Category Archives: grandkids

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

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.

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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.

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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

The Wheel of Change

As that wheel turns we’ve already passed the Autumn Equinox, that day of balance, the line before (here in the Northern Hemisphere) dark begins to outweigh light. Maban’s also a time of harvest, so what thrived in the warmth can be gathered and stored for the coming cold.

I started some of my gathering last weekend with oregano from my herb bed. It thrived pretty well for me this year, but I only clipped enough to fill three ice cube trays for now. I wanted to test chopping herbs in the single serve attachment to my Ninja blender. I have a small electric herb grinder, but it’s still sort of a PITA to use. But this! It works, and fast, and so much less mess. No green fingertips for me!

I put the chopped herbs in the trays, fill with water, top off with a little more water once it’s hardened, then break the frozen cubes out, store in a big bag. I’ll easily get at least one more big bag for use in soups and stews all fall and winter.img_1712 img_1713 img_1719

But today, I think I’ll gather in some of my basil.img_1717

I’m seeing leaves start to turn and fall, and woke to some lovely and mysterious morning fog several days last week. I hate saying goodbye to summer, but find something so appealing in the gilding of light in fall, those morning mists, the change as all that gorgeous green takes on a symphony of color.img_1714

Still, my quieting garden holds beauty.

It was also Logan Week around here, afternoons of scary (more to me than him) math homework, political discussions–the kid has definite views, ideas, and lots of questions. Conversations and current events. He’s the one who told me Jolie and Pitt broke up, as he was bored on the school bus and checked his news feed.

His news feed.

This week we also discussed the book he’s reading, The Flash, The Avengers (I liked Civil War more than he did), the Kennedy assassination. He wanted to know if I was alive when Kennedy was shot. Sweet, sweet boy! And as he had Social Studies homework, he quizzed me on states and capitals while he finished it. I didn’t do too bad there.

I had some outdoor chores and asked him to come out and give me a hand. One was poop scooping as BW and Jason and another guy pal took a week at the beach. I told Logan I wouldn’t ask him to scoop poop off the pavers, and had another chore in mind. How could I forget he’s 12? And to a 12-year-old boy, poop scooping is a fun time. I happily passed the shovel and watered the pots instead. We filled bird feeders, and he fed the dogs. Then he wanted to cut flowers for the little vase as I’d intended.

He wasn’t very impressed with the handful we brought in–until I put them in the vase. A nice lesson–you can make something really pretty out of very little.img_1715

The gang came up for dinner Friday for what’s now the traditional pasta for carb-loading, cross-country-running Kayla. But Logan tells me he’s tired of spaghetti every Friday night. Nana solves this by asking my TTP pal to bring a pizza along with the tubs of books for me to sign. So I have a happy Logan and Colt, and a happy Kayla–who has both pasta and pizza so should be fully loaded for Saturday’s meet. Go, Kayla, go!

So I listen to Logan and his politics, his varied interests, and Kayla with talk of the meet, of her friends, watch Colt play intensely on my iPad while I boil pasta. (And as he does, without even looking up, he says: I love you, Nana, so my heart softens just like the spaghetti.) I watch and listen and see yeah, the wheel turns.

My garden is ready to be harvested after the growing season. The mists roll in, the air cools, and the leaves change. Children grow and add fascinating layers.

The wheel turns whether we’re ready for it or not, and I can lose track when I’m huddled at my keyboard and saturated in a story. I’m going to take some time today to harvest and gather and embrace the change.

Nora

Weekend Fun

The fun followed a pretty solid and satisfying work week. I love when that happens. After the writing and the working out, Logan comes up (after school) for homework and conversation. Kayla is on the cross-country team, and training after school so I don’t get to see as much of my girl. But Logan makes up for it.

On Monday, he sat down to dizzying math, and tells me he currently has a 98% in that (for me) terrifying subject. Then rattles off a series of As across the board. Nana says: Who are you, and what have to done with my Logan? And makes him laugh. Then I ask what inspired him to do so well this year? He says: Last year.

Excellent answer, I tell him. It shows he learns from his mistakes as his grades last year took a dip toward the end.

Then he makes me laugh as he says: I want to be the first of my bloodline to get straight As.

