is nearly as marvelous and exciting as new shoes. My plan has been to empty my over-taxed OMR of seasonal decorations and such. All the Christmas decorations, the bits and pieces I put out at Halloween, at Easter. Tubbed and boxed and out of here.

Today’s the day. It’s challenging and time-consuming, and immensely satisfying. BW comes up during the process–I believe his eyes wheeled at the chaos. But the process demands chaos before order. I tub, I bubble wrap, I box. And I have enough room to semi-organize the shelves in the storage closets. Even purge a little as I find things BW might be able to use in his new space.

I find things of my mother’s I’ve saved in there. It’s time now to let go of the paperwork of handling her estate. But I find other things. The last purse she used, a pair of glasses, the little wallet holding her driver’s license and a picture of my Pop. These, like the letters I saved (so, so sweet) that my father wrote to her I keep. It reminds me of the letter I found he sent her when they were dating–he wrote on the streetcar on the way home from seeing her, and ended it with: Sending you all the love I can with a two-penny stamp.

It’s that single line that sticks with me most when I think of them, young and in love, and through 63 years of marriage, five kids, and a devotion that never wavered.

It’s a wonderful benefit to clearing out and cleaning up, finding and remembering these small and vital treasures. So I tuck my treasures away.

BW shows his devotion by hauling everything I’ve tubbed and boxed away. And there it is! The floor of the OMR! And room on the shelves. A tidy-ish box of gifts waiting to be wrapped in just a couple months. And okay, maybe my obsession with saving tissue paper (my recycling gene) means I stuff a bag of it in the designated Christmas wrap closet, but it’s off the floor.

Now I can do a little organizing of my own closet. It may be half-assed, but I’m about done with weekend chores. And I want my workout.

And once everything’s done, the dogs and I enjoy a walk around the freshly-weeded gardens where, yes, some blooms have faded, but plenty continue to thrive and bring color to a breezy late afternoon that hints of fall.IMG_1703 IMG_1705

Another weekend gone, another work week beginning. But that’s good for me. Through all the boxing and tubbing and weeding and milling tomatoes, I’ve played with what happens next in the book.

I’m ready to see if I can make it so.  

Nora

Back Home Weekend

It takes a few days for the bliss–and the jet lag–following a truly fabulous vacation to ease back into the normal. And when the week following that fabulous vacation involves actual work and duties, it’s like a one-step-at-a-time through an alternate reality.

But the weekend comes around again.

On this one I decided on at-home tribute to our Italian experience. My pal Jo’s gardens are producing pounds of tomatoes. Our couple of patio pots are chugging along, too, but my pal and her guy have a serious tomato garden, and she brought me bunches.

Tomatoes from Nora and Jo's gardens.
Tomatoes from Nora and Jo’s gardens.

Years ago, in another life before writing, I made my own red sauce, canned it every August for use all winter. Those days are done, but I still know how to make sauce, so why not? Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, cooking pretty, fresh garden tomatoes down, getting out my food mill, adding my own fresh garden herbs to the sauce.

Fresh herbs.
Fresh herbs.

Since I’m doing that, why not try my hand at baking Italian bread? Never tried it, so again, why not. I found it easier, and more fun–I do love baking bread–than I’d imagined. No question this is now going into bread baking rotation.

And the results? Mmmm, tasty. Really nothing like sauce from fresh tomatoes and bread fresh baked. And since we’ve still got plenty of tomatoes why not slice some up, get more basil from the garden, add some olive oil.

Red sauce simmering.
Red sauce simmering.
Italian bread, fresh from the oven.
Italian bread, fresh from the oven.

It’s good–for me anyway–to have a homey kitchen day after a blurry transition week.

Sunday we had a foundation meeting here, which included our next generation volunteer, Kayla. She came up early enough to hang–and eat bread and pasta and declare both excellent. I mention to her she seems a little taller. Earlier in the week when I’d given Logan the first hug since I’d seen him nearly a month ago, I told him he’d grown. He said: Nah. Nana says: Uh-huh. I know where my boy’s head hits me in a hug.

We went down to our measuring station–the door jamb of the laundry room where Dan and Jason were measured as well–and I prove Nana knows best. He’d shot up a full inch.

This pleased him.

So I do the same with Kayla. She’s now a hair under 5’5″. I expect that bare eighth of an inch will be history before the leaves change this fall.

Jason and Kat arrive for the meeting, and it’s a good, productive one. It’s rewarding when our teenage volunteer proves she’s taking her position seriously. She has a proposal, and as we’d encouraged her to explore foundation opportunities through her school and interests, she’s found one in her first two weeks of high school. My girl’s in high school!

She pitches it well, and it’s just the sort of thing we look for. The vote’s unanimous yes–with a request for a few more details so we can make it so.

It’s a good, good feeling to watch a grandchild embrace giving, to begin to understand how certain advantages can be used to help others, even to change lives. I like seeing she’s even made her own binder, keeps foundation paperwork in it.

She may know she can tap an indulgent nana for new Nikes, but she also understands she’s part of a mechanism dedicated to supporting organizations that make sure kids without her advantages have shoes, and warm coats or the chance to go to a summer camp. It swells my heart to see so clearly she’s genuinely involved in continuing that legacy.

But then, meeting over, and there’s dinner. We have some of BW’s amazing flank steak left over from our fun, noisy, chaotic kids for dinner on Friday night, and grill some chicken to stretch it. Then there some remaining penne and red sauce, another loaf of Italian bread, some green peppers Kayla and I picked off the vine that afternoon. And how about some fresh local corn on the cob?

We eat like farm kings on the deck on a warm summer evening.

