Dear FITS family,
Well, it’s been a long while since Nora or I posted here — as a worried Sue King mentioned in an email yesterday. While life has handed out a few surprises in August, we’re both fine. I think the slow, hot and humid days have made time blur even more than it did in the winter. Or at least that’s how it feels to me.
We were able to take our annual trip to The Greenbrier in the middle of July. Our little group drove down on a Sunday with two cars packed high — though admittedly with far less stuff than our May trip to the spa.
The Windsor Club concierge team greeted us at the lobby door, then walked us over to The Presidential Suite. One step in and I swear everyone (including the ghosts) took a deep breath and just let go of any tension. I’d emailed in our dinner order so first night was a matter of unpacking, then sitting on the patio sipping champagne.
[It’s important to mention here that the first half of this post is very Laura-centric because on our first full day at The Greenbrier, I turned 60.]
Bright and early Monday morning, I headed to the concierge to go over a quick list of things before I stopped work for 24 hours (I gave everyone three hours, then would be off until Tuesday). I finished my list and then she said, “Are you the person I spoke to about the special order…”
I held up my hand and said, “I’m the birthday girl, you want to talk to someone else.” I felt a little guilty about it later, but in the moment I was very clear.
I was the only one with a treatment that day (because: birthday) so I headed to the spa area around 11:15. As I limped over (first milestone of 60 looks to be a hip replacement in early 2022) I decided to add a soak in a sulphur bath to help relieve the pain. Texted Sarah (who was playing Laura that day) to say I’d be back for sandals between treatments.
After the 90 minute session, I was relaxed and ready to soak. As I headed up the lawn to the suite’s patio entrance, I idly wondered what everyone was up to.
Opened the door and there were Nora, Kat, Sarah, Kayla and Joanne waiting for me in a wonderland of balloons and Happy Birthday signs, a glass of champagne at the ready. (There are no photos of the moment, but these will do.)
Once I recovered from the surprise, I heard about all the strategies to make this happen. Apparently they were on tenterhooks until I left, but didn’t let down their guard until they knew I was truly gone. Nora and Sarah watched me from the dining room until I disappeared into the main doors.
On Sunday, they’d smuggled the supplies into the spare bedroom and monitored my every movement closely so I wouldn’t inadvertently walk in that room. Which meant when I kept heading down that hall to make sure the hotel tech fixed the lock on JoAnne’s bedroom door, I ratcheted up their tension a thousand-fold.
On Monday, once I was gone, they sprang into action: Kat built the balloon arch, JoAnne created paper flowers, then herded Griffin away from the balloons. Nora, Kayla and Sarah blew up more balloons, hung up more signs. A frenzied 90 minutes for them. A calm one for me. <g>
I sipped champagne in the equally festive dining room and opened my gifts — my gorgeous crown came first. Accepted the love, thanked them all, congratulated them on the fabulous strategies and results. Sarah and Kat said the decorations weren’t what the concierge meant earlier. That was coming.
I decreed we had to dress up that evening, then went back for a soak followed by a nap, before the birthday dinner. The big surprise was a cake made with a recipe from my favorite childhood bakery in Brooklyn, NY (the now defunct Ebinger’s) — yellow cake with a mocha frosting. And it was perfect. Our superstar concierge, Lane, made that one happen when the kitchen initially balked.
After dinner, we drank – a lot. Finally I turned on a Spotify playlist and we danced for over an hour (which helped with Hangover Tuesday). And so I turned 60.
Hangover Tuesday was quiet, but we did start the card games. When my daughter Clare called on Monday, I put her on speaker so everyone could catch up. Just as the called closed, she said “You know, my mom keeps it a secret, but she LOVES games.”
I’ve disowned her. Stupid games.
We traditionally have one day of work at Greenbrier, usually the Wednesday. On the line up this year was an interview with the German podcast Eat, Read, Sleep, filming a video Q&A for Little Brown UK, a photo shoot for new social media pictures and our traditional Facebook Live. I was director and cameraman, the rest of the Smart Girls helped with hair and makeup, and we completed the tasks before our one dinner out in a restaurant. (The rest were on our patio.)
The remainder of the week fell into the tried and true pattern: workouts for Nora and JoAnne, some pool time for Kat and Griffin, reading and puzzles, champagne and conversation for all.
The non-birthday highlight came at the end of the week: glassblowing with the amazing Max Clair at the Virtu studio. We divided into two session with Kayla and Nora going on Saturday; Kat, Sara and I went on Sunday. Kayla wanted to make a paperweight this year. Since she made a paperweight last year, Nora wanted to try blowing a small vase. Kat and Sarah wanted to do some more complex vases this year and I opted for a small pitcher.
You know how things flow when you have a good teacher? I’d say each of us found that flow as Max gave us confidence to build on what we’d done last year. Glassblowing remains a group favorite and stays at the top of our must-do Greenbrier activities going forward.
We finished the week on a different birthday note: ice cream cake for Kayla who would turn 19 after we returned home. Next year, she turns 20 when we’re at Greenbrier. We’ll see what strategies and planning bring for her surprise.
Then it was time for the party to end and head north.
We tend to keep things positive here, but in recapping the summer I have to talk about the good and the bad.
Reality resumed on the way home from Greenbrier. JoAnne is Nora’s lifelong friend and business manager. While driving back they came to the decision for Nora and BW to announce a vaccine mandate for all their Boonsboro businesses. While some employees quickly got their shots this spring, others were hesitant. Watching the numbers increase over the summer, Nora and JoAnne felt a mandate was the best course of action.*
When the announcement came, some employees felt differently. Several abruptly resigned and left in the middle of a shift. Which meant the first week of August was a scramble to find replacements and new hires with JoAnne in the lead on the interview and schedule front.
That Greenbrier Ahhhhh? A thing of the past.
Things seemed to be steady when Nora and BW left for the family week at Nemacolin at the start of the second full week of August. Within 24 hours they received word of a two-alarm fire at Vesta. While the restaurant was closed on a Monday, a crew was in for cleaning in the morning. The fire broke out around 3:30 pm. Two of the residents in the apartments upstairs were home, but got out safely.
The fire has been deemed suspicious and remains under investigation at this point in time. Nora and Bruce have offered a $5,000 reward for anyone giving information that leads to the identity and apprehension of the person or persons responsible for the fire.
While the scene is cleared for repairs, there is no reopen date.
And there you have it FITS family: a rather fun and celebratory July. A nose-to-the-grindstone August.
What’s up going forward here on the blog? We shake off the late summer doldrums next week with teasers for Forgotten in Death followed by the excerpt from The Becoming over Labor Day weekend.
So stay tuned.
We’ll talk soon,
*Please note: Comments are not open to debate about vaccine. Nora and I have clearly shown support for them all along. Any arguments against will be deleted.