But more than school and math and grades he can be quite the conversationalist, and entertains and impresses me as he brings up subjects from NASA and the space program (He’s taking Aerospace as an elective. Aerospace!) to politics to 9/11 to the Kennedy assassination. The boy’s growing up in front of me, and really fast.

I do get to see Kayla on Friday night when the gang comes up for dinner. Spaghetti’s requested as Kayla’s carb-loading for her first meet on Saturday. That’s fine with all. Young Colt can be a picky eater, but pasta works for him. (As does the chocolate bar when he cleans his plate.)

Our running girl’s nervous about this first meet, afraid she’ll come in last. To which Logan says, in that classic brother tone: Nice positive attitude. When they leave and I hug Kayla goodbye, I tell her to do her best, and just as important, to have fun.

I know she runs at ten Saturday morning, and I’m already in the gym sweating it out. I note the time, send her some good (positive!) vibes. When I come in, panting a little, sweating a lot, BW calls out from his office for me to come see.

Kayla’s mom’s already posted a couple pictures of Kayla at the meet. I send out more vibes, head upstairs. I need caffeine! Minutes later, BW hurries up into the kitchen. Race is done, and Kayla came in 7th out of 80 girls! She places in the top ten in her first meet, gets a ribbon, and oh boy, a big confidence booster.

I’m so happy for her I do a dance–despite the 90-minute workout–as I bring up Facebook on my iPad. And there she is! Running on the last leg–the track–with really good form. And those long, long legs.kayla-running-2 kayla-running

I hit the shower, start my Saturday task of bread baking–we’re out after spaghetti night. As the dough’s rising and I’m fiddling around with little chores, Kayla comes in. Lots of congrats for the very happy girl. And more spaghetti as she’s a hungry girl, too. She hangs awhile, gives me some details of the race. When she’s about to go, I tell her I’m having some of the girls over on Sunday for a clothes swap–and ask if she wants to come. She knows the girls, and does.img_1706

I finish my bread–mmm, smells so good! Go back to fiddling around with basic weekend chores.

My favorite girl over 14 comes up early evening. Kat’s going to be BW’s date at a gala for Doey’s House, a hospice being built in our area, and an organization the foundation supports. Kat runs up to put on her dress. I’m annoyed with myself now for not thinking of taking a picture as BW and Kat look just fabulous–BW in his dark suit and smart shoes (he’ll be a guest bartender) and Kat in her gorgeous, elegantly sexy midnight blue gown.

And I settle down to watch the first disk of the recently arrived full season of The Walking Dead. I don’t watch through the season, but binge on the full with the set of DVDs. Wow! It’s intense and bloody and marvelously written and realized.

It’s an early evening, so there’s time to hang out with Kat when the gala attendees return.

And in the morning, Kat and I hit the gym–and I introduce her to some new (really old) Shaun T workout DVDs. So we sweat and laugh through about an hour–and Kayla shows up, obviously excited to have a girl day. But she leaves us sweating to go up and have breakfast with Grandda.

Later, I think less in a daze from the race and her placement in it, Kayla gives me more details, more feelings. I love how she tells me at the first mile (they ran 3.1) one of her coaches did a kind of double take when he saw her–apparently she doesn’t push too hard in training. And shouted out her time, where she was–15th at that point. And to go, go, go, Kayla. How that pumped her up. How nice everybody was, even if they were with the other teams, offering encouragement on the route. How she felt when she hit that last leg and the track. Tired, she tells me, really tired, and some of the girls took a break to walk. But she said she told herself to keep going, her coaches called out her pace–and one told her only five minutes more.

She said she told herself she could do five minutes more, and added her kick when the coach told her. And with it nearly caught the 6th place girl. She surprised everyone–her coaches, her teammates and herself.

That’s the lesson, I think. You can always do five minutes more if you keep your eyes on the finish line.

Now I have two willing and creative helpers to get set up for the get-together. BW brings up his rolling rack from his studio, and my girls haul down the bags of clothes, then start organizing them while I get my shower. When I come up they’ve already got the bulk done–and I should have known the two of them would come up with a solid system. By the time I help them finish up, the living room looks like a little department store. Kat even stuffs tissue paper in the handbags I’m passing on, arranges her shoes–with Kayla’s suggestions–in a separate area from mine (different sizes).

I’m providing the champagne and wine, the others are bringing food.