A lot of catching up this week, a lot of meetings, some toes dipped into a new book, lots of hugs from kids missed in August, fresh harvest cooking, a chance to see our most excellent traveling companions for an evening. Add in happy dogs, a couple walks around the garden, pretty flowers cut for a little vase.

Flowers from the garden.
Flowers from the garden.

Not a bad post-vacation week.

Now that the blur’s lifted, I think it’s time to get down to some serious writing.

Nora

Day Thirteen: Sorrento

It’s repetitious, but the day’s beautiful. The view is blues–deep sea, bold sky, the softer hues of the mountains across the water, etched clear. I love the long white wakes cutting through the blue behind the white boats. From this height, those wakes look impossibly straight, as if drawn with a ruler.

 BW and Kat make their Sunday breakfast, Kat chopping, BW stirring. I hear Jason talking to them in the kitchen as I walk around outside because it’s so damn pretty.
Day view. Photo by Kat,
Day view. Photo by Kat,
The calico comes to visit while Kat and I set up our workout. We stick with Shaun T, a fun 30-odd minute routine to get the blood pumping. Then, hey, we Cize It Up again, doing that last 2-plus minutes over.  I think we qualified as backup dancers by the end.
 
Out come the mats and the dreaded but necessary 8-minute abs. Oh Shaun, you seem like such a nice guy. How could you devise such hell in such a short time-frame? Then it’s over, and since Shaun’s our guy today, Kat pulls out another of his disks from–I’m not sure–T-25 or something. It’s called Stretch. We want a stretch.
 
We get one, but it’s a sweaty business as well. Squatting and lunging? Oh, but . . . okay, I felt that!
 
I’m going to add Kat does all this wearing wrist weights. I would die a little. Probably a lot.
 
But it’s done, and though the cat has stretched out watching us with a cool stare that might read: You’re both crazy, right? We’re once again righteous. And I hit the showers, gratefully.
 
We Facetime home to talk to Kayla. She and Colt are up, Logan is not–so I have her take her phone into his bedroom, and we all laugh as he pulls the covers over his head.
 
A little work on the patio, a little wine to follow. It’s a very happy routine for me.
 
BW has made jokes about Fig Newtons as we have several fig trees and permission to eat them. As I walk post-work, I head out to the big tree. We had a fig tree in the back yard when I was growing up. My pop loved that tree. It had to be sacrificed when we put in the pool, but I still have memories of that tree. I don’t like figs, but remember picking them, and my mother stewing them up for my father. So picking those fat purple figs reminds me of my parents. Nice memories
 
I come back for a bowl as there are so many. I call on BW to help pick some that are far too high for me to reach. It’s a lovely little chore on a bold summer day. And productive as Kat–being Kat–has Googled recipes for Fig Newtons. We’ll need a trip to the market at some point for a few ingredients, but it should be fun to try making them.
 

Figs.  Photo by Nora.
Figs. Photo by Nora.
I try my new raspberry sherbet linen. It fits, but needs a belt. I use one of my scarves, and it all feels very easy and summery.
 
We’ve got some time before the chefs arrive, so I try Olympics. There’s some air rifle competition. Kat and I ponder it. Not to diss the dedication and skill of air rifle competitors, but it just makes little sense to those of us who know nothing about it. Why are they wearing futuristic space soldier outfits? Why do they all look so bored? Still, the guy who wins the gold looks really happy after, so sincere congratulations.

 

The chefs. Photo by Kat.
The chefs. Photo by Kat.
Our chefs arrive, and get right to work in the kitchen. Our first course is a beautiful presentation of figs and melons wrapped in ham on a little bed of field greens. This draws the bees that haven’t troubled us before. All that sweet juice! Haul out the citronella candles! Jason–being Jason–finds a wasp deterrent on his phone. A wasp deterrent app??? Yet the bees seem to like it.

 

Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
Luckily, after the figs and melons are eaten, those plates cleared, the bees lose interest in us.
 
We have ravioli stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella, served with a light red sauce. It’s beyond fresh. I can’t eat even half of my serving–I know there’s more to come–but have never had better. It’s confirmed that our chef made the pasta himself that morning. I’ve never tried making pasta fresh. Maybe one day, especially if the results are anything close to this.

 

Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
When I tell the sous chef it’s a small stomach, not the food, he shows me the pork medallions to be sauted, asks how many for me. One. Kat decides on two, the men three. These are served with chunks of potatoes roasted a perfect gold. These are delicious. I think: Marinated in olive oil, some rosemary and pepper, sauteed with same. And when I ask–that’s just right.

 

Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
Now there’s some sort of lemon cake dessert AND tiramisu. I groan. I’m told I MUST eat the lemon cake. The tiramisu isn’t important. LOL. It comes in a little bowl, topped with cream and a little berry. Tears form in the eyes at the first bite. Tart, sweet, creamy, heavenly. I love me some tiramisu, but yeah, not so important now. There’s always tomorrow.

Dining al fresco.  Photo by Kat.
Dining al fresco. Photo by Kat. 
A little walk around in the night air, a little more wine. Bedtime.
Night view. Photo by BW.
Night view. Photo by BW.

I woke to pink and blue skies. We plan to sneak in an early workout, then gear up for our day trip to Pompeii. BW and I had an abbreviated visit there–called by rain–years ago, and Jason and Kat a longer one on their honeymoon. It’ll be nice to all go back together, see what we see.  

Bougainvillea up close. Photo by Nora.
Bougainvillea up close. Photo by Nora.
Hydrangea arranged in the entry. Photo by Nora.
Hydrangea arranged in the entry. Photo by Nora.
Nora