Kat, being Kat, decides some of the tops especially need ironing as they’re wrinkled from being shoved in bags. And it’s a good way to teach Kayla how to iron. So we hunt up the iron and board, and I leave them to it. Kat and Kayla have always had such a sweet connection–earlier they’d discussed knitting as Kat was knitting a pair of socks. I think one day Kayla will look back and remember the afternoon Kat taught her to iron.

In they come–all the spa girls but Jeanette whose youngest had a her first (I think first) softball game of the season. Girls bring clothes, too, so they’re sorted out–and I break my vow to take nothing when I see Nicole’s adorable black and white rain jacket. It fits me, and it’s cute. So I allow myself this one little thing.

Here’s the fun, a bunch of girl friends trying on clothes, giving each other the nod–looks great on you–or the thumb’s down–too tight in the shoulders–catching up as some haven’t seen each other since spring. Making piles to take away, heading into the bedroom to strip down–or just doing so in the living room (BW absented himself for the afternoon) and checking out the look in the mirror. Half naked ladies chatting and drinking champagne (except for Kayla!–though she does have a small pile of her own).

The rack’s thinning, as are the displays of shoes and boots and bags. Sarah is rocking my dark blue Weitzman knee boots Kat culled out for her during set-up (as she’d called dibs on them years ago), JoAnne wandering into the kitchen to ask if the bright green pullover looks okay on her. Looks great! Eating pate and KFC and homemade caprese salad. Seeing how Kayla blends right in–and finishes up the spaghetti.

One of our group’s getting married next month, and as traditional, I offer to have her pick her something borrowed out of what’s been termed Nora’s Treasure Box. We have a picture of her dress, so we all have opinions on which earrings and bracelet. I believe, as a group, we chose well.

Nicole has to leave to catch her oldest’s football game, and Kayla takes off to go have dinner with her other grandparents.  Laura will lug whatever’s leftover home for Nicole, bless her, to donate to a local woman’s group. By the time the remaining handful of us gather at the kitchen counter for more wine, the rack’s empty, the artful piles of casual tops, pjs, whatever, gone. No shoes line the hearth or mantle.img_1711

More catching up, more wine–with Laura and Pat mugging with the bottle. Some of Laura’s no-churn homemade ice cream to cap it off. [Note from Laura:  Kayla, my best friend in the under-20 division, made fudgy brownies that went perfectly with the ice cream.]

 

img_1708A fun end to an eventful weekend and an excellent work week.

I capped it off yet again with another couple of Walking Dead episodes.

Now I’ve got a new week to start, and the book to tackle. I’m going to think of Kayla when I feel myself getting tired–with the writing, with my afternoon workout.

I can do five more minutes.  

Nora

 

High Summer

I love it. Bring on the heat! And we’ve had plenty of it the last week or two as July smolders its way to August.
 
These hot summer days and evenings have been busy around here. Less than a week after I unpacked from RWA, we had our annual summer party. That means a full day of food prep, assisted by my Kat and Laura with BW and Jason out in the swelter setting up canopies, tables, hauling out the big coolers.
 

Sunday morning means more setting up and setting out, finishing up. By early afternoon, we’re packed with people inside and out–so no, making ten pounds of potato salad wasn’t overkill.

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Scarily clean potatoes for the salad.
 

It’s a fine tradition my parents started decades ago, so I think of them a lot while I cook and stir, while I chat with Kat and Laura as they chop and peel, when I glance out the window and see my boy up on the garden wall with a blue tarp and bungie cords.

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The first tray of deviled eggs.
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Kat’s annual fruit basket creation.
 
Sunday night and Monday are clean it up and break it down, and another summer highlight has come and gone. Time moves.
 
Then it’s back to work–current book all day, proofing galleys in the evening. I have a goal to reach on the wip before we leave for vacation (yay!) in less than a week. Friday, I hit the mark–just in time as I’ve ignored pretty much everything else.(Except my workouts.) And I hit it in time to hang a little while with Kayla who’s pretty excited as she’ll turn 14 the next day.
 
I picked my first tomato, which brought me ridiculous pleasure. I don’t even eat tomatoes, but do a little happy dance as I hold it in my hand, smell it. More are ripening on the vine, and there are lots of pretty little peppers growing beside them. I hope our housesitters make good use of them while we’re gone.
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IMG_1576On Saturday, Kayla’s having her party here–a swim party with girlfriends–so she’s pumped. Pumped enough she walks up the hill a couple hours before the party just as I–just showered from a workout–head out to weed. (Something that’s been neglected.) Happy birthday, my baby girl. I still remember when we put her a car seat that I got from https://hifivebaby.com/best-convertible-car-seat-for-small-cars/ for the first time. She was so little. She points out my little vase of flowers have faded, and I need to pick more.
 
So I do.
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She looks so pretty, and I swear she gets taller if I glance away for two minutes. I hear her helping her Grandda with something while I start down the garden, filling my big tub with weeds. I get one tub filled when the skies open up.
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She’s annoyed with the storm–and the forecast of more–but it doesn’t dampen her anticipation–cake, presents, girlfriends! When her mom gets here it’s decorations, all following Kayla’s choice of beach theme, and very cool cakes. One for Kayla, and one for her little brother Colt and Grandda who both have birthdays that hit while we’re away. Colt will be six in about a week. Grandda will be older than that!
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We all pitch in, and when the sun comes back out, I go back to weeding. Girls come, and one of Logan’s pals invited to keep him company in the midst of all that female. As I weed, filling a second tub–I can hear that distinctly girl sound–chatter and laughter, all so high and bright–echoing in the pool house. It’s such happy sound, young, uninhibited. After the gardens been put back to rights, I reward myself with a glass of wine and go out to sit by the water feature. It’s steamy out, after the rain, but there’s a little breeze there, and the water’s making its pretty music, the woods are so, so green. My Rose of Sharon are blooming beautifully. And the sound of happy girls makes more music.
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Parker comes out to lie at my feet, and just sitting there after this intensely busy week, I’m almost stupidly content.
 
Even as I feel another storm coming, it’s all good. I won’t have to water my pots today, and the girls have had a good couple of hours of swim time. They need to eat, have cake.
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And finally, especially for an almost six-year-old boy, presents. Colt’s happy, Logan and his pal are happy watching the big screen, and Kayla and her girls make their circle. I love how they hug after every gift is opened, and I hope, so much hope, they’ll all remember this unity, this affection, that it carries through as they grow up into women. How lovely it is to watch this ritual, to see its potential as the rain falls and thunder grumbles outside.
 
I’ve just spent a week with girlfriends, so I know that potential realized. I want that for my baby girl and her sweet friends. In contrast, Logan and his pal Spencer hang out, glued to some game on the TV, pretty much ignoring–stoically–the female action. I know that bond as well–I grew up with four brothers, had two sons, after all. That’s special, too, that can last and form circles.
 
We all need our circle.
 
Now, today, the house holds quiet. I’ve got a workout to do, tubs of books to sign. Then it’s packing. No high heels or fancy duds needed. It’s vacation time!
 
I’ll be blogging journals, as always, starting next week. [Note from Laura: you’ll have to stop by on Tuesday to see where Nora’s gone. ]
 
Enjoy these hot and steamy days (or the chilly ones for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere). Time moves fast, so appreciate the moments, and those who share them with you.
Nora

Girls in New York

This year Kayla turns 14 and starts high school. So we’re celebrating in New York, just us girls.

Friday morning Laura, Kayla and I piled in a limo for the drive up, while Kat would follow later in the day. Much excitement, many plans. First on Kayla’s list? Sephora. Two years ago, the first on her list? The American Girl Doll Store. A couple years makes a difference in a girl’s life.

After a pretty drive on a pretty day, we arrive–a few hours from country quiet to urban bustle. I’ve stayed in this hotel for years, find a comfort in that continuity, being able to exchange greetings and how are yous with the desk staff, the housekeepers, the bellmen. And I appreciate so much they’ve taken extra and personal steps to make this special for the girl of the week. In our suite the dining table holds a display of fruits, cheeses, breads AND two cakes, the gorgeous chocolate one with birthday greetings for Kayla.

After we unpack, we hit the streets–and hit Sephora hard. We are girls, after all, and makeup equates to girl toys. One of the staff comes over, assumes with Kayla’s hair bun and long, long legs, she’s a dancer. He becomes our valued consultant, suggesting products, brands, gathering them up. I think the kid talked me into three eyeshadow palettes. I had a list myself, and checked that off.

Clothes, clothes, clothes are next, and we have some suggestions on venues from my editor’s daughter. Off we go. Tops appear to be Kayla’s target.

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But we have to get back to the hotel, get a little dinner and get ready for Broadway.

And here’s Kat! Shortly after, here’s Clare (Laura’s lovely daughter who lives and works in NY). Since the weather’s so pretty, we opt to walk to the theater. We’re seeing Matilda, and I bought the tickets last winter after Kayla made her choice and our dates were set. We’re front row, and in this case, that means all but on stage. We could literally touch the stage (though discouraged from doing so).

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I expected to enjoy the play–there’s nothing like live theater, and there’s really nothing like Broadway. I hadn’t expected to be blown away, and we were. It’s marvelous on every level, and the girl in the lead roll is simply amazing. We’re a very happy group walking home after a fabulous performance in balmy weather.

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My two favorite Friday night photos — Laura

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Saturday’s shop till you drop day, so we start it off with a good breakfast, and are out of the door by around ten. The next recommended shop is a hit for all five of us. Shopping with girls is its own entertainment. What do you think of this? Does this color work? You NEED that!20160611_113130 I explain to Kayla I’m happy to be her bank, but won’t be her sherpa, so she’s going to schlep her own bags. And by the time we leave, we’re all so loaded down, Kat and Clare volunteer to walk everything back to the hotel and meet us at the next stop. We need to eat! Must have fuel. And it’s a perfect day to eat outside, right across from the skating rink in Rock Center. Also a fine day for the adults to have some bubbly with lunch.

More shopping–that’s what we’re here for–and more success for all. Shoes! How can we resist shoes?

Saks for makeovers and makeup–and wow, my girl looks so beautiful and grown up.

Finally, we’ve pillaged midtown enough, back to the hotel, time to play with all our goodies, think about dinner–my girl wants room service and I’m with her. We’re fortunate to have a terrific rooftop terrace here, and after dinner, head up, hang out, and under the moon indulge in the hot tub. It feels like a movie, sitting in a hot top on a rooftop in NY looking out on the city lights.

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I sleep like a rock.

Sunday is for downtown, a walk along the High Line. Subway rides, lots of walking. A worn-out girl is ready to come home, have a lie down. Once she’s settled, with Kat here, Laura and I head up Madison for a couple of things on my list. Back for food–and Laura’s sister Margaret joins us–bringing snacks for our little Tony party.

Not only is it wonderful fun to watch the Tonys with girls in NY, but it had to be one of the best shows, the most uplifting and fun. We did lose the TV for about ten minutes early on (a wind thing) which caused panic, but got it back. I’ve had a crush on James Cordon for awhile, but now I think it’s true love.

Monday, and another fine day it is, starts with another trip downtown and a visit to my new publisher for a tour of the Flatiron Building. This has been one of my favorite buildings for a very long time, and now we get to go in, go through, and are treated to stories by the clever and knowledgeable Sunny. He’s worked there for 28 years, met his wife when he replaced a ceiling tile in her office–and admits he took about five hours for a ten minute job. Sweet.

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My long-time and awesome editor has also moved to St, Martin’s. We get to see her new office, hang out, then are taken up to the roof. Oh my, the views of the city! I’m so pleased to see how much Kayla enjoys this, how engaged she is. We see the unique and incredible offices in the front point of the building–I don’t know if I’d get any work done as I’d be too busy basking in my space and the views.

I love when Kayla says, as we walk through the halls, that it smells like Nana’s house. It smells like books.

Leslie joins us as Kat leaves us—-she has to drive home for a meeting that evening. Big hugs on the street, and text when you get home.

We hit Lombardi’s for pizza. Ummm, yumm.

More walking, a bit more shopping as Kayla new makeup obsession (I think she now has enough to last her through college) includes a stop at Makeup Forever. We’re the only ones in the store, and it just adds to the fun.

A couple more stops, a few more purchases—and finally a bathing suit for the girl, something she seriously needs considering she’s now taller than I am, so about two inches taller since the last bathing suit. I’m also pleased to say she’s got not only a sense of her own style, but of appropriate for her age. No string bikinis–too much skin showing she says. Nana agrees.

Once more back to the hotel, with Leslie joining us. Hang out, have a drink. My agent and my new publisher come to visit. Up to the roof! A lovely time, and just one more bright sign for me that I’ve found exactly the right home for me and for my work.

Clare comes from work as the others leave—and Kayla’s starving. Dinner time, and bed time not long after.

Today is what we’re calling Fill In Shopping day. The kid could use another bathing suit if we can find one. We all want a trip back to Uniqlo, and may wander more uptown on our last day.

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And look what we found!!! ~Laura

I’m so lucky to be able to have this time out of time with Kayla, to experience her experiencing the city as a teenager, to observe her learning the things girls learn–how to have fun with girls, how special that is, how to blend eye shadow and pick the right lip color, how to have conversations with adults and strangers–and NOT roll eyes when adults comment on how much she’s grown. I love how she’ll reach out to hold my hand when we’re walking, or put her arm around my waist, and love how she always has something to say.

We’ll make the most of our last day in the city, bank much for the memory book, and head home to country quiet tomorrow.

Nora

Weekend Happy

A good work week can set the stage for a happy weekend, and I’m on a roll as sunny June takes over from rainy May.
 
Kayla’s brothers went to the Ninja Turtle movie on Saturday–and she had absolutely no interest so we had our Saturday cooking day.
 
Since she hadn’t given me a direction earlier in the week–so specific ingredients could be at hand–we punted.
 
She liked the idea of pasta, and I have an easy and pretty quick one, one she’ll be able to make on her own at home. But first, she wanted to bake a cake.
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Cake is, by far, Kayla’s favorite food, and always has been. So what kind of cake? I found some fun and fancy ones, but didn’t have everything we needed. So we fell back on an old standard–a golden butter cake. She’s learned so much over the past few months, all I do, mostly, is read off the recipe as she goes. We decide to make it a sheet cake–that’s plenty easy–and before long, that’s in the oven.
 
We take a short break, a nice walk. I see I’ll be weeding and deadheading on Sunday.
 
She’s decided she’s hungry, so we should start the pasta.
 
On goes the big pot of water, as we’ll make a full pound so she can take plenty home. Out comes the cake, and it smells just yum.
 
I peel the garlic–have to teach her to do that–and she chops it up with my little tool. This sautes in olive oil she measures and pours into my biggest skillet. Add a dash of crushed red pepper.
 
Spaghetti into the salted, boiling water–I show her how to break the long noodles in half, use the pasta fork to stir them up. When they’re close to done, I take a couple of cups of the pasta water, add it to the olive oil and garlic. She likes the smell. I show her how to pinch a noodle to see if it’s done. Not quite.
 
I go out, harvest some herbs–parsley, basil (and my little potted ones are coming back nicely) rosemary, oregano, thyme. Show her how I chop them up.IMG_1452
 
Drain the pasta, pour it into the skillet, toss in the herbs, some black pepper, a little onion salt. She stirs it, turns it, stirs it until the pasta’s absorbed all the liquid.
 
She must have some immediately! Judges it delicious. And it must be, because before she left for home she ate three helpings. Good thing I went for the whole pound.
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Now it’s time to frost the cake, with an old, reliable buttercream frosting. She wants to color it–and why not? Goes with green, and mixes and stirs–and I take over as she says her arm’s really tired! Mix and stir until we have a pretty minty green and creamy frosting she spreads over the cake. Then decides to add some red sugar. Again, why not?
 
Then must have a piece–and this is also proclaimed delicious. She eats two before the end of her day–and Grandda has some himself.
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Through the cooking, the baking, the couple of nice walks, she’s full of talk about our upcoming girl trip to New York. I’m pretty juiced about it myself.
 
I send her home after the most pleasant of days with most of the cake and a tub of pasta.
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Today, as yesterday, I got the workout in early. I gathered my tub, my pruners, my gloves and headed out to do that weeding and deadheading. My roses are so happy! And the deer repellent’s working as my first lilies are cheerfully blooming. Now I’m happy as the roses.
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I also see the first little tomato blossom on the vine–and where some insects have nibbled on the leaves. Go in, make up some soapy water–with a dash of tobasco–in a spray bottle. If it doesn’t work, I’ll buy something at the garden center.
 
Must do my weekend shoveling out of the house, which won’t take long. Then find myself a pretty spot and read. I believe it’s a fine day to make myself a couple of bellinis. They’d go well with Cake by Kayla.  
Nora

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, especially after I got my 18 10 stainless steel flatware. 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